Yesterday I participated in Vermont’s annual Bald Eagle survey, as I have for several years now. My route is the Winooski River, from Waterbury to Lake Champlain. I drive along the river, stopping at several spots to watch carefully, and watch less carefully as I drive from point to point. I did see one eagle, in Williston, and otherwise had a day of it watching a beautiful river that gets forgotten or taken for granted or often just not thought about.
The day was warm, relatively, just above freezing. In some past years I have done the survey with temperatures below zero. There was no ice at all yesterday, although there was fresh snow in the hills. The water was high and powered over the dams and ledges, less tame than last year. Here is my most recent portrait of the river.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 hadbeen 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.
Look I’m not going to pretend it is all roses around here. I mean, we still have a pandemic happening. But in Vermont things have been fairly settled recently. Our cases of COVID-19 are still pretty low, although there has been a bit of a spike this past week. Still, summer is just about here, and things are more open than they were.
Sometimes it feels like the world is circling the drain. It can be hard not to get angry. I don’t want to be angry. That sucks the life out of me, but how I can I not get angry these days? When I compare my life to others’ I think, what do I have to get angry about? I mean look at this place. It’s beautiful. It is the kind of place people who live in less beautiful places come to go on vacation.
Blue Flag is blooming. There is a patch of it in the field where the cows now sometimes graze. We have these giant domesticated irises at our house, also blooming now. They are related, both purple and intricate and amazing. I got to see both of them when I walked this morning, just as the sun rose, the fog just slipping away into the day. How can those even exist, they seem so fragile? And I get to see them in their glory. Like I said, what do I have to be angry about?
But I pay attention not only to the things right here–the butterflies emerging and the Veery singing and the grass that is somehow four feet tall already–but to what is happening beyond my rural bubble. And that anger pops up. And if you are paying attention then you should get angry too.
So the question: is it OK to enjoy beauty when there is so much to be angry about? I keep hearing the line from the film Bridge of Spies, when the Soviet spy Rudolf Abel gets caught and his lawyer asks him “Aren’t you worried?” since Abel seems so calm. His response: “Would it help?” And that is the answer I have for my question. The problem is, that is another question.
For now I am planning to do both. I plan to enjoy the beauty of almost-summer and I plan to be angry. Beauty is fleeting and I would be a fool to let it pass unappreciated. And anger serves a purpose–it keeps us from becoming complacent, from forgetting, and it can make us take action. I will not bury my head in the flowers but I will still be awed by them. I will not lose myself to anger but I will let it remain, sometimes quietly, sometimes less so.
Those irises are not going to change the world, but finding wonder in them can help me turn that anger into something productive. Those fragile purple petals of late spring can help me to be calm, to think clearly, to be at peace. I get angry that not everyone can be that and think that way and feel that. Maybe not everyone wants to, but I think we would be better off if we did.
I know I should do something and not just talk about it. Of course. We all should. But without experiencing wonder at how beautiful the world is, I won’t be motivated to do the hard things. So I guess I have my answer after all.
Flowers are out in the woods. I guess it must be spring. I have tried to pay attention to flowers this year. I am curious what I see. I want to know what lives in the world around me. What is that flower? How long will it bloom? Which flowers grow in the woods, or the edge of the woods, or out in the sun? I keep wondering.
Last year a friend introduced me to iNaturalist. I downloaded the app and have used it a bunch this spring. It is pretty slick–take a photo, get some suggestions for what you see and select what you think you have found. Most of the time it works like a charm–the first suggestion in the list is usually a match. Others can see what you have posted and can confirm your identification or suggest a different one. It has been really helpful in identifying flowers, as well as moths, caterpillars, fungus. It can be used for anything that lives.
I have added it to my adventures when I go birding. This morning I got so engrossed in trying to identify some white flowers (they were Columbines but I did not realize they could be white as well as purple), that I found I was tuning out the sounds around me. I had stopped listening for birdsong. I had to bring myself back into the audio sphere in the trees once I walked away from the flowers on the ground.
Many of these flowers will be gone soon. They are ephemeral. Others will bloom, however, as the summer progresses. I will keep trying to identify them. Some day I may know when to expect them to bloom, and when the next flowers will appear. I am not there yet, of course, but I keep learning. I can’t keep my curiosity in check, so I will keep wondering. And I will keep trying to answer “What is that?”
How about this moon? Setting, nearly full, into pink clouds? That’s a good thing. Things aren’t easy these days, for anyone, whether you are facing death or facing boredom. Which degree of not-so-good are you experiencing? Things are hard here, but we are alive.
It snowed yesterday. It seems everyone who has a way to post is posting about it. We got an inch and a half of the cold white stuff. And it was beautiful. Complain if you want–yeah, snow in May. Boo hoo. It was mostly melted by the end of the day anyway. Green and yellow with bright white highlights–if you can’t appreciate that rare beauty, well, is there hope for you?
I saw a fisher a couple mornings ago. It was up in what we call the tick zone, the snowmobile trail cut in the woods that is just a bonanza of birds in May, but that is loaded with ticks. It was a cold morning–the first of several, so there were few birds singing, except for that Black-and-White Warbler that whispered away non-stop. I was standing, quietly, hoping the birds would wake up already. The rustling in the shrubs turned into a huff of startledness that ducked away. The mystery creature slunk through the underbrush and then crossed the trail a little ways away. A giant weasel–way bigger than a mink or an ermine or a river otter. A fisher! I had never seen one.
Walking back through the tick zone, high on seeing the fisher, a white-tailed deer bounded across the trail, hopping way higher than seemed necessary. That is, apparently, just what they do.
My son made pizza for lunch today. I helped with with the dough, but mostly he handled it himself. And it was really good. Maybe it was really good in part because I was not doing the making, but mostly he just did a bang-up job.
Daffodils are blooming. Dandelions speckle the lawn. Leaves sprout from buds. And I just had a pile of M&M’s. Good things. Good things are everywhere.
We did get enough rain in April, I suppose. At least, the flowers are coming out in the woods, and it is May. Late yesterday I dug up some wild leeks for dinner (which, if I may say, was a particularly good dinner, even though I had never made it before and, if you are curious, was a sort of mini-calzone stuffed with those leeks and garlic and extra sharp cheddar and dang!) and I found some blood root blooming among the leek leaves. Nearby were several clusters of Carolina Spring Beauties.
Earlier in the morning I walked in the woods to find Golden Winged Warblers (I didn’t find any but I did find a Golden Winged/Blue Winged hybrid!). I found some Garlic Mustard while I was looking for birds; I was hoping to find some of that while I dug up my leeks but, wrong woods.
The flower of the day was Dutchman’s Breeches. First, that name is killer. I mean, who uses the term breeches? Old school, know what I’m saying? But those flowers, they really do look like, well, the puffy pants that one of those historical Dutch sailors might wear. They ain’t roses, but they look pretty cool. They look like spring.