Gardens of the Cross Timbers: Things go round

Becky Emerson Carlberg
Contributing writer
Seminole Armored Roundabout

February is Central US Earthquake Awareness month. Seismic zones are in Tennessee, Oklahoma, Kansas, Ohio and Texas. There is a 25%-40% chance an earthquake with the magnitude of 6.0 or greater will occur within a 50-year window. Where in the window does the 2011 Prague 5.7 earthquake fit? Beginning, middle or end? Should we worry?

Don’t worry about earthquakes when the Polar Express transitioned into the Siberian High-Speed, leaving us with walls of snow and unheard-of low temperatures. If we were in Yakutsk, Sakha Republic, Russia (Siberia), coldest city in the world and 280 miles south of the Arctic Circle, we’d be used to it. Winter temps can drop to minus 60 degrees F. The 283,000 people of Yakutsk live on top of continuous permafrost. The soils never warm above freezing. That knocks out spinach, lettuce, and peas (soils need to be 40 degrees F), onions and turnips (50 degrees), broccoli, cabbage and beets (60 degrees) and the infamous tomatoes at 70 degrees.

Ahh, but they have discovered a work-around. Based on Japanese technology, an all-year greenhouse complex covering 2.4 acres was built in 2017 in Syrdakh, a small village of 800 folks, 14 miles from Yakutsk. The greenhouse has three layers of film that allows 94% sunlight. The heat source is natural gas. New greenhouses covering 8 acres were to be completed by 2020. Crops include tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and herbs.

Perhaps I needed some of that Japanese technology applied to my mini-greenhouse complex. The oil-filled radiators are working their little hearts out trying desperately to keep things above freezing day in and day out during the seems-like-forever deep freeze. The tropicals were happily blooming before doomsday hit.

February is Oklahoma’s snowiest month. Coldest month on record for OKC was January 1930. Arctic fronts roared during the middle of the month, reinforcing the cold air and dropping the temps below zero five times. Sound familiar? Feb. 20-22, 1971, three feet of snow fell in Buffalo, Oklahoma, with drifts over 20 feet high. Feb. 9, 2011, Spavinaw Oklahoma, received 27 inches of snow. The next day Nowata, Oklahoma, descended to a minus 31 degrees F. Minus 10, minus 15 down to minus 27 readings were common across northern Oklahoma due to the deep snow pack, light winds and clear skies. Add to the list the middle of February 2021. Not only was it super cold and deeply snowy, this week held President’s Day, St. Valentine’s Day, Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. Cakes, hearts, parties and prayers. What a combination.

The plants in both greenhouses rode on a thin edge of warmth which rapidly dissipated in the frigid Siberian air surrounding them. Worse, many birds lost the battle to live long enough to get through this horrible cold and snow. I saw one bluebird on the top of the bluebird house, looking forlorn. Then I found a bluebird sitting on the ground to the side of the driveway, listless and eyes nearly closed. I held her and warmed up her small body in my hands. She drifted away as I gently laid her under the cover of the holly by the house. A fellow bird lover said she has been doing her best to keep fresh water and food for her charges, but every morning finds small dead birds under her redcedar.

We may think it is rough for us, but for our wildlife living in the remnants of habitats we’ve allowed them, the severe winter weather is deadly. How much protective cover, how many shrubs and trees are still in your yards? Our trees definitely blocked the searing cold north winds and horizontal snow. You could be blown away in open areas by some of the coldest, fiercest gales. The redcedars so many despise became sanctuaries for birds during this brutal winter episode. A look inside one redcedar revealed red-winged blackbirds perched side by side on each branch. The interior of the tree was black with birds while groups of green needles on the outside deflected the wind and collected snow, effectively insulating the interior of the tree, keeping the birds warmer.

Seems we have forgotten the birds, bees and trees across the earth serendipitously keep us alive and healthy. Can we sing as beautiful as a meadowlark without expecting anything in return? Whatever happens, nature will keep rebounding until the last bird sings….. while people grab the last roll of toilet paper.

On a happier note, how do you feel about roundabouts? They elicit lots of comments. Coming through Seminole after the Gravel Growler race, we circled their roundabout. In the UK, starting in the 1960s, most intersections were replaced with roundabouts which allowed increased volume of traffic to flow around and go, rather than stop and wait. Roundabouts reduce fuel use and exhaust fumes. Traffic-related injuries drop, especially the number of T-bones and head-ons.

When finished in 2020, the Seminole roundabout had four boulders arranged at 12, 3, 6 and 9 inside the center island with arrow signs directing the traffic. Neat and simple. Apparently, drivers had problems. There are now 20 boulders tightly lining the circle, additional boulders edging the merging and exit roads and four street lights. Deep grooves in the soil and skid marks blend nicely with the road boulders.

In National Lampoon’s 1985 ‘European Vacation’, the Griswold family enters the London roundabout but, unable to exit, keep circling far into the night. Many larger roundabouts are extensively landscaped. Seminole is well on its way to creating a Quartz Mountain roundabout.

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at