Friday, December 28, 2012

New dawns

The winding lane ahead
It has suddenly occurred to me that 2012 is almost over. The years slip by so quickly now; it’s like a boulder rolling downhill and picking up speed all the way. And by my own kind of reckoning, the newest year has even already begun, as I have come to believe that the winter solstice is really the dawn of a new year and January 1 is nothing more than a date.

So much is yet undone and the time left to do it in grows shorter with every sunrise and following sunset. Over the years, I have always avoided new year’s resolutions. Lately, though, I’ve come to think they have some value in focusing the attention when time is short. It’s sort of like a to-do list. You could probably eventually accomplish everything you need to do without one, but the list is a good reminder.

So in this new year, whether you consider it already begun or just about to begin, I offer this as my resolution: I resolve to go slower, to brush off the crush of time and the dictatorship of what’s not yet accomplished and simply enjoy the passage of a day more. No more the rush to put as much activity in to the space of a few minutes as I can. Instead, I will fill the time with stillness and slowness and more awareness of nature’s ways. I want to enjoy the time before me, to watch it pass and see as many of its subtleties as I can.

Maybe this time I’ll get it right.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Between snows

A white Christmas has come and gone here at my little cabin on Roundtop Mtn. I was busier than a bee in May ahead of the holiday and slower than a slug on a cold morning afterwards. In between holiday preparations I was shoveling snow; snow is always a welcome sight to me.

Today, I am once again between snows. A wet snow arrived on Christmas Eve and another fell yesterday. Saturday yet a third snow is predicted. Today’s photo was taken along Beaver Creek at Pinchot State park, literally moments ahead of the December 26 snow. I did that deliberately, wanting to capture both the calm and the tin-gray sky. By the time I walked back to my car, big, wet flakes were already veiling the landscape.

At my cabin, things that weren’t put away are already obscured in vaguely artful shapes by a blanket of white. That’s what I tell myself, anyway. I probably won’t dig through the snow to find them either. If the winter remains snowy, whatever’s there will be there until spring.

The chickens are unhappy with the snow. For the younger girls, this is their first experience of snow, and they are unanimous in letting me know they don’t like it. The older chickens seem resigned and unhappy. At their ages, winter and snow are things to be endured, if possible. Their advanced chicken age makes it questionable they will see pleasant weather again.

The feeder birds are active, though I am still finch-deprived. It feels as though everyone I know who has even a makeshift feeder has gotten pine siskins and other winter finches at their feeders. I haven’t even had a goldfinch, even though I have one entire feeder that’s specifically designed for finches filled with delicious niger seed just for them. Instead I have woodpeckers and chickadees, nuthatches and juncos. Even the cardinals seem to prefer my neighbor’s feeders this year. Blue jays study the feeders but are not yet inclined to partake.

Yesterday in the snow, near dusk, I watched a doe and two summer fawns pick their way across and behind the cabin. The old doe led the two youngsters, who lagged behind. I imagined she was searching for a place to bed down where they would be protected from the falling snow. They have summered all around the cabin, hidden by patches of thick brush. Now that the snow is falling, those areas may not be as protected as others further down the mountain. The surrounding brush kept the world from seeing them but does little to protect them from wind or snow. I suspect the doe was heading down the mountain, looking for one of the little draws where they have both brush and wind protection. Other deer winter down there, too. Perhaps she will join them. I will stay up here at the cabin, warm and dry.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Tree is down!

The tree is down! I took this photo from my front deck this morning. I probably should take a photo from the back deck so you can better see how close to the cabin the tree was. The photo doesn’t really show that the tree would most likely have fallen on the cabin if not directed to the side by Roundtop’s tree crew. You can still see how large the tree is, though. You can see that it was on a sloped area, but you also can’t see how steep the little mini-bank was that the tree grew out of.

I took a quick look at the stump yesterday when I got home, with an eye towards counting the rings. Darkness was already settling in, then, and I didn’t have much daylight, so I decided to wait. I will try to count them sometime over the weekend, after the 50mph winds that I am getting soon die down. Counting the rings will take some time. I might not be able to get an accurate count, partly because of the damage to the other side of the trunk and partly because of how the tree was cut. Given the size of the tree, I’m estimating it at 130-150 years old. I could see the blackened area in the center of the tree where it was damaged by fire a few years before I moved into my cabin.

So now, that’s one worry eliminated, though with 50 mph winds forecast for tomorrow afternoon, even a healthy tree could fall victim to that. I hope not. I know I won’t really rest easy until that wind calms down.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Coming down

I am having a tree taken down at the cabin today. It’s a very large tulip poplar tree that grows on a steep bank just above my cabin. From my front porch, the tree looks fine and healthy, though poplar is a softer tree that always bears keeping an eye on. However, earlier this week I had occasion to be walking above this tree, and I saw the back of it.

The back is damaged and perhaps rotted, certainly diseased. If this 75 ft tree fell, it could easily crush my cabin, with me and everything I own in it. The tree is not on my property, so I’ve spent the early part of this week locating the property owner, who turned out to be a Maryland resident. Last night I located his contact information and called him to ask his permission to take the tree down, which he gave. Sometime today the crew from Ski Roundtop is going to take the tree down for me, if they can, or at least top it, if they can’t. Topping the tree would reduce the weight on it and then if it does fall during the high winds predicted for this weekend, it probably won’t hit the cabin and certainly won’t weigh nearly as much or strike it with full force if it does.

This is only the second tree I’ve willingly taken down since I’ve lived in the cabin. Several trees have fallen on their own and then were cut up. I have two other trees I’m keeping my eyes on, though none of those are particularly large and don’t appear to be in danger of directly hitting the cabin. Certainly they would block my driveway and disrupt my internet service if they fall before I can get them taken down, but I feel I can deal with that. They are on my list for removal after Christmas, anyway.

When you live in the forest here in the east, as I do, wind is what has the likeliest potential to cause extreme damage to the cabin. Other dangers are always possible—a lightning strike, perhaps a severe forest fire—but wind is the danger most likely to occur.

This weekend promises to bring a lot of wind, near Hurricane Sandy-strength wind, and with such a forecast I was simply not comfortable with the idea of being in the cabin with that tree on the hill above me. I will still be uncomfortable as long as the wind roars through the forest, but that’s a level of uncomfortable I can live with.

Thank you, Ski Roundtop!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Losing the light

At first I thought I would need to do a repeat of yesterday’s foggy post, as this morning was every bit as densely fogged as yesterday. But as I was leaving the mountain, the fog was leaving, too. So I find I am not nearly as fogged in now as I was just an hour or so ago. Of course, that didn’t help while I was walking or rather stumbling through the woods in the pre-dawn, fog.

I don’t enjoy the foggy walks nearly as much as those when I can see into and through the forest. I am such a visual creature that walks where I can’t see very much aren’t nearly as enjoyable. I’ve never understood people who backpack at night either, though I’ve known many who do just that. For me, walking is a way to see things in the forest and to stop and investigate what I see. When I am not able to do that, the physical act of walking seems to lose much of its purpose.

Oh, I often enjoy listening to the sounds of the forest, but in the pre-dawn fog there’s precious few of them, and certainly not enough to make up for the lack of sights. As the solstice approaches, I find I am looking forward to longer days again. As November waned into December, some days I felt that my life closed in too. Every day brought a minute or so less daylight, a minute or so less to see or even to easily perform evening chores.

Weekends are the only time I can see the sun, but those days have not been sunny, which makes the dark seem more extensive than it really is. So I look forward to the return of the light and can understand why people celebrated solstice with such enthusiasm. I may well celebrate it, too.

Monday, December 17, 2012


I have returned from the deepest fog of IT despair to find...fog on Roundtop. Thick, soupy fog of the kind that is impenetrable by high beams or low beams or any beam at all. If I hadn’t known where I was going, I sure couldn’t have gotten there.

The animals seemed as flummoxed as I was. Dog and I walked right up to a deer this morning. We startled her out of her bed and then she just stood there, not 10 feet away. Even then I could just barely see her outline, though her eyes gleamed in my headlamp. I’m not sure Dog ever saw her or that she saw Dog. We all just stood there and then she moved away slowly. Two steps was all it took to put her out of even my limited sight. That may have been the closest I’ve ever been to a wild deer.

We startled something else too, something lower to the ground. I suspect an opossum but I can’t be sure. I didn’t even see its eyes shine in my headlamp. It just scurried away, rustling the leaves as it went. The sound told me that it was close, almost underfoot, though we never saw it.

Fog, of course, is not the norm in December. November marked the only month in 2012 that fell below normal temperatures, at least by my reckoning. I suppose it was simply too much to hope that November would mark a shift, even a temporary one, to a few months with cooler than average or even “normal” temperatures.

I seem to be surrounded by people who love the warmer weather, without a care for the implications that either short-term or long term climate change brings. To me, the short-term issues are that without some deeply cold weather, the annoying insects of summer won’t die off and diminish their numbers to a population that doesn’t overwhelm when spring returns. And there’s the nasty viruses and bacteria-caused ailments that never get killed off either. Plus, if I wanted to live in Georgia or Virginia, I would move there. I don’t want that mild weather here in four-season Pennsylvania. I am obviously in the minority in that.

To me, “normal” weather is one more year where climate change is held at bay, or at least held to some form of that. Another warm month is another step where more ground is lost in this battle. In 2012, we lost a lot of ground.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A really good show

Fungus and frost
The Geminid meteor shower put on an exceptionally good show over my cabin last evening and again this morning. The best was a near-fireball of a meteor that streaked across the pre-dawn sky and lasted for several seconds. Meteor showers are fun to watch, though most of the time a good view isn’t easy to come by. You’ll see a meteor out of the corner of your eye and by the time you turn your head, it’s gone. To me, a good one is one that lasts long enough to see after you turn your head or one that falls right where you happen to be looking. And the brighter the better, too, of course.

Last night the sky was perfectly clear and crisp with the chill of December. Snowmaking hadn’t started yet, which means the slope lights weren’t on. Without a moon, the winter sky was an inky black and filled with stars. A better night for sky viewing would be hard to find.

Faded goldenrod in the morning sun
Dog and I walked out to the lane where I had a more open view of the sky. Meteors streaked across the sky, one here, another there a minute or so later. Rarely did I wait for longer than that without seeing another one. Not all of them are brilliant. Some were short or dim, but every few minutes was one bright and lit up the sky.

This morning before dawn, I looked again, and I think the viewing was even better this morning around 5:30 a.m. I saw more with longer “tails” that were brighter than those of the evening before. I wish I’d had more time to stand in the chill and watch the sky show streak overhead. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen a meteor show that good.

The August Perseid show can be wonderful, though summer’s haze often interferes. And here at my cabin, cloudy skies have obscured that shower for a few years. The Geminids are usually considered the second best meteor shower of a year, but this year I’d have to say they topped even a good Perseid meteor show. I hope you got to see it. If not, try again tonight. I hear there might be a few left.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Textures of the morning

A cold, icy rain greeted me this morning. It’s the kind of weather that means the dogs don’t get much of a walk. The rain was mixed with ice, which made the footing potentially questionable. The dogs were wet moments after leaving the cabin, and my own coat threatened to soak up the rain instead of fending it off.
Even the feeder birds were deterred. I thought they might stock up on seed because of the weather, but the feeders were empty. Perhaps the weather made them think twice about just how hungry they were. It was the kind of morning that made me wish I didn’t have to get up. I could easily have stayed in a warm bed for another hour. Or so. But that was not to be. Duty called, and I was up and to work.
My photo today was taken yesterday before the rain.  It's only lichens on a tree, but I focused on the texture in the middle of the frame, and I liked the result.
Blogging here on Roundtop Ruminations will be light until the morning of December 17 (if all goes well), due to a work project that requires day and weekend attention by a team of me and my colleagues. We are rolling out a new portal system and merging old data with new pretty much round-the-clock until all is done. I’ll get online when I can, but I don’t know how much that will be until the new system is up and working. That nice warm bed is looking better and better.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Last of the green

Greenshield lichen
December is only just getting started but already the weather her eon Roundtop has been through more changes than you could expect over en entire month. It’s too warm, then it’s cold, then it’s going to get warm again and then there’s rain or maybe ice. I barely know what to wear from hour to hour, let alone from day to day. 

My photo today is a greenshield lichen . Actually this is two organisms, a fungus and an algae, so it’s not a plant at all. This and the mosses are about the only thing around the cabin that’s still green.

The lichen is common on Roundtop, but I think this example is a particularly nice one. Many are smaller and appear less three-dimensional. Lichens are usually quite sensitive to pollution, which is why you don’t see them very much in urban areas. This one is flavoparmelia caperata and grows mostly on trees. There’s another variety of caperata that seems to prefer rocks, and I have that one here too.

It was a quiet day on the mountain.  The most exciting thing that happened was a quick sighting of a golden-crowned kinglet. It was too fast to even reach for the camera, let alone get a shot of it.  Ruby-crowned kinglets are more common here--or at least more commonly seen.  The bird likely won't hang around very long, but they are always fun to see.   

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Old wood

The balmy weather of the past few days is returning to more seasonal temperatures. With that change comes a pushy northwest wind. The last few articles of light weight clothing that didn’t get put away around the end of October will finally go into storage this time, not to return until at least spring.

An off-trail walk around the forest shows me little that is not brown, so textures are catching my eye right now, more than colors. In spring and summer I look for color, usually a color that is not green. This time of year, looking for something not brown doesn’t result in seeing very much, but when I shift my focus to think about texture instead of color, there’s a lot to see.

Today I found this old stump of a long-dead, long-chopped down tree. It’s practically gray with age, and years of drying have created cracks in the wood, much like the frost cracks in the boulders that dot Roundtop Mtn. Or perhaps you prefer that it looks like an aerial photo of some sprawling riverbed.

I just liked how it looked, its peaks and valleys, its cracks and discoloration. I’ve probably passed by this stump hundreds of times without noticing it, but in early December, after the green is gone and before the snow has fallen, suddenly it stands out. That’s partly why I like this time of year. Things that are hidden by the riot of summer or the blanket of winter come into their own.

Small things, things that lack the splash of a wild geranium or a Blackburnian warbler no longer take a back seat. They have a time to stand out as well. I enjoy looking for something interesting in the unexceptional. I feel some kinship with them, I think. I am not a wild geranium or the Blackburnian warbler of the human tribe. I’m a lot more like this old stump, the kind you pass by hundreds of times without a second glance. Except today I didn’t pass it by.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Long nights

The moon is into the last quarter now, but the moonshine is still bright enough to light up the forest for much of the night. I can see deep into the woods, though not so well right at ground level. The dogs apparently are much better at that than I am. Last night Baby Dog woke me up with her incessant barking, and it took me quite a while to figure out what all the excitement was about.

It was three deer moving slowly, noses down, foraging with each step. They were a good distance away, and I certainly wouldn’t have noticed them without Baby Dog. Something smaller—like a raccoon or an opossum—I wouldn’t have seen at all. Sometimes, rarely, I saw a great horned owl move through the trees. More often, something startles the local Canada geese and they take to the air, flying in formation even for a short distance while they stretch their wings or move away from some real or imagined predator.

I’m at the point in the year where I’m not home very much during daylight hours, so I never get to see whatever is making the bird seed disappear. I hear more birds than I see. The crows are up before sunrise, and the bluebirds are at least twittering when it’s still pretty dark. They have a roosting tree not far from the cabin, and I can follow their morning progress from it to the grass-covered ski slopes just by the sound alone.

The woods are quieting down again as the season turns toward winter. No more cacophony of a dawn chorus, less and less pre-dawn activity. Even the summer leaves are gone. I get used to the near-constant background sound of millions of leaves on hundreds of trees during the summer. All these little things, one after the other, contribute to the growing quiet.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Last one

The first week of rifle deer season is over. I’ve seen hunters and heard shots on most days this past week. I also saw evidence of one buck being killed on Roundtop land late on Friday. A flock of crows led me to the gut pile that wasn’t there in the morning. Given when the offals were, I believe the buck was one of decent size but not much of a rack that ran with a herd of doe in the grassy field across one of the parking lots.
That group is usually out in the field just before dark, though they were all suspiciously absent Saturday evening, and I didn’t have a chance to look for them yesterday. Today I should be able to check.

The deer that hang around my cabin, all doe that I see, are still there. I often wake them up in the mornings when I walk Dog or Baby Dog. Some mornings they don’t even stand up as we walk past. I walk with a headlamp, so I can see their eyes shine down low to the ground. Sometimes, I can just see when they raise their heads to watch us pass. I believe they think I don’t see them. I can’t quite imagine they would lie in their beds so calmly if they thought I knew where they were. Perhaps the headlamp confuses them, but the dogs’ scent never seems to roust them either, and I have a tough time believing the wind is always in our favor.

By my reckoning, November was about 3 degrees below average here, a pleasant surprise after months of above average readings in 2012. December is starting off quite a bit warmer than average, but that will only last today and tomorrow. Still, as warm as these two days will be, it will take a lot of cold weather the rest of the month to compensate for them, so I’m not expecting a similar result this month. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Another sunrise

I'd take photos of something other than sunrises if I was home during more daylight hours.  I guess the time of the year has come for me to take all the week's photos for Roundtop Ruminations over the weekends again. As you can likely tell by my photos this week, I resist doing that for as long as I can.

A little snow still remains on Roundtop Mtn. This morning it is a bit patchy.  I had ice in the chicken water and ice on the front deck that didn't freeze dry overnight.  Roundtop ran its snowmaking guns last night.  They aren't really making snow for skiing yet. The weekend's forecast for warm weather will prevent them from that.  But they did run the guns and check the water lines to make sure all is in readiness.  If December's temperatures are normal, they should be snowmaking for real sometime around the middle of the month.

I am slowly, perhaps too slowly, settling into my winter-time mode around the cabin.  I haven't yet gotten used to bringing in the chickens' water overnight. I switch the water containers in the morning and bring inside the water container frozen from overnight so that it melts during the day.  Last night I forgot and had to pour hot water on the waterer to melt the ice and replace the water.

I am doing better about bringing the bird seed in overnight so that I'm not awakened at 3 a.m. by the raccoon raiding it.  Actually, it's not usually the raccoon that wakes me;  it's Baby Dog's frantic barking when the raccoon is on the back deck. In any event, being awakened in the middle of the night gets old fast, so it doesn't take long even for an old brain like mine to remember to bring the seed inside at night.

Even as little snow as fell the other night is enough to look for tracks around the cabin. A rabbit that I haven't seen for a while has hopped all around the cabin.  Deer tracks follow my tire tracks up the driveway before heading off into the woods. Bird tracks alight near where the snow is especially patchy.  I assume they have more luck finding food in those bare patches than looking in or under the snow.  The little birds just come to my feeders. They are waiting well before dawn for me to return the feeders to the outside.  I carry it out before I or the dogs have eaten.  In near darkness, the birds are already waiting, perched on the tree limbs and the deck railing..

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New snow

I’d almost forgotten the smell of snow in the nighttime forest. It’s crisp, almost tingly, and comfortably moist. Too long it’s been.

I’d almost forgotten the silence of a nighttime forest that’s blanketed in new snow. Sounds from nearby seem muted, but distant ones are enhanced. I can hear the train whistle at the crossing seven miles away, but the leaves no longer rustle at a deer’s step or the raccoon’s.

Overhead, the sky is still overcast, but the clouds are breaking up into smaller clouds, chunks of gray like rotten ice, with stars shining in between, like water flowing.

The full moon shines, hooded and caped by clouds, overshadowed by the expanse of white beneath.

Tonight, even the owls are silent.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


It’s snowing! When I left the cabin this morning, I had little more than a dusting. By noon the snow has stopped, and I’ve gotten an inch or two of wet snow that won’t last very long. Still, this little bit of snow has made me ridiculously happy.

Last year snow was virtually non-existent after 10 inches fell on Halloween. I’ve never seen a winter with such a small amount of snow. And the ever-present, looming climate change only made the lack of snow seem as though this area was on the precipice of becoming another Georgia, or at least a Virginia. Neither of those places are much known for winter weather.

Snow on white pine needles
So along comes 2012 with its blistering hot July, and I was already wondering how far north I’d have to move just to live in weather like it used to be here 20 years ago. I got myself thoroughly worked up about it—leaving family and friends, looking for a new job, leaving my cabin and wondering if I’d ever find another place like it. How would I make new friends where I didn’t know anyone? Yes, I was completely overwrought.

But now, it’s November 2012, and the weather this fall has been almost perfectly normal, even a tad on the chilly side. To cap off the month I’m seeing an actual snow and not just snowflakes in the air or a momentary flurry. Ah, this is November the way it’s supposed to be. I guess I can stay here at least another year. Saved by the snow.

Monday, November 26, 2012

More of November's charms

Likely a raptor nest
 To November’s subtle charms I would add one more—the leafless trees mean I can now see nests that eluded me during the summer season. I found a songbird’s nest at eye level with my back deck on Saturday. I never knew it was there. And this weekend I found two more nests—one a squirrel’s nest but the other was for a larger bird, likely a raptor.

This last nest particularly intrigues me as it is located in a tree right above the trail that the kids walked up and down every day as they walked from the parking lot to Adventure Camp. That’s about 100 kids up and down the trail all the time and not just in the morning and afternoon. The nest is right near the outhouses, and you know every kid probably used those 3-4 times a day. And whatever nested there simply sat quietly and perhaps raised a family just above all that activity.

Squirrel nest - see all the leaves in it?  That's a good indication of squirrels

The nest may have been built by a red-tailed hawk or a crow—something fairly large judging by the size of the nest. Raptors tend to build their nests in the center of a tree, as this one is located. You won't find one of their nests out along the outer branches and probably won't find it nearer the top of a tree, either.

It’s possible this nest will be used by great horned owls later this winter. A local pair of those are courting near my cabin right now. I hear them duetting nearly every morning before sunrise. This morning they were duetting quite close to the cabin. Judging by the sound, they may have been sitting side by side, as their songs came from the same area. The male calls first and the female answers with a slightly different hooting call. To my ear her notes are the same but somewhat differently-paced and perhaps not quite as loud.
Though I have never yet seen it, I’ve read that while duetting the male leans over the female and puffs up his throat so that he looks like he’s swallowed a ball. I tried to find their location this morning in the pre-dawn darkness, Dog in tow, but was unsuccessful. Perhaps tomorrow I will be luckier if the season’s first snow doesn’t keep me from a morning walk.

Great horned owls nest in mid-winter and like all owls they never build their own nests. They merely take over one built by someone else. The calling by these two is close enough to the large nest I found this weekend to make me hope they might choose it for their own. If they do, I could at least attempt to keep an eye on it, though as high in the tree as it is, any owlets would have to be pretty large before their ears would peek over the top. Still, it’s worth keeping in mind and worth checking on in January and February, when the owlets would likely be born. I’ll write myself a note on the new year’s calendar so I don’t forget to check.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Frost on leaves

I love how frost looks on the fallen autumn leaves.
I love how the frost is sprinkled atop the tiniest bumps of a leaf.
I love how the leaves look like sugared doughnuts or a miniaturized landscape after a dusting a snow.

I love how the white frost mutes the brown color of the dead leaves. They look almost like a faded red again.

 I love how frost enhances the shapes of the grasses or the leaves it touches.  Unlike a freeze that stiffens everything, after a frost the plants are still flexible.

 I love to explore the little hills and valleys of a leaf that's touched by frost.  I wish it would stay as it is at this moment so I could keep one and look at it every day.  But no, the frost disappears with the first beam of sunlight from the new day.  Gone.

To all who will celebrate a holiday tomorrow,

have a great Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

November is the coolest month

I’ve always found November to be an interesting month. I suspect some of my feeling that way has to do with the sudden openness of the forest after months of living encased in the greenery of the summer. The longer vistas let me see the rise and fall of the terrain, too. Little hillocks or slight depressions are visible again. A tiny draw appears where the landscape appeared to be undifferentiated, and my eye can follow its length down the mountain.

Fungus that were there all the time are visible again, too, and looking for their interesting shapes and sizes is one thing I look forward to. Turkey tail fungus is the most prevalent here, though sometimes I suspect my poor identification skills either lets me see those more often or that I am misidentifying some as that when they are really something else that I haven’t learned about yet.

The night sky is visible again too, without having to leave the cover of the forest to see it. The stars peek through the skeletons of the sleeping oaks, and the lights from an occasional passing airplane tell me that I’m not really all that far from civilization after all.

I love the smell of the late autumn forest. It’s crisp and earthy in air that’s moister than the inside of my cabin. The scent seems almost spicy to my nose, but when I inhale deeply to try and identify it, the aroma skitters away and disappears. Each season has its own scent, and fall’s scent contains a little winter, a bit of summer and something of its own, all mixed together.

Raccoon raids are a nightly adventure. Last night one was thwarted by my empty bird feeders, but that didn’t stop it from nosing around looking for something. The prowling threw Baby Dog into a barking frenzy and that woke up Doodle, my rooster, who started to crow at 3 a.m. I was awakened and had to get up, turn on the outside light and prove to Baby Dog that the thief had gone. I could hear it scurrying away through the downed leaves. That’s one thing about November I could do without, though it will be December before the raccoon stops its nightly forays and stays closer to its den.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Patch Update

Winter landscape - Nells Hill and Flat Mtn.
Before I return to normal blogging, I thought I’d present readers with some general impressions so far about my little patch of forest that I’m studying. I still haven’t measured it, as I don’t want the edges of it to be that rigidly defined. I’ve only been looking at this patch for a few weeks now. I started not long before Hurricane Sandy struck, and I can’t always study it every day, though I do try to spend some time looking it over at least three to four days a week. Sometimes even on those days I spend less time there than I’d like. The shortened hours of daylight are partly to blame. It’s not very light when I leave the cabin in the mornings, and it’s within a very few minutes of night when I return.

Hurricane Sandy did change how the patch looks. Before Sandy, the leaves that covered the ground were light and buoyant, tossed around with the barest hint of a breeze. After Hurricane Sandy, the leaves were wet and heavy, and several sodden layers thick. The one bare spot was on the opposite side of the patch after Sandy passed through.

Over the weeks I’ve noticed a lot more fungus in the patch than I thought was there at first glance. Two of the small branches on the ground came down during 2011’s Halloween snow. I’m sure of that because the branches have been cut with a chain saw, which was only used then. Before that storm, the branches were alive and attached to one tree or another, so the fungus has only been growing on them since “snowtober.” Virtually all the downed branches have at least small spots of fungus on them. I’ve seen what I think is tiny turkey tail fungus, as well as a nearly pure white parchment-type fungus.

I’ve already had a pretty “big” change in the patch. When I first started looking I noticed a nice-looking acorn embedded in the moss, and I had high hopes this acorn might sprout in the spring. There are other acorns in the patch, but they all seemed less likely to sprout. One might be upside down, another looks flat-ish and perhaps malformed, a couple are already rotting. But this one looked promising. Alas, it was not to be. Something, likely a squirrel, dug into the moss and dug it out. I could see the scratch marks in the moss and now there’s a fairly substantial hole where the acorn used to me.

I think it’s something of a not-so-minor miracle that any acorns actually get to sprout, let alone grow into the 100+ year old oaks that make up much of my front forest. It’s a long and rough trip from acorn to oak, I am sure of that.

Over the winter I have a few plans—identify all the species of tree leaves that are on it, to better identify the fungus, to investigate the rock and the lichens that cover it, and to take look at the seed pods to name a few.

I plan to make semi-regular updates about the patch here on Roundtop Ruminations over the next year. Perhaps once a month, perhaps more often, depending on what is going on. In winter, especially if I get some snow cover, the updates could be less frequent. In spring, certainly, more often is likely. I just hope the patch isn’t too big for me to handle!

Friday, November 16, 2012


Winter sunsets are the best.  I suppose it's because the air isn't usually hazy the way it often is during the warmer months.  This one was especially nice yesterday evening.  When I'm driving home from work and can see there's a good sunset coming up, I usually try to reach this spot before I stop and take a photo.  Sunsets reflecting in both water and sky are the best of the best.

I've tried a few other sunset-over-water spots around my cabin at Roundtop, but I haven't found any that are better than this spot. It has a lot to do with where the sun sets, as well as the water.  A larger pond just 100 yards or so away doesn't work as well because the sun sets further towards just one end of the pond, and I've never gotten the full effect of the reflection. At another pond, the mountain you see in the background blocks most of the reflection in the water.  The mountain is just too close for that pond.

Even this pond only really works well in the autumn and winter after the leaves are down. When the leaves are still on the trees, they block a lot of the effect of a good sunset.

It's really the sunset, the water and the open sky that are all needed at just the right time. That doesn't happen all that often, even when you find just the right spot.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

My little patch

 For some time now, I’ve had the feeling that I am not coming to know the forest around me on a very deep level. Sometimes it’s as though I’m in a car speeding down the freeway while trying to take in the sights of a new area. I see a pileated woodpecker here, find a patch of brown-eyed susans there, notice the interesting color of a sunrise through clouds, but what does that mean, really? The forest is far more than just what catches my eye when I’m in it.

To get to more of what a forest is, how it works and what’s there, I decided I need to focus more narrowly on a chunk of it that's small enough for me to keep tabs on, rather than trying to see what goes on everywhere around me. The only way to see more is not to try and see everything as though I’m on some nine-day whirlwind tour of 12 European countries. Better to pick one spot and learn as much about that spot as I can, so at least I can say I know some piece of the forest on an intimate level.

But which spot? For a while I thought I could use my front forest, which is about the size of an average front yard. The front forest has a variety of trees, of varying sizes and health. It’s got a busy forest floor, the edges of which bloom with wildflowers in the spring. Birds flit through it, and sometimes deer and the smaller forest animals as well. There must be 50 trees there, of probably a half a dozen or more species. It’s got some rocks and a couple of downed trees that are slowly fading into the forest soil. The smaller plants and seedlings are numerous.

Eventually I decided that was too large, too.

So for the past several weeks I’ve been focusing in on a smaller patch in my front forest. I haven’t measured it, but it’s about 5 feet by 5 feet. My little patch is nothing special. It’s got a bit of moss, one rock with lichen, a couple of branches with fungus and that’s about it, at least on the surface.
The advantage of trying to learn as much as I can about this little piece of forest is that it’s close to the cabin, and I can visit it every day. I can sit there and examine it in all kinds of weather. I hope it’s small enough that I can learn a lot about this little spot, about how the forest works, about how even a patch this small changes over the course of a year.

In the course of three weeks I’ve noticed a lot already. It’s amazing how much a small piece of forest can change in just that short amount of time, even during a time when the forest is sort of closing up shop for the winter’s sleep ahead.
I have a few rules that I follow when studying my little patch. One is that I can’t move anything. I allow myself to touch things but not to move them. This means there could be a lot going on underneath the fallen leaves that are currently sitting atop much of the patch, but so be it. I expect to use a magnifying glass at some point, but I’m still getting used to the patch itself, so I haven’t done that yet.
I have been keeping a journal of my observations, which aren’t always done daily, but are done several times a week. I plan to continue this for at least a year. I’ve always felt that while a year is a nice chunk of time, it’s more interesting to examine how things are the same or different on the same day over multiple years. I don’t know if I can commit to that, though, so for now my goal is to examine this same spot as often as I can for one year.
My photos today were taken in my little patch. The spot is nothing special, and in a way that’s part of the attraction. There’s no stream teeming with life or rare plants (that I know of) or anything unusual. It’s just an ordinary patch of forest floor. But I think that’s a pretty special thing in and of itself.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Winter's first gasp

I had a bit of sleet at my cabin this morning, as you can see on the roof of my chicken coop. November 13 is not a particularly unusual date for that to happen, though when sleet immediately follows a day when the temperature is above 60, it’s not all that common. The morning started off with rain, which doesn’t deter me from taking Dog and Baby Dog from their morning walks. But shortly after we started I noticed little balls of ice, bouncing like ping pong balls off my rain jacket.

Soon the sleet was hitting my face, which stung like miniature bees, and we shortened our walk. Too late, the dogs were already soaked, and my rain jacket was showing its well-worn 15 years by not keeping me dry, either. This morning was winter’s first breath, not a big one, but just enough to tell us it’s on its way.

So far, November 2012 is turning out to be below average in temperature, even with the odd 60-degree day from yesterday. After the warmer than usual summer and early fall, it’s a nice break to feel weather the way it’s supposed to be again. Will it last? Probably not.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The trees of late autumn

The weekend saw a lot of activity around my cabin—a raccoon was testing the strength of the chicken pen, the foxes were barking at each other nearby the cabin. I kept being awakened by Dog or Baby Dog telling me some predator was nearby. This morning the deer were out in evidence. One galloped right past me and Baby Dog on our early morning walk. I’m blaming it all on a short and warm respite from the blustery and chilly weather. I think I will be glad to have the colder weather return later today. Perhaps I’ll get more sleep.

The time of the brown woods of November is here. I don’t mind the pre-winter browns, as a rule. However, I’m vaguely worried that I will be sick of it before the winter snows fall. Since Hurricane Sandy shortened fall by forcing all the leaves off the trees, the woods are likely to remain this way for five or six weeks. It’s certainly possible I will see some snow before the end of the year, and in the pre-climate change years of not-that-long-ago, I could pretty much bank on that. But now? And after last year’s utter lack of post-October snow, I am suspicious that the nondescript and non-snowy browns will last and last and maybe even last longer than that. Should that be the case, I will be sick of it by then, whenever “then” turns out to be.

In the meantime I am not sick of the November browns, and in fact I’m still enjoying seeing the interesting shapes of tree trunks with the forest in its skeleton mode. The ones in this photo are mostly locust trees, and they are all bending towards the opening in the forest created by the narrow access road along which they sit. They are all bending to reach as much of the sun’s rays as they can. The trees and their leaning towards the open lane is not new, but when they are all leafed out, the leaning isn’t nearly so noticeable. For me, it’s a case of seeing anew what was there all the time. Maybe that’s part of the reason why I enjoy the pre-snowy, brown days of November. Even the familiar looks different. Just so it doesn’t last all winter.

Friday, November 09, 2012

All the leaves are down...

...but the sky is blue....

...for the first time in about three weeks. I didn't realize how much difference last week's time change makes in the morning when the sun rises to a clear sky.  Chilly and windy or not, the sun makes the day seem a lot warmer and friendlier.  Still, there's no denying the mountains look decidedly wintry these days, even without snow to blanket the forest.

I've had frost, if not always a freeze, each night of the past several.  November here is a variable month.  Sometimes November is downright harsh, and in other years it's a warm extension of October but without the leaves. This year, as in most, the weather is doing both, often within a few days of each other.  Chilly since Hurricane Sandy passed, the next few days will bring warmer, October-like temperatures. That will be a pleasant respite, though of course that won't last either.  It doesn't matter. I've always liked weather's variety here.  I'm not the sort of person who would do well in a land where the temperature hadly ever changes.  I think I'd get bored.

Fortunately, living where I do, seasonal variety is the norm.  Three weeks of rain and overcast weather was already stretching my limits.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012


I found this tiny bird’s nest this morning right where I photographed it. Only perhaps 4 inches across, the nest is made of carefully woven grasses. I imagine that Hurricane Sandy knocked it down from whatever perch it rested on. The orange bittersweet petals were probably not there during nesting season. Bittersweet blooms and turns orange in the fall, so that addition likely happened long after nesting season was over.

The grasses don’t appear to be anything unusual, though the top strand is both longer and paler than the rest. I wondered if it was thread or even dental floss, but I haven’t tugged at it to see if it is manmade or not. The size and materials used for this nest are consistent with that of a chipping sparrow’s nest, though of course I will never know for sure.

Chipping sparrows are the summer's most common sparrow here on the mountain, and they are known for their flimsy nests. They don’t use mud or any other material as glue. They just weave their grasses, and often the nests are so ill-made you can see right through them. This one appears to be a bit better than average—at least I can’t see through it.

The nor’easter that’s currently due to further bother the New Jersey coast and points east later today and tonight is likely going to drop the first inch or several of snow to my mountain. Here I am, still cleaning leaves off my decks and out of my gutters, and now I’ll have to look for the snow shovel, too. I guess climate change is taking a break from all its overheated work of the past few months.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Winter is coming

I’m still getting used to the sudden appearance of the early winter landscape around my cabin. Hurricane Sandy was a huge storm, but I still don’t remember any storm that so completely and quickly changed a season from fall to almost-winter. It’s a lot to get used to overnight.

This part of Pennsylvania is one where we usually see all four of the seasons. The winters are cold, the summers are hot, fall is gorgeous and spring—well, spring isn’t my favorite, but it’s definitely its own season. The seasons flow from one to the other, and the constant shift is usually subtle. Changes are small, sometimes almost imperceptible, from week to week as one season melds into the next. For me, that’s part of the fun of paying attention to nature, watching how the seasons shift a little bit at a time. Then this year comes along, and the landscape has shifted a whole month, if not more, in the space of a day.

The trees are now completely bare, which means I can see distances again. It also means the moon shines into the cabin again, so my bedroom is no longer as dark at night as it was during the summer.

The fall seed pods and assorted “stick-tights” that can almost cover my long-haired dogs after a romp outdoors are gone, too. They were just starting to be a nuisance when the hurricane came through. This year it looks as though I won’t have to deal much with them.

The decks and the gutters will need another full cleaning before winter truly sets in. I cleared everything out the morning before Sandy hit, and now it looks as though I’ve never done them at all.

This past week I’ve seen a variety of raccoons, skunks and opossums both around the cabin and elsewhere. The storm might have displaced them, though I think, like me, they are probably and suddenly just in the mode of getting ready for winter. They seem unusually busy and mobile, though.

Even the sky is taking on that wintry cast and feel. A breeze from the east brings a damp chill to the air, which already feels chilly enough. Fall has disappeared, winter is almost here, and it feels as though summer ended just last week. I'd better get used to it.  This year subtlety is in short supply.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Last of the Summer Blooms

My little corner of Roundtop Mtn. feels and looks like late November at the moment . The sky has remained overcast since Hurricane Sandy roared through, and the incessant breeze only adds to the chill. The landscape has taken on that pre-snow, wintry brown appearance.
Juncos appear in large numbers. They have discovered my bird feeders, and it’s no longer unusual to find a dozen or more jockeying for position at the same time. Sparrows, juncos and the occasional downy woodpecker are flocking together again in those multi-species, loose “winter flocks.”
The deer are now the same color as the fallen leaves. And as I am every year, I am surprised again to see just how far I can see now that the underbrush of the forest has withered. The hurricane really sped up the pace of seasonal change in this forest.

And so it was with more than a little surprise that I found a still-blooming brown-eyed susan this morning as I made my morning inspection of the forest. The flowers are more than a little tattered but weren’t ready to give up just yet. They’ve already survived a mild frost, not to mention the hurricane, though today may well be their last hurrah of the year. With lows predicted in the upper 20’s for tonight, I’ll be surprised if I see the blooms tomorrow morning. Still, I am happy to see blooms of any kind one last time, even if, and perhaps especially if, today is their last.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Returning to normal

Ridge Rd., Monaghan Twp., York County, Pennsylvania
In all the excitement over Hurricane Sandy, I forgot to mention that juncos have arrived in big numbers. The winter residents are now foraging all over Roundtop Mtn. and have even braved my feeders a time or two. It’s good to see them again.

One odd thing about the hurricane is that my feeder birds never went into the kind of feeding frenzy I see ahead of winter storms. Despite producing the lowest barometric pressure ever seen in the lower 48 states, the birds didn’t feed like crazy just ahead of or after the storm. The regular crew was here as they always are, but none of them fed with any greater urgency than usual, at least not to my eye.

It was really too dark this dark and dreary morning for a photo, but when I saw a momentary gleam of reddish sunlight touch the tops of the range to my north, I knew I had to try anyway. The reddish color didn’t last very long and within moments everything was gray again. Tomorrow might be the first day this area sees a bit of sun. I think everyone is more than ready for that.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

After Sandy

Hurricane Sandy was a pretty nasty visitor here at my cabin on Roundtop Mtn. Fortunately, she’s gone now. The hurricane left me with more work than actual damage. Still, I hope I never have to hear wind like that again anytime soon. The wind didn’t howl, it roared.
I also think I was in the eye of the hurricane, which might have been a cool thing to see if it had been daylight. Here’s what happened: The wind was roaring, trees were bending like blades of grass, the torrential rain was whipped horizontal. This was going on for at least several hours from just before dusk through evening, all the time the wind building and gusting. Then around 10 p.m. (perhaps a bit later) on Monday night the wind died. I waited for a few minutes, hardly believing my luck, and then decided to run the dogs outside—who’d been inside for hours—while I had a respite.
Outside, the wind was indeed nonexistent, and the rain reduced to a sprinkle, almost a mist. It was quiet and still. The dogs taken care of, I headed back inside. Perhaps 10 minutes later the rain started increasing again. This time the rain came from a more southerly direction. In perhaps another 10 minutes the winds began again, too, but throughout the night they never reached the fury of the earlier hours of the evening. I still had some substantial gusts, but they were fewer and the sustained winds probably a good 10 mph less than earlier. I’m pretty sure the winds were southerly, too, but I wasn’t outside to determine that. So was that the eye of the hurricane? When I look at the hurricane’s path it seems that it might have been.
Yesterday was a clean-up day for me. You’d never guess that I’d just spent hours on Sunday and Monday cleaning gutters and sweeping the decks free of leaves. Today it looks as though I’ve never done either. Virtually all the leaves are down now, and it feels like a raw mid-November day, still with some rain.
In my photo today, if you look past the downy woodpecker and the squirrel, you’ll see that the mountains to my west are visible again after disappearing into the leaf canopy for the past nearly 7 months. The table under the bird feeders is leaf-covered and messy. That wasn’t the case on Sunday—everything was cleared and arranged or put away. And my lovely, new yellow-topped finch feeder is empty of the pine siskins that seem to be filling the feeders everywhere but at my cabin.
I’m just glad I’m safe and the storm is gone. That was a doozy.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Then and now

What a difference one weekend will make! I took this photo last weekend up at Michaux State Forest. This weekend I will be deep into getting ready for Hurricane Sandy, a gal I’m already not liking very much. I’ve heard too much about her already and she’s still almost four days from appearing on my doorstep.

For me, the wind will be likely be the biggest worry. Anyone who lives in a forest worries about that. Doing without power is no fun but that’s nothing compared to a downed tree on the cabin. Water in the basement is no fun either, but that’s why I have pumps, both electric and battery-powered (though the battery-powered one might not be up to handling the water from this kind of storm).

Whatever plans I thought I might have for this weekend will be put on hold, both because of getting ready for the storm and paying attention to where the storm is going to go and when. The animals are blissfully unaware of anything other than getting their dinner. I sort of wish I could be, too.

So, if blogging ceases for a bit, it’s because I’m out of power and/or internet. I hope to still be online for Monday, but I’m taking no bets for after that.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Trying to ignore Sandy

Along Mountain Creek in Michaux State Forest
I’ve been trying to ignore the Hurricane Sandy information for the past two days, hoping that the storm won’t, after all, turn into a Major Event here on Roundtop. But as time passes, the storm looms pretty large as a probable Major Event to arrive sometime early Monday morning.
As a result, I am in full hurricane-preparedness mode at the cabin. For me this means everything from battening down the hatches on the chickens, to making sure I have plenty of water available, not to mention food that doesn’t need to be cooked or cooled. Electrical outages here are common during minor events, let alone during Major Events.

So that work has begun for me. At least I have several days notice before Sandy arrives, so I should have time to prepare, at least as much as anyone can for these things. Maybe I’ll get done with everything in time to do a little “hurricane birding.”

Hurricanes often bring birds that normally live along the coast inland, to shelter away from the storm. The most common species I see during these times are Caspian terns, but those come with summer hurricanes. The terns have already headed to Florida for the winter. With a pending hurricane this late in the year, I don’t know what might appear.

For now, it’s too soon to think about birding when I have so much else to take care of first. It’s time to get busy and get ready for some rough weather.

Rhododendron at Mountain Creek

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The waiting game

Pine needles underfoot at Michaux State Forest
I fear that the display of fall colors is already past its not-so-wonderful prime here on Roundtop this year. For a day or so I was hoping it was only a respite, a lull, before the last burst of color. But this year is not like a fireworks display, and there will be no grand finale. With rain in the forecast both sooner and later, I suspect the leaves will soon be down around my ankles or my shins. As long as it’s only leaves and not rain around my ankles and my shins, I’ll be happy.

Reflections in Mountain Creek

I seem to be in a holding pattern, weather- and season-wise this week. The temperature has warmed up a few degrees, which is pleasant. It’s not so warm as to feel unseasonable, just warm enough to feel like early October instead of after the middle of the month.

Except for nightly raids by a foraging raccoon, I haven’t seen many indications of the colder weather to come. I have no juncos to report as yet, though in some years I would have seen them already. I have no huge flocks of Canada geese, sprinkled with loons, honking across a chilly and overcast sky to report either. By now I’m thinking the geese flew on a different path this year or were perhaps simply too high under a clear sky for me to even hear them.

And so I wait for something new or different to catch my eye, for the leaves to fall and reveal the open sky and the mountain to the west, for the juncos to arrive or the pine siskin to pay a visit. For now none of that is happening. It’s just me, waiting.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Walking where I've never walked before

Sunday was one of those perfect fall days that draws people outdoors like bears to honey. No excuses or explanations are needed. The weather is simply too wonderful to spend indoors, and it doesn’t matter how much housework or yard work you are leaving undone. Out you go. I was no exception.
This time I wanted to do something a little different. I have been stomping through Michaux State Forest in Adams and Cumberland counties for all my life and seriously stomping there for the past 40 years or so. And there are still places I haven’t trod, and this time I was determined to find one of them.

My plan was to follow a section of Mountain Creek south of Tumbling Run Game Preserve. I’ve hiked to the falls at Tumbling Run more times than I can count, dozens certainly. It never fails to thrill, but I knew on this weekend and in this weather it would be filled with lots of other hikers. I was hoping for something a little more solitary and quiet.
So I headed to Woodrow Rd. and found a spot to pull over and started my ramble along the creek. Michaux is much a forest of hemlocks, rhododendrons and mountain laurel, so the fall colors of deciduous trees are not as predominant here as they are at Roundtop. But the scent of the pines and the bubbling creek makes up for that.

I was surprised to find the ferns here already fading to brown. At Roundtop, all except the few maidenhair ferns are still green. The pine needles muffled my footfall, and except for the stream, the woods were very quiet. Only a few jays screamed in the distance. One red-breasted nuthatch scolded and then flew. I saw few other birds. That was fine with me—a quiet walk through a beautiful forest needs no enhancement.

I don’t know how far I walked. I seem to be incapable of walking 100 yards without taking a photo, so my pace and forward progress was slow. That was fine, too. Enjoying the woods shouldn’t be a hurried experience and whatever slows your progress is worthwhile.

I spent much of this gorgeous day here in Michaux forest, and though I walked in one section of the forest where I hadn’t walked before, I found at least 6-7 other spots where I hadn’t yet walked either. I’ve added those to my list for the next time. Oh, and you’ll be seeing a lot more of my photos here this week, too.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Fall colors

View to the west behind my cabin, with Nell's Hill in the distance
As best as I can tell at the moment, the fall color change peaked this weekend here in southern Pennsylvania. As autumn colors go, this is not the best year I’ve ever seen. However, there’s no such thing as an ugly fall, so less-than-spectacular does not equal awful or even not-great. The forest is still quite pretty, though the colors seem a bit muted or at least not as bright as when they are at their best.
There is no arguing with the weather this weekend. Sunny and clear brought out the leaf lookers in droves. The temperature is not what I would call crisp, except perhaps in the early morning. It’s a bit too much on the warm side for that, but the temperature is perfectly pleasant, and there’s certainly no harm in that.

I am blaming the less than perfect fall color on the extreme July heat and dryness. Many of the leaves are curled and brown on the edges, with fall color only in the center of the individual leaves. The leaves that have fallen are as dry as old paper, crackling underfoot when I step on them. Deer hunters had better hope for a little rain or stalking deer or even walking quietly to a deer stand won’t be possible.
I have yet to hear or see any on those huge flocks of waterfowl, usually Canada geese, that can fill the skies during October. The main flight path isn’t always over Roundtop, so it’s possible this year falls into that category. Or, perhaps I haven’t been able to see them because the sky is clear and the birds are migrating at such a height that they aren’t visible or audible. Or perhaps the weather just hasn’t been bad enough to get them moving. Any of those choices are possible, and it could well be another 3-4 weeks before I know what the reason is.
Suddenly, ticks have made an unwelcome reappearance. I’ve pulled them off both me and the dogs this weekend. The stinkbugs are still around, too, unfortunately. I’ll be happy to see them disappear sooner rather than later.

Friday, October 19, 2012


Yesterday evening I tried to get some autumn photos of the color change here at Roundtop. This is not a great year for fall leaves. Too many are turning brown, shriveling and falling without ever turning yellow or orange or gold. Adding to the lack of pretty leaves has been the lack of good light. Instead, the light has been flat, the sky overcast (but not in a good way), the views hazy with fog that never quite dissipates. It’s discouraging. Fall doesn’t last nearly long enough in a good year, and every day with poor visibility and bad lighting makes the season feel even shorter.

So last evening I took a few shots but found myself unhappy with all of them. Daylight was fading fast, and the fog and the light gave no indication either would improve in the few moments before sunset. I started back up the trail, deciding instead to focus on a few individual leaves instead of trying for a long landscape shot.

And then suddenly the sun broke through the clouds and lit up the trees around me. It was too late to go back for the long view (and the fog wasn’t likely to disappear, anyway). For a few seconds, and only for a few, the sun turned even the brown leaves to magical shades of orange and yellow. A few clicks of the shutter and then it was gone. The evening was sweet but oh, so short.