Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Dancing Doe

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I was on Telfer Hill Road when I came upon this young doe peacefully grazing in the field, quite close to the road. I pulled over, lowered the window and prepared the camera for photographing her. She munched and watched patiently but then danced off to the tree line. I know she was uncomfortable with me there, but she was not alarmed. It may look as if she took off quickly, but she took her time and stopped frequently to munch and watch me. I swear that she kicked up her legs purposefully because it was such a nice day!

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White-tailed deer (10 of 15).jpg

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Friday, April 29, 2011

VIDEO: The Brook

Yesterday, I walked up the brook out back, the one directly behind the house that comes down into the back yard, and video taped it because I wanted to capture the music of it. The result — seven minutes and forty seconds of beautiful brook music that will totally bore you. For the video, I felt that we needed to name the brook. John wouldn't participate in that, so I named it Boulder Brook. Now in the morning I think that is such a lame name. But you will see a bit of the glacial erratics that inspired the name. The boulders house and shelter animals. You won't see much of them, though, because I failed to capture their enormous size. I'll do that next time. I ended the video at a flume (not Stone Flume, which I also taped yesterday, across the road, but another one behind the house), which is not where the brook begins, but it is as far as I felt like going after I fell into a hole that some critter dug under a humongous boulder, scraping and badly bruising my foot and ankle. Lesson to learn: never step close to the boulders. Somebody has dug a front or back door under the boulder and you will fall in.

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VIDEO: Peepers Can Make You Go Deaf

Last night, we tried to capture the painful volume of the peepers in this video. It doesn't work. If you turn your volume up all the way you will begin to understand how the peeps, which I actually love and look forward to each spring, hurt your head. In real life, the sound begins to echo inside your skull. In real life, you cannot talk on the phone or to each other if you are inside the house and the windows are open. Outside, you cannot talk at all. The sound is huge. There is reverberation. It is as if the air itself is a tangible sound wave that you can feel on your skin. You have to come here and experience it in order to understand it.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

VIDEO: Stone Flume

This is the flume across the road at the top of the beaver bog. May Pond Brook runs into the bog over this flume. The kids slide down it in summer. At one point, you will see our white house with Barton Mountain behind it. I started the video on the bluff at home, at rush hour, and unfortunately a car went by. Then you see the swollen brook rushing out of the woods and down the flume into the bog. You will hear John suggests I slide down the flume with the camera for a better angle. Sure I will!

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The Mallards

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This was different. This year, cleaning up the winter's mess of bird seed under the bird tree, we had this pair of mallards that are nesting in the beaver bog across the road. They came by every morning and every afternoon and scooped up piles of seeds. You can even see grass and dirt on the male's beak in the last photo. The hen was more black and blue than brown and blue as I usually see them. The male's legs were bright orange. He was very protective of his wife and paid attention to my movements in the window. When he saw me, he got between me and his wife. She paid little attention to me at all. The ground under the bird tree is now so clean you would never know there had been feeders there. The ducks, knowing there is no more food, have not returned for the last two days.

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Nesting pair of mallards (2 of 16).jpg

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Dark-eyed Juncos

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Junco hyemalis

The juncos are back and there seem to be more than ever. I won't be seeing these later in the season. They seem to move into the woods when it's warmer. There is loads of leftover seed under the bird tree and the juncos are visiting in droves all day long every day. They also enjoy pecking about the woodpile out back.

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If you have a minute and if you are a fan of my photography on Facebook (see the sidebar), then drop in and vote on which black & white photo I should submit to the DPS B&W Ten Minutes from Home Challenge!

B&W Ten Minutes From Home Album at Facebook

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Raccoons Again

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These photographs are from a series of experiments with light and shutter speed. They were taken at night with flashlights held by my husband. No tripod was used because I didn't think I had time to set it up. Ironically, this coon stayed so long I could have set it up and still gotten a thousand photos. The raccoons have not returned for me to continue the lighting experiment.

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I posted one of these photos at my Project 365 site and was both gratified with the generous comments and dismayed with the general consensus that raccoons are "cute." You may remember the night the raccoons here slaughtered four chickens and the nightmare we had clearing them out of the woods. There is also the threat of rabies, which is a very real threat here. There was a raccoon rabies outbreak within the past five years. On top of all of this, there are the cats. But the cats are in at night which is when raccoons come out.

Nearly two weeks ago, I was polyurethaning a new cabinet that John had built in the new living room. I was concentrating. I remember John walking through and saying something about raccoons. Later, I heard him tell me from the other room that there was a raccoon lying under the bird tree. I was curious and wanted a photograph of a raccoon in the daylight. I mentioned that it was rare for them to be out in the day and wondered out loud why it was there. I got the camera and went to the window. Sure enough, the raccoon was lying down. But it was not eating bird seed. It looked sort of dead. John joined me at the window then and I told him it looked like a dead raccoon. He said, yeah, it did look like that. I asked why it was behaving like that. He said because he had shot it four times. I screeched, almost dropped the camera, and left the room.

Apparently while I was working on the cabinet, John had told me there was a raccoon behaving badly outside. He had loaded his rifle in the same room that I was working in and gone upstairs for a clean shot. The raccoon had been stumbling and could not keep its balance. It probably had distemper and John humanely shot its troubles away.

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All the raccoons that we have seen since then have been healthy, as the one in these photographs is. But we are keeping a wary eye open for them.

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Mink

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American Mink (Neovison vison)

These photos were taken on April 10, but my story begins on March 27. It had been a warmer winter day than usual, so I went outside after church to photograph birds at the feeder (not through the window as I usually do). I was getting some good shots. I began to adjust the settings on the camera when suddenly something long and brown with a long bushy tail ran past me. It had come from the bog and ran past me, under the feeders and up the hill. The snow was so hard with a crust of ice that he left no tracks. And me? Even though I had the camera in my hand, all I could do was breath, "Oh wow, oh wow!" softly and quietly over and over again. Another missed shot! The birds, by the way, never paid attention to this animal at all.

I knew the creature was either a small fisher cat or a mink. But my eyes simply are not good enough for details and all I knew was that it had a bushy tail and was not dark enough for a fisher cat. John suggested a mink and I agreed — it only made sense. The subject was dropped until April 10, two weeks later.

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It was after church again, but I was inside editing photos. John called out from the back of the house that my mink had returned. I grabbed the camera and went to take some pictures. I was pleased that I had the 250mm lens mounted on the camera. I'd get the shots this time! The mink was in the back dooryard on the knoll. This would be an easy shot if I could get a clear view! I opened the backdoor slowly and it creaked. The mink heard me and swung his head around and watched me as I photographed him. For about five seconds I got off quite a few shots before the mink ran up the hill to the rock pile across our back road. I remember now that for the last shot I zoomed in. That was a clue something was wrong with my photographs.

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The last shot, unfocused.

I ran to the computer and downloaded the photos. I had not shot at 250mm! They were all 50mm! I was devastated. But I viciously cropped and edited and these were the best shots I have.

In the days following this encounter, the cats began going out more and more as the weather improved. They were constantly drawn to that rock pile that the mink lived in. They began spraying it, also, which was a significant territory statement. But the days went on and we slowly forgot about it.

We have not seen the mink since April 10.

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Friday, April 22, 2011

The Cat and I

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April 10, 2011
What's missing from this photo?

Give up? It's snowless! On April 10, this front, south-facing corner of the house had no snow! So Zorro and I were out enjoying the warmth and sun (while John was getting rid of the snow out back).

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Red squirrel

There was a red squirrel in the bird tree (which is right there at the same corner), and he could not leave the tree without catching Zorro's attention. So while the squirrel quietly watched us in the tree, I quietly photographed him. More of those photos can be seen here.

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Zorro finally did notice the squirrel and half-heartedly went to the tree to inspect his chances for a kill. The cat was lethargic from the sun and never made an attempt at the squirrel.

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Red-winged blackbird (male)

Later, I made my annual unsuccessful attempt at getting red-winged blackbird photos. They are difficult for me to capture successfully with the camera. Their black color and constant movement defy any new skills I learn over the winter. These are the best two shots that I got. And the one below is bad, but I include it and, while it looks like he is choking, be assured that the bird is only calling. One of the blackbird songs requires them to hunch over in a choking stance. I have no idea why. But I like the song.

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Singing, not gagging

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Kitchen Update

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All photos shot on April 10, 2011

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Kitchen is almost done. (7 of 6).jpg

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Sign of Spring: Rhubarb Is Up!

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This is what the rhubarb looked like thirteen days ago. It is maybe a half inch taller now. If it would ever warm up and stop snowing, we would move it to the new septic tank access port. That is the green thing that is sticking out of the front yard. If we move all of the rhubarb there, it will look very attractive. The rhubarb plants all need to be separated, anyhow, so we can do both chores at the same time. I hope we can do it soon. We are both itching to dig and plant outside.

Today is the day that I chose for the Crystal Lake ice out. People win a lot of money in those raffles and I was absolutely certain that today (or even this week) would be the day.  In 2007 ice out was on April 22 at 4:55 PM (source: Vermont Weather Blog, ice out page). There is no way that ice out will happen tomorrow. It is now 30°F (-1°C) and snowing. The weather report says we will get about an inch of snow.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

An Uncooperative Robin

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I took a walk out back on April 10 to see what birds had returned for the summer. I saw a robin perched in willows but by the time I had him in the viewfinder, he flew off. These are the shots I got. I like getting the birds in flight, but it would be nice if they would sit still while I focus!

Robin in Flight (3 of 2).jpg

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

How To Make It All Go Away

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The woodpile on April 9, 2011

The weather on Saturday, April 9, was beautiful and warm. But we still had a deep snowpack on all but a few southern facing slopes. John, who truly dislikes snow, had had enough. I found him in the back dooryard silently dragging the hose out to the brook (in addition to the brooks in the field and orchard out back, there is another brook in the backyard). An electric wire came out of the brook and was running into the house. I asked him what was up. He said he was getting rid of the snow. I told him not to electrocute himself and went for my camera.

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The hose coming out and the wires going into the brook.

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The electric cord ran to a big aquarium pump. John had taped the electrical connections to make sure he wouldn’t be electrocuted, and dumped the pump into the brook. The pump sucked up the water and spat it out of the hose and onto the snow in the yard.

John had also spent a lot of time this winter tossing wood ash onto the snowpack. The dark colored ash would absorb sunlight and melt the snow. That’s why these snow photos look the way they do. We had the dirtiest snow in the county. The ash was effective in reducing snow but not in getting rid of it.

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John's snow reduction was very successful. By the end of the afternoon, half of the entire dooryard was free of snow. John’s tension was relieved and peace was restored to our home. The dooryard was very wet.

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PS: It was another two weeks before all the snow  (except a two foot deep pile behind the woodpile and lots still in the woods) was clear. It  had melted naturally. I think.

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Ferns and Ivies in the Kitchen

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The asparagus fern waits for us to find a pot big enough for it.

Every March I typically have a fever to see green things. This is understandable to people living here in the Kingdom. With three feet of snow on the ground, it can be difficult imagining that summer will ever return. This past March, my sister, Camille, and I made one of our famous shopping trips. Instead of going book shopping, we went plant shopping in Lyndonville.

Camille lives in the Lyndonville area so she took me to White's Market to look at houseplants. Camille also advised me to get an asparagus fern because, she said, they are easy to care for and grow a lot. The asparagus fern at White's Market was huge and I wasn't sure that I wanted it. But then Julia, the floral designer, saw us and came to assist us. Julia is a gem. She knows her plants and is so enthusiastic that she convinced me that I can grow anything. She introduced me to new plants that I never considered buying, and made me very excited about the prospect of being a successful gardener. I ended up buying the asparagus fern, a large Boston fern, two small lemon button ferns (which are variants of Boston ferns), a huge grape ivy, two small English ivies, a large shamrock and a small schefflera. White’s Market must be very pleased with Julia!

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The asparagus fern takes a bath.

All of the plants are doing very well here at the house. In fact, the asparagus fern is doing so well that it was growing in front of my eyes — it was growing into other pots that were near it. It became bigger and bigger and by April 9 we had to repot it. It took the brute strength of John to get it out of the pot and had to be divided into two. After a nice bath, we hung it in the living room where the spider plant used to be. We moved the spider plant into the kitchen sun porch.

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Repotted asparagus fern now hangs in the living room.

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The spider plant now hangs in the sun porch. John built the bookcase on the side of the double oven. It holds our cookbooks. The bookcase is made from pine salvaged from the old porch

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The divided and repotted angel wing begonia.
This begonia was a gift from Barb, a friend at the library.

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Instead of curtains, I have used the Boston fern (right) and a Swedish ivy from the C&C (left) to frame the kitchen windows. John used a 200 year old piece of Douglas fir as a functional trim to hold the weight of the hanging plants. We can add smaller planters as we desire in the future.

I am more than pleased with my numerous houseplants. May they continue to thrive (and may I continue to successfully care for them)!

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Sugaring in Barton

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A Barton sugarhouse

Because we couldn't find any sugarhouses that were boiling sap on Maple Open House Weekend, I asked local maple producers, from whom I always buy my syrup, if they would allow us to photograph in their sugarhouse when the weather allowed them to cook. They kindly agreed, and we visited on April 3rd. The harvest was late this year, but plentiful. The syrup made here is the best, but because of sugarhouse thefts in Franklin County this year, the farmers asked me not to identify their farm.

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The sap is boiled in this big evaporator.

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Looking into the top of the evaporator at the boiling sap.

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Maple syrup is done when the temperature of the boiling sap
is 7° higher than the boiling point (which depends on altitude).

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We prefer syrup made with wood fires.

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The smokestack from the wood hearth.

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The stack temperature in sugarhouses is 1,000°.
Typically your woodstove stack is about 250°.

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The back of the evaporator.

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These lines carry the sap from the trees in the sugar bush down to the sugarhouse.

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Farmers regularly snowshoe out to the sugar bush to check the lines.
A heavy snow the day before our visit broke tree branches
which fell on some lines, breaking them.

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At the sugarhouse is the vacuum pump and the reverse osmosis filter.

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An old sugar maple near the sugarhouse.

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When the sap reaches 219°, the sugar content is tested again.

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When the sugar is perfect, the syrup is filtered and pumped into this container for bottling.

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Our syrup at home.
Right: Grade A medium amber that was made on the day we visited.
Left: Syrup from the last, darkest run last year.
The dark syrup is what we use for cooking.

I wish we could tell you where to buy this syrup because it is the best. Each farm's syrup is different because of weather, which run of the season the syrup is made from, the soil, and other variables. This farm makes the best syrup because it has a thick, smooth vanilla butter tone to it. There is also a suggestion — not a taste or smell, not even a hint — of wood smoke. When you cook with this syrup, that sense of wood smoke reminds me of being in the steam of the sugarhouse. Contact me if you want to know where to buy this syrup.

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