Friday, February 27, 2015

Wishful thinking, maybe

Is it my imagination or just wishful thinking? To me it feels as though winter’s grip is loosening just the tiniest bit. Well, after tonight, anyway.

Even on a cold day now, the sun is warmer. When I can stand in the afternoon sun someplace out of the wind, a day can feel almost balmy. It’s a welcome improvement.

I look forward to resuming my walks in the woods, preferably without the ever-present Yak-trax. Or even, just walking anywhere without Yak-trax. Those things are wonderful but I still can’t walk fast enough to work up a sweat or get my heart rate up. It feels like a long time since I’ve done that, and I’m about half afraid it will be like starting over again. I look forward to the activity, though.

I’m also looking forward to having a cleaner cabin. Since sometime in January, every weekend has brought snow, and my major activity this winter has been snow shoveling, not housecleaning. Truthfully, I don’t much like housecleaning, in general. My opinion is that I won’t go to my grave wishing I’d kept a cleaner house. But I wouldn’t mind spending one weekend catching up on my cleaning. That’s not unreasonable.

Monday, February 23, 2015


I have been hibernating. Below zero temperatures and winds 25-50 mph, make for brutal winter weather. Even a winter-lover like me is tired of it.

Here in southern PA, this is the coldest February ever in more than 80 years of full records. And, till the month is over, it may well be the coldest month ever, surpassing all those Januarys too. For February 2015 the average temperature is 21.45, well below the average of 32.4 and even well below the previously coldest February that featured a balmy 24 degree average.

Every weekend this month has featured a storm of some kind, which means I’ve spent my weekends shoveling snow, not taking photos or even sitting at a computer. My chickens have survived thus far. One night I was tempted to bring them inside. That was the night it was -5 with 35 mph wind and up to 55 mph gusts. I decided against it, mostly because the only place inside where I could put them was my bathroom, and I just couldn’t deal with that idea. So instead I surrounded the coop with two bales of straw, covered it with a blanket and a tarp and hoped for the best. They seem to have done okay.

This past Saturday the latest snowstorm brought whiteout conditions and more wind. It was quite a storm. I took the photo I’m posting today in the morning before the storm hit. The sky certainly proved the old adage "red sky at morning, sailor take warning."

For myself, I am looking forward to days where the temperatures get as high as, perhaps, 40; that don’t drop below zero or into the single digits at night, and that have calm winds. When that happens, my hibernation will end.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

For the birds...

Northern cardinal, American goldfinch, junco, blue jay, titmice, Carolina chickadee, red-belling woodpecker, downy woodpecker, Carolina wren. They were the visitors at my winter feeders this morning. Crows flew overhead but didn’t deign to investigate. Two deer, a large doe and a still-small summer fawn, watched from about 20 feet away as I fed the chickens.
Ice hides under the latest coating of snow, making the morning chores treacherous. I inch along, careful with every step. It is not a pretty sight.

It’s a typical winter morning at my cabin. The mornings are still rather dark, partly because the hours of daylight are still short and partly because even when the sun is up elsewhere, the mountain hides the disc until nearly 9 a.m. Officially sunrise is still a bit after 7 a.m. The evenings are longer, and I do get the benefit of those longer minutes. Twilight hangs on later, now. It is still not fully dark even at 6:30 p.m., though the sun sets nearly an hour earlier.

The chickens still haven’t started laying again; they are still on winter egg break. They are done molting, though, and all their new feathers are grown in. I am spoiling them with mealworms and fresh sprouts, hoping to encourage them to start laying again soon. I miss those fresh eggs. I’ve heard that 14 hours of daylight is the optimum time for a chicken to lay eggs, and I’m a long way from that. I’m sure the overcast skies aren’t helping either. I guess I’ll just have to be patient a little while longer.

Monday, February 09, 2015

A walk in the fog


2015 is an odd winter here on Roundtop Mtn. It trudges along, overcast skies and cold temperatures. Then it warms up for a day, followed by something falling out of the sky for a day, followed by a bitterly cold sunny day with brutal wind. Then it’s back to a string of overcast, and, like today, often foggy days.

Yesterday was the warm day, and today is the something falling out of the sky day. Tomorrow will be the windy day. I did manage to get out for a walk with Skye yesterday. I’ve worn my Yak-trax virtually every day since sometime in December, and at the moment I’ve gone through 1.5 pairs of them. I’ve just ordered another pair that I hope will see me through the rest of this winter.
The reason I am breaking them is because of days like yesterday. Where I walked was bare ground, muddy ground, ice, snow and slush. I think it’s the bare ground that does them in, but I can’t walk on the ice, snow and slush without them. I say I’ve gone through 1.5 pairs of them this winter but that’s a bit misleading.
I started the winter with the pair from last winter, and one of them broke, so I got a second pair. Then a different one broke, leaving me with a mismatched pair. Then this morning I noticed the rubber on one of them had broken again. So this morning I ordered another pair, and will soon toss the broken one but will keep its mate as a spare. They last longer in winters where the ground is uniformly ice- or snow-covered. Bare patches are the worst.

Friday, January 30, 2015

One after the other

Snowstorm after snowstorm. That’s how this winter is shaping up here on Roundtop Mtn. It’s a good thing most of the storms so far are small, as I can barely clean up from one before the next one follows a day or so later. I think three days between storms is the longevity record so far.
I am starting to feel that I am turning the corner on the cold I’ve had this week. It’s kept me cranky and indoors far more than I prefer. The dogs aren’t getting much in the way of walks, which means they have considerably more energy than I do. If only I could teach them to shovel snow, I would be further ahead, and perhaps that level of work would tire them out, leaving me warm and resting inside. It’s a pipe dream, I know. Skye would eat the shovel before he cleared any snow. Sparrow would forget about shoveling in favor of chasing the neighbor’s cats. Baby Dog is now nearly elderly herself and would deem shoveling beneath her in any case.
As yet, I haven’t seen any interesting winter finches at my feeders. Some are around. Repolls were spotted to the east, and some siskins have been reports. I have three goldfinch appear about once a day. I’ve discovered that I don’t have one very hungry male cardinal, but instead three of them who take turns at the feeders. After a slow start, the juncos have figured out how to eat from the tube feeders. They prefer the platform feeder, but that gets covered with snow about every other day, and I don’t always get out there to clear it out again.
Years ago, I lost all my Carolina wrens when two large snowstorms likely buried their hideout. It took years for the species to reappear on Roundtop. At the moment I have at least two and possibly three of them regularly at my feeders. So far they are doing okay, because the storms haven’t been large ones.
Sparrows, with the exception of the juncos, are in short supply. I’ve seen a white-throated sparrow exactly twice this winter. Even the usually ubiquitous song sparrows are in hiding.  It’s not even midwinter yet, but I feel as though this winter is already a long one.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

wintertime...and the living ain't easy

Stone fence in snow

I’m not buried in snow, but there’s still plenty of it about on Roundtop Mtn. Roundtop was hit pretty hard by the infamous "Snowtober" in 2011, so I’m not unhappy about missing the worst of the current blizzard that’s burying Boston today.
Even the amount I have on the ground must be hard on the forest residents. Baby Dog and I saw three deer this morning, which prompted me to wonder how and where they sleep in this poor weather. There’s a nice tangle of brush in a low-lying area that offers good screening in summer, but nothing is dense enough there to keep them from becoming snow-covered as they sleep. Perhaps they don’t mind. I know puppies Sparrow and Skye act as though they would be happy to spend hours in the snow, racing back and forth. I can easily imagine they would curl up and sleep in it if they had to.
That said, this weather must still be hard on the wild animals, and not just because it makes finding food more difficult. No place that I can see offers much in the way of protection from the wind, let alone the snow. When the chickens are out, they soon retreat under my raised cabin, where the snow doesn’t reach. Perhaps it is also warmer under there, too, but even that doesn’t provide much protection from the wind.

Everywhere I can see is snow-covered, and the little dips and gullies in my hilly forest don’t look as though one offers any more protection than the next place. All of which makes me glad to be indoors and warm when I sleep. I have winter backpacked when it was -20F, but I was in a tent and a warm sleeping bag, and the wind wasn’t howling, nor was I in a blizzard at the time. Clearly, the forest animals are hardier than I am, though I still can’t help but feel sorry for them living outside in this weather.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Red sky before snow

A few inches of snow fell yesterday. It was the light powdery kind of snow that soon starts to compress under even that slight a weight. So this morning the snow already looks less than it did last evening. I am harboring a cold, which makes me want to huddle next to the fire, wrapped in a blanket and sipping a cuppa hot tea. Unfortunately, the puppies want to run full tilt through the snow, noses buried, back and forth for hours. We have not yet found a compromise that suits us all.

In addition to today’s snow photos, I also am posting a photo of the sunrise of the day before the snow. That red-sky-at-morning thing is really true. And as long as the sailor’s-warning part of the old rhyme doesn’t turn out to be something really awful, the red morning skies can be appreciated simply for their beauty.

Thus far, the January here in southern Pennsylvania is turning out to be colder than average and could end up in the top 15 of coldest Januarys. It won’t touch the infamous 1994, of course, when the coldest ever temperature recorded in this area was reached at a bone-chilling -16 and the day before at a -12 or so. Two days like that skewed the entire month that year.

Although 2014 was the warmest year ever on record, in my area the temperature was one of the few areas of the globe that registered below average. That may explain why some people here still aren’t convinced of climate change. To them, if they don’t see it where they are, it doesn’t exist.