Tuesday, February 28, 2012

these woods used to be pasture

I went up the hill into the woods again today, imagine if you will.


Exploded mushrooms with two birch seed casings.


Coolness. I bet Kevin’s allergic to this. Fortunately, he’s nowhere near.

You can learn a lot about land by just staring at it for a while. When I was in grad school, I took a couple of courses from Tom Wessels, author of “Reading the Forested Landscape”. In his Terrestrial Ecology class, we’d go off into the woods, and figure out what explained what there was to see, particularly in the presence of abrupt shifts in forest composition. What accounts for differences? underlying bedrock and soil type? human intervention? fire? hurricane? etc. In one class, we deciphered something like 300 years worth of history of a quarter acre spot in the woods, just by looking at the shapes of the land and the composition of the forest. Crazy stuff.

Well, there’s nothing like standing in the woods on your own property, looking at two stone walls meeting each other, without a building or road in sight, to get you thinking. Who used to live here? When were these pastures cleared, and when were they abandoned? Who was the last person to come up here – really come up here?  It didn’t even occur to me to take pictures. I stood so still that a ruffed grouse perched in a tree above my head for a good ten minutes. I looked at the land, and the land looked back at me.

We have essentially two or three layers of former meadows above our house. At one point, each meadow stood open with only a single gigantic sugar maple to watch over things:


Here’s one such grandfather tree. Naturally, I interpret the green orb as the resident spirit, come to mind over me.



The main leaders were long ago carved off and probably used for firewood.



Here’s another other wolf tree.



Stumps: who know they could be so tasty?





And now – I’m cheating! Here’s a similar shot on a rock, I believe, in April of 2011:


Snow is on the way. Bring it, I say. I heard the red-winged blackbirds today for the first time. This afternoon, while we waited for our respective vehicles to get loaded up at Agway, a woman from the town on the other side of our ridge told me she heard them three weeks ago. Welcome back, harbingers of spring!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

open woods filled with tracks

I went up into the woods today, in a new direction, into an area that was part of the sacrifice zone for some logging we had done four years ago. Our house – this is pre-addition – faces south, and it was getting almost no light due to a stand of 80-year old hemlocks. To make such a small job feasible, we allowed some additional hemlocks and some hardwoods to be taken from up on the hill, nearer to our neighbor’s house, but on our property.  I’d been hesitant to visit the spot until this weekend, when it just seemed like time.

As I stepped around piles of slash (the branches left behind when the whole trees are dragged away), I meditated on the sometimes horrifying responsibility of being a landowner in Vermont. Let’s face it, these woods have all been logged multiple times in the past couple of hundred years. The woods in back of our house were cleared out for pasture who knows how long ago, as evidenced by a stone wall a few hundred feet back. This is what that looks like.

I began to make my peace with myself, once the mosses got my attention.


They love stumps and logs.


So do the lichen. 

Nearby, a paper birch beckoned.


my totem tree.


happy sigh.

We have company:


Lots of tiny tracks. I’m not sure whose these are. I started following a larger set of prints:


After looking in a book and at photos, I can’t tell if this is a fisher, a bobcat, or a gray fox. (I’m not very good at tracking. Yet.) Whoever he was, he was in charge: walking calmly and confidently in a long straight line through the woods. I followed for a while. I entered an open area that just felt…right. My sense was that I was approaching the sugar bush above our house.


I watched a squirrel run along the rock wall – the only animal I saw moving the whole time.


But I knew I wasn’t really alone. Yet another track, right at my feet. (It’s running from the lower right to the upper left in the picture above.)

I stood there for a few minutes in silence, just taking it in.


At this point, I was pretty confident that I was on our own property (our back property line coincides with that rock wall). I took a bunch of pictures, slightly anxious that they wouldn’t convey the magic of the light, the almost palpable sense of consciousness in these woods. It’s a lucid dream feeling, but I’ve never felt more grounded. I can practically feel all the tree roots through my feet. Periodically, I remember that hey: this is real, right now.

There’s clearly major mojo in these woods. I don’t pretend to know much about these things, so I’ll just yield the floor to Terry Pratchett:

Is it not written in the sacred text, ‘There’s a lot goes on we don’t know about, in my opinion’?” said Lao-Tse.

Terry Pratchett, Thief of Time

The universe danced toward life. Life was a remarkably common commodity. Anything sufficiently complicated seemed to get cut in for some, in the same way that anything massive enough got a generous helping of gravity. The universe had a definite tendency toward awareness.

Terry Pratchett, Soul Music

A little more wandering brought me into the chunk of woods straight up the hill from our house, which curiously, does not belong to us (our property is shaped like the sick lovechild of Texas and Oklahoma - all conflusticated). I was sneaking up on places I’d already visited, but from a direction I’d never come. I wasn’t alone in coming this way, either:


gray fox, I think. (Track Finder, Dorcas Miller)


There were also little hoppy hoppies, which are rabbits, maybe (again, based on Track Finder…)


By now, I am truly sneaking up on our house. A yellow birch stands sentinel. It’s good know we’ve got good bodyguards.


This cheeky fox (?) is RIGHT behind our house. (See his tracks off my left shoulder, heading into the corner of the picture?)

Who wouldn’t love it here? We’ve got this:



And one last kick-ass sentinel.

Not bad for a day’s work.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

An Actual Hike in a dusting of snow. Views.

As part of the Overall Life Management Program currently in effect, yours truly is committed to getting out in the woods wayyy more often than heretofore. Thus it was that our heroine didst find herself up on the nearest ridge today with the inimitable Miss G. (Full name redacted to hide from the google borg. For all I know, Miss G. is on the lam from the law and doesn’t need her name bandied about.)

We got a dusting of first sleet, and then snow last night, as evidenced by a thin sheen of ice on the beech twigs:


I confess, this is something I have never before seen. I’ve seen ice. I’ve seen drops of water along twigs. But I have never encountered frozen drops of water complete with stress fractures. Life never ceases to amaze me.

A mile and a half from the trailhead, there was this view to contend with:


Yeah, poor us, out and about, the only ones in the woods, with a 180 degree view of the Green Mountains.



Yep, life’s a bitch. That’s Haystack and Snow in the distance (the faint white stripes in the mist are the ski runs); if it weren’t so cloudy, you’d see Stratton and behind that, Bromley. Incidentally, I know these shots are not earth-shattering, but I am trying to get in the habit of watermarking my photos. Who knows why. Whatever. Let’s move on.

After we got to this viewing point, we continued north along the ridgeline. There’s a longer hike – actually, several hikes – along here that are best suited to the one-car-at-one-end, one-car-at-the-other-end technique. Miss G. and I agreed, we’ve got our eye on doing a couple. I just have to time ‘em to fall on my shorter run weekends. Since tomorrow’s long run is only three miles (next weekend’s is ten), I figured I had a good five miles in me today. So off we went, ‘sploring. (Neither one of us had headed north from this point on the ridgeline.)


The clouds and sun played leapfrog, occasionally blessing us with shadows and golden light. Yep, those are beech leaves in the understory. Good eye, reader.



For the most part, we talked and talked and talked – I didn’t take too many pictures. But whenever the sun peeked out, I’d grab a few shots.



I pretended to Not Take pictures of G. I didn’t fool her.



You know you can count on me for having a look at the underside of a shelf mushroom.

On the way home, I had to stop and admire the meadows I’ve been exploring lately in recent posts.


Could life be any better?

Meanwhile, back on the homefront, Best Beloved is contending with allergies. To what, you may ask: show me the pollen. Ain’t no pollen out there. Ahhh, no, but what there is, is mold, to which Best Beloved is allergic. Mold?! Ick! Not the “your house needs to be dismantled and replaced with an identical new house” kind of mold. The naturally-occurring-in-dirt kind. This is what mud season is allll about. The earth softens up, and the molds have a party. Note to self: get a HEPA filter for the vacuum cleaner. Maybe that will help.

Well, kids, that was today. Tomorrow I am hoping there will be more of the same – perhaps a meander in the meadows above and the streams that wend their way through ‘em.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

locked and loaded

Good news, kids. We’ve locked down the dates and made the reservations at all the appropriate huts for the Presidential Traverse this July. The traverse is a handful of peaks that form a big horseshoe in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Here’s a view from the south that just shows the northern half of the hike, starting from Washington and going up the granite spines to the north. (That’s the toll road you see coming in from the east.)

this and then some

The google borg can’t be all evil if it allows for playing around like a bird over these satellite images.

Let’s dive in. This view is what inspires me to figure out whether to go for a run, to the gym, or for a hike in the woods these days:


This is what I see in my mind’s eye: The peak in the back left is Washington. In the lower left is Lake of the Clouds hut, where we’ll be staying the second night. More on that in a sec.

In 1999, I did the whole traverse in a day. Well…a little over a day. We were going the north-to-south route, so on the first night, we just went up a little ways up the north side of Mt Madison.  In the picture above, you can’t even see Madison – it’s behind Washington. The next day, up, up, up, over the top bright and early. Hit Madison, Adams, Clay, Washington in grazing afternoon light (whew, photo op – see here and here), then trot trot pant down to Monroe, across a couple of other guys, across Eisenhower, down down ugh, and then, in the twilight, we set up our tents on the platforms at Mizpah Hut. THAT was a long day.


The line in orange is more-or-less how I remember the trail. Strangely, Washington isn’t labeled – it’s between Clay and Monroe, in that bend. This time around, we’re starting on the south end – at the bottom of the picture above, and we’re staying at Lake of the Clouds Hut the night before summiting Washington. Yeah, that’s right: no tent, no cook stove, peel me a grape. I’m not proud. I want to get above tree line.

Monday, February 20, 2012

playing hooky

I played hooky from more than one commitment today. I never played hooky as a kid – it never even occurred to me. Perhaps I am making up for lost time? At any rate. I did not go to the hospital today to give Reiki to patients. I.Just.Didn’t.Have.It.In.Me. It was a virtually cloudless day, so I dragged myself outside, figuring that if having my feet on the earth with a camera or two on my person didn’t fix it, nothing would.

Good instinct, girl. I rambled for three hours in nearby woods, meadows, and streambeds. All within a walk from our front door. I am a lucky, lucky girl.


Introductory runes. I wonder what species carve which tunnels – these are pretty straight, but we’ve seen plenty of medieval manuscript squiggles on others in this here blog…


I found a whole hillside of mosses and lichens.


Reindeer lichen - Cladonia rangiferina.


Someday I’ll learn my mosses and lichens – I don’t know what these are.


O Lumix, how I love thy macro zoom.


These look like desiccated versions of the fairy convocation mosses in the woods on our property…



I wonder about the relationship between the mosses and the lichens. Symbiosis, or mutual indifference? I like to think they feel neighborly about it all.


…because this puffball of moss looked for all the world as though lichens had come to set up shop.


Points if you recognized the ash seedling coming in from the left.


Down in the streambed, I came across what looked like a glacially-striated rock.



I crossed this stream a couple of times. Few things are as much fun as balancing on a boulder in the middle of a stream hoping you neither fall nor drop the lens cap in the water.


Back to the ice formations of the other day.


On the way home: fern spore stalk of unknown species.


Cedar waxwings. The handsome bandits.


“Feed me, already!”


Our culvert’s ice edge has grown another foot wider.

The day has been quite restorative…which is good. I have an intense week coming up.