I have been up early these past couple of weeks. The sun rises later than it did at the beginning of the summer. Fog settles over the river most mornings. Sometimes a Great Blue Heron quietly flies past. Or two Great Blue Herons. Here is a sample of what it looked like when I went out.
From our house to the end of the road off our road is two miles. It makes a good four-mile run, or walk, or bike. If you go to the bend in the road, where the big puddle sits after a hard rain, and where the yellow-billed cuckoo called one morning, it is one mile, or two miles round trip. And it is a mile and a half to the tractor sign.
When our children were small we would ride our bikes down the road. At first to the steep hill, then just up the steep hill, but eventually all the way to the tractor sign. That extra half mile to the end of the road, past the sign, heads down a steep hill again, which means heading back up that hill to return. Given our children’s early biking abilities, the tractor sign was just about right.
Five kilometers is just over three miles, so going to the tractor sign and back is like completing a 5K. It makes for a good enough morning run when I have to rise early and fit that in before heading to work. Three miles still doesn’t sound all that far to me, but 5K? That’s solid.
The tractor sign is kind of a classic. Tractors don’t really look like that anymore. I mean, some people still drive old ones like that. With care, a tractor lasts a long time. And there are still plenty of old tractors around here. Witness the tractor parade each October in Charlotte. And that hat. I guess maybe some people wear those. They are (maybe) even making a comeback, but still, not really the style these days. So yeah, not current.
Tomorrow morning I plan to get up early enough to fit in that run before I shower and shave and generally get all prettified for the work day. It is pretty likely I will run to the tractor sign and back. I will give the dude on the sign a wave and turn back, mostly downhill, around that sharp bend, over the river and into the sunrise toward home. 5K before breakfast anyone?
That is what I tell myself at 5:00 in the morning when I wake up and it is still mostly dark and I am sleepy and warm in bed and could use a little more rest before getting up for the day to get cracking on the usual routine. It’s May. Just get out there.
I mean, it is beautiful on a May day when the sun rises and the fog settles over the river and the green of the new buds is almost yellow it is so bright. But May is also when the birds come back. Warblers and orioles and flycatchers and sparrows. And so many more. I get out and try to find them. Every morning I try to find a bird species I have not yet found this year. Lately the birds have just been nuts.
What I mean by nuts is there have been so many birds singing in the morning. When I go out I stand in the driveway and listen. I hear ten species from the porch. By the time I get to the end of the driveway I have heard 15. By the turn in the road I’ve found 20. The past couple of times I have walked out early I have seen or heard 50 species. It is nuts.
Six years ago, when I started birding more seriously, my goal was to learn the songs of as many local birds as possible. I wanted to be able to hear a song or call and know what I was hearing. I know a lot of them. I look forward to hearing the first Savannah Sparrows or Eastern Meadowlarks or Bobolinks. My heart leaps up, as Wordsworth said, when I hear my first Yellow Warbler of the year. Or my first Rose-Breasted Grosbeak.
There are several birds that regularly show up here whose songs I don’t have nailed. That American Redstart? I should know it by now, but I have to re-remember it each year. Same with the Blackburnian Warbler. But it is a new challenge each spring. “Wait,” I whisper to myself. “What is that? I should know that.” And then smile when I get it.
These days I never have enough time. I have to rush back to the house for a shower and a clean shirt and some breakfast before we all head off to work and school. It would be easier if I had more time for that crap as well. But it is May. I need to get out there. In a couple of months, those birds won’t be singing, and the leaves will be hiding them. So I get up, I grab my binoculars and I try to remember to shut the door behind me as I start listening.
I don’t really like to complain. It doesn’t help. It doesn’t make me feel better. It makes me feel worse, in fact. It is petty and a waste of time. Who doesn’t know this? But we all do it anyway. No matter how privileged or lucky we are, we all have something worthy of our complaining. My most recent beef is with daylight savings time.
Twice each year it makes me grumpy. Frankly, I don’t see the point. Over a decade ago the dates were pushed around, the idea being to save more energy by introducing more daylight into the workday. That didn’t work out so well. No one later demonstrated that any energy was really saved. I’ve heard the other reasons as well. Farmers benefit from more light early in the morning, or later in the morning. It isn’t as dark in the morning when children wait for the bus. But really?
Here is what happens for me in the spring. The days slowly get a little longer starting in December. I wait until March for the light to finally drop over the mountains at a reasonable hour. I can get up and go for a run at 6:00 a.m. and not need a headlamp or a reflector vest. I can rise before work and see the day. I go outside in the light before I get ready to head to work. It is a fine thing. And then daylight savings comes along and throws that all off. I hate that crap.
Now, I have to wait many days before the day is light enough at 6:00 am to go for a run. And for what? I just don’t get it. Why can’t we just pick one way for the clocks to be and stick to it? This is the 21st century. Artificial light has made daylight savings obsolete. It is bogus.
Here is something else, from today. I went in early to work with a group of high school students. At this particular school I don’t usually get there until 8:00 at the earliest. I am lucky to have that flexibility. But today I agreed to work with a first period class. So imagine working with a group of teenagers starting at 7:30 a.m. on a Monday. They are sleepy and not at their best. They are sluggish and mentally less sharp than later in the day or later in the week. And then imagine you are starting at 6:30 instead of 7:30. I tried to be lively, but the day was off to a slow start.
I will get used to it. Complaining does not help. I need to adjust. There are many things worse in the world right now (Um, “microwaves that turn into cameras?” Who knew?) I know all that crap. I still hate it. And I will get used to it. I will get used to it and then the clocks will need to be turned back again in the fall. And I will hate it all over again.
I thought just maybe it would be snowing this morning. It had snowed, last night, and there was a fresh inch or so on the ground. A few flurries drifted out of the blue sky but I wouldn’t say it was snowing. I was up fairly early and hoped to run in the falling snow. I went out anyway.
Last night’s lunar eclipse was, well, eclipsed, by clouds. Clouds blanketed the sky. It was still getting light. The sky was sleeping in.
The sky was blue. The new snow, on the fir trees and on the dried flowers in the field, was blue. The snow on the road, yet to be plowed, was blue. It was a blue morning. But I felt good. No blues there. I ran in a cleaned landscape. Crows dotted the sky at the top of the hill. The air was still.
I ran in the quiet, my steps muffled. The town plow scraped the road, coming toward me. I could see it from far off. I watched it stop, turn around at the town line, head the other way. Soon, I ran on the plowed road. My feet slipped where the truck’s tires packed the snow. I ran on. I slowed at the big ash tree just past the intersection, turned back.
I heated up but stayed cool enough. I felt strong. The morning was blue. As I slowed to head up the driveway, it began to turn yellow. I walked slowly back to the house, my breath steaming in the cold winter air. It would be, I imagined, a good day.
You go out early, the sky in the east hinting at pink, the clouds that will become gray still black, you can feel winter nosing its way in. You feel the damp air kneading your shoulders, the coldness creeping into your sleeves. You can’t see much. The sun has a while before it crests the Green Mountains. Everything is shadow, but out you go anyway.
You wear a headlamp, not out of fear of the dark, and despite that there is just enough light to see the road. No, you wear the light because you are afraid you will run into what is so often already there. You are afraid you might encounter a skunk, or a porcupine, and that, you are sure, would set the day on a different path than you had hoped. And, you admit, it does help you see where you are going better. Stepping into a hole in the road and twisting your ankle would also not set the day headed in the right direction.
As you run up the hill, your feet are the loudest thing you hear. They sound too loud, as if you have disturbed the quiet of the morning. Then you become aware of the sound of your breathing and that too seems too loud. You try to relax but you are powering up the hill now and you don’t want to stop, so you keep the pace, even pick it up a little, until you reach the top.
Up there you can see the Adirondacks to the west. They have a layer of snow so the pink from the east lights them up like Easter eggs. Just above them lie the clouds, getting more gray and less black. The clouds blanket the sky but are high enough that the mountains on both sides are visible. And you head down the hill.
Once, you hear a young Song Sparrow. It is not the robust Song Sparrow song of spring but a rough song, recognizable but raspy, a bold young scamp practicing to woo the ladies post-winter. Otherwise, it is quiet. Things are louder when the light is low but on this morning there is little to hear.
You turn around at the ash tree where you often turn around. Now you are heading east and get to see the sky glowing with color. By the time you get home you can see how many more leaves the wind has pulled from the trees overnight. There is a breeze, just enough to cut through your thin jacket, and you still have not warmed up all the way, even though you have started to sweat.
You walk the last part. You stop just before the house to listen. You hear the wind, and your breathing, slower now. The Song Sparrow is far away. You shuffle some leaves on the ground to hear them rustle. Then you go inside, to brew coffee, to warm up, to get ready for your day.
Frosty. That was this morning. Grass, branches, porch railing, stones–all frost-covered. The air was still. I rose before the sun crested the mountains, walked into the morning. The ground was frozen, so walking was easy and quiet. I wore a down jacket.
Despite the cold, a few degrees below freezing, the blackbirds sang. Song Sparrows tried their best to stake out their territories. Over a hundred geese flew overhead. Yesterday’s puddles sported white caps of ice.
In the river, a beaver broke the water’s surface, swimming around the bend. A mink bounded along the shore, pausing to watch me as I watched it. The river babbled its usual course under the bridge.
When the sun appeared, it spread light across the fields, melting the frost. In the shadows, ice held on. Soon enough, those crystals would droop and disappear. The puddles would be free. Bluebirds would sing as the breeze arose.
Freezing nights and warm days. That is just what sugar makers need. There will be some boiling today. I hope to take my empty gallon jugs up the road to Shelburne Sugarworks today to get them filled. They say they will have sugar on snow, but I’m not sure there is snow to be had. Maple cotton candy, perhaps. My guess is they will be boiling today. The weather is just right.