Thursday, December 31, 2009

Final Sunset



See you in 2010...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Belchertown Graze

As the sun broke on Sunday, I scooted out for a rideabout. There's some bucolic sections of Belchertown, (namely in the southern areas), that I've often driven through on the way here or there, but never really slowed down to take in.



Until now. This area is conveniently close to where I live one town over, and it was about time I stopped to smell the er, roses, as it were.



It was feeding time at a dairy farm that supplies a large local milk brand. As a life-long, major milk consumer, I was mighty glad to see that the cows looked happy and healthy. (especially after a recent viewing of the movie 'Food Inc.' ...check it out...)

I'll be sticking with this brand.



The terrain here appears to be mainly rocky pasture land, with stones still half emerging all over the place, and criss-crossed all over with those classic 19th century New England rock walls.



Thankfully many of those walls have persevered during a century and a half or so of housing boomage and/or neglect. I assume they were originally retained for their continued usefulness in marking off divided and subdivided property lots and possibly more recently, retained for their classic New England character and consequential boost in property resale value. I know that for one, I would love to have yard bordered by one of these...

Either way, the sheer amount of work that would be involved in dismantling the heavy walls helps their preservation. They just don't build them like that anymore.

In other cases, the walls still serve their original purpose holding back various farm animalia, some with a little additional help from electric fences.



There are plenty of horses roaming the broader tracts of land, and tucked away in a clearing is an old 4H clubhouse.



This is one of the few examples of those classic old farm windmills in our area, once used to pump water or anything else an enterprising farmer could think to harness wind power to...



I could be wrong, (and feel free to correct me if so), but there aren't very many of these left in the valley...



Other than old pasture land, the more obvious food production in this section of Belchertown appears to be the ol' apple. Though not as many as there used to be, there are still many orchards spreading up and over the hilly terrain, and there's one big section that appears to be owned and cultivated by UMass.



With the moon getting high and the sun getting low, it's time to meander back.



But with this beautiful space now fresh on my radar screen, it'll be on the short list for some return visits, maybe when the coming snow blankets the area...

Monday, December 21, 2009

Brighter Days Ahead



Thanks to Daryl Lafleur at the Northampton Redoubt for alerting us to the winter solstice celebration at Arcadia Monday night. Kelly had to work, but I bundled up the bloggerette and the two of us made our way there for the frigid festivities.



This turned out to be a much bigger celebration than I had expected. There were probably close to a couple hundred people. Everyone seemed cheery and talkative, the cold darkness only adding to the excitement.



The celebration began with poetry and song, both well crafted and well delivered, setting the mood for the evening and drawing appreciative applause and cheers from the expanding crowd.



It was a beautifully crisp and clear winter night. Away from the city and street lights, all the stars were brightly visible. The waxing moon and Venus was on one end of the sky and Orion was rising above the tree line on the other. I absent-mindedly continued clicking away with the flash on, trying to get a good shot of the crowd until I got a mild rebuke from one of the blinded star-gazers, with a stern "Duuude; Chill."



Woops...

We listened to the speakers and singers and after a while, although bloggerette wasn't acting uncomfortable, I was getting a little concerned with how she might be faring in the icy wind. So we took a break and crunched over the snow to the nearby sanctuary building. Here there was cider and pie and above all, warmth. We hung out in there for a little bit until some kids came running in, excitedly declaring "They're lighting the fire!"

Time to get back out there.



The fire grew quick and to the delight of the crowd, soon it was quite the conflagration.



The baby had never seen a bonfire, it was a first for her...and I had never been to a Solstice celebration. A first for me. A couple of times someone would attempt to sing out a holiday song, and just as it seemed to catch on with more members of the crowd, it would suddenly peter out before taking hold. The spirit was there, just not quite the gumption...



Although the fire was warm and the mood inviting, Bloggerette's nose and cheeks were now turning bright red. A sneeze later and I figured it was best to get going. One final gaze into the fire and the crowd...





...before heading out.



Interestingly, when we were some distance away, one last look over our shoulders revealed something was astir above the solstice celebrators, perhaps even beyond their dimension...



Hmm ...Some kind of sign? ...An omen? ...A winter spirit summoned, ouija-like, by the celebration? ...Lens flare?

You decide.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Balsam Christmas

The 'Tree' has arrived.



Bringing it home wasn't exactly the Norman Rockwell-esque 'pick it out from the snowy field chop it down and bring it home on a sled' -type process I was hoping for. It was a more modern day 'pick it from the garden center, ask the manager if there's a discount and swipe the credit card' type of thing. We had to pick one that is more easily kept out of reach of too curious little hands and little paws, so overwhelming it is not...aye, but she is sturdy and true...



...it's real, it's fragrant...and it tastes good.



And while we were out we decided to cut out the middle man, swing by the North Pole and get a quick gift list check in, straight at the source...



Christmas is on track, and full steam ahead...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cold Lunch



A brisk Sunday morning as I made an unusually early start to the day to run some errands. After that, a couple hours were freed up to check out Arcadia, and go a huntin' for wildlife...



The clouds had rolled in by the time I got there, portending the forecasted rain, even though the temps were still wayyyy below freezing. Out in the meadows, small flocks of Juncos were fanned out, hiking around the frozen grasses looking for tidbits.



While along the edges, bare red-topped sumac were being poked and plucked by fast moving chickadees.





None of them would stay put for more than a couple of seconds, especially with a human nearby pointing some clicking device at them.





For all the cold, the birds were abundant and active, old and young alike.



There's not much food to be had now, but always just enough.



All the usual suspects were out and about, trying to find it. Also seen but unable to get a decent shot of was a red bellied and downy woodpecker, and a riled blue jay calling out his alarms...

Silently gliding high above the fray, a couple of swans soared by.



The bird nesting boxes in the main field at Arcadia seem to have been taken down; probably for a little refurbishment while the swallows and bluebirds are away, I assume. Although there are some other boxes left in a nearby clearing.



Cardinals are easy to spot, but not as easy to approach. I managed to get close enough to this guy, watching me carefully from under the safety of a thicket. Their super-bright red feathers contrast beautifully with the blanket of snow, and seem to accentuate the cold of winter.



With that encounter, I began my snow-crunching way back.

Just as I was almost back at the vehicle, and relishing the thought of a little heat on my frozen toes, (very little heat)....



...a flock of cedar waxwings suddenly came swooping in and landed on a small tree right nearby, providing one last photo opportunity...



With those black and white masks across the eyes, and the waxy color-tipped feathers, they're among the coolest looking birds to be found, in my opinion.



That was a fortuitous finish to the hike. With noon approaching and the grey sky getting greyer, it was time to get back.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Shaping Up

December has finally got to looking more Decembery; with some snow sticking to the ground for a few days...



...piling just high enough to have to be shoveled clear.



The streets are sloppy with that familiar slush...



...until frigid arctic air swoops in from the north, freezing everything in place.



The icy cold outside is making the great indoors a lot more preferable these days. The decorations and ornaments are being unboxed and brought back out of storage...





The Christmas spirit is beginning to take shape around the house...



...and the main ingredient -a Christmas tree, is due to grace the living room any day now...