By Lisa Brunette
Here in St. Louis, folks often quote Mark Twain as having once opined:
If you don't like the weather in Missouri, just wait a few minutes.
Now it seems there's some question whether he actually said and/or wrote this, though Goodreads has it that the quote was about New England, and not the Show-Me State. Twain did live his later years in New England, so maybe that's the case. But as Hannibal, Missouri, just up the river from us, is Twain's birthplace - not to mention the primary source material for his greatest literary works - we have more than a legitimate claim to his legacy. So I like to think that even if he did say it about New England, it was the vicissitudes of Midwestern weather that forged the notion in the first place.
Case in point: Last week, we got a dusting of snow on the ground and temps in the low teens. This week, I'm considering breaking out the shorts and tank tops.
I know, right? But it's not even the first day of spring yet, you're saying. Hey, weather's gonna weather. And it weathers here in the River City however it likes. And right now, that's sun and warmth.
So we're feeling the ping-pong-yness of spring right now. We had our heaviest snowfall of the winter the first week of February, by the way. It was, as the kids say, epic.
Our little inner-ring suburb's quirky sign against the big snow storm of '22, which yielded 4.2 inches. Maplewood is often called Mapleweird, and we like that. Of course, the angle of my shot here makes it read like Amplewood. Maybe that's appropriate, too. We often find Maplewood to have ample offerings, such that weeks, maybe even months go by, and we haven't left it. It's basically a small town that might have been swallowed up by St. Louis proper as that city outgrew its boundaries. But St. Louis County and St. Louis city are entirely separate, and Maplewood is its own burg, with its own mayor, city council, police, and fire department. The story goes that back in the day, the St. Louis fire department couldn't get to Maplewood in time to put out any fires, so the residents here set up their own town. Sort of like our old neighborhood of Ballard back in Seattle, if Seattle had never annexed it.
Anyway, the snow. It swathed our garden in floofy white blankets and dusted the winter-killed flora. We make a point to leave the plants standing all winter and through the spring; the seeds and dried berries serve as food for resident birds and animals, and insects, including our native bees, use the stems of plants to nest their larvae. Plus, they make for a pretty show in the snow.
Our native Eastern red cedars are a reliable evergreen. They've grown quite a bit since we put them in back in 2019, providing shelter and food for birds and softening our fence line. Eventually, they'll provide part of the green screen between our garden and the apartment building next door, too. Though just now reaching about 8 to 10 feet in height, they already looked majestic in the snowfall.
The snowfall in early February also caught one of the first blooms of the year: Ozark witch hazel. This native shrub sends out orange, ribbony blooms in January or February that smell strongly of cloves. It's a real delight to find them peeking out through the ice and snow, which doesn't harm them.
Blooming in mid- to late-winter, witch hazel has presented a puzzle for scientists: What pollinates it? The blooms emerge before most bees and butterflies do.
As you know, I've participated in a citizen science program called Shutterbee, volunteering to catalogue the bee visitors to our garden over the course of the past two summers. The super scientists behind Shutterbee put out a monthly bulletin full of interesting info about bees, and in their March issue, they report on a possible suite of pollinators for this early bloomer:
- winter-flying moths, which can thermoregulate to adapt to the colder season
- flies (and I have myself observed flies visiting the blooms in February), though they don't carry as much pollen as other flying insects
- rare bees, at least those that emerge early enough
So there you have it; while we think of pollination as a summer event, it's actually going on deep in winter, too, at least here in Missouri.
I kept some of our solar lanterns out all season, the ones that didn't contain glass, which can shatter in the cold temps. The chandelier was particularly striking against the snowy backdrop.
But the first day of spring is this Sunday, and we've already had our harbinger raise its golden head up through the leaf litter: daffodils. Though not native, and therefore more ornamental than useful as a food for fauna (or us, for that matter), they can lift your spirits as a classic sign of renewal. Especially after the last two years, we can all use a cheery reminder that life springs eternal.