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.

Rain Window

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A couple days ago I went out in the afternoon to look for birds. One of my goals this year has been to try to go birding every day. Sometimes I catch an owl or two in the early morning. Other days I go walk for a couple of hours. I hadn’t found many birds the other day as it was raining all day plus, you know, work. The rain had let up a bit, and it was going to get dark soon, so out I went.

As soon as I left the house, that rainless window started to close. A few drops fell, then more, and pretty soon it was full on raining. I went anyway. I didn’t go far–just down the road to the bridge over the river. I found some Blue Jays, Chickadees, a White-Throated Sparrow, a couple Juncos. It wasn’t a stellar birding expedition, but I got it in. By the time I got back home I was pretty soggy.

It rained yesterday most of the day. We need it. It has been a dry summer and early fall. We have been afraid our well might run dry. It never has before but we have never had such a dry stretch. These past few days should help. Looking out at Camel’s Hump and the Green Mountains south of there, I can see snow up high. I saw a few cars today with snow piled on their roofs–three inches or so. Full on autumn.

My daughter and I ran a 5K this morning. She has wanted to do them as often as possible this fall. She has run a 5K four weekends in a row. I have run the past three with her. It was forecast to be raining this morning, temperatures in the 40’s, super windy. We had the low temps and wind but no rain. It was a beautiful morning–snow up high, leaves still orange and red–if chilly. Apparently not everyone thought so. There were a grand total of seven runners. I feel like a fair weather runner sometimes but sheesh.

Those 5K’s are getting scarce now that the weather has turned. We can squeeze one in the next couple of weekends. We plan to do one on Thanksgiving day. But then it will be hard to find organized events, at least around here. We got lucky this morning and hit the window right to avoid the rain. Sometimes that happens. Gray skies, blue skies, it’s all beautiful with the other fall colors. Rain or sun, I will keep getting out there. My daughter wants to do those 5K’s and someone needs to do them with her. And I need to get in those birding days.

Only 71 more days and I will have done some birding every day in 2016. I need to think about goals for next year. I will have some kind of birding goal again. And 2017 will bring a running goal as well. Whatever I decide they need to get me out there, whether I hit the rain window or not.

Wind and Hawks

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Last night the wind picked up. My daughter and I started today with a 5K run in Shelburne. There were not that many runners but it was a perfect day for a run. The temperature was mid-fifties when we started, clouds puffed their way across the morning sky, and the wind kept at it. A wind jacket was just enough with a pair of shorts and short sleeves.

We were done early, home by 9:30. We got to see some fine views of the Green and Adirondack Mountains, as we often do here in the Champlain Valley. The trees still donned their colors, but the wind muted things a bit. The leaves are doing what they do this season–falling. So the hills are losing their luster, but still, it is hard to take in all the glory.

Just before we started the run, a Northern Harrier caught the wind. It soared and dipped and cornered and curved. Its white rump flashed in the high sunlight. It flew north. Then another Harrier appeared, chased by an American Crow. The crow dove to harass the hawk, missed, then rose up to try again. The Harrier seemed to shrug it off. If birds could roll their eyes, this one might have.

Later, at another spot on the lake, I watched a Red Tailed Hawk fly past, high overhead. The wind was strong enough that its wings were tucked tight. Twice I saw it spread its wings to turn a bit, then it pulled them in again and made a bee line south. It looked like it was diving while horizontal. It was a stiff wind. A moment later I watched a second Red Tail follow the same path. It was a good morning to make some distance.

Late today rain started to fall. I had just washed out the birdfeeders. I pulled them apart and scrubbed them with soap in a bucket. It want them clean so I can start putting them out again. Wind tossed the branches around while I dunked my arms into soapy water. I left the parts out to dry. The wind should help make that happen quickly. The rain will hinder that. Good thing I put everything under cover of the porch.

Soon the leaves will be off the trees. Winter will feel close. Already we have had frost. The other day I pulled in the basil and made a batch of pesto to freeze. I started a fire outside late yesterday and we spent a few hours in the autumn colors with the warmth of a fire. It got dark early. Again the seasons turn. Around here, they make a show of it.

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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Emptying the Nesting Boxes

imageIt is November, which means time to tidy up outdoors before the snow falls. This weekend I put away the hoses, stashed the kayak in the basement, put up bird feeders, started moving the compost from one bin to another, and several other winterizing tasks. I also emptied the birdhouses.

This summer we were lucky to have three bird species nesting at the same time, using all four of our bird houses. Eastern Bluebirds occupied two of the boxes, Tree Swallows shacked up in a third, and House Wrens built a nest in the fourth. Things were active. I cleaned the boxes out in hopes that they would again be attractive spaces for nesting when the birds return next spring.

The bluebirds liked the two boxes that are closest to a big maple tree. They like to hop up into the tree and to perch on top of the boxes, back and forth. The swallows prefer the one that is most open, accessible to the open field for their insect foraging. The wrens like to be close to cover, so the nesting box next to the Norway Spruce was just right for them.

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Bluebird nest in nesting box number four

The boxes are built with hinged front panels, so they are easy to open. When the panel is closed they are open only at the round entrance hole, the bird doorway if you will. With the panel swung open, however, it is easy to pull those nests out and do some general cleaning up.

I started with the wren nest, which was made of twigs with a softer inner layer of grass and feathers. The swallow nest was compact, made mostly of grass, and covered in bird droppings, which seemed unusual. The bluebird nests were made almost exclusively of pine needles. The odd thing about the bluebird nests was that they each had eggs in them–two in one nest and four in the other. They were clearly abandoned. My guess is that the bluebirds had one successful clutch, then laid another set of eggs too late.

The eggs were pretty cool to see. It is a little sad, to anthropomorphize a little here, to see all that potential life never to be realized sitting in snug little packages. Those little blue orbs could have been bluebirds that flew to Florida or Mexico and then returned to build their own nests. Only humans really care about such things though. The bluebirds do what they can. If the eggs don’t hatch, they simply try again next year. I guess flying up to 2,000 miles twice each year is enough to worry about.

I didn’t scrub the boxes out with soap, as some people do, but I hope our birdhouses are clean enough to be welcoming to next year’s birds. This was the first year that House Wrens nested in one of our boxes, so that was a treat. I hope they decide to stay with us again. Of course, the same goes for the bluebirds and swallows. We may need to open up another box or two, expand the whole operation. We certainly have plenty of room, and waking to the crazy burbling and whistling and chirping of spring birds is well worth a half hour of November housekeeping.

Wren nest on the left, bluebird nest on the right

Wren nest on the left, bluebird nest on the right

Jam at Least

I did not do a lot this growing season. I planted garlic last fall and recently pulled that from the ground. But I planted no garden. I never picked strawberries of blueberries. We had no farm share this year. Granted, we were away much of the summer, but still, I put up little. I was no gardener or gatherer.

We did manage to get out to pick apples at least. We picked lots of them, many varieties, from Shelburne Orchards, our favorite orchard. The view alone from that place makes a visit worth it. I have made apple crisp a couple of times, and have enough apples left to make one more. And last weekend I made apple jam.

Blueberry and strawberry and other berry jams get all the publicity. They are good no doubt. Huckleberry or marionberry jam can fill the mouth with deliciousness that is hard to beat. But these past few years my favorite jam has been made with apples.

We have an apple tree at our house but it has been unhealthy and bears little fruit now. When it did offer up fruit I made the best jam ever. Those apples are Red Delicious, your classic apple. I have not liked those kinds of apples typically. They are usually mealy, lacking flavor, with tough skins. They hold up well and can be transported without too much damage but that shelf life takes its toll on tastiness. Red Delicious certainly are red–they usually look great in a pile at the supermarket–but they are anything but delicious. The ones from our tree, however, are some of the best apples I have ever had. When I first tasted a ripe one I understood why the variety became so popular. Unfortunately, that popularity has been costly.

My jam is pretty simple–apples, sugar, lemon juice, pectin, some nutmeg. With good apples it is a sweet treat that makes a mean PB and J, if you know what I’m saying. I took a couple of hours to rustle up eight jars. They are still sitting on the counter, waiting to be stored. That growing season lethargy continues, I guess. I have a jar left from last season and will polish that off soon. Then I will taste this season’s batch. I have no doubt it will be good, and it will last into the winter. I have no potatoes or onions or frozen pumpkin this year, but I do at least have some apple jam. It won’t make a meal but it will remind me of the days when blossoms filled the air with their almost supernatural scent, and of bees, and of fruit heavy on branches.

Maybe next year I will be better at taking advantage of the short growing season, of the wonder of fresh food grown myself, or grown by my neighbors. For now, however, I’ll have to settle for some toast.