We’re now finished with seven months of 2012. As I marked my 63rd orbit around the sun in mid-July, I could easily proclaim that this year’s weather has been the weirdest of my entire life. My 89-year-old mother has declared the same for hers. And we’re not alone.
As the year began, southern Wisconsin had far less snowfall than is average for our winter and that continued to be the case. Meanwhile, folks across Europe were shivering through intense cold whilst being literally buried by excessive amounts of snow. On the flip side, Australians were coping with devastating summer floods. Other areas of Earth were experiencing their own, weather-related challenges.
Southwest Wisconsin’s March started out with five inches of snow on the 2nd that melted within a day or two. The month that’s usually blustery with variable temperatures spanning the upper 20’s into the 60’s, then turned hot with many days that kissed 80F. Plants, animals and insects were fooled into reacting as if we’d skipped a month and it was actually May. Then April completely reversed course with several hard frosts that literally nipped confused plants in the bud. For the first time on record, our April was colder by several degrees than March!
During May, rainfall started to get spotty, and then, it stopped all together for all of June and much of July as temperatures soared to extremes never before experienced. Along with a substantial part of the United States’ other agricultural regions, southern Wisconsin descended into an ongoing, severe drought, decimating the crops of farmers and fruit growers and causing major stress on livestock, not to mention people.
As a dedicated observer and note taker, I’ve chronicled a long list of local plant, animal, bird and insect behaviors that are completely outside of the norm–here are some of them:
Some plants bloomed so early that insects that normally pollinate them missed their chance. My milkweed matured, bloomed and set seed pods almost a month and a half early. Monarch butterflies have been conspicuous by their absence. Sedums that usually flower the end of August are already blooming. Meanwhile in an even more bizarre twist, many annuals like Moss Roses and Morning Glories that are heat-loving plants were over a month late in starting their bloom cycles. Sunflower seedlings wilted away despite my watering them.
An over-population of rabbits and chipmunks has been decimating gardens and digging up potted plants that we’ve been watering during the drought. While it’s understandable that they’re following their survival instincts, it maddening for us.
Four full birdbaths at different heights throughout my yard have helped quench the thirst of panting birds and other critters. Sadly, there was nothing I could do but commiserate when the wrens lost their second clutch of eggs to the extreme heat, even though their house was ventilated.
The only plus side of the prolonged drought is mosquito-free evenings. However, moisture-loving earwigs have still managed to survive and chew tender leaves and buds, and over the last week, there’s been an explosive hatching of box elder bugs–also about a month early. Usually not a nuisance around here until the end of August, hornets (also known as wasps or yellow jackets) were already in evidence the beginning of June. When locusts start buzzing in the treetops the middle of August, we’re alerted that autumn is a month around the corner. What does it mean that they started their signature drone this year in early July?
Weather records have been smashed across the planet for high and low temperatures, moisture and lack thereof. Befuddled meteorologists scratch their collective heads, as forecasting has become more of a guessing game than a scientific job. There are so many variables; it’s difficult to pinpoint the reasons for the wild swings in weather. There are copious amounts of data pointing to human activities having a major impact, and even scientists who were naysayers are now changing their tune in the face of mounting proof. One also wonders if Ol’ Sol’s accelerated, mass coronal ejections into the solar wind, as he enters solar maximum, are also part of that scenario. Regardless of the causes, anyone who doesn’t acknowledge the realities of global climate change is either deluded, in total denial or living in a windowless cave with no access to world news. It’s feeling like we’re living in a science fiction disaster movie.
Weather…We Like It Or Not…
In my looking-glass I see,
The ghost of Alice, not me!
And what is that I can hear?
Dorothy’s echo in my ear.
It’s a topsy-turvy world,
Into which I feel I’m hurled.
Nature’s too early or late–
Makes me wonder what’s our fate?
Time for humans to confess,
That we’ve created this mess.
Our thoughts and deeds impact more
Than just what’s inside our door.
Whether we like it or not,
We’re making our planet hot!
It’s not too late to reverse,
Turning it into our hearse.
Our action now can undo,
Many past mistakes we’ve fueled.
Remember we have power;
Don’t even waste the next hour.
We’re all a part of the cause.
That alone should give us pause.
Now banish the fear and blame;
Ignite inspiration’s flame.
Stop the bickering and the feud,
Hold the vision of renewed,
Pristine waters and the air,
And balance brought to bear.
Join hearts, minds and hands to forge
Solutions to Gaia’s scourge.
Learn from history’s blunders.
Now help restore her wonders!
With five months to go in 2012, most of us are already weary of discussing this year’s weather, but we still can’t help wondering aloud what the next seasons will bring. Only linear time will tell.
Meanwhile as my figurative, Google-Earth survey refocuses on my little yard with its small gardens, I search for any reason to celebrate during this most challenging of growing seasons. As the heat and drought continues to take its toll, I do nightly triage, watering prized shrubs and perennials in hopes of keeping them alive to bloom another season. I fuss over annuals that got off to a wonderful start before the high temperatures and insects started destroying them. While the weather has been so different, one thing has remained the same. Every year’s growing season has its stars: extra-hardy plants that surprise and delight with stellar performances that outshine the rest. I have a few this year, so as a way to end by accentuating the positive, here they are posing for their close-ups—wish I could also share their lovely scents:
Container next to my front porch featuring a lime-green Hosta flanked by red Impatiens with a double, spicy-bouqueted, red and white Petunia peeking up at the rear:
Castor Bean started from seed the end of May, now about four feet tall:
A Master Gardener friend of mine introduced me to her Datura a couple of years ago. One look and a whiff, and I was hooked! She gave me some seeds, which I started inside; they provided two plants, one that bloomed several times late last August. Ta-da! This year’s star-of-stars is last summer’s Datura that I cut back to eight inches, over-wintered in a pot in the garage, then transplanted into the patio planter. It took off early and never looked back, continuing to branch, bloom and produce more and more buds. It’s now about five feet tall and forty-four inches across. The pure white, trumpet-shaped flowers are a spectacular seven inches long and over four inches across. They open during the early evening and perfume the air with their exquisite fragrance, attracting night-flying moths to work their pollination magic. By Noon the next day, the previous night’s flowers are wilted and starting to produce seedpods before jettisoning their petals. I generally keep them dead-headed to encourage the plant to continue producing flowers; otherwise, it will think its propagating mission is done and will start to shut down. But, I am nurturing the formation of a couple of seedpods in hopes they cure properly before first frost—given our strange weather, it’s impossible to know when that will happen, so I’m not taking any chances! I hope to start a plant inside in January to produce a new transplant for next spring. And in keeping with the tradition of gardeners, I also want to have seeds to share.