12 April 2007

Snow on the dogwoods

They say around these parts that “winter isn’t over until it snows on the dogwoods.” Every single winter since I’ve lived here – 10 of them, now -- it’s proven itself true.

And so winter officially ended here today with a fine dusting of snow on the open dogwood blossoms in the front garden. I shot this photo at about 7 a.m., and already most of it had melted. There really was just a tiny bit. But I thought it would be nice to show off the chilly dogwoods before the pretty bract flowers have gone and the leaves open up.

This has been a very strange, warm winter. There was almost no rain. I reveled in the snow when it came in February and I’m grateful that I was able to stay home and enjoy it.

It didn’t last long – just two weeks. Snowpack in the high Sierras is at 40 percent of normal and there are whispers of drought and water rationing for the fierce, hot summer ahead. Drought isn’t unusual in California, of course. But since I returned to this area in 1993, no single year has been as dry as this one.

Our firewood guy got in touch last week, looking to get rid of some of his supply. He was letting it go cheap. So Mr. Wren looked at the cord-and-a-half of firewood we still have left and suggested we buy a single cord.

I said no, let’s get two.

It was almost a knee-jerk reaction on my part. There’ve been winters here when we’ve had to buy more wood in late March, when it was snowing and sleeting and raining like hell, and we weren’t the only ones who ran out of wood well before we ran out of winter. And this was when the whole family was out of the house on weekdays, so we only had fires at night. I’ve seen snow here in late May. I really hate running out of firewood.

Well, Mr. Wren indulged me. But this season we didn’t need to fire up the stove until late November. We built fires off and on through December, and a little more often in January, but it wasn’t all that cold outside. I kept the stove going more in February, particularly through those two lovely weeks of snow and low temps.

In March, I built fires only twice. It was in the mid-60s and even 70s nearly all month. We had only a few rain showers. Two, I think.

Our first stovefire for April was yesterday. It rained late in the day, and overnight the temperature dropped enough to bring the thin sugar-coating of snow I woke up to early this morning. But right now the sky is clear, the sun is shining and the only snow I can see is on our neighbor’s well-insulated roof.

Even with both of us home, using the stove during the day, we’ve used only half of our annual supply of wood. I know I should be grateful for a soft winter – people move to California specifically for winters like this, after all. But I find it ominous. It means the hot weather is looming very early. Summers here are five or six months long even in normal weather years, with temperatures in the 80s, 90s and 100s from mid-May through late October. There is no rain to speak of.

And once the snow in the high country melts, the rivers run low and the seasonal creeks dry up, the danger of wildfire is imminent every single day until it finally cools down again and the rain returns.

Well, I have two cords of firewood to stack. I hope next winter I’ll need it all.

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