The wind picked up over the course of the day. It blew harder, then harder. By dark it was dragging chairs across the porch. The corners of the roof whistled. The weather vane creaked as the wind yanked it back and forth. Trees roared as wind hammered their branches. Once in bed, I could feel the wind battering the walls.
We had no damage at our house, just a few small branches down. Nearby, a few trees had fallen–into a ditch, into the river. Walking early we encountered the biggest blowdown–an ash, already dead, stretched across the road. We hopped over it. The dogs hesitated but they too managed to get past. We turned around later and met it from the opposite direction. We hopped over it again.
The day before, a crew had been trimming trees to make sure the power lines are clear. Our power company is good about that. We rarely lose power and I credit them with making sure the lines do not get hot by falling branches. After our walk we watched the truck go by and turn down that way. Their trimming had ended the day before well beyond our fallen tree but they could not get there without addressing that prone timber. They addressed it.
In the afternoon, on a run, I passed closely enough to see that the fallen tree was gone. This morning I walked past, binoculars at the ready to see spring migrants. The tree had been neatly attended to–logs laid beside the road and a pile of brush on the other side. That was timely work to be trimming just when a tree falls across the road that leads to the trimming zone. Fate, I suppose, sometimes throws us a bone.
Way back a lifetime ago, meaning a few weeks ago, Vermont’s governor gave a Friday press conference saying schools would not be closed. There was not a need right then, but the situation could change and the administration would continue to assess what needed to be done to address the coronavirus’s spread. The following Monday he gave another press conference closing schools until April 6th. A week later, on March 26th, the governor ordered schools closed for the rest of the academic year.
School is not out, mind you. Students and staff are not going to school but they are trying to keep the business of school moving forward. At first the idea was just to “maintain learning,” to make sure students didn’t forget everything by the time school started back up again. Now, however, the idea is to keep teaching, and learning, and generally doing school.
This, of course, has not been a simple task. At my son’s high school every student gets a Chromebook, so they all have a device to connect with others. My son logs in and connects with his advisory at least once per week. They check in, using Google Hangouts, give each other advice and share stories and maybe even get some ideas about how to generally do school. They vent a little and they reassure each other. At other times he gets online for actual “classes.” This does not look like a typical in-person class but might include a lesson or review or help with an assignment that was posted to their online classroom page.
My daughter had been away at school, far from Vermont. She came home early for her March break. Once that break ended she stayed home. Her school is closed as well. They are trying to hold more formal classes online. Sometimes those classes are 90 minutes. That is a long time to focus when meeting on Zoom, especially for challenging high school subjects.
Yesterday my daughter was in her room, online for pre-calculus class. In the middle of it she texted “lots of algebra” and the above photo. Pre-calculus is not an easy class. It requires paying attention and, for most students, asking questions. That is all upside down in this online classroom, especially for a teacher who does not have a lot of experience teaching online and had little time to prepare for that shift. That photo exemplifies the challenge.
Students everywhere are making it work as best they can, but many are just not logging on, and many simply can’t. We are lucky. Our kids are responsible, for the most part, and we have reliable internet access in a safe home. Not only do we have plenty to eat, but I am cooking more than ever now that I am not commuting to and from work. This is a game changer for education on all levels. School will never be the same, and no one knows yet what that means.
My children are not going back to school this year. Will they be in school in the fall? If so, what will that look like? What will this mean for graduation requirements, or for college admissions? Or for the future of higher education? Students ask “When will things get back to normal?” but, sadly for them, they won’t.
We will get through this, of course, and we will all be changed, and good things will come from this very bad time. As the head of my daughter’s school said in an online town meeting, “This stinks.” Unlike the virtual whiteboard in pre-calculus class, everyone with any connection to education understands that.
People are not getting out during the week. I guess that is a good thing. Everyone is staying home as much as they can, trying to stay safe. But the weekend comes and exercise is on the agenda. And maybe a little social distance socializing. Only, the gym is closed. And the movie theaters. And restaurants. So outside is the place to go. But most trails are closed because they are muddy or covered in snow or otherwise inaccessible. So apparently everyone is coming to our neighborhood.
I mean, it isn’t really a neighborhood. Our road is a dirt road, long and flat for a mile, then rising and falling in a few gentle hills. Off of that is another road, class four in the middle. Class four means it is a public right-of-way but not maintained a whole lot–not plowed when the snow falls or graded when the mud arrives. So these couple of roads, with a couple others over the town line, make for several miles of fine walking or running or biking. And a lot of people know it.
People park at the end of the road and go from there. Most days someone does that at some point, but these days there is a line of cars as their occupants are off enjoying these roads. At the far end of one of these roads, coming at it from a long walk ourselves, my wife and I encountered half a dozen cars parked. At that end I have, a few times, seen two cars parked. You know, two people meet each other there, driving separately, and go for.a walk. But today there were six cars there. I know that may not seem like a lot. It’s not a Walmart parking lot. But it is three times the maximum number I have ever seen there before.
Walking the rest of the way home, we had to scooch over far to the right as people coming the other way did the same. We kept our distance. We wished them a good morning, waved, kept walking. And then we encountered more people. The thing is, we have done this long walk the past four Saturdays in a row. The first couple of times we encountered all kinds of automobile traffic on certain parts of it. The first time the road was dry and we got dusted out way too many times. Today on the same stretch all of one car passed us. Those cars have been replaced by pedestrians.
These times have brought a lot of change. And we see it right here on the roads around us. Fewer cars drive past but more people than ever pass, more slowly, outside of their cars. Given the hardships we have begun to face and the tragedy the world is facing, and is slowly creeping its way toward us, seeing people get outside to enjoy an early spring day is not the worst thing to happen. Maybe when all this is said and done more people will choose to take a spring walk together, rather than to meet for coffee at an inside table. I’ll take that small victory.
Down the road the other day, walking, I looked down. Bright green, moving. I knelt. I found a caterpillar. It waved its way across the gravel. It seemed a tough environment for a caterpillar–soft and squishy on hard and rough. I found a dried leaf. I held it in front of the caterpillar. It climbed aboard. I carried it to the other side of the road.
I kept looking down. There was a mottled leaf, still green but dried in spots. Why was it like that? It looked burned. I admired it. I left it where it had fallen.
And now I was looking closely at small things. I noticed the seeds of the grass backlit by sun. I noticed all the tiny yellow flowers of the Goldenrod, green and brown that look like one big cluster of gold. I noticed the mud. In the sun the mud was almost dry, hardened into deer tracks. In the shade, tire tracks firmed up, damp. In the deep shade, goo and puddles.
And more flowers–Chickory and Asters. Several kinds of asters–pink and light purple and the purple of almost night. One Aster matched the color of the sky as the sun sank low. Monarch Butterflies found the flowers. They like the Asters the best. Moths flitted. I watched a mosquito on my shoulder.
Then I looked up enough to walk back home. A breeze picked up. Some sparrows peeped in the brush. A car passed and raised a cloud of dust. Then it was quiet again. Buttercups bobbed. A goose honked its way south. And then I was back, and as I wrapped myself n the world of my house, those small things of the world sank back into the afternoon.
Shorebirds are passing through. Most people have no idea. Maybe they see “sandpipers” if they visit the beach, but in Vermont? No beach, no sandpipers, right? Well, mostly. But when those little wading birds head south, they stop along the way.
I went to Delta Park, in Colchester, to find some shorebirds the other morning. They were there. I saw seven different species. Lake Champlain is low enough that I could walk around the point. At times the wetland bleeds into the lake, so it makes for a wet walk. But I got around the corner and found them.
Some were on a sandbar, not far from shore–close enough to see well with the right optics. There were Semipalmated Plovers, the cutest birds you’ve ever seen–plump little buggers with a mask and orange bill. There was a Dunlin, with a long curved bill, probing deep in the mud for breakfast. And there were long-legged Yellowlegs, living up to their names with long bright yellow legs.
I also saw several Great Egrets, large elegant white wading birds, resting on a log just off the beach. And an osprey soaring overhead. And in the willows, a Yellow Warbler in its drab fall plumage. And on top of all that wildlife, the place itself is just stunning. Green reeds and grasses spilling out toward the lake, and the Adirondacks strutting their stuff over in New York. When I go there I can’t help but fumble a little, I am just so in awe.
So I saw my shorebirds. I stopped for a cup of coffee to sip on my way home. I watched the morning grow into full-on day. I vowed to go again the next morning, even though it would mean another drive to get out there. But when I woke in the dark that night, it was raining.
We have not had anything but showers in months, so I didn’t think much of it. But as the light strengthened, the rain did too. And it kept coming down. I was disappointed. But we got rain. We needed rain. I stayed home most of day–baked bread, made granola, read a book, payed some bills. Shorebirds will be passing through for a little while. I will get out to Delta Park again. And I will see those shorebirds that all the bikers and joggers on the nearby bike path don’t even know are there.
I have been up early these past couple of weeks. The sun rises later than it did at the beginning of the summer. Fog settles over the river most mornings. Sometimes a Great Blue Heron quietly flies past. Or two Great Blue Herons. Here is a sample of what it looked like when I went out.
A gravel road has its charms. Generally fewer people drive on them. Paved roads are faster and usually more direct, so they take the bulk of traffic. People tend to drive more slowly on dirt roads. And they look better, if you ask me, since they feel like they are cut from the earth, even they are often solidly engineered. Nature could take them back, if we let it, or so it seems. A paved road just seems laid on top of the landscape–foreign and immovable.
There are, of course, disadvantages. Our road is open, so it bakes in the sun. Many dirt roads turn to mud in the spring, but ours dries out pretty quickly. Mud season is short on our road. But that sun drying things out? That means dust. When summer comes and we haven’t had rain for several days, passing cars raise clouds of dust. And the wind blows it our way. Our porch can get covered in dust. When we eat outside at the porch table, we need to wipe that thing down or expect grit in our teeth.
We are in the season of dust right now, but it isn’t too bad lately. That is because of another problem–washboarding. We have the worst washboarding we have seen on our road since we have lived in this house. The phenomenon gets its name because it looks like an old fashioned washboard. Wheels bouncing on the road cause ripples to form in the dirt surface, and these get enlarged with more traffic. This means a really bumpy drive. It shakes the dash and rattles the windows. Not good for your car.
However, this washboard situation means that everyone driving past drives a little more slowly. With slower driving comes less dust. So when we leave the house and drive down the road, I am none too happy about it, but when other people drive down our road I am pleased that they kick up less dust.
The town grades our road a few times each year, and they have not done it in a while now, so we are due. I am surprised they have not graded it yet, given just how bad the road has gotten, but I know there are plenty of other projects in town. Grading our road is a priority for me. It may not be for the town as a whole.
One possible delay is the installation this summer of fiber optic cable along our road. It has been buried, like the power cables, rather than strung, so they have been digging. That digging ended a month ago, but maybe they have more to do? It may not make sense to grade the road if more digging is going to happen. Really, I have no idea.
It will be great to have high speed internet, finally. But I sure would like a smoother drive and to prevent some car damage. In this case, I will take some dust. It is easier to wipe down the table than to replace auto parts. Costs less, too.