Spring Pushes Winter Aside

spring daffodil shoots

Just a handful of days ago the daffodils were still under deep snow. They first popped out of the ground in December. I’ve never seen daffodils send up their shoots so early. I was afraid what the snow and deep freeze would do to them. But the deep, soft snow protected the daffodils from the bitter cold. And when Spring pushed Winter aside, the snow melted, the daffodils reappeared as if nothing had happened.

I guess we were lucky so much soft snow fell before it turned bitter cold. A foot of soft, fluffy snow is like a thick down blanket, keeping tender shoots from the damaging cold.

Cut logs stacked
Split wood in a wheelbarrow

The heavy snow felled a number of trees. I’ll be busy with the chain saw for several months cleaning up the damage. It’s time to keep the chainsaw in good condition and the axes sharp.

The snow flattened swaths of Thimble Berry and Salmon Berry bushes. Many of the bamboo snapped in two.

Fallen bamboo
Camellia bud in early spring

The Camellia buds were unfazed by the bitter cold. Nor was the delicate moss on the tree branches. And in the wetlands, the skunk cabbage are already poking out of the muck.

Ball of moss on a branch
skunk cabbage shoots in early spring

Will Spring stay? Is Winter really gone? I doubt it. It’s only the middle of January. Still, it’s no longer pitch black at 4:30 in the afternoon. The days are already noticeably longer. Spring is more present each day.

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Arctic Vacation

The last week of 2021 seems like an Arctic vacation. Snow started falling Christmas Eve. The cold that followed drove morning lows down to 7ºF, -14ºC. We haven’t seen such cold weather or so much snow in years.

The pump in the pond kept it from freezing over. Which gave the ducks a safe place to swim about. If the pond freezes over, a hungry coyote or raccoon could get to them easily.

Under a blue sky the cherry tree looks like it is in full bloom.

The dogs love the snow. It’s been so cold that the snow is powdery soft. Shoveling it off the driveway is a breeze. I can’t go running in this snow so spending an hour or two shoveling snow is a relaxing alternative.

I dreaded the forecast of the deep snow and subfreezing days. Daffodils had started to shoot. I was sure the deep freeze would destroy them. But buried under a foot of snow, I think they may survive. The week has seemed like a vacation to the far north without the hassles of snaking through security lines at airports or worrying about canceled flights. The coming warmer days and rain will soon make this week a fond memory.

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Poor Planning

A big surprise yesterday was finding daffodil shoots. It’s only December and they are already sprouting. One even shows a flower bud. All I can say is this was poor planning on the part of the daffodils. The forecast is for icy cold Canadian air to come pouring down the Fraser River Canyon and encase us in snow and ice for a week.

The forecast on the weather app I use on my phone changes by the hour. Earlier this morning it was light rain after midnight tonight followed by snow at 4 am, then rain again at 6, and snow at 10 am. Now it is snow at midnight, mostly clouding at 4 am, light snow at 6 am, snow at 8 am, and mostly cloudy at 8 pm. Whatever happens, it sounds like a good day to stay home.

The daffodils give me a glimmer of hope that they know something the weather forecasters don’t. But if the snow starts piling up, my plan is to cover the daffodil shoots in a thick blanket of snow so they survive the cold spell.

The chickens aren’t making any special precautions for the upcoming arctic blast. They blissfully leave it up to me to make sure their water doesn’t freeze and give them something they can eat when the ground freezes as hard as glass.

There needs to be a word that describes bare trees lit up by winter suns when the skies are dark and gloomy. The phenomenon doesn’t last long. When it does it’s like the trees are awake, yelling and screaming. Sun enflamed winter woods? Sun gilded bare trees? Sun sticks?

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Solstice 2021

snow flapping her wings

The solstice this year happened at a convenient time for me, 7:59 a.m., pretty much at sunrise. It’s odd that such a momentous event happens so quietly. You can sit as still as you want, but you can’t feel the earth so much as shiver when it passes that line in its orbit when everything changes.

For me, it’s the beginning of a new year. The days will get longer now. Spring is coming. Snow is happy. I’d love to get inside a duck’s head. Are they really as happy as they seem? I’m sure there is some profound wisdom they could share. The secret to happiness perhaps?

willow at sunset in winter

The low sun at winter illuminates the bare trees with gold this time of year. Though the Bald Eagle at the top of the fir tree next to the cottonwoods has me concerned. Bald Eagles often perch there, eying the ducks, watching the chickens.

cottonwoods in winter at sunset
Mount Baker on December 20, 2021

Yesterday Mount Baker was iridescent. Each time I go to Anacortes to deliver tofu to the Anacortes Food Co-op, I check to see how Mount Baker is. Often it’s hidden by the clouds. But when the sun is out and the sky is cobalt blue, it is there, radiating peace.

soybeans soaking

I’ve been making tofu for twenty years or more. And yet these last few weeks seem like I’ve just learned how to make it. Maybe I’ll feel that way ten years from now. “Oh, back in 2021, I had no idea what I was doing.” You would think that after decades of making something so simple, that there would be nothing more to learn, but there always is. One is forever just learning how to do things you’ve been doing your whole life.

new block of tofu

It’s the time of year to enjoy these frosty mornings. They won’t last forever. One day I’ll wake up and there’ll be no more frost, just the warmth of spring, and I’ll have to wait half a year or more to see blades of grass brushed with frost.

There is a forecast of snow for Christmas Day, two to five inches. Though yesterday’s forecast of more snow on Monday of seven to ten inches is gone. Just another inch or two on Sunday and cold, below freezing, sunny days for Monday and Tuesday.


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First Snow

The first snow of the season fell Thursday morning. For an hour big, wet flakes drifted down. They were comforting to watch as I made tofu that morning.

By early afternoon, the snow around our place was gone save for a few bits here and there. But just a few miles north the countryside stayed white all day.

If you need to check if you are still alive or not, walk barefoot in the snow. You’ll know you are very much alive if you do that.

The swans have settled into a winter of steady grazing. The nice thing about being a swan is that you can go just about anywhere you want without people becoming upset. “Private property – keep out” signs mean nothing to a swan.

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Peak Bleakness

This certainly is the season of peak bleakness here. It’s dark when I get up. Dark before supper. The leaves have all fallen, leaving a forest of standing skeletons. The sun rarely breaks through the clouds these days.

But what about the owls who come out at night? Is this the happiest time of the year for them? So many more hours of hunting for them. At the end of June are they despondent at the long days, wondering if darkness will ever return? Do they have rituals they perform to their gods to bring back the night? Maybe that is what all their hooting is about in the summertime.

All the rain and wet is no problem for the ducks. This is a happy time of the year for them too. Though when it comes to ducks on a pond, when are they not happy? I’ve noticed that ducks are somewhat nocturnal. They must have good night vision. They are often active at night.

In fourteen days, on Tuesday, December 21, 2021 at 7:59 am Pacific Standard Time, 6:59 am Pacific Day Light Savings Time, right about when I am having my morning coffee, it all changes and the light begins to return.

In ancient times, many wondered if spring would return. People danced, they prayed, they burnt offerings, hoping that the gods would take away the darkness. We don’t worry about those things anymore. We can count down to the millisecond when the earth passes that spot in its orbit around the sun where the days in the northern hemisphere start to lengthen. It will happen no matter what we do, gods or no gods. There is nothing for us to do but relax and enjoy that millisecond.

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Clouds on Fire

Every so often a sunset comes along that makes you stop what you are doing. This evening was such a sunset.

The clouds over the Chuckanuts were on fire when I went to the Post Office this evening.

I pulled off the road three times to take it all in. And by the time I arrived at the Post Office the show was over. The sun dipped behind the horizon and extinguished the fires in the clouds.

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After the Storm

clouds after the storm against a blue sky

After the storm of Sunday and Monday, yesterday was so bright and blue it made the previous days of stormy weather seem like a dream. Did it really rain so much? Did the roads flood and the hillsides collapse?

A few cottonwoods still wave their gold leaves against the blue sky. During the windy days their leaves rained down like confetti.

cottonwood fall leaves
storm fallen redwood tree

We didn’t escape unscathed. A beloved redwood snapped in two. I had visions of the tree reaching 300 feet and higher, provided I live to be two hundred or so. The redwood will send up another shoot and eventually reach the sky. It may still happen.

pear autumn leaves
chickens in a sunny garden

The chickens enjoyed a break from the rainy days. It’s rained every day in November until yesterday. They can finally forage without getting wet. Even the ducks were sunning themselves on a sunny bank of the pond yesterday. I guess the weather can get too wet even for them.

dried hydrangea flowers
potatoes, kale, and leek

Potatoes, leek, and kale. They are late fall and winter staples. I decided to leave the potatoes in the ground instead of digging them all up. It’s an experiment to see if the ground is as good a storage place for them as anywhere. I suspect that they’ll be fine through December, which is about when I will have dug them all up. By mid January or February, they will probably be sending out roots and become inedible as they start to grow. Potatoes turn into this odd glassy, crisp texture when they start to grow. Not pleasant to eat at all.

As mornings turn cold and frosty, the kale becomes ever sweeter. Kale picked on a snow day is about the best kale you’ll ever eat. Sugar is the kale’s antifreeze, so mid-winter kale, picked on an icy day, is comfort food.

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Dark, dark, dark

The cottonwoods have turned. As colorful as they are, standing tall against the sky, they aren’t an honest depiction of what this season is like. To convey this season, I should post pictures of near total darkness. It’s dark in the morning. It’s dark by late afternoon. It’s dark most days with heavy clouds obscuring the mountains and the sun.

One last Dahlia adds some brightness. Each day is darker than the day before, but in just five and a half weeks the days will start to lengthen. We humans can’t help but have at least one toe in the future. The swans are back, foraging in the fields. They just arrived, but are some of them already planning their trips back north? Are some counting the days until they can go home?

Snow is back on the foothills. On cloudy days, it’s impossible to see how low or how high up the hills the snow is. But when the clouds part, it’s easy to picture foxes playing in fresh snow high up on the foothills.

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First Frost

If you’re not satisfied with enough, you’ll never be satisfied with more. There are a number of variations of this saying by Epicurus. The insight is as meaningful now as when Epicurus said it thousands of years ago.

One potato satisfies me, so when I bring in a basket of potatoes from the garden, I have no problems being equally satisfied. And there is a fat leak as well.

The first frost of the season happened this morning. Each fall, the first frost of the season is as delightful as all the first frosts of years past. They are a sharp reminder that winter is coming. Touch the frosty grass and your fingers sting from the cold. First frost mornings are transformative.

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Return of the Snow Geese

Each day brings brighter colors. The pear leaves are at their peak. This year, the fall colors are unfolding over many weeks. Many trees have yet to turn. Others have nearly dropped all their leaves.

Wednesday afternoon I saw a few filaments of snow geese in the sky. Thursday on our way home from running errands, the snow geese fell out of the sky like snow. The arrival of the snow geese marks the beginning of winter in a way. Soon the swans will follow.

Watching snow geese fly in from the north is a spectacle. Just when you think the last of them have made it, more strands of snow geese, stretching for miles appear against the gray clouds. Hour by hour, they keep flying in and landing, until the fields are as white as snow.

The swans are probably glad the snow geese have left the tundra. Until they join them in a few weeks, they can enjoy peace and quiet. If you like the hustle and bustle of the city, snow geese are your birds. They can’t shut up. If you’re a snow goose, you don’t know what it is to be still and hear nothing.

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Sunny Interlude

Sunshine appeared this morning. Life has a different quality this time of year. It’s dark when I wake up. It’s dark early in the evening. It’s a comfort knowing that by the end of February, the days will be longer than they are now. I’m old enough that February doesn’t seem that far off in mid October.

We’ve yet to reach peak color of fall. The alders, cottonwoods, and mimosa are still quite green. The maples, witch hazels, and a few other trees are already brilliant.

There’s always something to reflect on. This week it is my carelessness at not considering how clever an owl can be. The netting and fencing which kept the hawks and eagles at bay from the ducks in the garden were no match for a wily Barred Owl. Mid morning on a recent day, it stealthily slipped into the garden and did in three of the ducks. I moved the remaining duck which escaped unscathed to the pond to be with the ducks there.

The tragedy of an owl is that they eat very little of a bird. Mostly the brains and some of the organs. So unlike a hawk or eagle which is satisfied with a single bird, an owl can quickly do in many.

A harsh lesson learned, I’ll need to strengthen protection in the garden before I place ducks there again.

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The Rains Have Brought Them Back

So how many pies can I make out of these pumpkins? Few garden plants are as exuberant as pumpkins. World domination is on their minds as they spread their vines and huge leaves. Seemingly out of nowhere, bright yellow, huge pumpkins appear under their thick leaves.

Yesterday, I noticed that the forest floor had an abundance of mushrooms. Not surprising considering the moist, cool weather we’ve had lately. But as I looked at the variety of mushrooms sprouting everywhere, I had to check under the cedar trees where two falls ago, I found a bounty of shaggy parasol mushrooms. Last year there were none.

But this year, they are back. Lots of them. For a week or two, we’ll feast on them. I may even try drying some. I read that if you dry them and let them age, they taste even better.

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Was It Just a Dream?

The bluest skies are after the storm. The first fall storm blew through last week, knocking down trees, blowing leaves about, and knocking out power to many. The morning after, it was like nothing had happened. “What? Me angry? When?” the sky taunted. The skies were so blue, the clouds so puffy, it almost made you wonder if the storm was just a dream.

A bright orange pumpkin is proof it is fall. How many pies could I make out of this one? The nashi 梨 are finally ripe. They’re also a sign that summer is gone.

Mynah may be my most distinctive hen. Black as night, she lays the largest eggs of all, light green olive ones.

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Grape Season = Happy Chickens

September is grape season here, so the chickens are grateful. One variety of grapes has small grapes with big seeds. There are other grapes with larger grapes and no seeds, so these seeded grapes are mostly for the chickens. Toss a basket of grapes and the chickens come running to feast on them.

The clouds this time of year are entertaining. Each day different types of clouds float by. These wispy ones from last week were captivating.

The mornings are brisk these days. Brisk enough to begin coloring the maple tree.

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Hidden Coral Reff

Early this morning, while the dew was still heavy, I found a bumble bee waking up on an artichoke flower, its wings wet with dew. When I find bees who’ve spent the night on a flower, I wonder if they arrived too late to go home the night before, or are they worn out and on their death beds, too worn out to make it home? I guess if I were a bee, I might prefer to rest my weary body on a comforting flower instead of struggling to make it back to the nest.

There’s a sadness to their short lives. I’m sure they don’t feel sad. Buzzing from flower to flower all day long is their joy.

A small spider has made a home on the same artichoke flower. It’s as colorful and dazzling a world as any tropical coral reef, only it’s just a few steps from the front door. It’d be fun living in a home made of soft, blue-purple rods that tower above you and through which you slither through.

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Artichoke Feast

Summer is coming to a soft ending. The days are already a mix of fall and summer. Some dahlias are putting out their last buds. Each day, more mimosa flowers fall to the ground.

As much as I enjoy eating a plump artichoke, bees go bonkers when they find an artichoke in bloom. Such big flowers can feed many bees at once. In the deep, thick artichoke blossoms, the bees burrow in to feast. Some are in so deep, you have to look hard to see them. They look like little pigs with wings.

I suppose when bees get back to a hive late, “I came across an artichoke flower,” excuses any tardiness. If you grow artichokes, let some bloom for the bees.

But not everything that blooms is happy time for a bee. A big spider lurks in this Shasta Daisy. How many bees are in its belly? Or will a bumblebee sting terminate this sneaky spider?

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The Sun is not Like a Friend

Our smokey skies did not linger long. For three days smoke choked the skies until fresh air from the Pacific pushed it away. We are back to August blue skies and filling our lungs with sweet air.

The sun is not like a friend who drops by and lingers, laughing and conversing without any regard for time. The sun is madly punctually, down to the nano second. Though, really, it’s the spinning earth that is refusing to give us any additional summer. It is going to stay on time, spinning around the sun, no matter what.

Summer is slipping away, bit by bit. Already the mornings feel more fall like that summery. This morning it is 47ºF – 8ºC. We’ve had a few very autumny rains, cool and refreshing. It’s no longer light at four in the morning. Dusk falls earlier each day.

It’s time to savor summer’s sweet fruits. Blackberries are coming on strong. Soon the grapes will be ripe, followed by the apples. Then summer will be gone for good.

The one thing good about the sun being so punctual is that we know when the sun will rise and set a thousand years from now. You can’t say that about any friend.

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Under a Martian Sky

Smoke flowed over the Cascades and into our lovely valley yesterday. This morning we woke up to dreaded Martian skies. Orange skies in August and September are becoming an unwelcome pattern. The forecast is for winds from the west to move the smoke back over the mountains again by the end of the weekend.

Pumpkin and squash flowers have plenty of room for multiple bees. Every flower has their own strategy to attract pollinators. Pumpkins must provide an all-you-can-eat buffet, as the bees spend a long time in each flower.

Like an alien spaceship, vine maple seeds appear to be poised, ready for takeoff. The right amount of air will provide the lift needed for their propellors to spin and take flight. Somewhere in the woods, there must be a little spider that knows when to climb onto these vine maple seeds to experience an exhilarating ride.

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Cool August Break

Cool, drizzly weather rolled through on Friday and Saturday. For a few days, summer turned to fall. Spiderwebs caught raindrops. The air was sweet with the smell of moist earth.

The kabocha vine wants to grow over the entire garden. Perhaps it’s time to pick one.

The two baby ducks are almost as large as their mothers. It takes no time for a duck to grow up. Another week and they will be all feathered out and nearly indistinguishable from the grownups.

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