Tehachapi's Online Community News & Entertainment Guide

Changing of the light

Land of Four Seasons

Now that our season has transitioned from summer into autumn, there is a subtle but definite difference in the sunshine that lights our days. The angle of the sunlight is lower. Our days are growing shorter, and the nights are colder. Change is in the air.

This seasonal progression is reflected in the natural world around us. Some of the deciduous trees and shrubs have dropped their leaves, or they have turned red or yellow as the green chlorophyll drains out of them. These plants are already preparing for their winter dormancy.

Not the native oaks like Valleys and Blues, however – their leaves are still green and healthy, continuing to make food even during the shorter, cooler days. Southern California deciduous oaks, with the exception of higher elevation Black Oaks, usually keep their leaves until as late as January. They know that there are often mild winter days when their leaves can still be functioning, so they are in no hurry to drop them.

Wildlife is already responding to the cooler weather. Most snakes are already in a hibernaculum, or winter shelter, for their cold season brumation, which is the reptilian equivalent of mammals' hibernation.

I've seen two snakes in the past couple of weeks, a California Kingsnake and a Great Basin Gophersnake, but probably won't be seeing any more snakes until next spring.

There are still some lizards active during the sunniest part of warmer days, but they too are becoming more scarce and don't emerge at all on colder days.

The insect world is getting less active as well. I still see some butterflies, flitting to collect nectar from the remaining flowers, but they are getting fewer, and these butterflies are mostly the smaller ones like Painted Ladies and Cabbage Whites. I haven't seen any Western Tiger Swallowtails, California Sisters or some of the other larger ones lately.

The nighttime cricket chorus has mostly fallen silent, though I'll still hear an occasional lone fiddler, making a slow "crii-criik, crii-criik" in the cool quiet of an autumn evening.

There are some plants, however, that are showing counterintuitive behavior for fall: they're blooming, including some California Poppies.

I read an article yesterday about how the rare heavy rain from Hurricane Hilary two months ago had caused some wildflowers to bloom in Death Valley, and the reporter quoted a National Parks employee as saying "The flowers are confused because of the rain."

Actually, the wildflowers aren't confused at all. They don't pay attention to calendars or human expectations. Plants respond to the environmental conditions they are experiencing, like moisture content, soil and air temperatures, and they act accordingly.

As a result of the unusual August rain, the plants had water and warm soil and air temperatures, so they said "Let's go! Time to flower and make some more seed while we have the chance."

So that's what some wildflower species are doing. And by blooming, even though it seems out of season to human observers, they are reacting to the actual conditions on the ground. That's a very sensible response. People could learn from their example.

In the weeks to come, the days will continue to shorten as the sun makes its apparent migration to the south. Savor these times, as the light changes and the Earth adjusts. . . .

Keeping enjoying the beauty of life in the Tehachapi Mountains.

Jon Hammond is a fourth generation Kern County resident who has photographed and written about the Tehachapi Mountains for 38 years. He lives on a farm his family started in 1921, and is a speaker of Nuwä, the Tehachapi Indian language. He can be reached at [email protected].