Weather Transformations

Good news, hawk fans! This morning, I was sitting on my couch staring at the floodplain (our home sits on the hill overlooking that floodplain) when I saw a Red-Shouldered Hawk fly to last year’s nest. The bird fussed around in the nest for about 60 seconds, arranging and rearranging sticks. I’m hoping this means that last year’s nest has been chosen for this year’s nesting season. As you may recall, I described last year’s nest in yesterday’s post. I’ll add additional hawk updates as events unfold.

But I wasn’t staring out the window in hopes of seeing the hawk specifically. I confess I spend most early mornings staring out that window as I watch wildlife, and admire how winter morning light kisses treetops, then gradually descends trunks to ground level. Sycamores are especially breathtaking as their white trunks glow in the sun’s spotlight.

However, today there is no sunlight. This overcast, chilly winter day is quite a shock to the system after our first weekend of above-normal temperatures since — well, it was so long ago that I can’t remember. But this sudden shift caused me to muse about just how dramatically weather can transform a familiar landscape — especially a winter landscape, which tends to be rather austere (bare branches, brown grass) even on sunny days.

So I went through my files and found two photos of our floodplain showing similar views. Wonder Spouse took the first one in early September of 2008. Although I don’t remember the cause of the flood, that time of year it was probably the result of a passing hurricane or tropical depression.  The second photo was taken last February after a moderate snowfall. The power of water, be it liquid or frozen, is undeniable in both photos.

Floodplain in September 2008

Floodplain, February 2010

A wise piedmont gardener plans on these inevitable transformations by choosing new plant additions with them in mind. For example, we’ve added a number of understory plants to the floodplain, but few of them are evergreens. That’s because I love the way this vista opens up in winter, especially after a snowfall. What you see in that picture isn’t all our property, but it looks as if it could be because of the way the eye travels.

Those new plants we’ve added are also adapted to withstanding floods, which you can see is a necessary requirement in that locale. Native deciduous hollies, Virginia sweetspires, and spicebushes all happily tolerate occasional swims.

Winter is a great time to think about how your piedmont landscape transforms with the seasons. Bare spots and overgrown areas are easier to identify. It’s also helpful to take pictures of the same view during all four seasons — and after particularly striking weather transformations.

Gardening is an endurance sport. It takes years to transform a landscape. And if you plant as many trees as I have planted, it takes more than one lifetime. But that’s okay. In my mind’s eye, I can see those saplings presiding over the landscape as tall mature specimens. And I trust that whoever lives here after me will appreciate the continuing transformation of this patch of piedmont.

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