Cannas couldn’t

We planted canna lilies early in the spring in a flower bed next to the top of our driveway. They surprised us by growing much bigger than we expected from the packaging. They kept blooming for a long time. This is a shot from December 4, a few days before we got our surprise snow.

And then the following Friday we got snow. This is what they looked like then.

I wouldn’t say they liked it, but they looked OK. At least for a while. This is what they look like now.

Apparently wikipedia is correct when they say that canna lilies are a tropical or subtropical plant. They apparently are (or can be) native to this area, but obviously do not like to be frozen, which is what a coating of snow will do for you.

I assume (hope) that the cannas will come back next spring.

The green foliage to the right is some other type of lily, or, more correctly, an actual lily, since cannas are not true lilies. The bulbs for these lilies were given to us by a neighbor. They grew well but didn’t produce any flowers. In the background you can see some of the seed fronds of the ornamental grasses we planted on the slope at this side of our house. They were almost flattened by the snow but sprang back up well enough that I don’t plan to cut them until maybe early spring, just before the grass begins to turn green.

Pretend it’s pepper

The fall line in Georgia is a narrow border between the rolling hills of the Piedmont Province and the flatter Coastal Plain. Millions of years ago the fall line was actually Georgia’s Atlantic coast line. It’s called the fall line because there is a quick decrease in elevation characterized by waterfalls and rapids. It’s the furthest upstream that the early settlers were able to navigate easily on the rivers. For that reason, towns were often formed at the fall line, like Columbus (home of Fort Benning) on the Chattahoochee River, Macon (best known for the Allman Brothers) on the Ocmulgee River, and Augusta (home of Fort Gordon and the Augusta National Golf Course) on the Savannah River.

The fall line also happens to coincide with another border in Georgia known as the gnat line. Below the gnat line, there is a kind of gnat that breeds in the sandy soil of that region. In the summer, the gnats rise up in swarms so thick it’s hard to keep them out of your eyes, nose and ears. Once many years ago when I was a small boy, my family vacationed at Jekyll Island, one of Georgia’s barrier islands near the southern end of the Georgia coast. My most vivid memory is of eating a picnic lunch and trying to keep the gnats out of the food.

We who live up here in the Valley and Ridge Province, part of the Appalachian Plateau, are not supposed to suffer the plague of the gnats, but lately I could make a good argument against that proposition. I spend a good part of my morning dog walk swatting gnats away from my ears and eyes. It may be only the recency illusion, but it seems like the gnat problem has been getting worse up here in north Georgia.

But maybe it’s not an illusion. The Macon Telegraph had a small article about whether the gnat line is moving north. Jeff Burne, an entomologist at Middle Georgia State University, said the gnats of south Georgia need sandy soil to breed, so they can’t actually move north of the sandy Coastal Plain. However, he said that another kind of gnat isn’t so limited. The reason those gnats may be (or seem to be) increasing in numbers north of the gnat line is global warming. North Georgia is just getting to be a better place for gnats to live.

The gnats I experience every day don’t swarm in the numbers that the gnats of south Georgia do. They are aggravating, of course, but so far I haven’t swallowed any, at least as far as I know. In south Georgia, however, it has long been considered impossible to eat outside without eating gnats, who seem to like human food almost as much as they like human eyes and ears. Down there, it’s just a way of life. When you look down and see gnats all over your food, there’s only one thing you can do: just pretend it’s pepper.

The 2 percent sol

Our eclipse was right on schedule Monday at 2:34 PM here in Rome, Ga. We had about 98 percent coverage of the sun. We took the same pictures that probably millions of others who were not in the path of totality did. Here are the crescents made by the sun filtering through a sparsely-leafed maple next to the driveway.

We made an eclipse viewer from a cardboard box. I cut a flap out of the side so we could look in. I made a small hole — a pinhole, as they say — that focused the sun’s rays pretty well, but I have to admit that viewing an eclipse that way is not all that satisfying. I think our new cat is going to get more use out of it than we did.

A couple of hours from of us (in normal traffic, not eclipse traffic) the extreme northeastern tip of Georgia was within in the path of totality. The TV stations covered it, of course. The thousands of people who gathered in the little towns in northeast Georgia had a scare as the clouds moved in, but I think they got a pretty decent look at the fully-eclipsed sun. The televised image from a telescope was probably better than what they got with the naked eye.

My brother was in Tennessee at almost the exact center of the moon’s shadow, so he got the full effect of the eclipse.

I would like to experience a total eclipse. Although I would like to see the solar corona when the sun is fully covered, what I would really love to see is the shadow of the moon racing towards us at 1800 miles an hour.

They say the next eclipse in the continental US is in 2024. I will be 74 by that time, but I hope I’m still able to travel. Maybe Leah and I can start making plans right away.

Rain watch

I have mentioned before that a fair number of trees in the woods around here died between last summer and this spring. The forest doesn’t look healthy. A lot of trees of all species on the mountain either never came back in the spring or barely made it out of the winter alive. Even the trees that seem less affected by the heat and drought of last summer don’t seem to have leafed out as much as in a normal year, at least to my uneducated eye.

Some trees are trying. A few pines whose needles all turned brown have come back in part. Some of the trees whose limbs never leafed out have sprouted tight bunches of leaves along their trunks. I suspect many of them will never fully recover and will eventually die, especially if we have another summer like 2016.

One of the hardest hit of species is the dogwood. As far as I could tell earlier this spring, we had only one or two dogwoods that seemed to have survived in reasonably good condition. This is one that grew just inside the woods next to our driveway.

Some vines have grown up into the crown, which makes it look like it still has leaves, but the only leaves on this tree are dead. But this is what I noticed at the base of the tree on Wednesday.

It’s coming back from the roots. It looks pretty good at this point.

Here’s a maple that lost about half of its multiple trunks.

And here’s its base.

I don’t know whether the dogwoods or maples will manage to survive, despite these signs of their struggle to live.

This die-off may be a normal cycle in the northwestern Georgia forest, but I worry.

I also worry about our front yard. I finally got the zoysia seed sown. I filled the ruts and depressions as well as I could, then spread about two inches of rich topsoil. Then I raked it as level as I could, which was not very level. Then I rolled it. Every place I stepped ended up with a deep footprint. I could and probably should have tried harder to get the lawn smooth, but I was racing what I thought was a nice downpour that never materialized.

Now all we have to do is make sure the seed doesn’t get too dry. I have watered lightly – very lightly – twice so far. Our well doesn’t produce at a very high rate, so I am being conservative when I water. I am sprinkling about a third of the lawn at a time, then waiting a few hours before doing the next third. Here you can see the middle third is slightly darker than the ground on either side, a result of watering just a short while before I took the picture.

As I write this on Wednesday afternoon, there is a wide area of rain heading from the southwest up towards us. Based on our history here, I won’t be surprised if we get little or nothing from this system.

Carnage

One of the less pleasant parts of walking the dogs up and down the mountain is seeing all the dead animals that people driving cars almost always overlook. There is a little of almost everything — snails, salamanders, snakes, turtles, birds, squirrels, armadillos, possums, dogs and deer. The dogs and deer are usually murdered elsewhere and the bodies dumped along the road. The rest are victims of our transportation system.

I almost never take pictures of the deceased, but a few days ago I saw a snake that showed no obvious sign of its cause of death (in other words, it wasn’t smashed), and was such a beautiful specimen that I did it anyway.

This is what I believe to be an Eastern Milk Snake. Curious Zeke is in the image for scale. This is small for a mature milk snake, so it is probably a juvenile. According to the linked site, the Eastern Milk Snake and the Scarlet King Snake sometimes intergrade in northern Georgia into Tennessee. Make sure you have followed the link to see the picture of the king snake, it’s magnificent. The coloration of the unfortunate snake I saw here seems to be somewhat brighter than the image of the milk snake, so maybe it’s one of the intergraded snakes.

What a shame.