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.