Afternoon, Stick Season


The river runs not high but not low. A sand bank toward the far side pushes the water away, causing the current to run faster. Across the river the banks drop steeply. In spring, Bank Swallows nest here, burrowing into the sand, flying low over the water to catch flies. Today it is not spring. Fall’s glory has passed. The brilliance of turning leaves is over. Those leaves lie in wilted piles among the bare shrubs.

But it is not yet winter. The current flows smoothly over rocks and sand and mud. A few moths still flit among the maples. There is no ice under which the water must crawl, no ice to scrape at the log lodged in the river’s bend. Snow does not yet fall. Today there are no clouds and the air is warm enough for scattered green leaves in the under-story to spread to catch the sun. But the sun is low, and will not last much longer today.

Upstream, at the mouth of the stream that melts into the river, a beaver just stirs in its lodge. It has been waiting for the light to dim, for shadows to grow long. It dips into the water, swims, waits again. Soon it will climb the bank to work at the silver maple it plans to fell. Already it has cleared smaller trees. It will chew away the bark, working steadily, wary of predators. Perhaps this tree will fall before winter sets in. Perhaps spring winds will send it tumbling. Perhaps it may prove more stubborn, standing for years before its top branches dip into the water. The beaver, however, does not concern itself with such possibilities. It simply works.

Two Blue Jays call across the bare trunks. A woodpecker knocks. A second calls to it and sends the first flapping away. A small breeze taps branches together, but mostly it is quiet. Crickets, cicadas, birds do not sing. Squirrels stay still. The woods here rest, exposed, not waiting exactly, not sure or unsure, just knitting the past into the present so the future can be only an imagined thing that does not matter to this day.

Soon the sun will drop below the hills. The day’s heat will drift off, like milkweed seeds across a field. In the dark, the river will seem louder. No bats will dot the skies but owls will call. Already owls are planning for spring, finding mates, starting nests. They plan for the future, like the beaver, doing today what must be done for tomorrow. Mice will crawl under dry leaves, finding seeds that won’t become flowers, feeding the owls, thinking only of right now, this November day next to the river that will not stop flowing, even when the ice comes.

Gray Days

IMG_2175These days are gray. Clouds, rain, drizzle. Driving home from a visit to Connecticut we encountered snow higher up. No snow by the time we got home. The sun shone this morning waiting for the bus. So it isn’t all gray. That sky was as blue as the bluebirds that are still hanging around.

This week we will have some showers, some clouds, some cold nights. I cleaned the bird feeders yesterday. I’ll hang them this week with the seed I bought last week. Winter isn’t far off. November is a teaser month–too cold to lounge outside, no snow to play in. It is a good month to make soup and  to bake bread.

I love the gray clouds on a chilly November day–wood smoke drifting in the air, the smell of dampness and old leaves, the muted light. It is a month of transition, of waiting for winter and for the holidays, but it is a good month to slow down. It is a good month to appreciate clouds.

Snow Today

Snow and Dusk Falling

So it’s November 30 and the ground is not frozen. Actually, we have hardly had any snow. We had one October storm and then, well, not much. This weekend snow fell in the mountains, finally. When we lived up next to Bolton Valley resort they aimed to open on Thanksgiving weekend each year. This year it has hardly been cold enough to make snow. Apparently 20 inches fell on the top of Mount Mansfield over the past few days. Now we’re talking.

Today it spit snow on and off in the valley as well. As darkness spread across the fields, snow was falling steadily. It even gathered in a few spots. Winter is being shy this year. Fall has been ready to give up the ghost but I guess winter has been willing to step up and take over. That works out well in several ways but with December beginning tomorrow, I am ready for some snow. I would love to see snow for the 25th, of course, but I also simply am ready to make the transition.

So here’s to snow! Fall on down, fall on down. In this house at least you will be welcome.

Late November in a Field, by James Wright

This is one of my favorite poems and I always take it out this time of year to read a few times, so I am sharing it here. It is bleak but it is also a poem of Thanksgiving.


Today I am walking alone in a bare place,
And winter is here.
Two squirrels near a fence post
Are helping each other drag a branch
Toward a hiding place; it must be somewhere
Behind those ash trees.
They are still alive, they ought to save acorns
Against the cold.
Frail paws rifle the throughs between cornstalks when the moon
Is looking away.
The earth is hard now,
The soles of my shoes need repairs.
I have nothing to ask a blessing for,
Except these words.
I wish they were

Rain and Dark

I didn’t run the past two days but I got up and went this morning. It was raining. Hard. And it was dark. And I was sleepy. Did I want to go? Not really, but I did anyway.

It was pouring. Just dumping, really. And, it being late November, it was dark at 5:30. And the clouds made it darker. I dressed, slowly, and stood on the porch.

I did that for a few minutes, stood there that is. I watched the rain drip off the eave through the beam of my headlamp. I was going to get mighty wet. And then I stepped onto the gravel and off I went.

It was chilly, as you can imagine. Not what I would call cold, but nothing warm about it. I was still sleepy, eyes half shut as I navigated the puddles in the driveway.

I was thinking I might go five or six miles. I only went four. I was chilled, I tell you.  It was a decent run. I was home before I knew it. I had to pay so much attention to my feet that I hardly noticed where I was. Plus, it got foggy. I couldn’t see more than a ten feet in front of me.

I was soaked by the time I got home. Dripping. I was thinking that what I wanted at that moment was to a warm cup of coffee and a warm fire. But that wasn’t happening. I could make some coffee and start a fire, but by then it wouldn’t have the same effect. So I took a warm shower and got ready to head to work.

Tomorrow maybe eleven miles?  It should be cloudy but not raining like this morning. We’ll see. This is a somewhat easy week anyway. But I would like to go fairly long. I’ll see what happens when I wake up. I can decide then.

What’s Up, Winter?

It was so in the twenties today.  And windier than a room full of bean eaters.  Except it was a cold wind.  It was like way too January.  What happened to Thanksgiving?  We haven’t gotten there yet and it feels like Christmas is long past.

My grandmother used to talk about ice skating on Thanksgiving when she was a kid.  Granted that was in the 1920’s, not exactly a long time ago in geologic time, but most people alive today were not around then.  It is pretty much never that cold at Thanksgiving here in Vermont.  And she lived in Connecticut.  Is this a freak year?  Or are we on the way to another “mini ice age?”

I have been reading Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower.  He mentions how the first winter that the Pilgrims spent in North America was relatively mild, even though most of the winters they would experience in their new home would be much colder than they are now.  And they didn’t have central heating.  Or, really, enough food.

What do I have to complain about?  Winter seems to be here already, but we wood stacked and beans in the pantry.  Plus popcorn ready for melted butter.  The only corn the Pilgrims had was what they stole during their first week ashore.  And that weren’t for popping.

The ground is frozen.  Up the road someone plowed the field today.  I’m not sure what that is about.  Frozen chunks of earth are splayed in a line up once and back.  I’m no farmer, clearly.  I just want to get the strawberries mulched, but they are now covered in snow.

We are headed down to Connecticut for Thanksgiving.  Maybe we will get a chance to go ice skating.  Or maybe we will have to be content to hang out inside, with central heating, enjoying a fine meal and, later, maybe lounging on the couch relaxing and listening to the wind.