Decades of entries by residents show changes on local level
By Chloe Bennett
Collecting environmental notes is how many scientists measure how climate change is affecting the Adirondacks and other regions. Some scientific data isn’t written by professional climate researchers, but by Adirondackers who have taken care to record their surroundings. One 91-year-old Lake Clear resident, Dana Fast, filled piles of journals with her own observations from the field.
Notes from the garden
Inside Fast’s journals are time capsules chronicling decades of moments in her own backyard. The master gardener carefully recorded temperatures, bloom dates, weather and more since the 1970s. It wasn’t until 2021 that she officially retired from gardening and stopped journaling. But the data illustrates how the park’s climate has gradually changed.
In 1990, Fast wrote that the ground thawed enough on April 1 to dig. By 2002, that date had moved up to March. Although the dates swung back and forth from March to April, Fast suspects this winter would yield an early thaw. “I have the feeling that now after I stopped writing it, the ground will be open sometime maybe in February,” she said.
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Sightings of the first robin, hearing the first chorus of frogs and keeping track of blooms are other meticulous notes in Fast’s journal. Overall, most wildlife kept to a schedule, according to her notes.
Before final frosts, she planted seeds indoors that would be transferred to her garden, which she mapped on paper.
Fast’s favorite plant to grow and harvest is the tomato, but around a decade ago, she began to notice it was still producing weeks after its normal schedule. She said she could pick ripe tomatoes in late September — unusual according to her own records.
“The season is getting longer,” Fast recalled thinking in her garden.
Keeping a gardening journal began as a way to plan for the next planting season. But as a former medical researcher with a degree in chemistry, collecting and recording data in her own backyard came easily. It helped her feel closer to the natural world in the process.
“The whole thing is connected,” Fast said.
In Wilmington, snowplow driver and hardware store owner Steve Forbes has kept another type of environmental record. In a worn paper book, Forbes, 54, has noted every snowfall over 3 inches since 1987 because it meant residences and businesses needed snowplowing. Forbes’s family, who also owns an excavating business, began plowing in the 1960s but did not keep a written log of their work.
“I just started the book of all the people that I plow and I just continued to keep adding to it,” Forbes said.
Forbes’s 36 years of plow journaling is a practical way to keep track of the family business’ 150 clients his. His book is also rich with histories of snowfall in the Wilmington area, like the six major storms in 1987 and the dry season in 1988. In recent years, he said he plows weeks later in the season.
“Really, the November plowings aren’t happening much anymore,” he said.
How to start
Climate change research, including a 2022 study led by Stager, shows that winters in the Adirondacks will continue to shorten and alter the park’s long-standing outdoor culture. Writing journal entries or logs can even aid scientists and younger generations’ research and in climate solutions. The best climate data comes from people, not machines, Stager said.
“It has to be personal observations from people who know the place and they know what they’re looking at, and the only way to get that is if someone records what they observe,” he said.
To start a nature journal or scientific log, Fast and Stager recommended the old-fashioned way: with paper and a pencil. Logging temperatures and dates are essential, Fast said, and organizing the journal by month will make for easy comparisons. But consider storing the information in more than one place.
“The main thing is, be consistent, go to the same spot regularly as often as you can, and record it in as many ways as you can,” Stager said. “So if you do it on paper, that’s great, as long as nobody loses it. But you could also photocopy it too and pass it around to family members or give it to a local library or a museum.”
Cristine Meixner says
This is a great start, but does not go back far enough. 30 years is not a good comparison when our weather seems to go in 40-year cycles.
The weather has changed dramatically, with much shorter winters, much less snow, very much warmer. snow pack doesnt build. i remember snow storms in early september and on mothers day. Where for weeks at a time in Newcomb it never got above zero in January and February. getting up in the morning seeing -25 to -30 and moaning as it was time to refill the wood box in the house again. Snow shoeing in 6-8 feet of snow and hoping for a grouse or rabbit. I used to love watching the road grader driving through Newcomb cutting the snow banks back, riding snowmobiles along the banks above the cars driving by. Days where there were more snowmobiles at school than cars, when 1 foot of snow didnt close the school or 3 feet back then. How many remember when we drove on compacted ice and sand all winter and didnt see asphalt until march?
Tom Paine says
Stan Thompson spoke of his childhood in the twenties and thirties at Beaver River Station and winters of warmth and no snow at that time. It is cyclical.