Earth Matters: Some summer observations, contemplations from backyard

I didn’t mosey too terribly far from home this summer, yet I managed to experience some interesting things just the same. While I saw and experienced some of them from the saddle of my bicycle, I realized recently that much was happening in my own backyard.

The wildlife – We often see hawks and geese around our home but were treated to visits from two other large birds that most of us don’t see as often. Just a week after spotting a Golden Eagle flying off with a fish from the Little Juniata, another one of the majestic birds drifted overhead and landed in a tree in my yard.

In the last few weeks, a large family of wild turkeys has been wandering around my yard, the first time that I can recall seeing that many near my home.

Though we welcomed those special visits, not all my interactions with the wildlife have been so pleasant this summer. The rabbits and chipmunks ate vegetables and flowers I didn’t think any animals would touch, including marigolds, geraniums, peppers and green beans.

The weather – Our weather, as it so often does, presented its own set of challenges. While our family enjoyed a bumper crop of strawberries and potatoes, the raspberries and grapes were done in by an uncommonly late frost. (Ironically, this came after an otherwise warm month of May.)

That late season frost (from which most city dwellers were spared) was just one of a bundle of unusual weather events. After nearly four weeks of warm and dry weather in May prompted a drought warning, a spell of rainy weather began that stretched into the second week of July. It resulted in one of the wettest Junes on record. Another dry spell threatens to push us near a late summer drought.

The trees – After losing two beautiful white birch trees over the last five years, a middle-aged oak tree and a colorful redbud died this year. (Not surprisingly, some call the beautiful flowering tree “deadbud” because of its notoriously short lifespan.)

My greatest loss these last two summers has been the death of six white ash trees. The emerald ash borer, a native of Asia accidently introduced to the United States in the ’90s, has decimated the tree throughout much of Pennsylvania.

The ash trees, fortunately, are the exception this summer, as the overwhelming portion of trees are thriving in the Pennsylvania summer. The oak behind my garage looks healthier than ever, two fine-leafed Sunburst Locusts in my front yard have grown to impressive heights. A stately Tulip Poplar, the trunk characteristically straight, continues to reach skyward along my northern property line. The White Pines, damaged by some heavy snow last winter and plagued by the White Pine Weevil a decade ago, seemed to have weathered those storms and have done well in recent years. Two hemlocks have, at least so far, survived the woolly adelgid that has killed so many of our state tree in the last decade.

No doubt, a Pennsylvania summer can present its share of tribulations. But it usually manages to present us with many more gifts than curses.

John Frederick (jfrederick@ircenvironment.org) writes on nature and environmental issues every other Saturday.