Posted by: Dave Neads | March 29, 2009

Is This Normal?

This seems like a slower than normal spring. The redwings have only just arrived, there is still 18 inches of snow in our big meadow and the river is barely open in the middle.  Not only that, the pussy willows up here on the ridge didn’t pop their fluffy gray heads out until two weeks ago, the garden is just a few humps under the snow, and the woodshed is alarmingly spare for the end of March.

Is this normal?  This question arises whenever  the weather is doing something we don’t like as in “Is it normal to rain this much in January? or, “It never gets this cold in July!”, and, my favourite, “It sure wasn’t like this when I was a kid…” .

Maybe this spring feels late and cold simply because all springs feel late and cold when you are waiting for that first shirtsleeve day which bursts with heat and vigour.  Or maybe this really is a slow one.   During the short term of our 23 year encampment here in the Precipice, hoping to answer weather questions and maybe even see a pattern, Rosemary has diligently kept a phenological diary,  recording the daily highs and lows along with bits and pieces about the weather.  How much sun that day, amount of snow fall, wildlife sightings, writing down  what birds arrived when; all the telltales that document the inexorable march of the seasons through the Precipice.

Although no pattern has ever emerged, this diary comes in handy when the someone says “It wasn’t this cold/ hot/ wet/ snowy/ windy/ this time last year, this isn’t normal!” Out comes the diary and the discussion, on these points at least, is settled most of the time.

The normalcy issue is not a new one. When I was a back country ranger in Tweedsmuir Park a number of years ago, I would  constantly be asked  the universal question.  I used to fumble around a bit, mumble something platitudinous, like “Yep, it sure is hot for late August”, or whatever, hoping to give people the satisfaction of experiencing something out of the ordinary, thus adding some spice to their wilderness adventure.

The best answer I ever heard to the question was given by the late John Edwards, son of Lonesome Lake pioneer Ralph Edwards.  During the course of operating the Hunlin wilderness camp on Turner Lake for several decades, he had been asked the question countless times.

One particularly memorable July day, John and I had scrambled out onto his dock with the howling west wind driving a  grey, slicing  rain  horizontally through the air; big sleety drops slamming into our faces like rubber bullets.  Freezing cold in lightweight summer jackets, we helped four half swamped, soaked and dispirited canoeists tie up to the log deck, their red lifejackets stained dark where the water spilled off their hats.

Later, in the cabin, with the heater glowing, their clothes steaming, wet hair clinging to their illuminated faces, and  mugs of strong tea balanced on their denim knees, one of the adventurers asked: ” Is this normal for July?”

“What ever it’s doing is normal,” said John  simply. End of story.

Just like this spring, things are simply normal.


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