Phenology Daybook: November 13, 2020

November 13th

The 317th Day of the Year


Again the wind

Flakes gold-leaf from the trees

And the painting darkens –

As if a thousand penitents

Kissed an icon

Till it thinned

Back to bare wood

Without diminishment.


Jane Hirshfield, from “The October Palace”


Sunrise/set: 7:17/5:21     ​       ​

Day’s Length: 10 hours 4 minutes

Average High/Low: 52/34       ​

Average Temperature: 43

Record High: 75 – 1909        ​

Record Low: 13 – 1911, 7 – 2019


The Daily Weather

Highs are in the 70s five percent of the afternoons, in the 60s twenty-five percent, in the 50s twenty-five percent, in the 40s twenty percent, 30s twenty percent, and, for the first time in the fall, in the 20s five percent of the time. The sun shines 75 percent of the days, frost strikes 65 percent of the mornings, rain falls 20 percent of the time, snow ten percent.


The Natural Calendar

New winter grain turns fields emerald green again in mild Novembers. Lawns grow back; they can be long and thick beneath the fallen leaves. Garlic mustard, sweet rocket, dock, hemlock and chickweed wait for April all across the woodland floor.

In the swamp during warmer years, fresh greens grow up from around the pale dead grasses. Protected by the stable temperature of streams, watercress brightens. Dock and ragwort come back around it, even when the air is bitter cold.

Driving south from Chicago, you can still find early fall, catching up with the best of leafturn in Arkansas. Along the Gulf coast, the trees still hold their foliage, and colors haven’t even reached their peak. By the time you go south far enough to recapture middle summer, the monarch butterflies will almost be getting ready to start back north from Michoacan, Mexico, and robins will be restless to leave the Caribbean.

By the time the frost reaches Mobile, Alabama, it will be just about time for it to recede. By the time second spring is halted by snow and cold in Indiana, it will be reaching its fulfillment in Georgia. By the time the last leaves fall in the southern Appalachians during mid December, the first leaves will be emerging in Florida. The last day of harvest in Ohio will be the first day of planting a thousand miles south where the last wildflower of one year will be blooming beside the first of the next.\



1983: All the white mulberry leaves were gone this morning. A third of the Osage left. In front of the church, frost killed the marigolds, but not the petunias.


1984: White mulberry leaves fell overnight.


1986: Late Fall comes in hard with near record-breaking cold. Killing frost takes the lettuce, beets, broccoli, and all the bedding plants. Most leaves on the forsythia badly burned. Honeysuckle leaves limp.


1987: Storm hit in the early morning. Sudden demise of all the pear foliage. The river is higher from the all the rains, and the leaves tumble in the muddy current, tips coming to the surface, then diving like feeding fish. The wet woods are glowing, even with the fast, heavy clouds overhead. They smell of the earth and spring.


1988: Half the pear leaves remain, all red and gold in the middle of a November heat wave. Sun dominates, even cirrus gone this afternoon. On a long ride, a few asters seen, petunias, mums. Rivers high, and the grass still green, an early April color, and some pastures richer, darker. Cabbage worms found on the kale. A dandelion bloomed in the yard. A maple here and there has held its leaves.


1990: Cardinal sings at 7:15 a.m. Geese fly over at 8:00. Sweet gum trees yellow and red, hold at half.


1991: A cardinal sings at 7:15 a.m.


1992: A fierce storm brings in deep cold. A cardinal sings at 6:50, clear above the wind.


1993: Walking past the Webb’s house on Dayton Street, I noticed that their two witch hazels were in full bloom.


1997: The witch hazel is in full bloom. Maples suddenly collapse after the white mulberry. Sycamores, too. Sweet gum holds. Ginkgo down overnight at school. Beeches fine gold.


1999: Driving along the freeway, I caught a glimpse of a patch of bright flowers, either dandelions, or hawkweed or lost coltsfoot. The November heat wave continues, summer haze all across the horizon. Witch hazel blooming on Dayton Street.


2000: Gingko, Osage, sweet gum, quince, and birch leaves mostly gone, beech and English oak half fallen, pears reddening, one red mulberry bare, one at half.


2002: Crows heard before eight o’clock this morning, first crows heard in a long time. In the greenhouse, the jade tree started to flower today (will bloom on into January). Christmas cacti all open now. Along Xenia Avenue in Yellow Springs, and on into Wilmington, 30 miles south, the pear trees are yellow, red and gold, full color and falling.


2005: The lettuce in the garden is lush and strong. The purple clematis by the east fence has four flowers.


2010: To the Covered Bridge, 65 degrees, the sky filling with cirrus and altostratus as a cold wave approaches from the southwest, the sun, which was warm all day, now suddenly thinned then blocked by the fontal system. Seven vultures circling high. I walked through the field of goldenrod, wingstem, bull thistles and ironweed, all the flowers tufted and gray, leaves curled around their stalks. All the foliage down except the yellow green leaves of the honeysuckles along the river. Not a single flower in bloom.


2011: The summer deep green of the Annabelle hydrangea is blanching and the leaves are withering. Zelcova leaves are almost all down. Tim was sweeping the pear leaves from in front of the Underdog Cafe this morning. A flock of starlings over Dayton and Stafford Streets when I went out to buy croissants. Wind through the day.


2012: A crisp and frosty morning. Peggy’s pear tree is a burnished red and gold. The beech along Dayton Street is half down now. I saw a small contingent of robins moving through the trees along Stafford Street.


2014: No robins heard or seen this morning. Peggy’s pear and the Dayton Street beech are at the same point they were in 2012. Jeanie’s river birch has lost most of its leaves, the remaining ones pale gold. The Osage is still mostly green. At Ellis Pond, the cypresses are shedding their rusty foliage, are maybe half bald. On the way to Fairborn, I saw a very large murder of crows going north from one cutover field to another. A sizable flock of starlings was feeding a little further on. Deep cold has penetrated well into the South.


2015: Walk before dawn, clear and upper 30s, the ground covered with ginkgo leaves pulled down in yesterday’s hard wind, several cardinal calls along south High Street at 7:12, then crows to the north, then the cry of a red-tailed hawk from the northeast.


2016: Second hard frost of the autumn, the last of the castor bean plants frozen.


2017: I saw Rick Downtown, and he said he had lots of hummingbird moths at his bee balm this past summer – and that he had heard tree frogs a few nights back. Nancy at the monastery said she had seen oodles of reddish woollybear caterpillars.


2019: Deep cold continues, geese huddling in the taller grass near Ellis, the pond with a thin layer of ice. The oaks and cypresses hold their foliage still.



More than one naturalist has noted the similarities in March and November. Even nature seems confused throughout late autumn, encouraging new growth – a kind of second spring – as if there would be no winter interruption of that cycle.

Protected in the swamp near my village, water cress brightens as though April were only a month or so away; dock and ragwort grow back beside the dead field grasses. Waterleaf is filling up the bottomlands again. Celandine is blooming, and a few dandelions, some chickweed, some violets, too. Seeds sprout in rotting logs. Skunk cabbage has already pushed to the surface, and it is ready to flower if December is warm.

Riding leisurely south, you can still find early October, catching up with the best of leafturn in Arkansas. Along the Gulf coast, the trees still hold their leaves, and colors haven’t even reached their peak. And by the time the frost reaches New Orleans, it will be just about time for it to recede from the north. By the time the very last leaves fall in Chicago in December, the first leaves of the new year will be emerging in Florida.

March and November are, in fact, not so far apart as they appear. Paper calendars measure time in just one way, the linear way of human history. There is another kind of time (among so many other kinds of time, of course) one more metronomic and tidal, one in which the same matter, pushed and pulled by the moon, advances and retreats. In that rhythm, the seasons are stripped of their Gregorian sequence.

Those seasons do not compute the limited span of my life. They are not confined by space; they have no meaningful borders. They do not follow the sun. All of their successions feel reversible and illusory to me, metaphoric and prophetic. At best, their commencements are their closures – if I can feel them at all.


There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light, a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness…. There is in all things an inexhaustible sweetness and purity, a silence that is a fount of action and joy. It rises up in wordless gentleness and flows out to me from the unseen roots of all created being, welcoming me tenderly, saluting me with indescribable humility.


Thomas Merton


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