Squirrels gathering nuts in a flurry, will cause snow to gather in a hurry.
I awaken these mornings to the sound of acorns pummeling off the solarium glass roof adjacent to my bedroom. Usually, the rat-a-tat cacophony arrives in early fall. The sheer volume, like marbles falling from the sky, landing on my patio, is disconcerting.
Perhaps, it’s the fact that as a gardener, I live close to the ground. I check plantings, their needs, aware of baby rabbits chewing tender plants, aphids nestling on tree leaves and plants. This summer, I’m on alert about the extremes—soaring temperatures, the absence of rain, the shrinking pond water, the withering oaks.
In contrast, the squirrels and chipmunks are whizzing about, on speed mode. Everywhere on my patio there is evidence of these critters at work. Acorn shells are scattered and broken. Squirrels leaping up and down the pine branches alongside the driveway are fat-bellied. Chipmunks scurry and bolt in and out of their rock fence holes with lightening speed. These burrowing and arboreal rodents appear to be preparing for the worst.
Could the worst be an early and lengthy, snow-piled-high winter? In the midst of heat and drought— I became curious about the relationship of massive acorn drops and winter. Could there be a correlation?
Gratefully, I turned to Google for facts. According to the August 9th Blog of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, oak trees have irregular cycles of boom and bust. Boom times are called “mast years” and occur every two to five years.
Thankfully, a mast year is not a predictor of a severe winter ahead. Ironically, a study reported on the Accu-Weather Blog indicates that to understand a boom acorn drop, we need hindsight. Yes, looking back at the life cycle of the oak and how it births acorns gives us data for the future.
The volume of acorn production each year is partially controlled by external factors like the effect of precipitation on acorn development. The acorns of today began forming 2-3 years ago. As a result, the acorn crop piling up on my patio, in my lily beds, circling the hosta plants, rolling down the hill onto the driveway, was set in motion during the past MILD winters. The mild weather allows the trees to conserve resources and produce more acorns.
Case in point: two years ago, during the winter of 2014, my patio was piled six to eight feet high in snow and ice. In comparison, last winter was very mild. It was the 2nd warmest on record in Boston, just behind the winter of 2001-02. A major part of that was December, which was a standout month for remarkable warmth. No wonder the acorn harvest is a banner crop this season.
Squirrels gathering nuts in a flurry have no bearing on snow gathering in a hurry. Once again, I am grateful to realize how important it is to consider possibility and complexity when delving into observations from nature.