January 23, 2024

Japanese knotweed — a mere shadow of its summer self.


Autumn arrives in early morning, but spring at the close of the winter day.

-Elizabeth Bowen


We’re definitely in winter now.  The solstice has come and gone, the sun rises no more than 24 degrees above the horizon and the shadows are always long.  The temperatures have been all over the map, from the high teens in the early morning to the low fifties late in the day.  This past month was the warmest December in the last 150,000 years.  And we haven’t had any snow yet.  Wind and rain, yeah, but none of the white stuff.  I’m not complaining, just making an observation.

Waldo and I continue to be fortunate in that we have missed the wettest hours of rain.  Sometimes, it’s misty enough to soak the outside of my rain suit, and on occasion, it has even sprinkled a bit.  But except for those spits and sputters, natures raspberries, we’ve been able to find enough time to do our 6 miles and still avoid the downpours.  Not that a hardy deluge would keep us from our appointed rounds, hell no.  But my rainsuit is getting a bit used and heavy rain will soak through to my clothes.  I haven’t yet had to deal with icicles growing down the front of my hood, like they have in the past, either.  But with the shorter days, if it’s overcast, it gets quite dark just after sunset, which is now around 4:20 PM.

As we walk through our usual haunt, I see that we are, clearly, well ensconced in winter.  Deciduous trees and bushes have lost their leaves, except for a few marcescent oaks and even they have only shriveled, tan remnants of what was broad and green.   The autumn olives are mere sticks in the mud and the Japanese knotweed is just a bunch of red, hollow pencils poking skyward.  Most of the vines, that climbed trailside trunks and covered much of the foliage, are now coiled thick ropes that wind around what’s left.

The grass, while still somewhat green, has yellow blades interspersed with its chlorophyl-filled brothers and is now mere stubble.  Carpets of dark green moss and liverwort still line the tarmac, but they’ve lost the plump, fluffy pile they had in the warmer months.  The pale green of white pine is still buried in the deep of the forests, as if to remind any who look that, yes, indeed, woods are green.  The hardy English ivy persists on the tall dead stump of an oak and is unencumbered by the poison ivy that it competes with in the summer.  Garlic mustard can be seen here and there, although their leaves are not nearly as big as they were this past rainy summer.  The cinnamon and sensitive ferns are gone along with the low-lying undergrowth that hides the floor of the woods in the warmer months.

If I look skyward, I can clearly see basketball-sized clumps of sticks and dead leaves that are squirrel homes.  When the trees are all leafed out, they’re well hidden, but they’re quite obvious now.  I never have seen one of those guys cavorting outside their house, but, even in the cold, I see an occasional gray, fluffy-tailed rodent romp in the woods.  Not nearly in the numbers that I did a few months ago, though.  Back then, they seemed always to be in pairs.  Now there’s just a solitary fellow, out doing whatever it is that they do this time of year.  Maybe he’s engaged in a honey-do, I have no idea.

There are a few birds still around, although their song is a rarer thing these days.  Once in a great while, I’ll spot a cardinal flitting across my path, and even a blue jay, now and then.  Maybe their relative scarcity is due to an instinctual desire to stay someplace warm, when they find or make one, unless forced to do otherwise.  They don’t have border collies who need walking, I suppose.  There are no Emmy birds, though.  They’re long gone until late spring.

Waldo doesn’t seem to notice any of this, or maybe he just takes it in stride.  There are a lot more sticks laying around, but he no longer has the fervent need to move them around like he used to as a puppy.  He just trots along, nose less than an inch above the ground, and takes in whatever nature has to offer.  Maybe he’s just more interested in what is there, under his nose, now, instead of what was there in the past or will be in the future.

All this ambience is quite familiar, yet there seems to be something missing.  Ah, yes.  Of course.  Snow.  Well, it’s coming.  There’s a forecast for 6-12 inches of the stuff for 3 days from now.

And how the scenery will change then!


Covid Garden in winter.

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