Fall is a favorite time of year for many of us. We love the cooler weather, the gorgeous colors of the trees, the joys of harvest, and all the good food that is available at this time of year. We also enjoy the passage of migratory birds as they congregate and fly south in all kinds of formations from intricate swarms to the familiar Vs of geese.

What most of us do not realize is how complex the shift of seasons is, and how many things that happen at this time of year take place in a complex interaction with other things. It is interesting that when animals hibernate they do so at a time when plants are producing an abundance of seeds that can be used for food. Grasses and leaves are dry and easy to manipulate into the shapes and arrangements that allow the construction of winter shelter.

In addition to the coordination of hibernation and plant maturation, there is a timing of preparation for the cold. Contrary to popular belief, most plants do not wait until they get frosted to begin to shut down their biological systems for winter. As the sun gets lower in the sky with each passing day, various colors and wavelengths are progressively refracted away from the earth's surface. When the plant loses a chosen wavelength for the latitude where it exists, it begins the process of shutting off the chlorophyll a that causes the plant to be green and allowing other chemicals with different colors to appear. The plant also begins shutting down other parts of its systems of conducting water and moving nutrients.

Another coordination of timing and the environment is the migrations of living things. Birds cannot just migrate at any time. Weather conditions, food supplies, care for their young, and the presence of predators are all factors which migration must contend with. In addition to leaving their summer home for their winter home and vice versa at just the right time for them to have enough to eat, for their young to be mature enough to make the journey, and to avoid hurricanes and other seasonal hazards, migrations have to have the right navigation clues in place. The position of the sun and the moon change, and migrations must happen when the sun and the moon are in the right position. Salmon use odors to locate their home streams, and those odors are strongest in the season when they migrate. The smolt make their journey to the sea at a time when the volume of water in the stream is at a maximum due to melting snow and spring rains. This makes their journey easier and most likely to succeed.

Fall and all it brings to living things is marvelously complex, It speaks loudly to us of the wisdom and planning that goes with the seasons and what the season brings to all of life.

--John N. Clayton

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