Looking Closely

Down the road the other day, walking, I looked down. Bright green, moving. I knelt. I found a caterpillar. It waved its way across the gravel. It seemed a tough environment for a caterpillar–soft and squishy on hard and rough. I found a dried leaf. I held it in front of the caterpillar. It climbed aboard. I carried it to the other side of the road.

I kept looking down. There was a mottled leaf, still green but dried in spots. Why was it like that? It looked burned. I admired it. I left it where it had fallen.

And now I was looking closely at small things. I noticed the seeds of the grass backlit by sun. I noticed all the tiny yellow flowers of the Goldenrod, green and brown that look like one big cluster of gold. I noticed the mud. In the sun the mud was almost dry, hardened into deer tracks. In the shade, tire tracks firmed up, damp. In the deep shade, goo and puddles.

And more flowers–Chickory and Asters. Several kinds of asters–pink and light purple and the purple of almost night. One Aster matched the color of the sky as the sun sank low. Monarch Butterflies found the flowers. They like the Asters the best. Moths flitted. I watched a mosquito on my shoulder.

Then I looked up enough to walk back home. A breeze picked up. Some sparrows peeped in the brush. A car passed and raised a cloud of dust. Then it was quiet again. Buttercups bobbed. A goose honked its way south. And then I was back, and as I wrapped myself n the world of my house, those small things of the world sank back into the afternoon.

Shorebird morning

Shorebirds are passing through. Most people have no idea. Maybe they see “sandpipers” if they visit the beach, but in Vermont? No beach, no sandpipers, right? Well, mostly. But when those little wading birds head south, they stop along the way.

I went to Delta Park, in Colchester, to find some shorebirds the other morning. They were there. I saw seven different species. Lake Champlain is low enough that I could walk around the point. At times the wetland bleeds into the lake, so it makes for a wet walk. But I got around the corner and found them.

Some were on a sandbar, not far from shore–close enough to see well with the right optics. There were Semipalmated Plovers, the cutest birds you’ve ever seen–plump little buggers with a mask and orange bill. There was a Dunlin, with a long curved bill, probing deep in the mud for breakfast. And there were long-legged Yellowlegs, living up to their names with long bright yellow legs.

I also saw several Great Egrets, large elegant white wading birds, resting on a log just off the beach. And an osprey soaring overhead. And in the willows, a Yellow Warbler in its drab fall plumage. And on top of all that wildlife, the place itself is just stunning. Green reeds and grasses spilling out toward the lake, and the Adirondacks strutting their stuff over in New York. When I go there I can’t help but fumble a little, I am just so in awe.

So I saw my shorebirds. I stopped for a cup of coffee to sip on my way home. I watched the morning grow into full-on day. I vowed to go again the next morning, even though it would mean another drive to get out there. But when I woke in the dark that night, it was raining.

We have not had anything but showers in months, so I didn’t think much of it. But as the light strengthened, the rain did too. And it kept coming down. I was disappointed. But we got rain. We needed rain. I stayed home most of day–baked bread, made granola, read a book, payed some bills. Shorebirds will be passing through for a little while. I will get out to Delta Park again. And I will see those shorebirds that all the bikers and joggers on the nearby bike path don’t even know are there.

A few August mornings

I have been up early these past couple of weeks. The sun rises later than it did at the beginning of the summer. Fog settles over the river most mornings. Sometimes a Great Blue Heron quietly flies past. Or two Great Blue Herons. Here is a sample of what it looked like when I went out.

August 18, 2019
August 19, 2019
August 21, 2019
August 24, 2019
August 25, 2019

Washboard Situation

We live on a dirt road. It might also be called a gravel road, or an unpaved road. I am not a fan of referring to it as “unpaved” since that implies that the norm is paved, when there are more miles of gravel roads in the world than paved roads. In Vermont, there are 1,500 more miles of dirt roads than paved roads.

A gravel road has its charms. Generally fewer people drive on them. Paved roads are faster and usually more direct, so they take the bulk of traffic. People tend to drive more slowly on dirt roads. And they look better, if you ask me, since they feel like they are cut from the earth, even they are often solidly engineered. Nature could take them back, if we let it, or so it seems. A paved road just seems laid on top of the landscape–foreign and immovable.

There are, of course, disadvantages. Our road is open, so it bakes in the sun. Many dirt roads turn to mud in the spring, but ours dries out pretty quickly. Mud season is short on our road. But that sun drying things out? That means dust. When summer comes and we haven’t had rain for several days, passing cars raise clouds of dust. And the wind blows it our way. Our porch can get covered in dust. When we eat outside at the porch table, we need to wipe that thing down or expect grit in our teeth.

We are in the season of dust right now, but it isn’t too bad lately. That is because of another problem–washboarding. We have the worst washboarding we have seen on our road since we have lived in this house. The phenomenon gets its name because it looks like an old fashioned washboard. Wheels bouncing on the road cause ripples to form in the dirt surface, and these get enlarged with more traffic. This means a really bumpy drive. It shakes the dash and rattles the windows. Not good for your car.

However, this washboard situation means that everyone driving past drives a little more slowly. With slower driving comes less dust. So when we leave the house and drive down the road, I am none too happy about it, but when other people drive down our road I am pleased that they kick up less dust.

The town grades our road a few times each year, and they have not done it in a while now, so we are due. I am surprised they have not graded it yet, given just how bad the road has gotten, but I know there are plenty of other projects in town. Grading our road is a priority for me. It may not be for the town as a whole.

One possible delay is the installation this summer of fiber optic cable along our road. It has been buried, like the power cables, rather than strung, so they have been digging. That digging ended a month ago, but maybe they have more to do? It may not make sense to grade the road if more digging is going to happen. Really, I have no idea.

It will be great to have high speed internet, finally. But I sure would like a smoother drive and to prevent some car damage. In this case, I will take some dust. It is easier to wipe down the table than to replace auto parts. Costs less, too.

No Hitter

Earlier this week we went to see a Vermont Lake Monsters game. My son has gotten into watching and following baseball, so we drove into Burlington for our first Monsters game of the summer. It was warm but not hot, with just enough sun, and not too crowded given it was a week night. Perfect for a baseball game.

The Lake Monsters are a “Class A short season affiliate” of the Oakland A’s. The team is as minor league as it gets. I have watched games where they just do not do well, at least compared to a major league team–errors all over the place. But they are doing ok this year–they almost have a winning record.

The team used to be the Vermont Expos. They were a feeder team for the Montreal Expos. Then the Expos left Canada and went to Washington. The Monsters were a Nationals affiliate for a while, and now Vermont serves California. Lake Monsters is a better name than Expos anyway, if you ask me.

So yeah, a perfect night for a game. I got some Cracker Jack and an over-priced beer (side note: they have one great selection of over-priced beer, the majority of options local). The beer did me right but the Cracker Jack had fewer peanuts than ever. I figured the peanuts must have just settled to the bottom–but there might have been half a dozen of them total. Lame, but I enjoyed the popcorn part.

The Lake Monsters did not play terribly, but by inning seven my son pointed out that they were on the way to suffering a no-hitter against them. They did manage to get a runner on first, but that was due to a fielding error, not a hit. The Aberdeen IronBirds scored seven runs, with five home runs mixed in to make it interesting. My son said at the end, “You know it’s not good when the only numbers you have on the board are two errors.”

So we got to see a no-hitter. It was not for the home team, but it was new for all of us. And it was pretty fun to watch some baseball on a fine summer night. We hope to get to Centennial Field again before the season is up. I would like to see them win but I would settle for some runs on the board. And next time I’ll skip the Cracker Jack.

Storms passing by

This is the season of storms. Afternoon, the clouds that have been building during the hot day are ready to release some energy. They roll with the wind across the hills and let loose rain. They bring wind. Thunder and lightning accompany them.

The other day we watched a storm come in. The sky turned dark, then darker. My wife was out on a hike. The storm got closer. We could see rain falling on the hills in the distance. We felt a few drops. We stayed in the sun. We were on the edge of it. But it was coming. We knew that.

I texted my wife. I told her I hoped she was close. She checked the radar. She was close. We knew were going to get a whopper. We watched it come toward us. The wind picked up. Those few drops kept falling on us.

My wife came back. And the storm moved on. We stayed on the edge of it. We stayed in the sun. The rain passed over the hills. And then it got calm again. We were wrong about getting that whopper.

But we will get another chance. Many of them. The storms will come again. They will bring heavy rain. That is the theme now. We get few times of slow and steady rain. We get downpours, with pounding rain and erosion, then the sun comes out. The weather is more intense in general, and these summer storms show it.

We had no storms today. It stayed clear enough, although it was cooler than it has been. Crows across the field are mobbing something, calling and calling, raising a ruckus. Katydids buzz. The air is still. I wouldn’t mind a storm. Bring on the thunder. That dusty road of ours could use some dampening. Tomorrow, perhaps. I will be here.

To the Tractor Sign

From our house to the end of the road off our road is two miles. It makes a good four-mile run, or walk, or bike. If you go to the bend in the road, where the big puddle sits after a hard rain, and where the yellow-billed cuckoo called one morning, it is one mile, or two miles round trip. And it is a mile and a half to the tractor sign.

When our children were small we would ride our bikes down the road. At first to the steep hill, then just up the steep hill, but eventually all the way to the tractor sign. That extra half mile to the end of the road, past the sign, heads down a steep hill again, which means heading back up that hill to return. Given our children’s early biking abilities, the tractor sign was just about right.

Five kilometers is just over three miles, so going to the tractor sign and back is like completing a 5K. It makes for a good enough morning run when I have to rise early and fit that in before heading to work. Three miles still doesn’t sound all that far to me, but 5K? That’s solid.

The tractor sign is kind of a classic. Tractors don’t really look like that anymore. I mean, some people still drive old ones like that. With care, a tractor lasts a long time. And there are still plenty of old tractors around here. Witness the tractor parade each October in Charlotte. And that hat. I guess maybe some people wear those. They are (maybe) even making a comeback, but still, not really the style these days. So yeah, not current.

Tomorrow morning I plan to get up early enough to fit in that run before I shower and shave and generally get all prettified for the work day. It is pretty likely I will run to the tractor sign and back. I will give the dude on the sign a wave and turn back, mostly downhill, around that sharp bend, over the river and into the sunrise toward home. 5K before breakfast anyone?