Daylight Savings. Ugh.

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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.

Blue Morning

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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.

Getting Quiet

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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.

Sugaring Weather

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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.

Paying Attention

IMG_0538I started birding in earnest after I had a stroke. Instead of going to therapy, I went outside and paid attention to the world around me. I tried to run, but I found that I just kept thinking inwardly, going to dark places. It wasn’t fun. When I went birding, however, I was looking outward rather than inward. I was focused on sights and sounds, on the wind and the river under the bridge, on finding something new wherever I was. I returned feeling better, feeling more perspective on my place in the world.

Getting out in nature can have this impact for many people. It is hard not to notice what is around when you are hiking a mountain trail or canoeing a river. Birding for me gave me more of a focus. I had to pay attention. If my goal was to find as many different birds as possible, I had to be aware. Being passive was not an option. So I got out there and I paid attention and it healed my mind. Having a task, a focus, was key. I stopped paying attention to me when I paid attention to what I heard and saw.

Yesterday morning I visited the Catamount Outdoor Family Center in Williston to go birding. This was part of a bird walk sponsored by Green Mountain Audubon. There were quite a few people there, maybe 20 or so. I meant to count the people but I was too focused on counting birds. We walked the trails for over two hours and, despite the hundreds of mosquitoes, found 45 species of birds. Two highlights were the flock of Blue Jays mobbing a Barred Owl and a Red-Winged Blackbird chasing a Green Heron. We also heard, however, a Brown Creeper, a shy bird who looks like tree bark and whose song is high and hard to hear. Finding that bird means really paying attention so it is rewarding to discover it.

The photo above has a Cedar Waxwing in it. It is perched at the top of a fir. It is hard to see, but I heard its high trilling song, then narrowed down its location and saw it well with binoculars. Birding is not about seeing the birds that make themselves obvious. It is about seeking out the birds that are there, finding them even when they are not obvious. That is the therapy for me in birding.

Cedar Waxwing, not hiding at all

Cedar Waxwing, not hiding at all

I will keep at it for now. There are multiple levels of challenge. How many birds can I find with each outing? How many birds can I find each year? How many birds can I find this year in my county? What might I find new today? Can I finally learn the song of the Blackburnian Warlber? There is the life list to consider as well: how many birds can I find ever? I won’t get bored. I will continue to learn and to discover new things. I will keep my mind healthy. And while I’m at it, I will have fun. That’s some good therapy right there.

Marsh Wren, Rain

IMG_2682Beyond the glass of the window, the rain falls hard. I can see it against the dark green of the maples, the sumac, the white birch. Streams fall from the eaves. I can hear the pounding of the falling water on the porch roof. Coffee in hand, wearing a dry sweatshirt and shorts, I feel calm, content. I am warm. I have no worries. My daughter still sleeps. My son reads on the porch. My wife is out walking, happy to be in it.

This morning I tried to find a Marsh Wren. I had yet to find one this year and it is Sunday. Sunday means I can go to the marsh on Route 116 to listen. Morning is the best time to go and on weekdays, even Saturday, traffic obscures the sounds of the marsh. Sunday, early, is the time to go. There were a few other cars, but not many, passing as I watched and listened. I had a window without rain for about 25 minutes. I heard and saw many wetland birds. I watched three Green Herons fly overhead. I listened hard for the Grasshopper Sparrow I heard there last year. The nearby field had just been mowed so any Grasshopper Sparrows had left. I heard my Marsh Wren.

We will head north later today to Montreal, to watch France play Korea in the Women’s World Cup. It will be an exciting day in the city. At the moment, however, the day is peaceful and quiet. The rain drums, the House Wren in the spruce sings his bubbly song, a Meadowlark whistles out in the field. Soon I will need to gather things for our trip to Canada, but for now, that second cup of coffee needs to go down before it gets cold. Plus, the rocker on the porch needs company. I don’t want to be the one to let it down.

I Like May

IMG_0331I have spent a lot of time getting outside this month. Green has taken over from white and gray. Birds are singing. The sun shines or the rain falls. Winter is done. I have been loving May. It may, and this is a maybe mind you, be taking over as my favorite month. There is a pun in there, but let’s just let that go. Here is some of what I have been up to this month.

I visited Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge for the first time. The place was beautiful. I only explored some of it and will have to go back to see more at some point. I saw lots of birds, getting there first thing in the morning, including my first Black Tern and, right in the parking lot of my first stop, a Yellow-Throated Warbler.

I visited a few other spots as well. I just passed the 200 mark for birds species I have found this year, over 150 of them in Vermont. Like I said, I like May.

 

Leaves just emerging at MIssisquoi National Wildlife Refuge

Leaves just emerging at Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge

I saw more than birds at Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge

I saw more than birds at Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge

Northern Waterthrush at Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge

Northern Waterthrush at Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge

Boardwalk at Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge

Boardwalk at Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge

Dutchman's Breeches at Geprag's Community Park, Hinesburg

Dutchman’s Breeches at Geprag’s Community Park, Hinesburg

Trillium, Woodside Park, Colchester

Trillium, Woodside Park, Colchester

Woodside Park, Colchester

Woodside Park, Colchester

Bike Path, Burlington

Bike Path, Burlington

Shelburne Pond

Shelburne Pond

Clay-Colord Sparrow, a lifer for me, right in Hinesburg

Clay-Colord Sparrow, a lifer for me, right in Hinesburg

Yesterday morning, out early

Yesterday morning, out early

Golden-Winged Warbler welcoming the day with its buzzy song

Golden-Winged Warbler welcoming the day with its buzzy song