Between seasons

Just now it was snowing. Wind waves around the bare branches. Earlier it rained. Yesterday the temperature rose into the 50s and, with some healthy rain, the waters rose. The river topped its banks. Across the road, the fields ripple with wind-blown water.

There is a feel to driving on a soft muddy road. Steering turns mushy. The car slides one way, then the other. Then the road turns solid again. It isn’t like a snowy road, where the road feels solid the whole time, but slick. In mud the car sinks, then rises, floating. It can even be fun if you don’t bottom out.

Mud has begun, after yesterday’s warmth. The curve of our road collects water underground, so it predictably gets muddy. Robins poke at the soft spot. The car gets painted with muck. It isn’t the prettiest time of year.

But the sap is finally running. Steam wafts from the sugar house. We just ran out of maple syrup. I wanted to wait for a fresh batch, but I gave in and bought some last weekend. Last year’s run was a good one. I bought a dark and sweet gallon. The folks who run the sugar house up the road offer free maple cotton candy. We might have to stop there and get some.

I had planned to go for a run this morning. But it is cold–cloudy and windy and just above freezing. I was looking forward to a little warmth, maybe even shorts. I might wait. I might just brave it. The red-winged blackbirds are back. They seem to handle the weather just fine. I should take a lesson from them.

But they can fly. I will need to watch my footing when I go out. That mud can suck one in. I’ve seen worse, for sure, but still, I’d hate to wipe out in a mud patch. That would be unfortunate, even if, like the blackbirds, it is a sign of spring.

Cold Morning But Spring is Near

I needed a new place to go birding, so I looked around and found Cota Field. It is just down the road in Starksboro. I did not know what to expect but hopped in the car and drove down Route 116 and parked next to the pavillion.

The sports fields were frosty. The sun shone. The temperature was in the single digits. I wore my big old down jacket–the Super Poofer as we call it in our house–so I was plenty warm. I found the map tacked to the bulletin board and studied it for a few minutes. Loop trail? Along the brook? Done!

I found some Black Ducks on the water, and some Golden Crowned Kinglets, too. Those are pretty sweet to find–small, secretive, quiet. Getting a good look at those dudes is always a treat. There was not a whole lot of bird activity but enough to keep things interesting. Mostly it was just fun to explore. I want to find several new places to go birding this month. When I started really getting into it a few years ago the exploration piece was one of the best parts about it. Seeing new corners of the place I live connected me more to the place I live.

It was cold but the sun was out. The sun is getting higher as we approach the equinox. So even the cold air feels warmer when the sun shines. I watched the ice melt from the bare branches. Red-Winged Blackbirds started singing–a sure sign of spring on the way. There were no leaves, no flowers, no insects, but the sun glittered in the blue sky and I warmed myself with walking. In several weeks this place will be filled with bird song as that sun rises much earlier. I will be back to explore more then.

Ice and Rain


My son and I took a hike up Mount Philo yesterday. It was a mild day, just above freezing, some sun, some clouds. A good day for a short hike. I was afraid it might be muddy on the trail. Instead we found ice.

There is a paved road that leads to the summit where a campground operates seasonally. The trail is much nicer than the road, however. In most places the trail was frozen and passable, but we had to do some navigating at times to avoid slipping. In more than one spot a slip on the ice would have meant a good trip downhill. It was a fine adventure on a Sunday afternoon.


The view, as it is most days, was stellar. We looked at places we had been and might one day go. We watched a raven soar in and drop to land on the cliffs below us, croaking as it did so. We watched clouds creep in over the Adirondacks to bring us rain for today. We lingered a little while and then headed down.

We started to follow the road, then decided to take the trail when it crossed that road, but just as we turned off a large and loud group turned off as well. We decided to take the road. The walking was easier and we chatted as we descended. I noticed a couple of hemlocks that looked in trouble. Some of the tallest trees around, they had only brown needles and were full of cones. I wondered if they had been killed by the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, an introduced pest that can decimate these trees. Eastern hemlock just might be my favorite tree, so if the adelgid is here, my heart sinks.

Now, early morning, it rains. It taps the porch roof. Again, the air is warm, and it blows over the fields, tossing last year’s leaves about and howling through the bare branches of the maples. Yesterday I heard Red-Winged Blackbirds singing. It was the earliest I have seen them here. The sky is gray. The fields and woods are brown. The red stripe on the blackbird’s wing is a harbinger of spring color. Next month, blackbirds will be flashing those red stripes as the field grows green and mud, by then, will replace the ice we encountered yesterday.

Meadow as Fashion

IMG_1196I was at American Eagle, in the mall, with my daughter two days ago. This is not a frequent haunt of mine but she needed some new shorts and knew she could find some there that fit well, plus there was a sale, and there I was, the dad of the pre-teen in the land of the young. They sell a lot of jeans, and the jeans come in different styles. There are a variety of cuts, of course (narrow, boot), plus multiple materials (standard denim, stretch), but their jeans are also worn differently. They “wash” them so they look worn when you buy them, as has been the trend since the 1900’s. The most dramatic wash is called “destroyed,” which means your jeans come with tears and holes included. I understand the fashion implications of this trend, but still, the practical side of me winces at paying for something that is already “destroyed.”

Yesterday the confluence of factors necessary for brush hogging the field occurred:

  1. I was home.
  2. The equipment to do the job was in working order and ready to be used.
  3. The weather was clear.
  4. Ground nesting birds had fledged.
  5. The wild parsnip was tall but not yet going to seed.
  6. I had the time to get cracking.

Yesterday morning I sat on the porch and looked out at the meadow. There were a whole lot of Bobolinks out there. I counted at least ten. Savannah Sparrows were singing. I was happy to see the Bobolinks–they successfully fledged some youngsters. It means they are making it here. It also means I could cut without mashing their nests. I also looked out at a field of yellow. The wild parsnip, that invasive plant that takes over and can offer passersby terrible burns, was tall and flowering. If one can feel emotion toward a plant, I feel bitterness toward wild parsnip. I want it gone.

Wild parsnip, some of it eight feet tall

Wild parsnip, some of it eight feet tall

Now is the key window for our meadow–birds that nest on the ground (Bobolinks, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Savannah Sparrows, Meadowlarks) have fledged and the wild parsnip has not yet gone to seed. After I returned from work early in the afternoon, I hopped in the machine and got cutting. We have been trying to get rid of the stuff for years now by cutting. Sometimes I have cut too late, and that just spreads the seeds. It has retreated a bit, growing in less area now, but it still rules parts of the meadow. I cut for several hours yesterday and got the worst of it. In the next couple days, if the weather holds, I hope to get the rest.

The upper field is now poor habitat. The mice and snakes can’t hide as well. The birds have nowhere to perch. The insects are moving to the field next door. But it does feel good to have sliced down the wild parsnip. The field looks different, some might say ugly, and I have been thinking of it in terms of fashion. It is not a field of grass (your basic new denim). It is not the clean cut-and-remove of a field of grass cut for hay (pre-washed to some degree). It is more the destroyed look. Grass and leaves and stems and flowers are spread across the meadow. It is not neat and tidy. It is not the look for going out to dinner. At the moment, however, it is the look I am going for, just right for late July.

Vultures and Frostiness

IMG_2490Yesterday I worked for the day. Driving north toward Burlington I looked up to see three Turkey Vultures circling. I was so excited I had to pull over. Then I saw four Canada Geese looking for spot to set down. It was cold–22 degrees according to the car thermometer–but they have returned. I took a walk by the Winooski River at the end of the day, hoping to spot some birds newly arrived. No dice but I did see a couple of Cedar Waxwings. They have not been common in my haunts this winter.

As I brushed my teeth this morning my wife was excited to pop upstairs and tell me a Red-Winged Blackbird was right outside. And there it was. I walked outside and saw a few more. This is the first I have seen of them this spring. The past couple of years they have arrived a little earlier, but I hear there has been some snow farther south. That may have held them up.

I woke this morning to 11 degrees with a high forecast to be 19. Winter today. Snow flurries at the moment. The sun will be out, however. At some point. We have had some frosty mornings lately but it won’t be long before spring grabs the days and runs with them. I try to be deliberate about noticing the transition to spring. So often I hear that spring arrived “all of a sudden” when it really has been trudging toward us for a while.

I lit a fire in the stove this morning. The rising sun is melting the frost. Just about a year ago we had a big storm with two feet of snow. That doesn’t look to happen again this year, but March isn’t over yet. We will have a cold one today, then the sap will be running and the roads will be mud. Today it smells like wood smoke. Tomorrow it will smell like thawing earth.