Andrew Buckley: Climate Delayed

Daffodils in the middle of May. But no tulips yet.

I measure the march of spring by an immovable date on the calendar, specifically my birthday in the second week in May. The tulips should be up now. They are not. Sometimes they are passed. I cannot even find them. Meanwhile, daffodils are typically out around Easter. Whenever that is. They’re out then, in one fashion or another, in April.

So now I am all screwed up. Having had a strange, stormy winter and wet spring, nature on Cape Cod seems a tad confused. We all saw flooding and puddles over the past several months where we never saw them before. Places not even on the flood maps.

And while many lawns are just now needing their first cut, my mother’s place on the Oyster Pond looks like we’d need a thresher to get through it. Granted, this used to be farmland for Chatham Bars Inn long ago, but this looked like it could have been an early June lawn. Yet across the pond on Eldredge Neck, there are places where you can make out individual blades of grass due to the lack of growth.

For those of us who work in relation to the weather and the seasons, out of doors, on the water, in fields, on roofs or ladders, on docks or pavement, there are equal parts planning and flexibility to our lives. Often times, when the weather is bad, we can’t do the primary part of our work. But when the entire season is delayed, or advanced, it messes with our yearly schedule.

Ocean temperatures determine fish catch. Dry spells can stunt or stop the growing of a lawn. In one case, the cold delayed the delivery of hydrangeas to a house that was to host a wedding. The nursery just couldn’t guarantee the plants would survive in these temperatures. Yet the large bed of dirt – no, mud – sat empty and precariously close to the spot where the bride’s train would sweep across the lawn.

But I still have seen a true sign of spring: at the supermarket, locals with summer-dark tans. They didn’t get those from a booth or a bottle. And the baby bunnies are scampering about. I recall one birthday when I was getting ready to leave for my brother’s graduation from Purdue, finding a tiny rabbit on the front step. We only had time to put her in a box with a handful of long grass and leave her with friends. Since then, I’ve always kept an eye out.

In our lilies. Under the roadside honeysuckle. Anywhere that provided easy refuge and close proximity to tender new plant growth.

And the hawks. I’ve heard them more lately, their cries seeming to come from everywhere, only to look up and realize they were far above. Looking for whatever they can manage in their claws. Either those baby rabbits or their parents.

As the temperatures fight to stay above 50 during the day, I search for all the jobs that still need to be completed before the start of the season. Like raking our lawn of the last of the fallen tree debris, before the grass grows up and hides everything from the mower. Checking the battery in the Mako to be sure I am not putting a dud back in, to be discovered only once it is back on the mooring and tough to work on. Checking the fence for any openings for Bash to get out, or larger critters to get in. The fence companies are, after a destructive winter, booked far beyond what is practical for us.

Meanwhile the calendar says, regardless of weather, people will be arriving on this or that date. So whether the forecast calls for rain or not, some things will just have to be done. The grass will have to be planted in the rain, the house will have to be painted in the cold, the mooring will have to be moved at low tide.

Things that just have to get done. Or done enough not to matter.

I am still not sure when to plant our sunflowers this year. But that’s just for myself, and for the birds, when they come. It is best to prepare early, though, as the birds know when they ought to arrive. They follow the season that is, rather than the season as we are used to it being.

We, who spend almost as many hours outside with them, tip our hats to the true climate experts. Would that we had wings, too, in spring.