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Wednesday, 23 May 2007 00:00

From dogwood to blackberry winter

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Frost warnings and advisories across the Blue Ridge tonight (May 18) officially announce this year’s “blackberry winter.” It is coming about six weeks after “dogwood winter” and will be a much more gentle reminder of Ma Nature’s cold side. The reports I’ve seen are calling for the possibility of frost in the mountain valleys.

Now that dogwood winter – that was a winter to remember. For some reason the Blue Ridge Parkway gate off U.S. 74 just west of Waynesville was left open the Saturday before Easter. My 5-year-old, Izzy, and I were out for a morning ride and decided to take advantage of the open door. We cruised up to Waterrock Knob. That morning at 10 a.m. the temperature at Waterrock was nine degrees Fahrenheit. There was about five inches of fresh snow, and we had a blast.

If you haven’t seen the joy on a child’s face when confronted with a blanket of fresh snow, you haven’t lived. The median in the middle of the parking area at Waterrock was an untouched carpet of white. After we left, it looked as if a flock of snow angels had descended for a brief rest.

Some kind of dogwood and/or blackberry winter is a pretty sure bet here in the mountains of Western North Carolina. The largest recorded snowfall for a 24-hour period in North Carolina occurred on May 10, 1994 (Mother’s Day) on Mt. Pisgah where about five feet of wet snow fell. Maybe that was a Mother’s Day winter.

Dogwood winter and blackberry winter join the local lexicon that refers to regular weather events across the Appalachians. Kentucky even has another winter after dogwood and blackberry. This winter is called Linsey-Woolsey britches winter and refers to the last time winter clothing made from this homespun combination of linen and wool would be worn.

Then, of course, after spring come the “dog days” of summer. Those hot days of late July through August when the dog star Sirius joins the sun in the morning sky.

After summer, the welcomed cool of autumn settles in. But wait — summer doesn’t give up so easily. We will almost surely have that late fall warm period known as “Indian Summer.”

And winter is not exempt. A “January thaw” often occurs in mid-winter, coinciding with the incursion of a warm, maritime tropical air mass that streams up out of the Gulf of Mexico.

These colorful euphemisms are simply reminders that the natural world is not the neat, tidy process that we try to make it. The reason spring is from March 21 to June 21 and summer is from June 21 to September 23 and that autumn and winter follow within their respective timeframes is because, for the most part, the human brain has to compartmentalize to understand.

Some like Gandhi and Einstein have been able to see the inner workings of larger processes, but for the most of us, we have to reduce these larger processes into concepts we are comfortable with. But these tiny concepts are not the natural world.

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