Tag Archive 'Vermont'

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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Mar 19 2017

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Last Day of Winter

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A nor’easter dumped two and a half feet of snow earlier this week. That’s a lot of snow even by Vermont standards. Aside from shoveling the white stuff, I’ve stayed indoors for the most part ignoring it. The bright March sun has already melted off half the snow. I figured I’d just wait out the rest. But my dog Matika kept bugging me so out we went today, tramping in the snow one last time.

Right out the back door, I strapped on snowshoes and cut tracks into the woods. I was sweating in no time. With temps pushing up towards 40 degrees and an unblinking sun overhead, I lifted several pounds of heavy wet snow with each step. Not a cloud in the sky, though, and the pristine snow looked inviting. I was almost as happy to be outdoors as Matika was.

Not far from the house, we flushed several deer from the woods. Matika got on their tracks right away. I followed them for a while. Then we reached the quarry where someone else has been out snowshoeing. Yeah, it’s hard to stay inside this time of year, no matter how good the books and movies are.

We didn’t go far. I stomped out a small loop near the quarry then headed back to the house. A half hour of that was enough. Truth is, I’m already thinking spring. The vernal equinox is tomorrow and the first unmistakable signs of spring aren’t far away. Hmm… technically speaking, tomorrow’s equinox makes today the last day of winter. Snowshoeing was a good way to send it off.

 

 

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Mar 10 2017

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Harbinger of Spring

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Surprisingly warm, spring-like temps melted off most of the snow in the Champlain Valley earlier this week. It seemed a little premature at the time. Sure enough, an arctic blast just hit the region, promising single-digit temps this weekend. Yeah, March is like that here in the North Country. Freeze and thaw – perfect weather for sugaring.

I went for a short walk in the nearby ten-acre wood this afternoon. Galvanized buckets hang from most of the maple trees over there. My neighbor likes to collect sap the old fashioned way. Taps and lines are how serious maple syrup operations do it these days. That said, I like seeing the buckets. They have a certain rustic charm.

There’s snow in the long term forecast, along with rain, more warmth, and more frigid temps. Vermonters grumble but everyone knows this is normal. It’s still too early to clean up the yard, but that’ll have to be done soon. The buckets are a harbinger of things to come. I’ve already seen the first migrating geese. And the woodpeckers are busy. Spring is imminent.

My dog Matika and I are both restless. I’m getting over a head cold and more than ready to head for the hills and really stretch my legs. The half-frozen earth underfoot during my short walk was a very good sign. Won’t be long before Matika and I get good and muddy.

The days are much longer now than they were in January. The equinox isn’t far away. My favorite season is almost here. I’m looking forward to it.

 

 

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