Snow Geese at Dead Creek

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We used to go every year. We got married in mid-October so we would travel past Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area, on our way to go hiking in New York, every year. We looked forward to seeing the Snow Geese. There is a wildlife viewing station just off Route 17 and there would be hundreds of them. It was a spectacle.

There would be a blanket of white geese, thousands of them–honking, rising and falling in groups, waves of them landing or taking off. They would cluster right up to the fence at times, pecking away at the residue in the cut corn fields. It was hard to contain it in one’s imagination, let alone absorb the reality of it.

We don’t go hiking in New York every year now, but yesterday morning I went down to Dead Creek to see the geese, the rest of my family still in bed. I was alone there at first, arriving before the sun rose. A flock of Snow Geese was gathered close enough to see them, but they kept their distance from the viewing area. Then they started to rise and fly overhead. They did not take off all at once, but in large groups. They V-ed their way right over me, settling on the other side of the road in a cleared field. Eventually they all had migrated from the south side to the north side.

They flew as the sun broke the horizon, so they were lit from below. Their black wing tips contrasted with the white of their bodies. They honked, higher and a little squeakier than Canada Geese, their calling filling the morning. I looked for other geese, a White-Fronted Goose or a Ross’s Goose mixed in perhaps, but they all were Snow Geese.

By the time I was ready to head out, other people were arriving. I chatted a bit with them. They had missed the Peregrine Falcon perched right overhead, and the chatter of the Red-Winged Blackbirds. I drove up the road a ways to see if could find anything else, but it was a quiet morning. When I passed by again there was a big crowd, there to see the geese. For a while in the golden light of morning I had them all to myself. While there are not nearly as many as there were years ago, it was still a spectacle for a perfect October morning.

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Happy Not-Dead Day to Me

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It is a good day to be alive. I suppose, as the mystical saying goes, it is a good day to die, but I am feeling happy to be in the former camp for now. Five years ago, on this very day of the calendar, I made a fast trip to the hospital. That worked out well, thankfully, in the end.

Home alone that day, I tried to put on some socks. I missed my foot. Twice. After countless times putting on socks in my life, I suddenly just couldn’t do it. My brain said go and my body just didn’t hear it right. My mind was a bit scrambled. My right side was the problem. I got those socks on with my left hand damn it. But I wasn’t right, so to speak.

My right arm rose without me meaning it to. And when I tried to raise it I couldn’t do it. I limped down the stairs. I thought I knew what was up, but no, it couldn’t be. That was for old people. I was a healthy dude. But just to check, I looked in the mirror. My face was sagging on the right side. Crap, that was one symptom hard to deny. I was having a stroke. I tried to utter some profanity to express my freakedoutedness. Turns out I couldn’t speak either.

I had enough medical training at that point to know I was having a stroke and to know that I needed to get to a hospital. Fast. I was intentional in using the land line because I knew they could find me that way. I called 911.

The woman who answered asked me questions but, as much as wanted to answer, I simply couldn’t speak. I could make a few noises, grunts and such, but that was it. She was patient with me, telling me to just stay on the phone until help arrived. I sat, with my wallet, cell phone and those warm socks, waiting for help. I texted my wife with my good but non-dominant hand. It was all I could offer her.

A fire truck pulled up. Of course, they had no idea what to expect from someone who calls for help but can’t speak. An ambulance followed. When the EMT walked in I had my driver’s license ready. I knew he would ask my name and age and I at least could answer that. I couldn’t say a word.

That was a sweet ride to the hospital. It wasn’t all fun. They had to pull over to insert an IV needle. But we flew. I have never gotten into Burlington so fast.  And, despite my condition, or maybe because of my condition, it all seemed so fascinating. The ambulance scene, the emergency room, the questions everyone asked, the posse of medical students waiting to see the 40-something guy who was having a stroke.

My voice did start to return. I could sort of make some words. After my wife arrived, however, and a CT scan, it left me again. So they gave me the big, bad clot-buster drug. Serious stuff. That meant I had to spend the night with constant care. That stuff can be dangerous. No ability to clot means bleeding in the brain can be fatal. That wasn’t exactly a comfort, but the nurses were gems.

I wanted to make light of the situation. I wanted to have good humor about it. But I couldn’t joke. All I could do was half-smile and turn things over in my head. There was a lot going on inside that head of mine. Come the next morning I was starting to speak again. It was surreal simply not having control over what I could do. For four decades I had been used to my brain making commands and my tongue or arms or legs responding. I didn’t think about it. It just happened.

I spent a couple of days under the tender care of hospital staff. I got hungry–no eating when your tongue doesn’t work well. When I got to have chocolate pudding I was pretty psyched. I mean, I love chocolate pudding anyway, but this chocolate pudding was amazing.  Then I got to go home, my amazing spouse taking over for those staff members.

Bottom line: I didn’t die. I could have. I could have been in really bad shape. But I healed up quickly, physically at least. It took me a lot longer to heal mentally. But hey, I’m not dead. So Happy Not-Dead Day to me. Over the past five years I have thought a bit about my mortality and about what matters in life. If you’ve had a brush with the other side you know what I’m talking about. If you have not, well, soon enough. Enjoy the days while you can. I plan on it.

Apple Crisp for Breakfast

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We have one apple tree. The first year we lived in this house it was loaded with apples. Come October we had plenty for pies and jam and whatnot. Last year we had exactly zero apples. Spring frost got all the blossoms. This year we returned to the bounty of that first year.

These are Red Delicious apples. Those are your standard, stereotypical apples. You know the ones. They look like, well, like a storybook apple–red and shiny and tapered a bit at the base. They are terrible. Well, most of them are terrible. I would never buy Red Delicious apples from a supermarket; they are bland and mushy and dry. But these Red Delicious are, indeed, delicious.

These are sweet and juicy and crisp. I took advantage of their current ripeness to make an apple crisp today. I woke early, the only one awake, so I got cracking. I peeled and sliced and stirred and assembled a fine apple crisp. After 45 minutes and a house full of apple odor I pulled a perfect breakfast from the oven.

I know apple crisp is not your typical American breakfast, but if we can eat donuts and danishes they we can eat a fresh apple crisp. And it was, as expected, enjoyable to consume. I only had one bowl, at first, but I did have seconds later in the morning. Hard to resist, that.

I put the rest in the fridge, even though it is tempting to eat the whole dang thing. A guy needs to eat something for breakfast tomorrow, you hear what I’m saying?

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Stopping for Turkeys

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Your standard work day. Did some good work, offered my knowledge and labor, learned some things. Heading south toward home. Near Burlington, some traffic. Not bad, considering, but not quick. The traffic loosened as I moved south into more rural territory. Then the car in front of me braked, more quickly than for just a turn off the main road.

It was turkeys. A whole gaggle of them crossing the road. Well, not a gaggle. That’s geese. You could call it a flock. They are birds. Call it a rafter. Seriously. A group of turkeys is called a rafter. Once upon a time it was a raft, I guess. Then it got colloquialized.

Anyway, this rafter crossed the road. There were eight or nine of them. Or ten. I maybe didn’t see all of them. The majority of them ambled from west to east and blended into the trees. Three of them hung out on the other side, pecking at the grass. Cars started moving again.

Turkeys have made a comeback in recent decades. They once were booted entirely out of Vermont, but they came back. Now they are everywhere in the state. Still, it isn’t every day that one must pause in one’s vehicle to let them waddle across the byway. Lucky me today.

Another Try at a Pie

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Well it looked good. And it tasted good. But it was still too runny. The last time I made a pie it was delish, but just not holding together. The apples were soft. The crust was flaky. But inside, liquid oozed around the apples. Today I tried again with a new recipe (thanks, Mom) but it still didn’t stay together well.

Last time I used cornstarch as a thickener. That makes for a smoother pie, so I’ve heard. This recipe calls for flour as a thickener. It worked just as well as far as I can tell, but did it work well enough? I am just not sure.

My theory at this point is that my lack of patience is the problem. When I took this pie out of the oven I placed it on a cooling rack. I let it sit for about a half hour. I thought that was long enough. But my family was eager to dig in, as was I. So I sliced it open to find it was not all that cohesive. It seemed cool enough–warm but not hot. But I splashed some of the filling onto my hand. That burned.

I may need to approach pie baking differently, give it more time. I had planned to make this one a couple of hours before dinner. But then I took my daughter to the movies with friends. And I made some chili. The pie had plenty of time to bake and some time to cool. Apparently, my cooling time was not adequate.

We only ate half the pie tonight. The rest, at this point, is in the refrigerator. In the morning I will have to see how it is doing. I am sure my children will insist on pie for breakfast. Call it bad parenting if you want but I am going to let them have it. I mean, it’s for science. If it is cohesive enough at breakfast, I will have proved my theory.  Thanks, Kids!

Update 10/16: I had some of that pie tonight, about 24 hours after I first pulled it from the oven. It was, granted, pretty cooled in the fridge, but it was also pretty held together. Even after a minute in the microwave it seemed to have no runniness. Inconclusive. But it was still dang tasty!

Rain and Then Sun on a Walk

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Today my wife and I went out for a walk. It was late morning. It had been raining, really just showers on and off, but the rain had let up so we thought a walk would do nicely. We were in a dry weather window, so we ambled up the road. It was a tad muddy. A couple of new houses are being built nearby and the road has been getting chopped up a bit. I wore the wrong shoes. Crocs. Not the best for a damp gravel byway.

My poor choice of shoes didn’t matter in the end anyway. As we walked through the woods, looking out at the field, I asked “Do you think that is rain coming our way or just wind?” The answer: “I think it might be rain.” The sky in the west was dark. That dry weather window closed quickly.

It rained steadily and then harder, and harder. And it kept coming down. Deluge. We got soaked. We stood under some trees for a bit, although that hardly helped. We turned around for home. It kept raining. Before we got back to the house the sun broke through. Blue sky and wind. If we had waited a half hour longer to begin we would have missed that downpour. But our day would have been less interesting.

The foliage has been turning. It is not at its most brilliant yet, but it is still a sight. With cool air, and yellows and oranges sprouting among the trees, autumn is sliding on in, excusing herself to step in front of summer. As we walked the last stretch to the house, we got to see some of her beauty. Autumn wasn’t showing off, mind you, but she is dressing itself up lately. Even with my Crocs squishing and my shorts soggy, I couldn’t help but admire how good she was looking today.

Butterflies and Asters

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Asters are blooming like crazy right now: Purple Aster, New England Aster, Fleabane. Black-Eyed Susans are done. Touch-Me-Nots are gone. Dandelions? Haven’t seen them. Asters rule the fields these days.

I don’t know my butterflies well. I have thought many a time that I should learn them. I got some exposure to learning them on a trip this summer the butterfly garden at the Fairbanks Museum in Saint Johnsbury. They had a tent full of them with signage to show what was what. I don’t remember squat from that. Poor student, I guess.

The butterflies in the photo above are American Ladies. I had to look that up. I might be able to tell a Viceroy from a Monarch, but don’t trust me too much. I know there is more than one Swallowtail in Vermont. Can’t tell them apart though. But I tell you this: they are just cool-looking.

It is kind of nice to simply not know the names of things. There is real pleasure in being able to look at an insect, or a plant or a bird, and to know its name. To name something is the beginning of getting to know it, to knowing more than just its name. However, there can be just as much joy in simply wondering at a thing, in watching and seeing with ignorant eyes, in being present to observe.

A sunrise does not have a name, but it is beautiful. We can watch the sky change and the clouds trudge along in their pinkness and just feel awe. We do not have to create a name for snow on trees to find it wondrous. So it is with butterflies. I am curious about what they all are, what makes them different, where they go in winter, what flowers they prefer–all of that starts with naming them. But I do not need to name them to find them wondrous. They dance, unnamed, among the asters I might be able to name, and I feel like kid. “That is so cool!” I say aloud. And that is enough.