Calendars and phenology

Going Nature’s Way
By Kate Crowley

Do you look forward to putting up a new calendar each year, as much as I do?  And do you have special calendars that you buy almost religiously each year?  I do.  Or maybe you are happy to accept the calendars given out by local merchants during the holiday season.  I receive at least five unsolicited calendars each year from Environmental Organizations I support and these I save to give to my grandchildren.  Like the record keeping I do with my birdwatching, there is something refreshing and a bit exciting about putting up a new calendar with the numbers of the New Year for all to see.  So much possibility in those pages, even though I know they can bring sadness as well as joy, I prefer to dwell on the positive, exciting, and creative experiences that lie in wait.
For a long time I have had two particular calendars that I MUST get each year.  One is by a favorite artist, Mary Englebreit, whose colorful and clever drawings and phrases entertain me; the other is the Freshwater Society Weatherguide calendar, but more about that in a bit .  More recently I have become fond of the photo calendars that you can make yourself on-line with your own photographs.  The variations of background and format can be a bit overwhelming, but through these options you can make the calendar very personal, with important dates highlighted and written comments included.  Then each month when you turn the page you’re presented with another photo to stir memories and make you smile.
The Weatherguide Calendar has been a staple of mine for 34 years. I have saved everyone, because they are scientific documents that I have used to record temperatures, other weather conditions and phenological events.  For those who have never heard of phenology, it is the study of nature and its relationship to weather and climate. In other words, it is noticing and recording when the first robin returns, when the catkins begin to open on the aspen trees, when the ice goes off a nearby lake, when the chorus frogs start to sing – and when they stop.  The list is nearly endless, limited only by your ability to observe and recognize when something new is happening. 
This particular calendar began as collaboration between the Freshwater Society, The Science Museum of Minnesota and WCCO radio.  Today it is produced by the Freshwater Society and KARE11.  It is more than a calendar – it is a source of great information about astronomy, freshwater, and phenological events that happened (and the dates) in the previous two years.  Even as the format has changed over the years, it is still the place where I record my daily entries and where I go for information that I can use in my writing.  I would be lost if they ever stopped publishing these amazing calendars, but even if they did; I would still find a way to record our local phenology.    
I know that this information may not seem important on the surface, but it potentially has the capability of assisting scientists who in the future will be trying to study changes in our environment.  When did we start seeing significant changes in bird migration or flower blooming times?  How quickly did the change happen?  What has been lost, what has been gained, and what is still in flux?  I will make sure that my grandchildren know about these calendars; they are an inheritance that I believe they will really appreciate.  We are trying to influence them as they grow up to be observant of nature and I feel certain that one or more will pursue the sciences.
It’s so easy to be distracted in our daily lives by all the media and technology that surrounds us.  This is true for both adults and kids.  Focusing on nature for even a few minutes of every day grounds us and should remind us of our connection to it.  Going for a walk outdoors every day is an even better way of connecting.  It is a known form of mental and physical therapy.  Do this regularly; pay attention to your surroundings and phenology will come very naturally. You will find that you can see the subtle changes of color in the bark of some shrubs as winter wanes, or the swelling of maple buds, or hear the courtship calls of the black-capped chickadees (fee-bee, fee-bee).  I can guarantee you that your life will be enriched and a window will open on the world that you didn’t even know was closed.  And with that I wish you a New Year of beauty and discovery. 


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