Monday, August 27, 2012

Camel's Hump

I hiked to the top of 4,083-foot Camel's Hump on Sunday morning with my nephew, Reid. This was my second climb of this peak in the Green Mountains of Vermont. The first time was on a cold and clear Christmas Eve last December with Srini and Kodi. In my description below of Sunday's hike, I've included a few side-by-side comparisons of the two days.

Reid and I set out early to avoid the heat and the hordes--Sunday was going to be hot and hazy and Camel's Hump is a popular hike. We drove from Charlotte on Lake Champlain along rolling roads that wind past grazing cows, hayfields, dairy farms, fields of solar panels, and small villages. The sun was just rising behind Camel's Hump as we neared. Below are pictures of the summit from across a field in the small town of Huntington--in August and in December.
We reached the parking lot on the west side of the mountain by 7 am; four other cars were already there. By the time we finished our hike at 11 am the parking was full with 28 cars, and more on the way up.

On Sunday, we hiked the 5.8-mile loop clockwise, via the Burrows Trail (2.1 miles), the Long Trail to the peak (0.3 miles), the Long Trail down to Wind Gap (1.9 miles), the Forest City Trail (1.4 miles) to the Connector Trail (0.1 miles). Last winter, Srini, Kodi, I hiked it in reverse. Here is the beginning (or end) of the Connector Trail on the two days, which were decidedly different in temperature and conditions. The temperature at 7 am on Sunday was in the mid-60s and humid, while on Christmas Eve last it was only 5 degrees above zero.
The Burrows Trail is a steady, moderate climb to the Long Trail and the ridge that leads up to the Summit. Many hikers and runners go up and down Burrows for exercise or to catch the sunrise or for the quickest way to the summit.
The short segment of 0.3 miles on the Long Trail to the summit is a bit steeper, but still an easy, quick climb. A sign along the trail alerts hikers to the sensitivity of the alpine zone. We could read the sign on Sunday, not so in ice-covered conditions of December.
The sunrise was just beginning to catch the western slope of the mountain as we approached the summit. Fog hung in the valley and haze obscured the distant views, but overhead was blue sky.
We reached the summit by 8:30 am, in 1.5 hours from the parking lot. Reid stands on the summit with Mt. Mansfield behind him to the north.
We spent 25 minutes on top, with the summit to ourselves, soaking up the morning sun and taking in the 360 degree view. A wonderful breeze cooled us just right. Despite the haze the views were stunning, including the view south along the ridge and the path of the Long Trail toward Mt. Ellen in the distance. 
The summit is rocky (a combination of schist and quartz covered in lichen) with patches of alpine vegetation in between, which are cordoned off with white string, keeping hikers on the rock and off the plants. A chipmunk ventured out from his rocky hideout to look for bits of food dropped by hikers.
By 9:00 am we took in our final views and began the steep descent south along the Long Trail. Both directions require some careful stepping in summer and in winter.
Along the way we looked back at the summit of Camel's Hump. We passed many people on the Long Trail and on the Forest City Trail as they were climbing up; we were happy to be heading down as the heat of the day was rising.
The Long Trail is a windy, up and down trail with steep pitches and narrow slots to climb through. When we hiked the trail in December we paused every so briefly at this sign. 
In the lower picture, the sign is on the tree to the right of Srini. The trail was indeed tricky to follow in winter. It was exhilarating to climb it in December and fascinating to see the trail again in summer. I'd recommend this loop as we did it both times: clockwise in summer, counterclockwise in winter. We finished the hike on Sunday in 4 hours, which included 25 minutes on the summit. The winter hike took 6 hours, in part because the Long Trail from Wind Gap to the Summit was not broken out and was icy in a few spots. 

A bridge crosses a deep section of Brush Brook at the junction of the Forest City and Connector Trails. This is a lovely spot near the end of the hike. Thanks to Vermonters who maintain the roads, parking areas, trails, bridges, and signs. It is a lovely state for visiting and hiking.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Meadowhawk

Around about 4:00 in the afternoon, after Kodi has eaten his supper, the two of us head outside for a walk about the yard. Actually Kodi usually settles into a comfortable spot on the lawn. He just likes to be outside. As do I.

I emerge from the garage with small clippers and a harvest basket. This is my favorite time to walk through the vegetable garden. I check for ripe tomatoes, green beans, okra, eggplant. The top third of the bean plants were nipped by a deer again so the bean harvest has slowed dramatically. About once a week I find a giant hornworm munching on one of the tomatoes, and pause briefly to extract him from his camouflaged perch to which he does not return. Each day I fill my harvest basket. Today it was several handfuls of fresh basil, for pesto, along with San Marzano and garden peach tomatoes and a pint of sun golds and cherry tomatoes.

Once the garden is checked and ripe veggies are harvested I move on to Japanese beetle patrol. Their numbers have eased a bit, but not nearly enough. Interestingly I find them in four distinct places in the yard -- on our highbush blueberries, on some wild raspberries and on a single large stalk of goldenrod at the edge of the backyard, and on the hazelnut bush. I assume they give off pheromones to attract one another. Sometimes I find a pile of 8 or more beetles on one leaf.

This afternoon, as I checked the blueberries for beetles, I noticed a dragonfly--a meadowhawk--perched on one bush. I walked within three inches of this meadow beauty and it did not budge. Presumably it was waiting very patiently for an insect of the right size to fly by, or it was just resting in the afternoon sun. What an afternoon delight.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Sweet Stretch of Weather

This weekend was the best of the summer, weather-wise. Today was ideal with temperatures in the mid-70s and humidity down near 50 percent. Rainfall in recent weeks combined with warm temperatures has helped the garden grow and the lawn stay green. Usually by mid-August much of our lawn is crispy brown, when even the crabgrass looks parched. This year, the periodic rains have kept everything lush. We are fortunate given that much of the country remains in a drought.

Today we sensed a hint of fall in the air: a morning cool enough for a long-sleeved shirt, acorns underfoot, potatoes to dig, and a few red maples showing a touch of red in their leaves. The garden bounty continues to make us proud. For Sunday Supper tonight we created several dishes with vegetables plucked straight from our garden: potatoes and kale with onions and garlic, sauteed okra, and eggplant with tomatoes.

The periodic rains feel extra special--keeping the gardens lush, filling the aquifers (the source for our drinking water) and causing mushrooms to spring forth. This past week has seen an explosion of new fungi emerging, of all sizes and shapes and colors. On my woodland walks with Kodi I stopped often to check out each new mushroom that was not there the day before. Here's a sampling from this past week.
I don't search out edible wild mushrooms, although that would be a plus if I found some. Just seeing mushrooms push up through the forest floor makes me happy. For me, these mushrooms are a sign of plentiful moisture. In these times, with the climate fluctuating and heating up, these mushroom sightings offer a respite from my climate worries. At least for a day or a week or a month, we are okay. The mushrooms tell me so.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Crickets

I spotted a one-inch long black cricket in our garage this week. My best guess is a northern fall field cricket (Gryllus pennsylvanicus). This is the common cricket that you hear chirping at night in late summer. The male cricket raises its wings over its body and rubs one against the other. Its thin, papery wings vibrate, amplifying the sound. If you try to find a chirping cricket it quickly goes silent as you approach.
During the past week I've noticed more crickets--in our garden, at New Roots Farm in the high tunnels, along meadow paths. Earlier this summer a friend said she noted a lack of crickets in her yard the past few years. I wonder if her free ranging chickens are the culprit. Although crickets are most active at night, when the chickens are safely tucked away in their coop, I assume chickens can search out and eat crickets during the day. And crickets do start chirping on warm summer afternoons, just when chickens are out scratching around in the barnyard.

As I was reading about crickets on the Internet, I discovered the website, Singing Insects of North America. The website mentions a book, Guide to Night-Singing Insects of the Northeast by John Himmelman, that sounds (yes a CD comes with it) intriguing. I might add that one to my bookshelf.

In his delightful book, Crickets and Katydids, Concerts and Solos, Vincent Dethier wrote this about a chirping cricket:

"The instrument of this indefatigable musician is his interlocking front wings, the stiff parchment-like covers for his membranous hind wings. As the bow of a violin is drawn across the strings and sets them vibrating and as the body of the violin is set resonating by transmission of the vibrations through the bridge, so the cricket draws a scraper across a file of small teeth and sets the wing covers to resonating. The wing covers are raised in song at an angle of about forty-five degrees and brought together periodically. With this closing motion, a ridge on the upper wing cover scrapes across a file on the lower wing cover and generates a high-pitched sound lasting about one-hundredth of a second. Each chirp consists of a group of three or more of these sound pulses. They are executed so rapidly that the human ear cannot resolve the pattern. We hear only the chirp."

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Jalapeños and Tomatoes

We pickled and canned jalapeño peppers for the first time yesterday. I picked several quarts of jalapeños at New Roots Farm--another banner year for this easy to grow hot pepper.
Amma (my mother-in-law) and I sliced and de-seeded each pepper then stuffed them into pint jars along with 1/2 teaspoon canning salt, 1/4 teaspoon pickling spices, and one clove garlic. The jar was then filled with a mix (50-50) of simmered water and white wine vinegar. We have a pressure canner, but read that a boiling hot water bath is preferred so we used the latter method, for 10 minutes.
After slicing up 6 pints worth of jalapeños we realized that using gloves would be useful next time. By the end our fingers were tingling from handling jalapeños. Now we wait a couple weeks to let the pickling do its thing before we taste test.

This is also one of the best tomato years. We've had a few bad years of late--with early blight, late blight, too much rain, not enough rain, too many hornworms. This year conditions seem to be just about right. Two trays of tomatoes sit on the kitchen counter waiting to be canned later today.
From here we move on to making salsa.....so much produce in such a short time.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Painted Ladies

The painted ladies were on the move today. We saw many of these colorful butterflies among the annuals at Prescott Park in Portsmouth, New Hampshire this afternoon.
Apparently this is the most widespread butterfly in the world, but it is also cyclical so some years they are quite common. This seems to be a boom year. The painted ladies are also migratory, overwintering in the southwestern U.S. and in Mexico. In March and April they fly fast on their northward journey, reaching northern Canada by June, beating the equally migratory monarch to its summer grounds.

Migratory butterflies continue to amaze with their ability to survive such a long distance migration on their tender wings.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Goldenrod

Goldenrod is my August flower. It forms beautiful natural bouquets in meadows and gardens and along roadsides. Sure, it can be a little bit aggressive, popping up in the perennial bed in unplanned places. But unwanted plants are easily pulled. Mostly I leave and enjoy, as does a host of bees, beetles, flies, dragonflies, and butterflies. The golden flowers on their tall arching stems are eye-catching, especially among the muted grasses and sedges and other fading flowers of mid-summer. When the goldenrods bloom I know summer is slowing down, just as the garden is overflowing with produce. When the goldenrods bloom I know it is time for canning tomatoes on a warm, sultry night. When the goldenrods bloom I know the birds and butterflies are on the move.

Our backyard meadow is full of goldenrod, along with Joe-pye-weed, boneset, cattail, sedges, and jewelweed, all lush and growing quite fine on their own. I wonder sometimes at the effort I put into weeding and thinning, mulching and watering the perennial beds to keep them looking nice, while the wild meadow self-sustains. Nature, it seems, is perfectly okay taking care of itself. I am reminded if this each late summer day as I walk around our backyard or through other meadows, enjoying the lovely bouquets of goldenrods.

Kodi and I frequently walk this conservation land--The Cole Farm in Newfields. The field is full of goldenrods.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Meditating in Nature

For my late morning walk today with Kodi I chose College Woods in Durham. It is one of my favorite places to walk, beneath towering old hemlock and white pine. Kodi quietly sniffs twigs and logs, takes a cool-off swim in his regular swimming holes, and gives an occasional lazy summer day chase to a squirrel. I listen to the summer resident birds: scarlet tanager, hermit thrush, red-eyed vireo, winter wren. Often we are alone. It is peaceful and meditative.

I hear and see so much when I walk in woods and fields and along wetland edges. This week I spent two days wandering about two different ownerships, lands for which I've written or am writing a wildlife habitat management plan. In a way I get to work and meditate at the same time, at least when I am in "the field" by myself. These particular lands are on the edge of the White Mountains along or near the Maine-New Hampshire border. Territory that is both wild and tamed, with stone walls and lost foundations, old gardens and old trees.

On Monday as I bushwhacked through one property, I flushed a bird from a thicket of young hemlock. The hemlock seedlings were no more than a foot tall growing in a small clearing, not far I might add from a huge pile of bear scat. As I parted the lush boughs, there on the ground was a hermit thrush nest with five blue eggs. Earlier in the day I saw another hermit thrush nest with four newly hatched young beneath a lowbush blueberry shrub. While many birds are already starting their migration southward, the thrushes are still nesting (The robin--also a thrush--is raising her third brood beneath our deck). Here is the hemlock thicket and the thrush nest.
As I emerged from the woods and ambled back to my car for lunch, I disturbed a young garter snake on the dirt road. The snake was rather feisty, even as garter snakes go. The small ones must feel they have to be really tough to defend themselves.
Tuesday morning I woke early to walk the tree-lined edges of meadows in search of invasive plants. I was staying at a client's lovely bungalow on 260 acres with wildflower meadows stretching down a south-facing slope. Mist was rising off the small pond, the dew soaked my shoes and socks and pants, but I was alone in the early morning, peacefully meditating as I wandered about in search of buckthorn and bittersweet.
On this same land, a big barn is left open to allow eight or more pairs of barn swallows to swoop in and out all summer long. I stood in the barn and watched them elegantly and noisily fly up to the rafters where their mud nests clung to the roof. At my feet were hundreds of recently harvested garlic bulbs drying in that cool barn with a summer breeze blowing through and a fantastic view southeast to North Kearsarge. Those barn swallows are most fortunate and so am I.

The barn with a view

Monday, August 6, 2012

Beauty and the Beast

A beautiful, green beast showed up in the garden over the weekend -- the dreaded tobacco hornworm. I found two three-inch long, chubby hornworms chewing on the sun gold plants. I find them beautiful to look at, but they are a beast.
Two rows over from the tomatoes, the okra plants are flowering and fruiting. The flowers are lovely and the fruits make a nice sauté along with fairy tale eggplants.
Outside the garden, birds are flocking to the alternate-leaved dogwood, gorging themselves on the dark blue fruits. Yesterday we watched a family of robins, a pair of kingbirds, and a red-eyed vireo vying for space in the tree. Such bounty in August.


Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Few Beautiful Things

This week I was listening to a radio program on climate change. The guests were upbeat and positive about moving forward with mitigation and adaptation in the face of the great climate changes underway. One noted that there is a lot to be sad about in this world, including climate change, and one can easily be consumed by that sadness. To remain positive he thinks of something beautiful each day.

I like that, as I often feel overwhelmed by the daunting issues of the day. I try to highlight beautiful things in this blog, although sometimes days go by without a post. My new resolution is to post something beautiful each day to keep my mind and spirit focused on the wonderful, beautiful plants, animals, and people around me.

Since I've missed a week of posting, here are a few beautiful things from this past week.

Peaches! Our youngest tree, about 6 years old now, is yielding delicious, juicy, baseball-sized peaches. Some evenings we stand under the tree eating a fresh peach, the sweet juice dripping from our mouths. Thursday night Amma, Srini, and I canned 7 pints of peaches, fruit that we'll enjoy through the winter. Our kitchen counter has two large trays of peaches not quite ripe enough for canning yet. We eat sliced peaches on our cereal, with yogurt, with ice cream, in muffins. We never spray the tree so the fruits are not perfect, but they are fresh and healthy and safe, and still beautiful.
A Wood Turtle. While waiting for a colleague in the field Thursday morning I watched a rufous-sided towhee that was perched atop the tall flower stalk of a mullein. Every minute or so he'd say "towhee." As Kodi and I walked around the woodland opening--a recovering gravel pit--I looked downslope and saw a wood turtle. She was out in the open foraging, perhaps headed for a patch of ripe blackberries or maybe to nibble on the mullein, or grabbing a beetle or other insect that crossed her path--they are opportunistic eaters. Wood turtles are docile with a beautiful sculpted shell. I was able to walk right up to her and say hello.

Each morning my in-laws visiting from India walk up Bald Hill Road and back. They have a keen eye for flowers and animals and other interesting sightings. Yesterday they returned exclaiming about a beautiful mushroom. Later in the day Kodi and I walked down to have a look. It was a large, beautiful chicken of the woods, also called a sulphur shelf. I think this one is Laetiporus cincinnatus: a rosette of flat, wavy-edged caps with colorful white and orange bands, growing on a fallen red oak trunk just off the edge of the road.
And last, but not least beautiful, the speckled swan gourd. I'm growing these beautifully-shaped gourds for the first time. One fruit is nearly full size and looking like an elegant swan!