Nature Notebook, October 11, 2018


I watch the passing of seasons with the constellation Orion. As the winter approaches, I see it overhead as I pick up newspapers in the morning darkness of southwest skies (look toward Bolinas). This constellation brings a sparkle of meteor showers in mid-October, the Orionids, beginning on Oct. 18 and peaking on Oct. 22. The new moon will make evening viewing difficult, but you may see them if you are up early. 

Oak acorns are beginning to ripen, especially in the warmer inland areas of Marin. Squirrels, in turn, are particularly active, stashing large quantities of acorns underground (oak trees are spread through these stashes, among other ways). Acorns were a staple food for California natives, and were celebrated with annual dances. Some communities gathered acorns in the fall and stored large sacks in creek water, which leached the bitter tannins and made the acorns sweet-flavored. The following summer, the sacks would be pulled out of the water and the nuts ground for porridge.

Another abundant seed ripening right now is the California hazelnut. The soft, almost furry leaves of this small shrubby tree, found in shaded areas are browsed by deer. The dime-sized brown nut ripens inside a green husk, which can be pulled off. California natives gathered hazelnut shoots in the winter for basket-making material and for bows and arrows; the roots were gathered for cordage. Longtime seashore ranger Lanny Pinola would gather hazel twigs to make wreathes for the traditional Pomo spring flower dances.