Snow Day Holiday

Today is MLK Day. Martin Luther King Jr. and his contemporaries made a difference. They changed the world for the better. Safe and warm at home it is easy to forget that. We have a holiday today so that we remember that. I will do my best to remember that, not just today.

I had the privilege of meeting John Lewis a few years ago. That guy made me feel welcome and included and heard and seen. And he also made me feel like, no matter what, I could be doing more. That may simply be what happens when you meet someone who has put their life on the line for the greater good. He also reminded me that making small change is just as important and making big change. So at least I can focus on that.

The sun has set now. It is dark and the string lights on the porch railing and posts glow with their coating of snow. It snowed all day. The forecast called for snow tapering off by early afternoon, with total accumulation of up to three inches. They upped that estimated total amount to six inches by early afternoon. We got about a foot of snow by the time is stopped as the light faded.

This has been a day to celebrate. Any snowy day is a day to celebrate. I cannot fail to see how beautiful the world is when it snows. Even the grayest, dirtiest landscape becomes beautiful when it snows. And today we got a pile of the stuff. You might call it glorious.

So today we had reason to celebrate for multiple reasons. And celebration is what we need these days. I skied across the fields with snow tickling my face. I baked a batch of granola. I took care of a few niggling tasks. And I thought about how to change the world. I can start right now by making dinner for my family. It isn’t a lot but in our world it makes a difference. That’s something.

Going for the Crusty

A couple of times now I have attempted to make crusty rolls. I am hoping to get them nailed down this month. Both attempts had their successes and but neither was just right. The thing about bread is that there are a bunch of factors that determine its character–the type of flour, rising time, oven temperature, baking time, humidity, other ingredients. Change one and the whole thing changes.

I know that to get a good crust you need to keep ingredients simple–flour, water, yeast, salt, maybe a little sweetener to get the yeast doing its thing. You need to let it rise enough so its makes big air pockets. You need to bake it hot enough, and adding water makes a difference. I tried all those things and I will need to keep experimenting.

The first batch? I added some butter. I should not have done that I guess. And the temperature was pretty high. I added a good dose of steam as I added them to the oven to bake so that helped, and I brushed them with an egg white/water wash. Those were crusty. They had just the right combination of crunch on the outside and softness on the inside. They were, however, a bit dark on the top. I mean, they were not quite burned, but I would not call them golden brown.

The second batch looked far better, but I had not let them rise as much. The water I added to the oven may not have been as hot as well. So they looked amazing–brown and puffy. They had some crust crunch, but not a whole lot. The flavor, however, was spot on. So they were downright delicious but not quite what I was aiming for.

I was going to try again today but the time passed and suddenly it felt too late to give this project the attention I needed to give it. So maybe tomorrow I will give it another go. The dough will have no butter, the temperature will be hopefully high enough but not too high, I will give them enough time to rise and I will add boiling water to the oven right before I pop them in. Maybe I will get it right. If not, I still have half the month to try again.

Winooski River Portrait 2022

Yesterday I participated in the annual Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey. My route was the Winooski River, from Waterbury to Lake Champlain. I have surveyed this route several years now. While I did not see even one eagle, I did get to see the river in winter.

Last year the day was warm and there was much less ice. Yesterday I started with single-digit temperatures. By the time I was finished in the early afternoon the temperature was considering hitting 20, but had not yet decided.

Here is my portrait of the Winooski River for January 2022.

Close to shore, Duxbury
Under the Waterbury Winooski Street Bridge
Looking west from DeForge Hydroelectric Dam, Duxbury
Near Long Trail, Richmond
Long Trail footbridge, Richmond
From Jonesville Bridge
At Warren and Ruth Beeken Rivershore Preserve
Volunteers Green, Richmond
From Bridge near Fontaine Canoe Access, Williston
Overlook Park, Williston
Woodside Park, Essex
Winooski
Bike path bridge where Winooski River ends at Lake Champlain

What you can’t see

Here is a photo looking west just after sunset a few days ago. Here are a few things you cannot see:

It had just snowed. There were a few inches on the ground–not fluffy or soft but malleable enough to walk through. No crust, no ice. It had fallen off the trees but the fields were covered.

It was cold. A breeze blew. The line of short trees, oaks and ashes and buckthorn, blocked the wind coming from the south. On the south side of that hedge, pull your collar up and your hat down.

Jupiter hung in the sky. When I took this photo I intended to capture it between the lower layers of clouds. The bright dot contrasted with the dark clouds. I called it stunning.

I was smacking a lollipop, a strawberry Dum-Dum. That thing was tasty. That thing did me right. Flavors are powerful and we do not always have them to help remember a scene. I had one for this scene.

I was walking the dogs. Usually my wife does this. I go with her at times, and of course if she is not around the task falls to me. I took them out solo on this day. But just after I captured this image, she came around the row of spruces and joined us. Even after many years of marriage it makes me smile to see her. Every time.

I was wearing boots. I love the basic boots I can slip on and wander outside. The condition of the fields is so varied that I often am reminded how great they are. Whether there is snow or standing water or mud or rain or burrs or ticks, they protect and serve.

I headed back to the house after this. It got dark. We settled in for the night. The solstice was about to arrive. Now it has. We are headed to longer days. These are the days of hope in the year. I find it harder to cling to that hope these days. An afternoon like this, however, certainly helps.

Rediscovering Lollipops

Over a month ago I got a cold. It was the worst cold I have ever had. I was down and out for two full days, sitting on the couch and watching crap on the screen. And I was feeling like yuck for a couple weeks. Stuffy, weak, runny nose, cough. That cough, that was what did me in. It lasted and lasted. Even after all my other symptoms were gone the cough persisted.

It kept me awake at night, which didn’t help with getting ridding of the cold. I mean, sleep matters, right? My nephew suggested NyQuil. I have resisted this medicine, not because I have anything against it, but because it works so well. Aside from it tasting nasty, that stuff knocks you out, but in this case this was just what I needed. I took it. It knocked me out.

During the day, however, I did not want to be knocked out. My son got me a bag of cough drops. What a good kid, eh? They did work well but they were not exactly full of joyful flavor. They weren’t terrible, but one or two a day was my limit. One day my wife, who is typically the one to walk the dogs, was away. Before I headed out into the cold with the beasts, I found a bag of leftover Halloween candy. I grabbed a mini Charms lollipop and walked out.

I have not really ever been a fan of lollipops, or any hard candy for that matter. You can’t hate hard candy. It is pretty much sugar after all. But this one, orange, was really good. Maybe it was the cold air. Maybe it was just how fun it was to swirl the thing around and to play with that paper stick. Maybe it was that it made my cough disappear during that walk. Every day going outside I would have a lollipop and even toss a second one in my pocket, just in case. Any flavor was good. I was loving them. And the habit has stuck, so to speak.

Luckily these particular treats were not the first ones that everyone else took from that Halloween stash. They were in a mixed bag of candy and they lasted a little while. But eventually I went through them all. Given my aversion to them in the past, I surprised even myself. For a couple of days I had to resort to these weird big flat lollipops, but they did not do at all.

Unfortunately, those Charms lollipops only came in a bag mixed with other candy, but in my perusal of the candy aisle I found a big bag of Dum-Dums. Those would do. And so I have been reducing my stock of these fun little candies every day. There are way more flavors of Dum-Dums than Charms and every bag contains several Mystery?? pops. Lollipops have been fun, no doubt.

My cough is still lingering, weeks later, but it is mostly gone. Sucking on lollipops may be a new thing for me for a while. I like the feeling of having one there to spin about. Maybe this is why babies like pacifiers so much. Am I reverting to infancy? Not sure that is the case, at least not yet. But until my cough is all gone I have an excuse to keep eating lollipops. And I’m doing it.

Time to Pitch the Pumpkins

We cut a Christmas Tree yesterday. We have done this for many years at the same place so I guess it is a family tradition at this point. The day after Thanksgiving we grab a saw and some gloves and something to tie the tree to the car and head to Menard’s Tree Farm. Some years it has been warm enough for shorts. Other years we track through snow. Yesterday was our first tree cutting in the rain.

That rain turned to snow late in the day. After we got home we propped the tree in the corner and, once it was dry enough, trimmed it with pewter snowflakes and glass snowmen and paper-framed photos of our kids made in elementary school. By the time we had that done, and other holiday decorating was underway, darkness was falling along with snow.

This year especially, like last year, we have been eager to spruce the place up, to put up lights and make the house festive. These are unusual times, filled with more than literal darkness. Putting up a Christmas tree, however, conflicts with the pumpkins. Those brought their own type of light but it is time for them to go.

On the far side of the field there is a compost pile, filled with gardening scraps–sunflower stalks and mint clippings and old squashes. We moved to this house just over a year ago and, before we had set up a household composting system nearby, I would trudge across the meadow to dump our apple peels and coffee grounds and egg shells. There was a lot piled on that pile.

This summer vines started to grow out of this pile. By fall we had pumpkins ripening. The last owners of the house had tossed their leftover gourds and the seeds sprouted. There were giant jack-o-lantern pumpkins and butternut squash. The butternut squash never really panned out, but we picked maybe twenty pumpkins and decorated the front porch and the back deck. Bonus agricultural products.

As we have been putting the house to bed–trimming the flower beds and the apple trees, turning in the vegetable garden–we have hauled organic material to the pile across the field. We have included some of those pumpkins in those visits. The small ones or the weak ones couldn’t handle a freeze and started to wilt. Right now we have half a dozen still at the house. This morning they are coated in ice and snow. Now that the Christmas season is fully here, it is time to pitch the pumpkins.

They do look pretty cool, so to speak, covered in white, but with even a minimal thaw, they will turn to mush. There are still a few flower vines and lily remnants to gather and haul away, so we will fill the cart and trudge through the inch and a half of snow and add the pumpkins to the pile. Next summer I am hoping they will begin the cycle again, vines stretching from the waste pile to grow some more orange and green globes to celebrate fall. For now, however, bring on the snow.

Dark Mornings

Late November means shorter days. It isn’t December, certainly, but it is hard to tell the difference. Getting up at 6:00 to let the dog out means going out in the dark. Walking on the road to get the day started? Wear the reflector vest and bring a headlamp. It helps if drivers can see you when they pass.

This morning it is raining. A sky full of clouds means it is even darker in the early hours. At least we have had some snow. Not a lot, mind you, but some. I went up to Stowe this week and got to walk on trails covered in the white stuff. Today we have a forecast of snow. This rain will turn over to snow this afternoon. It will accumulate–a couple inches according to our friendly meteorologists.

I put birdseed in the feeders recently. As the light grows I watch the House Finches have breakfast. They get more distinct as the day progresses. By the afternoon their red feathers pop out in the sunlight. Even with clouds they are a small burst of color in the gray and brown. We still have a couple of pumpkins on the porch to add more color there.

Today we will go cut a Christmas tree. We put some strings of lights on the porch already. This season of darkness is only getting darker, so we plan to light the place up. The world is dark these days. We need to add some light to the mornings yes, but that metaphorical darkness needs some brightness even more. Those dark mornings are beautiful. And so are the lights. We plan to have some of both.

Still Some Color

It is an odd fall. The leaves turned slowly. Some years we have a blast of color. It knocks your socks off. You can’t help but be dazzled. You look at the hills, and then look again, and then say something out loud like “Damn that’s amazing.” Even poets stumble over their tongues. This year we had some of that but I never saw that blanket of red and orange and yellow, that hallmark of the northeastern autumn. Things have been more stretched.

It is mid-November and trees all over are hanging on to leaves that catch the eye. Full, ancient maples are brimming with orange. Oaks show off their muted yellows. Even some sumac are red. Red sumac leaves in mid-November? Is that a thing now?

Standing at the lake I was accompanied by maples full of leaves–yellow on one side and red on the other. Across the water, the Adirondacks still had some color, with snow topping the peaks. There is some awe in that scene. At least I found some.

Maybe this is a thing now, or will be. Is climate change pushing the season out? Likely. Maybe this year is an anomaly, but I am guessing we will see our fall foliage show happening later and later, one more effect of our changing climate I will notice each year in our corner of the world. Whenever it happens I will still, I am sure, have moments where I lose my words. I am happy to stay silent in those moments. The color can do the speaking.

Some Small Critters

I have been looking small lately. It is easy to look big, to see the bright sunset, or the glowing sunrise, or the mountains as they wear a cloak of clouds. For the small, you have to pay more attention. The newt that crosses your path? If you don’t look down, you will miss it.

Or you will miss all of them. My beautiful spouse and I took a long walk in the woods the other day. We saw more newts than we could count. I hope I didn’t step on any. They are orange but still, they were easy to miss.

And check out this caterpillar. It is munching on bedstraw (an invasive, by the way–beautiful but aggressive). I had seen one of these caterpillars last year in just about the same spot, but that one was black. It looked like the same pattern but could there be that much variation in color? Yes, apparently. Black? Pink? Fashionable moths. It’s name? Bedstraw Hawkmoth. Appropriate.

Speaking of moths, here is another one. This little dude was attached to the screen door in the morning. It is only an inch and change long, pink and yellow and trying to blend in. It chose a poor location to blend in. I have no idea what its caterpillar form looks like–smaller still I imagine. This one is called Rose Hooktip. Those moth namers call it like it is with the straightforward names.

Or do they? We were pretty excited to find this Luna Moth a couple of days ago. It showed up in the morning, clung to its post for most of the day and disappeared in the afternoon. It repeated that performance the next day, one post over. This critter was much bigger that the hooktip. And, I mean, look at that thing! So beautiful and so fragile. It is confident enough, or carefree enough, or self-assured enough that it just doesn’t worry that that Phoebe with the nest right above it is going to make lunch out of it. Actually, maybe that is what happened to it.

As for that Phoebe? I kept seeing it near the porch, so I looked around. On the underside of the back side of the eave of the roof I found its nest. It was the perfect spot for it. If I hadn’t looked I would never have seen it. That is the theme here–looking. I am trying to look closely–at the newt, the moth, the nest, even at the plant where the caterpillar has breakfast or the moss next to the newt. It take deliberateness to see small.

I still am awed by the full moon or the sparkling lake or the field of wildflowers–the big–but I want to be sure to also get down and look closely at those flowers. Only then will I see the cool zigzag spiderweb that stretches between the stems. And damn those are cool. Seriously. Seeing those webs is worth getting dew on your pants. If you want to be dazzled, looking small is just as good as seeing big.

Wet wetland

I have been busy enough with work lately that I have not wanted to go birding early during the week, even though it is the season for it. So on Saturday I don’t want to give up the chance. Friday night the weather looked good for some morning exploring, so I planned to go. Saturday morning, however, brought light rain. Rain? Seriously? But I went anyway. It was bound to stop soon.

It kept raining. I turned on the windshield wipers. I went to a local nature reserve–it is fairly new and I had not seen much of it. I parked along the road where I thought a trail started. It sort of did start, in the woods, then fizzled when it opened onto a field. I went the way I thought seemed most likely, but it wasn’t much of a trail. I got to the wetland but then was stymied.

By then it was hardly raining, but it had been raining. That meant the tall grass though which I meandered was a bit wet. Dripping, really. Soggy. Soaked. In my haste to leave the house I had put on pants, to avoid ticks, but they were cotton pants. That was dumb. By the time I walked back the way I had come and got to my car, those pants were most definitely not dry.

But there had to be a better access point to this wetland. I drove up the road and found it, hidden in the trees, no parking except along the road. Yes I was soaked but it was Saturday and I did not want to give up and what’s a little cold and wet? So up the hill into the woods I headed, then down the hill in the woods I went, until it opened again in tall grass. There was a clear path but it went both left and right. I went left.

And that way was just as wet as my first attempt. I got even more wet, even though the rain had passed by now. That grass can hold some water. I had a better view of the wetland, saw some ducks, heard a gallinule calling, listened to an Alder Flycatcher and a couple of Veeries singing. I turned around again and thought I would try going right. This was was less wet but the rain started to fall again.

I did find some birds, although not as many as I might have on a clearer day. Back in the car I polished off my warm coffee, waiting for me in the cup holder. I drove home with the wipers on, those cotton pants wicking all that grass water the whole time. I arrived home wet and chilled, satisfied that I had tried and at least had a good walk in a beautiful place. After a hot shower I got some sourdough bread started. I had a day ahead of me yet.