Rain and Shadows and Light

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In the night it starting raining. Hard. The wind picked up. Rain blasted through the screen. We rose, shut some windows. After a while it tapered off. Waking in the dark, I heard the rain fall again against the porch roof. Then I slept.

Morning, rain fell on and off. I could not get out to stain the house siding. Too wet for that. I could not finish mowing the field. I brewed coffee, sat on the porch and read Ivan Doig. My reading was interrupted by heavy showers. Wind misted rain through the screen. More than once I said aloud “Dang. It’s coming down.”

I got lost in Doig’s story, then looked out again at the gray. I had breakfast–blueberries and yogurt and granola. Later I took care of paying bills. I hung some closet doors. When it cleared, I thought temporarily, I popped over to a spot in town that often gets flooded to see if any early shorebirds had come through. They hadn’t. The rain did not come back.

Late in the day, sunlight highlighted the hills. Clouds hung in shadow and the far-off green trees glowed. Wind tickled the Black-Eyed Susans. Trees and grass and flowers drank the fresh water. It is quieter these days, with fewer birds singing. Soon, at night, the Perseid meteor shower will light up the night. I love rain, but hope for clear skies to see the stars surprised by slashes of light.

A few red leaves have appeared, as if competing to be the first to arrive at autumn. They are anomalies, for now. Sandpipers and plovers are not far off. Maples will blush soon. But not today. August has treasures to be found. I need to seek them out.

Mowing. Finally. 

One of my favorite sounds of spring and summer is the song of the Meadowlark. That sweet whistling tune makes me smile every time I hear it. This year they nested in our field. Starting a few years ago they were around, nesting in surrounding fields and sharing their songs. Now they nest right here in our meadow. By mid-July, chicks have fledged. We had a half dozen young birds zipping around, buzzing out their calls rather than their songs, done with nests for now.

Other birds were out of their nests as well–Red-Winged Blackbirds, Savannah Sparrows, Bobolinks, Snipes. Birds fledged and Wild Parsnip not yet gone to seed? That means time to cut the field.

I had powered up our tow-behind brush hog in June. I wanted to make sure it started, that the blades spun, that it worked. So when mid-July arrived and the weather cooperated I hooked up the mowing system and got started. Unfortunately, after one pass of one edge of the field, smoke started pouring out of the brush hog. Dang! Busted belt. No more mowing.

There is a repair shop right up the road, so I just kept on going. It was Friday, of course, but they assured me getting parts is pretty quick these days. So I’m thinking they order a belt on Monday, put it on and maybe Wednesday I’m in business, best case scenario. But since I didn’t hear from them I called after a week. They had an estimate for me. Seriously? I’m hoping the thing is ready to go and they haven’t even ordered the belt?

So, giving them the go-ahead, I patiently waited some more. After another week I called again. It was still not done–complications, other parts needed, rust involved. After another couple of calls and another week, it was finally good to go. I picked it up Saturday morning, just before the place closed. It ran like a charm. So I headed out to field, three weeks after I started, Wild Parsnip now starting to go to seed, and started cutting.

I wasn’t sure just how much I could get done that day, but after about eight hours, I had most of it cut. It was a long afternoon/evening. I had planned to stop by 9:00 pm and stopped about ten minutes before that hour. I probably spread a few Wild Parsnip seeds but not too many, I hope. I left a couple of patches uncut but, since we planned to head out for a week the next day, it would have to do.

The birds were definitely cleared out by the time I started cutting. I missed my window between ground-nesters fledging and seeds falling by a bit but hopefully not by too much. If I can get out there and cut once more this fall, the Parsnip should be checked for this season. That stuff is aggressive and I need to keep at it. What I want is for grasses and native wildflowers to grow. I want better habitat for the birds and more food for the pollinators. It has been a long project and may take a good deal more time yet.

In the meantime I can look out over the cut meadow with relief. I don’t see those tall stalks with yellow flowers turning brown with seeds. I don’t hear much birdsong now, but come spring I look forward to the Meadowlarks, flying low across the greening field,  whistling their tunes once again.

Right Next to Vermont

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The old joke goes like this: the best thing about Burlington is that it’s right next to Vermont. Funny, right? Well maybe not so much any more. Burlington is as much Vermont as Newport and Rutland, as Chelsea and Rupert. But here is something that isn’t a joke: New York is right next to Vermont, and it has some pretty sweet spots.

More than once on a summer evening we have taken a boat ride over to Essex, New York. Some dinner at the Old Dock, right on the water, and some ice cream at the scoop shop up the hill made for a fine end to a summer day. Since the ferry goes right to Essex, it is easy enough to walk on and ride it back to get home. No personal boat required.

I have taken that ferry many times to access the wonders of the Adirondacks. A couple of days ago a few of us took that ferry to take a hike. We took a car across and drove south from Essex. We arrived shortly at the trailhead to Split Rock. This preserved land has 11 miles of trails. We explored a few of those miles.

The woods are full of history. Wide spreading white pines tell of open fields. Thick, sturdy maples tell of houses that were shaded. We found cellar holes and rusted wheel wells from old cars. There is a wide diversity of trees, from sugar maples to red pine to hickory. The few birches, while and yellow, told us that the forest was old enough to have shaded those species mostly out. We saw garter snakes and the quills of a long dead porcupine. There was lots to see.

Most of what we saw was on the way out. This is because we had to hike fast when we started. There were so many mosquitoes that stopping for a minute or more was just not pleasant at all. We slapped and waved and brushed our way up to the first vista spot on our route. It was breezy there, with a nice enough view down to and across the lake. We watched sailboats and listened to Ospreys.

Our way down started along the ridge and we had another fine vista, this one more exposed with an even better view. The hike down was easy and gradual, and the mosquitoes had abated. We got back to the car for a late lunch and headed back into town. And that scoop shop? Still there. Went to it. Had delicious ice cream.

And we rode the ferry back. Riding the ferry on a perfect summer day, waves rolling across to Vermont, the sun shining on the islands and the mountains, the lake stretching north to Canada, really is hard to beat. We soaked in the beauty of it all as we stood on the deck, happy in the afternoon to be back home after a day spent next door.

Full-On Summer

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My daughter, freshly home from summer camp, and my wife and I picked some blueberries today. My son is at a running camp for mornings this week so it was just the three of us. We went late in the morning. The sun was up. It was hot under that sun. It was, as I mentioned to my family, a full-on summer day.

We each picked two quarts, to get your standard flat of berries. It takes some effort but it is worth the time and effort to pick one’s own berries. A quart costs less than a quart from the market and one has control over the quality of the berries in the basket, if you know what I’m saying. We got fat ripe berries and only fat ripe berries.

We did do some sweating at Owl’s Head Blueberry Farm, where we spent only an hour, but not only did we get blueberries but the place has a stellar view. It was one classic summer hour. We ate plenty of berries and my wife tossed a couple of quarts into the freezer later in the day. Hopefully we can pick more before the month is out and add to that freezer stash. They are great to have on a winter morning. Pancakes, anyone? Muffins?

A couple of times this summer, including this week, I have made granola. It is easy to make and, again, worth the effort. If you are going to eat granola, making it means you can make it just how you like it. It is not that difficult, even if it does take some time. The granola I made a couple of days ago includes these ingredients: oats, salt, oil, maple syrup, sunflower seeds, almonds, wheat germ. Simple.

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Tomorrow morning I plan to have more blueberries for breakfast, with some yogurt, and some granola tossed on top. Sweet, tangy, crunchy. If you can beat that for a perfect summer breakfast, you let me know.

Water this Summer

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High water on the Winooski River

I was planning to continue working on staining the house siding today. That wasn’t going to happen. I got up early enough. It was not raining, but it was going to rain. I didn’t want wet stain to get rained on. I would have had to stain it again. So I held off. Good thing. The rain came down.

It came down in sheets. Not for long, mind you, but in that short time we got a lot of rain, tossed around by strong winds. The forecast called for rain throughout the day and we got a few more bursts like that. Staining will have to wait.

I was away for a good chunk of June. My son and I were in New Hampshire last week. My wife was home and reported heavy rain, enough to flood our road, which I have never seen. Three inches of water fell in as many hours. That was mid-week.

My son and I came home on Saturday. As we headed west to Vermont it started to rain. It was a hard rain, so hard we slowed to a crawl it was so difficult to see. Once the rain let up a bit we kept going, slow but steady. We passed route 25A and I considered heading across that way, but decided to try 25C, farther north. But shortly after we turned onto that road we encountered a ROAD CLOSED sign. Maybe we should have taken 25A after all, I thought.

But at 25A we found a couple of rescue vehicles blocking the road. They were not there when we had passed the first time. I asked the man there if the road was blocked due to flooding. “I don’t think you’ll float,” he said, looking at our van, before adding that several other roads were closed. That was good information. Hopping onto the wifi at the store down the road (no cell service to be had), we chose a long route around. It took about three extra hours to get home that day.

I did get started on staining the house this week. We had a few days of sun. Yesterday I had to stop early. A thunderstorm moved in. I’ll get it done over time. I have some summer left. Water is high now. The ground is saturated. With more heavy rain like this, we might get more flooding. I hope we don’t get too much.

 

Meadow as Fashion

IMG_1196I was at American Eagle, in the mall, with my daughter two days ago. This is not a frequent haunt of mine but she needed some new shorts and knew she could find some there that fit well, plus there was a sale, and there I was, the dad of the pre-teen in the land of the young. They sell a lot of jeans, and the jeans come in different styles. There are a variety of cuts, of course (narrow, boot), plus multiple materials (standard denim, stretch), but their jeans are also worn differently. They “wash” them so they look worn when you buy them, as has been the trend since the 1900’s. The most dramatic wash is called “destroyed,” which means your jeans come with tears and holes included. I understand the fashion implications of this trend, but still, the practical side of me winces at paying for something that is already “destroyed.”

Yesterday the confluence of factors necessary for brush hogging the field occurred:

  1. I was home.
  2. The equipment to do the job was in working order and ready to be used.
  3. The weather was clear.
  4. Ground nesting birds had fledged.
  5. The wild parsnip was tall but not yet going to seed.
  6. I had the time to get cracking.

Yesterday morning I sat on the porch and looked out at the meadow. There were a whole lot of Bobolinks out there. I counted at least ten. Savannah Sparrows were singing. I was happy to see the Bobolinks–they successfully fledged some youngsters. It means they are making it here. It also means I could cut without mashing their nests. I also looked out at a field of yellow. The wild parsnip, that invasive plant that takes over and can offer passersby terrible burns, was tall and flowering. If one can feel emotion toward a plant, I feel bitterness toward wild parsnip. I want it gone.

Wild parsnip, some of it eight feet tall

Wild parsnip, some of it eight feet tall

Now is the key window for our meadow–birds that nest on the ground (Bobolinks, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Savannah Sparrows, Meadowlarks) have fledged and the wild parsnip has not yet gone to seed. After I returned from work early in the afternoon, I hopped in the machine and got cutting. We have been trying to get rid of the stuff for years now by cutting. Sometimes I have cut too late, and that just spreads the seeds. It has retreated a bit, growing in less area now, but it still rules parts of the meadow. I cut for several hours yesterday and got the worst of it. In the next couple days, if the weather holds, I hope to get the rest.

The upper field is now poor habitat. The mice and snakes can’t hide as well. The birds have nowhere to perch. The insects are moving to the field next door. But it does feel good to have sliced down the wild parsnip. The field looks different, some might say ugly, and I have been thinking of it in terms of fashion. It is not a field of grass (your basic new denim). It is not the clean cut-and-remove of a field of grass cut for hay (pre-washed to some degree). It is more the destroyed look. Grass and leaves and stems and flowers are spread across the meadow. It is not neat and tidy. It is not the look for going out to dinner. At the moment, however, it is the look I am going for, just right for late July.

Marsh Wren, Rain

IMG_2682Beyond the glass of the window, the rain falls hard. I can see it against the dark green of the maples, the sumac, the white birch. Streams fall from the eaves. I can hear the pounding of the falling water on the porch roof. Coffee in hand, wearing a dry sweatshirt and shorts, I feel calm, content. I am warm. I have no worries. My daughter still sleeps. My son reads on the porch. My wife is out walking, happy to be in it.

This morning I tried to find a Marsh Wren. I had yet to find one this year and it is Sunday. Sunday means I can go to the marsh on Route 116 to listen. Morning is the best time to go and on weekdays, even Saturday, traffic obscures the sounds of the marsh. Sunday, early, is the time to go. There were a few other cars, but not many, passing as I watched and listened. I had a window without rain for about 25 minutes. I heard and saw many wetland birds. I watched three Green Herons fly overhead. I listened hard for the Grasshopper Sparrow I heard there last year. The nearby field had just been mowed so any Grasshopper Sparrows had left. I heard my Marsh Wren.

We will head north later today to Montreal, to watch France play Korea in the Women’s World Cup. It will be an exciting day in the city. At the moment, however, the day is peaceful and quiet. The rain drums, the House Wren in the spruce sings his bubbly song, a Meadowlark whistles out in the field. Soon I will need to gather things for our trip to Canada, but for now, that second cup of coffee needs to go down before it gets cold. Plus, the rocker on the porch needs company. I don’t want to be the one to let it down.