Tag Archive 'Vermont'

Sep 08 2016

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First Color

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early-fall-colorI can’t believe it’s that time of year already. I look up while running my errands and there it is: a sugar maple starting to turn. Busy with moving, renovating the old place, and cultivating my book business, summer went by even faster than normal. Now here it is autumn.

The first sign of it came last month while I was hiking in the mountains with my grandsons. Hobblebush leaves were turning reddish-brown then – a sure sign of what was coming. Wood asters, one of the last wildflowers to bloom during the growing season, appeared in my back yard as well. And the crickets have been noticeably noisy for a while now.  Yeah, there has been plenty of warning. Still… I can’t quite wrap my brain around it.

Autumn in Vermont is always something special – there’s no doubt about that. I look forward to the crisp cool days, bug-less hikes, and the kaleidoscope of color. I’m returning to my literary work, too, after a four-month intellectual drought. But those of us who live here in the North Country are always a little sad to see summer fade away. The growing season is short in these parts. We never seem to get enough of it.

That said, I’m enjoying these last few barefoot days and consuming as much fresh produce as I can. The trees are turning but it takes a month or so for Mother Nature to change her seasonal garb. No sense getting ahead of ourselves. The present is all that really matters.

 

 

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Dec 29 2015

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Winter Finally Arrives

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snow barrelsA full-blown winter storm was underway when I got out of bed this morning. Not the kind that makes headlines or excites weather forecasters, but a steady, all-day affair that is blanketing the region with white stuff. If there was any doubt before about what time of year it is, there isn’t now.

I go outside and notice right away that my half-barrels and sap buckets are crowned with snow. I use them to grow herbs during the warm season. In fact, the stubborn remnant of an oregano plant peeks through the cover. I am not fooled by it. I grab my shovel and start to work on the driveway, digging out the cars.

Here in northern New England, the first big dump comes as something of a relief. You know it’s coming – just a matter of when. And you know that it is only the first of many to come, gradually accumulating through the half-hearted thaws until we’re thigh-deep in it. Only then will the great springtime melt begin. But that’s months away. Best not to think about spring.

I heard the other day that Vermont has lost population during the past year. That comes as no surprise to those of us who live here. Good paying jobs are few, living expenses are high, and the winters are hard to get through. As for the latter, it’s best if you have some hobby or craft to keep you busy until April. For some it’s skiing, ice fishing, or snowmobiling. Others, like me, have indoor preoccupations. I get a lot of writing done this time of year.

Still I feel a tinge of dread as I push snow around my driveway for the first time this season. There’s a lot of backbreaking work ahead, not to mention deep cold. And all things green, except conifers, lie dormant beneath the snow.

 

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Nov 25 2013

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Long Winter Siege

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winter gardenEven though I’ve been expecting it, the first snowfall of the season always takes me by surprise. It came with a vengeance the night before last: wind howling, sudden whiteout, and the highway home as slick as an ice rink.

I awoke yesterday morning to find a latticework of frost spreading across the window. I went outside before breakfast to feel the arrival of winter. It slapped me in the face the moment I stepped out the door.

The garden in my front yard still has a little color in it. Traces of leafy green and autumnal red linger there. But for the most part, the plants have died back and are hunkered down for the long, cold season. The siege is on.

Here in Vermont, a casual approach to winter simply will not do. I have snow tires on my car now. The storm windows of my old house are down and the leaks around them have been sealed with rope caulk. My plow guy has staked the corners of the driveway in anticipation of the first big dump. Salt and shovels have been moved from storage to the front porch. I am ready.

At midday yesterday, I went for a walk on the Rail Trail with my dog Matika despite temps in the teens. The biting wind gave me an ice cream headache. Matika, with her thick coat of fur, frolicked in the snow. She loves it. But I only tolerate winter, seeing it as an opportunity to get a lot of literary work done since I’ll be inside for the most part. When you live this far north, you find ways to cope with long, cold season. Either that or you go a little stir crazy. Vermont winters are not for the faint of heart.

 

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Jul 17 2013

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Chilling Out

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greg walking brew rivMy brother Greg drove all the way from Ohio to visit Judy and me, and to reacquaint himself with Vermont. He lived here for several years so he knows well what this part of the country has to offer. Seeing waterfalls and mountains, and doing a little antique hunting were on his to do list, but when temperatures climbed into the 90s, a cool stream grew more appealing. We grabbed a picnic lunch and headed for one yesterday.

Judy had to work so she couldn’t go. My dog Matika had nothing on her calendar, though. She was happy to escape the hot, stuffy house for a day. As soon as we reached the Brewster River, I tossed a tennis ball in the water and she went after it with a vengeance. Matika’s not a big one for playing in the water, but she likes both playing ball and staying cool. I kept throwing the ball. She kept going in after it.

The Brewster River is more of a mountain stream than a river, actually. Its clear, cool water flows out of Smugglers Notch, making it a good place to be during a midsummer heat wave. The dozen cars in the parking lot convinced us that we weren’t the only ones who had figured this out. No matter. We hiked in flip-flops up the trail following the stream until we found a nice pool to call our own. We didn’t have to go far.

I gravitated to a small, sandy beach in the shade next to the pool. Greg went directly to the two-foot waterfall feeding the pool to groove on fast-moving water. We both got sufficiently wet then lounged on big flat rocks, completely chilled out. Yeah, this is the thing to do in Vermont on a hot summer day. Hard to beat. Leave the more sophisticated entertainments for another day.

 

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Jun 26 2013

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The First Day Lily

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first day lilyDespite my poor gardening skills and general negligence, the day lilies that grow in front of my house do quite well every year. The first one opened today, bright and cheery enough to overrule the dark clouds that ushered in a thunderstorm this morning.

While I was on the road yesterday, showing my book to store owners, I couldn’t help but notice the deep, rich smell of the Vermont countryside – a luxuriant blend of pollen, forest humus, and happy vegetation. Recent rains have intensified it. The word “lush” doesn’t begin to describe what’s going on these days. The growing season has kicked into high gear.

What a pleasant surprise to discover this explosion of color in my yard at the start of the day! I am astounded by this overt display of earthly delight. Who can love nature and hate summer?

 

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Mar 06 2013

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Long Trail Book

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FUMF coverThe Long Trail book, Forest under my Fingernails, is back in print! Three years after buying up the last copies of the Heron Dance edition, I have reprinted this hiking narrative under my own small press, Wood Thrush Books. It is now available at Amazon.com as either a paperback or a kindle download. Rod’s illustrations are gone but the words are all there for any hiking enthusiast or nature lover to enjoy.

In the mid-90s, I had the distinct pleasure of backpacking Vermont’s Long Trail end-to-end. The rather elaborate cache system that I devised kept me on the trail for the entire month. The experience was transforming. I managed somehow to capture it in my journals, then later in this narrative.

I couldn’t be happier about having FUMF back in print. Its re-release is timely. My Adirondack hiking narrative, The Allure of Deep Woods, will soon be released. Those who enjoy that book will have something similar to read. Besides, the hiking season is right around the corner. What better way to prepare for it than to read something that elicits the sights, sounds and smells of the forest?

Those of you who have been following me through the years know that I have all sorts of books in print now: backcountry and travel narratives, poetry, philosophy, and assorted essays. I’ve edited several anthologies as well as the works of Emerson and Thoreau. But FUMF remains a favorite among readers. I’m sure that newcomers to my work will get a kick out of it.

 

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Feb 11 2012

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Icy Trail

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The lack of snow is making a lot of Vermonters grumpy these days. Even those of us who don’t ski are missing the white stuff. Vermont in the winter isn’t same without a blanket of white. Oh sure, there’s snow in the mountains and the ski areas are making their own, but here in the valley we get a dusting that melts with the next sunny day. Then the ground is half-naked again. It’s unsettling.

Snow or no, I went for a walk the other day.  I went to Aldis Hill as I usually do when I’m short on time but need a woods fix. I was shocked to find the trail a solid mass of ice and immediately regretted not bringing my Yaktraks. I slipped and slid along, often leaving the trail for better footing yet returning to it out of sheer habit. I crept along slowly. That helped.

Matika didn’t mind, of course. Any time out-of-doors is a good time for her. Then again, she wasn’t on the trail itself.

I slipped and took a hard fall at one point. No surprise there. Got up and immediately checked to see if anything was broken.  A slight abrasion on my hand, that’s all.  A few minutes later, I slid ten feet. After that I tramped through the woods back to the car. An icy trail isn’t a trail, really. It’s a river of ice reminding three-season hikers like me that winter is fundamentally inhospitable. This one is for sure. So now it’s just an impatient wait until springtime.  Fortunately, in a year like this, that can’t be far away.

 

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Jan 19 2012

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Deep Freeze

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A change in weather over the weekend reminded me that it gets cold here in Vermont – wicked cold. Temps dropped below zero, and my enthusiasm for a long-awaited hike on my day off dropped with it.

I awoke Monday morning to single digits. Warmer, but not warm. So I puttered about the house while the mercury climbed. By late morning it was 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Hmm… that would have to do. I put on four layers of wools and thermals beneath my shell and went out.

A town forest twenty minutes from home seemed like the place to go. I wasn’t in the mood to drive any farther than that. Commuting to work every day does that to you.

Told Judy before leaving the house that I’d be glad to be in the woods once I was there. That was true but the chill that came when I broke a sweat kept me from lingering. I walked about an hour through the forest, cutting tracks through several inches of fresh snow, then called it quits. Outside just long enough for my beard to ice over. No more.

My dog Matika would have stayed out longer. Tracks of deer, squirrel, field mouse, you name it – there was plenty to sniff. She ran back and forth through the snow like she was born to it. Yeah, she has a heavy winter coat as most long haired German shepherds do.

Had the place all to myself for an hour. That was nice. Enjoyed the way the sun broke through the trees when the clouds opened up, and the way the snow clung to the boughs of conifers when they didn’t. But it was just a tad too cold to reflect upon the wonders of wild nature any more than that.

Fixed cup of hot chocolate as soon as I got home, then thawed out. It wasn’t enough of a hike to blow away all my stinky, mid-winter thoughts, but it would have to do. For now, that is. Next time I have a day off from work and temps rise into the twenties, I’ll go out for a much longer walk.  No doubt Matika will be ready to roll when I do.

 

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Mar 09 2011

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Trout Dreams

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A big winter storm struck northern Vermont two days ago, dumping two feet of snow.  That’s the third largest dump on record for these parts, making this the third snowiest winter.  Or something like that.  I spent the better part of yesterday shoveling and roof raking, and that was after the plow guy had cleared my driveway twice.  Yeah, a lot of white stuff.

Right now it’s sunny outside, about twelve hours before the next storm strikes.  I should grab my snowshoes and take advantage of this break in the weather.  But that’s not where my heart lies.  Last night I dreamed of a mountain stream teeming with large, wild trout.  And this morning, well, let’s just say the view out my window doesn’t match the fantasy.

Stepping outdoors for a moment to start up my wife’s car, I hear a cardinal singing loudly from atop a leafless maple.  He’s thinking the same thing I’m thinking.  And the warm morning sun assures us both that spring can’t be that far away.  But all this snow . . . egads!

Judy and I have a late-winter ritual: when the snow is deep outside, we cook and eat the last of the trout that I brought home the previous summer.  Granted, I’m mostly a catch-and-release fisherman these days, but I make sure to bring home a few of them just for this occasion.  We ate the trout a couple weeks ago.  And that’s just about the time I started yearning for the warm season.

This morning I opened the newspaper and learned that the writer/naturalist John Hay just died.  This news sent me to my bookshelves right away.  I cracked open The Immortal Wilderness where I had it bookmarked and reread this:  “Behind the world so recklessly and uncertainly claimed by politics and economics lie the magic and inexorable laws of the wilderness, known to every life.  The flower is wiser than the machine.”  My sentiments exactly.  So now I’m dreaming of wildflowers as well as trout.  Right now I don’t give a damn about the government’s budgetary problems, the health care debacle, or the price of oil.  I just want to see a brook trout and a purple trillium again.

Is this cabin fever talking?  You bet it is.  But there’s no sense stewing in it.  So I’ll strap on my snowshoes and make the best of the situation.  My dog Matika is ready to roll.  Unlike me, she lives in the moment.  She will romp in the snow as if it’s the first powder of the season.  And I will follow, somewhat reluctantly, dreaming of spring.

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Feb 10 2011

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Heavy Snow

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Last weekend half a foot of heavy, wet snow fell, compacting the deep powder already on the ground.  I spent the better part of two days shoveling it, then shoveled a few more inches of lighter stuff that followed until the piles around my driveway were six feet high.  All the while I daydreamed about snowshoeing.  I knew the conditions in the woods would be ideal.

Yesterday I drove to Indian Brook Reservoir with snowshoes at hand and an excited dog pacing in the back seat of my car.  We hit the trail around noon.  The temps had climbed into the high teens by then.  I tramped a well-beaten path for the first half mile, then veered away from it following a side trail that hadn’t been traveled in a while.  There I left a nice, tidy set of tracks across the snow.  I stopped frequently to look back and admire my work.

Returning to the main trail, the going was much easier.  Matika ran up and down the trail like a dog possessed, while I ambled along admiring the heavily laden branches all around me.  Several trees had fallen since I had last visited the reservoir, making the trail through the woods more interesting than usual – all twists and turns.  A strong wind brewed up, shaking the boughs overhead.  Snow came showering down.

There is something about laying tracks through snowy woods that soothes the soul.  Given a choice, I would take hiking a muddy trail over ‘shoeing a snow covered one every time, but I’m always glad to be immersed in Vermont’s “winter wonderland” when cabin fever forces me to it.  Snowshoeing is clean, quiet, and incredibly calming.

Nature in winter is subdued, yet it is still nature.  It is good to be reminded of that, especially late in the season when people start complaining about winter as if it’s some kind of scourge.  In February the light returns, illuminating the white world, putting to rest the darkest thoughts.  Then melt water drips from icicles and I sense that spring isn’t that far away.  More importantly, I understand that the seasons cycle around with dramatic flair at these northern latitudes as they have for centuries.  And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Here in Vermont, we’ve already received our average winter allotment of 80 inches.  From now until spring, the rest is extra.  And while the snow shoveler in me dreads the prospect, I look forward to more white woods wanderings.  The heavier and deeper the snow gets the better.  My snowshoes are parked next to the door and there they will stay until it all melts away.

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