Tag Archive 'springtime'

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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Apr 18 2019

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A Familiar Place

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At long last the snow is melting in the mountains, exposing bare ground. I drove to the base of a favorite valley, parked my car then hiked up the narrow dirt road still closed for the season. About a mile back, I left the road, bushwhacking down to the brook. It felt good to have soft earth underfoot, and to see the heavily silted stream shooting downhill, full of snowmelt.

I tramped through the forest with ease despite downed trees and a few remnant patches of snow, following the brook to places where I’d camped in the past. Then came the two mudslides. Usually I would cross the brook, thus avoiding the mudslides, but the brook had too much water in it. So instead I scrambled on all fours across one slide then the other, until I was deep in the valley. That’s when I stumbled upon a familiar place – a place I’d forgotten about, a place where I caught a sizable brook trout a long time ago.

I settled into an inviting niche along the edge of the pool, just below a huge slab of moss-covered rock. The sun shined brightly through the clear blue sky. The brook roared as it raced past. With temps in the 50s the gentle wind caressing me felt downright balmy. I drank some water, ate a granola bar, and jotted a few lines in my field journal while soaking in the beauty of the forest in early spring.

There are places, wild places, so familiar to me that they feel like home. Most of these places are located in Vermont’s Green Mountains. Some are in the Adirondacks. Upon reaching them, I suddenly get the feeling that everything is right with the world. And whatever was troubling me in the developed places doesn’t matter so much. Go figure.

While tramping out of the woods, I reveled in the great wild silence, happy enough just breathing in the clear mountain air. Once again I felt comfortable in my skin. A good hike is like that. A good hike is nothing more than getting back in touch with one’s animal self. That is enough.

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May 13 2018

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Springtime Overnighter

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A couple days into a run of relatively warm, dry, sunny weather, I decided to take full advantage of the situation. I set all work aside earlier this week, packed a few essentials into my old rucksack, and headed for the Breadloaf Wilderness.

There’s a nice spot on the headwaters of the New Haven River where I’ve camped several times before. After leaving my car at the trailhead, I hiked there. It didn’t take long to reach that campsite, even with my old dog Matika hobbling along slowly behind me.

No bloodsucking bugs this early in the season so I set up my tarp without attaching the mosquito bar. Gathering wood was easy since I was camped off trail. I fashioned a small campfire circle that I would make disappear when I left. With that bright yellow orb beating down through the leafless canopy, I didn’t start a fire right away. It was enough just to sit next to the stream, listening to the endless rush of water breaking over rocks while basking in sunlight.

When the sun finally slipped beneath the trees, I put a match to a tipi of birch bark and kindling in the campfire circle. I was startled by how quickly the fire took off, and made it a point to keep it very small and controllable with bottles of water close at hand. Matika entertained herself by chewing up some of the sticks in my woodpile.

Spending a night in the woods was just what I needed after a long winter of philosophical speculation. Temps dropped fast once the sun went down, though, and Matika crowded me off my foam pad. Not the best night’s sleep, but arising to the song of a waterthrush, a refreshing mountain breeze, and early light breaking through the forest made me thankful to be alive.

I lingered for hours over a morning campfire before slowly packing up and hiking back to the car. I was giddy all the way home, rolling through the Champlain Valley as the trees slowly leafed out. Springtime in Vermont, after a long snowy winter, is absolutely wonderful.

 

 

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May 04 2018

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A Necessary Walk

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My dark rant came way too early this morning. Judy fled the room before breakfast was over to escape it. And that’s when I knew how badly I needed a walk in the woods. So I squeezed one in, right between a trip to the post office and a round of book promotion. Some things just can’t wait.

All winter long I have been pondering the human condition, trying to figure out what exactly it means to be human, how wildness and civilization factor into that, and how we’ve become the highly cognizant yet deeply flawed creatures that we are today. This isn’t a matter for the faint of heart, and I’ve found myself bogged down in the morass of morality more than once. Yeah, everyone’s got an opinion when it comes to human nature, how good and/or bad we are, but the irrefutable facts are few and far between. So my quest has put me in a surly mood, even as spring unfolds.

To walk in the woods and blow the stink off my thoughts I didn’t have go far. A quick jaunt up Aldis Hill did the trick. I knew there would be early spring wildflowers in bloom, and that would improve my outlook on things if anything could. Sure enough, I wasn’t disappointed. Bloodroot appeared amid the boulders, purple trilliums and trout lilies lined the muddy trail, and Dutchman’s breeches strutted its stuff near the top of the hill. I stopped to admire the wildflowers almost as much as my dog Matika stopped to sniff around. It’s like that sometimes. My primary task as Homo sapiens, it seems, is to simply admire God’s handiwork. That’s when I feel the most like myself and at peace with the world, anyhow.

I haven’t figured it out yet. My query into human nature is unfinished business, to say the least. But I’m already convinced that our relation to nature is critical to understanding who/what we are. So these walks of mine are necessary in more ways than one. We go into the wild not so much to escape the trappings of civilized society as to find ourselves, to make a primal connection and remember, on some level of awareness, where we came from… and thereby figure out where we are going.

When I get a good bead on human nature, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I’ll just keep on wandering and wondering and scribbling down these little absurdities that I call philosophy. If nothing else, it keeps me from being one of those self-righteous fools who engage in unrestrained violence. Yeah, a walk in the woods is absolutely necessary.

 

 

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May 09 2017

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Year of the Lily

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Green explosion. My eyes drink in the bright, light verdure suddenly appearing in the bushes and trees this time of year, and I am happy enough. Green is all I need. But there are wildflowers scattered across the forest floor as well. They seem an extravagance. Then robins and other migrating birds join resident cardinals and chickadees in a midday chorus, and it is almost too much.

I fear that I might awaken to find myself at the beginning of yet another dreary winter day. But no, all this is real, along with the rabbits and other critters that I encounter during my long walks, and the peepers that break into song at dusk. It is the middle of spring and Nature is just beginning to strut her stuff.

Wildflowers are an extravagance, indeed. Dutchman’s breeches, round-lobed hepatica, spring beauty, bloodroot, wild ginger and violets all bloom early, then comes a tidal wave of lilies. A few days ago, I came upon patch after patch of trout lilies in full bloom. Yesterday I saw white trilliums sprawled along the trail. And more lilies are on the way. In the wooded, un-lawned portion of my back yard I’ve discovered an assortment of them – bellwort along with purple and white trilliums. I am seeing wild lilies everywhere it seems. There are more of them this year than I’ve ever seen before, or is it just my imagination?

This green and flowering world is too beautiful for words. On a geological time scale, flowering plants are an anomaly. They’ve only been around for 130 million years. That’s a small fraction of the Earth’s history. Fortunately, we are here when flowers are. There’s probably a good reason for that. This green and flowering world is our world. And I for one quietly celebrate that fact each and every springtime morning.

 

 

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