Loving Late Summer

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Could the weather be more fine than it is here in Vermont these past few days? I left the house early this morning at under 50 degrees. The temperature rose to about 70 by afternoon. Cool, sunny, a light breeze. Lovely, that’s what it is.

I didn’t do any house staining yesterday. It was just too dang nice. It was a perfect day to stain the house but I went birding and to the dump. I cut all the Purple Loosestrife growing in the ditch and at the edge of the field. I read a book.

Today I planned to stain, despite the temptation to laze. I got suited up, pulled out the ladder, even cut a couple of low branches growing too close to the house. Then I grabbed the paint can and the easy hefting made me remember that I am almost out of stain. So much for that. I could have gotten more stain today, but I plan to go right by the paint store tomorrow, so it can wait a day.

Shore birds are migrating. I saw sandpipers at the lake this morning, pecking along the shore. I passed a flock of geese in a field. I guess they are on the move as well. The orchard where we like to pick apples is picking peaches now. We may need to grab a few of those. Peach jam? Peach ice cream? Can’t go wrong there.

School starts this week. I am back to work full time. Summer, as far as the easy schedule, is coming to a close for all of us. But we have some solid days of summer yet. We will get in some swimming, and some paddle boarding. And some outdoor tasks. I scheduled a chimney sweep appointment. The firewood is stacked. Getting ready for winter, I guess.

My son is not ready for school. I mean, he is ready, in a physical sense, but that kid hates it when summer ends. I can’t blame him there. The Monarch Caterpillars are chewing on milkweed now but soon they will flutter their way south as butterflies. Summer isn’t really over, but it is time to start heading forward to new things. Off we go.

 

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Solar Eclipse From Vermont

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The recent solar eclipse was a big deal all over the place. In the U.S. it was the big news, aside from the shenanigans in Washington. Here in Vermont we did not get to see totality. No moment of evening-in-the-middle-of-the-day for us. But we got a bit of a show nonetheless.

Early afternoon my lovely spouse set up a viewing station: four outdoor chairs facing south to see the sun, but on the edge of the shade. Just the right spot. Some cold drinks and snacks rounded out the event. All we needed were our special glasses.

We could have purchased some solar eclipse glasses, or goggles as we kept calling them, in plenty of time. By the time we got around to it, however, they were out of stock locally at the places we knew had carried them, so I went to the hardware store to see if they might have some. The woman working there did not answer directly but instead said “You can’t see the eclipse here.” I was happy to inform her that we, indeed, could see it, even though we would not get the total eclipse. She was happy to be, well, happy. She was really happy in fact. She said more than once to her colleague that she needed to go home, she was so excited. I don’t believe that was an option for her at that time.

My wife did order some glasses online, just in time. They were more expensive than the ones we missed by a day at the local toy store. Plus she had to order a pack of five. That, however, worked out well. There were four of us and, two days before the eclipse, I dropped one pair off at the hardware store for the clerk there. She hadn’t managed to find any yet. She was, again, pretty happy.

Out in the sunlight, on a perfect day to watch a solar eclipse, we donned our dark spectacles. Let me tell you, those things are dark. I was expecting them to be somewhat like sunglasses, only a little darker, but there was to be no walking around in those puppies. Eyes shaded, we looked up and exclaimed “Holy crap/Oh my god/No way/Whoa that is so cool!”  Variations of this exclamation were proclaimed several times by each of us.

And is was so cool. The disc of the sun getting partially covered by a round shadow does not sound like a lot of excitement. But seeing the sun, round and bright and just there day after day, disappear, even a little, was so different, so out of the everyday, so slowly dramatic, that we looked at it over and over and kept offering our amazement aloud to each other.

I was texting in real time with a friend in South Africa. He could not see the eclipse–not in the path and also night. I discovered the shadows on a chair in the photo above. Each spot of light through the leaves of the tree made its own little crescent shadow. It was an imperfect repeating pinhole viewer. I sent him that photo and it gave him a sense of the wonder of it. I tried hard to get photos of the eclipse itself, using instructions to do it safely and effectively, but failed in a big way. Memory will have to do.

After a couple of hours the moon and sun fell out of alignment. We picked up our empty beverage vessels, moved the chairs back to the porch, and got on with the rest of our summer day. It was a day to remember though. As shadows grew long we all headed out to town together for one thing or another and my wife looked over at the spot from which we had watched. “Remember that time we sat there and watched the solar eclipse?” she asked.

We sure did.

Nice Bike Path

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One of my favorite things to do in the summer is to have breakfast at Penny Cluse Cafe and then to ride the bike path north from Burlington. My son and I took advantage of our summer days to do this earlier this week. He slept in later than would be ideal for this particular adventure, but we did it anyway.

See, the place gets busy. We had to go during the week because the weekend? Forget it. The wait can be a couple of hours on a Saturday. Even on a weekday we had a wait close to an hour. We could have gone elsewhere to eat but we were both game for Penny Cluse–even though I was pretty hungry–so we waited. We walked up Church Street and played Pokemon Go to pass the time. My son just started playing so there were lots of fictitious creatures to add to his Pokedex. It was close to 10:30 by the time we took a seat.

By 11:00 breakfast was under our belts, so to speak. If you go there, get home fries. They are top notch, really the most important item of the most important meal. Anything there is tasty as can be so you can’t really go wrong. I tend to get beans with eggs, just because I never have that at home. My son got pancakes and, while he enjoyed them, he ate only one. Filling.

After sating ourselves we rolled down the hill to the waterfront. We rode bikes along the lake. The bike path was improved since I was last there. It is repaved and some of the overgrown asphalt patches are now tidy, with calisthenic devices and decks and railings over which one can enjoy the view. There are some newly cut paths to the water for swimming. It was nice. A nice bike path.

It made me think about livability. A bike path and open spaces and water make a town or a city a place people want to live. Sure, economic growth matters, but if you only think about creating jobs, then people will want, at best, to live in that next town over that is a little nicer. A town with nature and recreation and jobs is ideal. Earning a living is important. Living is important too.

A breeze blew across the water to cool us off. Bikers and walkers and lollygaggers shared the route with us. We rode a ways out and then turned back. The day was getting on. By the time we loaded our bikes back in the van and drove home and unloaded them, it was lunch time. We skipped it–not hungry. Summer is getting on. I’m thinking we won’t have a second chance at breakfast in town before school starts. So I am glad we made it happen.

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Some Time in the Trees

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For a bunch of years I worked on challenge courses. I was an instructor, I managed a program and I helped to build and design courses. It was great stuff. One spring day a colleague and I were hanging from cables, adjusting an element high off the ground and she shouted over to me “Hey, we’re at work right now!” Not a bad office.

I still miss that work. I gave it up to have more time in the summer. My wife was a teacher so had summers free. I had winters free. That was tough, so I found other interesting work. Today, however, I got a taste of that outdoor world. I headed to Stowe Mountain Resort and tried out their TreeTop Adventure challenge.

I was there with my children and a friend of my daughter’s. We had experienced courses like this before so it was not totally new to them. After checking in at the lodge, and taking the short gondola ride across the road, we found the place to get an orientation. With harnesses strapped on and our primer completed, we headed to the woods.

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The course includes four smaller courses with increasing difficulty levels: yellow (small people only), green, blue and black. After each course climbers have the option to head to the ground and to be done. Smart. We did green through black. The elements were indeed increasingly challenging. It was a lot of fun.

While the kids were focused on the physical aspects of what they had to do, I paid some attention to the course itself. I was curious about how the platforms were constructed, the specifics of each element, the safety systems. I asked myself more than once “Why didn’t I think of that?” New ideas have clearly come about since my days out there.

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The other thing I enjoyed was simply being up in the trees. It was a perfect day, the sun dappling the forest floor, a light breeze. We moved about at the level of the leaves. I felt at ease up there. Years ago I spent hours on platforms like that, helping others through their own physical and mental challenges. Even today, I felt like I could stay up there all day.

After a couple of hours we all zipped down the last cable to end our adventure. We walked back to drop off our harnesses (harni?), feeling a little more tired than when we started, feeling good about challenging ourselves and succeeding. I was a tad envious of those folks in the red STAFF shirts on the ground, but only a tad. I had a good run with that work. Today I was happy to walk back to the car with three happy teens, lunch around the corner, plus a stop at the Ben and Jerry’s factory. Challenge courses have changed, and apparently I have too.

Rain and Shadows and Light

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In the night it starting raining. Hard. The wind picked up. Rain blasted through the screen. We rose, shut some windows. After a while it tapered off. Waking in the dark, I heard the rain fall again against the porch roof. Then I slept.

Morning, rain fell on and off. I could not get out to stain the house siding. Too wet for that. I could not finish mowing the field. I brewed coffee, sat on the porch and read Ivan Doig. My reading was interrupted by heavy showers. Wind misted rain through the screen. More than once I said aloud “Dang. It’s coming down.”

I got lost in Doig’s story, then looked out again at the gray. I had breakfast–blueberries and yogurt and granola. Later I took care of paying bills. I hung some closet doors. When it cleared, I thought temporarily, I popped over to a spot in town that often gets flooded to see if any early shorebirds had come through. They hadn’t. The rain did not come back.

Late in the day, sunlight highlighted the hills. Clouds hung in shadow and the far-off green trees glowed. Wind tickled the Black-Eyed Susans. Trees and grass and flowers drank the fresh water. It is quieter these days, with fewer birds singing. Soon, at night, the Perseid meteor shower will light up the night. I love rain, but hope for clear skies to see the stars surprised by slashes of light.

A few red leaves have appeared, as if competing to be the first to arrive at autumn. They are anomalies, for now. Sandpipers and plovers are not far off. Maples will blush soon. But not today. August has treasures to be found. I need to seek them out.

Mowing. Finally. 

One of my favorite sounds of spring and summer is the song of the Meadowlark. That sweet whistling tune makes me smile every time I hear it. This year they nested in our field. Starting a few years ago they were around, nesting in surrounding fields and sharing their songs. Now they nest right here in our meadow. By mid-July, chicks have fledged. We had a half dozen young birds zipping around, buzzing out their calls rather than their songs, done with nests for now.

Other birds were out of their nests as well–Red-Winged Blackbirds, Savannah Sparrows, Bobolinks, Snipes. Birds fledged and Wild Parsnip not yet gone to seed? That means time to cut the field.

I had powered up our tow-behind brush hog in June. I wanted to make sure it started, that the blades spun, that it worked. So when mid-July arrived and the weather cooperated I hooked up the mowing system and got started. Unfortunately, after one pass of one edge of the field, smoke started pouring out of the brush hog. Dang! Busted belt. No more mowing.

There is a repair shop right up the road, so I just kept on going. It was Friday, of course, but they assured me getting parts is pretty quick these days. So I’m thinking they order a belt on Monday, put it on and maybe Wednesday I’m in business, best case scenario. But since I didn’t hear from them I called after a week. They had an estimate for me. Seriously? I’m hoping the thing is ready to go and they haven’t even ordered the belt?

So, giving them the go-ahead, I patiently waited some more. After another week I called again. It was still not done–complications, other parts needed, rust involved. After another couple of calls and another week, it was finally good to go. I picked it up Saturday morning, just before the place closed. It ran like a charm. So I headed out to field, three weeks after I started, Wild Parsnip now starting to go to seed, and started cutting.

I wasn’t sure just how much I could get done that day, but after about eight hours, I had most of it cut. It was a long afternoon/evening. I had planned to stop by 9:00 pm and stopped about ten minutes before that hour. I probably spread a few Wild Parsnip seeds but not too many, I hope. I left a couple of patches uncut but, since we planned to head out for a week the next day, it would have to do.

The birds were definitely cleared out by the time I started cutting. I missed my window between ground-nesters fledging and seeds falling by a bit but hopefully not by too much. If I can get out there and cut once more this fall, the Parsnip should be checked for this season. That stuff is aggressive and I need to keep at it. What I want is for grasses and native wildflowers to grow. I want better habitat for the birds and more food for the pollinators. It has been a long project and may take a good deal more time yet.

In the meantime I can look out over the cut meadow with relief. I don’t see those tall stalks with yellow flowers turning brown with seeds. I don’t hear much birdsong now, but come spring I look forward to the Meadowlarks, flying low across the greening field,  whistling their tunes once again.