Sunday, April 25, 2010

Resilient Nature

Low temperature records in western Montana were smashed in early October, 2009, when thermometers plummeted into single digits overnight. For several days, low temperature records broke. September had been warmer than usual, and trees and bushes hadn't even started to change color. Everyone worried about the plants, whose leaves shriveled in place on their branches, as the hormones that weaken the bonds between leaves and stems never got produced. Normally, perennial plants undergo an orderly process to get ready for winter, withdrawing chlorophyll and nourishing sugars from their leaves and passing them on to the roots for winter storage. What would happen in the spring? Would branches and buds die? Would the plants struggle to come back when days lengthened and temperatures rose?

When I walked through my yard during the winter, I shuddered as I looked at the thin terminal branches of the trees--how could they survive the shock of that bitter cold? Would I have to prune away inches of dead wood and wait a year or more for the trees to come back?

I needn't have worried--despite their nasty early autumn surprise, my trees came back as beautifully as ever, with apricots leading the way. For me, this photo of opening apricot buds on branches with still-clinging dead leaves is a testament to the toughness of trees. Animals can move around to mitigate nature's surprises, but trees are stuck in place. They have to be adapted to rare events, even those so rare they've never experienced them before! My already deep respect for the resilience of the natural world has deepened even further.

Meanwhile, the wild world is also awakening to our late spring, with lovely buttercups blanketing sunny areas on the meadow in front of our home. I do love the spring!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

An Uneven Spring

Here in western Montana, Spring has taken its time arriving. After a couple of unseasonably warm days in early March, our weather was overly chilly and gray for way longer than normal. Signs of Spring were hard to find here on the outskirts of Missoula. Last week I rummaged through some dried leaves and found hope in these daffodil shoots just emerging from the cold earth. But north of us, on the same day in the little town of Arlee, a friend celebrated the arrival of spring big time with beds bursting with daffodils in bloom. This photo shows only a few of her actual thousands and thousands of these wonderful spring flowers.

The differences in microclimates here in the mountain west always intrigues me. My friend's garden is always ahead of mine, for she lives in a special little corner with a steep hill just behind her property to the north, which both shields her place from the cold wind and radiates sunshine's warmth into her orchard of peaches and cherries, trees it isn't worth trying to grow where I live. Even in my own yard I see differences. The front yard, which faces north and is partly shaded by the house, has yet to come alive, while the garden area on the south side is beginning to show promise.