This past weekend I noticed that a fleabane was blooming outside our front door. How odd. I know it's been warm, but how unusual to still see a plant in bloom. Could there be anything else?

As I began to scan the dormant brown expanse, the brilliant purple of vervain caught my eye. And I also saw that the Mexican hat was greening -- again. Even with zero precipitation the last two months, these tenacious drought-resistant forbs are in bloom. Perhaps our "new normal" is upon us. I recently found an as-yet-unidentified cactus growing, also outside our front door.

As we are all aware, the past two months have been exceedingly warm and dry. In fact, according to the National Weather Service, the average low temperatures here in Flagstaff are the highest they've ever been. So while we've had freezes, the temperatures haven't gotten low enough to drive all plants into dormancy.

With these temperatures and lack of precipitation, I'm still watering my trees and shrubs -- particularly the conifers. And now I'm watering the forbs, too, because some pollinators are still out.

Are these all indications of climate change? Well, yes and no. We've had very dry Octobers in previous years, and our daily high temperatures aren't that extreme. But when you look at the graphs over time, yes our climate is getting warmer, and our landscape is changing. Flowers and trees are already blooming and leafing out earlier -- and some are apparently blooming longer. All these changes affect pollinators and wildlife habitat, bird migration patterns, food availability, and more. We know this. I knew this.

What I didn't know was how shocked I'd be to see the little fleabane in bloom. It's not that I've thought of climate change or global warming purely in the abstract. I've researched climate change and written brochures. I think it's because I saw it right outside our front door.

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Of course, Doney Park is a drier, lower elevation landscape than Flagstaff or the Arboretum. It's windy and warmer, and I'm guessing that if folks didn't mow, it would be mostly juniper and rabbitbrush. (That's what happening on our property, anyway.) So I have expectations for what I'm going to observe. Seeing fleabane and vervain blooming in November is not what I expect to see. So it hit home, literally.

After I photographed the fleabane, I stayed outside for a bit, looking at our plantings: gray rabbitbrush, Rocky Mountain juniper, alligator juniper, fernbush, pinyon pine. They will be okay, I hope, because I will take care of them. But what about all the others out there in our semi-arid landscape? I just read a paper about how pinyon pines will probably survive only in cooler, wetter microclimates (Science Daily, November 2017). But how long will those microclimates last?

My shock seeing climate change right outside our front door has turned into sadness and worry… for us, for nature, for the earth. I know I see the world differently than most people; the earth to me is living and breathing, the landscapes and all the creatures interdependent and woven together with majesty and miracle. There is still time. We all know what needs to be done. The mantle of stewardship is upon us.

Lynne Nemeth is Executive Director of The Arboretum at Flagstaff. To reach her with articles, ideas, or comments, please email Lynne.Nemeth@thearb.org.

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