Thursday, June 29, 2006
The local streams and rivers are a different story. The water under the bridge I cross to come to work is nearly up to the bottom of the bridge. Debris that can no longer pass under it is banging up against the side. The Susquehanna River was within a few feet of flood stage this morning when I crossed it. This normally sleepy river is a raging torrent right now, filled with trees and other flotsam.
I saw a coyote yesterday evening—the first I’ve seen all year. It bolted across the road in front of me, visible only in the moment it was in the open space of the road.
Dog and Baby Dog seemed surprised this morning at the absence of rain and didn’t know what to do with themselves without it. Baby Dog was scared by a rock in the middle of the driveway. She acted as though it was a Big Hairy Monster and barked at it. I thought, at first, that she must be looking at something other than this fist-sized rock, at something I couldn’t see. It was a mild-mannered looking rock that just happened to be standing up on an edge. When I kicked it over, she pretended she hadn’t been scared at all and tried to play with it, even picking it up in her mouth and carrying it around for a while.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
I now have weeds taller than my head out behind the cabin. I’ve been in real jungles and believe me when I say the area behind the cabin is no different. At the moment it is not raining, and every minute without it is a minute to the good, at this point.
Even the dogs, who typically ignore weather either good or bad, seem affected. Baby Dog won’t go into the woods anymore. She just squats in the middle of the lane and hurries back into the house. They’ve even given up playing in the stream rushing down the mountain that used to be my road.
Surprisingly, the Susquehanna River doesn’t yet look that terrible, as it won’t be above flood stage for another day or so. The Yellow Breeches Creek, the largest creek in the area, went from being not quite bank full last evening to being double its normal width and nearly reaching the underside of the bridge this morning. The Yellow Breeches, pronounced locally as Yella Breches (it’s not quite pronounced as britches) comes by its name honestly. It is yellow and muddy right now.
If this is global warming, I want no more of it. If it’s not global warming, I want no more of it.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Food: I couldn’t open the refrigerator door unless I wanted to let the cold air out, so I had to use the contents of my emergency kit, which wasn’t particularly exciting stuff.
Cooking: the backpacking stove is handy but since I can’t use it inside and it was raining buckets outside and electricity was working just 3-4 miles away, going out to eat was far easier. Plus, the selection of food was much better.
Cleaning: The broom only works on non-carpeted areas. I couldn’t even iron.
Water: The pump doesn’t work without electric, though I had water in my emergency kit. With nearly 10” of rain (Yes, you read that right) falling since Saturday night there was also plenty outside. I have one of those backpacking showers but this isn’t ideal for hair washing. I also limited dishwashing as without firing up the backpacking stove I couldn’t heat water.
Light: I have battery-powered camp lanterns and oil lanterns but neither provides the level of light that an electric light does—especially when daylight is nearly as dark as night. The headlamp is the best thing to use for reading.
Entertainment: No TV, no computer. Bored dogs get into trouble quickly. The cats slept. I read a lot.
Bottom line: I’m awfully glad the electricity is back on.
Other news: The lane is completely washed out. Water raced down the mountain, digging foot-deep channels in the road. Four wheel drive is needed right now to get in and out. The ground is so soaked that trees are starting to fall. I actually saw one (small) behind the cabin fall this morning when I was out walking the dogs. On my drive to work, I saw a larger one had fallen on a power line and was blocking one lane of the road. But this was another power company, so this time I wasn’t affected.
Monday, June 26, 2006
Saturday, June 24, 2006
The second thing is that weather in 1820 seems quite a bit cooler than today. In mid-October of 1820, Audubon was on a boat on the river separating Ohio and Kentucky. He's already talking about heavy frosts--not one heavy frost, but cold weather day in and day out.
I remember October's weather as being more variable here when I was younger, but heavy and continual frosts probably didn't settle in until the end of the month or early November.
At any rate, a lot of things have changed in 186 years.
Friday, June 23, 2006
Last night was a severe and slow-moving thunderstorm, with lots of rain and sustained lightning. I started hearing the storm just before dark, and because it was so slow-moving, the lightning storm seemed to go on forever. I couldn't see bolts of lightning in the sky--the thick leaf cover hides that from me. But the woods would suddenly burst into brightness with multiple bursts keeping the woods light for a second or two at a time. Then it would darken again. Some of the bolts weren't as strong and then the lightning only brightened a few trees or sometimes looked like someone turning on a flashlight for a few seconds deeper in the woods. Then it would be dark again.
And then I saw a lightning bug flash, itself a little mini-burst of lightning. Then real lightning would flash again and in the interim before the next flash, more lightning bugs, some very close, some deeper in the woods. I don't ever remember seeing lightning and lightning bugs in such a tandem operation before. It was a little symphony of light, the smaller one echoing the sky's drama with grace notes of its own.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
This picture was taken in the early morning along an old woods road that winds along the edge of the mountain. It makes a good footpath for me and the dogs. The undergrowth is a bit too dense to make bushwhacking enjoyable.
I enjoy my early morning walks in daylight. I get up early to take a solo walk. Then I walk the dogs. I've learned that just walking the dogs doesn't constitute exercise for me. They stop and sniff and play, and I spend more time keeping an eye on them than anything. So a solo walk is a bit of time just for me. Rolling out of bed when there's at least a little light in the sky is a lot easier than when it's dark outside. Most of the time, I'm already awakening anyway as the sky fades from dark to light.
Birds of many species fly until it is too dark for me to see—unlike in winter when the last half-hour of semi-daylight is already a quiet time. Now, chimney swifts fly until I can barely see them, recognizing them only by their distinctive “flying cigar” silhouettes. Wood thrush and ovenbirds call long after the sun has set. Phoebes and, especially, pewees will even call after dark, a soft and haunting coda to the day.
The air smells warm and carries the lush scent of the summer forest, so different than the fresh earthy scent of spring. Summer’s scent is rich and heady, almost like an expensive perfume applied just a tad too heavily. The dogs point their noses into the air and sniff, and would no doubt be able to tell me many secrets, if only they could.
The wind, when it blows, is usually from the south or southwest. In winter the prevailing wind is most often from the north or northwest. As often as not, the trees are still, and flags hang limply, as though moving is simply too great an effort, even for them.
Moving becomes an effort for the animals too. Dog and Baby Dog loll around, obstacles to be stepped over and tripped on. Forest animals are hardly better and seem reluctant to startle. The groundhog that lives at the foot of the lane watches warily as I walk past—but doesn’t dart down his hole. Rabbits bounce easily ahead of me, then hunker by the side of the lane, perhaps in hopes that I won’t walk closer so they can continue whatever adventure they were pursuing.
It’s a quiet time in many ways. The last migration is over and the next is not yet near. The territorial disputes are settled. Night closes in and the day ends.
Monday, June 19, 2006
I also saw a brood of 11-12 tiny wild turkey—the first brood I’ve seen at Roundtop. They ran across the road in front of me, half going across the road with mom, the other half staying on the other side. I heard them peeping and mom clucking. I just hope they all got back together again after I passed. For several years a tom turkey has been strutting his stuff and calling on the mountain. He’s kind of a weird bird. I’ve seen him up in the north parking lot strutting around, tail all fanned out, with no one and nothing around. I’ve seen him display his tail when a car drives by. This spring I heard him gobbling all over the mountain, but this is the first evidence I’ve seen that he’s gotten lucky.
Deer are starting to drop their fawns, as well. My dad saw a tiny fawn stumble and wobble across the road in front of their farm this weekend. I’ve been seeing a few skinny doe standing around where I don’t expect to see deer. This morning Baby Dog and I saw one along Roundtop’s service road. So she probably has a fawn in that tangle somewhere too.
Friday, June 16, 2006
I was walking down to the lodge the other day to get my mail when I came across this goose parade. The babies were being marched from one pond to the next, and they're about to enter this one. Yesterday, I counted a total of 19 geese.
It's been a quiet week at the cabin, pleasantly so. I heard a wood thrush sing this morning. They've been quieter for a few weeks because of nesting duties, so it was nice to be awakened by their song again.
In a few days, it will be summer solstice, and then the hours of daylight will slowly start to fade. I've been noticing that because of the surrounding mountains, my sunrise is about 30 minutes later than the the official sunrise times at the nearest city. Official sunrise is 5:37 right now, but I saw didn't see the sun breach the mountain to the east until just before 6:15 a.m. And sunset is about 30 minutes earlier as well. Sunset is officially supposed to be around 8:45 p.m., but I'm watching the sun drop below the western mountain around 8:15 p.m. It stays light for hours after the sun's disk has disappeared. Even at 10 p.m. I can't yet see but a few of the brightest stars.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Dog never met a pond he didn't like. He doesn't seem to understand the idea that it's possible to take a drink from one without getting his entire body wet.
The baby geese that hang out here when Dog isn't around are getting large--they are the size of roasting chickens, at least. They are still down-covered, but their down is now almost the colors they will be when they are feathered. I counted 19 geese last night--7 babies and the rest adults.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
I’ve learned to pay attention to what goes on in the forest. Just because I can’t sense or see something doesn’t mean it isn’t there. The forest animals can sense things that are invisible or imperceptible to me. Often, if I have time to stop and wait, I will find out what it is—a fox, perhaps, or a raptor. This morning, I suspect some kind of airborne threat, simply because the rabbit and local groundhogs behaved normally, unconcerned.
Once, I was up in the Adirondacks, already deep in the woods in the early morning, when the normal morning activity of the birds suddenly quieted and then stopped entirely. I sat down and waited and watched. After about 20 minutes of sitting, I saw a Cooper’s Hawk slip out of the pines and move deeper into the forest. Within a very few minutes, the forest birds were active again, going about their morning routines. The threat was gone, and they knew it. I hadn’t known the hawk was there, but the birds around me sensed or saw its presence and their reactions told me something was up.
Sometimes, I can sense a threat only to find out it isn’t really “here.” Several years ago, in mid-summer, I smelled smoke, wood smoke. Since I live in the woods, my first thought was a forest fire. I turned on the police scanner but heard nothing. The smell got worse, and with it my feeling of unease. Before long, I could see a haze in the air that I knew was wood smoke. I tried to pinpoint the location of the smell, to no avail. I hiked around the edge of the mountain and around the foot of it, trying to find the source of the smell. Finally, the smell faded, a bit, and I gave up my search, only partially satisfied by the results of my hike. Later that day I learned that smoke from forest fires in Canada was affecting our region.
This morning, I was reminded of that incident by the way the birds behaved. They knew something was going on but couldn’t locate the source of their unease. I could see their unease in the ways they behaved and that warned me. For me, today is a work day, and I couldn’t linger to try and find out what caused the birds’ distress. I’ll probably never know, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.
Monday, June 12, 2006
I'm so disappointed in my photos of this snapping turtle. This thing was large! The shell was in the 12-14" range. The tail added another 4-6 inches, the head when extended must have added another 3-4." I was so afraid that it would move that I didn't even think to get anything in the background that would give an indication of its size. And I was cautious about getting too close to it, as well. These things have a nasty reputation, most of it well deserved.
This isn't the snapping turtle that I rescued from the road last week. That one was a baby compared to this one. Here's how I found this one: Baby Dog and I were out for our early morning walk when I saw what I thought was one of the outdoor cats that hang around Roundtop in the center of the mountain's dirt service road. But it didn’t look quite right. So I got a little closer and then thought ah, there’s 2 cats there. But it still didn’t look quite right. So I got a little closer, and now I realized it was a turtle walking, not crawling, but walking up on its legs. The bottom of its shell was a good 5-6" above the ground. It was those back legs that I took for cats.
So I quickly rushed back to the cabin with Baby Dog, grabbed the camera and went back to look for the turtle. Much to my amazement (but, duh! It’s a turtle!) it was still there. As soon as it saw me, it came down off its legs, with the bottom of its shell resting on the ground, and suddenly it didn’t look nearly so big. Who know where it was going, but it was on a mission to somewhere.
Sunday, June 11, 2006
Friday, June 09, 2006
Surprise #1: This morning it’s just after dawn, and I’m walking the dogs. It’s mostly clear out, some clouds in the east. At the end of our walk, I turn around to go back to the cabin and there in front of me, in the western sky, is a beautiful rainbow. It’s the first I’ve seen this year. It was also the first rainbow I’ve ever seen so soon after dawn, with the sun just above the horizon, so its arc was almost as pointed as a McDonald’s arch. Apparently, the water in the clouds on the eastern horizon was enough to produce this lovely sight, but who would’ve guessed?
Surprise #2: This morning I’d just started my drive to work. I was still well before reaching open farmland and still surrounded by forest when a black rabbit casually hops across the road in front of me. I do a double take and stop the car. Yes, it really was a black rabbit. Obviously, it was someone’s escaped or released pet, but still, this isn’t an everyday occurrence. If the thing escaped, it’s at least a mile from the nearest house (and I’ve never seen a rabbit cage there). It seemed happy enough and even reasonably wary.
Not a surprise: Baby Dog has put herself on stakeout duty at the front door in the evening to watch for the raccoon. She stands with her nose to the glass, at attention and she waits. Seeing the raccoon seems to be the high point of her day, and she has enormous patience when waiting for it to show up. When the raccoon does appear, she jumps into action, barking and jumping, trying to scare it away. It is not particularly scared by her, though instead of going directly to the dish, as it did before, it now more cautiously stays on the last step and stretches a paw into the dish.
Thursday, June 08, 2006
This picture has nothing to do with the cabin, but it's a good picture of my Maine Coon cat Ben, who should have been named Total Destruction for the havoc he wreaks around the place. When I saw him resting this way, I just had to take a picture (and was surprised that he didn't move until I ran and got the camera).
The next picture is of Smokey, my one-eyed foster
kitty, also a Maine coon cat. Smokey is a sweet old boy who loves to sit on my lap. He has taken over the upstairs bedroom but won't leave it to explore other rooms, even though the door is left open. And just as funny, my cats now won't go into the upstairs bedroom.
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
I knew I was going to be stuck on the phone in a conference call for an hour last evening, so I decided to leash the dogs in the cabin so they couldn’t run around and get into trouble while I was leashed to the phone. Dog is leashed to the sofa, and Baby Dog is leashed to the stairs. All starts off well, and the conference call has been going for about half an hour or so when the barking starts.
Baby Dog is looking out the front door and has discovered a raccoon on the front deck. In her self-appointed role as The Enforcer, this is a major infraction of activities she considers allowable. So she uses her loud and angry voice to announce the infraction. Dog, who can’t see any of this, nonetheless considers Baby Dog’s angry barking Important and joins in. From his point of view, I seem to be ignoring Baby Dog’s announcement of Trouble (maybe I can’t hear her?!?) so adding his voice to hers may help promote my action. Dutifully, phone still to ear, I now go to the front door and see the raccoon for myself. I open the door and it scuffles away. That should be the end of the story.
But this result isn’t good enough for Baby Dog. She thinks I should be doing something more. She begins to howl—loudly. In moments, Dog starts howling too. Noses in the air, yodeling howls echo and bounce off the four walls. I mean, I might as well have a pack of wolves in the cabin. I know everyone else on the conference call can hear this. Heck, my grandmother in heaven can hear this. Since I can’t take the phone outside, I figure the only way to dull the noise is to go into the bathroom and close the door, hoping that will block the sound.
As soon as I close the door, the howling falters and then stops, perhaps in wonderment at the closed door, perhaps in realization the raccoon has indeed vacated the premises. There’s never a dull moment here, even when I’m inside the cabin and not out in the woods.
Monday, June 05, 2006
So, I’m forced to go downstairs where I see all of the animals looking at the front door. So, since I’m no slouch in the brain department, that’s where I go. Before my story goes any further, some explanation is needed. My storm door currently is missing the glass/screen part of it, so there’s this big open area where that should be. My front door is mostly glass, with a curtain. So I open the front door and in the space between the main door and the storm door is a wood thrush that has apparently stunned itself by flying into the glass front door (despite the curtain that’s supposed to eliminate the reflection).
I pick up the wood thrush, holding it gently in my palm. Although these are decently-sized birds, they weigh almost nothing. Their legs are the size of toothpicks. Isn’t it amazing that these things fly from South America each year to nest in our eastern forests? This bird was an adult. Up close, the bird is even more beautiful than when I see them in the forest. It has large dark spots on its breast, and its back is this wonderful cinnamon color.
For a moment I consider running for the camera, but then I decide the poor bird has already had enough trauma for the day. It doesn’t need me holding it for an additional minute or two while I fiddle with the camera.
So I head outside, looking for a limb that’s in a safe spot to put it on. Although the bird looks fine, I want to make sure it can still perch. Birds who are so stunned that they can’t perch are really injured, and may well die even if they are in a safe spot, though some will still recover. If the bird can perch, even if it doesn’t move for a while, it has a decent chance. So I try to place the bird on my finger to see how it is, and it flies off, landing in a small tree perhaps 15-20 feet away. It is immediately joined by a second thrush, and the two fly off together in another few seconds. Rescue complete!
All told, the bird was in my hand for no more than 10-20 seconds, I’d guess, but what a magical few seconds that was. Those seconds stay with me all day, a gift of the forest.
Sunday, June 04, 2006
We headed down the mountain, towards the paintball field. I was going to skirt this area when I heard an odd noise. It was the sound made when someone is dumping something out of a metal pail and hitting it against wood to get out whatever is stuck to the bottom. Except it was just one bump at a time, and then another bump a few seconds later. Since it was only 6:00 a.m., the paintball people weren't supposed to be here.
We walked a little closer, and I didn't see anything, except the sound seemed to be coming from the paintball truck which was backed up against the building. Is someone stuck inside? I wondered. Maybe they're banging on it trying to get out? That thought didn't make much sense, even to me, so I kept walking.
We were almost to the truck when another thought hit me. Some convict escaped a few days ago, not more than 15 miles from here and maybe...But before I could take that hysterical thought any further, a crow flew out from behind the truck. And the banging stopped.
Obviously, the crow was making the sound. But how? The dogs and I walked over to the back of the truck. This adventure was of no interest to them. I looked at the back of the truck and for a few seconds, I couldn't figure it out either. Then I found it. There was a metal chain running along the back of the truck, and the crow must have been fiddling with that and causing it to bump against the back of the truck.
Crows are smart birds, but I will never know what this one was trying to accomplish. The chain was painted, so it wasn't shiny. Crows are notorious for their preference of shiny things like foil, or soda can tops, and their nests are often lined with such riches. Perhaps it saw itself in the reflection of the glass and was sitting on the chain while attrached to that. Who knows? Another mystery.
Friday, June 02, 2006
So this is a problem. A snapping turtle, even a small one, isn’t something I really want to pick up. For a moment I try to remember if picking one up by the tail is the right way to pick it up or exactly the wrong thing. I have a vision of driving myself to the emergency room to remove a turtle from my hand or finger and decide I don’t have time in my evening’s agenda for such an event. So, in the end, since I can’t remember about the tail thing, I decide against the possibility of a wrong guess. I decide the best course of action is to move it with a stick.
Do you think I could find a freakin’ stick?!? The forest is on both sides of the road, I’m parked in the middle of the road with my flashers on. Fortunately, no cars came by. This is yet another joy of living off the beaten path. But one could come by at any moment. So I’m hunting for a stick in the middle of a forest that apparently has no sticks. Eventually I find this pathetic little stick that’s about 16” long, no more than half an inch thick and has a large curve in it starting about halfway down. It’s obviously not ideal, but it’s the only thing I have.
So now I approach the turtle, half expecting the stick to bend/break when it encounters the snapping turtle. I try to push the turtle off the road. The stick doesn’t break, but the turtle is only pushed an inch or so, and he’s not amused. He snaps and whirls around with a kind of a little hop. By pushing him in the same spot, he snaps and whirls in the same way, so I manage to move him a few inches at a time towards the edge of the road. Eventually, this strategy works. The turtle is in the grass at the edge of the road, and I haven’t been bitten. So I get in the car and head to the cabin.
Sadly, this effort was for naught. This morning as I was driving to work, I saw the turtle, flattened, in the road, perhaps 50 yards further from where I got him off the road.
But even this story has a happier ending. A few miles further down the road, just before a dangerous intersection, I see another turtle in the road. This one is a box turtle, and I am able to rescue it without a stick and find a fairly suitable spot for it where it’s not likely to wander into the road again. And still, no cars came by.
Thursday, June 01, 2006
Last evening she was excited by the smell of raccoon on the deck and was ready to head off into the woods after it. Heck, even I could smell that raccoon. Night before last, she didn’t even bark at the thunder. This morning she watched a squirrel leap into the large beech tree in the front forest and didn’t go into attack mode.
She has learned how to open her crate. This morning she sneaked up the stairs when I was feeding Smokey, the foster kitty, and was so quiet that I tripped over her when I turned around. She thought this was hilarious.