Taking a walk through the woods these days can be disorienting. When I look down and see these maple and oak leaves, and especially when I walk through a pile of them, hear the rustle and catch their scent, I can’t help but believe that it is October, and I must be in the northern hemisphere.
But it is May, and I am well below the equator in New Zealand, looking at leaves that are exhibiting their normal cycle by falling from tree species that originated in the northern hemisphere. This is deeply confounding to my inner phenologist – that instinctive observer of seasonal change. Maples, poplars, oaks, cherries and dogwoods – all these introduced plants and more are doing what they evolved to do: stop producing chlorophyll, reveal other pigments, and drop from a plant that would normally go dormant or otherwise be unable to sustain itself through a freezing winter. It doesn’t ever really freeze here in Wellington, but these trees don’t know that. They are apparently responding to the triggers of reduced daylight and temperature.
Introduced fruit trees are at their peak now as well, including the Asian dogwood next door that is swarming with tui, kaka, and rosellas.
Pollinators are still out, taking advantage of an extended flowering season that shows little sign of tapering off. Some native plants such as rata are just now producing their flowers, attracting nectar-loving birds.
In the month that I have left to experience New Zealand, I can feel my own ambivalence in embracing this slow seasonal shift to winter. If I start believing it’s fall, what happens when I step back into a Baltimore summer?