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The Twelve Seasons of Yellow Springs:
A calendar of events in the natural world

By Bill Felker

The landscape of the Yellow Springs habitat, with its woodlands and wetlands, limestone gorges and rolling prairie, the Little Miami River and the brooks and springs of Glen Helen, is representative of the broader bio-region. No matter when you choose to explore its walkways, bikepaths and parks, you will be entering the temporal cycles not only of this special place but of the greater Ohio Valley.

Early Winter: December 8– 31

When all the leaves are down and the woods grow quiet for Early Winter, the season of decorative berries begins. All around the village, fruits stand out on the crab apple trees, the hawthorns, holly, honeysuckles, bayberry and
rose bushes, and on vines of the bittersweet and euonymus.

Sparrow hawks arrive; they wait on the high wires, watching for mice in the snowless fields. In the chilly afternoons, crane flies spin in the sun.

When the days begin to lengthen on Dec. 26, the night shrinks at the rate of a minute every 24 hours, and the solar year starts all over again.

Deep Winter: January 1– 25

The sun rises higher in the sky each day, but average temperatures fall to their lowest point of the year.

gUndaunted, foxes, skunks, opossums, raccoons, beavers and coyotes mate. Owls are establishing their territories and nesting in the woods. Crows, sparrows, tufted titmice and blue jays increase their activity. Juncos begin their migratory activity by mid-January; they can often be seen flocking by the
roadsides, gathering for their journey to Canada.

Pine trees are pollinating. In the warmest winters, sap runs in the maples.

Late Winter: January 26– February 18

Even the most bitter of Yellow Springs Januarys softens by the end of its third week, and, in the traditional thaws of Late Winter, cardinals begin their mating songs half an hour before dawn, the first robins come to feed in the crab apple trees on Xenia Avenue, and bluebirds appear in the Glen. Village sparrows, stimulated by the lengthening days, are chattering near sunrise.

By Groundhog Day, the first snowdrops can be in bloom, and you may find antlers of Glen Helen’s herd of white-tailed deer lying in the melting snow.

Early Spring: February 19– March 31

In the middle of February’s third week, Early Spring arrives in Yellow Springs and its nature preserves. With milder weather come the first red-winged blackbirds to the Jacoby wetlands. Skunk cabbage blooms there; mallards and Canadian geese scout for nesting sites along river, and the very earliest snow crocus opens in local gardens. Pussy willows emerge by this time of the year, and hemlock, bittercress, ragwort and celandine grow back along the creeks.

Winter wheat is greening in the fields outside of town, offering a patchwork promise of April. By the middle of March, the earliest daffodils blossom just as Glen Helen’s own flock of turkey vultures returns. Then bright blue scilla peaks in the lawns, and question mark, tortoise shell and cabbage butterflies come looking for nectar just as the first magnolia blooms unravel.

Middle Spring: April 1– 26

The raucous calls of the flicker and the gold breasts of the finches mark April and Middle Spring in Yellow Springs. Walks in the North Glen will yield some of the most welcome flowers of the year: hepatica, violet cress, snow trillium, bloodroot, Virginia bluebells, Dutchman's britches, twinleaf, toothwort and spring beauties. May apples are pushing through the mulch too, and velvety wild ginger leaves unravel on the hillsides.

By the middle of April red toad trillium, trillium grandiflorum, yellow trout lily, bellwort, wild geranium and delicate white rue anemone blossom in the woods. Morel mushroom season begins when locusts, mulberries, ash, tree of heaven and ginkgoes leaf out and pastures are golden with winter cress and dandelions.

Across the hillsides, the canopy of leaves will be greening. In town, early tulips, daffodils, windflowers and pushkinia open, following late March’s snow crocus. Bright yellow forsythia and cornus mas are in full bloom, and pollen grows on the pussy willow catkins. Henbit, violets and small-flowered buttercups bloom in the alleys, just when crab apples, pears,
dogwoods, redbuds and cherry trees bloom.

Late Spring: April 27– May 25

By the end of April, the season of Late Spring comes to Yellow Springs. In the woods, the undergrowth is full of garlic mustard, violet sweet rocket, fire pink, rare golden seal, columbine, golden alexander, sweet Cicely, daisies, yellow sweet clover and Solomon’s seal. Lilacs, mock orange, buckeye trees and strawberries bloom. Iris, poppies and peonies open too.

Red and white clover flower in the pasture. Blackberry and elderberry bushes blossom by the roadsides. Meadow goat’s beard nods by the bikepath.

When ruby-throated hummingbirds come for the flowers by the middle of May, goslings hatch along the river. That is also the best season for watching the dawn and dusk courtship rituals of the woodcock. Then strawberries ripen by the time the woodland canopy of leaves is almost full, and the heavy fragrance of locust and catalpa tree flowers fills the whole Miami Valley.

The earliest fireflies glow in the grass, and spring crickets sing.

Early Summer: May 26– June 30

When the river goslings reach a third of their adult size (that’s about the end of May), then Yellow Springs enters Early Summer, and delicate honewort flowers

and the clustered snakeroot is full of golden pollen under the new canopy of leaves. A few mulberries are ready to pick then, and timothy is ripe for chewing.

Wild black raspberries are common along the bikepath and the roadsides when the first yucca is ready to flower, and bright blue damsel flies appear by the water willow in the streams and ponds.

Pink thistles and pale blue chicory brighten the freeways, and wheat is turning gold in the fields. The second week of June adds day lilies and Queen Anne’s lace to the waysides, then giant great mullein, crown vetch, white and yellow sweet clover, elderberry bushes and smartweed.

Middle Summer: July 1– 31

Middle Summer and July begin as the earliest field corn starts to tassel, and the wheat, completely golden brown, is almost ready for harvest. Days shorten for the first time since December. Katydids and stag beetles appear at porch lights. Violet tall bell flowers and orange touch-me-nots bloom in the woods. The rose of Sharon comes into flower, and the first black walnuts start to fall. The summer apple harvest gets underway in orchards around town, and farmers sell the very first sweet corn behind Kings Yard. Woolly bear caterpillars, cicada song, milkweed pods and flakes of sycamore bark designate the exact center of Middle Summer.

And when the evenings are full of cricket and katydid song, normal average temperatures begin to fall. July is almost over.

Late Summer: August 1–September 8

August is Late Summer in Yellow Springs, the time that blackberries ripen along the bikepath and in the South Glen.

A Judas maple here and there turns orange in the village. Pods of the touch-me-not burst along the Little Miami. The first hickory nuts, buckeyes, acorns and Osage fruits are falling.

Fogs appear along the river before sunrise, and virgin’s bower, field thistle, great blue lobelia, rose pinks and Japanese knotweed bloom. Cardinals grow silent, but robins are clucking their migration signals in the honeysuckles as the very first goldenrod becomes gold. Then wild plums and grapes are ready for jam and jelly. Peaches come in at the local orchards.

Early Fall: September 9–October 11

By the second week of September, giant puffball mushrooms are growing in the woods at night, and the leaves in Yellow Springs are starting to change color. By equinox, sycamores, locusts, elms, box elders, a few maples, chinquapin oaks and red buds lose their dark summer green. Poison ivy, sumac and Virginia creeper turn the fence rows red and gold. Ginkgo leaves fade at the edges.

Middle Fall: October 12–November 4

By the first of October, all the ash trees have become deep maroon or pale orange. Middle October brings in all the maples, and the yellow witch hazel flowers open. The colors of the whole forest converge by the 20th, then the foliage suddenly falls.

The first or second week of November, the mulberries and ginkgoes shed all at once. Throughout the pageant of the leaves, the wildflowers — beggarticks, hog peanuts, bur marigolds, zigzag goldenrod and asters — enter and exit their seasons. August’s milkweed pods and cattails burst in the wind, and the first juncos come to the bird feeders. Cedar waxwings migrate down the river. Robins fill the Glen, then disappear with the last of the vultures by Nov. 1. Woolly bear caterpillars intensify activity in the low sun, and the last monarch butterflies fly to Mexico.

Late Fall and Second Spring: November 5–December 7

After the October witch hazels end their seasons, the floral year comes to a close in Yellow Springs. South to the edge of the tropics, there is no sequence after autumn except spring. The land has no response other than to begin again.

Even before all the leaves come down, that commencement is underway. Henbit and garlic mustard have sprouted now that the drought is over. Wood mint grows new stalks. Water cress revives. Waterleaf slowly reappears along the river. April’s sweet Cicely, May’s sweet rockets, ragwort, dock and poison hemlock, June’s cinquefoil, July’s avens and caraway, September’s zigzag goldenrod and small-flowered asters send up fresh leaves. Sedum comes back, stalky from its canopied summer. Wild rose bushes sprout new foliage. Moss thickens on rotting logs.

In mild Novembers, catchweed blooms. Cardinals briefly renew their late-winter songs. Parsnips, violets, chickweed, celandine, dandelions, clover, sow thistles, and even forsythia blossom; cabbage moths look for their nectar. The grass continues to grow on the Glen’s paths, glowing in the low sun. Winter wheat creates patches of bright green in the countryside. In the swamps, skunk cabbage comes up again. In the garden, red knuckles of rhubarb push to the surface.