Martin Dies, Jr. State Park

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Nature's Indicators

Nature tells us when the seasons are changing.

August 2021

By Ranger Amy

We mark our movements through this world in many ways. As children, adults tell us when to go to bed, when to wake up, when to eat, when to dress warm and when to dress in cooler clothes. As adults, we use clocks, calendars, and news reports or phone apps to help us navigate our way through life.

Living in nature

There was a time when humans used daylight, bird song, sunsets, stars, and slight imperceivable changes to understand their world. Our ancestors lived alongside nature and had an intimate and real connection to nature that we may never know.

We don’t live “as one” with nature as our ancestors did, but we still process and translate what the natural world is saying to us. We do this by noticing different indicators that tell us when a change is taking place.

Seasonal indicators

For some, the smell of pumpkin spice means fall has arrived. Christmas music may mean that winter is coming, or watermelon stands represent the summer season.

As a park interpreter or naturalist, I take joy in making yearly phenology wheels for our park. Imagine a circular calendar. Each month has pictures from nature that represent something new. I can compare changes in nature from each month or year to year.

Change underway

I’ve noticed several indicators or seasonal events lately that tell me a change in nature is taking place.

Small bird on a beach
Spotted sandpiper. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Spotted sandpiper

This month I’ve seen a spotted sandpiper running around near the Hen House Ridge boat ramp. This bird is my indicator that summer is ending.

The spotted sandpiper breed in the northern states and migrate south for winter. Its arrival tells me that nesting season is over and now it’s ready to return to its winter home. With their arrival, I know summer is coming to an end and migration season is beginning.


I heard a pinecone fall to the ground today. Soon it’ll be acorns, and that’s my indicator that fall has arrived.

Your indicators

What are your indicators? Are they sounds, the colors of the sunsets, the arrival or warmer or cooler weather, changes in morning fog?

Think about your indicators. They’re your connection to the natural world, a relic of our ancestors. They’re whispering, "You’re a part of this world and she has lots to tell you. Listen."