So there was this big snow right before Christmas. December 19. It was lovely. Well over a foot fell in this part of New Jersey, and apparently much, much deeper over at the shore. The last storm this big was already now, what, three years ago? It’s been my impression that New Jersey winters are much less snowy than when I first moved up here. With climate change very much a concern for those who accumulate weather data, you would think that changes in annual snowfall would be something to keep track of – certainly it leaves a major impression on us laypeople. So I thought I’d take a look and see if there was data in easy reach about changes in snowfall over the past few decades. And while a warming global climate might lead one to expect that there will be less snow, certain areas, of which the Northeast is one, are predicted to see an increase in precipitation, which could mean more snow, right?
No. It’s less snow. Although the mean temperature increase for the area over the past century has been 1.8° F, which I believe is pretty much on track with global mean increases, the winter season in the Northeast saw an increase of 2.8°. More precipitation isn’t going to mean more snow if it’s not cold enough. I wasn’t able to get much specific data on New Jersey, but the Climate Change New England people include New Jersey in their regional studies, and those roughly indicate a loss here of around 5″ annual snowfall from the 1970s, when annual snowfall totals began to be recorded on a systematic basis. The loss in New Jersey is not as marked as areas such as the Adirondacks that are getting 40″ to 60″ less snow now. The Northeast region overall is experiencing 16 days fewer of snow on the ground over the winter since 1970, lake ice is melting a week earlier than a century ago, and our beloved lilacs are blooming four days earlier than in 1965.
So we enjoy it when we got it right? Well, it’s not going away anytime soon, if it ever disappears at all, but it seems likely that there’ll be a telling difference in how much of our winters remain snow-covered as the years roll by. It was not so much the loss of snow on my mind the day after the snow fell, though, but the pending loss of some of the remnants of the farm’s glory days. As part of the condition of the sale of the undeveloped land and the fields to the open space consortium, the property manager’s cottage and the tractor shed and bullpen near it were to be torn down. I grabbed a camera, stuffed my jeans into my boot-tops, and headed out.
The plow service contracted by our landlord cleared out a good bit of the drive. No one lives down here anymore, but the salvage/removal company taking the buildings down was coming in on a regular basis and needed access. There’s the shed, now divested of roofing tiles and siding. It hasn’t actually been in use for years, and was filled up with scrap lumber, an abandoned VW Beetle – old style, and traps, cages, and signs from past hunt club activities. The tractors for some time have actually just been parked outside the shed with tarps over them during periods of little use.
This is what remains of the bullpen, which sits behind the shed, to the right of the image above. There hasn’t been a bull kept here since the previous owner of the farm, the local Catholic diocese, used to keep and graze cows here, but the pen itself has remained intact over three decades until now.
Here is one of the paths cut into the brush leading into the hills behind the cottages. I’m not aware of any agricultural purpose for these things. The hunt club maintained them to access their blinds a ways in, and in the summer time they make for short, pleasant walks.
Enticing, no? But that snow is deep, which doesn’t show up well in a photograph, and my hiking boots only protect so much. By this point, after wandering around behind the tractor shed, I’ve got snow caked up past the knees.
I continue on down the drive and past where the snow plow stopped its efforts to look at what remains of the cottage.
Here’s the view into the woods from the house. We’re actually just up above Route 29 here, and though it’s hard to see through the brush, the Delaware river is less than a quarter mile away. If you were to climb a tree and look in the direction opposite the way this photo positions you, you would see where Washington landed when he crossed it.
The track at the top of the picture, running from one side to the next, was one of the most common tracks I saw out there: deer. I love the undulating track that starts at the lower right corner: a small animal that moves by short hops? Yes.
The other track, the one that starts at the left lower corner, is of a larger animal, whose body still drags through the snow when striding, but at other points moves by long leaps, so that there are deep prints left by legs with long gaps of undisturbed snow.
Cat? Fox? We’ve got both in the wild out here, and though more of the latter than the former, I’m going to go with cat. I had spotted a feral cat in the shed as I came around the far side after photographing the bullpen. And these tracks seem comfortably, familiarly feline – I’m used to seeing the like in the kitchen and on the hood of my car. The possibility of either, wild or domestic culture, does speak the somewhat unique situation of the farm, being relatively rural and remote, though tucked into a pocket of the nation’s most dense and developed state.
On the way back, I look back over the main road into the fields.
Along that road I came across, of course, a favorite icon of the farm, the old International. It had been abandoned decades ago in front of the shed, and as successive caretakers mowed around it in maintaining the drives and paths, bushes and brambles grew up and around it to the point that it was a few years after moving here before I realized that there was a truck in the thicket behind the dumpster. When they began clearing some of the land to repair water and septic in anticipation of selling the land, someone – the septic people? power people? I don’t know – pulled it out of the bushes and left it here at the entrance to the fields.