Thursday, October 29, 2015

Falling leaves

It’s official.  The peak of fall colors is past and the leaf drop has begun.  Of course, a hard rain last night and strong breeze today will push things along faster than is typical but that’s how it goes.  This is the week when I wade ankle deep through the forest’s leaves that litter my porch and deck.  I sweep the leaves every evening but for at least a week it does no good. Every day there are more.

One year I refused to sweep the leaves for a week, and I was soon knee deep in them on my front porch.  Having tried that once, now I sweep them daily until the leaf drop is over.  What I like to do is to study the leaves a bit and to name the species of trees they come from.  In my forest, white oak, red oak, tulip poplar, hickory and American beech are the most common species. I also find a few others, like chestnut oak, sassafras and wild cherry.  Sometimes I find an American chestnut, but these are likely from a younger tree that has not yet succumbed to the disease that devastated this species.

The leaves are blown from all over, who knows where, really, so if I find an unusual leaf, trying to then locate the tree it came from is pretty much impossible.  That doesn’t stop me from looking. Sooner or later I will be successful with one of them.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Color passing its peak


The fall color is now past its peak here on Roundtop.  The colors were gorgeous on Saturday and Sunday morning, when these photos were taken.  This year is a far cry from the drab shades in 2014, which were hurt by both wind and rain at just the wrong time.

Around noon on Sunday, a strong easterly breeze blew up, taking the first round of fall color with it.  Several more rounds of wind or rain will be needed before all the leaves are down, but the leaves that remain this morning are no longer as dense as they were.

I can, in a few places, see bare tree limbs.  On other trees, green leaves have reappeared, as the most colored ones have fallen. It will be another 10 days, perhaps a bit longer depending on the weather, before the trees are winter bare again.  As of last evening I could not yet see the outline of Nell’s Hill to the west of my cabin. I could see, barely, where the sky’s brightness stopped, but that’s hardly the same as seeing the neighboring mountain itself.  With more rain and wind predicted for mid-week, I may well see its outline or the mountain itself before the weekend.

The falling leaves produced an afternoon’s entertainment for the cats, who jumped at the window or the glass door, whenever another batch of them fell. Apparently, they thought the falling leaves were prey or perhaps it was only the motion that kept their attention. Poor Baby Dog was trying to sleep and was startled from it every time a cat pounced against the glass.  Finally, she grumbled and headed upstairs, where presumably she couldn’t hear the sound of paws against glass.
Outdoors, the smell of fall fills the air around the cabin.  It is a crisp smell, not yet with the bite of winter but no longer the sweeter smell of summer. I could smell moisture with it, and the musky scent of old leaves on the earth.  Every now and again came the whiff of my neighbor’s fireplace, with wood furnished by a downed tree from the front of my cabin. The air right now has an exclusively October smell and one that doesn’t last long enough for me.  Autumn is here.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Morning light

Morning sunrises this week at Roundtop are especially stunning, and there are several reasons for this.  Perhaps most obvious are the clouds.  For a really spectacular sunrise or sunset, at least a few clouds along the horizon are needed. The clouds turn the most amazing colors as the sun nears the horizon.  This week the clouds have been most cooperative.

Perhaps less thought of, but just as important, is where the sun is when it breaks the horizon.  At Roundtop the sunrises are nearly always “better” than the sunsets.  Partly this is because, except in midwinter, I have a better view to the east than to the west.   However, the real reason is where the sun breaks the horizon this time of year.

We all know that here in the northern hemisphere the sunrise or sunset falls at different points along the eastern or western horizon.  In winter, the sun rises much further to the south than it does in summer.  What this means at Roundtop is that from roughly October to early February, the sunrise reflects across the main snowmaking pond, which doesn’t happen in summer.  That reflection of the sunrise over the pond contributes greatly to good sunrise photos.

Even without the pond, the angle of the sunrise itself creates a different color to the light in these waning seasons.  It’s not just the leaves that make people talk about a “golden” October.  The light from the sun’s lower sky angle is much more golden now than in the summer months, when it is more lemony than golden.  Artists are very aware of the changing color of light, often to their great annoyance as the colors seem to change even as they work.

For me, all this simply translates into better sunrise photos during this time of year.  And that’s always a good reason to have a camera ready.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Dreams of daylight

This morning as I was walking the dogs, I was feeling a bit disconnected from the forest around me, and wondering why since I was, at that moment, walking in the woods.  For a moment or two I blamed the Shelties who were particularly full of themselves and not inclined to listen this morning.  But then I realized that it wasn’t them.  It was the dark.

I have reached that point of the year where I am only home and in the woods when it is dark. As a result I miss so many of the things I notice and love about the forest.  Stumbling in the dark with a fading headlamp isn’t conducive to noticing what I usually see and hear.

Currently, I hear no forest birds, though occasionally a distant great horned owl calls from way up the mountain.  During daylight the forest birds keep up a running conversation of what’s going on around us—the alarm calls when a hawk soars overhead, the cawing of the crow family with all their variety of vocalizations, a stamp from one of the increasingly tame deer.

I also can’t see much, even with the headlamp isn’t fading.  As just once example: Have you ever noticed while walking through a wood how the dirt or mud changes as you near areas where people live? Have you noticed how the soil changes in different areas of a mountain? How the soil is different from the north side to the south side?  From the top to the bottom?

None of that is possible to notice for me now in the dark.  And this morning the stars were hidden by clouds, and about all I could tell about the kind of clouds that were up there was that they were blocking the stars. I miss the daylight conversations of the birds, the subtle differences in the soils, seeing the different shapes of the rocks that face the north or the south side of the mountain, the changing vegetation.  Night has its charms, but perhaps not as many as daylight and certainly not to the exclusion of daylight, as my schedule dictates today. So I sighed a bit, cautioned the Shelties yet again, and walked on.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Fall colors

Nell's Hill

The colors of fall are growing more intense. Each day the colors are more vibrant, and some days I could swear the colors deepen from morning to night. Of course, the golden glow of sunrise and sunset really brightens the shades.

Over the weekend, the area was treated to the first “hello” from old man winter.  We had a brief but intense period of snow, sleet and/or graupel.  Oddly, up on the mountain where I am, less of that fell than almost everywhere else.  I had a brief moment, lasting perhaps 30 seconds of sleet or graupel.  It was after dark when the precipitation fell and it melted almost immediately but there it was.

Now, the brief moment of colder weather is fading, and warmer weather is returning for a brief moment.  That’s the way of fall in this area.  We jump from fall to winter to fall and maybe half a day of summer and then winter again.  It’s impossible to dress appropriately for a full day unless I am near my closet. What’s fine in the morning is terrible by afternoon, or vice versa.

The first frost has also come and gone.  I didn’t have an obvious frost at the cabin so was surprised to see whitened grasses when I left the cabin.  That didn’t last long either.  At least not this time.

Friday, October 16, 2015


Fall color is near its peak here on Roundtop Mtn., though some areas are still pretty green.  The low-lying valleys and gullys may even be at the peak of fall color.  With the first frost possible on Sunday night, leaves not yet at peak soon will be.  Some leaves are already falling and beginning to litter the lane up to my cabin, but the big fall of leaves is still about two weeks away.

At the moment I am hoping I can continue to dodge acorns, beech nuts and especially walnuts and hickory nuts that are falling all around me.  I would not want to get hit by a walnut seedpod, that’s for sure. Those things are bigger than golf balls.  I hear all manner of nuts land on the roof, the car (so far no dents), rocks and the lane itself.  Often, I can hear them crash through a layer or so of leaves before they hit the ground, but not always.  So far, I can report no injuries to me or the dogs, but we have all had at least a couple of near misses over the past week.

I have seen the first junco of the new season—exactly one.  It sped away, flashing its white outer tail feathers.  That sighting on Monday is still the only one I’ve seen.  The late sunrise and early sunset may be a factor here.  I have yet to get the fall color photo I want because the sun isn’t high enough to be where I want it to be by the time I leave the cabin.  And I can’t get in the cabin and change shoes after work fast enough to catch the evening light on weekdays now.  I simply will have to wait for the weekend and then hope the leaves are not already disappearing.  I am sure that by next weekend, not much of the color will be left.   Winter IS coming.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Speaking of deer...

Last evening as I returned from a meeting, what do I see but one of the summer fawns I mentioned in yesterday’s post.  This sweet, stupid young deer was by itself, calmly cropping grass along the edge of Roundtop’s main parking lot, right in front of the lodge.  Presumably, its four regular cohorts knew better than this poor soul, which has yet to survive a hunting season of any kind.

Roundtop doesn’t allow hunting around its ski area, though it does elsewhere on the mountain.  This little soul is likely in more danger from cars than hunters at this point, but it’s never good when a wild animal is so unwary around human surroundings.  So many dangers—cars, hunting not far away, being spooked by any one of a thousand things into something solid that could injure it, to name a few.  Last evening, fortunately for this little one, none of that happened. It continued to browse the grass until full dark and I could no longer see it.  Full dark, by the way, was not far away; I had to brighten this photo quite a bit, which is why it doesn’t look so good.

This morning, rain showers descended but before that happened the impending rain clouds produced a very attractive sunrise.  As I was driving to work, the sunrise looked even more interesting in my rearview mirror, but I was already off the mountain and on my way and couldn’t take advantage of it any more.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Not invisible any longer

Someone should tell the local Roundtop deer they are no longer invisible.

They used to be invisible when they were bedded down just next to the paintball picnic pavilion when it was midsummer and the underbrush was lush.  Now, with that thinner or nonexistent, I see their eyeshine and their ears in my headlamp every morning as I walk the dogs.  They don’t bother to get up. If I make a second round of the snow-making pond, they will still be there.  With hunting season on the horizon, not to mention poor weather, they will soon need a better hiding place and one that protects them somewhat from whatever cold weather throws at us this year.  Five of them bed down in the same place every night—a large, old doe; two somewhat smaller doe, and two summer fawns that have now lost their spots for the most part.  Maybe they just aren’t ready to let go of summer yet.

Summer has “let go” in other ways now.  The mountains are starting to show color and should be near their peak next weekend, if the weather stays chilly.  I can see a progression of the color from morning to evening now, and each morning brings more shades of autumn to the forest.

I hear both screech owls and great horned owls pretty regularly and often close to the cabin.  I never hear the two on the same day.  The big owl preys on the smaller one, which gives a wide berth to its competitor. I have yet to see white-throated sparrows or juncos, though both can be expected at any moment. The juncos are readily identified because of their white outer tail feathers.  The sparrows take some looking at and that with binoculars.  I was making a run to the recycling bin on Sunday morning, a 3-minute drive, and saw a small flock of sparrows, too far for someone without binoculars in hand to identify.  They could have been anything, but I’d like to think they were white-throated sparrows.  Even if they weren’t, those little sparrows will be here before long.

Thursday, October 08, 2015


Sunrise at Roundtop.  October 8 2015
It won’t be long, another 7-10 days, and the leaf color at Roundtop will be at or near its peak.  Looking at the trees today, that’s a little hard to believe.  The leaves are changing slowly, with still more green than color.  The morning light is fully that of October’s golden rays, though.

I wouldn’t say the leaf change is late.  Timing seems pretty normal at the moment.  I think it’s more than I’m still in the summer mindset of being used to having greenery around me, and the autumn changes isn’t yet far enough along to jog me into a fall mode. And yet I know the prime color season and the first frost can’t be far away.

Perhaps it’s because I haven’t yet seen a junco or a white-throated sparrow to officially mark a new turning in the year’s spinning.  A friend, further east of here, has already had the little sparrow at his feeders, so I know it won’t be long before the new tribe of sparrows arrives.  Now that summer’s ubiquitous chipping sparrows have left, the mountain is rather free of little birds.  For the moment, the mountain is dominated with medium-sized birds, like bluebirds and blue jays and the larger Canadian robins that arrive after the local ones have headed further south. With the leaf canopy thing, various woodpeckers seem more prevalent, but likely it’s just that I can see them better again.

So I’m waiting to be kicked into fall. I just don’t quite feel it yet. Maybe next week.

Monday, October 05, 2015

rainy, chilly but could be worse

The week-long rain and overcast is finally over. The sun peeks through clouds occasionally this morning and shows every sign of soon winning the day.  I am fortunate that hurricane Joaquin didn’t arrive here and add to the already soggy ground.  For a while it looked as though that might happen, and that could well have been catastrophic.  Instead, Roundtop is just starting to dry out, and the weather feels like fall.

The temperature reached as low as 55 in the cabin this past weekend, while I resolutely refused to turn on the heat so early in the season.  I try to go until November 1 without heat, though I have given in, occasionally, on the last week of October.  I’ve never given in on the 3rd or 4th of October, however, and I wasn’t about to start this year. And now that the outside weather is returning to normal October ranges, I don’t have to think about it.  This weekend, the weather was cold enough that all the cats and half the dogs cuddled on the bed with me.  If you’d seen that bed you might have thought it was January.  In a blizzard.

By Sunday the rain mostly stopped, and though the sky was still overcast, the clouds were higher than earlier in the week, a promising sign.  I took advantage of the improving weather to go to the Apple Harvest Festival in Arendtsville PA, an annual two-weekend event of outrageously decadent food and hundreds of craft vendors and activities. I did manage to avoid the worst of the fried foods, where items that never occurred to me to fry, are.  Naturally, every stand has something apple-based—apple sausage, apple pancakes, apple fritters, turnovers, bread, coffee cake, apple crisp, caramel apples, fried apples and dozens more. I settled for the hot spiced cider, which tasted even better than usual on a raw day.  Even the non-apple staples like pulled pork or pit beef tastes better prepared outside over a wood smoke fire.

To me the festival marks the start of the Christmas shopping season, though I often come home with things for my house and not for someone else’s. My intentions are good, though.  This year I really coveted a finished tree-branch coat stand, and if it hadn’t been so heavy and needed to be carried out of the festival grounds, wrestled onto a shuttle bus and then walked to my car, I would have come home with it. Some things just aren’t meant to be.

I went early in the morning, hoping to beat the crowd, which worked for a couple of hours, though by early afternoon the crowds were near the normal crush.  I suspect that for most of the attendees, myself included, the day marked the first time we’d had our coats out since the spring.