(4.1) Seasons of Change

The seasons move to a different beat now. Autumn pushes Winter back. Winter pushes Spring back. Summer rides herd on Spring and then chases Autumn into Winter. As always, Spring is glorious here, and Autumn’s fling becomes a smoky, hazy echo of Spring.

We have consistently gotten less rain now than before Isabel, though winters can be soggy and snowy, with a mix of snow and ice that beats the plants down. In December 2010 a record snowfall, very wet, froze solidly on plants for several days. After the thaw we found broken down, heaved or deformed understory trees. Massive pruning was only one small step to healing. A long growing season accomplished much more

Summers are hot and dry. Rain can be missing for six weeks or more, and by August we gardeners are through! By October, when cooler temperatures and occasional rains revive spirits and plants, we’ve changed our minds. This is as it always was, but more intense, perhaps because the summers are hotter or because we gardeners are older and crabbier.

Pines no longer shade our house in summer, and their pollen no longer washes in streams over our cars after a spring rain. The trees that remain have grown taller, so they will have a longer reach if they fall during a major storm.

Apparently, many of the hardwoods that still stand are thriving. Each fall we walk through cracklin’ leaves ankle-deep on paths. The whacked-off crown of a tulip tree that went sailing 50 feet before it dropped on our fence is quite handsome now. Some of the damaged maples and gums have filled out nicely. And oaks are popping up in cleared areas, ready to take on their roles as senior members of a climax forest.

Other trees are still misshapen from their years of crowding by pines. Many are hurting inside from Isabel’s blows. Any strong wind can open cracks and bend or break a tree or send heavy limbs flying. In August 2011 Hurricane Irene finished off several of these, so the local Tree Man had to be commandeered regularly to perform last rites.

We left headless trees in place. Though their crowns were snapped and life was over for them, these dead snags became refuges and termite-meals to woodpeckers, owls, and raccoons, and maybe others we never knew about. Today, all sorts of woodpeckers, from tiny nuthatches and downies to handsome pileateds and redheadeds, give life to the garden. Bark peeling, pocked with holes, many of the dead snags were routed by Hurricane Irene.

Eight years of noreasters, tornados, and thunderstorms could not budge the widow makers that Isabel left tangled in trees or balanced on grape vines. Irene swept in this year and took care of them. She hurled these through the woods, then she created her own. We walk around, necks craned, surveying the sky, on the lookout.

There must be some unwritten code of succession among hurricanes: hangers from one hurricane are to be swept away by the next hurricane, which will then leave its hangers to be tossed aside by a future hurricane.

Turning earthward, the monumental tangle along the canal bank that we never cleared remains remarkably unchanged. A memorial? No, just a lookback to the past. Practically speaking, to clear it would be a lot of work and invite major erosion.

The water in our slip is at a higher level than it was before Isabel. No, we don’t take daily measurements. We look at old photos and see a water level that was below one of the stringers along the bulkhead. Today, that stringer is under water.

During Hurricane Irene, the water rose several feet, not enough to worry us. Look at all that debris in the water, I complained. Where in the world is it coming from? I turned sheepish when I realized that we were the culprits. The wind tide had breached a low spot in the old dark woods and flooded it, carrying mulch and edgers away as it receded.

A month after Irene, the water is still high. Usually, when the wind turns around and blows from the north during the winter, the water leaves our side of the Sound and heads to the south side. Years ago, it sometimes blew the slip dry. We shall see what happens this winter.

Ah, those devilish root mounds that we once pretended were “bones” in the garden, have begun to crumble into loose peat and soil that can be broken up by shovels. As old dead trapped roots have dried up, tunnels collapsed. The dwarfs that once guarded them have been put back into storage. Might have been different for those dwarfs if we’d found diamonds in those tunnels. But we didn’t.

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