Tuesday, January 10, 2012

mysteriously mild midwinter moon

full moon through the neighbor's oak tree
I went for a walk on my lunch break through downtown St. Paul today.  It was like every other walk I've taken through the downtown-- in early October.

I wore a jacket and hat, but once I started walking uphill in the sun, I lost the hat, and after a while the jacket too.  There I was, taking a nice walk in sunny, pleasant weather, wearing only a dress shirt and corduroys in the middle of January.

If you're not a Minnesotan, you might not know what a bizaare thing this is.  Today broke the record for high temperature on January 10th in the Twin Cities, and yesterday did the same.  We've had the mildest beginning of winter on record, with only a mild cool-off forecast for the near future.  We're near the mid-point of the winter, and there hasn't really been any sign of winter- just an extended autumn with a little light snow, freezing nights and thaws during the day.

I was able to do some yard work on Sunday that I had put off all autumn.  I wanted to re-set the stones in the walking path along the side of our house, and tested one to see if they were frozen down or not.  They weren't.  As a matter of fact, it was thawed for one to two inches down.  I was able to make a lot of progress- laying maybe 40 feet of pathway, til I got closer to the north side of the house, and the frost started to slow me down.

I saw a posting on comgar- the community garden listserv- by a gardener asking if it was OK to plant garlic now, since south-facing ground is thawed enough to plant at this point.  I didn't see any responses.  I don't know who would know.  How would anyone?  This is all new territory.  I suppose you could go by the planting guidelines for Oklahoma or southern Missouri- but who's to say that we won't suddenly have a week of equally anomalous super cold weather in true Minnesota fashion?  There is no guidebook for gardening in this time.  I suspect that there won't ever be, since the changes are coming faster than we can adapt right now.

Autonomy Acres' latest post wondered what this would mean for maple sugaring season, since there are some reports that sap is already flowing in some trees.  A friend a few miles from him reports that irises and tulips are starting to pop up in the yard.  At MPR's Updraft blog, they've been posting the movement of the cracks in the ice at lake Mille Lacs.  Mille Lacs has always been the lake for ice fishing- a big shallow lake north of the cities that reliably freezes over fairly early in the season.  I'm not an ice fisherman myself, but driving by Mille Lacs earlier this year I was amazed by the number of ice houses parked by the side of the lake- some in storage, some for rent.  Very few of of them out on the ice this winter, I suppose.  The crack in the ice, hundreds of yards wide, keeps moving from south to north, depending on the wind direction.  Pretty unnerving if you're out there in a big pickup.

Here, we still have reddish-green leaves on some of the roses planted next to a south-facing wall.  It's all a bit weird, although I admit that I enjoy the warmth.  I love Minnesota, but the mid-winter is always hard to get through.  This one hasn't been. 

What really worries me is the ongoing drought.  We've had a record-setting dry fall, now almost no snow to speak of so far this winter.  The mild temps are allowing the ground to dry out in the winter too.  If this continues in the spring, it'd make for a pretty dangerous spring fire season, and a unworkable growing season for farmers without irrigation.

I could rail against climate change but I won't.  I don't want to encourage the deniers and trolls to swamp my blog the way they do the weather blogs, even on stories not related to climate change.  There are plenty of other forums for them.  Climate change is happening and our efforts as a species to control it, or even slow it have been pathetic at best.  Adaptation is what's left.  We'll have to get used to the warmer, drier climate here in the middle of the continent, and be glad that we have plenty of lakes and rivers to draw water from, at least for a good while.


little man watching out for his mommy
So, back at home, we've had visitors from out of town staying with us for a few weeks, from around the winter solstice until a few days ago.  The house was crowded and noisy, and festive too.  Not really conducive to blogging, but chaotic and sometimes fun.

Now that everyone is gone, we are back to normal, or as normal as you can be while a family member fights a serious disease.

Gita is doing as well as could be expected.  She's coughing a lot, which may be a reaction to the chemo drugs, or it could just be a cold.  Nobody's sure, so she didn't get chemo last week.  So we've had a bit of a welcome break from all that comes with it.  Together with the warm weather, it feels like spring break at our house this week.

on the carousel at the mall
We got out of the house last week with relatives to go the the Very Large Mall and took the kids on some rides too.  While I'm not a big fan of the big mall, I have to admit that we did have some fun on the merry-go-round and the ferris wheel.  My daughter really got into the merry-go-round this time and didn't want to leave.  Neither did I.  Even at a cheesy mall amusement park, a merry-go-round makes me feel like a 4-year-old again.

We take our little bits of happiness where we find them.  I'm thankful to all the people on and off of this blog who have sent messages of support and hope.  I sincerely thank you and want to let you know that Gita has enjoyed reading them, and smiles whenever she gets a new one.  That's worth a lot right now.  Thanks.


  1. My advice to the gardener who wants to plant garlic now is, plant as much now as you are comfortable losing. I had fun planting some stuff many years ago during an unseasonably warm February; some worked well, some I lost completely.

  2. My prayers and thoughts for your family. Hope your family will be happy and healthy in 2012.

  3. I'll send some of our rain your way if you send some of your drought my way. I STILL haven't managed to get my tulips in the ground. It's been warm enough, but the ground is constantly muddy.

    I hope your wife feels better soon. Just remember, as horrible as cancer is, there are a decent amount of people who survive it to live long, happy lives.

    Does she like to garden too? Maybe you and the kids could make a kitchen container garden for her to putter around in on the days she's not up for going outside. Sometimes just the feel of dirt on my hands is enough to make everything better.

  4. John,

    It's funny- that sums up the advice given by the other gardeners on the listserv. The day I wrote this there were no replies, the next day a half-dozen. I personally am not going to plant garlic now- I planted 50 or 60 cloves in October, but didn't water it, so I'm still not sure if any will come up.

    Anonymous. Thank you! Wishes from a stranger are meaningful too.

    Sarah- We have a smallish house, at least by American standards, and no good south-facing windows to put a winter garden in. Minnesota's climate doesn't lend itself to outdoor gardening, so every winter I make plans to put in a solarium of some sort. One of these year's I'll really do it, and I'll be sure to write about it on this blog. But not this year.