There’s something magical about gathering with old friends, even after a long absence. It reminds me of the experience of slipping on a well-traveled pair of hiking boots: they fit just right and enable you to walk for miles in comfort. So it was for us today, a group of friends who have been hiking together for more than three decades. We met at the base of the Rivendell Trail on Mt. Cube – a trail that is one of my local favorites, because it gives one a dose of the “White Mountains” without a long drive or a major hike. Standing apart, and forgoing the usual hugs, we donned a layer of warm clothes as the wind whipped through the trees overhead. Read on!
Lyme is home to many hidden natural treasures. Trout Pond is one: nestled in the hills on the north side of town, at the end of a dirt road followed by a forest road and reached by a footpath, this small pond offers quiet respite from the bustling world outside its little valley. It’s not a long hike, nor a difficult climb, barely clocking in at 2 miles round-trip along a fairly level route, but it’s interesting in every season.
Today, the woods were entirely snow-free after the Christmas rainstorm, but there was a fresh dusting of powder along the exposed rocks and coating the skim of ice across the pond. A canoe and paddles, apparently left for anyone who wishes, rest on the shore where trail meets pond.
As noted by the page on TrailFinder, “The land around Trout Pond has been a working forest for some two centuries, while stone walls, foundations, and barbed wire seemingly swallowed by trees indicate that the western part of the tract had an agricultural history. By 1855, several families homesteaded in the area near the present trailhead. The Piper brothers, who ran a steam-powered sawmill near the outlet of Trout Pond, bought the timber lot in 1891. Two other sawmills on the brook also processed lumber that was probably cut in the Trout Pond Forest. A stack of hemlock bark, found on a ridge south of the pond, suggests this material was gathered for the leather tanning trade. By 1870, the Pliny Allen place had found its future as a cellar hole, and by 1946 so too the Gilbert/Smith place.”
I know little about black & white photography but decided to process these snaps of the pond in black & white because, well, this presentation seemed to fit the monochrome pond, gray sky, and dark forest. In contrast, here’s a photo of the trail along the shoreline:
One nice thing about a having a pizza oven at home is that you make a lot more pizza… and start experimenting. We are also lucky to have a curry-leaf plant at home; its pungent leaves are commonly used in South Indian cooking. So I made a simple pizza by spreading a thin layer of curry sauce (admittedly, from a jar) and sprinkling on some fresh curry leaves. Yum!
About a month ago, as it became clear we would be staying home for Christmas rather than spending Christmas with family in SC, Andy looked on the bright side: the potential for his first “white Christmas”, with a snowy landscape all around. This, his 20th Christmas, is the first time we’ve spent it in New Hampshire; last year we were in Switzerland, twice before in India, and otherwise always in South Carolina. No snow in any of those places!
So when winter arrived last week, with a glorious foot and a half of fresh powder, it seemed he would get his wish!
Last night, however, a terrible warm front blasted through, bringing temperatures near 60º and a torrential downpour. Most of the snow (other than snowbanks) melted rapidly… from shin-deep to bare ground overnight.
Still, it appears that Santa made it through the storm! … lured as always by Granny Kate’s famous Christmas Cookies.
At dawn, Sebastian identifies the presents he is most interested in opening, but the children are still nestled all snug in their beds.
Recent snow conditions appear to have been ideal for the creation of snow rollers, an extremely cool (but uncommon) phenomenon. I’ve only seen them once before. Yesterday, Andy and I drove past a roadside hill south of Windsor, VT that was decorated with literally hundreds of small snow rollers – a most impressive collection! Unfortunately, that stretch of VT Rt.44 has no safe place to stop, so we were unable to photograph any of those rollers.
Today, I was out for a walk on a neighborhood road along a steep hillside, and came across an old snow roller. In this photo I’ve increased the contrast and texture to help see it a bit better against the snowy background.
You can see the track it made as it rolled down the hill from left to right. This roller is not particularly impressive, about 8-10″ in diameter and somewhat melted from today’s warm temperatures. Below is a tight crop:
The snowstorm five days ago brought us a sudden beginning for winter, laying down deep powder across the mountains and trails. I’ve been out every day to enjoy the snow, prime conditions for skiing and snowshoeing. With bad weather looming for tomorrow and the next day (Christmas Eve and Christmas Day), Andy and I set out today to make the most of the snow before the rain spoils it.
Although we were interested in a return to Moosilauke, the favorite, the forecast showed morning sun with increasing clouds and I feared we’d simply climb into the clouds. So I selected Ascutney; it has lower elevation but 360-degree long-distance views. And heck, it’s been more than four years since I was last there in winter.
The Windsor Trail is very popular, so it was not surprised to see it broken out. Indeed, it had clearly seen a lot of traffic… skiers, snowshoers, and bare-booters. Andy and I made good time in bare boots for the first half of the climb, passing only three other hikers, and then switched to snowshoes as the snow became deeper and softer.
Soon we were at the summit, climbing the observation tower. There’s really no way to capture the scene with a mere smartphone camera, but the 360-degree views span nearly all of Vermont and New Hampshire.
Clouds were moving in, pulling us under an overcast sky… but to the northeast, the summits of Moosilauke, Franconias, and Presidentials were blindingly white in the afternoon sunshine. (No wonder the range is called the White Mountains.)
Our descent was speedy, boot-skiing down the trail, passing only two other hikers. A fine hike indeed. A few more photos in the gallery.
Hike stats: 5.6 miles (per the guidebook), elevation gain 2,800′ (per Apple Watch). 4 hours.
On Saturday and Monday (today) we went cross-country skiing, right here in Lyme. One of the wonderful things about our little town is that there are miles of beautiful skiing trails available to the public, thanks to the generosity of the landowners and the hard work of volunteers who maintain the trails in summer and groom the tracks all winter. It really is an incredible resource, especially in the covid era when activities outdoors in the fresh air are more important than ever.
I’m especially grateful to Kevin and the crew who maintain the Stone House Farm trails in downtown Lyme (where I skied today), and to Bob and the extensive network out at the Greens (where Andy skied today).
We went from zero snow to a solid base, in this recent storm. The conditions softened today, with temps exceeding 32ºF (gasp!), but were still a joy to ski. Sadly, the rest of the week will bring more warm temperatures and rain on Christmas Day. Let’s hope for little rain and then a new snowstorm to bring back the skiing soon!
One of my favorite places to go when I have little time or ambition is just across the street. Between River Road and Route 10, between Hewes Brook and Grant Brook, is a sizeable block of roadless forest, with rolling hills, steep ravines, and a variety of forest regions ranging from firs to pines to maples and oaks. Most of it is managed for timber, so there is ample room to meander under the mature trees and there are skidder trails here and there that provide walkable paths – some even skiable. The hill rises steeply across from our house, giving one an immediate workout, but once up on the ridge, or down in the valley on the other side, it’s a magical place.
I mostly visit here in winter, on snowshoes or skis, traversing above the litter of the forest floor and pondering the many tracks animals leave behind. Deer tracks are never out of sight; mouse and squirrel tracks are common; bear and fox are an occasional treat. There were plenty of deer tracks criss-crossing my path today, as my snowshoes waded through the fresh powder laid down by that storm two days ago. I happened to look up at the right moment to see a huge owl gliding through the treetops ahead of me, totally soundless in this quiet snowscape. Someday I hope to have a chance to photograph these elusive neighbors.
When I head into these woods I rarely have a plan or a particular goal; I follow my whims, noting landmarks familiar from two decades of wandering or exploring new directions to see what I might discover. Today I went further north than ever before, eventually popping out on the Lyme Hill – Grant Brook trail, as expected, giving me an easy exit down to River Road for the walk back home.
Fresh snow makes Christmas trees all the more beautiful.
This year, just as we do every year, we make the short pilgrimage to Nichols’ Christmas Tree Farm, just on the other side of the hill, to choose and cut our own tree. I returned today, with the snow still fresh and fluffy from the snowstorm two days ago, to explore this landscape under a blue sky and a white blanket. Magical!
We’ve lived in Lyme for over twenty years and I have spent time in the woods of New Hampshire for over thirty years. I’ve seen nearly every large mammal – deer, moose, bear, coyote, fox, and more – except a bobcat. So I was especially excited to spot a bobcat, at a distance and from behind, at the edge of a cornfield in September. Even then, because of the distance and the circumstance, I was unsure whether it was a bobcat until I’d returned home for close examination of the two photos I managed to snap before it disappeared.
Today, however, I had the good luck to look out the window, across the snowy lawn and the icy river to a dark figure moving along the Vermont shore. A bobcat was exploring the river’s edge, as if to test the ice and consider a move to New Hampshire. I grabbed my Nikon and the 200-500mm lens and collected a couple hundred shots in the two minutes it took him to walk out of sight. Even at 500mm it still takes a tight crop to get a good look, below. See the gallery for a few more, including a nice look at his face while he pauses to drink from the river’s surface.
An uncropped example is below.
Such a beautiful animal. I hope s/he visits again soon!