Stymied by snow

Just before dark

I worked a long day Thursday–started early and ended late. In the middle, when I had some time, I checked the weather. I was planning to head across northern Vermont in the morning, so I wanted to be sure roads would be clear. The forecast was not promising. Snow was on the way, the heavy wet kind, and lots of it.

In the morning it was raining, but some snow flakes were mixed in. The forecast was worse than the night before. I was going to a school, so I checked the closings list. My school was open, but several others, some schools I would pass right by on my way, were closed. I had to make the call. I decided not to make the trek.

I did drive my daughter in to school. On the way, snow started to accumulate–not a lot, but enough to slow me down. After I dropped her off I headed back to work from home. And it snowed more. It snowed all day. It started really piling up by day’s end. Wet and heavy indeed.

My decision not to drive across northern Vermont was sound. The town where I was headed got two feet of snow by this morning. The section of interstate highway I would have traveled was closed for three hours. There were accidents all along Route 2. Even if I had made it, my two-hour drive would have been longer, and I would have had to return at some point. Here at home, over a thousand homes are still without power, although not ours.

Today is quiet. The snow is tapering off, but all is white. Birds are at the feeder in numbers we haven’t seen all winter. Blackbirds sing despite the snow. The town plow has cleared the road. I just polished off the coffee. Later, I will make a trip out to the dump, run a few other errands, and enjoy what is likely our last burst of winter.

This morning

Spring teaser complete

This morning I headed out to the lake to try to find some ducks before they all fly back north. A week ago Lake Champlain was frozen over–ice from Vermont to New York. Then it warmed up, and then it rained. There is still plenty of ice. Yesterday I tried to find ducks at the ferry landing. I couldn’t see any open water at all. Wind had blown ice into the cove, filling it right up. Today I tried again and found my ducks.

At Shelburne Farms there was some water. Bald Eagles rested by it, standing on the ice. A crow picked at something out there. Common Goldeneye and Bufflehead and Scaups swam and dove. Farther up the road, water stretched along the shore. Binoculars brought all those ducks closer. I guess there are fish and mussels to feed them down in that cold water. It won’t be long before they fly away to nest.

Closer to home, the river has dropped. The temperature sank into the 20s last night. All that sitting water in the fields turned to ice. A dusting of snow covers it still. On the shore, big frozen slabs. Once the water level fell they could no longer float, like boulders left behind by a glacier. They will likely sit there until spring turns them back to liquid.

Mud still seeps up on the trails. Soon we will have to stop walking on them. They are solid, for the most part, right now. They make for smooth and easy walking. Once the ice all melts, and the ground as well, the trails will be mush. In May, warblers like to sing on one particular stretch of trail. To find them I sometimes have to get wet. Or wait.

Winter is here today. This morning, my son was ruing the loss of spring. I tried to remind him that it is still winter, that those warm days were a bonus. Celebrate warm spring-like days when it is winter, don’t bemoan winter when spring’s time has not yet come. But the sun is higher. The days are longer. Phoebes will soon be singing. They will sing for the ducks as they fly overhead.

Between seasons

Just now it was snowing. Wind waves around the bare branches. Earlier it rained. Yesterday the temperature rose into the 50s and, with some healthy rain, the waters rose. The river topped its banks. Across the road, the fields ripple with wind-blown water.

There is a feel to driving on a soft muddy road. Steering turns mushy. The car slides one way, then the other. Then the road turns solid again. It isn’t like a snowy road, where the road feels solid the whole time, but slick. In mud the car sinks, then rises, floating. It can even be fun if you don’t bottom out.

Mud has begun, after yesterday’s warmth. The curve of our road collects water underground, so it predictably gets muddy. Robins poke at the soft spot. The car gets painted with muck. It isn’t the prettiest time of year.

But the sap is finally running. Steam wafts from the sugar house. We just ran out of maple syrup. I wanted to wait for a fresh batch, but I gave in and bought some last weekend. Last year’s run was a good one. I bought a dark and sweet gallon. The folks who run the sugar house up the road offer free maple cotton candy. We might have to stop there and get some.

I had planned to go for a run this morning. But it is cold–cloudy and windy and just above freezing. I was looking forward to a little warmth, maybe even shorts. I might wait. I might just brave it. The red-winged blackbirds are back. They seem to handle the weather just fine. I should take a lesson from them.

But they can fly. I will need to watch my footing when I go out. That mud can suck one in. I’ve seen worse, for sure, but still, I’d hate to wipe out in a mud patch. That would be unfortunate, even if, like the blackbirds, it is a sign of spring.

More cold and snow

We have snow on the ground, but it is sort of crap. Last weekend a whole lot fell. Of course, my whole family was away during the storm. In fact, we left early to avoid travel delays. Still, it was hard to miss a snow storm. I love snow storms.

After it snowed, it rained, so I didn’t feel totally bad to miss it all. Everything got crusty and hard and yuck. When we got back home our driveway was icy. I mean, I couldn’t see that it was icy. There was an inch of fresh snow on top. But turning in, the car slipped. Snow on top of ice is one slick trick. “I hope it isn’t this icy on the whole driveway” I said aloud. I went slowly but where it slopes down at the end, just before the garage, it was especially slick. I tried to stop. I even chanted “stopstopstopstopstopstopstop” before we slid into the garage door and pulled it right off the wall. I was telling the car to stop. But the garage door listened.

Snow has fallen, a few inches, over the past three days. Things look beautiful–white and shiny and all–despite the crustiness beneath. And now it is cold. Right now, end of the day in the dark, it is a degree below zero. And it will get colder before the sun rises. Tomorrow afternoon, snow is forecast to fall again. It should keep falling until Wednesday.

We might have a snow day on Wednesday. I love snow days. Thing is, I am supposed to drive across the state Wednesday morning. Bad timing, that. I might have to skip that appointment. So it goes during winter in Vermont. You always need a plan B. I can still get the garage door open and shut, so I will put the car inside tomorrow night. With more snow, and temperatures below zero a few days this week, we are in full-on winter. Bring it, Baby.

Winooski River Portrait 2019

I took part in the mid-winter Bald Eagle survey today. Yesterday was the target day, but I have been out of commission with a cold for a week. I tried to go into work on Wednesday, but I left early. I felt like garbage. I stayed out the next two days. Today, finally, I felt OK. Yesterday I was on the mend but I am glad I rested.

I saw zero Bald Eagles. There were not a lot of birds out in general. The day started at -6º Fahrenheit. It got as low as -9º. It was 11:00 before I saw the thermometer rise into positive territory. Our high was 13º. I guess the eagles were not interested in the cold. As I have the past two years, I took photos along the way. Here is my Winooski River portrait for this cold day.

Mist over the river just after sunrise in Duxbury
Looking north from the Winooski Street bridge in Waterbury
Ice on the Deforge hydroelectric dam
Green Mountains from Deforge hydroelectric dam
Open water under the Long Trail foot bridge
Looking north from the Jonesville bridge
River ice in shadow at Warren and Ruth Beeken Rivershore Preserve
Richmond Town Park
Snow on ice in Williston
Ice flowers in Colchester
Eddy at Winooski Falls
Pancake ice at the Winooski River mouth in Colchester

Busses Stuck on the Hill

“The thing is,” said my son afterwards, “No one even thought it was weird. It was just something that would happen in Vermont.”

He had a point. I dropped him off early for a nordic ski meet, then went to take a walk at the Green Mountain Audubon center. I had over an hour. I drove the couple miles out on the dirt road, passing a bus headed up, and started down the hill at the end. There was a bus there, pulled over at the bottom. Printed on the side was “White River Valley” so they had had a long drive already. That hill was a bit slick, but it didn’t seem too slick. Then again, I wasn’t driving a bus full of minors.

When I returned, the bus was still there. In fact, there now were three busses, from different school districts. I thought of offering to shuttle some skiers up, but I figured that was a non-starter. Parents have to sign a waiver to allow their kids to ride on the bus. Any good bus driver would not let them ride in some stranger’s vehicle, even if they had a current FBI background check. So I kept going.

Up at the ski center I learned that the race, no surprise to me, was delayed–busses stuck. I chatted with my son for a bit. Then someone passed looking for volunteers to shuttle people up. I guess they are being flexible with the transportation, I thought. So I headed back down the road again in my car.

At the bus, the first driver was, predictably, unwilling to let students go. I understood that. I asked if he knew the long way around. One of the busses was gone, so maybe they had already decided to take that route. A bunch of cars started to pile up, folks willing to transport skiers. Then the town truck arrived to sand the road. So the busses were no longer stuck, and we caravanned back to the ski center. I spent a lot of time on that road.

Eventually everyone got where they needed to be, and the race started, only 45 minutes late, and my son cranked it out despite the crappy conditions, and it was an event full of fun and hard work, and I saw a bunch of other parents I know, and it all worked out. There were plenty of people willing to help, and it felt to me like a conflict between neighborliness and liability.

Once upon a time neighborliness would have won the day. Today, safety and security take precedence. I don’t think one is better than the other, or that one way should be the right way. I just noticed it in this case. I would have done just what those bus drivers did. But still, it would have been nice to have a bunch of people solve a problem and make the solution happen. And that is something, I am sure, is not unique to Vermont, even if those busses stuck on an icy hill was a classic Vermont situation.

December Days

On Christmas Eve it started to snow. A light snow, but it was not long before it started to gather on the ground. It was not setting up to be a white Christmas so it was nice to get at least that. And it kept falling. We readied ourselves for the big elf in the red suit and, when we finally went to bed, the snow still came down.

Christmas morning we had snow. Maybe three inches on the ground. And it stuck the trees as well. The world was clean and white. My son said it was a Christmas miracle, perhaps half joking. I just thought we were lucky.

My wife and I walked out in it for a bit that morning. It was cold but sunny. The sky was blue. We were pretty content, our children riding the high of gifts and surprises. We did not get up until close to 6:00 AM, so we even had some decent sleep. Snow squeaked as we walked.

That night the cold rose up. All the moisture in the air settled and froze. Every twig and stone and blade of dry milkweed was covered in ice. You know those cheesy holiday decorations that are covered in fake frost, exaggerated versions of reality? It looked like that.

The low sun, before it climbed up to hide behind low clouds, splashed the world with brightness. All that ice glittered and sparkled. Winter wonderland and all that. Spectacular. Then it became another frosty morning.

Today, rain. And fog. Sleet last night. It seems we are getting all the winter weather. Christmas is over, which is always a bit of a letdown in our house. But I still feel the spirit. The new year is just around the corner. An arbitrary beginning and ending, for sure, but still, a time to reassess and to set some goals. I will get outside again to take some time to reflect on that.