Phenology Daybook: November 15, 2020

November 15th

The 319th Day of the Year


If you are afflicted with melancholy at this season, go to the swamp and see the brave spears of skunk cabbage buds already advanced toward a new year…. See those green cabbage buds lifting the dry leaves in that watery and muddy place…. They see over the brown of winter’s hill. They see another summer ahead.


Henry David Thoreau


Sunrise/set: 7:20/5:19

Day’s Length: 9 hours 59 minutes

Average High/Low: 51/34​

Average Temperature: 42

Record High: 74 – 1909

Record Low: 13 – 1916


The Daily Weather

​   Overcast conditions are the rule at the beginning of the third week of November, the sun failing to appear 60 percent of the time. Rain falls 60 percent of all the years too, and snow comes ten percent. Highs reach the 60s three days out of ten, the 50s two days in ten, the 40s two days, the 30s three days. Morning lows drop below freezing more than half the time.


The Weather in the Week Ahead

The 15th, 19th, and 20th are the days this week most likely to be mild with highs in the 60s. The fifth cold front of the month comes through at the end of the period, and the 21st brings a slight possibility for a high only in the 20s. The 15th is the day most likely to bring precipitation, having a 60 percent chance of rain or snow. The 20th is also fairly damp, carrying a 50 percent chance. The 18th is the driest day of the week; it has only a 20 percent chance of showers or flurries.


The Natural Calendar

Finches work the sweet gum trees, digging out the seeds from their hollows. Sparrow hawks appear on the fences, watching for mice in the bare fields. The last daddy longlegs huddle together woodpiles and brambles. In the warmest years, mosquitoes still wait for prey near backwaters and puddles. Late woolly bear caterpillars, most of them dark orange and black, still emerge in the sun. Cabbage butterflies and sulphurs look for the latest flowers.



In spite of a spiritual imperative, articulated in the call of the geese and the robins, to abandon the cold, I am spending winter in the north again. I have done my raking for the year. The strawberries are covered with straw. The pumpkins are aging, and the apple cider is made. The garden is filled with manure. Sweet Williams, spinach and onions are planted and covered for April.

With summer scattered and withered, I count each of my allies, from my wife and daughters to the birds at the sunflowers. The tropical plants I have inside the greenhouse are budding, needing care and reminding me of choices I have made. It is too late to run, to merge into the flyway corridor away from January. I am committed to solstice and to the next quarter into equinox.

After the nostalgia that accompanies the migrations and the sadness of leaf fall, my brain receives new signals, defiance and a call to survive. I am already counting days, attempting to demystify the time ahead. Thirty-five days to solstice, 65 to the center of winter, 100 to the first hours of early spring. A finite, divided winter is already mastered. Soon it will seem too short, I tell myself, the hibernation not long enough.

Garlic mustard is already waiting all across the woodland floor. It sprouted fourteen months ago and has persevered with only a cluster of basal leaves all summer. The worst freeze will not kill it. It is ready for the end of April. There is a faith in its roots, a knowledge I can use against my suspicion that the end of the year mirrors too closely the end of human existence. Far wiser things than I have absolute faith. They give promises the sun has and will come back again.

Storms and the snows arrive to test the woodpile and my fantasy of self-sufficiency. The corner is turned. The grieving for summer and fall are over quickly. In a few weeks, it is no surprise to see bare branches. I look for what is there instead of what is gone.

Christmas cactus blossoms and aloe spikes rise to bloom in the early December greenhouse. Paperwhites send up their foliage. My violet hibiscus blossoms, remembering some tropical dictate, faithful here, finding just the right amount of light to make its seeds. In the sun, the starlings, staying here within reach of my safe feeder, swing in the back trees. Window parsley is growing new leaves. I go out collecting second-spring foliage from sweet Cicely, chickweed, sweet rockets, waterleaf, cinquefoil, violet cress, hemlock, parsnip, avens and next September’s zigzag goldenrod.

There are days when it could be March, hazy skies, cardinals singing, temperatures in the warm fifties. I walk the swamp and find Thoreau’s “brave spears of the skunk cabbage, buds already advanced toward a new year.

“They see over the brown of winter’s hill,” Henry David promises my last doubts. “They see another summer ahead.”



1983: Poplars turning, but their leaves hold on, along with the leaves of a few silver maples. Viburnum outside my building is still bright green.


1984: Mountain maples at Antioch more than half down. Magnolia leaves on the tree by my door: all but 20 dropped yesterday.


1987: Cardinal sang 11:25 a.m. A small carp, two chubs caught in the late afternoon, Sycamore Hole, sun dropping quickly behind the trees.


1988: Mill Habitat, 55 degrees: Crickets and cardinals singing, a snake sunning on the path near the dam, flies, moths, and honeybees out. Hills of yellow-green honeysuckle, the color of second spring; above them turquoise sky, reflecting in the river. Saw my first squirrel eating Osage fruit, had always just seen the remnants, the results of their scavenging. A great blue heron flew upstream, chickadees, nuthatches chattering. Occasional dandelions blossoming. At home, mother-of-millions heads up to bloom.


1989: Geese fly over just before sunset.


1990: At Caesar Creek, temperatures near 70, pure sun and south wind for a trip upstream. Water low and clear, quiet, brown and blue. On the lake, hundreds of sea gulls, some loons and black ducks. In the greenhouse, the first Christmas cactus flowers. In the back yard, the white mulberry still keeps its leaves. Some ginkgoes still hold on in town, and the decorative pear leaves are red and beginning to fall. Cardinals have been calling a little each morning before dawn, but then they become quiet. Geese fly over every evening just before sunset. Most leaves are gone now except for the honeysuckle. A few crickets are still singing.


1991: Sparrows swarm in the schoolyard, pigeons circle the tower at Wilberforce.


1992: Cold, quiet morning, half an inch of snow on the ground, nothing moves outside. This afternoon: honeysuckle leaves fall quickly now, lilac thinned to just an upper core.


1993: Decorative pears along Xenia Avenue and Dayton Street are a full deep gold. The leaves are gone from the red jewel crabapples.


1997: The Osage leaves have almost all come down now, the honeysuckle very thin, most of the mock orange fallen. Lilacs hold at maybe half. First real snow today, but only a little sticks.


1999: The white mulberry in the back yard sheds more. At Wilberforce, my ginkgo is still yellow green, hardly beginning leafdrop, the latest it has ever held its leaves (and the ash held far longer than usual this year too). The other ginkgo is shedding, but still has maybe half its foliage.


2000: My library Japanese maple in Springfield sheds all but a third of its leaves. Still fragments of burning bush beside it.


2003: To northern Ohio in light rain with a light southwest wind: The roadside grass was losing its color. The trees – all but a few willows and silver maples – were bare. Only the honeysuckles and evergreens gave life to the fencerows and yards. Winter wheat was deep emerald green, but it had none of the luster that characterized it on sunny days earlier in the fall. The ponds were dull and gray, the newly plowed fields dark and sodden. I saw only two crows, a small flock of sparrows, and one medium- sized flock of starlings during the entire 320-mile trip.


2006: The front honeysuckle is bare: only red berries there, a sign of the early approach of Early Winter. Hosta breakdown continues, leaves disappearing quickly into the ground. Stonecrop diminishing, shrinking, falling. Lilac leaves maybe half down. Jerry and Lee’s sweet gum two-thirds down, golden.


2007: The young maple in the boulevard by the driveway has finally come down; it parallels Lil’s tree, is maybe one of its children. The viburnum by the north side of the house has lost most of its trees. The hostas continue to yellow, following last year’s schedule. I put a cover over the pond, anticipating the quince leafdrop – its leaves all yellow-gold, but the northwest wind has kept them to the south of the pond. At Wilberforce, my ginkgoes are pale yellow green, but hold most of their leaves.


2008: Frank’s silver maples are shedding rapidly now, and Late Fall deepens with rust overtaking most of the beech tree on Dayton Street; red and gold are spreading through the pears. In the mornings, robins peeping all around the yard. Quince leaves are completely down, the pond pretty clear of debris. Hostas are dissolving into the soil. The first snowfall came today, huge fat flakes covering the forsythia and the ground for an hour or so.


2009: Another day in the 60s, soft, overcast sky. The white mulberry continues to trickle down after losing half its leaves in a few hours several days ago. The winterberries are white and orange, their color at their peak. Beside the secret maple, a burning bush holds its pale, red leaves.


2010: Venus was just visible over the tree line at 5:45 a.m. beginning its long reign as morning star of the new natural year. Crisp and frosty this morning early, but rapid transformation into high cirrus and altostratus by midmorning. The Dayton Street beech is half down, all the silver maples and the sweet gums pretty well fallen. The Osage leaves have not started to come down yet, but by the river all their foliage is gone. Along the highway to Springfield, one Osage tree with fruits all around it, the balls already turning yellow. The hostas by the back shed are spreading their pods, showing all their black seeds. Along High Street, the bittersweet leaves and seed hulls are dropping now. As I walked Bella at 10:00 this morning, a cardinal was singing and singing, and clusters of starlings whistled far away. The news talked of a foot of snow in Minneapolis.

​This afternoon, Jane Britton wrote from Columbia, South Carolina:

​“Here in Columbia, SC, we’ve had no frost yet, and the leaves on the crepe myrtles, dogwoods, and most of the native trees are at their brilliant peak. Last week was the most beautiful ‘Indian Summer’ in recent memory, with cool nights in the 30s and daily highs in the 70s, and brilliant clear blue skies. In our yard, the last of my pink “old roses” are blooming, along with a pink Camellia sasanqua, and a patch of wild Ageratum and Physostegia. The stark contrast between the bright autumn leaves and the last explosion of pinks and purples throws my garden design into disarray, but they are all beautiful. My office at work looks out onto the grounds of the State Capitol building, whose grounds are a beautiful park, containing many old specimens of native, as well has other, plants. I always enjoy observing the gingko trees, which have only slight twinges of gold now. We are fortunate to have the Congaree National Park in our backyard, and spent yesterday morning ‘in the swamp.’ The cypress trees are copper, and haven’t begun to shed. The tupelo gums are just beginning to change. We saw whole posses of green anoles warming themselves on the trunks of fallen trees, and feasting on the insects there. The crickets provided the soundtrack, along with the many birds that are there. The birds make occasional forays into our backyard where they have planted an entire border of native plants and shrubs.”


2011: All the ginkgoes are down after two windy and rainy days. The oakleaf hydrangeas are becoming fully red and purple, and the goosefoot foliage in the garden is a blend of gold and yellow and red and violet. A great flock of blackbirds was heading north as we drove back from Beavercreek this afternoon. One female finch came to the feeder today, the first finch since we put the new seed up.


2014: Last night, temperature in the teens, brought the Osage foliage (except for the leaves on one branch) all at once.


2015: Jeanie’s redbud, the last in the yard, finally dropped its leaves today.


2016: The bittersweet vine has kept many of its leaves, winds around the bare redbud, pale orange berries prominent now, a few honeysuckle berries red beside them. The ginkgo near Jill’s house shed its leaves yesterday. My Osage and my white mulberry tree keeping their foliage. At 12:26 this afternoon, full sun, mild in the upper 50s: a lone monarch crossed the north garden heading southwest (the latest I’ve seen one here to date).


2017: Lil’s maple about three-fourths down, the Dayton Street beech deep brown and about a third down. I cut back the last melted hosta leaves in the east garden.


2018: Wildfires burn California. A storm here, trees and shrubs bowed with ice and snow, sweet gums and honeysuckles especially affected since they still have many of their leaves. All the bamboo has collapsed into the pond. The oaks sag, but hold up the best. The remaining redbud and maple foliage is twisted and frozen. A definitive punctuation to the last phase of Late Fall. A small flock of starlings settles in the Stafford Street trees in the morning. From Corning in New York, Lois sends photos of her porch railing with eight inches of snow.


2020: Hurricane Iota heads to Central America. Hard winds in the middle of clouds and sun this afternoon, strip almost all the last white mulberry leaves from my tree, and they thin the last Osage at the southwest edge of the yard. All Suzie’s leaves from Lil’s tree have been blown across the street, filling my front sidewalk.



In the autumn days, the creaking of crickets is heard at noon over all the land, and as in summer they are heard chiefly at nightfall, so then by their incessant chirp they usher in the evening of the year. Nor can all the anxieties that vex the world alter one whit the measure that night has chosen. Every pulse beat is in exact time with the cricket’s chant and the tickings of the death watch in the wall. Alternate with these if you can.


Henry David Thoreau

















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