AMATEUR NATURALIST

2011: a spring oddity

A starflower, 10 or so days late to blossom this May in Troy.
A starflower, 10 or so days late to blossom this May in Troy.
Posted June 19, 2011, at 8:21 p.m.

On April 1, 16 inches of new snow covered the deck. This is not unheard of, but unusual. By the end of the month there were still piles of it around the driveway. Only one or two forsythia bushes showed signs of blossoming until May, weeks late.

Perhaps I’m just projecting my own concerns, but there are some extremely odd things about this spring. Around my house dandelions appear exactly on May 1 every year. Well, sometimes May 2. But this year, it was May 14 before the first little yellow heads popped up beside the flower bed.

“Everything is way late,” we observed, and then it started to rain. For about two weeks it seemed like nothing without scales or feathers could survive.

By early June we were wondering if this hyperbolic amateur meteorology wasn’t somehow in the range of accurate. There were at most a handful of black flies this year, even near the brook which is where they hatch and set up their boreal terror cells. Low black-fly-bite counts are understandable when a couple of frostbitten May nights kill eggs. But this year, although there were some startlingly raw May days, there was no subfreezing night after April. The only thing we can think of is the black fly hatchlings drowned in the May diluvia.

Don’t quote me on that, it’s pure speculation. We are skeptical ourselves and have been cross-checking the spring routines from memory, the way you check from fall to fall about whether the brightest foliage follows warm days and cold nights; or cold days, warm nights and rain; or wet nights, dry days; etc., etc. One thing we know is that the trees monitor daylight and warmth factors, and so do spring flowers. This year is puzzling. I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like this before.

Besides the late dandelions and forsythias, the red maple buds appeared two weeks later than usual. The starflowers, which pop up on the woods edge at our house about the second week of May, didn’t blossom until the 28th. The little Canada mayflowers, which normally share the same schedule, were late too.

And yet, the wild strawberry blossoms — which normally hit their gleeful little stride about mid-June — practically covered the “lawn” by May 31. And if that wasn’t odd enough, I saw full-blown roadside lupines on June 2, at least three weeks earlier than usual by my observational experience. On June 3, the cherry tomato plants in the trays on the deck had yellow blossoms. Morrow’s honeysuckle in full bloom on June 5 — isn’t that way early for inmost Waldo County?

“Maybe they know something we don’t,” Bonnie speculated ominously.

“You mean they’re hurrying up to get all their work done before winter short-circuits them two months ahead of schedule?” I said.

“Exactly,” she answered, with a melodramatic touch.

I don’t know what this could be all about. But I find it difficult to put out of my mind, particularly in view of some of the other things that have happened. On June 9 the temperature was nearly 90 and three days later it was so raw we turned the heat back on. Storms and flooding in the Midwest this spring have been horrific — that’s not hyperbole. And in Maine we’ve already had tornadoes, which is weird for a place that can go years in a row with no verified twisters at all.

How to account for these discrepancies, and what you can accurately extrapolate from them, I don’t know. But I don’t think my mind is going. At least not yet. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre in Norway recently reported that megadisasters caused by floods, storms and earthquakes have been increasing in recent years and will continue. Climate scientists at Stanford University say summers are going to keep getting hotter overall. And both indicate the cause of these things is climate change, which means not necessarily more heat in any given place but all kinds of hot, cold, wind, wet, dry and seasonal disruptions.

Whether the Canada mayflowers know anything about this, I have no idea. I’m sure it’s going to be all right again. Quite honestly, I have the greatest confidence, and enthusiasm, in the seasons. But if I start seeing rose hips in July, I will not be quite sure what to do next.

Dana Wilde can be contacted at naturalist@dwildepress.net. His collection of Amateur Naturalist writings, “The Other End of the Driveway,” is available from www.booklocker.com, amazon.com and local booksellers.

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