Saturday, December 31, 2005

Last Day of the Year

It's been largely a dreary day for the last day of the year, but an active one for the weather. So far today, I've had rain, snow, sleet, freezing rain and a moment or two when the sun even shone weakly.

I've been working on my bird list for the month and have come to the conclusion that winter birding is as much about birds that I should have seen but didn't as it is about the birds I've seen. Since my main bird list is only for Roundtop Mountain, it's also sometimes about birds that I saw just off the mountain but didn't see on the property. Today, I added northern flicker to December 2005's Roundtop listing, but given the dreary state of the weather, a glimpse at a turkey vulture or a black vulture is probably out of the question. I've seen both of those near the mountain this month but not at the mountain. This morning I saw a sharp-shinned hawk right near the edge of the property, and I'm still trying to figure out if it qualifies as being on the mountain property or not. This morning I also saw a huge flock of Canada geese moving north, perhaps 500 birds in the flock. I suspect they were heading towards the Susquehanna River.

Tomorrow, a new year and a new birding list. January 1 is a day when even a starling is a "new" bird.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Free of Ice!

Free of ice! Free of ice! Thank God Almighty, I am free of ice! Okay, that’s a bit over the top. First of all the ice isn’t completely gone. However, I now have one track of my two-track driveway that’s almost free of ice. There’s one section, about 15 feet long, where I still have to hopscotch from ice-free patch to ice-free patch, but other than that I can walk like a normal person again. No more skootching along, like the amazing 1000 year old woman, waiting for the Big Slip that puts me into a Big Sleep, complete with injuries, etc.

In celebration, I took a walk down to the lodge area where I get my mail. While down there, I saw one new example of teenage stupidity, the ski resort/parking lot variation. This essentially means 4-5 teenagers walked out of the parking lot on their way to the lodge and directly into the path of a car in the drop-off lane. Their eyes were focused on the lodge and never looked left or right and never appeared to even notice they were walking into a roadway, where actual large and heavy vehicles drive past. The road down there still has icy patches, so when the car swerved to avoid them it nearly spun full around. At least two of the kids never looked up, so focused were they on the lodge, apparently fearing it would disappear in front of their eyes if they looked elsewhere. The three other kids laughed and never slowed down or stopped for the car to get under control. They just kept walking, as though they had a right to walk directly into the road. Where’s Darwin when you need him??

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


This morning I've added two new links to blogs that I like. One, OutdoorsPro, is about a guy now in Oregeon who's a ski patroller. The other is Life With Dogs in the Yukon, about dog sledding, another subject I grew to care about during one of my trips to Alaska. This year will be the first year that I'm blogging during an Iditarod. You'll probably hear too much about that from me then. Be warned.

A few weeks ago I added the link to Quietness, a poetry blog by a woman in upstate PA that I like. This blogger often posts poems and thoughts about the outdoors, so that's really appealing to me too.

I'll probably be adding a few more links as I get time over the next week or so.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Snow Pix Near Skating Rink.and Other Things

This photo was taken before the driveway turned into an Olympic-sized skating rink. That's Baby Dog in front of the cabin. I had rain on Christmas, which reduced the size of the skating rink from Olympic-sized to pond-sized. The area in front of the cabin is now semi-clear of ice. The area out by the lane is also not too bad. It's the center area that doesn't get sun from the open space of the two-lane road or the cabin itself that's really bad. The mountain in the background is called Neff's Hill. Sometimes I can see the porch light of my neighbor over at the bottom of Neff's Hill. There's no one living in between us, just a valley, a pond, a stream and more woods.

Yesterday, I finally found the anti-skid stuff that I like to put into the driveway. Until yesterday I only used that ice melt stuff that I don't like because that was all I could find.

Monday was a great day for me. No more holiday, nothing left to buy, better yet, nothing yet to clean up. I stayed home, walked the dogs, did some housework, did laundry and read. I think the biggest difference between how I like to live in the woods and how more urban people live is not my scenery. I try not to be simply a suburbanite with a longer commute. To me, living in the woods means trying to live in a way that's attuned to nature. Realistically, it means I make a conscious effort not to just jump into the car and go some place for entertainment or because I forgot something on my last grocery run. To me, it means finding entertainment where I am. It means not running to the store if I forgot it on my weekly trip. It means avoiding as many of the lures of civilization that I can, for as long as I can.

I try to slow down the pace of my life, and the only way I know how to slow it down is to not do 20 things in a day. Do you ever wonder why our vacations feel as though they race by? It's because we try to pack a huge amount of activity into that wonderful week. The less activity I do, the less quickly the time passes. At my age, time is starting to feel as though it's at a premium, like something precious. I don't want it to pass any more quickly than it already does. So I try to slow down time by doing less, and doing more of what I choose to do where I am instead of somewhere else. An hour spent reading feels a lot longer than an hour spent in a movie theater. An hour spent walking in the woods feels a lot longer than an hour spent in a mall. I prefer making my hours feels as long as I can make them.

Cabin Birding

One of the neat things about living in the cabin is how great the birding can be from inside, especially when I'm upstairs on the second floor. The trees are too close to the cabin, no doubt about it. I have trees that are only 2-3 feet from the upstairs window. I can reach out and touch the branches. Last year the leaves from one of the trees almost touched the window. I suspect they will touch the window this year, and that I will have to remove one of them.

But, the trees also make for some amazing birding, right at eye level with the birds. During migratation seasons, I've learned to carry my binos with me from room to room for those second story birds that don't come to the trees next to the house. On an every day basis, I see the local feeder birds in these branches--titmice, chickadees, blue jays, nuthatch, junco, etc.

On Christmas morning, I had two good sightings. One was a local brown creeper, a bird that lives here but that I don't always get to see as they are so screteive. The second encounter was when one of the local pileated woodpeckers arrived and proceeded to skitter up the tree, literally just a few feet from my face. When it flew into the tree, it was so fast and so large that my feral instincts kicked in, and I winced involuntarily, bracing myself against a collision. Boy, are those things big! There's nothing like a pileated woodpecker just a few feet from my face to wake me up!! It's one thing to see one fly through the woods and notice its size. It's even more impressive when they're as close as this one was. The bird books describe them as "crow-sized." I think they're a bit larger than that.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The sun!

Got up this morning, did the usual morning chores--feed me, 2 dogs, 3 inside cats, assorted outside semi-feral cats, filled bird feeders, etc. Then I decided to work some more on de-icing the driveway. I stepped outside and blinked in the bright light. The sun!! It was just breaking the top of the mountain, and it almost blinded me. I don't even remember how long it's been since I was standing outside in daylight. I feel like celebrating.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Wishing the Time Away

I try not to spend my time wishing for the future, but today I can’t help it! After I get home from work today I will have four whole days off work. Four days to run the dogs, be outside in daylight, take pictures, goof off….Okay, so I will spend Friday and Saturday getting ready for my family holiday event—shopping for food and cooking, etc. Sunday—well, Sunday is Christmas and that will be a busy day. But I will have Monday at least, and maybe little snippets of time on the other days. And it will be four days!

The Longest Night

The longest night of the year is now over. In Celtic terms, “the wheel turns.” In my mind, today should be the first day of the new year, the day when the light starts to return. What a better thing to celebrate than the end of the longest night? Even though the change is only a tiny one, it is the changing day.

I can imagine a time when people stayed up all night, burning bonfires to defy the long darkness, celebrating the coming of dawn’s first light. In a way, our current New Year’s Eve celebrations are like that, but they’re just on the wrong day. Last night should have been the night for that. Today should be the new year.

Last night at Roundtop was cold, but it felt warmer than the past few days, as the wind was not nearly so fierce. This morning Baby Dog started sliding down the little hummock created by evening the lay of my driveway, and ended up 20 feet into the woods. Both Dog and Baby Dog are becoming accomplished sliders. I, unfortunately, am not. I feel like an old woman as I inch along. I love winter, but this ice can go.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Cold wind

I'm starting to feel sorry for the dogs. For the last 2 days low temperatures and a bitter wind have kept me from giving the dogs much outside exercise. Ice still covers the ground and the driveway. Dog and Baby Dog slip and slide all over the place. Basically, they go outside to relieve themselves and then we all go back inside. The wind even gets into my big down parka. Everyone and everything is hunkered down.

Dog sleeps on the bed with me, and last night we were joined by 3 cats. The one with the longest hair acts as though she's the coldest and slept under the covers, curled up against my belly. The other two vie for position on the second pillow. I was warm but sure couldn't move much.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Not Much Going On

I can’t say with any honesty that I spent much time noticing the outdoors this weekend. I spent Saturday in the wilds of suburbia running weekend errands and doing holiday shopping. I did take Dog with me for the ride and rewarded him for good behavior with a run at the dog park afterwards.

I spent all of Sunday working at Ski Roundtop, which is doing a booming pre-Christmas business, with perhaps the best pre-holiday skiing I’ve ever seen here in the years I’ve lived at the cabin.

In the few minutes I had to notice the outdoors, I spent it trying to de-ice my driveway, to little success. Despite ice-melt and kitty litter, it’s still pretty much a skating rink. Baby Dog skidded around the curve and slid onto her face, legs going in all directions. She seemed unfazed by that, though.

When I was working at the computer I saw an American goldfinch sitting in the tree next to the computer window. This is the first one I’ve seen in a while, and the first since I broke down and spent money for the niger seed that they like. I’ve also bought peanuts in the shell for the blue jays, and now they have become much more frequent visitors as well.

Sometimes I think I spend more money on bird seed than I do on food for me. My feeder birds like that expensive seed, the variety called Woodpecker. The same company has a variety called Chickadee, which since I have more chickadees than anything, you’d think would be the kind to get. But all the birds prefer Woodpecker. To that delicious mix of nuts and other things, I add black-oil sunflower seed, niger and peanuts in the shell. I also put out a suet bar, but it usually just sits there, and the woodpeckers eat the nuts in the mix.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Baby Dog is growing up

Here's a new picture of Baby Dog in the last snow. She was 4 months old this weekend and is now 30 lbs. I swear she gets bigger from morning to evening. I still have no idea what she's going to look like when she grows up. She has the dark tongue of the husky and chow breeds, but sure doesn't look like a chow. And I don't think she looks much like a husky either. The hair on the top of her head is sort of long, and her body hair appears to be getting longer too. The only thing I'm sure of is that she's going to be large. Maybe a husky/labrador/shepherd mix?? Who knows. She's still a cutie, though.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Walking Home

The ice storm yesterday could have been a lot worse, though any ice storm is too many for me. It was the crunchy kind of ice storm, so Baby Dog didn’t get to do any butt sledding.

I left work early, fought my way home through worsening snow and traffic and finally reached the parking lots of Ski Roundtop, where I left the truck. That left me with a walk of some 200 yards up the mountain to reach the cabin.

I don’t mind the walk as it gives me a few minutes to decompress after the tension of a drive home in poor weather surrounded by far too many bad drivers. The walk is wonderfully quiet and peaceful. No one else is around, no other cars are around.

The sound of snow falling mutes any other sounds except those of my own foot falls. I’m not sure I ever realized falling snow had a sound until I moved to a place that was quiet enough for me to hear it. It’s a soft sound, one that is magnified by the sheer numbers of snowflakes falling in the woods around me.

The only thing I see are the few winter bird residents, and even they seem calmer and less likely to flush when I walk past than during clear weather. The walk is another reminder of why I’m blessed to live in the woods, surrounded by nature’s sounds. The walk helps to slow me down, to take me away from the thoughts and hurried plans of daily life. By the time I reach the steps of the cabin, I’m relaxed and almost sorry to go inside.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Snow (and later to be ice!)

I liked the way the sun hit the drifted snow in this shot. To me it looks as though the tree is wearing a skirt, maybe even a white tutu! The cabin is in the background.

Okay, so one of the things I don't like about winter is when I get ice storms instead of snow storms. And it looks as though tonight will be one of the ice storms.

Of course, it should be interesting to see how Baby Dog does in the ice. It's not unusual for her to take a butt ride (that's a sled ride without the sled) in the snow-packed driveway. An ice storm ought to perfect her technique!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Winter Woods

When I first started this blog, one of my first posts was a list of 10 things I hated about summer. Winter, you will not be surprised to hear, is my favorite season. I began writing a top 10 list of my favorite things about winter, but soon discovered that cute phrases couldn’t express the breadth of why I enjoy it so much.

Last night, as I was falling asleep and looking out the large window that’s next to my bed, I thought about one of those reasons.

The snow cover brightened the woods so that I could see through the trees all the way over to the new pond, a distance of about an eighth of a mile. I could see the stars, saw the Big Dipper and tracked the path of a few clouds as they moved across the sky. I could see which trees still had a few dried leaves attached to thin twigs. I saw that the tree which seems to me to have a “face” on its trunk created by the pattern of scars from long-lost lower branches had grown a bit since last year.

One of my favorite things about winter is that I can walk through the woods after dark without a flashlight or headlamp and still find my way. Only a month ago, when many leaves still clung to the oaks, beeches and hickories around the cabin, the leaves blocked the starlight. Under that leafy canopy the woods were completely dark, and if I didn’t walk with a headlamp, I could barely walk at all.

When I walk in the woods at night, I don’t like a headlamp to announce my presence. While the headlamp brightens whatever is within its beam, anything beyond it is even more obscured. The lamp makes its possible to walk without tripping over my feet, but I can’t see much else. I can’t see into the woods or see over to the pond. I can’t see the deer that come to the pond to drink. When I’m in the woods at night, I prefer to surround myself with its cloak of darkness, slipping between the trees like silk and showing no sign of my passing.

In winter, leaves are just a rumor of the past, a rumor of the future. When the trees are bare, the sky is open to me, the stars visible and clear, with just enough light to see by. When snow is on the ground, as it was last night, its whiteness makes the nighttime woods even brighter, so whether I’m walking in the woods or gazing into them from my bed, I can see beyond the small circle of a headlamp. I can see into the night-dimmed woods. I can see.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Snow Tales

Baby Dog has decided she loves the snow. For a few moments on Friday morning, I wasn’t sure that would be the case.

Friday morning, as usual, Baby Dog needed to go out the instant she woke up. All was normal until I opened the door, and she saw the snow. She screeched to a halt and wouldn’t go forward. I gave her butt a shove, and she still wouldn’t move. Finally, I had to pick her up and plop her into the snow to get her to go outside.

For all of two seconds, she hated the snow. Then she was down the steps and bounding off into it. Now I can barely get her to come back inside as she wants to stay out and play.

I've seen the first white-throated sparrow of the season at my feeders. The bird has probably been there before this but since I'm rarely home in daylight now, I can only check out the feeders on weekends.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Snow Tree

A beautiful snowy day! I finally got the truck back up to the cabin door this afternoon. Whenever the forecast is for more than 6" of snow, I usually park the truck down at the bottom of the mountain, in or near one of Roundtop's parking lots. The road up to the cabin isn't usually cleared right away, and parking away from the cabin is the only way to ensure that I can get in and out and not be stranded for days.

I still have to hand shovel the lane but since this snow was so powdery, I only cleared the area where I turn the truck around and then just drove through the rest of it. I love 4-wheel drive in the winter!

I'm always surprised when I get the truck out onto the public roads as I often find them completely clear of snow even when I'm still knee deep in it.

My bird feeders have been busy all day with the usual suspects. I went out to the parental farm earlier today, and their feeders have more variety than mine. I saw house finch, a sapsucker, downy woodpecker, mourning dove, blue jay, red and white-breasted nuthatch, white-throated sparrow, junco, chickadee and titmouse. I've had a grand total of 5 species today at my own feeders.

Cathy: I didn't realize that you had more snow in NJ than I did here. It's kind of unusual to have this much snow before Christmas, but I love it!

Friday, December 09, 2005

Snow! Snow! Snow!

Overnight I got almost 9" of the freshest, whitest, most powdery snow you can imagine. It started last night around 10:45 p.m. and continued until just after daybreak. I've already been out and cleared a path out my lane to the dirt road, which hasn't been plowed yet. Then I strapped on my snowshoes and went down into the woods just to take a look around. It's a beautiful snow. What a great way to start the winter!!

First thing, of course was to let the dogs out. Baby Dog goes first since it's tough for her to hold it all night, let alone until after breakfast. I opened the door for her; she started to jump out and then stopped dead and wouldn't go any further. I finally had to pick her up and plop her into the snow, which is deeper than her belly. For all of 2 seconds she didn't like it. Then suddenly she is out in the middle of it, bounding through it, ricocheting through it and having a wonderful time. She really looks like a little black bear when she is snow-covered.

Dog loves snow and was just as excited when it was his turn to go out. He ran up and down the driveway, usually with his snout under the snow.

So far, not many people are skiing (though it was just 9 a.m. when I was out). I was only just starting to see cars head into one of the two plowed lots when I was finishing my walk. The snow on the mountain looks amazing.

I've filled the bird feeders, fed the cats (and the dogs) and played outside for a bit. In an hour or so I think I'll snowshoe down to the mailbox. Don't ya just love snow days!!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Snow! (Or Beware the Grocery Stores)

Maybe I will get my wish of seeing Baby Dog in snow up to her tummy. The weather forecast for tonight and tomorrow is for a very powdery snowfall up to 10”. Forecasts range from a low of 5 inches and go up from there.

Against my better judgment, tonight I will brave the madness I expect to find at the grocery store and do my weekly shopping. I normally get my groceries on Saturday. This weekend I'm expecting to be busy, so I was planning to go Friday evening on my way home from work. With the weather prediction, doing it tomorrow night may/may not be possible. So I will do it tonight, and if past experience is any guide, it will be worse than Wal-Mart on 5 a.m. on Black Friday. No eggs, bread, milk or videos will be left. The aisles will be clogged with everyone else doing the same thing. But even knowing what I'll find, it might still be easier to shop now than to try and fit it in later in the weekend.

Grocery store madness the day before a snowstorm is a relatively new phenomena in this area. I don’t remember it happening before 1993. But that year I can clearly remember a storm where the snow forecast was for some modest amount—say 1-3 inches. Once it started snowing the amount went up to 3-5 inches, and the snow amount kept going up and up. We ended up with snow in the 20+” inch range. Then it started to blow. Roads were closed. The governor declared a state of emergency. No one was allowed on the roads except for emergency vehicles. People were snowed in for days. That was a Friday or at least a weekend storm, so home grocery coffers were already low in most households. With the 1-3” forecast, no one changed their grocery shopping plans, but by the time people eventually got out of their houses and could get to a store, they often had little food left. To make matters worse, the following week or 10 days later, the Exact Same Thing happened, in exactly the same way. We ended up with a yard of snow on the ground that lasted all winter. Since that time, if the forecast is even only for a few inches of snow, the grocery stores are packed to the gills the night before the storm. People aren’t willing to trust that a forecast predicting only a few inches of snow will be right. They know what it’s like to be “stranded” in their houses with screaming kids and no perishables. Today, with a forecast of up to 10” for tomorrow, the stores will be madness.

It might even be fun.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Roundtop Opens Thursday!

It's official. The 2005-06 ski season at Roundtop starts Thursday at 4 p.m. The snow boys were out all night blowing snow again. Minuteman looks ready to go right now. The half-pipe also looks to be in good shape. Snow is being laid down now on Fanny Hill and Drummer Boy. I haven't been over to the eastern side of the mountain in daylight enough to tell how it looks over there. The snow looks nice too, and there's lots of it.

Did anyone notice the half-moon last evening around 9 p.m.? The moon was setting and looked huge, almost touchable.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

What snow??

So much for the predicted snow. Somehow 5 inches due to start around 8 p.m. turned into one or 2 flakes around 5:30 p.m. So I’m a bit bummed.

The Ski Roundtop night crew made snow all night long. People have asked me if the sound of the snow-making machines bothers me. The short answer is no. I usually can't hear the snow-making at all when I'm in the cabin. When I'm outside, if the snow-making is not at the nearest slope, the sound is the same as that of wind through the trees. When they start making snow on one of the further slopes, I'll often have to listen for a second or two to determine if the sound is snow-making or wind. If the snow-making is at the nearest slope, I can hear a mechanical whine within the wind sound, but it still isn't bothersome. It's the same tone all the time and soon becomes "white noise." Now, if I go down to the slopes, right at the machines, it's a lot louder. I can't get too close to the snow-making when I'm walking Dog as it hurts his ears.

I've had a new bird sighting for my office, window. Throughout the day yesterday I saw several ring-billed gulls flying inland, probably from the Susquehanna River. My company only moved to its current site the beginning of August, so this is the first year of this office’s bird list for me. It was the first time I’ve seen the gulls here—probably not the last either . Still, a new bird for any list is a welcome sight, in my opinion. Since I don’t have the cash to travel to new locations to see new bird species, I content myself with seeing familiar birds in new years or new counties—or new offices.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


I took this picture of snow last week when I had the season's first dusting. It seems appropriate to post it today as the forecast is for 2-4 or 3-5 more inches of snow here later today. Baby Dog was surprised by the 1.5 inches of snow I had Saturday night. It will be fun to see her in 5 inches of snow if I get that much.

I needed to use my 4-wheel drive to get in and out of the cabin Sunday morning, the first I’ve used it since the end of last winter—except for a time or two on some mountainous dirt road during the summer. It’s always a relief to feel it kick in after not using it for so long. As long as the snow prediction doesn’t exceed 6 inches or so, I park the truck at the cabin. If the prediction exceeds that, I usually park down at the bottom of the mountain and walk up to the cabin. I can get the car out much easier this way, as sometimes the crew from Ski Roundtop doesn’t plow the road for several days after a snow.

Cathy: thanks for your comment for the blog. I’m curious, do you remember how far away from the cities you were when you noticed the same amber light phenomena as a weather predictor? I’m about 15 miles from Harrisburg, though suburbs and their lights shorten that distance by several miles.

Friday, December 02, 2005

"Signs" of snowfall

As I was driving home after dark last evening, just past the orchard, I noticed that particular amber glow to the north that I associate with precipitation. The color is caused by the lights from Harrisburg bouncing off cloud cover, but that particular color only occurs when it’s about to precipitate. Before I’d driven another mile, I started to see the first snowflakes. By the time I drove up to the cabin, the snow was already coming down rather heavily. I got inside and let Baby Dog out. By then, the snow was covering the deck.

Later in the evening, when I walked the dogs for the last time, the snowfall was a full dusting, and the falling snow was thick enough to make the woods look like a faded watercolor, with only the barest outlines visible.

I’ve used civilization to predict weather long before I discovered that an amber glow to the north means precipitation. When I was a child and we lived in Dillsburg, I soon learned that snow fell when the color of the sky exactly matched the color of the tin roof on our neighbor’s house. And the color had to be exact or it wouldn’t snow. I don’t know if this was something my parents or grandparents told me or if I discovered it myself. I sort of suspect this bit of folklore came from mother’s mother, whose own mother was, I’m told, the repository of a wealth of “signs” to predict something or another.

I can remember hearing a weather forecast and then running to the front door to look at the roof to see if the sky and the roof color matched. Sometimes, I would see the sky’s shade change as the day progressed so I could tell that a storm was approaching. Once the roof color and the sky color matched, snow was no more than an hour or so away from falling. I remember this sign as being infallible, just as the amber glow to the north that I can see from the cabin seems to be.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Baby Dog in the Woods

Here's a new picture of Baby Dog in the woods. She sort of looks like the evil hound from Hell in this picture, which is kind of funny since she's not, though she is quite a yapper. Trying to get her to hold still long enough to get a non-blurry photo is pretty difficult. This is the best of about 10 shots of her that I got on the last roll of film.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Fall Leaves

I took this picture last week or so. I like how there's so many different colors in it. I know the pictures I post aren't too timely since I have to finish a roll of film and then take them to be developed. But at this point in the year, having a digital camera would only help a little. It's still not full light when I leave the cabin in the morning, and it's dead dark when I get home in the evening, so there's very little opportunity to take any pictures during the week.

Random Observations

Today is the first day of rifle deer season. About 6:10 a.m. I heard a guy go up the mountain on an ATV. The thing made so much noise that every deer between Roundtop and Mt. Pleasant could likely hear him. Surprisingly, considering the number of hunting passes issued by Roundtop and the strange cars I’ve seen cruising around the mountain, his is the only vehicle I saw that I was sure was a hunter’s. No one was parked up around the new pond or across the road by the well. Perhaps there were a few more cars down at maintenance than is usual, but that might just as easily be explained by pre-season skiing gear-up. Even though the temperature will top 60ºF today, I kept Dog inside today just to be safe. Most of the guys who hunt the mountain don’t know the woods well enough for me to be sure they won’t shoot where they’re not supposed to.

On Thanksgiving Day, I spent some time at the family farmstead where I saw the first red-breasted nuthatch I’ve seen this season. So far none of those have shown up at my cabin’s bird feeder, but the parents report this bird is a regular visitor at their feeder.

The red-tailed hawk that I’ve reported on several times already was seen and/or heard around the cabin almost every day I was off over the holidays.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Weirdness on Roundtop

The snow making crew on Roundtop made snow all night on Thursday, all day on Friday and into Saturday before it warmed up too much to make more. As a result, the crews got a good bit of snow on Minuteman and the bunny slopes. As is usual the local TV stations came up to take pictures, etc. One of the stations reported "the earliest they will be open is Monday." But apparently, what people heard was "open" and "Monday" so at work today in Guest Services I was inundated with people wanting to know what time we'd be open on Monday.

When I explained to one caller that we weren't going to be open on Monday, he immediately wanted to know what other ski resorts in the area would be open (like, if we can't open what made him think any others would be open?). One of the security guys saw someone crossing the parking lot with his skiis on his shoulder, and the would-be skier called over "What's open?" The security guy called back, "For what?" I had a call from one of the TV stations, and the guy says "How many people are on the slopes up there today?"

This time of year, if I had a dime every time someone asked me "When are you going to open?" I wouldn't have to work the rest of the year. I mean, if I could predict that I'd predict something really interesting--like the lottery numbers.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Snow on Roundtop!

The snow crew started blowing snow on Roundtop Thanks giving evening. They've been blowing snow continuously since then and have already covered Minuteman and the "bunny" slopes. No date set for opening yet, as unfortunately, the weather forecast for next week is for warmer weather.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

First Snow and Birds of the Day

Just before dusk last evening I startled the red-tailed hawk I'd seen the week or so before in my driveway. This time, the hawk was over towards the back of the cabin, probably scoping out my bird feeder. It glided up the open space in the woods made by the driveway, crossed the lane and settled in the woods opposite, in one of the few trees that still has leaves attached, no doubt the better to hide from its prey.

Last last evening I was out with Dog and saw the promised snowfall had begun, a few hours earlier than forecast. An hour or so later it was time for Baby Dog's last walk of the evening and by then the ground and deck were covered with a thin layer of snow. As usual, Baby Dog leaped over the storm door opening that I haven't put the storm door in yet and then she skidded to a stop in surprise when she saw/felt the snow. By the time we came back inside she looked like a large piece of marzipan, only glazed with snow, not sugar.

By the time we went out this morning the snow was old hat to her. Unlike Dog, she just accepts the snow and moves on with her sniffing. Dog, on the other hand, thinks snow is the most wonderful thing a dog can have to play in and runs around with his nose about an inch underneath it, creating a very odd looking track. I only got a dusting of snow this time, though, so maybe Baby Dog will find it more interesting when there's more of it.

It's been almost 2 weeks now since I've been at home during daylight because I was in NH las weekend. So on this lovely Thanksgiving morning, I paid special attention to the birds around the house.

My first bird of the day was the red-tailed hawk from the evening before, popping out of the woods in the same area as I saw it last night. I expect it roosted in the tree it landed in after I flushed it.

After that I saw American crow, dark-eyed junco, and at the feeder--chickadee sp. (here I have both black-capped and Carolina, plus likely intergrades), Carolina wren, northern cardinal, white-breasted nuthatch, red-bellied woodpecker, tufted titmouse and blue jay (the B-1 bombers of the woods). I also heard one of the pileated woodpecks and American goldfinch, but didn't see those. Not a bad start to the day!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

First Snow Flurries, Dead Hedgehog

Last night and this morning I saw the first snow flurries of the season. Nothing stayed on the ground—yet!—but I might get snow after dark today that is heavy enough to do that. Finally, the weather is starting to feel season appropriate. It was 25ºF this morning, the coldest morning so far.

Last week before I left for New Hampshire, I got out the down coverlet and flannel sheets. Last night I had 3 cats and Dog cuddling with me on the bed, and I couldn’t turn over without disrupting the entire household. It was a little like what it must be like to sleep in a strait-jacket.
Baby Dog, who’s now in her chewing phase, sleeps in a crate next to the bed. Her crate is outfitted with an old flannel sheet and her toys. Her current favorite toy is a stuffed hedgehog that she has to “kill” each night. The crate will shake and she makes ferocious puppy noises. The first time she did this I thought she was trying to escape the crate. But when I looked inside she had hold of the hedgehog and was shaking it the way Dog shakes a groundhog. After she kills the hedgehog, she settles down and goes to sleep.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Fall Before it Fell

Here's one of the few fall pictures I got this year. I took this not far from the cabin. This fall was not a particularly good one for fall colors. Oh, we had one semi-nice afternoon of it but that was about it. The colors didn't turn bright this year and just when I thought they were getting half-pretty, they fell off.

Today, the leaves are almost all off, so I can see again around the cabin. No more living in a green box again until sometime in April.

Monday, November 21, 2005


I am back, safe and sound, from my adventures in New Hampshire. I will post more later. For now I will just say that they had some snow, I saw 2 dead moose in the back of a pickup and that it was a loooonng drive.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


I won't be posting anything for a few days. I'm leaving for a very fast trip to New Hampshire for the HMANA board meeting this weekend. Unfortunately, I'll likely only be seeing the inside of a room for the entire time I'm there, so I don't expect to see or do anything particularly interesting. Perhaps, I'll get lucky and see something interesting from the car during the drive up.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Bad Start

I’ve had better starts to my day. Baby Dog did a job in the house—her first. Dog bolted out the front door when I was going out with Baby Dog (and working on her sitting at the front door before clambering over the storm door with the non-existent insert). Dog dashed off in search of semi-feral cats to chase. I ran after him, calling his name, heading up through the woods in my long skirt (the first time I’ve worn a skirt in weeks).

I kept thinking how deer hunting season was going to start in a few days and that he would get shot by someone. He did startle a deer—I saw its tail flagging as it headed off the wooded knoll next to the cabin--and although Dog was also on the knoll, he paid no attention to it. He had cats to chase. He finally deigned to come to me almost 10 minutes later, after treeing the cat in question. All this and I hadn’t even had my coffee yet. At least it wasn't raining.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Falling Leaves

This photo of Nell's Hill was taken from behind the cabin and looking to the west. I was hoping to get the leaves at their peak of color, but I didn't have a true "peak" this year. The brilliant colors of years past never really materialized. At this point, the leaves are about 70-80% gone.

Yesterday, as I sat writing at the kitchen table, I could look out the window at any given moment and see 1 or 2 or 8 leaves wafting down to the ground. Sometimes, I even got to see a leaf give way from the tree and fall off. After seeing this happen a few times, I've learned how to tell when a leaf is going to fall. The leaf that's about to drop will suddenly rise up an inch or so, as though it's being moved by a wind from underneath. The other leaves still on the tree won't move at all, and there may be no wind in the first place. The leaf that moves will then just let go and fall.

For a Monday, today is starting out pretty well. I saw 3 red-tailed hawks on my 17 mile drive to work this morning. I'm pretty sure that's a record. And the red-tailed hawk resident to the intersection of Rtes. 283 and 83 just flew overheard.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Baby Dog, RT Hawk. Let the Weekend Begin!

A way cool start to a Friday. I got back my first pictures of Baby Dog, and I actually managed to get one photo where this perpetual motion machine was not in motion.

Just as good, as Dog and I were taking our usual 6:15 a.m. walk, we startled a red-tailed hawk that must have been perched right outside the cabin door. She (it was a big one) soared down the open driveway and perched in a dead tree at the end of the lane. As Dog and I walked down the driveway, she took off and soared into the lightening sky, still hardly more than a silhouette in the pre-dawn morning. Okay, I think I can make it to the weekend now!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

West Rim Trail photo

The is the second and last image I was able to take on my West Rim hike in October. The clouds lifted just long enough for me to take it. I really need to go back next year so I can get some decent pictures.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Race

It’s funny how something as simple as the colors of the setting sun on the underside of clouds can make me smile. Last evening, for a few moments, the bottom edges of the clouds were a bright and intense shade of salmon.

I was driving home from work, caught up in evening traffic and the hurry to get home. I race home as I’ve been resisting leaving the porch light on in the mornings when I leave, even though there’s hardly any light left in the sky when I pull up the driveway. I hurry in the hopes that it won’t be dead dark when I get home, and I’ll still be able to see well enough to get out of the car and into the house..

Fear of higher electric bills this winter has prompted me to new heights of conservation. The thermostat is set at 60oF. The bed is heavy with all the blankets I’ve put on it to keep me warm in a cool house. And the porch light is left off, though this makes the walk from the car and up the front steps dangerously dark. I keep telling myself to put a flashlight in my carry-all, but so far I’ve forgotten to do that. So I hurry home, trying to beat the dying light for yet one more day. I’ve given up trying to get home to walk the dogs before the light is gone, but I still like to get into the house with enough light left from day that I don’t fall on my face.

Yesterday, I was still 8-9 miles from home when the sun dropped behind the mountain, and for a brief moment that light still lit the clouds, creating a beautiful picture in front of me. It was so beautiful that for a moment I just enjoyed the sight and forgot about the race home, the waiting dogs and the darkened driveway.

The natural world often does this to me--wakes me up from my own worries and self-imposed deadlines. It’s one reason I can’t imagine living in a city. I would miss so much, so much of the beauty and fury of the natural world, so much of life, so many little surprises that turn a day from just another day into something magical and amazing. I need these natural moments to remind me how beautiful life is and how lucky I am to see it.

But today is another day, and I’ve still forgotten that flashlight. Maybe tomorrow.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Leaves Tumbling Down

This year’s leaves are finally starting to fall, though at least half of them are still holding on. Last evening, amid a few sprinkles and booms of thunder, the wind picked up and roared through. I heard branches falling on the roof of the cabin—nothing major.

Baby Dog didn’t seem to notice, but Dog woke up, ears at attention, at the first clap of thunder. I didn’t get a storm, so he soon relaxed and went back to sleep.

This morning, I found dead leaves swirled onto the front porch, ankle-deep and brittle.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Signs of Nearing Winter

A few of the leaves are finally starting to drop. One tree at the end of the driveway, which was a brilliant yellow yesterday, is about half bare this morning. The season is progressing, even though it seems glacially slow this year. Today is so warm I came to work without a jacket. That seems unbelievable to me in November. I’ve also started work for the season at Ski Roundtop, though I’m only doing pre-season things—no snow on the hill yet.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Where's the frost?

This is officially a weird fall. If I've had frost, it's been barely a touch of it. Worst of all, the leaves are still on the trees. And more bizarre than that is that many of them aren't even yellow/red yet. There's still an awful amount of green out there. The past 2 years, the leaves dropped about a week later than is normal. And now, they're at least 2 weeks behind normal. I'm sick of global warming, and I'm ready for winter.

I have started work at Ski Roundtop for the year, but it's only pre-season work.

Baby Dog is growing already. I've taken pictures of her each weekend and still haven't finished the roll. Today I pulled 2 ticks off of her. In November!

Monday, October 31, 2005

Wildlife - urban and otherwise

I had barely sat down at the computer at work this morning when the resident red-tailed hawk flew low in front of my office window and then perched on the road light over Rte. 283, where he (a small bird) sat placidly as traffic zoomed by for a good 10 minutes.

I have seen this bird regularly in the area since my office moved here in August. Usually, he’s across the road in the wooded area behind the restaurant and the rent-a-car place. This is the first time I’ve seen him on this side of the highway, and the first time I’ve seen him perched on a light pole. I suspect that a fluttering package of plastic on the median strip is what attracted him. When I first saw the bundle, I thought it was a dead bird, with feathers blowing as the trucks, etc. pass. As I looked closer, I realized it was only loosely wrapped, thin plastic wrap, with the torn edges flapping in the traffic breeze.

On Saturday, I saw the first dark-eyed juncos of the season at Roundtop. As it's the end of October now, it's likely a few of the birds have been here for a week or more, if they headed south at their usual time, and I just hadn't seen them yet. This was a flock of 20+ birds.

With the time change over the weekend, I will now be able to walk Dog and Baby Dog, for a few days at least, without the headlamp. I'm still out before sunup, but the eastern sky glows orange and provides enough light for the walk. If I'm lucky, the leaves will fall before too long, so I'll have open sky to walk under, even if I don't have daylight.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

West Rim Trail photo

Here's a picture of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon from my hike on the West Rim Trail two weeks ago. It's one of the few pictures I was able to take. The weather was very overcast, with low clouds, and it was too dark to take pictures most of the time.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Shorter Days

Sometimes living in the woods is no different than living anywhere else. Sometimes life just gets so darn busy that I don’t see anything around me.

As much as I love the dark side of the year, with its cool temperatures and views of the mountain next door, sometimes I don’t get to enjoy much of it. That’s especially true during the work week when it’s dark when I leave the house and dark when I get home.

At this point in the year, it’s not yet full dark on both ends of my day. I have 45 minutes of twilight after I get home and about 20 minutes of it before I leave the house. Since during both of those times of almost daylight I’m rushing around getting ready for work, getting unready after work and letting dogs out, I don’t get much time to actually look at anything.

I was reminded of this fact again this week, as I must be every year around this time. Intellectually, I know the days will grow short and the nights long, but every year there’s a point where the emotional meaning of that knowledge suddenly feels real. It feels real today.

What the shorter days mean to my life is that my observations and enjoyment of the outdoors tends to get pushed to the weekends or my days off work when I am home during daylight hours. It’s tough to enjoy living in the woods when I’m tripping over my own feet in the gloom of the driveway. The only birds I encounter are the songs of owls, the only animals the raccoons that raid the feeders.

In some ways the situation will improve in another week or two. Once the leaves are completely off the trees, I’ll be able to see the sky and navigate the darkened woods in the light of the stars or the moon. But that’s a topic for another day.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Evening Activities

Baby Dog went to the vet for the first time last evening, yapping the entire way. She weighs 13 lbs at 8 weeks of age, so I expect she will be a Big Girl, or perhaps even a moose.

When we got back, my headlights caught multiple feral cat eyes congregated in one place, so I went over to investigate. One of them had caught, or at least claimed, a gray squirrel and was eating it in the driveway, surrounded by the rest of the tribe who were no doubt plotting how they could get their paws on it. I’m surprised a feral cat could catch a healthy squirrel as they are both faster and more agile than cats. So perhaps this squirrel wasn’t healthy. It certainly wasn’t faster.

I heard one of the screech owls last night, its haunting call rising up from the valley below. The screech owls call from all over my side of the mountain. Sometimes they are in my driveway, sometimes so far away I can barely hear them.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

First Frost

Although it's later than is typical, it appears that tonight will produce the first frost in this area. I'm hoping this will prompt the leaves to change color faster and soon drop their leaves, as I am ready for winter.

The greenery is so thick around the cabin that when the leaves are on the trees, I feel as though I live in a green box. I can't see more than a few feet before the green canopy blocks my view of everything.

Once the leaves fall, I sit out on the back deck, wrapped in a blanket, sipping chocolate or wine, and stare over at the next mountain. I like knowing that no one lives between me and that mountain. Sometimes, I will get out my scope and search for the single porch light of my next nearest neighbor, over near the base of the mountain.

This morning as I left the cabin, the golden morning light on the still-wet leaves almost made me believe the leaves had already reached their peak of color. I wished for a camera, which I didn't have with me. I will take the camera tomorrow morning, though I can't really expect the light to be as spectacular as it was today.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Dog and Baby Dog

I've gotten a new puppy, a rescue from Hurricane Katrina. I picked Baby Dog up on Saturday. She is just a little over 8 weeks old. Her feet are the size of chocolate-chip cookies. She's black, with a chocolate color on the sides of her belly. She's purported to be Belgian shepherd and Something Else. At least one of the something else's must be chow since the center of her tongue is black.

The only thing I'm sure of is that she's going to be Very Large, and she yaps a lot--more than Dog ever did. She might also be long-haired or perhaps medium-length haired, as she is a very fuzzy little bear cub of a girl.

You want pictures?? Listen, I've tried to take pictures. I have butt pictures, back of head pictures, blurred pictures, etc, but no clear picture of this perpetual motion machine. As soon as I get a decent shot, I'll post it.

Dog is being an angel about the whole thing. So far.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Rain Traveling Through Trees

Before I moved to the woods, I didn’t understand how rain travels, how I could hear it moving closer and closer by its sound on distant, then nearer, leaves. I didn’t appreciate its motion, how I could track a storm’s path by the sound as it traveled slowly up the mountain, growing closer with each second.

If I thought about it all, I assumed that clouds lowered over an area, and at some point rain simply fell from the sky. I would have said that when it rained over me, it would also be raining over my neighbor’s house, at the end of the block and also at the next street over. If it was possible for someone to notice timing differences at all, it would be over miles, not feet.

In truth, rain moves in slowly; at a measured, if inexorable pace. Sometimes I can hear it roll up the hill for perhaps half a minute before the first drops reach my cabin roof. It is a gentle sound, a little like wind through the trees, growing gradually louder and louder as it nears.

The sound itself and the knowledge of what the sound is have become one of my favorite little treasures, a small piece of lore that people who live in cities or suburbia don’t get to experience. I certainly never heard it or understood what it was until I moved here and into a silence that allows for understanding and perceiving such small noises.

The first time I noticed this distant gentle noise, I didn’t know what it was. It sounded a little like the wind, yet I knew it wasn’t. Gradually, I’ve learned to recognize the sound earlier and over greater distance. The sound seeps into an edge of my awareness, eventually breaking through whatever else I am hearing. No other sound is quite like this one, not even the wind, though that is what I compare it to.

The sound of rain traveling up the mountain reminds me of wind because wind also travels in the much same way, letting me hear it before I feel its effects. Sometimes the rain I hear never reaches me at all, and I hear it pass through the valley or hear it roll along the next mountain, missing my little corner of the forest.

It is only because I live where it is already quiet that I am able to hear this gentle sound. No other sounds compete with it as they would in more populated spots. The everyday noises of a city or a town, even on a quiet street, are likely too loud to allow someone to hear sounds this gentle. And even if a street was quiet enough, on some hypothetical day, the lack of trees, at least compared to the numbers of them in a forest, would prevent comparison to the sounds I hear.

Sometimes I think about our ancestors who lived thousands of years ago and how they must have also understood this sound and knew what it was. It makes me feel closer to them to think that I share this small knowledge, this small similarity with one piece of life that they experienced.

I connect with their lives and connect to the earth in ways that I never imagined before I moved here when the sound of rain travels through trees.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

West Rim Trail - Day Three

Soon after Dog and I settle in for the night, I realize that Dog is licking and licking and licking himself. I ask him to stop, which he does for a few seconds but soon starts in again. At this point, I start to worry that he’s having a problem with his feet, so I find the headlamp, turn it on and examine him. I soon realize his feet are fine, but I find a bare patch of skin on his leg, high up by his elbow. Even with the headlamp I can’t see very well, and I can’t tell if there’s a cut or not. I can only see this bare patch that’s about 2”x 1” long. I press a wet cloth against it, looking for blood and can’t find anything. Eventually he quiets down, and so do I, finally getting a good night’s sleep.

In the morning I take a closer look at Dog’s leg. I still can’t see a cut, so I’m thinking the pack might have rubbed the spot bare of hair. Now I’m torn about what to do. I don’t want Dog to be hiking hurt, and I sure can’t carry either him or his pack. I decide to load up and hike to the picnic area for water and breakfast and see how he does on the short trip there. He isn’t thrilled about putting the pack back on but doesn’t do more than try to squirm away from it one time.

We haven’t gone 100 yards before Logan somehow slips out of his pack and takes off into the woods. I’m not looking at him when he does this so for a second I don’t realize he has gone until he is already some yards away. I’m calling, “Dog, Dog, come here” but he disappears. I drop my pack and head down the trail, trying to get in front of him, calling him all the while. I can hear him crunching through the brush/leaves, and I am in full panic mode.

After what seems forever, his noises start sounding closer. I keep calling and head back to my pack when he suddenly appears, awfully proud of himself and his adventure. I rig the leash/pack in a different way, hoping to forestall a future episode of adventure. After that getting in to Bradley Wales was easy.

The picnic area is really nice. They have restrooms and picnic tables there! And an old hand pump. I soon realize that pumping water ain’t that easy. I’ve done it before but not recently. Either this pump is particularly hard to use, or I’m weaker than I remember, but eventually the water starts flowing, and I fill the water bottles. Now, I get my breakfast and Dog’s breakfast, and I’m stunned to find out that Dog barely touches his food. Now this is a dog that eats like a horse, and I listened to his stomach growl through part of the night. So when he won’t eat, I’m worried. I know a sign that a dog is working too hard is that they won’t eat. Iditarod mushers always say that dogs not eating are the first bad sign. Between the cut and the not eating I’m really worried about him.

As a result, I decide to try and call the outfitter to see if he will come and pick us up. I figure if I can’t get through to him, I’ll get out to the road and see if I can flag someone down. But somehow, the telephone poles nearby must act like antennas or at least cell phone towers, because for the first time in 2 days, I have one bar of phone reception. I get through and the outfitter says he will come and pick us up. So that’s what we do.

My ride arrives in the form of Chuck Dillon himself, the author of the trailguide to the West Rim Trail. He’s a man about my age, perhaps a few years older, extremely nice. Dog, who's very opinionated about people, decides he likes him immediately and is suddenly all excited again, making me question whether or not I really needed to bail out of the hike. On the drive back to my car, Chuck and I talk about hiking and writing and balancing life/work. He even stops the car a couple of times so I can see the views from a particularly good spot.

After that it was a simple matter of the 3.5 hour drive home, with Dog sleeping like a log the entire trip. He didn’t even wake up when I stopped for gas.

All in all, we hiked half of the trail and though I'm sorry I didn't finish, we had a good time, which was an important part to me, as I didn't want Dog to find it a drag. Next time I think I will bring a third water bottle since Dog drinks so much. I'll likely add some sheepskin to the pack girth so it won't rub against Dog. We can hike the second half another time.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

West Rim Trail - Day Two

During our first night on the West Rim Trail it rained a bit, though most of the time it was perfectly quiet, except for the sound of water dripping off the leaves or acorns dropping. I didn’t sleep well—typical for me on my first night out on a backpacking trip.

Sometime in the middle of the night a barred owl (whose call sounds like "who cooks for yoouu") started hooting, and to my surprise the sound scared Dog. He woke up, all alert, and started shivering. I calmed him down and for the rest of the night he cuddled as close to me as he could get. I think that's the first thing Dog has ever been scared of. The owl drifted off down the hollow after about 5 minutes. Then, shortly before dawn, a saw-whet owl (I think. At least it made the wacky noises that saw-whets do), also close to the tent, started in with calling, and Dog was scared again.

Dog is supposed to be sleeping on and carrying a special backpacking dog mat that I got for him. He does carry it, but he won’t sleep on it. He prefers to sleep on the nylon tent floor, which can’t be very warm or comfortable. I first laid out the mat next to me and soon discovered Dog was sleeping at the foot of the tent. Later, I tossed the mat down to the foot of the tent, and soon Dog was curled up near my waist. He’s a funny dog.

In the morning we headed out early, on the trail by 8 a.m., though in the gloom of the low clouds it was hard to tell if it was full daylight or not. I don’t think the west rim gets all that much sunlight even when it’s not overcast and gray.

We headed out of Steel Hollow and across an open area of blueberry bushes and mountain laurel. I’ll bet it’s spectacular when the plants are blooming in the spring. The trail here was not easy going. The bushes were thick, and the trail makers cut a very narrow path through the berry bushes. Often, the path wasn’t wide enough to use my poles on either side of me. For Dog it was probably even tougher as the bushes were about as high as he is, so he was walking in the bushes the entire time.

After a while we started a long, fairly gentle descent into Gundergut Hollow along the very rim of the hill. This section of trail was surprisingly difficult because the trail was both very narrow and its width steeply angled. The trail was cut along the edge of the mountain’s rim, rocky with shale and covered with slippery wet leaves. My left ankle was turned upward at a sharp angle as that foot was a lot higher than my right foot. Walking "cockeyed" like this was slow, made worse by Logan’s pulling to go faster. It’s one thing to be pulled uphill, but kind of terrifying to be pulled downhill with a 1000 foot drop just a few inches to the right. We were slow and lost time through here.

I also lost the basket of one of my hiking poles somewhere through here too, and my right pole collapsed a bit, and I wasn’t able to readjust it. I switched that pole with my longer left pole, which worked okay when I used the longer pole along the rim edge, and the shorter one on the uphill side. Once again, I expected the climb out of the hollow to be a lot worse than it was. In fact, I almost had myself convinced that we weren’t in Gundergut Hollow at all, but some other minor hollow and that the big hollow was still up ahead.

After the long and slippery descent, my feet started to hurt, though it was a minor annoyance, nothing unusual. It’s just that a constant descent while holding back the dog worked my feet differently than walking on the flat or even going uphill did. After climbing out of the hollow, we walked through more blueberry bushes. We came to an overlook, with nice views down Pine Creek. I think I actually took one non-beeping picture here. The fall color change was pretty far along, though probably still one cool night or two away from their peak. The mountain looked beautiful—mostly yellow leaves with only a few red colors in the mix. I scared a few grouse along here. Dog is uninterested in them, even though they spring up only 25-30 feet away. We take a break—I’ve discovered that Dog drinks more water than I do, though he weighs less than half as much.

After this nice break, we walk through more blueberry bushes. Dog wants to stop and smell every downed tree, as the smells from the local rodents really excite him. It doesn’t matter if it’s a squirrel or a chipmunk; if it’s a rodent in a hole he wants to smell it.

I am fooled by a sign just past the overlook that promises we will reach the West Rim Rd. in .2 mile. I know the trail is to follow the road for a short distance, and I think that is what the sign refers to. I soon start to think this is the longest .2 mile I’ve every walked, though eventually I realize the sign is a shortcut trail out to the road and not the road walk section of the trail.

Because we were so slow through the descent into Gundergat Hollow, I am starting to realize we won’t make our 10.2 mile trail plan today. Eventually we take a break at an open area in sight of a hunting camp. We are starting to get low on water, and it is only around noontime. From here, though, it really is only a short walk out to the road, which I hurry through as quickly as possible because of Dog. Because we live off the road system, cars are not something he has a lot of experience with. I think this is why he wants to chase every car he sees, other than mine, and I'm determined to hurry through this road section without him seeing any cars. At the end of the road section, we reach Fahnestock spring, which was supposed to be a covered spring but isn’t.

While Dog rests, I replenish our diminished stock of water. About halfway through filtering the second water bottle, my water filter quits on me. It doesn’t act as though the cartridge has filled up, as this is usually signaled by the pump simply getting harder and harder to pump. This time the pump simply sucked air and quit. I tried to examine and readjust it, but no dice. The filter is fried at least for this trip. (I still don’t know if I need a replacement part or a new filter.) And I only have about ¾ of the water I wanted to have in my pack at this point.

I know there’s supposed to be water at Bradley Wales picnic area, though I am not confident of this, given that it is after Labor Day. I have visions of the water tap being winterized, which means it’s turned off for the year. If that happens, I’m screwed. I can boil any water I do find, though that could create fuel problems. I only brought a single fuel canister as that should have been more than enough for the limited cooking I do. However, now I will have to boil all my water and that will use a lot more fuel. It will also take added time for the water to cool enough to safely put it into a plastic water bottle. I suspect I will be lucky if I get a full water bottle from a single cook pot of water. Since we are drinking over 2 quarts during the day and needing more for cooking at night and in the morning, this will be a problem.

I decide to only hike one more mile and camp just before Bradley Wales picnic area. This means we only walked 7 miles today but also means I can use the last of the filtered water from the spring in camp that night. Then I can hopefully get water for breakfast at the picnic area, drink as much as we like there and still leave the picnic area with full water. That would mean I probably wouldn't need to boil water until the third day. And, I reason, if we take the 2 mile short cut the next day, we should still be able to finish the hike in four days.

So I find a place to camp in an open area and settle in. This night's camp is noisier than the one in the hollow. We didn’t have owls, but we had rodents of various kinds scratching and barking. I hear a fairly close turkey gobble a few times but nothing larger than that.

I hang the food and settle in for the night.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

West Rim Trail - Day One

Got up at 4:15 a.m. to drive to the West Rim Trail. Arrived shortly after 8:30 a.m. without incident. The shuttle guy arrived shortly after 9 a.m. and drove Dog and I on the 40 minute trip to the trailhead in an old clanking van.

Dog and I are dropped off at the trailhead, and we head across a small meadow to the woods shortly after 10 a.m. Almost instantly, Dog puts his head down to sniff something, and the pack slips right off. I don't know how he did it, since the straps felt tight to me, but he did. We need to readjust. I hooked the buddy leash to a ring on the back of the pack. This keeps the pack from sliding forward, and I get some added aid on the uphills from his pulling.

Soon we are heading up the mountain, and I am much encouraged as the climb is not nearly as extreme as I expected from the elevation change diagram on the trail map. It is nowhere near as steep as the Chilkoot Trail. I allotted 2 hours to get to the top of the hill (including my breathing breaks), and I was up and had covered almost 2 miles in not quite 90 minutes.

At the top of the hill, the trail follows a grassy woods road through open woodland. We took a water break before moving on. Dog soon wanted to stop and smell all the poop he saw on the trail. We saw fox poop, deer poop and raccoon poop and probably some other poop that I couldn't identify--not bear poop, though. Soon we were seeing rodents—squirrels and chipmunks--so he was smelling under every log we crossed in hopes something would appear.

Surprisingly, at least to me, the knee did okay. It twinged a bit for the first mile or so, but after that I didn’t feel anything unusual and didn’t really think much about it. Whether the Advil finally kicked in or the change in the wrap helped, I don’t know. I didn’t stop taking the Advil, though.

Soon we passed a tin dynamite shed—not sure what they were dynamiting—and crossed the West Rim Rd. On the opposite side of the road was a small memorial, “In Memory of John Steck 09-16-05” with a small stone cairn, some fall mums and a bouquet of flowers.

Soon we descended off the rim for the first of what I called “hollow hopping.” We’d descend 1-2-300 feet, go through a small hollow that might/might not have water, climb back out of the hollow, cross a small section on top of the ridge and then start the whole thing over again. The first day was crossed Bohlen Hollow, Dylan Hollow and Steel Hollow, where I decided to camp, making our goal of 7.19 miles for the day.

We didn’t see a soul all day. I tried taking pictures at the one overlook we passed, but kept getting a nasty beeping message from the camera that said I didn’t have enough light. The weather was dreary and gray, and the forest was wet but it wasn’t raining. Dog was pretty tired during the last mile we walked and laid down the instant we stopped. I set the tent, used the wonderful Jetboil stove without incident, hung the pack and settled in for the night.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Back from West Rim Trail!!

Dog and I have returned from our hike on the West Rim Trail. We did not complete the entire 30 mile hike. Dog got a cut on his shoulder near where the pack rides and is missing a patch of skin around it. At first I wasn't sure if the pack caused the cut/rub or if he was cut by the sharp ends of blueberry bush twigs along part of the trail. I discovered the injury our second night out and decided to try and make contact with the shuttle the next morning.

I wanted Dog to enjoy his adventure, and I was concerned that the minor injury would worsen. If that happened, I'd have a limping unhappy 70 lb dog with no way to get him out. What really decided me was that the next morning he didn't want to eat his breakfast, and I know the first sign of a dog working too hard is that they don't want to eat. So I was luckily able to make cellphone contact with the shuttle at the Bradley Wales picnic area, and they came and retrieved us.

Dog slept for the next 2 days. I will give a more detailed trip report later--perhaps even starting it later today.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Trip Prep Minus Two Days

Okay, I have to ‘fess up. The hike is still on, but my bad knee is acting up. I don’t know what the deal with the knee is as it doesn’t hurt, it just feels different and my stride is off so that I’m sort of limping. I’m still going on the hike, but I’m not sure how I’ll do. Maybe I’ll get in the woods, have fun for a few days and head home without finishing the thing. Don’t know. I’ll just have to wait and see how the knee does after I’ve hiked a day or so or 5-8-10 miles. Maybe I’ll be okay, but I’ll just be slow—I’ve packed an extra day’s food for both Dog and I just in case. Maybe I can make Dog carry my pack, and I’ll carry his. As I think I’ve mentioned before, this hike has been sort of a jinx for me, and I’m trying really hard not to let that happen again when I’ve gotten so close . I’ve hiked hurt before, so it’s not as though this is the first time for that. In the meantime, I’m taking Advil and have given up my daily walks to see if that helps. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Trip Prep Minus Four Days

Last night I put together my trip notes and trail map and added them to the stack of backpacking stuff now in the middle of my living room. I tried to plan my driving route to the site as the Mapquest directions looked and sounded weird to me, so I decided to map my own quest. Unfortunately, my Pa. gazetteer is missing a page or two, including the one around the West Rim Trail. Well, the gazetteer was a good 10-15 years old anyway. So tonight I’m off to a bookstore to pick up a new one. I’ve decided that the best way to reduce the amount of gorp I’m taking with me is to eat a little bit of it each day before the hike until it looks/weighs what seems to be an appropriate amount.

The best news of all is that my knee is fine now. I sat down at the dinner table last night, and my knee made this little “click” sound. When I stood up the knee was perfect again. Well, as perfect as my knee ever gets, but still. So now I will be hiking healthy, though not in the condition I hoped for. I haven’t done much walking/prep for the last 8-9 days because of the knee, so I will be healthy but not fit. Ah, well, at least this isn’t a race.

The weather forecast for the hike looks very promising--near freezing at night and about 60ºF during the day. That’s almost perfect hiking weather, as far as I’m concerned, and almost exactly the temperature during my Chilkoot Trail hike in Alaska in late September.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Trip Prep Minus Five Days

On Saturday morning, Dog and I took a walk out onto the ski slope. Up the slope, two deer were grazing. They raised their heads to look at us, then returned to grazing. Apparently we weren’t dangerous-looking enough for them to bolt back into the woods.

I spent time over the weekend, getting ready for my West Rim hike. I fired up my new lightweight backpacking stove. It is simple enough that even I could use it without burning myself. And I got it lit on the first try. I’m sure this is a lifelong personal best for me. I also practiced with the tent. This tent is one I’ve only used once or maybe twice before, so I wanted to make sure I remembered how to set it up (I did).

I also did a first run-through of packing, just to see how much the pack weighs. It’s just under 30 pounds without the camera/film, so I expect it will total out at 30 lbs. I gave up my plan of carrying Dog’s sleeping mat with my equipment. It doesn’t fit and it puts the total weight over 30 lbs, so he’s carrying that come hell or high water. I seem to have pounds and pounds of gorp, and I am going to winnow that down a bit before the hike. I also have a lot of energy bars—ditto. I need to add a few first aid items and figure out what additional clothing to take. I’ve already packed the underwear. I’m undecided, at the moment, which clothing to take—I’ll wait for a last weather report before finalizing that.

I might also change my trash bag plans. Rather than take one large industry-sized ziplock bag, I might take several gallon-sized freezer ziplocks instead, at least in part because the trail looks as though it has at least one spot where I can drop trash (Bradley Wales picnic area). Taking smaller bags means I can drop those off and reduce the weight as I go. Of course, eating as I go will reduce the pack weight as well, but since the first day’s walk is the big hill and the second day’s walk is planned for just over 10 miles, reducing the weight early on will make those days a bit easier for me.

The knee is still not perfect, but it is better. I wore a foam brace over the weekend and walked a bit, and it’s now in the range of healing to where I’m starting to think the hike is do-able. I’ve hiked hurt before—my knee didn’t feel “perfect” until the day before I started Alaska’s Chilkoot Trail—a steep rocky trail if ever there was one. And I finished that one.

The knee problem will slow me down, as my stride isn’t quite right yet. Worse, I haven’t been doing my conditioning walks, so I’m not as prepped for the hike as I’d like. The result will be that I’ll be hiking slower than I usually do—how much slower is the question I won’t be able to answer until my feet are on the trail.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Orion in the Morning

“You know Orion always comes up sideways.
Throwing a leg up over our fence of mountains,
And rising on his hands, he looks in on me.”
--Robert Frost, Starsplitter

Yesterday as I walked Dog in pre-dawn hours of morning, I looked at the stars overhead and was surprised to see the constellation Orion, its stars only just starting to fade into the light of dawn.

Since I think of Orion as a winter constellation, when it rises in the east shortly after dark, I’d forgotten that Orion was visible now in the pre-dawn hours. At this point in the dark of early morning, Orion is full overhead, the great and mighty hunter of myth, dominating the entire sky. For me, seeing the great hunter again was like the sudden and unexpected reappearance of an old friend who I wasn’t expecting for another month or so.

The other constellations are all dwarfed by Orion’s size, and some of them require a lot of imagination to tease the picture they are supposed to represent from the stars that make them up. Not so with Orion, whose stars create the shape of a man with a belt that even a child can see.

I even like the names of the stars that make up Orion--the belt stars of Mintaka, Anilam and Alnitak, the head star of Meissa, Rigel and Bellatrix, the star Saiph. I don’t know how this last is pronounced, but I always think of it as “safe.” To me, gazing into the dark, starry heavens on a silent winter night, seeing Orion high overhead, somehow always makes me feel that I am safe. Is it even possible to gaze into the night sky, stars crystalline overhead, and feel anything but tranquil?

At this point in the year, the lines from Frost’s poem about Orion are a bit premature, but they are so beautiful I couldn’t resist. When Orion rises in the east in another month, he will do so lying on his side, and Frost’s allusion to the giant throwing a leg over the fence will be more apt. I will be out looking for Orion then, too, welcoming the giant into winter’s pasture.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Signs of the Jinx

Okay, maybe this backpacking trip is jinxed. For this year, so far, it’s still on, but there are “signs” that are not promising—little “jinxes, if you will. And the whole trip seems like such a simple plan: hike Pa.’s West Rim Trail on the Pa. Grand Canyon during the height of the fall color change.

For at least the past 10 years something has happened to keep me from fulfilling this simple plan. I’ve been injured, solid fog and rain during the time I had to hike, couldn’t get off work, Dog was a puppy and was too young to go, one year I went to Alaska and didn’t have more vacation (I guess that doesn’t really count as a jinx), but each year it’s been something.

I’ve been slowly gathering my packing gear and laying it out on the living room floor (so I won’t forget anything). The backpacking food I’ve started to gather on the kitchen table. Last night when I came home from work, I discovered that one of the cats had somehow smelled food through the double-sealed, factory-sealed freeze-dried dinners and chewed his way into all but one of the dinners. I had tiny pieces of free-dried food all over the place. Since freeze-dried food is expensive, this is about a $25 setback. Not to mention that it means yet another trip to the backpacking store this weekend, when my weekend is already booked full. As I said, there are “signs.”

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Bad dog!

Dog was bad this morning when we started to take our morning walk. It was about 6:15 a.m., still completely dark. I was wearing my headlamp. My neighbor from up on the top of the mountain untypically drove down the lane, and Dog went nuts. I mean like an attack dog. I could barely hold on to him as he barked and lunged at their car. They waved. So I turned around and took him back to the house and put him outside behind the house. Alone. Along the West Rim Trail is at least one section of a public dirt road that's about half a mile long. I sure hope a car doesn't come along when we're on that section. I don't even want to think about trying to hold onto him when he's carrying a 20-lb. pack, and I'm carrying a 30 lb. pack. Of course, maybe he'll be so tired that he won't have the energy to attack a passing car.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Prep for backpacking trip

Fall blew in this weekend, both on the calendar and in the feel of the weather. Dog and I took advantage of the cooler temperatures to get ready for our hike, in two weeks, of Pa.’s West Rim Trail, a 30-mile walk. Now that I’m an older backpacker, Dog carries some of the weight that I used to. So he’s carrying his food and the water, which should, I hope, make the trip a little easier for me. So this weekend Dog practiced with his pack—weighted down this time—and I started centralizing my backpacking equipment. This means everything that I’ve centralized so far is sitting in a pile in the middle of the cabin.

In addition to my aging body, I also have an aging brain, and I’m afraid if I don’t have the pile in front of me, I’ll forget something. Even though my hiking poles are by the front door, I’m afraid that if they’re not on the pile, they will be forgotten when it comes time to load the car. So for the next 12 days I’ll be walking around the pile, until I’m satisfied that I have everything. Then the pile will go into the backpack. The only other alternative is to pack now, forget what I’ve already packed, and then dump everything out of the pack multiple times until it’s time to leave. I have done this trick before, and I think the pile is preferable to the time wasted plunging into the depths of the pack. You see? I am trainable!!

Friday, September 23, 2005


Fall is here now, so in honor of that I’m wearing my Hawaiian shirt for one last time this year. A front is to move through later today, bringing cooler and more fall-like weather with it. I can see the new season in the leaves that strew my path. Most came from the damaged plants, the small trees weakened by drought, larger trees infested with some parasite or the annual plants whose time is almost up. It’s the same throughout nature-- the elderly and the young are those most susceptible to changes. The larger, healthier trees will hold onto their leaves a while longer, just as humans not at the far edges of their lifespan can better weather storms or the storms of life. I think of storms today, as the country braces for another major hurricane.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Raccoons yes, broadwings no

I can see fall creeping into the landscape of my morning walks now. Each day, the color change affects a few more leaves, a new tree. Sometimes I think a progression of the color parade is visible between morning and evening. The trees that were starting to turn yesterday are an even deeper shade of yellow this morning.

Last night I had visitors on the front deck. Four very large and fat raccoons arrived to clean up the left over food that I left out for the semi-feral cats dropped off at Roundtop. The cats pretty much ignore the raccoons, one even dozing on the deck railing while the little masked bears scuttled around on the deck, overturning the food dish and chortling to each other. Dog thought the bumping noises came from someone knocking at the front door and kept announcing each bump with a bark, probably wondering why I didn’t answer the door.

Broad-winged hawk numbers in southern Pa. were low yesterday after good numbers the day before --which now looks as though it likely was the year's "big day." A front moved across the state yesterday, leaving me to look this morning at that deep sapphire sky which means hawkwatching will be painful to the eyes. Today will likely bring better numbers of the hawks again, though the views won’t be much to crow since the birds will be so high they might as well be in the Martian flyway. Hawk counters, who tend to be numbers people, don’t seem to mind as much as I do. I’d rather see the birds, see each color shading and every tail feather, than report big numbers of them. Ideally, of course, would be to see both—20,000 birds at eye level is a fantasy that would be better to me than hitting the big one at Vegas. But winning the big one at Vegas is the probably more likely.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Where are the broadwings? (Don't ask)

At the beginning of the year I looked at the new calendar to see when September 17-18 fell. I was thrilled to see that in 2005 they fell over a weekend. These two days are most commonly the peak days for broad-winged hawk migration in southern Pa. But by the end of last week, it was pretty obvious that Saturday wasn’t going to be “the day,” and by Friday evening, I could pretty much tell that Sunday wasn’t likely either, though at that point I still had hope for late Sunday afternoon.

Between the weather forecast and the reports from hawkwatches north of me, I could tell it wasn’t worth the gas money to travel to look for broadwings this weekend. So on Saturday and Sunday, Dog and I went up the hill to the top of Roundtop Mtn. to look at our own private hawkwatch. We didn’t see much either, but it’s always nice to sit on top of a mountain in nice weather and see what there is to see. It’s a shame Sunday wasn’t the day, because the sky was perfect for broadwings—enough cloud cover to see them and perhaps enough to keep them low enough so I could see them half decently as well. We saw a few hawks—broadwings, redtails, sharpies, black vultures—that was pretty much it.

So when are the broadwings coming? Monday or even Tuesday, naturally, when I’m at work and can’t look for them. But if it’s any consolation—consolation to me, that is, not to those on the ridge tops—it’s that the sky is all blue again, and watching broadwings in all blue sky is dreadful. It’s like looking for little pinpricks of black in a vast sea of blue. So at least, I tell myself, I’m not missing a good flight, even if I’m missing the large one.

Friday, September 16, 2005

September 16, 2005

This morning I awoke to the gentle sounds of three nearby great horned owls calling back and forth to each other. Two of the birds were very close to the cabin and my open window and close to each other as well. The third was only slightly farther away.

Yesterday’s reports from the eastern hawkwatches and forecasts for Saturday’s weather do not bode well for a good broad-winged hawk migration in eastern Pa. tomorrow. The more western Pa. sites might do okay tomorrow, but the New England sites still haven’t reported any “big days,” so I’m guessing the northern birds aren’t really “in the pipeline” to head south yet. I’m torn between going to Waggoner’s Gap and staying on Roundtop to watch. I likely won’t decide until the last minute—after tonight’s daily counts are in and after a last minute check of the weather. Sunday looks to be a good hawkwatching day for broadwings.

I just saw two migrating sharp-shinned from my office window at work, even though my window faces an interstate and is near an intersection with 3 other interstates. Although I’ve only been in this location about 6 weeks, I have been surprised at what I can see here and around the grounds. Across the interstate and behind the restaurants is a thin line of mature trees. Hardly a day goes by without a sighting of the local red-tailed hawk. The office grounds have a wild edge at the property line where butterflies are common. I’ve seen monarch butterflies migrating past the window, and swallowtails, sulfers and cabbage whites in the edge growth. My office bird list is small but growing.

Nature somehow manages to survive, many times, all around us in very non-natural settings. And yet many people simply don’t pay attention or notice much of anything that happens outside buildings. Yesterday, while sitting at lunch with several colleagues, one expressed amazement that two others of us knew what a mallard was. She thought they were just “ducks.” I thought everyone, from kindergartners on up, would know what a mallard was. I’m constantly amazed at how little often intelligent people know about the world outside.

The sky remained overcast last evening, so I had no opportunity to look for aurora borealis, though the preliminary report this morning is that the solar storm didn’t produce the widespread auroras that were hoped for.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Curses, foiled again!

No, the backpack trip to Pa.'s Grand Canyon is still on.

I was foiled in looking for aurora borealis last night. After 2 solid weeks of cloudless weather, it naturally clouded up on the day auroras were predicted for the lower latitudes. A second chance to see auroras is possible tonight.

Also foiled were hundreds of hawkwatchers in the eastern part of the country. Yesterday was uniformly terrible for broadwinged hawk migration throughout the region. Normally, yesterday would have been a day of building migration numbers but the weather wasn't cooperative. SW winds in New England kept the birds in place. Numbers from the northern hawkwatches indicate the birds are still north of the New England sites. Currently, there's an approaching front to the west and a stalled hurricane to the south. So for the moment, migration is moving very slowly. At this rate, the best day in southern Pa. is likely to be Saturday afternoon or possibly even Sunday. East winds today further north are likely to keep migration slow there today as well. Friday seems to have rain associated with it, possibly lasting into Saturday. Until the hawks move in the north, we won't see them here in the mid-Atlantic states. I suspect the birds will move, big time, on Saturday, but it's possible they won't arrive here until Sunday. more later.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

September 14, 2005

Late Note: Maybe tonight is the night!! The forecast for aurora borealis in the mid-latitudes for tonight and tomorrow night looks very promising. I’ll be out there if the weather is at all clear.

Fall weather is fast approaching here now. Each day I see a few more leaves in the forest understory that are yellowing or turning reddish. The annual plants are starting to die back as well. But the strongest indication that fall is near is by the smells.

My sense of smell isn’t nearly as acute as Dog’s, but we humans have better noses, I think, than we give ourselves credit for. I can identify a good many animals by their smells. I can tell that a homemade cupboard I have was made from boards taken from an old chicken coop, though those boards haven’t seen chickens in many, many years. Horses, cows, skunks, dogs, cats all have their own species scents that most humans can differentiate. I can also tell when deer are close by their musky smell, and bears have their own strong and pungent smell as well. Now, I can’t tell one deer or dog from another by their smells, the way Dog can, but I can still tell one species from another.

Places have their own smells as well, and sometimes when I smell a scent that I haven’t for a while, that scent takes me back to the place where I first smelled that aroma with such strength that it is almost magical. I can still remember the smell of my grandmother’s kitchen, and when I get pieces of that smell in other places, even today, for a second or two, I am back there again.

I remember the smells of the Adirondacks in winter—crisp and raw, snow and pines. Alaska’s coast smells to me of spruce and moisture. Africa, ah Africa, such glory in a smell. So many spices, mixed with the smell of earth and animals. I remember that smell as much as I remember anything.

And now I can tell fall is coming by the smells around me. Early fall smells are richer and deeper, almost indolent in a way that even summer is not. Mid-summer smells still carry some of the brightness of spring smells and don’t carry the same deep richness as those of early fall.

If you want to know better what I mean, drive or walk past an apple orchard with your windows down in the next few days or a week. The apples are nearly ripe now, heavy with sweetness, and the scent from them is almost impossibly beautiful and pervasive. That’s a smell you don’t get earlier in the year.

In the woods, the smell of leaves and earth has a similar richness, but not, of course, the sweetness of the orchard. In the mornings, when the air is damp, the smell, to my human nose, is strongest. It is a little like rich, damp soil, but not only that. It is a more complex smell than soil alone. It’s as though the earth has reached not only the height of its abundance but also its full breadth. And then, before that starts to fail, the aroma is tinged with a hint of crispness, the tang of change that makes the richness all the more poignant.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

September 13, 2005

For the past week, each time I’ve entered my driveway, I’ve startled a male pileated woodpecker who has suddenly decided the old stump of a long-dead tulip poplar is his new favorite restaurant. Pileated woodpeckers are the smaller cousin of the birding world’s latest star—the ivory-billed woodpecker.

In some ways, the birds are similar. Their body shapes are virtually identical, with the only obvious differences being that the ivory-billed is larger, has more white on its wings and possesses its namesake ivory-colored bill. Both look like Woody Woodpecker. Both have raucous calls, and even the smaller pileated woodpecker is a large crow-sized bird that rockets through the eastern forests with amazing speed. The pileated is also a shy bird but obviously not as reclusive at its larger cousin.

Unlike smaller woodpeckers, such as the downy or hairy woodpeckers who are often seen on small dead tree branches, pileateds work the bottom of a tree. If you see bored woodpecker holes near the base of a dead tree in a southern or mid-Atlantic state eastern forest, you’ve found a pileated’s work.

So typically, pileateds are found in unmanaged forests away from houses. A dead tree, rotted at the base, makes homeowners nervous when that tree is near their house. And in forests that are managed or cleared of larger timber, those kinds of dead trees are among the first to go. So with it goes the pileated woodpecker.

Other birds also prefer dead trees—bluebirds are one. Bluebirds like to nest and roost in the hollows of dead trees. I have bluebirds all around me even though there are no nest boxes, as the birds have so far been able to find natural nesting and roosting areas.

I think it’s strange that people profess love for the very birds they are often so instrumental in destroying. Yet, we don’t seem to make the mental connection that if we didn’t destroy the habitat, including the dead trees, we would still have those animals to watch and enjoy. Far beyond any reasonable potential fire source or danger to a house, we simply consider dead trees to be an eyesore and remove them for that reason alone.

I think we need a redefinition of what is and is not an eyesore. A forest without pileated woodpeckers would be an eyesore. A meadow without bluebirds would be an eyesore. That dead tree, on the other hand, is suddenly starting to look pretty good to me.

Monday, September 12, 2005

September 11, 2005

I reluctantly decided not to drive to one of the larger hawkwatches this weekend for two reasons. The wind was from the NE, not the best direction for an eastern fall hawkwatch, and worse, the sky was completely and profoundly blue.

Blue sky is the bane of hawkwatchers. The hawks don’t mind it and in fact probably love it, flying so high into the stratosphere that they are little more than tiny, tiny black dots that are almost impossible to see. I like to look at hawks, not dots, or even the slightly larger dots with wings. I like to see the birds themselves and even count their primary feathers, if I can. Dots just don’t make it for me.

So I stayed home and took Dog, my binoculars and my chair out to the new pond to see what I could see from there. I started at 10 a.m. and was only out until 11:30 a.m. Even though I had sunglasses and a brimmed hat, I still ended up with a headache from looking into that blue sky. Here’s what I saw:

My first sighting was two hummingbirds that may or may not have been migrating. The goldfinch and the pewee that came soon after were still summer residents. Next came a flock of 30 starlings, a cardinal and some local blue jays. Then I heard a killdeer and two dueling Carolina wrens.

After 15 minutes I heard a croaking sound that made my ears prick up. And suddenly a raven soared out of the north, gliding and making fussing noises, crossing over the pond and towards the southwest. Now that made my morning!

After that, came turkey vultures, migrating dragonflies (orange and blue ones) and monarch butterflies. I heard a chickadee, saw several chimney swifts, black vultures and mourning doves. I had one red-tailed hawk.

All told, not bad for an hour and a half, but I would have preferred a slight breeze from the NW and some clouds to hold the hawks down into the range of good visibility.