Thursday, January 18, 2018

October 2013 – Message from the Guildmaster

October 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Message from the Guildmaster


Fall has officially arrived in central Virginia, although it is hard to tell since the temperatures remain in the 80’s, the trees have not turned, and only a few scattered leaves are falling. Usually we have had some chilly nights, and a hint of the cold to come. Some years have provided a light snow prior to Halloween. This year we are still mowing the yard.  I have been watching the weather forecast for Charleston, SC in anticipation of our annual trip there. Looks pretty much like here, with 80’s during the day and a bit milder nights than we have. Maybe we should save some money and just stay home.

I don’t know about your part of the country, but the weather and our natural world have been very strange this year. Of course we have witnessed a succession of warmer seasons over the past few years with little or no snow in the winter, and many mild days in the coldest months.  Our summer began with unending rain. It appeared we would have a wet and very green season…. until July when it all stopped and adequate rainfall has been in very short supply. Stream levels are falling quickly, and the ground is extremely dry.

Jan is a prolific gardener, and we joke about our “tomato jungle” each year. Most years we are harvesting tomatoes well into October before the plants finally give out. Even with constant watering, this year everything was pretty much gone by September. The hardy pepper plants lasted a while longer, but not like most seasons.

In our back yard are three large, old chestnut trees. By September we are normally roasting nuts on a daily basis, and trading them with our friends. This year there are no chestnuts to be found. We have counted perhaps a dozen burrs on the ground, and earlier saw none on the trees. The few that fell were quickly scooped up by the deer. It was also surprising to see squirrels carrying green chestnut burrs in their mouths, hoping to recover the nuts inside.

Our giant old oak trees have no acorns at all. The abundant crop of walnuts that cover parts of our yard are nowhere to be found. Hickory nuts are non-existent. It is not just us, as I have discovered.  All of our friends indicate the same at their houses. No nuts of any kind on any trees. Some folks have speculated that the cicadas were responsible since they lay their eggs at the end of branches, which then turn brown and die in a month or so. All over our mountain are trees with dead branch ends. I am not a scientist, but I find this theory hard to swallow since chestnuts in particular are usually present all along the tree branches.

In addition to this lack of natural food, the squirrel population has skyrocketed. Walking out of our back door, it is not difficult to see a dozen or more in the yard and the trees. Dead squirrels are everywhere on the road. It is sometimes hard to miss them when ten or more dart in front of the car while driving around the mountain. The deer population remains strong, and there are an abundance of wild turkeys.

Along with these animals, there seem to be more bears than ever. Our friends across mountain have had a real problem with bears coming after their guineas and getting into their trash. Yesterday, one of our neighbors reported two bear cubs in her yard, playing along her rock wall. A bear was seen in the city of Lynchburg last week, and there have been have more numerous sightings than usual.

There has also been a real problem with yellow jacket nests this year. Most years we find one, or maybe two somewhere in the yard. This year we have seen ten or more, and unfortunately have encountered them in their worst mood. Mowing over a yellow jacket nest is not the most pleasant way to spend an afternoon. A number of these in-ground nests have also been raided by various animals. I understand that bears, foxes, and skunks will root out the nests and eat the bees. Parts of our yard look like a geological project with  large holes dug around the bee nests.

It seems that the animals are looking for food and none is to be found. I am curious how they will fair over the winter as a result? Will we witness a decline in the animal populations over the next few years? If the natural food situation does not change, I think it will be unavoidable, and the consequences will have a real impact on our natural world.

Regardless of your position and beliefs concerning global warming, it is difficult to deny that our world has, and is, changing.  As a farmer, my grandfather kept extensive diaries through the first half of the 1900’s.  He noted each day’s weather in relation to the work and productivity of his farm and crops.  Looking back at them, it is startling to see how much colder and wetter this area was than during  the past forty or so years.  It was not uncommon for snow to begin in November or December and last throughout the winter.  He writes about many days of pruning fruit trees in the snow, or getting up to feed cows and chickens in the cold weather.

As I mentioned earlier, I am not a scientist, and I do not have answers for the environmental changes we are witnessing. Thomas Jefferson saw the future of our country as a largely agrarian society, maintaining its beautiful, natural landscape. I believe he would be very disappointed  with the directions we have taken.

As always, I invite your comments, criticisms or other observations. Until next month, I hope that you enjoy  the fall season.

All the best,

 Jeff Bibb

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