Signs of Spring in Winter: The New Monsoon Season

Eastern redbud with buds

If you’ve been reading Mark All My Words for any length of time, you know I’ve been noticing local indicators of climate change — or climate collapse, as it should be called — for three years now. When I first wrote about the early growth of flowering plants in February of 2017, I was noticing temperatures above 60° and 70° F throughout the winter months — which, for North Carolina at this time of year, is an epic heatwave.

The Heatwave Resumes

As expected, that heatwave has not only continued but worsened.

The latest example of this was a period of seven days, from January 10th to 16th, during which the temperature refused to drop below freezing even one single time. Worse than that, the daily average high temperature varied from 64° to 72° F — which would be normal for April, but for January is downright obscene.

And that doesn’t even begin to address the rainfall we’ve had lately. From Jan. 11th to the 13th, we had about 60% more precipitation than usual. And while it may not sound like a lot when you read this on a screen in the comfort of your home or office, it most certainly is when you look out your window and see an apparent tropical storm, in the middle of winter, dropping torrential rain that quickly floods low-lying roads and walkways.

All things considered, even though January may be a winter month in some latitudes, it would now be more accurate to consider it a monsoon month, at least in the state of North Carolina. But of course I don’t expect you to believe me simply because I tell you.

Illustrating My Point

So, to illustrate my point, I took photos last week on Wednesday, January 15th, 2020.

The first photos I took were in my own backyard, since that was the easiest place for me to get to. My compost in particular provided a prime example of the elevated temperature and rainfall with the growth of purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum).

Purple deadnettle in early spring

Then I looked in my front yard and found the flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa) had also started to put forth new growth.

Flowering quince

After searching the rest of my front yard and finding no other photogenic examples of plants in bloom — although there were plenty of dandelions and chickweed with new growth — I decided to head down to the Hillsborough Riverwalk to look for more signs of spring in winter, i.e. the new monsoon season.

Searching for Signs of Spring

After driving to Hillsborough, North Carolina and parking near Weaver St. Market, I got out of my car, descended a flight of stairs, and started down the Hillsborough Riverwalk.

Map of Hillsborough Riverwalk

As I walked across the first bridge over the Eno River, the first thing I noticed was the sheer number of people, who seemed to be coming out of every nook and cranny, apparently deciding to take advantage of the first sunny day in almost two weeks.

Of course it didn’t hurt that it felt like the first day of spring.

After going about a tenth of a mile on the Hillsborough Riverwalk, I crested a small hill and caught a glimpse of one of the most photogenic views of the Eno River. Stepping off the trail, I got the best possible angle and took the following photo.

Eno River from Hillsborough Riverwalk

Although you can see there’s very little growth in the canopy of deciduous trees, there’s noticeable growth along the bottom edge of the frame, where low-lying plants are coming back to life, even though it’s the middle of January.

As I rounded the next bend in the trail, I caught the reverse angle of the previous shot, stepped off the trail again, and took another photo.

Hillsborough Riverwalk overlooking Eno River, toward downtown

Once again, there’s not much to be seen in the canopy of deciduous trees. Even so, there’s decidedly noticeable growth in the bottom right corner and on the left bank of the Eno River, across from the woman taking a video with a young boy by her side.

Continuing on, I passed a veritable army of people — old and young, on foot and on bike and on skateboard, all more than happy to enjoy what felt like the first day of spring.

After another quarter of a mile, I looked down and finally found a good example of the chickweed (Stellaria media) which I had noticed earlier. This specimen was different from the others, however, because of the dead brown leaves surrounding it, which provided a clear contrast for the new green foliage of the young plant.

Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out my phone, stooped down, centered the frame, and took a shot.

Chickweed peaking out of fallen leaves

Shoving my phone back in my pocket, I got up and kept going.

After another tenth of a mile, I came out of the forest which borders the Eno River and crossed the second bridge on the Riverwalk. Following the trail, I started to turn left when a flash of yellow caught my eye.

Stopping in my tracks, I looked down and realized it wasn’t just plastic wrap or a discarded bottle cap. It was a dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) in full bloom. Bending down, I tried to ignore the crowd of young men behind me who had less than zero interest in my photographic endeavor.

Dandelion flower

After a quick photo shoot, I rose to my feet and followed the trail to my left, then went down a covered walkway and under a train trestle. As I came back to solid ground, I looked to my left and noticed a clump of new green foliage jutting up out of the dead brown leaves.

Immediately I recognized the long, ruffled, oval leaves of horseradish (Armoracia rusticana), and I knew I needed to get a photo. So I pulled out my phone, stooped down, and repeated the same steps as before.

Horseradish growing by Riverwalk

Rising quickly, I brushed myself off and continued down the trail as the jubilant sounds of children at play resounded nearby.

Walking at a brisk pace, I quickly came to the western edge of Gold Park and circled it. As I traipsed under the canopy of bare branches, I soon reached a small bridge and crossed it. Then I came to the parking lot for Gold Park and tried to avoid being mobbed by hordes of small children, who once again seemed to be coming out of every nook and cranny on what felt like the first day of spring.

Before being mobbed, however, I looked up and noticed tiny explosions of magenta in the canopy of ornamental trees bordering the parking lot. These explosions weren’t optical illusions though; they were eastern redbuds (Cercis canadensis). Pulling my phone out of my pocket, I tried to get it to focus on the quarter-inch buds, but my camera simply did not want to cooperate. After much coaxing and fiddling, however, I did manage to get one decent shot.

Eastern redbud near Gold Park

As I walked through the crowd of children and parents by the playground, what struck me most was how oblivious all of them were to the signs of spring — and of a collapsing climate — that surrounded them on every side.

And the same could be said for the rest of our culture as well.


26 thoughts on “Signs of Spring in Winter: The New Monsoon Season

    1. Absolutely, my friend. If only people would put down their phones and experience the natural world with all the depth and breadth of their senses, they would be much more likely to value it and fight for it, rather than sitting idly by as it burns.

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  1. The same things seem to be happening in Arkansas. Just took pictures of dandelions in bloom, trees budding, plants putting on leaves and buds. Our temperatures have been much higher than normal and the rainfall abundant. I am sure global warming is changing our world. Sad situation.

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    1. Yes, it most certainly is, Lizzy.

      One of the biggest reasons why I hardly listen to mainstream news sources any more is because of the widespread denial of what’s happening to our planet and, more importantly, what we should be doing about it–like shutting down the fossil fuel industry, banning plastics, and holding corporate executives and politicians criminally liable for the mass extinction and destruction of livelihood that they are perpetrating.

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      1. I totally agree that those in charge of this country are not opening their eyes to the facts about global warming. They need to start working on the problems of planet earth immediately.

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  2. My bees have been busy during this warm spell collecting loads of pollen, as if it were springtime. It’s a schizophrenic winter and I’m not sure the plants or wildlife in our area knows quite what to do with it. On the edge of this recent cold period, on that night where it was in the 70s in the afternoon in the low 40s by early morning, I heard lots of frogs chirping in the woods in low 40 degree weather as if were already spring.

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    1. Yeah, I live about a half-mile from a stretch of wetland where there’s a significant population of frogs, and they were quite noisy for most of last week. It’s very worrisome, and for many species the rapid and dramatic fluctuation in temperature–paired with lack of food after emerging from early hibernation–can be fatal.

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    1. Yes, it’s really insane the degree of fluctuation in temperature and rainfall, especially in the winter months now. While it was solidly in the 70s for most of last week, it’s been solidly in the 30s this week.

      Climate change/collapse goes in both directions, sometimes nearly at once.

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    1. Absolutely. It’s the responisibility of those in power to use it wisely and for the benefit of all. And catering to the fossil fuel industry while our planet burns is neither of those.

      Wishing you well.

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