Here They Come!

Here They Come!

Perhaps you’ve been watching the amazing Neil deGrasse Tyson on the Cosmos television series? Last night, he touched on the fact that stars have long been used as a calendar, indicating when new seasons are around the bend [get planting, you!]. Certain constellations are tightly tied with seasons–such as Orion and Winter.

Less than 45 miles from Indianapolis, Brown County State Park is flooded with light pollution.

Less than 45 miles from Indianapolis, Brown County State Park is flooded with light pollution.

This winter, I’d been fussing about how slowly Orion moves. He’d climb over the eastern mountains, dangle over the Golden Gate Bridge [from the Marin Headlands, of course], and all and all, be a slow poke about his waltz across the sky. My impatience, stemming from the fact that I don’t usually look at the winter night sky, kept growing. It’s so difficult to live in a place where the temperature is mild year round [Ha! But I don’t ever feel warm.]. We made several trips up to Kneeland, a patch of human-created prairie where the astronomy club meets, this winter to stand in a forest of telescopes and gawk with like-minded folks and only encountered nippy conditions, but no frostbite.  To me, looking at the stars says very loudly SUMMER! My brain, in that warm, wind-swept prairie of South Dakota-mode, wondered why long underwear was necessary, and why the stars weren’t as familiar. Sirius? Isn’t that some form of radio?? Aldebaran? Don’t you mean Altair? And who is this Orion fellow anyway? Hercules! Hercules! [In my defense, my star gazing occurs between the hours of 9 and 12 pm–no early morning viewings for me, hence the missing the “other” part of the sky.]

So last night, after what feels like a long winter [probably since there was hardly any rain–hardly a winter!], the Big Dipper pointed to two bright stars [and one planet] creeping over the eastern mountains–Arcturus and Spica [and Mars–that’s a story for another day]! Summer stars, the stars I’m most familiar with, were shining and climbing. Soon they will be directly overhead, crowning the night skies of summer. Good Bye Orion! Good Bye Stars of Winter!

Orion sinks into the Pacific [center left], Sirius, the brightest star we see, glows in foggy conditions [left]. Taurus and the Pleiades follow to the right. All of these are topped by the Milky Way running horizontally across the top of the photo.  The orange glow of Eureka competes with the blue light from the Trinidad Head Lighthouse [on right].

Even with some light pollution but less-densely populated, we are lucky to live in such a dark area. Orion sinks into the Pacific [center left], Sirius, the brightest star we see, glows in foggy conditions [left]. Taurus and the Pleiades follow to the right. All of these are topped by the Milky Way running horizontally across the top of the photo. The orange glow of Eureka competes with the blue light from the Trinidad Head Lighthouse [on right].

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Subtle Changes in the Seasons

When we moved here to north of Northern California, also known as the North Coast, we were told that there aren’t seasons here, just rain during the winter and fog during the summer. The temperature only fluctuates by about 20 or 30 degrees, so that seasonal indicator isn’t of much help, either.

While there aren’t traditional seasons right here on the coast, you can go 20 or 30 miles inland and find them, complete with snow or scorching temperatures! But, if you keep your eyes peeled and pay attention to nature, you’ll notice that the seasons are in fact here, even if the temperature is the same every day.

For example, the flowers here on the North Coast go through a seasonal succession. They progress, just like other places with more ‘typical’ weather, from the Spring beauties to the final blooms of Fall.

Animals, too, follow the  subtle seasonal rhythms.  The Roosevelt Elk are starting to bugle and compete with each other, marking the start of the rut that most elk herd ritualistically participate in during the month of September.

Birds have come and gone, and others have arrived. Varied and Swainsons thrushes have migrated elsewhere, leaving the Redwood forests nearly silent, but others, like the Band-tailed Pigeon have come crashing into the cascara and alder thickets.  Swallows, both Cliff and Barn,  as well as Marbled Murrelets, hit their peak mid-summer while raising their young, and most have now completed the task and are enjoying their time “off”.

During the Spring, it was hard to find a spider anywhere, but now, especially early in the morning, you find them everywhere.  You know you are the first one to walk a trail when you walk through webs every 4 feet!

So even though we don’t get feet of snow and hot weather, Nature is still marching on and changing to the “invisible” seasons that are controlled by the Earth’s tilt and rotation around the Sun.  The breezes carry only the smell of the Pacific Ocean and its kelp, but Autumn and its sunshine are seeping in through the fog!