Monday, May 28, 2007

Rainy Spring

The saying may be that April showers bring May flowers, but in New England, showers tend to last into early June. This year, with work for the AMC starting in late May, I’ll be out in the thick of it. A good thing, perhaps—rain always seems to be more dreadful from behind a window than within its midst.

It’s been an unpredictable winter’s weather. Our late fall extended into December, stoking fears about global warming; then February and March were searing cold. The public seems to have reached consensus over the existence and causes of climate change, if not the solution, and the AMC is earnestly pursuing studies on how fast the vegetation and wildlife is changing around the huts. This week during training at Mizpah Hut, we woke before breakfast to search for the Bicknell’s Thrush, a species with an ever-dwindling habitat thanks to competitors moving up into its warming mountain habitat. It did not appear.

So the persistent and sometimes intense rainfall around the Whites last weekend was comforting. Rain will bring bugs, wet trails, and a general damper on excitement. That is as it should be during a New England spring. Insects bring migratory birds to the White Mountains in the first place; they are the cornerstone of our ecosystem, even if they are a nuisance.

Pictures: A western ridge of the Wildcats in Pinkham Notch; Cowboy Brook by AMC Camp Dodge.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


Logically, undercast is the opposite of overcast - clouds obscuring valleys to higher vantage points. Since nearly everyone is bound to the surface of the earth most of their lives, it often comes as a surprise to hear the term. As the hut naturalist at Mizpah last fall, morning forecasts from the Mt. Washington Observatory of "the summit will enjoy a beautiful undercast while the valleys below are under gray skies" required plenty of explanation for curious guests.

On this day in mid-October, Tessa, Mizpah's assistant hutmaster, and I hiked up the southern Presidentials quickly so as to beat the rising clouds to the top of Washington. Just above Lakes of the Clouds, we emerged into the clear. The billowy, shining tops of cumulus clouds stretched as far as the horizon, making the above-treeline ecological island a visual one, as well. The sensation was oddly exciting and comforting, a reminder of our temporary and happy isolation from the human world (mostly) below.