I live where it’s gray

I live where it's gray
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That’s the title of a song by the quintessential Ithaca band, The Horse Flies. On the surface, lyricist Jeff Claus provides a balanced look at the weather here. He mentions the benefits (never getting skin cancer) as well as the downside (legs as white as priests’). But given the frantic tone of the song — as if the gray is driving Claus to madness — I think he holds the prevalent attitude about the weather around here:

It sucks.

I sympathize with those who suffer from seasonal-affective disorder. But one of the ways I fight SAD is to embrace the gray. If garden designers can use ‘gray’ plants to punctuate their plantings, let’s learn to appreciate the gray punctuating our weather. (Granted, the multiple ellipses sometimes thrown at us can be a little much.)

We may not have as many words for gray as the eskimos have for snow. But I’m going to start working more of them into my vocabulary. I’m not sure all of these qualify, but the thesaurus lists a bunch: ash, ashen, cinereal, clouded, dappled, dingy, dove, drab, dusky, dusty, grey, heather, iron, lead, leaden, livid, mousy, neutral, oyster, pearly, peppery, powder, sere, shaded, silvered, silvery, slate, smoky, somber, stone.

I want words for the grays with lots of blue mixed in. The not-quite-black grays on moonlit winter nights. The yellow-grays that you have to squint to pick up when the sun tries to peak through the clouds. There are so many grays out there, if you look for them.

A great place to embrace the gray locally is Taughannock Falls. It’s got many moods, depending on when you visit. But I think it’s at it’s best when it’s gray. (That’s my son Nathan and his girlfriend Trista who were up from Florida over the holidays.)

I live where it's gray
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Today is so bright that I can’t go out without sunglasses, and when I come back in I’m dazed until my eyes adjust.

But no worries. There’s gray in the forecast.

Update [2/19/2007]: Watercolor of the T-falls by one of my fellow members of the Adirondack Chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society.

How will global warming affect your gardening?

Confused GalanthusWe’re back to ‘normal’ winter temperatures here — teens during the day and -20 F windchills at night. But it was only a few weeks ago that I was writing an article at work about how the warm winter might affect our gardens and crops. (Come spring, expect fewer blooms, due to mild early winter, say Cornell horticulturists.)

There was tremendous interest in this topic at the time. Many folks who usually cuss at cold weather had this strange feeling in the pit of their stomachs that something was very wrong with the weather. While one warm winter does not a global climate catastrophe make, I’m hoping that it was a teachable moment about what we’re up against for the foreseable future.

Unfortunately, the big-picture changes aren’t as obvious as the cherry tree downtown in full bloom in early January. That tree will likely recover and –while it may not bloom again in spring — it will likely not suffer any long-term damage.

What we will face — more variability, ecosystem creep, an influx of weeds and pests — will likely fly beneath the radar. It will be tough to put a monetary value on the cost. But it’s going to be expensive.

Here are some more details from the section of that article on the effects of global warming on the Northeast:

The long haul

In the future, chances are good we will see more warm winters like this one, says David Wolfe, a Department of Horticulture scientist who is studying how climate change, caused in part by increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, is affecting agriculture in the Northeast.

“We may still have some very cold winters,” says Wolfe. “But all the climate models point to a warming trend, and nature is already responding to the warmer conditions.”

In the Northeast, lilacs are blooming four days earlier on average than they did in the 1960s, Wolfe points out. Warmer temperatures are also affecting cultivated crops like grapes (blooming six days earlier) and apples (blooming eight days earlier). These examples are just the tip of the iceberg in the mounting evidence that the climate is warming.

Studying long-term climate trends can’t pinpoint what the weather will be like next week or next winter. But Wolfe details what gardeners and growers can expect as the Northeast climate warms over the long haul:

  • Warmer winters may allow gardeners to grow some plants that before could only grow in milder climes. The wine grape industry, which relies on varieties that are only marginally cold-hardy in upstate New York, may benefit from warmer winters.
  • On the other hand, aggressive weeds and invasive plants will also move north. Studies show those species are better equipped than crops to take advantage of the increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere that are driving warming, notes Wolfe.
  • Pests and diseases that were held in check by the cold may become more of a problem. Lifecycles of beneficial insects may get out of synch with the pests they help control.
  • Natural ecosystems will shift north, with oak-pine forests replacing maple-beech-birch forests in some places, for example.
  • Less reliable winter snow cover may hurt over-wintering of some perennial crops and flowers.
  • Hotter summers may cause heat stress even in warm-season crops such as tomatoes.

It’s uncertain if weather variability will increase along with temperatures. But most models predict fewer but more concentrated precipitation events, causing more flooding and drought.

For gardeners, adapting to a changing climate may be as simple finding better-adapted tomato varieties or other plants to grow. But for commercial growers, changes are likely to be more involved. “Everyone is going to have to invest some to respond to climate changes,” says Wolfe.

For more information, visit: www.climateandfarming.org.

Dave’s a pretty cautious scientist, and not prone to hyperbole. He’s also the author of a great book, Tales from the Underground: A Natural History of Subterranean Life.

Carol and Marc

This is Carol and Marc’s second season in the country, but you’d think they’d been gardening all their lives. Everything has a bit of an artistic touch to it.

carol and marc
The fire bowl doubles as a table. Ornamental grasses planted this year will encircle the area. Marc’s miscellaneous art projects are here and there.
carol and marc
Baxter scampers by the vegetable garden. An old baseball serves as the handle on the gate.
carol and marc
Marc’s latest project — a trellis too handsome to put plants on.

Update: Visit Marc’s website. He crafts unique bowls and more from intersting hunks of wood. They make great gifts.

Marcia’s Garden

Here are a few shots from my friend and co-worker Marcia’s garden. There’s a nice profile of her garden at: Explore Cornell Home Gardening

Marcia\'s garden
Proof a vegetable garden can look good, too.

Marcia\'s garden
Marcia’s main border, getting more light now that the Norway maple has come out.

Marcia\'s garden
Yeah, our water gardens do look remarkably similar. She made hers first, if that matters.

Marcia\'s garden
Hypertufa and some verbascums I gave her last year.