Pussy willow tree
Thirty years a harbinger
Moose tracks on dirt road


Time to Find Woodpeckers

Ten years ago I was at the first meeting of a new, statewide project, involving a couple dozen people from different disciplines.  The facilitator for the meeting used an icebreaker to start us off.  “Write down something that happened to you this morning, then pick a partner and share what you’ve written down.”

I wrote, “I wish I’d had time this morning to go find the woodpecker I could hear in a tree at the edge of the yard when I got home from my run.”  My partner in the exercise laughed when I read it to her.  “Only you would think about something like that, Grace,” she said.  I’m not quite sure what part she found unusual — the morning run, the awareness of the woodpecker, the desire to see the bird, or maybe all of them together.

It’s that time of year again, birdsong ascending in the mornings when I go out, and the sound of a woodpecker almost every day.  This morning I did stop, under a large, old maple with many dead branches, a magnet for woodpeckers.  I could hear the pecking, and I tried to find the bird, but I couldn’t see it in the time I had.  Back to running, back to the house to get ready for work.

Ten years later I still want time to find woodpeckers.

Mt. Jackson

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The snow has been disappearing fast around here for the past four weeks.  Four Saturdays ago I was cross-country skiing in the best snow of the season, and then there were a few inches of perfect glide snow that night and Sunday’s skiing was spectacular.  The following weeks were warm and rainy and by last weekend I was considering planting my peas.

I’m glad I didn’t.  It’s been a cold week, with snow twice, though nothing stuck.  But not up north.  Five of us gathered to hike Mt. Jackson today, and when we got to the trail head and got out of the car, a stinging wind whipped with snow squalls greeted us.  We dressed in our extra layers as quickly as we could and got into the woods, where the week’s snowfalls had left plenty of fresh powder.

Winter.  Again.  Still.  Luckily, there were snowshoers ahead of us, so we didn’t have to break trail.  As we hiked higher, there was more powder, the packed trail sinking deeper with walls of snow on either side, and the clumps on the trees thickened.  Hiking up on snowshoes was hard work.

But it was beautiful — sun periodically breaking through the racing clouds above and drenching the white world in yellow light, trees feathered with snow, fresh powder on every surface, and off to our south occasional glimpses through the trees of Crawford Notch, a deep cut in the mountain, a vast empty space below us as we climbed higher.

Getting tired, and thinking that the next corner would bring us to the top, or the next, or the next, we finally rounded a corner and could see the peak a couple hundred feet above us, a rocky knob above spindly winter and wind worn trees.  “I’ve had enough,” Anne said, and Ellen and June were still behind us, so she headed back to find them.  But Cynthia wanted to bag the peak.  She’s working on hiking all the 4,000 footers in NH, and this was one she didn’t have.

“Okay, let’s go,” I said.  It was wild, fiercely windy and wonderful.  We mistakenly took the trail broken by the young men we’d met on their way down.  “We lost the trail and got a bit bushwacky,” they’d said.  As we crawled and scrambled up the steep summit cone, hoisting ourselves up by spruce trunks sticking above the snowpack, we knew we were in bushwacky land ourselves.  But the summit was right there, we climbed the last bit of rock and saw the trail signs, then the summit cairn and Cynthia hustled over to it.  “Okay, I did it.  Thanks for coming with me,” she said.  “Happy to do it,” I said and we headed back.  It was too cold and windy for a photo, too hard to look into the wind to take in the view, and we wanted to be sure to follow our tracks down before they blew away.

We bagged it.


Big Moon

There’s a big moon coming tonight, a 20 year moon, a super perigee moon.  From the NASA website:

“Full Moons vary in size because of the oval shape of the Moon’s orbit. It is an ellipse with one side (perigee) about 50,000 km closer to Earth than the other (apogee). Nearby perigee moons are about 14% bigger and 30% brighter than lesser moons that occur on the apogee side of the Moon’s orbit.

Super Full Moon (movie strip, 550px) 

Above: Perigee moons are as much as 14% wider and 30% brighter than lesser full Moons. [video]

“The full Moon of March 19th occurs less than one hour away from perigee–a near-perfect coincidence1that happens only 18 years or so.”

I drive east when I drive home from work, so I often see the moon rising, huge and yellow shining through the trees on the horizon.  Though I’ve always noticed how big the rising moon looks, with objects on the horizon as a size reference, I’ve never fully understood why, and assumed I could look up the answer some day.  But the NASA website goes on to say, “The best time to look is when the Moon is near the horizon. That is when illusion mixes with reality to produce a truly stunning view. For reasons not fully understood by astronomers or psychologists, low-hanging Moons look unnaturally large when they beam through trees, buildings and other foreground objects.”

Regardless of whatever information I have in my mind, the moon tonight is bound to be beautiful.  And it’s Sam’s birthday, so I can’t help but think this big moon is here today to say, “Happy 25th Birthday, Sam!”