Thursday, December 31, 2015

Welcome 2016

When I was a child, growing up in England, it only snowed occasionally each winter. But I remember waking on those days, and lying very still, knowing only that something was different. Then I would realise that the deep quietness and the light could mean only one thing: snow! And I would leap out of bed to look out on the transformed world.

This morning I felt that jolt back to my childhood: the same quietness, the same light. We had arrived home late last night, and although we'd known that it had snowed that day, it wasn't until this morning that we drew the curtains aside and saw Long Point under its snow comforter. I lit the candles in the window, for the last time in 2015, and watched the fog lift over the lake.

It was the quietest day. Bruce and I walked out in the snow - the air was mild - and came home to snowball-throwing girls hidden on the deck.

The snow brought all the birds to our feeders, and I spent a lot of time just watching them.

A white-breasted nuthatch

The mourning doves (turtle doves) are so lovely - their features almost seem painted on.

the chickadees never fail to delight me
this feisty little thing is a tufted titmouse

I love to watch the birds jostle for position

and watch them come in for landing

the blue jays hold conferences on the biggest bird feeder
There were other birds I didn't manage to capture with my camera. I spotted a vireo, one red-bellied woodpecker and a downy woodpecker high up on the tree, and a red-headed woodpecker resting briefly on one of the feeders. The squirrels were largely missing from the deck, hiding in their high warm nests.

As the day drew on the fog came back down and covered the lake.

And in the evening, the possums were back eating apples on the snowy deck.

Bruce and the girls and I sat around in the evening eating Ben and Jerry's and talking over the highs and lows of 2015, and what we hoped for for 2016. And now it's 11.30pm on New Year's Eve. Bruce and the girls are asleep, but I think I shall sit up with the possums for company until midnight and welcome all the promise of the new year.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

I'm (still) dreaming of a white Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

This Christmas has been unlike any other for our family. No picnic at the farm, no summer fruit; no weeks of planning and making gravlax and pate and antipasta and a feast for extended family. No pohutakawa, no dogs dressed up in tinsel, no shelling peas on the porch or jokes about trifle, no Swedish breads, no bead-spooning.

But also none of the magic of real cold, no snow: it was 18 degrees here on Boxing Day! But Christmas is Christmas, and one of the loveliest things about being in the Northern Hemisphere for Christmas is that all the imagery makes sense. "Happy Holidays!" everyone says here. And I think no, "the light shines in the darkness,and the darkness has not overcome it" is something that anyone in these dark times, from any race or creed, needs to hear. And when it begins to turn dark at 3pm, and everywhere you go there are lights in the trees, and around the houses, then that image is too vivid to be relinquished.

 So, what did we do with this unusual Christmas? First, we spent two days prior to Christmas at the beautiful Trapp Lodge, in the hills near Stowe. This place was established by the von Trapp family (from the Sound of Music) when they fled Austria during WWII. Set in 2,500 acres of forest, facing the majestic Mount Mansfield, it was easy to see how an Austrian family would feel right at home in this place. We had a relaxing time: the girls swam in the huge indoor pool, I spent time in the hot pool overlooking the mountain, and we walked through the snowshoe trails to the tiny chapel.

"The hills are alive....." Well, we had to do that....!

One morning I woke early and watched the sun rise over the mountain while thick fog lay in the valley below.

On the way home from Trapp, we stopped to pick up the smallest turkey Misty Knoll turkey farm sells - all 16.5lbs of it!

Christmas Eve was spent with our lovely friends, Susanmarie, Ellen, and Sofia. The girls made and decorated a gingerbread whare, constructed with the gingerbread that Pearl, the Guilty Dog had not managed to reach.......

Strategising over the construction of the whare

Careful craftsmanship is required


And we shared a wonderful feast.....

Thank you, Susanmarie, Ellen, and Sofia, for sharing your Christmas Eve with kiwis far from home!

Father Christmas made his way to Vermont a long 18 hours after he'd reached NZ shores.

We read.

We learnt a new game.

This is Bruce's bluffing face. It means "be afraid, be very afraid..."
We engaged in unusual occupations.

We ate our own Christmas feast.

A creme brulee cake from Mirabelles for Christmas Day is one of VT family traditions

And we took a walk as the sun set over the Adirondack Mountains.

The day ended with a glass (or two) of hot apple cider and rum, as we toasted friends and family across the oceans.

Snow or not, in Vermont or anywhere, Christmas is about celebrating the triumph of light and love. Merry Christmas everyone!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Stick season

It should be snowing. In 2013, when we went to find a Christmas tree, this is the tree we bought:

Flash forward two year, and this was the scene:
Around us, people are scratching their heads: the mildest December they remember. No chance of a White Christmas, even: the temperatures are actually going up on Christmas Eve. The snow will come, though, before we leave - and in the meantime, we enjoy the warm weather (hey, everything is relative - and when it's still and dry, 11 degrees is mild and pleasant!). And we are charmed by the austere loveliness of this season between golden fall and soft, white winter.

Which, I have discovered, has a name. Last time we were here, I wrote a blog post called "the un-named season." Turns out I was quite wrong. Stick season: when the countryside is feathered with forests of fine, bare twigs and banks of tall seedpods.

 The colours of this season are soft greys and washed sepia, the lake and the streams are silver.

Meanwhile, the animals and birds are taking the extra time before the snow to fatten up. Bruce continues to be thwarted by the squirrels. We thought that this was staged - now we know that squirrels are just incorrigible and unstoppable. But also impossibly cute.

The little red squirrel is a feisty character who can see off three big grey squirrels in one wild dash.

she's just pretending to be meek and sweet

The chipmunk is still out foraging:
he's not weak chinned - his cheeks are just full of sunflower seeds 
And although we put out plenty of seed, there are still arguments around the bird feeders:

And in the evening, two little possums eat apples off our deck. 
There is even a beaver in the creek up the road - I haven't seen him yet (though Bruce has), but I've admired his handiwork from the distance of my long lens.
the beaver's creek
 Every season is beautiful in Vermont. Including stick season. So while we wait for the snow, we watch and delight in everything around us. The snow will come.