Mud Season

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Some Springs start early or on time; birds chirping, warm mornings, Snow Drops looking happy as they raise their heads skyward gauging the progress of the season.

Sometimes, Winter keeps it’s cold, bony grip, slowing the season’s advance. Snowpack all but gone, squalls leave just enough snow to keep the mud from drying out. Damp days hover around freezing, keeping aches in joints, gray skies defeating the sun’s soothing rays, clouding one’s spirits, testing one’s faith.

A cold Spring makes it hard to remember Summer.

With the perspective of more than half a century of Springs, one realizes, regardless of the current season’s demeanor, just as morning has no choice but to follow dawn, Spring must prevail.

The sun will shine warmly, mud will warm to rich earth, flowers and grass will sprout, birds will sing.

Once this happens, one realizes that warm and pleasant, or cold and uncomfortable, all Springs are necessary; the earth needs it’s rest, we need it’s bounty.

Perhaps more than any other season, Spring teaches us most about faith.

Pileated Woodpecker

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The commute to work the other morning was interrupted by loud drumming coming from somewhere in the yard. I had a pretty good idea of the source, and returned to the house for my camera. Resuming my commute, a pileated woodpecker flushed from the other side of the walking apple tree; I snapped a picture of him as he flew out of the yard.

They are a startlingly large and beautiful bird. Smaller woodpeckers are fairly abundant, but other than old Saturday morning cartoons, (Woody Woodpecker is a pileated woodpecker), most people never see a pileated woodpecker, noted to be uncommon in these parts.

Wikpedi reports the following: The Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) is a very large North American woodpecker, roughly crow-sized, inhabiting deciduous forests in eastern North America, the Great Lakes, the boreal forests of Canada, and parts of the Pacific coast. It is also the largest woodpecker in the United States, except the possibly extinct Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Adults are 16 to 19 in long, span 26 to 30 in across the wings, with an average weight of 11 oz.

Robin

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This fellow picked his way through the mud of the driveway yesterday – who knows why. Doesn’t seem like there would be any worms poking up through the frosty ground quite yet. Geese have been flying low headed north for the past week, but today, with squalls, gusty winds and temps in the low 20’s it feels more like mid-winter than the cusp of spring.

Twenty years ago, it was a fairly dry, snowless winter until the 13-14 of March. A storm was forecast – “The storm of the century” they said. Having heard of similar predictions earlier in the winter that resulted in a mere coating of snow, we didn’t pay much heed.

The wind shifted and began raising it’s voice to a howl – snow began to fall with intent. Billy and I were skiing together as the storm gathered strength. By the time the storm really wound up, the drift at the top of the Tunkhannock trail would deepen by half a foot each time we rode the lift to the top – visibility was down to a few feet.

Elk finally closed mid-afternoon, but the roads didn’t really look that bad – at least from the Wintergarden bar. We had a beer, and even though conditions did not seem foreboding, figured it was time to head home and hunker down.

I drove through more than half a foot of snow, and beached my little VW Fox as far up the driveway as I could. Billy and Ben pulled their vehicles close in behind. We would see the snow hood deep before all was said and done.

Before leaving the mountain, we took radios so we could keep in touch. A few of us stayed here at Hill View, a few at Endless Mountain Resort condos, more folks in the Village of the Four Seasons, some stranded right at Elk.

We could walk between Hill View and the condos at Endless Mountain Resort – the snow was consistently waist deep; drifts came past our chests. We took food to the condos, and shared with friends and strangers alike. Calls to Pendot were met with the message that it would be three to four days before the roads would be passable.

After the second day, the voices crackling through the radios faded; some due to diminished battery power, some due to increased alcohol consumption. Our cupboards held enough for two people for a few days. We were, however, sharing the cache among several people – lack of food would become an issue soon.

It was agreed that two of us would set out on cross-country skis toward the Village, and the lodge at Elk if necessary, to supplement our dwindling food supplies. Though a pleasant jaunt in agreeable conditions, with snow so deep, it was uncertain which route to take: along the roads buried in two to three feet of snow, or the shorter, steeper course down to the old Stone Bridge, where the snow may be bottomless, and up past Vauter’s farm.

Knowing that the trip would be strenuous either way, we decided to leave just before noon. We’d have the most heat from the sun, but plenty of daylight as the trip back with the weight of the food would certainly be longer.

And then, over the sound of the diminishing wind, we heard the unmistakable voice of a big diesel approaching. A huge yellow front-loader/grader was making it’s way down Lyon street. We made our way out to the road, and waved to the driver. He motioned to us and our vehicles, now buried nearly up to their windshields, then nodded. He backed up a few feet, and with two or three passes with his machine, unburied our vehicles saving us several hours of hand shoveling.

We were freed from the grips of the blizzard – we could drive out for more food!

Throughout the storm, we never lost power, or cable TV for that matter. The cupboards, however, did get pretty bare. We joked that as long as we had beer and vodka, we would be OK, even though we all knew that one of us was a diabetic who was down to their last day of medicine by the time the diesel machine freed us – days before Pendot said we would be able to get out.

Bonds were formed amongst those of us who weathered the storm together here on The Hill – certainly there were hundreds of similar stories.

Statistics say that over 300 people along the East Coast lost their lives in the “Blizzard of ’93”.

Usually well insulated from such extraordinary forces of nature, our daily lives obscure the fact that our comfort and safety are the result of selfless behaviour of others: those among us willing to face the uncertainty of a perilous trek for the well being of the group, folks who grow, harvest and process the food we eat, equipment operators who keep our roads maintained and passable, physicians whose practice and care maintain our health and well being.

Even when the weather is calm and agreeable, it’s good to keep in mind how much we rely on each other every day of our lives.

Elk at Night

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From December through March, the lights on Elk Mountain are a comforting sight. If it’s snowing, and you can’t see the lights, it means it is snowing good and hard. If it’s not snowing, it’s just nice to see the lights. When cross-country skiing at night, the lights from Elk illuminate the East Branch Valley plenty enough to skim the meadows; the lights of Scranton glowing behind the horizon. The past few weeks, the lights from Elk have been competing with a pulsing glow emanating from just behind East Mountain – the source, hundred foot flames shooting from a gas well as the initial impure gas is being burned off.

In the image above, one can make out two bright white lights to the right of the illuminated trails, the headlights of snow grooming tractors, climbing up the dark Lackawanna ski trail. Soon, the lights from the grooming tractors will be the only lights visible on the mountain as night skiing season comes to an end in a week or so.

And finally, sometime soon before April, Elk will remain dark throughout the night, becoming less prominent, reminding us that Spring is emerging.