Tag Archive 'early spring'

Apr 27 2022

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Small Springtime Joys

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The flowers are coming up in the small gardens surrounding my house. None of them have bloomed yet, but that hardly matters. Just seeing the first green push up through the soil and leaf out is enough to bring a smile to my face. This time of year is chock full of small joys, both in wild places and close to home.

While working in my yard, I spot a tiny flower in bloom in the forest duff beneath the trees: spring beauty. I kneel down and sniff it with giddy pleasure. Its perfume is intoxicating. Nearby a patch of round-lobed hepatica is also in bloom. I have to touch the petals to make sure they are real, to banish any remnant of winter still lurking in my heart.

My hands are scratched, bleeding and dry from working the soil and putting down mulch with my bare hands. Judy asks me why I don’t wear gloves. I know that would be the smart thing to do, but I just can’t help myself. I want to feel the earth.

A woodpecker drums loudly. Robins sing, crows caw, and the goldfinches gathering at the feeders chatter incessantly. In the distance, frogs peep from a vernal pool. The world is reawakening.

Overhead grey clouds threaten rain. There is still a chill in the air and my flannel shirt is dampened with cold sweat. I keep moving to stay warm, putting certain muscles to work that haven’t been used since last fall. I’ll be sore tomorrow, no doubt, but I don’t care.

As soon as I get things under control in my yard, I’ll go for a long hike in the mountains. Either that or I’ll grab my fly rod and work a favorite trout stream not too far away. But for now it’s enough to putter about the yard doing domestic chores. Even while I do so, an eternal wildness stirs within. What is commonly called Nature is actually home. And it thrives everywhere, all around me, in early spring.

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Apr 09 2022

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A Humble Pleasure

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This time of year, when the trails are wet and so easily damaged, I like to walk a brook. The one that first comes to mind winds through a valley in the Green Mountains shadowed by Camel’s Hump. I’ve been walking it for decades. It’s like an old friend to me.

You could call this a hike, but the way I do it these days it’s really more of a walk. I take my time, traveling half the speed I did when I was half my current age. I want to bushwhack into my 70s and 80s, you see, so I’m setting the right pace to do that now. Slow but sure.

After leaving a nearby dirt road, I follow a rough track a quarter mile to the brook. Then I start bushwhacking. I have a compass tucked into my shirt pocket, but it’s not necessary. The brook guides me through the woods and every feeder stream is a way home that I’ve taken before. So my mind is free to wander, or to groove on the wildness all around me.

Evergreen woodfern and Christmas ferns are still pressed firmly to the ground. It’s early spring and the snow cover has just melted off. Polypody ferns rise from moss-covered boulders, though. That, the clubmoss, and hemlocks green up the otherwise bleached, brown landscape. A few icy patches still lurk in the hollows of rocks, but this is a springtime world not a winter one. The spongy, half-thawed earth underfoot is proof of that.

Because the stream is running lower than usual this time of year, I ford it several times to avoid large mudslides. My boots get wet and my feet get cold in the process, but I don’t care. That too is part of this springtime ritual.

A couple miles back, I bask in sunlight while stretched across a flat boulder next to a deep pool that harbors brook trout. Here I eat lunch. A moth flutters before my eyes. A chickadee sings in the distance. The leafless trees all around me reach toward the deep blue sky. Meltwater rushes past incessantly. I have daydreamed about this place for months. Now here I am. And the walk out that follows is a moving meditation.

Soon the world will green up and the warm season will unfold to everyone’s delight. But it’s enough, for me at least, to tramp through snow-free woods when there’s still a chill in the air and the first wildflowers haven’t risen yet. It’s a different kind of beauty and happiness – subtle and anticipatory. It’s a humble pleasure.

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Mar 26 2022

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Birding with a Passion

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Despite the fact that most of the lakes and ponds here in northern Vermont are still full of ice, Judy and I have done a lot of birding lately. We took a trip down to Dead Creek in Addison County ten days ago and have gone out locally three times during the past week. Judy has bird fever, and I’m reveling in early spring.

At Dead Creek we celebrated the return of the Canada geese. They were there by the hundreds, filling up narrow leads of open water. Before heading home, we stopped by South Slang Creek to see if we could catch the bald eagle nesting there. We did. Judy took some good pictures of it, but what we really wanted was to catch the migrating birds. We got into more of them earlier this week. We found common and hooded mergansers floating in slender patches of open water along the shores of Lake Champlain. We also spotted on land robins, grackles and red-winged blackbirds that have arrived recently, along with the cardinals that have wintered over. The cardinals are calling out loudly from the treetops now. Ah, yes… it’s that time of year.

All this is great, but biggest surprise so far this year happened right in our back yard. A sharp-shinned hawk swooped down on the many goldfinches at our feeders, scattering them everywhere. We’re pretty sure we’ve seen this same bird before. It showed up here last fall, and I spotted it in the neighborhood once before that. Judy got some excellent shots of it right through the sliding glass door leading out to the patio. It wasn’t more than twenty feet away! She called up the stairs, so I was able to see the hawk out the window of my study before it bolted. I was writing at the time and usually don’t want to be disturbed while I’m doing so. But this was an exception to that rule.

Judy is on a roll. She has taken some great photos of all the birds mentioned. She has taken bird photography to the next level after learning the best settings for her camera. She has a passion for it that is a delight for me to witness. I assist her however I can. Mostly I drive the car, spot the birds with my binoculars, and identify them whenever possible. We’re a good team, I think.

All this said, my passion for birding doesn’t match Judy’s. I’m into wild nature in all its manifestations, and thoroughly enjoy a raw, early spring day even if there are no birds around. I got all excited the other day when I saw a red fox out the kitchen window, chasing a squirrel up a tree. Judy managed to photograph that fox, but I would have been just as happy if she hadn’t. Judy’s an artist with her camera, while I simply enjoy the moment. It’s all good.

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Mar 15 2022

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The Gradual Thaw…

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A little over a week ago, Judy and I enjoyed a local walk on nearly bare ground as temps shot into 50s. Then it snowed again – a big dump of the heavy, wet stuff that kept me busy shoveling the driveway for two days. A second walk last weekend was more winter-like, but a cardinal was singing his territorial song and the remnant snow was covered with animal tracks. This morning I hear a woodpecker knocking, also staking out his territory. No doubt about it, spring is imminent.

Winters are long here in northern Vermont, especially for those of us who aren’t skiers. I’ve stayed indoors for the most part during the past few months and have gotten a lot of literary work done. That said, I’m ready to get outdoors for more than an hour or two slog in the snow. I’m ready for spring.

T. S. Eliot said that April is the cruelest month, but I think March is. Just when you think spring has sprung, another winter storm comes along. The ground is clear one day, then snow-covered the next. Enough already! Let the big thaw begin.

The big thaw is underway, actually, but like all other seasonal changes it’s gradual. Nature is like that. It’s constantly changing in small increments that add up over time. The days have been getting longer since the Winter Solstice took place months ago. The sun now blazes for nearly twelve hours a day. Fact is winter’s back has been broken.

I’ve been paying close attention to the gradual change. Maybe that’s why I’m so excited. The migrating birds are starting to arrive, the buds on trees are swelling, and the ground is softening up. Soon I’ll be tramping cold mud again. Maybe even later this week. I look forward to that.

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Apr 06 2021

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Springtime Illumination

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Deep in the woods, I return to a familiar a place along a mountain brook that I’ve visited many times before. This has become an annual ritual for me. Early in the spring, I come here to celebrate the unfolding of yet another growing season, well before the first lilies arise.

There’s a boulder twice as tall as I am and much wider, not far from the stream. Half of it is covered with moss coming back to life after a long, cold season. The sun illuminates the moss, along with evergreen ferns sprawled across the top. Icicles still dangle from the rock. Beyond it, patches of snow still lurk in the forest shadows.

This is the very beginning of it – a mere hint of what’s to come. Nearby rivulets full of snowmelt rush towards the brook, which is now a silted green torrent. The leafless trees creak in a faint breeze. The sun beats down upon the forest floor, turning the frozen earth into mud. Soon this forest will be teeming with fresh verdure.

I put my hand to the moss while giving thanks for simply being alive, for still being able to reach this place. Days away from turning 65, I no longer take anything for granted. I squint into the sun, feeling its heat. And the spirit of the wild washes over me while I do so.

Whether God exists or not I leave to others to contemplate. When I am alone in a wild forest, such matters seem moot. In springtime I know that Nature is unfolding in all its glory, and I am a part of it. That is enough.

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Mar 15 2021

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A Preview of Spring

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For four days last week temps spiked well above freezing here in northern Vermont, once getting into the 50s. I went out every day, and that severely cut into my literary productivity. Not that it matters. This time of year, it’s best to get out and enjoy balmy weather while it lasts.

Judy and I went birding one of those days, driving down to Addison County to see what we could see. A couple hawks, some starlings, and lots of crows were all that appeared. Still just a little too early for all the migrating birds to arrive from the south. Or at least it was last week.

On the warmest of those days, I slogged through half a foot of melting snow while exploring Silver Lake Woods, about fifteen miles to the south of where I live. Without snowshoes, that was a real workout. Didn’t mind it too much, though. That backcountry lake is a pretty one, even when iced over. I look forward to going back there when the ice is out.

Cold mud. That’s what I got into on the last day. With the snow melting off fast, the top layer of soil was exposed and thawed in places. It felt good to leave my boot prints in it. Messy but good.

Today we’re back into the deep freeze, with temps in the single digits at daybreak. But I’ve got a feeling this is the end of winter. The Spring Equinox is only 5 days away, and there are above-freezing temps in the forecast. Spring is the season of hope and rebirth, when the flowering plants come out of their deep, months-long slumber. I never tire of it. The cycle is complete, once again, and it all begins anew. Eternal nature. For a pantheist like me, early spring is a religious experience.

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Apr 10 2020

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A Walk Around the Reservoir

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A couple days ago, Judy and I drove to Essex Junction to pick up some cotton dinner napkins. Before delivering that material to those making face masks, we stopped at Indian Brook Reservoir to walk the two-mile loop trail there. We hadn’t done that in a while.

The parking lot was full of cars when we arrived mid-afternoon. No surprise. With the pandemic raging and people “sheltering in place” for weeks on end, the urge to get out and stretch one’s legs becomes irresistible. Trails like this, close to Burlington, are a good place to do that.

The crowd was expected, as were the dogs accompanying them, but I was not prepared for the flood of memories. My canine companion Matika accompanied me on many walks around the reservoir. She died a year ago, but her spirit was still with me during this walk.

Judy was horrified by the wear and tear of the trail. After thinking about it, we realized that half a dozen years have gone by since she was here last. Yeah, the trail has taken a beating since then. Too close to Burlington and too well known.

So there was a touch of sadness in our walk. All the same it was good getting out, good ambling through the woods on an early spring afternoon, seeing the handiwork of industrious beavers and watching the natural world slowly coming back to life. We aren’t too picky these days. We take our small pleasures wherever we find them.

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Mar 27 2020

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Getting Outside

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Judy and I have been staying home for a while now, staying away from other people that is, as strongly urged by the Vermont governor and health authorities. It’s the best way to slow the spread of Covid-19. But “social distancing” doesn’t mean staying indoors all the time. That can drive a person stir crazy, especially in the end of winter. So we’ve started getting outside and walking more.

Yesterday we hiked in the Milton Town Forest. We left our car in a full parking lot then set forth on a fine gravel trail that soon became a wide, muddy path. Seeing all the boot prints in the mud, and passing several groups of other day hikers, it soon became clear to us that this trail is being used more this spring than usual. That’s bad for the trail but good for everyone’s mental health.

Temps crept above fifty degrees in the middle of the afternoon, quickly melting off the patches of remnant snow. Evergreen woodferns still pressed to the ground were a welcome sight, as was the bright green moss on rocks and downed trees. Spring runoff filled the brooklets – their trickling over rocks being music to our ears. The grey, leafless trees still had the taint of winter about them, but the occasional bird calling out softened that.

Halfway to Milton Pond, it became clear to me that the spring season is unfolding in all its cold-mud glory. I love it! But Judy was too concerned about the slippery trail underfoot to enjoy it at first. Not until we reached the pond did she start grooving on the wild. Then I had to be patient. On the way back to the parking lot, she stopped several times just to look around. I did my best to keep from rushing her.

Today won’t be quite as warm but we intend to get outside and go for a hike again. The pandemic rages on tv, but the forest retains its eternal calm. The latter is the better choice. There’s no doubt in our minds where we’d rather focus our attention, anyhow.

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Apr 10 2019

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Bare Ground

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Awoke to snow this morning. Just a dusting of it that would melt off before the end of the day, but snow all the same.

Snow or no, I had to get outdoors. So after dealing with the IRS and other sources of infinite frustration for most of the day, I slipped on my boots and headed for French Hill.

The plan was to do a little bushwhacking across a mix of snow and bare ground. But not more than five minutes into the hike, I was slogging through several inches of old, crusty snow left over from winter. Not what I had in mind, so I aborted.

Shortly thereafter, I was walking the mostly bare ground of the Rail Trail on the Champlain Valley floor. Much better. I flushed half a dozen robins from the trail as I hiked at a good clip. That assured me that it is spring despite the white stuff lingering like a tiresome drunk at the end of a party. The steady breeze out of the north had a chill to it. Temps hovered around 40. All the same, I was able to take off my hat half a mile into the walk.

When I reached the half-frozen wetlands, I was hoping to catch the high-pitched chirp of a spring peeper, but it’s too early for that. Patience. Another week or two. Instead I enjoyed the steady rush of meltwater in the cut running parallel to the trail. This time of year, we need to take our simple pleasures wherever we can find them.

Before returning to the car, a shy sun peaked from the gray clouds overhead, offering a ray of hope. The warm season is running a little late this year but it’ll get here. And my next outing, if I stay out of the hills and mountains a while longer, will be nothing but bare ground.

 

 

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Mar 28 2019

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Between Winter and Spring

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Yesterday I went for a hike despite the foot of snow dumped by last weekend’s storm. I’m sick of winter, but with the sun shining through an azure sky and temps in the 40s by afternoon, I simply had to go out.

I went to Milton Pond, assuming that the trail around it had been packed down by other restless souls. That was, if fact, the case. All the same, it’s a good thing I had Microspikes on my boots. The trail was icy in places and the snow punky in other places. Without the ‘spikes, I would have done a lot of sliding around.

I hiked at a good clip, soon breaking a sweat. I was smart enough to leave my sweater in the car, but had to strip off my jacket halfway around the pond and carry it. It’s always a strange feeling being in shirtsleeves while traveling over snow. That’s the smart thing to do sometimes, between winter and spring. Still it felt strange…

Looked like winter but felt like spring. The pond was iced over, of course, and there was snow everywhere. Yet a springtime sun shined brightly, meltwater ran fast through runoff streams, and the buds on maple trees were swollen. Definitely between seasons.

I thought about my recently deceased dog Matika during the hike, and how she would have enjoyed the outing a couple years ago, back when she could handle it. We enjoyed a lot of good hikes together through the years. But when I saw a yellow spot along the side of the trail, I was glad I didn’t have to stop and wait for her to sniff it. Slowly adjusting to hiking alone again. There are certain advantages to it, no doubt.

 

 

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