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Posts Tagged ‘Poplar’

On Sunday, February 2nd Punxsutawney Phil, King of the weather predicting Groundhogs, didn’t see his shadow when he was removed from his burrow. Some might think that this simply meant that Phil woke under a cloudy sky, but it meant far more than that to The King; he immediately declared that we would see an early spring.  So, bolstered by Phil’s decree, I went off in search of spring. As you can see by the above photo, I didn’t find it; at least not right away. In fact all it has done is snow since Phil made his announcement.

This is what it looked like one morning on my way to work. Yes, it was cold too. Since Phil’s decree we reached 8 below zero F. one night; the coldest it’s been all winter. I’m voting we leave Phil in his burrow next year and let him sleep until he wants to wake up.

“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight” the old saying goes, so this beautiful evening sky gave me hope that the weather would turn.

As of this writing we’re still getting a storm each week but they’ve carried little snow. What you see here amounts to maybe 4 inches at most. After every storm it warms up and melts a lot of the snow that fell. I read recently that scientists studying our dwindling snow cover have found that trees are suffering, because when the insulating qualities of snow are gone the soil can freeze deeper, and this can kill a tree’s feeder roots. Instead of expending energy of growing new leaves and branches trees have to divert their energy to re-growing their roots. Without the life giving energy from photosynthesis that more leaves provide a tree can weaken, and that increases the possibility of attacks from insects and fungi.

When you plow even 4 inches into a pile it looks like a lot more.

But it’s melting in the woods, as this patch of American wintergreen shows. All those plants and I couldn’t find a single berry. When I was a boy my grandmother often took me walking through the woods to teach me what she knew about wild plants. One of the first plants I remember getting to know is the Eastern teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens,) also known as checkerberry or American wintergreen. My grandmother and I would pick the small red berries from the plant she always called checkerberry until we each had a handful, and then we would have a refreshing, spicy feast in the forest. Chewing the leaves can also be refreshing when hiking on a hot day. In the past, the leaves were also chewed by Native Americans to relieve pain.

Lilac buds showed no signs of opening but they did look like they might be swelling some. We dug a hole where I work and found that the frost is only 5 inches down in the ground. It’s usually much deeper and can reach nearly 4 feet in very cold winters. That’s why all of our water pipes have to be buried at least 4 feet deep, otherwise they could freeze and burst.  

I always start checking American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) bushes early for signs of life. So far the male catkins aren’t doing much and I haven’t seen any of the tiny female flowers either, but it won’t be too long. I have a feeling they’ll be early this year. When the catkins open there will be a single bright, yellow-green, male flower peeking out from under each of those diamond shaped bud scales. They grow and bloom in a spiral down the length of the catkin.

I’ve always assumed that migrating birds ate the staghorn sumac berries because nothing touches them until spring. There are thousand of berries in this one photo and not one of them has been eaten, even though I heard robins nearby. I also saw black capped chickadees and dark eyed juncos.

Nothing had been eating the wild grapes hanging from this pine tree either. I was surprised because grapes usually do get eaten quickly.

I wanted to just sit by the river and think one day-I was in that kind of mood-but every stone was covered with ice and snow so there was no dry place to sit. This is what the shoreline looked like; a half inch of ice covered everything.

But the river itself remains unfrozen. So far it hasn’t frozen over in any of the usual places this winter.

Sometimes in spring the river fills itself from bank to bank but so far this year it’s shallow enough to walk across. You’d think it was August by this photo but since we’ve had so little snow to fill it with snowmelt I wasn’t surprised.

The trees in this photo are tipped with gold and that’s a sure sign that things are changing. I think they were poplars but I couldn’t get close enough to find out for sure. Poplar buds swell early and some species have catkins that look like pussy willows.

Red maple flower buds (Acer rubrum) are small and round or oval with short stalks and 4 pairs of bud scales. The bud scales are often purple like those seen here. They have a fine fringe of pale hairs on their margins and when they start to open a tomato red color can be seen between the scales. Red maples can be tapped and syrup made from their sap but the sap gatherers have to watch the trees carefully, because the sap can become bitter when the tree flowers. Seeing the hillsides awash in a red haze from hundreds of thousands of red maple flowers is a treat that I always look forward to. Unfortunately I’ve found that it’s almost impossible to capture that beauty with a camera.

Crocus leaves poked up out of the ice.

And daffodils poked up out of the soil in a raised bed. They were a surprise.

But the biggest surprise of all came in the form of spring blooming witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) blossoming. Until now the earliest I’ve ever seen them bloom was February 23rd but these bloomed a full week earlier. Their strap like petals can curl up into the bud if it gets cold and then unfurl again on warm days, so you don’t see too many that have been frost bitten.

There was a large building between me and the witch hazels but I could still smell their wonderful, clean fragrance. It’s so good to see them again; I was ready for spring a month ago so I’m glad the groundhog got it right.  

It starts with a gentle southerly breeze; a soft, warm breath. The sun grows stronger and its warmth penetrates the soil a little deeper each day, and as the soil warms the yearly miracle will begin. Once started it won’t be stopped; sap is starting to flow and soon buds will swell to bursting. An indescribable beauty will cover the earth and as usual I will be here, trying to describe the indescribable. I do hope you’ll be able to get out there and see it for yourself. It’s so much better than reading about it.

Spring is when you feel like whistling, even with a shoe full of slush.  ~Doug Larson

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Last Saturday (for those of you who may have missed it) Punxsutawney Phil, King of the Groundhogs, didn’t see his shadow when he was removed from his burrow. Some might think that this simply meant that Phil woke under a cloudy sky, but it meant far more than that to The King; he immediately declared that we would see an early spring.  So, bolstered by Phil’s decree, I went off in search of spring.

1. Ashuelot River on 2-2-13

My first stop was at the Ashuelot River, which certainly had a spring like look. I was amazed that two days of above freezing temperatures and two inches of rain had removed almost all traces of ice.

 2. River Rapids

Downstream the river was on full boil and the white water was frothing. It’s a scene that always reminds me of spring. When the river gets like this you can hear the deep and slightly eerie sounds of boulders being rolled along the bottom. Large, heavy objects that roll along the bottom are called the bed load of a river. The amount of solid load that a river carries is measured in metric tons per day, passing any given point.

 3. Riverside Ice

This scene certainly didn’t speak of an early spring. I decided to leave the river and look for spring elsewhere.

 4. Greater Celandine

Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) was nice and green and looking spring like, but it has been this way all winter.

5. Brachythecium moss

Brachythecium moss (Brachythecium rivulare) is often bright green, golden or yellow-green. I found it growing on a rotting log. The color reminded me of spring perennial growth, which is often a light shade of green or even yellow, in some cases.

6. White Ice

This white ice also reminded me of spring and when I used to ride my bike through puddles full of it as a boy. I used to love the sound it made when I broke it. It’s amazing how such simple things often come with such powerful memories. I can’t think of anything else that sounds quite like this kind of ice breaking, so it’s impossible for me to come up with comparisons for those of you who have never heard it.

 7. Mud

Yes, that’s mud and mud always reminds me of spring. People who don’t live in New England may not have heard about our fifth season, known as mud season. It’s when our dirt roads suddenly liquefy and turn into vehicle swallowing quagmires. Cars and trucks buried up to their axles are a common sight. Mud season happens in spring when the water from the thawed upper layers of soil can’t seep down through the still frozen lower layers. What you end up with is a giant, dirt filled mud puddle that looks like a solid road. Until you try to drive over it.

 8. Red Maple Buds

These red maple (Acer rubrum ) flower buds didn’t fail to bring thoughts of spring either, but it will be a while yet before they break fully.

9. Magnolia Bud

Magnolias set their furry buds in the summer, so these buds have nothing to do with spring until they open. Some magnolias bloom early enough to be true heralds of spring.

10. Poplar Buds

Poplar trees (Populus) are in the willow family and their buds remind me of spring pussy willows. North American poplars are divided into three main groups: the cottonwoods, the aspens, and the balsam poplars. If the buds aren’t sticky then the tree belongs in the aspen group. These weren’t. Aspen buds begin to swell during the first warm period in spring, when minimum temperatures are still below freezing. Air temperature rather than day length determines when their buds will break, so it can vary from year to year.

 11. Daffodil Buds

Daffodil buds are much like aspens in the way that they will simply refuse to grow until it is warm enough, even though they can break ground very early if we have a warm day or two. Seeing them certainly reminded me of spring.

In the end I didn’t find spring and I didn’t see a groundhog either, but I found many signs that told me that nature is stirring, and that spring isn’t too far off. I’d be willing to bet that it’ll be here by the last week of March. By the way, Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction of an early spring just happens to agree with the National Climatic Data Center and the National Weather Service.

Spring is when you feel like whistling, even with a shoe full of slush.  ~Doug Larson

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