FRosty Fothergilla

This week has seen some huge fluctuations in temperature as Vermont transitions from one season to the next. We had some extremely clear, crisp frosty mornings followed by days that commenced downright balmy and misty. At first light the other day, I slipped on my Birkenstocks and headed out to capture the amazing icicles that coated my colorful Fothergilla leaves. It was magical! 🙂

Spotlight on Witchhazel

Profusion of yellow blooms on my Witchhazel!

October morning

Witchhazel blossoms shine bright

With the rising sun ~ Lynn Amber

My witchhazel tree has taken center stage in my garden this week. Blooming in late October and November, this plant is found all over the eastern part of the United States – east of the Mississippi, west to Texas, north to Nova Scotia and south to Florida. It is hardy to zone 3 and virtually disease and insect free. While there are many Asian hybrids of witchhazel on the market today, the native plant – Hamamelis viginiana – is my favorite.

The name witch hazel is thought to be derived from an old English word, wyche. Wyche has its word origins in Germany and translates as “to bend.” The branches of the witchhazel are extremely flexible giving rise to the descriptive word wyche being used in its name. Over time, the spelling seems to have changed to a more modern “witch.” The tree is associated with hazelnuts due to its similar leaf and fruit. So, quite possibly, the original common name was wyche hazel!! 🙂

European settlers to America observed the Native Americans using the branches of witch hazel as a divining rod for finding water – what we term dowsing. Today, many landowners in Vermont still use dowsers when trying to find a new source of water. Although I suspect it is becoming a lost art.

Witchhazel was also used medicinally by Native Americans for the treatment of many conditions and is found in many skin care products today. The leaves, bark and branches are used as an astringent for topical applications on skin to reduce inflammation, bleeding, common skin irritations and is reported to have anti-bacterial properties. All in all, a very useful and aesthetic plant!!

Although the witch hazel is drawing all the attention right now in my front garden, other plants are also shining.

My Fothergilla gardenii is finally starting to turn color. This is an extraordinary plant with brilliant red and orange fall color. Another favorite native plant that I adore!

Fothergilla gardenii

Before the robins devour all my winterberry holly berries, I thought I’d capture another photograph of a large clump of berries hidden in the middle of the shrub. I watched the robins en masse this morning raiding the bushes and gorging on berries!

Ilex verticillata – Winterberry Holly

Finally, our blueberry bushes are putting on their fall display and are at peak color right now.

Blueberry leaves wearing their fall outfit!

Falling Leaves and Lingering Color

Over the hill – what lies ahead?! Vermont country road scene

“Every leaf speaks bliss to me – fluttering from the autumn tree.” – Emily Bronte

Walking along my Vermont gravel road the other day, I was focused on the leaves that had fallen to the ground lining the shoulder of the road and carpeting the forest. As we reached peak season this year and began the slide towards that awkward in-between space between fall and winter, rain and steady winds knocked the leaves off the trees prematurely. At first I was disappointed that I had missed “peak” here in central Vermont. We were on Lake Champlain enjoying autumn there and arrived back home to bare ash trees and diminished color in other tree species.

Mosaic of leaves along the road

As a child growing up on the grounds of Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, I remember the fun we had each autumn when the leaves started falling. We lived in an area of employee housing called Red Lion Row. It consisted of about 15 houses occupying land just north of the gardens. A large field and wooded area separated us from the public areas of Longwood. Many of the employees planted vegetable gardens in the field and as kids we roamed the woods and, often the gardens, unattended and free to explore. We used to ride our bikes to the edge of the woods near the gardens and hide them in the towering rhododendrons near what is now the Terrace Restaurant. From there, we rambled around the grounds and enjoyed a playground of formal gardens and fountains – oblivious to the tourists. On hot summer days, we would bravely sneak into the fountains to cool off!

Beech leaves are later to lose their leaves and turn color. They often exhibit leaf marcescence in winter – holding onto some of their leaves. They have true 4 season appeal!!

I loved growing up in Longwood and on “the row.” It was a small, tight-knit, multi-generational community. In the fall, as the leaves began to drop, we would rake them up into huge piles – diving into them and throwing them up in the air – letting them shower down upon us. One of my favorite pastimes involved using the leaves to design floor plans for houses. I was in elementary school when we lived there but my creative design inclinations were already forming. Using a rake, I would arrange the leaves into “walls” and create a plan view of a house complete with a kitchen, living room, bedrooms, bath, etc. The beauty of this was the ease with which I could change a “wall” or add a “room.” I have a vivid memory of standing back and critically admiring my design. So, I guess you could say my desire to design things began with leaves! Hence, my fascination with them today!

Enjoy the photos of my immediate Vermont surroundings this fall. Even though peak season has passed, there is still beauty in the leaves!

My daily walk takes me past some interesting landmarks. Vermont is dotted with small, family-centered and local cemeteries that are often on less-traveled back roads and overgrown logging trails. Up the road from my home is an example of one of those cemeteries. I love to wander around and read the grave markers imagining their lives on the hill way back then. While some of these cemeteries are no longer maintained, a local family keeps this one mowed and stones are repaired as needed.

View from the ridge along my walking route. This summer home near me has a commanding view of the Green Mountains.
Just look at all those leaves defining the pathway!! I’m in heaven!
Woodland ferns stand out against the fallen leaves
Beech leaves are dominating the forest right now!
Wide open view in the narrow valley along my walk.

We typically think of autumn as the end of the flowering season but close observation reveals those late blooming flowers, grasses and fruits can be just as remarkable as mid-summer blossoms. In my garden, I’m enjoying late-season sedum, phlox, witchhazel, purple coneflower, switchgrass and red winterberry fruits. Nature is providing vivid color from asters and goldenrods growing in the fields and along the roadsides.

Purple Coneflower
Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’
Winterberry Holly

When I was homeschooling my younger son during his mid-elementary years, we had the freedom to embark on a Fall road trip to visit some relatives in Pennsylvania. On our way back home, we stopped at a rest area on Interstate 84 near Scranton. The rest area was shaded by massive oak trees and as we wandered around admiring these impressive giants, we noticed an enormous amount of acorns on the ground. An idea was quickly formulated to surprise my husband with these precious seeds. We grabbed a bag from the car and scooped up as many as we could. This exercise became a “impromptu” science lesson on the life cycle of an acorn!

Oak trees do not grow naturally in our microclimate in Vermont. They are more prevalent along the warmer bodies of water near Lake Champlain and the Connecticut River valley. They are hardy here, however, and our love of oak trees (derived from growing up in Pennsylvania) has not diminished since moving to Vermont. We planted the acorns back in Vermont and now have some oak trees on our property to enjoy! Several years ago, we transplanted two of the white oaks to our back yard. I call them the “twin oaks” and they are now in excess of 20 feet tall and rendering a beautiful burgundy Fall color.

White oak fall color!

I hope you were entertained by this recent photographic journey highlighting Fall in Vermont – and the inclusion of the memories it evokes of the past.

Vermont Fall Series 10.1.20 Lake Champlain Get-Away

View from Mount Philo

Day 2

On our second day at Button Bay State Park we decided to take a road trip to a couple of other local places of interest. Our first stop was Mount Philo State Park in Charlotte, Vermont where we hoped to enjoy a short hike to the summit for some awesome views of the valley and Lake Champlain.

Being a gorgeous Fall day and also Saturday, we should have anticipated the crowds. The parking lot just inside the entrance gate was approaching capacity when we arrived and we considered turning around and visiting another day. But, in the end, we parked the truck and decided to brave the onslaught of happy hikers. Masks on, we took the advice of the very friendly and competent gate attendants, and hiked up the trail and down the road. Thus, completing a loop that would possibly alleviate some of the congestion on the trail.

Mount Philo State Park was Vermont’s first official state park. Before being sold to the state, the owners of a private inn at the base of the mountain constructed a carriage road for their guests that led to the summit. Once the state gained possession, the Civilian Conservation Corps was enlisted to improve the area. A ranger station, campground, mountain-top lodge and picnic area are examples of their work. Check out this great historical account of the CCC’s work in Vermont.

The day we hiked to the summit it was unbelievably hazy. I’m not sure if this was due to lingering smoke haze from the fires out west. It did mean that photography was a challenge. It was almost impossible to get a good clear photo that outlined the Adirondacks and showcased the valley below. The Summit Trail was under construction is sections and there were a couple of detours along the way.

Trail work along the Summit Trail
More trail improvement….

While in high school, both of my sons worked one summer for the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps and this is the type of project they would have completed. I don’t know who was responsible for this trail work but it reminded me of their experience. The organization offers students and young adults an exceptional opportunity to earn money and gain an appreciation for the outdoors, all while improving our public lands.

Looking down on Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks from the summit

This was my best attempt at a landscape photo from the summit! It required considerable editing in Lightroom to pull in the Adirondack skyline and it’s still very hazy! It does however capture the essence of the Champlain Valley. 🙂

I noticed these signs at the summit of Mt. Philo and was pleased to see that a local boy scout troop was active here. We are a boy scout family and I love to come across evidence of the stewardship they provide in their local communities.

After completing our hike, we drove to our next destination where we intended to eat our picnic lunch. I’m a member of Escapee’s RV Club and write occasional articles for them as well. In a recent edition, there was a short article about the Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburgh, Vermont. I was happy to discover that we were very close to this place!

Robinson Homestead at Rokeby Museum

The museum is housed in a separate building from the farmhouse and outbuildings and includes a small gift shop, a second floor permanent exhibit space and a first floor rotating exhibit hall. The homestead was called Rokeby and was inhabited by several generations of the Robinson family from 1793 until 1961. The Robinsons settled in Vermont and were Quaker abolitionists. The entire site is a National Historic Landmark and one of the best in the country for its Underground Railroad history. The National Park Service says it is “unrivaled among known sites for its historical integrity and the poignancy of the stories it tells.”

Of course I was very interested in the strategy of using public libraries to spread the word about the anti-slavery movement!

The second floor permanent exhibit is titled Free and Safe: The Underground Railroad in Vermont. It tells the story of two fugitives from slavery who found shelter and work on the Robinson farm. The Robinsons were meticulous at preserving valuable written accounts of their years on the farm. They also saved everything so the grounds and house provide artifacts and architecture that offers a true glimpse into the past. I highly recommend spending time exploring the museum exhibits and well-preserved grounds and buildings. There’s a natural history trail guide that helps explain various aspects of the farm as you stroll the area. You can access the website above for a virtual tour of the museum.

Some of the outbuildings on the farm
The plague was located behind some overgrown shrubbery – lucky I stumbled on it!
There were groves of Black Walnuts everywhere! Not something we typically see in Central Vermont!
Spread out around the grounds are many picnic tables. A great place to just come and enjoy the peace and quiet for a lunchtime outing!

We got back to the campground in time to prepare and eat dinner before biking out to the point for yet another spectacular sunset!

Day 3

We spent our remaining full day mostly just hanging out at Button Bay. In the morning, I had the idea to drive over to Kingsland Bay State Park, which was close by and also on the lake shore. When we arrived, we discovered it was closed for the season! How disappointing! We did find a sheltered spot on the bay along Town Beach Road where we sat on some rocks and ate our picnic lunch!

From here we watched as a small sailboat blew over from the wind! There were several people out there trying to right it – not sure if they were successful.
We ate lunch on the rocks just below this cute little cabin overlooking Kingsland Bay.

Back at the campsite after lunch, we walked the shoreline of Lake Champlain and, due to low water levels, accessed Ship Island by foot. It was a nice relaxing day of quiet exploration.

Love the color of the grasses!!

Ship Island

The point on Ship Island – it was very windy and choppy on the lake!!
Can you spot the duck blind???
Looking towards Ship Island (or Ship Point) as we headed for our third sunset of the trip!!

More amazing sunsets photos!! 🙂

Vermont Fall Series: 9.30.20 Lake Champlain Get-Away

Button Bay Point

It’s been a busy September with multiple short interstate trips to New Hampshire, New Jersey and within my home state of Vermont. Between these excursions and completing projects at home before winter sets in, I’ve not found the time or energy to write and process photographs this past month. It feels good to break that silence and get back to a writing routine!

Every year, the looming threat of winter sends my husband and I into panic mode as we try to negotiate the completion of outdoor projects. This year, due to Covid-19, we had the luxury of spending most of the summer on much needed exterior renovations that alleviated some of our usual end of season rush. Although we’ve accomplished much, our sense of urgency still permeates our daily thought processes!

Early last week, my husband completed some foundation work in the front of the house and his “old” bones and muscles were feeling the effects. With an unbelievably warm weather outlook for the weekend, I suggested a 4-day break from work. He did not hesitate to agree with me! My proposal included a much-needed “fix” in our Airstream which has been parked in our driveway since May. I secured a campsite at Button Bay State Park located on the shores of Lake Champlain and we spent some beautiful Fall days hiking and biking in the Champlain Valley.

We have probably just reached peak Fall color season here in Vermont. I seems early and it definitely caught us by surprise! It was nice to be enjoying the change of season along the lake – a different experience from our “middle-of-the-state” hilly terrain – with it’s less diverse plant community.

We arrived on Thursday mid-afternoon and proceeded to get all set up on Site #18. While the site I chose is not in the loop that has lake views, it proved to be much more private and an excellent choice. The lake view loop is an open, grassy area with little to no privacy between sites. I was happy with my decision to choose a more protected spot! With the exception of the driveway onto the site, we were completely surrounding by thick vegetation and could not see another campsite from our enclosure! 🙂

Our first evening campfire!

By the time we finished settling in, it was dinner time. While I fixed us a one-bowl meal, Jim built a campfire. We broke from the norm and actually enjoyed a fire every evening. Besides the two bundles of wood we purchased from the park, we found enough leftover firewood at a nearby empty site to last us through 3 nights of campfires. 🙂 Thursday night we just relaxed around camp and planned out the next day. We also enjoyed the almost empty campground and quiet knowing things would change come tomorrow evening with the weekend crowd.

Day 1

Trail leading to Button Point Natural Area

We have traveled to this area a few times over the years when our boys were small to visit the nearby Maritime Museum. But, we had not camped at Button Bay prior to this visit. Our first day here we chose to explore the immediate area including the state park and the Basin Harbor area. After a leisurely breakfast, we hiked to the Button Point Natural Area. This is a 13+ acre peninsula that juts into Lake Champlain. We loved the walk out to the point through the forested land rich with a diversity of plant material including mature oaks, hickories, maples and hophornbeams. This undisturbed area boasts a collection of many state-listed rare and endangered species as well due to the fertile limey soils. The unique limestone geology of the area also provides a good environment to hunt for fossils along the rocky point. Unfortunately, the nature center is closed due to Covid-19 so we could not get more information regarding the above.

During our visit, the trees were really starting to dress for Fall .

The trail to the natural area is hiker and biker friendly. At the nature center, there are bike racks so that the short path to the point from there can be designated as a foot path only. We walked along the shoreline on our way back as far as we could. Due to the drought this summer, Lake Champlain is experiencing historic low levels of water. From a distance, we watched the antics of a red fox basking in the sun on the rocky coast.

The first day the lake was very still and the water fowl lingered along the shore.
I love the Fall color patterns of the reeds and grasses in the marshland.
At the point looking towards Button Island

On our way back to the campsite for lunch, we detoured through the day use area to admire the architecture of the picnic pavilion. Most of the day use area facilities were closed including the pool and the pavilion was not being used for its intended purposes. Pre-Covid, it would have been an awesome place for a large gathering – with its magnificent view of the lake.

View of the lake from the picnic pavilion

There’s a short path that connects the two camping loops and is accessed directly across from our site. I loved the way the vegetation framed our rig as you walked along the path! 🙂

After lunch, we hopped on the bikes for the short ride over to Basin Harbor to see if we could walk the grounds of the Maritime Museum. Unfortunately, the museum and grounds are closed due to Covid-19. Check out the website for more information on the Maritime Museum. We’ll just have to come again another time!! We did scope out the grounds from the parking lot.

Love the sailboat weathervane on the cupola!

We left the museum and continued on into the Basin Harbor resort area and golf course. We cycled around there taking in the sights – from the harbor view to the old original stone farmhouse with its landscaped grounds. There was no shortage of out-of-state license plates! If a pampered vacation destination is your desire, then you will not be disappointed here!

Basin Harbor marina
The arbor and patio adjacent to the original stone farmhouse
This hedge of hydrangeas with deep red flowers surrounding the patio was absolutely breathtaking!

We returned to our campsite for dinner and then rode our bikes out to Button Point for the sunset. Spectacular!! We followed that up with another relaxing campfire and turned in for the night – a perfect day! Tomorrow, I’ll continue the Lake Champlain adventures with our trip to another local state park and a pretty neat museum.

Vermont Summer Series 8.29.20 Burlington Waterfront

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Looking towards the Adirondacks from the Burlington Waterfront

Weary of working on projects at home, Jim and I decided a road trip was in order!  The adventure was twofold.  We needed to replace the battery in the car in preparation for my September sojourn to Stone Harbor, NJ.  And, we wanted a change of pace and a change of scenery!  So, with that in mind, our day trip took us to the Burlington area and Interstate Batteries located in Williston, VT.

After taking care of the battery, we headed on down to the Burlington Waterfront. Operated by the Burlington Parks and Recreation Department, the waterfront is constantly changing. Over the 20 years we’ve been visiting the Burlington waterfront, there have been many renovations and improvements to the experience.

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The waterfront area supports a recreation path called the Burlington Greenway that meanders along the coastline for a total of around 8 miles. This path also connects to other trail systems in the area so that your ride can be extended.

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Jim walking on part of the path along the Waterfront Park

Normally, we like to get a sandwich at the Burlington Bay Cafe since it’s just a block from the lakeshore. Due to Covid-19, we opted for take-out and found a cozy bench down near the ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, a waterfront science museum, to enjoy our lunch.  Afterwards, we took a relaxing walk through Waterfront Park and the coastline of Burlington Bay.

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ECHO museum skyline

I’m always looking to discover new, or previously unnoticed, additions to the area. As we walked through the Waterfront Park, I noticed an historical marker that I had not seen before. Since the subject was ice hockey, I was immediately engaged!  Apparently, the first international ice hockey game took place in Burlington!

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Further along the recreational path, there were some unusual boats moored up near the Burlington Waterfront Boat Ramp. I noticed an emblem on the boats with the words “Dragonheart Vermont” and “breast cancer survivor and supporter dragon boat team.” That piqued my interest! Jim and I walked down to examine the watercraft more closely. It appeared that the boats were human-powered with paddles and had about 10 wide two-person seats. An interpretive sign nearby offered some background on the unique boats and their origin.  It’s an inspiring story and worth reading about the history of the group.   Dragonheart Vermont began in 2004 as a breast cancer support group. The movement started with one boat and has grown to include 10 boats and 200 members. Some members compete worldwide in dragon boat races.  This sport originated more than 2500 years ago in small Chinese fishing villages along the Yangtze River. Very cool!!

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As we approached the old Moran Plant, once an operating coal plant and now a historical landmark, we noticed construction was underway and were curious what is to become of this abandoned building. Another website indicated what might have been the most recent renovation plan but appears to be a project that was rejected in 2016. There seemed to be something happening though.  A gentleman walking by me as I was taking pictures mentioned that an announcement would be forthcoming on what the new plans will encompass. I did some research once I returned home and found the City of Burlington Moran Plant website that details a new plan to incorporate portions of the historic building into the waterfront park in several stages. Check out the phased renovation on the website!  Should be fun to see the transformation!

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Construction works on the top of the Moran Plant

Behind the Moran Plant is the waterfront’s newest park, the Water Works Park. It opened in 2019 and provides additional access to the waters edge. There’s a pretty cool fishing pier and green space which incorporates native plants and benches. Definitely an improvement over the old, hidden, crumbling parking lot that occupied this site. We used to drive down here to park behind the City’s Water Treatment Facility so we could avoid metered parking! It was a little known “free” parking area at that time.

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Fishing Pier at Water Works Park

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Another view of the pier 🙂

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Native plantings of perennials and grasses

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Beautiful out-of-the-way spot to enjoy some peace along the waterfront!

Always fun to stroll along Burlington Bay and enjoy the vibrant scene along the lakeshore!!

We usually stop and watch the skateboarders at the Andy A Dog Williams Skatepark on our return trip.  I prefer not to take pictures as some folks might not want their photos online.  So, you’ll just have to imagine!

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Two winters ago when the lake was frozen we walked out to the Burlington Breakwater Historical Landmark!

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Part of the paved bike/walking trail with Jim up ahead carrying our lunch bag 😉

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So peaceful!!  View from Waterfront Park

At the end of our journey along the waterfront, we had worked up a thirst and popped into the Foam Brewers for a cold one.  It was a little weird due to Covid-19.  They preferred reservations since both outdoor and indoor dining required physical distancing.  They finally fit us into a 45 minute slot outside.  We had to access the beer choices on their website in order to choose our beverage since they were not giving out paper menus.  I was having trouble finding the place where the beer descriptions were detailed online so we just asked the waitress to recommend what was popular.  That was a mistake!  The beer we chose was a little too citrus-flavored for our taste but it was cold and refreshing nonetheless!  After we took a sip of our beer, I finally found the descriptions.  Jim’s beer was Lord Leopard DIPA and the description is “Conditioned On Passionfruit. Tasting Notes: Soft, Resinous Ripe Pineapple, Fresh Squeezed Tangerine Juice.”  Yuk!  If he had read that beforehand, he definitely would not have ordered this one!  I tried the Blossom Pale Ale which is described as “Lemon Bar, Tepache, Lime. Brewed In Collaboration With Foster Farm Botanicals. Brewed With Anice Hissop, Chamomile And Lemon Balm.”   Since I do like a little citrus flavor in my beer at times, this was tolerable for me – just a tad more fruity than I would have liked.  🙂

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Vermont Summer Series 8.24.20 Splitting Wood


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Love seeing that pile of wood!

There’s an old saying that goes something like this:  Wood warms you three times – when you cut it, when you split it, and when you burn it.  I would argue that it warms you more times than 3 – when you haul it indoors, load the stove, and clean out the ashes!

I remember the first time I was introduced to the concept of splitting wood. It was the first summer of my employment at the Stone Valley Recreation Area as a Pennsylvania State University work-study student. Stone Valley is owned and operated by Penn State for the purpose of outdoor recreation and education. It also serves as a hands-on outdoor learning center for various college departments including the forest management department.

The 700+ acre property is located just under 20 miles from State College, PA – the home of Penn State – and includes Lake Perez and surrounding forest land with over 20 miles of hiking trails. It was a dream work-study position! I worked there for 2 seasons which translated to full-time in the summer and weekends in the fall. I was leaving town just as the masses were arriving for the infamous Penn State football games.  I happily waved to the bumper to bumper traffic as I exited State College to go and play in the woods.

My responsibilities generally revolved around staffing the two boat rental offices. One of these was located at the park’s main west entrance where we rented primarily canoes and rowboats. The other boathouse was located across the lake at the east entrance to Stone Valley. This is where we rented small sailboats called Flying J’s. I’m sure all that has changed now but back in the late 1970’s that was the arrangement.

I met a fellow Penn State employee who was a student in the forestry department that first summer. (I was a Parks and Recreation major.) His name was Tom and he worked primarily behind the scenes doing “forestry” type tasks. We built a strong friendship during my last two years at Penn State.  On occasion, when times were slow in the boathouse, I was assigned other jobs. One of those chores was splitting wood from trees felled on the property. We used a mechanical log splitter and Tom was my teacher. He was a patient and detailed “wood-splitting” mentor and we had lots of fun working together that summer. There’s something very rewarding when you see that firewood start to pile up throughout the day!

Tom also showed me the fine art of changing a flat tire that summer! In 1978, the Teamster’s Local 8, which represented Penn State’s technical services workers, went on strike. They picketed out at Stone Valley during that time and we had to cross their picket line to get to work. On one occasion, a picketer got the bright idea to sabotage us and they peppered the road with nails unbeknownst to us! I had never changed a tire before, and Tom came to my rescue! It was heart-breaking to leave work that day and discover a flat tire on my beloved “three-on-the-tree” Plymouth Duster. I still remember his methodical step-by-step instructions on changing tires safely!

Fast forward two years. I had graduated from Penn State and eventually made my way back to southeastern Pennsylvania. It was not long before I met my future husband, Jim, while working a truck-stop waitress position. I worked the middle shift at the Birmingham Grille diner so that I could job search during the day and Jim was one of my first customers. But, that’s another story. What is significant is that he operated his own tree-trimming business. You guessed it! That meant he had a lot of firewood to split and sell!  I seemed destined to befriend guys who loved trees!

Jim had a Lickity-brand Log Splitter at that time.  It was a real workhorse of a machine bordering on dangerous at times! I can remember pieces of wood literally flying off the wedge, the hydraulics were so powerful. We used that machine for many, many years until Jim sold the business and we moved to Vermont.

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In action!

Since we’ve burned wood all our married life as a source of heat, you might say that I have split my fair share of wood over the years! After moving to Vermont, we eventually decided to purchase another log splitter. My son, Luke, started scanning Craig’s List and found a gem of a splitter. It’s a Split-fire SS294. While a tad slower than the Lickity (and therefore safer!), it has a 4-way wedge and splits in both directions. So, ultimately, it’s more efficient! My wood splitting days were numbered then as the the boys were able to operate the machine. And, once they flew the coop, we started burning more fuel oil and took a break from processing wood.

Well, we’re back at it! With the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are preparing for winter in Vermont and back at the wood-splitting game! It’s still remains very rewarding physical labor and I still love seeing that firewood pile up as we work through the logs.

The day we were to start splitting up the 5+ cords of wood was also the morning I rose early to see if I could get a glimpse of the Perseid meteor shower.   I set up my camera, tripod and shutter cable release and waited.  Unfortunately, it was a little cloudy and I only saw one meteor.  But, I sat outside from 3:30 am on and watched the day dawn.  It was magical!  🙂

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Venus and the Moon in the early morning hours

As I sipped my coffee and snuggled under a quilt in my Adirondack chair, I snapped some photos of the surrounding garden as well.  🙂

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At the end of the day, I certainly felt like I had done some work!!  Up at 3:30 am along with completing a day of physical labor will do that!   I was happy when Jim had another thought for the next day’s work.

We were splitting some wood for my sister-in-law in exchange for some of the firewood and got a little side-tracked!  Her son has a band saw mill and Jim and his friend, Bill (the maple syrup guy), decided to play around with it and saw some logs – some of Bill’s lumber and some of my nephew’s cherry logs. It was a nice diversion from wood-splitting!  I got a break and just enjoyed taking pictures! 🙂

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Unloading Bill’s maple logs

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Loading the maple log onto the mill

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Dusty job!

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Switching operators!!

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Re-positioning the log on the mill

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The maple logs had some old tap holes for a nice effect!!

Just another day in the life of our Vermont summer 2020! 🙂





Great American Outdoors Act

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One of my favorite photographs of the Rio Grande as it winds its way through Big Bend National Park.

After composing yesterday’s post and commenting on the lack of adequate funding for the NPS, I feel the need to react to an article I read this morning concerning the passing of the Great American Outdoors Act.  I was aware that this proposal was working its way through Congress but I did not realize it had actually been passed into law with bi-partisan support on August 5, 2020.  

I decided to dig deeper and comment on the ramifications this bill creates for the park service and all of our public lands.  On the surface, it appears to be an important piece of legislation that will provide on-going support for our national public lands.

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Oxbow Bend – Grand Teton National Park

The act establishes the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund.  The purpose of this fund is to address the backlog of deferred maintenance projects that have been piling up and added to each year on our public lands.  It provides for approximately 1.5 billion dollars each year for the next 5 years to be allocated to parks in support of these projects.  The bill also permanently secures 900 million dollars annually to the coffers of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.  Much of this funding is currently and will continue to be generated via energy development revenues from initiatives on our public lands.  As the senate bill states, “For FY2021-FY2025, there shall be deposited into the fund an amount equal to 50% of all federal revenues from the development of oil, gas, coal, or alternative or renewable energy on federal lands and waters. Deposited amounts must not exceed $1.9 billion for any fiscal year.”

According to the bill, the breakdown in funding is as follows:  70% of funds will go to the National Park Service, 15% of funds to the US Forest Service and 5% of the funds to each of the following agencies – US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Education.

In addition, there are restrictions on what projects can be funded and how the monies are divided up.  Sixty-five percent of the funding must go to non-transportation projects and none of the money can be used for regularly occurring annual maintenance operations.

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Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada

I certainly believe this is a step in the right direction.  Reaction to the passage of this law has been mixed.  While some are calling this the greatest piece of conservation legislation to be passed in decades, others are positing an alternative, more cautious, viewpoint.  

I read an interesting piece published in The Harvard Gazette that shares an interview with Linda Bilmes.  According to the article, her background includes serving on the “National Parks Second Century Commission and on the U.S. Department of Interior National Parks Advisory Committee from 2011 to 2017.”  She also co-authored “Valuing U.S. National Parks and Programs: America’s Best Investment” and is a leading expert on how the National Park Service budgeting process works.  

She makes a case that this funding is seriously needed and welcomed.  She also admits that it is not, however, a panacea.   The funding process within the park service is complicated.  It’s a government organization after all!  Parks derive their funding from multiple sources – user fees, private non-profit organizations, and donations.  In her opinion, more is needed to reform these other revenue streams if the parks are to remain stable.  She states that the public actually supports funding 30 times more than this bill allows, which is what is actually needed.   The backlog of maintenance projects has a price tag of well over 12 billion dollars – more than double what is being allocated by the GAO Act.  And, this number increases every year.

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Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park

Bilme is not the only person who suggests that this act does not go far enough.  Margaret Wells, a senior fellow with Resources for the Future, agrees that this funding is inadequate.  She states in an interview with The National Parks Traveler that “This is a Band-Aid. It’s fine, it’s good to get some money, an infusion of cash, to solve some of these problems, that’s great, but it doesn’t really address the long-term problem, which, as you said, the deficit grows every year and they continue to add to this list of projects that need to be done.  Unless you have a better ongoing funding situation for the parks, you’re still going to run into this problem over time.”

John Garder, the senior director of budget and appropriations for the National Park Conservation Association commented, “The Great Americans Outdoors Act will be a huge success for repairing our national parks and other public lands. But it is not a be-all, end-all solution to the challenge of parks keeping up with needed repairs.”

It’s interesting to note the paradox of this type of legislation being passed at this time – with an administration that has worked tirelessly to undermine our parks over the past 4 years.  According to Bilme, during this administration the following has occurred.  I quote her from the article:

“The Trump administration has undermined public land protection more than any in my lifetime. It slashed Bear Ears National Monument in Utah by 85 percent, reduced Grand Staircase Escalante by 50 percent, removed protection for millions of acres of sage-grouse habitat in Western states, opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and most of the U.S. coastline to oil and gas drilling, reduced protections for wetlands, and weakened the Endangered Species Act. Earlier this year, Trump proposed cutting discretionary spending on the Land and Water Conservation Fund by 97 percent.  As recently as last month, the president held a huge event at Mount Rushmore, refusing to honor the park superintendent’s request to cancel it due to high fire risk at the adjacent forest — a ban has been in place for a decade.”

So, why the bipartisan support?  I guess we should thank the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting economic crisis for this turn-around.  And, the fact that it is an election year.  As people flock to parks during the pandemic, there has been an increasing awareness and support for our public lands.  This has been acknowledged by many Republicans up for re-election and the bill has gained traction this year as a result.  Interesting to note that this bill was originally introduced by the late Rep. John Lewis in March of 2019.  It was re-introduced in March of 2020 by Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado who is up for re-election this year against a formidable democratic opponent.  The same scenario exists in the state of Montana with Senator Steve Daines.  Bilme posits that the only reason Trump signed this legislation was to aid those senators in their bid to retain their senate seats, especially since he “had rejected previous efforts to fund the LWCF.”   

I’m happy the Great American Outdoors Act has been signed into law, whatever the motivation.  As others have stated, it will provide some much needed money to chip away at all these long-standing maintenance issues in our parks.  It will also provide some 100,000 plus jobs – replacing at least some that were lost as a result of the pandemic.  Let’s be clear.  We still need to be vigilant and continue to find ways to provide on-going, adequate funding for our public lands.  For now, let’s be thankful for what will be a start towards improving our park infrastructure. 

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Las Cienegas National Conservation Area in Arizona

Vermont Summer Series 8.16.20 Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park

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View from the porch of Aspet looking through the grape vine arbor towards a cloud-covered Mt. Ascutney

On Sunday August 16th, I embarked on a road trip with a friend to visit Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park.   We traveled across the Connecticut River to our neighboring state of New Hampshire and the town of Cornish. The only national park in New Hampshire, Saint-Gaudens NHP preserves and promotes the legacy of the renowned American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

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View of Aspet from the Little Studio building

Augustus Saint-Gaudens is perhaps best known for his numerous Civil War commemorative monuments honoring that era’s heroes. He was also adept at creating relief portraits and cameos and was commissioned by President Theodore Roosevelt to design a 10 and 20-dollar gold coin for the US Mint. These coins were minted until 1933.

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Phlox garden adjacent to one side of the house

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Thornless Honey Locust planted by the house in 1886 is said to be the largest in the U.S.

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A monumentally impressive tree!!!!

Saint-Gauden’s decision to take up residence in Cornish, NH initiated a snowball effect that convinced other artists to migrate to the area. The Cornish Art Colony formed around 1885 and included sculptors, writers, painters, actresses and actors, poets, musicians, landscape architects and interior decorators. Along with sister art communities in New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut, the colony served to provide a peaceful, quiet and beautiful place to work as well as intellectual stimulation for the many artists who settled here.

The national historic park showcases Saint-Gaudens home “Aspet”, the landscaped grounds and woodland trails, his studio and examples of his artwork. In 2010, ownership of the adjacent property, Blow Me Down Farm, was transferred to the National Park Service. Plans are underway to develop this farm further as a “National Park for the Arts” in partnership with Opera North, a local non-profit performing arts organization.

While the buildings remain closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the grounds and trails are open from dawn until dusk. Strolling the park at a leisurely pace, examining the outdoor sculptures and walking the Ravine Trail proved a great way to spend a lazy Sunday in summer!

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Grape pergola outside the Little Studio

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Mediterranean-style architecture along the outside wall of the Little Studio featured casts from the Parthenon frieze

One of the most impressive sculptures on the property is the Shaw Memorial.  It honors the service of the Union Army Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the first African-American regiment (the 54th Massachusetts) he commanded during the Civil War.  A cast of the original sculpture in Boston, the sculpture depicts the regiment on their march through Boston as they depart for the war.  During the war, Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts regiment fought in the battle of Fort Wagner near Charleston, South Carolina.  Shaw lost his life during this engagement as did many soldiers in his regiment.  Their inspiring story is said to have led to more African Americans enlisting to fight for the Union and, as a result, was considered an important turning point of the war against the Confederacy. 

We spent some time examining the frieze-like sculpture up close and personal.  The detail is astonishing! 🙂 

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Another interesting sculpture is the recast of the funerary memorial to Marian “Clover” Hooper Adams, wife of historian Henry Adams, that is located in the Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington D.C.  The interpretive sign on site indicated that both male and female models were used to render the figure. 

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Adams Memorial

Abraham Lincoln: The Man is a 12-foot tall statue of our 16th President.  The original bronze sculpture resides in Lincoln Park along the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago.  It was dedicated in 1887.  It was while working on this commission that Augustus Saint-Gaudens was enticed to visit Cornish, New Hampshire.  He subsequently purchased a summer home and studio.  An interesting side note, he discovered one of his models for the Lincoln sculpture in nearby Windsor, Vermont.  A 6-foot tall farmer named Langdon Morse.  I was especially impressed by the engraving in the back of the Chair of State.

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After strolling around the manicured grounds, we followed a short trail that descends into a ravine and follows the Blow Me Down Creek.  The trail led to a dammed up “swimming hole” used by the Saint-Gauden family.  Ascending the trail at the other end, we walked out of the woods into a clearing that is home to the Temple monument.  It was originally built as a back-drop for a play presented by the original Cornish Art Colony community.  It now serves as the burial place for the Saint-Gaudens family.  

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The Temple

On our way back to the truck, we veered through the cutting garden near the house,  which included a good variety of flowers blooming.  I thought the garden looked a tad tired, though, and in need of some maintenance.  In fact, most of the interpretive signs throughout the grounds are long past due for replacement and upgrading.  In my extensive travels through many of our national parks, I have noticed this kind of deterioration throughout our parks.  It saddens me deeply.  Our national parks and historic sites are our heritage and, as such, should be valued and adequately funded.  There exists a serious backlog of maintenance projects in all parks and it’s about time we prioritized the development and on-going support for these beautiful lands instead of trying to push through funds for something as utterly ridiculous and useless as a “border wall.”  That’s all I’m going to say about that!

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After touring the grounds, we departed Saint-Gaudens NHP in search of a good place to enjoy a picnic lunch.  We had noticed an historic grist mill near the entrance to Saint-Gaudens and found a spot to pull over and eat.  The mill is actually part of the original Blow Me Down Farm that is now part of the national park.  

We ate lunch on the stone wall that once bordered old Route 12A and was part of the bridge that spanned the creek.  Underneath the spot where we dined, the creek flows through the tunnel.  Route 12A was eventually re-routed to straighten the road and the old road is now a grassy area where you can park and enjoy the scenery and walk the Blow Me Down Trail that leads back up to Saint-Gaudens.  

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Loved the detail of the stone bench incorporated into the stone wall

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View of the dam and the grist mill from along the creek bed.

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The tunnel that supported the original Route 12A roadbed. 

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While outwardly it seems like a very simple design, the mill has a lot of architectural details upon closer inspection!   Love that building!

All in all, a wonderful day spent exploring this national historic park.  Thanks to my traveling buddy, Beth Ann, for accompanying me!!  




Vermont Summer Series 8.10.20 Averill Road Trip

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Taking a break from kayaking for a swim on Little Averill Lake

“Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.”  I’ve always been fascinated with how an author begins a novel.  Just how do they decide what the first line(s) will be?  Does the first sentence appear to them and the tale is spun from there?  Or, is the novel written first without an opening and only then does the inspiration for the first sentence emerge?  I suspect both scenarios occur, and many others as well!

I thought it would be fun to research some first lines in various novels and see if I could somehow apply them to my current state of mind.  It also might inadvertently provide me with some more reading material that might not otherwise have appeared on my radar screen!

The first line in this blog post comes from the novel Back When We Were Grownups, by Anne Tyler.  I haven’t read this novel as yet, but the story line is based on a 50-something widow who begins to examine what her life might have been had she chosen a different trajectory.  Ultimately, the underlying theme suggests the answer lies in loving the life you have now.  As soon as I read that “first line,” it seemed to describe me perfectly at this junction in my life!

I think we all pause at times (more often later in life!) and reflect on how our lives might have evolved had we made different choices along the way.  Living in the present and choosing to be happily in love with one’s current situation is something I spend a great deal of time contemplating these days.  With the disruption the Covid-19 pandemic has caused in my life and others, I have begun to question some decisions I’ve made over the years.  As I examine how I might have done things differently – so that I would be in a better place today or be a better, different person – I find that I generally come full circle around to a conclusion that I’m indeed grateful for what I have accomplished and who I am.  I have definitely indulged in a bit of retrospection regarding my life during these troubling times!  And, that reflection is grounding me and helping me re-focus my priorities and move forward.

As Jack Kerouac said, “Be in love with your life.  Every minute of it.”  That’s the philosophy I choose to embrace as I navigate through the ever-changing waters of life as we know it right now.  With that in mind, I decided it was time for a little “get away” from our project-laced several months at home.  We needed rest and relaxation!  And I desperately longed for a good kayak paddle on a quiet pond.

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The cloud reflections on the calm water of Little Averill Lake were surreal!  

My sister-in-law suggested a trip to her cabin up in the Northeast Kingdom.  She had been longing to spend some time there and wanted company.  I had not been to this spot since the cabin was under construction years ago, so I was game to check it out.   The cabin sits between Great Averill Lake and Little Averill Lake near the Canadian border and is part of the Averill Recreational Camp Owner’s, Inc. private property.

It’s rustic and small –  a one room cabin with a sleeping loft and an outhouse.  No electricity, no cell service, no internet, no running water.  The warm glow of oil lamp wall scounces and candle lanterns  provide a soothing ambience at night.  A perfect spot to enjoy nature, read, hike, ride bikes and paddle!  The weather was awesome during our 4-day stay and we spent leisurely hours just relaxing and taking advantage of all the remote area has to offer.  A much needed respite from all the “noise” of every day life.

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Our first full day, we decided to bike in the morning to check out Little Averill Lake.  It was very windy on the lakes so we opted to scope out the boat launch area for another day and stop by the Hanging Rock Trail on our way back.  After lunch back at the cabin, a lazy afternoon on the Great Averill Beach was spent – napping, reading and listening to the loons.

Bike ride to Little Averill

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On our ride back from Little Averill, Trudy suggested stopping off at a trail head and taking a short hike to the geological feature called the “Hanging Rock.”  It was a beautifully enchanting spot with this insane rock overhang!  I imagined that at any moment fairies, elves or gnomes might emerge from the surrounding woodland to greet us!

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I woke up the second day before the others and, with coffee mug in hand, took a walk down the dirt road to listen to the birds and loosen up a bit.  The stillness of the air meant it was possibly going to be a perfect paddle day!  We opted for a quick breakfast of yogurt, granola, fresh blueberries and bananas so we could get over to Little Averill Lake while the wind was calm.  I’m not sure there could have been a more ideal day to be on the lake!  I paddled my kayak while Jim and his sister, Trudy, canoed in our Bell canoe.

We were entertained by several loons and had the rare pleasure of watching an adult loon feeding its chick!

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On the far side of the lake is a nice beach area where we pulled over for a snack and a quick swim in the frigid water!  I watched a sandpiper meandering along the creek that fed the lake for quite a while.  He scooted along quickly and was very busy.  It was hard to get a clear shot!

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Took a swim and had a snack on this sandy beach!

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Sandpiper, I think, cruising along the creek flowing into the lake


Jim at Little Averill Lake boat launch
End of our awesome paddle!

We spent the remainder of the day back at the cabin relaxing and preparing the fire ring for an evening campfire.  A short walk after dinner capped off a perfect day!

Great get-away and good company!! 🙂