Sunday, July 30, 2006

The New Pond

I took this picture a day or two ago before the rise in humidity turned everything hazy. This is a 14 acre snow-making pond that Roundtop built a year or so ago. Over on the far bank you can just make out some of Roundtop's ropes course.

Dog and/or Baby Dog and I like to walk around the pond when it's not too hot. Dog likes to swim. I like to look for birds. Baby Dog just likes to run around, with her nose on the ground.

With the weather so hot right now, and the forecast for it to get even hotter, my entire household, including myself, is pretty lazy. I got up at 4:30 this morning to do some ironing, figuring that for the next week it will never be any cooler than in was at 4:30 a.m. Afterwards, I took both dogs for long walks in the near-darkness.

Although it was just 72 degrees, the humidity is so high that by the time I returned to the cabin I was soaked in sweat. Tonight, I think we're all going to climb into that pond and try to cool off. I'll have wet dogs in the house, but if we feel better, it'll be worth it.

Summer Haze

It's hot. It's hazy. And it's humid. I get up before sunrise so I can give the dogs a decent walk before the heat gets to be too much for all of us. But even that's not early enough.

Even at 6 a.m. the air is so thick, I need gills to breathe.

And now, at 6 a.m. the morning is an eerie twilight. The year is already turning towards the dark half of the year, but the heat doesn't know it yet. Soon it will be too dark to take pictures in the morning. I have to wait until I get out of the cover of the woods and am at the end of my walk before the light is strong enough to take a picture. If only the heat would break. Or the humidity.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Red Morning

You probably know that old weather adage, "red sky at morning, sailor's warning..." It's usually right. This is the sunrise that greeted me this morning as soon as I left the cover of the forest, and emerged onto a slope at Roundtop. Needless to say, I'm expecting storms this afternoon.

As a result, I kept the dogs inside today instead of letting them run on the fenced back deck, much to their displeasure. Baby Dog barked at being confined to her crate, but she still gets into too much trouble if she's left loose in the house for 10 hours.

The heat and humidity have returned again, to my displeasure. I can so quickly get used to low temperatures and low humidity. I keep telling myself this is a normal August, which goes a long way to explain why I don't care for August.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Evening Walk with Baby Dog

Now that the evenings are about 15 degrees cooler than they were a few days ago, Baby Dog and I are taking longer walks in the evening. The other day we went over to the new pond. She still won't swim but at least she is occasionally getting her precious little paws wet, or maybe just damp.

Anyway, it was a nice evening, and she had a great time. I think she made every frog around the half mile circumference of the pond jump in. It was like one of those human waves at sporting events, only this was frogs. One after another they launched themselves into the pond just ahead of Baby Dog as she followed the edge of the pond. Most of the them were smaller frogs, this year's tadpoles. She didn't pay much attention to them.

As you can see, Baby Dog is no longer a true baby. She is now 11 months old, and still in that puppy adolescent stage where she is testing her limits (and pretending she doesn't hear me when she's looking right at me). Teenagers!

On this walk she was better behaved than average, though I know that won't last. Yet. That's what so frustrating about puppy adolescence. One time she's a little angel, listening to every word, obeying every command. The next time I walk her, she doesn't remember her name or hear my voice. To her it's all the same. She's a happy little thing, about 45 pounds or so, not as big as I thought she would get when she was just 8 weeks old. I cal her "little" because her back doesn't come to my knee. Dog is not only older but bigger at 65 lbs.

You can sort of tell in this last picture that her tongue is mostly black, well, blue really. I call her my border chow, since I think chow is her most dominant breed of the other 56 varieties that she probably has in her. The hair on her withers is long and when she's scared or angry it stands straight up and makes her look pretty fierce, which she isn't. She doesn't look much like a border collie, but that's about the size she is, and border collie is as good a guess as any, so that's what I call her, at least when I'm not calling her a goofball.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Night Mystery

Night in the forest is a time of strangeness and mystery. After my years of living in the forest, I have learned many of the night sounds—tree frogs and bull frogs, great-horned owls and screech owls, the snort and stamp of a deer, crickets and cicadas. And yet sometimes, still, I hear sounds I can’t identify. Those mysterious sounds stay with me, as I tumble them around in my brain, trying to put animal with sound. When I am able to identify the sound-maker, the night becomes less mysterious, less frightening and also less wondrous.

Last night I heard a sound, close behind the cabin that I couldn’t identify. It was loud enough to make Baby Dog bark once in warning. To me, it sounded as though something large produced the sound. It struck me as birdlike, an owl, perhaps. Not a screech owl or a great-horned owl or even the less common barred owl If I’d heard that sound 6 weeks from now, I would have dubbed it a saw-whet owl, called myself fortunate to hear it and continued my walk.

But it isn’t September, and so saw-whet owls, who don’t live in my forest, shouldn’t be here now. What else could it be? Perhaps a turkey, startled into making an odd noise? Or could it be something else? Foxes, especially gray foxes, make a variety of strange sounds. Could it be that?

The choices gnaw at me, as I look at each, discard it and move on to the next. I’m not afraid, but not knowing what I heard makes the night feel stranger and somehow more dangerous than I’ve gotten used to it feeling. Identifying and understanding the forest’s night sounds de-mystifies them, almost without me realizing it.

Imagine how strange the night must have felt to our distant ancestors, huddled around a few campfires. Learning to identify the sounds of the night must have made them feel safer, in a world that offered them little safety. Learning to live with the unknown that swirled all around was part of their daily existence.

For us, in today’s times, there are fewer mysteries, fewer things that can’t be learned with a quick search. The night, the world, is less mysterious.

Finally, I let it go. The forest held onto its mystery, this time. I will never know what I heard last night. I am content with that. Indeed, I’m even relishing it. The night should keep some of its mystery, if only to remind us of deeper mysteries and other things we will never know or understand.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Eastern Kingbird

Once I'm out of the woods and over on the slopes at Roundtop, the summer habitat is like a grassland. The slopes are covered with Queen Anne's lace, brown-eyed susan's, Dutchman's breeches, etc. The birds that hang out there tend to be grassland species as well, like this Eastern Kingbird that I snapped yesterday sitting on a chairlift cable. Roundtop doesn't usually have many of this species but there's always one family group and sometimes two. I love the woodland birds but I also enjoy seeing something different every now and again.

The oppressive weather has broken, at least for the moment, leaving the sky crystal clear and the animals more active. Last night as I drove back to the cabin after dark, I saw a doe by the side of the road. Fortunately she didn't try to cross as I passed, A fox flirted with the far edge of my headlights, too far to even tell if it was a red or a gray, though more likely a red. This morning, the vultures were up with the dawn, as was a red-tailed hawk and 11 Canada geese. The animals appreciate the cooler weather at least as much as I do.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Summer Evening

I took this picture earlier this week, on one of the few pretty summer evenings I've seen in a while. Actually, it was one of the few pretty summer evenings all summer.

This summer has been grey, stormy, very rainy, and of course, hot, humid and hazy. This weekend is no exception. I see enough grey and rainy every day so I'm not inclined to post pictures that remind me how overcast it is. I like the pictures to show the pretty days of summer, when the light is interesting.

And the bad news is, I've now posted all the pretty summer pictures I have, so unless it clears today, I don't know what picture I'll post next.

I am already looking forward to fall hawk migration. It will start, though only just, in another 2 weeks or so. Mostly, August hawkwatching is an excuse to take the binoculars to the top of a mountain and sit for a few hours. Hawkwatchers say they're gettig their eyes dialed in for the big migration in September, but that only really takes about one trip to the hawkwatch and so can't really account for the days and weekends spent sitting on a mountain in August.

August is also good for shorebird migration, which I like simply because migration of *any* kind means fall is nearing and with it comes cooler temperatures (and better hawkwatching). So anything that just might possibly suggest fall is approaching is cause for my celebration. But in the meantime, I'll settle for a pretty summer evening.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Woodsline (and Baby Dog's Big Step)

When Roundtop built their new snowmaking pond, they had to clear some forest. That has created an artificial edge to where the woods begin again. And now, this area is the most open sky I can see in summer, so I go over there frequently just to see that much open sky. Near sunset a day or so ago, the line of trees made for an interesting picture.

I took Dog and Baby Dog for a swim last night.

Don't expect pictures.

It was the first time I walked both dogs at the same time without becoming a human maypole. So I'm not yet ready to handle both dogs and a camera. Perhaps we'll get there one of these years, perhaps not. Until last night I haven't been able to entice Baby Dog to go swimming. She won't even get her precious little toes wet. So I thought that if she saw Dog swimming, it might help. Dog loves to swim. Baby Dog loves Dog. It seemed like a good idea.

So down to the pond we went. Dog jumped in instantly, chasing fish and swimming along the edge of the pond. Baby Dog was flabbergasted and ran beside him on the shore, barking all the time. Eventually she took one step into the pond and then took a second step over to stand on a rock in the pond from where she could bark at Dog while he swam by. For her, that one step was progress.

Eventually, she either fell in from the shoreline or went in voluntarily and got wet up to her belly. I told her how brave she was and made a big fuss over her. I didn't press her any further last night. But it was progress!


Sunset over Roundtop's new snowmaking pond. Dog and I were out for a walk near sunset on Monday, and the sky was nice and clear, so I took a photo. Last night it was stormy--very. Limbs down, reports near me of trees and wires down (though not around the cabin).

I got home 3 minutes before the storm hit, managing only to close the windows. The poor dogs had to wait an extra hour to go out as the lightning strikes were too close to go outside. Baby Dog howled at the delay, acting the whole time as though she couldn't wait another second, as though she needed to go NOW!. When the storm finally eased enough that I'm pretty sure I won't be struck by lightning or hit by a falling tree as soon as I step outside,I take her out. And what does she do? She wanders around sniffing the ground, tries to chase an outdoor cat, grabs a stick. The desperation was all an act.

Now the terrible heat has broken, and the humidity is lower. It feels normal again.

Monday, July 17, 2006


Baby Dog kicked up an especially loud fuss the other night to announce the arrival of the daily raccoon. Since she refused to quiet down, I was forced to do my alpha dog job and go to the door to investigate. Out on the deck, just before dusk, I saw one of the regular cats to the cat feeder and the raccoon. The cat sat safely atop the feeder. The raccoon was chowing down.

After a few seconds of calm, the cat decided it would be safe to come down and resume its own meal. But one down on the deck on the same level as the raccoon, the cat chickened out. The raccoon didn’t act aggressively towards the cat, but the cat decided eating from the same dish at the same time as the raccoon was probably not as safe as it looked and vacated the premises, leaving the raccoon to enjoy its evening snack.

As it has been virtually eveywhere, it is unbearably hot here. When I left work at 5 p.m. yesterday, it was 98 degrees. By the time I got to the cabin, protected somewhat by the canopy of trees instead of heat-gathering macadam, it was 90 degrees. That's a big improvement and the main reason why I don't have air conditioning. Most of the summer I don't need it. When it's 90 degrees in the city, it's only 80-82 at the cabin, a comfortable temperature. But then we always get some days when it's in the upper 90's and the temperature at the cabin is pretty hot too. I keep trying to tell myself that an air conditioner is a pretty expensive thing to buy when it's only going to be used 5-7 or maybe 10 days a year, but on days like yesterday and days like today will be, it keeps getting harder to say no. But since my windows are all the crank-out kind, and I'd have to cut a hole in the cabin wall to install it, sanity usually returns and I just wait out the heat. Winter is coming (I hope!).

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Not Yet Normal

I'm still feeling as though I'm in catch-up mode after last week's hectic pace. Like nearly every place else in the country, it's been hot here. I was up at 5:30 this weekend, so I could take both dogs for good walks before it got too hot. The poor animals had the short end of my attention this past week, and I wanted to make up for it, as best I could.

So both dogs got long walks, after which we didn't do anything but loll around and hope the weather would break. The woods animals weren't very active either. I heard a few birds in the morning and late evening, but about the only birds I saw during the day were the turkey vultures.

I took this picture at Roundtop, looking towards one of the snowmaking ponds. The trees look cooler than the area felt.
It's been so hot I haven't even turned on the computer until after dark.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

This is more like it!

After nearly a week of being stuck in a city, in a hotel, surrounded by lots and lots of people, today I finally was able to escape and take a walk in the woods. It's still muddy, so I kept to an old woods road, but it was fresh air and quiet, so I was happy.

It's hot as all get out here, and the temperature is expected to flirt with 100 degrees on Monday. Today was more than hot enough for my taste, so my walks are limited to early morning and near dusk. The woods are lush and moist--too thick for bushwhacking. Winter is the time for my bushwhacks, not mid-July.

The other evening, as I was driving back to the cabin late I saw a doe with twin fawns and a monster buck right near Roundtop. Yes, I took a picture, but it didn't turn out well enough to publish. Dusk was just a little too far along for it to be good. Next time.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Dog Behaving

Here's a shot ot Dog behaving himself for once. And listening to me. A miracle!

It's been another rainy week, though not as rainy as the big 15" rain of 2 weekends ago. Still, I'm so sensitized to it, that even another inch of so or rain seems too much.

I've been away and busy at work for most of this week. I have a few more work things tomorrow and then the weekend off to enjoy prowling around in the woods again. I feel as though I haven't had any time in the woods in ages, and I've been forced to spend all week in a city hotel with no woods around me. I'm just not cut out for that. Too many people, too much activity and no woods. But at least the end is now in sight!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Unexpected Hazard

The photo is of a chipping sparrow sitting on the lower fence railing. Chipping sparrows are more common than robins here in the summer. And they account for about 99.5% of all sparrows seen at Roundtop.


Most of the potential hazards association with living in the woods are probably ones just about anyone could name--wind and fire probably top the list. Others might be rabid animals, snakes for some people. But I'll bet you never thought of acorns as a hazard, but they are.

Now is the time when acorns are falling from the oaks. It almost sounds like rain. I hear them crashing through the leaves and plopping onto the forest floor, where almost none of them will ever get to be trees.

Last night I was out walking one of the dogs, wearing the flip flops that are my summer shoe of choice. And one of those little acorns fell right onto the top of the base of my little toe. Boy, did that hurt! It was as bad as a bee sting. This morning I have a little red mark there. Okay, so acorns can't compare to wind damage or rabid animals, but who would have guessed that acorns would be any kind of a hazard, even a little one?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Brown-eyed Susans

The brown-eyed susans are blooming, which tells me it is mid-summer already. The days are hazy, with thunderstorms almost every evening. The woods are quieter than they were in spring--birds are nesting and so trying to hide their nests and their babies. Since they no longer need to sing loudly to attract a mate, they are quietly raising their young ones.

I saw a great-blue heron this morning--the first I've seen here this year. Roundtop is not exactly prime territory for these birds, so they are uncommon.

I started to walk down the mountain yesterday and into the valley between the mountains but gave it up. It's still too muddy down there to make a walk enjoyable. My hiking shoes have only just properly dried out after the rain event of last week. Perhaps next weekend.

And for my rant of the day: I swear that every day there's a possibility of seeing aurora borealis this far south, it turns out to be rainy or cloudy. It almost seems like a rule: If there's a geomagnetic storm, I will have 100% cloud cover. And so it was this weekend.

Nighttime Visitor

I had a nighttime visitor to the cabin's deck last night. Mr. Raccoon was after the cat food I put out for the stray cats around Roundtop. After the cats get their fill, the raccoon appear, which drives the dogs crazy. As fas I can tell, the raccoon is silent, but Baby Dog keeps a lookout, and the howling starts as soon as the raccoon appears. The howling doesn't seem to bother it.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


This photo was taken looking towards Roundtop after I'd driven off the mountain. A smaller hill blocks the view of the bottom of Roundtop. The crop is corn, and this year it is well above the "knee-high by the 4th of July" that's supposed to be the normal gauge of how the crop is progressing. The odd looking thing on the right middle of the photo is a power line tower that cuts across the lower hill.

This morning when I was outside walking the dogs I suddenly had a moment of panic. Was I late? Had I set my alarm improperly? It felt like mid-morning, not just after 6 a.m. I didn’t have my watch on so I couldn’t check it. I hurried Dog along and started back towards the cabin and then it hit me. I wasn’t late. The sun was out! After 2 weeks of rain, gloom, clouds, fog and haze, the sun was finally out, and this is how 6 a.m. on a July morning is supposed to look! Whew! I’d forgotten. Maybe things will finally start to dry out. At this point, I think even my mold has mold.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Yesterday I was the only human being on the mountain. Both my semi-near neighbors were away and that meant that for at least a mile in any direction I was the only one around. Oh, I suppose it’s possible that someone could have walked into the woods at the far edge of that mile without me knowing about it, but given the poor weather yesterday that is unlikely. And even if that event happened, the woods were pretty much as quiet as they are ever going to get. And it still wasn’t all that quiet around me.

Birds sang, the breeze rustled the leafy canopy, and occasionally a plane flew over or the sound of a loud and distant vehicle could be heard. So I can’t say that I felt unusually alone. The quietest I ever “heard” it here was right after a tornado came through (very!) near me about 10 years ago. Then, the leaves were completely still, and the birds were silent. That was an eerie and scary kind of quiet that I hope never to experience again.

Still, the quiet background sounds that are a part of my daily life are far quieter than are the typical daily experience for most people. To me, even a small town seems too loud. Several people holding a conversation can seem too loud. The volume in a movie theater makes my ears cringe.

Does the high level of background noise that most people live with every day have unknown consequences, I wonder? Does it contribute to high levels of stress or anxiety? I have no answer; I only know that what most people experience as “normal” levels of background noise sound way too loud to me, and I escape back to my mountain as soon as I am able.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


The wild black raspberries that grow along the edge of the road and the forest are mostly ripe now. I pick them and eat them right off the bush. I figure that since I've just had 15 inches of rain, they're not going to get any cleaner by me running them under my tap for a few seconds. Plus, it rained again last night for a bit. Even my neighbors are away so there's been no one driving on the lane up or down the mountain, except occasionally me. I've had to stop taking Dog along when I go raspberry picking, as he picks nearly as many as I do. Usually, I keep the raspberries for breakfast cereal and in good years I get to freeze a few cups. This year the flavor of the raspberries is good but there aren't enough to freeze and not all that many make it into the house, either!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Summer Days

I have no special reason to post this photo today. I simply like this view--it's the first non-woods view I see as I'm driving off the mountain. I've posted the same view in early spring when it was covered by a dusting of snow. So, since it's mid-summer now I thoughtI'd post a summer version of it.

It's hot here, and consequently not much is going on. The critters spend about 23.5 hours a day sleeping and no more than 30 minutes doing other things.

I like this time of year at Roundtop. No one is around, and it's like living on an estate--one that I don't have to pay taxes on or mow or maintain. I get to wander all over and don't have to worry about running into other people. Even the wild animals usually ignore me--they're not stressed by the presence of anyone else or too much extraneous activity so they're pretty calm. It makes watching them even more interesting.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Almost Back to Normal

Flood waters are still receding and though everything is still wet, everything is no longer water-logged—except perhaps these turkey vultures who were out drying off on the fence along the road into Roundtop. And my walking shoes which took 3 days to dry out.

Last night several moths entered the house when I opened the door to walk the dogs after dark. The cats went wild. The bad cat was so fixated on watching the moths that he ran headlong into a wall. This morning he has a small bump above his right eye to prove it.

The first of the black raspberries are ripe. I’ve picked enough along the driveway to put on my cereal in the morning. Dog loves black raspberries. Last year I fed him one that I’d just picked, and now he tries to pick his own raspberries. Unfortunately, he picks the red un-ripe ones as well as the black ones.