Tuesday, October 30, 2012


As we watch the weather events unfold along the East coast we are reminded that mankind has maintained a continuous struggle against assaults by nature. Catastrophic events have occurred since the beginning of time and have been the subject of vigorous religious and scientific study and discussion. For thousands of years, countless theories have come to light only to be rebuked by new information. The belief that mankind is responsible for natural disasters is not a new premise. It was believed for hundreds of years and was the reason for sacrifices to volcanoes, oceans, farmland, and forests. The argument is compelling and it would be convenient to blame us so perhaps there we have an option for change and some measure of control. However when we study the deserts, which were once lush forests, it is obvious that many natural disasters are exactly that…natural. Although science has made vast advances in the prediction of weather related events, where a catastrophe will occur is still the whim of nature.

All week, I have been reading Nature on the Rampage by Ann and Myron Sutton to better understand the forces of nature. Hurricanes were named after Huracan, an evil storm god of the Caribbean. One of the most devastating hurricanes on record occurred in 1780. It began off Barbados and came ashore where it flattened trees and dwellings killing countless numbers of people. It destroyed an English fleet anchored off St. Lucia, then ravaged the island completely leaving 6,000 dead in its wake. It swirled on to Martinique, enveloped a French convoy and sank more than 40 ships carrying 4,000 soldiers before leveling towns and villages killing another 9,000 people. It finally wound down after destroying Puerto Rico and an untold number of ships and fishing vessels caught unaware in open sea.

Weston Martyr is quoted in the book with his description of a hurricane. He said, "You cannot breathe with a hurricane blowing full in your face. You cannot see either; the impact on your eyeball of spray and rain traveling over a hundred miles an hour makes seeing quite impossible. The blowing sand cuts your flesh and you hear nothing but the scream and booming of the wind, which drowns even the thunder and the breaking seas. You cannot move except by extreme exertion. To stand is to be blown away like a dead leaf. You cannot even crawl; you have to climb about twisting your arms and legs around anything solid within reach".

Here safely inland, the leaves are thinning, the Sun has a luster that only appears in the first days of fall, and we are counting our blessings.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Climate Predictions for 2012

Released by Reuters last March: The U.S. Climate Prediction Center said in a monthly update released on Thursday that La Nina is rapidly weakening and is expected 'to transition to neutral conditions by the end of April 2012'.

The term El Niño and La Nina are used daily on the weather reports and their impact is felt globally. El Niño is simply a pattern of unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Pacific. The opposite is La Niña, which characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures. These fluctuations of the ocean atmosphere in the tropical Pacific are the cause of drastic weather changes around the globe so observations of conditions are essential for the prediction of short term climate variations.

This warm water, first noted by a fisherman off the coast of South America, was considered a religious phenomenon since it arrived around Christmas and thus El Niño means ‘The Little Boy’ or ‘Christ Child’ in Spanish.

During El Niño the trade winds relax in the central and western Pacific and the result of lengthy scientific research indicates there is a sharp rise in sea surface temperature with weakening winds. Among the consequences of this warm water is an increase in rainfall across the southern tier of the United States. However the eastward displacement of the atmospheric heat source overlaying the warmest water results in changes of global circulation, which in turn forces changes in weather in regions far removed from the tropical Pacific. Rainfall follows the warm water eastward causing flooding in Peru and lack of normal rain causes drought in Indonesia and Australia.

A moderate El Niño competing with a strong North Atlantic and Artic Oscillation tends to produce more than the usual number of polar and Arctic air masses, which in turn are partly responsible for the cold, snowy season in the Northeast.

Notable El Niño’s occurred in1986-1987 and I can recall the roads washing that year with unprecedented rains. The one of 1991-1992 flooded barns and homes and made Caddo and Canadian Counties disaster zones. The El Niño of 1997-1998 was the strongest and resulted in substantial nationwide flooding. The arrival of these weather phenomenon can not be predicted with accuracy. Each time we think we know where a piece fits into the climate puzzle, another piece turns up that needs to fit in as well.


Sunday was the epitome of Autumn perfection. Basking in the glow of windless warm sunshine, enjoying the exquisite feel of the day, it understandable why Fall is a favorite season for many… cherished all the more for its fleeting passage. And with the cold front that arrived today it seemed fleeting indeed.
It brought to mind the words of Humbert Wolfe (1885-1940)
“Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves,
We have had our summer evenings, now for October eves!”

At this time it is interesting to review the origins of one of our most treasured and anticipated holidays… Halloween. As with most of our holidays, its origins are deeply rooted within the pagan beliefs of our ancestors, with their celebrations altered to adapt to Christian faith. The Celtics, a once powerful people of central and northern Europe, gathered for their New Years celebrations at end of harvest and their beliefs are included in Halloween as we know it. The celebration of their New Year, called Samhain (Irish-Gaelic for 'the Summer's end’) took place on October 31st, which is coincidentally our Halloween.

It was believed border between the worlds of the living and the dead is thinnest on this night, allowing the souls of the deceased to enter the land of the living. So for this one night hearth fires were extinguished so their light could not be seen to either guide or frighten the returning souls. Gathered in celebratory groups, these tribal people lit huge bonfires of sacred oak branches to drive away evil spirits and warm the living. Costumes were worn so the Lord of Death could not recognize and then come claim one in the coming year. Often animals were sacrificed, fortunes were told, and at the end of the night with the safety of dawn, hearth fires were relit from the bonfire to ensure happiness and prosperity as the New Year began.

The Roman Church decided to make All Saint’s Day on November 1st to coincide with the Celtic festival. All Saints' Day was instituted as a holiday in the year 609 and it was moved from May to November in 834 after the Church discovered the importance of the Celtic rituals. On All Souls Day poor people went ‘a-souling’ (or begging) for ‘soulcakes’ in exchange for the promise they pray for the dead in purgatory and from this came our custom of ‘trick or treating’.

These beliefs arrived in Mexico directly from the Roman Church and are still celebrated with ‘The Day of the Dead’ as family members welcome deceased relatives home for the night. Their grave is surrounded by welcoming candles, and a place at the table is set for them as their favorite foods are prepared. Generations gather and complimentary stories about the deceased are told, all in the hope the relative know they are missed and enjoy the family once again.

Any way it is viewed historically, the customs surrounding the death of summer also honor the dead, complete with the belief that mortal souls return to wander the earth. Autumn leaves, Jack-o-lanterns, bobbing for apples, costumes, black cats, and fortune-telling all evolved from these pagan customs. It is amazing that these ancient Celtic rituals which have become our Halloween continue to be embraced and still flourish today.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Gardeners Will Garden... Regardless of Circumstance

The urge to dig in the soil and plant a seed is as old as civilized mankind for the thrill of watching a seedling emerge and reach fruition is unsurpassed. Every nation has appropriated sites for carefully tended public grounds, and their continued popularity is a testament to our love affair with gardens. According to space and circumstance gardens may be found on grand estates, in tiny cottage plots, or even in cheerful window boxes spilling with blooms. Each provide a living testament to our desire to nurture and surround ourselves with natural beauty.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon built by King Nebuchadnezzar II around 600 BC were considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World… quite an honor for a garden. Many royal gardens in Europe have been cherished for generations and Prince Charles of Britain has restored many while pressing a national gardening agenda. Our own Thomas Jefferson was more pleased with his gardening innovations at Monticello than all of his diplomatic successes and even his Presidency. He avidly collected seeds, cuttings, and plants from his travels, bringing them home and carefully documenting their progress and success or failure. We have him to thank for introducing many of the species we now consider standard.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the cramped and simple gardens belonging to poor laborers and factory workers in Europe were the birthplace of florist’s flowers as we now know them. A lovely example is the magnificent Carnation, once a quarter sized Dianthus, who grew to the proportions we now recognize as standard. Petals were doubled and redoubled as enthusiastic breeders toiled in their tiny spaces after working long hours at grueling jobs. Their joy is apparent in the creations they have bequeathed us and we are grateful for their efforts.

Much of the hybridization we enjoy today occurred in the back yard Victory Gardens of WWII. At President Roosevelt’s request, everyone in the nation was asked to plant a garden to allow our surplus food to be sent to overseas to our troops. This program was enthusiastically adopted and petunias and marigolds were replaced by vegetables in an astonishing national effort. Most of the fresh produce consumed by the nation was grown in small garden plots and the success of this program remains unsurpassed today.

The Berlin Wall fell in 1990 and former Communist countries were opened to the West for the first time in decades. The horticultural community was stunned at the advanced plant breeding that had occurred in impossible and suppressed conditions behind the Iron Curtain. With no laboratories, no conservatories, and little money, gardeners had persevered in their efforts to advance and improve many species and were honored by a grateful horticultural community.

The realization that gardeners will garden regardless of hardship or circumstance is comforting. We are called to the soil for there is perpetual harmony in gardening and it knows no boundaries.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Give Flowering Shrubs Another Chance...

Advent of Fall
Time to plant a tree or shrub~    

The blessing of rain finally arrived with oft blinding deluges and was exactly what we needed to break the drought. The ponds are filling, the creeks are flowing, and once again the Canadian River has a trickle running through it. The deep thirst of the garden has been quenched and tiny whispers of wheat are appearing throughout the countryside giving a flowing tinge of green. After the stressful summer, Fall has arrived with magical precision and presents a perfect feel to each day.
With the rain, the garden has been rejuvenated and the frost hardy perennials have begun peeking above the ground. Their fresh color is so vigorous when compared to the tired summer foliage that it is inspiring. And for added inspiration perhaps give flowering shrubs another chance by replacing one this Fall. Even though many of us lost lovely shrubs to the drought, we who garden are famously optimistic... one planted now will acclimate through the winter you will have an established guest in the garden by Spring.

Dig a hole twice the size of the root ball and loosen the soil. Put some well rotted manure in the bottom of the hole and then ease the youngster into it, loosening the side and bottom roots. Fill the hole with soil and then water, letting the water fill and overflow. Jostle the shrub around and look for any bubbles rising to the surface. Those bubbles are air pockets and would have made your new guest ill so water and jostle until there are no more bubbles. Let the water sink and note the soil will sink with it; add more dirt until it is level and then press firmly until you feel the shrub is well supported. Use several stakes if necessary to assure it grows in an upright position. Water once a week when the weather permits and wait for spring.

I lost all of these old friends to the drought. May they RIP... they brought me much joy over many years.