Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Warm Evening

One of the good things about living in a cabin in the woods is that I can do weird things and no one is around to notice and talk about their loony neighbor. Then the next morning I can get up, go to work in my normal professional clothes and everyone there only sees the normal me.

Last night I got home late and tired and instead of pulling on my sweats as usual, I jumped right into my flannel PJs. This isn’t a big deal except I still had dogs to walk in the evening. Here’s the weird part: this January has been so warm that at 9 p.m. I’m outside in my flannel PJs, flip-flops and black beret walking the dogs, and I’m not cold! Okay, so some of you won’t think the warm weather is the weird part, but that’s the way it goes.

Can you believe it? Flip-flops!

Monday, January 30, 2006

Two Neat Things

This morning I noticed two interesting things when I walked the dogs. One is that the eastern sky was exactly one shade paler than completely dark. Now I realize that I am still weeks away from walking the dogs in daylight before I go to work, but today was the first morning that I could see any sign that this event is nearing. As far as I’m concerned, it’s cause for celebration!

The second neat thing was the planet Saturn. Saturn is in the eastern sky before daylight, and right now it’s as close to earth as it will get all year. Since it’s in the eastern sky, light from the sun strikes it before sunrise, making it look even bigger and brighter than it otherwise would. And boy, does it look big and bright.

After walking the dogs, I went back into the cabin and pulled out my spotting scope that’s mounted on a rifle mount, hoping to see the planet’s rings. I walked down to the end of the road, braced myself against a telephone pole for stability and looked. Since my spotting scope is only 20x, I couldn’t *quite* see the rings, but I could see a wide blob where the rings should be, so it was close as I am going to get without buying a telescope. I was out just after 6 a.m., and the planet was low in the eastern sky. Check it out before the planet orbits further away. It’s way cool.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Avian Confusion

Today it was over 50 degrees here. 50! In January! This wacky, warm winter has confused the local birds. This morning I heard a cardinal singing, an effort that even the most ardent don't usually start until at least mid-February.

I also heard a flicker drumming territory on the transformer box that brings electricity up the mountain. Transformer boxes are the preferred flicker drumming instrument, as best I can tell. It makes a hellaciously loud noise, which is exactly what they want. The noise is far louder than can be produced on any hollow tree.

When I spent my first night in this house, I was awakened in early April after working late to unpack by a loud noise that I couldn't place. It turned out to be a flicker on the transformer box, soon joined by another flicker dueling back on yet another box. I can only imagine the joy these birds felt the first time one of them tried drumming on a transformer box. I'll bet those birds never drummed on a tree again. Anyway, I don't usually even see flickers in January as when it's a normal winter without open water and with lots of snow cover, the birds head down the mountain to more sheltered thickets and only return in early spring.

I also saw several turkey vultures today, another bird that is usually missing in January. These birds migrate but tend to stay nearby, perhaps along the Susquehanna River and only head back to the mountain to stay in mid-February or so. Occasionally, I've seen them in early February on a warm day, and only for that warm day. But this year, I've seen them almost every day throughout the month of January.

Even the squirrels, who do a short hyber-nap were out today, dancing through the branches, much to the excitement of the cats.

Does this weather mean spring will come in February? Or will winter finally make an appearance and last until it should be summer? What goofy weather this is!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Winter Berries

This winter has been warm but generally gray and dreary. I took this picture of red berries on a tree mostly because it was almost the only spot of color I saw on my walk this day.

In dog news: Dog and Baby Dog returned from their kennel stays with differing reports. Dog was cool and calm, pretty much taking the entire event without noticeable emotion. Baby Dog was another matter.

For the first few times the kennel people checked on her, they told me she “spooked” and acted “schizy” each time someone came by. Considering that my little hurricane baby was bounced around to who knows how many different shelters before she came to my household, this wasn’t a huge surprise. But I was a little surprised. She is usually bold around other people and animals when we are together, so I was hoping she’d be that way when I wasn’t around.

And they said she barked. When I first got her, she barked and/or whined 100% of the time, unless she was asleep. She doesn’t do that any more at home, but in a new environment, some of the old behavior returned.

And then they asked me what time I got up in the morning. “Usually about 5:45 a.m.” I told them. That’s when her barking started.

The instant she saw me all was forgiven. She licked me and wiggled her whole body the entire time we were in the car. (Dog sat proudly. He was anxious to get home but not so anxious as to wiggle.). Once at home, they both settled into their usual spots and relaxed.

I think overall the kennel experience will be a good one for Baby Dog. She should now understand that I *will* come back and retrieve her shortly and that she won’t be in the kennel forever. At least I hope so.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


After my conference sessions on Tuesday I was feeling rather cooped up, so I decided to take a walk starting in the parking lot that edged a woods behind my hotel. Almost immediately I found a two-track road that led down into the woods, so I followed that. It was already nearing dusk, so the woods were quiet, except for the sound of breeze through the pines, a sound that is too beautiful to describe well, except to say it always makes me feel as though the world is both magical and serene.

My two-track road soon split into two two-tracks, and I took the one that went lower into the forest, hoping to find some birds or a stream. As I descended the hill, I started seeing more snow on the ground, though it was still just a dusting. The sky was overcast, and it wasn’t long before I felt the first pellets of sleet on my face. My two-track came to a gate, such as is found at service roads. I could have walked further, but my time was limited, and I hadn’t yet seen any birds or found a stream, so I decided to go back up hill and follow the second two-track for awhile.

The second two-track ran higher along the hill, giving me good views of the ridge across the valley. I saw more pines here and heard that lovely sound of the wind as it blew through them. The wind was picking up and the sleet was turning to snow. The sky looked angry with the darkening of nightfall and speeding clouds.

I felt as though I could walk for miles and would have gladly done so. It would have been a perfect walk if only I’d been backpacking and could have kept going on further, knowing that I would soon set my tent and be heating up dinner. But my walk on this day was only that small step from perfection and so is hardly worth noting at all. It was just what I needed after a day of being cooped up indoors.

Over the years, I’ve found that my best walks are these unexpected ones: the lovely spot where I least expect to find it, new territory to walk in with something unknown around each slight bend. I am so easily bored that I can always find excuses not to walk in the woods where I live and have come to know so well. I am so blessed to live surrounded by nature, surrounded by forest, but too often I just find excuses not to spend more time out in them. Too muddy, not enough time in the evening, the cabin really needs vacuuming, etc. My excuses are never ending and too numerous to list.

But give me something new, and the magic of the outdoors is fresh again. I only wish that I could so easily feel that magic in places I have come to know well and not just in these as yet unexplored spots. This is a major character flaw for me--that I need to see the “new” all the time. I too often have trouble finding new things about places I know well, though I will be the first to tell you that I know they are there—that each sunrise is different, each day brings changes and new things to see. But somehow, for me, the magic fades in those places I know well, so I am always looking to that new place, the one where I don’t know what’s around the next bend, to give me a jolt and remind me that magic is never far away.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Happy Valley

I'm in Happy Valley and online. I'm surprised that the connection is working without hassles. Cathy, I'm surprised that you don't know where Happy Valley is. Maybe that phrase is a southern PA thing.

Happy Valley = State College

Travel News

I may not update the blog again until late Wednesday—not sure. I’m to head to "Happy Valley" (Pennsylvanians know where I mean) for a work-related conference this afternoon. I am taking the computer, but don’t know if I’ll have time to get online or even if I’ll have access—and you don’t want to hear about a conference held indoors anyway. So, unless the drive up is more exciting than I hope it will be (I had a minor ice storm here last evening. Whether or not it’s still minor 90 miles north is yet to be determined.), or unless I see something really interesting on the drive (which I will hope for), don’t bet on an update until Wednesday.

This morning I took the dogs to a kennel. This will be Baby Dog’s first time in one, though Dog has stayed several times. It was also the first time I had both dogs in the car at the same time. That went better than expected. Dog sat proudly in the back seat. Baby Dog sat beside him, occasionally yipping, but there was no trampolining off the seats, such as they are wont to do with the sofa. Of course, the kennel is only a few minutes drive from the cabin, but still, it was an auspicious beginning.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Tree Cutting

Dog was posing in this picture. This morning Dog and I, minus Baby Dog, went for a walk in the woods behind the cabin. We walked out to the abandoned ski slope and over to the woods on the other side of that where I saw a weird and unpleasant sight.

The trees in a big section were cut, but whoever did the cutting left the little trees (naturally!) and the big trees (which is one of the weird things) and only cut the medium sized trees. But then after they cut them, they left them lay there. What's that about?

It's one thing to log things out, but to cut them and let the trees there?!? I don't understand this one.

Dog, of course, didn't care. It was just more logs for him to jump over and stand on top of and generally have a good time in.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Sunny News

Happy Friday!

The news today is that instead of the morning simply being pre-dawn pale enough to walk without stumbling when I leave the cabin for work, today the morning was almost bright. I can't yet see the sun's disk above the horizon when I leave the house, but that can't be too many mornings away.

On the evening's drive home, the sun is already below the horizon, but the sky is still fairly bright with sunset's glory. At least the sky is bright enough as I'm driving through the narrowed-lanes of the turnpike construction that I no longer have the white knuckles of the weeks right around the winter solstice. It's still dark as I head into the woods near the cabin (that's why I almost hit the deer a few days ago).

In dog news: Baby Dog is now 5 months old. She and Dog are taking turns carrying the venison bone around. Dog gave me a major surprise last evening. Instead of acting like Cujo when he saw a car leave from a Roundtop lot last night, he was content to sit quietly as long as he had that bone in his mouth. At first he dropped the bone, started to bounce and act like he wanted to chase the car that was over 200 yards away. I told him to sit and immediately handed the bone back to him, and he suddenly acted as though it was his job to hold the bone while the car drove away. He's never, and I do mean never, settled down whenever a car was anyplace within his range of vision before, I'm going to try the same thing again tonight just to make sure it wasn't a fluke.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Winter View, Back Deck

I took this picture from my back deck during one of the unending grey winter days of the past week or so. I’m facing due west, and my nearest neighbor in this direction lives somewhere over at the base of the far mountain—over a mile away. At night and after the leaves fall, I can sometimes see their porch light from my deck.

In the valley between is a small pond and a usually year-round stream and, of course, more forest. When I hear the great horned owls call, the sound usually comes from somewhere down in the valley. Years ago, at some point, there was a summer camp in the valley. I can still find the remnants of an old swimming pool and the bathrooms along the old two-track dirt road that runs along the stream.

It’s not unusual to have deer wandering through here. In some years I’ve had fox, but when I have red fox, I never also see gray fox, and when I have gray fox, the reds aren’t anywhere to be found. The cats usually let me know when the fox are around. They must hear them, even when I can’t. They will suddenly race for a window and line up along it to look out. I see wild turkey around the cabin, but I don’t think I’ve ever had them right in this view.

I can almost hawkwatch from the back deck, as it’s not unusual for migrants to travel along the valley, though the trees interfere with my view. I’ve seen red-tailed hawk, raven, bald eagle, kestrel, both turkey and black vultures and sharp-shinned hawks from here. I’ve never seen merlin, peregrine falcons, goshawk or rough-legged hawks at Roundtop, but I’m ever hopeful.

Short Rant and Dog Treasures

Can you believe it! It’s supposed to be winter, and I’ve gotten 2 inches of rain overnight. It’s supposed to be winter, and I’m wearing my freakin’ raincoat while my winter parka hangs gathering dust. This global warming thing sucks! If this keeps up, the attack of the flooded basement won’t be far behind.

It could be worse. It could be ice, but really, this so-called winter is ridiculous. Okay, end of rant. I just had to get that out.

What else is going on? Baby Dog ran down the mountain to bark at the neighbor’s house again. Worse, while down there, she found a venison leg bone that Molly the German shepherd discarded or was forced to leave outside and returned up the hill, carrying it in triumph. Now I’ll never be able to keep her away from down there.

Dog found something just as good this morning. His favorite “job” is finding lost articles of clothing on the ski slopes in the spring after the resort closes. When he scents something he digs in the snow like an archaeologist after the Holy Grail. Usually he finds single gloves, though last year he found a nice homemade crocheted scarf that I cleaned and kept. This morning he didn’t even have to dig. The lift operators on my side of the mountain usually park their cars right at the bottom of my lane, as it’s closer for them to park there than in one of the main parking lots. And sometime yesterday one of them dropped a nice glove down there, which Dog soon found and claimed. I let him carry it around while we had our morning swim…errr, walk, but I made him leave it on a large rock down there in case the guy comes back tonight and tries to track down his glove.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


I almost hit a deer on the drive home from work today. The first one was in the middle of the road as I rounded a bend just a mile or so from the cabin. It bounded off the roadway and into the brush. Then a second one bolted for the other side of the road. I know I only missed it by inches--certainly less than a foot. I was already bracing myself and about to say "oh sh**" but somehow I didn't hit it.

Earlier, I saw a little icy precipitation, but it didn't amount to enough to cause the roads to be slippery. The deck of the cabin, though, is another story. It is icy.

I let Baby Dog out first. She bounded over the hole where the screen door used to be, slid on the ice but recovered like a pro skater and launched herself over the steps and out into the woods. Dog came out next, fell to his knees, his hindquarters going in the opposite direction. He pulled himself to his feet without losing a beat and then with great dignity and delicacy stepped off the deck and down the stairs.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Shadowy Trees

Here's a picture taken this winter at Roundtop after I had warm weather that melted all the natural snow. The mountain doesn't look very big in this picture. It's not a big mountain but it is bigger than it looks here. I think it looks so small because I'm not at the bottom looking up but because I'm already part way up the hill, but on the other side. I was out walking around near sunset--it's just a few minutes walk from the cabin, and I liked the long shadows made by the trees.

Both Baby Dog and Dog got their own trips to the dog park this weekend. They really like to hang out with other dogs and get attention from people other than me. Baby Dog met up with Tula, a friend's part chow dog (mixed with something small), and I could really see the physical similarities in them. Their head shape was almost identical and they hold their tails the exact same way.

My little hurricane baby has taken to running down the mountain and barking at the next house down from my cabin, where a German shepherd name Molly lives. She barks at that house even if Molly isn't outside, so I've had to leash her when we go out until she's better at not rushing down there to bark at the house.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Baby Dog

Here is a new picture of Baby Dog in an uncharacteristically solemn moment. Last night she was confused by how I was trying to get her to move off the stairs and out of my way and finally decided her best course of action was to sit down and do nothing. I decided to pick her up and move her before I fell on the stairs. Boy! I could barely move her. She must be close to 40 lbs now. She's still a cutie, though!

Sue: I just saw your comment about the picture of Dog on the West Rim Trail. I'm not sure why I'm so behind in seeing it, but I was. Yes! Dog is a Belgian Tervuren. He's a great dog, but crazy around vehicles and bicycles, etc. So, I guess it's a good thing I live in a cabin away from all that. Yesterday morning he saw headlights that were at least .25 mile away and still went nuts trying to get away from me and chase it.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


This morning I got up at the regular time, threw on my coat and stepped outside to walk the dogs. I am usually at least half asleep when I do this. Often I don’t notice if it is particularly cold or wet or anything. But this morning my attention was caught by the sight of the moon setting behind the neighboring mountain, and I stopped dead in my tracks. The moon was already falling behind the trees on top of the mountain, though I could still see the entire moon as it shone through the bare trees. The overnight haze surrounding the moon glowed with the moon’s diffused light so that it looked like a gleaming pearl. If there has ever been a prettier moonset, I don’t remember it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Sunless Doldrums

I won't call my mood the winter doldrums, because I like winter. My doldrums are caused by the grey and rainy weather here lately.

But today! Ah, the sun! Naturally, I’m now at work and inside, so I can’t enjoy it much. On Saturday, I saw a few brief moments of pale, filtered sunlight. I went outside and turned my face to it like a plant, but I doubt the sun was strong enough to boost my Vitamin D level much or to improve my attitude.

My mood has been as grey and dreary as the weather, and a little sunshine is just what I need to brighten my outlook, literally as well as figuratively.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Colder Weather Returns!

Colder weather is returning. By last night it felt very cold. The snow-making boys on Roundtop worked all night. Here's a picture of blowing snow onto Fanny Hill (I think).

I walked Baby Dog over to the new pond for the first time this morning. She is big enough now to walk that far. Unfortunately, nothing interesting was over there, so we proceeded to the paintball fort, which she also found not very exciting. She was more interested in the paintball field, where she liked to climb over the logs and jump on the rocks.

By noontime, the weather looked and felt like snow, though I haven't seen any yet. My feeder birds are feeding as though a storm is on its way.

Friday, January 06, 2006

New Year / No Map

“Starting a new year is like heading into strange country with no map.”

John J. Rowlands wrote that in his book, Cache Lake Country, which is to my mind the best outdoor book ever written. It was also the first I ever “read.” I say “read” because when I first opened my Dad’s copy I was too young to actually read most of it. I read the few words I could and became fascinated with the drawings, both large and small, that decorated nearly every page.

A few years later I actually did read the whole book, and found the amazing life that Rowlands wrote about enthralled me then and enthralls me to this day. In some ways, I think my love of the outdoors really stems from that book, though the seed was encouraged and well watered by evening fishing trips with my Dad and weekend family camping trips to our 4 acres of mountain land just a few miles (but worlds away) from our house in town.

Rowlands’ quote is also my favorite about starting January, though it is equally true for next week or the next hour, too. More than once, though I’ve wished for a map to guide me through a new year, or the next week or the next hour. I’m not talking about wanting a precise road map of the new year, but a nice map of the territory I’m going to be in, just so that I had some idea of where I was and would be heading, would be useful.

John Muir said, “The map is not the territory.” If you’ve ever stood at a breathtaking spot with your map in hand and realized that nothing on it prepared you for what you saw in front of you, you’ll understand that he’s right. Still, a good map can offer some guidance of how to get from one spot to the next even if it doesn’t show you what the territory actually looks like when you’re in the middle of it. We don’t even get that kind of map to get us through a new year.

Mark Twain’s Huck Finn said at the end of Huckleberry Finn, “I’m heading off into the territory.” And you just know he didn’t have a map—or even wanted one.

But I’m no Huck Finn, at least when it comes to the territory of life. Sometimes I can picture what a life map of the new year might look like, at least in places. I’m hoping that the path to “good health” doesn’t have any major ravines in it. I’m hoping the new year isn’t a path peppered with rocks. Rocks are the kind of things John Muir might have been talking about when he said the map isn’t the territory. What looks like a good path can turn into the hike from hell when the footing isn’t good.

There are other spots on the new year’s map, too, that I don’t want to stumble into. Spots that used to say “Here be dragons” are now areas of the life map that might say “Death of parents,” “foreclosure on house” or “can’t find a new job before running out of money.”

Since I don't have a map to guide me into this new year, I guess I can only do what every other map-less traveler does when she finds herself in new territory. Take a deep breath, dip your paddle into the softness of the lake and push off, heading deeper into that map-less territory of the new year.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Baby Dog and Fans

The new year is not starting off with season-appropriate weather. It's been misting, constantly, for what seems like eons.

Last night I walked Baby Dog down to the lodge to get my mail. We walked right into a busload of de-busing high school students, in for an evening of what promised to be lousy skiing. They are young enough that they don't seem to mind the poor skiing as long as they can hang around together, and the girls can squeal at regular intervals. They all squealed when they saw Baby Dog, who was immediately in nirvana, surrounded by dozens of kids who wanted to pet her and praise her and make a huge fuss over her. I was less thrilled, tired out by a day of work, followed by a trip to have the truck worked on. I was ready to be home, sitting with my mail in my lap, the dogs at my feet, and a glass of wine by my side. But I dealt with it, knowing my ideal evening hour would more likely be spent griping at the bills, telling the dogs to settle down and spilling the wine (if I even had any in the house).

Fog rolled in around 3 a.m., making the night pale enough to wake me up, almost pale enough to read by without a light. But strangely, at dawn, the brightness barely changed, and then it seemed like a dark and gloomy morning. What light seemed strong at 3 a.m. seemed weak at 7:30 a.m. I am starting to feel sun-starved.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Toto, We're Not in Winter Anymore

A wet and dreary start to the work day. If this is our January thaw, it’s started way too early and gone on for much longer than is usual. Mud is not usually a feature of winter. The snow is all gone, except for a few small patches near the cabin. It's breezy, but warm! I don't like it. No sir, I don't like it at all.

Since I’m no longer trapped by skating rink quality ice in the driveway, I gave both Dog and Baby Dog decent walks this morning before work. Dog and I took a turn around the old snowmaking pond. The sky was so black with heavy rain clouds that I could barely see. Even a new moon sky is brighter.

I’ve heard reports that a snowy owl is visiting Berks County Pa. this year. This is the first one that I know of since the one I saw near Foglesville Pa. in 1996. I still have a picture of that one sitting on the roof of a heavy equipment manufacturer, gazing down at the birders directly below it, unconcerned with our presence.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Dog on the West Rim Trail

I was trying to show a friend a picture of Dog and our packs from my October hike on the West Rim Trail. I'd searched through all the blog archives before I realized that I'd never uploaded the image. I meant to do it. I even thought I'd done it, but I hadn't. So here is a picture of Dog and our packs at the Bradley Wales picnic area on the West Rim Trail of the Pa. Grand Canyon. Better three months late than never.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

New Year's Day - 2006

I spent the morning working at Roundtop, where we had a steady stream of early morning skiers, many from local ski shops that were closed for the holiday, leaving the employees ready to take advantage of that to do some skiing.

In the afternoon I went to Sister's house in the next town for pork, sauerkraut and mashed potatoes, the traditional New Year's Day feast in this neck of the woods. I took Baby Dog along as she still needs socialization--meeting new people, visiting new places, etc.

After dinner, Sister, Nephew and I went for a walk around the block and took Baby Dog along for the adventure. Most of the neighbors have dogs, many of which were outside and not thrilled to have a new one walk by their territory. Baby Dog barked at some and cringed at the bigger ones. One of Sister's neighbors owns a farm in the center of town that has horses. The horses were grazing out in the pasture at the edge of the street. One of them walked up to us from out in the center of the field, much to Baby Dog's surprise. The horse nuzzled our hands, looking for carrots and attention, while Baby Dog hung back at the far end of her leash, not wanting to get even an inch closer to such a large animal. Occasionally she even barked at the horse. She's seen horses before, but never one so close, and she wasn't at all sure she liked it. Finally, the horse was satisfied that none of us had carrots, turned its back and ambled back into the pasture. As soon as the horse did that, then Baby Dog "bravely" went right up to the fence, pretending she wanted to make friends. No, I didn't have a camera with me, darn it!