Today woke with frigid temperatures: -10ºF (-23ºC), which was certainly not inspiring me to get outdoors. But it was a beautifully clear and sunny day, and by mid-afternoon the temperature had risen twenty degrees. So a friend and I climbed nearby Holts Ledge – a hill in Lyme on which the Dartmouth Skiway is located. The snow squeaked under our feet and the stream crossings were smooth and icy. We had a fine view from the top, yes, but my favorite view was a close-up look at the frost feathers atop a puddle of ice.
It’s becoming a pattern – a visit to Georgiana Falls two weeks ago, then Beaver Brook cascades last week, and now a return to my favorite Lyme cascades, along Grant Brook. Although I arrived perhaps a week or two late for the best foliage, the falls were still spectacular. A heavy rain yesterday brought the stream up to full force, and the surrounding forest still had plenty of yellow and orange to lend color to the scene.
I first encountered these cascades four years ago when I traversed the entire watercourse of Grant Brook from the Connecticut River up to the summit of Smarts Mountain, and returned a year later to snap an award-winning photograph. So today I hoped I might find similarly good conditions. I parked beside the brook and worked my way upstream, capturing each set of cascades and trying to push my ability to think through composition, exposure, and depth of field.
My last meeting ended early and there was some remaining daylight, so returned to the meadow where I saw a coyote yesterday morning. I knew it would be incredibly unlikely the coyote would be there again – perhaps ever, let alone when I happened to stop by. But I grabbed my camera and long lens and drove up to the site, parking before the road bent and the meadow was visible, then walking quietly up the road and into the crunchy leaf litter beside a crumbling stone wall. I waited.
I’ve never been a hunter, and don’t think I’ll ever have the patience to be one. I find it difficult to stand and do nothing, and yet stay alert, perhaps for minutes or for hours. And yet, as I leaned on the crusty bark of a sugar maple, enjoying the way the last rays of the mid-October sunshine made the yellows and golds and oranges of the nearby trees glow, I found myself tuning into the environment around me. A nearby rustle signaled a chipmunk scurrying under the stone wall and through the leaves to scrounge for acorns. The flash of a grey tail behind a tree – is that a coyote? – no, just a squirrel. The stare of a brown cow, far across the meadow in the adjacent pasture. The distant coo of an owl, far down the road. The clear rings of a Vermont village church bell from across the river, reminding all that it was 6pm and sun would set soon. Even the falling autumn leaves made noise, a quiet ‘click’ as they touched down on stones of the ancient wall.
No coyote today, but a worthwhile outing nonetheless.
The coyote stopped in his tracks, right in the middle of the meadow. His ears were on full alert, watching me closely from about fifty meters away. I had spotted him out of the corner of my eye as I drove a quiet road on the west side of Lyme, and quickly pulled to a stop. It being early on a Sunday morning, it was no problem to stop in the middle of the road and just stare back at him for a while. Although I was on my way out to do some photography, I had plans for landscape (waterfalls) and did not have any big glass with me. Curses! The coyote turned and trotted back to the edge of the woods, then paused to look again to see whether I might move along. I edged forward for a better look, and he moved further into the woods.
It’s not like I was going anywhere soon. After I stopped to watch the coyote, a family of wild turkey decided to cross the street in front of me. They were headed toward the coyote; it’s not clear whether either predator or prey were yet aware. Between them and beyond in the next meadow, a pasture full of sheep grazed peacefully as the morning fog began to rise. This coyote seemed to have several options for his breakfast, and it would have been fascinating to find out how all this ended. I had places to go and things to do, so I nudged the turkeys into motion and made a promise to return to stake out this location another day.
A longtime friend put out the call by email, earlier in the week. Saturday morning, bring your favorite hand tools, park in the big field behind the house. A dozen or more hardy souls turned up, wielding axes, loppers, pole saws, and more. The dogs played with a stick, chasing each other across the field and through the pond. The hardwoods were showing their true colors, on this warm but cloudy October morning.
We were here to brush a trail from the end of a gravel lane on the west side of Lyme, up through forests and former pastures and over century-old stone walls, to a pretty vista looking out into Vermont. This informal network of trails, criss-crossing low forest hills owned by a patchwork of landowners, is used by walkers, hikers, bikers, horse riders, hunters, skiers, and snowshoers – not to mention deer, coyote, and more. The trails are known only by word of mouth, a generous gift from the landowners to the community. Today, that grateful community turned out to return the favor.
After a round of introductions, with many explaining how their own land connects to this trail network, and how much they enjoy biking or skiing the trails year-round, we set off across the field and into the woods. It was mostly light work, clipping the saplings and brambles accumulated in recent years. The trail weaved its way up and down hillsides, in and out of hardwood and hemlock forests, as the conversation wove through stories of children growing up, grandchildren arriving, careers in transition, and news about neighbors in town. It was clear to me today as it was decades ago – the bonds made while doing physical labor alongside other people, building a community trail, build community bonds far beyond the trail itself.
The Appalachian Trail passes right through the town of Lyme, where we live. It wanders through the forests, across the brooks, and over the hilly terrain of Moose Mountain, Holts Ledge, and Smarts Mountain. Last weekend I had a little time for two quick hikes along the A.T. On Saturday I scrambled up Lambert Ridge, a shoulder of Smarts Mountain, to a ledgy outcrop that has expansive views to the east. Along the way I listened to the acorns dropping from oak trees all around… and startled a chipmunk, holding one of those prized acorns in his little paws. After a brief standoff, he scampered away.
On Sunday, I returned to the area and climbed up to Holts Ledge, which has wide views to the south. Here, a chain-link fence keeps hikers away from the edge, not just for safety but to protect the endangered peregrine falcons who nest on the cliffs. This cliff is at the top of the Dartmouth Skiway, allowing a nice loop hike by strolling down the grassy ski slopes.
The amazing thing is that both of these hikes are only 15-20 minute drive from my house, and can be completed in less than an hour of hike time, so they’re a great opportunity for a break from a busy weekend. See the small gallery.
The smaller towns of New Hampshire and Vermont have a wonderful tradition: once a year, all the townspeople gather for Town Meeting, to discuss and vote on the important matters of the town. Although Town Meeting is usually held in March, the pandemic postponed the 2021 meeting to May… when we could meet outdoors. The weather today was lovely, with blue skies and a warm breeze wafting the scent of blooming trees through the tent set up on the Lyme Green.
The assembled townsfolk voted on the town’s operating budget for the coming year, with amendments proposed and approved (or denied) regarding the addition of lifeguards for the beach on the town pond; on the withdrawal of reserve funds to make payments on the new town fire truck, or to replace that aging police cruiser; to withdraw a few thousand dollars to support the annual July 4th celebration and the maintenance of the town cemetery; discussion of the paving of a road (and those portions not to be paved), and so forth. Most of these items passed with a modicum of debate. In keeping with the moderator’s opening remarks, it was “ok to disagree, but not to be disagreeable or disrespectful.” Each person who stood to speak introduced herself or himself by name and by home location, often by naming the prior resident of that home… recognizing that town history goes back centuries (and collective memory goes back decades).
The big issue of the year was in regards to our road – River Road – which runs along the Connecticut River. Indeed, it runs so close to the river that, in some places, it is at risk of washing away as the river eats into its banks. Without repeating a long story, today’s heated debate was about whether to abandon a section of River Road and to turn its roadbed into a “Class A trail”, allowing continued public access. Ultimately, by a very close vote, the town decided to do so. Again, the details are complex, and omitted here, but what struck me today was the degree of engagement and decorum by which the townspeople conducted their business. Town residents were there, in respectful conversation with the Select Board, with the Police Chief, with the Road Agent, and with the affected landowners, … and despite the tension and import of the issue to many, the debate proceeded with respect. I am proud of our little town.
Today was my second visit to a vernal pool in three days. These small empheral pools appear for only a few weeks in the spring (hence the name), typically in shallow depressions that capture snowmelt and early spring rains. They serve as an important breeding ground for frogs, salamanders, and other amphibians… and then disappear for the summer.
Today, as I strolled along the fading skidder trails that lace the patch of forest above my home – an area I tend to explore when under winter’s deep snowpack, as I did back at the beginning of February – I was surprised to see I was not the first to visit this pool today.
Let’s take a closer look. This tree stump was covered in feathers – very fresh feathers. I’m assuming some carnivore – a fox, perhaps? – had used the stump as a dining table for consuming an unlucky member of the local avian population.
I’ve been fortunate to be out skiing five out of the past six days – the exception being the snowshoe day on Pico Peak – because the conditions have been so lovely. Last week the temps hovered around freezing most afternoons, softening the snow surface, but a dusting of fresh powder most nights have freshened-up the trails and skiing surfaces. Here are some photos from today’s ski tour in the outer reaches of Lyme.
Although the mountains still hold fantastic winter conditions, as I found last Thursday on Worcester Mountain, the immediate Hanover-Lyme area has little snow left. Our yard was still covered in an inch or two of old hard snow, but the neighboring woods were becoming largely bare. All that changed today, as a powerful nor’easter swept up the coast. We accumulated 8.5 inches of fresh white stuff, far less than what some saw down east – the coastal regions received a foot or two – but eight or nine inches is quite nice indeed. It was a bit warm here – topping the freezing point for the afternoon – so the snow is a bit wet. At higher elevation I hope to find deeper, lighter powder. Read on and check out the gallery of photos.