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Posts Tagged ‘temperature’

My new car has this wild heating/ac system that lets you decide precisely what temperature you want in the car. I love dialing it up and down to see what year I land on. 79: got my ears pierced! 72: West End Nursery School! 84: “Footloose” came out! Make no mistake: I’ve never been a numbers girl. But I am a memories girl.

October’s my month. Birthday. Halloween. The brown smell of damp leaves. Of all the months of the year, this one feels the most wistful. It’s the time when my inner mirror shifts between what is and what was, back and forth, now and then, flick flick, flick flick.

I like to walk through my hometown on Halloween night, scuffing through the leaves the way I did when we were trick-or-treating, pretending they’re once again sticking to the hem of whatever garish polyester gown I had on. This town has 100-year-old trees, and last Halloween night the wind was warm, but blowing like mad. It was fantastic.

I like to see the kids tearing across their neighbors’ lawns with power and abandon. This is the night kids rule the world. I like saying Happy Halloween to everyone, and humming the Halloween songs we learned as tiny children.

Walking down a sidewalk I pass two pre-teen girls chatting and munching, and I stop and turn to watch them walk away. I want to call to them, stop! right now, look around, take it in, this is what you’ll remember so many years from now, you are in your memories this very second, pay attention, but I don’t, because no one said it to me, and it’s best that no one did. They walk farther away and vanish into the shadows and fierce wind.

I turn the corner to the house where I grew up. The current owner took too many liberties with landscaping and it’s too tidy. Only two trees remain from when we were kids, ancient oaks a solid yard in diameter. I lean against one and scan across the lawn, watching us build leaf forts in another October, ride our bikes on that sidewalk, walk to the bus stop on cold January mornings, seeing snapshots of my brother’s fifth birthday party in September 1973. The tree remembers it all, and it remembers me. And it’s strong, which helps, because it’s overwhelming. Not everything since those rides and walks and leaf forts turned out well. Maybe everyone who visits their childhood home feels this way.

One more corner to turn, and I see in lamplight a gentleman up on the walkway to my old friend’s house. He’s just standing there looking out. What are the chances her dad never moved? I ask if he’s Mr. Layton. He is. We talk for a long while, me and this man whom I have not seen nor spoken to in … Christ. 40 years. It was butter on a burn. And if he saw the earlier tears on my face, he didn’t say anything. He was always a good guy.

I woke up the next morning and did what I always do: looked out my kitchen window to see the sun rise over the water. It was just as rewarding as it was yesterday, and I’ll lay down money that it will be tomorrow, too.

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The Lilac Law

Lilacs bloom according to this algorithm:

1) Sum the squared mean daily temperatures (in Celsius) since the last frost.

2) Use an average of the past few years’ daily temperatures to predict the date when this sum will reach 4264.

Despite my distaste in math, I find this fascinating—not just that this law was figured out in the 19th century, but that it was figured out at all. But then phenology goes back centuries.

Phenology* is the study of natural cycles—how one influences the other, and how we can take cues from what happens. The first beech leaves that unfurl, the first flight of the swallowtail butterfly—every genesis reflects the fragile interconnectedness of soil, air, sunlight, temperature, and dozens of other natural factors.

Long before spreadsheets and calculators, growers created their own data by carefully watching and waiting for nature’s cues to sow their precious seeds. It was a question of survival, a much more in-your-face reality back then. With no Shop-Rite, and your nearest neighbor often miles away, carelessness meant rolling the dice on starvation.

Some of their data include:

When lilacs are in leaf, sow beets, cabbage and broccoli.

When lilacs are in full bloom, sow beans and squash.

When apple blossom petals fall, sow corn.

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Apple blossom.

Or, as Laura Ingalls Wilder writes in Farmer Boy (a biography about her husband Almanzo’s growing-up years on an New York farm in the mid-1800s), when the leaves on the ash tree are as big as a squirrel’s ears, sow corn.**

In the same book, little Almanzo eagerly awaits ‘the dark of the moon’ (new moon) in May so he can sow pumpkins.

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Another one. When you see these…

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(Bearded irises)

…set out transplants of these.

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(Melons. Clearly.)

I read that even Martha Stewart traditionally plants peas on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day.

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s father swore by ‘Plant turnips on the 25th of July, wet or dry.’

(Compelling story: He also went goose hunting one fall day in the 1880s while he and the family were living in Dakota Territory, and, utterly dumbfounded, returned home with nothing. It wasn’t because he was a lousy shot; it was because the birds were flying high above the clouds—he could hear them—but not one came down low enough to shoot. They were getting out of Dodge, and at breakneck speed. In fact, he said the entire prairie was still; every living thing was hidden away. Another day that same fall he said he’d never seen muskrats’ dens built so thickly. He got his family out of their rickety little claim shanty and into a sturdy house in town in a heartbeat. Can you finish this story—have you read The Long Winter? Blizzards slammed the mid west for virtually seven months.)

Do you sow, or act, according to any of these ancient rules? What successes or failures have you had?

Do you swear by any other cues?

Has the fairly recent wacky weather (here in NJ we had snow Halloween 2011, and snowdrops came up right after Christmas that year) affected what you’ve done?

Does anyone work with Project BudBurst, the environmental group that asks people from all over to record when plants start sprouting in the spring?

*Not to be mistaken with ‘phrenology’, a study based on determining one’s character by analyzing the bumps on one’s head. (I’ve had two concussions. For me, the smart money’s on ‘a touch clumsy’.)

**About 1/2″ in diameter. Don’t go chasing us to compare. –A PSA from the Squirrels Are Faster Than You Commission

wrongplanet.net/postt63638.html

budburst.org/

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