Monday, December 22, 2008

White Lightning

Wild Plants and Wooly Bears

Yesterday’s blizzard took me back to another early-season storm, this one in the late 1980s. Both were full-fledged blizzards and both shared an unusual component. Lightning.

While somewhat unusual, lightning sometimes occurs during snowstorms, especially large, regional ones such as what we just experienced. Even so, when the flashes illuminate a world of white, and thunder shakes the cottage, the scene takes on an otherworldly aspect.

Nobody can predict the weather for very far in the future. But so many of us feel a compulsion to make suppositions. And I suppose that if December, 2008, is any kind of indicator, then the Maine deer herd is in for a world of hurt.

Snow arrived early last year, too. According to my plowman, the first big storm hit during the second week of December. And rather than melting, the snow that fell last year remained on the ground, receiving regular supplements from additional storms. This caused whitetailed deer to seek the security of “deer yards,” places where snow depths are less and where they walk about, foraging on established paths. This gives some degree of protection from eastern coyotes and other marauders.

Any, by late winter, deer had pretty much exhausted all available browse and were subsiding on woody matter, filling but not nourishing. In the end, we lost great numbers of deer. They simply gave out. In fact, I heard reports of dead deer being found atop trees, right where they died. The snow finally melted, leaving the carcasses in the treetops. Bizarre, for sure.

So if we must endure a repeat performance of last year’s weather conditions, I suspect that the northern range of whitetailed deer will take a significant, southerly shift.

Skiers and snowmobilers, certainly, are happy. So one creature’s dilemma turns into someone else’s stroke of fortune. In the end, we can do nothing about any of it.

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