Salamanders and Snow: A Crazy February

While digging up a perpetually pesky rock with a pry bar the other day — it had been jutting from a well-worn path to my woodshed and over the years I’d probably stubbed my toe on it 9,847 times — I noticed a tiny salamander slither from the broken soil.

I see all kinds of critters when I’m out and about and the disturbed amphibian’s appearance, which reminded me of how inadvertently intrusive we humans can be to other species, would not have been all that unusual had I been digging in April or May.

But this sighting was the first week in February — ordinarily unheard of for amphibian activity.

A few days earlier, while out for a morning run, I smelled a skunk. Polecats don’t exactly hibernate but typically remain fairly inactive through the winter. Their powerful scent normally is a harbinger of spring.

Can crocuses, robins and peeper frogs be far behind?

I also split an oak log to add to my burgeoning firewood supply — thanks to warm temperatures and bare ground I’m now nearly three years ahead — and out spilled a column of ants. Ants in February!

The belated snowfall today (Saturday) and the Arctic blast forecast for Sunday notwithstanding, this winter, or rather, non-winter, has been one for the books. The fact that I had been able to dig up a rock at all, when normally the ground would be frozen to the hardness of orthoclase on the Mohs scale, says all you need to know about this season’s ridiculously warm weather.

I’ve previously lamented the dearth of snow for cross-country skiing and ice for skating so I don’t intend to dwell on these depravations.

Of more immediate concern are my maple trees, which I normally start tapping about now.

They require a cycle of freezing cold nights and warm days to get the sap flowing, but except for this weekend we’ve only experienced warm nights and even warmer days. I hope Mother Nature eventually cooperates so I can collect enough sap to boil for syrup, one of my favorite seasonable activities.

The deer also have been unusually active all winter, not having to tromp far through deep snow to forage for food. With all the acorns on the ground they still have been chomping heartily on my balsam fir seedlings, which must be like crack for them.

The few dozen balsams I planted nearly a decade ago, hoping they would grow heartily and exude my favorite aroma, remain only about a foot high, thanks to incessant munching.

Next to them white spruce, blue spruce and white pine that I planted the same time as the balsams have shot up to nearly 20 feet. I guess I’m willing to sacrifice a few balsams to deer if the other trees are left to prosper.

I expect just this weekend, when the temperature may finally dip to the single digits, I’ll wind up burning more wood than I did for the last two or three weeks. Even so I calculate that this season I’ll have gone through less than three cords, half of what I consumed during last winter’s relentless frigidity.

With the sudden, however brief return to winter I hope the salamander I unearthed had the sense to scramble beneath another rock.

The way this season is progressing it should only have to stay there a few more weeks.

At least, I’m happy to report, I no longer stub my toe on the way to the woodshed.



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