Saturday, February 28, 2015

Farewell February

It is with absolutely no regret that we say goodbye to February 2015.  The polar jet stream controlled our weather for most of the month.  Snowfall was frequent and generous but the cold was extreme.  More than four hours outside plowing snow when the temperature was below zero came with a price.  The 100 day cough that followed removed all desire or ability to do much of anything.

Today was crisp and clear and the temperature may have climbed into the twenties.  Remembering when we enjoyed outdoor winter activity here, Amy and I dug out the snowshoes and went for a walk.  Fresh marks in the snow show our path toward the notch.  We continued to the back meadows and returned home via the lane.  On this day outdoor activity just felt fine.

We had to check on things at the arbutus wall.  Exposed to afternoon sun, trapped heat is melting the snow despite temperatures remaining below freezing.  Lumps and lines mark the maturing snow as it moves toward a liquid state.  The moisture filled crack in the long thin flat stone has frozen enough times to split the stone.  On a warmer day, I will lift off the top piece and get mankind's first look at the interior of this stone.  Fossils may be hidden there.

This leaf has just fallen from its tree.  Had it been in contact with the snow for any long period of time, it would have melted snow and fallen into the hole.  If we walk this way again soon, we will look for the progress that this leaf has made toward finding ground.  We would like to see some ground ourselves.

Our first picnic is a ways off.  Snow piles on the seat boards have reached the point where any new snow will simply roll off.  The far edges face south and show signs of melting.  Perhaps we have turned the corner.

Earlier this month, bright sunlight and pleasant temperatures lured our neighbor out to hang his sap lines.  He did not drill the tap holes but all is ready.  Light amber syrup is highly prized.  It can be made for only a short time when the sap first begins to flow.  We usually see those early runs in February but not this year.  The quality of the syrup will be determined by how quickly the warmer air moves in.  Last year the early warmth resulted in no light amber syrup.  Only medium amber or dark were available.  The taste is still great but the visual appeal is lessened.  So we watch and wait.  At some point daytime temperatures must climb above freezing and the sap will flow.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Fine February Day

Daytime temperatures rocketed into the twenties F today.  Overnight snowfall needed to be cleared from the driveway and we had committed to having the professional do that work based on the weather forecast.  As has been the case, we once again received less snow than the amount expected.  Sunlight strong enough to melt snow pulled me outside.  The ill effects of earlier time spent outside when the temperature was close to zero had kept me house bound for days.

All of the marks on the snow that had fallen on the walls were made by mother nature.  Frigid winds from the south sculpted depressions in the vertical edge of the fallen snow yesterday.  A fair amount of snow covered the path.  Nearly cloudless skies combined with light from a northward moving sun made it pleasant to be outside.

Today offered us the first glimpse of the gravel surface of the driveway in weeks.  My  habit has been to scrape the snow away after every snowfall.  When sunlight falls on the bits of exposed dark gravel, melting clears the lane despite below freezing air temperatures.  Recently, ever present insignificant over night snowfalls were driven on creating a white reflective slippery surface.  The plow pro finished his work with a coating of sand.  Dark sand trapped heat from the sun and the surface of our road is beginning to show.  Cold temperatures will return overnight and remain with us for the coming week.  The dark areas should grow if the sun shines despite the cold.

My lawn tractor was able to push back the ridges of plowed snow.  We worked across the drive with the plow set to push straight ahead.  That involves a lot of back and forth with frequent raising and lowering of the blade but a space is created to receive the next snowfall.

We have neither seen nor heard birds during the cold spell.  Today the crows flying about and their piercing caws actually seemed cheerful.  The red sumac seed clusters provide food for the smaller birds.  A chickadee is taking a meal in the photo but he is invisible.

Today gave us an all important glimpse of what is in store for us soon.  A few hours out in the fresh air and sunshine improved our moods greatly.  We were even able to endure the temporary disappearance of the blog. When you lose something you care about even for a short time, you find out how much it means to you.  Plants and Stones has become an important record of our time here at the Stone Wall Garden!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Shadows In The Sunlight

February is always the longest month of the year for me.  The beauty of winter has become hidden behind the bitter work required just to reach the highway.  The current cycle of polar blasts featuring heavy snowfall and below zero temperatures has brought thoughts of moving south to our minds.  Parts of Tennessee are ice coated today with no electrical power.  We are way ahead of those conditions.  The mountains of North Carolina are experiencing temperatures similar to us but with less snow.  Neither of those locations seem enough of an improvement to make the work of a move there worthwhile.  So we are back to seeing the advantages of a geographical location that keeps us on the edges of both coastal, think Boston, and  lake effect severe storms, think Buffalo.  Snow is a way of life here and the tools and skills necessary to handle fallen snow are on hand and up to the task.  I did hire a man to sand my driveway yesterday so that the propane truck could climb our hill.  Sand is in cans in the basement ready for me to spread by hand but the bitter cold dictated that I call for help. 

So it is back to the beauty of the season.  Bright white snow and sunlight usually combine to make good pictures difficult.  At mid morning, the sun was still low enough in the sky to throw shadows to outline the stone walls.  It seems that every night brings a small amount of new snow so the surface of the ground remains bright and undisturbed. 

This temporary stone pile's cover of snow shows smooth curves as it sweeps to he ground.  Hard north winds smeared the vertical surface of the wall with a lasting coating of drifted snow.  We wonder about the condition of the perennial plants.  Early January was snow-less and cold.  Those are not the best extremes for the plants to survive.  Now a generous snow cover insulates the ground from the sub zero temperatures and we wonder just how close to the surface deep earth warmth has pushed.

There is a long neglected stone wall hidden beneath this snow.  Its curved surface has trapped and held wind blown snow.  The single hole in the snow coating has puzzled me for days.  It is possible that exhaled warm breath from hairy creatures that call my wall home vent to create break in the snow cover.  Many of the wild animals here survive these temperature extremes by deeply sleeping for the duration.  The deer remain active and must be having difficulty finding food now.  They frequently dig snow away to reveal grass but now the depth of the snow makes that impossible.  A single deer did spend a recent day bedded down under one of the pines in the photo.

Just over one week remains in this longest month.  The polar jet stream will soon be pushed northward and the extremes of winter will soften.  Outdoor life will begin again and we will remember why we continue to live here.

Monday, February 9, 2015

February, The Beginning

All day today snow has been falling.  Ed is back outside blowing and plowing snow again.  The idea of being snowed in here together is a romantic notion.  The reality of it is a little different. The garden is quiet under its blanket of snow, but Ed and John Deere are hard at work clearing the drive and releasing the vehicles from the snow.

As I write, I'm soaking what is likely the last of our Purple Viking potatoes in cold water to firm them up for baking.  It's an old trick passed down to me from my thrifty gardening grandma.  They might be a little wrinkled, but they will still taste better than potatoes purchased from the store.

Ever since the snow started,  Ed and I have been reading glowing plant descriptions and looking at colorful pictures in our big stack of catalogs.  February cold and snow can have a dangerous effect on our sales resistance, but we weeded  the catalogs down to just a few too many. We made lists of seeds and plants to buy.  Lists were checked and double checked.  Prices were compared.  Some items were crossed off and others added. Six catalogs made the cut. Today I called in seed and plant orders.  From the chatter in the background on the phone, I would say that lots of gardeners stuck inside are doing the same.  Soon seeds will come in the mail.  The plants will arrive in the spring. The anticipation and excitement  about being back in the garden is building.  In a few days we will have new seeds for a new beginning.