Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Holiday helpings

Today’s photo is the last of my "first snow" photos, and likely my last blog post for a few days. With the upcoming holiday, I’ll be doing holiday things for a day or so and then outdoor things for another day or so. I’ll be back to regular posts by Monday, perhaps earlier if the internet connection and time allows. Roundtop will open for skiing this weekend, too, so I will be busy!

And if I don’t already have enough to do, I’ve signed up again for Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Project Feederwatch after a few years of not reporting my data. I enjoy participating in this project but when I’m pretty sure my winter will be too busy to do it justice, I don’t sign up. This year I’m not certain I’ll have enough time, but I’m going to try anyway.

Activity at my feeders is starting to pick up. I have almost all my "regulars" in attendance this year. The only one I haven’t yet seen at the feeder itself is the Carolina wren that I hear singing down by the brushy edge of the woods. The rest of the usual gang pigs out every morning. In fact, I hear the titmice call as soon as I open the back door, announcing the arrival of food to the entire forest before it even hits the bird feeder.

I’ve made an addition, perhaps a temporary one, to my bird feeding regimen. The local garden center is now selling mealy worms and I picked up a plastic tin (about 2 cups at $9.99) for my birds. They are thrilled, but since this is expensive caviar-grade stuff, my largesse may not last through the winter. I dole it out in palm-sized daily amounts. The rest of my bird food is the same: suet, sunflower seeds, thistle, safflower seeds and the "Woodpecker" mix of nuts and seeds from a seed manufacturer. This combination results in happy birds and little wasted food. Virtually everything is eaten, and there’s no millet involved.

I have two tube feeders and a platform feeding station. I’d put out more tubes, except that the white oak tree over the feeders doesn’t have any other low-hanging branches to hang more from. The platform feeder actually hangs on my deck, not the deck railing but on a hanging iron plant stand that has a round base. I have to weigh the base down with stones to keep it standing, but it usually does keep standing, though sometimes a very heavy squirrel, leaping from some distance or just overly klutzy, will knock it down. That hasn’t happened, though, since I added yet another stone atop the base.

So, I hope everyone has a happy Thanksgiving and enjoys a long holiday weekend. I’ll make sure the feeder birds get an extra helping of mealy worms for the holiday, and you go ahead and have that second piece of pumpkin pie, too. It’s okay.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Outdated (and a tale from the woods)

My snow photographs that I took on Sunday are outdated already. Last night I had almost half an inch of rain, so this morning the snow is gone. I am not surprised, really. This is November, after all. November is perhaps the most variable month of the year here. In the space of 24 hours I went from a morning low of 18 degrees to a temperature in the mid-40’s.

I’d love to be posting a photo of the red fox that was sniffing around just 10-15 feet from the end of my back deck. But I was afraid if I moved to go get the camera that it would run off. At the time I was watching my bird feeders, where the activity is finally picking up, when the fox trotted into what would be my back yard if I had a yard instead of a forest.

The fox nosed around, calmly checking out the territory with the aura of an animal who’d been there before. It casually looked under leaves, poked around sticks and branches. A couple of times it stopped and looked right towards me, and we made eye contact through the picture window. That didn’t bother it. It would just check every several seconds to make sure I wasn’t doing anything it didn’t like. Then it would go back to checking out the territory.

At the time, it was perhaps 10-15 minutes before sunset. The sky was cloudy and already darkening but still light enough for me to watch the fox for several minutes. I wondered what it was up to. Then I remembered I had tossed a few apples that were past the point where I wanted to eat them out into the back woods for the local deer. After watching the fox, I’m thinking the deer never got them.

The fox continued its activity, and eventually it got so close that I couldn’t see it any longer. I think it trotted under the cabin (which is raised several feet off the ground), taking the short cut back in the direction it came from. My guess is that it had one more stop before reaching its den. I’ve also seen it by my neighbor’s carport, where he keeps (and uses) his grill. I wonder if he knows??

Monday, November 24, 2008

What's this about?

I thought an arty-type snow photo of this pretty, old stone bridge along Beaver Creek would be a good addition to my early snow photos. The bridge and the dirt road beyond it is closed for all but private use, and I just love the look of the straight lane disappearing into the woods. But as is so often the case, once I got to the bridge, I saw something more interesting than a simple arty-type photo.

Can you see it? Look at the bridge itself. Rabbit tracks hop along the length of it. The sides of the bridge are about 2.5 feet high, though they are somewhat sloped where the it starts. Sometime after the little mini-snow fell, a rabbit jumped up on the bridge and followed the wide stone side of it for the entire length of the bridge. What’s that about?

This rabbit could easily have crossed the bridge and stayed firmly on the ground. Instead, it decided to take the route with a view. I can’t help but wonder why it did. What was going through that little rabbit brain? I would have guessed it would be more easily seen up there by the red-tailed hawks that patrol the valley. In any event, this particular rabbit followed the edge of the bridge, hopped off at the end and disappeared into where I didn’t follow.

I am left with yet another of nature’s mysteries, one I will never solve. I enjoy the idea of a curious rabbit with a hankering to explore its world from a different point of view and taking the chance to do so when the opportunity presented itself.

Friday, November 21, 2008


Snow! This is what greeted me when I stepped out of the cabin this morning. This truly counts as an actual dusting of snow, not a pretend dusting like I had yesterday morning. For most of this week the sky has looked like snow, and I’ve seen flurries and flakes almost every day. But since nothing much was coming out of the sky, I’d gotten out of the habit of expecting it to amount to anything.

Then around 4 a.m. I woke up and saw into the forest from my bed. The woods looked light, almost as though the sun was soon coming up. I think it was this false dawn that woke me up. I knew as soon as I looked out that it was snowing. When it snows in the woods at night, the sky turns a pale shade of tin gray that I only see in winter. This is the snow sky, and as the clouds lower, they brighten the surrounding forest even before the first flakes cover the ground.

Later, after I’d gotten up, I could see the snow was heavy enough to coat the decks and this year’s leaves that fell only last week. The dogs even tried to run through the snow with their noses acting like a snow plow. That didn’t quite work. Maybe next time.

Snowmaking at Roundtop will start tonight, which will likely make the season’s opening sometime over Thanksgiving weekend, though it will be several more days before we can yet know a precise date. Winter is arriving, one little step at a time.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A tiny little step

I had a little bit of snow last night. As you can tell from today’s photo, it was a really little bit. I don’t think it’s enough to call it a dusting, though it would have dusted if I’d had a bit more of it. The biggest news about this little snow is simply that the ground here on Roundtop is now cold enough for the snow to lay there and not melt the instant a flake hits it. One step closer to winter.

Actually, the entire year is a series of these little tiny steps, one step closer to this season, one step further from that one. Occasionally, the steps moving closer or further from a season are big ones, but that’s not the most common way a year turns. Usually the steps are tiny, and sometimes they are almost too tiny to notice.

I’ve always loved looking for these tiny steps. I hate it when I don’t notice a change until it’s such a big one that it slaps me in the face. Those make me feel as though I’ve been asleep at the switch and probably deserve that slap. They also make me wonder what else I’ve missed.

Sometimes in our daily lives, nothing much does change, so it’s easy to get lulled into not noticing little changes anywhere around us. The furniture is still in the same spot it was yesterday. The car is the same one you’ve had for years. We get out of the habit of looking for change.

The natural world reminds me that change is always happening, and those changes are noticeable if you take a few moments to look for them. Paying attention to the little changes around me usually makes the bigger ones seem less of a surprise. I can see them coming.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Last night snowflakes swirled around the cabin for several hours. The flakes were enough for me to count them as an actual flurry. Last week I had a few flakes, too, but you had to be on high alert to be quick enough to see them. Not last night. The flakes tickled my face and were thick enough to obscure the more distant trees of the forest, if only briefly.

Perhaps that little bit of snow is what feeds the restlessness I feel. I am not the only one to feel it, though. The dogs misbehave in the crisp weather and seem to have a renewed energy they can’t contain in good behavior. I am impatient when chores or work force me to stay inside and don’t seem able to settle until I am outside. And then I have to force myself to stay in the moment and not let the cares of daily life intrude on this precious time.

Sometimes I never do slow down. I can’t find that comforting groove where the minutes seem long and precious, and each moment is an experience to treasure. I try to let it go, that restlessness, that urge to hop to the next chore or the next thought. Sometimes I am successful. And sometimes I swirl like the wind-tossed snowflakes and never alight.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Since I started this blog a few years ago, I’ve posted a "frost" photo at least once each fall. Here is the one for 2008. It’s been cold enough here for a frost multiple times this year. However, each time it was cold enough, it was also dry, so there wasn’t much to see. This morning, though, the frost was on the grass and fallen leaves and drew my eye as I was leaving the cabin.

I finally had a northern cardinal at the feeders this morning, so I am relieved that they are still around. So far, I’ve only seen one male and not the multiple pairs of last year, but that may well change before the first snow flies.

I’ve also seen what I’ve suspected for some time: I have at least two male red-bellied woodpeckers at the feeders. Today was the first time I saw both at the same time to confirm that there are two.

Roundtop hasn’t yet made any snow, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they began doing that before this week is out. I’ve been working down at the lodge for the past few weekends now doing the usual pre-season work. That always gets me in the mood to see snow on the mountain (and at the cabin!) again. I do have hopes that this year might actually be a real winter here. For the first time in 7-8-9 years, there’s no El Niño or La Niño effect to moderate the weather, so I’m cautiously optimistic that this year might be a good one. I hope so. I’m ready (I hope).

Monday, November 17, 2008

Leaves down

The annual nature show called autumn is officially over here on Roundtop. All the leaves are down (and brown, too) and the sky is gray. This time of year is often challenging to photograph. Colors are limited to various shades of brown, and the light is so variable that what looks gorgeous one minute turns dull and drab in the time it takes to raise the camera to my eye. It takes me a while to adjust after the brilliance of just a week ago.

My outdoor forays were unusually limited this weekend. Heavy rain kept me inside most of Saturday, and the tornado watch kept me with one ear focused the radio much of the time. Sunday boasted gale-force winds much of the time, and those doesn’t make me want to rush outside and play. So I spent an inordinate amount of time inside and watching the birds at my feeders.

The new bird-feeding season is starting out quite a bit different than usual. So far, I haven’t seen a single northern cardinal. Usually I have 4-6 of them. Are they gone? Are they still finding food on their own? So far it’s a mystery. I also haven’t seen a Carolina wren this fall feeding season, though it’s possible I have simply missed them. They were never the most regular of my visitors.

The rest of my diners are pretty much the usual suspects, though titmice and chickadees of both the Carolina and black-capped variety seem a bit more abundant than average. The white-breasted nuthatch is furiously defending the feeder from all but the bigger birds—like the blue jays and red-bellied woodpecker. I haven’t actually seen the downy woodpecker in the feeder yet, but it is feeding on branches all around. Yesterday I had the first goldfinch that I’ve seen. It ignored the thistle tube (perhaps because of the wind) and fed in the platform feeder instead.

So far, I have had no unusual suspects at the feeders, but the season is early yet. Once the first snow dusts the mountain, I typically get all sorts of birds who ignored the feeders before the snow fall. Last night, snow flurries tickled my face as I walked the dogs after dark. It won’t be long.

Friday, November 14, 2008


Today's photo is one I took only a litte more than a week ago. Today, the same view is barren of leaves, with just a few brown stragglers hanging on. To me, it feels as though the forest takes forever for its color change to progress past the first few leaves. Then the blaze of color that is so breathtaking is gone within a day or two. Blink and you miss it. Even if you don't blink, it's gone quickly.

Some of these same leaves, no doubt, now fill my rain gutters and cover both decks. Leaves also find their way into the cabin, hiding under the kitchen table or sometimes right out there in the middle of the living room. Every time I open the door, one or two of them trails in behind me and the dogs, like stray puppies who are determined to adopt you as their family. The leaves are everywhere and get into everything--just like puppies. The other day I found one atop my bed, and I'm still trying to figure that one out. Maybe I can blame it on the cats.

Should I have a dry winter, the leaf problem will remain with me throughout. Rain weighs them down, but as soon as the surroundings dry again, the leaves are skittering back into the cabin. Snow is the best thing to stop their constant parade. Once covered by snow, they become earthbound, usually for good.

By spring, after three months under a snowy blanket, the composting process is well underway, turning last year's leaves into good soil to sustain the forest and foster new growth. The cycle will then start all over again. For now, I just need to clean the rain gutters.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ancient history

This photograph was taken on Sunday afternoon looking up the road past my cabin, but already the photo is "ancient history." The color is gone. Indeed, the leaves are gone. The only shade left on the few remaining leaves is brown. Sometimes I’m shocked by just how fast the forest around me can change. And yet, this view is also a glimpse of a truly ancient history.

Leaves fall every autumn. Every autumn. Every year. The trees that line my lane are older than I am and will live long past my own span. The trees that cover this mountain are the direct descendents of trees that have covered this mountain for untold lifespans of other humans and for untold eons before humans first set foot here.

They are a living link back into the dimmest days of the pre-history of our planet. When I look at them, I can imagine the first humans who walked here. I can imagine a forest before people ever stood here. I can imagine the change of seasons and the quiet that then covered these hills.

Nothing else can tie us to the past as directly as the trees. Fossils of formerly living creatures are now simply interesting stone imprints. But the trees are living reminders of what has gone before. A reminder I can touch every day, a reminder that changes before me every day, a reminder that teaches me every day what history really is and that today is only today.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

I'm away from the computer today, so I thought I'd leave you with just a photo. I like how the tree limb is bending gracefully over this boulder. It almost looks sheltering.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Monday sunlight and evening moonlight

I took today’s photo on Monday morning as I was leaving the cover of the mountain. The view is to the west, of the range across the valley. I was taken with how the morning sun basked the range in light under a cloudy sky.

Last night I drove back to the cabin after dark, under the light of a clear sky and nearly full moon. A white-tailed deer calmly trotted from the edge of one of the snowmaking ponds, across the driveway in front of me and into the edge of the woods.

I stopped to let her pass and watched her walk towards the woods. She didn’t even raise her tail in alarm. Then I saw where she was heading; two other deer, already curled up and laying down in the leaves, were not more than 20 feet off the road. They were as brown as the leaves and nearly invisible among them. They were unconcerned as I drove slowly by and didn't even stand up. One twitched its ears. They looked perfectly comfortable on their leafy mattresses. I didn't linger but inched by slowly. I hope I didn’t disturb them. They looked so comfortable. I don't think I did.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Leaves falling down

This is the last photo I will post of good fall color around Roundtop. The leaves are nearly all down today. A few days with a slight breeze was all it took to take the leaves from good color to brown to on the ground.

And in just that little space of time, suddenly I have lots of natural light at the cabin! Even on a cloudy night, as last night was, it seems almost bright at night because I can see the sky. I look forward to the falling of the leaves every year simply because I enjoy the added light so much.

The leaves are ankle deep on my decks, even though I swept them clean both days of the weekend. By the next morning, it didn’t look as though I’d done any sweeping. If there’s one constant about living in the woods, with the forest coming right up to the doors, it’s that I will never get ahead of the leaves.

This morning as I left the cabin, I waded through the leaves again. If I hadn’t swept them off the decks, I would be shin high in leaves. And that could happen before the end of the week, as I have a busy week ahead and will likely not have much time to spend at the cabin, let alone time to sweep the leaves.

You might think that once the leaves are down, my leaf sweeping regimen would end. That’s not true. As long as the leaves are dry, the slightest breeze will toss them about, and somehow they will end up on the decks again. It’s only when the leaves are wet or buried under snow that they’re not finding their way onto my deck. Sweeping leaves is not nearly as bad as mowing grass, at least in my mind, but it’s also something that needs to be done more frequently and for longer during the year. That doesn’t mean I’d prefer mowing grass. Not at all. Not for a moment.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Missing the daylight

As much as I like the weather of the cooler seasons, I also find it a bit frustrating sometimes. Here I am living in the woods, amongst all this beauty and natural life, and I don’t get to see it very often right now. In the evenings, I’m racing to get home while there’s still some light in the sky. Lately, I haven’t been making it. The sun is already behind the mountain, and woods around me are the monochromatic colors of dusk by the time I pull into the driveway. The birds are already quiet and roosting. In the mornings, it’s not much better, especially on these overcast mornings.

When I’m lucky, the mornings are not too early for the chickadees or the titmice to visit the feeder, but I get to see only a few of them before it’s time to head to work. It’s certainly too early in the morning for me to see the feeders when they are their most active. And I know the birds do show up eventually because the feeders empty so quickly.

It’s frustrating to live here and yet still not be able to spend much time in the woods or even see what’s in the woods much during the week. I can’t imagine how much greater my frustration would be if I lived in a town or a city where I would have to travel just to visit where I live. During this time of year, when the hours of daylight are short, even attempting to visit a natural area during the work week would be out of the question for a city dweller.

So is it any wonder that so many people are nature-deprived? It’s not just children who suffer from a "nature deficit disorder." Some days, even I feel that way.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Leaves of change

Autumn leaves around my cabin come in all colors, though yellow is the most predominant. This year, there’s a healthy dose of orange in there too. Red remains the least common of the colors I see. Since Sunday, when I took this photo, the colors are already fading. Oh, the brilliance of autumn lasts too short a time.

Overnight, as I lay in bed trying to fall asleep after staying up too late to watch election returns, a little sprinkle dampened the woods, and the leaves started to fall, more with each drop of rain. Sometimes it didn’t even take a drizzle or a breeze. They just dropped, waflting past my bedroom window, slowly falling to the ground. It was simply their time to go. In another few days, a week at the most, they will all be gone.

I love winter and look forward to it each year with all my heart, but I will miss the brilliant colors of autumn and wish they would stay just a little longer.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Color on the mountain

I took today’s photo on Sunday morning. This spot is about 100 yards behind the cabin. I can’t see this view from the cabin as the leaves are still hiding it. Nell’s Hill is the closest hill. The further hills are the next range across the valley. Just two days later the colors are already fading. The next half-decent rain or bit of wind will bring them all down.

Waterfowl migration is ongoing right now. I saw three buffleheads on the new pond the other day, an uncommon species here on the mountain. It’s only since the new pond went in that I’ve gotten to see a few species of waterfowl on the mountain, other than a few lost souls once or twice a year. The new pond has been great for my "yard" list of birds spotted on the mountain. I pretty much reached the limit of seeing the woodland species that show up here years ago. Several years passed without seeing any new species until the new pond was built. So now, my local list of birds seen on the mountain is inching up again, and if it’s moving at a glacial pace, at least it’s no longer static.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Great fall colors

I don’t often get to ride the ski lifts on a pleasant fall afternoon, but I did this weekend. Roundtop was holding its annual ski swap, and one of the ski lifts was open for rides. The fall color was past the peak of brightness, but it made up for that with every leaf on every tree now showing color. Saturday was a tad hazy but the views were still great.

Riding the ski lift is fun, and the round trip only took about 15 minutes. A lot of people rode the lift up the mountain and then opted to walk down, but I can walk down the mountain any day I want to, and I was hoping the added elevation of the lift would allow for a slightly different perspective on the views.

The leaves have arrived at the point where the next rain or decent wind storm will bring down almost all of them. Tuesday and Wednesday shows a chance for drizzle, which probably won’t be enough to do the trick. Saturday might bring a storm strong enough to do it. I’ll keep hoping.

Each day more and more juncos arrive, though they either haven’t found my feeders yet or they’re not yet hungry enough to want to visit the feeder. Right now I have only the forest regulars—titmice, chickadees of both the Carolina and Black-capped species, white-breasted nuthatch, downy woodpecker and red-bellied woodpecker. For some reason, I haven’t yet seen a cardinal at the feeders, and the goldfinch have been ignoring the thistle as well. Likely, that simply means that they are all foraging well enough in the woods and don’t need the food from my feeders just yet. They will return soon enough.