Thursday, June 30, 2011

Almost sunset in the valley
This morning I had a deer on my front steps. I think she was eating my coleus plant or maybe the geraniums. I’m not sure about that. I should have known something was going on when Baby Dog started whining just before my morning alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. Baby Dog pretty much whines at everything, so I’ve learned to ignore her much of the time.

I stick my head out the door every morning to check on the weather pretty much as soon as my feet hit the floor. But even with Baby Dog whining in the background, I didn’t expect a couple of deer to bounce away from the front of the cabin, nearly colliding with my parked car in their fright. Everyone got a surprise this morning.

I’m sure the older doe has a fawn or fawns very nearby. I see her on most days. Last evening she was standing half in the pond. Her back feet were in the pond, her front feet were up on the bank. She looked like she was posing for a taxidermist’s mount. I slowed the car and tried to grab for the camera but a second of standing still was all she could take. Then she bounded off uphill in the direction of the cabin, eventually heading into the woods on the opposite side of my lane. I know she has a fawn in there. I can be standing on the lane, peering into the woods and barely see 10 feet. An entire herd of deer could be in there, and I’d never be able to see them. The undergrowth is that thick.

I am on the lookout for her fawn. As often as I see the old doe, it shouldn’t be too long before the fawn is tagging along behind her.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Kids find wood tortoise

Yesterday was another good camp session. My only regret is that I didn’t take my camera because of the weather report, which was calling for heavy rain and severe thunderstorms. I wasn’t willing to risk the camera, even inside my pack, to weather like that. Naturally, it didn’t rain at all. So all I had was the camera in my phone.

Naturally, the kids found a wonderful, large wood tortoise, large and immensely cooperative. It was handled by all the kids in one group and because I didn’t want to stress it, we released it when that group left. Only the tortoise didn’t vamoose. It hung around the stream so the next group of kids could see it too.

Wood tortoise aren’t all that common, and they are considered a species of special concern in Pennsylvania. They are large, bulky and strong, but very non-aggressive and seem pretty laid back, kind of like the Labrador retriever of the turtle clan. The kids loved it. We counted the bumps on the scutes of its carapace, which tell the age much like rings on a tree though not as accurately. This one wasn’t young. We figured it was at least 20 years old. The bumps get harder to count near the center of each scute or plate of the shell. Many wood tortoise are more yellow than this one, which was a lovely deep red. That color is why the nickname for this turtle is the redleg turtle. And because of its size and the shape of the shell, I believe this one was a male.

The kids also caught a nice variety of crayfish of varying sizes, a long-tailed salamander and assorted minnows. The twice-caught leopard frog was nowhere in evidence. Apparently, it had had enough.

Monday, June 27, 2011


This morning I was treated to a fantastic red morning sunrise. The morning sky was hazy, with a very slight bit of fog also added to the mix. Skies like this usually presage some nasty weather, which is in the forecast for tomorrow, though not for today. Last night’s sunset was similarly reddish, but I wasn’t out in the open with a camera for that.

This morning I saw the sky begin to tinge with red just as Dog and I began our morning walk, so I grabbed the camera as I was leaving the cabin. Poor Dog anticipated an unexpected morning car ride, as that’s where the camera was. He was sorely disappointed in that regard.

On Sunday morning, I was out doing some repair work to my rutted dirt lane. Roundtop has graded the lane several times already this year but then some torrential downpour comes along, making all their work go for naught. Again. So I was out with my rake, working on some of the ruts, when I heard a distant call of a bird I haven’t heard much of this year—a yellow-billed cuckoo.

To my admittedly wonky ears, the sound the bird makes doesn’t even approach a cu-koo sound. Perhaps if the bird was closer, which it rarely is, the cackle it makes before the single longer note would resemble a cu-koo. At a distance, the only sound I hear is more like “koooooo.” Even that’s something of a stretch.

Cuckoos are uncommon here, and sightings are even rarer than their call. They are skulkers, preferring the shelter of trees and bushes to sitting in the open. And their markings resemble a mourning dove, which are a dime a dozen. So unless you see the bird fly or set binos to every mourning dove, it can easily be overlooked.

A couple of years ago, a cuckoo spent the summer wandering all around Roundtop, both close and far, kooing all day long. I got the feeling it was searching, without success, for a mate, some female cuckoo to answer its call. I would hear it close by, then hear it move further away, circle behind me and kooo some more. That lasted most of the summer.

Yesterday’s distant call was the first time I heard the call this year. I think the bird was somewhere over on the back side of the mountain. I might not even have noted it except that after the episode of a few years ago, when a bird kooo-ed constantly, my ears are primed to the sound. I hope this time around, the bird finds a mate and raises a batch of little cuckoos. The idea of hearing a host of their odd little calls coming from all over the mountain is something I’d like to experience, even though it’s unlikely I ever will.

Friday, June 24, 2011

A summer surprise (or I have no flippin' clue)

Summer lane
Last night I had nice treat right on the doorstep of my cabin. The fact that I have no idea what it was all about doesn’t change the fact that it was fun.

I had fireworks. Big, professional, loud fireworks.

Just after dark, fireworks started on the mountain. They were located not far from the cabin, somewhere along the edge of one of the bunny hills. Trees veiled portions of the display, but I could still see enough to be impressed.

I walked out to the end of my driveway to see a little better. My nearest neighbor, a Roundtop employee, had walked out to the lane, too. He had no idea what it was all about either.

With nature’s fireworks flashing through the sky in the background, and manmade fireworks overpowering the thunder, it was quite a show and lasted a good 15 minutes.

As far as I knew or could see, nothing was going on down around the lodge to justify fireworks. I’d just walked the dogs not 15 minutes before, and the ski area was as vacant as you’d expect a ski area to be on a hot Thursday evening in June.

So who was setting off fireworks and why? I have no idea. Sometimes it’s best just to take little surprises as they come and not get too picky about the details.

There was even a finale.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Farmer lily fix below!

You didn’t really expect me to go through June without posting a few photos of farmer lilies, did you?

I didn’t think so.

Long time readers of Roundtop Ruminations know I have a fondness and a weakness for this most showy of the wildflowers. This year the blooms seem particularly profuse. Some roads are so thick with them that it looks as though some manic ladies garden club has been beautifying everything in sight. Don’t think that is a complaint. It’s not. I adore these flowers.

Long time readers also have a list of other common names for these flowers that is nearly as long as my arm.  Ditch lily is perhaps the most accurate of the names I remember, though that also feels just a tad perjorative to me.  That term certainly doesn't capture any of the beauty of the flower.  Farmer lily expresses some measure of times-gone-by, old time romance to it, at least to me. So that's the name I stick with.

Last evening I passed this clump of them and had to turn the car around and stop to take the photos in the late afternoon sun.  The flowers close up as soon as the sun leaves them in shade, and I knew they wouldn't be open again by the time I left the mountain in the morning. 

I just can't resist farmer lilies.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

June farm
Yesterday was another day spent down at the creek with kids. This week was better than the first. Maybe the kids are past that joyous hysteria of being out of school, maybe the counselors are settling in, but for whatever the reason the session was a lot less frantic.

I’ve also reduced my “lesson plan” to about three minutes of telling them not to throw rocks or logs into the creek and not to step on the forest plants like they are grass. This is my kid-level version of “take only pictures, leave only footprints.” I pretty much have to spell it out for these kids. After that I hand them a net and turn them loose into the creek.

This week we caught what I’m pretty sure is the same leopard frog we caught last week. The kids also caught a whole bucketful of crayfish, ranging in size from an inch up to about 4 inches. A couple of minnows were added to the bucket during the day. The salamanders escaped unharmed this week. A toad had its home unfortunately located in a hole at the base of a beech tree, right next to the official orienteering station where the kids have to take a rubbing of a portion of a quote. By the end of the trek, they’re supposed to have the entire quote. The toad was handled by two groups of kids and then retreated to her hole, coming out only when I was in between groups of kids.

A small snake of indeterminate species also escaped their clutches, gliding away from them through the water at what looked like a snaky high gear.

The kids got happily wet. Some even didn’t scream or throw rocks, so I count that as a success.

In between groups of kids I hid from the morning rain, investigated all the ferns around my station and watched the pewees flitting back and forth. The kids saw a tiny fawn, much to their excitement. I’ve seen 5 fawns near the cabin over the past few days. Two, two and a singleton. All are now following their moms, and all are tiny, barely higher than her knees.

So far the weather has been kind, despite the bit of rain yesterday. Even so, the day was steamy and with little breeze, making 80 degrees feel quite a bit hotter than normal. At this point, next Tuesday’s weather looks to be a repeat of yesterday, which means I’ll have at least one more camp session with tolerable weather. I’m still not sure how I’ll do once the temperatures top 90 or if I have to ride out a bad storm. I just hope I won’t have that to deal with..


Blogger isn't letting me post photos at the moment.  I'll be back with updates from my adventures in the woods with and without the camp kids when that's fixed.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Sharing a hazy June morning with pewees

Morning comes late to the narrow valley between the two mountains. The sun doesn’t appear above the eastern hill until 10 a.m. even just a few days before the year’s longest day. And so many of the avian denizens of these deep woods are first active later than their counterparts that live up on top of Roundtop.

Down here, crayfish don’t appear out from under a rock much before noon. The minnows aren’t very active until the first patch of sunlight warms their pool. The haunting call of the pewees is the exception. Their call echoes through the valley at all hours, and the birds themselves are as tame as robins, tamer even. These little birds are a drab gray color but make up for their lack of beauty with their antics and flying ability, swooping across the stream like a circus performer, snatching bugs out of the air and then pausing to eat or return with the prize to their hidden nest, soon to reappear and repeat the performance.

Pewees are considered to be a declining species, though are still common. A few thoughts about that are in the literature. One is that the forest habitat in their wintering range of the Andes and Central America is disappearing. Another cites the heavy whitetail deer population here in the east. That idea suggests that deer thin out the lower story of vegetation, the very foraging space favored by the little gray birds. Perhaps that’s true. All I can say is that Roundtop is flush with both pewees and deer.

Pewees are pretty much the last summer resident to arrive in the spring. It’s usually well into May before I hear the first haunting call. Pewees are the first bird to call in the day’s pre-dawn hours and are also the last call I hear well after dark, sometimes as late at 9:30 p.m. during these long June days.

On this day, I realize the pewee I’ve been watching off and on for the last hour is actually two pewees. The one is happy to sit within two arms’ reach of my chair and bob its tail in between bouts of flycatching. The other seems a bit shyer. They are likely a pair with their tiny nest somewhere nearby.

The nests are typically perched on some thin, horizontal branch, perhaps one that extends over the stream. Wherever it is, it will be held together and onto the branch with strands of spider webs. In it will likely be three eggs or perhaps by now, three tiny balls of gray fluff. If they survive, the little pewees will soon join the parents in flycatching over the small stream. Perhaps next week or the one after that, I’ll get to see them.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Freedom to sit

Rattlesnake Fern
Even though I live in the forest, surrounded by its beauty, many times I feel I don’t have much time to spend there. My life is as busy as everyone’s is, with work and chores and errands. There’s always something that needs done, something that shouldn’t be put off another day, something. Time to ignore those demands and the constraints of daily life doesn’t come often. My time to just sit and enjoy the woods feels almost nonexistent. Occasionally, I just ignore the never-ending demands and go anyways, but I don’t do that as often as I should.

Adventure camp this year is letting me sit in the woods all day long, one day a week for eight weeks. And they are paying me to do it. How utterly incredible is that?

Of course, I have 8 groups of kids coming to my sitting spot during that day, and ideally I spend about 20 minutes with each group. But that still leaves me long stretches of time to just sit and enjoy the woods, to listen to the birds, watch the sky or see if I can still catch a crayfish or a frog. Yesterday was heaven. Even the weather cooperated, a joy I don’t expect to be repeated every week or maybe not even again. I will deal with that as it comes.

For now, I am content to be away from the work, chores and errands, to enjoy the freedom to putter around all day in the woods with no task in mind, or to sit in my camp chair and listen to the birds, watch the day’s sun shadows traverse the woods and just sit.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Genuine kid-caught critters

A few of the prisoners
 I survived my first Adventure camp session of the summer, and I hope the kids had a good time. This year instead of hiking with a total of six different groups of the kids, I was a “station” along their orienteering course. My day was less physically difficult for me, but I could characterize it as a perfect day of peace in the woods interspersed with 8 groups of intense wildness.

I stationed myself by a small bridge across Beaver Creek and waited for the kids. I brought a small bucket and a net, filled my pack with camera, lunch and water and prepared to make myself comfortable. That lasted until the first group of kids was on their

My little camp for the day
 way. I could hear them coming half a mile away. They were loud and noisy. The pewees, chipmunks and squirrels that had been keeping me company slunk into their hiding places long before the kids became visible.

During the morning, counselors were confused by a section of the orienteering course. It was their first time through the course, too, though by afternoon the difficulties were ironed out. The weather was perfect throughout the day, which helped. Each group of kids was supposed to spend 20 minutes at my station before heading out on the rest of the orienteering course. Because of the aforementioned confusion, the first groups didn’t always have that much time. For one session, two of the groups arrived at the same time, a chaos consisting of 20-couple kids of varying ages.

A view of Beaver Creek

By the afternoon, we were all hitting our stride. The sun was high enough now to shine into the creek, which brought out the denizens of the stream. Attempts to catch minnows failed during the morning but the first afternoon group succeed in netting one, an eastern blacknose dace, from the school of 25-30 that filled the small pool in the stream.

The next group added a decent sized crayfish to the bucket and a small leopard frog. The last group of the day found three salamanders—a long-tailed salamander, a red-spotted newt and an eastern mud salamander. The kids were thrilled; the salamanders less so.

After the last group of kids left for the day, I released all of the prisoners unharmed and made my way back up the mountain. Now, if only I could keep the kids from tossing logs and rocks or screaming like banshees I’d consider the day perfect.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Tornados miss! Camp begins tomorrow!

This whole tornado thing is getting old. Over the weekend, another two tornado warnings kept my nose in front of the Doppler radar when I would have preferred to be doing something, nearly anything, else. Both times the tornado clouds were close enough to me and the cabin so that I had to pay attention to them. So far this year my area has had 50% more tornado warnings than we usually have in an entire season, and we still have at least two months more to go of prime tornado time.

And it’s not just tornados. On Saturday about 15 air miles south of me, just under 4” of rain fell in 60-90 minutes, but up on my mountain there wasn’t a drop. How weird is that? The good news is that for the next few days the weather will be nice, even cool, which is much appreciated after the heat and humidity of recent days. I will try and take the nice weather at face value and not pay any attention to whatever will come afterwards, whatever that may be. I’ve had far too few nice days this spring to waste them lamenting that they won’t last nearly long enough.

Tomorrow is my first session of adventure camp for this year, and that should be a fun way to spend the day. This year I won’t be hiking with the kids. I’m one of the “stations” on their orienteering course, and I’ll be located down along the stream at the bottom of the mountain, where I hope we can find some minnows or crayfish or something that will engage this young video-game generation. For me the change from hiking up and down the mountain 6 times a day is a welcome one. Last year not one of my camp days was under 90 degrees, and by afternoon I was starting to drag. This year I’ll be sitting by a stream all day long enjoying the view—and the kids, too, I hope! I’ll let you know how it went on Wednesday.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Hail on the deck

Hail on the deck about 6 p.m. tonight.  I had a bit of quarter-sized hail but most of it was pea-sized.  Taken with my camera phone, so the quality isn't good. And it was pretty dark during the hail, which in this heat of course didn't last very long. At least it's 20 degrees cooler now!!

Global warming with Dog

One bit of news I’ve heard mentioned a lot this year in the news media is that the wacky weather this year is caused by global warming. Right now, I’m having August in early June. August may well be my least favorite month, and only its proximity to September and the promise of eventual cooler weather gives me any relief.

News people are saying here that what we now consider a hot summer will pass as a cooler summer by the middle of this century. I’m glad I’ll be dead by then because this heat is no fun at all.

Last night I took Dog down to one of the snowmaking ponds for a swim. Now that he’s 10, I didn’t want him pulling some of his antics from his earlier years, so I kept him on his long lead while he swam. When he was younger, he’d try to chase the resident geese by swimming after them, a fool’s adventure if ever there was one. And then he’d get so tired and swim so far that I feared he wouldn’t make it back to the shore.

I didn’t want any of that to happen this time, so I kept him leashed. The photo today is after he’d taken his initial swim but before he took his second or third or fourth swim of the evening. Eventually, he got wet all over, and he was relegated to the back deck until he dried off. In this heat that didn’t take very long. Is winter ever coming??

Tuesday, June 07, 2011


Christmas fern
The brilliant colors of the spring wildflower have already disappeared, leaving the mountain covered with green plants and green leaves. A few flowers remain but I seem to be in the quiet place that comes after spring wildflowers and before the summer ones emerge.

For me, this is a good time to look for ferns, which are abundant in the wetter spots of the mountain. Right by my cabin is not a wet spot, so I have to walk half a mile or so to reach the first good fern patch.

Today’s fern is the most common one on the mountain. It’s a Christmas fern, so named because the fronds stay green in winter, making them popular for Christmas decorations, especially in the pre-electric light years. I was attracted to the color of the unfurling frond, which is also the color of the fern spores that will appear on the underside of the fronds later in the year. In fact, my first thought when I saw this fern is that was what it was, before I realized it was the wrong time of year and then looked more closely.

It will soon be time for another year of adventure camp for kids on the mountain, and I look forward to working with kids in the outdoors each year. I try to get them interested in things like ferns, though I think it’s a losing battle. Ferns must be an acquired taste, and small green plants aren’t exciting enough for them. For me, their delicacy and gently curving shapes are a delight I never tire of. Maybe this will be the year I win over a couple of the kids.

Monday, June 06, 2011


My blogging has been a bit quieter than usual this week. Perhaps after weeks of rain, storms and tornados I’m just not used to silence around the mountain again. I keep expecting something big and flashy to happen and it hasn’t.

I’m glad nothing major has happened this week, but I find I’ve lost my habit of looking for smaller things. It’s hard to write about smaller things when a tornado comes through. And yet after the tornado and all the rest are gone, those smaller things are suddenly harder to focus on again. My eye skips over the tiny flowers, searching the sky for the next storm. I need to get back in the habit of observing the everyday again.

And then this damaged American beech tree caught my eye. The tree wasn’t damaged by the tornado. I don’t know what happened to it. At the moment it is still alive but its long-term survival is in doubt. I was simply attracted by the textures on the tree, and then I looked closer. Even where the bark isn’t completely split, I can see the beginning cracks of another split. Even the interior wood is cracked.

To my eye, the damage to this tree does not appear to be recent, though I can’t tell how old it might be—last year, before the winter, if I had to guess. How much longer can a tree with this much damage survive? It could, perhaps, last another few years, but with this much interior wood exposed, I don’t think this is a tree that will last over the long term. Even without a tornado or another storm, not all trees in a forest survive to great size. Not all dramas are big ones.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Another time, same place

I’m hoping that today’s perfectly clear morning sky will not be a one-day wonder in between another week or two of rain, storms and fog. The odds look favorable, for once this spring, that I might have at least a few days of nice weather ahead.

After I took this photo I wondered why I was seeing Roundtop’s buildings on the right side of the frame. I didn’t remember that any of the buildings or that parking lot were visible the other times I’ve taken pretty much this same shot. So I rummaged through some of those other photos and then I saw what the difference was. Trees used to hide the view of that roof line, at least in summer, but those were trees downed by the recent tornado.

One of the reasons I’ve always enjoyed photography is because memory is such a tricky beast. Changes that occur to a landscape or a friend of long-standing happen slowly usually. It’s only when I see photos of friends and family that are now 30 years old that I see just how much we have all changed. When did that happen? In my mind’s eye we are all pretty much the same, perhaps with different glasses or a different hairstyle, but then an old photo shows me that we’ve changed a lot more than just with those minor things.

The landscape around me has changed a lot over the years, too. This week the trees are goone.  Over the years the farms give way to housing developments and bigger roads. Businesses sit where I used to run through the fields as a kid. Yet in some part of me, I still see those fields and those farms. I carry them with me, perhaps nothing more than the baggage of age. Certainly, people who have moved to this area recently don’t see those invisible landscapes that haunt me and fill my memories. Even these changes didn’t happen overnight. One farmer sold his land, then another; one new house was built and then others. It has taken a whole lifetime to get to this point.

A photograph reminds me that it wasn’t all a dream, those seemingly endless fields of childhood. But it was another time, and in many ways it was even another place, one that now exists only in memory.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Doodle the dandy

Doodle, the Rhode Island Red rooster
Today's photo is of Doodle, a new acquisition.  Doodle is a Rhode Island Red rooster, a freebie from an acquaintance down at the bottom of the mountain who had too many roosters in his flock.  After losing the second of my hens to a predator, likely a fox, not long ago, I decided to hire some protection for the girls.  I named him Doodle because of the song, "Yankee Doodle Dandy."  Rhode Island is deep in Yankee territory, though Doodle also works with "cock-a-doodle-do."  Anyway, that's his name now, even if he doesn't know it.

Roosters have two jobs in a flock of hens--and I'm sure you can figure out what the first one is.  Their other job is to protect the flock. I've heard people talk about roosters attacking predators many times their own size to protect their girls, sometimes to the point of sacrificing themselves. That's why I got him, hoping that he will protect the hens or at least alert me when trouble is brewing.

Doodle is a pretty nice rooster.  He's not aggressive to me, though he is shy and not very tame.  My hens let me walk right up to them and pick them up. They usually come when I call them, always if I have blueberries in my hands, their very most favorite treat. Doodle doesn't care enough about blueberries to want to get too close to me, which makes getting him back into the pen a bit of a challenge and not something to be untaken much before dark.

Like all roosters, he crows.  This boy can really crow. At the moment he starts around 5 a.m.  I really don't want to think about when he's going to start crowing on the longest day of the year, still three weeks away.  I'm already looking ahead to winter, when I'll be at work by the time it's light enough for him to start crowing.  So far, the neighbors haven't complained.  The dogs are already ignoring his crowing, which is a very good thing, because crowing and barking dogs at 5 a.m. is not how I like to wake up.

I still consider Doodle a bit of an experiment, a rather loud experiment to be sure.  I'll let you know how he works out.