Tag Archive 'backyard nature'

Feb 17 2017

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Cutting Tracks in Local Woods

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Two back-to-back winter storms dumped 20 inches of snow this week. That’s more snow than we’ve seen in a long while. It’s finally starting to look like Vermont around here.

A couple days ago I did my fair share of shoveling, clearing out a 10 by 12-foot space in the back yard for one thing – a place for my dog Matika to pee. But she looked pathetic when she was out there walking tight circles in her prison yard. She looked as cooped up as I was feeling. So I strapped on my snowshoes yesterday and cut tracks out of the prison yard, across the fresh snow, and into the woods. Matika happily followed.

It wasn’t easy cutting tracks. I broke a good sweat. But the air was clean, all was quiet, and the snow still clinging to naked tree branches looked beautiful. Wouldn’t say I have cabin fever these days, but being outdoors feels a lot better than being indoors. I really get tired of sitting inside, staring at a computer screen all day, don’t you?

After completing a big loop in the woods, I doubled back on my tracks, creating a nice smooth trail. The second time around is always much easier so I able to really enjoy my surroundings. Matika enjoyed it, too. She romped in the snow like a puppy, collecting ice balls in her thick fur. Nordic dog!

This morning I looked out my office window at first light and spotted that snowshoe trail crossing the back yard. It’s calling my name now. How long will I be able to resist it? No doubt I’ll be out there again, tomorrow or the next day, cutting more tracks in local woods. Not quite as good as being in the mountains, but there’s something to be said for snowshoeing right out the back door. Wild nature doesn’t feel very far away at all.

 

 

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Sep 16 2016

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The Quarry

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Version 2Judy and I didn’t actually see the quarry until our house was well under construction. We had heard about it before our builder even broke ground back in February, but we didn’t think it was that big a deal. We were mistaken.

The folks who own the quarry kept telling us that we should check it out. When finally we got around to doing that, we were pretty impressed. It is much bigger and more beautiful than expected, with a shallow end that’s ideal for launching boats. We were encouraged to use the quarry so, when the grandkids came to visit shortly after we moved into our new house, that’s what we did. They loved it, of course. They kayaked, swam and fished there on several occasions. I think they would have camped out there if we had let them.

In the middle of the summer, I went swimming there for the first time. My dog Matika accompanied me. The hot sun warmed the surface, but a few feet down the water was cold. Another pleasant surprise.

A few weeks later Judy and I kayaked the quarry at sundown, breaking the glassy surface of the water with our paddles while making long, lazy circles upon it. A kingfisher called out then swooped low over the water. Then all was quiet. That’s when we realized just how charming the place really is.

It’s only half a mile away from our house. We go past the quarry while walking a two-mile loop around the area. The owners have told us repeatedly that we can use it any time, and I suppose we will in the years to come. But it still doesn’t quite feel real to us. It’s like having a small park steps from one’s door. More than we bargained for when we moved here, that’s for sure.

 

 

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May 27 2016

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The Ten-acre Wood

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10 Acre WoodTemps reached into the 90s today – the hottest day so far this year. Ridiculously hot for May. I went for a short walk in nearby woods anyway.

After visiting the house under construction that will soon be home to Judy, my dog Matika and me, I slipped into the Ten-acre Wood. That’s the name I’ve given the woodlot less than a hundred yards from where I will most likely spend the rest of my life. Most of the woodlot will be developed someday, but for the time being it’s mine to enjoy.

I’ve been following the procession of wildflowers in the Ten-acre Wood since early spring when bloodroot and hepatica came out. Trilliums and trout lilies soon followed, then came violets, bleeding hearts, and a host of subtle bloomers. Most of those are gone now as the canopy overhead has closed. But today I found Jack hidden in the lush greenery covering the forest floor. Jack-in-the-pulpit, that is – a wildflower that is easily missed.

Jack’s an old friend of mine. We’ve had some good times together during my past springtime excursions into deep woods. It’s good to see him taking up residence close to where I’ll soon be living. Or is it the other way around?

No doubt I will make other delightful discoveries in that woodlot during the years ahead. I still plan on making lots of trips to much wilder places, but it’s nice knowing that I’ll soon be able to take a twenty-minute break from my computer and tramp this small, wild place. Sometimes a few minutes among the trees is all I need to clear my head. What a blessing to have such a place close by!

 

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Mar 25 2013

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On the Verge

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lily shootsThe green shoots of day lilies push up relentlessly through the half frozen soil in my front yard, as if seasonal change is inevitable. The tips of some are frostbitten, brown and withered, but they keep coming anyway. A recent big dump of snow convinces the winter weary among us that spring will never come. Yet in some ways it’s already here.

The buds on the maple tree in my back yard are red and swollen. The sap has been running for weeks. A red-winged blackbird – migrating north to be sure – landed in it a few days ago. A cardinal sings loudly from the top of another tree, establishing his territory early. There are a lot of squirrel tracks in the snow now. The snow itself is slowly disappearing in a barely discernible melt-off driven more by sunlight than warm temperatures. Yeah, to those of us paying careful attention, the spring season has already begun.

“See how the snow is drying up?” I kept telling my wife Judy yesterday, to the point where she grew annoyed with me. I couldn’t help myself. My favorite season is on the verge, and all I want to do is sing about it as the wild birds do. One daylong rain will make it obvious to everyone. The Vernal Equinox is behind us. The natural world is awakening from its long sleep.

 

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Mar 16 2013

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Last Woodlot Ramble

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WoodlotThere’s a woodlot on the edge of town that I like to visit whenever I’m the mood to wander about aimlessly without having to drive very far. When I was a child growing up in Ohio, I used to roam fallow fields and woodlots where few people ever went. Doing so nowadays takes me back to my roots.

The woodlot isn’t very big – no more than a half mile square if you count the adjoining fields full of briars and scrub. The heart of it is a cedar swamp of sorts where the water table is often just above the surface level. That’s why a day like yesterday is ideal for visiting the place. With no snow cover and temps just below freezing, walking is easy. All I have to do is follow animal tracks threading through saplings and downed trees.

Hares, chipmunks, squirrels and all sorts of birds live in this woodlot. I got up close and personal with a barred owl here a few years ago. I’ve chased deer out of these woods and spooked ruffed grouse more than once. My dog loves the place because there are lots of interesting smells. Aside from a homeless fellow who once resided here, I’ve never seen anyone in this woodlot. Yet all I have to do to access it is leave my car in a grocery store parking lot and follow a track through illegally dumped trash and into the trees.

Towards the end of my ramble yesterday, I heard the hum of heavy equipment in the distance. After following an ATV trail to a field where I usually pick up the track heading back to the parking lot, I saw something that rocked my world. A huge building had just been erected in the field and all kinds of construction vehicles were moving around the place. The brand new WalMart, of course. I forgot about that. Developers broke ground last fall, shortly after clearing the last legal hurdle. Progress. Soon everything around the woodlot will be developed – perhaps even the woodlot itself. Yeah, just like the Ohio of my childhood. That’s why designated wilderness areas and forest preserves are so important. The almighty dollar changes everything.

 

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Nov 05 2012

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November Branches

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The old silver maple in my back yard is one of the last trees to shed its leaves. When I look up and see its naked branches against a grey sky, I know that the first snow isn’t far away. That’s good news to both deer hunters and skiers. To some extent that’s good news even to guys like me, who do most of their thinking and writing during the colder half of the year. But it’s hard getting past the inherent sadness of it.

We turned our clocks back over the weekend, making the most of diminishing daylight. I saw a few snow flurries yesterday while tossing the ball for my dog. I stayed outside for about a half hour before retreating indoors to hot chocolate, television football and a good book. A few days ago, despite cold rain, I raked up all the leaves the old maple had dropped. All bagged up, I will haul them away soon. End season rituals.

It’s best not to fight it. I take pleasure in the warmth of well-lit rooms and will soon pull out my thermals so that I don’t feel trapped indoors. I have several literary projects underway – enough to keep me busy until April. I shrug my shoulders at the prospect of five o’clock sundowns. All the same, I’ll miss the green.

 

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Aug 22 2012

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Backyard Lounging

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Contrary to the image that I create with this blog site, I’m not always on the move. Quite often I sit still – especially when I’m between busy shifts at the hotel. On those days, the shade beneath the old maple tree in my back yard is the place to be. Beats staying indoors, anyhow.

I usually have a small pile of books, notebooks and papers on the table next to me. I do a lot of light-duty literary work beneath the old maple: reading, letter writing, journaling, planning, and so on. Sometimes I just sit and think. Sometimes my dog Matika entices me to get up and throw the ball for her. On the weekends Judy joins me and we talk. I’m never bored.

A squirrel scurries along a nearby fence. Crickets chirp steadily. A cardinal or robin breaks into song every once in a while. The town bustles in the background. A gentle breeze rocks the rope swing dangling from a thick branch, reminding me of busier times with the grandkids. These are the sights and sounds of late summer, pleasant yet inducing a slight melancholy. Here in northern Vermont, the warm season is short indeed.

The writer’s life is a contemplative one. This is true even for those of us who write about the great outdoors. Experiences have to be processed. Ideas need time to ferment. An essential part of woods wandering is not wandering at all.

 

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Jun 30 2012

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Summer Sun

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I open the door to the back yard, letting the dog out, and am greeted by an early morning sun burning brightly as it clears the trees. Not quite awake yet, the spectacle takes me by surprise even though I’ve seen it a thousand times before. The summer sun at the start of a cloudless day is irresistible.

Summertime is all about the sun. It blazes with such intensity on the Summer Solstice that all memories of the longer, cooler time of year fade to irrelevance. And the day seems to go on forever.

Barefoot before going to work, I putter about the yard pulling weeds, watering the herbs and tomato plants spilling out of planters, and checking out flowers now opening to the sun. Then I settle into the shade of an old maple tree with my books and papers. Even when I’m not banging around in the woods, life is good. Simple pleasures, like fresh strawberries, are abundant this time of year.

Our very existence depends upon that immense orb of fiery nuclear reactions over ninety million miles away. Without it this planet would be a cold, barren wasteland as most planets are. Any closer to it and Earth would be a living hell. On some level all the plants around us seem to know this. Each day they reach towards the sun as if worshiping it, and flourish before its unblinking gaze. Is it any wonder that our first gods were sun gods? Even today, in countless modern, secular ways, we still worship it as we leave our homes and offices to recreate out-of-doors.

Here in Vermont, this far north, the growing season is short indeed. But that only makes these summer days that much more precious. This isn’t California. The sun does not shine endlessly here. So when it does we are wise to set aside everything else we are doing – the supposedly important things – and groove on the sun and all its earthly consequences. The long, cold season so conducive to deep thought will return soon enough.

 

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Jun 18 2012

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The End of an Illusion

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Yesterday I finished turning over the soil in my so-called wildflower garden, removing all the plants from it, thus ending a four-year experiment. The time had come to admit my mistake.

I had visions of a small patch of wild forest in the corner of my otherwise tame property. A jumble of ground ivy, crabgrass, bindweed and dandelion emerged instead, choking out the daisies and other “wildflowers” that I had seeded there. Things don’t always work out as planned.

For four years I had successfully resisted the urge to pull weeds from that backyard plot – something I do religiously in the much more aesthetically pleasing garden in front of my house. In other words, I let nature take its course back there. Unfortunately, nature can be cruel.

Truth is, nature is neither kind nor cruel. It only seems that way when the wild world passes through the prism of our all-too-human values. That’s precisely where I went wrong. I thought I could drop the word “weed” from my vocabulary and the beauty of deep woods would magically appear in the corner of my city lot.

Soon my wife and I will put some shade-tolerant plants back there: bleeding hearts, columbine, and whatever woodland flowers we can find at the local nursery. Then I will cultivate the plot using methods as old as civilization itself, making it domestically beautiful. And that will have to do. After all, there’s no such thing as a wild garden.

 

 

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Mar 26 2012

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Resilience

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Here in northern Vermont, we awoke to a dusting of snow today. It is ever so slight and will burn off by mid-morning, no doubt. Yet it comes as something of a shock to us after a week of summerlike temperatures.

I go out and check the bright green shoots of my day lilies to see how they are doing. The warmth from the plants has already melted the snow clinging to their leaves, so my lilies take it as a watering. Had the temperature dropped a little lower overnight, there might have been a little browning along the edges and tips of them. All the same, they would have survived – if not this wave of green shoots then certainly the next one. Lilies, as delicate as they may seem, are hard to kill.

I marvel at the resilience of early spring flora and fauna. If a little misfortune comes their way after the promise of an easy start to the season, they bounce right back. Oh sure, they take a hit, and some individual plants and animals are hit hard, but collectively they survive. In fact, setbacks are expected. They are built to withstand them. I admire that.

The other day my sewer line broke. Suddenly the nasty stuff was ankle deep in my basement, my yard had to be dug up, and I had to shell out a hefty sum to have the pipe replaced. A hit, no doubt, but I’m trying to take it like a day lily. Life is full of setbacks, I tell myself. The big question is: how well do we weather them?

Some hits are so hard there is no quick and easy recovery. That’s what we are alluding to when we use words like “crisis” or “disaster.” The word “apocalypse” means there is no recovery at all. Yet Nature with a capital “N” persists even when a meteor hits the planet, taking out the dinosaurs. It’s all just a matter of degree, I suppose, of individual perspective.

I wish I were more resilient. I take my setbacks hard. That said, I watch carefully how everything comes back to life in the spring and am deeply impressed by it. No, not just impressed – I’m inspired. Nature says there is no such thing as a hopeless situation and, even in my darkest moments, I’m inclined to believe it.

 

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