A few August mornings

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.

August 18, 2019
August 19, 2019
August 21, 2019
August 24, 2019
August 25, 2019

Washboard Situation

We live on a dirt road. It might also be called a gravel road, or an unpaved road. I am not a fan of referring to it as “unpaved” since that implies that the norm is paved, when there are more miles of gravel roads in the world than paved roads. In Vermont, there are 1,500 more miles of dirt roads than paved roads.

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.

No Hitter

Earlier this week we went to see a Vermont Lake Monsters game. My son has gotten into watching and following baseball, so we drove into Burlington for our first Monsters game of the summer. It was warm but not hot, with just enough sun, and not too crowded given it was a week night. Perfect for a baseball game.

The Lake Monsters are a “Class A short season affiliate” of the Oakland A’s. The team is as minor league as it gets. I have watched games where they just do not do well, at least compared to a major league team–errors all over the place. But they are doing ok this year–they almost have a winning record.

The team used to be the Vermont Expos. They were a feeder team for the Montreal Expos. Then the Expos left Canada and went to Washington. The Monsters were a Nationals affiliate for a while, and now Vermont serves California. Lake Monsters is a better name than Expos anyway, if you ask me.

So yeah, a perfect night for a game. I got some Cracker Jack and an over-priced beer (side note: they have one great selection of over-priced beer, the majority of options local). The beer did me right but the Cracker Jack had fewer peanuts than ever. I figured the peanuts must have just settled to the bottom–but there might have been half a dozen of them total. Lame, but I enjoyed the popcorn part.

The Lake Monsters did not play terribly, but by inning seven my son pointed out that they were on the way to suffering a no-hitter against them. They did manage to get a runner on first, but that was due to a fielding error, not a hit. The Aberdeen IronBirds scored seven runs, with five home runs mixed in to make it interesting. My son said at the end, “You know it’s not good when the only numbers you have on the board are two errors.”

So we got to see a no-hitter. It was not for the home team, but it was new for all of us. And it was pretty fun to watch some baseball on a fine summer night. We hope to get to Centennial Field again before the season is up. I would like to see them win but I would settle for some runs on the board. And next time I’ll skip the Cracker Jack.

Storms passing by

This is the season of storms. Afternoon, the clouds that have been building during the hot day are ready to release some energy. They roll with the wind across the hills and let loose rain. They bring wind. Thunder and lightning accompany them.

The other day we watched a storm come in. The sky turned dark, then darker. My wife was out on a hike. The storm got closer. We could see rain falling on the hills in the distance. We felt a few drops. We stayed in the sun. We were on the edge of it. But it was coming. We knew that.

I texted my wife. I told her I hoped she was close. She checked the radar. She was close. We knew were going to get a whopper. We watched it come toward us. The wind picked up. Those few drops kept falling on us.

My wife came back. And the storm moved on. We stayed on the edge of it. We stayed in the sun. The rain passed over the hills. And then it got calm again. We were wrong about getting that whopper.

But we will get another chance. Many of them. The storms will come again. They will bring heavy rain. That is the theme now. We get few times of slow and steady rain. We get downpours, with pounding rain and erosion, then the sun comes out. The weather is more intense in general, and these summer storms show it.

We had no storms today. It stayed clear enough, although it was cooler than it has been. Crows across the field are mobbing something, calling and calling, raising a ruckus. Katydids buzz. The air is still. I wouldn’t mind a storm. Bring on the thunder. That dusty road of ours could use some dampening. Tomorrow, perhaps. I will be here.

To the Tractor Sign

From our house to the end of the road off our road is two miles. It makes a good four-mile run, or walk, or bike. If you go to the bend in the road, where the big puddle sits after a hard rain, and where the yellow-billed cuckoo called one morning, it is one mile, or two miles round trip. And it is a mile and a half to the tractor sign.

When our children were small we would ride our bikes down the road. At first to the steep hill, then just up the steep hill, but eventually all the way to the tractor sign. That extra half mile to the end of the road, past the sign, heads down a steep hill again, which means heading back up that hill to return. Given our children’s early biking abilities, the tractor sign was just about right.

Five kilometers is just over three miles, so going to the tractor sign and back is like completing a 5K. It makes for a good enough morning run when I have to rise early and fit that in before heading to work. Three miles still doesn’t sound all that far to me, but 5K? That’s solid.

The tractor sign is kind of a classic. Tractors don’t really look like that anymore. I mean, some people still drive old ones like that. With care, a tractor lasts a long time. And there are still plenty of old tractors around here. Witness the tractor parade each October in Charlotte. And that hat. I guess maybe some people wear those. They are (maybe) even making a comeback, but still, not really the style these days. So yeah, not current.

Tomorrow morning I plan to get up early enough to fit in that run before I shower and shave and generally get all prettified for the work day. It is pretty likely I will run to the tractor sign and back. I will give the dude on the sign a wave and turn back, mostly downhill, around that sharp bend, over the river and into the sunrise toward home. 5K before breakfast anyone?

Stuff to do on hot days

It is never hot and dry here. It is always hot and humid. When we say the day is hot we mean the air is saturated and the temperature is high. My family spent most of the week in Stowe last week. A stay-cation, if you will. It was really hot. Some of the things we did:

  1. Played mini-golf. This is kind of like bowling. Anyone can do it and everyone thinks they will be the best at it when they start. I’ve got this, you tell yourself, and the first hole is fine. I mean, you need to warm up, right? Then by the third hole you think, whatever, this is just for fun. We did this late in the day so we were in the shade. We thought about going bowling, but never got to it.
  2. Watched the World Cup. With the US team favored to win, we were excited to see as many games as we could. The USA/France game was especially fun to watch. You have to root for the home team a little, but really, GO USA! Last year we watched the men’s World Cup on an equally hot stay-cation week. Of all the teams we watched both years, the US women’s team is clearly the best.
  3. Hiked and ran on trails, early. We ran on the trails at Trapp Family Lodge. There are miles of them and getting out early means beating the heat. We did some sweating, for sure, but a little shade and a little breeze and that’s what I’m talking about. One day we saw a bear cub. It was on the trail and leaped up into a tree when it saw us. We never saw its mum, but that could be because we turned around stat.
  4. Watched movies. We saw both Toy Story 4 and Spider Man Far From Home. Both fun summer movies.
  5. Read some books. It is summer and we were lazing around. If you don’t read then, when will you? I finished Lexicon while we were not so, ahem, far from home.
  6. Drank seltzer. We bought cans and cans of seltzer and drank them all. One needs to stay hydrated, and soda is just too sweet for that. OK, I had a couple of beers too, but I’m a grownup. I’m allowed.
  7. Assembled a couple of jigsaw puzzles. It was hot. We had time. We did it together.
  8. Swam in the pool. Duh.

We got home and it was still hot. I managed to do some weed trimming and some gardening and a bunch of other stuff, including a long overdue dump run. A not-too-busy weekend at home after a week away. Right now I still have a couple of outdoor tasks. It is still too hot but I am tired of waiting. Summer. I need to just suck it up and do it.

Mountain Birdwatch 2019 on Bolton Mountain

View from the Long Trail north of Bolton Mountain peak

I have been participating in Mountain Birdwatch for a couple decades now. I started with Ricker Peak, which is in Bolton. That worked out great, since we lived in Bolton and I could walk out the door and hike to the survey route. But the survey got a makeover about ten years ago and that route was eliminated. I took on a route on the Worcester Range after that, which had its own charms, but I switched it up this year and volunteered to survey Bolton Mountain instead.

This route was right in my old stomping grounds so the hike in was familiar. I hiked in mid-day and scouted the survey points along the route, in reverse order. I hiked up and over the peak, then down to Puffer Shelter on the Long Trail, just beyond the first survey point. There were two other hikers planning to spend the night there, but I sent up a tent nearby. It was pretty much a stellar day for a hike–sunny and warm with good views when I could get them.

Bunch berries were blooming along the trail

I didn’t exactly have a tent. I brought a bug shelter–really light and roomy enough to be comfortable, but not a solid shelter in rain or high winds. The thing was ideal. I had scouted the route and gotten to the shelter way early, so I had a few hours before I had to try to sleep, even though I was planning to hit the hay earlier than I usually do. There were black flies and lots of them, so I snacked and read in my handy shelter. I did hang out in the shelter for a little black-fly-swatting conversation (one guy hiked in just to spend the night there after seeing the shelter for the first time on a Long Trail through-hike last year, and the other had hiked north from West Virginia), but once out of the bugs I easily fell asleep.

I rose at 4:00 and, after packing up, walked with a headlamp to the first survey point. While I know the routine of this project well, I enjoy it every time. I heard Bicknell’s Thrush, which is just always a treat, and my first Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher of the year. Hearing those birds and, sitting in the shadows of spruces, thinking about the long journey they make to get to that spot, I am awed again and again.

I paid careful attention and wrote it all down, and reflected in between survey points, and overall had a pleasant day. I hiked all the way back to the car and was out of there in time for breakfast. Just at the trailhead I ran into a guy from Montreal (it was a national holiday weekend) who had come down with his family and was looking to hike up Bolton Mountain. I told him how to get there and he mentioned he and his wife had a baby in a backpack. While I admired that and remembered carrying our own kids that way, I also couldn’t help thinking of the black flies. They like babies. I tried to warn him but he did not seem to know what they were. I guess they don’t have those in the city. I hoped it worked out.

I stopped for coffee and a muffin at Sweet Simone’s in Richmond and made it home by late morning. It is hard not to be a little tired after rising before dawn, but I felt great. Being in the mountains does that for me. I did not do a whole lot the rest of that Sunday. I dried out the bug shelter and put away my supplies and entered my survey data. Later in the day, we all went out for a creemee. Perfect summer day if you ask me.