A frostless autumn, 1877

October 31, 2014

The weather here appears to have mimicked weather in New York in 1877:  a surpassingly cool summer and astonishingly warm autumn.  (Here’s hoping we don’t get the rude awakening New Yorkers got in 1877 …)

In his column for the Christian Union, former Robert Merry’s Museum subscriber William Hoyt Coleman describes a frostless fall, with geraniums and tomatoes still blooming late in October.  That boys complained that nuts hadn’t yet fallen from the trees is a nice reminder that gathering nuts in autumn seems to have been an important activity for earlier generations.

“The Frostless Fall.” Christian Union 16 (31 Oct 1877): p. 384.

Nature is having her own Centennial this year. Not in the hundred years now gone can there have been a brighter, more beautiful succession of the months. Brief terms of sultry heat there were but they only made more refreshing the cool days and cooler nights which have blest us through the summer. But why did they not come last summer? Why could not Nature and Art have united to glorify the nation’s year of jubilee? What a boon it would have been to that perspiring, duster-clad throng of Philadelphia pilgrims! But they didn’t unite and Nature behaved herself utterly regardless of folks’ feelings. And this year she is as lovely as a lamb. We must take her as she comes.

It is the 23rd of October as we write and the freshness of June is still here. The grass is soft and green, the flowers grow and bloom luxuriantly, and many trees retain their deep mid-summer hue. Yet the brilliant dyes of Autumn are everywhere intermingled, and red and yellow leaves carpet the sidewalks—albeit there has been no frost. Scientific persons used to say that the frost colored the leaves but we have not heard any scientific person say so this fall, for the reason probably that the leaves have colored as usual but without the aid of any froxt—not even a white one. It grew cold one afternoon and anxious plant-owners covered their pots with papers, sheets and blankets. Our house plants were already under cover but the bed of scarlet geraniums was left to fight for itself. Early in the evening the grass stiffened and we trembled for all tender things; but Jack Frost reconsidered and went off before he could do any damage. Next morning not even a tomato drooped a leaf and the geraniums have gone on blooming to this day. Yes, the tomatoes are in blossom, also, and if Jack only continues to keep away we shall have a third crop of tomatoes. Clematis Jackmanni [sic] is putting out some purple blossoms, and honeysuckle blooms sweeten the air.

It may be allowed to the scientific person that frost hurries up the ripening of the leaves, for never before have we seen foliage so delightfully slow and irregular in changing its hues. A few of the soft maples have rapidly passed through the routine of change and are already lifting their bare branches to the heavens but others have scarcely turned color. In one yard we saw three horse chestnuts, two of which were a brilliant yellow while the third was still fresh and green. Apple trees know no change, neither do peaches. And so there is a wondrous intermingling of the hues of mid-summer and fall, and the sun shines warm, and one knows not whether it be June or October but drinks in the joys of both.

Yet do some complain. The boys say the nuts are hard to get. They miss the aid of the sharp frosts that long ere this used to open the burrs and send the nuts rattling to the sward below. They have to do an infinite deal of thrashing to get them off and as much more to get them open. But those that live in nursery towns can earn more money by the delay of this same frost. The leaves hold fast to the fruit-trees and more than usual stripping must be done. A sharp frost would enable the nurseryman to dispense with half his stripping force. But he, if anyone, has good cause to grumble at the fine weather which has made clay soils as hard as rocks, so that tree-digging, which began about the 20th of September, has been more difficult than for years past. It has not been digging, it has been picking with sharp picks, inch by inch, laying open deep trenches before the “big spade” could in any way loosen the roots. Now that digging is about over, there has been almost a week’s rain which has gone down where it was most wanted. But if it had only come about the 15th of September, how much expense of time and labor, wear of tools, and sweat of brow might have been saved. One of these days we shall know the reason why.


One Response to “A frostless autumn, 1877”

  1. […] embalming ditty as the remarkable weather of this remarkable season. Hardly had we ceased to chant the praise of the frostless fall when quick and sharp from his hiding place old Winter blew an icy breath, and the astonished world […]

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