Sunday, January 23, 2011


            The temperature this morning dipped below 20°F for the first time, blowing a hole right through our heretofore Zone 9 winter and sinking us to Zone 8b. I do have to say, we haven’t felt much like Zone 9 since December anyway.

Tim and I actually got outside for a few billable hours at the end of last week. After eleven consecutive days of weather-enforced sitting around the kitchen/office—staring at the computer screen, completing too many Sudokus, crawling into bed late, dragging ourselves out of bed late, watching too many BBC cosy DVDs—an afternoon spent pruning and weeding felt like a commuted sentence (as opposed to a convoluted sentence, of which the foregoing is a prime example).

Oak Island's lowest
temp of the winter
of 2010-2011
             Although no one is trumpeting the arrival of spring in these parts—get real, it’s still January—subtle signs of seasonal change are out there if you pay attention.

            Days are getting longer. As of this posting, we have 19 minutes more daylight than in late December. More importantly, the sun comes up two minutes earlier than it did a week ago, and the pace accelerates from now on. It’s a miniscule change, but fraught with significance. Plants feel it, too.

            The constellation Orion has transited from the east (rising) to directly overhead (apogee) to the west (setting) when I go out for bedtime weather observations. (An astronomical aside: Along with Cassiopeia, the Pleiades and the Dippers, Orion is the only constellation I can reliably identify with any degree of certitude. Sometimes I think I know Leo—the bright red star Regulus marks his heart—and the teapot shape of Sagittarius. Sometimes I don’t. And, whenever I’m in the Southern Hemisphere, the Southern Cross is a no-brainer. I’ve always meant to devote more time to studying the visible stars: the problem is, you have to go out at night to do it. And then, there’s all that neck-craning. Wouldn’t it be useful if someone would just draw the lines and limn the faces?)


‘Tête-à-Tête’ daffs
are coming
             Tips of the ‘Tête-à-Tête’ daffodils that live near our front door have poked their hard green noses out of the mulch. In other yards, other daffs are stirring. Fine-bladed foliage of starflower (Ipheion uniflorum) and Crocus tommasinianus makes the front bed along the sidewalk look like it needs weeding. Tim spotted what we think might be a redbud (Cercis canadensis) flaunting a set of red buds (duh) at the tip of a branch. Bradford pear buds are swelling. We have buds, or maybe they’re flowers, on our Edgeworthia chysantha (paperbush), but I can never tell what’s up with them. They always look slightly embarrassed and mildewy to me.

            The very earth, when you get your nose near it, smells expectant. The angle of the sun is higher. Everything outside feels itself on the verge of something wonderful.

            Yesterday morning, my eponymous follower, Cathy Fitzgerald, sent me the new post from her site, EcoArtNews. I scrolled back through some of her earlier pages and stumbled on a charming video snippet of Wangari Maathai telling her hummingbird story. For those of you who have never heard of her, Ms. Maathai is the founder of the Green Belt Movement, a program aimed at combating deforestation, desertification, rural hunger and water crises in Africa through the empowerment of women. She persevered despite political persecution and personal setbacks to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. It’s nice to know that occasionally the recipient has actually done something to deserve it.

            I’ve included a link to the hummingbird story. In keeping with my theme of little changes, we can all choose to be hummingbirds.

               Today’s is a short post. On Tuesday, Tim and I are off to the Really Big City—Raleigh—where I have arranged an interview with the director of the Plant Disease and Insect Clinic (PDIC) at North Carolina State University and a tour of the lab for an article about the PDIC’s services (that will appear in the June issue of Carolina Gardener magazine). As part of their land-grant-college mandate, the Clinic will identify your bug or disease—free for pictures, but they have to charge for mailed-in samples—and suggest environmentally responsible control measures. I used the service for the first time last summer for an invasion of baby army worms on my wax beans… except I didn’t know they were army worms until the entomologist-on-call got back to me via email with 24 hours. 

Norman Rockwell's
"Triple Self-Portarait"

This is our first road trip in a while. We plan to take in the Norman Rockwell exhibit at the NC Museum of Art, and expect to come home feeling all gooey about our 1950s childhoods. But I need the rest of today and tomorrow to prepare (for the interview, not Norman), so I won’t come off as a total blithering idiot. I’ve been out of Academe so long, I sometimes forget to not be intimidated by it.

Can’t believe it’s almost time for the January Wrap-up. Where does the time go?

By the way, Tim added two easy ways to subscribe to this blog, by a search-engine reader and by email. The simple-to-click options are on the sidebar at the top of the post, above the profile.

Thanks for dropping by. Y’all stay warm.