Sunday, December 31, 2006

No, I didn't take this today. Or yesterday. But I did take this photo earlier this week. It shows every bit of snow I've gotten so far this season.

Not very impressive, is it?

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Morning Light

Today’s photo is the early morning sunlight touching the tops of the trees with a warm glow, moments before the light spreads lower and wakens the earth. It’s the everyday version of alpenglow.

After the incredible sunset I saw the other day, I’ve been thinking about how I look at the woods around me and how that changes with the seasons. In earliest spring, I look for the first hint of spring growth, the first swelling of new buds, the first tinge of green. I'm focused on the smallest details. In autumn, I (like nearly everyone else) am more focused on the fall colors around me. In winter, I’m usually looking at how snow redecorates the landscape.

This year is different so far as I’ve had no more than a trace of snow. The leaves are down. Spring growth is months away. So I’ve turned my attention to the sky, to the sunrises and sunsets. And I’ve come to think that this redirection of my focus is yet another good comparison with how we go through our lives.

Sometimes our attention is caught by the minutiae of day-to-day errands and chores that are right in front of us. I constantly have to remind myself that there’s more to life than just the next errand. The chores never end, and if you plan to do them all before you have fun or go someplace interesting, you’ll never get out of the house.

Other times our focus is broader and we see more of what’s around us. These are days when I’m more balanced, when I can see the connections between tree species and the birds that depend on them for food and shelter, where I hear two distant great-horned owls and know that their courtship has begun again.

But sometimes we step back even further and look at an even bigger picture. Those are the days when I am captured by the beauty of a sunset and look beyond my woods and even beyond my own life. These days of an outward turning focus are important for us too. These are the times when we see if our own lives are going where we want them to, where we look beyond ourselves and into the paths of those around us, where we think about future lives and what will touch them.

In a way, the days of outward focus have similarities with the days when day to day trivia threatens to overtake us. I don’t think we should spend all our time either focused on minutiae or looking out so far ahead that we lose track of what’s around us. We aren’t meant to live with our eyes so much in the distance that we stumble over our own feet. And we aren’t meant to live without ever lifting our eyes either.

It’s the balanced days where we should spend most of our time and focus, though I think the only way to be truly balanced is to understand both the distance ahead and the tasks that threaten to ensnare. It’s only when we understand both edges of life that we appreciate where true balance lies.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Incredible Sunset!

Can you remember the last time you saw a sunset this amazing?

I didn't think so.

Don't feel bad.

I can't either.

Day after day, generally speaking, I find sunrises likely to be more amazing and interesting than sunsets. But then every now and again, the sunsets pull out all the stops and put on a show like I saw last night as I was driving up to the cabin.

And on those rare days when a sunset puts on its best show, I realize that a sunrise really can't hold a candle to the very best sunsets.

Unfortunately, sunsets don't do this very often. I personally think its the best sunset I've ever seen in my entire life. And I'm thrilled I had a camera with me when I saw it (thanks again, Stu!).

There's even the barest hint of a sun pillar.

How about another photo?

Thanks, I didn't think you'd mind.

This sunset went on and on. For minutes.

This wasn't one of those 30 second sunset wonders that's gone before you can get the camera out of the bag. That's gone before you can turn the camera on and point it towards the west.

This sunset turned the entire sky this incredible shade. And what is this shade, anyway? Dark salmon, hints of mauve? I can't figure it out.

Well, maybe I could if I showed another photo.

Nope, that still didn't help.

The color has changed again. In this photo you can just see a few lights from one of the bunny slopes on Roundtop.

Are you tired of looking at them yet.

I didn't think so.

Okay, just one more, but only if you're good.

I took I don't know how many photos of this sunset. Thank heaven for digital cameras or I would have run out of fil (or not had film in the camera or the photos wouldn't have looked like the sunset or...something!).

Anyway, all good things, even all great things have to come to an end eventually. And so it was with the world's best sunset ever.

I'm just glad I got to see it.

When the winter is warm, when the woods look a bit bleak.

When you least expect it, Nature puts on a show-stopper.

Thanks. I needed that.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Back Woods

I just can’t get used to this non-winter weather, though I am starting to try. I am used to a short period after the leaves fall when both the weather and surroundings are a nondescript brown. But before too long, the after-leaf drop time turns to winter with snow, sleet and cold weather. In the past, I have probably ignored this in-between stretch of brown simply as something that doesn’t last very long and is a necessary prelude to the actual arrival of winter.

However, this year the in-between nondescript brown stretch has continued for 6 weeks. At first I simply ignored it, assuming it would soon go away. It hasn’t. Now, I feel that I should deal with it, explore it and try to find something nice to say about it. I’m not finding that last part very easy.

This long stretch of in-between weather has been mostly gray, rainy and/or muddy, and it just doesn’t feel right. The closest comparison I can make is that is similar to early April but without the promise of daily seeing new plant growth. I keep waiting for something to happen—waiting for it to get colder and turn into winter, waiting for it to get warmer and become April. I don’t usually have to wait this long for something to happen in the natural world.

So last night I was out and about simply trying to notice more about what was going on around me. And I still don’t think I’ve gotten a handle on it. In many ways, despite the temperature, it is still winter. Raccoons are mostly hibernating, not because it’s cold enough for that but because they’re supposed to be doing that now. The great-horned owls are calling, which they would do in any event. They start nesting in February, and this warmer weather, if it lasts, might actually be good for the survival of the nestlings. The winter feeders birds are here (if not vulturing over the birdfeeders as usual). For them finding natural food easily is probably beneficial to their survival. For me, well, it is still brown outside (but the heating cost is lower).

I wonder if the animals feel, in any way, as I do, that despite some benefits this weather simply isn’t right? So in the end, I am left with the notion that this long in-between period is simply odd. Around me, nature is trying go on with its business as usual, though not much about this is really usual.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Fight Global Warming...winter's short enough already!

It sure didn't feel or look like Christmas here. I took the photo at my parents' farm on Sunday. Check out that temperature! It was 54 degrees in the afternoon in a shaded area.

Ski Roundtop has been forced to close until it's cold enough to make more snow. I don't ever remember Roundtop being closed over the Christmas holiday before. It's their biggest week of the season--normally. This area had about an inch of rain on Friday, and that, combined with the warm temperatures, completely ruined what little snow they had left.

Unfortunately, the temperature doesn't look all that much better this week either. A few nights are supposed to be below freezing, but only just. Roundtop really needs for it to be beliow freezing all night long to make snow. When it only dips below freezing an hour before dawn, that doesn't leave them enough time to do much.

At the cabin, my feeders are full of birds, though I don't have any unusual or exotic species--just the usual suspects. I have chickadees, titmice, Carolina wren, cardinals, blue jays, red-bellied woodpeckers, and downy woodpeckers. Surprisingly to me, I haven't seen juncos at the feeder, though they are plentiful enough in the woods. I guess they're finding the food they need without using my feeder for support. I also haven't seen any other sparrows at the feeder--usually I have white-throated sparrows at the very least and often a few more species.

I still can't get over that so many people actually like this mild weather. My snowshoes are gathering dust, for heaven's sake!

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Fairy House Tree

Today should be the first day of the new year, not that January day. The shortest day and longest night of the year has ended, and so the return of the day’s light begins, at least theoretically. Here, this morning is gray and gloomy with no sign of sunshine. It is so overcast that I couldn’t tell you when sunrise occurred, just that it seemed pretty late before it was light enough to walk across the deck without stumbling in the dark.

The photo today is of what I call the fairy house tree. The open tree hole has sheltered chipmunks and squirrels in the past, but is now large enough to shelter opossums and raccoons. If it gets much larger before the tree falls, I’ll soon be able to crawl in there.

One of the reasons I took this photo this morning is because I’m afraid this tree will soon fall or be cut (it’s near the road). And I wanted to get a photo of it before it did. I'd love to be small enough to crawl inside and use it as my house, or at least a place to have a tea party or sleep overnight. Wouldn't that be great fun!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bark? I'd Rather Howl!

I love the texture of bark on the trees around the cabin. This one is from a weathered oak tree that guards the entrance to my lane. It is weathered and rough to the touch, a true veteran of the forest, with the scars to prove it.

I’ve known for some time that my local weather is warmer than it has been before in my lifetime. I can see it in the dates of when the leaves drop and reappear in the spring. I can see it in the tree species—sassafras is lots more common, for one. I can see it in the bird species that live here. They are following the southern plants, trees and insects that move a bit further north each year.

As an example, I used to only see black-capped chickadees around my cabin. Perhaps once a year I would see a Carolina chickadee locally. Now, I live in the zone where black-cappeds and Carolinas are so interwoven that to be politically correct (and we all know how I am about that), I must call them chickadee sp. as the two “species” have hybridized so much that you can’t separate them. I also used to have house wrens; now I have Carolina wrens.

Even so, I was depressed to learn yesterday that the National Arbor Day Foundation has officially reclassified my area climate zone, and I am now in the same one as Virginia. They have a link (here) that shows the old zones and the new ones. And lest you think this change has occurred over decades, the “old” map was merely from 1990. (Thanks to the DC Birding blog for originally posting this link).

To me, the most striking thing between the old and new maps is the change that has occurred to Zone 5, a dark green band that used to stretch across southern third of Nebraska, southern Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, most of Ohio, northern Pennsylvania and all but the very northern part of New England. In the new map, all of Nebraska and Iowa are now in Zone 5, and once you are east of Iowa, Zone 5 now has almost entirely disappeared.

My old zone, Zone 6, now covers almost all of Pennsylvania except for the area I’m in. Instead, I am now in Zone 7, sharing the same climate zone with Virginia and western North Carolina, for heaven’s sake!

Another big change is the virtual disappearance of the cold Zone 3 from all but a few areas in the extreme northern U.S. Before, this zone nearly covered each of the northern border states. Now, this zone only extends a few miles south of the Canadian border.

Who needs to wait for the holidays to be depressed?

Here's the same tree, standing back a bit so you can see more than just the bark. But as I said in the title to today's post. After reading about my own little climate change, I'd rather howl!!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

An Almost Winter Morning

This morning is crisp, a welcome change from the warm, foggy mornings of just a day or so ago. It doesn’t quite feel like late December yet, but it’s closer. Roundtop made snow last night for the first time in two weeks. . I hear a Great-Horned Owl hooting almost every morning when I leave the cabin to take Dog on his morning walk. This morning Dog saw one of the snowmakers head up one of the slopes on a snow machine and was determined to chase it. I saw a pale Red-tailed Hawk fly out of the trees just around dawn and circle over the valley before disappearing.

The number of birds at my feeder is steadily increasing. They get bolder as it gets colder and more difficult for them to find natural food. This morning, both titmice and chickadees almost landed in the seed container as I carried it across the deck to the feeder. Several were within 12 inches of landing in it or on my hand before they “chickened” out. Their boldness is a sign they are hungry. When natural food is plentiful, they aren’t inclined to approach before I’ve dumped their seed and turned away. Later, during snowstorms or ice storms, they will often land on my hand or in the open seed dish as I carry it to their feeder.

I enjoy it when one of these tiny birds lights on my hand to grab a seed. They don’t usually stay long enough for me to examine them when they are so close. They usually just flash in, wings fluttering, grab a seed and bolt away. I can barely feel them when they do this. The titmice and chickadees don’t weigh anything. I might feel the curve of their feet around the edge of my hand, but if it weren’t for that, I’m not sure I would notice any sense of weight.

Over all, the woods are quiet right now. Deer hunting season is over, but the surviving deer haven’t yet visited the cabin. The raccoons and possums are hibernating. The squirrels are still around, regularly raiding the bird feeders. I haven’t seen a turkey since fall. Perhaps the quiet has something to do with it, but it is finally starting to feel like winter.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Old Rocks

I’ve always liked this rock on the edge of my property. Underneath it is just enough room for small critters to hide or take shelter. Roundtop is a very rocky hill, with lots of medium and small boulders both above and under the ground. Someone told me once that the mountains in this area were essentially created by “volcano spit.” The volcanoes disappeared eons ago but the hard volcanic rocks spit out by that long gone volcano remain as small mountains.

I perhaps think I know where the volcano in this area might have been. Roundtop is one of several small mountains that are separated from the nearby uplifted Appalachian range by a valley of about 10 miles. If you look at the three or four mountains directly around Roundtop on a topographic map, they form a somewhat circular or elliptical shape. In between them all is a smaller valley with a stream through it. I think the volcano could have been down in that long-filled valley. At least that’s my theory until someone tells me differently.

The weather is cooler this morning, closer to more normal December temperatures, though still several degrees above that. At least now it feels like a normal warm December day instead of late September.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Sunrise Again

The weather here remains atypically warm; perhaps that is somehow related to the spectacular sunrises that have graced the mornings here this weekend. I am finding that a winter, or at least a December, without snow makes photography more difficult than I expected.

Snow has a way of making everything look pretty. An old, broken plastic bucket suddenly looks like an artfully arranged stone in the landscape when it is covered with snow. When the same bucket is sitting the middle of the forest, surrounded by brown, fallen leaves and trees devoid of leaves, it looks like an eyesore. Even without the bucket, brown leaves on the forest floor and brown bark on trees presents fewer opportunities for photos than I’m used to. Somehow, I’m used to the forest looking prettier than it does at the moment.

And that got me to thinking about what we humans consider pretty. Why is it that snow and autumn’s colors are more pleasing to our eyes than a forest without leaves or snow cover? Why must something be pretty for us to consider it valuable or important? Why do we like the Grand Canyon better than bare trees? Why is a spring flower more important to us than a non-flowering vine?

In nature’s scheme of things, one part isn’t more important (hence “better” in human thinking) than the other. Each has a “job,” a reason for it to be the way it is. It’s only humans that prefer one over the other, that calls one pretty but not the other. That considers one important and the other more expendable or less important simply because it’s not pretty.

I wish we could get past this concept of equating prettiness with importance or value. I’m as guilty of it as everyone else, though I’ve always looked more like the non-flowering vine kind of human than the spectacular wildflower kind.
And so, though it is not quite the new year, or even winter solstice (the start of nature’s new year), I’m going to make a resolution to look at beauty in the landscape differently than I have in the past. I will look for and try to find the importance in everything I see. I know it is there.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Early Mountain Sunrise

I was ridiculously thrilled this morning to see a crow. I left for work a few minutes later than usual, just at sunrise. As a result, the early morning birdlife was already starting to move around. And that's when I saw the crow, a large and well-fed looking bird, pulling at something along the edge of the road. It startled and flew as soon as I neared. When I'm excited to see a crow, that's a sure sign I'm feeling very bird-deprived by the late sunrises and early sunsets.

The weather has warmed up this week, giving this area day after day of near-record warm temperatures. It's thoroughly unlike December and thoroughly unappreciated by me. Yesterday it was 58 degrees, for heaven's sake. I think it's fooling the birds, too. This morning I heard a cardinal singing. I've heard cardinals sing on warm days in February, but I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've heard one singing in December.

I've been going over my bird list from 2006. I tracked it a little differently this year than I usually do. As a result, I'm seeing my results in new ways. I'm noticing that it's not just the number of species that falls as the summer residents head for warmer climes. Even the numbers of resident or common species falls as the year progresses. For some reason I hadn't noticed that before.

Anyway, it will soon be time to start a new bird list for the new year, an event that I always look forward to. It's the time of year when even the common starling can be seen for the "first" time. I usually spend at least a few hours on New Years Day birding and trying to see as many "new" species as possible to start my new list. I keep hoping to make 40 species on the first day (not all at the cabin). I've never done it in this area yet, though I've come close. There's always one or two species that I should be able to find that I don't that keeps me from reaching this minor milestone. Perhaps 2007 will be the year. I can always hope.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Night Window

I have a large window in my bedroom, and when I lay down at night, I can still see outside and into the woods. Falling asleep while looking into the woods is my way to end the day. The cares float away as I watch the quiet and stillness of the forest. Sometimes I will watch the light of a distant airplane as it plays hide and seek behind the trees. Once or twice I’ve seen an owl and once a flying squirrel, but usually there’s nothing to see but the trees and the sky.

Sometimes watching the trees in the darkness is the only time I have in a day to slow down and relax. I have watched the trees change over the years I’ve lived here. One near the cabin has grown noticeably taller and thicker, the scars left on its bark when a limb came off are much faded now and higher than they were when I moved here. Several other trees fell during ice storms or wind storms in years past. But the forest remains, silent and deep in winter, noisy with the rustle of leaves and insects in the summer.

Forests measure time differently than we humans, and watching a forest in an evening or over the years helps give me a sense of the timeless. This isn’t an “escape” from modern life, so much as it is a turning towards something larger than the clutter of my own daily life. Watching the woods reminds me of my own place in nature and helps me step away from the ideas that seem so important in the day. At night, in the forest, few of those cluttering thoughts and activities have much importance. The forest reminds me of that again and again, whenever I forget.

On clear nights, I can usually see a few stars, but the trees hide most of them. I focus instead on the sky. Is it cloudy or clear? Is it the dark of a moonless midnight or is the forest brightened by a full moon’s light? The night is the time when I can just observe and give my processing and judging mind a respite, a sanctuary from the day.

Usually one of the cats sits atop the bookcase and stares out into the woods, too. He or she will join me on the bed as soon they have decided there’s nothing more to look at for the night. That’s usually when I, too, will at last close my eyes and let the day end, leaving the forest to itself again.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Years Ago

Years ago, I rented a cabin in the woods with other regular hawk watchers just behind the curve of the mountain on the left, up the little draw behind it. We were all regulars to the Hawk Mountain lookout during migration season, but we all lived 1-2 hours away from the mountain. Driving home Saturday night only to return early on Sunday morning for another day of hawkwatching wasn’t a good use of our time or money. And driving any distance with tired eyes wasn’t very safe either.

None of us wanted to or were able to spend money on a motel, so we started camping out together in an Appalachian Trail shelter near the lookout. Staying overnight at the mountain allowed us to attend the Saturday evening lectures that often ran past 9 p.m. and we could make it up onto the lookout even earlier the next day. We soon became not just acquaintances but friends and started hosting pre-lecture potluck suppers and post-lecture get-togethers with other, non-camping mountain regulars at the shelter.

After a few seasons of camping at the shelter, which in the fall never seemed to be used by hikers, one of our group found a cabin for rent at the bottom of Hawk Mountain. With the rental cost split multiple ways, it was affordable and we took it. The cabin was a year-round rental along the Little Schyulkill River, so we named it the River House. We were soon staying there on weekends long after migration ended in the fall or spring. We stayed there in winter and summer, too, often having friends over for dinner or a glass of wine. I thought it was prettiest in winter. A couple of times several of us were snowed in there for a day or two. In the summer, the cabin was a cool respite from the season’s heat.

Eventually, after several years, the landlord decided to sell the property, and we were forced to vacate. Now I have my own cabin in the woods to live in year round, and not just on the weekend, but I will always have a fond spot for those years and those times spent at the River House.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Quick Trip to Hawk Mountain

I made an all too brief stop at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary on Saturday to attend a planning meeting for the upcoming HMANA conference next September. It was our first session, and Laurie Goodrich, the monitoring biologist at Hawk Mountain, has already put together the shell of the activities. The conference will bring together raptor biologists and enthusiasts from all over North America, and the planned events and sessions sound great. I'm going to be working mostly with publicity for the event and will probably work at the event itself as well.

I had hoped to be able to arrive early enough to at least go up to the South Lookout, which is near the road, for a few minutes. The view from up there is spectacular even when raptors aren't flying, but I soon realized that I didn't have enough time in the day for that. So my trip was limited to the meeting site at Hawk Mountain's still new Acopian Center down at the bottom of the mountain. The first photo shows the side of the building that faces the mountain and its observation deck. The Acopian Center is a residence and field station for visiting scientists. Hawk Mountain also holds events in the main space upstairs. Our meeting was held downstairs in a conference room/library.

I took the second photo in the conference room. It shows a photo of Maurice Broun, the first curator of the mountain, in the center. His wife Irma is on the right. The couple lived on the mountain starting in the late 30's, when hawk shooting, not hawk watching, was a major fall sport on the mountain. When the land was purchased by Rosalie Edge for raptor conservation, the couple moved onto the mountain to close the land to hunting and begin the process of education. They received death threats for prohibiting hawk shooting. But they persevered and the tide turned, and Hawk Mountain became the first sanctuary for birds of prey.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Ski Roundtop Opens!

Ski Roundtop opened for the season on Saturday morning. I took this photo literally seconds before they opened the gates. I hear it was a good opening day; the parking lot was certainly full when I saw it later in the day.

I wasn't home much this weekend. I had to go up to Hawk Mountain for a meeting to discuss a conference the Hawk Migration Association of North America is planning for September. I'll have a few photos of my trip up to Hawk Mountain in an upcoming blog entry.

Sunday I worked at Roundtop--another busy day. So I wasn't outside very much and unfortunately didn't have any time to enjoy the woods around me. I did get to see a few birds! (Daylight is a beautiful thing).

Life is like this sometimes. If I lived in Arizona with a spectacular view of the Grand Canyon in my front yard, I'm sure I would have times when I'd be too busy to notice it, at least occasionally. I take solace from the fact that my life is not always this busy, and that I'm lucky to live where I can easily enjoy the outdoors most of the time. Finding the time to enjoy my surroundings isn't always as easy as I think it should be. At least I have the woods right around me, so I can maximize whatever time I do have.

Friday, December 08, 2006

No Picture

It's Friday, and I don't have a new picture for the blog today. I will have to take a new batch of them this weekend. A blog without a photo is a bit like how I feel in the dark in the mornings and evenings at home. I start to feel a bit like a vampire or an owl. Unlike them, I long to see the sun and be out in it, if only briefly.

It was 15 degrees at the cabin this morning, with a cold northwest wind that made it seem even colder. I've started to keep the water faucets dripping in the cabin to prevent the pipes from freezing. I've had the pipes freeze up temporarily a few times since I've lived here. Fortunately, I caught the freeze-ups as soon as they happened, and a hair dryer has always been enough to open things up again. Once, I had the pipes freeze when the faucets were kept dripping--I guess I didn't have have them dripping enough.

Most of the time my pipes are fine. The trouble always comes when wind is added to the cold, and freezing pipes usually happen when the wind comes from the west-southwest. Since the winter wind is usually from the northwest, I don't have the problem very often. The pipes were fine during a -16F degree cold spell with calm winds, but froze another time when the temperature was in the teens, but the wind was from the west-southwest. So, now, just to be safe, once the temperature is in the teens, I usually let the water drip. The cats love that, anyway. They act as though I've created an amusement park just for them.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Clouds and Things

Did I see the aurora last night? No!

Was it cloudy? Yes!

It's a cosmic rule, I know it. Whenever, the chance to see aurora borealis this far south is high, the clouds move in. This is more of a rule than "red sky at morning, sailor's warning" and "dew on the grass, no rain will pass." This rule is up there with the sun rising in the east.

But enough about that.

How about that cone crop? I'm told the cone crop in Canada is equally lush, so don't expect to see many, if any winter finches down here this winter. Those little cuties will stay fat at home this winter.

I'm still getting used to the idea of taking photos only on the weekend and then portioning them out during the week. Darkness on both ends of my work day keeps me from taking photos either in the mornings or the evenings during the week now. I'm afraid that by the end of the week, the photos aren't very interesting, let alone current. Hopefully, I'll get better at that next week. It will likely be mid- to late-January before the light is strong enough for daily photos again. Such is life.

It's official now: Ski Roundtop opens for the season on Saturday morning!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Special late note: Be on the lookout for auroras tonight! is putting the odds of seeing auroras in the mid-latitudes at 40% tonight, which is about as high as it ever gets for those of us who live in the south.

I have several beautiful beech trees at the cabin in my front forest. I don't have a yard, so the forest grows right up to the front door. The trees are striking, at least in part because of their smooth, light gray bark in the forest of mostly dark-barked oak and hickory trees. These are the trees that people can't resist cutting their initials into, and in fact, the first owner of my cabin did that on one of them. The trees are also striking because their branches often curve and appear at unusual angles. This is also a difference from the straight-limbed oaks. People who have yards don't like them, as they perceive them as "dirty" trees that easily drop their branches and twigs. In a forest, that's not an issue, so I get to enjoy their beauty without worrying about the work of them (not that I would let that bother me anyway).

The photo today shows the nut casings from a beech tree. Unfortunately, I've never tasted the beech nut itself. Squirrels and other critters always get to them first, at least in part because they don't wait until the nuts are ready to drop before they eat them. Now that the leaves are down, I'm able to see the remains of nut casings all around me.

It is starting to feel more wintry here now, though the cold weather is still so new, after the warmth of this past November, that it somehow doesn't feel settled in yet. This morning's temperature showed 18 degrees, and the forecast is for light snow tomorrow. The raccoons have taken to hibernating. I know this as I was visited every night by 2-3 of them raiding the outside cats' food dish. The raccoons were dextrous enough to reach up inside the dish to clean out every single bit of cat food, and now those few bits that the cats can't reach remain until the next morning.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Colder weather is here!

Ah, now it's starting to feel as though winter will actually arrive sometime this year. It was 22 degrees F at the cabin this morning. The morning is crisp and clear, and it feels wonderful.

This little tufted titmouse is one of my regular feeder birds. They are tame enough that I can stand outside with the camera and take a photo or two. The chickadees also don't mind if I'm near the feeder when they are. But the red-bellied woodpecker is quite shy and darts away as soon as it hears the door. The white-breasted nuthatch seem bold enough too, but never manages to remain still enough for me to get a shot.

Snowmaking continued all night at Roundtop, and this morning one or two of the bunny slopes are starting to look ski-able. Give it another day or so, and I'm pretty sure they will open. People have often asked me if the sound of the snowmaking is annoying to me over at the cabin. No, it isn't. It sounds a bit like a constant wind blowing through the trees. I drove past a car wash yesterday with my car windows closed, and the sound of that in operation was similar to what I hear at the cabin. Even if I heard that sound during the summer when my windows are open, it wouldn't be annoying to my ears.

However, when I get very close to the snowmaking jets, it hurts the dogs' ears. Plus, the sound of them is loud enough that the dogs don't hear me if we walk on the access road in front of a slope where they're making snow. So I just don't walk in front of the slopes while snow is made. I can walk around the far side of the old pond, which is really less than 100 yards from the snowmaking, and that doesn't hurt the dogs' ears (and they can hear me as well as they ever do).

This morning Dog and I walked in the woods a bit. The deer hunters seem to have gone. The ground is now hard enough that I'm not squishing through mud. We went out to the new pond and watched the full moon set behind the mountain. We were walking before dawn, but the full moon lit our way well enough. I'm always surprised at how much difference there is in where the moon sets in winter and summer. Right now, the moon sets in the northwest. By summer, it will be setting in the southwest. Dog was unimpressed, interested only in the wonderful smells on the ground in front of him.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Snow on Roundtop

Snowmaking has started on Roundtop! This photo shows the scene that greeted me early Sunday morning. The snowmaking crew started making snow for the first time this season on Saturday night.

If the weather stays cold, Roundtop should be able to be open, with at least a few of the slopes, within a few days, almost certainly by this upcoming weekend.

Where I work, in Guest Services, the single most asked question is, "when are you going to open?" People are always surprised when we answer that we don't know, that our opening is dependent on Mother Nature. A surprising number of people seem to equate snowmaking with "fake" snow, as though it is something like plastic, perhaps. We get calls when it is 50 degrees (and higher) outside wanting to know if we're open for skiing. When we explain that it isn't cold enough yet, they say, "But I thought you made snow." Well, we do, but it's real snow and for that it has to be below freezing. In this area, winter is often a dry season. Plenty of years we have cold temperatures and no snow, so Roundtop makes their own.

The short version of how you make snow is this: 1) wait until it's below freezing, 2) shoot water into air with some pressure behind it, and 3) the water freezes and falls to the ground as snow. The colder it is, the more like snow it is. If it's warmer, it's a bit more like ice crystals than snow.

Let the winter begin!

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Apples That Remain

This morning it was 65°F when I got up, a new record for this date in my area. I suspect the final record will actually be a degree or so warmer. But by noon the storm that has pounded and pummeled the west and Midwest will arrive here, bringing some very nasty and much colder weather.

This morning as I left the mountain I passed the apple orchard that’s the first thing I see when I leave the cover of the forest. At first I thought a few leaves were still clinging to the trees, until I looked closer. I was surprised to see many unharvested apples instead and was struck by how the red/yellow apples were the same colors as the red/yellow leaves on the ground. If the predicted winds come through this afternoon, I suspect that by tomorrow, no apples will remain on these leafless trees.

During our walk this morning, Dog and I saw five deer (no buck) still bedded down from the night in a very narrow patch of woods between one of Roundtop’s bunny slopes and the lower part of the lane that eventually passes the cabin. They watched us pass and never moved. Dog never scented them. I wondered if they were occupying this unusual spot because they were hiding from hunters or were anticipating the bad weather and seeking shelter from it.

I left the dogs inside the cabin this morning, as the weather sounds as though it will be too severe for them to be outside. When I left without putting them on the deck, I was met with quizzical looks, as though they were trying to tell me I’d forgotten something.