If by chance we miss the changing colors, a chill in the morning air, it’s nice to know that nature has an abundance of seasonal displays to remind us just how synchronized the environment is with life, both wild and civilized.
For example, the annual late October (St. John’s Day) departure of Cliff Swallows from their California mud nests to that of another home some 6,000 miles away in Argentina. For centuries, the subsequent springtime (mid-March) reappearance known as the “Return of the Capistrano Swallows” was celebrated at the picturesque ruins of the Mission of San Juan Capistrano in Southern California. Speculation abounds as to why the last couple of decades have shown a migratory return trajectory as markedly dispersed and veering more and more to the less populated highlands of the San Bernardino Mountains and similar undeveloped areas. Accordingly, annual Swallows Day celebrations these days tend to denote the autumn departure rather than the springtime return. We may not always know where, but the swallows always do return – and right on time.
Hummingbirds are my favorite. I have a few at the feeder year-round, though many are migratory. The Anna’s hummingbirds, for instance, don’t go very far, but along with the white-tailed deer, cruise up to our sky islands for the summer. About the time the gorgeous butterflies tire of decorating my yard the white-tails will be back to compete with the javelina who never seem to stray too far from the nearest trash bin. Funny thing about javelinas: they haven’t always been here in Arizona. Likewise, Texas and New Mexico are relatively new habitats for the collard peccary who really only smell like pigs. They’re thought to have originated in Argentina. Like the Cliff swallows. That’s a long way to travel without wings, don’t you think?
Keeping the feeders filled with nectar is a challenge this time of year. The black-chinned hummers need to fatten up for their southern journey, and wouldn’t you know the lesser long-nosed nectar bats are migrating as well? They like nectar too, but they are messy. White-winged doves won’t be far behind the nectar bats. It’s easier to forgive the dove their messiness because they are so beautiful. I admire the destinations they choose in the shadows of streamside groves to while away the winter months.
We may not fully understand how wildlife navigates the seasons so well, but we can rest assured they do. We humans, on the other hand, look for ways to circumvent the inevitable. For example, adjusting our clocks (though not in most of Arizona) to coincide with seasonal variations of sunlight. I typically awaken around the same time every day, though nowadays it’s not yet light outside. While the rest of the country observes the Daylight Savings or ‘Falling back’ routine (November 7th), I’ll be falling back to sleep. It’s one of the perks of retirement 😉
It’s also that time of year where you dig around in the pantry searching for the bag of brown sugar you know was nearly full last time you used it, only to find it has hardened into an unusable brick of confection. According to Martha Stewart, and as relayed by Mental Floss, all is not lost. You don’t have to throw it out and hope to find a new bag at the store (good luck with that these days). You simply put the brick in a microwave-safe bowl with a damp paper towel over it and cook at 20-second intervals, checking the consistency each time, until the hardened block of sweetness has turned back into a sandy softness you can spoon easily into any recipe.
“Falling leaves hide the path so quietly” ~ John Bailey
Happy autumn, everyone!