Seasonal Firsts Bring Joy

Apr 18, 2017

In a completely unscientific way, I’m fascinated by the science of phenology.

Phenology -- with a ph -- is the study of cyclical and seasonal phenomena. I think of it as the science of first arrivals.

The end of winter is the time to watch for such arrivals. For instance, on or about March first every year, I see my first bluebird. Except for this year, when I saw my first bluebird on January 17.

Scientists will tell you phenology is a leading indicator of climate change -- an important way to understand changing ecosystems. For me, it’s a way to engage with nature’s calendar.

The landscape -- and its inhabitants -- have been subdued for so long that any new arrival is conspicuous. The first skunk cabbage emerges sometime in February. Then the first crocus. The first sandhill crane croaks overhead at about the same time.

For a while, new arrivals are halting. The first stink bug emerges from my underwear drawer. The first phoebe wags her tail at me. First garter snake, first daffodil, first ruby-crowned kinglet.

Then, all of a sudden, the landscape is new. First field of bluebells, first spring peepers, first Beloit College students wearing shorts.

On April 12 I saw my first bat, which seems early. If I were a better record keeper, I could tell you for sure. What I can say for sure is that the sky’s first bat, and these other firsts, bring me unaccountable joy.

A splendid pageant has come to town, and I have a seat for it, and it’s free. That’s a first.

I’m Chris Fink, and that’s my perspective.