Yesterday the temperatures in the Litchfield Hills hovered around 60 with a warm, soaking rain. Last night might have kicked off the spring amphibian migration. Today the sun is warm and the temperature on the shady side of my house is 66 degrees. These would be welcome signs of spring in late February, but this is the first week of January. Something is terribly wrong.
There are daffodils pushing up new growth in frost-free ground. These are not the new bulbs I planted last fall that shot up in November and have failed to die back. They are well established, and are responding to the unusual warmth and moisture in the soil as if Spring were just around the corner and not 11 weeks away. There are soft green buds on the lilacs. We have not had more than a brief dusting of snow all season.
Most ominously, the sugar maple in our back yard is weeping sap from the drill holes of a woodpecker and ants swarm at the openings. The sap is rising on 12th night. Last year the first run came unusually early in late January. This was my post at that time on what I feared was a sign of things to come. My fears seem to have been justified. This is no January thaw. In very significant ways, we have simply bypassed winter.
Most climate change models predict that Sugar maple will vanish from the New England landscape during this century. Even the few that show a limited persistence vastly diminish their representation in the northern forest and drive them completely from southern New England. The trees simply will not have sufficient dormancy and temperature variation to maintain viability.
The implications for sugar producers and rural economies that rely on autumn leaf peepers are grave. The ecological costs may be even greater. Sugar maple is a larval host for nearly 40 species of moths and butterflies.
I may choose not to tap our tree this year. We love its spreading crown and welcome shade too much to risk asking it too give more than it should after such a winter. A few more years without winter and I'll put the spiles and buckets away for good.