Thursday, March 31, 2011

Not an onion snow

If I didn’t know that another 2-4 inches of snow was likely to fall tonight, I’d probably call last night’s trace of snow an onion snow. An onion snow is a common term in Pennsylvania, though apparently not used elsewhere. It’s a spring snow, and in my area it has to be the last snow of the year to be counted as an onion snow. It just so happens that the last snow of the season typically falls at the same time as farmers are putting in their onion sets for the spring.

Some people say an onion snow has to be measurable for it to count as a true onion snow. Some people say the onions have to be sprouted and above ground for it to count as an onion snow. Some people just like to see if they can make things difficult. I’ve always heard an onion snow is simply the last snow of the season (which just happens to usually fall about the same time as the onion sets are sprouting or going into the ground), and that’s the story I’m going to stick with.

By no means will a measurable snowfall tonight be the latest a measurable snow has fallen in this area, but a snow in April, especially a measurable one, is a tad unusual and probably doesn’t happen more than every 5-6 years, if that.

This year I will have snow for April Fool’s Day. That somehow seems appropriate for a winter that just doesn’t want to end. I just hope this is the last joke ol’ man winter gets to play on us this year.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sunset through forest

When a forecast in my area calls for a “wintry mix,” you can be sure that up on the mountain I will see the wintry part of the precipitation. With some regularity, I will encounter rain down in the valley, and as I am driving up Roundtop Mtn., I can watch the temperature drop and then suddenly, the trees will be ice- or snow-covered. This usually happens about 200 ft. below my cabin, though I’ve seen it happen as few as 50 feet below. Often, someone looking up can even see the line across the mountain where the changeover took place. Whenever I see that line, I can bet my cabin will be above it.

The latest storms predicted for tonight and tomorrow probably won’t be much, though when precipitation falls as ice, it doesn’t take much to make everything treacherous.

Yesterday, the sky gave no sign of an impending storm. By sunset, when I took today’s photo, there wasn’t even a cloud in the sky. At first light this morning, I could already see the cloud shield covering about half the sky, moving slowly but inexorably, hiding more of the blue sky by the minute.

Up here on the mountain, where I am surrounded by forest and sky, watching weather patterns moving in and out has become something of a hobby. I often think about the time, not very long ago, when the only “forecasts” came from old sayings by sailors or farmers. Many are true in large measure. “Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.” Yep. “Dew on the grass, no rain will pass.” Yep. And for this one, the opposite, no dew, often presages rain.

But even though they are usually true, these little weather sayings don’t give much warning time for bad weather ahead. Last evening is a good case in point—not a cloud in the sky. This morning, I can tell there’s a storm ahead, but if I was a sailor or a farmer, a few hours notice wouldn’t give me much time to prepare. For that, today’s modern radar is a very good thing.

Monday, March 28, 2011


With overnight temperatures in the 20’s and the daylight hours barely entering the low 40’s, this doesn’t feel much like spring. New spring growth isn’t pushing through anywhere just yet, and snow is forecast for Wednesday. And yet, the signs are that spring is just on the edge of happening, needing only a few warm days before it pops out in its full glory.

I suspect spring will not waste a moment once that happens. It just won’t be this week.

I actually like this time of year, these moments after the snow is gone but before the greenery appears. The skiers have left the mountain, so it is quiet. The animals and birds who live here are much more active now than they were doing winter. Then, I could sit by a window and hours could pass before anything other than the feeder birds appeared.

Now, it’s rare that 5 minutes pass without something interesting going on. The red-bellied woodpeckers are trying to evict a starling from a nest hole they appear to favor. The turkey vultures ply the air, and red-trailed hawks drift past the window. Crows are out being the busybodies they like to be. Squirrels dance from bough to branch, bouncing from twig to tree.

And because the greenery is not yet appearing, I can see all that. Once the forest acquires its summer canopy, my own view is pretty limited to a few, tiny holes directly above the cabin. I prefer today’s more open view, where I can see over to the next mountain and watch the drama of the woodpeckers, all from inside the cabin with a cup of coffee in my hand and my binoculars by my side.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Towards the valley

 A clear and sunny morning is both a relief and something of a rarity here this year. The relief is because clear skies mean the bizarre weather of the day before is over. Yesterday brought 12 hours of thunder, lightning, thundersnow, thundersleet, hail, rain, snow, sleet, freezing rain…Have I forgotten anything? Is there anything else that might have fallen from the sky? I think yesterday produced something of absolutely everything.

This morning the clear skies are certainly welcome, and unfortunately, this year clear skies are less common than is typical. Winters here are most often bright and cold. This year was gloomy and cold, and that turned out not to be my favorite combination.

Today is chilly at 24 degrees, but not unreasonably so, especially since the sky is so clear. The mornings are still pretty dark in my woods when I leave for work, so I am posting a photo from outside my woods, as I’m heading down from the mountain and into the valley. This is the point where not only am I out of the forest, but I’m also just about out of the hilly farmland that begins where the forest end and runs to the first encroachment of almost-suburbia.

My eye automatically travels to the mountains on the other side of the valley, so I can almost ignore the houses in the foreground.

Sometimes, living where I do on my little mountain island of the forest, requires a bit of ignoring. Even year, it seems, the houses get closer, the farmland gets built up, a new road cuts through the woods or a patch of forest is cut. There’s nothing I can do about any of that, so I might as well ignore the outside world, continue to experience my own patch of woods and enjoy the time I have under the canopy of the old oaks.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Perception of fog

Mornings here on the mountain since the time change are still pretty dark. Add in a dense fog such as I have this morning, and 7:30 in the morning takes on an entirely different appearance. Precisely what kind of appearance probably depends on your own personal point of view at that particular moment—at least that’s the way it does with me.

I could say that the morning looks like something from a reenactment of Washington Irving’s Sleepy Hollow, with a kind of creepy, dangerous feel about it.

I could just as easily say that the fog gives everything a kind of dreamy, otherworldly appearance, like from some barely-explored exotic landscape.

Both and neither are true, of course. The trees are what they always are, what they always will be, what they always were. It’s only my own point of view that switches the scene from creepy to exotic, depending on my mood of the moment.

So tell me, what do you see? Is your glass half empty or half full this morning?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Old snow on Roundtop
Although there isn’t yet much time between dawn and when I leave for work in the mornings, I saw a lot of activity in that short time. A fox was crossing the hill above the cabin early on, a smaller one with a lovely tail, perhaps a shade of red slightly paler than average. It saw me and continued across the hill, slinking close to the ground but moving quickly. Ah, that explains while the two semi-feral Roundtop cats weren’t waiting for their handouts when I first stepped out the door. They were waiting for that predator to clear the area first.
The local Canada geese are still annoyed at any visitors that dare appear at the smaller pond they’ve designated as “theirs.” Four deer fled to the edge of woods and blended in with the trees and shrubs there.

Distant deer in the field
Is it the sleet and rain that will come later today that has the forest so active this morning? It wouldn’t surprise me if they sense the coming bad weather and feel the need to fill their bellies before they seek shelter from the storm.

I learn a lot from the local animals. I don’t have the sharp senses they possess, but by watching their behavior I can take advantage of what they are sensing. I find many people are more focused on seeing an animal than on paying attention to what it is doing and why. It’s all about them and their seeing, and not about looking at what they are seeing. Perhaps that’s because they don’t see the animals often enough to think about life from the animals’ point of view. Perhaps they simply aren’t observant enough or interested enough to go beyond the seeing of a thing. Perhaps that inability to shift their point of view is where the phrase “dumb animal” comes from. If you’ve ever watched an animal, instead of merely seen it, you’ll know they are far from dumb. Some days, I think I am the dumb one.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring arrives with a boom

The first day of spring wasn’t my only first on Sunday. The first eastern phoebe of the new season announced itself right outside my bedroom window before the day was properly light. The bird sat on a branch right outside my bedroom window, calling its familiar “fee-bee,” and woke me up, apparently feeling that its call to spring was more important than my sleep.

And then came the thunderstorm, another harbinger of warmer weather. The thunder resulted in a 60 lb. dog jumping on the bed, and was followed a moment later by pounding sleet, a remnant of the outgoing season. It was that kind of morning.

Today, another thunderstorm started the morning and now the clouds are so low it’s dark even at noon. Spring weather is always notoriously variable here, and this one is starting out in stereotypical fashion.

Visible signs of new spring growth are still likely a few weeks away, though a couple of new bird species are beginning to trickle in. Red-winged blackbirds are here, but I’m almost hesitant to call them migrants, as they barely head south at all. They commonly winter in Maryland, so for them migration amounts to little more than a day trip.

The local Canada geese are either nesting already or just about to. I see them chasing interlopers from the pond they have chosen for breeding and honking wildly if another pair even so much as looks at “their” pond.

Spring may barely have only arrived, but here on the mountain, it’s already settling in.

No photo today--it's still too dark to take one.

Friday, March 18, 2011

They're baack!

This moth may be an orange sallow moth or it might be a bordered sallow moth or it might be something else. At least the folded wing pattern looks like the sallow family of moths. The real reason I’m posting the photo today is not to give readers a moth lesson. It’s more to announce that this moth is the first one I’ve seen since winter began.

Update:  It's a mustard sallow moth.  At least I had the sallow part right.

The temperature here was well above normal yesterday and will be again today. Overnight, the temperature remained in the mid-40’s, and that was enough to bring out the first moth of the new season and also for the spring peepers to begin their joyous chorus for the new season down at the pond at the bottom of the mountain. I heard a few Canada geese, too, either local ones or those separated from a large migrating flock.

This warm weather will disappear by tomorrow and drop 20 degrees back into the range that is normal for this time of year. So it’s possible the peepers and the moths will go back into hiding again. Like spring itself, the animals arrive in fits and starts, two steps forward, one step back.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Around the cabin

The morning light is finally making progress against last weekend’s time change. The sun is now solidly above the horizon when I leave the cabin, if still pretty low in the sky. This morning was the first since the change that I didn’t wake up the chickens when I went to feed them. Though still cloudy, I didn’t have fog, rain or an overcast sky to contend with this morning, so that helped.

At the cabin, I have no obvious signs of new plant growth yet, though my chickens might have found some. They scratch up the leaves with a lot of enthusiasm, and after one such ground-baring effort I found several, folded over, tiny little hairline lengths of green somethings. Since I’m not in the habit of boring through the leaves that cover the mountain to reach the dirt, I don’t know if these barely visible stems are “new” or if that’s how they spent the winter, barely sprouted but safe under a warm covering of last fall’s leaves.

Skeins of Canada geese are moving north over Roundtop right now. Just before last week’s rain I even saw one flock of low-flying Tundra swans. Sometimes the geese are so high that I can’t see them. It’s only their honks that give away their presence. Often, their flocks are huge, hundreds of birds. When I do see a flock, I try to count them before they disappear. A time or two the birds disappeared before I could finish my count. Most flocks are in the 2-300 range, with a couple around 350 and a couple more flocks larger than that, though they were gone before I could tell you exactly how many there were.

Despite my innate dislike of spring, this is a time I enjoy on the mountain. The crowds of winter skiers are gone, and the summer activities, never as hectic as those in winter, won’t begin for a while. So the lights are off and the mountain is quiet. Those few of us who live here have the entire place pretty much all to ourselves. And that’s a nice respite, if ever there was one.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The fog of spring

If by “spring” your own personal definition means the snow has melted, then spring has arrived on Roundtop Mtn. If by spring you mean the presence of green, growing things, well, that’s not here yet.

For me, the definition of spring means rain, which by extension leads to mud and also fog. I have all three this morning, so I am forced to announce that spring is here.

As a rule, the weather of spring is not among my favorite things, seeing as spring’s highly-aid press agent waxes poetic about blooming wildflowers, baby bunnies and warm sunny days, convincing most people to forget about the rain and mud. I am not so easily taken in by the frippery of words about spring, because it’s hard to ignore the reality of rain and mud.

I think it’s easier for suburbanites to imagine the dewy days of spring when they step right from the house to the garage and never set foot on mud or even get their umbrellas wet. City dwellers probably don’t even see enough weather to notice either mud or rain.

Now if spring came anywhere close to matching its dreamy, life-affirming hype, I probably would like it, or at least like it better. Since spring doesn’t match the hype, I’m going to ignore it for a while longer yet.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Couldn't they have waited a week??

Couldn’t the powers that be have waited one more week before switching to daylight saving time? I have to wake the chickens up at 7 a.m. to feed them before I go to work.

It’s still almost dark (see today’s photo) at 7:30 a.m. when I leave the house. The kids are waiting for school buses in the dark (again). In another week daylight would be pushing through around 7 a.m. and the kids wouldn’t be standing in the dark. It would be light enough to take a morning photo of something other than a sunrise.

So why make the change last weekend, when it could be done a week later and more or less correspond to the spring equinox, not to mention corresponding better with the morning light? The explanation has nothing to do with the reality of darkness in the morning. It’s because in 2007 when the length of daylight saving time was extended, they simply added four weeks to the previous length, two weeks earlier in March and two weeks later at the end. The idea is that extending daylight saving time saves energy, but the argument is a bit flawed since I need every light in the house on in the morning again, when last week I didn’t.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

It's a long story

First off, I survived the deluge of Thursday and Friday, and life on the mountain at the cabin is beginning to return to normal. One good thing about living on a mountain is that the rain runs off it pretty fast, which is something people in the lower areas can't say and still have to put up with.

As I feared, the combination of very saturated ground, the 3-4 feet of snow dissolving off the mountain in the rain and the inches of rain that came down was not a good combination for me. The basement started to get water in it before half an inch of new rain had fallen. So on Thursday morning I started running the little pump, then the bigger pump for 20 minutes or so at a time. At first, I could turn the pumps off for an hour, then it was 45 minutes, then 30 and then both pumps were running full blast all the time. Then around the middle of the afternoon, both pumps started to be overwhelmed by the amount of water coming in and off the mountain.

I started making calls, looking for a larger pump than the sturdy 1/6HP pump I was using. I called family and friends with no luck. Either they didn't have a pump or they were using the one they had. The big box stores were all out of pumps. I started calling the local, smaller hardware stores, not feeling very confident about my luck so far. Amazingly, I found a local store, not far away, that had a 1/4 HP pump. They were closing in less than hour but promised to pull the pump for me. I hopped in the car and headed off the mountain, dodging rain puddles and avoiding closed roads. And it was about 2 miles from the cabin when I realized I had a chicken in the back seat.

Now I have to back up a little bit, and here's where the story gets longer. About 10 days ago, just after the last cold spell, I noticed that one of my chickens wasn't doing so well. I didn't know what was wrong with her. She seemed weak and sick and the others were picking on her. I was afraid she had something contagious, so I pulled her out of the pen, put her in Baby Dog's old puppy crate, filled it with straw, food and water. I expected to find her dead in a day or so. But she didn't die. She thrived on the personal attention. Just to be safe I gave her garlic water (an old worming remedy) and continued to baby her. She was weak but improved every day.

I kept her in the puppy crate on my front deck, because at first I was afraid she might have something contagious and didn't want her near the healthy chickens. At night, I put her in her crate in the back of my car, because I was afraid she would extra vulnerable to the marauding raccoons. And, I thought the car offered her some protection from the wind, if not the cold, of the night.

After about a week, she was more or less back to normal, if still thin. I let her out to hop around the deck but after several days she was hopping back to the main pen to visit her "sisters." So now I try to reintroduce her to the others, and that really doesn't go so well. They chase her, peck at her and treat her as though she came from a different flock. My weakling was now healthy but outweighed by the others. So now I am keeping her where the others can see her and be near her, trying to get some weight back on her and hope that eventually I can put her back in the main chicken pen.

So when this rain started, I didn't her to get wet or cold, so that day I put her in the back of the car, even though it was daylight. So now here I am racing to the store to get this new pump, when I suddenly remember the chicken is still in the back of the car. There's nothing to do for it, I keep driving, now talking to my chicken and hoping she's not freaked out by being in a moving vehicle.

So I get the new pump and by the time I get home again, it's dark. My chicken is sleeping, so I guess the car ride didn't bother her very much. This sure isn't like living in Hollywood, is it? Green Acres is closer to the truth.

By the time I got back to the cabin, the combination of the two pumps in the basement was starting to make some headway. I was up most of Thursday night turning pumps on and emptying the basement, turning them off again only to have the basement fill up again. But the rain stopped around midnight and by 3 a.m. the water was under control.

When I got up on Friday morning, I was in no mood to make breakfast for myself, so I went out to a local restaurant and treated myself to a big one. I got these photos on the way. I couldn't get close to the areas that were hit worst by flooding--roads were closed. The rivers won't crest until sometime today, so the folks who live along the rivers are still in the midst of the mess. My life on the mountain is more or less back to normal, at least for the moment, and I'd still trying to figure out how to get my "pet" chicken back in the main pen with her now evil sisters. I'll probably have more on that another time.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011


Even though my photos today show water reflecting on one of Roundtop’s ponds, perhaps a better title for today’s post would be Déjà vu or some reference to the movie Groundhog Day or even that line from the old song that says, “Second verse, same as the first.”

I’m referring to what looks to be a repeat, and even perhaps a worse one, of the flooding that occurred here and around the area on Sunday night. Tomorrow doesn’t look like it’s going to be a good day. Although my basement is no longer flooded, neither is it completely dry. Around the mountain is plenty of standing water. The ditches are still running full the morning. The creeks down in the valley are over their banks, and along the main Susquehanna River, the trees on all the islands are still about half covered with water.

And, the forecast for tomorrow (and late tonight) is for even more rain than caused the flooding that I’m still seeing a full two days after the last storm. Another 2-4 inches of rain is predicted. I will likely be in the 3 inch range of that prediction. The ground won’t hold any more water. That’s why the water is still standing around and running in the ditches. I think a new round of flooding will begin before the first inch of this new rainfall is on the ground.

I am preparing as best I can for another flooded basement and another sleepless night or nights. I won’t be the only one with difficulties, I’m sure, not that it makes the situation feel any better to me at the moment. I’ve had floods before. Hopefully, this one won’t be any worse than those.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Not so much fun and games

Didn’t I just say that my busy life appeared to be returning to a normal pace? Boy, when I’m wrong I am really wrong.

First, let me apologize. Every 15-hour day that passed, I thought was the last one and that “tomorrow” would bring a let-up. I’ve pretty much been wrong about that all week.

Then this weekend, Baby Dog needed to make an unplanned vet trip (she’ll be fine but is on antibiotics). And yesterday, well, where to I start about that?

First, it rained. It rained for inches, and the 5 or so inches of snow from that pretty little snow earlier in the week turned first to slush and then mud and then simply puddles. Sometime yesterday afternoon the cabin basement started to flood. So it was time to drag out the pumps. I would pump out the basement and so turn off the pumps and then within an hour or so, the basement was filling up again. I played that round of fun and games several times.

Then sometime after midnight, the rain turned to sleet and then snow. So now, I had a flooded basement with a falling temperature and snow. At some point the water hose taking the water out of the basement froze, and I was left to use the baby, battery-operated pump. Fortunately, by this time, the basement was no longer filling up with water quite so fast.

And now? Well, once the basement gets down to about .25 inch of water, none of the pumps will work, and that’s the situation now. And fortunately, the day is now above freezing, so the spectre of a frozen basement is past, at least until after sunset. Hopefully by then that last remaining quart inch of water will have drained away, if for no other reason than I need a good night’s sleep.

So you see, life in a cabin isn’t all sweetness and light, beauty and interesting birds or animals. It can be long nights of work too.

But this morning, the weather has cleared and the sky is beautiful. Of course, it’s windy and there’s ice underneath the snow (and atop the trees), but let’s pretend there’s nothing but beauty there, too.