Increasing Light

Feb. 13, 2018

From Groundhog Day onward the pace at which day length increases picks up exponentially  here in the northern latitudes.  (We are about 44 degrees N.)  Right now, in mid-February, we have about 10 hours of day length.  By the spring equinox, just a little over a month away, we will have two more.   Each day brings a leap forward into increasing light.  Even we humans register this.  There is plenty of snow cover and life is still spare, but small changes are afoot.

Chipmunks show their face,
deer crisscross the woods with trails–
all things sense more light.

Deer seek shelter through the height of winter in their primary wintering areas.  These  offer shelter, but usually not a lot of food.  When temperatures–and light–increase deer are more likely to venture out to secondary areas seeking food.  The deer that left the tracks in this photo bedded down nearby our house and foraged under our apple tree at dawn.  I’m sorry to have no picture to offer of the chipmunks.  I saw my first one since November two days ago.  Today, with temperatures in the upper twenties and plenty of sunshine, I’ve seen several running over the snow, tails held high.  The spring mating season normally starts in March.

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Ice Storm

January 24, 2018

Studies indicate that  New England will likely experience an increasing number of ice storms in the future on account of climate change.

I think the future might be here.  By my count we have already experienced three significant “icing events” in Central Maine this winter.  Ice storms clearly present hardships for us humans, giving rise to hazardous driving conditions and power outages, but they are also hard on the wild animals.  Animals that depend on burrowing under the snow for food can find their access blocked by a steel-hard surface if the ice storm is followed by freezing temperatures.  A quarter-inch plus coating of ice on lingering seedpods, berries, etc. can make things hard for above-ground feeders too.

We had an ice storm yesterday.  It was a chill, damp, dreary day and we lost power for a while.  The weather cleared overnight, though, and today dawned bright and cold.  The entire day was beautiful, with light bouncing off each ice-gazed twig and conifer needle.

Harsh world with no food
bright with otherworldly grace-
Day after ice storm.

Roof Raking

January 11, 2018

There is a lot of snowcover right now in Maine.  A weather forecast calling for an inch or more of rain at the end of the week has inspired those of us with low-pitched roofs to get out and rake the snow down.  This helps to avoid ice dams forming on the gutters, and it lessens the weight load on the roof.  Snow saturated by rain is heavy indeed.

Before coming to Maine decades ago, I had never heard of roof raking and never seen a snow rake.  I’m all caught up on that now.

Histories of snow
cascade down with each long pull—
Back might ache tonight.

First Winter Moon

Today New England came out of a long spell of bitterly cold weather. Day after day the temperatures have been at record lows.  This “cold snap,” as the newspapers like to call it, started by my count on December 26 and has lasted until today, January 8. This two-week period of extreme cold coincided with the appearance of the first full moon after the winter solstice. On the first night of intense cold (Dec. 26), the moon was entering its first quarter.  By a happy coincidence of lunar and human time, it was at the full on the first night of the new year.  Tonight, as the temperatures hover comfortably in the high teens and moisture returns to the air, the moon is at the start of its last quarter.

Night after night, this bold winter moon appeared with stunning clarity in the frigid, utterly clear air.  One night I looked out the window to see fabulous new constellations of huge stars shining high up in the bare branches of the oaks and maples. On closer inspection, I realized that what I was seeing was the vividly clear light of the nearly full moon reflecting here and there off “black ice” encasing the tree tops.

Hungry foxes’ breath
beads to crystal in the cold—
Piercing winter moon.

Snowy Woods in Twenty-Five Degrees of Frost

December 31, 2017

The weather has been very cold in the Northeast these past few days. After a Christmas-Day snowstorm gave us eight inches of dry, powdery snow, the temperature plunged, with nighttime readings dipping well below zero and daytime numbers staying in the single digits.

It is definitely frosty out…but also very beautiful. The air is clear, wiped clean by the snowfall and too frigid to hold any moisture. The snow blanketing the ground has stayed soft and pristine even as the mice, squirrels, hares, foxes and coyotes make their busy tracks through the woods.

Its coldness presents a challenge to us humans, but we can venture out into this vital, fresh, and fragrant scene. It just takes a little care, multiple layers of suitable clothing, and some seriously insulated boots and mittens. A pair of snowshoes helps too.

The woods are worth a visit.

To walk a clean world
where all things smell of balsams,
all things taste of snow!

Between Leaf Fall and Snow Cover

November 30, 2017

Around Thanksgiving and sometimes, as this year, for a while after the holiday, we encounter the subdued yet hauntingly beautiful season of late fall in New England.  There is a lot that has cleared out.  The birds that don’t winter over have left.  Tree branches, except for the occasional oak leaf, are bare. Even the chipmunks have disappeared to spend most of their time underground.

There is a sense of quiet anticipation.  Even the trees have it.

Late fall afternoon,
a lone red squirrel stares at me–
worlds of subtle light.

Chinese Chives in the Season of Seeds

October 5, 2017

Several years ago, when we were looking at our present home with thoughts of perhaps purchasing it, I noticed some Chinese chives (Allium tuberosum, nira in Japanese) growing in a flower bed.  They are not commonly cultivated in central Maine and I commented to one of the owners that I was glad to see them there.  An ethnic Chinese who had immigrated from Vietnam to Maine, the owner smiled politely, but also winced a little, a signal to me that there was something not one hundred percent positive about these plants.

After we bought the house and settled in, I was happy with the Chinese chives.  They emerge early each spring and, along with dandelion greens and Western chives, are always the first homegrown bounty we enjoy in the new growing season.  Plus, they keep on contributing to our dinners through the summer until late August when they produce an impressive mass of white flower clusters each cluster growing onion-family fashion at the tip of a tall, leafless stalk.

I did come to learn, however, what it is about these plants that probably made the former owner grimace; they propagate aggressively, both by underground rhizome and, more significantly, by seed.  The seeds can scatter far and wide and once a new plant takes root, it can be very hard to dig it up.

Their robust success at propagation did not make me stop liking these plants—on the contrary, I find their vigor reassuring—but it did prompt me to establish the habit of deadheading the flowers each fall before the seeds completely mature.

One hundred bold stalks,
nine thousand green pods of  life—
Chinese chives in fall.