Rain and Then Sun on a Walk

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Today my wife and I went out for a walk. It was late morning. It had been raining, really just showers on and off, but the rain had let up so we thought a walk would do nicely. We were in a dry weather window, so we ambled up the road. It was a tad muddy. A couple of new houses are being built nearby and the road has been getting chopped up a bit. I wore the wrong shoes. Crocs. Not the best for a damp gravel byway.

My poor choice of shoes didn’t matter in the end anyway. As we walked through the woods, looking out at the field, I asked “Do you think that is rain coming our way or just wind?” The answer: “I think it might be rain.” The sky in the west was dark. That dry weather window closed quickly.

It rained steadily and then harder, and harder. And it kept coming down. Deluge. We got soaked. We stood under some trees for a bit, although that hardly helped. We turned around for home. It kept raining. Before we got back to the house the sun broke through. Blue sky and wind. If we had waited a half hour longer to begin we would have missed that downpour. But our day would have been less interesting.

The foliage has been turning. It is not at its most brilliant yet, but it is still a sight. With cool air, and yellows and oranges sprouting among the trees, autumn is sliding on in, excusing herself to step in front of summer. As we walked the last stretch to the house, we got to see some of her beauty. Autumn wasn’t showing off, mind you, but she is dressing itself up lately. Even with my Crocs squishing and my shorts soggy, I couldn’t help but admire how good she was looking today.

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Butterflies and Asters

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Asters are blooming like crazy right now: Purple Aster, New England Aster, Fleabane. Black-Eyed Susans are done. Touch-Me-Nots are gone. Dandelions? Haven’t seen them. Asters rule the fields these days.

I don’t know my butterflies well. I have thought many a time that I should learn them. I got some exposure to learning them on a trip this summer the butterfly garden at the Fairbanks Museum in Saint Johnsbury. They had a tent full of them with signage to show what was what. I don’t remember squat from that. Poor student, I guess.

The butterflies in the photo above are American Ladies. I had to look that up. I might be able to tell a Viceroy from a Monarch, but don’t trust me too much. I know there is more than one Swallowtail in Vermont. Can’t tell them apart though. But I tell you this: they are just cool-looking.

It is kind of nice to simply not know the names of things. There is real pleasure in being able to look at an insect, or a plant or a bird, and to know its name. To name something is the beginning of getting to know it, to knowing more than just its name. However, there can be just as much joy in simply wondering at a thing, in watching and seeing with ignorant eyes, in being present to observe.

A sunrise does not have a name, but it is beautiful. We can watch the sky change and the clouds trudge along in their pinkness and just feel awe. We do not have to create a name for snow on trees to find it wondrous. So it is with butterflies. I am curious about what they all are, what makes them different, where they go in winter, what flowers they prefer–all of that starts with naming them. But I do not need to name them to find them wondrous. They dance, unnamed, among the asters I might be able to name, and I feel like kid. “That is so cool!” I say aloud. And that is enough.

 

Autumn in Full Swing

img_4170The turning foliage this year is brilliant. Every day it seems to get brighter. This is one of the benefits of living here. Nature creates art. We are surrounded by beauty.

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Shelburne Farms

Took a walk at Shelburne Farms the other day. Ka-pow! The lake was roiled. The wind was up. The leaves flashed their colors. The gray clouds skipped across the sky.

Lake Champlain Surf

Lake Champlain Surf

Yesterday rain fell. The sky was dark. By late afternoon the sky was really dark. But then the sun broke through and the hills lit up. Eye candy.

img_4206Suddenly this will all be gone. The wind will rush in and strip the trees. The fields will turn from green to brown. Snow will fall. The world will be beautiful in a new way. But this, this is stunning. It calls for expletives and interjections and exclamations and acclamations. And sometimes all of them in one sentence.

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Weather all over the place

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It is pretty easy to talk about the weather. Who doesn’t talk about it? Problem is, most of the time what I hear is complaining. It’s too hot. It’s too cold. Too much rain. The snow is a nuisance. That kind of thing. Complaining about the weather is a national pastime and it is something that binds us together. Too bad, I say. Around here the weather is always changing, and I love that.
Last week the temperature got to -18º. The ground finally froze. I couldn’t stir the compost pile–it was solid. A couple of days ago it warmed up. The temperature rose to 52º. Then it rained all day. Then it got cold and snowed. The rain and warm weather made for some flooding. All that floodwater is ice now. The roads turned muddy, got rutted, then froze. Frozen ruts make for sketchy driving. But they look cool.

This month we have had temperatures that ranged 70 degrees, snow, rain, sleet, high winds, ice, mud, fog. Maybe if it were April that would seem right. But it is February. We still have had no major snow storm. There has been some snow in the mountains but we have not had more than two inches of snow at home. It would be nice to have some snow. It is winter after all. We have, however, had some stunning days, and many of them have made me stop in wonder.

Two mornings ago fog filled the field across the road, curling over the temporary ponds and the overflowing river. Tonight as the sun went down it draped its pink light onto the freshly snow-covered mountains. We can complain about the weather. Or we can smile at the beauty of the world. It is beautiful every day. Why can’t that bind us together instead?

Afternoon, Stick Season

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The river runs not high but not low. A sand bank toward the far side pushes the water away, causing the current to run faster. Across the river the banks drop steeply. In spring, Bank Swallows nest here, burrowing into the sand, flying low over the water to catch flies. Today it is not spring. Fall’s glory has passed. The brilliance of turning leaves is over. Those leaves lie in wilted piles among the bare shrubs.

But it is not yet winter. The current flows smoothly over rocks and sand and mud. A few moths still flit among the maples. There is no ice under which the water must crawl, no ice to scrape at the log lodged in the river’s bend. Snow does not yet fall. Today there are no clouds and the air is warm enough for scattered green leaves in the under-story to spread to catch the sun. But the sun is low, and will not last much longer today.

Upstream, at the mouth of the stream that melts into the river, a beaver just stirs in its lodge. It has been waiting for the light to dim, for shadows to grow long. It dips into the water, swims, waits again. Soon it will climb the bank to work at the silver maple it plans to fell. Already it has cleared smaller trees. It will chew away the bark, working steadily, wary of predators. Perhaps this tree will fall before winter sets in. Perhaps spring winds will send it tumbling. Perhaps it may prove more stubborn, standing for years before its top branches dip into the water. The beaver, however, does not concern itself with such possibilities. It simply works.

Two Blue Jays call across the bare trunks. A woodpecker knocks. A second calls to it and sends the first flapping away. A small breeze taps branches together, but mostly it is quiet. Crickets, cicadas, birds do not sing. Squirrels stay still. The woods here rest, exposed, not waiting exactly, not sure or unsure, just knitting the past into the present so the future can be only an imagined thing that does not matter to this day.

Soon the sun will drop below the hills. The day’s heat will drift off, like milkweed seeds across a field. In the dark, the river will seem louder. No bats will dot the skies but owls will call. Already owls are planning for spring, finding mates, starting nests. They plan for the future, like the beaver, doing today what must be done for tomorrow. Mice will crawl under dry leaves, finding seeds that won’t become flowers, feeding the owls, thinking only of right now, this November day next to the river that will not stop flowing, even when the ice comes.

Rainy June Days

IMG_0481It is sunny and warm this morning. It feels like summer. The sun is up, the air is humid. A Cardinal belts out his whistled song. The meadow grass bows. Across the road, the flood waters recede. It has rained for several days now, sometimes coming down hard. The river rose, then rose higher, then spilled into the fields.

My son and I wandered out into it a couple days ago. We chased frogs. They sang loudly enough to hear them across the field, but when we approached closely they clammed up and stayed hidden. Too shy for mammals I guess. We tromped through the new swamp, my cracked mud boots filling with water. We bushwhacked through the stand of willows, getting scratched and soaked. It was a blast.

Yesterday morning I wandered out to see how much flooding occurred. The field around the river with filled, although I have seen it higher. Water did not cover the road. Mallards swam far out, dabbling in the grasses for slugs. A Great Egret flew in later, wading through the pond, seeking out those frogs we heard. Maybe it would have better luck. A Great Blue Heron arrived while we ate dinner on the porch.

Already the water has dropped. The river will be within its banks today. Rain will likely fall again tomorrow. Thunderstorms will pop up more than once this month. June is here, and she is wearing summer. She looks lovely.

Frozen River

IMG_5717Yesterday my son and I walked down to the river. It was a perfect winter day–23 degrees, sunny, with a thin layer of new snow on the ground. A couple of Hairy Woodpeckers flushed as we got close to the bridge. A Tufted Titmouse whistled across the field. The air was still.

We walked through the trees to the water. In spring, the river bank is often flooded, water to my knees or higher, but yesterday the grass was brown and flattened, the puddles frozen. We could see the frozen river and all the way across the field on the other side. The landscape changes every season, every day really. Where in summer the scene would be green–the grass, the leaves on the trees, even the water–yesterday it was brown and white and blue. Beautiful either way.

The water was frozen from shore to shore. This is not a big river. You could easily toss a rock or a stick or dirt clod to the other side. But it moves along and meanders and isn’t typically solid, even in winter. We might have been able to walk across but we were cautious. We walked along the ice on the shore, watched the water flow under the bridge where the surface was not frozen, crunched our way through the sleeping vegetation.

To get back home we eschewed the road for as far as we could. I followed the shore north while my son bushwhacked through the willows. I watched the tops of them wave and bend as he pushed his way toward me. He emerged with a big grin. The breeze started to pick up as the shadows grew. We walked on the ice that filled the ditch along the road. Camel’s Hump glowed in the sun that has stayed away too often lately. The next morning the temperature would dip just below zero, but in the moment we were content with a fine winter day.