It was more of a feeling than anything specific you could put your finger on last week – I was out before dawn here on the Oregon coast, and looked up to see winter stars – Orion hanging above the brightening eastern horizon. That I could see stars was unusual in itself here. Most mornings start out with a fog which lifts toward lunchtime, but that morning all was clear. Something is different, I said to myself.
It’s not hot here on the Oregon coast in summer, but it’s not dry either. Having solar panels gives me a heightened awareness of insolation (a fancy word for how strong the sunlight is or how much energy is hitting a given area of the earth’s surface), and I had been used to clear summer skies growing up in the south, with clouds and maybe rain developing in the afternoon. Here the summer is foggy in the morning and clearer from noon to sunset, but you can get socked in at any time of the day or night as weather systems blow in off the ocean. It’s a vast improvement from the 90 degrees and 90% humidity that I had endured my entire life until I retired, but it’s definitely humid in its own more endurable way.
I started noticing the lower humidity a week ago, just a hint of a different feeling in the air, but last night a front blew through and it’s entirely different from the typical summer ambiance. What I have now is brilliant sunshine, dark blue cloudless skies, and humidity around 50% with a strong northwest breeze replacing last week’s southerly flow. There’s definitely a change. It hasn’t been this dry here all summer.
The days have been getting shorter as well. I have been at this latitude (45ish north) all summer, and sunset is now an hour earlier than it was back in June. I’m waking up before first light, something that never happened during mid-summer. The sun’s lower in the sky, and I have to be more particular in how I park my rig to get what sun there is on my solar panels – I like to angle it southeast to charge up in the morning, and now need to move it again to catch the afternoon sun. A month or two ago, it didn’t matter. Now it does.
The grass is looking tired, too. Oregon is relentlessly green all spring and summer, but now the coastal fields are a sea of brown, with a few wildflowers still poking up here and there. Instead of the fresh grassy smell wafting up from the vegetation it’s more of a hay smell, sun-warmed and earthier, without the minty chlorophyll scent of new growth.
Even my longtime summer companions the blackberries are getting ragged-looking. A few still remain, but the birds have taken most of them, and the ones left on the bushes are hidden in the foliage rather than proudly displayed across the top of the bush as they were back in July and August. You could usually see fresh blossoms throughout the summer months, but they’re all gone now, just a few smallish mature berries left where there once was a mass of pale pink flowers mixed with green, red, and black berries.
I also noticed that the whales have started acting differently. Last month, you would see them feeding in one spot for hours sometimes, tail flukes sticking far up out of the water as they worked the sea floor over. Now they’re purposefully swimming along the coast, just a blow and a glimpse of arching dark back as they make their way south.
Time for me to be looking at my own migration plans – the season is changing and it’s time to move on. Humans have spent virtually all of their time as a species being hunter-gatherers and moving with the seasons, long before this new-fangled agriculture got invented, and I think I’m sensing that urge from somewhere down in the DNA to pick up and move on when the air starts feeling different.