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Let’s hear it for the wobble

Illustration from An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics

Surely one of the coolest things about this planet is that it wobbles on an annual cycle. That causes the intensity of the sun to be about half as great in midwinter as it is in midsummer. The result is that life at most latitudes had to evolve to deal with the variation. Trees shed their leaves and fall asleep. Other plants produce seeds and then die. Animals evolved fur and feathers and warm blood. As the atmosphere and oceans strain to make up for the uneven heating of the planet (as required by the second law of thermodynamics), we get our wind and weather — more wind and weather than we want, often enough.

Maybe I’m crazy, but I like a bit a winter. That’s easy to say, though, for those who have warm clothes and heated houses. One only has to look out the window to see that most creatures have only their fur and feathers for winter comfort. But even as the polar vortex struggles to obey the laws of thermodynamics and spills arctic air where it doesn’t belong, I think that even the creatures outside the windows understand right now that winter won’t last much longer. The birds are grateful for the seeds I put out for them, but they’re clearly not starving. The squirrels look well-nourished. Even Mrs. Possum, though she licks clean the bowl that I leave for her most evenings at the edge of the woods, wasn’t hungry enough to eat the pimentos that had started to mold in the refrigerator.

And so the minor ice storm here this weekend was more entertaining than inconvenient, especially since I lost power for only about four seconds. In the eleven years I’ve lived here in the woods, I’ve started thinking of Valentine’s Day (I’m at latitude 36.423961) as the last day of true winter. The 10-day forecast looks good (though wet), and, as the wobbling back toward the sun accelerates, tomorrow will be 2 minutes and 8 seconds longer than today.

For several days now, the prevailing winds have brought rain followed by freezing rain followed by more rain.

A science project this winter was buying greenhouse basil at the grocery store, potting it, and feeding it with light for two or three weeks before turning it into pesto. The basil grows many more leaves, and the green grows deeper. The LED grow lights cost only $29 from Amazon (though I see the price has now gone up a little).

The garlic in the herb trough was planted in early December.

The birds aren’t visible in the photo, but Lily is watching the birds eat the seed that I spread at the edges of the driveway.

Homemade lemon shortbread with lemon icing

I didn’t go out in the ice storm, but a neighbor sent me this photo. There is no shortage of tractors and chain saws in these parts. Ice storms are to old pine trees as pneumonia is to the elderly. It’s often an ice storm that ends an old pine tree’s life.


  1. Jo wrote:

    Very interesting post. Just rain here and a good time to stay inside and be grateful for a warm house. There are two outdoor cats here that showed up when the house was being built a couple years ago. They were fed so both hung around. They stay in the garage with a heater at night, but roam freely during the day. The larger cat has staked his spot on the back deck. There is a bird feeder there out of his range, but the birds stopped coming to it. I guess we now have a guard cat. I love watching them, but we are moving it off the front porch.

    Sunday, February 14, 2021 at 5:09 pm | Permalink
  2. daltoni wrote:

    Hi Jo… Lily is very neurotic and possessive and would never stand for another indoor cat. But one of my wishes is to have an outdoor building suitable for the adoption of a “barn cat” or two, cats whose lives have been so hard that they can’t fit into human families and human households. Bless you for looking after those cats.

    Sunday, February 14, 2021 at 5:16 pm | Permalink
  3. Amy wrote:

    David, what is the recipe for your lemon shortbread?

    Tuesday, February 16, 2021 at 8:45 pm | Permalink
  4. daltoni wrote:

    Hi Amy: The crumb was a little tough (maybe I overbaked it?), but this is the recipe I used:

    Wednesday, February 17, 2021 at 6:04 am | Permalink

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