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.

Daffodils and an oak

It has been a very warm beginning to the new year. We have used our wood stove very little so far. The low Saturday night was 61 up here on the mountain, higher than the average high temperature for that day, and higher than any average high in February until the very end of the month.

Even in a normal month, the earliest daffodils begin blooming towards the end of the month, or at latest the beginning of March, but even so, I was a little surprised to see those nodding yellow heads peeking through the trees down at the bottom of the mountain Saturday morning.

This is at our turn-around point. This area is barely visible from the road. There is a driveway here leading to what looks like a picnic shelter. There is a gate a few dozen feet from the road; I felt comfortable walking up to the gate, but not beyond it. I was using my iPhone, as usual, so the daffodils in the distance are not so easy to see. There is a bunch just to the left of the little cedar about a quarter of the way from left to right in this picture, and a line of daffodils along the driveway.

The oak is remarkable. It’s the largest I have seen anywhere on Lavender Mountain. It’s hard to get the scale in this image, but it is certainly more than six feet in diameter. I’m not sure of the specific type. I don’t think chestnut oaks, which are the most numerous on the mountain, get this big. Based on what I could find about record sizes for chestnut oaks, this one might be a contender. But it might not be a chestnut oak. The shape of the trunk doesn’t really look like the chestnut oaks I’m familiar with. It could even be something else, like a walnut for all I know.

I suspect that this location is the site of an old home, perhaps one of the earliest in the Texas Valley area. It is gone now, but the daffodils are a sure indication that a residence was once here. I imagine that the oak is also a remnant of the old home site.

When I lived in Alabama, my house was in Stewart Hollow. My yard had a line of daffodils across the open area of the yard. I suspect that those daffodils once lined a driveway or walk way long, long ago. There was no sign of a residence other than my own, which was fairly new. I imagine that there was once a farm house located somewhere nearby.

I would love to explore this area, but I won’t, not with the no trespassing signs. In my younger days I might wander through the woods and come upon the site from the back rather than the front. Without signs facing into the woods, I would probably have considered it fair game. But I don’t wander the woods any more, so I probably won’t get to see this area up close.

Winter Storm Warning

Parts of the Southeast have a winter storm warning in effect for late Friday night and early Saturday morning. The various TV weathermen have been showing snow cover forecasts for north and central Georgia that sometimes include us and sometimes don’t.

This is what it looked like Thursday morning from our bedroom window.

I don’t know whether this is what an impending snowstorm looks like; I suspect not.

We had almost two inches of rain over the last week. It fell as a slow, soaking rain, which was what we needed. The days were foggy and dreary, which I kind of like, at least for short periods.

It was not enough. When we aren’t in drought conditions, a rain like we had would result in lots of runoff. When I walk the dogs there should be a constant background rushing sound from the many wet-weather streams draining off the mountain. After this rain, only one stream was running, and not very strongly.

I suppose that means the rain soaked in, which is good for the plants (no plants in our yard — too dry to plant them). Unfortunately, it seems that it’s too late for some of the pines on the mountain. As we walk and drive around the mountain, we see a fair number of cases where all the needles have turned brown on the pines. Here are some by our driveway.

There are several others around the yard. There are lots of others across the mountain. There is no apparent pattern, at least as far as I can tell. Most of the dead or dying pines are shortleaf, but that’s to be expected since most of the pines on the mountain are shortleaf. There are a few dead loblollies down at the bottom of the mountain, and a small stand of non-native white pines is dying, so it’s not just a shortleaf pine problem.

I don’t really know whether they are dying from drought stress or some kind of infestation, or possibly a combination of the two, or even some other cause I’m not aware of. The numbers are not huge; I estimate very roughly that it’s only around a percent of the total, maybe not even that much. But it’s enough to be noticeable.

I am also worried about the multitude of dogwoods on the mountain. Quite a few turned brown during the summer. Those have not lost their leaves as in a normal year; the dead leaves are still hanging on. It’s not my field, but I think it’s possible that the trees died before the natural process of leaf loss. I hope not. Maybe someone who knows more about it can tell me.

It will be several months before we can tell the extent of the drought effects. We ended 2016 almost a foot below average. It’s going to take a while to make up for that discrepancy.

In the meantime, I don’t expect to wake up Saturday morning to a snowy view of Rome in the distance, but I’m keeping the camera handy.

Trees

There are really only two things to look at when I take the dogs for a walk: the dogs and the trees. Most of the hardwoods are bare now, so I can see into the woods. The bare trunks and limbs are gray spotted with patches of near white and the occasional green from moss or some kind of fungus or lichen. The ground is covered with the fallen leaves. As I walk down the road, my brain builds up a scene with the angular tree trucks contrasting with the brown surface that is hard to capture with a camera, much less my iPhone, which I have to hold with one hand as I hold the dogs’ leashes with the other.

Most of the hardwoods up on Lavender Mountain are oaks, and most of those are chestnut oaks, if my identification is correct. There are scattered poplars, hickories and some other oak varieties. Still, it’s mostly chestnut oaks, which often take not particularly pretty shapes. But I like those awkward shapes.

Lower down the mountain there is a small ridge that forms a valley with the side of the mountain that the road follows. There is a line of bare rocks that cuts downward across that ridge.

In the photo the line of rocks cuts diagonally from top left towards the lower right. It’s much harder see in the image than it is in real life.

And that, in an acorn shell, is my problem with photographing these scenes. I can never quite get what I see. I think it’s because what I “see” is not really there. I look at the scene while I’m in motion, and build up the image from a continually-changing vantage point. It’s like pasting together a series of images. I can see a particular tree from one point, but not from another point. In my mind, it’s still there. Unfortunately the camera doesn’t have that kind of memory. I also filter out everything I’m not interested in and focus in on what I am interested in. But not the camera.

No, the camera sees what’s there, not what my mind thinks is there. But I’ll keep trying.