Tag Archive 'seasonal change'

Apr 17 2021

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The Unfurling

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It’s too soon for this, or is it? This morning I spotted wild oats emerging from the forest duff – one of the first wild lilies to unfurl in the spring. This is only the middle of April. Usually I don’t see this flower until the end of the month. But all bets are off this year.

Yesterday it snowed. Before that temps soared into the 60s. I knelt down and sniffed spring beauty in bloom a couple days ago. Before that, round-lobed hepatica bloomed. Right before that we got half a foot of snow. It’s hard to say what’s going to happen from one day to the next.

We like to think of seasonal change as a steady progression: temps consistently getting colder as we approach mid-winter, then consistently warming up through mid-summer. But that’s not how nature works. Overall nature is predicable. Here in New England, for example, we can expect four distinct seasons each year. That said, temps can fluctuate wildly over the course of any three or four days picked at random. This is normal.

Flowering plants anticipate what we humans cannot accept. The unfurling is a long, slow process. The first wild lilies press upward and, if temps suddenly plummet, they die back only to be replaced by a second wave. Some wildflowers take forever to bloom. I’ve seen purple trilliums on the verge of opening for weeks on end before they finally strut their stuff. Wildflowers, like most life forms, hedge their bets one way or another. When I stop and think about what’s really happening all around me in the spring, I am astounded.

“False spring,” I heard someone say when it snowed yesterday, unwilling to call it spring until snow is impossible. Yet we get, on average, two snowfalls every April here in northern Vermont. It’s all part of the unfurling, and that’s a beautiful thing to behold. Unpredictable on the short term, yet inevitable in the long run. That’s nature for you.

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Mar 26 2021

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Glorious Springtime

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Spring has come early here in northern New England, and what a glorious unfolding it is! Temps have shot into the 60s during the past week, reaching into the 70s twice. Needless to say, the snow cover has melted away. Only a few snow piles remain, like the one at the top of my driveway, to remind us that we were still in the grip of winter a mere ten days ago.

Judy and I have taken full advantage of the sudden seasonal change. We have ventured out three times this week in search of migrating birds, and haven’t been disappointed. In fact, we have seen so many Canada geese in so many different places that Judy stopped taking photos of them. Wherever there is a patch of open water between the retreating ice and the shores of Lake Champlain, there they are.

Along with geese, we’ve seen plenty of other waterfowl: mallards, goldeneyes, common mergansers, and the small, very energetic buffleheads. The latter skip across the surface of the water before diving for mollusks and other tasty treats on the lake bottom close to shore. We have found them particularly entertaining.

On land we spotted red-winged blackbirds and bluebirds, along with robins. A good number of the latter have wintered over here, but their numbers are way up now as their migrating kin have joined them. Woodpeckers are drumming and cardinals are singing from the tops of trees in efforts to secure mates for the season. In a well-established nest near Otter Creek we saw only the head of a bald eagle, most likely incubating new eggs. Regeneration is in the air.

Meanwhile the buds of red maples and other trees are swelling, and the first green shoots of fresh vegetation are breaking ground. The landscape will remain mostly brown during the next month – what we call mud season here in Vermont – but first wildflowers will be up soon enough. I love this long, slow reawakening of the natural world. Already I’m experiencing that euphoric, dreamy feeling commonly known as spring fever. Already I’m an April fool. And the more mud I get on my boots, the better. Bring it on!

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Oct 30 2019

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The Long Shadows of Autumn

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With the sun shining brightly and temps approaching 60 degrees, I decided it was time for a walk in the woods. Now that she’s retired and her time is her own, Judy asked if I’d mind her coming along. I told her I certainly wouldn’t mind. In fact, I was thinking to going to the Saint Albans Town Forest, which would be a perfect fall walk for us to do together. After all, it’s short, easy and she hadn’t been there before.

We reached the trailhead early in the afternoon, after Judy had done some work on the end-of-life doula class she was teaching, and after I had done a round of writing and a little work on my book biz. With all that out of the way, we both felt free to take our time. So that’s what we did, meandering along the trail, stopping frequently and hardly breaking a sweat. “Forest bathing” Judy called it in reference to the recent fad. We both found that humorous. We’ve been grooving on nature for decades, long before it became the therapeutic thing to do.

We kicked up a lot of leaves as we walked, now that most of them are on the ground. Evergreen wood ferns, moss and a copse of hemlocks still shouted their greenness into the world, but most of the forest around us was gold, burnt orange and various shades of brown and grey. It’s that time of year, after all – a time when hunters are ready to chase down deer, geese are heading south, and the days are noticeably shorter.

There is something both beautiful and melancholy about the long shadows of autumn on a pleasant afternoon in the forest. The earthy smell of drying leaves is intoxicating, and their color is still dazzling when the light catches them just right, even this late in the season. That said, we all know what comes next. For those of us living this far north who love to watch things grow, that means waiting another four or five months for the growing to begin all over again. Yet the cycle itself – this endless parade of seasons – speaks volumes about the passage of time and our place in it, doesn’t it? That too is beautiful.

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Oct 03 2019

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Life Goes On

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Today I went for a walk for the first time since returning home from Ohio. I went back to Ohio to help my sister move my suddenly incapacitated, 90-year-old father into a nursing home. He died before that happened.

I went for a walk right after doing a round of writing and a little work on my book biz. I’m back into my routine now – writing, publishing, bookselling, and occasionally going for a long walk or day hike. Back into the daily routine, as if being there in the hospital room the moment my father died ten days ago was nothing out of the ordinary. The hard truth of the matter is this: life goes on.

I walked through local woods where the trees are just now turning. The autumnal season is well underway. There are splashes of gold and orange in the trees, fiery red sumac, purple asters in full bloom, a touch of rust and brown here and there, yet still plenty of green. Cool temps beneath an overcast sky. The high-pitched trill of crickets. I passed the nearby quarry where a couple dozen Canada geese have landed. One of them honked alarm at my approach. Soon they will continue their long journey south for the winter as they do every year. Life goes on.

The world keeps spinning and nature goes about its business despite the loss we experience at any given time. Nature is eternal. Individual life forms come and go, yet nature lives on. It’s a very simple truth really. But there are times, like now, when I find that hard to grasp, and even harder to accept.

My father lived a long, full life. He was independent and ambulatory up until the very end. I should be so lucky, the dementia he suffered notwithstanding. We weren’t that close in later years. That much said, I will still miss him, as I do my mother and my dog Matika who also died this year. It’s a lot of loss to deal with all at once, but I’m getting back to my affairs now, as all living things do. I grieve but I’m still alive and well. The seasons change, nature persists, and I will roll with it until my last day comes.

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Sep 20 2018

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A Welcome Chill

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With the Autumnal Equinox fast approaching, I go for a walk in the woods to celebrate seasonal change. Yesterday’s high was 85, but this morning I’m wearing a flannel shirt and barely breaking a sweat. My long-haired German shepherd isn’t even panting. We both welcome the chill.

It’s been a hot, dry summer here in northern Vermont with near-drought conditions. The run of 90-degree days back in July reminded me of my childhood in Ohio. Some of the flowers my wife and I planted in the spring have burned up. I’ve watered them more than usual but hesitate to do too much of that since the water comes from a well. No, I can’t say I’m sad to see the warm season coming to an end.

There are patches of color in the forest understory but more brown in the leaves than usual. Overall the early fall foliage looks a little bleached out.  That could change dramatically during the next couple weeks. While more summer-like heat remains in the forecast, temps can drop fast like they did last night. This time of year is full of surprises.

During my walk, I spot the yellowish-brown leaves of false solomon’s seal. Seems like I was watching the spring wildflowers bloom a short while ago. Yet here we are now on the other side of the growing season. With each passing year, it feels like summer goes by a little faster despite the number of hot days. But that’s only how I perceive things in my advanced years. Nature has a different sense of time – one I can’t even imagine.

Sunlight suddenly breaks through the canopy, illuminating the still mostly green forest. I was in a funk earlier this week, but now each step I take forward feels like affirmation that life is worth living. So it goes during every woods walk regardless of the season. The days are getting shorter but that’s okay. The natural cycles are a good thing. I celebrate them, reveling in the present.

 

 

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Sep 12 2018

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Between Raindrops

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An overnight rain soaked the area overnight, and for some strange reason I felt an urge to go for a walk in this wet world. After taking care of a little business in the morning, I did just that. I had my dog Matika in tow, of course.

We went for a short walk in the nearby town forest because that’s all my old dog can handle these days. Moving at her incredibly slow pace and stopping frequently, it was a contemplative walk. I barely broke a sweat, but my thoughts clipped right along at a good pace.

I inhaled the rich, dank smell of the soaked forest. My eyes feasted on its vibrant green foliage. A gentle wind rocked the treetops, shaking raindrops from them. I walked between the raindrops, it seemed, barely getting wet.

While meandering about I thought about work, family, friends, the future, the past, other tramps in the woods, life, death, other deep philosophical matters, and the most inane things. There was no real pattern to it all, much like dreaming while still awake. But the white bloom of wood asters drew me back into the here and now, as did the incessant chirp of crickets.

On the drive home, I paid close attention to patches of leaves turning here and there – mostly rust and gold. The change is just beginning. The cool, damp air rushing into the car window gave me a bit of a chill. I made a short list in my head of all the things that still needed to be done before day’s end, then I let out a great big sigh. Life, it seems, is what happens while we’re busy doing things.

 

 

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Mar 30 2018

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Snowmelt and Cold Mud

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As I drove over French Hill, dodging frost heaves, the snow closed in around the road. Back home it was nearly gone from my yard so I wasn’t quite prepared to see so much white stuff. What a difference a few hundred feet of elevation makes! By time I reached the town forest parking lot, bare ground was the exception to the rule. Oh well. My dog Matika and I needed a good hike anyway, snow or no snow. We’d been cooped up for a over a week, thanks to a cold virus that I picked up.

At first the trail was several inches of punky snow, but eventually it opened up, becoming stretches of soft, cold mud in places, saturated by small streams overflowing with snowmelt. My boots became thoroughly soaked as I waded across one particularly wet spot. But I didn’t mind it. With temps in the 40s and the forest all to myself, it felt good to be tramping around.

Moss and ferns shouted their over-wintered green at me from rocky slopes. A grey squirrel chattered hello as Matika and I passed. A pair of crows cawed back and forth through the naked trees. Very early spring in the Vermont woods. With all the snow slowly melting away, it’s an altogether pleasant thing to behold.

I broke a sweat and coughed repeatedly as the trail slipped into a particularly deep patch of punky snow. Matika started panting heavily as well. But the big smile on her face mirrored my own. There are those who won’t be happy until the last of the snow is gone, and others who long for fresh verdure that’s still several weeks away. But it’s enough for me to hear the rush of water, smell raw earth again, and feel the give of thawing ground underfoot. Every season has its charms, even this one, when everything is cold, brown and wet. Happy spring!

 

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Dec 04 2017

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Geese Lingering

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A couple weeks ago I noticed that about fifty Canada geese had taken up temporary residence in a nearby quarry. Last week I saw them there again, only their numbers had increased to well over a hundred. Yesterday they were still floating on those placid waters, but this time I counted two hundred of them. What’s up with that? Why haven’t they all gone south by now?

Oh sure, the first two snowfalls of the year didn’t amount to much and they melted off quickly, but it’s December for chrissakes. No matter how mild a winter it’s going to be, northern Vermont is not far enough south for them. Or is it?

I am inclined to seriously question this notion we have of instinct. If wild creatures blindly follow instinct, then why aren’t these geese hundreds of miles south of here? Do they have enough intelligence to make a serious error in judgement?

There is another possibility of course. The birds might know something that we don’t, although the word “know” might not be the best way to explain what’s going on here. We’re the knowing ones – Homo sapiens and all that. Their relationship to the natural world is quite different from ours. So then… who’s making the serious error in judgement here, them or us?

I watched the geese for a while, admiring their wild beauty. They were smart enough to keep a good distance away from me even though I posed no real threat to them. I’m still expecting winter to strike with a vengeance soon. I hope these waterfowl are gone by then. Whether they depart or not, they have already given me much food for thought. Perhaps I will soon know what’s going on.

 

 

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Nov 07 2017

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Time Change

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It’s no big deal, really. In late autumn we all set our clocks back an hour, back to standard time, thus eliminating daylight saving time. It’s just a social convention that we all acknowledge, or so we tell ourselves. But one look out the window late in the afternoon tells us otherwise. Time change leaves its mark on us – especially on those of us sensitive to the slightest changes of light.

It’s November now, and the length of day here in northern Vermont has just slipped under ten hours. The time change drives this home, leaving us in the dark all evening before going to bed. It’s now dark before I quit working for the day. After the long days of summer, I find this a tough adjustment to make.

It’s November now, and most of the leaves have fallen from the trees. Even though this has been an unseasonably warm autumn, we all know what’s coming. I keep reminding myself that I have to get the snow tires on my car soon, real soon.

While the hunters are still tramping around the woods, I’ve called it quits for the most part. Oh sure, I hike or snowshoe during the colder months, but not with the same vigor that I do during the warmer ones.  This is the time of year when I do more writing than hiking. Everything in its season, I suppose.

Still it feels like the sun is setting on the growing season, on the season of lush vegetation. The barefoot days are long gone, and nature’s fecundity is giving way to its dormancy. That’s hard on a guy like me who’s constantly cultivating the wildness within. Now that wildness feels somewhat abstract. I’m spending an inordinate amount of time indoors, looking out windows. And the green world is slowly fading to brown. The heat and sweat of summer is but a memory.

 

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Aug 17 2017

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Last Days of Summer

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The other day I noticed goldenrod in bloom along the roadside. I’ve been seeing it everywhere since, including my own back yard. Goldenrod. We all know what that means. Summer is on the wane.

Each morning I go to the window before eating breakfast, open the shades and announce to my wife that it’s another beautiful day. I prefer sunny days to overcast ones, of course, but this time of year they are all beautiful. Fresh produce, t-shirt weather, everything in bloom – how can you go wrong?

Autumn is also a wonderful time of year, especially here in Vermont. Still I am saddened by the prospect of summer coming to an end. There is still so much I want to do before the big chill comes.

The march of time. Days go by, weeks pass, seasons change. I want to slow it all down, but there seems to be no way to do that. Yesterday I filled a pint container with blackberries for the first time this year. Already some of the best bushes are past their prime.

One day is just as good as the next, I suppose, regardless of the season. Nonetheless, I will try to savor these last few days of summer, making the most of them. That means spending as much time outdoors as possible. To confound myself, I have resumed writing already – something that I usually don’t do until September. And what do I write about? Being outdoors. Go figure.

 

 

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