Thursday, March 26, 2015

Open water

Signs of spring are still rather sparse at Roundtop today.  The trees certainly show no sign of buds.  Birds are singing with added enthusiasm.  Even the cardinals, who started singing in February’s snow, sound more chipper today than before.  And their singing is more sustained, rather than one lone voice amidst the snow.

For me, the most obvious sign of spring is open water. That is new and a certain sign of spring.  To be sure, the nights still result in skim ice over puddles, in the chickens’ water and the nearby ponds. But that ice disappears before noon.

This week it is still too soon after the snow melt for the grass to perk up.  That is always the first new growth to appear, though sometimes it’s a race with the skunk cabbage.  I haven’t heard spring peepers yet, either.

The landscape is still brown and muddy.  I have not ventured deep into the woods yet, as I know the trail down into the valley well enough to know the mud is likely to be impassible.  I will wait a while, though it is not too early to foray along the edges of the forest.  That will have to be enough for the present.

Monday, March 23, 2015


Roundtop at sunrise
Dare I hope that this winter is finally over?  Five more inches of snow fell on the first day of spring, but the next day the temperature soared into the 40’s.  The snow that looked as though it was here to stay at noontime was virtually gone by evening.

I learned this weekend that the only place on our entire globe that had below-average temperatures this winter was the east coast of the United States. That amounts to roughly 4% of the earth’s surface and has sobered my thoughts and dampened my glee at this winter’s end.  Will I ever see another winter that is truly a winter?

After this winter I am hopeful that some of the annoying insects that managed to make it through warmer winters will be much reduced for this upcoming year. That would be a nice result if fewer ticks and mosquitos survived.  It wouldn’t hurt my feelings either if fewer stinkbugs are around, though I have no idea if harsh winters bother them in the slightest.

Still, I can’t help but feel worried that winter weather in my neck of the woods might become a thing of the past. It’s unlikely the east coast will again be in that small portion of the globe that sees colder than typical weather in 2016. I live at a ski resort, now one of the most southerly ones in the east.  There used to be others more southerly than here, but most have closed due to poor winters, and I worry that this one is vulnerable, too. Was this the last best year for winter skiing here in southern PA?  I certainly hope not, but I can’t help but wonder.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


off Wellsville Rd., Washington Township, York County PA
Geese are moving north by the thousands, Canada geese and snow geese both. Two nights ago was the most. Shortly before 9 p.m. they flew over Roundtop mountain and so over my cabin, so many of them and so loud that I couldn’t have carried on a conversation. Every day this week I have seen them, flock after flock, some flocks well over 100 birds.

Their move north is late this year, to no one’s surprise who’s lived in the eastern U.S. this past winter. In this area the movement of waterfowl usually starts the last week of February and tapers off by the end of the first week of March. This year everything was still iced in until last weekend, and now the northward migration is compressed into a few short days. The birds are really feeling the urge to move, no dawdling, no short hops with long stops. They need to get north to get on their breeding grounds and get to work, to get the best breeding sites before that other goose pair beats them to it. The movement has a sort of desperation to it now. They fly early, they fly late, they fly when the weather is not ideal, they fly on a northerly wind.

I still have a bit of snow up on the mountain, patches mostly, but down off the mountain last weekend’s rain made the snow disappear about as fast as I’ve ever seen snow disappear. The farm fields are now bare of it. More snow is expected on Friday, though it won’t last long. This time of year it never does. I am glad I didn’t put the snow shovel away just yet, as I am going to need it at least one more time.

Thursday, March 12, 2015


What a difference a week makes. If you’d told me during last week’s snowstorm that winter was about to fold up and go away, I wouldn’t have believed it. But that zero weather and fluffy mid-winter powder that gave no hint spring was about to take over, is going, going, gone. I can see down to the last layer of ice in my driveway.

The chickens gave me two eggs yesterday, a sure sign they are waking up from their winter egg break. I am ridiculously excited to have their fresh eggs again. Store-bought eggs, even organic, free-range eggs can’t compete with eggs laid the day before from truly free-range chickens.

This morning I was alerted to Something by the sound of Baby Dog’s insistent barks. I was outside on the front deck, and she was inside barking at something outside. I followed where she was looking and saw seven deer, tiptoeing through the snow just above the cabin. About 50 feet away, they were walking in single file, a doe followed by a summer fawn, another doe with two summer fawns, trailed by another doe and fawn. The deer were heading higher up the mountain, likely heading out onto the abandoned ski slope in search of an open spot where they could graze.

It’s a rare day when I don’t see at least a few of this little troop. They bed down in the tangle near a small stream just below the cabin that provides cover and water, though little to eat. Often, in the mornings, I find they have been eating one of my juniper bushes overnight, as I find tiny needles strewn atop the snow that’s also marked by their hooves.

The deer paid no attention to me as they passed, not even bothering to glance my way or flick their tails. They are as used to me as I to them. And I’m sure they know Baby Dog is inside and can’t disturb them, too.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


I think I’m out of hibernation!

After yet another two-day marathon shovel-fest at the end of last week, the temperature has now warmed up to normal!

After 40 straight days of below average temperatures, many more than 20 degrees below normal, average temperatures fill the forecast. It feels like t-shirt weather! Or at least I can finally put the winter parka away. Even my chickens have noticed and yesterday produced the first egg of spring (that wasn’t frozen or broken or stolen by something). I can even see the lowest level of ice in my driveway.

Happy days are here again. Soon I will be out in the forest, watching the first spring growth of the new season. Even though I usually decry spring as nothing more than mud season with favorable media coverage, this year I will sound the trumpet myself.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Wishful thinking, maybe

Is it my imagination or just wishful thinking? To me it feels as though winter’s grip is loosening just the tiniest bit. Well, after tonight, anyway.

Even on a cold day now, the sun is warmer. When I can stand in the afternoon sun someplace out of the wind, a day can feel almost balmy. It’s a welcome improvement.

I look forward to resuming my walks in the woods, preferably without the ever-present Yak-trax. Or even, just walking anywhere without Yak-trax. Those things are wonderful but I still can’t walk fast enough to work up a sweat or get my heart rate up. It feels like a long time since I’ve done that, and I’m about half afraid it will be like starting over again. I look forward to the activity, though.

I’m also looking forward to having a cleaner cabin. Since sometime in January, every weekend has brought snow, and my major activity this winter has been snow shoveling, not housecleaning. Truthfully, I don’t much like housecleaning, in general. My opinion is that I won’t go to my grave wishing I’d kept a cleaner house. But I wouldn’t mind spending one weekend catching up on my cleaning. That’s not unreasonable.

Monday, February 23, 2015


I have been hibernating. Below zero temperatures and winds 25-50 mph, make for brutal winter weather. Even a winter-lover like me is tired of it.

Here in southern PA, this is the coldest February ever in more than 80 years of full records. And, till the month is over, it may well be the coldest month ever, surpassing all those Januarys too. For February 2015 the average temperature is 21.45, well below the average of 32.4 and even well below the previously coldest February that featured a balmy 24 degree average.

Every weekend this month has featured a storm of some kind, which means I’ve spent my weekends shoveling snow, not taking photos or even sitting at a computer. My chickens have survived thus far. One night I was tempted to bring them inside. That was the night it was -5 with 35 mph wind and up to 55 mph gusts. I decided against it, mostly because the only place inside where I could put them was my bathroom, and I just couldn’t deal with that idea. So instead I surrounded the coop with two bales of straw, covered it with a blanket and a tarp and hoped for the best. They seem to have done okay.

This past Saturday the latest snowstorm brought whiteout conditions and more wind. It was quite a storm. I took the photo I’m posting today in the morning before the storm hit. The sky certainly proved the old adage "red sky at morning, sailor take warning."

For myself, I am looking forward to days where the temperatures get as high as, perhaps, 40; that don’t drop below zero or into the single digits at night, and that have calm winds. When that happens, my hibernation will end.