FEBRUARY

February 1st BLUE MOON
We woke up this morning to moonlight (last night's blue moon) flooding in the windows at 6 a.m. The sun came up shortly thereafter and although still cold, it held the promise of a perfect winter day. In the afternoon we went skiing, this time on a nature trail nearby. The trail itself was a bit rutty, so we skied out onto the adjacent lake instead. It was sunny and near 30 degrees, and in a matter of minutes we had worked up a sweat. Shedding earmuffs and jackets, we reached the far end of the lake where a small group of people were quietly ice-fishing. We skied back along the other side of the lake in and out of the shadows of the huge virgin white pines.

February 2nd GROUNDHOG DAY
Several years back I had read somewhere that as of Groundhog Day you should have a least half of your total wood supply left. At the time I thought this was a bit overestimated, the coldest months being behind us. But over the years, experience has taught me that this is right on the mark. And if you have considerably less than half left, you had better set out and find a dead tree, or call up the local woodcutter and get more. So today being Groundhog Day, we went out and took inventory of the woodpile. As it was, we seemed to be in pretty good shape, and it looked like we might even have some left over to start next year's pile. We usually try to get started on that chore in March or April, right after the maple sap is all boiled down to syrup.

Actually, it's best to cut a tree which you plan to use for firewood in the dead of winter when the sap is down. It not only seasons better, but it is easier to split. It's difficult though, and dangerous, trying to get around a tree in the deep snow. If the snow isn't too deep, however, we'll try to cut down at least one tree before I tap the maples. That way Pete can stay busy splitting wood (which he prefers to do) while I boil the sap. With more mild temperatures and light rain again today, it looks like we'll probably get the chance to do just that.

February 3rd CREEK, CREAK
The creek had hardly begun to refreeze, but with yesterday's rain, it broke again. This time we heard it from the house. I hadn't been expecting it, so by the time we raced down to the bank, the torrent was past. The ice was not so thick this time, so the effect was nowhere near as dramatic. Also, seeing it after the fact is kind of a let down. Much like getting to a parade after it's already started. The anticipation is half the fun.

February 6th A RACKET
The entire week has been picture perfect and mild to boot. I myself would prefer a bit more snow to ski on, but I'm not complaining. The birds, blue jays especially, and squirrels have been having a heyday. On mild days like these, they seem to materialize out of nowhere. The blue jays have been attacking the compost pile, attracted to the eggshells and orange peels and the one persistent maraschino cherry that I had pulled off a fruit cake.

As it turns out, most animals in the Adirondacks don't actually hibernate. Instead they just hole up in varying degrees of semi-activity. Their metabolisms are reduced so that they need less food and can conserve energy. The set-up is different for each individual species. The chipmunks, who store more than enough food to get through the winter in their underground homes, come out on nice days just to have a look around. Mice and moles tunnel in the snow when they can't get through the frozen ground. Squirrels are probably the most active of all, except in the most severe weather.

Squirrels breed both in the spring and in the fall, so there were lots of little ones from last fall's brood out there today, as well as plenty of moms and dads. The trees are so thick here that they can run from the branch of one tree to the branch of another and never have to come down. They could probably make it all the way into town and back (if they had reason to go there) at about thirty feet above ground. The squirrels and jays together make quite a racket.

February 7th CAT-TAILS
The sunny mild days have allowed the snow to crust up once again inviting a walk in the winter woods. I hiked out through the back to where some cat-tails (Typha spp.) have recently established themselves in what in summer is a rather swampy area.

Cat-tails are so common and well known that they hardly need a description. There are two species in our area, common (T. latifolia) and narrow-leaved (T. angustifolia), the difference being in the width of the leaves. While both have long, slender, ribbon-like leaves, the common cat-tail has leaves up to an inch wide, while the narrow-leaved variety has leaves up to only a half inch wide. There are also differences in their flower structures, but these are slight.

Both species grow to a height of six feet or more and are easily recognized by their cigar shaped flower spikes. This spike bears a combination of male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers, the male flowers on top, pollinating the female flowers just beneath them. It is this pollinated female flower cluster that becomes the “cigar” made up of tiny densely packed rust colored fruits, each attached to the stem by a finely haired stalk. When these fruits mature, the spike explodes, releasing the seeds to be borne away on the wind.