Friday, February 7, 2014

Days of Dreary Weather

I've been reluctant to record the damages done by the freezing weather in early January, but it appears that some of the effects may be with us more or less permanently.
Magnolia trees, we've been assured, are at their northern-most range here in south-central Kentucky.
The towering tree in our front yard is one of the delights of summer with its waxy chalice-shaped buds that open to fragrant cups of fleeting loveliness.
I don't know how much frost a magnolia can take and survive.
I know--its 'only a tree'-but I'm concerned about it.
In only three years I have come to value its presence.

A close-up of frost-burned leaves on the magnolia.

Nandina is usually evergreen and the berries a brilliant red through the winter months.
The shrubs flanking the porch and carport, though bedraggled, can be pruned back early in spring and will quickly return to their former height.

In former years the daffodils near the carport have rushed the season, putting out frilled yellow petals that often suffered  the blight of a February chill.
As if warned of inhospitable weather their tentative green tips are still shrouded in a blanket of dry leaves.

My herb garden near the back door is a sad small space of grey and shriveled plants.
In previous winters the sage has merely ceased to grow, holding quietly to its leaves of pebbled dusty green or burgundy. Now the leaves are crisp, dulled to an unpromising grey.
Only bare brown stems like rusted wire are left of the wooly thyme which crept along the retaining wall.
The mat of culinary thyme which spills boisterously onto the concrete of the carport is brittle, nearly leafless.
Two of the older lavenders may have a chance at revival, but the smaller seed-grown plants, nurtured  summer long on the front porch and tucked into September's warm soil, have the appearance of plants that have been mortally chilled.
Likewise the winter savory, the lemon thyme, the foxglove tucked in the back corner against the house wall.
Walking along the upper perennial strip I wonder about the hardiness of the southernwood and the 
butterfly bush.
There are some weeks yet to wait til I can be sure what plants can be pruned hard to flourish again from viable roots, which ones have been done to death by the frigid temperatures of January.
Gardeners are a determined lot; even as we mourn our losses the mind jumps ahead to replanting.
Jim and I talk about the gardens, pondering how much we really need to plant and tend and 'put up.' How many strawberry plants should be ordered? Installed in my rocking chair by the fire, perusing glossy seed and nursery catalogs it is easy to discount the sweaty labors of July and August, the ache in my knees after hours of weeding.
Frost-bitten sage.

Looking south down the Big Creek Valley. 

Sunrise over the creek.

Edward pads across frozen ground amidst the clutter of sweet gum seed balls.

Only one morning in the past two weeks inspired me to step outside with my camera to 
record a ruddy sunrise.
Most days have plodded by in desultory fashion; we glance out the window to take note of snow flurries, a spatter of icy rain.  The cats asleep on the sofa prick their ears to the sound of wind as it sweeps 
across the porch., dry leaves rattling ahead of the gusts.
Jim carries in armloads of wood which shed bits of bark and crumbs of sawdust to be brushed up. I make futile swipes at the furry ash which settles repeatedly on the mantle and shelves near the fireplace.
Four years into retirement we acknowledge with a certain surprise that we have no schedule to meet, no need to start a vehicle on a cold morning.
We eat comfort food--homemade soups, bread fresh from the oven, open a jar of pears harvested from the old time-y Kieffer tree.
On the coldest days I keep a fire in the basement family room, take fabric from the cupboard, sit at my sewing machine piecing quilt blocks.
I've brought out hand sewing on the evenings when I'm not engrossed in a book.
My scissors, spools of thread, a lump of beeswax, are clustered on the small table at my elbow, subject to investigative proddings by the resident felines.
Jim scrolls through the offerings on Netflix, occasionally finding one that I will watch with him.
We store up the comments of long-time residents who nod wisely and assure us that this is how winters 'used to be' in south-central Kentucky.
We recall the long cold-bound winters of Vermont and Wyoming, when February was a mere halfway mark through the expected time of snow and ice.
We tell ourselves that we've been spoiled by three winters here when dandelions bloomed yellow-gold in green grass on New Years day.
Even as we draw the curtains against the gloom of a day when the light appears the same at high noon as it did at 7 a.m., we notice that the day hours have stretched almost imperceptibly since the December solstice.
The earth turns and the seasons unfold as they have ever done and ever will do.
We cherish the promise of an eventual springtime; we are heartened when the sun remembers to shine for even an hour or two.
There is truth in the words of a poem written in 1912 and usually sung at Christmas time to the English tune, Forest Green, but suitable for these grey days of waiting out winter.

All beautiful the march of days, as seasons come and go;
The Hand that shaped the rose hath wrought the crystal of the snow;
Hath sent the hoary frost of Heav'n, the flowing waters sealed,
And laid a silent loveliness on hill and wood and field.


  1. A beautiful wintery post and what colours in those sunrises!

    Our village often sees heavy frosts and snowfall ( not this year - it is one rainstorm after another) and there are many magnificent magnolia trees in the gardens of older houses. They seem to survive well, even if some leaves are frost nipped. I hope yours will be equally hardy and bring you more lovely blooms in spring.

    1. DW; I hold out hope for the magnolia tree, it is such a graceful and interesting thing. It is altogether a dreary winter, but we haven't had the heavy snow of more northerly states. It is rather amusing to us that schools close here at even a hint of sleet or snow.

  2. that is a lovely verse, but I don't recognise the hymn. I always think February feels like a very still month, sitting between winter and spring, which seems like a long way off.

    1. Kath; I should have been more specific about the poem--written in 1912 by an American woman but sung to an old English folk air arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
      I think we could do with a 'still' and storm-less month, both here and in England.

  3. Beautiful photos. I hope you haven't lost too much to this winter. Around Cincinnati, we think it's the worst winter we have had since the late 1970s.

  4. I sympathize with you, i haven't had the heart to really look at my garden, I know I've lost a bunch of plants. We too have been spoiled by mild winters since we moved here, but this year made up for that and it's not over. I'm so glad we're retired and don't have to go out unless we want to go.