Wildfires and thru-hikes, idle gardening, ecosexuality, and more.
False spring is a period of unseasonable warmth in mid- to late-winter that tricks plants into starting to bud, followed by a hard freeze, which can kill or damage the newly exposed leaf and flower buds. If this happens in an orchard, it can ruin an entire year’s harvest of peaches, cherries, or plums, or kill the trees outright.
But in the popular imagination (and/or Twitter), false spring is any period of relative warmth and sun followed by the return of cold, wet, gray days that threaten to make us SAD again. It doesn’t even have to freeze—the impact on our psyches is the same.
I’ve taken several opportunities to escape the seemingly endless overcast days and the brisk, bitter gusts of wind that seem to have characterized the past few weeks. Mere days after the official start of spring, I ventured up to the New York Botanical Garden for the annual orchid show, something I’ve had on my to-do list for a while, but only this year had the very good excuse to take a friend who was passing through town. Inside the glass conservatory, the air was thick and warm, relaxing, like a sauna, or a tropical vacation. After passing through Jeff Leatham’s “Kaleidoscope” we wandered the grounds.
Only the earliest spring flowers were blooming. Daffodil Hill was nowhere near peak sunshine, and it was too early for cherry blossoms, apparently. But, branches of yellow forsythia provided a welcome pop of color in the brown landscape. And the little flowers in shades of purple and pink that dotted the rock garden were a balm—a promise of more spring (and summer) to come.
At the end of March, I traveled to Houston for a journalism conference.1 While there, I went on a field trip to High Island, where Houston Audubon maintains several bird sanctuaries. High Island isn’t exactly an island, it’s on the mainland, but it’s a rare pocket of wooded habitat and at a higher elevation compared to the surrounding agricultural land, making it a visible and much-welcome respite for migrating birds coming in over the Gulf, especially during bad weather.
I’ve never seen so many birds all together in one place. Even a complete novice birder like myself—with little experience handling her borrowed binoculars—couldn’t fail to see plenty. Within minutes of stepping off the bus a bright pink roseate spoonbill soared overhead, the first of many, and a good omen, surely. I learned to tell the difference between snowy egrets and great egrets, and had help identifying tricolored herons and black-crowned night herons. We also saw baby egrets in their nests!
I didn’t take many photos because my camera doesn’t have a zoom lens, and the light was all wrong, but you can see here how every crook of every tree is taken up by a nest. The chaos! The commotion!
There’s a spoonbill in the lower left-hand corner of this photo, visible through the sticks. It looks far away but this is with no zoom at all!
And here is what I believe is a tricolored heron, perched just in front of the viewing platform.
We also saw a couple alligators patrolling the waters from another viewing platform. Later that same day I jogged 1.5 miles (one-way) next to one of Houston’s infamous highways2 to the arboretum, where I saw an armadillo snuffling around the leaf litter3. All in all the trip was a delightful break from my ordinary.
Now, I’m back in the city and very much looking forward to that brief window in time when you can wear a light jacket outside without either sweating or shivering.
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Must read: Rafael ‘Horsecake’ Mujica on whether wildfires will be the end of thru-hiking in the American West as we know it (part one of a series). [Garage Grown Gear]
Maggie Slepian wrote on this same topic in 2021: “If we’re creating a world where we can’t even go for a long walk in the woods anymore, what else are we losing? / To me, “the trail will always be there” has become a kind of anachronism. As the cycle of low snowpack, drought, and fires continues each season, the phrase feels less like a reassurance and more like wishful thinking.” [Backpacker]
If you live or hike in the west, Philip Kiefer covered the basics of how to avoid—and if necessary escape—a wildfire. [Outside]
“The bear didn’t come to our yard because it got greedy, but because I did.” An incredible opening line to a poignant essay about human-animal encounters by Michael Metivier. [Green Mountain Review]
“My interest in gardening started in my 20s when I came across a British publication called The Idler. The magazine’s founder, Tom Hodgkinson, had published a book titled “How to Be Idle,” which promoted a type of dignified dilettantism revolving around walks, friends and gardens. This seemed right to me.” [Jay Caspian Kang on lazy gardening in The New York Times]
I simply don’t tire of pandemic walking stories, especially those with kickers about the walkability of cities. I will also be downloading the app it mentions, stat. [Mitch Smith in The New York Times]
Ethan Davison interviewed a group of young game designers about developing Rewilding, an indie video game about cultivating life on Earth (specifically, Upstate New York) after climate apocalypse, and how it fits into a long tradition of environmentally-minded video games. [Wired]
On ecosexuality. Where to begin? I have so many thoughts. What do you think? Chill, cool aspirational thing—or gimmick? I personally find myself scrunching my face up in confusion and mild distaste and wishing I had more of a sense of humor about the whole thing. That said, I kinda like the ‘Ecosex Pledge’: “I promise to love, honor and cherish you Earth, until death brings us closer together forever.” [In my best Ina Garten voice] How metal is that? [Isobel Whitcomb in Sierra]
From the archives: An eye-opening discussion of how Israel planted pine forests to cover up war crimes and to prevent Palestinian refugees from returning to their homes after their communities have been razed. [Jonathan Cook, 2016]
Another highlight of the trip was the time someone spotted me across the breakfast buffet and said “Oh! Jessica McKenzie—do you write Pinch of Dirt?” Best day ever!!!