Critters

Saw this beauty in the driveway recently. Check this puppy out. Common Whitetail. It was chilling in the driveway when I walked up to it. As soon as I got close it fly up and hovered and then landed farther down the driveway. This happened a few times. Finally I got smart. When it flew I walked fast to catch up. When it landed I was closer. Eventually, after a few of these hopscotches. I got close enough to grab a photo.

Black patches on translucent wings, a bright white body. I mean, this little dude is cool looking. It looked like a ghost. When it flew it was hard to see it clearly. Whatever was behind it showed through its wings. Illusion, that was it had going.

Dragonflies are on the move. So are birds. And butterflies. Fall is coming. Leaves have a hint of color to them. It is still plenty hot, but summer’s days are limited. It will be nice to have some cool weather. Even if the Whitetail won’t be around to experience it.

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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.

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.

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.

 

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.

Rain and Shadows and Light

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In the night it starting raining. Hard. The wind picked up. Rain blasted through the screen. We rose, shut some windows. After a while it tapered off. Waking in the dark, I heard the rain fall again against the porch roof. Then I slept.

Morning, rain fell on and off. I could not get out to stain the house siding. Too wet for that. I could not finish mowing the field. I brewed coffee, sat on the porch and read Ivan Doig. My reading was interrupted by heavy showers. Wind misted rain through the screen. More than once I said aloud “Dang. It’s coming down.”

I got lost in Doig’s story, then looked out again at the gray. I had breakfast–blueberries and yogurt and granola. Later I took care of paying bills. I hung some closet doors. When it cleared, I thought temporarily, I popped over to a spot in town that often gets flooded to see if any early shorebirds had come through. They hadn’t. The rain did not come back.

Late in the day, sunlight highlighted the hills. Clouds hung in shadow and the far-off green trees glowed. Wind tickled the Black-Eyed Susans. Trees and grass and flowers drank the fresh water. It is quieter these days, with fewer birds singing. Soon, at night, the Perseid meteor shower will light up the night. I love rain, but hope for clear skies to see the stars surprised by slashes of light.

A few red leaves have appeared, as if competing to be the first to arrive at autumn. They are anomalies, for now. Sandpipers and plovers are not far off. Maples will blush soon. But not today. August has treasures to be found. I need to seek them out.

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.