Ice and Kinglets

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It wasn’t winter, but it did feel cold. The sun was low, but still high enough for an afternoon walk. The light was sharp and the shadows were deep. The woods had the feel of calm, ready for winter to hang out for a while. Leaves rustled under my feet. Wind blew in bare ash branches. Tall grasses shone golden.

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I was looking for Rusty Blackbirds. Maybe some would be around, picking through leaves in the wet understory. None were around. I did find quite a few Chickadees. Some crows flew overhead. The bird of the afternoon was the Brown Creeper I finally spotted, creeping, of course, up a maple trunk.

Around the back side of the loop I heard Golden Crowned Kinglets. They trilled their soft calls all around me, hidden. I waited. I watched. I looked for movement. I didn’t see any. And then I did. I got just a quick glimpse of one, its black mask metaphoric of its stealthiness.  Not far from there, White Throated Sparrows, or so I thought, called. They stayed hidden in the brown shrubs.

I warmed up after a while, comfortable by the end of my slow couple of miles. I saw few birds, but a chipmunk squeaking away from me, and a red squirrel carrying a beech nut into a hole hollowed out by a Pileated Woodpecker. Looking for birds means paying attention. The river slid by, cold and powerful. The pond tried to thaw out, its morning skim of ice almost gone, but likely to come back tonight. The trail, closed in like a tunnel in summer, was open and new.

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I looped around to the car, watching for those sparrows, but they stayed hidden. I headed into town to pick up my daughter and her friends, the heat a little higher than when I started, my mind a little clearer. Fall, that is what I found. I will find my Rusty Blackbirds another day.

Bread and Fire

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It was Saturday. I had time. So I baked some bread. And it was light and fluffy. Bread flour, that does the trick, I tell you. All that extra gluten stretches things out. Like magic. A big round fluffy loaf of goodness. Hot and fresh and delish. It went well with the soup I made. I put kale in the soup. Trying to be trendy? Nope. It just works in a vegetable soup. So, yeah, fresh bread and hot soup. Can’t beat it.

We lit up a fire outside Friday night. All summer I was thinking it would be great to have a fire in our fire ring outside. Look out over the dark field, watch the stars, flames dancing, sparks drifting up. All that romantic business. But the sun sets late in the summer. Start a fire just before dark and you’re up until 11:00. Some of us have to go to work in the morning.

But this time of year the sun sets much earlier. So crackling flames while we  hang out and listen to the coyotes sing? That’s a good deal. We did smell a skunk that night, but we talked loudly enough we hoped to keep it away. Apparently we did.

Saturday we cranked up the fire pit again. It was windy, but at least that kept the flames alive the whole time. We nibbled on Halloween-themed Oreos, talked about summer and Christmas and school and traveling, and we watched the stars pop in and out from the behind the clouds that were whipping across the sky.

It was so much fun that when friends unexpectedly came over on Sunday night we lit a fire one more time. We polished off those Oreos, and the bread, and laughed under a starless sky. We wore jackets. Some of us had to go to work in the morning so were were not out there too late. But three nights in a row with the comfort of a fire on a beautiful night? Stellar.

Fall Sky at Day’s End

Walking a couple of nights ago, the sky put on a show. Steaks of pink and yellow and orange. I mean, damn. It kept getting better as we walked. We turned around and it kept getting better.

We were surrounded by loveliness. I know a gazillion people post sunset photos on Instagram. It’s a thing. Pictures of sunsets have been a thing for as long as color photos have been a thing.  Still, I took some photos and here they are. 

I guess they are a thing because a glorious sunset is amazing. Look at these photos, for god’s sake. Nice! And they don’t do any justice to the real thing. You’ve seen a sunset like this. I know you have. It is awesome in the real sense–it inspires awe. 

The leaves are starting to turn. The air is colder. This morning’s temperature was 37 degrees.  We had a fire outside last night. We watched the almost full moon over the gathering fog while the flames flickered. Gotta love fall.

This was the culmination of that sky. This is where I live. Not bad.

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.

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.