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Audubon: Natural World Also Flattens Curve

An American Robin forgoes worms, now hidden under the snow, for sumac berries. Submitted photo

For a while there, the natural world was about two weeks early. It was promising, and so I started some seeds a little earlier than I normally would, cued by what was really happening outdoors, since the plants don’t know about the calendar, nor do they care. Then, just as we became mired in the midst of a quarantine, the natural world began to slow down its progress, almost as if “flattening the curve” was a universal goal. Things were right on schedule by end of March.

With April, the happenings of nature exceeded the human ability to slow things down, and as I write this we are about two weeks behind “normal” according to the calendar. No worries, I can delay the planting of the “two-four weeks before last frost” seeds a week or so longer. I cannot, however, explain to my poor cauliflower and leeks, that they need to slow down. Root-bound and practically begging they sit under their lights as the snowflakes whirl furiously outside. “Just a little bit longer — a few more days,” I tell them.

Some of them… the onions had to go out, so they are braving this weather as best they can, surviving most nights with their hardy disposition, but getting a blanket on a few of the sharper ones. The broccoli got thrown into the hoop house in their tray because I was out of room inside as I had to up-pot the now “children”-phased basil, peppers, celeriac, and herbs. And the spinach, miner’s lettuce, iceberg lettuce, and vit got put in the ground in the hoop house with best wishes. They are the hardiest, and so far… they look great.

Inside, the cues aren’t there, the plants don’t know to slow down. Outside is a different story. How do they know? Is it just temperature? Because the increasing daylight screams “Bloom!” “Grow!” Leaf out!” Yet they’ve slowed, as if someone hit a pause button. The willows, which burst in a week into baby leaves, have all but stopped growing now. The Black Snakeroot in my yard is paralyzed in mid-unfurling. The Chestnut puffed buds and now nothing for a week.

The birds aren’t quite as fortunate in their ability to pause. The phoebe began incubating her five eggs the day before the first snowstorm really hit. I worry for her, but so far so good. Sometimes phoebes will eat suet, but not this one, of course. She hunkers down, occasionally leaving – for snacks or sanity I know not. The bluebirds, too, are sitting on eggs, though they are easier to help than the phoebes. I think about the turkeys, the grouse, and the other early nesters and insectivores; the nectar drinkers such as the orioles and the hummingbirds. I hope they will be okay, I will make sure that the feeders are full.

However, this is not the first time that nature has changed her pace, and those most closely aligned with her deal with it in stride. Just as the plants know, the animals know too. They have the knowledge to survive through this cold snap, through the hard times. They may have to sacrifice, and they know that. Mama phoebe knows that she may have to abandon her eggs, if things get too hard, so that she can try again.

The plants have a reserve to help them replace the frostbitten leaves. And I suppose I have more seeds if the plants I’ve started must wait too long and don’t survive in their pots.

Is there a lesson here? Well, nature always has a lesson. Perhaps the best takeaway from this spring so far has been to pay attention to the fact that you are connected to everything around you. When the weather frosts, the newly emerged leaves on the trees freeze. When the leaves freeze, the caterpillars that have hatched to eat them, starve. When the caterpillars die, the warblers that have migrated in lose a major food source. When that happens, they may hunker down in swamps and warm pockets, they may move back, or they may die.

Nature rides out the same storm together. They each have their ways of coping with the hardship, but as a whole, together they survive the arctic blast that has set them back weeks from where they imagined they would be. While I don’t think trees have emotions that rival humans, I do feel like they would be frustrated with their current situation, however.

Whether you are starting seeds, or watching birds, walking or running outdoors, holing up in your homes with comfort foods and devices, or going about your life as normal, remember that we are all connected in this. We are all handling it in our own way, but have reserves that will sustain us, and as a whole we will come out of the other side filled with life and ready to get back on track.

Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are still open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. Though the Nature Center is currently closed, including restrooms, due to COVID-19 restrictions, drive-thru sales are available from the Blue Heron Gift Shop. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling 569-2345.

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