A Snow So Light

A snow so light it almost didn't fall

Wednesday night into Thursday morning, a snow so light fell that if it had been any lighter it would not have drifted to the ground. It would have floated in the air and blown away.

Thursday morning, the clouds that brought the snow vanished. The bluest of blues filled the skies.

In the fall I don’t cut down the dried flower heads. I leave them just so they can collect the finest of snows on days like these. The flower heads are mostly air with thin, fragile branches holding up dried flower buds. But somehow the finest of snows manages to build bridges between these thin branches and form billowy nests. Snow so fine should just slip between the thin branches and flutter to the ground.

Snow so fine collects on flowerheads.

See how far apart the individual flower buds are? They are further apart than the flakes are big. Yet a few flakes cling to the buds, more flakes cling to the edges of those flakes, and being so light they hang on, until enough flakes cling to their edges and to the new edges, and snowflake bridges span from bud to bud.

Snow so light on branches.
Snow so light on branches.

The snow is so light, that it’s conceivable it could lift the branches it falls on. Luckily for us, snow melts into water. If it melted into a clingy gas, it could conceivably pull the plants out of the ground and carry them high into the sky. If that were the case, we’d be out smacking the snow off plants to keep them from flying away when the snow changed to clingy gas and carried them over the mountains.

Snow so light on branches.

Today’s rain and warm weather melted all the snow. Thursday’s snow is but a memory. The plants and trees did not float away with the snow.

Was this the last snow of the season? It’s almost March. With each day, the chance of another snow diminishes.

Change is in the Air

Change is in the air - swans feeding on pasture on a warm February day.

One day swans are feeding on pastures on a warm February day and daffodils are opening, but change is in the air.

Change is in the air - daffodils are opening.

The next day we wake up to a white, winter wonderland. From spring to winter over night.

Change is in the air - snowy February morning.

It’s a beautiful sight, though the snow is like white concrete. It brought down power lines and we had no power for much of the day. It’s very quiet without the power on. We’ve moved on from using gas powered generators to a backup battery that can keep essential appliances functioning for twenty four hours. No more purring of a gas powered generator, no more checking to see if we need to add gasoline to the generator. And we can keep the battery in the house. Change is in the air.

Change is in the air - daffodil in the snow
Change is in the air - ice forming in watering can

A surprise was finding shards of ice forming inside a watering can this morning. Is this how ice forms inside a can? Spears of ice shooting from the outside in? What happens when the spears meet in the center? Do these ice spears have a name? Have scientists studied this phenomenon? Looks to me like there could be a Phd dissertation here. See how in the upper right ice is forming like snowflakes, but in the middle it’s forming spears. Something different is happening even though there is very little space between them. How many pages would it take describe why that is?

Change is in the air - a brilliant sunset on a mostly clear evening.

Not a day goes by without me seeing something that makes me wonder how that works or why it is.

One unexpected change today was discovering that I may be forced to put my tofu making on hold. I placed an order for more organic soybeans but my current supplier told me that they are out of stock. I’ve been dreading this might happen one of these days. My first supplier, Grain Place Foods, ran out many months ago. Since then I’ve been getting 25 pound bags of organic soybeans from the Skagit Valley Food Co-op. Even though the bags they get are Grain Place Foods soybeans. But now the Co-op’s supplier has run out too. According to Grain Place Foods:

As is always the case in the world of agriculture, we are at the mercy of “Mother Nature” when it comes to meteorological instances and weather trends throughout the country. This year, severe droughts in multiple states threaten to limit the availability of raw products. Many farmers who grow crops for us have called to say that their fields have basically “burnt up” and they will have little to no harvest to speak of.

So once my current supply of soybeans are gone, there will be no tofu for a while. Sorry to those of you who enjoy my tofu.

Flower Away

Flower away - hazelnut blossoms

Flower away hazelnut! Some trees go all out when it comes to flowering. Hazelnuts are early bloomers. On this warm, sunny, spring day, they have outdone themselves. How many thousands of blossoms are on a single hazelnut tree? Tens of thousands? Over a hundred thousand?

And one lucky hover fly has the whole tree to itself.

Hoover fly on hazelnut blossoms

Is that a bee? In mid February? That was my first thought seeing a fuzzy bundle feasting on the hazelnut blossoms. But no, it turned out to be a hover fly instead. A tell tale sign is it only has a single pair of wings. No bee would be caught dead without a full set of two wings.

If you are an insect who loves flowers, it pays to get out early in the season so you can have a whole hazelnut tree to yourself.

Shake a hazelnut tree which is in bloom and a cloud of pollen dust fills the air. But sadly, if you get hay fever from hazelnut pollen, you may be allergic to hazelnuts. That would be a bummer.

artichoke sprout

Underneath the hazelnuts, an artichoke has sprouted. I’m thinking this may have sprouted from seed. When artichokes bud, I always let some bloom for the wonderful, purple flowers. There are substantial sprouts where artichokes grew last year. But this minuscule artichoke sprouted where no artichoke grew last year.

artichoke sprouts

It’s only February, but already I’m dreaming of summer days with arms full of heavy artichokes plucked out of the garden.

Early Spring

Early spring foggy morning

This early spring morning started out foggy. According to the Japanese calendar, Friday, February 4th, was the first day of spring, 立春 – Risshun. It’s a day to chase the demons out of the house and invite good fortune in. I could do that more than once a year. Some weeks every day.

It’s actually more than just a day. It usually starts on February 4 and ends on February 18. It is one of the 24 solar terms in the year. With each day longer than the one before it, each day seems more spring like than the one before.

Dry weather is in the forecast. A week of mostly dry weather should help dry out the garden enough to start getting it ready for planting.

Early spring foggy morning

The hens are laying more eggs, a sure sign of spring. I may even have one that has gone broody. She was all fluffed up and warm underneath. I’ll know for sure in a few days. It’s a bit early, but after the harsh winter maybe they’re ready to get a head start on raising a family.

From a the way this early spring morning started so foggy, I wasn’t expecting this light show at sunset. Iridescent clouds spread out in long pearly strands against the darkening sky. What sort of morning do clouds like this portend?

Blue and White

Blue and white, the skies and clouds put on a remarkable display.

I looked up when I opened the gate yesterday and saw this brilliant display of blue and white in the sky. The sun lit up the clouds and painted the sky a cobalt blue. Every day is a good day, Yunmen Wenyan said over a thousand years ago. Some days, it’s hard to believe that. Really? “Every day is a good day but today,” is what you want to say. But when the sun, clouds, and sky put on a display like this, it’s easy to believe.

Exploding sunlit clouds over the Skagit Valley.

On the drive over to Anacortes, the views didn’t stop. A cloud exploded over the Skagit Valley, between the foothills of the Cascades. Can a sky be more blue? Can clouds be more beautiful?

Blue and white - Exploding sunlit clouds over the Skagit Valley.
Blue and white. Exploding sunlit clouds over the Skagit Valley.

If one were to make a reference book of the colors blue and white, a cobalt blue sky and sunlit clouds like this is something one would certainly include. “This, everybody, is blue,” you’d say, pointing to the clouds. And where the sun lit up the clouds the most, you’d shout, “This is white, everybody!”

On days like this, the sky seems infinite. But it’s not. A short distance above, the atmosphere stops. And the blue turns inky black. The warmth of a spring day turns cold, the likes of which we can’t experience on earth. The side of your body facing the sun burns to a crisp. And the side facing away instantly freezes and shatters.

A five mile walk takes very little time. A five mile drive goes by quickly. But just five miles above us, we can’t breathe. Many go ten miles or more just to work. But ten miles above, nothing lives. The infinite cobalt blue skies we see on a sunny day are but paper thin. Life on earth is extremely fragile. So if we want our children, grand children, great grand children to enjoy these blue and white skies, we can’t take this fragile earth for granted.

Witch Hazel

Witch hazel in bloom
Witch hazel in bloom

The witch hazel is blooming. One of the first flowers of the season to spread its petals. Its spicy fragrance takes me to distant spice bazaars. So what pollinates these delicate flowers at the end of winter? The bees and wasps are still fast asleep. Whatever it is, it is an insect that braves the cold. Though with such an enticing fragrance, if I was a bug, I’d stir out of my winter hibernation to fly into the petals. It is a fragrance worth dying for.

Spring - Frost bitten sweet daphne

The sweet daphne didn’t fare as well as the witch-hazel. Much of the plant is frost bitten. However it is far from dead. Underneath the sad, leaves, shoots are sprouting. An early bloomer, come mid to late February, its heady scent will fill the air.

Spring - sweet daphne buds
Bamboo knocked over by heavy snow

The heavy snow this winter was too much for the bamboo too. Many lay flat on the ground. Some stems snapped. I won’t need to cut any bamboo for poles this year. I’ll get plenty of bamboo poles just cleaning up all the fallen ones.

Spring hens by the pond

The chickens are ready for spring. The more bugs the better. Pickings are slim this time of year. But once it warms up, the ground will be swarming with scurrying things to nab.

Sunlight at Dawn

sunlight at dawn

There was sunlight at dawn today instead of thick fog. For a change, the sun’s rays pierced through the thick morning fog this morning. And in no time the clouds went from gray to blue. On a morning like this, it’s easy to imagine spring just around the corner.

Sparkling frosted grass at dawn

The sun’s rays at dawn made the frosty grass sparkle.

Cherry blossom buds in late January

The cherry blossom buds are still tiny and hard. But all the sunlight on a day like today will make them grow.

Alder trees at dawn on a bue sky day

The alder trees are already getting their reddish hue from their swelling buds. A few more weeks and they will be in bloom, though their plain, hanging flowers won’t attract throngs of flower viewer like the cherry trees. And their pollen dust will make many people’s eyes water and noses twitch and sneeze.

jet contrail at dawn

The skies which stayed blue all day during the height of the pandemic are a thing of the past. A jet flying in from Asia this morning left it’s mark on the clear blue sky. And an hour later, the contrail had spread across much of the sky.

At dawn a diffuse jet contrail

Hopefully these jet contrails will be a thing of the past some day. Electric jets will take to the skies and future generations will never know blue skies that turn cloudy from all the jets flying overhead.

Swans on pasture

The swans sure love the bright sunlight. Everywhere I looked on my drive to deliver eggs and tofu, there were swans. I stopped and counted 136 swans in this field. In nearby fields, flocks of swans just as large basked in the morning sunshine.

Closeup of swans in pasture.

After the Rains

After the rain the chickens are out by the pond

After the rains, the chickens are out scratching through the dry ferns by the pond. More than a month after the winter solstice, the sun is much stronger. Though not strong enough to burn away the fog bank that floats above us day after day.

After the rains - chicken in camouflage

After the rains, it’s easy to miss the chickens when they are out in the woods. They blend in well. It’s the soft, rustling sound they make as they scratch through the dried leaves that tells you where they are.

But they are wary. So a predator has to be very, very quiet to get one. Luckily for me, it’s been a while since I’ve lost one. What am I saying? Luckily for me? No, luckily for the chickens. We humans have a tendency to make everything about us.

After the rains, fallen trees and branches litter the forest flor

After the rains, the winds, the heavy snows, fallen trees and branches litter the forest floor. The chickens came through the winter unscathed. The trees not. Many toppled over. Others lost limbs and branches. They block paths. Cover bridges. The effects of this winter will linger long into spring and summer. But that’s nature. Chaos. Bedlam. Death and renewal.

From a distance, wild areas look so calm and peaceful. Sit at a viewpoint and look out over the valley, mountains, sea, and islands. It’s all so harmonious and beautiful. But look closely and nature is a mess. With no one to clean it all up!

The closer you look, the more ghastly nature becomes. Under a microscope, each drop of water is a constant war zone. Bacteria gobbling up each other. Nematodes cannibalizing each other. Micro organisms armed to the teeth racing to eat before they are eaten. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

Still, after the rains, even though it’s foggy, it’s nice to dry out.

Will they fly?

Cloud over Lummi island

“Will they fly?” I was thinking that this morning when I looked out and saw the bright sunshine.

This morning started out very spring like. Is it still winter? Is it over? Will he have nothing but spring weather from here on out?

Lummi Island sure had a thick cloud cap this morning when I went on my delivery route. At many angles, the islands off the coast just look like mountains not far away.

Will they fly - ducks feeding

A few days ago when I went out in the morning and counted the ducks, there were 9 ducks, not the expected 8. Swimming among the domesticated ducks was a Mallard.

He’s been with the flock of ducks ever since, swimming with them, and coming up onto the bank to feed too. We‘ve even caught him cavorting with the hens.

Will they fly - Mallard duck

Which makes me wonder, if the hens hatch ducklings and he is their father, will the ducklings fly away when they grow up? He is smaller than the other ducks and since he flew in, I’m sure he can fly away easily. But what about the cross between him and the domestic ducks? What will they be like?

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.