Tag Archive 'winter'

Jan 10 2019

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Baffling the Squirrels

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Now on the backside of a winter snowstorm, the temps are falling rapidly. Soon they’ll be in the single digits, then below zero for days on end. Those kind of temps make it hard for birds to survive. They need high-energy food to do so. With that in mind, I shelled out a little extra cash this morning for bird food that’s rich in black sunflower seeds to replenish my feeder. That and the suet will go a long way. There’s one problem, though. The grey squirrels in our heavily wooded neighborhood will empty the feeder in a matter of hours. Once again.

There’s a bunch of fat squirrels that have become emboldened lately by my old dog Matika’s inability to give chase the way she has in the past. I call them the Gang of Four, led by one particularly corpulent yet acrobatic rodent who has been known to hang out at the feeder all day. Literally. A week ago, my wife and I decided that enough’s enough. We ordered a handy device appropriately called a squirrel baffle, which is simply a conical piece of sheet metal that can be affixed to the bird feeder pole. It came via UPS a couple days ago. Today I affixed it to the pole.

Is it wrong to anticipate the squirrel’s frustration as eagerly as I do? Does that make me a bad person? While refilling the feeder, I threw a little seed on the ground to assuage a creeping sense of guilt. That’s for both the mourning doves and the squirrels, I told myself. The squirrels being what they are, though, the doves won’t get much of it.

A strong wind blows the baffle around, along with the feeder and suet. Once the wind subsides, the birds will return: woodpeckers, flickers, nuthatches and chickadees. I look forward to that. But, I must admit, I’m even more exited about the Gang of Four to showing up again. That should be quite entertaining.

 

 

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Dec 26 2018

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End Year Ramble

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After lounging around the house all day yesterday, I awoke this morning with a tremendous urge to get out and make tracks. Didn’t have to talk my old dog Matika into it. She was right on my heels the moment I put on my boots.

Clearly I wasn’t the only one needing to walk off the holiday feast. The trail at Niquette Bay had plenty of boot prints in it. All the same, I had the place pretty much to myself late in the morning.

With so little snow on the ground, I didn’t bother bringing my Microspikes with me. That was a mistake. Icy patches caught me off guard a couple times and down I went. Other than that it felt good to ramble – to stretch my legs, keep a leisurely pace, and breathe in the frigid air. Hiking can be just as pleasant in December as it is in June.

The sun burned halfheartedly through the clouds. At midday it felt distant and the surrounding trees casted long shadows. There’s no doubt in my mind as to what time of year it is. Not that I’m complaining. As long as I can get out and walk every once in a while, I’m okay with it.

Back home now, I’m surprised by how quickly dusk has come around. Surprised once again, I should say. Still I wrap up the year’s business and make plans for the near future. Soon the calendar will turn and I’ll be back to my literary work with gusto. All the same, I’m daydreaming about a rigorous trek on the Cohos Trail – something I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time. This coming summer I’m going to make that happen. Every walk between now and then anticipates it.

 

 

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Dec 19 2018

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Winter Sunrise

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It’s that time of year again. Half of our hours awake take place in the darkness or twilight, and there’s all this talk about being merry. I just roll with it. A friend of mine told me that he thrives on the darkness, so we toasted to that the other day. But I must admit, I don’t quite relate.

I’ve already done a couple hours work in my study by the time the sun comes up. Over breakfast, the eastern sky reddens towards dawn. I visit my favorite weather website to verify what I already know: sunrise just shy of 7:30 and sunset around 4:15. The Winter Solstice is still two days away but we’re pretty much there. Already we’ve seen the earliest sunset, thanks to Earth’s elliptical orbit and other astronomical technicalities. Soon the days will start getting longer again. The latest sunrise takes place shortly after that.

Being neither pagan nor Judeo-Christian, the holidays always feel a little strange to me. That said, I’ve put up a fir tree in my living room and hung some lights outside. The darkest day of the year is about to pass, and that’s something worth celebrating.

Now comes what another friend of mine calls The Long White. We’re already well into it, but there’s a lot more winter ahead. The deep cold comes in January, and we get plenty of snow after that. A good time of year for doing literary work, that’s the upside. All the same, I go for a long walk every other day. It’s important to get outdoors no matter what.

 

 

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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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Jan 03 2018

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After the Deep Freeze

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After six days of sub-zero temps my poor dog Matika was bouncing off the walls. I was hankering for a walk as well. So we headed out at noon today (pushing away from the computer) to stretch our legs. Temps were in the balmy teens by then.

Aldis Hill was on the way home from the post office where I ship daily. I parked the car near the trailhead then bolted into the woods. To my surprise, the snowy trail was hard-packed from heavy use. I was slipping and sliding around from the start. Didn’t think to bring my Microspikes. Oh well. Matika motored right past me with ease. She has four-paw drive.

A typical January day with snow on the ground and a partly cloudy sky overhead. The woods quiet, stark and leafless. The gradual climb kept me warm enough. I let go of work thoughts as much as possible. Plenty of time for that tomorrow when the big snowstorm arrives. My right knee ached, more from a lack of use than from overuse. Note to self: get outdoors more. Use it or lose it.

I’m glad the holidays are over so that I can focus on my literary work and the bookselling biz. I have yet another book ready to publish and look forward to getting it ready for the press. All the same, I’ve been feeling an urge lately to get out and go for a long hike, snowshoe, whatever. Soon, real soon.

Funny how winter doesn’t weigh on me as much as it did when I was younger. After 35 years living in the North Country, have I finally become a Vermonter? Well, the other day I returned home from a short trip to the grocery store and told my wife Judy that the near zero temps weren’t that bad. “It’s a dry cold,” I said.

After getting my fill of fresh air, and Matika her fill of sniffing, we returned home. Back to work. I don’t mind this season so much anymore. As long as I can get out every other day or so, I’m good. Pity those poor folks who fly south every year to escape the arctic blasts. They’ll never get used 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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Feb 15 2016

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The Power of Wind

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Lake Champ in FebFeeling cooped up after three days of subzero temps, I went to Kill Kare State Park for a short walk. My dog Matika was just as happy as I was to get out of the house.

I walked the icy road from the park entrance to the parking lot, stepping aside for passing cars as several ice fishermen left the area. Others hunkered down in their shanties, while one hearty soul sat exposed to the elements with his back to the wind. My eyes teared up as a gust of frigid air hit my face.

Walking out to the point, I leaned into a powerful wind blowing from the southwest. With temps rising rapidly, I knew this was a warm front moving in but it sure didn’t feel that way. I buried gloved hands in the pockets of my jacket and pressed forward.

The lake was iced over as far as I could see. Ominous clouds gathered over the Adirondacks. I didn’t stay on the point long. Matika had already turned back and was waiting for me to follow.

Returning to the car, I marveled at that one exposed fisherman on the ice thinking more about fish than comfort. As for me, well, I’d had enough, struggling across the windswept park as if making my way up Everest. If the weather forecasters are right, temps will be well above freezing in another day or two. I’ll go back out then.

 

 

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Feb 11 2015

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Cutting Tracks

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snowshoeing in mtnsThere comes a day every winter when I have to drop everything I’m doing and head for the hills. That day came yesterday. I loaded my dog Matika into the car and drove an hour to my favorite place to snowshoe: a mountain brook where few people go.

I hiked half a mile up a packed logging road before putting on my snowshoes. Two feet of pristine powder lay before me. I figured it would be tough cutting tracks through it but didn’t realize how tough until I got going. My snowshoes sank 6-8 inches with each step. Matika stayed on my heels for the most part. Smart dog. I pushed forward, trying to set a steady pace, but was unable to go more than fifty yards without stopping to catch my breath.

I tramped for a little over an hour that way, following a mountain brook that barely murmured beneath the snow. I marveled at the silent forest – no birds, no trees creaking in the wind, nothing but my own heavy breathing. “This is why I come out here,” I kept thinking. Silence and a beautiful stillness.

When the going got really tough, I stripped down to shirtsleeves. I sweated profusely anyway. I was tiring but with temps in the teens and my thermal undershirt soaked with sweat I didn’t dare stop. Instead I pushed up a steep, narrow ravine, groping slowly back towards the logging road. Fallen trees blocked the way. At one point I passed beneath one. It showered me with snow in the process. Matika scrambled up the slippery sides of the ravine without success. Then she fell in behind me as I plodded forward, one carefully placed step after another.

What a relief it was to get back to the packed logging road! I took off my snowshoes then strapped them onto my pack. I stopped long enough to feed my dog some kibble and wolf down an energy bar with a half-liter of water. The walk out was as pleasant as it was easy.

Completely exhausted, I went to bed early last night. Tough outing but well worth the effort. I flushed a lot of gunk out of my system in the process and am now in a better frame of mind to resume literary work. No surprise there.

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Nov 17 2014

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Winter Begins

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SnowTreeAfter a pleasant weekend spent with visiting friends, my restless dog and I head for the woods. A wet snow falls from a grey sky but we don’t care. We need to spend some time outside.

Snowfall clings to rocks and trees. It also covers the ground. This is the first of it here in the Champlain Valley, really.  Last week a few flurries came down at midday and a dusting of the white stuff appeared on the grass before the sun got to it. But this snow is accumulating.

Winters are a challenge here in the North Country. You don’t want to live here if you can’t handle the cold, long dark nights, or the ground covered with snow for months on end. Although tomorrow afternoon’s temperature could melt off the snow now landing, it could easily stay with us for the next four or five months. It’s happened before.

I’m not big fan of winter and all it entails, but it’s good for literary work. If I lived in California I’d probably do a lot more hiking and a lot less writing. Sunshine and warmth have that effect on me. As things are, though, my life is more balanced. The seasons suit me.

During my first winter walk, I place my feet carefully so that I don’t fall. I go down once all the same, slipping on a slanting, snow-covered rock. While getting back to my feet, I laugh knowingly while saying, “There it is.” It begins.

The season of slip-sliding around is upon us. So is shoveling, treacherous roads, getting up in the dark, and frigid walks. But those crisp, blue-sky days when snowshoeing is such a delight are also coming. So are the many pleasures of indoor life.

Yeah, bring it on. I’m ready. I love Vermont year around. If I didn’t I would have moved away a long time ago.

 

 

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Mar 26 2014

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Last Winter Outing

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snowshoes, Preston BrookI had hoped that by now I’d be hiking in cold mud, but winter lingers. I drove to the mountains anyway. Had to get out. Couldn’t stay cooped up inside, snow or no snow.

The snow was deeper than expected – about a foot and a half. Good thing I had brought along snowshoes. I strapped them on and ventured up a narrow trail packed by a lot of other restless souls. Eventually I stepped off trail and cut tracks down to Preston Brook.  My dog Matika followed, post-holing yet just as happy as me to be outdoors.

I followed a set of bobcat tracks that pointed upstream, threading through the woods. The brook remained hidden for the most part. Temps remained below freezing but cutting tracks is hard work so I stripped down to shirtsleeves to keep from sweating too much.

Upon reaching a favorite spot along the brook, I took off my snowshoes, donned a heavy sweater, and made a seat out of the foam pad I’d brought with me. With my back against a tree, I was quite comfortable sitting there for a while.  The sun shined brightly, illuminating the snow. The brook murmured beneath the snowpack. Trees creaked in the gentle breeze.

Back on the move again before catching a chill, I took pity on my post-holing dog. I looped over to the beaten path instead of retracing my tracks. She was happy to have solid footing again. I followed her. I tramped along in something of a daydream, remembering previous outings along Preston Brook on much warmer occasions. Soon spring will begin in earnest, I kept telling myself. Soon, very soon.

 

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