Tuesday, May 30, 2006

What's Not Happening at the Cabin

After nearly a week of non-cabin, non-dog postings, you’re probably wondering what’s going on around the cabin. Here’s a bit about what’s not happening…

I haven’t seen any of the three red fox kits for about a week. In some ways, this might be good news. I haven’t seen any killed on the road, which considering that they were playing in it on at least two occasions is something of a miracle. Perhaps they’ve moved to a different den or perhaps they are learning the ropes of being a fox in the woods.

I haven’t seen any new fawns yet this year, but this morning I heard and briefly saw a doe in the woods next to the house. Since this isn’t a spot where I normally see deer—they rather sensibly prefer the grass of the slopes—I would not be surprised to learn she has dropped and hidden a fawn in there somewhere.

The dogs are fine, except Baby Dog is now a puppy adolescent. This means that half the time she doesn’t hear what I’m saying and the other half she doesn’t care. This is the one phase of dog raising that I could do without.

Dog is also fine and is becoming dignified in his middle age. It is beneath him to notice the antics of Baby Dog (or so he would have you believe).

Sunday, May 28, 2006

And Now For Something Completely Different: Part 3

This was a display of different kinds of lighting that were used before electric lamps. The large iron basket in the center is a crescette (not sure of spelling) that was kind of a street lamp. People would fill them with wood knots and burn them. Often they were placed fairly high so the light would spread more.

They could be carried by two people. There's other kinds of candle making stuff, whale oil lamps, wick snippers and other kinds of interesting things here too.

Here's a display of some of the gear a rifleman needed to carry. The curly maple stock on the rifle was just beautiful. He also carried black powder, rifle balls, patches and other stuff, all laid out on his bearskin.

So that's enough of the history lesson. tomorrow my blog will return to its usual topic of what the dogs are up to and what's going on in the woods around the cabin.

Friday, May 26, 2006

And Now, For Something Completely Different, Part 2

The last time I was in Dill Tavern was just before winter. At that point, the interior was pretty much completed but the tavern wasn't furnished. This past weekend when I was inside, it was partly furnished and really starting to look like a tavern again.

This is the main room, to the left of the door when you enter the tavern. Originally, I dont think this was part of the tavern, but was the tavern owner's living area. Later, as the tavern was expanded, I think it was one of the common areas. The pictures above the mantle are photo-shopped images of how the tavern would have looked at various stages of its building. The one of the far left is the original building. Sometime arond or a little after 1800 the size of the tavern was nearly doubled. And then before the Civil War, another addition went on.

And yes, it was cool enough on Saturday morning that a fire in the fireplace felt really nice.

The tavern common room and the kitchen are also largely completed. The upstairs was still closed off, so I don't think that's done yet.

Don't you just love this clock? It's placed along the wall at the far side of the window you can just see on the right of the first picture. I did take a picture of the winder and the clock, but there was too much light outside and the inside came out too dark. As the clock works, the phases of the moon are shown or hidden to match what's going on outside. I haven't seen the other artwork on it--I think there's a sun too.

The picture on the left is of the tavern's dining room. It's a narrow room, with a fireplace to the right of the table. In the early days of the tavern, people who stayed overnight didn't have rooms or beds upstairs. They just removed the table, placed the chairs along the far side of the room, and everyone slept in this room with their feet closest to the fire. I don't know what they charged for this arrangement. At least they didn't drink and drive, but it still leaves a lot to be desired.

The chairs are new, made by a craftsman who's reproducing the styles of older furniture. They are amazingly comfortable, as the bottoms are rounded and not flat, so your butt fits right into them.

The last picture is taken from inside the dining room and looking into the kitchen. There's a pass-through so food could be passed from the kitchen into the tavern common room, so the lady of the tavern didn't have to associate with whatever riff-raff walked in through the front door. It was also a way to keep the pints and quarts of ale separate from the drinkers until they'd actually paid for their drinks.

Apparently the historical society has since learned that this pass through was originally at the opposite end of the room, so they are going to move it down there at some point.

Tomorrow: I have a few more pictures of the festivities, and then it will be back to the what's going on around the cabin and the dogs' latest antics!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

And Now, For Something Completely Different, Part I

This past weekend my hometown historical society had its annual spring event, and for the first time, the inside of the town's Revolutionary era Dill Tavern is now furnished. Renovations are still going on, but the building finally looks like a tavern again. This splendid old place spent way too many years in terrible disrepair, under the ownership of a variety of people, most of whom wanted to sell it to developers who wanted to knock it down.

The historical society tried for years to buy this old taven, without success, but through a long and amazing series of events and huge and unexpected donations of cash, they finally were able to purchase it. Since then this small local group has put every dollar they can find into the place. All kinds of craftsmen and workers have volunteered and put their time and effort into it. It's taken years to get to this point, and now a little celebration is in order.

A group of Revolutionary War reenacters were invited, and they set up camp in the tavern yard. Fortunately the weather was good for the encampment. The kids seemed to like this part a lot and weren't shy about talking with the reenacters.

Some of the tents were very well appointed, with trunks and clocks and beds, etc. This isn't my usual style of camping, which involves freeze-dried food and a large backpack. Of course, they don't carry their gear themselves. They have horses for that.

Yes, that's a young girl napping on a cot in her tent. This tent has almost all the amenities of my cabin, with a better clock. And a nice trunk, as well. Anyway, it looks pretty comfortable. She has more clothes than I take when I go camping too.

The tavern records that survive don't include the time that George Washington was wandering around the countryside, but we do know that George spent a night in a tavern up the road and several days later spent a night in a tavern down the road, and that Dill Tavern was then the only place in between, so it's not a big stretch to guess that the father of the country might have spent the night in between here.

The weekend included a lot of activites, displays and good food. Tomorrow I'll post some pictures from the inside of the tavern and the exhibitors who attended. Unless something really exciting happens at the cabin, which so far this week has been unusually quiet.

This man was cooking something on his little fire that smelled really good. His tent didn't have a cot or a trunk a clock, just some wool blankets on the ground. I don't think his wood chair is regulation Revolutionary War era either, but I doubt that many people noticed.

Tomorrow: the inside of the tavern

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Quiet Days

It's been quiet around the cabin this week (so far!). The baby geese are growing. The baby bluebirds are doing fine.

The giant raccoon who occasionally hangs out on the front deck, eating the outdoor cat food showed up a couple of times. Even the outdoor cats are so relaxed around it that they don't move away when the raccoon shows up.

My photo today looks like dandelion, but it isn't. It's a coldsfoot plant, the taller dandelion lookalike that doesn't have leaves at the base.

This morning I had a nice up close view of two wood thrush. I think they were busy investigating what Dog was up to and didn't realize they they were almost within arm's reach of me. I'm happy anytime I can see a bird like that without binoculars.

But other than these little mini-adventures, it's been kind of quiet--not sure why. It certainly won't last.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Spring at Roundtop

The obsessive titmouse is back, happily trying to attract the “mate” he thinks he sees in his reflection in the upstairs window. At least I think that’s what he’s trying to do, as he isn’t acting aggressively as though he’s trying to drive away a competitor.

A Baltimore oriole has been singing all over Roundtop as well. It flits from treetop to treetop, singing away.

The local Canada geese have 3 tiny babies. The little ones hatched on Friday on the small pond at the entrance to Roundtop. On Sunday morning, the trio was marched over to the larger snowmaking pond, the one in this photo. Usually, I walk around this pond with Dog and/or Baby Dog is the mornings before work. Now, I’ve rerouted my morning walk so Dog won’t scare them. Geese usually move their young from their nest within a few days of hatching. I’ve always assumed they do it as a safety precaution against predators. At my parents' farm, the baby geese are often marched from their pond, through the woods and over to a neighboring pond that’s nearly half a mile away. I’ve always wondered how such tiny goslings are able to make that trek. I picture them falling off downed trees and stumbling over twigs. At least this pond isn’t that far away from the small pond.

Friday, May 19, 2006

...Now You Don't

Here's the same twig on the redbud tree a week or so later than the picture in yesterday's post. Now it just looks like an unpretty, stringy, maybe even sickly, tree. Redbud is glorious, but only for a very few days.

Around the cabin: fledgling bluebirds! And the obsessive titmouse is still at the upstairs window. I hadn't seen it all week but yesterday it was back, though not quite as obsessive as the week before. This time it only spent an hour or so at the window, instead of the entire day.

Now You See it...

I wanted to show how the red buds of the redbud tree slowly disappear. I've already posted some pictures of the redbud in its full glory. In this picture, you can start to see the leaves poking through the blossoms. Tommorow, I'll post how this same branch looks today.

Around the cabin: at the bottom of the lane the gravel road widens into a big gavel area. A family of killdeer nested there and now two miniature killdeer are running around down there. Dog and I were out walking last evening when one of the killdeer went into the "old broken wing trick." The bird fluttered around piteously, trying to make us believe it was hurt and ripe for being someone's prey. Anytime a killdeer pulls this stunt, it means that a baby killdeer is nearby. It's kind of like when the magician wants you to look in one place while he's doing something with the other hand. Dog, naturally, was ready to get the flopping killdeer. But I knew that to look elsewhere, and that's when I saw the babies being spirited away by mama. I think those little legs moved faster than anything I've ever seen.

Yard Bird Results are In!

April results are in! I’m #5 in my category for Pennsylvania’s yard bird contest! That’s one slot better than in March. I’ve been surprised each month, so far, when these results are posted by how well and how high in the standings I am. I’m currently only 2 species behind the #4 slot, but the top 3 slots are waay out of reach. The guy in the #1 slot has 105 species to my 57. For all 5 categories combined, I’m in the 21st slot, which still isn’t bad. My own category, category 3, is the slot with the most participants. The categories are all based on the size of your “yard.”

I don’t have much hope that I will stay as high as I am. My May birding around the cabin hasn’t been the best by a long shot. I’ve only had a few warbler species, where I typically have more than a dozen species. I haven’t had the thrush species I usually get either. So, I’m not expecting to hold my place this next month. But, I still have fall migration coming up to improve my standings. Since I’m so close to the fourth spot, I’d like to at least reach that point. And even if I can’t improve my standing higher than #4 in category 3, I might be able to improve my overall standing in the combined categories. This has been a fun activity!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

What's a girl to do?

It's raining again today, so I thought a picture of wet leaves would be appropropriate. And my mood kind of matches the dreary weather.

It’s funny to me that this past winter was a warm one, followed by a cold spring, but that’s what’s happened. For some reason, I can’t wrap my mind around the reality of this. It seems as though a warm winter would be followed by warm spring (or at least a normal one). But that is not the case this year.

The temperatures were warm for one week, and that prompted me to pack away my heaviest winter clothing and unpack my warmer weather clothing. But today I’m still wearing sweaters and many of the same clothes I did in the winter, which I am by now sick to death of. I used to think that I had fewer summer clothes than any other season, but I’m starting to feel that it’s my in-between wardrobe that’s lacking.

The problem is I can’t yet pack away the last of the winter clothing, and though I have my summer clothing unpacked, it isn’t warm enough to wear them. So I suddenly seem to have tons of unpacked clothing, most of which I can’t wear at the moment. I really don’t have enough room in the cabin to have two unpacked seasonal wardrobes, but that’s what I have. I’m ready for a change.

Scent of the Forest

The much needed rain I’ve had the past few days has released the scent of the forest so strongly that this morning it felt as though I was suddenly in some exotic and unknown landscape. Just walking from one end of the lane to the other brought me dozens of different scents, some identifiable, some not. In an instant the forest feels different from the one where I live every day.

Spring in the forest is such a heady smell, and each forest has its own notes. Each plant species, each tree species has its own distinctive scent. It is a lot more complicated than just a northern forest of conifers smelling differently than a southern forest. We are all aware of that distinction.

Within the same region, each patch of forest has its own tones. Even when an area has similar species, each patch will have more or fewer of some of its plant species. Just a short distance away, the mix may be slightly different. One forest area could be a little wetter, another a little higher, and each little change subtly affects the species and the numbers of those species that grow there. That change to the mix affects the scent that forest exudes.

It is times like this morning when I wish my sense of smell was as strong as a dog’s, so I could see if I could learn to pinpoint my location just by the mix of scents. How finely could I pinpoint it if I was dropped blindfolded in different parts of the woods? Could I tell the forest in my parents’ woods from the forest in front of the cabin? Could I tell the difference in the forest in front of my cabin from the forest on the other side of the new pond?

Since humans’ sense of smell is more limited than other animals, I am surprised that when I think of certain places, it is the scent of them that I remember most clearly. Sometimes, I will get a whiff of something and it will bring back some memory of something I’d thought I’d forgotten. And that memory will be so strong that for an instant it is as though I am back in that other place. For me, smells recreate the memory of other places and times more intensely than sights and sounds do, even though those senses are our more acute ones.

This morning, the scent of the spring forest is one that will stay with me.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Fox Kits Again

I’ve been seeing the little fox kits again. On Sunday, I took a walk around Roundtop—it was pretty muddy down in the forest, so I didn’t go too far there. As I was walking down a hill, I saw one of the kits step out to the edge of the road and sniff something along the edge. Then it saw me walking towards it, looked at me but didn’t run away. I kept walking, wondering how close I would get before it took off. Then I heard a car start to head up the mountain, and so did the fox kit. That’s when it left. So at least it has enough sense to be road wary.

Last evening I saw all three of them again. They were out bouncing around and having a good time. I’ve also figured out where their den is. It’s only 7-8 feet off the public road.

This weekend, when I told my dad about the fox kits, he told me that when he was a teenager he had a red fox as a pet. He got it when it was only about the size of these little ones. It lived in the house and “denned” underneath the family’s wood stove. When he went outside it would follow along. He said he had it for about two years, maybe a little longer. Then, he left for the army and gave it away to a neighboring farmer, but never asked, when he returned two years later, what had happened to the fox.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Obsessive Titmouse

I’ve been visited by an obsessive tufted titmouse all weekend. At first it was cute to see the thing sitting on my window sill. It was bouncing up and down moving from window to window to twig. The Old Cat, who is one-eyed and doesn’t notice much of anything, was interested enough to watch it and twitch his tail.

It was overcast, and I was surprised the titmouse could see a reflection in the window (and I assumed that’s why it was so fascinated with the location). It didn’t peck at the glass but it would twitter, chitter and be at the same spot constantly.

At first it scolded the reflection. Next it just seemed profoundly interested in it. Then it started singing to its reflection. If you’ve ever though a titmouse has a kind of muted song, think again. From 4 feet away, with the window slightly open, titmice are loud! Even The Old Cat eventually got tired of it and went back to sleep.

Eventually, I thought the thing must have business elsewhere that was more important than spending 100% of its day looking at its reflection in the window, so I closed the curtain. This has not stopped the titmouse (or apparently the reflection). The titmouse was at the window all day on Saturday and first thing on Sunday, almost before it was light outside, it showed up again. The only thing that stopped it momentarily was a heavy rain shower on Sunday afternoon. I’m almost glad to be at work today.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Random Acts of Spring

I have no reason to post this picture today other than I was going through some pictures I took a week or two ago and decided I liked it. It was taken at my parents farm.

Up at my cabin, the latest summer resident has arrived. I've been hearing 2-3 Eastern wood pewees all morning. A few other summer residents should be here, but I haven't seen them yet. No hummingbirds, no indigo bunting, no scarlet tanager. So I need to actively look for those several.

An Eastern phoebe perched, momentarily on the open window frame of my crank-out windows. I was about 5 feet from it, sitting at my computer. But The Bad Cat was sitting on the computer at the window and nearly had a heart attack in his joy at the sight. It's the first time I ever really saw a creature tremble with excitement.

Finally rain arrived in the form of a gullywasher that dropped 1.5 inches in about 2 hours. It also came complete with a tornado warning (but fortunately no tornados). And with the rain the forest is now in its full glory, which means I am living in my green box again. It's a good thing I have birds to look at in the trees.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Dogs Can't Multitask

Baby Dog and I have been taking our evening walks up on the bunny slopes this week. Although I knew it before, the walks this week have just confirmed to me that a dog doesn’t multitask well. If Baby Dog has a stick in her mouth, she can’t hear a word I’m saying. All her brain cells are used up just to hold that stick in her mouth and prance around looking cute while it’s there. Once the stick is out of her mouth, she remembers her name and a small assortment of duties, like “sit,” “down,” etc.

Other things also interfere with her ability to listen, even when there isn’t a stick in her mouth. A groundhog lives along the edge of the slope, and whenever we get semi-close to its hole, Baby Dog’s attention is completely and totally focused on that spot. She is determined to chase that groundhog, though the thing never gets more than 10 feet from its hole and disappears down it the instant we appear on the horizon. Still, the mere possibility that she might see it and chase it is an adrenaline high to her.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Spring Woods

Last evening as I was walking Baby Dog just before dusk, I looked up into the tree at the end of the lane and saw two black vultures sitting side by side. They’d obviously settled in for the evening and seemed very calm. So we kept walking… and walking…. We eventually walked right underneath the tree they were sitting on, and they barely noticed us. Baby Dog never noticed them at all.

I have been trying, for what feels like weeks, to take a longer hike down to the bottom of the mountain to see how things are looking down there this spring. And so far, I haven’t managed it. How can the time slip away like that? One of my expectations when I first moved to the woods years ago is that I would spend lots of time exploring deep in the woods. I wouldn’t be caught up in the hustle and bustle of town or city life. Plus, I wouldn’t have to waste time driving to the woods, since I was already there. That expectation is not exactly the reality.

I’m grateful that I live in the woods and get to see nature on a daily basis. Trying to find more time to spend in them is still difficult. The house needs cleaned (and believe me when I say I rarely do this). The dogs need walked. Groceries need to be bought. The bills need paid. Weekends still get eaten up with errands and chores. In other words, there’s still a daily life that must go on that limits my play time. That’s a reality I will never get used to, I think. The truth is, I live for weekends and days off just like I did before I moved to the woods. There’s never enough time to do half what I want to do. Time just slips away, like winter turns into spring and spring into summer.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Little Red Foxes

I have twice seen several red fox kits right where I turn off the public road to reach the cabin. Last week I saw two. Yesterday I saw 3 of them. Like kids, they are oblivious to the dangers of the road. One of them was carrying something in its mouth—a leaf, a piece of paper, who knows? The other two were chasing the first, and all were having a great time. They acted like 13 year olds out alone at the mall for the first time. In other words, they acted like they thought they were really cool. These cute little kits are too young to be cautious of the road but big enough to get out of the den on their own and into trouble.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Spring Beauty

This has been an odd spring so far. It's been beautiful! Cloudless skies, few bugs, low humidity where I can see for miles. And that's the bad news. Really. The area has had almost no rain. Currently, we are almost 4 inches below normal for the year, and this is after a winter with almost no snow.

Isn't it funny how nature is almost always a double-edged sword? Beautiful spring weather means no rain. Good road conditions during the winter translates into no snow. No bugs means no birds or bats.

I am seeing a few new spring migrants. I had a black-throated blue warbler just a few feet from my nose when was typing at my computer a few minutes ago. It flitted by the greenery outside my window, oblivious to my presence. I've heard the first of the great-crested flycatchers this season. And a very distant cuckoo.

So far the only resident who hasn't yet arrived is the eastern wood pewee, and they are always the last to show up.

Yesterday, I was momentarily surrounded by 3 madly circling wood thrush. If those birds had had ropes in their beaks, I'd have been trussed up better than the good guy on a bad cop show. I think it was 2 males argueing over a female, but for a few seconds it was pandemonium, and I was in the center of it.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Bleeding Hearts

I’m a huge proponent of keeping native plantlife around the cabin. I don’t do lawns, because in addition to all their work, a lawn is pretty much a sterile environment that isn’t wildlife friendly. In fact, the main reason why I bought the cabin is because it doesn’t have a lawn.

I have native violets at the deck stairs, Spring Beauty lining the driveway (as well as poison ivy, unfortunately). The front forest includes wild raspberry bushes, a couple of beech trees, sassafras trees, tulip poplars, mayapples, the occasional Indian pipes, etc. The back forest is mostly mature oak and hickory trees that tower over the cabin.

I have one exception to my rule. And that is a small wild bleeding heart shrub that I planted several years ago. I love bleeding heart. Wild bleeding heart is native to the Appalachians, but mine was purchased at a nursery and planted in the front forest. It didn’t spring up here naturally, so I feel a bit guilty about having it, but only a bit.

Have you ever pulled apart a flower of the bleeding heart and noticed the different things contained in each one? You get a pair of pink rabbits, a pair of old-fashioned (bootless) ice skates, a pair of ballet slippers and a baseball bat. My grandmother first showed me how to delicately pull the flowers apart to reveal the small treasures within each one. As a young girl, I was thrilled and fascinated, and I’m sure this is where my love of the plant comes from.

More Arrivals

New arrivals: Rose-breasted grosbeak and a willow flycatcher—both seen and heard.

I’m not getting many wood warblers so far, unlike other years. The yellow-rumps and black-throated greens are around in good numbers. Ovenbirds and wood thrush are so common that the woods are loud right now. That is not a complaint. I’m not joking when I say I can stand on my front deck and hear 6 different wood thrush within 50 feet of the front door. The ovenbirds aren’t quite that common, but they’re not far behind. This morning, I had 3 singing black-throated green warblers and several more signing yellow-rumps, plus assorted females of both species. But not even a single warbler of another species.

I should be happier, I think, that I have the species I do. I heard—again!—this morning how black-throated green warblers and ovenbirds are becoming uncommon due to deforestation and perhaps the early arrival of spring caused by global warming. Neither species is uncommon at my spot, though springs do come earlier each year.

I also notice that the leaves fall later in the autumn than before. I can see the change in just the past 10-12 years. I became aware of when they fell because for years I could only get satellite TV reception in the winter. Now I don’t even get it all as the trees near the cabin are taller and thicker, even though they are all mature oak trees more than 100 years old. At any rate, I used to get my reception back shortly after the 25th of October, then it fell to the end of October. Then the last few years that I could get reception, the leaves didn’t fall until early November.

Baby Dog misbehaved last night. A couple with their four dogs was walking out on the slopes at the same time I was starting my walk with Baby Dog. The instant she saw them, you’d have thought she was an attack dog. She puffs herself up like a big dog (and her hair is longer on her neck and shoulders so this is really impressive). And would she shut up? No! So I corrected her and took her back to the cabin.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Spring Colors

The redbud is already starting to fade. The ends of the branches are leafing out, so the pink buds will soon be gone.

This morning I had several black-throated green warblers singing and darting about in the trees over the driveway. A small army of yellow-rumped warblers was also in evidence, though none of the other 18 or so species of warblers I'd like to find.

It feels like fewer warblers arrive with every passing year. I can remember years when the trees were alive with them. I hardly knew where to look next. Years ago I used to work swing shift, and one morning after coming home from the night shift, I pulled in to my driveway only to be surrounded by 20 or more chestnut-sided warblers. Those little guys were all over the place and seemed more than a little put out that I was trying to drive into my driveway. They were on either side of the drive, over the drive, everywhere. I don't know that I've had even one since then.

Another time, I had redstarts--a beautiful black and red warbler--a dozen or more of them. People always talk about how the warblers are being pushed out by deforestation in their South American wintering grounds. And that is true. But they are just as pushed up here on their nesting grounds, and saving the rainforest won't help if we don't also save our eastern forests.