Tag Archive 'springtime'

Apr 10 2024

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Total Eclipse

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Sunlight became noticeably dimmer as the moon gradually obscured the sun. Temps dropped several degrees. I sat in the backyard with my wife, granddaughter and her partner, watching the event slowly unfold. ISO solar sunglasses enabled us to look directly at that object in the sky usually too bright to observe. The thinnest sliver of the sun was enough to maintain the normalcy of day.

When the moon completely blocked the sun from view, the world suddenly slipped into twilight. This came as something of a surprise, even though we’d been anticipating it for months, along with millions of other people. A muted ring of light appeared where the sun was supposed to be. A sunset glow along the horizon completely surrounded us. Birds fell silent, frogs started peeping from springtime pools nearby, and the mosquitoes came out. The forest beyond our grassy backyard took on the dank nighttime smell of early spring.

With my binoculars, I glassed the sun’s corona, surprised to see fiery solar protrusions reaching deep into space. But that was not nearly as surprising as the sudden flash of sunlight that appeared, bringing the total eclipse to an end. Then it was daylight again. The birds and everyone else went back about their business. Only the mosquitoes remained to confirm what we had experienced.

In the distance someone shot off fireworks when the total eclipse began. That rendered mundane what would have otherwise been a sacred event. And rightly so. Most people cannot tolerate the Unspeakable, especially when it is shoved into their face. They have to make light of it.

Two days later, it’s as if that remarkable celestial event never happened. Everything is back to normal, and that ghostly ring in the dark sky is only a memory, a photographic image. Still there are a few of us keenly aware that we live on a planet with an orbiting moon, circling a star in a cosmos too vast to comprehend. Call it nature and leave it at that.

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May 13 2023

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Walking the Brook

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Remarkably enough, there were no black flies out yesterday when I set foot on the mountain brook. I don’t know why. They’re out in force in my backyard. A bug-free outing in the spring is a real treat, though. I walked the brook for several hours, pretending to fish for trout. But what I really wanted was the sound of rushing water, a cool breeze wafting up the stream, and wildflowers in bloom along the banks. I got all that and more.

Oh sure, I casted my fly into every emerald pool of water and did my best to entice brook trout to the surface, but nothing happened. No rises, that is, until the last hour of my outing. I caught and released one brookie at that time, happy not to be skunked, then lost another on a second rise. Slow fishing. But when the forest comes alive with that luminescent, vernal green it’s hard to care about anything else. The sudden explosion of leafy growth, both overhead and across the forest floor, is reason enough to be in the woods. Trout fishing is just a good excuse to witness it.

When I stumbled upon painted trilliums in full bloom, I couldn’t help but smile. Plenty of other wildflowers come up in May, but this is one of my favorites. There’s something about painted trilliums that brings joy to me. Perhaps that is because I associate it with the Green Mountains – my home turf – and with my first mountain brook outings a long time ago. Eternal renewal. That flower shouts it.

When I was finished fishing, I sat down on a large rock next to the stream. I smoked a cigar in celebration of a recently published book and counted my blessings. I have many, including the crystal clear stream itself. Just then several dun-colored mayflies rose into the air, similar to the fly I had been using. I reveled in the beginning of a mayfly hatch even though I was too tired to take advantage of it. Sometimes it’s enough just to witness such things. The miracle of spring is that even the harshest winter can’t prevent it from coming. And that is reason enough, I think, to walk the brook this time of year.

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Apr 23 2023

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The Golden Hour

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Last week Judy and I made a much-anticipated pilgrimage to Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge to witness the spring migration there. Located in the Finger Lakes Region of upstate New York, we reached it in less than 8 hours. Even though the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge is only ten miles away from where we live, one never knows what one will find elsewhere. Besides, birding destinations give us a reason to get away.

Monday was overcast and rainy. We saw shovelers, coots, mallards, teals, and other ducks in the marshes while slowly motoring along Wildlife Drive. Judy was in the passenger’s side of the car so she didn’t get any good photos. Visitors are not allowed out of their cars on Wildlife Drive this early in the season. But she was on the right side of the car to catch hundreds of carp in a spawning frenzy. Such is the nature of wildlife photography. It’s serendipitous, to say the least.

The weather on Tuesday was much the same: less rain but a more chilling wind. We explored the outskirts of the refuge, ending up in the Sandhill Crane Unit where Judy took a good picture of a gadwall half-hidden in the grass. We saw some ospreys, as well, before returning to the Wildlife Drive. This time Judy sat in the back seat so that she could shoot in either direction. I chauffeured her. She photographed a great blue heron eating a fish, a female red-winged blackbird close-up, and the coots doing their funky head-moving action as they swam. I can’t watch them without breaking into laughter.

Wednesday was partly cloudy sky, but the cool temps hardly felt balmy in the steady breeze. We drove the Wildlife Drive once again, seeing the usual suspects, before heading up to the Sandhill Crane Unit. There we parked the car at the end of a dead-end dirt road and watched waterfowl while enjoying the wild silence. I woke Judy from her nap when a bald eagle suddenly appeared, but she didn’t get a picture before it flew away. Yeah, that’s how it goes sometimes.

Back on the Wildlife Drive late afternoon, we hoped to see the snipe spotted there the day before by someone else, as well as a sandhill crane. The snipe turned out to be a dunlin (bird identification is always tricky). Then, as luck would have it, we saw the sandhill crane. It was being harassed by a Canada goose most likely protecting an unhatched brood nearby. We were in the Golden Hour, as bird photographers call it – the hour before sunset. Light illuminated the crane’s wings as it defended itself against the goose. Judy caught it with her camera. And that made the trip. Serendipitous, indeed!

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Apr 12 2023

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The Ospreys Return

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When Judy and I were out birding a few days ago, we spotted an osprey in a platform nest near the Missisquoi Bay Bridge. Two more suddenly appeared, then the show began. At first we thought perhaps it was two males competing for the attention of a female. But that wasn’t what was happening.

The osprey in the nest became fierce as the other two swooped menacingly overhead. He was ready to defend his claim. Clearly he wasn’t going to give up the nest without a fight. It’s a prime piece of real estate not more than two hundred yards from Lake Champlain. An ideal place to fish, thereby enabling him to provide sustenance for any newly hatched ospreys to come. No doubt a female osprey would show up soon. Successful mating at a location like this is practically guaranteed.

The defender took to the air, flipping upside down to meet the intruder’s talons with his own. Neither Judy nor I had ever seen anything like it before. Such acrobatics! Judy caught it on camera while I looked on with my binoculars.

A moment later all three birds were circling overhead in something of aerial dance. It was a dogfight of sorts. Who would prevail? Two of the ospreys were determined to have that nest while the third one held back, apparently unsure whether or not he was up to the task to taking it.

We watched them fly together in great circles overhead, curious to see how the contest would be resolved. It went on for quite some time… They were still at it when we reluctantly drove away. They could have been at it for days.

Now we are anxious to return to that spot and see who won. Most likely the defender. We’ll make it a point to follow the rest of the story as it unfolds later this spring and into the summer. It’s an old story, played out year after year, over and over throughout the natural world. Quite common yet no less enthralling.

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Apr 30 2021

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Going a Little Wild

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April is a bit early to go backpacking in the Adirondacks. I expected to see snow. So imagine my relief when I parked my car at the trailhead to the Hudson Gorge Wilderness, looked around, and saw no white stuff. With temps in the 50s and a partly cloudy sky overhead, it was a good way to start the outing.

I traveled fast and light along the OK Slip Falls Trail with only a 30-pound pack on my back and 20 pounds less flab on my body. My trekking poles clicked against the roots and rocks along the trail, flushing a ruffed grouse. Not much in the way of wildflowers in bloom, and evergreen wood ferns were still pressed flat against the ground. Evidently, the snow cover had just recently melted away.

Three miles back, I caught a glimpse of the impressive OK Slip Falls through the trees – one of the highest falls in the Adirondacks, tucked away in the woods. After that I hiked another mile to the Hudson Gorge, where the Hudson River cuts through the mountains. Backtracking past the falls, I made camp along a feeder stream to OK Slip Brook. There I fired up my stove and fixed dinner. No campfire this time out. The forest was too dry. Too dry, that is, until a steady rain commenced, which lasted all night long.

Arising the next morning, I felt the strange calm that usually follows a night spent alone in deep woods. Mist gathered in the trees as I fixed breakfast. Stream rushing along, otherwise silence. My joints ached as I arose from my seat along the brook, reminding me of the passage of time – decades doing this. I looked around, marveling at the growth and decay all around me, wondering as I have so many times before how it all came to be. Nature is inscrutable.

I took my sweet time hiking out, stopping frequently to scan wetlands for wildlife, admire hundred-year old hemlocks, and listen to chickadees, nuthatches and other songbirds. I tramped the muddy trail – mostly dry the day before – and left boot prints on the banks of ephemeral streams. Not much else to report. I went a little wild for a short while, and that’s all that mattered.

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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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May 21 2020

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Three Trillium Camp

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What a dramatic change in weather! Frost warnings one week; temps climbing into the 70s the next. At long last, I can go into the mountains overnight without freezing my ass off. And no rain in the forecast, either. So without hesitation, I load up my pack and am out the door.

With a desire to avoid people altogether (pandemic or no), I head for the Calavale Brook. It’s located somewhere in northern Vermont and that’s all I’m willing to say. The access road to it is too heavily eroded for my little car so I approach the brook from another dirt road a mile away. Sort of. Actually, I drive that road until it becomes a track, then walk that track until it ends at someone’s deer camp. Then I bushwhack along a NNW bearing through the woods. Eventually I hear water. Then I see it.

I find a relatively flat spot near the brook and set up my tarp amid wild lilies. Then I create a campfire circle a little closer to the water. Home sweet home, with three painted trilliums marking the boundaries of it. A good place to relax, meditate, and scribble in my field journal. The constant sound of water rushing past is quite soothing. The black flies aren’t too bad. The sun slowly settles into the ridge behind me and soon I am staring into a campfire. Once I’ve had enough of that, I go to bed. The naked trees (leaves not yet unfurled) point to a thousand stars illuminating the heavens above. And it’s good to be alive.

Despite my tossing and turning, I manage to get a fairly good night’s sleep. But getting out of bed and into the chilly morning air is a bit rough. Temps dropped significantly overnight. I snuggle next to a morning campfire and life is good again. When the black flies come back out, it’s time to go. After making the campfire circle disappear, I head out the same way I came. Only now I’m in a much better frame of mind. A solo overnighter is good for that.

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Apr 22 2020

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Hope Springs Eternal

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The snow flurries blowing across my yard this morning are disheartening. It’s late April and I’m in desperate need of springtime’s consolation this year, as the harsh realities of the ongoing pandemic and the related economic downturn sink in. Yesterday I finished reading The Great Influenza, which paints a dark picture of how the 1918 flu pandemic unfolded. What we are dealing with today will most likely follow a similar route, with the outbreak coming in waves over the year to come.

So far it has been an unseasonably cold April here in the northeast. More than once I have dressed for late March weather during my long, midday walks. The other day I was chilled by my own sweat while raking the yard, and the cold stung my hands as I mulched the garden. Then I spotted two tiny wildflowers – spring beauty – pushing up through the soil. Their petals had not yet unfurled but promised to do so very soon. Then I found round-lobed hepatica in full bloom, half-hidden in the detritus covering the forest floor.

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast,” the poet Alexander Pope wrote 300 years ago, and it still rings true. While there are always pessimists and doomsayers among us, humankind is hopeful even during the darkest times. We look for positive signs. Things will get better. It’s only a matter of time.

Those who know me well would never call me an optimist. On the contrary, I tend to focus on the darker side of human nature with a steely eye, and know all too well what the wild can do. Yet there is in springtime an undeniable reawakening, the natural world coming back to life after a long dormancy, a rebirth. It has happened every year for as long as we can remember – longer than humankind has existed. And we are in the thick of it right now, despite all diseases and disasters.

After hepatica comes an explosion of wildflowers, the trees leafing out, and everything greening. Despite the snow flurries right now, spring’s glorious unfolding is only a few days away – a fortnight at the most. Then we’ll open our windows and go barefoot again. None of this will make the pandemic or the economic downturn go away, but they’ll be a lot easier to deal with as a consequence. I’m looking forward to it.

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May 21 2019

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Springtime Bushwhack

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After taking care of business this morning, I drove to French Hill for a much needed bushwhack. During the first two weeks of May, I was down with a flu bug that developed into bronchitis. It took another week after that for me to get my strength back. So I was eager early this afternoon to go for a walk in the woods again.

A passing squall anointed me with a few raindrops as I started down the overgrown skidder trail. No matter. A painted trillium and other spring wildflowers urged me along. Soon I left the trail to bushwhack up and over a small rise covered in unfurling ferns. My eyes soaked in the vernal green all around me. On the other side of the rise, I caught a glimpse of the familiar old beaver pond though the trees. I used that to keep my bearings as I stumbled over rocks, downed branches and trees, and soggy ground. Soon I cut my pace, thus finding my woods wandering legs.

I searched for the stone wall that I remembered from a previous hike in these parts, but found a brand new beaver pond instead. It’s engineer scurried out of the understory, quickly making for the water. I gave him plenty of room to do so, then crossed his rather tenuous dam. I got my new boots wet and muddy in the process. Good. They needed to be broken in properly.

To my surprise I came back out to the skidder road much sooner than expected, then finished my circumnavigation of the old beaver pond. I crossed plenty of deer tracks along the way. I listened to songbirds rejoicing in the season. I watched as the treetops swayed in the vigorous breeze. When my car came into view, I vowed to get back into the woods again as soon as possible. After all, springtime happens fast in northern Vermont. Enjoy it while it lasts.

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