Tag Archives: Woods

Autumn In Engleville

Yes, indeed, Autumn has arrived.

You can know by the colors of the trees, the honking Canada geese, the fog-laced mornings.

October Sunrise

Misty Morning

We can know it by the heavy dew that clings til afternoon. By the honey bees, hurriedly trying to build a hive in the siding of the old house. We can know it by the visits of neighbors from nearby states. What I call home every day of the year is a destination for them. Camp. The woods. Far from Boston or Springfield or Framingham.

Morning Trail

We can know it from the noisy School Bus so early in the morning, orange as a pumpkin and lit with Halloween lights. From the darkness that arrives in time for supper now, no longer the farmer, stretching the day to nine o’clock.

Bus Stop

We can know it by the murmurings of Starlings, Blackbirds, Cowbirds, as they fly over the house in columns a mile long. They stretch as far as the eye can see, from the horse farm at Hanson’s Crossing, over Engleville Pond and the Corporation land, up the face of Victory Mountain and on over the hill into Cherry Valley.

Starling Sunset

We can know by the ag trucks with their fat tires, hauling open loads of silage from the cornfields, the bits blowing all about, drifting and floating in the air and on the road, a premonition of that famous winter precipitation. (We can’t use the “S” word yet.) By the stripped and bare fields, devoid of green and crops, an occasional corn stalk standing silent, lonely vigil for the passing of comrades.

Last Corn Standing

Now the pickup trucks will line the back roads. Every man, woman and child embracing the fall fashions; boots, hunter orange, vests, fluorescent hats.  After bow season, these woods will once again roar and rumble to the sound of gunfire. Close your eyes and imagine the Revolutionary War battle of Cedar Swamp, fought just three miles from here.

Huntsmen

Everything that is leaving is on its way now. Everything that is staying is feverishly preparing for the next season. Birds will migrate south from here, a thousand miles, or two, or three, to their winter homes in Mexico, the Yucatan and Patagonia. Lemmings will make their way across the Canadian border unimpeded, seeking the “warmer” climate of the Maine Seacoast.

Saying Goodbye

Around the ranch, many annual chores, duties and traditions repeat themselves. Time for lawn mowers to slow down, the wheelbarrow to rest. Time to decorate for Harvest and Halloween and on into the “big holiday season”. Time for pointed shovels and iron rakes to trade places with leaf rakes and those big, plastic shovels to move you-know-what.

There are no defined stops and starts for me and my Earth. No delineation; here is summer, and- across this line- here is autumn. The days and seasons follow on one another and blend as they pass. Like the water feeding the creek, it is always arriving and yet simultaneously always leaving.

Ellie and the leaf pile

Like the grandchildren who will not stop growing up despite my pleading, the blue ball turns at her own pace. And I ride along it like a child on a roller coaster. My hands gripping, white-knuckled, wind sweeping through my hair. A mile-wide smile, and sometimes a whoop or squeal of delight. Up, up, up clatters the chain drive, propelling me on. And then…

Harbinger

Take care, and keep in touch.

 

Paz

 

Wonders in the Woods

Rerun- This post was originally published in January, 2016 on Armchair Zen.

To the Woods!

To the Woods!

Headed out into the Magic on this New Year’s Day with two of my favorite beings.

Of course my canine companion Chuy was the catalyst, and my grandson Max joined us in the 28-degree air. In my super-eager, always-ready grownup fashion, we were striding past the barn before I realized Max hadn’t any gloves, and was rather underdressed for an hour or two of outdoor play. Back to the house, and he donned my spare “jumpsuit”, some gloves, hat & scarf. Now we were ready. We headed up the runway to the rifle range, and at the crest of the hill Chuy crossed through the hedgerow to “The Widowmaker”, a big hayfield which has seen many radio-controlled airplane crashes, and has claimed the scale pretend lives of many scale pretend pilots.

“Can we go to the woods?” Max asked.

Inside my forced-order grownup brain, the responses line up:”Well, your dad is on the way over to pick up you and your sister. He might be here soon, and we don’t want to keep him waiting. It’s a bit of a hike over the hill, and I hadn’t planned on it. And it’s pretty cold.”

What came out of my mouth: “Sure we can!

As we walked the treeline atop the Widowmaker, a sudden thunder exploded nearby on our left. In a flurry of wingbeats, a ruffed grouse made its escape, placing trees and distance between it and us. “Partridge!”, Max declared. “Never saw him.”, I replied.  As we entered the hardwood stand, the ground before us was free of snow, a blanket of tan, brown and bleached leaves carpeted the forest floor, ankle-deep and noisy.

“Which do you like better, winter or summer?” Max inquired.

This was met with a lengthy response about all the things there are to love about summer, followed by all the things to love about winter, a circling and recircling diatribe that ended where we started, without a real direct answer to the direct question. The summary was a vague “there are so many things to enjoy in both seasons, one precluded from the other, resulting in sort of a tie.”

As we walked through the woods, the ground seemed to crumble beneath our feet often. The sensation was one of walking on foot-deep piles of saltine crackers. A crunching sound followed by our boots sinking 3 or four inches into the humus. We stooped for a closer look. Upon examination, we found most of the ground to yield crystal structures rising six inches out of the soil.

“Crystals.”, I marveled, to which my companion replied “Are they valuable?”

Crystals of the Forest

Crystals of the Forest

This lead to a dissertation about the definition of crystals, crystalline structures, common types of crystals, and their definitions as common, semi-precious and precious gems. I theorized about the formation of these dirty glass ice crystal structures. We had a warm spell, and some rain, followed by a dip into temperatures well below freezing. Water evaporating from the ground met freezing air, and the crystals formed.

Dirt Diamonds

Dirt Diamonds

“Can we go look at the creek?” was Max’s next request.

Again, my brain tickled through a file of grownup reasons why we might not, followed by the exclamation “Sure!”.On the way we saw some interesting tree-ear formations, and I stopped to take a photo.

“They look more like tree noses.” said Max, and I agreed.

Tree Noses

Tree Noses

At the Little Beaver Creek, ice rimmed both sides of the frigid, flowing water. We stepped on the ice at the bank and it crunched underfoot. Then we had to throw rocks onto the ice on the opposite shore, trying to break through. The rocks were frozen into the ground on the creek banks, and we had to kick them to free them from their resting places. Three million years it took that rock to get there, and suddenly in one day it moves 20 feet. Changing the course of geological history, we pelted the ice to no avail.

Max vs. Ice

Max vs. Ice

Along the North Loop trail we came across a shotshell wad, and Max narrated last weekend’s rabbit hunting.

“I was here,” he began, taking his position and holding his arms in shotgun-wielding formation, “and Pierce was over there.” Max gestured to the other side of a tangle of brush. “He called ‘Are you ready, Max?’, and kicked the brush. The rabbit went right through here,” a sweeping arc of the arm, indicating the bunny’s course, “and BAM! BAM! I shot twice, but missed him.”

Conservation of angular momentum is the cosmic force brought to bear on objects circling other objects in space, the push & pull, the yin and yan of gravity versus centrifugal force resulting in an orbit. Some orbits are close, such as that of our moon. Some orbits are millions and millions of miles long, often ellipses, hanging a tight turn around their gravitational anchor, then sling-shotting off into the far reaches of solar systems and galaxies. Objects moving through space are affected by the pull of the objects they pass. Sometimes ever-so-slightly altering their course by degrees over millennia. In other cases, objects are drawn close, and the cosmic dance begins between host and satellite, and the once-free and boundless travelers become residents, orbiting moons or rings of debris.

My days and times with my grandchildren affect me in similar ways. I am pulled from the ultra-ordered, prepared-for-retirement, insured-for-everything, time-honored traditions of middle-aged American patriarchs, and drawn back into the world of wonder, the endless hours of childhood. To walk almost aimlessly, to stop and identify every type of scat. To play at edges from which grownups recoil. Throwing rocks onto ice, skirting the near-freezing water without cares, without worries of “what would happen if…?”

What would happen if we fell into the swiftly-moving current, plunging muscles and lungs into 34-degree water wearing 10 pounds of clothes?

“It would be a bad thing if Chuy went into the creek and couldn’t get back out.” Max observed, as the old dog approached the banks of the Little Beaver Creek. It was a parallel of too-grownup thought, the same things I am thinking about the boy. The boy on the brink of becoming a man. Let’s not hurry that, okay? Let’s have another year, another winter, another walk in the woods, where you are a child of Neverland, and worries are unwelcome. A place and time before you set out on that endless highway of adulthood. Before you fall into the traps, reading the road signs “What would happen if…?

“He’ll be fine.” I answer casually, carefully concealing the legitimacy of his concern. “Not likely to happen.”

Max the meteor streaks past Grandfather planet. I am pulled toward him by the unseen forces, trying to hold him.

He pulls back, as a glorious tail stretches out across the cosmos, hurtling by me at phenomenal speed.

My orbit affected, I reach out with my own unseen force, and try to grab that tail.

Max Meteor

Max Meteor

Be at peace,

 

Paz

 

 

Deer Season

Huntsmen

New York State has a long deer hunting season, that starts with bow and muzzleloader seasons, after which comes the regular firearms season.

Son-in-law Matt and Grandson Maximus are avid hunters, going back several generations in the hamlet of Buel, five miles north of Engleville. It’s been quite a while since I stalked deer with a gun, and I’ve moved on to a new hunt. With my camera.

I’m a catch-and-release fisherman. Except for a couple of shore dinners while camping up north at Forked Lake, I measure, photograph and release the fish I catch. I decided that since I’m past the game-taking stage in my life, I’d start a new thing: “Shoot and release”.  It’s unlawful for members of a hunting party to be unlicensed, so I have my big game tags on my back as we pursue our quarry. However, my Nikon is the only thing I shoot with.

Opening day I joined the lads and a couple other hunting buddies, Mike and Jeff, and we went on a couple of deer drives in Buel. Push-hunting, or driving, is a method that calls for a couple of members of the party to take a stand at advantageous spots, while the “drivers” start along the opposite side of the area (typically woods, swamps, marshes and the like) and we make noise and hoot as we drive the deer out towards the shooters.

After a couple drives in Buel, we headed to daughter Kerry’s farm, where Matt and Max have box blinds. These are raised stands enclosed by walls. We spent a few hours in the blind, until dark, without seeing any deer. Max got himself a good nap, though.

The day after opening day, Max got his buck. He and his Dad were at Kerry’s, and Matt drove the swamp towards Max. A fine 6-point buck was Max’s reward. It was a beautiful deer, in good health, with no sign of ticks.

 

Max’s buck

As the only unarmed member of the hunting party, I’m always a driver, or “pusher”. I get some great exercise and see some trails and terrain that’s new to me. The hunting party is actually glad to have me, as fewer and fewer folks pursue hunting these days. Back in the when, there would be a dozen guys assembled for some big drives. Sometimes the group would take more than one deer in a single drive.

I’m a little conflicted in the sense that I myself don’t kill things, and also I love all of nature and all its creatures. Thanks to Disney and The Yearling, many of us get emotional over seeing a deer killed. Thankfully, my over-sized human brain is able to understand the concept of overcrowding. There was a time when predators would take their fair share of deer, and there were no fields full of corn or pumpkins to feed them. Nowadays, deer get plenty to eat, and have power line right-of-ways and rear easements to wander through safely. If we don’t take responsibility for reducing the deer overpopulation, they’ll all suffer with starvation and rampant spread of diseases. They’ll also run out in front of your car or even occasionally crash through a picture window into someone’s living room.

For me, I’ve taken to joining the hunt to spend time with my grandson and favorite son-in-law (okay, so he’s my only son-in-law, but still…) in the great outdoors in all weather. It’s a fine adventure for an old Armchair Zen grandfather, and I am easily mesmerized by the many photo opportunities that present themselves. Alas, I’ve yet to “shoot” a good deer on a hunt.

Mostly it’s about taking game, but nearly as important is the camaraderie of the hunt. Jeff arrives with “tomato pie”, very popular in Utica, from which he hails. Between drives we’ll talk about the deer we saw or didn’t see, yesterday’s drive, tomorrow’s plan. We recall names of those that hunted before us and have since passed on. Max’s grandfather Mert, Mike’s cousin Ken (they say don’t mention Ken Jones locally, he was a real character. Loved or hated, no in-betweens). A neighbor stopped to ask where we were hunting and if we had permission, and after a couple of well-timed name-drops, the neighbor was glad to have us nearby. And “Yes!”, she said, she’d be glad to get some venison if we were successful.

So, another year of trucks lining the roads on weekend mornings, guys walking around armed like soldiers, and the sound of shotguns and rifles ringing out through the hills. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a good respectable sport, and we are responsible sportsmen, and we have some great times out in the snow and mud of November.

Until next year!

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

In The Wonder Woods

This post is a follow-on to “Walk With Me” (10-27-17), wherein we walked our trails from the Great Lawn, and eastwards up to the top of Nishan Hill.

Across the top of the hill on our walk, we arrive at the great forest we call The Wonder Woods.

“Seek not after answers, but after the joy of wonder.” – Chuy The Wonderdog

Breakfast Company

We find so many fascinating and curious things herein, hence the name. It is a breathtaking and beautiful place to dwell and linger, wander and wonder, in all seasons.

It’s a marvelous place to be in Spring, as the days grow longer, the snows recede and vanish. Spring Robins will roost in the pines at sunset. By the hundreds they’ll noisily gather in the grove, settling for their evening’s rest on their migration northward. The earliest tell-tale signs can be found of new growth, the thawing of our world, and nesting season.

Throughout the long summer, the woods grow thicker with vegetation and undergrowth. Squirrels rule the day, and they will begin barking at you as you walk through their domain. Summer bird visitors are seen now. Woodpeckers love the aged wood. From time to time we’ll see the huge Pileated Woodpecker, looking like Woody himself. An indigo bunting is an eye-catching sight, and after the Goldfinches come their near-lookalike, the Common Yellowthroat. Catbirds will follow us on our walk, albeit at a safe distance, and the Cedar Waxwings will work at gleaning the wintered-over seeds of the Sumacs.

Turkeys scratch and dig in the forest floor for grubs and worms. They walk the same heavily-trod path followed by deer, coyotes and even the occasional black bear. To some, the wood may look untrammeled, but those with a keen eye, the trail can be seen. A few kicked-up leaves here, a snapped twig there. It’s easier to see if you get down to coyote level. 

Of course our wood is beautiful year-round, but few seasons are as striking as autumn. Granted, the landscape is dramatic and captivating in the snow, and we find as much to see therein. There’s no competing with fall color, and the activities that accompany the season. Deer will begin scraping the velvet off of their antlers in August. Squirrels and Chipmunks are running marathons to gather and store food for the coming winter. Deer are consuming everything they can while it’s available, before being trapped in their winter yards. Overhead, Canada Geese wave long goodbyes, and mile-long flocks of Starlings will transit the drumlins of Engleville.

Winter is a wonder unto itself. The landscape seems almost alien. Frozen and packed with snow, it is far from devoid of life and activity. Winter is the most visceral season, with winds whipping up snow devils and piling drifts. Like the sand of a beach, the surface tracks activity among forest friends. Big turkey footprints, tiny mouse footprints, trails leading every which way, some burrowing beneath the snow. It’s a season of light, even though the days are shorter. With the canopy devoid of leaves and clear frigid air, light finds all corners of the woods.

In all seasons and the seasons-between-seasons, the Wonder Woods is my ever-present friend and guardian. There is never a trip into the forest that does not bear some gift for you.

Look us up if you’re out our way, and we’d be glad to take you along.

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

Soft, Silent Snow

 

Hipsters

Hipsters

A mid-February storm front campaigned across our little world. She visited on a carefree Sunday, allowing me to enjoy every snowflake of the day. There would be drinking of hot coffee, and photographs of birds at the feeder through the kitchen windowpane.

There would be a long walk afield with Sassy June, more photos of the yellow-red dog romping with winter glee. Hour by hour, we shall watch the snow pile up from within the comfort of our rooms, or from the vista atop Widowmaker Hill.

We’ve had enough snow now to justify donning the snowshoes, but halfway through the walk the following day would find temperatures rising, and the snow would stick to the bottom of the snowshoes like muck. Abandoned and carried for the home leg.

I wonder that people who live in more temperate climes never experience the magic of snow. The world at once transformed and renewed, a whitewash on everything.

Out in the magic of a country wood, it’s as though a blanket were thrown over our bubble of atmosphere. Falling from the sky the feather-down stuffing of billowy clouds. Yet, though blanketed and muffled, if one listens closely no silence will be beheld.

Each flake through the air and falling on another emits the most minute, nearly inaudible whisper. In concert with millions, as the snow falls a soft hiss can be heard, the babbling of this vertical brook of temporarily-solidified water.

We watch as the concrete statue of The Virgin slowly disappears, as if sinking in white quicksand. Sasha’s plastic igloo doghouse sports a complete cover of snow, looking like the genuine article. The wren house, vacated until the cacophonous June return, builds up a welcome mat on the doorstep, growing higher with each subsequent viewing, threatening to cover the very portal it serves.

The radio scanner is on, and we listen to the calls for Sheriff’s deputies and State Troopers. “Vehicle off the road, Town of Carlisle. Vehicle in the ditch, Town of Seward.” Return calls for tow trucks, sometimes EMS. We listen to the plow drivers. “Better hit Sharon Hill again before you hit the back roads, Gary.” “10-4.” comes the reply, “Gotta watch that big turn on 145, it keeps drifting in pretty bad.”.

From time to time the big Internationals would rumble up Engleville Road, their giant steel plows scraping, seeking pavement, tire chains clanging. The dump hopper filled with sand & salt sprays out a swath from the spreader. The truck will stop and back up at the stop sign by the school to drop extra sand and salt, climb US 20 East up the hill at ten miles per hour so the de-icing traction aid will lay heavily.

As darkness falls, the snow continues. Solar yard lights buried up to their globes come on, illuminate the snow from within. The flashing orange lights of the snowplows streak up the fields, throw shadows of trees and houses as they crawl past like some iron bison, oblivious of the snow. The television is showing colorful maps. “Blue areas reporting 8 to 10 inches of new snowfall. Here in the purple areas,” Steve the weatherman says, pointing at the map, his finger covering Engleville, “reports are coming in of 18 to 20 inches, and still more to come.”.

I am overcome by a sort of pioneer spirit. The pellet stove will keep us toasty, and we can close the door at the pantry to hog the heat for the living room. If the power goes out, we have gas heaters that will work. The cupboard holds several old oil lamps with oil, just for such an occasion, not uncommon in northeast winters or July thunderstorm seasons. More lanterns are available upstairs amidst the camping gear, including one that will recharge in the car. There is a library full of books we could read to one another when the TV is off and the sparse light gathers us more closely. Soon I am fairly wishing for a power outage.

A chance to evade all these lights from room to room, better to see the moonlit snowfields before us. A time without fans whirring and refrigerators cycling and sump pumps pumping on and off, to listen to Frost’s gentle sweep, to read those words while living them. Alas, deep in the night the snow would cease to fall, and power went uninterrupted. So strange to feel we missed out on something due to the power staying on.

In my childhood, it seems power failures were a bit more common. My mother, always the wide-eyed adventurer, no doubt taught me to look forward to outages. We would not feel forced, yet were compelled, each to gather around the light. My mom would stop cooking supper (on the electric range), my dad would come in from his darkened garage. My sister and I would abandon our chairs, no Family Affair or Man From U.N.C.L.E. tonight.

And my mom would adventurize the experience. There would be Tee Pees of blankets, or they might become Conestoga wagons, prairie schooners. There would be foods that didn’t require cooking, like peanut butter and crackers which would become K-rations for the troops at the front. Baloney sandwiches became “chuck wagons”. And there would be reading.

Here’s hoping the next storm packs just a little more wallop!

Off Season

Off Season

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

Seeing Season

Folks generally think of the year as having four seasons. I find there are many more, mini-seasons and overlapping seasons.

There’s “Spring” in its largest sense. Then there’s Maple Season, Mud Season, black fly season, followed by mosquito season.

“Summer” is a calendar season as well as a frame of mind, I suppose. Within summer are countless bloom seasons for indigenous plants. A hatch for the bass in the pond.

And so on for fall. A leaf season and a frost season and a holiday season.

Winter has its own hunting season, and fishing, through the ice. Ski season, snowmobile season, work-in-the-shop season.

This time of year I lament the passing of “The Seeing Season”.

From mid-October until mid-May, we can see farther and wider than any other time of year, as all the deciduous trees have dropped their leaves. Walking the trail, we can see through the denuded trees, see the geese on Maggie’s pond. See the turkeys beyond the hedgerow.

There’s a thrill to see leaves returning. Green and blue, earth and sky, my favorite colors.

Still, I enjoy the half-year known as “Seeing Season”. From bird-watching to hunting to just-plain-being-able-to-see-through-the-trees, it’s an improved field of view.

It seems the fall, winter, and early spring lend themselves to an appreciation of the surroundings. Less involved activities leave us more time for contemplation. When we think we’re going to contract cabin fever, a little time in the great wide open will have you feeling better quickly. (Sometimes you are required to feel better quickly so we can get in, and out of the cold!)

It’s a good time now, really, to have the flora grow thickly, as we are distracted by so many things immediately before us.

Now it’s time for boating season, and fishing in waders! We can walk the trail with tiny grandchildren without fear of their freezing.

We can dig out the pile of camping gear and get ready for the next set of seasons.

And when we get that thunderstorm in camp, we’ll be glad for every leaf above us.

Soggy Camp

Soggy Camp

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

Squirrelly Sunday

Max On The Lookout

Max On The Lookout

Grandson Max, his father, Matt, and his cousin Pierce came over a couple of Sundays ago to do some squirrel hunting. We gathered up our “22’s” (.22 caliber rifles), and headed for the hardwood stands out back.

Max & I Head For The Woods

Max & I Head For The Woods

It was overcast and cool, around 30, and as we walked the top of Widowmaker field, a few downy flakes drifted by. In just a few minutes, the mini flurry stopped. This season of hunting is better with a snow cover. It’s much less noisy when walking, and tracks in the snow can lead us to the haunts of squirrels and bunnies. Today, we’d be crunching around on a six-inch deep carpet of autumn leaves. Even thinking about walking made crunching sounds.

Little Beaver Creek

Little Beaver Creek

Matt took up residence in a tree stand at the transition line, where the forest meets fields. Pierce took a stand north of there, while Max & I “drove” the hardwoods from the south. For those unfamiliar with the term, “driving” is to have some members of the hunting party transit the area, working toward those on stand (in a fixed location). The idea being to drive the game toward the awaiting hunter.

Seasons Past

Seasons Past

Max & I saw two squirrels on our foray, but didn’t get a shot off. Matt bagged just one, and Pierce went scoreless (we’re keeping score for the season.)

In days past I entertained some hunting interests. Over the last couple of decades, my preferences have changed. I don’t mind keeping a fish or two for a shore dinner at camp, but I am no longer interested in killing anything else.

For Max’s benefit and the camaraderie of men’s company, I tote my Savage .22 inherited from my father. It’s even loaded with bullets. I’ll let Max believe we’re hunting together, and I’ll congratulate him and other members of the party on their kills.

“Not sure what I’m going to do if I see a squirrel.” I confided to Matt out of Max’s earshot, “Maybe I’ll just shoot the branch below it.”

Luckily for me and the squirrels, not so much Matt, Max or Pierce, the little critters managed to elude us anyway.

After the marching about, the others headed to the rifle range as I walked around with Chuy the Wonderdog. He has always had a fear of loud noises. Thunder turned him psycho, and he’d climb up into the chair or onto the couch to hide behind me, trembling like a leaf. Thankfully, age has reduced his hearing, and he hardly seems to notice thunder anymore.

Likewise, in the past he was terrified at the site of guns, knowing they were loud. He’d run for the back door as soon as he saw someone carrying a long gun. During hunting season, with shotguns going off all around all day, he’d confine himself to the house.

His hearing may be diminished, but he watched from a distance as those guys milled about the place where guns were often fired. He watched for a few seconds. As soon as he heard the first discharge from the .22 magnum, he made a bee line to the house as fast as his 105-dog-year-old legs could carry him!

Is That What I Think It Is?

Is That What I Think It Is?

Happy Birthday to Chuy (originally named Scooby Doo by Ryan). January first is his observed birthday. As of the first, he’s officially fifteen!!

Birthday Boy

Birthday Boy

Take care, and keep in touch.

 

Paz