Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Benefits of an Open Winter

What a winter we have had thus far, with moderate and often above-normal temperatures and no lasting snow cover. And while this lack of typical winter conditions may seem an ominous portent of climate change and dire consequences thereof, let me offer an alternate thought.

I suggest that “open winters,” those times when lack of snow cover allows frost to extend deep down in the ground, have a definite purpose. Certain plants, animals and insects get something like a free ride when winter snows arrive in November and remain essentially intact until sometime in March or April. Then, the insulating value of the snow cover allows for the less-hardy among various species to proliferate. This can result in too many of both beneficial and harmful organisms. In essence, a good, snowy winter skews the balance.

I submit that prolonged deep-down freezing resulting from lack of snow cover and also, desiccation, or what we may term, “freeze drying” of plants, insect eggs and insect larvae, is valuable and beneficial. I believe this process is necessary for the balance of nature. Otherwise, we may be beset with overly-aggressive invasives of all types and also, loss of valuable plant and animal species.

As heat tempers steel, prolonged, snow-free winters temper living things. While it is difficult to prove a negative, I nonetheless believe that the list of possible calamities that could occur were it not for the occasional open winter is long and probably very scary. Consider the toxic plants and venomous insects that winters such as this hold in check. It frightens me to contemplate it.

Nature abhors a vacuum, true enough, and nature has its own way of dealing with abundance and dearth. Were it not so, the world would be overrun with all manner of unpleasantness.

As I see it, this winter (I remember similar winters of long ago, so this is not unique) is the leavening agent that puts every hibernating, latent and or dormant species on a level playing field, and that’s a good thing.

MERRYSPRING Presentation

I mentioned in earlier blogs that I had an upcoming presentation at MERRYSPRING Nature Center, 30 Conway Road, Camden, Maine, scheduled for February 14. The center had not contacted me regarding specifics and today I learned why. The person who contracted with me has left and her replacement has only just settled in to office. I did, however, verify that my presentation will be part of their Tuesday Talks at Noon and is indeed scheduled for February 14 at 12:00 p.m.

I’ll show and narrate a DVD dealing with wild plants of Maine and their various uses. Also, I’ll field questions from participants.

The MERRYSPRING people have indicated that they might like to have me come later in the warm season and put on a field trip. It’s a wonderful place, with woods, fields, wet areas and paths through all. And, of course, it abounds with interesting, wild plants.

For more information, contact MERRYSPRING at (207) 236-2239 or visit their website at www.merryspring.org.

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