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.
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?
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Assembled a couple of jigsaw puzzles. It was hot. We had time. We did it together.
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.
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.
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.
I definitely got one of the plum routes. Mount Mansfield is the highest mountain in Vermont and surveying the Mountain Birdwatch route up there means watching the sunrise with no one else around from the highest peak in the state. Pretty sweet. I went up there a few days ago. I had a fine experience.
Mountain Birdwatch is a program to study high elevation songbirds in the northeast with citizen science volunteers. It means hiking a specific route, about a mile long, with five or six specific points. It means stopping at those points and counting ten bird species, plus red squirrels, for 20 minutes. The hardest part is learning the bird songs and calls, since they hardly show themselves in the dense spruce/fir forest. This is my 19th year volunteering, so I’ve got those songs and calls down.
One of the reasons this is a plum route is that I get to drive up the toll road, which is open for paying customers during the day. Stowe Mountain Resort gives permission to Vermont Center for Ecostudies, which manages Mountain Birdwatch, to use the road for research. Scientists from VCE go up there a few times each year to catch and band birds. They were up there a few days before I was. They set up mist nets and check out the avian critters that get snagged. So I get to benefit from the perk of using the road. It makes for a much shorter hike and I can be home in time for a late breakfast.
Stowe even allows VCE staff to stay in the ski patrol hut up there so they can get up early and get to work. I have done that in the past but this year I just rose early (2:00!) and drove over there. After some serious finagling with the lock, which was a bit stuck, I got through the gate and slowly drove up the twisting gravel road. The speed limit is 15 and that is definitely the limit on this road. I parked in the small lot by the visitor center and hopped right onto the Long Trail.
I heard few birds, at least compared to previous years. I did hear Bicknell’s Thrush, which breeds only in that habitat, but no Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher or Swainson’s Thrush, which was just odd. I always hear those birds up there. Until this year. So it was a quiet morning. There was hardly even any wind.
I have found Blackpol Warblers in greater numbers down in the valley this year; I do sometimes hear them in the spring as they pass through on their way toward higher locations, but I have heard a lot of them down low this year. I am guessing that birds are just slow to head up the slopes this year. There was still quite a bit of snow up high, although not on the trails. That’s my theory.
I have another route to survey. I traded my usual route in the Worcester Range for one on Bolton Mountain. I will need to scout that one first so it will definitely take longer. I can’t drive most of the way up the mountain on that route, and I haven’t seen it before, so I will need to find the survey points ahead of time–I don’t want to be trying to find obscure spots along the trail in the dark. It will give me another chance to find the birds I missed on Mansfield. So here’s hoping the weather holds.
I have to go when I can go. So I went up to the town forest a couple mornings ago, when I had some time to do it. If I had total flexibility I might have gone the day before, when the sky was clear. But I have to work, and I have a family and, you know, life stuff. So I went when I had time.
May is the month to find migrating birds. And, currently, it is May. So up I went to see what is passing through, or what has arrived for the summer. There was some fog down low, but as I drove up the hill, the fog got thicker. Up at the small parking area it was a bit socked in. I could see, mind you, just not very far. Tree tops were obscured, so I had to listen more than look.
When I go birding I usually listen more than look anyway, so it was natural. I have to remind myself sometimes to look up, in fact. There is just so much sound that birds make–songs and calls and drumming and chips and peeps. On this day I heard plenty of birds–Winter Wrens and American Redstarts and Veeries and Mourning Warblers. The bird of the day was the Bay Breasted Warbler–one that passes through–peeking out from a spruce tree right next to the trail at head height. Cool looking little dude.
I wandered around in the fog for a while before I had to get off to work. It was a successful and satisfying morning. The fog behind the fresh greenery was a quiet portrait of spring. I was in awe. It was awesome. I sank into the landscape and, by observing closely, discovered some of the landscape’s details. Not a bad way to start the day.
It has been nice enough that I have slept out on the porch several nights in a row. But it rained a couple of nights ago. A lot. In the dark hours, thunderstorms arrived. Flashing. Booming. Pounding rain. One lightning strike was so close it yanked me from sleep and I shook like a fish pulled from a pond. Can’t help but laugh at yourself for that.
All that rain filled the rivers. Right here, the river overflowed. Water filled the fields. The road stayed above it but you could take a paddle out on the new lake. Some of our neighbors did. My wife took a walk and found a family of raccoons in a tree surrounded by water. Later they were gone. I guess they decided to swim for it. My son saw an otter.
This is why we shouldn’t build in flood zones. The river needs some place to go when the rains come. It still rushed past the bridge. It stays in the channel. It just needs to also take some room in the fields, at least temporarily. The cows moved up the hill. The Kingfishers were fine–their nest in the river bank was high enough. And the ducks don’t care. Nature adapts. It is just us humans that have trouble with change.
It rained more today. The water in the fields is receding, however. More thunderstorms are forecast so it could be a bit before the fields dry out. Lake Champlain has been at flood stage for days. This rain will keep it there for a while yet. I plan to sleep out on the porch again tonight. I need to trust that the thunder claps won’t scare my pajama pants right off.