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.