As the slow melt continues, each year the same harbingers of spring appear — pine needles, pinecones, snow mold and robins.
Let’s talk about pine needles. With each stiff breeze that blows through the vast array of white pines, myriads of needles float to the ground. It’s a little like shoveling snow to rake them up, only to turn around and there they are again. They choke out the grass, create a fire hazard, and send ugly, toxic smoke to the sky, if you try to burn them.
In the South, long pine needles are a sought-after commodity to use as landscaping mulch. In fact, you can buy a box of 160 square feet of them at Home Depot for $84.99. They are described as “all natural beautiful color” and “excellent for landscape beds and gardens.” That could be a profitable little cottage industry, if only there was a market for them here in the Pacific Northwest. We PNWers prefer stones, wood chips or beauty bark.
Pinecones ping off metal roofs, dare you to pick up the spiky orbs without gloves, and proliferate like, well, rabbits. They defy staying in the growing raked-up pile but prefer to tumble down and find their own spot. Overheard once at a local thrift store (spoken by a worker): You aren’t going to get anyone in the Methow Valley to buy a basketful of pinecones, so don’t even think about putting that out for sale!
This year the Free Green Yard Waste Disposal will again provide three free days of yard waste disposal at the Twisp Transfer Station. The days are April 28, May 3 and May 5 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Okanogan County Solid Waste, in partnership with the Okanogan Conservation District, Clean Air Methow, and Fire Adapted Methow Valley, with funding from Washington Department of Ecology, will be waiving fees for green garden waste on these three days. Check cleanairmethow.org/news-events/ springcleanup2023 for a list of what is and is not allowed and for opportunities to volunteer. Of note, pine needles and cones are among the green waste “allowed.”
Even though I grew up in snow country, I had never heard of snow mold until moving to the Methow Valley. When its uncomely gray-colored patches appeared as the snow melted, a friend informed me that was snow mold. It is caused by cold weather fungi and is responsible for allergic reactions to those prone to allergies.
Snow mold is most problematic when a heavy, deep snowfall arrives before the ground has completely frozen (think last fall). Weight on fragile grass plants, lots of wintertime moisture, cover of leaves and lawn debris create a perfect environment for the mold. Once you find snow mold in the spring, the damage has been done to the lawn. The first thing to do is gently rake the affected areas to loosen the matted grass. This will help the lawn dry out and give the tiny grass blades room to grow. (Of course, soon you’ll have to mow them.)
The American Robin has long been the icon for spring season. How often have we said, “I saw my first robin today!” with excitement that spring is in the air. There are several little-known facts about the omnipresent bright, orange-breasted bird. It is often the last bird heard singing as the sun sets. Robins sometimes flock to fermented berries and can appear drunk, even falling over while walking. Robins used to be killed for their meat, but now are protected by the Migratory Bird Act.
Robins will eat their eggshells for calcium after babies have hatched. Robins can be territorial and aggressive. A neighbor watched a robin kill in midflight a swallow that came to close to her nest. The most common collective noun for a group of robins is a “blush.” However, there are many other words to describe them such as a “round.” Who would have thought: a round of robins?
A reader from Twisp wrote this after my April 5 column: “I often think about this when Don plays that song, ‘We’re All Gonna Die.’ It turns out I’m immortal. It’s easy to explain. Given the definition of immortality as never dying, and the fact that I’ve checked every day since I was born and I have never died, I must be immortal. This reasoning has driven several friends crazy trying to find the hole in the statement. I tell them that they can laugh at my funeral if I’m ever proven wrong.” I hope other readers get a laugh out of his theory, as I did.