The weather lately and climate change.

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A tree in Missouri suffering from bacterial leaf scorch

Scientists said this past July was the hottest one on record.   Each summer has been, on average, hotter than the one before it, and the hottest summers have nearly all been since 2000.  I bet this past August will be the hottest on record too.

I don’t know about you, but I believe the scientists about this, not the orange narcissist sitting in the Oval Office, a man who actually ordered scientists at NOAA to lie about where Hurricane Dorian made landfall, in order to save his fragile ego from having to face the consequences of being wrong.

But I promise I’m not getting on my political soapbox today.   I just wanted to talk about the weather — and the strange things I’ve been observing that may be due to climate change.

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It’s the middle of September, and normally by now, even in a mid-South state like North Carolina, the weather is starting to cool down into pleasant, warm sunny dry days and cooler nights.  A few of the trees begin to show fall colors (even though “fall colors” around here often means some shade of brown, maroon, or sickly yellow).  September in this part of the country looks like summer past its expiration date:  still summer, but the trees and plants all have a tired, overgrown, overripe look about them, like fruit that’s still edible but on the verge of going bad.

But this September has been the hottest I can remember.  In fact, it’s hotter than it was in August, and August heat here is almost unbearable every year.    The temperature has been soaring up into the high 80s and 90s nearly every day this month so far, with a heat index that’s about the same or even higher, and the nights are muggy and bring little relief.

It’s a humid, oppressive heat, the kind that makes a person literally drip and plasters my hair down to my head like a helmet and makes my hair straightener almost useless.   It’s the type of heat that makes you not want to do anything, but at the same time you can’t really get any rest either.   At night in bed, without the air conditioning going at full blast, I toss and turn as if in a fever dream, and in the morning my bed is soaked with sweat.  It’s as if Florida followed me back here in August.

And the bugs.  Holy shit, the bugs.   Not bees and butterflies and other “nice” insects that do useful things for us, and don’t bother you and invade your personal space, but nasty, hateful, biting bugs that have no respect for personal boundaries.   So, the problem’s not an excess of bugs, it’s the kind of bugs.  Scientists have discovered there is a shortage of bees and other pollinating insects due to climate change, exacerbated by harmful policies that further destroy them.    I’ve seen the decline for myself.   Usually there’s a plethora of bees among the many flowering plants here, but this year there did seem to be a dearth of them.   I also noticed fewer butterflies.   But there’ve been mosquitoes in great swarms this year (probably due to the surplus of rain we had in July and August), and right now I’m covered in their nasty, itchy weals.  Blood loving insects, such as mosquitoes and fleas, seem unaffected by the hot weather, and in fact they seem to thrive in it.  There seems to be an uptick in other unpleasant, seemingly useless insects such as crane flies, fleas, and cockroaches.

Finally, there’s something wrong with the way the natural world looks.   As I mentioned earlier,  southern states don’t get the stunning array of bright Fall colors that states like Vermont or Colorado enjoy (unless you drive to the Blue Ridge Parkway, where the trees have been deliberately chosen for their autumn color), and most of the trees and other plants should still be mostly deep green anyway.

But the trees don’t just look past their prime.  They look downright unhealthy.   The other day I was driving down a pretty older suburban neighborhood whose streets are lined with huge, fat old oak trees.  These trees are probably well over one hundred years old, but I’ve never seen them look the way they do.  They looked like they were dead or dying.  All the leaves were still there, but they were a dried up, pale greenish brown, as if they were in a faded discolored old photograph. That’s not normal.   I don’t know what was wrong with those trees, but those weren’t fall colors.   They looked…dessicated or even burnt.  Perhaps the intense heat had done that to them.   There’s a fatal condition (shown at the top) that affects oaks and other types of trees called bacterial leaf scorch. Maybe that’s what it is, or maybe it’s some kind of blight.  Other trees and plants have that scorched, blighted look too.    I’ve also noticed a lot more dead trees.

One of my neighbors is growing a palm tree.  Palm trees don’t grow in western North Carolina naturally, but I have to wonder if, with the warm winters we’ve enjoyed the past few years (save a few days with temps in the single digits or teens), it just might survive if this winter proves to be even warmer.

For the past few years, I’ve also noticed the vegetation along the sides of the roads is dead.  Maybe it’s being sprayed with pesticides near the road, or maybe it’s the exhaust from the cars, but this seems like something new.  I don’t think I ever noticed it until a few years ago.

The sky has a strange look to it, a smogginess I don’t remember ever seeing in this part of the country before.   Sometimes near the horizon, it’s so heavy it obscures the view of distant objects, and it has an unpleasant yellowish gray tint to it, a color similar to a bruise, or an approaching thunderstorm even though there’s no storm coming.  In fact, it reminds me of the way the air looked on summer days in New York and New Jersey back in the pre-EPA 1970s. Could Trump’s relaxation of environmental regulations already be having visible effects?

Have you noticed similar changes too?  Let me know in the comments.

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Outside my front door.

I had a surprise waiting for me at my front door today.  He’s beautiful, isn’t he?   Sadly though, he’s dead.   He deserves to be memorialized in this photo, so here it is.

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Bugs have terrible boundaries.

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I’m hooked on a blog I found a couple of months ago called WaitbutWhy.   It’s a blog for people who like science and geeky stuff and think about the same kinds of weird, random, shower-thought sort of things that I do.    Some of the stuff its author, Tim Urban, writes about will absolutely blow your mind, such as this incredible article about how to fit all 7.3 billion people on the planet into a building that would fit in a space smaller than Manhattan’s Central Park.  Yes, it can actually be done (but it would be terribly cruel!).

Some of his posts are hilarious because they’re so true and relatable.   In my last post I mentioned that bugs (ants, to be specific) can be beneficial to the environment because they help break down dead material, but let’s be honest here — Do any of us really LIKE bugs?

They invite themselves where they are not wanted.  They walk on our food and spit in it and lay their nasty eggs in it.   They violate our bodies without our permission, sometimes painfully or causing unbearable fits of itching.   They hide inside our bedcovers and crawl all over us when we’re trying to sleep.  Some bugs have an unsettling way of flying in your face repeatedly.    They won’t take no for an answer.  They look like microscopic monsters or aliens from another planet.   Their nasty dead carcasses can be found all over your windowsills, your floors, in your bed, inside your refrigerator. They are stupid (moths fly straight into electric lights — how have they not gone extinct yet?).  Moths burrow inside your clothing and chew holes in them.  Roaches and mosquitoes carry diseases.   Termites can bring down your home (and during their horrifying spring swarms, they obnoxiously drop their wings after having sex — all over your hardwood floors.  (I know, because this happened to me — I spent two hours vacuuming them all up while crying and whimpering in terror).  I wrote about that awful experience in detail in this post about my weird phobia.  Here is an excerpt.

The worst experience I ever had with my phobia was the time we had a termite infestation. I was home alone at the time, watching TV in the living room and something made me look across the room. Something weird was happening on the hardwood floor. It looked like it was sort of…undulating. I got up to investigate and saw what appeared to be THOUSANDS of ant-like insects walking, flying, and DROPPING THEIR WINGS ALL OVER THE FLOOR. I started shivering and crying as I frantically went to go find the vacuum cleaner. I couldn’t think straight. Whimpering in terror, I had trouble plugging the damn thing into the wall because my hands were shaking so badly. In a panic, I sucked up every last one I could see, but MORE KEPT COMING OUT OF THE WALL. I didn’t know they were termites–I didn’t know about the “swarmers” (the termites who mate in the spring and have temporary wings until they mate) until Terminex told me that’s what those were. THOSE UNHOLY FLYING FAKE ANTS WERE HAVING SEX ALL OVER MY LIVING ROOM FLOOR!

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Sorry.

Urban wrote a post about all these ways that bugs ruin everything, but what really stuck with me was his correct observation that —

Bugs have terrible boundaries.

They do, and maybe that’s why we hate them so much.  More than anything, I despise bugs (okay, I know technically most of them are insects, not true bugs) because they have zero sense of where you end and they begin.   Just like those predatory boundary-violating narcissists who make our lives a living hell and never seem to go away. 

In a post I’ll write later tonight or tomorrow, I’m going to describe the wonderful day I had tubing on a local river yesterday.   Everything was perfect — except for the hundreds of dragonflies swarming and hovering everywhere, persistently landing on our bare skin.   Swarming all around us — and mating in the air while they did so!  Do you have no sense of modesty,  Mr. and Ms. Dragonfly? Having sex in public.   In the air.  No shame, those dragonflies.   They all have abominable boundaries! So maybe I’m just jealous, because having sex while flying seems like it would be heavenly!

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I have nothing against dragonflies.  As far as insects go, they are generally pretty inoffensive.  Yes, they are big and kind of prehistoric looking (they scared the bejeebus out of me when I was younger).   The sight of their large outstretched transparent wings is slightly unsettling to me (though I have no idea why).  But I like them.   They don’t bite.  They eat mosquitoes and other annoying bugs that do bite.  They are also very pretty.   I have a love/hate relationship with dragonflies, and I guess the love wins out because I have a tattoo of one on my right shoulder.

I like dragonflies, but I like them from a distance and in limited numbers.  I don’t like swarms of them flying all around me, landing on me, and making love right in front of my face.

Good thing that didn’t happen when I was young, because I would have died from panic. Over the years, I overcame my phobia to the point where my feelings about dragonflies are mainly positive, although I’ve retained a bit of my old fear that snuck up on me yesterday when they were all around me and I couldn’t get away.  I dealt with it by pretending I was Spyro the Dragon with magical dragonflies protecting me.

The extraordinary in the ordinary.

Some things we think of as ugly or ordinary can be beautiful and extraordinary when we see them through the eyes of a photographer, a naturalist, or a scientist.

I’m not a scientist, just an amateur photographer, but I deeply appreciate nature.  These ants that swarmed around a little puddle of syrup that leaked from a garbage bag were interesting to me.   They seem to come out of nowhere.  They’re so industrious and play an important role in our ecological balance.

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I took a similar photo last August while in Florida (here is my post about that).   One night we went fishing and used shrimp for bait.   This is what happened to one of my shrimp after just a few minutes of sitting in the hot sun:

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Sunset and dragonfly.

Two pictures taken from my yard at sunset, and about a half hour after the sun went down (transition from civil to nautical twilight). My new phone takes so much better pictures than my old one, yay!

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Close-up of a Dragonfly (my daughter took these this afternoon):

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A spider’s dinner.

I saw this scene in a customer’s window today.  Click on to see it even more close up!

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Paper wasps make rainbow nests!

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Did you know if you give paper wasps multicolored construction paper, they will make rainbow-colored nests instead of the usual gray?   A biology student did just this, and the results are colorful!

Almost makes me want wasps around so they can decorate my porch with rainbow colored nests.  Well…almost.

Here’s the whole article with all the pictures. Enjoy.

When Given Colored Construction Paper, Wasps Build Rainbow Colored Nests

Those demon camel crickets.

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Do you have them? I have them–probably thousands of them.

I’m referring to those horrible long-legged crickets that leap into your face and scurry like cockroaches when you turn the lights on. They dwell in dark, damp places like caves, damp basements, and in my case, a corner of my kitchen that is always damp because of a slow leak of an outside tap that has turned the soil just outside into a quicksand-like glop where nothing green can grow–but lots of other things can.

If I go into my kitchen late at night and turn on the light, I can HEAR the horrible creatures as they jump up and land on the floor. I kid you not–there are sometimes 20 of them at a time, of all sizes, and some of them are HUGE. There must be thousands more inside the wall facing the outside. The only good thing about them is they’re easy to kill. Babycat used to kill and eat them (leaving their legs behind for me to clean up, ewww), but she’s not with me anymore, and my two remaining cats are too lazy to be of any use. They’d rather hunt big game like mice and voles outside.

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I’m trying not to think about the fact the inside of the wall of my kitchen facing the outside probably looks like this. 😮

The type of cricket I’m talking about are called “camel crickets” (Rhaphidophoridae) because their back is arched like a camel’s. They are also called “sprickets” colloquially because of their resemblance to large spiders. The first time I encountered one, it terrified me. I understand that’s a common reaction. But I’ve gotten so used to them that now they just disgust and annoy me.

They’re pretty easy to kill, unlike the fleas I’ve also done battle with (this year being no exception, in spite of far fewer animals in the house). They will leap and try to get away, but often they just sit there and let you crush them. It doesn’t take much to destroy a camel cricket. Their exoskeletons appear to be very thin and easy to crush. Their legs don’t appear to be tightly attached, and more often than not, they fall off when you try to pick the dead insect up with a paper towel. I actually read they shed their legs when they feel threatened by a predator. It doesn’t seem too survival oriented, but actually there’s a reason for them doing this. A predator is so startled by the cricket dropping a leg, that while inspecting it, the insect makes its escape.

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How nice of them to leave me a gift. :/

Next Wednesday the landlord is coming out to fix the leak that’s causing all the dampness–and the infestation of the demon sprickets.
There’s no way a God of any benevolence created this hideous evil bugs. They seem to have come straight from the bowels of hell.

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Getting rid of Camel Crickets: http://colinpurrington.com/tips/camel-crickets
Good advice and good for a chuckle too.

One-legged grasshopper.

A one legged grasshopper just chillin’ on a trash can at the local Fastop.

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Fleas or narcs?

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The only thing I don’t like about the coming of spring and summer (besides the high humidity later on) is fleas. But because I have so many pets, every summer I do mighty battle with these leaping little bastards from hell.

Fleas! Argggghhh! I hate fleas more than just about anything else–and that’s a lot of things.

I have no idea why fleas ever evolved or how they ever really fit into the food chain. Or if you believe in creation, why God would have put these teeny weeny jumping demons on the Ark along with Noah. I don’t know why they exist or what their earthly purpose could possibly be.

Fleas are annoying, they suck your blood, they are everywhere, and they’re nearly impossible to get rid of. At least maggots, gross they are, help break down dead meat so they have a dirty job to do, just like that guy on TLC who made a reality show out of doing all the gross jobs no one else wanted to do. But someone’s got to do it.

What do fleas do? Fleas are the planet’s parasitic losers (except they seem to be winning).

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You know what else is useless, annoying, everywhere, sucks your blood, and nearly impossible to get rid of? What else on this planet are parasitic losers who seem to be winning?

Narcs.

Maybe some Frontline can help keep the narcs under control too.

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The only thing better about a narc than a flea is they don’t make your lower legs itch like hell and develop raw red sores that make you look like you have a bad skin disease. But instead of fucking with your epidermis, they fuck with your grey matter.

Hey, I got it. Let’s find a way to make all the narcs attractive to fleas–maybe there’s some sort of pheromone cologne we can splash all over them–and the rest of us and our pets can live flea-free. The narcs will be too busy scratching to bother us much anymore.