It’s been one of the cooler, wetter summers in memory, enough so that everyday banter about the weather seems even more ubiquitous than usual. A friend in Maine emailed that his pumpkins had become an experiment in modified hydroponics. Another suggested that his boots had been wet for so long he’d begun to notice webbing forming between his toes – reverse evolution, he theorized, then exclaimed: “Ocean, here we come!” It gets more absurd. Just this week, I got a query letter proposing an entire issue devoted to ark building. A taste:
. . . The heart of the issue, “Ark Construction 101,” will provide your can-do readers with step-by-step instructions for building their own ark. Connection to the forest, and lumber properties, will be clearly articulated in a review of the best species to use for ark construction (e.g. rot-resistance, buoyancy, etc.). . . Sue Morse can offer a special feature on “Bobcats to Bats: How best to Bait your Boat,” reviewing little known techniques for how to find and convince the more skittish creatures to sign up for the ride . . .
It all makes you wonder how, exactly, the natural world is being affected by the crazy weather.
The general consensus in the gardening/farming world seems to be, predictably, that the tropical plants (peppers, tomatoes, etc.) are suffering, while the cold crops are flourishing. Chuck Wooster, our staff farmer over in the Connecticut River Valley, reports that his greens are doing great, especially spinach, which he harvested into July for the first time ever. At press time his squash was rotting as fast as they were growing, and his tomatoes were sizing up but not ripening. Word from a farmer friend in southwestern Vermont had his pepper plants aborting at a certain height – they just shed all their branches, crumbled, and started anew as root suckers. Up in central Vermont, Ginny Barlow’s pepper plants are the same size they were in late May; the ones in her greenhouse are twice as large. Statewide, dairy guys and gals report cold-stunted field corn and, in some cases, significant black cutworm damage – a double whammy.
Native fauna seems to be faring much better. Overgrown meadows are lush and vibrant and out of control; I watched a pair of deer ears float through a patch of beanstalk-like goldenrod last week. The forest seems possessed with a rainforest-like fecundity. Tree trunks wear thick coats of moss – thicker than usual, it seems. Vines – Virginia creeper and wild grapes, specifically – seem particularly emboldened by the wet weather.
Fungi are thriving. Mycophiles are thriving. Chanterelle crops are prolific, perhaps a bit earlier, perhaps a bit smaller based on the cool weather. Mold spores have taken over many a wet basement.
I’m not sure how the weather is affecting animals. Common sense suggests that cold and wet is not good for this year’s young. Naturalist Mary Holland has a hunch that loon chick numbers in New Hampshire may be affected by the rain, since high water levels can equal flooded loon nests. I’ve noticed very few wild turkey poults in the meadows, an observation that echoes the conventional wisdom that bad weather during the brood-rearing period in May and June can be devastating to turkey chicks. Biologists have theorized that when rainfall is abundant in May, scent conditions make it easier for predators to locate hens on nests. This is referred to as the “wet hen theory,” because it is hypothesized that a hen with wet feathers gives off more scent than a hen that is dry.
If there is something to this, one suspects that other animals could be affected as well. Having said that, I’ve noticed plenty of healthy twin fawns; I have a burgeoning family of woodchucks living in my garage; my email inbox is full of healthy fox-kit pictures sent in by nature photographers from around the Northeast. All of this suggests that many mammal family units made it through to dispersal just fine.
Where biting insects are concerned, there actually seems to be fewer mosquitoes and blackflies than usual, which doesn’t make any sense considering all the standing water. I’ve had this observation echoed by others, and would love to get an entomologists take. Around here, the lack of mosquitoes is more than made up for by roving packs of deerflies, which seem to be doing just fine.
According to naturalist Bryan Pfeiffer, word across the Northeast is that dragonfly numbers are down. Pfeiffer writes: “We suspect dragonflies are indeed emerging more or less as usual. But without the sunny dry weather that allows them to harden into swift flyers, they may not be living as long as usual. The newly emerged soft adults, called tenerals, are vulnerable to predation (often by birds). Without conditions for “hardening” they could be more vulnerable. Plus, they themselves need warm sunny days for patrolling and hunting prey. I also suspect that prey species (Diptera and other small flying insects) aren’t flying as much, reducing hunting opportunities for adult dragonflies.”
This is all anecdotal, of course.
What have you noticed? If this blog has value, it’s in the fact that it can connect people and stimulate conversation. Feel free to add your own observations/theories about the cool, wet weather. We’d love to hear from you.