Tag Archive 'Vermont'

Oct 15 2019

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When the Foliage Peaks

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The setting sun illuminates the treetops and suddenly the sugar maples in my backyard are a fiery orange. If I were looking at a picture of these woods, I’d assume it had been photo-shopped. But I’m seeing this with my own eyes.

It’s a hallucination of color – the kind of thing that folks in the big cities to the south drive hundreds of miles to see. I just happened to step outside at just the right moment in the day, in the middle of the foliage season here in northern Vermont. We’re getting towards the end of the season, actually. The trees here in the Champlain Valley are the last to turn, a week or so after the foliage peaks in the higher elevations. That’s one of the things about fall color that makes it so elusive. It happens at different times in different places. Chasing it can drive a person crazy.

But here I am, standing in my backyard, still coughing after a week in bed with the flu, thinking that I’d missed my chance to get out and really enjoy the color. Here I am surrounded by peak foliage that’s completely illuminated. It’s a lucky break to be sure. And one that brightens my outlook while I am sandwiched between sickness and grief after the recent loss of both of my parents.

I have stepped into the light. Once again I am reminded how beautiful the natural world is, how absolutely phenomenal its most commonplace occurrences can be. It is good to be alive.

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Nov 17 2018

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Instant Winter

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Winter arrived with a vengeance yesterday, as sudden as the flip of a switch. A big storm crept in from the west at daybreak, dropping a foot of snow in these parts. So I did what Vermonters do whenever this happens. I put on a jacket, hat, boots and gloves then set to work shoveling.

The first task was to clear a path in front of the garage and at the bottom of the driveway so that my wife could get to work. That was no mean feat. By the time I finished that and cleared the walkways around the house, I was exhausted.

My plow guy showed up late in the afternoon. I think he was taken by surprise by this storm. I know I was. Less than a week ago I was still raking leaves. In fact, a few leaves popped up even as I was shoveling – burnt orange splotches against the white. What season is this, anyhow?

Temps dropped into the teens a few days ago, and snow flurries have fallen a couple of times this year already, but who could have expected such a sudden and heavy snowstorm? The weather forecasters warned us but, hell, it’s not even Thanksgiving yet.

Half a dozen Vermont ski areas just opened. The skiers must be ecstatic. I wish I shared their enthusiasm for the white stuff. But I’m a woods walker through and through. Snuck in a good hike a couple days before the storm hit and am glad I did. God only knows when there will be bare ground underfoot again. Maybe not until March.

There’s no sense fighting it. The seasons change in this part of the world and winter is inevitable. So after shoveling yesterday, I made myself a cup of hot chocolate and drank it while staring out the window at the illuminated landscape. White is easier on the eyes than gray. That counts for something.

 

 

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Oct 13 2018

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A Fairly Good Hike

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I thought I could fake out my old dog Matika by taking her for a walk in a nearby park first, but I had my hiking boots on so she expected a lot more. After the walk, while I was back home taking care of business, she wouldn’t let me out of her sight. Finally I patted her on the head then left without her. I had in mind a hike that I knew her hind legs couldn’t handle.

Mt. Philo was on the way to Vergennes where there was a book sale going on yesterday afternoon. Yeah, it was a combination work/play outing. I’m doing more of those these days. Was the book hunt an excuse to go for a hike, or vice versa? Good use of gas money, either way.

The parking lot at the base of Mt. Philo was full. I soon found out why. While a few patches of green lingered in the canopy here and there, the autumn color was fast approaching its peak. A thin layer of fallen leaves covered the road climbing to the top of the oversized hill. Too beautiful for words, really. I took it all in while ignoring the steady stream of people. Usually I hate hiking busy paths. This time I didn’t mind it.

I barely broke a sweat during the mile-long, road-grade ascent, but it was still the most rigorous hike I’d done in a month or two. Mt. Philo is a monadnock – what used to be an island in an interglacial sea – so it rises quite dramatically from the Lake Champlain valley floor. When I reached the top, I gazed across the sprawling lake and rolling farmland below to the not-too-distant Adirondack Mountains. A great view for relatively little effort.

The descent went quickly. Soon enough I was driving again and attending that book sale. I collected a box of new inventory for my book biz then headed home. The traffic going into Burlington was pretty intense but I didn’t care. I had squeezed in a short hike during a workday and was feeling very relaxed as a result. Not the kind of deep woods outing I prefer, but good all the same.

 

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May 13 2018

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Springtime Overnighter

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A couple days into a run of relatively warm, dry, sunny weather, I decided to take full advantage of the situation. I set all work aside earlier this week, packed a few essentials into my old rucksack, and headed for the Breadloaf Wilderness.

There’s a nice spot on the headwaters of the New Haven River where I’ve camped several times before. After leaving my car at the trailhead, I hiked there. It didn’t take long to reach that campsite, even with my old dog Matika hobbling along slowly behind me.

No bloodsucking bugs this early in the season so I set up my tarp without attaching the mosquito bar. Gathering wood was easy since I was camped off trail. I fashioned a small campfire circle that I would make disappear when I left. With that bright yellow orb beating down through the leafless canopy, I didn’t start a fire right away. It was enough just to sit next to the stream, listening to the endless rush of water breaking over rocks while basking in sunlight.

When the sun finally slipped beneath the trees, I put a match to a tipi of birch bark and kindling in the campfire circle. I was startled by how quickly the fire took off, and made it a point to keep it very small and controllable with bottles of water close at hand. Matika entertained herself by chewing up some of the sticks in my woodpile.

Spending a night in the woods was just what I needed after a long winter of philosophical speculation. Temps dropped fast once the sun went down, though, and Matika crowded me off my foam pad. Not the best night’s sleep, but arising to the song of a waterthrush, a refreshing mountain breeze, and early light breaking through the forest made me thankful to be alive.

I lingered for hours over a morning campfire before slowly packing up and hiking back to the car. I was giddy all the way home, rolling through the Champlain Valley as the trees slowly leafed out. Springtime in Vermont, after a long snowy winter, is absolutely wonderful.

 

 

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May 24 2017

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Gone Fishin’

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Yesterday morning, while I was trying to get some work done, I got an email message from Vermont Fish and Wildlife: SLOW DOWN – GO FISHING. That sounded like a good idea. So I purchased a fishing license, put my dog Matika in the car, and drove to a favorite trout stream.

The brook was running fast and high because of rain the day before, but I didn’t care. Any excuse to head for the hills is a good one. I took my time running line through the ferrules of my fly rod and put on a dry fly. I was happy enough just listening to the stream and grooving on the wild beauty all around me.

The first hour was a lot of practice casting and stream walking. My old dog was having a hard time negotiating the boulders, steep banks and downed trees, so we did more walking through the woods than I would have liked and missed a few choice holes. But when I stumbled into a patch of foam flower in full bloom, that hardly mattered. The woods are magnificent this time of year.

When finally I approached a deep hole with a relatively slow current in it, I crawled into position and carefully dropped my fly on the water. Still no rise, despite the fact that mayflies were hatching. Then I heard the voice of my ol’ buddy Walt Franklin, who does a lot more fishing than I do. “Go deep,” I heard him say. Then I exchanged my dry fly for one of the Bead Head Hare’s Ear nymphs in my box that I had tied several years ago.

First cast, nuthin’. Second cast, bam! I had a big one on the line and was not ready for it. I danced along the gravelly edge of the stream trying to figure out how to land it. Matika saw the fish once I drew it closer, then started dancing with me. I landed it long enough to snap a photo. Then back into the water it went. Matika wanted to go after it but the big brown trout moved so fast that she didn’t stand a chance. I laughed.

That was it. I walked the stream another hour, trying all kinds of flies, but not one more rise. It was a warm, sunny afternoon on the stream all the same. I went home quite satisfied.

 

 

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Mar 19 2017

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Last Day of Winter

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A nor’easter dumped two and a half feet of snow earlier this week. That’s a lot of snow even by Vermont standards. Aside from shoveling the white stuff, I’ve stayed indoors for the most part ignoring it. The bright March sun has already melted off half the snow. I figured I’d just wait out the rest. But my dog Matika kept bugging me so out we went today, tramping in the snow one last time.

Right out the back door, I strapped on snowshoes and cut tracks into the woods. I was sweating in no time. With temps pushing up towards 40 degrees and an unblinking sun overhead, I lifted several pounds of heavy wet snow with each step. Not a cloud in the sky, though, and the pristine snow looked inviting. I was almost as happy to be outdoors as Matika was.

Not far from the house, we flushed several deer from the woods. Matika got on their tracks right away. I followed them for a while. Then we reached the quarry where someone else has been out snowshoeing. Yeah, it’s hard to stay inside this time of year, no matter how good the books and movies are.

We didn’t go far. I stomped out a small loop near the quarry then headed back to the house. A half hour of that was enough. Truth is, I’m already thinking spring. The vernal equinox is tomorrow and the first unmistakable signs of spring aren’t far away. Hmm… technically speaking, tomorrow’s equinox makes today the last day of winter. Snowshoeing was a good way to send it off.

 

 

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Mar 10 2017

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Harbinger of Spring

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Surprisingly warm, spring-like temps melted off most of the snow in the Champlain Valley earlier this week. It seemed a little premature at the time. Sure enough, an arctic blast just hit the region, promising single-digit temps this weekend. Yeah, March is like that here in the North Country. Freeze and thaw – perfect weather for sugaring.

I went for a short walk in the nearby ten-acre wood this afternoon. Galvanized buckets hang from most of the maple trees over there. My neighbor likes to collect sap the old fashioned way. Taps and lines are how serious maple syrup operations do it these days. That said, I like seeing the buckets. They have a certain rustic charm.

There’s snow in the long term forecast, along with rain, more warmth, and more frigid temps. Vermonters grumble but everyone knows this is normal. It’s still too early to clean up the yard, but that’ll have to be done soon. The buckets are a harbinger of things to come. I’ve already seen the first migrating geese. And the woodpeckers are busy. Spring is imminent.

My dog Matika and I are both restless. I’m getting over a head cold and more than ready to head for the hills and really stretch my legs. The half-frozen earth underfoot during my short walk was a very good sign. Won’t be long before Matika and I get good and muddy.

The days are much longer now than they were in January. The equinox isn’t far away. My favorite season is almost here. I’m looking forward to it.

 

 

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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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Nov 22 2016

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Sudden Winter

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backyard-first-snowEven though the weather forecasters gave us plenty of warning, it still came as something of a surprise. Sunday’s rain turned to snow. When I got out of bed yesterday, there were several inches of the white stuff on the ground and my plow guy was clearing the driveway. And this morning it’s still snowing. Egads!

Because the wind is blowing, it’s hard to say how much snow has fallen. A few stray leaves dance across the field of white that my back yard has become. Snow thrown against tree trunks stays there. Beautiful in a Nordic kind of way. The skiers must be ecstatic.

All bundled up, I shoveled a path to my front door roughly 48 hours after walking around in shirtsleeves, bagging leaves. It was still an unseasonably warm autumn on Saturday. Not any more. Now it looks and feels much like a typical Thanksgiving week here in northern New England. Just enough snow on the ground for the hunters to do their thing.

Never a big one for winter sports, I prefer being indoors this time of year, camped in front of the fire burning steadily in the corner stove. Lots of literary work to do, lots of pondering. That said, I won’t be able to stay inside very long. Eventually the wild will call me out. Either that or my dog will start bugging me. Her thick coat was made for this kind of weather.

No doubt temps will rise again and today’s snow will melt away before winter really strikes with a vengeance. Day-to-day and week-to-week, it’s a roller coaster. But there’s no mistaking what time of year it is. The cold, dark season is underway here in the North Country. The grey light in the late afternoon confirms that. So we brace ourselves for the inevitable. Which reminds me: I should dig out my gloves, and get those winter tires on the car. There’s no time to lose.

 

 

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Sep 22 2016

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On the Trail with John

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view-from-prospect-rockFor six years I made excuses before getting back on the trail with my old hiking buddy, John. It’s shameful, really. No one is that busy. But at long last we met in Manchester, shuttled cars, then set foot together on the white-blazed AT/LT, headed north.

John is section hiking the Appalachian Trail. He has done 70% of it so far. Six years ago, I did a 40-mile stretch in central Vermont with him, then shuttled him south so that he could do another section alone. This time I joined John for 19 miles, between Kelly Stand Road and Route 30. I didn’t think my flabby body couldn’t handle more than that. I set aside 3 days from my allegedly busy life to do it.

We went up over Stratton Mountain first thing, tracing the same route that I had hiked with my grandkids a month earlier. A steady rain kept us cool and John let me set the pace. As a result, we got up and over the mountain with little difficulty.

We talked our way through the first day and into the next. We talked and talked. Six years is a long time. We had a lot of catching up to do.

After spending a night at Stratton Pond Shelter, I was feeling pretty spry for a 60-year-old. I suggested that we push it all the way to Route 30 the second day instead of going just to Spruce Peak Shelter. That way he could get in a full day’s hike the third day. John thought it best that we go as far as Spruce Peak Shelter before making that decision. I agreed.

Our traverse through the dripping forest was a trip down memory lane for me. We skirted the edge of Lye Brook Wilderness where I’d spent some time alone some years back. Then we stopped for lunch at Prospect Rock. I had stopped there 21 years earlier while thru-hiking the Long Trail. This time John and I cooled out while watching clouds gather slowly over Manchester below. A pleasant break, indeed.

Sure enough, I was still feeling strong when we reached Spruce Peak Shelter early in the afternoon. With only 3 miles left, we went for it, popping out on Route 30 with plenty of time for a 2-hour drive south into Massachusetts. We parked my car at Dalton then hiked half a mile south on the AT to Kay Wood Shelter. There we stayed for the night. In the morning we retraced our steps back to my car where John picked up a 5-day supply of food before continuing north all the way to his car on Kelly Stand Road.

That was two days ago. Since then John has been hiking over Mt. Greylock and I have returned to my busy-ness. John and I have been having outdoor adventures together since we were Boy Scouts back in Ohio. We’re not done yet. Next year, I’ll join him on another tramp along the AT. No excuses. I’ve got my priorities straight now… and a year to get myself in shape so that I can stay on the trail with him longer.

 

 

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