River report

March 18, 2017

It was a sad day down on the river. We had a spring-like February followed by a serious cold snap. A lot of plants got fooled and now they’re paying for it.

Virginia bluebells are normally one of my most beloved heralds of spring. They thrust their knife-like leaves through the silty soil, and in no time their lush foliage clothes the bare ground of winter. The flowers emerge, first shades of purple and lavender, only turning a delicate blue when they have fully opened. It’s like stepping into a painting by a French impressionist.

Today was different. The bluebells had emerged, but only to be struck down by the cold and several inches of wet snow. The plants lay crushed and prostate, their still-lovely flowers laying defeated on the soil. We’ll see if the coming warmer weather can revive at least some of them.

A gaudy bug. Meanwhile, I was struck by the number trees with swaths of tawny bark. These are of ash trees that had died from the ravages of the emerald ash borer. Woodpeckers had chiseled off the darker outer layer of bark to get at the grubs. Even in winter, I could easily take inventory of the trees that were soon to die and fall to the ground.

The borer responsible for thisxxx comes originally from Asia. Its striking color–more emerald than a real emerald–belies the destruction it cause when it lays its eggs etc. Came here when? I’m normally not a hater when it comes to introduced species. “Nature continually changes,” I say. I happen not to like this change.

The ash is a fine tree. The white ash (Fraxinus alba) in particular is much esteemed for its tough wood, which was the material of choice for baseball bats before the era of aluminum. The kitchen counters of the house were I grew up were made of ash.

What’s happening to the ash is a reenactment of the chestnut blight that removed this similarly magnificent tree from our forests. I have never seen a mature chestnut tree. My grandchild will likely never see an ash tree. I have an old baseball bat which I will save for him.