Like a Lion


March on Long Island this year looks more like upstate with solid snow cover and frozen ponds and streams.  The temperature has been at least ten degrees below average for a while, and sometimes a lot below average.  Nor does it appear that either the snow nor cold will exit any time soon, as evidenced by the dark overcast.

This winter, North America seems to be in a tiny retroactive bubble, an anomaly from the warming throughout the rest of the world that lets us cheerfully ignore global problems that may be brewing in the atmosphere.  We are like happy medieval peasants collecting a good harvest while ignorant that Genghis Kahn is just over the far hill and heading our way.  Or like the characters in Boccaccio a year before the plague swept into Florence.  Day by day, ignorance may be bliss.  Given that the human race seems helpless to control its destructive tendencies, day by day may be the correct way to live.




Important markers during normal harbor recreational use just look silly in bleak season.  Who would want to use this narrow patch of land right now?  Too mushy for eskimos, too cold for wimpy moderns.  Even the ducks have been temporarily silenced.

Yet the brighter sun and the rest of the warming world are working their way along.  There’s open water here already, in spite of low temperatures, and I am pretty sure that a few minutes or so after the final snow melts there will be green annuals sprouting and hardy perennials trying to shoot up for whatever advantage they can gain from a quick start.  When seasons seem to delay, as spring has this year, it often means that they simply occur in what is almost an overnight rush


This year, Coindre Hall could have hosted some of the Olympic events.  Well, except for the quick-frozen dog droppings that litter the top of the hill by the parking lot.  These north-facing slopes never melt until the temperature advances pretty well.

Very little seems as hopeless as a scene like this in March, which around here is typically beginning to burst.  Not even the various thorn bushes like wild roses have begun to green up _ sometimes they are leafing out mid February.  Buds on trees have not noticeably swelled.  Birds are beginning to starve from lack of open thawed ground.  We assume it will all work out, but this is all a slap in the face of how little of the important things in the grand scheme of things we actually control.


A witch’s nest of poison ivy on top of a post demonstrates how it can rapidly become an impenetrable wall _ given its toxins _ wherever it grows freely.  The amazing contradiction about evolution is that it somehow leads to diversity rather than to a few dominant species overrunning the planet and crowding out everything else.  At least until humans came along.

You can’t hear the bird calls, and my camera won’t even attempt to capture their flight, but they are everywhere now, and somewhat confused by the impenetrable ground cover.  Most are frantically seeking thawed areas for food and materials for nesting.  We are promised temperature relief in the near future, but this year all predictions come with a lot of reservations.

Soon the damage will become apparent in gardens and ecology.  Some ornamentals and invasive species will not survive through spring, and some marginal natives, primarily the youngest and oldest, will also be destroyed.  It has been intensely cold, but there was also a severe drought in the fall and heavy wind/snow damage to add t
o the stress.  The landscape will eventually be just as green and colorful, but the individual notes may have changed significantly.

Ducks, seagulls and crows _ like people _ seem not to pay much attention to the vagaries of daily weather nor the extremes of seasons themselves.  They always seem to find something to eat, and always have their own particular concerns which supersede mere temperature, humidity, and light.

Ice floes appear and vanish mysteriously and literally overnight depending on temperature, tides and wind.  Clear water one day can become filled with chunks and patches of smooth glass the next.  It would be much more interesting if we didn’t keep expecting the trend at this point to be less and less frozen.

This time of year is particularly one of microclimates.  We are scarcely tracking the reported daily highs of nearby New York, for example.  Because of the intense snow cover, deeper than in many other places, we are running some ten degrees below even spots on the island a few miles away.  Places down in hollows may be even colder.  Can’t complain, because the same basic pattern moderates us in the hottest summer weather which we still believe will be arriving eventually.


By this time last year, Hecksher park was bursting with life and activity.  Probably, under the waters and in the ground, through the trees and hidden within bulbs, the same mysterious processes are starting up and have just decided to hit snooze for a while.  But to a casual observer, it looks pretty hopeless.

As temperatures approach normal over the next week, barring a big snowstorm, the ground may finally clear.  Birds may finally find places to land and eat and begin their nests.  And people may finally shed their depressed feeling of eternal hibernation and smile once again.


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