Thursday, February 23, 2017

Sixty-Two Degrees

Despite assurances that there is no such thing as climate change, I must wonder when daytime temperatures above sixty degrees occur here in late February.  Lacking an overnight freeze there is still no white smoke coming from the nearby sap house.  Perhaps his first run has been sold as sap.  It is wonderful to be outside walking about but we really need a return to more typical weather.

This patch of recently transplanted arbutus was my destination for today's walk.  Yesterday's attempt to walk here was abandoned as walking in deep wet snow required more stamina than exists at this point in time.  Shaded by the high steeply sided glacial moraine, the lane there remains covered with deep snow.  Today the snow was much reduced and the walk across it was completed.

Despite the many hours spent looking at these plants, there remain many unanswered questions.  Arbutus is an evergreen plant but dead leaves are rarely seen.  One might expect the plant to replace old tattered leaves with new ones but that does not appear to be the case.  Rarely is a dead leaf found.   The discolored leaf looks more brown and dead to the naked eye than its appearance in the photo.  It is a new leaf at the end of a new stem.  Both appeared just last summer when the plant put out its new growth. So the life span of an arbutus leaf remains unknown.

The bud cluster is a strange but welcome sight.  One would not expect something as delicate as an unopened flower to endure the rigors of exposure to all of the harshness that winter brings.  But these known to be female buds are ready and waiting for their time to open and make seed.  That time will soon be upon us.

Becky has seen coyotes several times in recent days.  Today's early morning visitor was smaller than the one who made the other footprint.  This track was different from other tracks still visible in the melting snow.  Old footprints mush out and lose all of their detail as the sunlight warms and melts the snow.  This trail was unusually clear.  My freshly made boot print allows some sense of scale.  Still there is not enough detail to identify the animal that made the print.  Its size makes me wonder just how smart it is for me to walk about in their home armed only with a confident smile.  A stout walking stick might make a protective companion.  All I brought with me is the camera!

The garden near the woods remains snow covered because of the shade cast by the nearby leafless trees.  Ground beyond the shade line is clear of snow.  Placing the garden here was a calculated move.  This ground will remain frozen longer than the nearby exposed field.  When the garlic planted here finally emerges, it will have missed some of the severe cold guaranteed to visit here over the coming months.

These Jack In The Pulpit berries have been left to follow nature's course.  The red sticky goo has been washed away by winter's cold and moisture.  Our resident rodents seem to have stayed away from these seeds.  Parts of this plant can burn human skin so their behavior may be wise.  If these seeds do produce new plants, we may move them to our soon to be opened shade garden down near the road.  Gloved hands are a must when uprooting these unique plants.  It is a major mood booster to see and feel the advance of the seasons at this time of year.  We have once again come out of a long dark tunnel and stepped into the sunlight.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Signs Of Approaching Spring

There are signs of a change in the weather everywhere.  The ice coated lane is now mostly soft muddy gravel.  Bluebirds were seen feeding on the sumac berries yesterday.  They will not stay here long as they are only scouting out suitable nesting sites.  We were drawn outside to sit on the garden bench by incredibly bright and warm sunlight.  Our first plant order has been placed.

Active maple sap lines and collecting containers now line the road.  This is the third year that an attempt to harvest a natural product here has been tried.  Unusual weather has ended the sap run early for the past two years.  All of the work that went into establishing the lines and setting up an evaporator have produced nearly nothing.  A sap run must have freezing nights followed by warm days.  Cold drives the sap toward the roots while warmth draws the sap up to the branches.  Sap can be collected only when it is moving up or down in the trunk.  In past years several continuously warm days stopped the sap run.  When leaf buds begin to swell the sap acquires a bitter taste and is unusable for making table syrup.  The first sap flow can be seen in the bottom one third of the  container.  Following last night's freeze, the sap should really be running today.

Arbutus leaves are emerging from the snow cover.  Both the dark coloration of the plant leaves and the stones capture warmth from the sunlight.  That heat melts the snow creating clear circles around the stones and exposed leaves.  On a day like today it is easy to see why arbutus leaves are eaten by animals.  Where else can bright inviting green leaves be found at this time of year?

Walking about on soft snow is hard on old arthritic joints.  One never knows if the snow will partially support a foot or if it will drop to a jarring halt.  More warm days will further compress the snow and we will venture farther away from home.  It is much to early in the year for daytime temperatures that reach well into the fifties.  We can do nothing about that so we might as well enjoy the pleasant time outside.