Winter’s last gasp

It’s not over until it’s over.

You and I both know that the spring equinox arrived last Monday, but the New Hampshire weather seemed not to notice. It snowed yesterday, just a bit, and drizzled this morning. But as I looked out at the morning drizzle and 33º temperatures, I just knew it would be an all-snow event a bit higher up. So I drove to the other corner of Lyme, to those ski trails-that-shall-not-be-named, and stepped out into fresh powder.

Smarts Mountain looms beyond the pristine surface of Cummins Pond, scratched only by the tracks from a pair of early-morning skiers.
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Winter returns

As it should be.

After a month of warm temperatures – often above Freezing at night, and into the 40s, 50s, during the day – and the nearby forest floor had melted nearly clear of snow, I was glad to see winter conditions finally return. We had 6″ of fresh powder snow on Thursday. Sure, it was topped by an hour or two of sleet, but the woods felt properly wintry this morning as I climbed my usual route to the hilltop, stopping only briefly to explore the fresh tracks left by the hillside residents, leaving my own track to mark the day.

At the top of the hill the morning quiet was punctuated by a busy woodpecker, hopping from tree to tree to seek his breakfast.

Woodpecker in the woods behind our house.

Relocating mice

Sorry guys.

When we noticed in one car a cloth that had been chewed into fuzz – and in another car some snacks that had been nibbled – we realized the smallest residents of our garage were brazenly exploring the interior of our cars and decided something needed to be done. So we borrowed a small plastic trap, loaded it with cheese, placed it near the woodpile, and… bang! within a couple of hours we’d caught our first mouse.

I put the trap in the car, drove it down the road a few miles, and gently dropped the mouse off in a remote area. I returned and set the trap again.

The next morning, another mouse was shivering inside the trap. I dropped it off on the way to work.

The next morning, a third mouse, pictured above, was waiting in the trap. I dropped it off, close to the second – perhaps it will reunite with its family.

It’s not an easy time of year to relocate – being winter and all – but maybe this is better than sending our cat to spend a night in the garage!

Barred owl

Whooo?

Early this morning I headed out for my morning walk – which recently has included a steep hike up the hill behind our house, bushwhacking through the snowy forest. The sun was coming up, and as I walked across the street and entered the woods I noted a pinkish glow along the horizon to the west and north… although, with this hill to the east, the woods were still in the morning’s dim early light. I made it less than 50m into the woods, starting up the slope and thinking I might revisit the spot where I so often see fox tracks, when a barred owl swept silently past me, its talons clutching its breakfast catch. It landed on the branch of a nearby pine tree.

Darn! I had no camera with me today, although on my Tuesday outing I had carried a full complement of camera gear only to see nothing of interest. I hesitated, then ran back home to fetch my Canon R5 with its 100-500mm lens. Within five minutes I was back, and the friendly owl was still there, posing patiently. I experimented with different positions and different exposures – the light was still low – and the above photo was the result.

Noting that he was facing away from me, swiveling his head to look in my direction, I decided to walk around to the other side to perhaps capture a view from the front… but my efforts to crunch through the old snow in that direction apparently convinced him it was time to leave, and he flew off. I look forward to seeing him again someday!

Tracking fox

Our wild neighbors.

Another snowstorm, on Sunday through Monday, left about 6-8″ of fresh, powdery snow across the fields and forests around us. On Monday morning I headed across the street and into the forest behind the house, as I have done so often over the years, bushwhacking up the steep hill through the woods. The forest is relatively young and open, having been logged periodically and well managed for a variety of species – pine, fir, hemlock, oak, maple, and more. I enjoy rambling through these woods, following the fading trails left by loggers, especially in winter – because the snow exposes stories of the wildlife that live here. It’s hard to see in the photo below, but the deer walked this path earlier than me, this morning.

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First snowfall

The first snow of the season is always special.

I missed the first snowfall of the season. I left town on Tuesday night for a business trip to Chicago, and missed the 2″ snowfall that arrived on Wednesday morning. So today, back at home and waking to a brilliant blue-sky day, I was eager to get outdoors. Most of the snow had melted close to home, but we chose a short hike along the Appalachian Trail to the top of Holts Ledge – home of the Dartmouth Skiway. (Things looked very different when I visited seven weeks ago!) We didn’t have to climb far before reaching an elevation with consistent snowcover. It was shallow, and crunchy from several melt-freeze cycles, but it was a wonderful taste of the winter hikes to come!

Descending the Appalachian Trail on Holts Ledge. Lyme NH.

We paused at the top to enjoy the southward views across the Upper Valley and toward Mounts Cardigan and Ascutney. We then strolled over to view the activity at the top of the Dartmouth Skiway, chatting with two fellows who were tinkering with the snowmaking equipment. Only three weeks to opening day!

Snowmaking coats the trees at the top of Dartmouth Skiway. Holts Ledge.

Halfway down the Appalachian Trail we encountered one of those wondrous effects to be seen this time of year: needle ice, where some mud froze, causing the expanding ice to crystallize and push the mud upward into the air.

Crusty ice spires in the mud along the Appalachian Trail on Holts Ledge.

Hard frost

Winter is coming.

When I first moved to this region it was generally understood that gardeners should put their garden to bed for the winter around Labor Day, because one could expect a frost to kill off any remaining vegetables soon afterward. As four decades have passed, I’ve noticed the frost arriving later and later. This year, we didn’t even have a hint of frost until mid-October. Today was the first true frost, with the leaf-covered lawns thoroughly tinged with gray, and where one’s fingernail could scratch patterns in frost-covered railings or other wooden surfaces. The good news, at least, is that clear skies bring us warm sunny afternoons as well as frosty mornings!

Hunter’s moon

Full moon and fall foliage.

I was out at sunset tonight, driving some of the back roads of Hanover and Lyme, New Hampshire… just to see what I might encounter. Many of the trees are at their peak fall color, and I thought I might find some interesting scenes during the late-afternoon glow. I headed out too late, though, and the sun had set on the interesting locations… but as I rolled along a dirt road I suddenly pulled to a stop when a huge yellow moon appeared over a grassy meadow.

I waded into the grass and attempted to capture the incredible beauty of this moment… but my photos can’t even come close. The chill of the fall evening was settling in fast, the fall foliage retained a bit of post-sunshine glow, the moon seemed extra-large, and the sky had that deep blue only possible at twilight. I had no tripod along, but managed some hand-held photos.

As a photographer the challenge was clear: my eyes have much greater dynamic range than the camera can capture. I was able to see and enjoy the colors of the fall foliage and the detail in the moon – but the camera could only expose properly for the foliage or the moon. I bracketed the exposure in hopes of an HDR merge later, at home… but I’m still learning the Canon R5 and bracketed via ISO and, duh, that was pointless. (The HDR photos were full of noise.)

I hopped back in the car and headed further along the dirt road, deeper into the forest, deeper into the night. Again I encountered something worthy of a sudden stop … a beautiful barred owl, perched perfectly on a branch beside the road. I could not wish for a better photographic pose… except that it was now so dark (even with my high beams focused on it) that every photo I took was more noise than owl. Someday… some day I will capture good photos of an owl!

Meanwhile, let’s enjoy the full moon. Technically, the full moon occurs tomorrow afternoon (around 4pm EDT on 9 October)… so we’ll have two nights of a moon that appears full.

Holts Ledge – fall colors

Leaf season is here.

I’ve been meaning to get out hiking, in the high mountains to the north – knowing that the fall colors will arrive several weeks sooner there than here. But somehow the colors snuck up faster than I expected. I went today for one of my favorite nearby hikes – to the top of Holts Ledge, the cliff-faced ridgeline on which the Dartmouth Skiway sits. The Applachian Trail rambles over this hilltop, brushing the tops of the cliffs and providing fantastic views to the south and east.

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