Posted by: cwvoigt | July 10, 2008

The seasons of MDI, Part I—the natural setting.

One of the reasons that we made the move here after about 25 years in the southeast was to get back to an area that had four seasons.  Well, MDI (and most of Maine) has five.  Starting with the season that most visitors know the best, the sequence is:  Summer, Autumn, Winter, Mud, and Spring.

Other than Mud, Summer may be the least interesting to me.  Everything is unrelievedly green and it is warm.  What streams we have are running a low level, if at all.  This probably deserves an explanation.  Basically, we sit atop granite, which is one of the more impervious of native rocks.  We don’t have much (if any) real subsoil, so except for a few streams that are outlets from the freshwater lakes and ponds, the remainder are fueled by runoff.  As spring turns into summer, the rains become less frequent and many streams dry up or nearly so.  One saving grace is that as we go further into the summer, the mosquito problem pretty much goes away.

Autumn is one of my three favorites.  Generally, we are blessed with long autumns.  We are virtually surrounded by water; the Atlantic takes longer to cool down (that is a relative term—it never really is warm) and so it modifies our local climate.  The air temperatures cool down and the trees begin to color.  What is surprising to many visitors at this time of year is that the air itself holds little warmth—the warmth is from the sun—so one can experience a several-degree shift in going from open sunlight to deep shade.  Our autumnal foliage season can last for six weeks or more, beginning with the younger hard maples and ending with the oaks (more about that in a later chapter).  Of the twelve years that we have lived here, only one autumn was what I would consider a wash-out.  That year, we had colder temperatures and a lot of rain; everything was muted and short-lived in terms of color.

After a very long autumn, which often extends well into November, Winter occurs. As people who grew up in Wisconsin, winter here was a surprise to us.  We already knew (or had heard, anyway) that winters here were relatively mild—again, the influence of the Atlantic.  What we were unprepared for was the timing.  Where I grew up in northwestern Wisconsin, the snow usually started falling in earnest around Thanksgiving and from then through February, it was deep winter, with Arctic temperatures in January.  Here, more likely than not, there is no appreciable snow until January.  The major snows happen in February and March; they can be heavy and wet—beautiful, except for the few minutes when one is on the wrong end of a snow shovel.  Nonetheless, winter is a magic time here.  Although I’m not quite to that point, I can understand the view of some long-time residents that summer is an unfortunate interruption in one’s winter.

Sooner or later, the snows cease (or at least diminish) and winter gives way to the Mud season.  In other parts of the country, this time is known as April.  April showers and all that.  In April we still can get the surprise nor’easter that dumps a foot or so of snow—that it may only last a couple of days is precious little consolation.  Mud season is bleak.  The same Atlantic that blessed us with a long, moderate autumn now is taking one hell of a long time to warm up, and we feel it.  Nothing is blooming save late in the month the occasional crocus; the trees are not yet budding.   Thankfully, it is a short season; it also is the time when many who stayed through the winter head to warmer climes for a brief stay.

Finally, Spring happens.  It is magical.  Sometime early in May, flowers begin to pop up, trees begin to flower and bud, the frogs along the streams and in the wetlands begin to vocalize.  Once it begins to warm up, the vegetation seems to explode as if it has all of this pent-up energy from the winter and mud seasons that must be expressed.   Bar Harbor has an abundance of lilacs (our front yard is bordered by about 40); for a couple of weeks, the scent of lilacs is everywhere.   Later on, the lupines bloom.  In the midst of all this, following the universal rule that there are no unmixed blessings, we have the emergence of the black flies.  As nasty as they can be (think of a gnat on steroids), they can be dealt with and mercifully, they are short-lived.

And then we are back into summer, and the dance begins again.

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