Ice and Kinglets

fullsizeoutput_8c3a

It wasn’t winter, but it did feel cold. The sun was low, but still high enough for an afternoon walk. The light was sharp and the shadows were deep. The woods had the feel of calm, ready for winter to hang out for a while. Leaves rustled under my feet. Wind blew in bare ash branches. Tall grasses shone golden.

fullsizeoutput_8c3b

I was looking for Rusty Blackbirds. Maybe some would be around, picking through leaves in the wet understory. None were around. I did find quite a few Chickadees. Some crows flew overhead. The bird of the afternoon was the Brown Creeper I finally spotted, creeping, of course, up a maple trunk.

Around the back side of the loop I heard Golden Crowned Kinglets. They trilled their soft calls all around me, hidden. I waited. I watched. I looked for movement. I didn’t see any. And then I did. I got just a quick glimpse of one, its black mask metaphoric of its stealthiness.  Not far from there, White Throated Sparrows, or so I thought, called. They stayed hidden in the brown shrubs.

I warmed up after a while, comfortable by the end of my slow couple of miles. I saw few birds, but a chipmunk squeaking away from me, and a red squirrel carrying a beech nut into a hole hollowed out by a Pileated Woodpecker. Looking for birds means paying attention. The river slid by, cold and powerful. The pond tried to thaw out, its morning skim of ice almost gone, but likely to come back tonight. The trail, closed in like a tunnel in summer, was open and new.

fullsizeoutput_8c3d

I looped around to the car, watching for those sparrows, but they stayed hidden. I headed into town to pick up my daughter and her friends, the heat a little higher than when I started, my mind a little clearer. Fall, that is what I found. I will find my Rusty Blackbirds another day.

Still Some Color

img_6358

Peak foliage has passed. Around here it was about three weeks ago. Earlier farther north. We have had some wind, plenty of it in fact. And lately it has been raining. A lot. Wind and rain tear down the leaves, especially after they have reached their peak color. And so it has been. But there is still plenty of color to be had in the trees.

This morning I went down to the lake. I was hoping to find ducks. And maybe a late shorebird. Shorebirds have mostly migrated through, but there are always a few stragglers. But I didn’t see any today. I did see ducks from up north, however. Some of them will stick around for a while, as long as the ice stays away. I saw Buffleheads and Goldeneye and even a Black Scoter. Even if I hadn’t seen any, however, it would have been worth it.

The Adirondacks across the water were lit up with scattered sun. Clouds skittered across the firmament, but broken. So the sun popped though onto the mountains. The brilliant leaves remaining, and the fresh snow up high, were glowing. I started in Shelburne, with some birding success (Black Scoter!). I kept going south after that to the Charlotte town beach. I struck out there–the wind was fierce. There were a few Mallards in the cove and some gulls circling in the air currents, but otherwise it was a dud.  But those mountains…

Even on the Vermont side there were a few gems. One oak was ka-powing right next to my car. And there were maples lining the road in a couple of spots–yellow and red and orange.  I mean, it isn’t what busloads of visitors come to see. It wasn’t whole hillsides of brilliance. But still, there is some color sticking around. By Thanskgiving it will all be gone, but I’ll take it for now.

Old Truck

img_6352

It’s been there since we moved here twelve years ago, the old truck sitting in the field. Whenever I walked down the road and turned the corner, there is was, looking at me. I wondered how long it had been there. The first time I saw it, it had clearly rested in the same spot for many years. It sat low, sunk into the soil. Rust showed through the paint. Grass grew taller than its hood. It was an old truck with a story.

The farm where this truck resided had been worked in the past, but the farm sat untended now. The barn next to that old truck was sagging. Each spring the roof would rest closer to the ground. Swallows nested in the rafters. Windows had little glass remaining. The silo’s hat sat crooked, like a man too tired to right his shifted chapeau. The fields, while still rich with grass, no longer smelled sweet with spring cutting. The truck was a witness to the farm’s end.

But why was the truck there, in that spot? It was not parked next to the barn, or in it. It was not simply pulled off the road. It was well into the field, as if someone drove it there with a load of hay for cattle, and just never turned the key again. Or perhaps the truck was on its way out already, and when it would not start, was abandoned. Did a farmer die suddenly? Or did this farming family simply retire?

img_6353

It was not totally unused. Someone years ago found it made a good target. Bullet holes pierced the passenger door and window. Mice, I am sure, nested in the seats and dashboard. Kingbirds perched on the roof, scanning for grasshoppers. And it generated stories for passersby such as myself.

img_6350

A couple of days ago, whoever owns the place now decided it was time to move the truck. An oversized tow truck backed up and tried to haul it out. The tow truck got stuck. A second oversized tow truck pulled that one out. The old truck ended up closer to the road, out of the ground, but it is still there. The rear axle weighs down its bed. The rusted leaf springs were torn off and lie on the ground. It’s a wreck, but its new position meant I could get a better look at it than I ever had.

img_6351

The license plate registration sticker reads “APR 79,” so the thing has been there for 40 years. It had to have been registered some time before April of 1979 so perhaps the truck was abandoned at the end of the summer, maybe even October of 1978, if I can conjecture a bit. Several times I have wondered if the truck could be restored–cleaned up, tuned up, parts replaced, running again. Seeing it in detail now, that idea is dead.

I am sure this truck served its time well. From the day it was purchased at Shearer Chevrolet, it hauled people and tools and animals and supplies. This week, I suppose, it will get hauled away, scrapped, turned into steel cans or furniture frames or faucets. Some might say the field will look better without it–tidier, more natural. They might say that the old truck is junk. But I will miss its stories and, when I pass that way, I will wonder a little bit less.

Bread and Fire

img_6286

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.

Mowing Done

It took me several days but it got done. Every year I try to mow our ten-acre field at just the right time–in the three-week window after July 4th. Completion date this year: July 13.

We mow the field because Meadowlarks nest there. And Red Winged Blackbirds. And Savannah Sparrows. And, if we are lucky, Bobolinks. If we manage it well, and grasses grow more than other plants, then Bobolinks will nest there. It is because birds nest in the field that we wait until July to cut it. Once the chicks have fledged for these ground nesters, we can pass over those empty nests with sharp spinning blades. Baby birds don’t do well with sharp spinning blades.

We have to cut late enough for the birds but we are also cutting to keep the Wild Parsnip at bay. I’ve been reading lately about Giant Hogweed. That is a similar plant that is becoming more widespread. Rub against it, get the oil on your skin, get some sun exposure and get some nasty burns. Giant Hogweed isn’t around here yet. But Wild Parsnip has been around for years.

If we keep cutting, then the stuff will be held back. Already there is less of it. And the plants are smaller. It seemed to flower later this year, too. But it won’t go away without management. The key is to cut it before it goes to seed. Cut it too late and it just spreads the seeds around. With this year’s cutting, we’ve got two years in a row of good timing. I’m hoping the field has even fewer yellow flowers next year.

I cut it over the span of a week. The first day I cut a big chunk. I would have kept going but going through the big patch of quack grass in the corner (another invasive species I’d like to reduce) I turned around to see clouds of smoke rising from the brush mower. It had happened before. Busted belt burning up. That quack grass is thick stuff.

My wife bought a new belt the next day and together we replaced it. In the past I’ve hauled the mower to the repair shop down the road. But that costs money and, more importantly, time. Thanks to YouTube, however, we felt confident enough to disassemble the machine and make some repairs. Once we tightened those last nuts back up we were back in business.

We have a few Wild Parsnip plants kicking around the edges. I’ll have to cut those manually. With some long clippers. And gloves. After the sun goes down. But mostly, project done. At least for this summer.

So, Spring…Wait, What?

img_5959

The National Weather Service forecast for our area posts a winter weather advisory until 8:00 am tomorrow. In the past 24 hours we have had freezing temperatures, sleet, snow, rain and high winds. Granted, a couple of those might happen during any spring, but still, a winter weather advisory?

It certainly looks like winter out there. Those few flowers starting to come up are coated in ice. Low clouds hide the mountains. The landscape is gray and white. Spring means green, but not today. The roads are a slick mess. A couple of Meadowlarks have been floating over the cold field. What can they do? Insects are frozen. Any potential nest sites are iced over. They are not singing today.

img_5960Last Tuesday was Free Cone Day. Every year Ben and Jerry’s offers up free cones for anyone who comes to a scoop shop. I was at Norwich University for the day and, since I was passing through Waterbury on the way home, I went to the factory store for a free cone. It was snowy and chilly and gray that day. There was a long line. I walked up to the flavor graveyard. I said to myself “oh I loved that flavor!” a couple of times, then walked back down. The line was even longer by then, snaking down the walkway. I left without getting a free cone. There were a lot of people waiting in line outside for free ice cream on such a cold day. Hardy folks like their ice cream.

It keeps raining. The rain keeps freezing on whatever surface it finds. Even the Song Sparrows are quiet, and they sing in all kinds of weather. Maybe this afternoon the weather will ease up enough that I can head out and see the world a bit. Maybe I will head to the market for some ice cream. But maybe not. I’m not sure, really, how hardy I am.

 

Loving Late Summer

img_5432

Could the weather be more fine than it is here in Vermont these past few days? I left the house early this morning at under 50 degrees. The temperature rose to about 70 by afternoon. Cool, sunny, a light breeze. Lovely, that’s what it is.

I didn’t do any house staining yesterday. It was just too dang nice. It was a perfect day to stain the house but I went birding and to the dump. I cut all the Purple Loosestrife growing in the ditch and at the edge of the field. I read a book.

Today I planned to stain, despite the temptation to laze. I got suited up, pulled out the ladder, even cut a couple of low branches growing too close to the house. Then I grabbed the paint can and the easy hefting made me remember that I am almost out of stain. So much for that. I could have gotten more stain today, but I plan to go right by the paint store tomorrow, so it can wait a day.

Shore birds are migrating. I saw sandpipers at the lake this morning, pecking along the shore. I passed a flock of geese in a field. I guess they are on the move as well. The orchard where we like to pick apples is picking peaches now. We may need to grab a few of those. Peach jam? Peach ice cream? Can’t go wrong there.

School starts this week. I am back to work full time. Summer, as far as the easy schedule, is coming to a close for all of us. But we have some solid days of summer yet. We will get in some swimming, and some paddle boarding. And some outdoor tasks. I scheduled a chimney sweep appointment. The firewood is stacked. Getting ready for winter, I guess.

My son is not ready for school. I mean, he is ready, in a physical sense, but that kid hates it when summer ends. I can’t blame him there. The Monarch Caterpillars are chewing on milkweed now but soon they will flutter their way south as butterflies. Summer isn’t really over, but it is time to start heading forward to new things. Off we go.