Saturday, February 25, 2017

Wild February Day

This late winter day featured early daytime temperatures above seventy degrees followed by a drop below freezing.  Severe storms featuring small heavy rain cells with occasional thunder filled the early afternoon.  A local flood watch was in effect.  This raised serious questions about my driving route from Syracuse.  The customary nearly straight line drive includes secondary roads that follow rather narrow valleys.  Local flooding here would require that I turn around and head back toward Syracuse.  There are no paved roads that climb out of those valleys.

The early in the day trip found this favorite waterfall with a generous amount of water cascading over it.  At this point in time, only snow melt from the warm air was added to the typical flow.  On my return trip, heavy rain had greatly increased the flow and had colored it soil brown.  Not finding that color water photogenic, I pressed on toward home.

This old mill dam would be part of every drive except for the horrible pavement encountered as one leaves Norwich on route 23.  I believe that the lousy road surface is deliberate to slow traffic.  Driving that road is hard on both the vehicle and its occupants at any slow speed.  Exceeding the posted speed limit would shake loose car parts.  Today I drove there just to see this.  The heavy rainfall had passed by the time I returned.  No flooding extended to cross  the roads so the return trip was uneventful despite widespread flooded valley fields.  This usually quiet stream was roaring.

As I neared Syracuse, two heavy rain cells were encountered.  The first was about two miles wide with rain so heavy the it was almost impossible to see the road.  Reason would have dictated that I pull off the road but there were no shoulders here.  Not a fan of stopping in the roadway, I continued to move guided mainly by my knowledge of the road.  The second severe cell was encountered while on a better highway.  These unusually heavy rains are a new experience to me.  I cannot remember rain so heavy that visibility simply disappeared.  Might these small heavy cells point to a change in our weather patterns?

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.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Two Storms

The border between New York and Pennsylvania is a straight line for some distance then it turns southeastward and becomes a squiggle.  The Delaware River is responsible for the snake.  The straight line is a creation of politicians.  Our homestead is located about 35 miles due north of the point of change.  So located we do endure coastal storms but without the massive amounts of snowfall that paralyze cities like New York or Boston.  This time the nor'easter first dropped a mixture of rain, ice and then snow.  Closest to the ground, pebbly ice formed.  It was followed by snow that became drier towards the end of the storm.  The accumulated mix was unbelievably heavy.

Arctic air pushed that storm out to sea and air temperatures plummeted.  With the Great Lakes still free of ice, we continue to get lake effect snowfall.  Here again we are well positioned some distance from the lake so much of the snow falls before the storm reaches us.  This system held control for the past two days.  Snowfall was not excessive but it was persistent.  For us, this snow removal was a three day event.

My lawn tractors fitted with a snow plow and a snow blower were never intended to be used on a long driveway with a major hill and curves.  Flat blacktop suburban driveways close to the road are what the engineers had in mind for these machines.  In my location some cleverness and considerable time are required to clear the lane.  First, the plow is used to push snow toward the center of the drive.  A light touch is needed here as a plow stuck going down hill is really stuck.  If the outboard tip of the blade catches deep snow, the tractor tries to bury itself.  The return trip back to the top of the hill pushes almost no snow because of the steepness of the ice coated hill.

When a suitably sized row of snow is piled near the center of the lane, the snowblower is used to clear this snow.  The mechanic that installed the blower this season shortened the rod that determines the down position of the scraper blade.  That made his work easier but now my snowblower does not come close to contacting the road surface.  The unit rides over much snow packing it firmly down.  The wet nature of the lower snow made this packed snow impossible to plow.

A great deal of time was required to clear the drive.  Actually, the packed snow provided a usable driving surface since the ice layer was beneath it.  We will see how this all works out when melting happens.  Here the stone wall edging the garden near the road is nearly buried.  Lumps in the near surface were made by blower thrown snow that cleared a considerable distance.

The town road crews drive monster trucks.  With proper equipment, accumulated snow is easily pushed to the side.  My tiny tractors can only pile this much snow if they are driven straight into the snow.  It is impressive just how much snow they can push forward but all of that changing direction and raising the blade for the backwards move are hard on the operator.  My use of the snowblower to blast the snow clear of the driveway is easier on me.

Airborne snow and winter winds frequently send a fine white stinging mist in my direction.  This snowfall featured heavy wet snow.  It is thrown clear as chunks and both the machine and its operator show their true colors.

In the last picture the clear blue sky in the west point to better weather conditions for tomorrow.  Cold clear skies allow the ever strengthening sunlight to evaporate snow.  The plowing remains unfinished since I need to be inside.  In my younger days plowing by headlights was possible but not today.  Above freezing days are in the forecast so we will allow nature to finish removing this snow.

Monday, February 13, 2017

WARNING! Snow In February

Snow here in February is hardly news.  Still this storm has had its moments.  Ed spent his entire morning rearranging the snow.   Not wishing to be really snowed in, clearing the lane to the road was his main objective.   The snow was heavy and hard to push with his plow!  Using the snowblower and blowing snow when you have blowing snow is quite the chilling experience.  I admit it looked pretty funny to me watching from inside the warm house.  Sometimes Ed  and the snowblower would disappear in a big swirl of white.  With his plow, snowblower, shovel and determination, Ed was able to reach the road.  He did all this before lunch!

At one point today I saw a bald eagle flying just above the river.  With all of the white snow falling, I knew it was a bald eagle because  all I could see was that large brown body and flat wings.  His head and tail were invisible against all that white.  True the lane is not completely free of snow.  The UPS truck would never attempt our snow covered hill,  but Ed still takes it as a challenge.  Ed and his truck made it back up the hill with ease!  Tonight as darkness falls, the snow continues. Ed is tired but he had a great day!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Seeing And The Art Of Tracking

Today was a perfect day to track animals in what is left of the rained-on snow.  I might not have ventured out with the camera, but something extraordinary happened!  As you can see here the stone patio is a high traffic area in the winter.  The rodents that make me EEK! in the good weather have a veritable highway system in place.  My best guess about the footprints on the left is that they were made by a skunk.  These are all old tracks from animals that went by hours or even a day or two ago.  The extraordinary thing is that this morning, from the bedroom window, I got to see an Eastern coyote loping along from Ed's temporary stone pile up to the woods.  From there he took a zigzag path up the hill through the trees.  I watched as he stopped under the larch tree and marked a spot  scratching in the dirt with his back feet.  From there I watched him move along the ridge until he disappeared in the brush.

I can hardly explain how thrilled I am when I have an opportunity to watch wildlife from our comfortable house.  I would not likely follow fresh coyote tracks but the coyote was  long gone.  For once I knew that I was definitely looking at coyote tracks.  I saw him with my own eyes.  I was not going to miss this chance.

This is a set of coyote tracks.  I don't know if just three marks is unusual, but the coyote in question seemed to be moving fine and at a relaxed gait.

According to my book, Tracking and the Art of Seeing,  the oval footprint with toenails makes this a definite coyote print.  Dog footprints are more round.  For once I am 100% confident in my footprint identification.  I saw it being made!

I placed my hand next to the print to measure the size.  3.5 inches long and 2.5 inches wide is right at the top of the range of track size for an Eastern coyote.  Perhaps it was the Alpha male in this territory.  I know from past experience that February is when the coyotes around here mate.  The timing is perfect for the pups to be born in the spring.  From the looks of the rodent tunnels, there will be plenty of food in the garden for a coyote family!  The Stone Wall Garden has been a playground for coyote pups before.  I would love an Encore performance!

Blue Smoke Rising

With daytime temperatures above forty degrees F, a walk in the garden was a must today.  We were not the only creatures on the move as tracks in the soft snow were everywhere.  I walked into the stone square to check on the condition of favored plants.  What I saw just sucked the joy from this great day.  Common street words in unique combinations loudly echoed from the ridges.  It took several minutes for the blue smoke to clear before I could snap this photo!

Deer footprints in the snow here and this completely pruned Pinxter bush are a disaster.  At this time of year newly formed but tightly closed buds are found at the end of each branch.  Flowers will open first quickly followed by leaves.  One untouched bud can be seen in the lower right side of the picture.  We do not know how this plant will respond to the trimming.  If new growth appears where branches leave the main stem, the plant should be presentable in another year.  This type of new growth might also provide an opportunity to take soft wood cuttings.

The area inside of the stone walls is not usually visited by deer.  We are home for a mature female deer that has proven to be an excellent mother.  She usually gives birth to twins and they remain close by her.  It is common to see last year's twins mixed in with the new ones.  During hunting season this family group stays close by our home and gardens.  More and more they are eating garden plants.  Daylily buds were discovered to be an epicurean treat last season.  Now we will need to cage the daylilys if we expect to see flowers.  Recently we saw a deer feeding on the clove currant bush right in front of the house.  At this rate we may change the name of this place from Stone Wall Gardens to Fence Wire Inn.

On May 28, 2016, the shrub in the above picture looked like this.  It looks to me like all of the growth, both flowers and leaves, springs from the ends of the branches.  There is little doubt that this plant took a serious hit today.  I now have wire cages placed to make it difficult for the deer to reach these plants.  The good news is that the larger nearby companion plant was not yet touched by the deer.  For that plant the wire defenses were placed in time.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Winter Record

My frequent trips to Syracuse take me past this small waterfall.  What it lacks in size is offset by its convenient roadside location.  No scrambling over icy stream beds is necessary to reach this special place.  It is located near a curve in the road and remained unnoticed for far too long.  Reluctant to park partially in the road, many great photo ops were missed.  Finally I decided to act like most people and simply park it.

This photo, taken on December 31,2016, shows little ice in response to a partial thaw and warmer weather.  The light snowfall is new.  Had I been willing to stop on my trip one week earlier, an ice bridge at the top of the first fall would have been pictured.

One week later on January 07, 2017, the waterfall shows the impact of returning frigid temperatures.  Stream flow under the ice continues but at a reduced rate.  This stream is so insignificant that it does not appear on the road map.  If permission to explore here is given, I will walk upstream in search of the source of this stream.  A spring will likely prove to be the initial above ground appearance of this water flow.

Two weeks later on January 21, 2017, much of the stream ice and nearby snow are gone in response to warmer temperatures.  Once again I missed a picture of the upper ice bridge.  This unnamed waterfall on its unnamed stream is nearly midway on the trip from my home to the hospital.  It provides a few moments of soul soothing natural stillness.  When there is no snow on the ground, I intend to pocket a couple of shale pebbles that were loosened from this shingled slope.  If I carry one with me always, placing it in my hand will allow me to mentally return to this special place.

By February 05, 2017,  more typical Arctic air has once again covered the moving water with ice.  Less obvious is the fact that the sun remains above the treeline on my return trip now.  Long shadows show that the sun is about to set.  Increasing day length at this time of year allows a  round trip to be completed in day light.

Rain and warm temperatures are forecast later this week.  A special trip to the water fall is under consideration if the amount of rain is large.  When this stream is bank full and roaring it is a sight to behold.