Dude, so dang gorgeous

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For the past week or so I keep repeating various takes on the phrase “Good god it is beautiful around here.” I mean, it is just stunning where I live this time of year. You have your pink apple blossoms next to red barns, white trilliums carpeting forest floors, rust-colored maple buds. Leaves creep up the hillsides. Grass is suddenly knee high. Green and yellow are everywhere. My eyes keep popping.

Peepers sing as the sun sets. Snipes whistle their ghostly whistles in the darkness before the sun rises. For the how-many-I-can’t-count time I say aloud something like, “I can’t believe how different it was just two months ago.” Two months ago it was cold and frosty and quiet. Now? Lush. Cacophonous.

Fiddleheads have unfurled into ferns. Wild leeks have started to dim. Colt’s Foot’s yellow flowers are faded. Now the dandelions and maple leaves take their turn. Summer has packed it’s bags. It will be here any day now.

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Bare Winter

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I took a walk in the town forest yesterday. The temperature was hovering at the freezing mark. Snow was falling. It was a light snow, the flakes floating slowly to the frozen ground in the light wind. It felt like winter wanted to be there–cold, barren.

I walked quickly. I went to the forest because I hoped to find a Red-Breasted Nuthatch, a bird I have found there before, hopping along the trunks of the tall white pines. There was not a lot of bird activity so I was not lingering. It felt good just to move through the woods. I also went there to walk. I took time to stop, to look, to listen; but I also just wanted to feel my breath and warm myself with motion.

The ground was bare. Those gentle snowflakes were beautiful but they did not gather themselves. They broke apart, tucked under leaves, melted when they hit the slightly warmer ground. James Wright’s “Late November in a Field” begins: “Today I am walking alone in a bare place/And winter is here.” It felt like that, only it is February. It felt like winter was about to arrive, but it should be here by now.

We have gotten little snow. In a typical year I would not have gone to the town forest as I did yesterday. I would not have gotten to the parking area and I would not have tried to park, afraid of getting my car stuck. But the dirt road was like pavement. I did not need snowshoes or skis on the trails. I did not have to worry about ice. The temperature popped above freezing by the time I returned to my car. Late November weather.

I heard almost no birds. A few chickadees called their quiet peeps. I heard my nuthatch honking away, plus one or two others. At one point I stood below the pines and thought “it is so quiet today.” But it was not quiet. The wind blew the bare trees. They swayed just enough, and they were cold enough, to creak and pop. Squirrels chattered. Pines whispered. The forest was having a winter conversation with itself. Once I stopped listening with such focus and allowed myself to hear everything around me I found a world of sound. It was not quiet at all.

Winter has a couple months yet to go. Perhaps we will have a solid snowstorm during those couple months. Or perhaps November will blend into spring come April. Outside my window, the tips of crocuses show themselves below the bird feeder. I do not wish them harm but I would like them to be hidden under a deep layer of snow. I would like this bare winter to wear its snowy cloak, at least for a little while. I would like a little more winter before spring arrives.

Autumn Hinting at Winter

Rain tumbles against the porch roof. It pours from the upper eave, resonating in the hollow space just outside my wall. It is what you might call a dark and stormy night, if you want to use such an overused expression. In a literal way, it describes things quite well. It has, as is the case this time of year, been dark for several hours. When in the summer we might still be out on the porch reading, now the sun has long set, the air sinks toward freezing, and the warmth of the house tempts us inside.

We keep getting frost. The past two mornings pink and purple washed the sky of darkness, pushing the sun into the day. The frost on the grass and the lingering leaves and the withered milkweed glowed in the morning color. As the days get on, frost lingers in the shadows until the sun finds it and sends it off. Snow has tickled the sky some afternoons. We talk about skiing.

Down by the river there are times when the birds make noise. Afternoons with sun–they like those. They chirp and peep but hardly sing. They have forgotten how to sing, it seems, talking to each other in quiet voices, hiding in the brush, afraid perhaps that winter will find them. Most of them will be gone soon. They will seek the sun.

Yesterday I returned home after a day working and made my way to the hammock I have yet to store for the winter. I lay on my back, looking up at the yellow maple leaves waving in the breeze. The sun, just visible over the house, was too bright. I shaded my eyes, watching the occasional leaf break free and float to the lawn. I almost fell asleep.

Sometimes in the winter I imagine finding a pile of snow and settling in, falling asleep warm in layers of insulation, of lying there while snow falls and covers me, of finding myself in a world of white and slowness and quiet. Some winter mornings I can sit on the porch and feel this way, just looking out at the still white field, no need to find that pile of snow. But it is not winter yet. Color still dapples the hills. The occasional song sparrow still sings. Snow won’t be part of our habits for weeks.

Winter does not arrive to the front door, however. Winter makes her way in through the back door and parks on the couch, eating your chips and flipping through magazines while you stack wood. Who knows how long she has been there before you notice? And once you do, you can’t really ask her to leave at that point. That just wouldn’t be good manners.

Not Spring Yet

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Lake Champlain at Shelburne Bay–ice as far as one can see

Lake Champlain froze over this year, as it did last year. It is not common that it freezes over two years in a row. It has been a cold winter. Last week we had several days of warmer weather. Temperatures got into the forties. Lots of snow melted. As I write this the temperature is 28 degrees and it is snowing like nuts with a howling wind. It isn’t spring yet.

I did get some time outside when the air was warmer. I always find the transition from season to season remarkable. This week I was amazed at the melting of so much snow. Today I have been amazed at just how wintry it is. I went for a run this afternoon. The wind whipped the falling snow into my face. It hurt. The storm seemed to be telling me to stay inside. I wasn’t out long.

Spring will come soon. I am still waiting for the return of Red Winged Blackbirds. Forget American Robins, some of whom stick around all winter. Red Winged Blackbirds are the real harbingers of spring. Once they arrive, Woodcocks and Song Sparrows, maple leaves and tulips, are not far behind. As of yesterday, the garden beds were just starting to emerge from the snow. Today they are covered again. I planted onion seeds in pots yesterday. They sit inside on the windowsill. By the time they are ready to transplant, this snow, like the snow that left us last week, will be clouds.

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LaPlatte River, March 3rd 2015; note the tracks on the snow on the ice

LaPlatte River, March 14 2015

Same view of the LaPlatte River, March 14 2015

Hinesburg Foliage Report 11 October 2009

The leaves are getting mighty bright around these parts. They are not quite at their peak yet, but they are close. Other parts of Vermont are in top form. I’m thinking next weekend for us, unless we have a big change of weather. Here is a bit of what we’ve got:

Maple Aglow

Maple Aglow

More Glowing Maple

More Glowing Maples

Foliage View

Foliage View

And check this out.  My kids decided to rake a bunch of leaves today, because “wouldn’t Daddy be so excited if he saw that he didn’t have so many leaves to rake?” Then they got distracted, as children should, by the leaves they were raking. They shaped them into a dragon. They even added stones at the tail to look like scales, but “big ones so we don’t forget and leave them out when you mow the lawn.” And it does look like a dragon, don’t you think?

Leaf Dragon

Leaf Dragon

Robins and Blackbirds

Robins on High

Robins on High

The kids and I went for a ramble this afternoon down the muddy road to the river. We checked out the ice flowing over the fields and the ice on the river. We felt the rain on our faces and smelled the melting snow. Our boots squished in the mud. And we saw lots of birds.

First, we saw and heard about 100 robins. It must have been the same flock I saw yesterday. Apparently the harbingers of spring are ready to get that season rolling. We also heard and saw red-winged blackbirds. I consider those much more of a spring sign than robins. Robins often can be seen all winter, while blackbirds always head south in the fall. When they are back, spring can’t be far off.

We also saw a flock of waxwings and listened to them cheerp high in a leafless maple. And, of course, we saw bluebirds. The bluebirds never left. And there were bluejays and ravens, the usual winter noisemakers. It felt like a day of winter-turning-to-spring. We have more winter in store. It will get into the single digits within the next few days. But once the red-winged blackbirds are back, winter doesn’t have much longer before the green starts busting out.

And then we will have snipes and woodcocks and sparrows and warblers and all the rest. I can hardly wait to welcome them back.

First Ski Day

Brian Jenkins Burlington Free Press

Brian Jenkins Burlington Free Press

Today was opening day at Bolton Valley so we headed up there for some early skiing.  We had a blast.  We took only a few runs (the kids are still getting their ski legs on) but got the feel of it.  I even got a few turns in on my own while sliding down the trails with my daughter.  I had my first spill as I tried to take a small jump ( I landed it but ate white with my first turn).

We stayed warm enough and the place was not as packed as we thought it might be.  I had the impression that there were just as many people there as on opening day last year but somehow things ran more smoothly.  Everything just seemed to flow a little better.  We got our passes in just a few minutes, didn’t have to wait in line for the lift, found a place to park, even found a spot to put on our boots with no problem.

Once we had fun on the slopes we headed around the corner.  We lived up there for over a decade and we wanted to check out our old house.  We designed and built it one summer and fall, and it was an odd feeling to leave it.  It turns out that the new owners added a couple of touches we had wanted to add ourselves but did not–a large front porch and a small roof over the front door.  It looks great.  It looks better on the outside than it ever did when we lived there.

It was a great place to live and both of us felt we could be happy up there still.  Winter up there meant we were in the place to be.  We always had snow on Christmas, but we couldn’t have much of a garden.  One can’t have everything, but it sure was nice to put on boots and walk up the hill and take a few runs, all without driving.  Ah, but how about that popcorn we grew this summer?

Tomorrow we will likely head up there again, get the itch scratched for the weekend.  We will have to load the car and drive up there like everyone else.  For now, that’s what we’ve got.  Yesterday I was outside while my son stomped around on the frozen garden.  I started mentally planning what we might grow next summer.  Some days I ski.  Some days I pull weeds.  That isn’t easy to do all in one place.  As for tomorrow, I may spend some time thinking about gardening, but one should ski while the snow is on the mountain.