Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Almost sunset

Almost sunset over South Mountain

A day of poor weather is approaching and threatening to cancel my camp session tomorrow.  The approaching system makes for some great sunsets and sunrises, though. Today’s photo is was taken just before  sunset last evening.  I also got a nice sunrise photo this morning that I will probably post later.
If my camp session is held tomorrow, it will probably be a wet one. I don’t mind getting wet.  I have the proper clothing for that. The biggest problem is that rain makes the stream muddy, and when it’s muddy the kids can’t see anything and if they can’t see anything they can’t catch anything.  Crayfish and similar stream denizens like to find the sunny spots in the stream.  Without the sun to lure them from under their rocks and other hiding places, I worry that the kids won’t be able to find much.
A little drizzle won’t hurt too much but an actual rain, anything from a moderate rain or worse, won’t make for a great day for the kids, I’m afraid.  Over the years I’ve had a few rainy sessions.  One was a total washout.  The kids were soaked and unhappy. I was dry enough, but it wasn’t an especially fun day. The kids didn’t catch anything.  It remains to be seen if tomorrow brings that kind of rain or the kind of rain that doesn’t totally impair the day.
Tonight, I’d better make sure my rain jacket and tent fly are in the pack, just in case.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Beautiful summer morning

It’s a beautiful day here on Roundtop Mountain. For once, the haze created by the normal high humidity of summer is gone, and the day is crystal clear.

Typically, summer’s hot days hold more water vapor in the air than can the cooler days of winter. That extra water vapor creates the haze, which reduces visibility. Certain other conditions, such as wind, work to decrease the haze. Visibility is best on days that are cool, dry and have a bit of a breeze, especially a northwest breeze. That doesn’t sound much like summer here in the east, does it? Here summers are usually hot, humid and breezes are tough to come by.

In other words, days like today that are cool, dry and with a lovely light northwest breeze are few and far between in summer. Northwest breezes are usually associated with fall, and any hawkwatcher will tell you that when there’s a northwest wind, it’s time to put yourself on a hawkwatch to observe the show. The first good northwest breeze of August will start to move birds southward, and even now, in late July, I would not be surprised if this breeze was enough to get a few birds, perhaps Bald Eagles, moving southward.

Today, I’m not yet ready to start fall hawkwatching, but I am enjoying the crystal clear views and lovely temperatures. It does make me feel as though fall is nearing, even though by the calendar, summer is not yet half over.

Monday, July 29, 2013


Have you noticed the mornings getting darker yet? I have. Now, when I walk Baby Dog, the sun is not yet above the horizon, though the east glows orange. Overhead the sky is a gray color, and I can’t tell from the shade if the morning is cloudy or simply the color of pre-dawn. This morning the sky eventually announced itself as clear and not cloudy, but I was already well into my walk before I could say that for sure.

With the heat wave broken, the temperatures are back to normal again. The nights are cooler, a northwest breeze rustles the oaks, and though it doesn’t yet feel like fall, neither does it feel like the tropics any longer. In the mornings I wear a long shirt or sometimes a summer sweater. The nip is there.

The cooler weather enlivens Baby Dog. She wants to run and be silly, so I let her gallop around to no purpose whatsoever. She returns, breathing hard but happy. Apparently she needed that. Even though the sun is not yet up, many birds are already moving. I hear goldfinch, bluebirds, chipping sparrow and cardinals. Of course, the blue jays and crows are alarming—something is always capturing their attention. The swallows are not in evidence this early, and though they are probably up and moving I don’t hear chickadees or nuthatch this morning. I see three deer high up on the ski slopes, but Baby Dog is more interested in rabbits and possibly the groundhogs. This morning the rabbits flees before we get close enough for Baby Dog to be much interested in it. That’s just as well. I’m in no hurry to have my arm pulled from its socket trying to hold on to her.

Friday, July 26, 2013


Where the field meets the forest and the sky
What a difference a week made! This week’s camp was glorious—cool, with a slight breeze and lots of stream denizens for the kids to catch. 70 degrees and low humidity versus 100 degrees and humid—it’s a no-brainer. I thoroughly enjoyed being in the woods and the hike to and from Beaver Creek.

The kids did well, too. They caught three frogs—two pickerel frogs and a green frog—several minnows and more crayfish than I had room in the buckets for. The two different species of frogs made it easy to show them that a “frog” is not just a frog but that this area has different species of them. I had tiny crayfish and crayfish monsters that would have been of a reasonable size for eating. The kids also liked the many ebony jewelwing damselflies that obligingly perched on knees and arms. They didn’t catch any salamanders this week, but they found helgramites and assorted other larvae and grubs, not all of which I could identify. In other words, they had a good time.

The little creek is still shallower than I like to see it, but I believe there was a slight improvement in water flow over the previous week. It still got muddy pretty fast, and I still tried to keep the kids’ feet out of the deeper pool—and they still forgot that about a hundred times—but I do think the mud they churned up cleared a bit faster than it did last week.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

I hoped the rain helped

Fog rising from the mountains - July 24, 2013
Now that the weather has moderated and returned to normal, I’m looking forward to camp again. Tomorrow is another session, and I’m hoping the rains from the various storms will have boosted the depth of the stream and the little pool where kids catch crayfish, frogs and salamanders.
Last week the pool was looking pretty sad, and worse, the stream’s flow was so slow that mud kicked up by kid feet took forever to clear. I tried to keep the kids out of the pool because, as I told them, if you can’t see anything, you can’t catch anything. Well, remembering those words is hard for a kid, and I felt like the mud police trying to keep them from wading in the stream. I didn’t really want to keep them out of the stream, either, but waiting for 15 minutes for mud to clear out of the pool before the kids could see anything wasn’t much fun either.

In a good year, one that’s had decent snow cover and good spring rains, I let the kids wade as much as they want. Oh, the pool still gets muddy, but then it only takes a minute or so to clear. This year had minimal snow cover and not much in the way of spring rains, and that didn’t help the stream flow.

June was rainy here, but even that seemed to have only a minor impact on the stream flow. I don’t expect the rain from last week to turn the stream into a torrent, but I do hope the flow has improved enough so that the kids can get their toes wet.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Not connected

I am temporarily off the grid for a while at the cabin since a severe thunderstorm swept through last evening. Power was out. Internet was out. TV was out. The power came back on fairly quickly but not the rest. The storm had threatened all evening, thundering from virtually every direction around me but always several miles off. Then came a brighter flash of lightning, followed by a loud boom of thunder and everything went dark. Floradora my cat bolted off the bed and ran under it. She is terribly afraid of thunderstorms, the only cat I’ve ever owned who even seems to notice them.

Up on the mountain where I live, losing power and other digital connections to modern life is a fairly regular occurrence. The power line comes up and down two mountains and across what passes in this area for a little swamp before it reaches me. The cut through the forest for the power line isn’t a wide one, so every time a tree falls, I lose power. And there are a lot of trees in that mile or so through the forest. Even out on the hard road off which my power travels, the forest-lined road is subject to trees falling onto lines. The hard road is somewhat wider than the power line cut, but it’s not wide enough to be immune from damage caused by a falling tree.

I don’t have a generator, though I do have a non-electric heat source to get me through winter power outages. The loss of internet and television is an inconvenience, but I’m used to it. Periodically, the lack reminds me of the days, years really, when I didn’t have access to either and didn’t really mind. These days, internet access seems as necessary as electricity, though I know it’s really a habit of connectivity more than anything.

I keep lanterns handy, both battery-powered and match-lit.  I have a wind-up alarm clock, though these days an alarm app on my cell phone gets more use. I have a battery pack to charge the cell phone, too, for those times when power is out for days on end.

During outages I find I miss seeing a storm’s approach on radar more than anything. To me, watching a storm’s radar path is how I determine if I need to head to the basement to shelter or not. Knowing that the torrential rain that’s falling will be past its worst with the next radar pass is comforting, or it tells me if it’s time to drag out the sump pumps.

Not knowing when the storm will pass or if the rain will continue unabated for hours seems odd now, though not knowing was the norm for much of my life here in the cabin. It didn’t take very long to get used to having that information at my fingertips, and it’s only when it’s not available that I realize that what seems like a necessity really isn’t.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Relief, but still summer

Looking down my driveway
The big July heat wave finally broke with the arrival of some dramatic lightning and thunder. One of my younger cats was terrified, hiding under the stairs and meowing piteously during the worst of the storm. I lost power briefly but suffered no damage.

Now weather has returned to normal summer temperatures, though it’s still too hot and too humid for my tastes. Even so, the weather is now cool enough that I could work outside in the early mornings, tossing out some old and crumbling plywood and doing some basic clean-up. Around the cabin not all is yet dried out, so I limit my work to areas that aren’t muddy or at least soft. Still, it felt good to accomplish something.

It’s hard for me to believe it, but summer is only one-third over. I feel as though I’ve been stuck in summer for way too long. I’m not a summer person. I’ve never been a summer person. Hot and humid weather keeps me from fully enjoying being in the woods. I love to hike up a long hill in cool weather, but when it’s hot I’m ready to quit before I’ve begun. Worse, there isn’t any interesting birding around until fall migration begins. This year has produced a plethora of tiger swallowtails and spice bush swallowtails, so that’s something, but even that can’t make up for it being so hot.

The evenings are especially uncomfortable, even when I’ m sitting still. Sunset doesn’t induce much cooling until the early morning hours. I hope this cooler weather will make for some slightly cooler evenings. I’d like to sit outside and watch the day come to a close some evening. Perhaps it would work better if I could lounge outside at 5 a.m., when it is cool. Lounging, however, is an activity best done at the end of the day. Lounging in the morning just seems wrong.

Friday, July 19, 2013

It's too darn hot and the best-laid plans...

Black rat snake
 My blogging plans don't always work out. I was all prepared today to complain about the extreme heat that's overbearing and brutal here on Roundtop Mountain.  I was going to complain about how awful the heat was yesterday during Adventure Camp--though the kids had a good time and caught oodles of crayfish.  I even took a hazy photo this morning in an attempt to show a bit of what so much heat looks like. But then this black rat snake turned up and my plans changed.

I found the above rat snake just a few feet onto the paved road.  It had likely been at or near the pond that was only about 20 feet behind it.  Probably it was returning to someplace relatively cool to sleep away the heat of the day after a night of doing whatever rat snakes do in miserably hot summer weather.

So there it was on an access road where traffic is not heavy but likely eventually.  The snake was about 4 feet long, not as thick around the middle as some I've seen.  I saw the last foot or so of one up at my cabin last week.  Perhaps it was the same one, but the area holds enough black snakes that it doesn't necessarily need to be, though that snake and this one were certainly about the same length. By the way, when I was a kid these were called just "black snakes" but the species is really a rat snake or commonly called a black rat snake.

This black snake had stopped on the road, stretched part way across it on a curve.  It's a good thing I stopped to take a photo of the haze or I might have accidentally driven over it.  That would have ruined my day for sure.  In any event, that didn't happen and the snake showed no immediate signs of removing itself from the road.  It was time to herd it to a safer spot.

First I had to find a stick of a certain length.  After all, it's a rather good-sized snake.  And though I live in the forest, when you are looking for a stick of a certain length, they never seem to be handy.  I found short sticks and entire branches close at hand but not what I was looking for. Eventually the stick was found, a branch really, with many side twigs and of a not-very-straight shape, but it would have to do.

Now black rat snakes can be a touch, well, touchy.  They aren't shy about holding their ground, and they always seem a bit grumpy, sort of like me before that first cup of coffee.  This one was no exception and started to raise its head and coil up, not the response I wanted. So I touched the snake with my stick, and fortunately, that got it moving.  Every time the snake stopped, which was often, I encouraged it.  The snake was in little hurry, but at least it finally got off the road and into the woods. It was headed straight towards the paintball headquarters, and I hope it doesn't linger there or that it stays out of sight should that activity be active this evening. 

A lot of people have an aversion to snakes and think the only good one is a dead one.  I'm not one of those people, and I am more favorably disposed to black rat snakes than a few of them I'd just as soon not see.  So, this morning readers are spared my planned rant about the terrible heat. And the heat is supposed to break tomorrow, so it will be old news when I post again.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Hottest time of the year

It’s not quite three weeks past the summer solstice, and already I can tell that the mornings are darker. The difference isn’t much yet, but it is noticeable. The sky at 5:30 a.m. is verging on the color of pre-dawn rather than dawn. By the time Baby Dog and I are taking our morning walk a few minutes later, the sky has brightened.
Three weeks past solstice is typically the hottest time of year here, and this year is determined not to be an exception. I am in the middle of a heat wave that won’t end before Sunday. The end of the heat wave always seems to be forecast to extend for another morning longer than it was the day before.
Three weeks past the winter solstice is also typically the coldest time of the winter. In this region, it’s called “farm show weather,” and those of you who are local readers will know what that means. The Pennsylvania Farm Show is a long-standing and huge event, and it is held during that coldest point of the winter. Weather then is nearly always bad, in addition to being cold. There seems to be a long-standing tradition of people who are intending to attend the farm show, only to be deterred by terrible weather that keeps people at home. But that’s a topic for 180 days from now.
At the moment I am suffering through temperatures in the mid ‘90’s, trying to take some minor comfort in the idea that this may well be the hottest point of the year, and I can expect relief before long. That’s more theoretically satisfying than it is satisfying in reality.
Tomorrow will be another camp day for me, and with a forecast of 96 degrees, I can’t say I’m looking forward to it with my usual enthusiasm. I also continue to worry with the depth of the little stream where the kids catch crayfish, frogs and salamanders. It’s been low all year, and a heat wave isn’t going to help that one bit. The stream was so slow-moving last week that virtually anything the kids did created mud that took forever to clear again. Normally I can let the kids wade in the stream, knowing the mud they kick up will clear within moments. Not this year. I keep telling them to stay out of the main pool because if you can’t see anything, you can’t catch anything. That falls on deaf ears. Sigh.

Monday, July 15, 2013

More odds, more ends

I feel that my area has seen a lot of rain this month, but the local streams and creeks still look pretty sad. I don’t know if that’s because July’s weather has been so hot or the lingering effects of not much snow this past winter. I suspect winter’s lack of snow is a major culprit; even though the weather has been hot, it’s also been humid and until this week rain or drizzle has been a near-constant. I keep thinking the creeks should be higher than they are because the mud around the cabin never seems to dry out, and my deck hasn’t been dry for weeks.

With the creeks looking the way they are now, and this the first day of a week-long 95 degree and higher heat wave, I don’t want to think about what the streams will look like in August if that month turns out to be a typical one. This year has been so untypical in so many ways, though, that I’m less worried about that than I might otherwise be. Not one month or weather pattern has been “typical” thus far in 2013, so for all I can guess, August could bring cold weather. I can only hope. I was ready for fall to start after the first 90 degree day in late May.

Although I haven’t had a recurrence of raccoon issues, my neighbors report instances where flowers were dug up and destroyed. It’s possible an opossum is to blame, but the most likely culprit is a raccoon. The chickens are on lockdown. Again. They hate that.

One of my chickens has turned into a broody hen, spending hours sitting on eggs that are hers and everyone else’s. I have evicted her once and then placed her by herself, with the eggs, in a separate enclosure where she could brood away. She immediately stopped brooding. So I put her back in the original chicken pen, and guess what? She’s brooding again. I have no idea what I will do with a clutch of chicks, should she manage to hatch them, let alone a clutch of chicks that are likely to be half roosters. I will deal with that if and when it happens.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Odds and ends

No more turkey photos for a while. I promise. Well, I promise unless Mr. Turkey is doing something very interesting or comes to stand beside me or something like that. So far you don’t have to worry.

Roundtop has a bumper crop of small cottontail rabbits this year. Those things are tiny and dart off right in front of Baby Dog’s nose. Her feet are in motion before she can blink, and the result is usually that my arm is nearly pulled from its socket. This morning we saw five of the little ones, and I swear each was smaller than the last. Groundhogs and chipmunks are not in short supply either. The groundhogs seem smarter than these tiny bunnies, though. And the chipmunks tend not to hang out where we walk in the mornings. That’s probably a good thing, given Baby Dog’s penchant for wanting to chase everything she sees.

The near-constant rain is affecting my cell phone reception, a downside of living deep under the forest canopy that you’ve probably never thought of. My take on it is that billions of leaves are heavy with raindrops and that moisture dampens the signals, too. Reception is fine when the humidity is less, and reception usually starts to improve about an hour or so after the rain is over.

I first noticed the tendency during camp when I was down at the little stream not long after a rain. Normally, I can get reception down in that little valley, even though I am surrounded by mountains. But on this day, walkie-talkies didn’t work and neither did cell phones. Further up on top on the mountain where I live, reception is generally better, but week after week of summer rains, with little time for anything to dry out, takes its toll.

Speaking of camp, that’s where I’ll be tomorrow, so I’m hoping for a dry day. This summer, that would be novel.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Turkey redux and black raspberries!

Nice wild turkey, nice beard

I apologize for posting another wild turkey photo, but this morning Mr. Turkey was out in the same field again and this time he was closer. So I took another few shots of him. Look at the beard on this guy! It’s pretty impressive.

Hen turkeys will sometimes grow beards, too, but I believe theirs are less impressive. At any rate, the odds are this fine fellow really is a fellow and that’s what I will call him. Mr. Turkey has been fairly predictable this week. He calmly shows up at about the same time each morning, often accompanied by several of the local deer. He forages his way slowly across the field, sometimes in one direction, sometimes the other. He isn’t quick to mind when a car comes by or, in my case, when I stop the car to take a better look at him. He’s a lot more intent on breakfast than on me. Of course, I don’t attempt to get out of the car either, which would likely send him dashing off towards the woods.

On an entirely different note, this is the week the black raspberries are ripe. They are my favorite berry, perhaps even my favorite fruit. They have one disadvantage: the berries are ripe for only about 7-10 days out of 365 and then they are gone, so there’s little time to gather or buy them or to put them up. A neighbor makes black raspberry jelly or preserves, and I am usually able to get a jar or two from her. That helps me survive the 355 days of the year when I don’t have black raspberries. I hoard the jelly like gold or perhaps diamonds. I plan entire seasons of the year around my jars of black raspberry jelly.

I will eat fresh berries until there are no more. Then, perhaps in September, I might break into one of my frozen pints of the berries. Perhaps in October, I will open a jar of the jelly, and I will do my best to make it last. After that, perhaps it will be time for another frozen pint. The second jar of jelly will probably be opened on Christmas or perhaps New Year’s. After that it may well be February, on some cold and raw day when I am in need of comfort food, before I pull another pint from the freezer.

After that, my store of black raspberries will be pretty thin. I might have a pint or so left. In a good year, I might have one more jar of jelly. But one thing is sure. It will be long, cold spring until the new black raspberries are ripe again.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Summer morning turkey

Wild Turkey in a field
Roundtop’s forest dwellers have been parading around in the early mornings yesterday and today. Partly, that’s due to midday being so hot—they want to eat and drink before it’s too warm to be out of a nice shady spot. Partly, I suspect, it’s because the rain has finally stopped and they, like everyone else, are taking advantage of Not Being Rained On after what feels like forever.

This morning Baby Dog and I watched the usual deer trotting up the lane or bounding across the lane. One suddenly bounced up from lying down in the underbrush in front of us and trotted off. I guess it didn’t like Baby Dog and me as an alarm clock. If it hadn’t moved, we’d never have seen it. The forest cover that’s only a foot or so high hid it perfectly.

As I was leaving the mountain this morning I also found this wild turkey in the field/parking lot across from the ski resort. I’ve seen turkey here fairly regularly over the past week or so, but they were usually too far for a camera without a telephoto lens. This one was closer, so I grabbed a quick shot.

As I was taking the shot, two cars came by, and as far as I can tell, neither saw the turkey. Either they were clueless drivers—entirely possible at that hour—or the sight of a wild turkey parading through a field simply wasn’t interesting enough for them to slow down. I’ve seen lots of wild turkeys and I still enjoy watching them. I can’t imagine driving by without at least slowing down. Even if I haven’t had that first cup of coffee yet.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Appalachian sunset

One good thing about all the rain that’s fallen here over the past week or ten days: the rain has been fairly sporadic, if not when you're underneath one of the brief, torrential downpours. The big grey clouds roll across the sky constantly, sometimes allowing peeks of sunshine, never looking the same from minute to minute. That situation has produced some outstanding sunsets and sunrises over the past days. Today’s photo is sunset over South Mountain, taken last evening.

Usually, I prefer the sunrises and sunsets of winter to those of summer. That’s due in part to the forest blocking my best views of them. Another factor that’s perhaps more important is that summer skies here in Pennsylvania are often veiled by the haze of humidity. The haze mutes the sunset, and they just aren’t as pretty unless the air is crisp.

Last evening a brief rain shower right before sunset cleared the sky of fog and haze long enough to produce a really nice summer sunset over the Appalachians.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Peaches in the orchard

Roundtop in the background. Notice the peaches on the tree to the left
I’m waiting for mold to start around my cabin on Roundtop. The forest is soaked and the rain shows no sign of moving out. The humidity never abates, even when the rain disappears for a few hours. It’s making for an odd summer so far. I keep looking at the vegetation, trying to determine the winners and losers.

Anyone who’s ever eaten local strawberries or other local produce knows how much they can vary from year to year. Some years are award-winners, others are just not very good. A season may be warmer or cooler than is typical. Cool or warm temperatures may strike at the wrong time for a particular crop. The forest plants are much the same in that regard. Some weather patterns favor one plant, sometimes another.

This spring, the wild geraniums were in short supply for some reason. Perhaps the low snowfall and the early spring dryness affected them. The rue anemone were profuse and gorgeous, though. Now, the midsummer blooms are out, and most of the flora I pay attention to are doing well. If I can notice anything that’s vaguely unusual, I would say that the midsummer blooms are appearing a tad earlier than usual. That could be the result of the quick change to hot weather in early June.

It is probably too early at this point to know how this spate of rainy, humid weather will impact what I see in the forest around me. As a guess, I might say that the weather pattern would seem to favor some of the woodland ferns or perhaps the few native orchids that I’ve found here, too.

In my photo today, you can see Roundtop in the distance and an orchard in the foreground. One of the trees is laden with peaches that look about ready for picking. I’m guessing peaches will like this weather and produce nice and juicy fruit. I’m not sure how flavorful they will be—cool weather usually better concentrates the sugar. In any event, it doesn’t look as though I will have to wait too long to find out if I’m going to be right about those peaches.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Weekend storms

Brown-eyed susans
Baby Dog has been in her glory this past weekend. She’s been seeing deer everywhere. Without the leash, she would quickly give chase, nose to the ground, after those stampeding deer. It doesn’t help when the deer bolt right in front of her, rocketing across the lane and into the woods. Maybe if they would amble across the lane or simply stop and stare at her, she would be less inclined to pull my arm from its socket.

This morning she saw two deer, both doe, both without fawns. Saturday, from the safety of a house, she watched two tiny fawns, accompanied by mother and last year’s sibling, dart across a road. The little ones clattered on the macadam and soon disappeared into a tangle by an old spring. Baby Dog couldn’t chase those, and watching them through a window isn’t nearly as exciting as having them dart right in front of her.

It’s been a rainy and stormy weekend, torrential rain following sunshine by minutes. Rain soaked the base of Roundtop Mountain, but the same storm didn’t give me a drop. Later, the opposite happened, when it looked as though the top of the mountain was the only place around that got the rain. Perhaps that persistent storminess is why deer are being seen at unusual times, arrowing from here to there for no apparent reason. Perhaps they don’t like the wet foliage that soaks a passerby as completely as the rain.

My photo today is of brown-eyed susans, a midsummer bloom that clearly doesn’t mind the rain.