Stuck at Home

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I love being home. I mean, we live in a pretty sweet place. Have you seen this state? If you are from around here, you know what I’m talking about (I hope). If you are not, look it up. Spring time in Vermont? Hard to beat.

Right now, however, we are stuck here. We had planned to head to Utah for a wedding. We went to the airport and planned to get on a plane. But at the desk the bad news was that our flight was delayed. We had just looked and it was on time, but in those intervening moments, things got pushed back.

Low cloud ceilings slow things down. At a busy airport like JFK, where we would catch our connecting flight, delays can cascade. Our 2:30 flight was pushed back to 4:30 while we spoke to agent at the desk. While we tried to decide what to do it got pushed back to 6:30. Then 8:00. Now it is scheduled to leave close to 9:00, still a half hour away. Good thing we decided to just wait until tomorrow.

We came home from the airport and ordered sandwiches in town. We have been relaxing and rescheduling at home while the rain comes down. It is pouring now, as the light fades. We don’t have to leave right away tomorrow but we will have a long layover in New York nonetheless–seven hours or so. There is only one flight on our airline per day from JFK to Salt Lake City. Whatever time we get there we have to take that flight.

We did have to deal with some logistics. Rental car is not available a day later but we figured that out (different rental car agency for not too much more money). We had to cancel our hotel less than 24 hours out (they let us do it without a fee) and we had to book the next night instead (room available!). We had to cancel what would have been our second night at a different place but they let us do so without a penalty as well. And we will get better seats on the new flight. So it all works out, as usual, even if we do have to miss a family hike. We won’t miss the wedding.

We are going from one beautiful place to another for a few days. These are all first world problems. Inconvenient for us? Yes. Disappointing? Sure. But we will be fine of course. For now we can enjoy the sound of the rain on the porch roof. Sounds pretty soothing if you ask me. A good night’s sleep and we’ll try again tomorrow.

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Early at Missisquoi NWR

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I like to grind my coffee right before I brew it, but yesterday I made an exception. I did my grinding the night before and set the timer on the coffee maker for 5:05 am. I set the wake-up alarm for 5:00, so by the time I brushed my teeth and got dressed the coffee was ready. With binoculars, camera, bird guide and a full coffee mug, I was out the door.

I headed north to the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge. One of my goals this year is to visit five national refuges. I stopped by one in Maine in April. This is number two. I was on the trail by 6:30. Just stepping from the car the birdsong was abundant. Trying to tease out all the various birds’ songs is one of the joys of birding. It is an audio puzzle.

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I was up there for close to three hours. I did not move fast, trying hard to see what birds I could in the rapidly leafing trees. I heard much more than I saw. Eight Northern Waterthrushes? I only got eyes on one. Song Sparrows? I saw a couple. Blackpol Warblers? One out of three sighted. It was lush–green and wet and warming as the morning progressed. It did not feel like my backyard. I was far enough from home that it was familiar, but not quite familiar.

I found many species of birds and got to see some mammals as well. A groundhog crossed the railroad tracks to the trail just as I did. A beaver swam the creek, slapping its tail at me more than once. Sorry, Beaver, just passing through. Squirrels and chipmunks scampered.

The bird of the day had to be the bittern I heard. I did not see it, but they are hard to see anyway. I heard it ga-GLOOMP-ing in the wetland though. Plus those waterthrushes were pretty sweet to find. I had hoped to find a black tern, as they are not common elsewhere in Vermont. I looked, but I ran out of time. I couldn’t spend all day birding, although that would have been fun.

The refuge is a big place. One of these days I will take a kayak up there, or maybe a stand-up paddleboard, and float my way around to find birds. That would be a great way to explore the place. That, however, will have to wait until another visit, perhaps on a day when I can grind my coffee the day I go.

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Good Morning for a 5K

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Yesterday morning my son and I headed over to the high school for a morning run with a bunch of other people. It was the annual Hearts for Hunger 5K to benefit the Vermont Foodbank. We ran it last year and it was a great event, so we signed up again this year.

It was a chilly morning so we ditched our sweatshirts at the last minute. It was about 52 degrees at start time so it was pretty ideal for a run. My son had asked me ahead of time: “Is it OK if I ditch you?” It was, and he did.

He ran ahead and I lingered in the scrum for a bit. Once I was free to follow my own pace he was far ahead. I could see him pretty much the whole time, and we high-fived as I approached the turn-around point and he was heading back. There was a water station there so I slowed to take a drink. That was my mistake.

I kept getting closer to him the whole way back, but at one point he turned around and saw me. I wanted to catch him. I had a little pride I guess, but he was having none of his old man catching him at that point. He had a little pride as well. We ran uphill and we both were getting pretty hot in the bright sun, but he kicked it in and finished before me.

I was kind of out of gas at that point. Too little sleep (my daughter had a late performance last night in Burlington) will do that. But close to the finish line I could hear someone coming up from behind me. I picked up my pace but he kept coming. So I sprinted across the finish line with him close behind. Then I really was out of gas.

I thanked the guy who tried to catch me for giving me a push. I wanted to finish behind my son to avoid any future ribbing from him. So, we both pushed ourselves and felt good about it and ate a cookie and drank some water. We waited around for the awards and raffle and he took home a box of fudge. It was peanut butter fudge (um, what?) but hey, free fudge.

This was our second 5K this spring. We will do more as they come up. The marathon in Burlington happens Memorial Day weekend. Back in the day that was an annual event for my wife and I. Maybe one of these days we can do it with our kids. That, however, will require I have a little bit more gas at the start.

Dude, so dang gorgeous

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For the past week or so I keep repeating various takes on the phrase “Good god it is beautiful around here.” I mean, it is just stunning where I live this time of year. You have your pink apple blossoms next to red barns, white trilliums carpeting forest floors, rust-colored maple buds. Leaves creep up the hillsides. Grass is suddenly knee high. Green and yellow are everywhere. My eyes keep popping.

Peepers sing as the sun sets. Snipes whistle their ghostly whistles in the darkness before the sun rises. For the how-many-I-can’t-count time I say aloud something like, “I can’t believe how different it was just two months ago.” Two months ago it was cold and frosty and quiet. Now? Lush. Cacophonous.

Fiddleheads have unfurled into ferns. Wild leeks have started to dim. Colt’s Foot’s yellow flowers are faded. Now the dandelions and maple leaves take their turn. Summer has packed it’s bags. It will be here any day now.

Birding or Running?

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Look for flycatchers and warblers? Or run the trail around the pond?

Now that it is May I am conflicted. The best time to go for a run for me is first thing in the morning. If I go early I have the least impact on my family, plus it just gets done. Putting it off means sometimes other things get in the way. If I go early, I go. The best time to go birding, however, is also first thing in the morning.

At first light the birds start singing their dawn chorus and, right now, the leaves are still not fully formed. So I can hear birds and see them. Migrants are passing through as well, so some birds can only be seen now since they don’t stick around to nest here. So what is a guy to do?

On the one hand I have been running a good amount, and I have not been injured. So I want to make sure I keep that streak going. But it is not easy to run in the morning when I hear all those songs. I hear something different and I just want to stop to find out what it is. And I do. But without binoculars (I am not carrying those on a run) it can be hard to see a little warbler way up in a birch tree. So I get stymied figuring out what it is. That means I am not really getting the most from my run and I am not really birding. I need to pick.

Rainy days in May are good for running, not because they make for the best runs but because it is harder to hear and see birds. In fact, I would have gone running this morning, but I had to take half the family to the airport. That means I did not bird or run. Some mornings are like that. But if it is raining when I wake? Grab the running shoes.

Mostly I need to get out to find birds now. This really is a small window. Soon the trees will be fully leafed out and those warblers will be way more elusive. And those birds don’t sing for long–in a month and a half they will start to quiet down. And those migrants? Need to find them while they are here.

So I need to get in some runs, for sure, but it is May, for goodness’ sake. This is the birder’s month in Vermont. It used to be the best month for running but since I have gotten into birding I am torn. It is a fortunate problem to have, is it not?