Morning Walks

Used to be my wife would get up early, as early as 5:00 sometimes, to walk the dogs. I slept in. But then I figured, since this was something really important to her, I should think about coming with her. I did think about it. Now, most days, I get up too. She’s still in charge, mind you, but I do help out, sort of, and it gives us some time together.

No matter what the weather is like I pretty much always think it is a beautiful day. Rain, snow, cold, clouds, fog, wind, whatever–it is all beautiful. I can’t help myself from thinking that. It seems that most people find a way to complain about the weather but I love how it always changes. Plus, fog looks and feels different on a cold winter day and on a hot summer day. So one thing about these morning walks–it is never the same as any other day.

Today was another fine morning. We were up just before sunrise and got to watch the sun peak over the ridge of the Green Mountains. Green hasn’t really started to emerge yet but the shifting browns of the trees and grasses and the reflection of the pink sky against the river is pretty hard to beat. We watched a beaver swim through that reflection and listened to the first Eastern Meadowlark and Eastern Phoebes of the season.

Having two sniffing, pulling, yanking, eager dogs along doesn’t make for the best observation of the natural world. It can be hard to be slow and quiet enough for that. But it does allow for some degree of appreciation for this beautiful place.

We are sticking close to home these days, with the COVID-19 guidelines in place, so getting out there to feel the morning air and having a chance to talk and watching the world light up with a new day? Well, that makes a difference to keeping some perspective and to staying positive. Best to keep that up.

A Different Kind of Traffic

People are not getting out during the week. I guess that is a good thing. Everyone is staying home as much as they can, trying to stay safe. But the weekend comes and exercise is on the agenda. And maybe a little social distance socializing. Only, the gym is closed. And the movie theaters. And restaurants. So outside is the place to go. But most trails are closed because they are muddy or covered in snow or otherwise inaccessible. So apparently everyone is coming to our neighborhood.

I mean, it isn’t really a neighborhood. Our road is a dirt road, long and flat for a mile, then rising and falling in a few gentle hills. Off of that is another road, class four in the middle. Class four means it is a public right-of-way but not maintained a whole lot–not plowed when the snow falls or graded when the mud arrives. So these couple of roads, with a couple others over the town line, make for several miles of fine walking or running or biking. And a lot of people know it.

People park at the end of the road and go from there. Most days someone does that at some point, but these days there is a line of cars as their occupants are off enjoying these roads. At the far end of one of these roads, coming at it from a long walk ourselves, my wife and I encountered half a dozen cars parked. At that end I have, a few times, seen two cars parked. You know, two people meet each other there, driving separately, and go for.a walk. But today there were six cars there. I know that may not seem like a lot. It’s not a Walmart parking lot. But it is three times the maximum number I have ever seen there before.

Walking the rest of the way home, we had to scooch over far to the right as people coming the other way did the same. We kept our distance. We wished them a good morning, waved, kept walking. And then we encountered more people. The thing is, we have done this long walk the past four Saturdays in a row. The first couple of times we encountered all kinds of automobile traffic on certain parts of it. The first time the road was dry and we got dusted out way too many times. Today on the same stretch all of one car passed us. Those cars have been replaced by pedestrians.

These times have brought a lot of change. And we see it right here on the roads around us. Fewer cars drive past but more people than ever pass, more slowly, outside of their cars. Given the hardships we have begun to face and the tragedy the world is facing, and is slowly creeping its way toward us, seeing people get outside to enjoy an early spring day is not the worst thing to happen. Maybe when all this is said and done more people will choose to take a spring walk together, rather than to meet for coffee at an inside table. I’ll take that small victory.

Chips and Pickles and Stuff

We have not had to go out much, since we stocked up well before the order came to stay at home. But still, things will run out eventually. We have plenty of staples–flour, rice, beans, potatoes. We have Popsicles in the freezer along with frozen fruits and vegetables. I have more time to cook these days, so those staples come in handy. We are waiting for the right time to bust into the Popsicles.

But we are stuck at home. Right now we are eating more chips than usual and our tastes are flip-flopping all over. One day we want plain chips and one day we want dilly chips. We are snacking more and trying not to snack too much on the chips, but one must find pleasure in simple things, no? Those chips do us a world of good when the stir craziness starts to tingle. And we ran out of popcorn the other day. We eat a lot of popcorn.

We also drink a lot of coffee. Typically I make myself a double shot of espresso to sip on in the morning. I get coffee at the office and sip on that the rest of the morning. But now I make all the coffee I drink, and there are two coffee drinkers in the house, all day. So we put that on the list for this morning’s run to the market.

Some things you need and some things you want. We are fortunate that we can run out and get both. We definitely used to make many more trips to the market. It is kind of nice to have so much to choose from when making dinner. Or when snacking. Now we are making fewer trips, for sure, and we are much more deliberate about it–not just about what we get but about how to be as efficient as possible. We want to get in and get out.

So you can see from this morning’s list that some things might be classified as needs and some things definitely fall into the want category. The pickles? Well, I’m still deciding on that one.

Holed Up

Here we are at home. Like everyone else. Holed up. We stocked up before most people–on food and basic household supplies. I am working from home. My kids are doing school online. We have a great house. We live in a beautiful place. We all get along. Still, this is a bit of a drag.

We are trying to be safe. Every day, the news gets worse–more cases of COVID-19, more deaths, more misinformation from the White House. Vermont is locked down as much as is feasible. Yesterday at 5:00 pm a stay-at-home directive began for the state. People can still go out, for necessities and necessary work, but in general we are all staying put.

Just now the governor announced that schools, which closed last week, will stay closed for the rest of the school year. My son is in his first year of high school. The principal called with a supportive message, really impressive, telling students it is OK to feel all kinds of emotions, offering some of his own emotion for seniors especially. For teenagers, this is devastating. Three months before school ends they know there will be no prom, no spring track or baseball or ultimate, no graduation, no AP tests or SAT, no wood shop. And no time with friends face to face. My daughter attends a different high school; they have not closed yet. I am afraid that is just a matter of time.

The dogs still wake up too early. We go out and walk them. The sun rises. Two days ago we got ten inches of snow. Most of that has melted now. The woodcocks, after the snow came and went, starting calling again in the field tonight. Robins are singing their lilting songs. Goldfinches are turning yellow. This afternoon I heard the first wood frog of the spring.

We can’t eat out or get a drink from Starbucks or even go to most stores. Even the hardware store is bringing things outside to customers. Life is not what it was. But the total number of cases in Vermont doubled today to over 120. New York City had more 911 calls then they did on September 11, 2001. This thing is deadly. We are inconvenienced, but we are here.

The sun is higher now. The light shines through the bare woods. The world is bigger this time of year–more light, more sound, more beauty every day. That beauty is a counter to the challenges we face now, and the tragedy that is sure to come. As this virus affects all of us more and more, the world spins into spring. We need to pay attention to both.

Pretty nice out, but that snow…

The day has turned out to be a fine one. The temperature is up to 52 degrees. The sun shines, with only a light wind. Things are thawing so it smells like spring. Red-Winged Blackbirds are singing. Geese by the hundreds fly overhead. And are those daffodils teasing the sky?

Yesterday it was winter. The morning saw a dusting of snow and the air never rose above freezing. A cold wind blew. That light snow made the roads and the hills and the piles of snow look fresh and new. Today, however the grime has begun to show.

When snow melts it leaves behind what it held. Maybe those snowflakes formed around specks of dust way up in the atmosphere. And maybe some dirt from the drive was added with each shovelful that got tossed onto the edge of the lawn. And the snowplow dug up some gravel too. All those bits get left behind when the snow starts to melt. To be frank, this time of year things get ugly.

Soon all the snow will fully melt, and the grit collected in the piles will settle into grass and onto the road and eventually we won’t see it at all. But right now it is contrasted with the white ice crystals and, man, it looks a mess. Snow is just so beautiful when it falls and when it gathers, like yesterday morning. But now? Ugh. Don’t make snow cones with that.

Spring is almost here. I mean, you could say it is here but winter still has a say in the matter. There is a back and forth with the season right now, and there will be for some weeks yet. I still would welcome snow, but I also won’t mind when those dirty piles disappear. Steam rises from sugarhouses today–a sign of the shoulder season. It needs to be freezing at night and warm during the day. That we have. I’ll take the syrup, so I guess I will take the season that goes with it.

No snow day. Snow day. Snow.

We knew weather was on the way. We changed some plans, moved some things around. We did things differently to account for possible interruption to our normal schedules. We were going to get snow, and freezing rain, and sleet, and wind. It would come at the optimum time for a snow day. Maybe, if the weather gods graced us with good fortune, we would have two snow days. In a row. We went to bed Wednesday night ready for an early morning call.

The call came at the usual time, but the online list had not included our regional schools. Maybe they hadn’t updated the list? The recorded call was to let us know that school would be held, but the hills would be closed. When the roads get slick, they close the hills to school buses. So anyone who lives on the several steep roads in town has to find another way to school. The call also said that inexperienced drivers should get a ride with someone more experienced, or take the bus. I was confused. School will be held, despite road conditions bad enough that school buses will not go up and down the hills, so take the bus if you can, unless you live where the roads are the worst, then we want you to drive.

Anyway, we all got to school and to work and we drove and rode the bus and it all worked out. There was only a little complaining around here. It snowed on and off all day. Several inches accumulated, along with sleet and freezing rain. And that night we got the call that school would be closed the next day. So we got our snow day after all.

It was a good call. One can often argue that we should have had a snow day, or that we should not have had a snow day, but this was not one of those days. We definitely were glad to be staying off the roads. I mean, we walked on some of those roads and the snow was deep. Plus, there was ice from the freezing rain and sleet beneath that deep snow. It was slick and sloppy.

And it snowed all day. It fell and fell and piled up. After dark, ready to head to bed, I reached my hand out the window to see if snow was still falling. After two days of precipitation it had finally stopped. The storm was awesome, in both the historic and contemporary meanings of that word. By Saturday, we were up to our knees in snow. The high school parking lot had literal mountains of snow once they cleared it and piled it up. Snow banks were tall, making it hard to see in places. It was a big old dump of snow.

And then the sun came out to make it all look pretty. Winter wonderland and all that. Saturday has turned out to be what they call a bluebird day. Blue skies and bright white snow. Bust out the sunglasses. We need to enjoy it. These days, it just doesn’t last. I am sure it will rain at some point and cause flooding, as is the pattern. But that is in the future. Today, let’s go make some snow angels.

Winooski River Portrait 2020

Yesterday I volunteered again for the Winter Bald Eagle Survey. My route is the Winooski River, from Waterbury to Lake Champlain. This is a pretty good distance, so it means driving along the river and stopping at several locations to look for eagles. I have never seen one along the river, only where the river meets the lake, but I have seen eagles above the river at other times, so I was hopeful.

I didn’t see any eagles yesterday, not even at the lake, but I did enjoy being out there. As I have at other times I have done this survey, I took one photo at each of the 14 locations at which I stopped. Below is my Winooski River portrait for January, 2020.

Ice in Duxbury
From the Winooski Bridge in Waterbury
Deforge Hydroelectric Dam in Bolton
Near Long Trail in Richmond
Looking down from the Long Trail Bridge
Winooski River under the Jonesville bridge
Warren and Ruth Beeken Rivershore Preserve, Richmond
Bridge in Richmond, Vermont
Fontaine canoe access, Williston
Overlook Park, Williston
Woodside Park, Colchester
Winooski River Walk
Ethan Allen Homestead trail, Burlington
Winooski River as it flows in Lake Champlain