Two weeks ago, temperatures bottomed out at 15°F and a winter storm buried gardens, yards and colorful-leafed trees under almost 10 inches of snow. Now, sun and a week of daytime highs around 74°F have awakened chipmunks, spurred American robins to sing and enticed honey bees from their hives. The bees found our last asters of the season. In a sunny location, and protected by an overhanging arbor vitae hedge on the north side, the pastel blossoms continue to open despite the early snow and frigid cold. What a gift — a sweet treat for the honey bees and an unexpected return to autumn beauty for us.
Spring in Minnesota is as fitful as ever — in other words, it’s one of the few things that remains normal during the pandemic. A week ago, Saturday was sunny and 70 degrees. Honey bees explored the squill patch and the first bloodroot blossoms unfurled white and gold. Twelve hours later, a cold front settled over the state. More than five inches of heavy, wet snow buried the garden and coated every bud, twig and trunk. Fox sparrows scratched and dug under the garden hedge sending snow, leaves and dirt flying behind them. A chubby American robin plucked the few remaining crabapples from a small tree. When the air warmed above freezing midweek, a few flowers were wilted and tinged with brown, but those that still had a covering of snow perked right up.
Traces of snow linger in the shady, northern corners of the yard, but most areas look like spring again — for now. While almost all of Minnesota’s record-breaking April snowstorms have occurred mid-month or earlier, that’s not always been true. Remember that April 29-30 storm in 1984? It dumped 9.7 inches of snow on the Twin Cities to close out the month. It’s all part of a typical Minnesota spring. Here’s a look at what’s growing in the backyard now that the snow has melted.
Cold, rainy, dark. These adjectives capture the weather and mood of the past three weeks here in Saint Paul, Minnesota. No blue October skies and warm afternoons so far, and none in sight, according to the National Weather Service. I hear lots of complaints from people to the tune of, “My grass is lush green, but I am so crabby;” or, “I just want to read and sleep all day;” or, a straightforward “I am so depressed!”
I don’t like it either and I understand these sentiments. Most of all, I miss gardening and walking outside. As dank as it is, my husband and I have walked in the rain a few times and I gardened in it for a half hour last Sunday. I feel happier and more energetic after I go out to garden or walk, even though I get wet. I’ve noticed others doing the same — students at morning recess in the mist, gardeners cutting back their spent plants, even a few people trying to mow saturated lawns in the persistent drizzle.
When we walked yesterday, I was struck by the contrast between the heavy sky and the splotches of color lighting up the gray sidewalks — maple, birch and ash leaves — their hues more vivd for being wet. The rain and strong winds tore down the leaves prematurely, but I am grateful for the beauty and glow of their colors on these gloomy days.
It was a good rain, light-to-steady over several hours, the kind that soaks deeply into the soil and awakens late-sleeping perennials in the spring. Mid-afternoon, though the calendar showed May 1st, big, heavy snowflakes fell like icy polka dots. The blend of apple blossoms and sloppy, wet snow was a sly reminder that, in spite of increasing warmth and longer days, winter is never truly far away from those who live in the north!
The sun rides higher in the sky and daylight lasts almost 11 hours, but those are just about the only signs of spring — and most of us long for a warm-up that stretches beyond a meager two days. Last week brought “bookend” snowstorms: 6.4 inches of new snow on Monday and 9.9 inches on Thursday/Thursday night, for a total of 16.3 inches measured at nearby Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
How I pine for the first crocus to poke through the soil and open its delicate cup-shaped flower to the early spring sun! But, with at least two feet of snow, plus the snow from sidewalk shoveling heaped on top of the garden, it’s likely to be several weeks before the snow melts and sunlight warms the soil. As soon as I spy the first patch of dirt, I’ll be out every afternoon peering at the muddy earth for the first tiny, reddish-green tip of a crocus to push through to the light and signal the reawakening of life. What signals spring to you?
© Beth and Nature, Garden, Life, 2013-2014. All photographs and text are created by Beth unless specifically noted otherwise. Excerpts and links may be used as long as full and clear credit is given to Beth and Nature, Garden, Life with specific direction to the original content. Please do not use or duplicate material from Nature, Garden, Life without written permission from Beth.
I walked a mile or so around our city neighborhood at noon today. The sun was gently warm in a powder-blue sky and a mild breeze blew from the south. Melting snow plunked and gurgled in metal downspouts, and chunks of ice on roof shingles loosened and crashed to the ground. Plants lost their winter snow caps. Squirrels snoozed on tree branches in the sun. Blue jays, black-capped chickadees and a white-breasted nuthatch chattered in the trees. Walkers smiled, called greetings and shed hats and mittens in the warmth.
Six weeks ago, a high of 47 degrees (F) would have felt very chilly and worthy of complaint. Today, it feels balmy — a glorious day to be outside. And though the next Arctic air mass will arrive tonight with subzero temperatures and dangerous wind chills, I’ll cherish this tiny foretaste of spring while I wait for the January thaw.
It started out as rain, then many hours of mist. Later, heavy wet snow changed to sleet and back again, weighing down and soaking seed heads, decorative grass and the few leaves that haven’t fallen from the trees. This snow is likely to stay for the rest of the winter, given the subzero temperatures and the prediction of more snow to arrive on Sunday.
I’m not a winter person, I’m a summer gal. I miss the melodious birdsong, the activity of butterflies, bees and colorful beetles in our garden, the leafed-out trees, the warmth of the sun and the long, long hours of northern daylight. But I try to find the raw, stark beauty revealed in the winter months. It is not the vivid, vital beauty of summer. No, it is a harsh beauty that complements the cold, brittle air, stinging wind and sharp light of December.
When snow falls, a temporary hush settles over the city, dampening the noise of traffic and aircraft, and making it easier to hear nature’s sounds — the quiet ticking of sleet and snowflake on spent plant stalks, the rustle and crackle of brittle leaves in the wind, a chickadee’s call and the honking of geese flying low overhead.
This snow wasn’t as pretty as most because it was too soggy to etch and highlight trees and other plants. But, I found a few lovely, wintry sights in the yard:
Early yesterday morning, as Orion sailed high overhead and strings of bright stars washed the sky in spite of an almost-full moon, the first killing frost zapped gardens in the urban core of St. Paul-Minneapolis. About two weeks later than the average date of October 7th, the first hard frost turned basil and impatiens to mush, bedraggled morning glories and hyacinth beans, and shriveled the last blossoms of Japanese anemones and toad lilies. But one hardy bloom survived: a newly opened cluster of climbing ‘Henry Kelsey’ roses. The rose faces south and grows next to our brick garage, which helps to shelter it from north winds. The National Weather Service predicts nighttime lows in the upper 20s the next two nights, so the roses won’t last much longer. However, their fresh, simple beauty was a gift on a gloomy, unseasonably chilly day. To read more about Minnesota weather, seasons and related topics, visit Updraft Blog: Weather and its Underlying Science at MPR.org.