The Greening

Spring is an ecological phenomenon of weather and biota linked to orbital geometry. More importantly, spring is here, as of this very moment, in Anoka County, Minnesota.

The parts of Anoka County, Minnesota that are not built on consist of scrubland, prairie, and marsh. So there is a lot of grass. For the last several weeks it has been unseasonably cold. So the soil beneath the grass is frozen solid. This frozen-state is facilitated by the fact that we have not had much snow, which otherwise might have insulated the ground and kept it warmer. And, this lack of snow means that when we hit 32 degrees yesterday, and it stayed that way for a while, the snow melted off fast.

So now, as I write this (and I’ve driven across the county six times in the last 48 hours for various reasons so I know this) most of the undeveloped land surface of the county is snowless, or virtually so, and all of the grass that is visible is absolutely brown.

This means two things: The fires could start any time, and we are on the verge of The Greening.

Even as I write these words at noon time local time, the greening is probably happening outside. When we go for an adventure down by the creek this afternoon, we’ll probably have some clear paths, some mud, and since the sun is strong and the current outside temperature is 39 degrees F, we’ll probably start to see some green. The green will occur in two places. One will be only visible at first to Amanda, who has a knack for finding rare hidden plants. These will be tiny little native plants most of which are on the verge of extinction, which will be popping out of the ground under the protection of that brown grass and last year’s leaf litter. The other green will be the grass.

But the green in the grass will be visible only under two conditions: Under a microscope if you look at the individual blades, where you mights see some greenish cells, and at a distance … hundreds of meters back … as you scan the marshlands or the prairie. There you will see at first only the hint of green. Then more than a hint. Then a convincing amount of green. Then green. Some years, I have noted this greening happen as I’ve driven across the landscape, and assumed that I was driving from a brown zone to a green zone, traversing some kind of microclimate. But then, on driven back the other way, discovered that the greening was actually happening before my eyes as the initially brown grass near the start of my journey would now be green.

Brush fires are not just something that happens in Africa, as I’m sure you know. Here, when the blanket of snow disappears from the landscape it leaves behind a moist covering of flammable material. The grass, the leaf litter, the sticks are all kindling. The moistness left behind by the melting snow may last for minutes or a couple of days. All it takes is a good wind to dry out the kindling. The wind often comes with the spring storms. So, fire season and storm season can coincide (they don’t always) so that as I drive back and forth across the county I see patches of storm in the sky (the thunderheads) and patches of strum and drag on the ground, fires here and there busily eating up bits of fuel and converting the seeds of the fire-adapted plants to a state of viability.

And the air smells interesting under those conditions, because you the sweet rot smell of what I imagine to be humic acid coming from the ground, the smell of a marsh waking up for the spring, and the smell of smoke, all competing, shifting back and forth as you move and as the wind moves the air across different natural treatments.

It is probably not going to go below freezing for more than a few hours over the next few days. It will be breezy at times. It will be mostly sunny. Full tilt greening is underway this week in Anoka County.

Expect interesting smells.

Comments

  1. #1 Tony P
    March 14, 2009

    I can tell spring is nearly here since my allergies start kicking up right around mid March and continue on through mid June.

    I’m allergic to the entire grass and tree group.

  2. #2 David Lee
    March 14, 2009

    Spring has arrived in Northern Illinois–4 crocuses bloomed today. Time to think about gardening…

  3. #3 khan
    March 14, 2009

    Crocuses and daffodils in Ohio.

    Robins, grackles, red-winged blackbirds, and mormons are back.

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