A lot can happen in a month or so, especially in plant-time. If you have been following along, you know I have been spending time each weekend studying a small plot out in the back of my property. I have been reporting on this regularly. As summer got busy, I took some time off. When I returned, in week 9 of my study, my plot looked pretty much the same superficially as it had in week 5, except for the expected seasonal yellowing and browning of the entire plot. Think of it as the plant equivalent to going gray as they lose their chlorophyll and get long in the tooth…or should I say long in the leaf?
The common milkweed, being the mega-flora and star of my plot, got most of my attention. I found seedpods ready to burst and others that had already released their seeds. Many of the leaves had been eaten up, and many that remained were turning a dull shade of yellow. I searched the plot for insects but didn’t find any; they were all being lured away by the goldenrods, purple asters, and other late-season blooms growing outside my little square of the world. Of course, once I was done investigating my plot, I happily chased the buzzing bees and fluttering butterflies while listening to the birds sing.
The following week’s visit to my little study plot showed me a world slowly turning to gold. With the seedheads of grasses swaying in the wind, the milkweeds having lost most of their chlorophyll, and the goldenrods in bloom everywhere, the end of summer was palpable throughout the landscape. Here’s something: every year I hang on to summer as long as possible, sometimes refusing to let it go, but not this year… and that thought preoccupied my mind as I examined each plant in my plot. It had been a busy summer and a lot had changed in my life, but one of the constants I did have was this plot. It anchored and grounded me and gave me some of the most peaceful, carefree, and immersive moments I experienced throughout the season.
I reflected on those weekly visits as I approached my plot in its eleventh week. The plot was actually hard to find! The towering milkweed that had been my landmark beacons all season had shriveled and died back. So instead I had to search for the sun-faded pink flagging sitting low in the tall grass. At this point, I wondered if my little spot had shared all its curiosities with me and the story was over. But there is still one last mystery. A goldenrod species that has yet to bloom and is driving me to return to find out its true identity. I am sure it is a common species, and that many people could name it in a heartbeat. But one of the best things about being a student of nature is that you get to teach yourself. I look forward to the moment when I can give a name to this little guy.
I started this backyard study plot in the hopes of getting people to bond with their land. It would be a way to learn some new plants and discover the creatures that use them for food, shelter, and reproduction However, beyond that, I found it was a way to lose myself in the rhythm of nature and that is truly the treasure buried within my little plot. That is what I wish for anyone who tries doing something like this for themselves, and next year I encourage you to do so. As for myself, I will follow this to its logical conclusion, up until every last living thing within that plot has died. Then I will close the book on it, until perhaps some cold, gray January day when I will look back and be grateful for time well spent.
To keep up with my latest activities, join our Facebook Group, the Natural Neighbors Network. And if you are looking for a more consistent nature-based activity close to home, why don’t you give iNaturalist a try? You can use the iNaturalist app on your phone to document and keep track of your own nature sightings. iNat’s artificial intelligence and online naturalist community can be immensely helpful to budding naturalist and can inspire contributions to scientific study at the same time.
You can download iNaturalist here:https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/mobile_apps_nz