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In this time of blizzards and tornadoes, yet another winter storm passed over the East Coast yesterday and last night. Here is a picture of my garden this morning, followed by a photo of the neighbor’s angry Norway Maple bare of leaves and subdued under a coat of snow.  It’s hard to believe that all of the crocuses, tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths are sleeping beneath the drifts.  Since I’m leaving before Spring and won’t get to appreciate the bulbs I planted, maybe it’s best not to think about them and to picture the garden this way from now on.  I can just imagine it as forever free from aphids and leaf rot and imperfection–permanently suspended under a pristine coat of white…

Argh no, it’s still a frustrating picture.  What is the point of gardening or painting or toymaking or starting anything?  It’s all just going to get ruined by the ineluctible forces of entropy.

Stupid winter!

Park Slope Garden on January 27th, 2011

The neighbor's Norway maple--for once not actively trying to kill all the plants around it

A Frost Giant pushing to end the world of order and crush all things under an endless cascade of ice...wait, a minute, how did this picture get in here?

7th Avenue Park Slope, Brooklyn (on December 26th, 2010)

Welcome back from the Saturnalia…er…Christmas break.  This year is winding down fast. Later on this week we’ll do some 2010 wrap-up, but for right now let’s concentrate on what everyone else is concentrating on—the crazy weather.

Yesterday and last night New York City was socked by the worst blizzard I have ever seen here.  Around 9:00 PM last night I walked out along 7th avenue in Park Slope to be confronted with a snowscape straight out of a Jack London story (I braved this fearsome weather to return Despicable Me to the video store on time).  Evil winds whipped great sheets of snow into my face and reduced visibility down to 10 meters or less.  Huge snow drifts blocked the roads and made travel impossible.  The BMWs and Audis of Park Slope’s worthy burghers were rendered useless.  A great dim shape looming in the white waste was revealed to be an abandoned city bus trapped in a drift with its emergency blinkers turned on–a restlessly dozing behemoth.  This morning there was a snow drift in my room formed by snow blowing through the crack under the garden door.

The same bus was still there this morning on 7th Avenue.

I made my way to work this morning walking down the middle of the road—no vehicles were operating.  I had to hike through the drifts and ice to a distant train since the F was not operating (and probably still isn’t).   Even Rockefeller Center seemed empty.  Sitting in a plaza amidst impassible streets the great Christmas tree is half covered in snow and hoarfrost.

The Rockefeller Tree seen from the break-room at my office this morning. Note the absence of traffic!

All told, New York received 20 inches of snow (more in some places) with winds gusting up to 40 miles per hour.  According to the US National Weather Service the blizzard was the result of a low pressure system which originated off North Carolina which means Georgia and South Carolina have had their first white Christmas in over a century.  Holiday travelers are stuck where they are–since airports all along the coast are closed.  I shudder to think of people returning to New York from Europe–which was hit by its own blizzards last week.

My Garden this morning....

So what is up with this weather?  Park Slope Brooklyn has been hit with a tornado, a hailstorm (which I didn’t blog about but which flattened the autumn remnants of my garden with gumball sized hail), and this blizzard.  We had some fearsomely hot days this summer as well—which I didn’t think to mention since I kind of like them.  Since global climate scientists have no definitive answers, neither do I–however it bears remembering that 2010 was a year of greater than average volcanic activity.  Not only did Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland disrupt Europe’s air traffic for weeks by erupting directly in the Jet stream.  It was joined by Mount Merapi erupting in Indonesia and various Siberian and Chilean volcanic events (you can review dramatic photos of the year in eruptions on NASA’s website). These eruptions come in a time of extremely strange solar weather and, in the bigger picture, a great ice age is still ending (not to mention whatever climate change we have caused with our love of fossil fuels and our stubborn refusal to move forward researching and funding nuclear power options).

Ash from Eyjafjallajökull drifts over an Icelandic village in Spring of 2010

Of course this is anecdotal speculation on my part. I am certainly not an atmospheric scientist, but merely a hapless office drone with extremely cold wet feet.  Even so, I hope you will buzz back to Ferrebeekeeper this week so we can look back over the year and think about what is coming.  In the mean time stay warm out there!

Yesterday, after work, as per my usual routine, I took the subway home to Park Slope, Brooklyn. Emerging from the underground train station at Seventh Avenue, I was startled to find the windows were smashed out of “Brooklyn Industries” (a store which purveys $50 tee shirts that say “Brooklyn”) and shattered plate glass had been thrown across the street.  Emergency vehicles were everywhere and the citizenry was in a state of high excitement. Naturally I assumed there had finally been a civil insurrection and my banker neighbors were all dead, but when I looked at the neighborhood more closely and utilized my powers of ratiocination, I realized that rioters would probably not twist the tops off of trees, snap power cables, and knock down chimneys.  Clearly another perpetrator was implicated.

Park Slope neighborhood in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Thursday, Sept. 16, 2010 (Mark Lennihan/AP))

In order to get to the bottom of the mysterious events, I interviewed some eyewitnesses who asserted that the sky had turned green, bullwhips of lightening lashed from the heavens, and then a crushing wall of rain and water moved across the land.  The culprit was revealed to be a severe thunder storm, quite possibly a tornado.  Apparently the National Weather Service is spending today reviewing replays to find out whether we can officially call it such or not.  Here’s a movie of the storm on Youtube.

The storm twisted the wild cherry tree in my backyard around by several degrees (!) and tipped over some lawn furniture, but apparently did not do any severe damage to my apartment or garden.  The neighborhood was not so fortunate.  Huge trees (and little ones) were lying on cars everywhere.  The high wind blew down fences, scaffolds, temporary constructions, and edifices that were old or poorly constructed.  Brooklyn is a symphony of chainsaws and hammers right now.

On 3rd Street between 4th and 5th Avenues in Brooklyn (TheSharkDaymond)


It has been a while since I posted anything about my garden.  Late spring’s great suffusion of roses is long gone.  My roommate pulled up my last toad lily during a one day reign of terror.  She also killed the hapless iris, pulled up the tulips, and unpotted several unlucky caladiums (however that terrible incident is now long passed).  Currently the garden’s plants seem wearied and wilted by July’s melting heat.  All of them are quiescent except for one: the mighty and sovereign king of the garden is unfazed by hundred degree heat and blazing sun.  Neither drought nor inundation can touch it.  It is the main feature of my garden (even if it is technically in the neighbor’s yard) so I have decided to blog about the hateful but extraordinary Norway maple tree (Acer platanoides).

I was unable to take a good picture because it is too big to fit in the frame (and I was unable to move farther away).

The maple is magnificent.  It is taller than the four story brick townhouses around it and it spreads as wide as it is tall.  From March to December it is covered with big beautiful yellow-green leaves.  It has a strong handsome trunk and a lovely shape.  But, to quote Wikipedia, “Unfortunately, despite its good looks and urban hardiness, [the Norway maple] releases chemicals to discourage undergrowth which tends to create bare, muddy run-off conditions immediately beneath the tree.”  That ‘area beneath the tree” compromises the majority of my flower garden—and the tree doesn’t stop with herbicidal chemicals.  Throughout the entire year it drops all sorts of stuff.  First it drizzles a layer of sticky sap in spring, followed by bushy chartreuse flowers, and then by countless thousands of helicopter seeds.  The seeds burst into life everywhere and must be constantly weeded out of all pots and beds. In autumn the maple drops enough yellow leaves to smother the garden outright.  Winter brings showers of twigs and limbs.

The trees around the Norway maple are afraid of it and are trying to escape.  The black cherry in my yard is bending away from the maple and trying to escape through the neighbor’s workshop roof.  Next door, a little ornamental tree is leaning away at a 45 degree angle.  All smaller plants within twenty feet of it that are not in pots wind up dead.  Every time I have put a trowel in the ground I have uncovered one or more of the tree’s roots.  I imagine it in slow motion over the years, wracking surrounding stone and concrete and leaving the lesser trees dead or growing away from it as best they can.  Its as though a fifty foot tall green Viking sprouted up over the course of a decade.

The wild cherry tree in my backyard is trying to escape through the neighbors mystery shed.

Naturally the Norway maple is an invader.  People brought it from Europe and Southwest Asia where it is one of the dominant trees.  They planted it here until it suddenly dawned on them what a mean & aggressive plant it truly is.  Now it is banned in several states.

The Norway Maple's wild range: continental Europe & beyond....

Though seemingly impervious to diseases, insects, and other plants, the mighty maple has two implacable enemies.  Summer thunder storms are capable of breaking its huge limbs as are the nor’easters which range up and down the Atlantic coast later in the year. A bough dislodged by a virulent winter gale smashed the fence to bits last winter.  Finally humans are a threat to the tree: dodgy electricians (I’m not saying ConEd) ran a big electric wire right through its central fork.  Whenever the maple sways in the wind, it blackens and sparks around the wire.  I worry that someday the electric company and the elements will conspire to bring the whole thing smashing down in a maelstrom of rock hard limbs and sizzling wires.

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