Friday, October 31, 2008

Free Hawk ID program

Last week I told you about a free hawk silhouette guide. This week I'm pointing you to a new free PowerPoint presentation on hawk identification. The presentation is about 30 minutes long and available free for download for non-commercial use (if you have high speed internet access) here at the Web site of the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA). If you don't have high-speed internet, you'll need to order the CD for $12.

The slide show is called Identification of Raptors of the Northeast and combines photos and graphics to show how hawks really look as they appear in flight and during migration. We all know that hawks on the wing don't look anything like poses in a field guide, and this presentation will help you identify the birds as they really look.

The program covers 19 species of hawks and vultures, and first focuses on how to identify the major raptor families so you can narrow down an identification. Then it zeroes in on the field marks and flight patterns that will identify each species as they look in flight.

The program was created by Susan Fogleman from Little Round Top hawkwatch in New Hampshire. I was one of the early "beta testers" and think it will be very useful for novice and intermediate hawkwatchers alike. Plus, it's a fun prgroam, and I think you will enjoy it.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Winter's coming--finches too

This morning I saw three dark-eyed juncos, marking the first time this year I’ve seen more than one at a time. The morning is dawning clear, after several days of clouds and three types of precipitation (rain, sleet and snow), but it’s still almost dark when I leave the cabin. That will change in two days when we "fall back" an hour’s time this weekend. The mornings still will likely not be light enough for a photograph, but maybe I’m wrong about that and it will be.

Now that this big nor’easter is past, I’m expecting that the next day or so will be particularly active around the woods. Hawks and songbirds both migrate heavily after big storms. Their migration is bolstered by a backlog of birds waiting out the storm, plus the storms apparently focus the birds’ attention on heading south. If the weather is good and food supplies are decent, they will hang around in their summer grounds and not feel the urge to move.

It may well be another good year for winter finch irruptions to the south. Hawkwatches are reporting huge numbers of pine siskins, especially, moving south over the past week or so. A few hawkwatches have counted 1200-1500 each day. Ron Pittaway has posted a detailed winter finch forecast here on e-Bird that focuses on the abundance of far northern food supplies as the predictor for each individual species. Locally, some red-breasted nuthatches have been reported already—none at my feeders yet, where the action is still limited to the local birds and activity is just starting to pick up.

The prospect of seeing northern finches is always exciting for me. Last year was a good one for me with redpolls, purple finch and red-breasted nuthatch all showing up. I know that these birds are down here because they’ve had a rough year up north, but if they come south, I promise to feed them well, so they will be good and fat when they head back north in the spring.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Easing towards winter

The wind that has dominated here is finally easing. Yesterday was the most intense—45-55 mph winds for much of the day. I lost power at the cabin several times, each time briefly. I can’t drive up the driveway and down the lane without needing to stop at least once or twice to remove a branch too large or too gnarly to drive over.

More juncos have arrived, though still not huge numbers of them. That might well change in the next few days. Once this nor’easter clears, those little snowbirds may decide they’d better clear out of Canada and head south while the gettin’ is still good.. The Canadian robins have also arrived. When I was a youngster, these were called "woods robins." These birds are a bit larger and browner than the birds that summer here (and which left about a month ago). Down here the Canadian robins tend to stay in small flocks and often stay throughout the winter, especially if the winter tends to the mild side. They don’t hang out in fields and yards like the summer robins. They prefer woods and sometimes abandoned fields. We used to think that "woods robins" were simply summer birds that didn’t migrate, but over the years research has shown they are really Canadian robins who have migrated, and after a trip of 1000 miles or so, they have flown south.

In general, though, I see few of the forest’s animals in weather like this. They are as hunkered down as I am, waiting for the raging weather to abate. The snow that fell in the Poconos missed me. I was on the southwest edge of the storm and so got the worst of the wind instead.

It’s a bit early in the season to have what is essentially a winter storm of such strength. This year will be the first year in what seems like forever to me where there will be no El Nino or La Nina effect to warm the winter. That doesn’t hurt my feelings at all, though I reserve the right to change my tune if I’m snowed in for longer than a week.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Was that snow? Maybe

Maybe I had a few flurries of snow last night. Mostly, though, nothing fell from the sky. Wind dominates my landscape at the moment, dropping ever more leaves from the trees. The wind will likely ruin the peak of fall color around me. The leaves will come down before they turn brilliant. Ah, well, such is life.

Last evening Dog and I took a spin around the ponds. Walking in the evenings now is turning into a race with sunset. The evening was the kind of weather I think of as a true October sky—angry dark clouds, crisp temperatures, a wind that bites. Usually, I don’t have to wait until the end of the month to experience that.

This October has been rather normal for its temperature—an improvement over recent years---but it has also been unremittingly clear with days on end of cool, windy days and blue skies. Much of the northeast has been the same. All I have to do is read the hawkwatching "dailies" to hear the complaints of counters suffering from "blue out." Blue skies are the bane of hawkwatchers. The undifferentiated sky is both hard on the eyes and makes it hard to see or even spot migrating hawks, who can fly much higher than they can when a little cloud cover holds them lower. Looking at teeny tiny little dots is not my idea of good hawkwatching. I’ve reached the age where I simply can’t hawkwatch in blue sky anymore. If I do, I won’t be able to drive home or walk down off the mountain.

So last evening Dog and I walked and then simply sat, enjoying the weather. He wandered off after a few minutes, nosing the ground and then he started to roll. Now, if you own a dog you know this is not a good sign. I was up in a flash, pulling him off his rolling spot, but it was already too late. He’d found some fox poop to roll in. And he stank. So I took him for another run, hoping to blow the stink off of him, at least a little. Eventually, I couldn’t put it off any longer, as darkness was closing in. My evening was spent giving a doggie bath—not how I wanted to spend my evening. And Dog wasn’t pleased either. He loves water, but he can do without the soap.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Out in the wind

Wind blew across the mountain all weekend. On Saturday, it was rainy and windy. On Sunday it was sunny and windy. When I returned to the cabin after running errands, I had to stop the car, get out and pick up branches before I could get up my lane and back down my driveway.

The wind blew mostly from the northwest, though even that swirled around and tossed leaves in many directions. I spent much of Sunday afternoon out in the woods. The sound of the wind was with me every step of the way, blocking out any other forest sounds. Missing was the usual sound of squirrels scurrying or deer trying to step lightly through dry leaves. I felt hampered by the loss of that sense, forced to rely solely on sight to notice what was around me.

That made observation more difficult than I would have guessed. My eye was drawn to motion, which meant I saw a lot of leaves blowing across the mountain. Normally, I rely on hearing to alert me to something interesting and then follow-up with looking towards the sound. Deprived of hearing, suddenly everything caught my eye. That turned out to be both fascinating and frustrating.

Even in ways I don’t expect, a few hours in the woods teaches me yet another lesson, one that I wouldn’t have experienced if I’d stayed inside. My inside environment, even in a small cabin, is a controlled one. Outside I don’t control anything, and I must react to what’s around me, whether it’s wind or sun or a herd of deer. That’s yet another reason why being in the outdoors is so different than working in a business or sitting in a house. That fa├žade of control that we humans seem to value so much is torn away, even about little things. In the outdoors, you have to let go of that, if you really want to see and experience what’s out there.

Friday, October 24, 2008

In the air


For weeks, the weather here on Roundtop was crisp and clear, with low humidity and no rain. This morning the moon was veiled with high cirrus clouds, and by the time the sun rose, I could feel the moisture in the air. I had frost this morning, and I smelled the sweet, sweet fragrance of snow in the air. The coming precipitation will not, however, fall as snow later today. The clouds will thicken with each passing hour and cause the temperature to rise. Rain will fall tonight or tomorrow.

With the rain, many of the colored leaves of autumn will fall too. When the rain is over, the leaves that will remain will be those few that haven’t turned color yet, and for a few days the mountain will likely look green again. In a few days, another, this time the final round of color change will begin.

Winter is coming. I've smelled it.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Finding help for tough identifications

If you’re anything like me, you likely have a bookcase full of fieldguides in your house. And though you may have started with a fieldguide to birds or trees or mammals, somehow, inexorably, over the years you’ve added fieldguides on subjects you never would have guessed you would own back when you got your first one.

Some fieldguides are very complete. Birds are a good example. Many now show females, males, juveniles, inter-grades, hybrids and other plumages. As a result, if you get a good look at the bird (which of course it feels like something that rarely happens) you can probably identify it.
Other fieldguide topics are less satisfying, I’ve found. For something like fungi, for example, there are so many species that authors are forced to make selections about what species to include. So they look at the various habitats in the U.S. and then choose the most common species found in those habitats.

But there you are, out in the woods somewhere, new fieldguide in hand, fungus (or fern) in front of you and you can’t identify it. Isn’t that a bummer? I can’t really fault the authors of those national guides. With thousands of species, they simply have to make choices. Especially with plants and insects, the number of species found in just a single state will fill the average number of pages of in a single fieldguide. That doesn’t make it any the less frustrating for the rest of us.

A solution, I’m finding, is to search for fieldguides specific to the state or region where you live. In the bad old days when you were lucky to find any fieldguide for just mushrooms, say, regional fieldguides rarely existed. But now they are much more common, and even if you can’t find a guide to your state, it’s usually possible to find one for the state or province next door that will be better for you than a national guide that tries to cover a little bit of everything.

The regional guides will certainly include more of the uncommon species in your area than is possible for a national fieldguide to include. And so while I can’t guarantee that you will be able to identify that odd fungus or fern or wildflower you’re sitting in front of, those regional guides will increase the odds you’ll find out what it is.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Earthquake!

About 3 miles from me was another earthquake on Sunday. I heard this one measured 2.6. I didn’t feel it. The dogs didn’t howl either. One person reported a crack in the foundation of their house. Another reported a broken window. Until 2 weeks ago, the last earthquake in this area was 10 years ago. But in 2 weeks there’s been 2 earthquakes.

Geologists are telling people that these little tremors—the first was a 2.0—don’t mean a "big one" is imminent. Locally, people aren’t ready to agree. The second one was stronger than the first, so these might be "foreshocks." An "aftershock" is always weaker than the main earthquake. People are reporting hearing a loud boom coming from underground that is soon followed by a tremor. It’s because of the "boom" that people called the police, thinking it was an explosion or a dynamite blast.

There is supposed to be what’s been described as a "small" fault line through the area, somewhere. No one, not even the experts know exactly where. It doesn’t even have a name, so far as I’ve been able to learn. The geologists estimate the quakes are about 5 kilometers below the surface. Unlike in California, the rocks in this area are old and cold and rigid, so they don’t really cut loose very often. There hasn’t been a really big quake in the eastern U.S. for the past 100 years. That one was impressive, though—an 8.0 that was felt 500 miles away. In this area, the last "big" one was somewhere between a 4 and a 5 in 1988. I didn’t feel that one either. That's probably a good thing.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Catching Up

Sorry I was offline unexpectedly. Partly I was away and partly I had internet access issues. So I'd better catch everyone up on what's happened in the past 3 days.

1. I've seen the first dark-eyed junco (Sunday). It was only one, no doubt a scout. The timing for its arrival is just about average--2 days earlier than in 2006 but 9 days ahead of 2007 (which was late).

2. The nights are now falling into the upper 30's. I have had a frost. Neighbors in lower areas have had a killing freeze. It's chilly enough this morning that a front moving through could, theoretically, bring some snow flurries--except that it's been so dry and the front is so weak that it's unlikely any precipitation will reach the ground.

3. Action at my feeders is starting to pick up. I haven't had anything unusual yet, just the usual suspects: Red-bellied woodpecker, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, black-capped chickadee, Carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, blue jay, white-breasted nuthatch. I haven't seen a red-breasted nuthatch yet, though several have been sighted nearby.

4. I have a very annoying grey squirrel at my feeders. I've been wondering why the seed is disappearing so quickly when the feeder action is still kind of limited. Now I know. Jabba the Hut of a grey squirrel sits in the middle of the feeder, lazes back on his haunches and stuffs himself.

5. The leaves continue to fall (hooray!) and I can now see just a teeny little bit of the very top of the mountain to the west of me. Okay, so it's not much yet, but my view is beginning to return. At this point, I'd estimate that about 20% of the leaves around me have fallen. Winter is coming!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Hawk silhouette guide for free!

The Hawk Migration Association of North America and The NorthEast Hawk Watch, a regional chapter of HMANA, have partnered to distribute a silhouette guide to hawks of the eastern (and most of the central) U.S. The guide is available for free Here as a .pdf file for non-commercial use. If you like the guide enough to want a laminated version, we're going to charge you $4. You can order that one here.

The artist is Paul Carrier, who for many years was the artist who created all the drawings for our journal, Hawk Migration Studies, of which I am the editor. Eventually, the journal went to photographs instead of drawings, but I will always have a soft spot for Paul's fine drawings.

The silhouette guide is 2-pages and shows hawks as they appear when soaring overhead, which is how most hawkwatchers see them. I can still remember the first time I saw a Cooper's Hawk sitting on a wire, years after I'd started hawkwatching and years after I was comfortable identifying them in migration. I couldn't identify the thing. It wasn't flying. For most people, though, identification works in just the opposite way. They see something sitting and identify it in a fieldguide. Then if they go hawkwatching, they end up being flummoxed, because birds they can readily identify sitting someplace look entirely different on the wing and (usually) overhead.

So this guide is designed to identify hawks when the only field marks you can see are the ones on the underside of the bird. There's also a little text to describe what to look for and views of the birds as they are heading directly at you. You will also find see the difference in hawk shapes among the major families of hawks.

The drawings are excellent--more of Paul's great work--and I highly recommend the guide. And after you've downloaded the guide, why not take a look around the HMANA Web site at http://www.hmana.org/ and see what else we have there.
The photo today was taken last Sunday and shows the lane heading up to my cabin. The color has changed a lot this week. I'll have a newer photo of it on Monday.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ferns in sunshine

Even the ferns are turning color in the woods right now. I came across many of these colonizing a steep bank on my Sunday walk. These are the Lady fern, one of the most common in northern temperate climes like mine.

This fern was much prized by the Victorians during the Victorian fern craze. This species is probably the most common fern species I see around Roundtop. I’ve read that I could divide a plant in the spring and replant it up at the cabin, but I have an aversion to taking anything I find in the forest. That doesn’t keep me from being tempted, at least occasionally, though.

Of all the plant families, I think ferns are my favorite, though fungi are close. Often, identifying ferns isn’t a particularly easy exercise. There are many species and many of those are similar to each other. Reading about how one species is separated from another very similar species usually gets very technical very quickly, and sometimes I just zone out or give up. Sometimes, even when the descriptions use words I understand, they use those words in unusual ways, and I end up even more confused.

I love knowing what species of all plants are found around Roundtop, but I’m not about to make myself crazy over it when I can’t. Not knowing doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of their beauty. Nothing could do that.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A little Appalachian glow

This morning’s photo is a little early morning Appalachian-glow over on Nell's Hill. I suppose the correct term is alpenglow, but I’m not in the Alps. Although I took this photo on Sunday morning, the leaves have changed even more in just 3 days. I’m already starting to hope that some good color will remain by the time this weekend rolls around. A cold front will move through tomorrow night, and it will depend on how strong and windy that is.

The dry leaves make a brittle sound at the slightest breeze. The first time I heard it again this fall, I looked behind me, wondering if someone or something was there. It took me a moment to realize what it was. You’d think after all these years that I wouldn’t be surprised the first time I hear the sound again after a year’s absence, but I somehow I always am.

The first of the leaves are already starting to fall. Every morning I have to brush off the car before I head out for work. When the leaf drop is well along, I will be ankle deep in leaves. At this point, they are still just scattered across the driveway.

It certainly is true for me that each season makes me feel as though the old is suddenly new again. Although I've now lived through many changes of season, I fully enjoy the freshness that each one brings with it. Whether it's hearing the scratch of leaves in the breeze again or finding the driveway strewn with shades of yellow and red, it really doesn't matter. It's that sense of newness again that always takes me just a little by surprise that I appreciate. Too often daily life has a degree of sameness to it that can leave me in a bit of a rut. The seasons gently jolt me out that rut and remind me that life does change. Always.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Leaf and fern


Before anyone asks, I did not place this leaf atop the fern. It was like this when I found it.

In fact, when I first saw this leaf, I was too far away to realize what it was. I simply saw this bright red "something" as I walked along the path between the mountains on Sunday. From a distance, it looked a bit like a flower, and I wondered what could possibly be blooming that was so large and so bright. And then I saw the fern and wondered if the "flower" had poked up between the fronds of the fern, perhaps protected by it, and then I finally saw it wasn’t a flower at all but a bright red leaf sitting on the fern.

Perfect, isn’t it?

As lightly as the leaf rests on the fern, I suspect it hadn’t been there for very long, nor, I suspect, did it remain there for long, as I think the slightest breeze would move it. And so my finding it sitting there was about as lucky as winning the lottery would be.

The leaf is a red maple. It’s one of the most abundant hardwoods, and one that can thrive under a variety of soil types. You can identify this leaf by its 3 or 5 lobes. This one almost qualifies for 5, if you count the little points just off the side to the top. The opposite lobes are paired, which means the leaf is the same on its right side as on its left, and it has those little teeth along the leaf’s margin. You can make maple syrup from this variety, but it doesn’t have the higher sugar content of the other commercial varieties.

The fern is a Christmas fern, so named as it is still green around Christmas time and was used, especially in Victorian times, as a Christmas decoration. It’s very common in the wet woods on the steeper slopes down in the valley. And since the plant likes steeper slopes, the ferns can be used for soil conservation, because after the first frost, they will flatten to the ground, holding fallen leaves on the slope so they can rot and become new soil.

But all that pales next to the simple beauty of a red leaf sitting in sunlight atop a green fern on an October afternoon.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A walk on Sunday

Here on Roundtop, the weather this past weekend could hardly have been any better. The sky was clear, the wind calm, the temperature pleasant. It was fall at its best. Dog and I took advantage of it. On Sunday afternoon we walked through the forest in the narrow valley between Roundtop and Nell’s Hill. We didn’t see another soul. We never do.

Dog is a veteran hiker and backpacker, though we are a bit incompatible in our walking styles. He never wants to stop. I want to take pictures.

The leaf change is not yet at its peak, but the color is still pretty good and improving every day. I’m starting to think that pinning down the "peak" of fall color is harder to do than you might expect. In this area at least, I have many peaks. Some leaves are still pretty green. Travel 100 yards, and the color is suddenly well along. Some tree species are very yellow; others not so much.

On Sunday morning I woke up, turned over, looked out the window and saw that the woods had turned yellow literally overnight. That’s when I decided a walk into the valley would be my day’s priority. I waited, somewhat impatiently, until early afternoon to begin the walk because I’ve learned that the sun needs to be higher to penetrate between the two mountains. If I leave too early in the day, the light isn’t yet right.

Our first stop was along this old pond along Beaver Creek. Dog thought the weather fine enough for a swim. I stayed dry. Blue jays screamed through the forest, announcing our arrival. Perhaps as a result, we didn’t see many other animals. Dog found a gray squirrel that was in no hurry to run away, which thrilled him. The squirrel soon escaped up an oak tree, leaving Dog to stand with his front feet as high up the tree as he could reach.

We saw many ferns on our walk; most were sword ferns or common polypody ferns. Some of these are yellowing, some are still green. Even though it hasn’t rained for a week or more now, the valley still had wet spots from mountain run-off or small springs. Here, we saw opossum, deer and raccoon tracks, as well as turkey and smaller birds.

While I was walking, I was trying to remember how often I walk along this valley, and I think it only amounts to 6-8 times a year. I’d love to be able to walk it at least once a week, so I could really see the ebb and flow of the seasons down here. I know that’s not realistic. Between weather and work and other activities, I know I can’t make that happen. But perhaps I could make this walk 30-40 times a year if I made it more of a priority. It’s worth a try.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Summer and fall

Everywhere I turn, I see a little summer, a little fall. Fall is here, but traces of summer remain. The two sit side by side sometimes, like good friends or at least like familiar adversaries of long standing.

Today, it reminds me, a little, of different generations, of how the new generation gradually takes over from the older one. And then one day, only the newer remains and life is different than it was before.

For me, the forest around me and the seasons around me, are my greatest teachers. There is nothing of knowledge worth learning that I can’t learn by observing nature. I see parallels everywhere that teach me how to deal with or accept some aspect of my life away from the heartbeat of the forest.. I can’t imagine living any other way. I can’t imagine how people get through a day without it.

Solace and teacher. Summer and fall. Old and new. It’s all here.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Quieting

After a few chilly nights, the leaves in lower reaches around Roundtop are developing quite a bit of color. Higher areas are still pretty green, though it’s a deathly looking green, not the lush shades of summer.

The quiet around me grows ever quieter, as birds leave and their numbers drop. The insect chorus is much diminished, too. I am surprised to hear any at all, but some are still out there. After dark, I can now see my breath against the brightness of my headlamp. For a few moments that seems novel again, after months without it. I huff and puff and watch my breath smoke as Dog looks at me as if I’ve gone crazy.

Sounds that were muffled in summer after traveling through millions of leaves are now more distinct because there are fewer leaves to muffle them. I can hear a distant freight train rumble and its whistle blow, and then the rumble fades in the distance. In summer, the whistle is all I can hear. I am fortunate to live where quiet is always the rule, no mater what the season. In winter, sometimes the quiet can even feel too quiet, and a distant sound is a reminder that I am not really alone. At such times, a distant sound is welcome and feels almost friendly.

But for now and for most times, I enjoy the quiet and the quieting of the land around me. It’s like that deep, relaxing breath just before falling asleep at night. The one where you know sleep is only a moment away.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Last of the light

I’ve finally figured out why I’ve had trouble this week finding light good enough for my daily photographs. It’s the new daylight savings time.

When I first started this blog, we still operated under the old daylight savings time that ended earlier in the fall and started later in the spring. The result for me was that just at the point where I couldn’t take evening photos any longer, we made the time change, and I was able to take my daily photos in the morning for a while. This lasted about a month, and then it became too dark on workdays for either morning or evening photos. So I would take a week’s worth of photos on weekends and dole them out through the week.

But now that we’re on this new daylight savings time, I am already at a point where I can’t get decent light in either the morning or evening for my daily photos. I didn’t have any in-between switch from evening to morning photos before losing the daylight altogether. Why wasn’t I informed??

So please bear with me while I make the switch from taking daily photographs to taking all my week’s photos over the weekend. I’m just getting too old for all this drama.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Beautiful and deadly

I’m fairly certain this lovely, nearly pure white mushroom is one of the Amanitas, frequently called the deadly Amanitas as though the phrase is a single word. I believe it’s a Destroying Angel, though I’m less certain of that. With Amanitas the choices are wide and varied. This one was 4-5 inches tall, actually small by Amanita standards.

In any event, Amanitas are among the showiest and deadliest of the mushrooms. In southeast Alaska along the Chilkoot Trail, I found some nearly as tall as my shin, with a cap the size of a dinner plate. Now, those were impressive. Early fall is a good time to find them, partly because the forest floor is visible once the annual undergrowth begins to thin out and partly because September and October is the time when many appear.

Several species of Amanitas are called Destroying Angel. None are good in salads, as you might expect from the name. They are found up and into early November, throughout North America, in mixed woods, under or near trees. They can be reliably identified by spore prints, but I don’t touch them. Reading about death by mushroom (vomiting followed by diarrhea, cramps, and kidney and liver dysfunction leading to death) does that to me. If there is ever the perfect time to take only photographs and leave only footprints, the Amanitas make me extra sure that’s all I do.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Apple Harvest Festival

My big excitement this weekend wasn’t around the cabin for once. I went to the National Apple Harvest Festival in Arendtsville (pronounced like arent’s ville). The festival has been around for ages, though it’s only recently been named the National Apple Harvest Festival. I’ve always loved it, because it’s set in an old fairgrounds among mature pine trees at the base of a mountain. The pavilions all look as though they were built in the 30’s, and it’s like stepping back into a long-past time.

I’ve avoided attending for several years because the festival has grown so popular and crowded that I haven’t enjoyed it as much. But I’ve missed going, so this year I decided to brave the crowds and go anyway. Even so, my plan was to hit the craft and food booths early on Sunday, eat lunch and then leave in the hopes that I would avoid the worst of the crowd. I didn’t actually avoid the crowds, but my plan worked pretty well, overall.

The food booths are spectacular. You can get apple dumplings, apple crisp, apple pizza, funnel cakes, soft pretzels, cider, homemade soda and who knows what else? I only ate my way around about half of the fair. I think I won’t wait so long to go back again.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Friday Mishmash


It’s probably just me, but with the cooler than normal temperatures over at least the past 2 weeks (not to mention the summer), I expected that the fall color change would be a little further along than it is. Oh, I can find certain trees with some color change, but when I look at the mountain as a whole, it’s not very far along.

Other signs of fall are in full swing, though. So far, I’ve managed not to kill any of the dozens of squirrels that dart in front of my car’s path, all with nuts in their mouth. Many are not so lucky. Not a day goes by that I don’t see a new one or two killed somewhere along my driving route.

And fall hawkwatches have already passed the manic glory days of Broadwing season and are settling in for the long haul of 2 more months to migration season. Hawk counters frequently add interesting tidbits and sightings to their daily count statistics. Here’s one I found from Blueberry Hill in Granville, Massachusetts. The counter reported a "young Red-tailed Hawk playing with a purple toy balloon [on September 19]. The bird dove on the balloon several times, finally popping it with its talons." I’d sure love to see photos from that one.

No rain is predicted for this weekend, so I will be out and about (I hope) in the forest as much as I can be. Fall is too short to waste it indoors.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Angry Sky

Doesn’t this look like an October sky? At least this is what I think of when I think of October skies. I think of big, dark clouds interspersed with blue sky and cumulous clouds, racing to reach the far horizon. I think of weather that changes from moment to moment, temperatures that feel roasting in the sunshine and frigid in the shade.

So in accordance with this new month we’re in, I’m posting a month-appropriate photo. Gone are the flowers and blooms. Now comes the changeable sky of October.

This morning’s Harrisburg Patriot News has a front page article, "A frightening forecast for Pennsylvania’s climate." The article says a new report from the Union for Concerned Scientists indicates snow cover in Pennsylvania will become a thing of the past and that skiing and snowmobiling "could become nearly impossible" in the next few decades unless we vastly reduce the heat-trapping gases that cause the change. For me, this is hardly new news, but this does mark the first time I’ve seen the local paper explain the problem in such stark terms. I hope the message doesn’t get lost in the swirl of our economic mess and the Presidential campaign.

And the message still needs to get through to the average person. Last night I was returning to the cabin after an evening meeting. For the first time since May, it is dark when I drive back to the mountain. And what do I see? In a large field that is now the site of several large homes (they’re not quite large enough to be McMansions but almost) all built within the last 2-3 years, the homes are completely lit up. Each of the many windows has an electric candle. There are lights at the front door, lights over the 3-car garage, lights at the entrance to the driveway, lights on a single pathetic tree in the front yard. It’s so bright I could read by the light of those lights. Now here’s the odd part. Just a quarter of a mile up the same road, I pass an area of older homes, most smaller, some quite a bit smaller, and what do I see? Hardly a light anywhere. If the people are home, I see interior lights. In about half the cases, there’s a single porch light or a front door light. And that’s it.

The homeowners of the smaller homes are quite content to use electricity only where they need it. Those homes are even closer to the mountain and have forest or mature trees behind them that closes in on the properties, yet they don’t feel the same need that the people in the large homes in the middle of an open field have to surround their living space with brightness. What’s that about? Is it simply a case of "look at me! Look at my big house"? Are they afraid (something) will get them if they turn off their lights? One light on a house compared with 30 blazing lights on a house? Is it any wonder we’re in so much trouble?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

One evening


I started out on a brief foray into the woods and surrounds last evening. The weather is still undecided from one moment to the next. Will it rain? Will the sun come out? Will the sun be out while it’s raining? Will I walk into a fog bank and never find my way out?

Last evening I experienced the majority of the weather events—minus only tornado and snow—that Roundtop experiences. In less than an hour, I was pummeled by rain, pelted by hail (very briefly), surprised by thunder and lightning, encased in fog and then finally treated to sunshine. Unsettled hardly begins to describe it, or me for that matter.

And yet, there was so much to see. The light went from breathtakingly exquisite to dead and dull—often in just the time it took to raise my camera. I didn’t expect to find many fungi just yet, figuring it would take another 24 hours after the rain for them to emerge, but I was wrong. Even in spots where I rarely find fungus, I found some. Fall leaf colors deepen almost perceptively in front of my eye.

Sometimes I think, how can anyone want to live in a city and never see all this? How anyone not want to be outside in a natural world when every moment vibrates with colors and light and things that dwarf any artistic expression we poor humans attempt? Sometimes I want to live in a tent outside because even the cabin feels as though it shields me too much from the forest around me.