Winter

Something is Running and It’s not Me

Long-term weather forecasts can be useful but they are subject to change and not always accurate. A predicted period of snow showers followed by a slight warm-up can become 10 days of ice, snow and arctic winds followed by a drastic melt-down and, before you know it, the scramble is on. In this case, the scramble is up and down and across the slopes of Bobo’s Mountain, driving taps into every available maple tree before the sap starts running in earnest.

Making Tracks

Making Tracks

By mid-afternoon, sap was dripping from freshly drilled holes before spiles could be driven and drop lines hooked up. Licking a tree is not something normally done in polite company, but up on the hill, where nobody can see, why not? Faintly sweet and tasting of forest, those first drips are an elixir, pushing aside visions of snow drifts and cold, replacing them with thoughts of mud, hot fires and steam.

Across the Brook

Across the Brook

With all hands on deck, the last tap went in yesterday afternoon and the collection tank began to fill. Some of those hands, though, are a little worse for the wear, scraped by rough bark and sliced by sharp bits, all in pursuit of syrup.

Professional Hand Models, Bobo's Mountain Style

Professional Hand Models, Bobo’s Mountain Style

Today, the arch will be fired up to boil the first run of sap on Bobo’s Mountain, giving sore muscles and busted knuckles a break and allowing those hands to experience burns and scalds instead.

Bring on the mud!

 

Categories: Maple Syrup, Rural Life, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A New Gallery and Tips for Photographing Snowflakes

One in a Gazillion

One in a Gazillion

Embrace, endure, or leave. Those are pretty much the choices when it comes to winter in Vermont. It is not uncommon for those who stay to find themselves wavering between the first two choices, while those who left are content to look at the pictures.

Drifting Among the Drifts

Drifting Among the Drifts

That’s a lot of snowflakes and, like my daddy always said, “When life gives you lemons, shut up and eat your lemons,” although in this case it’s snowflakes, not lemons.

Group shots of snowflakes can be tricky, especially on a sunny afternoon, but individual portraits are more interesting. The most famous snowflake photographer of all has to be Wilson A. “Snowflake” Bentley, a resourceful farmer from Jericho, VT, who became the first person to photograph a single snow crystal in 1885.

Photography has come a long way since Snowflake Bentley hooked up a microscope to his big bellows camera and exposed individual glass plates. Gear was just part of the equation, though. Snowflakes are small, fragile, and temporary, so conditions and technique were also important. They still are, no matter what kind of rig you use. With almost as many camera variations as there are snowflakes in my dooryard, I’ll leave that part up to you. Getting those snowflakes in front of your lens, keeping them there, and having a chance at a decent photo is what this post is about.

Scroll down for more, or just skip it by clicking the photo below to view the new Snowflake Gallery at Nonesuch Mountain Images. Clicking any snowflake photo on this page will take you there.

Snowflake, Nonesuch Mountain Images

Snowflake, Nonesuch Mountain Images

(I just said this isn’t about the gear but, for the record, I’m using an Olympus TG-4. More on that at the end of this post.)

Snowflake Photo Tips:

Go outside! Snowflakes don’t conveniently stick to window glass very often. You need to go to them. Even if it’s just to the porch, deck or balcony, embrace winter and spend some time outdoors. Give yourself plenty of room to work; taking pictures of such tiny things requires a surprising amount of elbow room!

→ I am not your mother but, for goodness sake, dress warmly! Even if you’re just on the porch, deck or balcony, plan on spending a little time out there. Besides, going back and forth, in and out, opening and closing the door all the time because you got cold is just going to get you yelled at.

→ Choose a calm part of the storm. Snowflakes are fragile and break against each other in the wind. They are also easier to catch when they’re not travelling horizontally. Set up out of any breezes to keep your subjects from blowing away and under cover to prevent too much of a good thing from gathering while you shoot.

→ If the snowfall is due to advancing warm air, the best snowflakes will probably fall during the first part of the storm, before a “wintry mix” sets in. If a cold front is sweeping through, the end of the storm may be best, but I take samples throughout the day because the conditions that form snowflakes are found thousands of feet up and even miles away.

→ Choose a background. You can wander around, looking for snowflakes where they land and taking what you get, or you can give them something to land on that you can control. Some people use a piece of cloth or even a coat sleeve but I find the textures and loose fibers distracting. A DSLR allows you to fine-tune the focus but compact cameras that have limited focus control or rely on auto-focus are just as likely to focus on the cloth as the snowflake. Cloth also wicks moisture and snowflakes can get sucked in and distorted.

More power to those who use cloth but, as a nod to Snowflake Bentley, I prefer a flat black background and use a piece of acrylic plexiglass sprayed with flat black stove paint (he used wax, I believe). With seven wood stoves to take care of, I’ve always got a can or two hanging around. Experimenting with other colors might be interesting, as long as they are not glossy and don’t add unwanted reflections.

Clear Plexiglass, Painted Flat Black

Clear Plexiglass, Painted Flat Black

Working on the porch or just inside the barn, I hold the plexiglass out and collect a dusting of flakes. A few seconds is usually enough to collect a dozen or more specimens. A wipe with a cold, soft cloth clears the surface for another round.

→ Whatever you choose to use as a background, it must be cold and so must whatever you set it on! I keep my plexiglass on the porch and put the table I use out there ahead of time, so it has a chance to become the same temperature as the outside air. A micro-fiber cloth is good for wiping away water drops from any melting.

→ I also bring my cameras out, in their bags or cases, and allow them to come to temperature gradually while I set up. Sudden temperature changes are not good! Keep bags and cases outside with you.

Snowflake, Nonesuch Mountain Images

Snowflake, Nonesuch Mountain Images

→ With a sampling of snowflakes on my background, I bring it under cover and set it on a wobbly old table sturdy flat surface. At the magnification needed for snowflakes, the tiniest tremor will register as a catastrophic earthquake. An ill-timed cough and passage of the town snow plow are just two of my excuses.

→ A steady background serves no purpose if the camera moves, so use a tripod and your camera’s built-in timer if you don’t have a remote trigger. Pressing the shutter button causes movement and using the timer will allow the shivers to pass. When using a tripod, turn Image Stabilization off because that sensor, ironically, causes movement.

A GorillaPod® or similar small unit can be used for compact cameras but, when it comes to snowflakes, the sturdier the better.

The Sturdier The Better!

The Sturdier The Better!

→ Snowflakes gather, refract and reflect more light than you might expect and I haven’t found a need for supplemental lighting, as long as I’m using a tripod. To avoid the noisy images I get at high ISO settings, I use ISO 100 or 200. I don’t have aperture control in macro settings, which would be more for light than depth of field in these close quarters, so I deal with it later, in processing. DSLR users can tweak away to their heart’s content, but it doesn’t matter what kind of camera or settings you use if things aren’t steady!

→ Working so closely, a single breath can obliterate your subject if you don’t pay attention. It’s also easy to accidentally fog a lens. Hold your breath or turn your head!

→ Once you’ve collected some images or just had enough of the cold, put that cold camera into its cold bag or case and zip it up before you bring it in. Some say to wrap the camera in a plastic bag first but, whether you do or don’t, leave your camera in its bag or case for longer than you think necessary, allowing it to warm up slowly and avoid condensation inside.

(Go take a hot bath, have a cup of tea or do something else while you wait. Maybe read a couple of posts from the archives of The View from Fish in a Barrel Pond, like Vermont Hand Crafted Tenkara Rods or The One About Poop )

Snowflake, Nonesuch Mountain Images

Snowflake, Nonesuch Mountain Images

→ I use Light Room for processing but I would never attempt to tell anyone else how to use it. I don’t do much more than adjust exposure and contrast, but because I’m shooting in color, I do get some purple fringe and odd prism effects that I either worry about or not. How you process images is up to you, just like which camera you use and how you use it. Have fun!

A broken glass plate or bad exposure cost Snowflake Bentley both his egg money and the time he lost, but digital technology allows us to capture and delete images immediately and at will, using devices that fit in the palms of our hands.  He created 5,000 snowflake images over the course of his lifetime, painstakingly composed with a jury-rigged contraption and developed by himself, in his own lab, which is about 10,000 fewer pictures than today’s average American takes of themselves in a year.

No matter how they are photographed, snowflakes remain fascinating, intricate, beautiful and, of course, unique. It’s easier than ever to create images of snowflakes but the underlying principle is the same now as it was 100+ years ago:

Keep yourself warm and keep everything else cold and steady.

Snowflake, Nonesuch Mountain Images

Snowflake, Nonesuch Mountain Images

Why an Olympus TG-4?

Last year I found myself needing a new water-proof compact camera for knocking about and wanting a macro lens for my Canon DSLR. My budget wouldn’t allow both but the search led me to some reviews of the new Olympus Tough TG-4, which spoke highly of its macro capabilities and showed some of what it could do. It is also shock-proof, water-proof and cold-rated to 14°F (-10°C). It does in-camera focus-stacking in macro mode, live composites for nighttime photos and star trails, and it also has time-lapse and super slo-mo video capabilities.

I like mine very much and you can visit the Olympus Tough TG-4 web site by clicking this link. 

Categories: Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Hoar Frost

Sometimes, even winter holds its breath and, in the cold stillness of a winter night, water vapor changes from gas to solid on contact with chilled surfaces, constructing crystal matrices resembling feathers that last until the sun hits them or somebody coughs.

The adjective “hoary” is sometimes defined as “gray or white, as with age, and in some cases worthy of veneration”. It can also mean “old, overused and trite” but with frost it supposedly refers to the appearance of an old man’s beard.

Old and overused, maybe, but trite?

Old and overused, maybe, but trite?

Tomorrow will have one minute more light than today, and when tomorrow becomes yesterday there will be one minute more as we begin tilting slowly back toward the sun. Meanwhile, it is winter, and even winter can hold its breath.

Yukon Jack, “The Black Sheep of Canadian Liquors” and purported to be the regimental liqueur of the South Alberta Light Horse regiment of the Canadian Army, claims a “taste born of hoary nights…” which probably means it was too dang cold out to go find some better whiskey, so someone mixed what they had with some honey in an old turpentine barrel and hoped for the best.

Something else born of hoary nights is the poetry of Robert Service. There are worse ways to spend the next nine minutes of your life than watching this video recitation of “The Cremation of Sam McGee”:

Categories: nature, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Little Snowflakes

Months of quarrels and quandaries, intrigue and innuendo, distractions, misdirection and outright prevarication finally came to an end and I found myself, one November morning, strangely relieved it was over yet wondering what the heck had just happened. It seemed surreal and nearly beyond belief, but once sober enough for thoughtful reflection, I knew it was very real, indeed, believe it or not.

The adrenaline wore off, shock set in, and I had to sit in order to contemplate the new, horrible, sad reality.

That’s right, friends, another season had come and gone here at Fish in a Barrel Pond.

Fish in a Barrel Pond

Fish in a Barrel Pond

The banshees of winter wail outside the door, the lake froze-over three weeks ago, and anything stuck to the ground now is stuck until spring. The camps are again empty and quiet, smelling only of cold air and anti-freeze in the drain traps. A little happy dance has been done, a nap has been took, and as I catch up on my reading I can’t help but notice that this job, once more, failed to make any major publication’s list of “Best Fly Fishing Jobs!” Continue reading

Categories: Humor, nature, politics, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Made in Vermont Hybrid Vehicle

A Hybrid of What, We Don't Know, But It's Got a Load On.

A Hybrid of What, We Don’t Know, But It’s Got a Load On.

Part Chevy, part who knows what, that’s a custom rig right there, sitting on my ice-coated driveway toward the end of a winter that made me wonder why I bothered with marker stakes. There may well be pieces of more than two vehicles involved, pieced together with ingenuity, baling wire and spot welds, and when it’s not wearing a plow on its nose it’s perfect for hauling and spreading sand (or, in this case, 1/4″ chipped stone). It has also been spotted in the village, in front of the pre-school, dropping off kiddos.

The weather has been a bit of a hybrid, itself, these last few weeks. Booger-freezing cold one day, rainy and almost warm the next, there have been pieces of at least two seasons involved and their bastard child is ice.

Coated

Coated

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Categories: Humor, Maple Syrup, nature, Rural Life, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Bit of a Jam, Part II

When winter and spring duke it out they both end up looking silly, the dooryard fills with slush and streams jump their banks. Freezing rain gave way yesterday to sleet and ice pellets before turning to snow last night, which is when the lightning and thunder began. Another band of rain moved through with a shot of warm air and this morning felt positively balmy.

Fish in a Barrel Pond, February 25, 2016

Fish in a Barrel Pond, February 25, 2016

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Categories: Rural Life, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A Bit of a Jam

Going from a rainy 50°F (10°C) to -20° (-28.9°C) and back in a week must surely qualify as a Weather Event. Streams and rivers swelled, then froze, then swelled again. The ice sheet on the lake groaned as the water beneath it rose and fell but the spillway system functioned and the flow continued on its merry way downhill.

Not a Typical View in February

Not a Typical View in February

With dozens of tributaries flowing into the valley below, ice broke up on the river, churning in the current, banging its way downstream. Finally jumping its banks, the river fanned out on a floodplain and dropped its load. As on a conveyor belt, thousands of ice slabs piled in from behind and before you could say, “Robert is your father’s brother,” an old-fashioned ice jam had formed.

A Jumble of Slabs

A Jumble of Slabs

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Categories: nature, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Mid-Winter Thaw

The so-called January Thaw allows a few days of relaxation before tucking back in to await winter’s worst in the weeks before its inevitable, sloppy death. Snow on the ground forms a crust as its surface melts and re-freezes, hyper-extending the knee joints of those foolish enough to think they won’t break through, while lake ice takes on a rink-like polish as puddles fill in the low spots. Some years the January Thaw waits until February. Last year it never came at all. This year there were two thaws in January and one so far this month alone, so it could well be the case that we’ve actually had four hard freezes in what’s otherwise been a mild winter.

The snow on the ground has amounted to darn near nil this year, forming that icy crust with nothing left over. Fortunately, there has been plenty of rain to smooth it out and create a glaze that, if nothing else, reminds us that gravity is not just a good idea. It’s also the law. Misjudging the trajectory needed to reach the gate of the chicken yard, for example, is a good way to crash into the fence but, by really misjudging it, one can miss the fence completely, drop into a ditch and hit a hemlock a hundred feet down the slope.

Following the contour, scrambling to not lose more elevation before reaching the road, isn’t so bad once one gets the hang of slinging one’s self from tree trunk to tree trunk like a gibbon, providing one’s shoulder sockets hold up for a few hundred yards of that nonsense.

Sometimes, the best strategy is to just hunker down and shelter in place.

Skwerl

Skwerl

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Categories: nature, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cold and Cold Running Water

Warm and wet turned cold and wet and then just cold this week, leaving plenty of ice behind. Never sure how to feel about pictures of running water, here’s something for everyone:

 

 

 

 

Categories: nature, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Don We Now Archaic Barrel

We’re usually pretty well conditioned to winter by the time the solstice rolls around, but not this year. The lake iced over in November, as expected, and up went the signs admonishing those who read to stay off, but the ice went away. The signs stayed up though, for surely the ice would return, which it did for a few days before melting again.

The signs are still there and I know where the long-johns are, just in case, but the unusually mild weather we’ve been experiencing has made both about as useful as white fur on a bunny so far. There’s no snow in the woods or on the hills but at least the roads are nice and muddy.

If winter ever does decide to show up, we’re ready.

Stay Off The Ice -- if you see any.

Stay Off The Ice — if you see any.

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Categories: Humor, Stories About My Good Friend, Eugene, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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