A special time of year to explore the natural world occurs during these wet days. For those who like the cool moisture, it’s heavenly. But, if you are like me and prefer to shiver into a cozy cup of tea when the blanket of grey looms overhead, it takes some inspiration and motivation to get out and face the soggy reality that is November.
While many of the birds have flown and the leaves are mostly down, there are some intriguing and naturally awe-inspiring phenomena to inspire a hike before the snow flies. New moisture combines with the toggle between freezing and thawing creating a unique occurrence and that deserves some recognition. An intricate and subtle beauty emerges.
As the rains drench the soils, a new burst of vigorous life springs forth. A brief walk on a trail and you’ll notice small sprouts of grass and herbaceous plants greening the undergrowth. Dana Visalli, the Methow Naturalist, calls this period the autumn or October green up. With our October so dry this year, it’s a November green up. Have you noticed your lawn looking quite green lately? Cool weather grasses enjoy a resurgence of growth this time of year after a period of dormancy from heat and drought.
This little burst of life reveals a bright blanket of life in an otherwise perished landscape littered with summer’s detritus. Barely visible from a distance, this green up occurs right at the soil horizon, creating a delicate, and disperse green layer. These little plants help to stabilize the slope from erosion, provide fresh forage, and will go dormant again but be ready for take-off when springs arrives.
Early mornings in November are not for the faint of heart. The moisture can cut right through you, but it’s worth a careful voyage outside. Frost and ice patterns can be particularly interesting this time of year. As the freezing period advances through the night, unique crystal formations appear in peculiar places. In the dimple of an apple on a tree, within a paw print in the soil, or cradled in curled leaves, a universe of fractals emerges when the conditions allow.
Given the right conditions, often with inversions when blue skies follow a freezing fog, we are in for a blessed covering of crystal coated twigs and sprigs. This is my favorite time to walk outside. The leaves crunch underfoot while the twigs sparkle in a crystalized landscape. These days can be fleeting in the Methow, often vanquished by snow or just trapped in fog. When we get persistent freezing temperatures low elevation water bodies freeze thick prior to snow, allowing natural ponds and lakes to be our ice rinks — it can be a magical transition to winter when this happens. Last year we had an early snow, ruining the ice layering necessary for good natural pond skating.
For me, the most captivating natural wonder during this moisture laden time happens on the rocks. For months, the lichen and moss that color our boulders hang tight, literally, waiting for some atmospheric water. Dulling under the summer’s heat, as the temperatures drop and wetness permeates the air, they come out to have a moss party with colors ablaze.