Weather weirding

We just passed the vernal equinox, and here in the Lehigh Valley (the Lehigh is our resident river, though the Delaware is awfully close) the early jonquils are blooming. As are crocuses, forsythia, ornamental plums; the magnolias are starting to burst their fuzzy, cocoon-like bud scales. These vernal events seem somewhat ahead of schedule–not by much, but enough for a nature-nerd like me to notice.

I also notice the redwing blackbirds arrive earlier than they used to. Twenty-five years of keeping a garden journal provide evidence of that.

We live 340 feet above sea level in zone 6A, or what used to be zone 6A–we’re definitely trending warmer, despite occasional fierce storms that drop deep snow unexpectedly, despite weeklong stretches of winter temperatures below 15 degrees F. Summers linger longer and are either much wetter or much drier than “average,” and overall degree days for the past 15 years are above historical averages. Indeed, 2020 was the warmest summer on record here; I checked. Told you I was a nerd.

When my daughter lived in Asheville NC about 12 years ago, I noticed the rain, as well as flourishing vines, and lichen, on so many of the trees. She said that the Blue Mountains in that area are a temperate rain forest, but the humidity bothered her less than here in eastern PA because of the higher altitude: Asheville’s at about 3000 feet elevation. In the last 8 years or so, I’ve noticed the same tree-clinging lichen in my region–a new development. I have lived here over 30 years and had never seen it before. Another thing I notice is how much more vigorous the vining plants, many of them non-native, have become and how rapidly they shoot up into the overstory, choking off the tops of tulip poplars and oaks and pulling down the trunks of dead ash trees. The growing season has lengthened a bit, which is worrying from an environmental perspective even if it means I may eventually be able to grow camellias and figs.

And I can’t deny finding some of the milder weather pleasant, especially the sounds of tree frogs filling the nights earlier in the year. They soothe me at the end of day. Yet these crucial amphibians are very much at risk as the world warms. I may have little choice about whether we can return to cooler, damper summers, but I can make choices about how I live in the world and about what matters. It bears keeping in mind as I work the soil for another season in my garden.

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witch-hazel’s yellow threads // flung by warming gusts // where crocuses emerge

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oh! they cheer me : jonquils emerging : green leaves spearing brown leaves

2 comments on “Weather weirding

  1. Dave Bonta says:

    I believe arboreal lichen is common throughout the northeastern forest, but most species grow only on older trees, which could partly explain why you’re only noticing it now – the forest is aging. I say this because I know ecologists have devised an index to measure the age of a stand of trees based on which species of lichens grow on them (verified by coring) – the older the trees, the more diversity as well as total number of lichens. This was based on a similar index developed in the British Isles, which did host a lot of temperate rainforest once upon a time. So I think you’re right that increased rainfall could be a factor in what you’re seeing, too. And of course the trees themselves are growing bigger faster thanks to all the extra CO2 in the atmosphere. I imagine that has plenty of implications for the ecosystems on their bark as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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