In the Garden:
Upper South
October, 2011
Regional Report

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Take time to learn the about the natural world around you.

Magical Moons & Seasonal Circles

As a child, an oft-repeated ritual was for my father to call mother and me out to the front steps to marvel at the sunset, the evening star, or a full moon. We listened, too, to the first notes of the peepers in the spring, noted when the earliest robin appeared or the pale flowers of hepatica as the snows melted. In the fall, mother and I nibbled on beechnuts while we gathered black walnuts and persimmons. We could smell when a rainstorm was coming or as the seasons were changing. Now, as the seasons once again go from summer into autumn, I am reminded of these moments and how much they influenced my life.

If you would like to become more aware of the natural world around you and, hopefully, share your experiences with someone young in your life, the changing season is an ideal time to become more attuned. For a guiding hand, I suggest you turn to Susan Betz, a person who has worked in the field of community gardening for over thirty years and recently written a guidebook for teachers and adults that is a compendium of Native American lore plus stories, poetry, scientific facts, and hands-on activities and projects for observing what is going on in our own backyards.

Betz has written in her book, Magical Moons & Seasonal Circles (2 Moon Press, 2011, $15.99), "Mother Nature is active or impartial, mysterious, orderly, rhythmic, messy and always near at hand. She does not want you to wait for an invitation or schedule an appointment -- she is ready and willing to entertain on a moment's notice. Parents, grandparents and other family relatives can help nurture a child's connection with the outdoor world by showing them that nature is not 'somewhere else' but a dynamic presence in their daily lives. Following the life cycles of common local plants and animals and exploring how they respond to the changing season is a great place to begin. All you need do is stop, look, listen and step into the circle of the seasons."

In Other Words, Phenology
The study of natural phenomena that recur periodically, such as migration, blossoming, and so forth, and its relationship to weather, climate and the change of the seasons is officially called phenology. Certainly, scientists study phenology, but, as Betz writes, "Anyone, regardless of age or education background, can observe and enjoy the natural, cyclical occurrences unfolding daily around their backyards and local communities." She suggests that we might keep a journal recording planting dates, the arrival of unwanted weeds, emerging insects, harvest times and frost dates, arrival and departure dates of migrating birds and butterflies, or the sequence of bloom of wildflowers.

The Hunter's Moon
So what does Betz teach us about October? We learn that the month was variously known as the Hunter's Moon, White Frost on Grass Moon, and Falling Leaves Moon, for all the obvious reasons. But do you have a ready explanation of why leaves change colors? Betz explains it simply. She also suggests a Bird and Berry Walk and making Leaf Art. In detail, we find out that asters are the most abundant perennial fall wildflower in North America. But do you know the legend of the aster and goldenrod and how they were once little girls? Her profile of our magnificent native white oak includes not only how to observe the interdependence of plant and animal life among its branches, but also that among its historical uses was as an antidote to loneliness. Her tips section ends with details on starting a new planting area by sheet composting.

To remind us to to take time to look at the wonders of October, Betz includes a portion of a poem from William Cullen Bryant:
"But on the hills the golden-rod, and the aster in the wood,
And the yellow sun-flower by the brook in autumn beauty stood."



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