Some time in the wee hours I got out of bed. I looked out the window. There was just enough light to see fat wet flakes of snow falling. It was quiet. It made me happy. In the morning I was eager to see snow on the ground. There was about a half inch. It was not much but it was beautiful.
I had a chance for a short walk this afternoon. I braved the edge of the lake ice to creep around a point. The ice held. Snow fell again. The ice, the reeds, the sand were coated with white. Snow gathered in the folds of my jacket. It was quiet. It made me happy.
It has felt like winter these past couple of days–cold, windy, snowy. It will get mighty cold this weekend–single digit temperatures. I hope to get outside, at least for a little while, before then. A walk in the snow will do me right, even if there isn’t much of it.
Most winters we get some snow here and there, and the total we get adds up to a pretty decent amount. We also usually get rain, however, or at least a solid thaw. We don’t typically get lots of snow that stays on the ground as the kind of snow one can enjoy. It often turns to slush, or freezes solid enough to walk on. This year we have snow for skiing and it has been sticking around.
This past week was vacation week from school. All of us were home and we did not venture anywhere beyond our local haunts. This meant we went skiing several times. We leased skis for our kids this year, as we have the past couple of years. This is a good deal, first because they our kids are growing so fast that buying skis makes little sense financially; they will grow enough that the boots and skis are too small by the next season. As a bonus with the lease deal each set comes with an envelope of coupons. These include free or discount passes to local ski areas. Those coupons alone make it worth the lease. The amount we save with them more than pays for the lease. This past week we skied at Bolton Valley.
It was cold. It has been a cold winter and last week that cold continued. Some of the days last week we ruled out as ski days just because it would have been unpleasant. When the high temperature is forecast to be in the single digits in the valley, with strong winds, well, skiing just isn’t all that fun. It takes a lot of energy to ignore numb toes and frozen cheeks. It gets unsafe even. But we went when temperatures were in the teens, and the sun was shining. That was way fun. The last time we went was what one calls a Bluebird Day–clear skis and no wind and just awesome. We rode the lift up and skied our way down over and over, breaking only for lunch and heading home in the afternoon. Tons of fun.
When your kids are tuckered and they tell you “I love skiing” on the way home, you know you have hit the winning number. Since we live in a state with many ski areas, it makes sense to take advantage of that resource. The snow was great (not icy at all as it often can be when the snow fails to accumulate enough), the sun was shining, and we all have the skill to really just have a blast. Plenty of people will tell you they are sick of winter, but when we get so much snow, and it keeps piling up, I just cannot complain. I hate to complain anyway. That just seems like a waste of energy to me. Enjoy this now while it is here, I say. Spring will be here soon enough.
Every winter Special Olympics Vermont holds the Penguin Plunge, a fundraiser that draw all kinds of people who want to take a quick dip into Lake Champlain. My wife and daughter took part yesterday. Each year the sixth grade class at my daughter’s school (led by a motivated and inspired teacher) raises funds and gets fired up to jump in the lake.
It was about ten degrees yesterday. At least the air was that cold. The lake was just about 32 degrees, so clearly a nicer place to hang out than the breezy waterfront. My son and I watched groups run down the boat ramp and get wet. While a few groups of high school boys did swim the short distance of open water the ice’s far edge, most people were in and out of there fast.
I have been in water that cold and I know that it quite literally takes your breath away. It is hard to breathe and one’s muscles don’t respond very quickly. Staying in for long is not a good idea. There were a few people on the dock in dry suits ready to pull anyone out who needed help, but everyone I saw was pretty motivated to make tracks back up to the warming tent.
The event is well organized and has lots of positive energy. There are two changing tents–for men and for women–as well as a staging tent where plungers wait until their wave is called. Everyone who participated got cold, of course, but not for long. Those tents are toasty. It was enjoyable to watch. It was hard to watch and not to participate, in fact. I wanted to get right in there with them. But somebody had to park the car and take the photos. Next year, however, I may have to take a swim as well.
A couple of times today my daughter mentioned that she went in the lake yesterday. I think she was proud of herself. I told her that went swimming just last week and she pointed out that swimming in Florida doesn’t count. True. Really, I was proud of her too.
I worked at home today and was remarkably productive. By 11:00 I had gotten most of the things on my to-do list completed. I can’t say that happens every time I work at home. Today, however, I managed to crank it out. Mid-day I took a break, suited up for the weather and headed to the lake. I was hoping to see ducks on the open water.
The first spot I stopped was a no go–it was frozen solid as far as I could see. No ducks to be found there. So I headed south and found some water that was less solid. The Shelburne Town Beach can be iced in early, depending on the wind and the temperatures. If wind blows into the bay it can be iced over; if not it stays open. Today the wind was blowing right toward shore but the ice was hardly piled up. It has been cold lately so there is plenty of ice on the lake. There just wasn’t much ice right there. I did see some birds. There were scores of Mallards and several Common Goldeneye but it was hard to see them well. The wind was blowing so hard it was difficult to keep my spotting scope steady. It was even a challenge to keep binoculars steady. I had to lean into the wind to keep from blowing over. I got to see a Bald Eagle soar overhead a couple of times. It was a beautiful mature bird. Unfortunately, it scared away most of the ducks.
I got cold, as you can imagine, but only partly. My hands were getting numb but the rest of me, thanks to my awesome down jacket, was toasty. I moved on to another site and saw even fewer birds. I tried to stick it out but the wind was fierce. Even the birds were having a hard time. Mallards were surfing and getting dunked under the waves curling at the shore. It was a harsh situation. I didn’t see any new birds for the year but it was pretty amazing to see the lake like that. Every time I go it looks different–blowing one day and calm the next, green sometimes, clear others, frozen water or calm water. It is never the same so is always amazing to see.
My year list stands at 33, not terrible for mid-January in Vermont. I missed the Harlequin Duck when I went up to Grand Isle briefly to find that rarity, so bummer for me. I do plan to head to Florida later this month. I am sure that will prove to be a birding foray to write about. Until then, I don’t expect much. If I could get out there every day and really explore, maybe I might find all the avian treasures. But I do have to work.
After I got back home today I tossed a log into the woodstove and got down to some email. I did some scheduling and printed a letter to mail and generally got some more office-type stuff done. It was a lot warmer at my desk. But not nearly as fun.
Ice flowing toward the driveway
As I write this, a couple hours after darkness has fallen, it is zero degrees. That is pretty cold. I’m not talking Celsius here. And the temperature is dropping. Here is the quick forecast from the National Weather Service:
A 20 percent chance of snow showers before 11pm. Mostly cloudy, with a low around -11. Wind chill values as low as -29.
It is no night for streaking. It is frostbite weather. This morning it was nine degrees when we headed outside to meet the school bus, and windy. Our neighbors have a small pond just up the hill and it is not sealed well. It leaks, slowly, into the grasses next to our driveway. Until this winter, that slow seep flowed into our driveway and we had an icy hazard on the approach to the road. Since we had our driveway regraded last summer, and the ditch next to it re-dug, the seep fills the ditch. It is getting full now, as the water turns to ice.
It is pretty cool to watch the ditch fill. There is a slushy layer before the ice reaches the ditch, then it is like flowed land. I can’t tell you how happy I am that that is not in the driveway. The past couple of winters we have had some treacherous moments.
We will have some cold days this week, but mostly seasonal weather. The forecast doesn’t call for any more sub-zero temps. Still, I don’t plan to be walking around in flip flops any time soon. I got a new down jacket for Christmas. I’ll be keeping that puppy handy. Plus boots. And a travel mug. Need to keep the inside warm, too, right?
December is well under way, which means I only have a few days left to see how many birds I can find in my home county. Last year my count was 174 so I wanted to best that this year. I reached that goal months ago but kept going. I figured 200 was just a little too far out of reach but as I inched closer I thought it just might be possible. Yesterday I was at 193. Today I got up to 194.
I had heard that snowy owls had been seen on the lake and I wanted to try to see one myself. I have tried to find them, but I have struck out. I headed to Sand Bar State Park early this morning even though it was cold–18 degrees–and it was windy. With ice on the lake, and the wind blowing in right off the water, it was bitterly cold. I started off well by seeing a Rough Legged Hawk. They are not common but head south to our area in the winter. I got a really close look at it so felt the morning was a win already. I also saw ten Northern Pintails, beautiful ducks with a brown face and white neck. Again, I got close enough to see them well, and ten is a lot to see at once. So I was happy enough.
As I was watching the ducks (and there were many other ducks there as well) I missed a Snowy Owl glide in and land on a log nearby. I looked up and couldn’t believe it had landed right there. I watched it through binoculars and through my spotting scope and then figured I might as well try to get closer. I walked toward it and it did not fly away. I got close enough to get the above shot.
I watched it for a while. I had seen one last winter but this was a much better sighting. The sun had come up by then and was low in the sky, so when it peeked out from the clouds, the owl was bathed in golden light. But mostly it was cloudy, and did I mention the wind? I had on lots of warm duds, including snow pants and a down jacket, but the wind managed to creep in. My hands, especially, got cold. I kept warming them and they kept getting cold. Apparently t is time to break out the thicker gloves.
The owl, and the Pintails, were still there when I walked away; I was too cold to observe any longer. I warmed up in the car and headed to the corner store for a cup of hot coffee for the ride home. The owl was still on that log, a white ghost in my rear view mirror as I drove off. All those people driving by on Route 2 couldn’t see it, but there was an unusual and beautiful creature right there if they slowed down and looked. It is easy to miss things of beauty as we race along. It was seriously cold this morning, but I am glad I slowed down to look. Six more species by the end of December? I’ve got a bit more slowing down to do in these next weeks to reach that goal.
Federal holiday? Check. Day off for me? Check. Cold? Yes sir.
The day started at our house at 14 degrees below zero. OK, it really started at 12 below when I first got up, then dropped to 14 below by sunrise. Cold enough to experiment with a Super Soaker filled with boiling water. Which I did not do. Every day can’t be perfect can it?
I took my daughter skiing today. We bundled up and headed to the slopes because it was a sunny day and we had the time and we should do it while the snow lasts. Vermont has this great program where every fifth grader can get a Ski Vermont Passport, which includes three passes to most ski areas in Vermont. She has one. Awesome, right? Except there are black out dates. The days when most people will be able to go are the days it does not apply. Love that crap. But we went anyway and paid way too much for a ticket for her even though it was way cheaper at Bolton Valley than at some other ski areas. That is why the passport is such a good deal. Just not today. Anyway, we went skiing and had a great time and there was plenty of snow and it was sunny as all get out and simply beautiful today. But it was cold and breezy. Maybe 15 degrees tops. We got cold hands and feet and took some runs and warmed them up and went inside to get warmer still and had a snack and called it halfway through the day.
After a sandwich in Waterbury we headed up Route 100. I tried hard, and pretty much succeeded, in convincing my daughter that we had a chance to see something amazing. A northern hawk owl has been hanging around Waterbury for a couple of months now. This resident of the far north rarely comes down our way and to have one so close is a chance to see something in nature that many people simply won’t ever get to see. It has stayed in the same general area and many people have had a chance to see it, but until today I have not tried to see it. I noted to my daughter that people are driving up to Waterbury from all parts to see this owl as it is their best chance to see one without having to head to the tundra. I learned that someone had seen the bird that very morning so I was hopeful.
Even on a bitter Monday afternoon we ran into six other people looking for the hawk owl. No one had seen it. We didn’t either. We stuck around for a while but were out of luck. Hopefully I will have another chance. It won’t stick around forever. So we headed home, warm in the car, quiet. A good morning of skiing, some fun together, a foray to find something interesting. Not a bad way to spend a Monday. Happy Presidents Day.