Sunday, December 23, 2012

Solstice and Snow

Weather: Cold afternoons; last snow/rain 12/19/12; 9:45 hours of daylight today.

What’s still green: Few rose stems; juniper, pine, and other evergreens, yucca; Japanese honeysuckle, vinca, sea pink, snapdragon leaves.

What’s red: Cholla; apple, apricot and sandbar willow branches; coral beardtongue, exposed pink evening primrose leaves.

What’s grey or blue: Snow-in-summer, pink, winterfat leaves.

What’s yellow: Globe willow branches.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia, petunias. Found a small brown mushroom in one of the petunia pots.

Animal sightings: Rabbit tracks in the snow Sunday; small brown birds.

Weekly update: The solstice occurred this week. I’ve slowly learned at this altitude with our clear skies and arid rain patterns, it usually is the coldest time of the year.

We had the hope of more snow on Wednesday. Temperatures warmed as the clouds moved in, melting some of the little snow we got a week ago Friday and Sunday. By the time they arrived, it was too warm to snow and some rain, very little, fell instead, washing away more of the precious cover.

Since Wednesday, temperatures have been cold. Mornings have been around 10, not quite as cold as two weeks ago, but who quibbles with how much below 10, so long its above zero? Several afternoons, the temperature just rose above freezing late in the day. Little snow has disappeared since.

There are two snow patterns in my yard: those created by man and those by nature. The snow always disappears on the east side of my house and the south side of the garage. I think the white stucco amplifies the effects of the heat.

The only plants that do well are those from even colder, harsher climates like the snow-in-summer and the sea pinks. Others cuddle their green leaves under their mantles of last summer’s growth.

The north and west sides of buildings and fences are shadowed and keep their snow longer.

The roofs, with their drip lines, create their own environments. On the south side of the house the dripping creates a wet area, which is the one place I’ve been able to grow some types of roses, mainly floribundas and root stock. I think part of the success has been the grasses which have come up and provide mulch that cannot blow away. The height of the stalks helps keep the roses’ own leaves in place.

On the west side of the garage, it is always so cold the drip line turns into an ice trough. It’s along its edges I’ve been able to grow lily and tulip bulbs which need winter cold. Otherwise, cold weather garden phlox survives.

The rest of the yard is under nature’s control. To the north, up hill, the land was destroyed before I arrived, and supports very little grass. For a while snakeweed threatened, and now winterfat is spreading.

When I looked out on the Solstice, the winterfat bushes had no snow around them. Either their woolly coats kept if from landing, or the warmth emanating from their biomasses warmed the immediate areas. But between the bushes, snow persists. Hopefully, it creates an incubating environment for recovery by grasses, counteracting the space aggrandizing tendencies of the shrubs that want to replace prairie with steppe.

About midway down the gentle slope, my neighbor to the east built his metal barn, with a culvert under my drive to direct the excess water. Of course, it doesn’t quite work. Whenever it rains in the summer, the winds also are blowing, and the water on the roof lands below the culvert line. But it still must do something, because there’s a line a grass that grows every year along a boundary that slopes southwest from the culvert.

That area has grassed itself. The grasses have kept more of the snow.

Directly west of the house, more damage was done to the land when the house was built, and it never has quite recovered. Salt bushes and winterfat try; June grass sprouts when the spring is wet, then dies. This summer, the surface was being to shell over, so water couldn’t penetrate. I hope the snow trapped by the shadow of the house is breaking that hardened surface with its daily freeze and thaw cycles.

The salt bushes and winterfat took over the area southwest of the septic field. The salt bushes aren’t as hostile to the snow as the winterfat, but then their mere size intimidates anything that might want to grow too near. They allow some snow in their north side shadows which will melt and run down to their roots.

Behind the house, I was able to preserve the original needle grasses. There the snow also melts, but like the area maintained by the culvert, there are snow covered swaths between the bunches of brown vegetation. The area shadowed by the fence keeps more than the open area between the fence and the house.

Photographs: All pictures taken 21 December 2012.
1. Sea pink on east side of house, surrounded by a little snow.

2. Snow-in-summer on east side of house, with no snow.

3. Green leaves of large-leaved soapwort, buried under debris on east side of house; no snow in area.

4. Lead plant in undisturbed snow on west side of house.

5. Rose with no snow in drip line of south side of house, protected by leaves from nearby beauty bush.

6. Iced in drip line on west side of garage.

7. Winterfat in open area north of house, with no snow near it.

8. Pattern of winterfat in open area north of house rejecting snow.

9. Natural grasses north of house, with snow between bunches.

10. June grass clumps in shadow of west side of house, with snow between bunches.

11. Salt bush copse in open area southwest of house, with little snow.

12. Natural grasses south of house, with more snow near fence.

13. However, some snow survives in areas in back beyond the shadows of the fence and house.

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