Phenology Daybook: November 4, 2020


November 4th

The 308th Day of the Year


There is a seasonal exhaustion in the air. The ground is cool and subdued as the hills turn dusky and purple by late afternoon. I pass cleared fields full of stubble, the lank, dark stalks of corn. Milkweeds, where monarchs deposited their eggs, have opened their pods, and the white silk lies over browning grass like wisps of cotton, or is concentrated in spots like the downy feathers of a chicken caught by a fox.

John Hay


Sunrise/set: 7:07/5:30     ​       ​

Day’s Length: 10 hours 23 minutes

Average High/Low: 56/37       ​

Average Temperature: 47

Record High: 76 – 2003

​Record Low: 17 – 1951


The Daily Weather

Highs reach 70 fifteen percent of the years, are in the 60s another 15 percent, in the 50s twenty-five percent, in the 40s thirty percent, in the 30s ten percent, in the 20s five percent. Light frost comes half of the mornings, hard frost ten percent, rain 40 percent of the days, snow ten percent. After today, thunderstorm activity usually ceases until February, but all-day rains increase.


The Natural Calendar

Throughout the fields and woods, the last autumn violets sometimes still bloom beside a few chicory, Queen Anne’s lace, thyme-leafed speedwell, mallow, the final asters. Wild geraniums, thistles, and cinquefoil grow back. Sometimes a parsnip is ready to bloom.

Asparagus fronds and hosta leaves, however, turn yellow in the garden. Along the highways, ironweed and false boneset seeds are soft and pale. Heads of goldenrod and thimbleweed are tufted through the undergrowth, their foliage deep chocolate brown.


The Stars

In the southern sky before midnight, the Pleiades are approaching from the east, Taurus not far behind them. Pisces is due south, Pegasus above it to the west. Fomalhaut, the brightest star of late summer is low on the southwestern horizon. The Big Dipper hugs the northern tree line, the Little Dipper hanging down to the left of Polaris.



1983: Ginkgo leaves fall quickly, form a golden mantle under the branches. Rose of Sharon is bare.


1985: One ginkgo by my window is gone, others losing leaves steadily. Lil’s maple just starting to turn yellow.


1988: The white mulberry tree in the yard and Lil’s maple across the street are now completely bare. Apple, pussy willow and cherry hold at half. The drive to Bowling Green this afternoon was warm and rainy; I traveled through the barometric low that precedes Late Fall. From Yellow Springs north, almost all the trees were down except the green willows, some oaks and stragglers. Most harvest appeared complete.


1989: The major leafdrop is over, and the shock of the change is gone. I am used to the bare branches, and the remaining leaves are no longer fragments of summer but signs of the new season, like blooming trees in April. In the city, gum, willow, and beech are still strong; now the colors shine, gifts of November. The late white mulberry tree in the back yard is suddenly all yellow gold. Most cherry and pussy willows fell in the wind today. A cardinal sang this morning about 7:00, continued off and on until about 8:30.


1990: Tulips planted yesterday in 70-degree temperatures and a soft south wind. Warm again today for digging in the daffodils. It has been the longest autumn. All the late silver maples are palomino gold. The cherry tree is a translucent burnt orange, foliage dropping quickly now. The honeysuckle and quince are dappled. Pear leaves beginning to turn at the edges. Burning bush and barberry still red. The poplar was so bright and gold in the sun yesterday, bending in the wind. Pussy willows: the second set of leaves is green and strong. Robins all around the yard this morning, cardinals, a flicker. Now an aloe has sent up a flower spike in the greenhouse, and five of my indoor tomato plants have filled up the windows in which I placed them. Four other pots are started, sprouts a few inches tall. Late Fall comes with the rain tonight.


1993: In the rain and cold wind, Jeanie’s students picked her a big bouquet of dandelions on the way across the golf course this afternoon.


1994: I finally filled the bird feeders two days ago, and the gold finches are here, all brown for winter. The chickadees swoop back and forth to their seeds in the tube feeder, a pair of cardinals feed on the gazebo platform. Out to Dayton this morning: there are plenty of maples still holding, but the tree line is predominantly gray, and there’s no doubt that it’s Late Fall now (but early Late Fall). At South Glen, the river is clear, slow, and cold, reflecting the gray sky and the black tree trunks, the remnants of golden Osage, red spicebush, yellow-green honeysuckles. It has been a dry fall, and the water is down. The sloping banks are speckled with sycamore and oak leaves. The migrating robins and the turkey vultures have left, and the woods are quiet in the late afternoon. Two mallards, male and female, feed across the river, maybe fifty feet away. They seem indifferent to the danger my dog and I might pose. Are they old or sick? Will they overwinter here like we will? What will the winter bring us?


1995: Uncle Bill called today from northern Minnesota to report the first freeze and the first snowstorm of the year. Gentilly, a thousand miles north west of Yellow Springs, had its first killing frost at the same time as we did here.


1998: The white mulberry in the backyard collapses after a nighttime low in the middle 20s. All day, the yellow-green leaves fall, surrounding the trunk with their soft demise. Across the street, Lil’s tree goes quickly, the Danielsons’ almost finished. But along Corry Street, the sycamores hold green and orange, seeming as fresh as they were in October.


1999: One bud still on the water lily in the pond, but only six leaves. The big koi still feed, even though the water temperature is probably in the 40s or low 50s. The woodlots on the way to Dayton were almost bare today, no bright maples or oaks lighting up the horizon. By the roadsides, the honeysuckles and silver olives were yellowing. In town, the beech is becoming red orange.


2001: Some fields plowed for spring between Columbus and Washington Courthouse. Black earth, surrounded by November green, the winter wheat fields glistening in the late afternoon sun.


2002: Robins whinnying in the back yard at sunrise. Dahlias dug this afternoon, old zinnias pulled up. A few spiderworts managed to open today. On the road to Wilmington, the peak has passed, but a certain color density remains. Leaf-fall continues to be intense but has still not pushed the landscape all the way into Late Fall.


2005: One cabbage butterfly seen today. A brown and black woolly bear caterpillar found walking along on the greenhouse floor.


2007: This morning on our walk, Jeanie noticed two of the bittersweet hulls had opened. The bittersweet leaves were a soft, tawny yellow. Long flock of blackbirds or starlings crossed Dayton-Yellow Springs road, flying north as we drove home from shopping.


2008: Sweet gums all red and yellow here in town, full color, along with so many sugar maples and oaks. Judy called to celebrate the election victory last night, mentioned that the annual box elder bug and Asian ladybeetle infestations were at their peak there in Goshen, Indiana. At school today, numerous dandelions were open along the sidewalk.


2009: Thin-leafed coneflowers in full bloom in the alley, and the black-eyed Susans that grow in the yard are also continuing to flower. Some of Don’s goldenrod has tufted now, but his latest flowering plants are still rusty. Only two blooms on Peggy’s virgin’s bower. Among all the trees in the yard, the young South Carolina river birches are holding their color and leaves best of all. Robins whinnying in the yard about 9:00 a.m.


2010: Crows at 7:11 a.m. I found a large camel cricket in the bathtub, the first all year.


2011: Yellow Springs to Gethsemani Abbey, Kentucky: At home, the white mulberry tree is beginning to lose leaves now. Mrs. Timberlake’s maple is down, and Lil’s and Jimmy’s are deep gold and shedding quickly. In the back yard, the river birch is starting to turn all at once. On Dayton Street, the beech is half rusted. By our bedroom window the witch hazel is brown as honey now, and it too is losing leaves. A very different drive from Yellow Springs to Gethsemani, beginning with bright sun and clear skies, ending with gray cumulus and stratus clouds. The roadsides were April green throughout the trip, honeysuckles yellowing, sumac tops red above them. There was no real difference between Ohio and Kentucky in terms of leaf fall: most of the trees were bare, punctuated with russet oaks and glowing maples, red-gold sweet gums and very bright, full ginkgoes, some wood lots still holding, others completely gone. The land continued uniform throughout the trip, Louisville, consequently, not much different from Dayton.


2012: I wake up to leaves from the redbud tree and the white mulberry tree on the lawn where I raked just yesterday. Today, I will just look and listen.

When I am sitting on the porch, I hear two Osage fruits fall into the great open palms of the Lenten roses near the west fence. At the pond, our five koi lie low on the bottom, subdued by the autumn. Pale grape leaves streak the honeysuckle hedge. Even though the hummingbird food slowly disappears, it seems that the bees are the only ones drinking. One white bindweed has blossomed near the trellis, and Ruby’s white phlox have a few new flowers. All the finches at the feeders have turned for winter.

Into the woods, the canopy opening in front of me: Zigzag goldenrod and all the asters are half gone; smartweed is blanched by the frost; drifts of snakeroot have gone to seed, brown and gray; deep patches of goldenrod all rusted, flowers and leaves matching now; wood nettle is spotted, drooping; wingstem and ironweed are twisted, sagging, brittle; the pale underside of blackberry leaves turn over in the warm east wind.

This varied, mottled land reflects the motion of the sky, tells the rising of Orion up into the night, this leaf following red Antares, that leaf prophesying Betelgeuse. Open bittersweet along the path uncovers the Milky Way above me. Myopia takes everything in hand. In the glow of ripeness, the stars of November fall around me. Everything is here. All of the facts are in. I need look no further than the undergrowth for Taurus and the Pleiades.


2013: Now the maple on Jerry and Lee’s property has finally started to turn. The bur oak at Ellis is pretty much down, and the Zelcovas downtown are rusty brown and shedding. Rob noted that monarch butterflies may be down as much as ninety percent this year.


2014: A call from Bob Barcus this afternoon: He saw a bobcat crossing the bike path today. This is the first time I’ve received a report about bobcats. Will there be more?


2015: Cypress foliage gone at Ellis.


2016: Cypress foliage half gone at Ellis, most of the sugar maples in the large planting there have shed their leaves. Throughout the countryside, the peak has passed, but many bright sweet gums, maples, Zelcovas and oaks remain, shining in the woodlots and in the suburbs.


2017: Sweet gums near Jill’s house: mixed colors red and yellow and orange with green seed pods (a few fallen). In my front hedge, one Japanese knotweed flower protrudes over the sidewalk.


2018: Most of the Champneys’ maples, which dominated the street a week ago, are bare. Jill’s silver maples are down, but her red maple and sugar maple: full red and gold, Between Frank’s house and Mrs. Timberlake’s, the star magnolia is deep gold-rust. Lil’s burning bush, along with all the others I’ve seen around the area, is deep scarlet.

The sun was bright all morning, then cirrus filtered the sunlight and cooled the midday. At about one o’clock, I looked into the back yard and saw one male goldfinch, half-gold, sitting alone on the perch of the finch feeder. The usual sparrows and chickadees were nowhere around. The squirrels that almost always haunted the ground in search of bird food were absent.

When I was about to let Monk, the cat, out the back door an hour later, I held back because the finch was still sitting at the feeder, and I was curious about his solitary vigil. Was he sick, ostracized, abandoned, lost? Was he the first or the last of a flock? Was he waiting for another finch? A half hour later, I saw that he had flown to the top of the pole that held the feeder. He was still there after another half an hour, but then he returned to sit at the feeder.

Gradually gray altostratus clouds obscured the sun, and the breeze picked up. Still the finch waited. Until, when I checked at 3:30, I saw that there were two finches at the feeder. I checked ten minutes later and they both were gone, and I felt a great relief.

I felt relieved, believing that the two might have been looking for each other, or had each been separated from the flock, or that they found each other just at the right time, or that the long wait had ended successfully.


A man must attend to Nature closely for many years to know when, as well as where, to look for his objects, since he must always anticipate her a little. Young men have not learned the phases of Nature; they do not know what constitutes a year, or that one year is like another. I would know when in the year to expect certain thoughts and moods, as the sportsman knows how to look for plover.


Henry David Thoreau


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