Subject: [Tweeters] Better Living Through Phenology!
Date: Jun 14 17:28:39 2014
From: Jeff Gibson - gibsondesign at

This Spring I discovered that I'm a Phenologist and didn't even know it.
Some of you might be wondering what the heck Phenology even is. Although I'd seen the word floating around various botany books for years, it wasn't till recently, when I read Robert Michael Pyle's excellent book "Sky Time in Gray's River " wherein he describes the term, that I got the meaning.
Phenology is the study of how biological life responds in time to changes in the environment, such as annual seasons, climate changes, and other environmental factors, such as elevation. Variables include sunlight, temperature and precipitation.
I realized that not only am I a Phenologist, I'm a Professional Phenologist. You see sometimes I get paid by folks to design their yard and garden plantings. A good garden designer is a Phenologist. Many times I have consulted with people about their planting ideas . A common boo- boo of the phenologically challenged gardener is flubbed color schemes. Oh sure mister, that yellow Forsythia could look smashing with that blue Geranium, except they don't bloom at the same time. So you have to know the seasonal timing of these plants. That's phenology! I could go on about garden phenology, but there are many books about the subject.
We would all be hungry if not for Phenologists. A farmer is a Phenologist and has to know when to plant what when, when to harvest etc. Gotta watch the weather too. Risky business.
I suppose the ultimate human Phenologist's are indigenous people; those hunter-gatherer's and agriculturalists who really have to know their Phenology to survive. And not only that, many have managed it without journals - going on the oral tradition pretty much. A story for all the moons, tubers, bugs, birds etc.
If your'e a birder most likely your'e a Phenologist. Reading tweeter reports many of you keep track of monthly bird arrivals over the years. Ignorance of basic bird phenology could result in a long road trip driving around Washington state in February looking for Nighthawks - a real waste of time and gasoline. You see how practical phenology is?
Phenology operates on a number of levels, from the annual time cycle of a particular species of plant, or the annual cycle of migration, nesting, etc of a bird species, but also annual biological cycles on a habitat, continental, or oceanic scale.
One of my favorite examples of phenology was what I witnessed up at Paradise on Mt. Rainier over several summers.My first summer at Rainier was after a world record snowfall at Paradise in 1972; A total of 93 ft of snow. The following year was strikingly different, "only" 48 ft of snow. That was followed up by 89 ft of snow the year of 74.
Of course there was never ninety whatever feet of snow on the ground at one time - those numbers are overall snowfall. However, when I arrived in early June of those big snow years there was still 30 ft of snow on the ground in places. On the fourth of July the narrow road at Paradise was between 16 or 20 ft walls of snow. On the "drought" year, the snow on the fourth of July was patchy - not covering everything.
What I found remarkable was the rapid phenology of the sub alpine meadows those summers. "Fall" at Paradise, - the first sprat of snow, and frost was in the first week of September. So the timeline from first Glacier Lilies coming through the thinning snow, to those incredible blue Gentians ( about the last flower) in the fields of already rotting sedges (smelled like old wet hay), was pretty darn short - only 2 and a half months the "dry" year, considerably less on the big snow years. Alas I wasn't keeping journals in those youthful years, but it was an incredible diversity of herbaceous plant blooming in short order.
One thing I've always imagined, was that the Hoary Marmots of Paradise were the fastest eating "Whistle-pigs" in the world. Eating largely 'herbs', how could these big tubby rodents get enough to eat those shortest summers to make it through winter. I've always wondered. They managed.
Well whether for practicality, beauty, or general life supporting interest, you might get some more Phenology in your life. There's always something to look at now, and something else coming up soon. Nice to see old (and new) friends again too.
Jeff Gibsonlookin' at stuff inPort Townsend Wa