Phollow me for phenology phun
February 16, 2008
Steamboat Springs — In case you hadn’t noticed already, phenology is bustin’ out all over in Steamboat Springs.
On Wednesday night we grilled a steak on the deck. For the record, it was a cheap chuck steak marinated in an Asian ginger sauce. As expected, it was a little chewy, but it tasted just like summer. As far as I’m concerned, it was a phenological event worth recording.
Phenology, not to be confused with phrenology, is a branch of science devoted to the observation of annual events that occur in nature and are triggered by climate. Blooming wildflowers and migrating birds are oblivious to the calendar, but diligent scientists keep records of the date when these events are observed each year.
Here’s a for instance: residents of Steamboat Springs will take note, perhaps in late April, when the first glacier lilies (dogtooth violets) blossom on the edge of receding snow on a south-facing hillside.
Hikers in the valley can time travel by climbing to higher elevations, where glacier lilies still are blooming in June and even early July.
Not long after the glacier lilies bloom at the foot of the mountains, those tiny frogs you almost never see will begin screeching their love songs from perennial puddles along the Yampa River Core Trail.
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So what do lilies and froggies have to do with a marginal cut of beef? Our own lives march to a tune dictated by weather and climate. Longer days that permit us to grill a steak at twilight instead of the frigid darkness mark a phenological event in human terms. If you pay any attention, you’ll spot the trends.
The arrival of the first outdoor barbecue was late this season. And I had to pry a giant plume of layered snow off the old grill before I could ignite its flame. But the marinated steak signaled the changing of the seasons.
All over Steamboat on Feb. 10, people climbed onto their roofs and devoted considerable energy to shoveling snow from the lid of their homes. In many cases, this exertion was unnecessary – most roof trusses in the city are engineered to stand up to the heavy snow load. But members of the shovel brigade, myself included, can’t help themselves. Changing climate compels us to drag the extension ladder out from under the deck.
On Monday, when temperatures reached the high 40s, people all over Steamboat reacted giddily. You would have thought the temperature was 60 based on the number of people strolling around town in sweaters.
I was walking across a parking lot when my eyes landed on a professional woman wearing an impeccably tailored business suit. It was not a pants suit. She was wearing a skirt and SHE HAD BARE LEGS!
Forgive me, but that was a phenological event.
I witnessed another example of phenology on the way to work Friday morning. It was my first sighting of a city crew tamping down a cold asphalt patch in a pothole. It wasn’t as glamorous as the arrival of the first meadowlark of spring, but when you think about it, the arrival of potholes is indicative of the spring thaw and freeze cycle.
Generations of naturalists have added to our understanding of climate by dutifully recording natural events season after season, year after year.
Did the geese arrive early this year? On what date did cow elk make a bed beneath chokecherry bushes and give birth to their calves? Was it warm enough on St. Patrick’s Day to sit on the deck and toast the arrival of spring?
It’s all phenology to me.