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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Pinnacle meadow

The quiet days of August.

August is a time of quiet in the meadows and forests of New Hampshire, as the plants and animals enjoy the long days of late summer after the busy days of spring and early summer. This afternoon I strolled down from the summit of Lyme Pinnacle, through a mature meadow filled with goldenrod and Queen Anne’s Lace, with the crickets chirping and a light breeze blowing puffy clouds in from Vermont. Very peaceful.

Groundhog

Dinnertime.

Canon R5, 800mm + 1.4xTC, f/16, 1/200; ISO 12,800. Cropped about half.

After sunset, and as the summer evening fades into twilight, our friendly neighborhood groundhog comes out to browse. (I think he lives under our storage shed.) He’s quite shy, so I snapped a few photos from the deck – using my new 800mm lens plus a 1.4x teleconverter (effective 1120mm). The combination is fixed at f/16 and, combined with the deepening twilight, the photos are a bit noisy. Still, he’s a cute fellow!

Canon R5, 800mm + 1.4xTC, f/16, 1/200; ISO 12,800. Cropped about half.

(Also known as a woodchuck!)

Bald eagle

Our new neighbor.

As I was rowing on the river this morning, I scanned the tall riverside trees to see whether I might see anything interesting, as is my habit. Unlike other days, today I spotted the telltale white head of a bald eagle, high in the branches of a distant dead snag. I turned around, headed home, grabbed my camera, and drove up the road to that location. This was a great opportunity to test my new 800mm lens!

Canon R5 with 800mm f/11 at 1/400, ISO 500, cropped

It appears to be a somewhat immature bald eagle – not fully developed with the all-white head of an adult. It stuck around as long as I would, and beyond. I hope to see it again sometime soon.

Summer solstice

Longest day of the year?

PhotoPills screenshot showing time/date for equinoxes and solstices.

Today is the summer solstice (in the northern hemisphere). More precisely, the solstice occurred at 5:15am here in the Eastern timezone. The summer solstice is the moment at which the sun has ‘traveled’ to its northernmost latitude, in its annual cycle of apparent movement to the north in summer and to the south in winter. (It’s a great day for those of us with solar panels, because it means we’re getting hours of sunlight!) Read on.

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Green-up day

Our annual ritual.

Every year, since the children were small, we walk up River Road in early May, scanning the roadside brush for trash and debris as part of New Hampshire’s “Green-up day.” It’s a perfect time to do this – after the snow melts and before the undergrowth reappears. (Most importantly, before the poison ivy emerges.) Our kids were always eager participants, scampering down the roadside banks to fetch a soda can or a beer bottle, a cigarette pack or a shopping bag. It was a great lesson in the importance of community service, and the callous disregard of those who feel it is somehow appropriate to toss their fast-food bag and beer bottles into the roadside brush, perhaps imagining the river would wash it away. Today I ended up filling two large trash bags, of the special blue variety designated for this day; read on.

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