impressions

This was one of those weeks that can only be described as a gift. The little coastal town I live near doesn’t get anything most people can call winter, but it gets cold enough. Even some snow and ice some years, just not this year. Not yet, anyway.

But apparently winter gave a reprieve to some areas this past week, here too. Days were 60s-70s and nights did not get much below 45. So electric bills will be lower. Abundant sun, expansive blue skies, wispy playful contrails and clouds decorating the air.

IMG_0870.JPGCape Fear, upriver

Mindful of Emily Dickinson’s lovely poem, “There’s a Certain Slant of Light” (…Winter afternoons–…)

IMG_0866.JPGRed oak clinging to what is left of autumn

IMG_0867.JPGa closer look at leaf veins with the sun behind the tree trunk

So according to askabiologist.com* the leaves turn when temperatures get colder and the tree starts “breaking down the chlorophyll into smaller particles”, leaving more room for other colors (carotenoids) to make the orange, reds and yellows. Other trees (maples) have anthocyanins that create red, pink and purple colors.

The theory I grew up believing was that leaf colors changed when the days got shorter and there was less sunlight to make green. So that always seemed plausible but days get shorter all over the world and leaves don’t change color in warmer climates. So the cold theory makes more sense now.

I just never thought about it.

It’s interesting when we accept ideas unquestioning. Especially when they are about non-personal things, like nature. Facts are applicable to everything but so much seems subjective. So my ideas about why leaves change color, that I have believed for years (evidently I didn’t pay close attention in botany class) has been corrected.

It makes me wonder how many ideas, theories, concepts I am still holding true without really having it right.

0.jpgPileated woodpecker, base of far left tree hunting insects

Rescue dogs Lily and Lulu always get things right. And they are generous in their opinions, whenever I am at a loss.

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https://askabiologist.asu.edu/questions/why-do-leaves-change-color

you just never know

I love trees. Maybe ever since my grandmother recited Joyce Kilmer’s poem, “Trees” when I was a little girl. There are simply too many reasons to love trees… they give shade, they are lovely to look at, they offer shelter from storms for birds and small animals, birds nest in their branches, they provide food for insects which provides food for birds, they respire and cool the air and maybe most importantly they convert carbon dioxide to oxygen. Trees are kind of essential to survival of many species.

So when my neighbor, whom I had not met after nearly a year, rang my doorbell I had no idea what I was in for.

Let me digress for a moment… I live alone (well, with 2 rescue dogs, Lily and Lulu) and am very happy this way. My son is grown and off on his own successful life and our paths cross in the occasional text, phone call, birthday. I see my brother’s family once or twice a year. I have a few friends with whom I stay in touch, get together with for coffee, lunch, and I do some volunteer work. So otherwise I am completely unobtrusive. Invisible almost. Well, except for this blog and walking all over, I try to stay out of other people’s way. You know, things are so busy and fast-paced now. Not so much that I can’t keep up… well maybe I can’t but the truth is I don’t want to anymore, I’ve done that.

So people basically know I live here but that’s about it.

Until this neighbor.

At the time I had no idea the history here. He bought his house with his wife 20 years ago when the house was built. Evidently the person who bought the house I live in also loved trees.  And planted 3 river birch trees. This is a lovely tree with peeling, papery bark and lush foliage. This foliage grew quickly over my neighbor’s garage. He said he’d pleaded with the initial homeowner to not plant the trees where he did but was ignored. So the enmity for these trees goes way back. At the time of our encounter I did not know this. I only saw an angry gentleman, personally angry with me over this tree that I inherited. When I did ultimately get the whole story out of him I learned the subsequent 2 or 3 residents up to me had ignored him as well. I explained what I knew: that he could cut any portion of this tree that hung over his property, but that I would really like the tree to live. I asked that he please let me know when someone would be cutting the tree. That is where we left it.

Nothing happened for weeks.

One day another knock at my door. The landscaper is explaining he is there to trim the tree. But my neighbor was not at home. I called him. Learned he is at hospital with his wife and no, he now has someone different in mind to cut the tree, do not allow the people who are there to do anything. I asked him to speak to them himself and handed over the phone.

A few weeks later a strange gentleman is at my door. Says he is the cousin of my neighbor and will be cutting the tree. I ask if my neighbor is there? No. So now I realize I will also be paying for this. In addition, I found myself bracing their rickety ladder and praying at the bottom that nobody fall off my neighbor’s garage roof. They cut the offending limbs. The tree is, for the most part, still all there and everybody except my wallet is happy.

My neighbor’s wife returned home, some better. A week or two later, on a lovely sunny Sunday afternoon I hear chainsaws, very nearby. I look out my back window and see a large limb, trembling precariously over my newly planted shrubs and plants. I ran outside, too late to stop anything but in time to watch the limb fall with a sickening thud on my small garden. To make matters worse one of the men started yanking on the sawed off end of the limb tearing up my plants in the process. Uncharacteristically I started yelling for him to stop. Either he did not hear or in his fervor to remove the offending limb simply chose to ignore me so I grabbed the branches on my side and, finally realizing I was the reason the limb was stuck he stopped pulling. So I explained how I would heave the limb over the fence and try to salvage my plants.

I stayed on my porch the rest of the afternoon until they finished hacking at trees lining the perimeter of my neighbor’s yard.

A few days later I joined my family for a week’s vacation at the beach, wondering occasionally what I would find left of my trees when I returned. I found them just as I had left them, however my neighbor’s wife had taken seriously ill this time. It turned out she did not recover and passed away a few days ago.

So I learned something very important in all of this. When someone comes at you with anger disproportionate to whatever it is they are complaining about there is likely a backstory. In my neighbor’s case it was 20 years of being ignored by residents of this house and, more recently an emotionally upending roller coaster ride with his wife’s sudden and dramatic illness. While I feared he hated me because of a long history with these trees it actually had nothing to do with me at all.

You just never know.

 

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“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”    James 4:14

Wind

Fall is pretty short-lived over here. Summer malingers squeezing the last bit of humidity into our lungs, then a brief spell of cool, drier days and pretty leaves.

The wind blew all night last night, and is still blowing. It’s warmer, spatterings of rain showers. So this signals the beginning of what we know as winter here in coastal NC. Not too cold, not very long, snowfalls that don’t stick around for more than a few hours, if that.

I love the wind. Whatever it blows in, or blows out. Maybe because my grandmother loved it. She would recite a poem by Christina Rosetti,

“Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
“Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.”
Here where I live we basically have 2 kinds of pine trees, longleaf and loblolly pines. You can tell the difference because the longleaf have 3 needles to each “bundle”, loblolly has usually 2. And longleaf cones are very large. Most pine cones are about 3 or 4 inches long, maybe (except pinions which are really small, or hemlock which are even smaller).
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longleaf cone, about 9 inches tall
My mom used to love these pinecones piled in a basket on the hearth at Christmas. Now you can buy them soaked in cinnamon oil which is lovely and fragrant, if you happen to love the smell of cinammon.
Birds have a harder time foraging in the winter so I will load up the pine cone leaves with peanut butter and roll it in birdseed. The birds really love this (so do squirrels, possums and raccoons so if you try this hang it from the branch of a tree or the bird feeder, preferably with a baffle). One winter when my brother and I were little our mom thought it would be fun to do this project only she used suet (beef fat). And it was fun, except we only did this that one year because our mom had a thing about touching raw meat or meat products of any kind and she could not get us to do much of the assembling of these cones.
It’s kind of amazing to look at these cones. When they are young and green, still in the tree they are closed up tight. Their seeds form above each leaf so when the cone ages the leaves will open and eventually drop the seeds. Squirrels, being the impatient creatures they are, won’t wait and will chew off the leaves to get to the seeds, leaving the skinny “cob” of the cone. If you look at the cone when it has opened you can see the spiral pattern of the leaves swirling up toward the top. Amazing to me what the Great Designer did when He decided to create the plants and trees, each of which has a property that can help heal in some way.
3When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
4what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?”
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Rosetti: The Golden Book of Poetry, 1947; Psalm 8:3,4

Income taxes, influenza and pine trees

Really, none of these things has anything to do with another, nor are they related in any way. It just happens they each culminated for me at about the same time.

So not having had a flu bug in I have no idea how long, can’t remember, I really thought I was dying. I’d had a flu shot. Why would I have the flu? Because this year they forgot one, or a couple of strains. Whatever, if they did miss one or some I got it or them. I really don’t remember the past 10 days clearly. I do remember my lovely rescue Lily scratching at the bed clothes and whining, and my whichever arm was closest weakly waving her off. I vaguely recall taking my temperature positive I would suffocate before the thing beeped because my nose no longer drew air into my lungs. My son calling, when hearing how muffled I sounded yelling he thought I didn’t get sick as though this was all my fault, and my brother –a doctor– also calling to tell me he’d not played a particularly good afternoon at golf, did I know how terrible I sounded?

Such helpers, my family.

Just as the fog lifted my accountant called with the wonderful news that my taxes were ready (a record), and exactly how much I owed and why. Still being in a more or less ethereal state not really in this universe but the alternate one I’d been inhabiting this did not cause my blood pressure to change one iota. Thankfully.

So the pine trees. Well, I was speaking with some very nice neighbors about our yards, the landscapers and impending spring and they mentioned a wonderful tree man who takes trees out before you know it before your very eyes and did I know he was in the neighborhood? Today? No I didn’t, so he went to find him and ask him to come over and look at a bradford pear I wanted taken out. He did and this morphed into a conversation about the evils of pine trees. I’d always loved these trees. The way they whisper with the wind brushing through them, swaying in a gentle wind (I guess this is actually not a good thing), and my adored grandmother loved them. So now I will not only remove one, medium-small brittle, disease-prone and insect-ridden bradford pear but 8 (read: all) pine trees. I’m not sure I can bear that kind of sun shock. Suddenly my partially-shaded yard will be in the glaring summer sun.

I may need to think on this one a while.

Dew fall

For some reason a few weeks ago on an early morning run with my dog I was irritated at something. It is hard to remember what it was now, and hard for me to understand how, at that hour of the day before anything has actually happened or even before the first rays of sun that I could have found something that was annoying. Remnants of a dream maybe, or something unresolved– whatever it was I was pushing through our run as though I had to get to something terribly important shortly after which I did not, And to add further irritation Lily was stopping more frequently than usual to sniff at something.

It was on one of these stops that I heard it. First I thought it might be some night creature foraging in its last few moments before dawn, or a deer wandering through the woods but then I realized: it was dew fall.

Dew drops accumulating so much on the remnants of leaves on the trees that they become heavy to the point that the leaves release each droplet and they patter to the dry, crusty leaves beneath. So I stopped and listened. Time stopped with me. My frustration disappeared. Something I could not control yet so natural as to happen whether or not I wanted it to or even noticed. Something that happened outside my realm of wants, needs, thoughts, hopes, dreams or irritations. And it happened whether or not I was there to share in its perpetual, gentle sound.

The ground, dry and cracked, was even being nourished by something so slight as collected water droplets of dew. Like a blessing, just by hearing I became nourished, too.