Tag Archive 'winter'

Jan 19 2023

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The Lake on a Grey Day

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For a change of pace, I drive out to Kill Kare State Park at the end of Hathaway Point to groove on water instead of tramping through woods. Saint Albans Bay is half full of punky ice, but its mouth is ice free. I leave my car at a turnout next to the gate even though the gate is wide open. This will extend my walk. I amble leisurely, hands-in-pocket, up the road and into the park.

I spook several mallard ducks swimming close to shore. There are more waterfowl farther offshore, but they are difficult to identify in the grey light. My binoculars are still resting on the counter back home.

Lake Champlain is placid beneath an overcast sky. In the park, the silhouettes of leafless trees are motionless in the still air, freeze-framed against the clouds. A thin layer of snow covers the ground. Patches of bare ground, bleached of color, poke through the snow in places. It’s a mild winter this year but winter all the same.

I’m alone in the park. Usually there would be ice fisherman here this time of year, going about their business. I meander about, stopping occasionally to take in the lake’s expanse and feel the damp chill in the air. Suddenly gulls call out from ice floes a hundred yards off the north shore. When they stop, I realize just how quiet it is here right now. Interaction with the natural world is funny that way.

This morning I finished writing an essay about the fear of death and the will to live. While walking about the park, I think about that and the many occasions I’ve been in this park in the past, either alone or with others. Time seems to stand still as I gaze across the glassy surface of the lake, but I know that’s not the case. I can hear myself breathing. My heart is still beating. It will beat a while longer, perhaps for another decade or two. And I’ll stand here once again, most likely, gazing across the lake on a grey day.

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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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Jan 04 2021

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The Predawn Light of Winter

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Now we are in the thick of it. The holidays have passed and a winter storm has recently dropped half a foot of snow. It still clings to the bows of trees as I get out of bed and start my day. After an hour and a half of work in my study, I gaze out the window to catch the cool, blue light of predawn. My study is warm and well lit by comparison. I slip downstairs and poke my nose out the door for a whiff of the clean, cold air. For several weeks the ground has been naked, or barely covered by a thin film of powder. Now it looks the way it should look here in northern Vermont in January: blanketed by the white stuff.

The Winter Solstice is well behind us and already the days are noticeably longer to a light-sensitive fellow like me. The deep cold still lies ahead, though, as it takes the planet a while to warm up and cool down. No matter. It’s a brand new year, a new day, and life is good.

The days are getting longer, and I have plenty of work to keep me busy until the big thaw comes. That’s still months away. Occasionally I’ll get out and tramp around in the snow, but for the most part mine is an indoor life until mid-March. I’ll shovel the snow regularly, as I did yesterday, and sometimes that’s all the outdoor activity I need. As a writer I have learned to make the most of these colder months so that I don’t feel bad about being outdoors and unproductive during the warmer ones. It’s a good arrangement, actually. A good balance.

But now I revel in the blue light of predawn. I feel the exhilaration of simply being alive and well. The Earth circles the Sun and the seasons change. I relish the days ahead, as well as this day. It feels good to be stirring about on a day like this, on any day above ground.

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Jan 10 2019

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Baffling the Squirrels

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Now on the backside of a winter snowstorm, the temps are falling rapidly. Soon they’ll be in the single digits, then below zero for days on end. Those kind of temps make it hard for birds to survive. They need high-energy food to do so. With that in mind, I shelled out a little extra cash this morning for bird food that’s rich in black sunflower seeds to replenish my feeder. That and the suet will go a long way. There’s one problem, though. The grey squirrels in our heavily wooded neighborhood will empty the feeder in a matter of hours. Once again.

There’s a bunch of fat squirrels that have become emboldened lately by my old dog Matika’s inability to give chase the way she has in the past. I call them the Gang of Four, led by one particularly corpulent yet acrobatic rodent who has been known to hang out at the feeder all day. Literally. A week ago, my wife and I decided that enough’s enough. We ordered a handy device appropriately called a squirrel baffle, which is simply a conical piece of sheet metal that can be affixed to the bird feeder pole. It came via UPS a couple days ago. Today I affixed it to the pole.

Is it wrong to anticipate the squirrel’s frustration as eagerly as I do? Does that make me a bad person? While refilling the feeder, I threw a little seed on the ground to assuage a creeping sense of guilt. That’s for both the mourning doves and the squirrels, I told myself. The squirrels being what they are, though, the doves won’t get much of it.

A strong wind blows the baffle around, along with the feeder and suet. Once the wind subsides, the birds will return: woodpeckers, flickers, nuthatches and chickadees. I look forward to that. But, I must admit, I’m even more exited about the Gang of Four to showing up again. That should be quite entertaining.

 

 

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Dec 26 2018

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End Year Ramble

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After lounging around the house all day yesterday, I awoke this morning with a tremendous urge to get out and make tracks. Didn’t have to talk my old dog Matika into it. She was right on my heels the moment I put on my boots.

Clearly I wasn’t the only one needing to walk off the holiday feast. The trail at Niquette Bay had plenty of boot prints in it. All the same, I had the place pretty much to myself late in the morning.

With so little snow on the ground, I didn’t bother bringing my Microspikes with me. That was a mistake. Icy patches caught me off guard a couple times and down I went. Other than that it felt good to ramble – to stretch my legs, keep a leisurely pace, and breathe in the frigid air. Hiking can be just as pleasant in December as it is in June.

The sun burned halfheartedly through the clouds. At midday it felt distant and the surrounding trees casted long shadows. There’s no doubt in my mind as to what time of year it is. Not that I’m complaining. As long as I can get out and walk every once in a while, I’m okay with it.

Back home now, I’m surprised by how quickly dusk has come around. Surprised once again, I should say. Still I wrap up the year’s business and make plans for the near future. Soon the calendar will turn and I’ll be back to my literary work with gusto. All the same, I’m daydreaming about a rigorous trek on the Cohos Trail – something I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time. This coming summer I’m going to make that happen. Every walk between now and then anticipates it.

 

 

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Dec 19 2018

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Winter Sunrise

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It’s that time of year again. Half of our hours awake take place in the darkness or twilight, and there’s all this talk about being merry. I just roll with it. A friend of mine told me that he thrives on the darkness, so we toasted to that the other day. But I must admit, I don’t quite relate.

I’ve already done a couple hours work in my study by the time the sun comes up. Over breakfast, the eastern sky reddens towards dawn. I visit my favorite weather website to verify what I already know: sunrise just shy of 7:30 and sunset around 4:15. The Winter Solstice is still two days away but we’re pretty much there. Already we’ve seen the earliest sunset, thanks to Earth’s elliptical orbit and other astronomical technicalities. Soon the days will start getting longer again. The latest sunrise takes place shortly after that.

Being neither pagan nor Judeo-Christian, the holidays always feel a little strange to me. That said, I’ve put up a fir tree in my living room and hung some lights outside. The darkest day of the year is about to pass, and that’s something worth celebrating.

Now comes what another friend of mine calls The Long White. We’re already well into it, but there’s a lot more winter ahead. The deep cold comes in January, and we get plenty of snow after that. A good time of year for doing literary work, that’s the upside. All the same, I go for a long walk every other day. It’s important to get outdoors no matter what.

 

 

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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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Jan 03 2018

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After the Deep Freeze

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After six days of sub-zero temps my poor dog Matika was bouncing off the walls. I was hankering for a walk as well. So we headed out at noon today (pushing away from the computer) to stretch our legs. Temps were in the balmy teens by then.

Aldis Hill was on the way home from the post office where I ship daily. I parked the car near the trailhead then bolted into the woods. To my surprise, the snowy trail was hard-packed from heavy use. I was slipping and sliding around from the start. Didn’t think to bring my Microspikes. Oh well. Matika motored right past me with ease. She has four-paw drive.

A typical January day with snow on the ground and a partly cloudy sky overhead. The woods quiet, stark and leafless. The gradual climb kept me warm enough. I let go of work thoughts as much as possible. Plenty of time for that tomorrow when the big snowstorm arrives. My right knee ached, more from a lack of use than from overuse. Note to self: get outdoors more. Use it or lose it.

I’m glad the holidays are over so that I can focus on my literary work and the bookselling biz. I have yet another book ready to publish and look forward to getting it ready for the press. All the same, I’ve been feeling an urge lately to get out and go for a long hike, snowshoe, whatever. Soon, real soon.

Funny how winter doesn’t weigh on me as much as it did when I was younger. After 35 years living in the North Country, have I finally become a Vermonter? Well, the other day I returned home from a short trip to the grocery store and told my wife Judy that the near zero temps weren’t that bad. “It’s a dry cold,” I said.

After getting my fill of fresh air, and Matika her fill of sniffing, we returned home. Back to work. I don’t mind this season so much anymore. As long as I can get out every other day or so, I’m good. Pity those poor folks who fly south every year to escape the arctic blasts. They’ll never get used to it.

 

 

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Feb 17 2017

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Cutting Tracks in Local Woods

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Two back-to-back winter storms dumped 20 inches of snow this week. That’s more snow than we’ve seen in a long while. It’s finally starting to look like Vermont around here.

A couple days ago I did my fair share of shoveling, clearing out a 10 by 12-foot space in the back yard for one thing – a place for my dog Matika to pee. But she looked pathetic when she was out there walking tight circles in her prison yard. She looked as cooped up as I was feeling. So I strapped on my snowshoes yesterday and cut tracks out of the prison yard, across the fresh snow, and into the woods. Matika happily followed.

It wasn’t easy cutting tracks. I broke a good sweat. But the air was clean, all was quiet, and the snow still clinging to naked tree branches looked beautiful. Wouldn’t say I have cabin fever these days, but being outdoors feels a lot better than being indoors. I really get tired of sitting inside, staring at a computer screen all day, don’t you?

After completing a big loop in the woods, I doubled back on my tracks, creating a nice smooth trail. The second time around is always much easier so I able to really enjoy my surroundings. Matika enjoyed it, too. She romped in the snow like a puppy, collecting ice balls in her thick fur. Nordic dog!

This morning I looked out my office window at first light and spotted that snowshoe trail crossing the back yard. It’s calling my name now. How long will I be able to resist it? No doubt I’ll be out there again, tomorrow or the next day, cutting more tracks in local woods. Not quite as good as being in the mountains, but there’s something to be said for snowshoeing right out the back door. Wild nature doesn’t feel very far away at all.

 

 

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Feb 15 2016

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The Power of Wind

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Lake Champ in FebFeeling cooped up after three days of subzero temps, I went to Kill Kare State Park for a short walk. My dog Matika was just as happy as I was to get out of the house.

I walked the icy road from the park entrance to the parking lot, stepping aside for passing cars as several ice fishermen left the area. Others hunkered down in their shanties, while one hearty soul sat exposed to the elements with his back to the wind. My eyes teared up as a gust of frigid air hit my face.

Walking out to the point, I leaned into a powerful wind blowing from the southwest. With temps rising rapidly, I knew this was a warm front moving in but it sure didn’t feel that way. I buried gloved hands in the pockets of my jacket and pressed forward.

The lake was iced over as far as I could see. Ominous clouds gathered over the Adirondacks. I didn’t stay on the point long. Matika had already turned back and was waiting for me to follow.

Returning to the car, I marveled at that one exposed fisherman on the ice thinking more about fish than comfort. As for me, well, I’d had enough, struggling across the windswept park as if making my way up Everest. If the weather forecasters are right, temps will be well above freezing in another day or two. I’ll go back out then.

 

 

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