Bird on a Wire

We used to have a road trip scavenger hunt. The idea was to check off items one might see out a car window. Stop sign, fuel truck, school, cows, that kind of thing. Whenever we played this game there was inevitably one item we could not find–a bird on a wire.

It was weird. It is not hard to see a bird on a wire most of the time. Even in winter there are birds and they are sometimes to be found on wires. But when we had that scavenger hunt in hand, and this happened many times, we could not find one. It became a joke in our family. We would be out walking in a new place, with no scavenger hunt list to check, and one of us would point and shout “Hey there’s a bird on a wire!”

I have not played that travel game in years but I still think of it, of those road trips, whenever I see a bird on a wire. I though of it today. After a day of way to much inside time, of too much computer work, of too little physical activity, I went outside with a pair of binoculars as the sun was setting. I didn’t have the binoculars to look at the setting sun. That would have been stupid. I had them to look at birds, were I to spot any. I did spot some. And one of them was on a wire.

Actually two of them were on a wire. Two bluebirds, singing their song that sounds like they are just too lazy to sing as boldly as anything like a Robin, flew onto and off of that wire. Blue birds against a blue sky with the low bright light of the closing of day in early spring–good stuff that. It was a beautiful sight and it was good to get outside and to move around a bunch and to listen and to look for our avian neighbors. And those birds, perched on that wire, reminded me of some good trips with my family.

I still think of that game when I see a bird on a wire while I am driving. I am not driving much these days. There is a chance I will do some driving tomorrow but that is still not a definite plan. I am staying home, along with the rest of the crew, most of the time. You know, stay home and stay safe. I mean, if I want to see a bird on a wire, apparently I can do that by walking down the road. No driving required.

Morning Walks

Used to be my wife would get up early, as early as 5:00 sometimes, to walk the dogs. I slept in. But then I figured, since this was something really important to her, I should think about coming with her. I did think about it. Now, most days, I get up too. She’s still in charge, mind you, but I do help out, sort of, and it gives us some time together.

No matter what the weather is like I pretty much always think it is a beautiful day. Rain, snow, cold, clouds, fog, wind, whatever–it is all beautiful. I can’t help myself from thinking that. It seems that most people find a way to complain about the weather but I love how it always changes. Plus, fog looks and feels different on a cold winter day and on a hot summer day. So one thing about these morning walks–it is never the same as any other day.

Today was another fine morning. We were up just before sunrise and got to watch the sun peak over the ridge of the Green Mountains. Green hasn’t really started to emerge yet but the shifting browns of the trees and grasses and the reflection of the pink sky against the river is pretty hard to beat. We watched a beaver swim through that reflection and listened to the first Eastern Meadowlark and Eastern Phoebes of the season.

Having two sniffing, pulling, yanking, eager dogs along doesn’t make for the best observation of the natural world. It can be hard to be slow and quiet enough for that. But it does allow for some degree of appreciation for this beautiful place.

We are sticking close to home these days, with the COVID-19 guidelines in place, so getting out there to feel the morning air and having a chance to talk and watching the world light up with a new day? Well, that makes a difference to keeping some perspective and to staying positive. Best to keep that up.

A Different Kind of Traffic

People are not getting out during the week. I guess that is a good thing. Everyone is staying home as much as they can, trying to stay safe. But the weekend comes and exercise is on the agenda. And maybe a little social distance socializing. Only, the gym is closed. And the movie theaters. And restaurants. So outside is the place to go. But most trails are closed because they are muddy or covered in snow or otherwise inaccessible. So apparently everyone is coming to our neighborhood.

I mean, it isn’t really a neighborhood. Our road is a dirt road, long and flat for a mile, then rising and falling in a few gentle hills. Off of that is another road, class four in the middle. Class four means it is a public right-of-way but not maintained a whole lot–not plowed when the snow falls or graded when the mud arrives. So these couple of roads, with a couple others over the town line, make for several miles of fine walking or running or biking. And a lot of people know it.

People park at the end of the road and go from there. Most days someone does that at some point, but these days there is a line of cars as their occupants are off enjoying these roads. At the far end of one of these roads, coming at it from a long walk ourselves, my wife and I encountered half a dozen cars parked. At that end I have, a few times, seen two cars parked. You know, two people meet each other there, driving separately, and go for.a walk. But today there were six cars there. I know that may not seem like a lot. It’s not a Walmart parking lot. But it is three times the maximum number I have ever seen there before.

Walking the rest of the way home, we had to scooch over far to the right as people coming the other way did the same. We kept our distance. We wished them a good morning, waved, kept walking. And then we encountered more people. The thing is, we have done this long walk the past four Saturdays in a row. The first couple of times we encountered all kinds of automobile traffic on certain parts of it. The first time the road was dry and we got dusted out way too many times. Today on the same stretch all of one car passed us. Those cars have been replaced by pedestrians.

These times have brought a lot of change. And we see it right here on the roads around us. Fewer cars drive past but more people than ever pass, more slowly, outside of their cars. Given the hardships we have begun to face and the tragedy the world is facing, and is slowly creeping its way toward us, seeing people get outside to enjoy an early spring day is not the worst thing to happen. Maybe when all this is said and done more people will choose to take a spring walk together, rather than to meet for coffee at an inside table. I’ll take that small victory.

Spring teaser complete

This morning I headed out to the lake to try to find some ducks before they all fly back north. A week ago Lake Champlain was frozen over–ice from Vermont to New York. Then it warmed up, and then it rained. There is still plenty of ice. Yesterday I tried to find ducks at the ferry landing. I couldn’t see any open water at all. Wind had blown ice into the cove, filling it right up. Today I tried again and found my ducks.

At Shelburne Farms there was some water. Bald Eagles rested by it, standing on the ice. A crow picked at something out there. Common Goldeneye and Bufflehead and Scaups swam and dove. Farther up the road, water stretched along the shore. Binoculars brought all those ducks closer. I guess there are fish and mussels to feed them down in that cold water. It won’t be long before they fly away to nest.

Closer to home, the river has dropped. The temperature sank into the 20s last night. All that sitting water in the fields turned to ice. A dusting of snow covers it still. On the shore, big frozen slabs. Once the water level fell they could no longer float, like boulders left behind by a glacier. They will likely sit there until spring turns them back to liquid.

Mud still seeps up on the trails. Soon we will have to stop walking on them. They are solid, for the most part, right now. They make for smooth and easy walking. Once the ice all melts, and the ground as well, the trails will be mush. In May, warblers like to sing on one particular stretch of trail. To find them I sometimes have to get wet. Or wait.

Winter is here today. This morning, my son was ruing the loss of spring. I tried to remind him that it is still winter, that those warm days were a bonus. Celebrate warm spring-like days when it is winter, don’t bemoan winter when spring’s time has not yet come. But the sun is higher. The days are longer. Phoebes will soon be singing. They will sing for the ducks as they fly overhead.

December Days

On Christmas Eve it started to snow. A light snow, but it was not long before it started to gather on the ground. It had not been setting up to be a white Christmas so it was nice to get at least that. And it kept falling. We readied ourselves for the big elf in the red suit and, when we finally went to bed, the snow still came down.

Christmas morning we had snow. Maybe three inches on the ground. And it stuck to the trees as well. The world was clean and white. My son said it was a Christmas miracle, perhaps half joking. I just thought we were lucky.

My wife and I walked out in it for a bit that morning. It was cold but sunny. The sky was blue. We were pretty content, our children riding the high of gifts and surprises. We did not get up until close to 6:00 AM, so we even had some decent sleep. Snow squeaked as we walked.

That night the cold rose up. All the moisture in the air settled and froze. Every twig and stone and blade of dry milkweed was covered in ice. You know those cheesy holiday decorations that are covered in fake frost, exaggerated versions of reality? It looked like that.

The low sun, before it climbed up to hide behind low clouds, splashed the world with brightness. All that ice glittered and sparkled. Winter wonderland and all that. Spectacular. Then it became another frosty morning.

Today, rain. And fog. Sleet last night. It seems we are getting all the winter weather. Christmas is over, which is always a bit of a letdown in our house. But I still feel the spirit. The new year is just around the corner. An arbitrary beginning and ending, for sure, but still, a time to reassess and to set some goals. I will get outside again to take some time to reflect on that.

Rain Turning to Snow

Outside the window, rain pounded the porch roof. It was too dark to see the rain, or the field beyond. But water falling onto standing seam is loud. It was coming down. I woke several times in the night, battling a cold that dragged a cough across my throat. Each time I heard the rain.

But then, as the light overtook the dark, the rain did not pound the porch roof. The rain had stopped. It was still hardly light, and I groggily slogged over to brush my teeth. I shaved. I showered. When I finally left the bathroom I saw the snow. It had not just stopped raining. It had started snowing.

Snow is quiet. It coated the grass and the bare maple branches and the piles of fallen leaves. It coated the porch roof. I watched it fall while I debated whether to subject my work colleagues to my cold. Then I coughed again. I stayed home. I watched the quiet snow fall.

Later, my wife and I walked in the snow. We had a window of time and took advantage of it. I coughed along the way. The snow was wet. The road was muddy. Trees dripped their slush into the river. We wore hoods and watched the horses watch us as we walked past. The wet snow kept falling.

In the afternoon the snow stopped, then slowly started to fall again. Now, in the dark, the clouds are keeping things to themselves. Wind tries to shake the last birch leaves onto the house. Tonight will be cold, and tomorrow. More snow will fall this week. The porch roof will creak with ice before turning white again. 

Will I notice the next snow? Or will I wake again in bleary unawareness? I will try to watch for it, even in the dark, even when my dreams can’t seem to stop churning. However long it takes me to see it, I will appreciate it. And it will make me smile. And whether I can or not, I will want, as I did today, to go out walking it that snow with the most beautiful woman in the world. If the timing is right, I will.

Road Hazard

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Back in the fall we had a big old windstorm. Lots of trees fell. Power was out for a while. It made a general mess of the usual tidiness of human daily life around here. But then things got cleaned up. Power was restored. We got back to the day-to-day.

But some remnants can be found yet. This afternoon my kids spent a couple of hours manhandling the tops of two white pines that snapped off during that storm. They made a fence of sorts at the edge of the field. They managed to get covered in sap. Then they got covered in mud. They took advantage of the messiness of spring.

Up the road there is maple that almost fell. It broke near the ground and leaned out over the road to the other side. A beech caught it. It hangs there still. Every time I go by it seems the trunk is more rotted or torn. That thing is going to fall at some point. We rush whenever we have to pass beneath it. It hangs there, patiently waiting for a strong enough breeze. Or maybe an elephant. We don’t have elephants around here so that isn’t much of an option I suppose.

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Today was a warm one. When the sun rose over Camel’s Hump I headed up the hill. A flock of Snow Geese was pecking away at the muddy field. I thought I heard a Phoebe but that could have been wishful thinking. I went to the lake and watched the ducks. I got coffee at the corner store. Later, we went for a walk. We avoided the danger zone this time.

Easter tomorrow. We will hunt for some eggs, eat some candy, have a good meal. Likely, we will go for a walk at some point. I am guessing that leaning maple will still be leaning. But one of these days it will slide to the ground. Or crash to the ground. Tomorrow is as good a day as any. But I’m not betting it will happen so soon. Even if it is a day of new beginnings.