Fall Sky at Day’s End

Walking a couple of nights ago, the sky put on a show. Steaks of pink and yellow and orange. I mean, damn. It kept getting better as we walked. We turned around and it kept getting better.

We were surrounded by loveliness. I know a gazillion people post sunset photos on Instagram. It’s a thing. Pictures of sunsets have been a thing for as long as color photos have been a thing.  Still, I took some photos and here they are. 

I guess they are a thing because a glorious sunset is amazing. Look at these photos, for god’s sake. Nice! And they don’t do any justice to the real thing. You’ve seen a sunset like this. I know you have. It is awesome in the real sense–it inspires awe. 

The leaves are starting to turn. The air is colder. This morning’s temperature was 37 degrees.  We had a fire outside last night. We watched the almost full moon over the gathering fog while the flames flickered. Gotta love fall.

This was the culmination of that sky. This is where I live. Not bad.

Getting Quiet


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.

Dark Early


Mid-November it gets dark early. I drove home tonight in the near-dark while the sun set in its rose-colored glory. The crescent moon hung lonely in the sky. Silhouettes of trees, bare branches reaching for the cobalt sky, lined up on the horizon.

Years ago I worked as an outdoor educator. We did group programming into November. On those late fall days we would be putting away equipment in the shed, sometimes struggling to see. The shed had no power but it did have a kerosene lantern that helped, if we cared to use it. We hung ropes and stored belay devices in the shadows, walking out into the twilight after a day outside, feeling the damp and the dark.

These days I spend much less time outside. That is too bad. I appreciated the world more then. I felt I was in the world more. Now I spend more time in windowless spaces and in cars than outside. The world ticks past without me in it. I step outside after a day with too much time at a desk or at a computer screen. I do not notice the leaves falling quietly onto hemlock needles as much as I did.

But I do see the world. I notice what I can. The sky was so beautiful this afternoon I had to stop my car, get out and look up at the moon. I wanted to see it without the window as filter. I wanted, if just for a moment, to be in the world. So I parked on the side of the road, near the top of a hill, and I looked west, the light fading, the darkness pulling the stars from their berths, and I simply stood there.

Spring Edging In


I was pretty cozy in bed this morning but I got up early anyway. It was cold out (below freezing!) and I had woken early. I wavered. I waffled. But then I remembered that spring migration is underway. In Vermont. We’re talking a very short season. I got out of bed.

I watched the sky turn pink before the sun rose. I watched the sun rise. I listened to lots of birds singing: song sparrows, cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, phoebes, mourning doves, swamp sparrows, even  a ruby crowned kinglet. It was cold but it was a beautiful morning. How can I regret watching the sun rise on an early spring day?

I wasn’t the only one out there. Often at that hour I see no one else. OK really I almost never see anyone. And I say almost because I saw a bunch of people today. A car passed, a dog walker, a runner, a biker. I got one of each. That meant no chance of seeing ducks on the river. They are skittish. I walk as stealthily as I can as I approach the river, but if someone else has just passed, forget it. No ducks for me. I did see a wood duck pass over at one point, so at least there was that.

Every day now new birds are coming back north. I saw my first kingfisher of the season this afternoon. I also saw a flock of bohemian waxwings in Burlington this afternoon–they will soon make their own journey north, leaving these southern climes behind. I will try to get out there as often as I can these next couple of months. I would hate to miss something passing through.

Woodcocks are calling in the early evening. The sun goes down and wood peepers start wood peeping. Daffodils are starting to pop up. The buds on the trees are budding out. Sugaring season is winding up. Soon it will be green–too green to see through the woods. That makes the birding harder but it sure looks fine. I’ll get out of bed for that too.

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.

Sneak Peak at Spring

Blue Sky Day

Blue Sky Day

We’ve got Camel’s Hump and the waxing moon and a little snow and blue sky, not to mention 41 degrees. That is your fine spring scene for you. The road was a bit muddy–really muddy on the edges. I got sucked in a bit when I was forced over by a passing truck. No matter–I cleaned off my boots in the grainy snow.

I walked out to get some air and to see what I could see. The afternoon was stunning, I tell you. I unzipped my jacket. I took off my gloves. I watched a red tailed hawk soar out over the fields and catch dinner. I was feeling pretty good. At the river I stopped and examined it for a bit. I saw lots of ice with water pooled on top, animal tracks criss-crossing the wet snow on the surface, and just a small area of open water. Soon there will be beavers and mallards and kingfishers here.

Not much open water right now

Not much open water right now

Almost back to the house and I heard something I haven’t heard since fall–the echoing call of a killdeer. I thought I might have been mistaken. Perhaps it was just a robin behind some trees, the sound twisted by the landscape? So I listened. I heard it again. Then I spotted it way out there–white and brown moving against the white and brown. I tromped over the snow and ice and dried grass until I got close enough to see it well. Then I heard another and spotted that one, too. Then another. Now that is a sign that spring is just about here.

Killdeer here early

Killdeer here early

Tomorrow it is forecast to snow. A lot. We might get a foot or more by the time it stops. The annual battle between winter and spring seems to have begun. We will enjoy the snow–sledding, skiing, digging. I imagine the snow will not stick around long. Then we will enjoy spring. Winter and spring both offer a lot to amaze me. I can’t go wrong this time of year.


Half Moon

Half Moon

I loaded a program on my iPod called “Planets.”  I entered my longitude and latitude and now it shows me the position of planets in the sky.  It also shows the moon. It provides rise and set times for them, as well as the sun. It has been pretty handy.  I check it in the morning when I head out for a run.  It is dark at that time and I get to see what is still out.  I also check it in the evening.  Even if it is cloudy I tend to look to find out what I am missing.

Lately at night, just before bed, my son has been keen to see it.  He wants to see what planets are out there.  That is great itself, but the thing I love is that he wants to really see them. This little electronic gizmo is just a tool.  He wants to try to find the planets.  He wants to see the moon.  Tonight he ran to the window and pointed.  “I see it,” he shouted.  “I see Jupiter!” He was excited.  He was pretty fired up last night as well.  He has been loving exploring the night sky. That makes me happy, as a parent and as a human being. If he can learn to love the world around him, especially at night, both he and the world will be better off.

Lately, Jupiter has been the planet to spot.  Mornings, I can see Mars and Venus, but my boy isn’t typically up when they show themselves.  He can see the moon, however, and he has been enjoying watching it grow these past few nights.  “A half moon!” he spouted when he saw it tonight.  Good stuff.

Sky Show

I wish I had a good image of it, but I was not in a position to take photos. Plus, I didn’t have a camera. I had been hearing for a couple of days how tonight would provide a good show if things worked out right. Jupiter, Venus and the crescent moon are in conjunction, which really means they are all close together.

I drove home from South Burlington and heard this again on Vermont Public Radio‘s Eye on the Night Sky. I looked and was disappointed to see clouds covering the entire sky, at least from my narrow viewpoint. But once I was in Shelburne and my view was broader, I looked up again.

The clouds had one hole in them and right in that hole was what I was seeking. The skinny moon hung there with two bright planets accompanying it to the right, like ushers. It lasted for a few minutes before the clouds starting moving back in, and the show was over. It was quite a sight.

Mercury in the Morning

I rose early this morning.  I had to get out of the house to meet a group of students.  We are taking a trip down to the Rutland area to visit some colleges.  I had to get up in the dark.  This morning, that worked out well.

For the next few days, Mercury rises on the eastern horizon just before sunrise.  At 6:30 I could see it glowing just above the pale horizon.  It was the only celestial body I could see, with the exception of one star, just above it.  By 6:45 the sky was too bright for me to see it.  It is a fleeting planet, like the god after which it is named.

I have not seen Mercury much in my life, although I have tried to see it many times.  Seeing Mercury is one of those things to pursue throughout a lifetime, so I know I will have many chances to see it again.  I have thought for a long time of investing in a telescope, one powerful enough to the see the moons of Saturn.  One of these days I will splurge on that.

Perhaps tomorrow I will rise early enough again to spy the other red planet.  If I am lucky the clouds will have drifted off.  If I do not see it again, I will have a few days left to do so, and I am sure I will see other small wonders in any case.  That is the deal with rising early–there is always something wonderful to see.