Tag Archive 'Vermont'

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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Jan 16 2022

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Winter Woods

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This morning I awoke to temps below zero. Yesterday the same. The day before that I went for a short hike once temps had climbed into the teens after a similar dip. In the depths of winter here in northern New England, one is wise to get outdoors when one can.

The trail cutting through a local patch of woods was well traveled. Clearly I wasn’t the only person taking advantage of the occasional bouts of fair weather between snowstorms and deep freezes. Surprisingly, I passed only one other restless soul during my hike. The rest of the time, I had the woods all to myself.

Aside from the distant hum of traffic, all was quiet as I walked. No songbirds, no wind in the trees, nothing. I listened to the sound of my own breathing as I ambled along. The clean, cold air filled my lungs, and I barely broke a sweat beneath my layers. It always feels good to be physical after long hours of screen time.

Yeah, I work too hard at my desktop computer this time of year. That’s one way to get through winter – to make the most of it, to be productive. I work much less and get outdoors a lot more during the warmer months, as most Vermonters do. But even during the coldest months, one needs to recreate every once in a while. Skiers look at things differently, of course.

I’ve lived in Vermont for nearly 40 years. During that time, I’ve developed an appreciation for snow. Winter isn’t my favorite season, but there is something about a snow-covered landscape beneath a clear blue sky that is quite charming. Dare I say beautiful? I wouldn’t want to live in a place that gets no snow. A walk in the woods this time of year reminds me of that. And 15 degrees above zero isn’t bad at all when the wind isn’t blowing.

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Oct 08 2021

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Autumnal Color

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Well, it’s that time of year again. Summertime is long gone but the vibrant colors of autumn are now upon us. So the other day I set my work aside long enough to enjoy the season.

I slipped on my boots then headed for a town forest only eight miles away. Didn’t expect to see good color in the forest understory, but I wanted to stretch my legs on a hiking trail while I was outdoors. I figured there would be good color at the beaver pond about half a mile back. Sure enough, there was.

Along with remnant green in the foliage, there were gold, burnt orange and rust hues, as well. Under a mostly sunny sky, the colors really jumped out at me. This is what northern New England does best. I’ve lived here over thirty-five years yet I’m still dazzled by it.

The rest of my hike was a dreamy meander through a mostly green understory. It’ll be another couple weeks here in the Champlain Valley before all the vegetation has turned. No matter. On a beautiful day with temps in the sixties, it feels great just being in the forest. I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon.

Spring is my favorite season; summer pulls a close second. But there is something about walking in the woods in the fall that can’t be beat, despite the shortening of daylight and the fact that winter isn’t far away. It’s all good, I suppose — all of nature’s configurations and moods. It’s good to be alive in this magnificent world. I don’t take it for granted.

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Jul 30 2021

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When Least Expected

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A few days ago Judy and I lingered in the Northeast Kingdom after visiting family at Lake Wallace, clear up in the northeast corner of Vermont. We drove past the small town of Island Pond to the Wenlock Wildlife Management Area. Then we walked the trail to Moose Bog Pond. We had encountered some interesting birds there during a visit last year and hoped to do so again.

The trail is a short, easy, nearly flat path winding through a spruce/fir forest that’s home to the ever-elusive spruce grouse. I caught a glimpse of that bird last year but it disappeared before Judy could get a photo. No matter. There were plenty of friendly red-breasted nuthatches and grey jays to entertain us at Moose Bog Pond back then.

But that was last year. This year the grey jays were nowhere to be seen, and the nuthatches were skittish. A great blue heron was feeding at the pond, but it was too far away for Judy to get a good shot. So she photographed northern pitcher plants as we hung out for a while on the boardwalk jutting into the bog surrounding the pond. It was a beautiful summer day in the woods so we were happy just being there. All the same, I could tell that Judy was a tad disappointed.

On the way out, Judy took pictures of some interesting mushrooms while I crept ahead. That’s when I caught a little movement out of the side of my eye. I looked over and, sure enough, there was a spruce grouse half-hidden in the dense understory. I froze in place then signaled to Judy. She was looking down at the time and didn’t see me at first, but I didn’t dare say a word. Remarkably, the grouse didn’t move away. Then Judy saw me gesturing wildly and slowly moved in to photograph the bird. Even more remarkably, the grouse turned around giving Judy an even better view. She took a bunch of pictures.

Isn’t that the way it goes when dealing with wildlife? How many times have I gone looking for a creature only to come up empty-handed? How many times have they popped up, taking me completely by surprise? It’s all very serendipitous.

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Jun 03 2021

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A Natural High

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“What are you doing today?” Judy asked me when I sat down to eat breakfast after doing some early morning work upstairs. I laughed. She obviously had a plan for the day that included me, so I heard her out. She had errands to run in Burlington and thought a walk at Woodside Natural Area during the process would be nice. Was I interested? Of course. She had me at “natural area.”

I sat in the car doing Sudoku puzzles while Judy ran in and out of stores during what remained of the morning. Afterward we drove down Woodside Drive in Colchester and parked at the end of it. Immediately after stepping out of the car I heard a veery calling from the dense understory.

We had ventured only a few minutes down the grassy path cutting through the woods when I lifted my binoculars to a songbird on a nearby branch. I spotted an American redstart that, like all the warblers around us, flitted off before Judy could raise her camera and get a good shot. Judy took a picture of a vireo, but the warblers were too fast for her and the foliage too thick. Not that it mattered. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day in early summer and the forest all around us was lush. Walking through it while listening to songbirds was reason enough to smile.

At first we followed a path veering off to the left, rising above a wetland. Eventually it dropped down to the flood plain, though, where we got a good look at the Winooski River. With trees thick along its banks, it was hard to believe that we were in the middle of Burlington’s suburbs. We crept along the path hugging the river, passing through a thicket of ferns and Dame’s Rockets in full bloom. That’s when I started feeling giddy – happy in a way that defies description.

I call this time of year “days of heaven,” reminiscent of a movie I saw long ago that celebrates the natural world. Here in Vermont, early June is when the wild struts its stuff, mesmerizing all those who are paying attention. It is enough to be alive in a world as magnificent as this one. Simply breathing on a day like this is all the meaning one needs. Nothing else really matters.

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Oct 15 2019

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When the Foliage Peaks

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The setting sun illuminates the treetops and suddenly the sugar maples in my backyard are a fiery orange. If I were looking at a picture of these woods, I’d assume it had been photo-shopped. But I’m seeing this with my own eyes.

It’s a hallucination of color – the kind of thing that folks in the big cities to the south drive hundreds of miles to see. I just happened to step outside at just the right moment in the day, in the middle of the foliage season here in northern Vermont. We’re getting towards the end of the season, actually. The trees here in the Champlain Valley are the last to turn, a week or so after the foliage peaks in the higher elevations. That’s one of the things about fall color that makes it so elusive. It happens at different times in different places. Chasing it can drive a person crazy.

But here I am, standing in my backyard, still coughing after a week in bed with the flu, thinking that I’d missed my chance to get out and really enjoy the color. Here I am surrounded by peak foliage that’s completely illuminated. It’s a lucky break to be sure. And one that brightens my outlook while I am sandwiched between sickness and grief after the recent loss of both of my parents.

I have stepped into the light. Once again I am reminded how beautiful the natural world is, how absolutely phenomenal its most commonplace occurrences can be. It is good to be alive.

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Nov 17 2018

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Instant Winter

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Winter arrived with a vengeance yesterday, as sudden as the flip of a switch. A big storm crept in from the west at daybreak, dropping a foot of snow in these parts. So I did what Vermonters do whenever this happens. I put on a jacket, hat, boots and gloves then set to work shoveling.

The first task was to clear a path in front of the garage and at the bottom of the driveway so that my wife could get to work. That was no mean feat. By the time I finished that and cleared the walkways around the house, I was exhausted.

My plow guy showed up late in the afternoon. I think he was taken by surprise by this storm. I know I was. Less than a week ago I was still raking leaves. In fact, a few leaves popped up even as I was shoveling – burnt orange splotches against the white. What season is this, anyhow?

Temps dropped into the teens a few days ago, and snow flurries have fallen a couple of times this year already, but who could have expected such a sudden and heavy snowstorm? The weather forecasters warned us but, hell, it’s not even Thanksgiving yet.

Half a dozen Vermont ski areas just opened. The skiers must be ecstatic. I wish I shared their enthusiasm for the white stuff. But I’m a woods walker through and through. Snuck in a good hike a couple days before the storm hit and am glad I did. God only knows when there will be bare ground underfoot again. Maybe not until March.

There’s no sense fighting it. The seasons change in this part of the world and winter is inevitable. So after shoveling yesterday, I made myself a cup of hot chocolate and drank it while staring out the window at the illuminated landscape. White is easier on the eyes than gray. That counts for something.

 

 

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Oct 13 2018

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A Fairly Good Hike

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I thought I could fake out my old dog Matika by taking her for a walk in a nearby park first, but I had my hiking boots on so she expected a lot more. After the walk, while I was back home taking care of business, she wouldn’t let me out of her sight. Finally I patted her on the head then left without her. I had in mind a hike that I knew her hind legs couldn’t handle.

Mt. Philo was on the way to Vergennes where there was a book sale going on yesterday afternoon. Yeah, it was a combination work/play outing. I’m doing more of those these days. Was the book hunt an excuse to go for a hike, or vice versa? Good use of gas money, either way.

The parking lot at the base of Mt. Philo was full. I soon found out why. While a few patches of green lingered in the canopy here and there, the autumn color was fast approaching its peak. A thin layer of fallen leaves covered the road climbing to the top of the oversized hill. Too beautiful for words, really. I took it all in while ignoring the steady stream of people. Usually I hate hiking busy paths. This time I didn’t mind it.

I barely broke a sweat during the mile-long, road-grade ascent, but it was still the most rigorous hike I’d done in a month or two. Mt. Philo is a monadnock – what used to be an island in an interglacial sea – so it rises quite dramatically from the Lake Champlain valley floor. When I reached the top, I gazed across the sprawling lake and rolling farmland below to the not-too-distant Adirondack Mountains. A great view for relatively little effort.

The descent went quickly. Soon enough I was driving again and attending that book sale. I collected a box of new inventory for my book biz then headed home. The traffic going into Burlington was pretty intense but I didn’t care. I had squeezed in a short hike during a workday and was feeling very relaxed as a result. Not the kind of deep woods outing I prefer, but good all the same.

 

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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 24 2017

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Gone Fishin’

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Yesterday morning, while I was trying to get some work done, I got an email message from Vermont Fish and Wildlife: SLOW DOWN – GO FISHING. That sounded like a good idea. So I purchased a fishing license, put my dog Matika in the car, and drove to a favorite trout stream.

The brook was running fast and high because of rain the day before, but I didn’t care. Any excuse to head for the hills is a good one. I took my time running line through the ferrules of my fly rod and put on a dry fly. I was happy enough just listening to the stream and grooving on the wild beauty all around me.

The first hour was a lot of practice casting and stream walking. My old dog was having a hard time negotiating the boulders, steep banks and downed trees, so we did more walking through the woods than I would have liked and missed a few choice holes. But when I stumbled into a patch of foam flower in full bloom, that hardly mattered. The woods are magnificent this time of year.

When finally I approached a deep hole with a relatively slow current in it, I crawled into position and carefully dropped my fly on the water. Still no rise, despite the fact that mayflies were hatching. Then I heard the voice of my ol’ buddy Walt Franklin, who does a lot more fishing than I do. “Go deep,” I heard him say. Then I exchanged my dry fly for one of the Bead Head Hare’s Ear nymphs in my box that I had tied several years ago.

First cast, nuthin’. Second cast, bam! I had a big one on the line and was not ready for it. I danced along the gravelly edge of the stream trying to figure out how to land it. Matika saw the fish once I drew it closer, then started dancing with me. I landed it long enough to snap a photo. Then back into the water it went. Matika wanted to go after it but the big brown trout moved so fast that she didn’t stand a chance. I laughed.

That was it. I walked the stream another hour, trying all kinds of flies, but not one more rise. It was a warm, sunny afternoon on the stream all the same. I went home quite satisfied.

 

 

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