Wednesday, April 30, 2008

April Showers

The rain finally moves out for good.

A little rain would have been nice after a couple weeks of some beautiful dry weather. A little. Instead, the downpours all day Monday and most of Tuesday have contributed to the already very high local river conditions, and is threatening to reach flood stage.

Here's a chart from the USGS of stream levels, in the area watersheds, of the past 45 days. Notice how the levels had just started to drop day by day, then Wham!

The Connecticut River just above us in Montague has entered "Action Stage", and is getting close to Flood Stage, as this NOAA chart shows:

Luckily the chart also shows that they're predicting the river level has peaked, and will now begin to taper off. Hope they're right, because what happens up there, is coming down here...

We needed the rain anyway. Just last Friday, the fields around Northampton airport were looking pretty dry. We thought it was unusual that a fog was hanging over field on the warm afternoon,

But a look in the rear view mirror as we moved along revealed it was actually a very fine, dry, sand and dust. We were contributing to the 'fog' greatly...

That field is usually a marvelous sunset-viewing area.

Springtime Is The Besttime

I often debate with my sister, and a lot of people really, about which is nicer; Spring or Fall. For me, Spring is hands down the best time of year. I don't understand the Autumnofiles.

The two main arguments in favor of Autumn that I hear, (and my responses):

"The weather is nice and cool."

Well, what's better than a 65 degree, crystal Spring day?

"The colors are beautiful as the leaves change"

Yes, agreed, but don't discount Spring's colors:

Some colors are even very Autumn-like.

The burst of Spring colors is followed by the sprightly green of the new leaves, a bright green, different from the darker greens of summer. Lengthening days, the fragrances, the sounds of wildlife, streams, thunder and rain. Even the return of insects is welcome, briefly. The days getting longer each day, and it's getting progressively warmer, not colder... Ahh yes. Take a deep breath of it all. I agree the Autumn is nice too, and the foliage is classic New England, for about a week or two. And the cooler weather is refreshing after a hot summer. But, (and maybe I'm just getting old), I can't forget any more that Autumn is just a colorful doorway, to the gloom and doom of winter conditions, for five or six months...The snow is nice if it falls about the holidays, more of the classic New England we all love. But generally, once the leaves fall off those trees, we might as well be in Siberia.

Have your fall. For me, bring on the Vernal.

A Hint Of Classic

LA Fitness appears to be putting the finishing touches on it's occupation of the old Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield.

It also appears they're going to keep the tall iconic basketball panels, on the outside of the building.

Good. I suppose if you think about it, though, the basketball-themed panels have really little to do with an all around fitness center. But still, they're in keeping with the overall basketball vibe surrounding the new Basketball Hall of Fame nearby, the centerpiece of this section of the 'New Riverfront'.

It's good if they chose to retain some of the local history.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Petrolassic Park

....In time...a smaller, smarter species would now occasionally be seen...furtively darting about the larger, clumsier behemoths, trying to avoid being trampled...

As resources further dwindled and an epoch wound to a close, the larger creatures' herds grew thinner. The small new-comers slowly became more abundant. Eventually, they came to dominate the landscape, unchallenged.

...It was a smaller, leaner world. Only the adapted would survive...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Pre - Sanctuary

The Audubon's Laughing Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Hampden will be 'officially' re-opening this coming September, after a several year hiatus. Volunteers were at work Saturday cleaning up, and a boy scout troop built bird houses, in preparation. The weather wasn't the best early Sunday afternoon, but I recruited the kid and we went down there to take an early look.

To get there we went through the center of Hampden, where there is this small town green.

A couple adults with their kids were fishing off a bridge, into the Scantic River nearby.

The Scantic isn't exactly huge, but it's apparently fishable.

Feeding the river is East Brook, which I suspect is the "Laughing Brook" the Sanctuary gets it's name from, as it forms it's eastern border.

The trail begins at this gate, with a couple boards with info on local wildlife, and a big map.

There are several viewing gazebos overlooking some water here.

The trail starts off running for a ways alongside East Brook. The brook is flowing along pretty good right now, and in several spots the trees on the edges have broken loose and fallen across it. Across the brook is private property, with several houses in view, as well as some road noise. The noises and houses probably won't be as easily noticeable once the leaves begin filling in the woods.

The fast running brook makes a lot of noise as it bubbles over the rocks, probably giving the sanctuary it's name.

For all the blooming of the trees everywhere else, they're taking their time budding here. Pretty much the only green at this time is from the many hemlocks and pines that seem to dominate the lower area of the sanctuary.

There is a big, (vernal?) pool with an old pine fallen across it.

Most of the sanctuary seems littered with downed trees, everywhere you look. I suppose that's a good thing as the decaying trees will contribute to the most basic building blocks of life in the coming sanctuary. Also the downed trees allow more sunlight into the understory of the forest for new growth.

The overcast day and lack of foliage didn't make for the cheeriest hike I've ever been on, and the birds weren't very active either. But we decided to continue on, and explore the entire double loop that makes up the trail system here.

Old rock walls are abundant, dividing up old sections of pasture or farm land.

Rocky ridges jut out of the ground on the upper trail loop.

Dead tree to us, buffet table to a Pileated Woodpecker?

I'm guessing it was a Pileated Woodpecker, because of the large size of the wood chips scattered about:

We trudged north out to the farthest edge of the loop. We stopped here and there to listen for wildlife, but found it pretty much lacking. Lacking, that is, until two giant Whitetail Deer suddenly sprang up about 20 yards to our left, and leaped off, loudly crashing through the brush, their bright white tails bouncing away into the forest. It completely surprised us both, and got our hearts pumping for a few minutes. We laughed about the sudden excitement, and continued on the return path.

Several minutes after that, we came across a (human) family of three heading in the opposite direction. They asked if we had any idea where we were, and how to get back to the parking area. They'd had enough of hiking lost under the gloomy sky, and wanted to head back. I showed them where we were on my GPS, and they decided to follow us. Walking back, our little troop saw another deer in the distance, and Chris and I spotted two Wild Turkeys. So, all in all the day wasn't completely without wildlife viewing in this as yet undeveloped sanctuary.

We finally emerged from the trails, just as the sun decided to come out.

It would have been very welcome just a half hour earlier...

The sanctuary appears to have great potential, with long easy walking trails, and several viewing spots once all the foliage blooms and the leaf litter and downed trees begin their contributions to the life of the forest.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Outfitters R' Us

The Keep Springfield Beautiful campaign was in effect Saturday. Those signs were all over the city promoting the effort. Nature gave a helping hand by presenting us with better than expected weather.

Desperately Seeking Shoewear

I've been looking for a new pair of hiking shoes/boots. Quality hikers are usually on the expensive side, and I'm the kind of person who grows attached to his gear and will wear them faithfully until they fall apart or become useless for some reason. So, they've got to be right. I love the ones I have now, but I had ordered them online, and was unable to try them on first. I quickly found that their sizes run just a little bit small. I debated sending them back, but liked them enough to optimistically hope they would stretch with use, which they did not. So, for several years I've put up with hikers that were just a wee bit too small. Just undersized enough where they're fine for a while, but start to hurt after about 3 miles of walking.

My trusty LL Beans:

That said, I've been shopping around for a couple weeks now for a replacement pair, and want to be absolutely certain of them before making a final decision. I've gone pretty much to all the local outfitter stores, small and large, and have my selection nearly narrowed down to a couple pairs. But before I purchase, there was one more place I've been been meaning to check out:

Cabela's has recently opened a store, down in East Hartford. I had heard a lot about them, and saw some potential hiker boot prospects in a flyer. We had plans for lunch with the family early afternoon, but the kid and I decided we had just enough time to run down there, and take a quick look at this outdoor outfitter center...

I've heard and read a lot of commentary about this place, bad and good. I've summarised from what I've heard that their prices are average to expensive, but they have quality products for sale there. Also, word on the street is this place has to be seen. There was a lot of people taking pictures in there, because that's the kind of place it is. It's really kind of a small theme park, in an outfitter store. Dead center when you walk in, is a giant display with all kinds of (real, taxidermed) wildlife examples.

Below it, is a neat aquarium with all varieties of freshwater game fish swimming around.

There are several other displays, including a small natural history museum, replete with an animatronic fly fisherman to tell you about local conservation efforts and wildlife.

A forest of fishing gear.

Upstairs, (take the elevator if you'd like), there is a restaurant area and an African game display. Everywhere are top of the line brands. There was way more stuff to look at here than I expected, and I had allowed just enough time to take a quick look at the hikers before we had to go, or be late for lunch. All the stuff to look at was eating into that short amount of time. We'll have to come back again for a better look. We finally pulled ourselves out of there and hurried back, but unfortunately I hadn't allowed time for a traffic jam. Late for lunch. Again.

Oh well, at least my day wasn't going as bad as this guy's:

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Fire Watch

Remember this guy...?

Found that classic poster, and the story of the birth of the fire-prevention icon, on a U.S. Forest Service website.

The lack of any real rain lately has those in the know warning us of high fire risk levels. Strangely (although none were forest fires), I've been witness to no less than three fires this week. Today, at a Sunoco station in West Springfied, some one suddenly came running in, and declared the mulch on the landscaping outside was on fire.

A tossed cigarette maybe? Not what you want to see anywhere near a gas station.

A couple days ago getting into Northampton, I found the power was out all along Pleasant St. and Conz St was blocked off. A house had caught fire on Wright Ave.

Later that afternoon I got a better look at the destruction that can be wrought by fire. Emergency personnel were still on the scene...

And finally, it was very early last Sunday when I heard a horn wailing on and off, near by my house. I looked outside to see a vehicle completely engulfed in flames, the next street over. Blog-Fodder. I grabbed the camera, hopped a fence, and went over (still in my pajamas) to investigate...

The fire became pretty intense, with a couple small explosions and the horn going...

The fire department made short work of the burning vehicle. It was reduced to a smoldering hulk in a matter of minutes.

Luckily for Smokey, and us, they're predicting rain most of next week...