Equinox color

pussywillow blooms against blue sky
Yes, of course I had to post today, but I also had to post a few images from the other day, since today is grey and rainy. So most of what you’ll see here is from Tuesday’s trip over to a botanical garden.

lavender and yellow pansies, I thinkYou don’t need me to tell you this if you spend any time online at all, because plenty of other sites just love throwing out trivia of this nature, but it’s the equinox today, the day when daylight and nightdark hours are the same length, and this occurs at 6:45 PM. Wait, what? The sunlit and sunbarren hours are the same, only at 6:45? What form of sorcery is this? But no, it simply depends on what definition of equinox you’re using. The seasonal changes and the variable daylight hours are both due to the tilt of the Earth’s axis, in relation to its orbital plane around the sun, and over the course of a year this makes the sun appear to reach higher or lower into the sky at celestial noon (which is rarely 12 o’clock, and why the hell are we still using such an arcane word as, “o’clock?”) Today, the Earth’s orbit hits the point where the sun appears directly overhead at the equator, which serves to make those bright and dark hours match up, but the precise point when it is nice and aligned is 22:45 UTC, or ‘Greenwich’ time, which is 6:45 PM here on the east coast in Daylight Saving Time. Are you getting the impression of how goofy our system of time is? Yeah, I’m one of those who’s firmly in support of the entire world switching to UTC and having done with it. Many people think this would be confusing – “That would mean the sun rises at 11 AM!” – but so what? They’re just numbers, and the sun rises at a different time every day anyway. If you take your lunch break at 5 PM according to the clock, what difference does it make if it’s still midday to you?

pond sliders getting some sun
Many also consider this the first day of spring, which is also nonsense – call it whatever you want, or perhaps something appropriate to the present weather. It may look like spring around here, but further north it’s got some time to go yet, and down south there might seem to be no winter at all anyway. What it is, however, is now warm enough that the birds are nesting and the reptiles are stirring, as shown by these sliders basking on the only log they could find in the pond. The exact species is debatable – yellow-bellied sliders (Trachemys scripta scripta) are native to this area, but their close cousin the red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) probably don’t naturally reach this far north. However, they are/were popular as pets, which is often enough to introduce them to a non-native habitat, and they can easily live in the same conditions and even interbreed with their yellow-bellied cousins. The red ear-mark can easily be seen on two of these at least, so there might be a mix of species in this image.

purple and white crocus, maybe?Now, admittedly it’s cheating a little to go to a botanical garden and post about signs of spring, since so many of the flowers are tended in greenhouses and planted outside as they approach their peak display, but it’s true enough that many of these would be appearing now anyway. I avoided the wider shots that would show the retaining walls, planters, and other manmade stuff, plus I like going in for close details anyway. Only a small percentage of the myriad flower species had identifying plaques, so I can’t provide definitive ID, but I suspect these are crocuses. Whatever, they present a great mix of colors.

close slider portrait
Another slider, one that wasn’t being cooperative because it was too cooperative. You see, I spotted this specimen basking, and decided to do some work with a student on approaches and stalking, practicing how to get closer without spooking the wildlife away. Only, this turtle was so mellow that it never moved at all, even with several examples of behavior that would send the average terrapin scrambling for deep water. So it wasn’t very good practice.

turtle reflection portrait in pond's surfaceBut since it was going to sit there like a bump on a log (or rock, in this case,) I did my own extreme closeups, including a reflection portrait. I was admittedly using a long lens for this and not the macro, so I wasn’t anywhere near as close as these imply, but I was still much closer than I had any right to be. You have to appreciate the irony, though, of encountering hundreds of animals over the years which spooked long before I could ever get a decent image, and then wanting to demonstrate how tricky it is to approach many species and finding one that couldn’t be assed to move at all…

brillaint purple flowers
Okay, there’s something curious going on here. I’m probably not alone in considering these a brilliant purple in color, but let’s stop and take a close look. The petals actually run the spectrum from white down to a deep purple only at the very tips, and I suspect it’s this gradient that makes us believe the colors are so rich (helped, perhaps, but the contrasting orange sex organs in the center, and certainly by the surrounding green.) The drying blossom to the right is a deeper color, but not as vibrant in appearance – it’s not the color that’s cluing us in. Maybe it’s just me…

hybrid plum blossoms Prunus cerasifera 'Atropurpurea' x Prunus mumeThis one I can identify, because the ID plaque was present, and if I’m interpreting it correctly it’s a crossbred plum, Prunus cerasifera ‘Atropurpurea’ x Prunus mume – say that in Hogwarts and something bad will happen (like that’s unusual.) Almost immediately after getting this image, a group of students passing by excitedly directed my attention to the snake at my feet, and on glancing down I found an unimposing brown snake slithering determinedly across my sandal. I think they expected me to react in shock or something, but I just said, “Ah, a brown snake,” and tried to pick it up – seeing me coming, however, it panicked and shot for cover in the pine straw. With any luck, the blasé reaction might have impressed on some of the students how little risk snakes actually impose. I’m not sure my reaction would have been any different had it been a copperhead, the only venomous snake in the region, except that I wouldn’t have tried to pick it up. Doing anything drastic would be more likely to provoke a defensive strike than simply holding still and letting it go its merry way.

pieris blossoms after a rainI close with the only photo from today, expressing the conditions pretty well. These are the blossoms of a ‘Mountain Snow’ pieris bush, one that we purchased the other day to plant in the backyard because it does well in the shade, which pretty much describes the backyard. It flowers in early spring (so, hah! It must be spring then!) and I wanted to capture the clusters of blooms before they all turned brown and vanished, since I won’t get the opportunity again until next year. While I want things that will serve as a good backdrop and attract insects and/or birds, The Girlfriend isn’t all that concerned with arthropod activity, somehow, concentrating instead on plants that will look nice and do well in our conditions. Hopefully, we’ve got some things that will serve both purposes – we’ll see how it goes.