How Many Words for Snow?

So it’s been a couple of weeks. The President’s Day weekend, which was the third weekend of February this year, was so unseasonably warm that I was outside pruning my Japanese maples.

The forecast for the next day was for snow but it had been 62 the day before. Even I thought, really? Is that possible?

Well, it was. And of course, because it had been so warm for the prior few days, the snow didn’t appear to be sticking to the pavement. Nevertheless, I took the safe route down the lawn as I always do when it snows.

Except that in this particular instance, that wasn’t the safest route. Because it had been so warm, the snow was extremely wet–wetter than in my photos on Friday. It caked into the treads of my boots and turned them into skis and down I went onto my hip. The dog looked at me like “why are you playing? I thought we were going for a walk .”

Anyway, again, because it had been warm, the ground wasn’t frozen, so I was just a bit bruised and sore.

The next few days gave rise to our next few words for frozen fun: black ice and freezing fog. For the uninitiated, black ice is where the pavement looks wet but is actually frozen.

Freezing fog is different. It’s like dew, or fog that comes down from above and freezes on the surface. Same effect as black ice–a skim coating of ice almost invisible to the eye–but black ice is usually residual moisture freezing on the pavement whereas freezing fog comes down from above.

There’s definitely more but we rarely experience them here in New England. We do get dry, powdery snow on occasion. Not the lovely dry champagne powder like they have out West, but soft, and light and flaky nevertheless. It’s rare, but it does happen.

But we more often get heavy, wet snow, especially this time of year, that has the consistency of wet concrete or mashed potatoes–lumpy mashed potatoes at that.

So you can see that although this isn’t a place like Alaska where they say the Native peoples have 40 words for snow, we do have quite a vocabulary to describe our winter weather here–and I am sure that I have left some of it out (particularly the colorful cuss words!)

Snow Daze

The way that the weather people have been carrying on about the East Coast, you, might think that this is the first snow of the winter. It isn’t. Nor is it particularly unusual for us to get snow this time of year. We regularly get snow in late February and early or even mid-March.

What is unusual is that this is almost half the snow that we have received for the whole season. This is about a 6″ storm. We have had another 7″ or so over the whole rest of the winter. That’s what’s crazy. We should have had at least 40″ by now.

And it was a pretty storm too. Not wet enough to do damage but heavy enough to cling and be pretty.

I should have gotten a little closer here but I didn’t want to ruin the snow with my footprints (does anyone else think about that? ) That’s my new bench that my sister gave me for Christmas looking pretty in the snow.

The Sounds of Autumn

It’s beginning to look a lot like fall….

I am not sure why, but this year, in addition to noticing the lovely fall colors, I am hearing the changing of the seasons as well in a way that I have never noticed quite so much before.

I always associate summer with the dog day cicadas and the songs of the katydids. But I have never quite noticed how vocal the crickets become in the fall. In late afternoon and early evening, their song is so vocal that it rivals the early spring peepers. It’s really something!

And there is the change in the birdsong as well. Spring of course brings the cacophony of bird song as every bird tries to outdo all the others for mates and territory.

In fall, it’s a different thing. For one thing, there are fewer birds and different birds. I no longer hear the robins and wrens calling and singing–but the blue jays are outdoing them with their strident calls.

The chickadees–one of the first birds to start singing in the spring–are singing again now, but it’s different now. I can’t tell you how. Perhaps it just sounds different because it’s now blended with the nuthatches and the titmice.

And while the red-bellied woodpecker is still scolding me every time I walk too close with the dog, now I see the downy and hairy woodpeckers back from their summer sojourn up north (or up higher in the leafy canopy out of my eyesight!)

And finally, there’s the sharp “crack” when the acorns clatter off the oak trees hit the hard driveway, roof or something else solid.

There is a beauty to every season–we just need to slow down a bit to appreciate it!

The Other Insects of Summer

Lately the media has been all about the Brood X cicada hatching. I am fortunate that they do not make it far enough north to trouble me (one of the very few benefits of living in the frozen north–we do not get any sort of periodical cicadas, just the ordinary dog day kind).

But of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t have insects. And Memorial Day weekend is just about the time when we start having insect damage. This year has been a bit unusual because the weather has alternated between unusually cool weather and unusually warm weather. So the cool weather insects are trying to hang on a bit and the warm weather insects are here too. It’s like an insect bonanza on the plants–although I am sure they don’t think so!

Aphids on a rose bud

For example, aphids, which are normally a cool season insect on roses, are still here. They rarely hang around this long.

Rose sawfly larva damage

And this damage indicates an insect that is just about invisible to the naked eye–the rose sawfly larva. It’s a caterpillar-like creature that is nearly the same color as the rose leaf and it sucks the juices from the leaf–that’s what the little scrapes on the leaf are.

Luckily, up here in the frozen north, we only have one generation of them a year so I do no type of organic control on them at all. They can really disfigure the leaves a bit, but it’s only for a couple of weeks, and then the shrubs put on some nice new growth and all is well.

And this cute little semi-circle is made by the leaf cutter bee. They take out the leaf parts to line their nests in hollow wood. They are native pollinators so it’s important not to use chemical pesticides on your roses–and that includes those “wonderful” systemics that they sell that do everything from kill insects to keep fungus away.

What do you think is harming the pollinators? Please stay away from stuff like that! If public rose gardens can manage themselves organically, so can you!

I find that the same insects recur at the same time yearly. Once you know what to look for, it’s almost as easy as predicting when those periodical cicadas will be back.

Expect the Unexpected

Shattered tree and part of the clean-up

You might have heard that the northeast had some strong winds recently. This really isn’t unusual for us. We regularly get strong winds above 50 mph in the spring and the fall as fronts come through.

And unfortunately, because we are a heavily treed state, with large, mature evergreens, someone, somewhere will lose a tree–or two. You can see my neighbor’s woodpile in the photo behind what is soon to be more timber. He stacks his logs in between our upright pine trees.

As the above photo shows, one of our pines took a hit in these most recent winds. The top half came off, flew across the yard and landed on the roof with a thud so loud it woke me from a sound sleep (not an easy thing to do!) and shook the whole house.

Siding ripped off down to the insulation

Once it bounced off the roof, it slid down the side of the house, taking off the siding.

The end where it was attached to the tree

This is the “small” end of the tree. The larger part is in the top photo. I missed the “good part” yesterday where the branches were up to the second story windows.

And one of the sad things is that it shattered a lovely granite bench into several pieces, beyond repair.

But here I am, telling you all about it–so there’s nothing truly sad about this at all really. Because this could have been so much worse!

We Need To Talk About the Weather

Today is August 31. Tomorrow starts Meteorological Autumn. Yes, I know, the true astronomical start to Autumn isn’t until September 22 (at least here in the Northern Hemisphere). But for those of us that follow the meteorological seasons, Autumn begins September 1. So the last day of summer is today (or it was a month ago if you live in Connecticut where we only get winter and July).

Summer was a doozy here. It was actually summer. For the first time in a long time it was warm most of the time. I didn’t wear fleece in July–very unlike me.

But of course that meant that it was warm–very warm (once the snow stopped in May). We broke the record for 90 degree days. There were 39 of them this year. This is nothing compared to places like Tucson which is breaking its record for 105 degree days but it is still remarkable.

It is also remarkable because it came during the driest summer on record. At my house, during July and August we had less than an inch of rain each month. June wasn’t much better. Our entire state, with the exception of one county, is in severe drought.

Dying rugosa roses in parking lot island

This is just one example of what things look like around our state. And yes, it’s easy to say that this is a hot area surrounded by pavement but these are rugosa roses. They are actually on our invasive plant list. If something like this is browning out, you know it’s bad.

Yellow Knockout rose

This is my garden–my rose garden to be specific. Remember how hardy Knockout roses are supposed to be without any extra water, fertilizer or chemicals? Here’s my yellow Knockout rose, yellowing badly. Others I have are not faring quite so poorly. You can see other roses in this bed holding their own as well. But clearly this Knockout is stressed.

You’ll notice that I talked about the fact that this is weather, not climate. The old saying goes that if you can observe it in your lifetime, it’s weather, not climate.

I won’t make any judgment yet. I will say that this is the second drought–this one being short term so far–that we have had. The last was over a 2-3 year period and was only a couple of years ago.

As for heat, our summers had been relatively mild. It was the night-time temperatures that were creeping up, leading to a lack of cooling overnight. We really haven’t had long-term heat like this.

So no dire predictions from me, just observations. And a remark that when I could get the tomatoes from the critters, they were great. This was a great year for tomatoes!

Arborgeddon

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These trees came down during Tropical Storm Isaias. We were fortunate. Anything major that came down, came down in the wooded portion of our property.

As you can see, they were dead. They were left in place deliberately. Standing dead trees provide nesting areas for all sorts of birds–woodpeckers, small owls, chickadees, nuthatches–it is estimated that as many as 85 different kinds of birds will nest in a dead tree, if you can leave one in place safely.

In addition, bats will rest there to consume insects. And the beetles that get under the bark to begin the work of turning the tree into compost can serve as food for birds, chipmunks and squirrels.

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I cannot stress strongly enough how important it is that dead trees only be left if they will not endanger anyone or anything. These fell quite nicely down into the middle of our little woods. If they had been on the edges, near our neighbor’s house, or the power lines, obviously we would have had to remove them before they caused harm.