Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Autumn Watch

It has begun.

Signs of autumn are accumulating even here in Southern California.

The sycamore leaves are fringed in golden brown. Lesser goldfinches are increasing at the feeder. Green berries are forming on the toyon, the air tastes of dusty pollen and the poison oak is putting on its cloak of cautionary red.

I’m not the only one noticing the seasonal change, the desert tortoises are contemplating winter lodgings. And across Britain people are watching for ripening blackberries and flowering ivy. They aren’t just taking note, they are recording scientific data on 6 specific natural signs that autumn has come to the British Isles.

After the success of a BBC program Springwatch, that chronicled and monitored the arrival of spring, the same producers are now gearing up for Autumnwatch.

This is true reality programming. Naturalists, biologists and researchers pointing out the changing season and inviting viewers to participate - to collect data on:
  1. first ripe blackberry
  2. first ripe conker (a type of nut)
  3. last black swift sighted (migrating bird)
  4. first flowering of ivy
  5. first ripe hawthorn berry
  6. first sign of color change in oak leaves.

Findings are posted to the BBC’s Autumnwatch website www.bbc.co.uk/nature/animals/wildbritain/autumnwatch/

Here you can also follow the travels of ten individual brent geese as they migrate south. Radio transmitters allow researchers and the public to monitor the geeses’ progress and understand the perils these birds face in their long-distance seasonal commute. When I checked today, strong winds had forced several of the birds to remain in Greenland. They will have to wait for the weather to improve before heading on to Iceland.

In my mind this is what television and the internet should be, a creator of community.

The AutumnWatch community isn’t meeting around the water cooler or the school bench to discuss the huge explosion at end of episode one. They are comparing notes about the world they are actually a part of, “Is the hawthorn ripe yet at your house?”

Here in California our markers for the season are vastly different than 5, 000 miles away in Britain. Or are they? Fruiting plants, turning leaves, the arrival and departure of migratory birds and hibernation of certain species for the winter.

For centuries, marking the seasons was a vital part of human cultures. But today our modern lifestyle has become a run through the year. We hesitate only to nod at the winter holidays with a focus on being good consumers and to wink at spring just long enough to binge on a second spate of purchasing. Ironically these “religious” holidays are placed in their positions on the calendar to coincide with the seasonal celebrations they usurped.

There is nothing in the celebration of Autumn that says ”go forth and purchase.” Quite the contrary the celebration of the harvest is a rejoicing in the bounty provided by the Earth - appreciating what you have.

I am a bit envious of the Autumnwatchers in Britain. I want to be part of their community, working together to collect information on the moments of autumn unfolding around them, coming together to share that information and understanding more about the planet as it is and as it is changing.

In my mind the world could only be better if we all took time to note the everyday signs of autumn and then came together to share the wonders we have seen.
Go out into your yard, your neighborhood, and LOOK. Are leaves of autumn appearing? Is the ivy forming flowers? LISTEN. Has a winter bird arrived? Take a deep breath. The air is different as autumn rolls across the land. How does it feel on you face? How does it smell? Share your perceptions with others.

Let’s build a community that rejoices in the beautiful realities of our planet.

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