Monday, June 30, 2014


What is so rare as a nice day in June?

This year, they were pretty rare. Rain, humidity and high temperatures marked the month, not those warm, clear days with the puffy cumulus clouds of sonnets. After a colder than average start to the year, I am not surprised that June was one that was warmer than average. In this part of the country, the long cold spell of this past winter was an exception: typically, I don’t go for so many months in a row that are either colder or hotter than average. I’m just hoping that June’s warmer than average temperatures don’t stretch for five months in a row, the way the colder than average months of winter did.

Here on the mountain, I am frequently spared several degrees of temperature that marks a day nearer the cities. I am not spared the humidity, though, so sometimes those cooler temperatures don’t feel a bit cooler. Several days of June were like that.

Unfortunately for me, the month ahead will likely be even hotter than June. July usually is. While I enjoy winters, I would be just as happy if the summers were cooler than average as long as the winters were no worse than average. I don’t really wish for warm winters; I’ve had too many of those already.

With this year’s colder winter, I was hoping that some of the nastier insects would be in shorter supply than usual. I can’t say I’ve found that to be the case so far. Mosquitoes are still plentiful. I’m not sure about the stink bugs yet. Ticks might be slightly less than average, though the difference isn’t large, assuming it’s not just my own fancy that I’ve pulled fewer of them off the dogs or me. And they could still appear in larger numbers later in the summer. I’d like to think that won’t happen.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Summer's signs

Is it midsummer already? The mountain has that look and the first of the summer flowers are blooming. I’ve seen daisies, in addition to these brown-eyed susans. The first farmer lilies will soon be out, too, if they haven’t already opened up in today’s sun.

Thunderstorms are marching eastward, another sure sign of summer. So far neither the haze nor the heat has reached epic proportions, though the weather is definitely moving in that direction. Sometimes the humidity makes the late afternoons uncomfortable. I can always tell how the day is progressing by the number of animals stretched out and sleeping around the cabin. The higher the humidity, the fewer animals standing on all four legs.

Fireflies seem in somewhat shorter supply this year. I usually find them starting around Memorial Day, and it was a good 10 days after that before I saw the first. Now, I see some blinking here and there, but it feels like half of the number I think I should be seeing. Perhaps they will be more numerous in another few weeks. Naturally, I am wondering why there aren’t so many and I have no real idea.

If feels as though "everyone" has seen new fawns so far but me. I don’t know why I’m not seeing them, as I see lots of deer. I’ve just been unlucky enough to miss the fawns.

Tomorrow will be another day of camp for me, and the weather looks promising.  At least I won't have to keep the camera in the waterproof bag, so that's something!

Monday, June 23, 2014

My first session of this year’s adventure camp was on Thursday. It rained most of the day, usually a gentle rain but with occasional downpours. I feared the rain would put the stream creatures into hiding, but mostly it didn’t. The kids caught a lot of things, including a lovely red salamander and a fat common toad, as well as the requisite number of tiny crayfish.

I’m sorry about the quality of the photo of the salamander. Due to the rain, I kept my phone in a waterproof plastic bag and took the shot through the plastic. Considering that, the photo turned out better than I expected.

Most of the kids didn’t mind the rain, or at least they willingly put up with it. A few whined about it, so I told them "This isn’t the Wizard of Oz. You will not melt." That quieted most of them, but a few still behaved as though getting wet was a fate worse than death. And this from the same kids whose feet were already soaked because they were tromping around in the stream. Most of the kids didn’t have rain jackets, so they were pretty soaked. One boy with a lovely rainjacket that covered him down to his knees complained the loudest and the most. Nothing worked with him. He was determined to be unhappy. Fortunately, that was the minority view.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


This tiger swallowtail is pretty tattered. It’s already had a rough life, even though the season is still early and the butterfly probably didn’t appear much before sometime in May. Perhaps the recent heavy rains damaged it before it could find shelter. So far this year I’ve seen a lot of them around my cabin. Some years are better than others for the species, and this year seems to be a good one. Typically I will find them into September, rarely later than that.

They often fly pretty high. I’ve seen them up near the tops of trees around my forest, but enticing bloom will bring them down to a level where I can photograph them. This one decided to rest on one of my outdoor chairs. If I was as tattered as this swallowtail, I’d need to rest pretty often, too.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Free vulture buffet

All that’s missing is a sign: "Free vulture buffet. Line forms here."

The "buffet" is a small-ish dead groundhog, newly dead. Notice the vultures include both turkey vultures and a few black vultures. Driving by, a few of the turkey vultures hopped away. Not the black vultures. My impression is that they are more aggressive around dinner or at least less likely to be intimidated by something so mundane as a car.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Blooming rain

Moth mullein
Rain and raindrops just won’t go away this week. Soaked is the operative word. Me, the dogs, the forest, everything.

Some plants around the mountain don’t seem to mind the lack of sun. Others close up tighter than me in my cabin, hiding away from those nasty raindrops and waiting for the sun to reappear.

One of the plants that is blooming despite the weather is the moth mullein, an immigrant that’s only been on these shores for about 300 years. It was first documented in Pennsylvania in 1818 and had reached Michigan by 1840. The flower also comes in a yellow shade, but I’ve never seen that one here. The biennial plant originated in north Africa and Eurasia and was apparently deliberately introduced here with the early settlers, as so many of our wildflowers that like meadow and forest edges seem to be. I wish I could find out more about that 1818 reference. Who brought it over?

The plant is used as an herbal remedy, apparently an effective one, for asthma and other respiratory disorders, so I can imagine some doctor or self-taught medicine person wanting it in what was then an almost non-existent arsenal of things that worked to heal people. Apparently an extract of the flowers is good for ear infections, too. I’m vaguely tempted to try it that way, but I probably won’t.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Air thicker than water

The dewpoint (and humidity) continue so high that I may as well be a fish. Relief is promised for the weekend, but before that occurs thunderstorms, possible flooding and more humidity must be gotten through. This kind of weather is the reason I dislike summer. Heat without humidity isn’t bad but even a moderate temperature with this kind of humidity makes me feel like a wash cloth that needs to be wrung out.

Around the cabin the gloomy fog doesn’t appear to affect the animals. I see deer and turkeys regularly—no fawns or poults yet. The forest is dense and wet—raingear is needed even when it’s not raining unless I want to be soaked by leaves brushing against me. Several pairs of footwear haven’t been dry in days. I will be glad when the weather breaks as long as the breaking storms aren’t severe. It will be nice to see the sky again, instead of just clouds.

In this part of the world, while the west deals with drought, rainfall is now more than seven inches above normal. More than once I’ve wondered if climate change will push this area into some kind of temperate rain forest habitat. The pattern over the last several years has been for very high humidity and more rainfall than average. Years ago I heard that climate change would make this area feel more like Georgia, but I’ve been to Georgia in the summer and it’s not at all like this. I’ll let you know if I start finding redwoods or Doug firs on the mountain. I still have a ways to go before that happens.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Dewpoint Dilemma

Although the temperature has not yet reached the summery temperature of 90 degrees, the humidity and haze of hot summer days has arrived. Even a moderate 80 degree temperature feels uncomfortable when the dewpoint is nearly 70. Still, I have so far resisted putting the air conditioner in the kitchen window. I am starting to falter, though. I suspect I will have to get it going sometime this weekend. Once I put the thing in the window, it will stay there until at least mid-September, when I’m pretty sure the temperature and humidity won’t skyrocket again one final time.

I dislike the air conditioner for several reasons, not the least of which is what it does to my electricity bill. But I also dislike the sound of it and how it muffles the noises outside in the forest. When the air conditioner is running I can’t hear the birds outside or determine if the chickens are involved in some squabble, either real or imagined. Part of that is that I need to close up the other windows in the cabin when the air conditioner is running, but part is just the sound of the thing. I can’t hear people pulling into my driveway, sometimes not until the dogs set up an outcry.

The air conditioner in the kitchen window—the only window where one will fit at all—also blocks much of my view to the southwest. This time of year the dense greenery already hampers much of my viewing and the air conditioner only makes it worse. Plus, I can’t see that end of my deck at all.

Really, the only thing I do like about the air conditioner is that it takes the moisture out of the air. I don’t need to have it particularly cool in the cabin. In fact, I don’t like a dramatic change from terribly hot outside to icebox on the inside, so I keep the temperature inside pretty warm. I do like the lowered humidity that it creates, and I’ve just about reached the point where I want to make that happen.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Summer days and summer nights

I probably shouldn’t say this, because if I do I will jinx it. But so far this spring, the temperatures have been pleasant, not sweltering. That’s a nice change from recent Mays and Junes, where I started longing for fall before the summer solstice. This year I’m perfectly happy with warm days and cool nights and would be even more perfectly happy if the temperatures didn’t change at all until the autumnal equinox. Alas, that is not likely to happen, but every cool day is one less hot day before fall. I’ll take that.

Around my cabin, the ovenbirds are still calling, more so than the wood thrush, who are apparently settled down performing nesting duties. I hear a yellow-billed cuckoo nearly every day, too. The Canada geese goslings are getting bigger every day—they’ve reached the size of small ducks, now—and have become proficient swimmers, dutifully following mama and papa goose around the ponds.

The forest has that early summer feel. Everything is still moist from the spring rains, though they are beginning to diminish. Instead of rain every other day, now I go 4-5 days without rain and then it’s likely to be drizzle or a partial day’s rain. It’s a comfortable time of year, when jackets aren’t needed and sweat doesn’t ruin an outing. If only it would stay this way, though it probably won’t.

When I was a kid every now and again we have a cool summer. People who loved swimming would complain about it, but most enjoyed the break from hotter and more humid seasons. I can’t remember the last time I had a cool summer, though I do remember a rainy one several years ago. Those are also unusual here. Perhaps this will be the year for one here. I can only hope for that. A cool summer is long overdue, and in this time of climate change, perhaps it’s too much to hope for, but I will anyway.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Spring was a long time arriving this year, but once it finally arrived, the season wasted no time. The forest is dense with fully developed leaves, as you can see from this view of Nells Hill, the mountain behind my cabin. The "view" from my cabin is now fully lost, and to my eye I have even less sky this year than before.

From my north window I have one very small open patch of sky visible, a few pinprick sized spots and then a mass of greenery. To the west, I wouldn’t know Nells Hill even existed if I lived here only in the summer. To the south, I never have a view, as Roundtop mountain rises in that direction. Now, I can’t even see the ground through the greenery. To the east is my driveway, a tunnel through the greenery. In years past I had to walk out to the end of my driveway, to where it meets the lane going up the mountain to see any sky. This year even that view seems constricted, and for a real view of open sky I need to walk to the end of the lane to where the forest ends.

Now is the most lush time of the year. As the summer wears on it is likely a small amount of the canopy will open up. Summer thunderstorms bring wind, and most are strong enough to down a few twigs laden with a few leaves. Sometimes a stronger storm will bring down small branches, and once or twice a year a stronger storm will bring down some branches. All of that will eventually help to open up the canopy, long before fall is even a thought on the horizon.

It’s not these normal storms that cause any worry on my part; it’s those every couple of years kind of storms that bring down large branches or even the trees themselves that give me pause. I can do without any of those this year.