Rhode Island

The kitchen window screen is stored in the basement in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy and perhaps after that the real onset of winter weather. Much as I appreciate screens for their bug deterrence, they dampen the hues of the view. So in the run up to the storm, I am enjoying freely flowing water in the sink and saturated color in the grass, fading garden and the Norway maple that has yet to release its leaves.

The siren of the emergency radio just whined to life with a message about the storm’s likely impact on Rhode Island — none of it reassuring.

The birds have their own warning systems. They have been at the feeders incessantly for the past couple of days. They queue up at the different perches as though they have been schooled by a bird world Emily Post in the etiquette of feeder behavior.

Let’s see how civil we all are in the aftermath.

Winter here on the 41-degree latitude brings chilling winds, mostly from the northwest. Vistas into the woods lengthen in the absence of leaves. The landscape’s pallet looses chroma and brilliance. Shadows stretch to their longest, even at noon. And that noon arrives at its annual earliest, daylight itself shortened to a brief nine hours.

The habit of seasons gives our trees the problem of provisioning for severe cold, on the one hand, and high heat of the other. The sweep of temperatures can be accompanied by too much or too little moisture. I empathize with our trees. A temperate climate keeps us living creatures a little out of balance or at least weighing tradeoffs.

And so it is with shadows and the length of the day. The longest shadows, the lowest arc the sun makes through the sky, the shortest day are the trademarks of autumn. The wind may pick up in winter, the temperature may drop precipitously, snow may fall but for sure the days start getting longer. This most reliable condition is, for me, the salvation of winter.

Thanks to the Google puzzle in the New York Times on 14 December, I know Rhode Island is 1,033.81 square miles small or 661,638.4 acres. My 2 acres represent 0.003125 square miles of the state.

Actually, thanks to Google, I found several measurements for this tiniest state. One figure was 1,044. Another 1,021. This is a state that changes size twice a day with the tides. Still, you’d think the mean tide line would be used in square footage calculations and that that could be a know line in the sand.

East Matunuck State beach

I am interested in the size of RI not only to see how tiny my holding is but also because I have designed a theme for the RI Wild Plant Society’s 25th anniversary, which is this year. I don’t know how much impact it will have, but with the square mileage numbers, we can sum even tiny efforts to see how large a state-wide garden we actually make in 2012 and beyond.

I’m also going to look into how many acres of farm land are decommissioned each year. Then there’s the matter of how much of the state is forest. Again the percentage varies by publication, but it may be around 40 percent. I hope to post of my simple arithmetic over time.

Here’s the RIWPS 25th anniversary challenge:

“This year, in celebration of the anniversary and to increase the number of Rhode Island landscapes flourishing with natives, we’ve planned a simple challenge: if each and every Society member will convert some plot of land from non-native plantings to natives, we will draw attention to the beauty and the utility of native plants and take steps toward creating a state-wide native garden.  After all, RIWPS members live from Woonsocket to New Shoreham and from Westerly to Little Compton to Gloucester. No one’s plot is an island. We can make a native garden, starting this year, unheeded by county boundaries, mean tide lines or stone walls, as big and wide as Little Rhody.

Here are a few ideas using 25 as the challenge point. Really, the list of possibilities is endless, as are the multiples of 25:

  • Reduce your lawn area by 25 percent
  • Replace 25 invasive species with 25 natives
  • Lower your fertilizer use by 25 percent by composting more
  • Save water by increasing your use of your own leaves to mulch
  • Plant 25 plants know to attract butterflies
  • Plant 25 plants that, in the winter, will feed birds
  • Install a 25-gallon water collector under a downspout”