The Southern-based national TV meteorologists were in their element this week, warning everybody that would listen about a Siberian-spawned high-pressure system about to stretch its icy fingers down from Canada and grip the Midwest and Northeast in its frigid grasp. Woe is us. And of course, they cautioned, everyone should stay inside, glued to the tube and the computer.
The weathermen shook their heads from side-to-side, wagging a finger, saying cold weather is bad. Bad, bad, bad. Dangerous.
"And watch us for the latest updates."
And many people buy it. But I have a different view. Winter's cold is a blessing.
Here in the Northeast we need the cold weather and the wondrous cleansing power it possesses to scrub every root, dead leaf, and twig; every log, crack in the bark, and spring seep on the hillside of Southern invasive critters of all kinds.
Some of these Southern "nasties" we can see, a few we feel their bites, and most would cause us to suffer their effects.
Without the cold weather, invasive bacteria, molds, fungus, and virus of all types and sorts would seep here on Southern-spawned air currents and set up shop.
Without these arctic blasts, insects that were able to crawl, fly, or hitch a ride, would crowd their way into our native ecological niches that were heretofore protected, and they would feed and multiply.
And without these frigid moments in January and February, invasive herbaceous plants and trees would get a toehold here and steal the light and soil from our indigenous species. And with the invasion would come the die-off.
Even the South itself is seeing the effects as the mangroves are marching northward in Florida, replacing the marsh and sea grasses and changing the seascape there.
Many folks here have remarked that their dogs and cats have a higher incidence of ticks in the last few years ... undoubtedly due to the mild winters.
Without our frosty, bitter-cold weather, many individual species of our native plants would not be able to reproduce and continue their species botanical success.
Stratification is a phenomenon that many seeds need to undergo in order to germinate. And without our cold temperatures, whole populations of seeds, our future forests and woodlots, would never sprout. Many seeds need the cold as much as they do the warmth in summer to grow.
These cold days are not all bad, in fact we could launch a good argument that they are life-supporting. Our northern ecosphere is guarded by one thing and one thing only - the deep, anti-bacterial scrub from the north. Our winters freeze out all the little nasty buggers, kills them, stops them in their tracks sure as Meade stopped Lee at Gettysburg. We need at least a few days when the temperatures drop below zero on the old F-scale to do the job right. So when it happens, I'm a happy guy.
Page 2 of 2 - A long list of destructive and worrisome alien invaders have been brought here both consciously and unknowingly; not just wild ones like southern-based spiders, biting flies, and ants. Some, as in the specific cases of the gypsy moth and purple loosestrife were brought to the northeast on purpose. The former, the ubiquitous and despised oak defoliator, as possible breeding stock for the silk industry, and the latter, a cattail choker, as a garden ornamental from Europe.
Other invasives, such as the Chestnut blight and the Dutch elm disease, have had apocalyptical consequences to entire species, but were brought to the northeast as invisible hitchhikers. Evidently their origins are from the same temperate latitude, so even our artic fronts at the coldest time of the year couldn't save the chestnut forests or the stately elms. As the Northeast's average annual temperatures rise, whether due to global warming or a natural weather cycle, or some combination of the two, we will notice new immigrants here. And they aren't all bad.
Some come and stick, and have added so much to our wooded environments like apples. The apple tree was brought here to Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania in the middle of the 1600s by the French Jesuits and given to the Iroquois, having originated in Kazakhstan, near Afghanistan. But though apples are indigenous to the other side of the world, they are from the same latitude and need wintertime temperatures for seed stratification.
So when the outside thermometer hits zero, nature's thermal antiseptic is not only keeping some of the invasive critters in check, it is also setting the stage for next season's new growth in our woodlands, fields and water.