Monday, May 28, 2012

The Weather

Not a subject on which I can be particularly original, and not much news here for anyone either I expect, but it's more essential context as I get this project going again.

As most people will know, we've had very strange weather around here for quite a while. The winter before last was the snowiest on record. We had one huge storm after another from January 7 into mid-February, with no melting in between. It crushed buildings and stranded plows. I honestly don't know how old folks survived it, if they didn't have a lot of help. Then came a summer with two tropical storms and a freak October snowstorm that knocked out power for more than a week at a time, twice, over most of six states. Last winter was one of the mildest ever with only a single plowable snow fall, and that barely qualified at about 7 inches. Mostly it just rained all winter. People have been monitoring when the ponds freeze over and when ice breaks up as a marker of climate change, but nothing to monitor last winter -- the ponds never froze at all.

Then we had the hottest March in recorded history. My pear trees budded out and got frost nipped when the weather turned just normal again in April, so no pears this year. We had a severe drought during that time as well, with the dust blowing up in my footsteps. Fortunately the drought broke before most crops went in, though I did have to irrigate my onions, garlic and romaine for a while. Now the rainfall has been pretty good but the climate is summer-like hot and sultry all the time. Not looking forward to July and August at this rate.

As the climate changes, many people claim that southern New England will be one of the best places to be, at least from a human point of view. Maybe so, but we're still going to have to invest a whole lot of time and money trying to adapt. So I predict that will be a running theme here.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Back at it

I'm not sure why I stopped posting here. I guess I just had too much to do getting up to speed with a new and very engrossing job. Anyway, this time I intend to do it right.

The purpose of this blog is to document what I see around me in a special, beautiful place. The Shetucket River valley is a remnant greenway, a last corridor of wilderness and farmland that the megalopolis and suburban sprawl of southeastern New England somehow failed to swallow. I live on about 20 acres of my own property. With my neighbor to the east, our land constitutes a peninsula thrust into state forest. The only industry in our town is agriculture. The town center consists of a post office, a general store, the town hall, an auto/tractor/whatever repair business, and two churches.

I'm going to write about everything that lives here, including the people, but they'll get no more attention than they deserve.

So let me begin with a brief introduction to the ecosystem. My house is at the bottom of a steep slope of a ridge that divides our little valley, down by the Shetucket, from a steep gorge through which flows Merrick Brook, a cold, swift stream beside which are the ruins of an ancient mill sluice. The brook joins the river just downstream from a small hydroelectric dam.

I mow about 4 acres. The rest of my land is wilderness, or at least what grew back after it was cleared in the 18th and 19th centuries for pasture and fuel. I do not believe any of my land was ever plowed, but it is crossed by the ruins of very crude stone walls left from rough clearing for pasture. The forest is predominantly oak and hemlock, with some beech, maple and hickory and other nut-type species. In the understory and on the steep slopes where trees can't hold on is mountain laurel. And, of course, poison ivy climbs the tree trunks and clambers over the stone walls.

Every day, or almost every day, I see chipmunks, squirrels, turkeys and deer. The woods are full of countless kinds of birds and this time of year the racket of birdsong, tree frogs and stridulating insects almost feels deafening. I occasionally see toads -- quite a few actually -- black snakes, green snakes, garter snakes, voles. I hear coyotes but have never seen one. For some reason I have never seen a raccoon here, and I see possums only as road kill, although they seem to meet that fate a lot.

The upland behind me is drained by an intermittent watercourse, including a spectacular waterfall when it's in full flow, that irrigates a small protected wetland area between the clearing for my house, and my field and barn. It is that area, which has a dense forested margin, that I see when I look out my living room window. Deer often walk through it, sometimes in large herds.

Cool air settles into the valley at night so the grass is always wet in the morning. The air is filled with clouds of insects, but for reasons unknown I am not plagued by mosquitoes, despite the swamp. Wasps, however, are abundant and I'm knocking down wasp nests every week.

So that's the background, against which future observations may be viewed.