Archive for April, 2010

Apr 30 2010

Profile Image of Walt

Mixed Messages

Filed under Blog Post

I mowed my lawn last week, right before going back to Ohio to see my folks.  First time I’ve ever cut my grass in April, but it needed it.  The grass was already thick and high.  Spring has come early this year, or so it seemed until yesterday.

Back in Ohio, the spring season is in full swing.  The trees have leafed out, everything is green, and flowers are blooming everywhere.  I saw honeysuckle on the verge of opening – something that doesn’t happen in here in northern Vermont until late May.  It was like jumping ahead two or three weeks, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Three days ago, when I was still at my folks place, my wife called to tell me that a winter storm was raging in Vermont.  Judy said a foot of snow had accumulated.  I found that hard to believe.  But there was no denying the snow I saw on the summits of the Green Mountains as I drove back into the state.  By the time I reached home, there were several inches of it on the ground around me.  Melting fast, though.  After all, the air temperature was pushing 60 degrees.

This morning early, I went out to inspect the broken branch of our lilac bush and putter about the backyard looking for other storm damage.  I noticed red fragments of catkins – the flowers of our big, old maple tree – scattered across the remnant patches of snow.  Deep green grass framed the patches, sending mixed messages to my brain.  Happy grass, slowly filling in the barren spots.  How odd.

The other day I was reading a book about prehistoric man and how the climate stabilized about twelve thousand years ago, making it easy for our kind to resort to agriculture.  Before that, the climate changed radically from century to century, from year to year.  That made me wonder what kind of impact the weather would have on modern civilization if the climate suddenly destabilized. What would be able to grow?  All this is very hypothetical, of course.  The climate could never destabilize like that again, right?

Well, enough speculation already.  I have to go hang my laundry outside to dry.  After all, it’s a nice, warm day.  I think it’s warm enough to melt the brand new snow piles in my yard.  That would be good.  I need to cut my grass again.

Comments Off on Mixed Messages

Apr 20 2010

Profile Image of Walt

Only Spring

Filed under Blog Post

Yesterday I went back to that little pond next to the Rail Trail, looking for spring peepers.  With temps in the forties, a mostly cloudy sky overhead and a slight breeze, the weather was more in keeping with early spring.  In other words, it felt more like a peeper kind of day than it did the last time I had walked the trail.  So I was in the mood to listen to those harbingers of the season.

The little pond is a wetland, really.  It only fills with water in the springtime or after a heavy rain.  It’s more than a vernal pool, though, which is also a good place to look for breeding frogs this time of year.  I reached the wetland after walking no more than twenty minutes.  Man on a mission, I passed up several patches of wildflowers along the way.  I longed to hear spring’s chorus above all else.

Upon reaching the wetland, I heard a solitary frog singing loudly and persistently.  I crouched down in the brush near water’s edge, hoping to hear more.  My dog Matika wandered off to sniff.  Although I had come out to stretch my legs, I remained still a long while, giving the wary frogs a chance to get used to me.  Sure enough, a second peeper started up, then a couple more joined in, then a few more until a full chorus rang out.  I just crouched there smiling.

The singing didn’t last.  It never does in the middle of the day.  But I heard enough peeping to fill with vernal joy – the kind of elemental happiness that one can only feel after a hard winter.  No, it wasn’t a particularly long, cold or snowy winter, but it was a hard one all the same.  It usually is for people like me, who need constant exposure to nature’s endless regeneration in order to keep faith with the world.

Afterward I didn’t so much hike as merely drift down the trail.  I watched the sun play peekaboo from the clouds, and listened to robins chirping from the tops of poplars already starting to leaf out.  I admired the vibrant Kelly green of nearby pastures, and smelled the fresh manure spread across them.  I didn’t mind it.  Here in Vermont, manure is as much a part of spring as the peepers.  And somehow it all fits together nicely, as if part of some grand design.  But it’s only spring, I kept telling myself.  Don’t make any more of the season than it is.  Only spring.

Comments Off on Only Spring

Apr 13 2010

Profile Image of Walt

The First Flowers

Filed under Blog Post

I went for a hike yesterday hoping to find some spring peepers.  After all, it’s that time of year.  I know of a few small ponds right next to the Rail Trail where they thrive.  So made a beeline for them, encouraged by the appearance of a couple turtles in wetlands along the way.  But the ponds were quiet when I reached them.  None of those joyous little frogs were around.

Much to my surprise, I found purple trillium in bloom instead.  At first I thought I was imagining things.  The broad leaves of that wildflower do unfurl in mid-April, but the flowers usually remain tight-fisted until May.  Not this year.  With the season a good two weeks ahead of schedule, the trillium flowers have opened up.  Just nature’s way of saying there is no hard and fast schedule, I suppose.  Not that I’m complaining.  Spring can never come too early for me.

A bit later, I found trout lily in full bloom, along with a little patch of spring beauty.  I dropped down on my knees and stuck my nose in those tiny, candy-striped flowers.  One good whiff of spring beauty and everything changes.  Suddenly nature has unfolded in all its wonder and wild beauty, and I am a complete dope for it.  One good whiff of that intoxicating scent and an entire winter’s worth of existential angst pops like a balloon.

What was I thinking about?  I forgot.  But through the woods a flash of bright green caught my eye so I headed that direction.  On a south-facing slope, of course, more wildflowers bloomed in a sprawling patch of leeks.  I dropped to my knees for a second whiff of spring beauty but the pungent odor of wild onions overwhelmed the sweeter smell.  Amid the leeks, Dutchman’s breeches arose, along with round-lobed hepatica.  No doubt about it, spring has come early this year.

I suppose I should be concerned.  There have been enough late autumns and early springs in recent years to make even the most hardened skeptic consider climate change.  But right now, I can’t go there.  Right now, all I see are wildflowers in bloom and the beginning of another growing season.  Right now I see the forest turning green again, slowly coming back to life after a long sleep, and all I can do is rejoice like peepers reveling in the season.

Maybe next time out I’ll hear those little frogs.  But for now, the first flowers are more than enough.

Comments Off on The First Flowers

Apr 06 2010

Profile Image of Walt

Hallelujah Hike

Filed under Blog Post

Record breaking warmth descended upon New England last weekend, giving everyone cause to celebrate.  It came just in time for Easter.  No doubt more than one churchgoer said a little prayer of thanks for it.  More hedonistic folk headed for the beach to bask half naked in the sun.  At the very beginning of the heat wave, I celebrated the only way I know how.  I grabbed my rucksack and headed for the hills immediately following a round of writing.

By the time I had pulled my car into a small turnout next to Preston Brook, it was noon.  The air temperature had soared into the 60s by then, making short work of a remnant patch of snow nearby.  I wasn’t sorry to see it go.

I hiked up the dirt road following the brook until I heard the roar of water from the gorge.  I stepped into the woods and went over for a quick look.  Sure enough, the brook was completely free of ice and cascading down through the rocks with all the force that early spring runoff could muster.  A quiet little stream in mid-summer, Preston Brook was a raging torrent that afternoon.  And I reveled in it.

I broke a sweat as I bushwhacked farther up the hollow, following the stream back to a favorite camping spot and beyond.  Matika cavorted about just as happy as any dog can be, lost in the many sights, sounds and smells of the wild.  The sun blazed through naked trees, illuminating club moss, polypody and evergreen woodferns springing back to life from a forest floor covered with bleached leaves and other detritus.  Rivulets of water ran everywhere.  My boots sank several inches into the spongy earth but I didn’t mind it one bit.

After hiking a while, I came upon a fresh rectangular cut in a dead tree – the handiwork of a pileated woodpecker.  Matika sniffed the pile of wood chips at the base of the tree as I looked around for a shady spot to break for lunch.  I found one beneath an old hemlock.  There I listened to the brook while scribbling in my journal and munching away.  A pair of deer stumbled upon us and Matika immediately gave chase.  But she turned right around the moment I called for her to return.  Good dog!

The brook sang and my heart sang with it – a wordless “Hallelujah!” at the dawn of a brand new growing season.  During the course of the hike I found coltsfoot in bloom along the dirt road.  Its small, yellow, daisy-like flower was a sure sign that I wasn’t dreaming.  I reached down to touch it and was amazed, as always, by the power of regeneration that is so common in this world yet no less miraculous.  And the squirrel that Matika and I passed on the way out seemed as happy as we were just to be alive.  Yet another winter has come and gone.  And all three of us have survived it.

Comments Off on Hallelujah Hike