Casaubon's Book

The End of the World Is At Hand…

…My laundry pile was empty. I mean, empty. Nothing more to wash.

This unprecedented state of affairs (in a working farm household with 6 people, four of them attracted to mud like magnets) didn’t last long – then Asher dumped his muddy socks on the floor and Eli took a bath and pushed the towel into the tub and then the kids got out of the clothes bearing the day’s accumulated grime – but I did briefly have no laundry to do. None.

Other people may think this is a weird thing to worry about, but you have to understand my life. There is ALWAYS laundry in the pile, there are ALWAYS dishes in the sink. On a good day, only a couple of dishes and a very small heap of waiting laundry, but I never actually see the bottom of the hamper. Yesterday, it stared at me, and I stared back into its abyss. It was a little frightening, actually.

People always ask how I get it all done, which is actually kind of funny, because I really am sort of a slacker. Slacker housekeeping, however, is one of the ways I find time for everything else. I just don’t worry about it, as long as it doesn’t get too out of control. i’m just not used to the sudden onset of tidiness.

The reason for my apocalyptic cleanliness was a string of 80 degree days – in March, in upstate NY. The normal average daytime high for this season is 46 degrees – we’ve been a solid 30+ degrees above normal. Last night, with a low of 56, it was too warm to sleep comfortably when we first went to bed even with the down comforter off – and we had the windows open and the fan on.

Warm, dry sunny days like these are dream days for drying laundry – a load tossed on the line at 8am is dry by noon or one, and there’s plenty of time to do another. Thus, the miracle of the laundry.

We’re also having the miracle of the fruit trees. This morning the apricot trees burst into bloom – more than a month early. This is awfully pretty, but not necessarily good news, given that we’re two months to our last frost date.

The prediction is that on Monday or Tuesday we’ll drop (for a few days) back to normal temperatures, with nights in the 20s. If it freezes that hard, my apricots will be toast (sprinklers will protect from a light frost, but if the lows are in the low 20s as predicted, even that won’t help).. I’m hoping the peaches hold off on their impending bloom for a few more days until we’re past that cold spell.

It is always impossible to distinguish between weather and climate, and I’m not making any claims here, other than humorous ones about my laundry. It is hard for a gardener like me not to be gleeful in some measure – I have daffodils, warm dirt, tiny spinach leaves, baby rabbits, clean laundry – what’s not to love?

But just like there’s some vague part of me that worries when the laundry pile gets empty – it is nice, but not NORMAL at my house, it is hard to love with a whole heart this world, whether this warming is momentary or meaningful. The long term predictions for my place echo in my head – like Georgia, only drier, by the end of the century. If we aren’t having a Georgia spring, we are certainly having a Virginia one, and isn’t without consequence.

I don’t know that I expect the fruit growers to have a full crop this year – tough on them if they do lose it, since everyone who produced anything after late August last year lost pretty much their whole crop. The previous year we had hail in May, which was tough on a lot of apple growers – a third year’s lost crop will knock a lot of them out of business.

There are birds back I’ve never seen in March – but their food sources may not be as premature. The ground is dry in March – there’s no melt-off to moisten the spring. Our total winter snowfall was less than 20 inches – a third of our norm. That’s ok right now – the unbelievable fall rains (we had 28 inches of rain in two weeks last fall) have left us in good shape – for now. But we are starting out drier than I ever remember. And what happens if the 20+ degrees about normal temperatures we have seen consistently since late fall continue into summer? 30 degrees above normal is terrific in March in many ways. It will not be so desirable in July – and this isn’t a short term temperature bump. We had green grass and leaves on trees into December, winter didn’t really come until January and then was warm and brief. Our weather has been abnormal for a longish time now.

Now warm years happen – I’ve seen a lot of them. Six years ago I remember it was nearly 70 degrees and my friend Jesse was shovelling rapidly melting snow off the driveway as we celebrated my son’s birthday. The difference was that we still had snow on the ground, that the daffodils weren’t in bloom, the birds weren’t all back – this was a warm spell before spring, not spring itself.

Again, it is hard to mind, and I don’t even pretend. I’m in my glory in the dirt, the children are outside moments after they awaken and troop in dirty and sweaty at the end of the day talking about frogs and snakes they’ve seen and signs of green, birds identified and buds on trees. What’s not to love? My laundry pile was empty, which means I can go outside and play in the dirt myself with the sun on my back. It is awe-inspiring, joyous, delightful. Who knew doom could be so sweet?

But that gaping hole in my hamper is just a teensy bit worrisome too.

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 Amy W
    March 23, 2012

    This spring’s weather is definitely making gardeners uneasy. Even here in Georgia, many plants are blooming too soon, and the ground is already warm enough that we’ve had our first morels (a full month early).

    Looking at the forecast — for warm, and more warm — I’m thinking about putting some seeds in the ground that I wouldn’t normally put out until the second half of April. Most years I wait an additional week or so beyond our last-frost date, April 15, for the ground to warm up and for the danger of frost to be REALLY past, but putting a patch of bush beans in the ground much sooner than that is looking like a good gamble.

    If we get a hard freeze, a 20-sq-ft stand of bush beans wouldn’t be a great loss. The loss of the plums, blueberries and bramble-berries, however, would be keenly felt. Hard to know what to do.

  2. #2 Brandie
    March 23, 2012

    I’m not happy about the weather here in Virginia. It’s already uncomfortably humid this morning. The pleasant weather only ever lasts a few days here, but apparently those days came early, meaning an unusually long season of sweaty misery.

    This is the first year it’s ever been dry enough in my garden to plant in the spring. Good thing I decided to take a wild gamble and start a bunch of onion seeds this year. I’m not in a hurry to plant my summer vegetables though, I’m letting my rye grow nice and tall instead.

  3. #3 Andy Brown
    March 23, 2012

    In Rhode island I just planted some greens and some sunflowers (which I may use to support some pole beans as an experiment). I built a raised bed (8 by 2.5 feet) specifically laid out to place cold frames on for season extension. I haven’t put them on yet since this premature spring has been warming up the soil just fine. We’ll see — temperatures are supposed to dip, but it sure feels like late April. Spooky.

  4. #4 K
    March 23, 2012

    I have a friend who never finishes her ironing (she’s old-school and still believes in ironing). But she never finishes it because she believes it is her life’s work and she would keel over dead if her iron basket was empty.

  5. #5 Karin
    March 23, 2012

    Here in the foothills of Maine it reached 84 degrees yesterday.On March 20th the temp was 78, this is technichally still winter. Crazy. We just finished boiling our sap down last weekend and already the maples are blooming. The sugar season was VERY short this year.

    We have a local weather guy who gave an interview that reminds us that the variability in weather is a sign of climate change. While we had an unusually warm winter, Alaska bot pummeled with extreme snow fall.

    Five years ago we ran into a friend at the recycling depot. He was a climate researcher at the local University who had spent a lot of time in Greenland. He told us then that by the time our son was kindergarten age we would notice significant changes.

    I guess he was right…go figure.

  6. #6 Jerah
    March 23, 2012

    Yup, it’s a little disconcerting, seeing all the trees blooming in fast-forward. I feel so bad for them, knowing they might get zapped by a late frost. It’s like watching a bunch of kids getting all excited about ice cream cones and piling on the scoops higher and higher… it should be a heartwarming moment, but I’m just so worried it’ll all go splat. :/

  7. #7 Nicole
    March 23, 2012

    Here in north Alabama, the soil temp was 70 last weekend and we’ve had another week of 80+ days. Spring isn’t springing here, it’s all the way sprung and even the plants that come late to the spring party are already inside the door and looking for the booze. My tomato and pepper seedlings have had to be re-potted into quart and gallon pots.

    The spring crop is not so happy in the heat. I’m starting to think I should just plant the summer crops and give up on spinach and such this year.

  8. #8 Raye
    March 23, 2012

    I grew up in Atlanta. Since last fall, the weather we have had here in southern New England is just like what I remember weather being growing up in Georgia.

    I expect it will be punctuated with some rip-snorting crazy storms. Actually, it already has. (Irene, 10/29)

  9. #9 c.
    March 24, 2012

    I’m in Minneapolis and my apricot trees have blooms on them. I expect they’ll open tomorrow. That would be March 24th, 2012 !!!!

    I wrote Wunderground.com and requested some additional information on the moving target of historical frosts versus current forecasts. I got a response from them today. A very nice, amazing, polite and useful one!

    I thought everyone here who gardens and is nervous would find it interesting the coming of more useful information. :D

    —————-

    I’m glad you contacted us about this, we’re actually working on a product right now that will fulfill these requests! We’re building it as a “local climate” product, but it will have all of the functionality that you suggest. Look for it it late April.

    Soon after this is launched, we will be working on a gardening section where the local climate information will be used specifically for gardening purposes.

    Thanks for the great suggestion!

  10. #10 Kevin R
    March 24, 2012

    here in South Texas it has been a little cooler than usual with a higher than average rainfall putting an official end to the ongoing drought. This weekend it is back in the 80′s, sunny, and beautiful. I will spend the weekend relaxing poolside. With no kids, no pets, and the wife out of town, laundry is not on my list of worries.

  11. #11 Lindsay Went
    March 24, 2012

    It’s been much cooler than usual in South Eastern Australia. Lots and lots of rain, and no hot spells to speak of, not even many hot days. Coolest summer in 40 years or some such.

    I guess the increasing volatility is what we will notice the most.

  12. #12 jw
    March 24, 2012

    yup. shell peas planted on new years day are flowering, along with everything else in the DC area. i’m always optimistic about early planting with row cover, but i never had to cover this year.
    i am really scared about this summer–i work in a research greenhouse and field; both get excruciating in july and august, but have already been too hot for comfort this week.

  13. #13 cheap car unsurance
    March 26, 2012

    here in South Texas it has been a little cooler than usual with a higher than average rainfall putting an official end to the ongoing drought. This weekend it is back in the 80′s, sunny, and beautiful. I will spend the weekend relaxing poolside. With no kids, no pets, and the wife out of town, laundry is not on my list of worries

  14. #14 Anna
    March 26, 2012

    Here in the Maritime Northwest, it’s the third cold spring in a row. Although snow in March isn’t *unheard of*, it’s certainly unusual. The winter wasn’t overly cold, but March has been a challenge for sure. Suddenly, last weekend, we had the first really warm temperatures of the spring . . .

    Apparently, the coolness on the west coast is due to something called the “Pacific Decadal Oscillation.” According to my weather-geek friend Chris, it’s basically a blob of cold water that migrates from one side of the Pacific to the other. It’s on our side right now.

    So although it’s set to be an “el Nino” year, this will be mitigated, on the west coast, by the PDO. I’m hoping that this will set us up for “near normal,” rather than cool to cold (like last year, when the PDO and la Nina combined!).

    It’s things like this that make it so difficult to track “climate change” as opposed to weather . . .

  15. #15 Stephanie
    March 26, 2012

    The ducks, egrets and the swan are back in our pond. the geese never left. This worries me a great deal since last year I didn’t see the egrets or swan until June.

  16. #16 Bill
    March 26, 2012

    I live at 7500′ elevation, about 50 miles west of Vail, Colorado in the ‘high Rockies.’ It hit 70 degrees here yesterday and above 60 now. Snowfall in the upper Colorado River basin is at about 63% of the 30 year average, with less than three weeks until the end of the snowfall season – as dry as I’ve seen in my 27 years out here. I expect the tick population will be fierce this summer since I’ve already started seeing them when they normally don’t come out until May, which means a lot more tick fever, which can be deadly. The creek next to my house is already rising – two months early for run-off – but given the lack of a snow reservoir, the western US water situation won’t be good by late summer and fall. It’s just the weather, though.

  17. #17 Alex Smith
    March 27, 2012

    Was that “Summer in March” 2012 partly due to climate change?

    In this Radio Ecoshock program I interview Joe Romm of Climate Progress, and meteorologist Jeff Masters of the Weather Underground, to hash through what happened in most of the U.S. and Canada when thousands of heat records were broken for over a week. Weird weather indeed.

    http://www.ecoshock.net/eshock12/ES_120328_Show.mp3

  18. #18 Peaksurfer
    March 27, 2012

    I am reminded of the Southeast Asian tsunami a few years back. The tide went out, and everyone ran down to the beach to gather the flopping fish…

    Global food supply is balanced on a razor’s edge. A lot of it moves halfway around the world. Grain reserves are low.

    Imagine crop failures from a late freeze, from low snow melt, and from summer heat waves and you can visualize the wave approaching the shore. Maybe it won’t come this year, or next. But climate change is about volatility, and with volatility comes insecurity. We are losing the stable Holocene Epoch that spawned civilization from the predictability of agriculture.

    Globalization of agriculture increased security when climate was stable. Globalization decreases security when that stability vanishes. Look out to sea. What do you see? These comments tell you.

  19. #19 Liisa
    March 27, 2012

    Here in Central Europe, there was no winter to speak of – just an eternal end of November until the end of January when there were extreme freezing temperatures, not breaking the records but almost. And my crocuses and hyacinths started sprouting in January.
    Now it’s the time of spring when bulbous plants are already in bloom – been to the woods to see snowdrops in the wild on Sunday and the time is okayish, apricots will bloom in a few days and the forecast promises snow for the weekend. Not in my lowlands, probably, and with temperatures above zero. It’s drier than usual, though, but there were many local floods in the last few years so I guess people don’t mind getting a break. And it’s not as dry as to cause problems later on, I hear.

  20. #20 Victoria
    March 27, 2012

    In Halifax, Nova Scotia, winter was much more moderate than usual, and we, too, are seeing too-early signs of spring: not just crocuses and snowdrops in bloom, or robins back, but the maples and elms are starting to blossom, and some of the earliest roses are starting to leaf out. This is due to our over-warm temperature last week — twenty degrees Celsius above our normals — I’m not sure what the cold weather of today (-5, -16 C with the windchill) will do to all these. We finally had rain yesterday, but it’s been dry for us as well, and we haven’t had nearly so much snow as usual. It is April weather a month early.

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