weather

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.

Clueless on Vacation

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Last week, with two kids shipped off to sleep-away camp in West Virginia, I realized that we could slip away for a few days… if only we pawned off the remaining kid.

Martin and I did just that, and Wednesday, we hit the road for four days and nights. Our first stop: a resort in southern Virginia, a dozen miles shy of the North Carolina line.

We drove for hours down I-81, then plunged into the remote farmland and wilderness of Carroll and Patrick Counties. Our cell phone signal quickly evaporated and GPS struggled to emit directions. Near our destination, we stopped at a country store which offered local fare: homegrown produce, pickled eggs, salted pork, and Confederate emblazoned lawn ornaments.

We were torn between the Confederate flying pig and the racist rooster. Decisions, decisions.

 

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From there, it was just 5 miles to the resort. Or rather, the resort’s security gate — a sturdy, locked gate manned by a guard. A gate keeping out…who? The locals?

No need for a gate. It was another 7 winding miles to the main lodge. The resort, called Primland, sits atop 12,000 pristine acres. Its challenging and picturesque golf course attracts avid fans of the sport. But we were there for the hiking, the view, and the peace and quiet.

And it was peaceful, Alarmingly so. Rarely did we spot more than a few guests at a time, and all the while, the resort staff circled, magically appearing before we asked. They were so attentive, practically sensing what we needed. I soon wondered if this gated and immaculately maintained property was inhabited by zombies — while we and the reclusive guests were the only humans trapped inside. (Lately, I’ve been binging on episodes of the show, “Wayward Pines,” which fueled these thoughts.)

But enough about the creepy quiet and the friendly, overly attentive staff.

The place was fabulous.

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Here’s our room — located not in the lodge, but in one of the many cottages:

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A room with a view:

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After two days of hiking, eating and relaxing, we loaded up the car on Friday and made our way back up I-81. Next stop, the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. When we left Primland, the staff mentioned “some flooding” at Greenbrier, but that was it. In a cellular silent area, no flash-flood warnings chimed from our phones, and the radio station focused on the recent death of bluegrass legend, Ralph Stanley.

Only when we neared White Sulphur Springs, was the devastation apparent. We spotted fences flattened or uprooted, then mountain slides, and homes surrounded by murky, watery moats. In several places, the road was nibbled away and as we drew closer, we encountered big bites from the asphalt, with rushing water filling the gaps. I skirted around a “road closed” sign and navigated the flooded route  —  which was really quite stupid. But we were oblivious to the extent of the damage.

What was we found was a town of 2,400 torn apart by flooding. Most of the water had receded but the restaurants and shops were clogged with mud and mountainside run-off. Houses were splintered and unmoored from their foundations, and cars hung from trees. The town was darkened without power and telephone poles were sheared off and dangling from their lines. People walked along the road, dazed and in shock.

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When we arrived at the Greenbrier, the security guard chirped, “Checking in?” as if nothing was amiss. But he admitted that the flooding was bad: the area received 9 1/2 inches of rain, sometimes falling at a rate of 2 inches an hour. We pulled up to the dark, hallowed shell of the resort and confirmed that we weren’t checking in. The receptionist was relieved; they were staying open for a night for those unable to travel, but the hotel rooms had no power, the restaurants provided no food, and the casino and golf course were water-logged. We pressed on to Lexington, Virginia and stayed a night there before arriving home.

Here’s the Greenbrier golf course a day before we arrived:

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On that Friday afternoon when we arrived in White Sulphur Springs and took it all in, we were hit with a feeling of alarm. Hadley and Cayden’s camp was just 60 miles away. With cell phone service restored, Martin quickly called the camp. All was well, the staff told us. They received lots of rain, but dodged the storm’s epicenter. And the sun was back out. The kids were unaware of the damage and destruction just one county away.

Blissfully unaware. As kids at camp should be.

 

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The Great White Blight… In Pictures

 

 

If you’re on Facebook, or if you peruse the local papers, then you’ve gorged on snow photos.

Well, I’m sorry to subject you to more. I promise, this’ll be quick and painless. And then we can move on:

With all the white hype, last Friday, Martin tried to resuscitate our tractor, which was suffering from starter problems.

With assistance, Martin kicked the tractor into gear, but it blew a hydraulic hose, which rendered the bucket inoperable. (The bucket was a lead actor in this performance.)

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While Martin gave the tractor mouth-to-mouth, I went grocery shopping. The choices were slim pickings.

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Snow started falling and accumulating on Friday night. By Saturday morning we were snowed in: the drifts sealed the mudroom door shut.

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Snow permeated every crevice. In the mudroom, snow billowed through a wisp of a crack in the dog door. By morning, an inch of snow filled all of our shoes.

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Much like the storm of 2010, the drifts piled up along the fencelines… and 18 inches really meant 3 or 4 feet.

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The drifts proved too much for Maisie.

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On Sunday — tractorless — we began to dig out. The horses were the first to be liberated.

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The path to the sheep was ponderous.

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Eventually we dug a trench to the sheep shed and — crawling and slogging — I ferried hay and water to them on a sled.

The sheep were utterly ungrateful.

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All the while, the kids rode out the storm at my cousins’ house (where the risk of a power outage was minimal.)

It was a struggle over there:

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Without an operable tractor, we were paralyzed. So we called for backup; Andy and his Cat plowed us out.

But first things first: we had to mark the drive, so Andy knew where to plow.

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Andy removed the snow like a peel from an orange…

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… and in the process, he created a mountain of snow… a sledding hill from what was once a plateau.

The kids built a luge run and an igloo.

It is part of the landscape until melting overcomes everything.

And life returns to normal.

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