Signs of Spring in Winter: The New Monsoon Season

Eastern redbud with buds

If you’ve been reading Mark All My Words for any length of time, you know I’ve been noticing local indicators of climate change — or climate collapse, as it should be called — for three years now. When I first wrote about the early growth of flowering plants in February of 2017, I was noticing temperatures above 60° and 70° F throughout the winter months — which, for North Carolina at this time of year, is an epic heatwave.

The Heatwave Resumes

As expected, that heatwave has not only continued but worsened.

The latest example of this was a period of seven days, from January 10th to 16th, during which the temperature refused to drop below freezing even one single time. Worse than that, the daily average high temperature varied from 64° to 72° F — which would be normal for April, but for January is downright obscene.

And that doesn’t even begin to address the rainfall we’ve had lately. From Jan. 11th to the 13th, we had about 60% more precipitation than usual. And while it may not sound like a lot when you read this on a screen in the comfort of your home or office, it most certainly is when you look out your window and see an apparent tropical storm, in the middle of winter, dropping torrential rain that quickly floods low-lying roads and walkways.

All things considered, even though January may be a winter month in some latitudes, it would now be more accurate to consider it a monsoon month, at least in the state of North Carolina. But of course I don’t expect you to believe me simply because I tell you.

Illustrating My Point

So, to illustrate my point, I took photos last week on Wednesday, January 15th, 2020.

The first photos I took were in my own backyard, since that was the easiest place for me to get to. My compost in particular provided a prime example of the elevated temperature and rainfall with the growth of purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum).

Purple deadnettle in early spring

Then I looked in my front yard and found the flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa) had also started to put forth new growth.

Flowering quince

After searching the rest of my front yard and finding no other photogenic examples of plants in bloom — although there were plenty of dandelions and chickweed with new growth — I decided to head down to the Hillsborough Riverwalk to look for more signs of spring in winter, i.e. the new monsoon season.

Searching for Signs of Spring

After driving to Hillsborough, North Carolina and parking near Weaver St. Market, I got out of my car, descended a flight of stairs, and started down the Hillsborough Riverwalk.

Map of Hillsborough Riverwalk

As I walked across the first bridge over the Eno River, the first thing I noticed was the sheer number of people, who seemed to be coming out of every nook and cranny, apparently deciding to take advantage of the first sunny day in almost two weeks.

Of course it didn’t hurt that it felt like the first day of spring.

After going about a tenth of a mile on the Hillsborough Riverwalk, I crested a small hill and caught a glimpse of one of the most photogenic views of the Eno River. Stepping off the trail, I got the best possible angle and took the following photo.

Eno River from Hillsborough Riverwalk

Although you can see there’s very little growth in the canopy of deciduous trees, there’s noticeable growth along the bottom edge of the frame, where low-lying plants are coming back to life, even though it’s the middle of January.

As I rounded the next bend in the trail, I caught the reverse angle of the previous shot, stepped off the trail again, and took another photo.

Hillsborough Riverwalk overlooking Eno River, toward downtown

Once again, there’s not much to be seen in the canopy of deciduous trees. Even so, there’s decidedly noticeable growth in the bottom right corner and on the left bank of the Eno River, across from the woman taking a video with a young boy by her side.

Continuing on, I passed a veritable army of people — old and young, on foot and on bike and on skateboard, all more than happy to enjoy what felt like the first day of spring.

After another quarter of a mile, I looked down and finally found a good example of the chickweed (Stellaria media) which I had noticed earlier. This specimen was different from the others, however, because of the dead brown leaves surrounding it, which provided a clear contrast for the new green foliage of the young plant.

Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out my phone, stooped down, centered the frame, and took a shot.

Chickweed peaking out of fallen leaves

Shoving my phone back in my pocket, I got up and kept going.

After another tenth of a mile, I came out of the forest which borders the Eno River and crossed the second bridge on the Riverwalk. Following the trail, I started to turn left when a flash of yellow caught my eye.

Stopping in my tracks, I looked down and realized it wasn’t just plastic wrap or a discarded bottle cap. It was a dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) in full bloom. Bending down, I tried to ignore the crowd of young men behind me who had less than zero interest in my photographic endeavor.

Dandelion flower

After a quick photo shoot, I rose to my feet and followed the trail to my left, then went down a covered walkway and under a train trestle. As I came back to solid ground, I looked to my left and noticed a clump of new green foliage jutting up out of the dead brown leaves.

Immediately I recognized the long, ruffled, oval leaves of horseradish (Armoracia rusticana), and I knew I needed to get a photo. So I pulled out my phone, stooped down, and repeated the same steps as before.

Horseradish growing by Riverwalk

Rising quickly, I brushed myself off and continued down the trail as the jubilant sounds of children at play resounded nearby.

Walking at a brisk pace, I quickly came to the western edge of Gold Park and circled it. As I traipsed under the canopy of bare branches, I soon reached a small bridge and crossed it. Then I came to the parking lot for Gold Park and tried to avoid being mobbed by hordes of small children, who once again seemed to be coming out of every nook and cranny on what felt like the first day of spring.

Before being mobbed, however, I looked up and noticed tiny explosions of magenta in the canopy of ornamental trees bordering the parking lot. These explosions weren’t optical illusions though; they were eastern redbuds (Cercis canadensis). Pulling my phone out of my pocket, I tried to get it to focus on the quarter-inch buds, but my camera simply did not want to cooperate. After much coaxing and fiddling, however, I did manage to get one decent shot.

Eastern redbud near Gold Park

As I walked through the crowd of children and parents by the playground, what struck me most was how oblivious all of them were to the signs of spring — and of a collapsing climate — that surrounded them on every side.

And the same could be said for the rest of our culture as well.

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14 thoughts on “Signs of Spring in Winter: The New Monsoon Season

  1. Thank you, Mark. We have been seeing the same thing here in Berlin, there was no snow this year, no winter. I was doing the same thing one day, taking pictures of new flowers, beautiful by the way. I liked it but am also aware of the changes. An old lady who is on a rollator (I don’t know if that’s what it’s called in English) stood still and watched as I take pictures. ‘It’s too early, isn’t it?’ she said with concern. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘but what can we do? It is happening before our eyes, it is still January and look.’ We both stood there for some seconds, silently looking at the new and beautiful plants. Then we said goodbye. Have you noticed the sun too? Beautiful but the timing…. What can we do? Everything’s changing, some for good, some for not so good, but change is what we see everywhere. Thank you for posting, it was a good read.


  2. Same in Western Europe too, we’ve been having very mild weather and the plants are disturbed. I still have marigolds and roses in the garden, and my spring bulbs are starting to show, whereas they are not expected to do so before the end of february at least. As for Chaenomeles speciosa, I have one too, normally it’s in bloom from February I think,. It’s disturbing but nonetheless pleasant, unlike summers that now tend to be deadly hot.


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