Winter vs. Spring. Round 3

And the winner is … Spring!

Arkansas did have one more round of snow on St. Patrick’s Day, with enough ice and snow to cause a 10- to 15-car pileup that shut down I-630 during the morning commute. However, Spring has gotten down to business and has taken the state in its firm grip.

Violets
Violets grow on a rocky Ouachita mountain slope.
White tree blossoms.
Beautiful blossoms, but the tree is a mystery.
Robin in nest.
Mama robin minds her nest in a tulip tree at the office.

 

Winter vs. Spring: Round 2

After a few springlike days, winter came roaring back, taking Round 2. The system dropped freezing rain, several inches of sleet and topped it all off with snow. Schools were shut down for days and traffic stopped on I-40 and I-55 in northeastern Arkansas.

The heavy winter layer took all the joy out of the daffodils in back of the office.  So sad.

3-3-DaffDownW
LOST HIS CROWN — Daffodil loses its rill in the sleet, rain and snow.
Frozen daffodils.
DOWN — A storm system that brought freezing rain, a few inches of sleet and snow stomped these daffodils.

Winter vs Spring: Round 1

Winter vs. Spring. The fight is on! Round 1 goes to Spring. Images taken Feb. 27 in Little Rock.

Single daffodil bloom
SPRUNG — Patches of daffodils in the woods behind the office are showing signs that spring isn’t going to be bullied by Ol’ Man Winter.
Bloom on a tulip tree backlit by winter sun. BRIGHT – Bloom on a tulip tree backlit by winter sun.
Witch hazel.
BEWITCHED — Witchhazel blooms in the office garden.
Bunch of daffodils
SPRUNG II — Cluster of daffodils!

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Spring puts its foot in the door

Winter-weary as we are and with a chance of snow lingering in Tuesday’s forecast, spring is struggling to keep its foot in the door. In downtown Little Rock, trees are showing lots of bud swell, with blooms and leaves ready to burst forth. Further west, on campus, daffodil leaves have pushed above the soil. Here on the mountain, we’re a few weeks behind. However, spring is showing its colors. Below are photos taken this morning.

2-23-SpringFloral
SWEET — This very sweet smelling shrub is among the first to bloom each spring, but this year, it preceded even the violets.
2-23-Houstonia
PROTECTED — A bluet pushes up between fall leaves.

 

Groundhogs, badgers, Christopher Lee and Candlemas

It’s funny how cultural connections are made and often begun in the most unlikely ways. For example, last night, we picked a televisual feast from Roku and as is usual for us, it was a “cult” horror movie called “City of the Dead,” starring Christopher Lee as the lead undead guy. The movie was set in a rural Massachusetts town with a perma-fog and equally permanent darkness, populated by a band of survivors of 17th century witch hunts.

In the movie, Feb. 2, which is also Candlemas, is an important day of sacrifice for these witches being the day halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. (Not to mention that it was their way to irritate the local time-wearied clergyman).

In Christianity, Candlemas commemorates the ritual purification of Mary 40 days after the birth of Jesus. Pre-Christian Celts celebrated the day as Imbolc, a day linked to the gestation of ewes and lambing.

Hmmm. We wondered. Was there a link between Candlemas and Groundhog Day? Well, gosh, there is. From Projectbritain.com is this rhyme:
“If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter won’t come again.”

The site also notes this German Candlemas tradition, which has been adapted in the U.S. with a groundhog subbing for the badger:
“The badger peeps out of his hole on Candlemas Day,
and, if he finds snow, walks abroad;
but if he sees the sun shining he draws back into his hole.”

Which brings us to a more local tradition — Blossom, Perry County’s prognosticatin’ groundhog. Caretaker Tamara tells us this afternoon that “Blossom did not see her shadow today. She didn’t even peek outside!” (Search our blog for “Blossom,” and you’ll see more about our little local garden-thievin’ celebrity).

The local weather was cloud and rain, and if the Candlemas rhyme is followed, agrees with Perry County Blossom that spring is en route.

We’re putting our money on our local folkways predictions no matter what that Pennsylvania whistlepig says.

http://www.stormfax.com/ghogday.htm

The downside to celebrity

It was just a matter of time before the paparazzi found Perry County Blossom, our answer to that other weather predicting groundhog in Pennsylvania. Below the tabloid  is the real back story from her caregivers Jack and Tamara.

tabloid cover

2013 marks the fourth year, and third hibernation since Jack and Tamara first saw Blossom foraging among the oaks. Jack started feeding her and over the course of the year, she learned to recognize his voice, her name and the word “Dinnertime!” He guesses she was a year or two old on their first meeting.

In spring 2011, she’d had a litter of five and then seven the following spring. When the babies were about the size of guinea pigs, she would bring the pups out to eat and Tamara and Jack would watch them play. This year, she didn’t bring the pups out.

Nursing the pups  is very strenuous for Blossom; taking a toll on her energy and any stored fat. When she emerges, she’s starving and will raid the garden and chow down on whatever else is available.

Jack, her personal chef, says Blossom loves anything juicy such as ripe pears, peaches, tomatoes, nectarines and melons. He usually gives her a half-cup of old fashioned rolled oats ( with a pinch of Sel de Guerande,  French gray sea salt), one apple, one carrot, one-eighth head of cabbage and six peanuts in the shell. Blossom also gets any spare cucumbers from the garden.

Jack says there is a specific order in which she eats: oatmeal, peanuts, carrots, cabbage, then the apples. She will not eat squash or any kind of potato and especially despises bananas. Blossom has put on substantial weight over the past month, an improvement over her first appearance this spring. She was thin and was looking a little less than healthy.

They are sometimes joined by Ratty or Fox, a gray fox. Fox gets two dog biscuits every night plus table scraps. As Jack said, “It’s a wild version of the nuclear family.”

The waxwing tree

The phone rang. A colleague upstairs called to see if I’d seen the flocks of cedar waxwings sweeping and swirling from tree to tree around the office grounds and adjacent campus. The birds moved almost as one; stripping the hollies of their berries and continually finding new places to roost. Waxwings are beautiful birds with their masks and crests. Look closely and you can see accents of bright yellow and pink in tips of their wings and tails.

TREEFULL - Birds outnumber blooms on the branches of this tulip tree.
TREEFULL –  Masked birds outnumber blooms on the branches of this tulip tree.
DOWN -- Injured waxwing seeks rest in the grass.
DOWN — Injured waxwing rests in the grass. He fell in a sort of spiraling flat spin like an autumn leaf. Perhaps he was dazed after a collision? Sadly, an hour later, his head tipped forward. His beak to the ground, he expired.

Soft blossom morning

Spring is having a hard time awakening from his slumber, and winter keeps tip-toeing back. Snow and ice returned to Arkansas’ northern counties this past week, and here in the Ouachitas, fog swallowed the ridge tops yesterday. Today, high winds scattered the mist and are busy rearranging the deck furnishings.