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Outdoors: The bleak midwinter


Earth was hard as iron
Water like a stone

I love the Rossetti lyrics to Holst’s carol “In the Bleak Midwinter.”

While I have doubts about the Biblical accuracy of this description, it is certainly is true in the Great Lakes region.

When earth is hard as iron and water is frozen like a stone, water cannot be absorbed by tree roots, so in effect, winter is a severe drought.

The needles of pine, spruce and fir are leaves, and because they are evergreen, they continue to function on warm sunny days.

But, needles are slender, and because they have a small surface area, moisture loss is kept to a minimum.

Needles are coated with a waxy substance that reduces evaporation.

It also works as a non-slick coating when “snow had fallen snow on snow.” Unless heavy accumulations slip from needles, branches are likely to break.

Amazingly, needles are able to absorb some moisture and even minerals from clouds and fog.

Still, winter can be hard on evergreens.

Those glorious intense blue-sky days are the killers. When the sun shines brightly, photosynthesis occurs and huge volumes of water are lost.

If water evaporates but cannot be replaced, the needles turn brown.

I hate to say it, but in midwinter, damp overcast days are helpful. Bleak is best.