Sandy ain’t so dandy….

I walked the dog tonight in the light of an almost full moon. No breezes were stirring. Stars twinkled in the skies and the temperature hovered in the high 50’s…. sweater weather. It’s hard to imagine that astronomical high tides due to this beautiful full moon will align with Hurricane Sandy, a wintry weather system from the west, plus a frigid jet stream from Canada to send tropical force winds great distances inland, with significant rainfall and tidal storm surges along the east coast. We are thinking about our friends in Virginia and we are bracing ourselves for what may come to New Hampshire.

Local lobstermen are moving their traps to deeper waters where they fare better in rough seas and others are taking traps out of the waters. Communities have moved Trick or Treat night and schools will be soon closed. Today I jostled grocery carts with other shoppers stocking up on batteries, water, and some non-perishable goods. We will batten down the hatches, fill the bathtubs and pots with water and download a few iBooks to read in case we lose power. We’ve been through enough of these to know what to do. This will a serious storm but weather forecasting is not a perfect science. Perhaps Sandy’s ferocity will wane. We can keep our fingers crossed. Stay safe, friends….

If you build it, they will come…

This weekend we joined our son and thousands of people in Keene, New Hampshire, for their 21st annual Pumpkin Festival. It was our first time at the festival and we came bearing our own artfully hand-carved pumpkins. This year brother Drew Scott of HGTV’s “Property Brothers” and camera crews were in attendance to spur on friendly “Pumpkin Wars” with the town of Highwood, Illinois where Jonathan Scott stirred up those residents and visitors. Each community competed to see which town could set a new Guinness world record for the most lit pumpkins. The official pumpkin count from Keene is publicized at 29,381, falling short of the 32,000 goal…. but, hey, the day was awesome and a success for Keene!

Can you visualize what 29,381 glowing jack-o-lanterns lining streets, curbs, grass, in trees, in store windows and thousands of festival-goers look like in a quaint New England downtown? Add live music, costumes, the aroma of hot dogs, hamburgers, pulled pork, deep-fried pickles, cotton candy, laughter, excited children, a ferris wheel, a climbing wall, crafts, pumpkin bowling, and you’re going to have a party.

On the square at the end of Main Street was the impressive Tower of Pumpkins that reached to the sky and atop the tower sat the Pumpkin King who presided over his 29,381 pumpkin subjects and thousands of visitors. Who ever knew pumpkins could be this much fun?!

Baby, it’s (almost) cold outside

Around these parts, there have been hints that locals are preparing for the wintry weather they know is around the corner. Trucks delivering firewood regularly pass us on the highway, a visit to LLBean two days ago had mister gardener and a number of other customers converging on the down outerwear, and our farmers’ markets have all moved indoors. Around the house, we’ve tested the furnace, stored umbrellas, and discarded annuals in pots. We’ve also dusted off the bird feeders as bears are now thinking more about their winter den than raiding birdseed.

Another sure sign of the approaching season is the colorful scene I photographed from our front door on a warmer day last week. These young people were roller skiing using long inline skates with wheels and ski poles fitted with special tips. Although they had skied past the house, they somehow spotted me and waved. The motion in this activity is similar to cross-country skiing in snow and it’s a terrific way to train for the upcoming season.

Even though my daughter kept her cross-country skills intact just like this for her Vermont school ski team years ago, it’s still a novelty for me to see such a sight. And from the expressions on their faces, you can tell it’s a good way to get in shape and have fun doing it.

I’m learning a lot about zone 5… but my thoughts always return to my family and friends in Virginia. I wonder whether any preparations are underway for cold weather in zone 7. Somehow I imagine them still enjoying a bountiful garden and colorful blooms in the borders…

A Fine Balance

October can be an exciting month for birdwatching. We’ve watched wave after wave of migrating songbirds and shore/water birds pass through this area of southern New Hampshire. Many birdwatchers travel to migratory hot spots to watch the action but we believe we have a good seat right here on the 50-yard line to watch all the birding action we desire.

We’ve followed ducks, geese, vireos, sparrows, warblers, bluebirds, cedar waxwings, hawks and more, stop to rest and dine for a few days before taking off again. One new visitor I’ve especially enjoyed watching this week is the Northern Flicker, the Yellow-shafted Flicker (Colaptes auratus), a larger bird related to the woodpeckers and sapsuckers. Not an uncommon bird, but it’s fun to watch. It stands out on the horizon as it swoops and dips in flight, its large white rump visible only in the air. I admired his distinctive spotted plumage as it fed on ants and other insects on the ground beneath the white pines .

October is also great time to observe migrating hawks that land in the pines, perch on tree limbs, or circle the salt marsh looking for food. As in Virginia, a hawk we often see is the the Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii.) that scans the horizon from its favorite perch in nearby trees. What is the Cooper’s Hawk looking for? Birds. And what did the last Cooper’s Hawk find? Yep, that’s right. Our Northern Flicker nourished the hunter so it could continue its journey south.

It’s always a bit unsettling for me when I discover a fluff of a bird that was. But understanding nature in its fullest is understanding the delicate cycle and balance of the natural world.

Windy weather in New Hampshire yesterday ushers in a cold front today, perfect weather for spurring on bird migration. We’ll have our binoculars (and warm coats) ready.

Becoming tourists on the ‘Kanc’

After researching the best places to see fall color and taking advice from local folks, including mister gardener’s barber, we decided pay heed and join the throngs of Leaf Peepers on New Hampshire’s Kancamagus Highway, touted as some of the best viewing of fall color in New England.

This two-lane road connects the towns of Lincoln and Conway about 35 miles through the White Mountain National Forest, providing breathtaking views of trees of crimson, yellow, amber, purples, oranges and pine greens. The fiery reds and reds and brilliant oranges of maples scattered among the deep green pines and the soft honey yellows of beech and aspen provided a riotous contrast of color on the peaks and valleys of these mountains.

I was advised not to try to photograph a sweeping vista because it just wouldn’t have the impact of a closer photograph. But I was mesmerized and overwhelmed by nature’s crazy quilt… a multi-colored blanket of fall shades.

I went in for a closer shot…..

still closer…

Then I understood.

There were plenty of opportunities for water views whether lakes or streams, waterfalls or the bit of drizzle and haze we had that day.

And there was dazzling color wherever you looked….  whether blanketing the valleys, ascending the peaks or just a bright punch of color on the side of the road.

We had fun joining the procession of Leaf Peepers who were all enjoying and exploring the scenic views along the Kancamagus Highway, affectionately called the ‘Kanc’ by locals. I can see an annual tradition in the making…

Lots of Snow… or Not?

Our first winter in New Hampshire was mild last year… so mild that we wondered what all the fuss was about severe New England weather.  We’ve been told by locals to ‘brace yourselves’ for a real winter this year.

Weather predictions call for more snow this year. But with our very own barometers in the garden, maybe we can substantiate or dispute that prediction. The Old Farmer’s Almanac states that, according to folklore, that one can predict how much snow and cold the season will have by the ratio of black to orange or brown banding on Woolly Bear caterpillars. The narrower the area of orange, the more snow and winter weather we will have.

This fella is almost all orange! Maybe, just maybe, we can slip by with another mild winter!

The new almanac does call these Woolly Bear weather predictions just legends. It adds that an entomologist states the color bands do tell about a heavy winter or early spring, but it’s for the previous winter. Interesting…..