Friday, 13 January 2012

The Year Without Winter

It is Friday the Thirteen, January 2012. I am looking out of the window and the sun is shining. It is 4 degrees Celsius, and I'm wounding where the delivery of winter is going to happen. 1816 may have been "the year without summer" but the end of 2011 is the year without winter. This may be 1947 all over again, but so far Autumn had, for me, a lower average temperature than winter. (I find myself, today, in France and to help the rest of this entry make sense I'm hangin' round Latitude 47 North.)

[ Now that I try to talk about winter and pin it into a year, as we can with a summer it seems that the New year should be moved to be located between winter and spring. Having it in the depth of winter, (which winter where? Did you see one? ) to celebrate the "returning of the light" seems a little antiquated. It may be a dull time in the farming world and an excuse for a party to help us drudge through the long dark nights is probably a good thing, but why should our calendar dictate when to party - take control people! You write on your calendar, don't let your calendar write your life. ]

So am I talking about winter 2011 or winter 2012? As November..December 2011 felt more like spring, in this case I'm talking about winter 2012.

Since the early eighties, (1983 to be exact) I've been noticing the winter seems to recede, (like my hair). I remember thinking, (and reading my diary from that time) that winter no longer included November. By the nineties December was leaving the party, and now January seems to be defecting to the Autumn camp, (or the mid-winter-spring as many of my plants seem to think.)

As October 2011 became November 2011 I was starting to get worried about seeds. Let me explain: Each year I like to have at least one basil plant on my window-sill. They are very easy to look after - I just water mine a little every other day, or when the soil start to turn a shade lighter brown. ( They can drip oils, so make sure, if you have them in pots, that they don't drip on anything that matters.)  I usually stop picking the leaves as I start to think about Christmas presents. A few weeks later they produce little white flowers. I brush them with a small downy feather to transfer pollen, and then I collect the small dark brown seeds, ready to plant in the spring. So with no seeds there are no plants. With no flowers there are no seeds... so I was getting worried. I checked some other plants in the garden and noticed that the lemon-balm, (mine spreads like a weed) didn't have a single flower... even today, (hence the entry.)

My avocado plant has, over the last few weeks, put on a growth spurt as if it already received its invitation to spring.

So it feels fishy, like something is up. I have not been making detailed enough measurements to have any certainty beyond that. My feeling about the weather is probably some form of confirmation bias, (I hope it is), or just because I finally managed to, (in 2011) get round to reading The Body Electric: Electromagnetism and the Foundation of Life, (ISBN 0-688-06971-1).
( I don't intend to review that here, but I did find it very interesting. I tried to maintain a suitable level of scepticism for a man investigating something that was outside of his field, but if his passion for research was anything like as compelling as his writing then it would mean that his voice was more valid than my internal detractor.) 

I hope that the lack of seeds is because of something that I did, (or am doing) and that 2012 is not going to see a run on the seed-banks to rival the 2011, (oh you know where this analogy is going.)

Setting my paranoia aside for a moment, what would the lack of a winter mean for a temperate European climate? The first thing that comes to mind is, an excess of insects surviving to spring, (well for some the first thing would be a lack of good skiing, but I'm trying to think more generally.)
 More insects would be good for those that predate upon them, but could devastate crops and aid in the spread of disease, (the mosquitoes will focus on malaria, the others can help spread the other nasties.) On a more positive note, the increase in temperature may reduce the general susceptibility of the population to contracting influenza.

I'm going to get back to work now. I hope that the seeds that I have left over from 2011 will germinate this spring.

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