The Battle of the Seasons
“Spring is the time of year when it is summer in the sun and winter in the shade.” ― Charles Dickens in Great Expectations.
Yes, Mr. Dickens; the arrival of spring is so instantaneous and predictable! Like clockwork, it happens automatically every year when the sun is directly above the equator and daytime is equal in length to nighttime. So simple, on March 21st just stash away your winter coats and replace that snow plow on your John Deere lawn tractor with some gardening attachments.
In today’s world of long-range weather prediction models and smartphone Apps for everything under the sun, why do we believe it’s spring just because a document hanging on our walls says it’s so? Even a broken clock is right twice a day but that first day of spring notice on your calendar is usually as useful as a screen door on a submarine.
It’s pretty obvious that Mr. Dickens spent too much time writing about his beloved cities of London and Paris and never experienced the arrival of spring in the Scottish Highlands. Maybe the smog-filled skies in those two cities clouded his vision and fueled his doom-and gloom mindset, “… it was the season of Light, it was the Season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” (Charles Dickens, The Tale of Two Cities). Whatever the reason, it’s time to look at reality and set the record straight and examine the lengthy struggle between winter and spring.
My previous blog post Remembering Winter ending with Ole Man Winter in complete domination even in late March 2013. However, the battle is a often a marathon instead of a one-day sprint. It’s the patience and persistence of spring versus a whimpering winter with ever weakening supply lines. Spring has two main allies, longer days and warmer rays that grow stronger by the day. Winter’s allies – higher latitudes and altitudes. From the time that spring secures a beachhead on our coastal dunes, it slowly forces winter to retreat until it is finally eradicated from the highest mountains of the state. Where does it go? I’ve been told it migrates to even higher latitudes and altitudes and starts preparing for next year’s skirmish (more on that later).
Before proceeding with this story, I beg your patience and understanding as it’s a giant leap from nature photography to the war-torn battle lines. With that disclaimer, I now offer both brutal and beautiful images of this seasonal struggle. First the Blue Ridge Parkway on March 25th, four days after the declaration of spring. Clearly, winter is in command as fierce winds is blowing snow in every direction.
Another nearby view from Blowing Rock’s Cone Manor reveals an even more drear prospective for spring. Is spring just around the corner (or down the mountain)? Appears that winter is bunkered down behind snowdrifts and the village of Blowing Rock and surrounding hills are under siege. Ray’s Weather in Boone fills the airways with dire winter warnings and road and school closings. It’s going to be an extra long school year for the students and teachers of Watauga County.
It’s now mid-April and the snowy days of March have ended but still few signs of spring in the High Country. The focus shifts to our nation’s capital where perhaps peace negotiations might yield an end to the struggle. Yes, there is optimism from Washington where spring seems to be winning both the ground war (tulips on the National Mall) and the aerial war (cherry blossoms on the Tidal Basin). The rumor is that it is only a local condition due to lots of hot air from all the worthless political talk and bluster.
Now back to the beautiful part of the world and its late April in Blowing Rock. The snowy siege of winter has been replaced by the fresh scent of spring as tulips bring an early morning smile to the face of “The Gardener”, a fixture in the floral gardens on Main Street. She knows warmer days lie ahead when numerous volunteers will help her beautifical efforts and floods of tourist will wander aimlessly past her on Main Street enjoying their favorite variety of Kirwin’s ice cream cones.
Spring vegetation and wildflowers also come alive at Price Lake and on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Little Switzerland.
Spring seems to be getting ahead of itself at the Bear Den Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway (elevation – 3,359′) as trees more closely resemble the subdued yellow and brown colors of fall. Has winter allied with fall and short-circuiting the seasonal process this year?
May 1st and the patience and determination of spring is visible from Wiseman’s Overlook – trees down near the Linville River exhibit lots of green but little of no renewal is yet evident on the rim of the Linville Gorge (elevation change approximately 1,500′).
Two weeks later and the green movement is even more evident from the Little Lost Creek Cove cliffs in the Wilson Creek wilderness area. The hike from the trailhead was to assess the bloom status of the Carolina Rhododendrons but the real story was the seasonal differentiation between Wilson Creek and Grandfather Mountain and Calloway Peak, approximately 2,000 and 6,000 feet in elevation, respectively. No snow on Grandfather but also, no sign of spring because of persistent cold and frosty mornings (i.e., 28F on May, 13, 2013).
If you are a naturalist and have a better number, I’d appreciate your feedback but it’s my belief that every increase of elevation by a thousand feet delays the arrival of spring by about one week. Thus, the trees on McRae and Calloway Peaks should be in full splendor by the first week in June.
Fast forward another week and enjoy a beautiful sunrise from Grandmother Mountain (about 4,500′). Spring colors have reached Beacon Heights and the Hwy 221 gap between Grandfather and Grandmother Mountains. A colorful pre-dawn sky over Grandfather and the rolling fog are wonderful natural elements that make this image one of my favorites for this past spring.
May 23rd and the native (Carolina) rhododendrons were blooming at the Half Moon pull-out on Grandfather Mountain. Usually, the mountain peaks are covered by low-hanging clouds but on this morning it was the reversed, a heavy layer of fog in the valleys. In this image, the mountain peaks behind the village of Seven Devils (Hanging Rock Mountain) add beauty and depth to the image.
May 25th – beautiful and fragile Cinnamon ferns have started to spread their fronds on Grandmother Mountain. I captured these backlit ferns in the warm early morning sunlight with a wide-open 500 mm/f4 lens to produce a narrow depth of field and blur the background.
Many long-time local residents equate the arrival of spring with the bloom of the majestic Catawba Rhododendrons. Of course the higher the elevation, the later the bloom. This year in Blowing Rock the peak bloom occurred near the end of May or 10-12 days later than 2012 due to the cold weather in March and early April. That same delay of rhododendron bloom occurred at higher elevations. In 2012, the Catawba’s at renowned Craggy Gardens peaked the first week in June. This year they had not peaked yet at Craggy by mid-June but beautiful blooms were observed on the Blue Ridge Parkway as it curved around the southern edge of the Black Mountains near Mt. Mitchell.
Last but not least, the Roan Balds, the nirvana location for Catawba Rhododendrons in the High Country. Peak bloom in 2012 was around 7 June but my best observance of Roan’s rhododendrons this year was on June 19th. This early evening image from the iconic rock ledges of Jane Bald (5,807′) illustrates a less than stellar rhodo display. I’m sure the late winter and it’s harshness was the major culprit. Appreciate the real story from any botanist fans!
In summary, the battle of 2013 is over and spring was once again the winner even though a late and vicious winter in March made it’s arrival a slow and lengthy process. For nature photographers, that’s great – early spring in the Foothills stretching to almost summer on the Roan Balds. It’s a fascinating process to watch the slow climb of spring up the mountains with the rebirth of our trees and wildflowers.
Yes, 2013’s winter and spring battle is now history but Old Man Winter is a tough and vengeful foe. Perhaps the vengeance will be a early fall blizzard as I experienced several years in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. Or maybe, it will be payback time for the spring of 2014. Whatever, I’m ready and looking forward to capturing the beauty of nature!
I hope you enjoyed the images and story and would appreciate your feedback. If you are in Blowing Rock between July 25-30, please stop at Edgewood Cottage on south Main Street near BRAHM where I will be the Artist-in-Residence. I plan to have many of my favorite images on display.
Until next time, happy shooting! Live and love life to the fullest!