Snow Geese at Dead Creek

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We used to go every year. We got married in mid-October so we would travel past Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area, on our way to go hiking in New York, every year. We looked forward to seeing the Snow Geese. There is a wildlife viewing station just off Route 17 and there would be hundreds of them. It was a spectacle.

There would be a blanket of white geese, thousands of them–honking, rising and falling in groups, waves of them landing or taking off. They would cluster right up to the fence at times, pecking away at the residue in the cut corn fields. It was hard to contain it in one’s imagination, let alone absorb the reality of it.

We don’t go hiking in New York every year now, but yesterday morning I went down to Dead Creek to see the geese, the rest of my family still in bed. I was alone there at first, arriving before the sun rose. A flock of Snow Geese was gathered close enough to see them, but they kept their distance from the viewing area. Then they started to rise and fly overhead. They did not take off all at once, but in large groups. They V-ed their way right over me, settling on the other side of the road in a cleared field. Eventually they all had migrated from the south side to the north side.

They flew as the sun broke the horizon, so they were lit from below. Their black wing tips contrasted with the white of their bodies. They honked, higher and a little squeakier than Canada Geese, their calling filling the morning. I looked for other geese, a White-Fronted Goose or a Ross’s Goose mixed in perhaps, but they all were Snow Geese.

By the time I was ready to head out, other people were arriving. I chatted a bit with them. They had missed the Peregrine Falcon perched right overhead, and the chatter of the Red-Winged Blackbirds. I drove up the road a ways to see if could find anything else, but it was a quiet morning. When I passed by again there was a big crowd, there to see the geese. For a while in the golden light of morning I had them all to myself. While there are not nearly as many as there were years ago, it was still a spectacle for a perfect October morning.

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Pie Time

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Last weekend we picked some apples. If you are not one to frequent an orchard to pick your own apples then you might not know how easy it is to pick too many. One bag is easy to fill, especially when the apples are the size of grapefruits, so it is tempting to fill a second, and a third. Even though there were several of us on this particular trip, adults and youth types, we did not pick too many. Pat on the back for us.

We did, however, pick enough to make an apple pie. I have been using a variation of the same recipe now for years. It is a tasty pie, no doubt. The crust, with a bit of dried mustard and cheddar cheese baked right in, is spot on. It is a good crust. And the filling tastes great–robust apple flavor, not too sweet. But the consistency I just can’t nail.

This recipe calls for two tablespoons of corn starch to thicken the filling. I used the recommended number of apples, and I tried not to add only the humongo ones. More apples means more moisture which means more starch is required to absorb the excess liquid. I know this. So even though the number of apples in my pie matched that in the recipe, I doubled the corn starch. I was going to add only one extra tablespoon but I added two just to be on the safe side.

But the dang thing was still way too runny. I even let it sit a while so it would not flow out just because it was too hot. So, like a late New Year’s resolution, I have decided to just bag this recipe and to find another. This one stinks. I am always afraid I will add too much corn starch and it always comes out runny. Lame, I tell you. Lame. So from here on out I toss that filling recipe into the bin. I’ll keep the crust, but the filling? Ain’t happenin’ no more.

So I am on the hunt for a new apple pie recipe. I have a few in books on the shelf, and I will certainly give the pie recipes in them a try. I guess I will need to just get baking to try a few. Do you have a tried and true recipe that makes the apples pop on your tongue and is just sweet enough? You let me know. I’m game. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Good Morning for a 5K

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Yesterday morning my son and I headed over to the high school for a morning run with a bunch of other people. It was the annual Hearts for Hunger 5K to benefit the Vermont Foodbank. We ran it last year and it was a great event, so we signed up again this year.

It was a chilly morning so we ditched our sweatshirts at the last minute. It was about 52 degrees at start time so it was pretty ideal for a run. My son had asked me ahead of time: “Is it OK if I ditch you?” It was, and he did.

He ran ahead and I lingered in the scrum for a bit. Once I was free to follow my own pace he was far ahead. I could see him pretty much the whole time, and we high-fived as I approached the turn-around point and he was heading back. There was a water station there so I slowed to take a drink. That was my mistake.

I kept getting closer to him the whole way back, but at one point he turned around and saw me. I wanted to catch him. I had a little pride I guess, but he was having none of his old man catching him at that point. He had a little pride as well. We ran uphill and we both were getting pretty hot in the bright sun, but he kicked it in and finished before me.

I was kind of out of gas at that point. Too little sleep (my daughter had a late performance last night in Burlington) will do that. But close to the finish line I could hear someone coming up from behind me. I picked up my pace but he kept coming. So I sprinted across the finish line with him close behind. Then I really was out of gas.

I thanked the guy who tried to catch me for giving me a push. I wanted to finish behind my son to avoid any future ribbing from him. So, we both pushed ourselves and felt good about it and ate a cookie and drank some water. We waited around for the awards and raffle and he took home a box of fudge. It was peanut butter fudge (um, what?) but hey, free fudge.

This was our second 5K this spring. We will do more as they come up. The marathon in Burlington happens Memorial Day weekend. Back in the day that was an annual event for my wife and I. Maybe one of these days we can do it with our kids. That, however, will require I have a little bit more gas at the start.

Still Some Color Here

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We have had some wind lately, and some welcome rain. Most deciduous trees are bare. Our yard was covered in leaves the other day. My wife took advantage of the wind and raked them up into the air so they would get carried off. There is a wall of leaves now at the edge of the field. The lawn is clear.

We have had snow a few times. Nothing much in the valley, although some tracks have been laid on high elevation slopes already. And we have been getting rain for days, on and off. Several days ago I laid the hose on the hill to dry so I can roll it up and store it for the winter. It has only gotten wetter. We haven’t cut the grass in weeks, but it is still green.

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A few trees, like the Japanese Maple next to the house, are still bright. That tree is brilliant. It isn’t native but I can see why it was planted. It’s a beaut.  And there are places where red and orange and yellow leaves are spread out in bright layers. The foliage that draws leaf peepers may have dwindled but there is plenty of color lingering in the corners.

When the sun has managed to find its way out of the clouds this week, it has highlighted the snow on the mountains, or the trunks of trees now visible, or the leaves piled at the edge of the woods. Slowly this will fade to gray, but fall is still here.

Messy Eater

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My daughter romped about in the woods the other day. She got her boots muddy. She left them on the porch overnight. She left them there to dry. She also left them there to avoid cleaning off the mud.

In the morning they looked like this. I just recently hung the bird feeders. I filled a couple of them with sunflower seeds. Someone else did not want to clean up their mess. A squirrel? A chickadee? A mouse? I’m guessing a chickadee was flying back and forth from the feeder to the trellis over these boots. It ate the centers and left the hulls.

I cleaned up after the messy eater. I left the boots for my daughter. I am glad the chickadee wears no boots. I am glad my daughter has some skill with a napkin.

Getting Quiet

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You go out early, the sky in the east hinting at pink, the clouds that will become gray still black, you can feel winter nosing its way in. You feel the damp air kneading your shoulders, the coldness creeping into your sleeves. You can’t see much. The sun has a while before it crests the Green Mountains. Everything is shadow, but out you go anyway.

You wear a headlamp, not out of fear of the dark, and despite that there is just enough light to see the road. No, you wear the light because you are afraid you will run into what is so often already there. You are afraid you might encounter a skunk, or a porcupine, and that, you are sure, would set the day on a different path than you had hoped. And, you admit, it does help you see where you are going better. Stepping into a hole in the road and twisting your ankle would also not set the day headed in the right direction.

As you run up the hill, your feet are the loudest thing you hear. They sound too loud, as if you have disturbed the quiet of the morning. Then you become aware of the sound of your breathing and that too seems too loud. You try to relax but you are powering up the hill now and you don’t want to stop, so you keep the pace, even pick it up a little, until you reach the top.

Up there you can see the Adirondacks to the west. They have a layer of snow so the pink from the east lights them up like Easter eggs. Just above them lie the clouds, getting more gray and less black. The clouds blanket the sky but are high enough that the mountains on both sides are visible. And you head down the hill.

Once, you hear a young Song Sparrow. It is not the robust Song Sparrow song of spring but a rough song, recognizable but raspy, a bold young scamp practicing to woo the ladies post-winter. Otherwise, it is quiet. Things are louder when the light is low but on this morning there is little to hear.

You turn around at the ash tree where you often turn around. Now you are heading east and get to see the sky glowing with color. By the time you get home you can see how many more leaves the wind has pulled from the trees overnight. There is a breeze, just enough to cut through your thin jacket, and you still have not warmed up all the way, even though you have started to sweat.

You walk the last part. You stop just before the house to listen. You hear the wind, and your breathing, slower now. The Song Sparrow is far away. You shuffle some leaves on the ground to hear them rustle. Then you go inside, to brew coffee, to warm up, to get ready for your day.

Rain Window

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A couple days ago I went out in the afternoon to look for birds. One of my goals this year has been to try to go birding every day. Sometimes I catch an owl or two in the early morning. Other days I go walk for a couple of hours. I hadn’t found many birds the other day as it was raining all day plus, you know, work. The rain had let up a bit, and it was going to get dark soon, so out I went.

As soon as I left the house, that rainless window started to close. A few drops fell, then more, and pretty soon it was full on raining. I went anyway. I didn’t go far–just down the road to the bridge over the river. I found some Blue Jays, Chickadees, a White-Throated Sparrow, a couple Juncos. It wasn’t a stellar birding expedition, but I got it in. By the time I got back home I was pretty soggy.

It rained yesterday most of the day. We need it. It has been a dry summer and early fall. We have been afraid our well might run dry. It never has before but we have never had such a dry stretch. These past few days should help. Looking out at Camel’s Hump and the Green Mountains south of there, I can see snow up high. I saw a few cars today with snow piled on their roofs–three inches or so. Full on autumn.

My daughter and I ran a 5K this morning. She has wanted to do them as often as possible this fall. She has run a 5K four weekends in a row. I have run the past three with her. It was forecast to be raining this morning, temperatures in the 40’s, super windy. We had the low temps and wind but no rain. It was a beautiful morning–snow up high, leaves still orange and red–if chilly. Apparently not everyone thought so. There were a grand total of seven runners. I feel like a fair weather runner sometimes but sheesh.

Those 5K’s are getting scarce now that the weather has turned. We can squeeze one in the next couple of weekends. We plan to do one on Thanksgiving day. But then it will be hard to find organized events, at least around here. We got lucky this morning and hit the window right to avoid the rain. Sometimes that happens. Gray skies, blue skies, it’s all beautiful with the other fall colors. Rain or sun, I will keep getting out there. My daughter wants to do those 5K’s and someone needs to do them with her. And I need to get in those birding days.

Only 71 more days and I will have done some birding every day in 2016. I need to think about goals for next year. I will have some kind of birding goal again. And 2017 will bring a running goal as well. Whatever I decide they need to get me out there, whether I hit the rain window or not.