Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Did You Know -- A few things to know about Snow


                                     Snowflakes come in an abundant array of shapes and sizes

         This winter season it seems we had "more" snow in March and April than actual winter! (Climate change, perhaps?) And our next to last snow, right around the beginning of spring, was 13 full inches! But the next day it was sunny and warmer, most of it melting away in one day. So why wasn't the area flooded?
     It's interesting (perhaps Mother Nature's way of being merciful) that 10 inches of snow equals only one inch of water when it melts. When all that snow melted it didn't cause a horrendous flood. I guess the snowflakes themselves, since they are all shaped differently, had a lot of spaces in between, piling up in a lopsided fashion.
     According to a Mental Floss article, a snow with the largest snowflakes was reported in 1887 at Fort Keogh, Montana. The people there saw the snow coming down and thought the flakes were bigger than "milk pans," which I'm guessing were pretty wide. Deep, compressed snow can appear to have a color -- why else would those icebergs in Alaska look blue?
     They say igloos can actually be quite warm. The compacted snow traps air and keeps colder air out, so it's a great insulator. Even so, I don't see myself any time soon residing in a snow house, though somewhere up in Scandinavia there is a hotel that is all ice, I believe. I heard the temperature was NOT warm!



Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Snowdogs in the future?

    



Virginia in the winter.


    We received "some" healthy fresh air when we went outside the other day to build a snowman. I tried something a tiny bit different -- I gave the snowman a smile shaped from yellow squash. It surprises me that there even "is" squash this time of year. This time of year this vegetable is probably trucked in from Mexico and been sprayed with a half dozen noxious chemicals, no doubt.
    This winter all the big snows have gone to the south or north of us. So Mr. Snowman was a long time in coming. We're not kids anymore but so what? It's fun to get out and do something in the snow. Right as we were finishing our messter-piece, my spouse suggested we should have done something more original, you know, like a snowdog or even a snowcat. But what would you use for whiskers, straws? Blades of grass? Long pieces of material plastered to the side of the head to represent dog ears?
    We haven't done this yet. And as our gloves easily got soaked in this wet yet clumpy snow, we realized there wasn't time to fix our snow person into something else. Maybe next time.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Was the groundhog wrong -- warm February and weather concerns

    







                                     Chickadees seem to hang around in the winter.





     Is this climate change or is this just "the usual" for February? Living in the southeast a number of years, there seems to always be a bit of a thaw the end of January or mid February. But now it's staying warmer for longer periods -- yet now too long, as my daffodils have yet to come up.
    I know we need the moisture, but all this rain has turned part of our unpaved parking lot into mud! Mud remains me of the name of that doctor who infamously tended to  John Wilkes Booth's leg during his escape from D. C. after shooting President Lincoln. That occurred in April, one of my favorite months of years in the weather department. Wilkes Booth ran north (well, not literally) for a while and then headed south, about 25 miles from D. C., perhaps in rainy weather himself. For a short time he and an associate stayed at the Garrett farm, where they had heard little of his serious act. But he was tracked down to the Garrett's tobacco barn, almost going out surrounded by a blaze of fire, after being shot by Sergeant Boston Corbett in a burning barn. Booth was dragged out the of barn and died a little later of a neck wound. Whether the day was warm or cold, it didn't turn out well for Booth.
     Here is hoping February warms a bit (without all the rain), leading us into March and the optimistic hope of green plants growing and spring!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

DID YOU KNOW -- 16 FROGS A NEAT OUTDOOR WALK

                                       Frog glued to a rock at Margaret Beeks Elementary

    If you were to visit New York City's 843 acre Central Park, you'd find yourself being surprised every so often by the statues you'd see along your walk. Like the one of Christopher Columbus, and a brown looking, well, brown bear. There's also a bronze of Alice in Wonderland, the literary character with a Cheshire cat and Mad Hatter surrounding her, and heroic sled dog Balto in the distance. Statues make any walk more interesting. Some even have a purpose.
    The bronze frogs in and around downtown Blacksburg (VA), the Virginia Tech college town, do indeed have a purpose, showing off the town watershed, among other things. On a cold day in mid January I set out with some hearty hikers (good alliteration there) to discover where exactly the 16 different frogs were.
    At twenty degrees, it was NOT the ideal day for a hike around town. But the sun was out and we bundled up in layers (like two layers of socks in my fur lined boots), so with a coat, insulated gloves, a hat and scarf covering part of my face, I set off with several others. 
    Just what are the 16 frogs?  They were four inches of bronzed statues, some attached to a lily pad, some not, set in different places throughout Blacksburg to point out the waterways that once provided life giving drinking water to town residents. (The New River has since taken over that task.)
    How much value do we place in our waterways, streams and creeks that feed into rivers that feed into big lakes that may feed into really major waterways, like the ocean? These creeks are living worlds for fish and mayflies and salamanders. The frogs in the area need them as well. 
    We walked all over downtown to different spots. I liked the one by a fountain at the renovated Black House on Draper Road.  One of the walkers said I was nuts to sit on the cement area next to the frog and lily pad attached (cemented?) to it. But hey, I had on my good winter coat, jeans, and three layers under that! When our leader Pauletta took a pic of the group, I was the one pointing to this dark gray colored frog.
    A few frogs were noticeably glued in place. I was told a few had already been "stolen" -- really, too cheap to go to your own nearby garden supply store for decorations? Or perhaps they were big animal lovers. Not long after this we took a break and warmed up at the Squires Student Center. But there were parks, bridges, and other places still to explore.

Monday, December 4, 2017

FALL HAS FALLEN AWAY



     It would appear that finally, fall has fallen away. The true colors of the leaves have given way to a dreary landscape of standing tall grayish sticks on dull brown land, trying to go to sleep. If it snows in the near future, the forest will undeniably be at rest, dormant,  with little movement.
     What is surprising, though, is that even at this late stage of near winter, some salamanders move about-- well, it's really more during moments of winter with a bit of thaw and rain. But in late fall into winter you can still see squirrels jumping about, and if you leave out enough seeds and it snows the red hued, male cardinal will make his presence known. So much most of the forest will be preparing to go off for a winter's nap, but not everything will. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

DID YOU KNOW -- CHESTNUTS MAKING A COMEBACK

                                                                                   
                                                                           

           A chestnut tree developing fruit (chestnut nut pods).

         Did you know that chestnuts need to make a comeback?
        There was that ol' Nat King Cole song with the phrase "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" that was popular decades ago. As a young adult I actually "did" roast some (more like "toast") some chestnut tree nuts in a broiler. They were good, and Hot! (But roasting does give them extra flavor.)
        But can you even do that now? Maybe, in the future. In Virginia the "Chestnut Foundation" is trying to bring them back. The East coast was once the home of thousands and thousands of chestnut trees, some as big around as the grand giant sequoias (of the redwood family) in California forests.
        The beginning of the 20th century, a foreign fungus was discovered, some saying it was brought in to the Bronx Zoo in New York City. This "blight" on the American chestnut killed the cambium, the growing layer of the tree inside the bark. The blight, at one time, killed over billion trees! This changed the Eastern forests. No more roasting chestnuts or stuffing them in turkey for Thanksgiving.
        But in recent years tree experts had created a hybrid, an American-Chinese blend of chestnut to withstand the terrible fungus. Today, with 110 middle school students, a rep from the Chestnut Foundation said we were planning (I'm told) fully American chestnut saplings, to hopefully one day become the big, fat trees they were supposed to be from the past. 
        The students I helped supervise at Heritage Park (Blacksburg, VA) seemed more knowledgeable about trees than I was at that age. They told me about having wild blackberry  bushes on their property, and their uncle telling them how to dig and plant a tree. Certainly planting a tree, getting kids outside and around nature, away from all their durn electronic gadgets, was worth the effort.
        After planting the  trees and having a sit down lunch they had brought themselves, we then also did something they don't usually do at school -- we walked through the park. How many students, outside, identifying chestnuts and learning about trees, would benefit from being in the "outdoor classroom" that is a park full of trees, chestnut or otherwise?  In some schools they even give up outside activity for art. Trees are important and so is being outside and exercising. And learning about chestnuts outside seemed like the perfect thing to do.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

SOLAR ECLIPSE MADNESS






                                                    
                                     One of many brands of eclipse glasses.





    I’d written about this earlier (accidentally pressed delete so am starting all over in Word),

but it is worth noting that certain natural phenomena don’t come around all that often. For a few hours, on August 21, the country decided, hey, let’s have fun for a few hours. Let’s forget about political disagreements, No. Korean craziness, rising oceans, terrorism, and the price of gas. Let’s appreciate a natural experience – a solar eclipse!
    In case you didn’t know, a solar eclipse only occurs once every several years (or more) in the U. S. Since, according to a Radford University planetarium program, the moon has about a five degree tilt or difference in front of the earth it goes around, the moon won’t line up in front of the sun every month. So lining up the moon “exactly” in front of the sun is a big deal!
    People came in “droves” to Radford University (VA.) for free eclipse glasses. A planetarium assistant told me you needed these glasses because looking at even a partially covered sun would tempt you to look at the sun too long. You could permanently damage your eyes’ retinas. They say Sir Isaac Newton hurt his eyes looking at a solar eclipse. So I was determined to look through what looked like those 3-D movie glasses. Though these were much stronger, to keep ultraviolet rays out.
    What a crowd! I got there 15 minutes before the assigned time mentioned online and there were already 60 people in line. Then came the bad news – they’d only hand out the glasses to those going to a planetarium show. You couldn’t just take the glasses and run. With so many people quickly lining up behind me, I was guessing a lot would leave disappointed, though they did have several shows that day.


    In the planetarium itself the hostess spoke with R.U. students who were setting up equipment in Nashville where there’d be a 100 percent solar eclipse. For about two whole minutes. I managed to get a “ticket” for the 11 0’clock showing and went to the college library for a while, then came back (around 10:35 so I wouldn’t lose a place in line).
    In planetarium show they can quickly move things across the inside sky. During the show we were given a view of the earth from the moon, tiny planets that circled the sun during the eclipse, and how the eclipse would pass across the United States. During a solar eclipse it isn’t a dark spot, but more a dark gray that spreads out as it moves across the country. Interesting.
     I knew people who drove several hours away to get to Nashville or some part of Tennessee for the full solar eclipse. Just for those two minutes! During the two minutes of total coverage, it is almost like night. Here in Virginia, at 93 percent coverage, there was a tiny crescent of light at the top of the black circle of the eclipse. And yet, it didn’t seem to affect the light outside. Well, maybe a little bit. It certainly wasn’t anything like nighttime.
     This moment in time reminds  me of what environmentalist Rachel Carson said, that we need to have a “sense of wonder” about nature. As a Master naturalist member, I do.