Wacky weather

“False spring.” That’s what botanists call mild weather in late-winter, when it lasts long enough to trick dormant vegetation into waking up.

We had that in February. Long stretches in the 70s, prompting trees to green and flowers to bloom. It got so warm, we broke out summer clothes. The kids wore shorts to school and came home telling stories of friends stung by bees during recess.

In February.

While swapping shorts for ski jackets is kinda fun, it’s weird. Horses get sick when temperatures bounce around, and blooming plants freeze when reality returns. That’s the thing: it’s bound to come crashing down. And it did, Saturday.

Saturday started like an ordinary February weekend: after fox hunting in the heat and humidity, I peeled off my sweaty gear, and changed into a T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. Then I dragged our Christmas tree into the gator.

This year, I swore to take the tree down before Valentine’s Day — like a normal person. Before we were ankle deep in pine needles.

Last year, between Groundhog Day & Ash Wednesday

So a few weeks ago —  around February 12th — we plucked off the ornaments, and rolled our Christmas tree off the porch… into the front yard… with the stand still attached.

Classy.

But Saturday, I vowed to remove the eye sore. I loaded it into the gator and drove to a wooded area where Chet lets us dump twigs and branches.

I’m not sure that a 10-foot evergreen constitutes yard waste, but I hurled it javelin style, lodging it deep in the weeds. Well beyond the rotting remnants of Christmases past.

It was 72 degrees — sticky, hot — but a storm was bearing down, and I pondered covering Jazz. He’d sweat for sure, but stay dry.

Out of the woods, I cut the gator engine and snapped a picture of the coming storm (see above). And checked the temperature once more. Still 72.

But in a single minute — across a few hundred yards of hayfield — the temperature plummeted. It wasn’t cooler, it was cold. Chattering, I tossed a mid-weight blanket on Jazz and sprinted for the house. My phone recalculated the temperature, replacing 52 for 72.

I didn’t think much about the storm, or the massive boom of thunder, until my neighbor Liz sent a text message. Tree fire in the woods. Fire department on the way.

I ran to the window and spotted a smoky tendril rising from the woods.

Right where I dumped the Christmas tree.

It was coincidental, right?

When I left the tree, it wasn’t on fire.

I didn’t think it was. But what if the gator discharged a spark as I drove away? What if something flammable was attached to the branches? What if the tree spontaneously combusted? What if I started a forest fire with my combustable Christmas tree? 

How do I explain that to the neighbors?

Martin and the kids gatored off to check things out. A tree was definitely aflame, but not my tree. Lightning struck one nearby and the hollow trunk gave the fire a good draw. Fire fighters arrived and told everyone to move back (poison ivy was burning too) and they extinguished the flames.

And that was that. The storm passed and things cooled down.

But then temperatures bobbed right back up again. Until another storm ripped through yesterday.

This one was more bark than bite. Still, it left a mark.

Another goner, not far from last weekend’s charred victim.

What does all this mean?

Nothing really. Other than the fact that the weather’s been wacky… and that I’ve got a guilty conscience.

Then again, both trees kicked the bucket near Liz — so maybe she’s to blame. Maybe she’s got bad karma. Not me.

Or maybe hollow, rotten trees come down in storms.

Something to ponder… and mention to Liz, the next time that I raid her barn stash of horse treats and booze.