Making It Through December Isn’t Enough

The other day, I dragged the body of last Summer’s smallest fawn away.  She may have weighed 40 pounds.  As winter came in she had been in company with her mother – a young doe in great shape – and her grandmother.  Grandma was an old doe who didn’t look like she had a chance of making the winter . . . but the fawn’s mother was hit on the road and died around Christmas time. 

Grandma didn’t look good – but she stayed with the fawn, cuddled together through the cold times of winter.  Then, in the middle of February, the old doe died.  Alone as a cold March came in, the little fawn died alone, lying down in the same place where she had slept with her grandmother.  A spot where she could watch my front door.  

Most Springs would have had warmer weather, and the snow would have been gone.  This is one of the late Springs – and Spring and early Summer are dying times for the weakened wildlife.  In a couple of months, there will be new fawns in the field.   

It brings back thoughts to archaeologists doing a rush job along the Kootenai River just before the rising waters of Koocanusa made it forever impossible to do the field work.  I was young and curious, and asking what they had found.  The answer described our climate – “We found spots where people lived for a couple hundred years . . . then they would be gone for a long time before their replacements would come in and live for another couple hundred years.”  Here in Trego, the winters were probably just too rough for year-round human occupation in pre-history.  The difference between the top of the hill and Ant Flat is noticeable.  Snow melting a week or so earlier is the difference between surviving the winter and not.   

When I worked in Trinidad, Colorado, I worked with the same annual precipitation as we get in Trego – about 18 inches.  The difference was the length of growing season, the frost-free period.  In Trinidad, the 50% frost dates are May 8 and October 3.  In Trego, the safe last date for frost is listed as June 21.  Even Eureka is May 21 and September 21.  And people wonder why global warming seems like a good thing to me. 

My old copy of Climate and Man immortalizes Winton Weydemeyer’s work, listing Fortine with 32 years of records (I don’t know who started the volunteer work that Winton took over).  The average killing frost dates were May 29 and September 8, for 102 days of growing season.  There were no climate records listed for Eureka – just Fortine, Libby and upper Yaak.  Eureka didn’t have Winton keeping records for the good of his fellow residents.  Upper Yaak shows no growing season – a place where frost can come any month of the year. 

Merle Haggard sang “If we make it through December, everything’s gonna be alright.”  Merle came from Bakersfield, California.  He had a longer growing season. 

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