February 17, 2013
The winter woods are in their dormant phase and you see and hear a different landscape here.
Most trees are void of leaves except for the green of evergreens and tan of beech. The song of the songbirds is minimal, except for crows, blue jays or nuthatch.
It’s a colder, quieter, gray-brown world out here now. Even laurel or rhododendron have a different look. They’re a pretty good thermometer.
At 60 degrees Fahrenheit, they are a normal flat leaf; at 40 degrees, the leaves droop; at 30 degrees, the leaves curl; and at 20 degrees, the leaves curl tight and darken. Early settlers called these plants the forest thermometers and had this saying:
“When the azaleas close their doors, winter roars.”
They called them all azaleas.
Have you ever heard the old saying, “News and weather – they travel together”? Some would credit this to journalism or media, but it dates back to the weather vanes of the 1600s and 1700s.
They also said, “News is in the wind.” The old weather vanes might have had an arrow and a rooster, fish, horse, etc. on it, depending on the location or what the farmer raised, but most had the 4 letters (N,E,W, and S) on them. This denoted wind direction, and therefore, wind, weather and news are all factors.
Mark Twain is often credited with saying, “Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”
He actually quoted C. D. Warner, in a speech, when he made that statement.
Ben Franklin did say, “Some are weather-wise, and some are otherwise.”
The fact is that most Americans will, instead of just saying “Hello,” get into a conversation by referring to the weather. It might be, “Nice day today,” or “How’s the weather out there?” and conclude with, “Have a nice day.”
I spoke in a hunting article about several old tobacco barns I admired. They had the mortise and tenon construction with wooden pins. These structures were not only built to last, but also to be barometers.
As the atmosphere changed barometric pressure, the wood pins (trunnels) would shrink or expend. The creaking and groaning of the timbers on a stormy night didn’t worry the inhabitant, but it did become the weather report on the 11:00 news.
In those days, they made their own furniture too and they used a variety of wood types for various reasons. Some woods would not splinter and finished smooth.
Some woods took stain or steam well for bending. Some chairs might have as many as eight woods in them. This was for the fore-mentioned reasons and some woods react with other woods in barometric change by shrink and swelling proportionately to keep joints tight.
As Ben said, “Some people are weather-wise.”
When the Indians suspected rain tomorrow, they would check “the scalp house.” Human hair gets limp prior to rain. The Indians and Pioneers also knew that “when smoke descends, good weather ends.” Air pressure and instability preceding a storm will keep the smoke down and not let it rise in its normal way.
Let’s get back to the woods, out here. When I spoke of insects in winter, in “Bugs-b-gone,” I mentioned migration in some and diapause, which is a form of hibernation in most species. We didn’t say how the insect can accomplish this winter slow down.
It is believed, in the scientific world, that there are about a quintillion insects on earth (1 followed by 18 zeros). They also would have us believe that winged insects were flying around the giant horsetail forests of earth 315 million years ago, which is 90 million years prior to dinosaurs.
There are said to be 1.2 million species of animals today on earth. Nine hundred thousand species, or 75 percent, are insects.
There are 250,000 species of beetles. It’s no wonder we can’t keep them straight and it’s no wonder they vary in so many ways.
In winter, insects have evolved into super-cooled creatures with body temperatures well below freezing. They do this chemically, by producing an anti-freeze called glycerol, sorbitol or mannitol.
This, along with a very reduced rate of metabolism during diapause, allows them to just go dormant and not freeze, and then show up at your picnic again next year. Not too dumb for a bug-brain that would fit on the sharp end of a needle.
Dudley Wooten can be reached at 740-820-8210 or by visiting wootenslandscaping.com.