skipping seasons

Well it’s happened again. Winter ends abruptly in summer. We never really had a winter here, this year. Four, maybe five days with early morning frost. No ice or snow when generally we see a couple of flurries. But what happened to spring?

16D42B1F-71B5-4784-8458-D9CC55AEAE6E

A couple of mornings started out with a chill only to melt it off in a few short hours. The petunias I planted were perky with bright, full blooms. By afternoon the heat wilt had melted them into a vegetative heap. The cultivated spring flowers have burst through the soil and daffodils (they are first) stand cheerfully announcing tulip’s arrival. Before they are gone the azaleas bloom. Tree leaves are just now budding, the mighty oak leaves are tender, tiny and baby soft and seem so vulnerable for such a formidable tree.

4FBBAD08-3536-4AB1-94CC-FAB305A29047

I think I enjoy the wildflowers most. This comes up each year at a nearby park and it colonizes. This plant was on its own but next year will likely be a family. I have collected a seed pod or two but it does not grow for me.

43A64B5B-1689-4E8B-9CA8-749F4F579D62

There is another park where pathways are well-defined in winter months, and rescue dogs Lily and Lulu love pioneering through the trails. In summer the undergrowth and smaller trees make the paths undefinable so we stick to the paved walkway. Also we miss out on surprising an occasional snake which works for me.

96E0162D-AEAF-437A-BC02-A73EA1B004DB

Yesterday we sat on the riverbank before the day was too hot and were treated to this sailboat venturing out to sea. I often wonder where people go.

So we still enjoy watching trees wake up and giving cool shade. Anoles are thawing and can move faster than Lily and Lulu already. The carpenter bees (bumble bees when I was little) are busy in what flowers we have and finding some wood to lay their eggs. I have seen butterflies emerge from cocoons, even baby earthworms warming up, but I never saw a carpenter bee hatch.

5EE0C213-CBBC-4888-B9DE-53B8EED77293Robert Louis Stevenson, “XXIV Happy Thoughts” from A Child’s Garden of Verses

 

Shoulders

This is an interesting word. We have shoulders at the tops of our arms. They are susceptible to strange injuries, like rotator cuff tears or bursitis, arthritis, dislocation. then there are shoulders on roads, a place where drivers can pull off the road for whatever reason, relatively certain nobody will come along and hit them.There are shoulder pads sewn into some women’s and men’s clothing, I don’t know, to make them look more imposing, more angular I suppose.

And shoulder seasons.

That indiscriminate time when it isn’t really winter/spring/summer/fall, or it’s far enough along in that season where you can sense the beginning of the next one to follow but you aren’t really in it yet.

That seems to be where winter is right now. There are no leaves on the trees but (where I am anyway) we are far enough out of the dark, grey sky months to see light coming. The daffodil bulbs have pushed their leaves up and some of them are blooming. Trees are budding and blueberry bushes have a reddish tint to the tips of their branches where they are waking up and will have flower buds soon. Forsythia, that shrub that my mom’s housekeeper broke off branches whenever she threatened my brother or me when we were little that she was gon’ switch us, and she did not mean have us trade places. Well the forsythia is usually the first to bloom, bright yellow flowers on a bare stem. After the flowers are spent the leaves grow. This has not yet decided to awaken.

The wintergreen plants in the woods that had tiny delicate white flowers last fall are now covered in bright red berries but for the most part the woodland floor seems to still be dormant. We had a couple of weeks here recently where everybody was sure winter was over, balmy temperatures, bright sunshine only to be plunged back into sub-freezing this weekend. Some people call it a false spring where sleeping plants and trees are convinced it’s time to wake up and start pushing out their little leaf buds.

From what the Farmer’s Almanac tells me we’ll be warm/cold here for a few more weeks, with one weekend the middle of this month getting real cold again, snow about 100 miles west of us, but that’s about the end of it. I hope anyway. And the beginning of the pull into springtime. No more shoulder season. Full on spring.

But then spring around here can be pretty short, no “shoulder”, no warning that hinge-melting temperatures are just days away and will last for weeks.

I know the groundhog saw his shadow (hope nobody dropped him this year) but those 6 more weeks of winter only seem to apply to the places north of here that have winter in earnest. I mean more than 3 or 4 inches of snow through the winter where it doesn’t melt and finally goes away sometime in March. April maybe.

Though I love snow, like seeing its beautiful transformation of the world with  white softness nobody down here can drive it it much less rain either so I’m just as happy if we don’t have any. Or if we do have any people have the good sense to stay home.

At least if I’m out on the roads. But then I learned to drive in New Jersey.

Not sure which is worse.

daffodil-sky.jpg

Leaden

I think our little area on coastal NC just had the entirety of blahness for January and February all rolled up in one day. Today.

For almost a whole week the eastern side of the US has braced for a bad winter storm. Even told us to expect some snow. We were very excited. Even people who’ve lived here all their lives speak of how rare snow is in these parts. Instead we got plenty of rain.

Just as the temperature hit that magic number that turns rain to snow, it stopped.

There is a dusting, I can barely see rescue dogs Lily and Lulu’s pawprints in it. But just cold. We walked to the mailbox and when we came back in the house I wondered if my thumbs would thaw out. The wind chill makes it colder (about 5), so there is no point in even going outside!

But the waiting for something that never happened combined with the lead-gray skies, the cold air, this day was one of the longest winter days I can remember. I went through some dresser drawers, boxes in my closet to clean them out and pass time. Only one short hour. Finally now the daylight is waning. The skies will clear overnight so not even a chance of waking to a surprise blanket of sparkling, frozen white in the morning.

All over the state here friends are boasting, “We got 5 inches, it’s still falling!” Pictures on facebook, dogs playing, peaceful scenes of old, gray barns against a backdrop of pure white. It’s beautiful!

Just not here.

Sometimes I wonder if disappointment increases the lack of whatever it was you had hoped for, that thing so dreamily anticipated that never happened. I suppose it does. Me? Just makes me sleepy. So around 2:30 this afternoon when I could see the dusting was all I’d get today I fell asleep into the soundest, most delicious nap I can remember. Mostly naps make me just cranky. Or hungry. Or convinced I’d missed something important, a feeling that takes hours to shake.

Nope. This nap was apparently just what I needed. Not that I have lost a lot of sleep lately, or stayed awake agonizing over things, or just been a night owl. It was a 30-minute restoration where Lulu curled up by me on the sofa, Lily slept on the rug next to us. I even dreamed. Weird dream, but resolved, I think.

Hope your day, snowy or not, was a lovely Saturday.

Baby somethings

We all know this. Everything doesn’t start out full grown, fully knowing its purpose in life. Everything starts as a baby something… insects have larva, bears have cubs, foxes have kits, dogs have puppies. But there are many of these that we never see as a baby.

Anybody who gardens knows what caterpillars do to tomatoes, cabbages, squash. Then they become some sort of harmless moth, but their babies do a lot of damage to become that moth.

Puppies and kittens, though they do some things we don’t like- basically gnaw on chair legs or eat an entire slipper, are so darned cute we don’t really mind.

Other baby things we’d rather just not see like spiders or alligators.

But I had never, until a few days ago, seen a baby squirrel.

I’d been hearing great horned owls every night for several nights. It’s a welcome, comforting sound to me. Thursday morning my rescue dog Lily and I were returning from her walk when I saw her nosing around a tuft of something in the front yard so I went over to have a look.

I spotted a tiny pink thing and as I walked closer Lily backed away giving me a full view of it. I thought at first it might be a mole or a vole but they aren’t all pink. I picked it up… a perfect little creature though by now ice-cold. Who knows when it had been knocked out of its nest. I looked up and sure enough there in the pine branches was a large squirrel nest. My guess was one of those owls likely swooped on unwary mom or dad squirrel for a late-night snack and knocked junior out in the process. This little thing’s eyes weren’t even opened.

So we brought it inside. No bigger than my thumb, perfectly formed little head, tiny ears, curled tail, even little nails on its paws. I wrapped it in a soft cloth and cocooned it inside a rolled heating pad.

An hour later I checked, still stone-cold. Well, I couldn’t bring myself to do anything final with the little thing so left it wrapped in the pad while Lily and I went out for our morning errands. Upon returning I checked again. Still cold. Well, we tried.

Sad to think it won’t have an opportunity to taunt and frustrate Lily someday, but I  imagine there will be others.

Reward

Some people believe that when they have achieved a goal or accomplished a thing it is important to pat self on the head with a reward of some kind… a tasty dinner at a nice(r) restaurant, a new item of clothing, purse, some small extravagance that normally one would pass by.

In light of having unpacked, stored and/or disposed of 63-odd packing boxes of assorted sizes and probably around 7 miles of unrolled bubble wrap; cleared, disbursed or thrown out piles of clutter and I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-it things; hanging as many pictures as told me where they might prefer to be displayed (with many left to go), I treated my beloved Lily and myself to a pink and gold glow of a sunrise at the beach this morning. It was the coldest morning (so far) this year, and as we were on the return lap having gone as far up the beach as we would I noticed someone’s bare footprints in the sand, a child’s. It took maybe 10 more yards of walking before my frozen brain determined I too, should be enjoying the sugar-soft sand between my toes. The tide was coming in and Lily does not like those waves coming up to meet her so I zig-zagged along, being dragged away whenever a rogue wave threatened to lick her paws. The cold air gripped my ankles as I pulled off my thick woolen socks, but the sand truly felt like cool silk under my rough winter foot soles. Suddenly the ocean waves crashed louder, like summer waves. Not a distant thundering but clearly beckoning me into the surf as on an August afternoon. The water felt like ice shards running over my feet but I rejoiced. The ocean! Bare feet was all it took.

I still have to find places to put these wayward things away. As my brilliant and ever-practical godmother says, “A place for everything and everything in its place.”

I believe her. And another goal to reach for another gift of a sunrise.

Polar geyser??

So we are in a polar vortex. Not as bad here as many places but cold enough. If we’d had the rain last night that we got 2 nights ago we’d have a skating rink. Mid to upper 20s this morning. I forgot about the vortex. I could not understand why my fingers were completely numb when Lily and I took our walk, or why the birds didn’t come to the deck railing for their breakfast first thing. Even the squirrels left the sunflower seed feeders alone.

So I’m wondering what the opposite of a vortex is. If anybody knows please tell me. No online dictionary has it, they all say “no definition found”, and even the Oxford English, which is the only dictionary I have access to since my other ones are all packed and this one’s too big, offers no help: “a situation where persons or things are steadily drawn, from which they cannot escape”. Well, then a geyser by virtue of its spewing out, violently, would to me be the natural opposite, right? But there is no such thing where the weather is concerned, that I know of. A geyser creates an emptiness which then needs to be filled and nature abhors a vacuum. Weather is present no matter what. Every day we have sunny weather, rainy, snowy, cold, windy, or some sort of atmospheric condition that fills up our world. A vortex just sounds so terrible. You imagine black holes, the bottom of the universe falling out, something drastic, catastrophic even.

I remember when I lived in Florida in late winter there would be really dense fogs some mornings. I walked my dogs down by the St. John’s River and we’d wander out along the dock. One such morning I took a picture of Savannah, a border collie I had at the time. I had no idea it would turn out the way it did (early on in the age of digital photography). There she stood, gazing alertly into the deep river water at something only she could see, enveloped by misty grey thickness that I had not seen through the lens when I took the picture. “Savannah in the vortex” I called it.

Words are so powerful. We have to be careful how we use them.

Waiting for the snow

Not very often but enough to make it magical there is a prediction for snow here. It’s never very much, only a few inches, but it has that transformative ability to change the landscape just briefly into something extraordinary.

The prediction has been talked about over the past several days, so I went for a walk hoping to distract myself. I remember when I was little and though I was the only real daydreamer in my classes there were certain days during winter when every child’s eyes were trained outside those classroom windows almost willing the snow to fall. Whether there had been a prediction or not did not matter. We could feel it, smell it, even the air looked different. Then later, after our exasperated teacher had called us to task we would glance back out those windows to see snow falling so hard you couldn’t see past it.

So as I walked I looked hard against tree lines and sides of hills, even creating an illusory appearance of snowflakes. The frozen air grated against my cheeks, rubbing them a rosy red. I looked up at the slate-grey where even the sun appeared an imposter of itself through the ice-crystalled clouds.

It’s always a surprise here, to see snow.

Camping trips

I am not a camper, happy or unhappy.

The closest I ever got to camping, besides being sent to camp during summers growing up to give my mother a break where we slept in cabins with rudimentary but working toilets, was the summer a few years back my son and I stayed at the National Park Service’s lodge on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. It is exactly that– perched at the brink of the rim of the canyon, with a lot of small cabins behind it. It is equipped with 2-3 restaurants serving some of the finest food I ever tasted, a saloon, and a gift shop. So maybe it’s not camping, exactly, but there are cabins and they are in the woods.

This Christmas I was invited to go camping with some people out in west Texas, at Big Bend National Park, arguably one of the most beautiful and stark natural places in the country. I know this because I have a cousin who has a hunting lodge there, near Marathon, on the Rio Grande, and I have seen pictures. I know pictures rarely are an adequate representation of a place or a person, but I also drove through it when I moved home to NC from northwest New Mexico. It was getting dark, but I could see shapes, feel the expanse of the place.

But camping? In tents? In the cold? With no bathrooms?? No thanks. Maybe the bears are asleep, maybe the spiders, snakes and scorpions are not so active in the winter either, but I am of an age where I am not ashamed to covet my creature comforts– heat, running water and indoor plumbing, protection from the elements, warm food and easy accessibility to anything else I may need.

Besides, these are not yet truly friends, but acquaintances who I have not known very long and do not know well. I suppose I should be flattered that they thought to include me in something they love to do and have done for years, but do I really want to struggle in a tent to change clothes, find a nice running stream (with no snow melt) where I can splash my face in the icy water and brush my teeth among people I hardly know? Or do you just forego those niceties and risk gum disease, tooth decay and whatever perils await when one wears the same undergarments for days on end. See, this would not have been just for a couple of nights, this was for 10 days. I am not so sure I would still know myself after that length of time with veritable strangers and the vacuum of only the natural world.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d take nature over so-called civilization any day. I think nature’s rhythms are far more reasonable and practical than what people come up with. I mean, take a hurricane. It’s just nature’s way of purging its water systems, clearing out the deadwood and reclaiming itself. But let one big storm like that hit a widely-populated area and you’d think the affront was to people, not to the environment they stole.

But still, nature is bigger and stronger than I am. And it does not know me, not personally. The only thing it takes into account is its own balance. Not sure my equillibrium at this point in my life could mesh with that.