It has been a long, hard winter and spring is barely showing its face here. Today's weather is windy and cool, the soil drying out a bit and yet too cold to make the roots of most plants very happy. The only seedlings I have started here were Japanese indigo ones, which are just, finally poking their tiny and frail heads up. Only about a fourth of the seed pods in my mini-greenhouse show a plant with the two cotyledons that first appear.... hoping for a spurt of growth as the weather heads into the more temperate range next week. Here in the Sierras, it is not uncommon to feel that the weather jumps right from winter to summer, with those of us living here missing out on the long, slow springs other climates get. That said, I do have to acknowledge that grass has been greening up for six weeks, daffodils have come and gone already, and most of our fruit trees are in bloom right this moment. I am hoping that bees are out and about!
A winter that is harsh, bringing lots of wet, heavy snow, leads to a spring of clean up, cutting and burning. Most of our trees and many in the forest around us suffered limb breakage, or simply toppled from the weight of the snow. We counted up how much fell over the course of the winter and came up with a total of 8 feet! And this is at 3000 feet elevation, the foothills! Up in Lake Tahoe area, the total went over 58 feet, passing all old records, and lots of snow remains in lots of mountain places, melting slowly, recharging the aquifers of our region.
We have already managed most of the cleaning up, pruning, and burning debris at our primary home, here at Slate Range Camp, and ventured up to our high country home (where we lived full-time for 13 years, most of our childrens' various childhoods), to assess the damage. The house there is a mountain miner's cabin, on a south-facing slope close to 5000 feet, so it really is still early spring there. The terrian is much more alpine, and the frost-free days are about 90 days, though we always gardened there as well. Right now, daffodils still haven't opened and apple trees have tight buds on them, but no leaves.
As you can see, there's still a LOT of snow! The grass and vinca in the foreground were just recently exposed to the sun, and still are flattened down, while there is still a half foot around the apple trees in the background.
However, this climate is also hot, dry, and Mediterranean, and there will be a high fire danger by midsummer. That is why it is so important for those of us in the Sierras to clean up, pile broken and dead branches, and burn them or chip to use as mulch.
The Sierras are a unique climate, with all the precipitation falling in one half of the year, while the other is pretty much bone dry and quite hot. Most of the precip at the higher elevation falls as snow, and global climate change will likely alter the dynamics of the ecosystems here, especially since many plant species are adapted to the current weather patterns, along with their ecosystem partners from insect and microorganisms on up to us humans.
I treasure our 'other' home, and greatly enjoyed returning to spring, as May Day is upon us, signalling the start of summer, even though the weather patterns haven't caught up. Happy Beltane to all!