Early spring

_C1_0323.JPGThis is just wrong, y’all.

Trees and other plants from the South to the Great Lakes are coming to life several weeks early. Four days this month have reached record high temperatures, according to the National Weather Service, and we’ve gotten to 80 degrees twice. January had 11 days above 60, while the average is in the 40s. Now, there’s always been wacky weather, and climate scientists are always quick to point out that climate change doesn’t cause any single weather pattern, instead affecting the probability of certain events. Scientists have measured the highest carbon dioxide levels in millions of years in the atmosphere; the gas is strongly connected to temperature throughout the planet’s history.

On top of that, these particular blossoms belong to a Bradford pear, an ornamental but invasive species that humans brought here from east Asia. Invasive species like these trees and honeysuckles crowd out native plants and steal away their light and nutrients, which can hurt local bugs, birds, mammals, soil, water and us, and they’re hard to get rid of.

Basically we’ve made a mess, even if it looks nice or feels great.

_C1_0222.JPGThat brings me to these rock piles along Lee Creek at Devil’s Den State Park. I know I’ve shown them here at least once before, and they’re a pretty and neat way for dozens or even hundreds of people to connect in the same space. It’s also something we shouldn’t be doing, come to find out. It’s bad for creek beds and the fish and amphibians and bugs living in and under them, and it’s something park rangers around the country are trying to stop.

Anyway, I don’t mean to be the buzzkill during some really fantastic weather. The point is we humans have a way of leaving our marks big and small. Keep an eye on them.

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Thanks for lookin’.

Dan

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The Gems of America

IMG_1713.JPGHappy 100th birthday to our National Park Service, the federal agency that oversees and protects hundreds of national parks, monuments, preserves, recreation areas and other places worth seeing and saving.

The history of these parks is complicated, as histories usually are. They’re all infused with the countless forcible removals of Native Americans — Yosemite Valley was still home for some indigenous people until just a few decades ago — and one of their most important early proponents also helped inspire the Nazis. Today their maintenance is billions of dollars behind, and researchers have found the effects of climate change are decimating the conifers in the Rocky Mountains and poisoning the wetlands in the Everglades.

But these parks still protect thousands of square miles of every biome the continent has to offer. They span deserts and forests and rivers, and they hold our highest mountains, our lowest basins and our oldest trees. They gave an example for other countries to follow, setting aside their own natural treasures. As longtime National Park Service specialist and Nez Perce member Otis Halfmoon put it, “they are truly the gems of America.” They also do something less visible but crucially important, in my mind: They show us how small we are.

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IMG_4323A little humility seems all the more valuable to me these days. Now go visit some parks and help the National Park Service take care of them.

(If you don’t recognize these photos, they’re tiny pieces of Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado, Yosemite National Park in California, White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, and Hot Springs National Park and the Buffalo National River here in Arkansas.)

Thunder and Flood

IMG_1964No snow for the Ozarks this Christmas, just rain, rain, rain. As of this posting, between 6 inches and 10 inches have fallen almost without pause during the past two days along a band from Oklahoma to Indiana, according to the National Weather Service; for some comparison, here in Fayetteville that’s about the typical amount during November and December combined. It’s not forecast to let up until late tomorrow, either. In the meantime, we have a lot of the image above: overflowing ditches and streams and rivers, sunken roads, flooded fields and golf courses, and constantly overcast skies.

The amount of water flowing around here is almost indescribable. White-water rapids cascade from every bluff and cliff, bridges are overrun and, whether it’s in a gentle shower or a thunderstorm, the rain keeps falling, channeled by northwest Arkansas’ hills into torrents of opaque brown water.

IMG_1973Take Devil’s Den State Park, for example. The photo above shows one camping area along Lee Creek, which at this point usually spreads out placidly into a little lake as it approaches a dam built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Here’s what the dam usually looks like, as shown in a photo from April 2014:

_C1_4371Here’s what it looked like today (notice the turquoise metal spike for scale):

IMG_1980I almost wondered whether the dam was still there, the water poured over it so fast. The roar and spray drowned out anything softer than a yell. On the surrounding hillsides, newly created streams and waterfalls carved through the leaf-covered forest floor like threads of pearl through rust.

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IMG_2007We haven’t seen rain like this since May and June, when about a foot fell around here and led to flooding of its own (You might remember the photos of the inundated golf course). Wacky and dangerous weather has struck across the country, with record warmth and several deaths from tornadoes in the past few days. Stay safe out there, everybody. Turn around, don’t drown, the whole bit. It could take days for all of this water to calm down.

I’ll end with the (normally) little creek that runs by my apartment complex and some last thoughts: Thank goodness this isn’t snow, and brace yourself: It’s supposed to drop below freezing tomorrow night.

IMG_2016Hope you had a good holiday! Thanks for looking.

Dan