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Tiny Homestead Discoveries Inspire Big Wild Ideas

It was the first day of March, the first day the sun had shone warmly this year here in northern Ohio. The temperature was inching up to 40 degrees F. and it almost seemed summery. I wasn’t the only creature that thought so either. To my amusement, a slate colored junco hopped into a little pool of snow melt and splashed and fluttered around joyously. Looked like joy anyway. I had to laugh right out loud. It was hardly warm enough to go out without a coat on, yet here was this tiny bird obviously enjoying an outdoor bath. Why couldn’t I go for a dip too? Life just ain’t fair.

I decided to go for a walk to see if there were other signs promising an end to the cold. The first thing I noticed was that where my feet sank into the four inches of snow cover, the print of my boot filled with water. The snow was melting and the moisture was sinking to the ground, which was no longer frozen. I wasn’t too surprised at that. Every year about this time I see this happen. The constant soil temperature down about a foot or two is about 55 degree F. When the soil surface is insulated from cold air by snow that is about 32 degrees, it is not usual for the lower warmth of the soil to drive the frost up out of the ground, especially when the covering snow is melting in the sun. That’s why in snowy winters, the soil often thaws sooner in spring than in cold, bare-ground winters. Okay. We all know that. Hold that thought.

What I discovered next I could not believe. On the south side of the house where the snow was melting fastest, the winter aconites and the snowdrops were blooming wherever the snow was gone. Impossible, I thought. I had just checked the day before and there was nothing there except snow and my cold feet. Those flowers just could not jump up and bloom that quickly.

I tried not to get too excited. I needed to be the cold, logical scientist. Flowers just can’t spring out of the ground and bloom an hour or so after the snow melts. Just doesn’t work that way. I needed to hone my powers of observation on the situation more intensely— something I am not very good at doing. As I honed in on the edge of the retreating snow, I saw more snowdrops emerging into view. They had come up and begun to blossom UNDER THE SNOW.

Maybe this is just ho-hum for botanists who know how cold hardy snowdrops and winter aconites are, but I have never read any reference to it “in the literature.” It led me into totally wild notions. We’ve got all these monsantaclauses boasting about how they can save the world by genetically engineering fast-growing corn to produce fast-fattening food. Why don’t they put their minds to a really worthwhile goal. How about developing corn that will come up under the snow?

I can think of something even better than that. Why not genetically engineer a new biological thermostat for humans? If juncos can bathe in snow melt, why shouldn’t all of us be so blessed? Think how awesome it would be if science could jigger a gene or two that would allow us to enjoy winter without artificial heat. We are burning up our planet because we insist on living in climates that we aren’t supposed to be living in. We are tropical animals. If we were serious about saving the earth, we would have to admit that we haven’t evolved to live this far north. What if by some teensy weensy little genetic manipulation, we could endure the cold like polar bears do. I’m ready.


Image: Dark-Eyed Junco on Wikipedia

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