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Where’s Winter?

February 25, 2012

Christina writes: An article in our local newspaper this week, sub-headed ‘Where’s Winter?’ noted that local temperatures have been five to six degrees warmer than normal every month since October 2011, and that the only heavy snowfall occurred unusually early at the end of October. Since then, we have had only a few light snowfalls, none more than a few inches and all melting usually within twenty-four hours. Daytime temperatures mainly have been above freezing, often reaching 40 degrees Farenheit. Last winter, we had snow cover from Christmas to mid-March, with frequent falls adding new layers reaching several feet deep (as described here).

Wayne has been glad that he has had to do very little shovelling, and I that I have been able to go for walks without worrying about falling. Since 2007, when I slipped on a patch of ice hidden by snow and broke my wrist, I have been wary of walking before the paths have been cleared. The lack of snow has also obviated the need for much plowing, sanding, or salting, which is good news for local authorities in the current financial situation, though presumably not for those who rely on winter weather for income, such as commercial snow-removal firms. The proprietors of local ski-slopes are reportedly not pleased, as they have mostly had to make snow artificially. Also unhappy are children who are used to getting several ‘snow days’ off when schools are closed because of bad travelling conditions; still, they will start their summer holidays earlier, with fewer lost days to make up.

The main headline of the news article, ‘Spring Arrives – 2 Months Early’, may be slightly exaggerated, but certainly some daffodil bulbs have been sending up tentative shoots since the beginning of February, though not gaining much height, probably because it is still below freezing at night. We hope that this won’t stunt their growth and inhibit flowers. Snowdrops are in flower in sunnier places, though those in our garden are only just peeping out. Some of our hellebores already have buds, and a few of the violas I planted last spring have continued to flower during the winter though looking rather bedraggled. We’ll have to wait a little longer to see how well our perennials have survived this unusual winter without a thick snow blanket to keep the ground warm. Unless we get some late snowfalls – and we’re aware that this is still February, with some weeks yet to go before the New England spring typically arrives (and indeed, flurries are rushing by the window as this is being posted Saturday morning) – we will probably have to start the garden clean-up early since everything is so far in advance. Our landscaper remarked, when he came to prune our apple trees, that he could not remember a winter as mild as this one.*

We have had no problems from deer raiding gardens in search of food, so presumably they have been able to find enough in the forest. I wonder how the winter has affected bears’ hibernation. Normally we don’t see our resident chipmunk in the colder months, but this winter he has been out and about quite a lot. Some of his fellows have been seen up the road, and both grey and red squirrels have been happily cavorting. At the beginning of this week I enjoyed another sign of spring when, as I returned from a walk, I realized that instead of silence or the distant sound of traffic I was hearing bird song on both sides. Then on Wednesday I glanced out of one of our sitting-room windows and saw a flock of about twenty cedar waxwings gorging themselves on holly berries from our bushes, apparently undisturbed by prickles as they dug in. Their soft colouring and distinctive yellow-tipped tails showed up beautifully against the holly and would have made a good photograph, but they flew off if I went too near the window (though they soon came back). The bushes looked quite depleted when they had finished, but we were happy that they found them. We chose holly bushes not only because they’re evergreen, but also to provide food for birds. We had the pleasure of the berries for most of the winter, and with weather like this it won’t be that long before the hollies are in flower.

* Wayne remembers when Hollywood came to town to make A Change of Seasons, a bad film about a philandering college professor starring Anthony Hopkins and Bo Derek. The filmmakers wanted a typical New England college with typical New England snow; but Williamstown and the surrounding region had almost no snow that winter either. Snow had to be trucked in, and for ski scenes intended to be filmed in Vermont, the company had to move to Colorado (where the Rockies don’t look anything like the Green Mountains).

Image: A cedar waxwing, taken from the Web under a Creative Commons license. Photo by DickDaniels.

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