Early Autumn

Early Autumn? The weather Channel tells the story...
Early Autumn? The weather Channel tells the story…

Autumn appears to be coming early this year. For at least a week nights have been dropping into the chilly 50s. And this morning I see that temperatures slid even lower.

Perhaps this is normal? Yet it doesn’t seem normal. The 40s in mid August? In Essex, New York? On the shores of Lake Champlain which usually acts as a “heat sink” effectively extending our warm season?

Early Autumn’s Reminder

Early Autumn? The thermometer outside my bedroom verifies the chilly story...
Early Autumn? The thermometer outside my bedroom verifies the chilly story…

Whether or not early autumn is here to stay, it’s serving as a reminder. Get out and enjoy the temperate weather before it’s gone. Today and tomorrow promise to be sunny and warm, perfect days for cycling and hiking and gardening. Perhaps even windsurfing? Or wake surfing? Hopefully one or the other!

And there’s another goal I’ve set but neglected for several years. I’d like to make a habit of working in the boathouse for a few hours away from my study, my desk, my piles and files. No better time than the present. No better motivator than a crisp, early autumn morning when I can faintly see my breath in the sir as Griffin sniffs around the yard. Soon it will be too cold to work in the boathouse. Soon…

Anticipating Autumn

Of course, early autumn whispers aren’t all “Caution!” and “Carpe diem…” After all, Adirondack autumns might well be the finest time of the year. The harvest reaches its peak. The hiking and biking are unquestionably superior to all other times of the year. Photography. Sunsets. Sailing. Fly fishing. Fall foliage. The day the ginkgo leaves shower down

In short, August’s recent summer lullaby marks both a bittersweet ending and a joyful beginning. It’s a time to savor summer’s delicacies and anticipate autumn adventures ahead. I think I’ll call a chum and bum a sail!

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School Bus Stop Ahead

School Bus Stop Ahead (Photo: virtualDavis)
School Bus Stop Ahead (Photo: virtualDavis)

A miniature barn up the road from Rosslyn that I pass by on many of my bike rides. Movie credits view. Silent except for a few crickets and a single leaf flapping against something harder than another leaf. The tree trunk perhaps. Now the shishishish of tall grass rustling in a faint breeze. Now quiet again. Crickets.

No school bus in sight…

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Rainbow Ramble

Boathouse, Ferry & Rainbow

At the end of the rainbow… A ferry!

That seems like the perfect, cheesoise title for this photo I just snapped standing in the road between our home and the boathouse. Looking east at Vermont’s Green Mountains, though you’ll have to take my word for it since the rain and fog have veiled the view.

But fully in the dairy free camp in recent years, I’ll sidestep the cheesoise in favor of the inane.

No rainbows were injured making this picture.

Just to show I’m a nice guy. And comfortable patting myself on the back for being a nice guy. Or is that goofy? No, this is goofy.

No ferries were injured making this picture…

Basically the photo speaks (or whispers) enough on its own. I need to zip up my blather mouth and let the moment carry the post. Quietly. Except of the wind which was whipping. Is whipping. And the raindrops which — despite the sun and clear skies behind me — were beginning to pelt down. Hence my retreat from the boathouse hammock to the sunporch with a very soggy Griffin who chased frisbees in the rolling waves without the least concern for darkening skies and rainbows.

Yes, rainbows. There are actually two. Can you see the slightly fainter echo of a rainbow just to the right of the more pronounced one? Look carefully. And you might even spot a pot of gold. Or a ferry?

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Eve Ticknor’s Boathouse Photos

I’ve just received a lovely email from local artist and friend Eve Ticknor (aquavisions.me) with four soothing images of our boathouse. Eve’s dreamy boathouse photos last appeared in “Hammock Days of Indian Summer” last September.

Her new series offers a seasonal bookend to the last set. “Spring!” the photos sing soothingly. “Springing into summer. Soon. But for now, still spring…”

It’s an incredible gift when I receive artwork inspired by Rosslyn, and I offer my deepest thanks to Eve (and all of the other generous artists who’ve shared their creative visions with me) for allowing Rosslyn to a-muse you.

While I was waiting for the ferry! (Photo: Eve Ticknor)
While I was waiting for the ferry! (Photo: Eve Ticknor)

In addition to the boathouse photos, Eve included this enchanting image of a duckling family paddling along between the Essex ferry dock and the boathouse. They seem to have swum directly out of a patina’ed storybook!

Before I even realize it I’ve counted the ducklings. Today there are twelve remaining, twelve significantly larger and less fluffy adolescent ducks. I imagine a few ducklings fell prey to eagles or snapping turtles. Or perhaps they swapped momma ducks to join a smaller brood? My mind wanders to the the many perils ducklings face on their sprint to duckdom.

Thank you, Eve.

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Birdwatchers and Golden-Winged Warblers

Birdwatching: Golden-winged Warbler Watchers (Photo: Pete DeMola, Valley News)
Birdwatching: Golden-winged Warbler Watchers (Photo: Pete DeMola, Valley News)

Found him! Birdwatchers from across the United States studied the elusive golden-winged warbler as part of the 12th Annual Adirondack Birding Celebration June 6 at an Essex thicket. The golden-winged warbler is a “species of special concern,” said trip leader Brian McAllister. Populations have declined precipitously during the past 45 years due to a loss of breeding habitat and the expansion of the blue-winged warbler into the former’s range. (Denpubs.com)

I was meandering joyfully if absentmindedly along Lake Shore Road recently when I came upon a half dozen vehicles tucked into the tall grass at the intersection of Lake Shore and Clark Roads. I slowed. As I idled forward I passed at least another half dozen cars and then a “flock” of birders…

Golden-winged Warbler
Golden-winged Warbler (Photo: Mark Peck Bird Photography)

Actually, at first I didn’t know they were birder. I asked. They laughed. Apparently everyone who passed was asking them the same question.

“We’re birdwatchers,” one man explained.

“We’re looking at a golden-winged warbler,” a woman added. Or maybe she said, “We’re looking for golden-winged warblers.”

“Neat,” I said and pulled out my smartphone to document the occasion. Needless to say, I snapped a photo of the golden-winged warbler watchers and not the birds themselves.

At the time I was pretty sure that the crowd of binocular wielding birdwatchers were spying on one or more golden-winged warblers in a thicket near Webb Royce Swamp. But then I mentioned it to John Davis, intrepid explorer of wild places and critters. John was surprised. Really surprised.

“You mean they actually saw a golden-winged warbler?” He was excited if slightly incredulous.

“I think so,” I offered, suddenly uncertain.

“They weren’t just looking for it?”

Hmmm… Not such a subtle distinction, but suddenly I wasn’t 100% certain what I’d been told.

Golden-winged warbler (Photo: USDAgov)

So I checked my phone to see if I could find any indication from the photo whether or not the birdwatchers were seeking or celebrating. No photo. I looked again. I know I took the photo, maybe even two photos. But I must have inadvertently deleted the evidence. Or, perhaps the elusive golden-winged warbler is behind this mystery!

Perhaps you’ve witnessed a golden-winged warbler in the Adirondacks? Or the Champlain Valley?

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Friday the 13th: Garden Update

Garden Update: Soggy Friday the 13th
Garden Update: Soggy Friday the 13th

Rain rain go away,
Come again another day.

It’s been a soggy two days with nonstop rain falling from the fog-blocked dome above and spongy lawns that remember footfalls long after treads have passed.

The meteorological gurus promise a sunny weekend. If they’re correct, and sometimes they actually are, then our vegetable garden will begin to transform from bog to fresh produce market… If not, I plan to plant watercress!

Excuse my recent hiatus. Life continues afoot at Rosslyn, but I’ve been pouring time into manuscript revisions for an illustrated (think doodles) architectural handbook for our fair village on the still-flooded shores of Lake Champlain. Fun. Almost done.

In the next couple of weeks I’ll try to catch you up on recent developments chez nous. Not just another garden update. There’s actually plenty of news in the tree-smashing-fence-but-not-smashing-house drama category, and also some news of spring/summer progress in the orchard and vegetable garden. For example, for the first time I’m experimenting with natural pesticide solutions for the fruit trees and vegetable plants. I’ll try to tackle this topic soon.

For now, a couple of quick garden update snapshots of Rosslyn’s still partially unplanted and super-duper soggy vegetable patch. Can you identify what we’ve planted so far?

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House of Dreams

House of Dreams (Quotation by Gaston Bachelard via Keri Smith)
House of Dreams (Quotation by Gaston Bachelard via Keri Smith)

Hat top to Keri Smith, one of my favorite doodlers (I’m talking about the short-short list!) for sharing this Eureka moment quotation on her blog.

In honor of Gaston Bachelard, I’d like to subtly bastardize the sentiment:

I should say: Rosslyn shelters day-dreaming, Rosslyn protects the dreamers, Rosslyn allows us to dream in piece.

It’s not always 100% evident to me. When a foundation leak graces us with a basement flood. Or Lake Champlain spills out of her banks and into our boathouse. Nor when a 100+ year old maple tree succumbs to blasting wind and smashes the hand made fence. Etc.

But on afternoons like today, the smallest things, like the way the morning light illuminates the carriage barn windows, I know. I understand that this wonderful old, living and breathing home provides for us in innumerable ways every day. I know that Rosslyn is a house of dreams. And for this I am extremely grateful.

Thank you, Keri and Gaston for the timely reminder!

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Common Goldeneye Ducks

I recently met Lake Placid based photographer John DiGiacomo at the Essex derry dock where he was photographing Common Goldeneye ducks and other waterfowl.

The Essex-Charlotte ferry channel has become a popular destination for birders ever since Lake Champlain froze over last month. Ferry captains have been meticulously nibbling back the ice to maintain a navigable passage “canal” between New York and Vermont, and thin watery strip is doubling as a sanctuary for the lake’s waterfowl (including the rare Tufted Duck) accustomed to watery diets.

John DiGiacomo photographing Goldeneye ducks at Essex ferry dock. (Photo: virtualDavis)
John DiGiacomo photographing Goldeneye ducks at Essex ferry dock. (Photo: virtualDavis)

I introduced myself to John while he was photographing ducks near the Essex ferry pilings and offered Rosslyn’s boathouse as an alternative “birding blind”. He hauled his tripod and gear up the road and captured those magnificent photographs of Common Goldeneye ducks from the boathouse pier.

Dramatic Goldeneye Ducks

John was humble about the photos, apologizing for the grey day: “unfortunately the light was pretty poor that morning”. I share his preference for photographing with clear, high contrast natural lighting, but I actually think the flat light adds to the drama in this series, accentuating the crisp black and white coloration of the Goldeneye ducks. Spectacular!

Knowing little about Goldeneye ducks I poked around online and discovered these cool facts about Common Goldeneye ducks:

  • The eyes of a Common Goldeneye are gray-brown at hatching. They turn purple-blue, then blue, then green-blue as they age. By five months of age they have become clear pale green-yellow. The eyes will be bright yellow in adult males and pale yellow to white in females.
  • A female Common Goldeneye often lays eggs in the nest of another female… She may lay in the nests of other species of ducks as well.
  • After the ducklings leave the nest they can feed themselves and require only protection. Some females abandon their broods soon after hatching, and the young will join another female’s brood. Such mixed broods, known as “creches,” may also occur when a female loses some ducklings after a territorial fight with another female. Young scatter and mix when females fight, and not all of them get back to their mother when the fight ends. Some or all of the ducklings may be transferred to one brood, usually that of the territory owner. (Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

Beyond Goldeneye Ducks

Smithtown: Then & Now (Arcadia, 2011)
Smithtown: Then & Now

John also offered kind words about Rosslyn and mentioned a restoration related project he had been involved with that sounds intriguing.

I am thoroughly impressed with your restoration of Rosslyn. I love seeing these historic structures restored to their former glory. A few years back… I worked on a Then and Now book with the Smithtown (Long Island) Historical Society [Smithtown: Then & Now (Arcadia, 2011)]. It was a fascinating project as I learned so much of the town’s history from the three historians I worked with. I would joke with them that I wish I could take credit for the historical shots and not the current ones. So much history has been replaced with strip shopping centers or cookie cutter buildings. ~ John DiGiacomo

Little by little my bride and I are pulling together our own “then and now” visual history of this quirky property we call home. Too bad I didn’t have John shadowing me for 3+ years of Rosslyn’s rehabilitation to help document the process!

If you’re interested in learning more about John DiGiacomo’s photography you can visit his website, PlacidTimesPhotography.com. Don’t miss his spectacular nature and sports photos.

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Decrypting Bird Tracks in Snow

Decrypting Bird Tracks in Snow: Mallard (Photo: virtualDavis)
Decrypting Bird Tracks in Snow: Mallard (Photo: virtualDavis)

I don’t recall whether or not I was fascinated with animal and bird tracks in snow as a child, but I suspect I was. I am now… (Fox Tracks, Foxtrot & X-Country Skiing)

It wasn’t until my nephews (now teenagers but still “pocket sized” then) began asking me to identify bird tracks in snow, four legged critter tracks on muddy paths, and snake trails on the sand that I rediscovered how exciting it is to decipher locomotive narratives on the ground. That was more than a decade ago. The boys’ interests have wandered from bird tracks in snow to life’s adventures, but I’m still wandering around looking at the ground trying to figure out what passed where. And when. And why.

I’ve collected a backlog of track photos, mostly shot on a mobile phone because it’s often all I have along. I’m not sure I’ll manage to ever aggregate all of the photos in any comprehensive and useful manner, but I will pass along some of them as fancy strikes.

Most of my recent photos of bird tracks in snow have been shot in Rosslyn’s back meadows and woods during lunchtime cross country ski and snowshoe outings, but that image of the mallard tracks comes from the lawn right outside the “morning room” where I eat breakfast. Susan has become an avid bird feeder, and this winter an endless parade of mallards have joined the daily buffet. There’s something lighthearted, even happy about meandering duck prints!

Wing Prints in Snow

Less lighthearted but far more dramatic are the sort of wing prints visible in the photograph below which was captured by friend and Adirondack Coast neighbor, Kim Rielly.

Often a snow crater and feather printed like that will intercept the tracks of a squirrel or a rabbit. Sometimes a drip or two or scarlet in the snow to heighten the drama. But the story told by these bird tracks in the snow is more upbeat (and likely has a happier ending.)

Decrypting Bird Tracks in Snow: Grouse Hole (Credit: Kim Rielly)
Decrypting Bird Tracks in Snow: Grouse Hole (Credit: Kim Rielly)

Before we reached the actual trail, we stopped to see a great example of a “grouse hole”. The grouse entered the deep snow for shelter, and created the hole and accompanying wing marks in the snow when it emerged. Since the snow was so new, this must have been a recent rest stop for the bird. The hole itself had evidence of some feathers and “sawdust” looking stuff; positive clues. ~ Kim Rielly (Lake Champlain Region)

I learned to spot these grouse holes a few winters ago during a guided snowshoe trek, and I’ve been looking for the tell-tale “sawdust” (grouse scat) ever since. Not the coziest place to spend the night for those of us who depend on lasagna layered synthetic materials to stay warm and dry, but a downy grouse might well consider this the perfect winter’s repose!

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Midwinter Gator Service

I mentioned the other day that frosty, persistent midwinter is the perfect time to get Rosslyn’s lawn and field equipment serviced so that it’s ready for prime time once the snow retreats and the dandelions bloom.

A few days before the tractor was picked up, the folks at Mountain View Equipment (formerly Giroux Brothers) retrieved the John Deere “truckling” for a top-to-bottom Gator service. The machine is a couple of years old, and this is the first time we’ve sent it in for a checkup. The battery has been running down between uses; the left rear side panel is cracked from an encounter with the backhoe teeth; and fluids, filters, etc. were due for a change.

Gator Service & Home Again, Jiggety-Jig

As it turns out, the battery hasn’t been charging since the day we took ownership of the Gator. The in-line fuse that enables the battery to get charged was never installed at the John Deere factory. Hmmm… Quality control?

The v-belt was ready for replacement ($60, ouch!) and the fuel sender was giving inaccurate readings. Not mission critical, but it would be a pain in the posterior to be working in the back meadows and find out that the Gator was out of gas despite a full gauge reading. And the replacement panel was installed. All of the routine maintenance (filters, spark plugs, fluids, etc.) was undertaken including a pressure wash and spit shine. Well, minus the spit, I hope.

Gator service complete.

Gator Service Done, We’re Ready for Spring

With a freshly spruced up Gator, all we need is for the snow to melt and the temperatures to double. And – as if on cue – a blast of warm weather spoiled us on Tuesday (when the Gator was dropped off) despite a blizzard forecast.

[Wondering about the music layered over the Gator service video? I couldn't resist, the song's called Gator Drive!]

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