Tuesday, October 31, 2006


I have daylight on both ends of my work day now! It won’t last for long, but the change is welcome, nonetheless. I will lose the evening’s light before I lose the morning light. I get home just as I’m watching the sun slip behind the western mountains, so the light that’s left is only what remains after sunset.

In the morning I have some real daylight again, and another pleasant surprise from that is that I get to hear and see birds in the morning again. This morning I saw/heard eastern bluebird, mourning dove, belted kingfisher, American robins, killdeer, chickadees, titmouse, Carolina wren, blue jay and American crow. After weeks of only hearing the occasional great horned owl on my morning walks, 9-10 species of daylight birds feels like an abundance.

The robins are here in flocks, after weeks of not seeing any on the mountain. I’m pretty sure these are robins from further north, who may not migrate any further south than this if the winter isn’t a harsh one. They are likely to remain for some weeks, at any rate.

In a normal year, the local weather records say I should have had my first hard frost by now. I haven’t had one of those yet, but if the forecast is correct, I should have one on Friday and Saturday nights. So far this fall, the daylight temperatures have been lower than average and the nighttime temperatures have been higher than average. This may simply be caused by the over abundance of cloudy weather this fall, as clouds help retain the heat of the day while on a clear night the heat heads for Mars. To me, the fall temperatures have felt fairly normal, though the leaves have clung to the trees longer than is typical.

I took the photo for today on Sunday (before the wind storm). The cows at the far end of the pasture look pretty content, and the woods were pretty.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

About 2 hours after I took this photo at my parents' farm, a major windstorm blew through, likely knocking off most of the leaves. The storm raced through most of the east coast, and many areas lost power.

At my cabin, the leaves blew past horizontally, with branches hitting the roof, rolling down its steep pitch and then onto the ground, scaring the animals. Surprisingly, I didn't lose electricity or suffer any damage. I've seen lots of downed trees nearby, though.

With the change from daylight savings time, my early morning walks are suddenly brighter. This morning, the sky was already the color of steel when Dog and I left the cabin. Shortly, I saw the first pale color in the east and turned off the headlamp. Tomorrow, I'll try and remember that I don't really need the headlamp at all. By the time our walk was over this morning, it was daylight.

And then I remembered that in 2007 the time change will come November 15 (or thereabouts) instead of the end of October, so these few brief weeks of morning daylight regained will not come again probably in the rest of my lifetime. By November 15, this respite of morning daylight will be gone as the earth races towards the shortest day of the year.

Despite the fierce winds of Saturday night, not all the leaves have fallen yet. I'd guess that 50% of the leaves are still on the trees. I am surprised by this, as I fully expected the vast majority of them to be wrenched from the trees by the 50-60 mph wind that blew through. The fall colors that do remain are much faded. The leaves are all an orangey brown and no longer brilliant shades of yellows and reds.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Spooky Weather

Last night I had almost 3 inches of rain. Water zig-zagged down the lane in a torrent, leaving deep ruts. Puddles were everywhere. Dog, who has never walked around a puddle in his life, loved it. If he could walk through puddles without ever touching dry land, he'd be thrilled.

This afternoon the wind tore through, knocking down branches that loudly bounced onto the roof and then rolled down the side of the cabin. Lots of leaves passed the windows horizontally in a weird kaleidoscope of color. Canines and felines scattered in all directions. For a moment or two I almost expected to see a witch on a bicycle. Fortunately, the worst appears to be over without damage or loss of electricity.

By tomorrow morning I will probably wake up to a mountain with few leaves left clinging to any of the trees. The lane will likely be ankle deep in downed leaves. I will sweep them off the decks, eventually, but keeping leaves off anything when you live in a forest is a lost cause. I'm happy if I can keep them off the steps.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Cabin Ramblings

This white-breasted nuthatch is one of my regular feeder visitors. I'm working on getting closer to the feeder when I take my photos--so they will be better. Some of the birds don't much mind or notice when I'm out there with the camera--chickadees, the nuthatch, sometimes the titmice. The red-bellied woodpecker and the cardinals are much more shy.

Last night as I was trying to fall asleep, I noticed that it was lighter in the cabin than it usually is. At first I thought I'd left a light on upstairs, so I checked but that wasn't it. Then I realized the extra light was simply that many of the tree leaves have fallen, which means more of the light from the night sky shines in through the windows. I'd forgotten how much lighter it is in the cabin in the winter.

For those of you interested in things astronomical, you might try to look for Comet Swan in the western sky after dark. It's now visible with the naked eye in the keystone of the constellation Hercules. It's faded a bit in the last day or so but is still visible with binoculars and/or telescope. It's been too cloudy here to see it but others may have more luck.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Unfamiliar Ground

In the spirit of taking alternate routes (see yesterday's post), I decided this morning to take an alternate route during my pre-dawn walk with Dog. I felt both he and I are a bit complacent on our morning walks that have followed the same steps for some months now. I know I have grown complacent about it, though there is something to be said for being able to walk the route when I am barely awake.

Changing the route of our morning walk, even though I am surrounded by forest on all sides, is not as easy a thing to do as you might expect. For one thing, it is dead dark outside now when I walk Dog, and a headlamp is no substitute for the illumination of daylight. So I didn't want to follow a path that was very rocky, steep or had difficult footing. Also, I didn't want to much shorten or lengthen the walk itself, which further limited where we would go.

Nonetheless, this morning Dog and I set off into the woods, taking a different trail than usual. From the moment I took the first step in a different direction, Dog was on alert and excitable. He had to sniff every smell along the way. I tried to watch my feet on the unfamiliar ground. I found myself stumbling over stones I never saw, feeling jolted when my foot landed even just an inch higher or lower than I expected. The darkness, and how unfamiliar the trail felt in it, made me cautious. This was not a path I could walk when half-asleep.

That's what unfamiliar ground does to us all, I think. We stumble a bit. We feel uneasy and have a sense that we don't know where we're going or how we'll get to where we want to go. Nothing looks familiar. We have to be awake and aware of our surroundings when we walk it.

Ahead I saw the eyeshine of a deer, deep in the underbrush. The deer didn't move as we continued our walk. Dog behaved until we were downwind, and then he circled all around me, trying to locate the source of the scent trail. The deer, I think, felt it was well-hidden in its spot and never moved, unaware I could see it hidden there.

We continued on, traveling into an area of woods where the leaves have not yet dropped at all or perhaps they were simply always thicker there than elsewhere. It was even darker in here, and the headlamp didn't help at all. I let Dog lead the way and soon he brought us into an open area, where even the cloudy, moonless night wasn't as dark as the forest. Here, the headlamp did help, and I could pick my way along, Dog at my side to help.

In a few minutes more we were back on more familiar ground, and I was back in my own comfort zone. In many ways, the unfamiliar path wasn't much different than the familiar route. The real difference was how I felt when I walked it, not in the ground itself, I think. Perhaps the real trick is to just keep walking until you find your bearings again. Perhaps in time this new route would feel as familiar as the old. But I will be content tomorrow to walk the old route. It may not be the only route, it may not be the best route, but it is our route. And that makes all the difference.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Alternate Routes

I've been forced to take an alternate route to work this week. The neighboring township's road crew is doing something that requires blocking the main (only) northern road in and out of Roundtop. Their designated detour takes me miles off my own route, so I've been creating my own detour for the past two days.

This morning's route carried me along the aptly named Ridge Road where I came across this view across the valley. You can just see a hint of "alpenglow" along the mountain. The road that travels the bottom of the mountain is also aptly named--Range End Road. Here marks the last of the broad band of Appalachian Mountains that cuts through Pennsylvania. The mountains run NE-SW through Pennsylvania so there are many such endings in the southeast corner of the state.

Although finding out that my route was blocked by suddenly encountering a sign in the middle of the road was a bit of a shock, I've since rather enjoyed finding an alternate route to work. I've seen views of the landscape that I haven't passed in some time, and like the view posted here, the alternate route has rewards of its own. I've also been reminded that there's no reason why I should take the same route to work every morning. Just because it's the fastest route and the best road shouldn't mean that I can't enjoy the pleasure of seeing what else is just off my own beaten path.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Encounters with Deer

This morning, Dog and I barely stepped out of the cabin for our morning walk before I saw the eyeshine of a deer in my headlamp. This wasn't either of the two fawns I've been seeing near this spot. It was an adult deer and might well have been the fawns' mother. We were downwind of the deer, so Dog was instantly on alert. Now is the white-tailed deer's rutting season, and deer are out traipsing around all over the place at all hours of the night. This deer took a few steps further up the lane, walking towards us, and then stopped again.

I kept walking, while Dog danced on his leash. The deer watched us approach for several steps more and then turned and headed back down the road. It took Dog a few minutes to settle down, and we continued our walk.

Futher along the trail, up in Roundtop's north parking lot, I saw eyeshine again, too far away and in a different direction to be the same deer. This time we were upwind of the deer, so Dog was oblivious to its presence. The deer just stood there watching us or perhaps scenting us, and I kept walking. Dog was still oblivious, even stopping to investigate a piece of paper or a candy wrapper he found on the ground. I kept walking. By this time we were getting pretty close to the deer, and it still stood there, and Dog still hadn't smelled it and was too busy nosing around to see it.

By now I was close enough to make out the outline of the deer in the pre-dawn darkness, and eventually our presence was too close for it. It bolted away, leaping over the inch-wide steel cable that serves to mark the parking lanes. I knew the cable was there but couldn't see it. The deer's eyes were keen enough to see it in the darkness. At this point Dog saw the deer but my hold on his leash kept him from bolting after it. I counted my steps from where I was to where the deer was when it bolted. We were just 14 steps from it, probably no more 10 yards, perhaps even a little less. Dog never did scent it, as far as I can tell. It was its escape that triggered his awareness of it. I came away impressed by the deer's eyesight and how closely it let us approach. And I was reminded once again how important wind direction is to a predator's abiilty to find prey.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Winter is Coming

Today was the first day that I've felt the pull of the season past autumn and towards winter. It was one of those blustery late October days. The sky was dark with clouds that raced from one horizon to the other. I almost expected to see snow flurries mixed in with the sprinkles of rain, though it was probably still a degree or two too warm for that.

Activitiy at my feeders is picking up. The squirrels have invaded. The red-bellied woodpecker is now a frequent visitor. The white-breasted nuthatch, Carolina wren, tufted titmouse, blue, jays, black-capped chickadees, northern cardinal and at least one Carolina chickadee are the most regular visitors. The cardinals are the first and last visitors of the day, coming so early in the morning and so late in the evening that I can only see their silhouettes.

My photo today is taken looking down an abandoned ski slope that faces west at Roundtop. I've been told that ski resort couldn't keep snow on it because it got so much winter sun. Tonight the wind is a few decibels shy of a howl, and already I can see that the leaves are starting to drop. I don't quite have my winter view out the back deck yet, but I can see the outline of the mountains through the leaves now. It won't be long. Winter is coming.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Dark-eyed Juncos Arrive!

I saw the first dark-eyed junco of the winter season on Saturday morning! Two or three of them were flitting around the tangled edge of the woods, possibly with a white-throated sparrow or two as well, though I didn't get close enough to confirm that.

The timing of the arrival of the juncos is pretty normal. Sometimes I've seen them as far as a week earlier, occasionally as late as a week later, but Saturday's sightings were right at the expected time. They haven't found my feeders yet, but they will. I don't have them here by the dozens yet either. That will take another few weeks.

For those of you who know birds, you know that the little bird that blends in with the color of the yellow leaves in the photo on the left is not a junco. It's a Carolina wren that was busily scolding something from its perch in a tree 12-15 feet away from me. And no, I don't think it was scolding me.

The fall color here at Roundtop is at its peak right now. The next gust of wind or a few drops of rain will bring all the leaves down pretty quickly. The weather has also been a bit hazy the past few days, which doesn't promote exceptional photography, but at least the colors are much prettier than last year, when they were the worst I'd ever seen them.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Fall in the Forest

Fall isn't just about beautiful color change on the trees. Here's a photo of the forest floor and its own color change.

Deer are in rut right now, and as a result driving at and after dusk consists a lot of hoping not to hit one. I find that using my fog lights helps to spread my light from my headlights out to the edges of the roads. Then I look for eye shine and slow down as soon as I see it.

A few nights ago, I was driving near Roundtop and saw a car coming towards me in the opposite lane. As we were on an already narrow road, I slowed down since even his non-high headlights were nearly blinding. So I wasn't noticing the edges of the road. Suddenly a decent sized buck that I hadn't noticed leapt across the road between the two of us, but closest to me. Never saw it. Another few feet and I would have had a deer hood ornament.

The same night, as I pulled in to Roundtop and neared the cabin three deer danced across the road by the pond, like so many ballerinas moving to the edge of the stage. Likely, they'd been down at the pond for water.

This morning, Dog and I saw three deer, probably the same three, on our pre-dawn walk, a doe with two fawns. I couldn't see much of the deer themselves, just their eyeshine in my headlamp, and the two of the eyeshines were considerably lower than than the third, hence my conclusion that it was a doe with two of this year's fawns. They trotted across the lane ahead of us. Dog wanted in the worst way to give chase.

The deer followed the edge of the road, stopped and looked back at us. We walked closer and were within 20 feet before they moved slowly off and into the woods, much to Dog's disappointment. They certainly weren't afraid of us, probably thinking they were invisible in the dark.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

2006 Roundtop Bird Sightings

I took this photo last night over by Roundtop's new pond. I like this view. I've posted other photos looking down this same trail, but I think I've finally gotten it when the color change is as intense as it's going to get this year.

This morning, I started looking over my 2006 bird list for Roundtop, and like the weather this year, it is turning out to be an odd one. Although the year still has 2+ months to go, migration is already slowing down, so I can no longer expect too many more new species. My current running total is 74 species for the year, lower than is typical by more than 10 species. I’ve seen a few birds that I rarely see here—most notably a Common raven in February. But I haven’t seen plenty of species at all this year that in the past I could always count on.

My warbler season, both spring and fall, was terrible. There’s no other word for it. Actually, the warbler season was beyond terrible. I often have a decent run of warblers on Roundtop, though it’s never been a warbler hot spot. This year I haven’t seen a single redstart here, when in many years they have been almost as common as yellow-rumped warblers. I didn’t have a single vireo either, and that’s the first year in 15 years here on the mountain that has happened.

The hawk migration never really materialized over Roundtop—at least not while I was at home.
Eastern towhees were less commonly seen and heard than usual, as were Indigo buntings. I love hearing the song of the Scarlet tanager in a summer evening. Usually, that’s a fairly common event here, but not this year, when I only heard them four times and only saw a single female.

A few species that I see occasionally turned out to be common this year. I had more Eastern kingbirds hanging out on the slopes this summer than I’ve ever seen before. I know of three nesting pairs, all of which seemed to breed successfully and fledge at least 2-3 young apiece.

American goldfinch, which are common, turned out to be abundant this year. I had 50 separate sightings, usually of multiple birds in each sighting. That’s not quite twice the number of sightings I can expect in a year.

I have to say that I haven’t yet found a reason or reasons to explain the unusual results. It’s certainly nothing as straightforward as seeing more southern-ranged birds and fewer northern species. If you pressed me on this, I would likely say that my migration sightings were way lower than usual. My fall migration sightings were close to non-existent, which makes me question breeding success further north, but I need to hear results from lots of other sites before I come to that conclusion. Even my resident birds posted some unusual results. For now, I’m just going to say I’m having an odd year and hope it’s nothing more than that.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Foggy Morning

This morning the fog was so thick when I walked the dogs before sunrise that even the headlamp didn't help very much. I felt lost on a trail I thought I could walk in my sleep. Is this where I turn? Is that where the trail splits?

Dog eyed me oddly, not understanding my hesitation. To him, with his keener eyes and much keener scent, the way no doubt was obvious. I was surprised to be even momentarily confused, surprised that someplace I know so well still held any new surprises for me. I moved on, trusting that my path would become clear as I stepped forward, but not actually sensing that it was so. It is the same kind of trust that makes me believe the sun will come up in the east each morning, even though a cloudy day brings no sense that it is there.

Sometimes, trust is all we have to move us forward through a day or a life, too. We trust that the brakes won't fail or the body won't fail today. We trust that somehow we'll find the way to keep on moving. It helps, sometimes, to have a good companion there beside us to wait patiently while we pause and then urge us gently forward and into the darkened woods ahead.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

First Frost

I haven't blogged for a few days (as you can plainly tell). The weekend was so beautiful that I was outside enjoying the beautiful fall weather for as long as I could be, not inside at the computer. I could easily have spent even more time outside but the days were too short. And yesterday I was away for work, so it is only now that I'm catching up again.

I had the season's first frost on Friday and Saturday nights. Despite global warming and this an El Nino year, albeit a mild one, the first frost in this area was precisely at the normal time. Traditionally, the first frost here is October 15, and this year the first frost fell on the 13th and 14th. A nitpicker might even try and call that "early" but it is so minutely early that I won't be one of those. The first killing frost is traditionally the end of October, so I still have 10+ days to go before I know if this year will be normal for that, too.

The autumn leaf changes progresses, but I am officially prepared to declare this season to be a bit odd. Many of the trees have turned color or even dropped their leaves. But at least half of the trees are still very green. As a result, the impact of the fall color is much diminished over years when the color change hits all the trees at the same time. I don't know what has caused this disparity in the leaf change. It isn't trees species and doesn't appear to be tree location, as one tree is in full color, while its neighbor of the same species is still green. I suspect the difference is moisture/root system related but I have no way to prove it, and I am open to new evidence.

Today the forest is enjoying a cold fall rain that already has dropped many of the leaves that have turned color. Leaves begin to litter the drive, though the leaf drop still has a long to go to be complete. This morning Baby Dog pounced on the leaves that the wind skittered away from her while the rain was still a sprinke. She thought them a great new toy or perhaps some strange living creature that was trying to escape her notice. She was like a cat, bouncing from one wind-tossed leaf to the next, oblivious to anything I said to her or even to the realization that the motion was nothing but a leaf. Last fall she was a tiny puppy, so in some ways this is the first fall she can explore and enjoy.

Dog, predictably, ignores the leaves but is intent on strange new scents. Last night he broke away from me briefly when something ran in front of us. I suspect it was a fox, as Dog ignores cats and is familiar with the raccoons and opossums. For him to get so wound up that he would pull the lead out of my hand suggests it was something more exciting. I saw only a pair of eyes reflected in my headlamp, low enough that I could tell it was not a deer (which also wind him up).

Friday, October 13, 2006

What a Difference a Day (or Two) Makes!

I took this photo last evening on a nice, long and brisk walk with the dogs. It's almost the same view as the one I posted a few days ago, but in this version you can see how much the color change has progressed. The valley colors are further along than those on the mountain tops, but I expect that to even out in the next day or so. Last night I was within 3 degress of frost and tonight it's to be colder, so I'm anticipating the season's first frost tonight.

I haven't turned my heat on yet, though I will likely do that this evening. Last night the cabin was warm enough without it. This morning, the temperature was 58, which isn't bad with a sweater, but since it isn't supposed to get very warm today, the house likely won't warm up enough during the day to be comfortable this evening.

The second view is looking up my lane. Again, it's almost the same view as one I took a few days earlier this week, but now the color change in this spot is probably at its peak.

Baby Dog and I walked up one of the slopes last evening, and for all the anxious skiers out there, I took this picture on Drummer Boy. No, we don't have snow yet, but getting rid of all those green leaves is the first step in that direction. The leaves are still on the trees, but they are no longer green!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Moving Indoors

With the arrival of the last night’s cold front, the fall has deepened and turned even further away from summer, though I don’t yet feel a pull towards winter. I was forced to bring the last of the houseplants inside the cabin, and now I feel a bit cramped. This is partly because the plants have all grown during their time outside and so are larger than when I put them outside. But mostly it is because the cabin is small and adding three large plants and a half dozen more smaller ones takes up a fair amount of my already small space.

The largest of the plants is the ficus tree I’ve had for 10-12 years. The photo on the left is how it looked out on the front deck a week or so ago. The tree is now so large that moving it anywhere is very difficult, though a plant caddy on wheels helps. The tree is much taller than a single story, reaching almost up to the stovepipe cap on the 2-story high ceiling. At the moment, while the tree made it inside safely, it is not yet in its final winter location, simply because I don’t know where that will be. Where I had it last year is no longer suitable. For now it stands in front of the TV and the fireplace while I try to decide where it will end up.

Several of the smallest plants are almost as difficult to find winter homes for as the tree. I have three pretty nice ferns that I have to keep away from the cats, as they will eat them right down to the ground. The problem is when I put them someplace where the cats can’t get them, they end up so out of the way that I forget they’re there too, and then they rarely get watered. I need to find homes for them that are away from the cats but in my face so I don’t forget them.

That's Ben, the cat who should be named Total Destruction, just to the left of the tree's pot. He's a Maine Coon cat and is eyeing that pot with a look that scares me a little.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Falling Colors

My latest fall photos, taken just last evening and the day before, are already out of date. Although the night wasn't very cool, this morning as I was driving out of Roundtop, I saw how much more intense the colors have become since yesterday. Unfortunately, the morning is also gray and foggy--and not in a good way photographically.

In the good news / bad news category: this weekend should be the color peak for the leaves. But, the weather forecast for tonight and through Friday is for rain and possibly even snow flurries, which I'm afraid will bring the leaves off the trees before I really get to see them at their prettiest.

But in the words of someone else, the world moves as it will and not as you and I would have it. So if the leaves comes down before they are at their prettiest, that's just the way it will be. For me, leaves on the ground will mean I will again have a view out the back of the cabin, instead of the sea of green that surrounds me during the growing season. And, it also means my television reception will improve from 1.5 channels to 4 or 5. I say I have 1.5 channels in the summer because I have one usually good channel and one half-decent channel. However, the half-decent channel is never the same one, so I can't plan to watch anything on it, I just have to check it out and see which one is the half-decent channel that evening.

Considering that it might snow in two days, last evening was very warm. The rising moon was as orange as many of the leaves. The pond was so still that it looked more like a mirror than I think I have ever seen it. Lots of moths gathered around my porch light, and I was also visited by this nice-sized walking stick. They won't last once that weather comes through.

I have not yet seen the first junco of the season, though I expect them at any moment. A time or two I thought I saw the distinctive white edge tail that they carry, only to discover it wasn't a junco at all. Mama raccoon and her single, still rather small baby are nightly visitors to the outside cats dish. Baby Dog announces their arrival each evening with howls of outrage, but then she's always been a bit mouthy.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Emily Jane Loves winter!

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.

I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night's decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

Emily Jane Brontë

Who'd have thought that Emily Jane was a lover of snow and winter? It's not quite time for snow here, though this weekend might produce some flurries if the forecast plays out.

I took this photo just out of the forest when I come down from Roundtop. I posted a view from here in the spring, too, when the little orchard in front was blooming. I always enjoy this broad horizon and wide expanse. This region is very hilly, and the hills usually block broad views of anything, but this is one spot where I get a nice look.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Colors on Neff's Hill

Sunday was a spectacular fall day here at Roundtop. I would have loved to spend the day outside hiking. So naturally, yesterday was my first working day at Roundtop for the new ski season. No, we don't have snow yet.

I work in Guest Services, and most of our work is done before the season opens. We take photos and print employee badges, and do the same for season passes and discount cards. Since folks need those things before they can ski, that's what we work on.

Once the season opens we get a big crush of people who didn't send us photos or come in pre-season to get their photos taken. That lasts a few weeks. After that, though the ski season is in full-swing, our own work tapers off. We still are the first stop for information, we maintain the voluminous lost and found, serve as a secondary ticket window, and always have a few late season photos to do, but it's still quieter for us than during the pre-season crush.

The photo today is looking west over to Neff's Hill, taken fairly early Sunday morning. The color change is progressing, but there's still a lot of green on that hill. The mountain looks a little bit like a tweed fabric right now.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Flying South

Last night I heard the sound of Canada geese flying south. I heard hundreds of them. Thousands. This morning, before dawn, I still heard them, the sound far away as they are flying very high.

This morning a ruby-crowned kinglet strikes the window in front of my computer. It wasn't a hard strike. The bird simply moved back several feet and sat on a twig, twitching its tail for a few seconds before moving deeper into the forest. My foster kitty Patience was thrilled by the encounter. She spent 3 months in a cage in a kill shelter without any access to windows before coming to foster here. Since then, she spends all her time looking out one of my windows. This week her favorite spot is on top of the computer, which placed her about 4 feet away from the kinglet.

Last evening the sky was filled with starling and grackles, a scene reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. Throughout the day, corvids (blue jays and crows) were moving south. Over at the pond, I found this killdeer, more geese, several mallards.

The trees are changing color, though many still have a ways to go. Although the color this year is pretty good, certainly better than last fall, the trees aren't all turning at the same time, so I don't know if the impact of the colors will be as dramatic as usual.

The cooler weather makes the dogs wild. Baby Dog charges around, dashing from one thing to the next, always at full speed. Dog wants to run too, and last night we played "chase" in the driveway. First, I chased him, then he chased me. It's his favorite game at the moment.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Only Yesterday

It really was only yesterday (wasn’t it?) when the redbud’s delicate pink dusted this tree, when the dogwood burst into blooms of pure white held on spindly branches, reminding me of baby’s breath in a floral arrangement. Only this was nature’s floral arrangement, and on a much grander scale.

It really was only yesterday (wasn’t it?) when I was young and ideas flowed like late-night cups of coffee, when the future stretched out ahead of me in an endless parade of days and possibilities.

And now the fall colors are here, and the season moves inexorably towards winter, gaining momentum towards that end with each passing day.

And now my days seem short, and the possibilities limited.

It really was only yesterday (wasn’t it?)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Night Walk

I love many things about living on the mountain, but near the top of my list is the quiet. At night, when I most like to walk, the quiet is even deeper and more profound than during the day. At night, the only bird I hear is the sound of a distant great-horned owl or perhaps the brief staccato of a startled killdeer. The nearest public road, half a mile away, is never very busy. It’s not uncommon for half an hour or more to pass without a car traveling on it. At night, this time increases, perhaps to hours without a traveler.

At night, my sight, too, is limited by the blanket of darkness around me. In a way, this helps to still my mind, to relax after a busy day. At night, I can see fewer things that look interesting, fewer things to distract my attention, to disturb my thoughts. As long as the moon is half or more full, I will walk without a light, even in the woods, though I know the path. In the winter, when the leafy canopy is gone, I need no moon at all, as long as the stars are out, to light my way. I like to walk without a flashlight, when I can. It makes me feel invisible, as though I am passing without a trace. I feel a part of the woods, not like an intruder or a visitor but simply another resident.

This night, as fall settles in on the mountain, the only sound is that of a few tree frogs or “spring” peepers, raising a soft chorus perhaps for the last time this season. Their chorus sounds a bit sad and much diminished over the multitude of froggy voices that greets the first warm night of spring.

Beside me, Dog suddenly tenses and comes up onto his toes. I feel this more than I see him do it. He sees or hears something that is imperceptible to me. I stop, peer into the darkness and listen, but sense nothing. Perhaps it is a deer or rabbit, perhaps a fox or merely a flutter of leaf. After a few seconds, he relaxes. It, whatever It is, is gone or at least not the threat he first imagined.

To my eyes, the movement that caught his attention will be forever invisible, and I am reminded again of a valuable lesson. My own perceived “invisibility” is hardly complete.
Though other humans can’t see me on my nightly walks, other species, whose own senses are better tuned to the darkness, watch me pass. They will be safe and still in some hiding place or perhaps even standing in the open too far away for me to see. To them I am visible, and my feeling of invisibility is nothing more than just another false, human conceit.

Dog and I walk on, deep in the darkness of the night. In the distance, I see a car’s headlights. Dog and I are still far from the road. The evening is warm, and I hear music booming from the car radio. In the warmth of the night, the driver likely has his or her windows rolled down, enjoying that feeling perhaps for the last time this season. The car passes, its lights and its noise diminishing as quickly as it appeared. Dog and I are too far away for the driver to ever know we were there, watching him pass. I feel invisible again, almost as invisible as I imagine myself to be when I walk in the night.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Golden Afternoon

Yes, I know it's the lowly goldenrod, but how can you say that's not pretty? Heck, I’m no Grand Canyon or Giant Sequoia myself. If I wasn’t a human, I’d be just as honored to be something that looks this pretty once a year. Just because a goldenrod is common doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of attention and praise every now and again.

Random happenings--I am now 100% convinced that there is some kind of cosmic law that causes the sky to be cloudy anytime there’s a half decent chance to see aurora borealis this far south.

Now that the weather is cooler (thank you!) both dogs are wilder. I thought it was my skill and work with them that was making the difference in their behavior. But I have decided it was only summer that caused them to behave, as misbehaving apparently just took too much energy in the heat. Now that it is cooler they are both back to their antics. Baby Dog runs in circles and has more energy than the Energizer bunny. Even Dog, who is now 5 years old and should be old enough to be sedate, if not staid, has been kicking up his heels.

So far, my hope of increasing my Roundtop bird year list during fall migration hasn’t worked out. September, which has usually been a prime time for seeing species I missed in the spring, has turned up no new species for me on the mountain. There’s still time to add to my list, but the warblers have now mostly passed, leaving me only with hopes of waterfowl, shorebirds and possibly a few late season raptors. That’s the way it goes.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Slipping into Fall

The forest is slipping into autumn at the speed of a runaway freight train. I can see more colors from morning to morning, sometimes even from morning to night.

The change is happening so fast right now it is a bit shocking to me. For weeks, the changes have been miniscule. I had to look hard to find one small thing that was changing. Summer felt static, lulling me into a pattern of searching for changes that moved glacially. Now, if I've been inside the cabin for a few hours I swear I see more color whenever step outside.

The view you see here was taken Saturday morning, in the rain. My lane is already more colorful this morning than yesterday. I am only waiting for the sun to climb a bit higher to take a new photo, so I can compare the two and examine the difference in detail.

I am starting to bring my plants in for the cold weather ahead. I have already brought in the ferns and several Christmas cactus that have set buds. I leave them outside in the summer, under a shrub to protect them from the heat and sun of summer. Two other Christmas cactus hadn't set buds as of yesterday, but it was cooler last night, and perhaps the buds will show this morning.