LOCAL VIEW –Beech Buds–

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There’s a mist up in the maples;
There’s a hueing of the trees.
Let the farmer plant his staples;
Let the banker seek his ease.
Neither way will truly please.

I’m made hobo by the woodlands.
I’m made cross-eyed by the trees.
Schoolboys don’t have to be good. Man’s
Made rules ban ecstasies,
And his goals are but a tease.

In the treetops there’s no fading
Above glades that know no shading.
Farmers sweat, as bankers promise.

Schoolboy’s are the Doubting Thomas.

Last week we had but a single glory day, with skies as blue as promises, before the dreary and cold weather clamped back down. This is typical of the hills of New Hampshire. During my boyhood among the flatlanders of Massachusetts I came to expect spring to bust out in April, but I’ve learned not to expect it before May, this far north. We live right at the boundary of a sort of change in climate zones. Here is where Indians stopped attempting to grow corn, and became hunters.

Rather than April being a month where spring busts out, it tends to be a torture. Trees aren’t stupid, and they look both ways before crossing over into summer. The maples start to be hazed by their buds in early April, but they only tantalize, for what seems like forever. A sort of mist rides the tips of twigs, golden green over sugar maples and raspberry over swamp maples, and I’ve learned to appreciate the beauty…….about 5% of the time. The rest of the time it seems like way too much foreplay.

This is especially true when April holds long spells of dank weather, which is often the case. Snow can mix in with the rain right into May on the most torturous years. A sort of war goes on between the powers of rebirth and the powers of rot. (If you plant corn, beans or squash too early, that is exactly what their seeds do: rot.)

To really rub it in, last week the children asked me questions, and I had no answers. Rather than seeing this as an opportunity to teach how life never gets old, and is always full of new things, I just felt I was failing to live up to my reputation for being amazingly knowledgeable. Rot even was effecting my brain. For example, a child asked me, “What animal is this from?”

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(Oh the irony! Here it is April, and rather than the fresh and new, I am consulted about an old bone. ) I had to confess I didn’t know. My guess was it was an old pig bone, and then, to hide my ignorance, I pointed out the gnawing marks left by deer mice, and also disseminated a bit about scientists who know their bones.

The next question was about foam coming from the side of a tree.

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 Again I had to confess I had no clue. I had noticed it before, but never had come across an explanation in my reading. So I made a guess. I had wondered, when I saw it before, if it was rising sap fermenting in the tunnel made by some sort of wood-boring beetle. Sounds good, at any rate. But then curiosity killed the cat. I googled “foam on trees”, and discovered it was “slime flux”, and caused by bacteria. So then, on top of admitting I didn’t know, I had to admit my wild guess scientific hypothesis was wrong, which no thinker enjoys doing.

Not the best day. Rather than the fresh and new, I get brought bones and bacteria, and get my fat ego humbled to boot.

In such situations I find it best to retreat from my position as an authority figure, and to just do my job, which is to watch the kids. Call it licking-my-wounds if you will, but it is what I do when it is not the best day.

When I am sulking in this manner I like to turn to old,reliable ways of cheering myself up, for example noticing the beauty of red maple blossoms.

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This is what mists the treetops raspberry.  They are so small few notice them.

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They also make an interesting nibble, though I prefer the golden-green blooms of the sugar maple, but they weren’t out yet. Then I got a craving for beech buds, and sauntered over to a low hanging branch, and noticed something interesting. The buds were especially plump.

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When I unwrapped the fat bud I discovered it was fatter than usual because rather than leaves it held a flower.

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This is likely just another sign of rot. Our beech trees are stressed by a virus from Eurasia. When a tree is stressed, it makes nuts like crazy, attempting to reproduce before it dies. And now our beech trees are going the way of the American elm, chestnut, and butternut. Thank you very much, Internationalists. Our squirrels will starve. But we will have our revenge. An exploding population of American gray squirrels is running roughshod over the landscapes of Eurasia. (And it serves them right.)

As I contemplated this situation in my grumpy manner I absentmindedly nibbled the beech bud,  and was surprised how good it was. The flowers sweeten the flavor. Then I remembered my job. I was suppose to be watching the kids, and they had become suspiciously quiet.

When I turned I saw I was a teacher, after all. I saw a line of quiet children strung out behind me like ducklings, or perhaps like small monkeys behind a daddy gorilla. They were all nibbling beech buds.

I figured that, if I’m stuck with the job, I’d better do it right, so I taught them, “You don’t want to eat too many of those things, or it will make your tongue feel all hairy.”

(Yet another little-known-fact from my vast store of wisdom.)

[Photo credits for “old bone” and “foaming tree” pictures go to Marlowe Gautreau.]

LOCAL VIEW –Blighted Spring–

It’s been a drudging sort of week, full of duties one doesn’t plan for. Not much is blooming, but perhaps clouds of pollen from southern lands blew north, and everyone began sneezing. Or perhaps it was the common cold passing through town. In any case, who plans for that? It complicates things, and makes you make mistakes. Who plans for that? In your hurry you leave your key in the ignition, on the “on” position, as you are only hurrying inside for five minutes. But five minutes becomes two hours with phone-calls and other stuff, and when you hurry back to your car with an armload of other stuff, and are ready to rocket off, the battery is dead. Who plans for that?

We got by. Yesterday my battery was dead, but I wasn’t late to open the Farm-childcare as I got a quick jump from my wife’s car. Today her battery was dead at the Childcare, but she got a jump from me. To me it seemed very symbolic of how we get by, when we are not at our best.

Personally, I blame the delayed spring. Not that I wasn’t expecting it. Why? I think it was a queer mix of science and intuition and memory. I just noticed how a band of colder weather gave colder winters to places like Mexico and Syria and Thailand, even as places further north got a warmer winter, and I figured that band of colder weather would retreat north and get us. Meanwhile I recalled warm early springs in my past that got clobbered by May snowstorms, the worst being in 1977. Lastly, when you live as far north as New Hampshire, among Finns who immigrated here from much further north, you own a certain caution about warmth in March. Call it pragmatism or call it cynicism, I planted peas earlier than ever, but wasn’t surprised when snows followed, with record-setting cold.

But it needs to be said that such flip-flopping of weather is cruel. I am not being a selfish human, as I say this. It is not merely humans who get blighted. I can offer photographic evidence of the day-lily leaves with brown points, and the daffodils broken by frost.

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Of course these are imported species, (as are Finns and even Yankees like myself), but what really impressed me was a local swamp maple that seemed to get fooled. It formed a purple misted tree, in the post I did about frogs singing early, back in March. Currently it looks like it isn’t even going to start budding. I may do a post about what happens with that tree, but I’ll have to wait and see.

In any case, though spring seemed ready to bust out in March, here it is a month later and the treeline looks pretty leafless.

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However though the spring can be delayed, it cannot be denied. On the blighted lawn purple splashes.

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And a few daffodil were more cautious, and now stand proud for being cowards.

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And the grey fur of the pussy willow suddenly is yellow with pollen.

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And the wiser, more cowardly swamp maples now venture to bloom.

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And these tiny flowers, softening the treeline with a haze of reddish purple, always are worth a closer look.

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However, though my heart is softened by the loveliness, I will not be a sucker and a chump. I remember snows in May. So I look to the black cherry trees. In Washington DC their cherries may be fools, and come out only to be blasted by frost, but I like to think our northern cherries are smarter. And even this late they are only budding.

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So here I stand, betwixt and between. Spring will not be denied, but will not be a dunce.

The trees are distrustful; the very buds
Are reluctant; yet sneaking through the brush
Is a quickening of all creature’s bloods;
A hope that makes the grayest banker blush.

Who are you? Elf or zephyr or angel;
Invisible dancer swirling dead leaves;
You put us all through a long, slow, strange hell
Where the more one doubts the more one believes.

Logic dictates we distrust, and yet you
Seduce us with memories of past times
When you beat back that logic. Can you do
It again? In the face of this world’s crimes
Can you undo the loss of virginity?
Do that, and Oh! What a spring it would be!

Local View –A choir of quackers–

Spring is way ahead of last year, for we have already heard our first quacker frogs. I heard them on March 24, and brought a small child who moved up here from Arizona to the side of the road to hear them. Last year I first heard them on April 16, and I remember there was still a bit of ice on the north side of the pond where I heard them.

They are not as shrill and overpowering as spring peepers, which is the first frog most notice. The quackers are more subtle, and when a car goes sighing by on the road the car drowns out the sound of them. In fact our Childcare usually drowns out the sound of them, which is why I brought the small girl to listen alone. If you bring many children they are too loud, and if you bring the dog it charges ahead and all you see is many ripples in the pools.

The quackers actual name is “wood frog”, but that is rather a drab name for an amazing critter. They can be frozen, and then come back to life. I can’t, though I’ve come close, and I always appreciate those who can outdo me, even if they are just a frog.

When I was younger I called them “banjo frogs”, (before I learned real banjo frogs live in Australia). The sound of their voices is somewhere between a banjo and a quacking duck. However all recordings I found make them sound much louder than they actually are.

Their entire strategy seems to be: To be done with the entire business of reproducing before the rest of the animal community knows what hit them. They breed in forest melt-water pools that are often dry by the end of May. Their eggs hatch into tadpoles that hop off as frogs in a matter of days. However in order to do this they have to be right in the woods, so they skip the bother of burrowing in the mud at the bottom of ponds to hibernate. They burrow down in the forest floor and allow themselves to be frozen solid. Or, actually, not quite solid. The center of their bodies contains some sort of natural antifreeze and never entirely freezes (or, if it does, they don’t survive.) If you’re interested, there is a fairly good post here:

http://www.dogonews.com/2015/3/19/tiny-wood-frogs-survive-winter-by-partially-freezing-their-bodies

And there is a melodramatic PBS YouTube video (with the overdone PBS music) showing a quacker thawing out here:

However in the actual woods there is no PBS music. Thank heavens. There is just the silence of a sunny day, with the forest floor brilliant as the closest thing to shade is the swamp maples, barely beginning to bud.Swamp Maples IMG_2154And on the sunny forest floor is what is barely more than a puddle, reflecting the sky. Wood Frogs IMG_2157And from that water you suddenly hear the soft, strange sound of something utterly unlike PBS music. It is reminiscent of a duck playing the banjo, however, as you’ve never heard a duck play the banjo, it a music unto itself, so soft that if the wind stirs leaves and sighs in the pines it can be drowned out. But when the wind quiets the sound stirs something in you, and you too are awakened. And it is then you cannot stay quiet, are inspired to write words to drown out the PBS music.

Before the geese make eyes wild by calling,
Before the first bluebirds make soft hearts weep,
Before spring’s strength is enthralling
The brown woods stir from their long, frozen sleep
And a strange music plucks from new, black mud
And ripples the waters of forest pools.

Too quiet to surge ones long unstirred blood
And too quaint to make austere men be fools
It is a background to a bright prophecy
Like a quiet herb in a warm mother’s love-soup.

I take a small child to hear it with me;
To watch her face, as time loops the loop
And see as she sees life’s not forsaking
The bleak; Instead the bleak are awaking.

LOCAL VIEW –For Missus and For Sythia–

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Photo Credit:  http://www.instesre.org/TemperateClimate/TemperateClimate.htm

This past week has seen a reversion to wintry weather, with frost on the windshields and ice in the puddles. The budding trees have hit the brakes, and the ponds have gone nearly silent.

Back when the weather was more kindly, on April 16, I heard the first frogs, which are not the spring peepers but another small frog I’ve heard called “banjo frogs” (perhaps because they make a “Twank” sound,  a bit like a breaking banjo string). (The Australian frog with the same name actually sounds more like a banjo.) I call them “spring quackers” because they also sound a bit like ducks. They are lower and quieter than peepers, and always seem to beat the peepers by a day or two, when it comes to announcing the ponds are coming back to life. They are far less obvious than the peepers are. Where the peepers peep is piercing and shrill, the quackers are more of a low muttering, almost subliminal.

At our childcare I asked a small girl, around age three, if she could hear them, and at first she shook her head. Then her eyes changed, and she tilted her head, and looked off curiously through the trees. I asked her if she’d like to sneak closer, and she nodded. (Most kids like to sneak.) Then we crept through the pines, and it was wonderful to watch the child’s face fill with wonder as we drew closer and the plaintive “twanking” became more obvious. However then my idiot dog came lunging through the underbrush, plunging along the side of the pond to see what we were up to, and the frogs immediately became silent and the water ahead was dimpled with rings of ripples. I told the girl my dog wasn’t very good at sneaking, and she nodded.

By the next day the peepers had started their shrieking, and all the subtlety was lost.  They demand attention, which doesn’t seem a very good survival strategy, until you sneak up on them and understand they confuse predators by being both numerous and deafening. It is hard to locate a single frog by its peep, with so many other peeps coming at you from all angles. And they also become immediately silent, if you move too fast. I find them amazingly difficult to locate. They are also amazingly loud, once you see how small they are.

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(Photo credit: Mike Marchand.)

They also can stand being frozen solid, due to some sort of antifreeze in their blood. This was a good thing, as the promise of spring seemingly became a lie.

Just as the first frogs are tiny, so are the first blooms on the swamp maples, which are the first tree to bud out. The lowlands go from being silvery thickets to being touched by a raspberry mist I have yet to see captured by a photograph, but you have to poke your nose close to see how lovely the individual flowers are.

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(Photo credit: https://piedmontgardener.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/maple-flowers-and-buds.jpg )

Ours are a bit more purple than the the flowers pictured above, and they look a lot worse after they’ve been blasted by frost. I’m going to watch, to see if they make many seeds this year.  We got into a northwest flow on Tuesday that wouldn’t quit, and were still in it on Friday.

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A few flakes were in the roaring wind on Wednesday, and Thursday’s purple clouds kept pelting us with white, Dr. Seuss pompoms of  fluffy hail called “graupel”, and Friday morning began with a whirling flurry that briefly made the view look like January, though it never stuck to the ground. It was not weather conducive to ambition, in the garden, which turned out to be a good thing, for my  wife had other ambitions.

I wound up repairing the fence in front of the house, as the winter’s plows trashed what little was left of the old one. I fear I spend so much time over at the farm that I neglect my home, and the lack of care shows, and annoys my wife. The Memorial Day parade comes down Main Street and passes right in front of our house, and my wife doesn’t believe me when I say all eyes are on the parade and not our house. Consequently I spend time every spring at home, sprucing the place up, right when I feel I should be gardening.

There actually was a parade this morning, but as usual I always forget it, and get a shock. At the start of the baseball season the children are marched from the fire station to the ball field with blaring fire engines and police cars, and every year I think it is a terrorist attack.

After watching my grandson in his first game my ambition was to nap, but my middle son has the ambition to grow pear trees and see if he can start a microbrewery making a sort of pear cider called “perry”.  This is a long-term project, but in the short term involves planting four trees at the childcare, and also involves controlling my goats, so they don’t eat his saplings. This in turn involved repairing the electric fence, so that is what I wound up doing rather than snoozing.  Rather than rested I wound up feeling as you’d expect, after fighting with cold wire in a cold wind.

My ambition is now to simply survive until noon Monday. Sunday will not be a day of rest for me, as I am giving the sermon at our church. We have dwindled to a size so small that, fort the first time in 265 years, we can’t afford a pastor or interim pastor, and instead have “guest speakers” which includes our selves, (as we are cheapest) (IE free). We don’t call our sermons sermons, but rather call them “messages”, but mine will be a sermon all right.

My “message” is liable to be grouchy, as I have to fast on clear fluids, and then later in the day flush out my system and spend a lot of my time on the toilet, as my doctor wants to have a look inside my colon first thing Monday morning. It is hard to be happy about this prospect. A man of my advanced years expects to be treated with more dignity than that, especially right after giving a sermon at church.

It is also hard to see much prospect of Spring busting out.  We need south winds, as we are surrounded by cold in other directions. The Great Lakes still have ice, and there is still an amazing four feet of snow not all that far to our north. (The purple areas in the Dr Ryan Maue map below, from Joseph D’Aleo’s site at Weatherbell.)

Snowdepth to north April 22 ecmwf_snowdepth_conus2_1(1)

It is hard to see much hope in the current map, with the warm rains suppressed so far to the south.

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 However with the sun as high as it is in mid-August, spring is only seemingly denied. This morning, even with a skim of ice on puddles, when a beam of sun pooled in the east-facing shallows of the pond, a single peeper let out a solitary yelp. And I remind myself the ice was still thick enough to walk upon, on April first. Things have melted; spring isn’t denied.

The buds only seem on hold. Trees are very smart, for a being without brains, and they know when to bust out all over. The forsythia is yellower every day, even without blooming, and, even as I stood sulking by my garden yesterday, a bluebird landed on a fence-post nearby. It’s hard to argue with that.

POSTSCRIPT

The “spring quackers” are officially called “wood frogs”, and sound like this: