Saturday, March 25, 2017

Essential Differences

Heard a bluebird about a week ago.  There are very few phenomena which can be described indifferently as occurring at different seasons of the year, for they will occur with some essential difference.  Journal, Nov 3, 1853

Henry David Thoreau's attempt to made a detailed seasonal nature calendar was probably doomed.  After my own "years of observation," I am astonished at how variable events can be.  Not only do the early-blooming trees vary year to year by more than a month, these trees have not been varying together, but each following its own mysterious impulses.

Henry David Thoreau is well-known among modern naturalists for his close, systematic, and long-continued observation of nature in his hometown of Concord, Massachusetts.  Among his ambitions was to record the events of nature precisely enough to predict--almost on a daily basis--the flowering and fruiting of plants, arrival and departure of migrating birds, mating seasons, and other events of the season.  Although Thoreau's interests varied from year to year (one year he hatched and followed snapping turtles), he did one concentrated, conscientious "year of observation" around 1852 in which he determined to record every seasonal event.  He was building his own version of the seasonal calendars that were popular at that time.

I have been doing my own "years of observation" in my own little neighborhood over the last three years or so.  The wild swings of the last few springs have convinced me that nature is predictable only within wide limits.  Last year the warm winter brought out the early-blooming trees far earlier than the year before.  This year we had another warm winter--one of the warmest Februarys on record worldwide, and definitely the warmest ever in this region--and I looked for the same trees to bloom at about the same times as last year.  To my surprise, some bloomed earlier, but some bloomed later.  So nature is still less predictable than I'd thought. 

Silver maples began blooming April 4, 2015, but February 29, 2016 and February 23 this year!

Quaking aspens bloomed around April 10, 2015, but March 26th, 2016, and was in full bloom before March 22 this year.

 Red maples bloomed April 15, 2015, but March 11, 2016, and is just beginning to bloom as I write on March 25th.  (Males above, females below.)

But maybe it's better this way.  A predictable Nature would be a boring Nature.  In truth, the closer you look, the more Nature remains full of surprises.

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