Friday, March 21, 2008


When you live in temperate zones, you think of the seasons in terms of temperature changes: cold in winter, hot in summer, mild and fresh in spring, cool and crisp in autumn. There are variations on this theme--some places only have 3 seasons. but still, what you're used to seeing as seasonal change--leaves turning color, lack of growth--is the result of temperature changes.

But here in Panama, 9 degrees north of the equator, we just don't get that kind of seasonal variation in temperature. While my records are far from complete (we intend to get a weather station in October), I've never recorded lows less than 62 degrees. Highs are trickier, given you can't put a sensor, no matter where you live, out in the sun. But so far, I've never seen temperatures above 92, and then maybe just 2-3 days during the year.

But we do have seasons, two of them: the rainy season, which is called inverno, or winter and the dry or drought season, verano or summer. This is the seasonal climate drama, going from drought to increasing rain starting in April or May that ends up with the torrential downpours of September and October to a tapering off to the beginning of summer in January, marked by high winds. Due to the wind patterns, the rainy season is dominated by weather from the Pacific--here in Potrerillos, you watch the rain clouds roll in from the south. The dry season results from winds from the Caribbean, keeping the high moisture Pacific clouds pushed offshore. I'm sure that's when the northern part of Panama has its wet season, but there is a range of mountains--the Cordillera Central which includes Volcan Barú to our north, that causes those clouds to dump their rain long before the winds hit here.

But there is another way of looking at seasons, and that's in terms of plant life cycles.

Because of the tropical climate, there are flowering trees, shrubs and plants all year long--just not the same ones. " Amaryllis"--what everyone calls amaryllis (image)-- grows easily outside. A few years ago, I planted a bulb I got from somewhere and lo! in December, there were blooms! Amaryllis, like other lilies and tulips, naturalizes easily. this season, we had a steady succession of blooms from late November until February. I'm going to have to separate the bulbs soon.

But there is a dizzying variety of flowering vegetation--something new--whether tree, shrub, or plant-- comes into season every month. Every Panamanian home, no matter how poor, how humble, has flowers and flowering trees of some sort, and some gardens are spectacular. I have no idea what most of them are, except that I love to look at them, and they make Panama a paradise.

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