Bird on a Wire

We used to have a road trip scavenger hunt. The idea was to check off items one might see out a car window. Stop sign, fuel truck, school, cows, that kind of thing. Whenever we played this game there was inevitably one item we could not find–a bird on a wire.

It was weird. It is not hard to see a bird on a wire most of the time. Even in winter there are birds and they are sometimes to be found on wires. But when we had that scavenger hunt in hand, and this happened many times, we could not find one. It became a joke in our family. We would be out walking in a new place, with no scavenger hunt list to check, and one of us would point and shout “Hey there’s a bird on a wire!”

I have not played that travel game in years but I still think of it, of those road trips, whenever I see a bird on a wire. I though of it today. After a day of way to much inside time, of too much computer work, of too little physical activity, I went outside with a pair of binoculars as the sun was setting. I didn’t have the binoculars to look at the setting sun. That would have been stupid. I had them to look at birds, were I to spot any. I did spot some. And one of them was on a wire.

Actually two of them were on a wire. Two bluebirds, singing their song that sounds like they are just too lazy to sing as boldly as anything like a Robin, flew onto and off of that wire. Blue birds against a blue sky with the low bright light of the closing of day in early spring–good stuff that. It was a beautiful sight and it was good to get outside and to move around a bunch and to listen and to look for our avian neighbors. And those birds, perched on that wire, reminded me of some good trips with my family.

I still think of that game when I see a bird on a wire while I am driving. I am not driving much these days. There is a chance I will do some driving tomorrow but that is still not a definite plan. I am staying home, along with the rest of the crew, most of the time. You know, stay home and stay safe. I mean, if I want to see a bird on a wire, apparently I can do that by walking down the road. No driving required.

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.

No Hitter

Earlier this week we went to see a Vermont Lake Monsters game. My son has gotten into watching and following baseball, so we drove into Burlington for our first Monsters game of the summer. It was warm but not hot, with just enough sun, and not too crowded given it was a week night. Perfect for a baseball game.

The Lake Monsters are a “Class A short season affiliate” of the Oakland A’s. The team is as minor league as it gets. I have watched games where they just do not do well, at least compared to a major league team–errors all over the place. But they are doing ok this year–they almost have a winning record.

The team used to be the Vermont Expos. They were a feeder team for the Montreal Expos. Then the Expos left Canada and went to Washington. The Monsters were a Nationals affiliate for a while, and now Vermont serves California. Lake Monsters is a better name than Expos anyway, if you ask me.

So yeah, a perfect night for a game. I got some Cracker Jack and an over-priced beer (side note: they have one great selection of over-priced beer, the majority of options local). The beer did me right but the Cracker Jack had fewer peanuts than ever. I figured the peanuts must have just settled to the bottom–but there might have been half a dozen of them total. Lame, but I enjoyed the popcorn part.

The Lake Monsters did not play terribly, but by inning seven my son pointed out that they were on the way to suffering a no-hitter against them. They did manage to get a runner on first, but that was due to a fielding error, not a hit. The Aberdeen IronBirds scored seven runs, with five home runs mixed in to make it interesting. My son said at the end, “You know it’s not good when the only numbers you have on the board are two errors.”

So we got to see a no-hitter. It was not for the home team, but it was new for all of us. And it was pretty fun to watch some baseball on a fine summer night. We hope to get to Centennial Field again before the season is up. I would like to see them win but I would settle for some runs on the board. And next time I’ll skip the Cracker Jack.

Christmas Tree in the Snow

One time we went to the Christmas tree farm up the road and wore boots, not for the snow, but for the mud. My son wore shorts. A coat was too much to wear. At least our hands didn’t get numb.

This year we had snow on the ground when we carried our saw out to select a tree. We wandered farther into the firs than we usually do. Typically we find one that is good enough before we get too far down the hill, and we could have this time, but we kept going to see what might be found.  

We might have gotten some snow in our boots, but that’s cool. My son did the cutting. Balsams are not tough when it comes to facing a saw so it was quick. Then we carried that baby over our shoulders and tied it to the car’s roof rack. 

The damage was $30. Not bad for a tree as fresh as can be. I bought a half gallon of maple syrup while I was at it–also a bargain at only 25 bucks. That was just in time as we had maybe a half cup of syrup left. And since we will have waffles on Christmas morning, it was fitting.

Now the tree is trimmed and glowing, ornaments dangling and lights a-twinkle. It is festive in here.  My wife is a decorator with no equal when it comes to making our house look cheery for the holidays.  I am lucky that way.  

It felt good to cut a tree in the snow. We still have snow on the ground now, days later.  Let’s hope it stays for several weeks. It would be nice to have snow on the ground for Christmas. Too often we don’t. I hoping this year will deliver. 

Not too many apples

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More than once, before I went to pick apples with my son and a friend of ours, my wife said, “Don’t bring home too many apples.” It was good advice. A couple of years ago my parents went to pick apples at a local orchard and came home with 50 pounds. “Just a few more” and “this one looks really nice” were uttered a few too many times, apparently. So we went in cautious. We did not pick 50 pounds of apples.

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We took small bags when we got there–ten-pounds-worth bags rather than twenty-pounds-worth bags. We filled one with apples to eat straight up–Honey Crisp, mostly. We filled the other bag with pie apples–Cortlands. We only ate one apple each while in the orchard. But we did eat hot cider and cider donuts back at the orchard’s center. By mistake two of us each bought a dozen donuts. We managed to eat them eventually.

I made an apple crisp the next day. Dang that was tasty. I’ll need to make another one soon. I’m craving some pumpkin pie as well. A warm pumpkin pie made from fresh pumpkin, egg whites whipped into it to make it light, now that is a fine bit of sweetness. And with whipped cream? Oy, make me salivate. The orchard had a pile of pie pumpkins. I didn’t get any. Soon, though. Thanksgiving requires that pumpkin pie.

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We have a few apples left, given that we already had some before we went to the orchard, but we are low. There is enough for a crisp, or a pie, if I make one soon. But they won’t last much longer. We keep eating them. I would bake up something with apples every few days if I had the time. But I don’t really have the time to do that. Work and kids and other stuff happening, you know what I’m saying? I guess it really was good we did not pick 50 pounds. My wife gives good advice.

Bread and Fire

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It was Saturday. I had time. So I baked some bread. And it was light and fluffy. Bread flour, that does the trick, I tell you. All that extra gluten stretches things out. Like magic. A big round fluffy loaf of goodness. Hot and fresh and delish. It went well with the soup I made. I put kale in the soup. Trying to be trendy? Nope. It just works in a vegetable soup. So, yeah, fresh bread and hot soup. Can’t beat it.

We lit up a fire outside Friday night. All summer I was thinking it would be great to have a fire in our fire ring outside. Look out over the dark field, watch the stars, flames dancing, sparks drifting up. All that romantic business. But the sun sets late in the summer. Start a fire just before dark and you’re up until 11:00. Some of us have to go to work in the morning.

But this time of year the sun sets much earlier. So crackling flames while we  hang out and listen to the coyotes sing? That’s a good deal. We did smell a skunk that night, but we talked loudly enough we hoped to keep it away. Apparently we did.

Saturday we cranked up the fire pit again. It was windy, but at least that kept the flames alive the whole time. We nibbled on Halloween-themed Oreos, talked about summer and Christmas and school and traveling, and we watched the stars pop in and out from the behind the clouds that were whipping across the sky.

It was so much fun that when friends unexpectedly came over on Sunday night we lit a fire one more time. We polished off those Oreos, and the bread, and laughed under a starless sky. We wore jackets. Some of us had to go to work in the morning so were were not out there too late. But three nights in a row with the comfort of a fire on a beautiful night? Stellar.

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.