The overcast has rolled into Central Illinois, and the weather forecast promises a full week of grey skies and likely precipitation. But the thermometer at 3:30pm still stands at 64 degrees (F), a sign that our late-arriving Indian summer isn’t quite ready to relinquish us to the hounds of winter.
Earlier today, while the sun was still shining through the gathering cirrus, my son and I took a three-mile hike in the University of Illinois Arboretum. A light breeze is all that kept us from overheating during our walk, even with just one layer of clothing between us and the elements. After a bit of discussion over a quick lunch in a “cave” formed from the arching branches of honeysuckle, we decided that it felt more like early September than the second week in November.
Despite the warmth reminiscent of a late summer morning, most of the botanical evidence pointed to the reality of November. The ornamental crabapples were crammed with fruit. The occasional wildflower was scarce among the waves of dried seed heads of goldenrod, aster, and Queen Anne’s lace. And the remaining leaves that weren’t muted and crunching under our feet glowed with the expected reds, oranges and yellows of autumn.
Near the end of our hike, as we passed by the sod research facility, a row of ornamental crabs and pear trees lined a service driveway. Against a background of the deep red and burnt orange fruit and glossy, brown bark, my eye caught something unusual for this time of year — a pink/magenta that is usually reserved for the spring flush of tulips, peonies, magnolias and — of course — ornamental fruit trees. It seemed that one of the crabapples in the row shared our confusion about the weather, as though its internal timing mechanism was screaming spring. In several places along its branches, buds that should have slept until April had suddenly burst in bloom.
A little further along, we made our way through some test plots of hydrangea and viburnum. It seems several species of viburnum has also gotten their signals crossed and broken both their leaf and flower buds.
As much as I’ve enjoyed the prolonged warmth this fall, I think it’s time that Mother Nature gives the signal to button up for winter before her wards decide to skip it altogether — and end up unprotected and out in the cold.