First Frost of the Season

Buddha with frosty head

The first frost of the season gave the little Buddha a frosty white head. This year was odd because we had our first snow of the season the night of the 7th, before our first frost. The sun melted the snow yesterday, and this morning our first frost prickled the leaves and the head of this patient Buddha.

Frost on sage

It feels like winter. According to the traditional Chinese solar term calendar, yesterday was the start of winter, the 19th of the 24 solar terms in a year. 立冬, which translates to “winter standing up.” I can go along with that.

Frosty leaves on frosty grass

The rains have lifted. The rivers dropped. And the vast lake of a few days ago where the swans swam is a green field again. Here one day. Gone the next. Nothing stays the same.

Frosty grape leaves

Even this morning’s frost is quickly fading. And by noon it will be all gone.

I’ve been reading The Song of the Cell by Siddhartha Mukherjee. It’s a fascinating read on what we know of the cells that make plants and animals. What interests me is how little people from just a hundred or two hundred years knew how life really works. Even now, there is so much that scientists don’t know how cells work.

Which makes me wonder why we pay any attention to what the ancients thought. They had no understanding of how the human body worked. It was less than 400 years ago, in 1628, that physiologist, William Harvey, described the heart as a pump that circulated blood through the body.

Think about that. People before William Harvey published his research in 1628, had no idea that the heart pumped blood through the body with one pump, and through the lungs with another pump. Round and round and round. And when he did publish his work, there were eminent researchers who scoffed at his ideas.

And it’s been less than a hundred years since scientists discovered that the pancreas made insulin! Prior to 1642, scientists considered the pancreas to be a cushion that protected the stomach. But in 1642 two anatomists discovered that there was duct inside the pancreas and realized that a pancreas was more than a cushion because a cushion would have no need for a duct inside it. But it wasn’t until the 1920’s that scientists discovered that the pancreas made insulin.

So why do we bother to take seriously the thoughts and ideas of the ancients who knew less about how the universe and life works than grade schoolers of today? Would you take seriously anyone who doesn’t know that the heart pumps blood through the body? Or who doesn’t know that the earth revolves around the sun?

Snow on dog house

Swan Lake

Swans swimming on a lake

A little more than a week ago this was a dry, parched field, as bone dry as the Sahara. And the air was acrid with forest fire smoke. But after a week of rain, the dusty field has turned into Swan Lake. Contented swans trumpet ceaselessly. Imagine if the swans had arrived ten days earlier. They wouldn’t have stayed. Not in a bone dry desert.

It’s enough to make you believe that swans are infused with the divine power to pull rain clouds behind their wings. So that wherever they go, they turn dry, dusty fields into swan lakes.

Maybe in drought stricken places, they should fill the air with the trumpeting of swans to beckon swans to come and pull rain clouds behind them.

Swans swimming on a lake.

Anyone looking at this idyllic scene of swans floating merrily along would never believe that a short time ago this was desert land.

Flooded fields

Or that this was barren land. Yesterday, I drove into town to get chicken feed. But I had to pull off Chuckanut Drive when I crossed the Sammish River and saw that it was full and overflowing its banks. Flood waters cover the driveway of the homes along the new lake. The homes are marooned as if on an island.

What other magical powers do swans posess?

Do Swans Have Calendars?

Swans flying in

Do swans have calendars? I wonder sometimes. They have an uncanny ability of showing up on November 1. Not on October 31 or on November 2. But precisely on November 1. And this year was no exception. I was outside in the woods on November 1 when I heard their trumpet calls high in the air. So I dashed out of the woods and saw them fly overhead. But I didn’t have my phone with me so I ran inside, grabbed it, ran back outside, and managed to catch a distant view of them as they flew south.

Nine swans, flying in from Alaska on their migration to the Skagit Valley. Where did they take off from that morning? How many hours had they flown when they flew overhead at 2:35 in the afternoon? I think it would take migrating swans posting their flights on TikTok to get me to join TikTok.

And yesterday, as we drove around doing errands, we saw flocks of swans on the lakes and in the pastures and fields. So the first ones are back for the winter. And they all used the same calendars.

Rainbow on November 2

The next day when I went to get the mail, I knew there had to be a rainbow someplace because the sun was out and yet there was drizzle in the air. And on the way back home, I spotted the rainbow. What do swans do when they see a rainbow? Do they avoid it? Flap their wings like crazy to fly through it?

Vine maple fall leave
s against a tree

The fall colors are almost over. Steady and at times heavy rains have moved in. Blustery winds tonight will knock many of the leaves away. Japanese has a special word: 木枯し – Kogarashi. It means cold winds during late autumn and early winter (the end of November and beginning of December) which blow from the north and scatter the fall leaves off the trees. That’s a lot of meaning to pack into a word. It was on the news the other day during the weather forecast. The weatherman was predicting the first Kogarashi of the season.

Vine maple fall leaves

We Can Breathe Again

Smokey skies on October 19

Last week the skies were ghastly with forest fire smoke. This photo is from Wednesday, October 19. At times our air quality exceeded 200. Not something you want to be outdoors in.

Blue skies with a view of Lummi island and the Chuckanut mountains.

But we can breathe again. The fall rains finally moved onshore on Friday, October 21st. For seven days we’ve had gentle rains and a few downpours. The smoke is gone. And the forest fire season is over. We are back to living in the Pacific Northwest.

Log over the lane

Now we have fall issues to contend with, like having to clear a log off the lane when we come home from an errand. One of these days a falling tree is bound to smack us on our way in or out. So if you never see another post, that is most likely what happened to me. A tree had enough of my nonsense and decided to take me out. Just saying.

A scientist should study if trees take aim at things when they fall. The answer could give us one more thing to worry about.

San Juan Islands

And the snow geese are back. I saw a large flock in a field along Chuckanut Drive yesterday. And today streams of them filled the skies. If you look closely in the photo above, you can see a flock as the descend like snowflakes against the San Juan islands. The swans will be close behind.

The migrations of the snow geese and swans from Siberia and Alaska to here are impressive. But I read today that a small, five month old bar-tailed godwit flew from Alaska to Tasmania non-stop, a journey of 13,560 kilometers (8,435 miles) in 11 days. That’s 1,233 kilometers a day (767 miles). An average speed of around 32 miles an hour. That’s an impressive feat for a little bird. What does a little bird think when it takes to the skies from the only place it has known, and flies for 11 days to a place it has never been before? And when it lands, how does it know it reached its destination?

Coming to an End

Today’s forecast is full of hope. Rain on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. The end of our long draught is nigh.

We have had very little rain since July. In the forest the ground is full of cracks big enough to stub a toe. Our pond is several feet lower than I have ever seen it.

Here it is, the last half of October, and days are still warm enough to lie on the back porch and soak in the sun. It’s like we’ve moved to Northern California.

This time, with so many days of rain in the near forecast, I’m more confident that I won’t open up the Weather App tomorrow and see all the forecast for rain evaporate and be replaced with sunny days. This time I think it will actually come true.

The maple is glorious this fall. I enjoy gathering the fallen leaves and using them to cover the trails. I’ll enjoy these last handful of sunny days and soak in as much son and color as possible.

Even though it has been so dry and warm this summer, I haven’t forgotten how wet the garden was this spring. This year as I plant garlic, I’m digging deep trenches between the rows and filling the trenches with gravel, pine cones, and covering them with straw. This way when it rains nonstop this spring, the water will have someplace to go and the garlic beds won’t be under standing water.

I can always count on Takuma to give me moral support whenever I am in the garden. Is he letting me know that I’m doing it right? That the trenches I’m digging are deep enough and that I’m spacing the garlic just right? Or is he thinking, “What the fuck are you doing?” Knowing dogs, I think it’s more the latter.

Foggy Morning

Foggy morning

Yesterday a heavy fog shrouded the woods. The fog was thick enough to condense on the leaves and drip to the forest floor. It almost sounded like rain. Feeling moist ground underneath my feet was a welcome change from the parched dry earth.

We are into October and still no autumn rains. I’ve never seen the woods so dry. I’ve taken to running hoses out into the woods to run sprinklers in them.

Cottonwoods in a thick fog.
Ripe Asian pears

Despite the dry weather, the Asian pears 梨 ripened well this year. This spring I wasn’t sure I was going to have a crop. It was so cold when the tree bloomed that few bees were around, so not many of the flowers were pollinated.

Normally I thin the developing pears, but there were so few this year that I didn’t need to cull many.

Large Asian pear.

I picked my first one today. There aren’t a lot of pears this year but the ones that ripened are juicy and sweet. This one weighed nearly a pound.

Pear slices

Potatoes Out, Garlic In

Potatoes out

Potatoes out, garlic in. It’s that time of year. Potatoes come out of the soft, warm earth. No matter how many times I pull potatoes out of the earth, it’s a wonder seeing them appear. It’s amazing how potatoes suck in carbon out of the air, combine it with water and minerals out of the ground, and store the result in delectable nuggets full of vitamins and minerals.

Garlic ready to plant

And as I pull out the potatoes, I push the garlic in. This year I’m taking out the potatoes bit by bit. Instead of digging entire rows of potatoes out, I’m just pulling them out as we eat them, and planting a handful of garlic gloves. I should have most of the potatoes out by the end of November and the garlic cloves snug in their winter beds.

Bright afternoon sun

One recent afternoon a bright sun and unusual clouds made me stop on the way to the post office. It pays to look up. Clouds are always being quirky. So quirky at times it makes me wonder if they are watching to see if anyone notices what they are doing.

Curved clouds

How often do you see clouds like this? It’s like someone went crazy with a paint brush up against the blue sky. Show something like this to a psychoanalyst and what would they make of it?

calendula in bloom

Made Me Want to Cry

Blue skies on the morning of September 10.

I thought we’d escape dealing with forest fire smoke this year. In a normal year, by September 10 the fall rains would be back. Labor Day weekend is often a wet one in the Puget Sound. One year to escape the Labor Day downpour, we took off for Canada and on the other side of the border headed east. We had no plans as to where to go other than to escape the steady rain.

We ended up in Banff and on to Calgary. A bit extreme, but we left the rain behind for a few days and discovered the beautiful, California like, Okanagan valley of southern British Columbia, as well the spectacular Canadian Rockies.

Already on Friday, September 9, the smell of forests on fire was in the air. The skies were still blue, and on Saturday morning they were still blue, though the smell of burning wood was stronger.

After skies, orange with smoke on September 10 make me want to cry.

But billowing smoke poured into the skies from the Bolt Creek fire burning sixty miles to the southeast of us. Since the fire was on the west side of the Cascade Mountains, the smoke quickly turned the skies a Martian orange. It made me want to cry.

Sun through smokey clouds

The sun was barely visible. Maybe the sun looks like this on a clear day on Mars. I wonder how intrepid souls who travel to Mars will adjust to life without blue skies. Blue and green are the colors of life. We’ve evolved over millions and millions of years bathed in blue and green. Can we be content never seeing blue skies? Never being able to see blue skies again would certainly make me cry. That’s a key reason I won’t volunteer to settle Mars.

Bolt Creek Fire

Someone flying from Seattle to Spokane took this picture of the smoke billowing from the Bolt Creek Fire and spreading west over Puget Sound. Mt. Baker is the snow covered peak in the upper right.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to endure days on end with smoke in the air. By the next morning, there was enough of an onshore breeze to push the smoke east, and the skies were blue again. And this morning, a short spell of rain dried my tears.

What a Radish Becomes

Radish blossoms, dainty white with pink blush.

Radish have delicate white flowers. This one’s petals have pink blush tips. But by the time a radish blooms it can be a huge plant and hardly edible.

Radish plant pulled out of the ground and spread out on the pavement.

I let one go and pulled it out of the garden yesterday. Huge! Hundreds of blossoms. It would have produced thousands of seeds.

Chickens on radish plant.

But I wanted the space the radish took up to plant some fall crops. A huge radish bush with hundreds of blossoms is a treat for the chickens. It must have been a host to many insects, too small for me to see, but not too small for them.

Chickens enjoying pecking at radish plant.

Summer has past. Labor Day often heralds the start of the rainy season here. We had a few sprinkles yesterday evening, but the sun is out today and the forecast is for dry weather for the next week. The heat is gone and the days are more fall like than summer.

Radish root

And what of the radish? It’s turned into a gnarly root. I’m sure it is chock full of fiber but it would be like chewing on wood. When you think about it, the radishes you see in beautiful bunches in the market are but babies plucked out of the soft soil. Little babies who will never experience their true destiny of becoming a bush with hundreds of butterfly like blossoms.

Ripe blackberries

Blackberries are in peak picking condition. I like to pick them in the late afternoon when they are warm from being in the sun all day. It’s like eating warm blackberry pie fresh out of the oven.

Spaghetti squash flowers

And the spaghetti squash seeds I tossed on composting Alpaca droppings have turned into a jungle of green vines and lovely yellow flowers. There’s still time for the spaghetti squash to ripen before frost arrives in a month or so and puts an end to their vigor.

Wonders Just Outside the Front Door

Wonders just outside the door - a funnel web weaver spider web

Just outside the front door, a wonder awaits. A gossamer cloud floats just above the grass. The taller grass blades poke above it, like mountain peaks above a cloud covered valley.

Funnel web weaver spider’s web close view
Funnel web weaver spider web

It’s a funnel web weaver spider’s home. No human can weave such delicate lace. Imagine wearing a shawl so delicate. And it to think it comes out the butt of a spider.

If we had such silk spinning mechanisms next to our anus we could put them to use and delicately wrap our droppings in fine silk and not need to worry if a toilet was nearby. We could encase them all in fine silk along with a handle so we could dispose of them politely. Just saying.

Flight attendants might say after a long flight, “Passengers, we hope you had a pleasant flight, and please deposit your silk encasings in the appropriate receptacles as you disembark.”

Funnel web weaver web from above

I used to think that the spiders waited inside their funnels for an insect to fall inside. But they wait inside their funnels and race out at blinding speed to bite and inject venom into hapless victims. Spiders who build these webs are among the fastest spiders. The webs aren’t sticky so what do insects feel when they walk on these cloud like sheets? “Have I died and gone it heaven?” Is that their last thought?

Funnel web weaver web side view

If I was an insect, I think I’d be lured onto this shimmering cloud, if only to rest my weary feet. I suppose there are many insect parents who have warned their million or so offspring, “Now children, if it looks too good to be true, it likely is.”