A new season, A new bird

When I was a kid, well, really until my late twenties, I knew a new season had arrived based on obvious clues:

CLUES FROM THE WEATHER

Spring: It’s going to stop snowing any day now. It has to. It can’t go from 78 and sunny one day, to 36 and dreary the next. Wait, yes it can (see fall weather).

spring snow

What spring looks like in Denver
(Image courtesy Warren Brown via Flickr)

Summer: Someone please find me a shade tree. STAT. I think my skin is melting off.

I thought an image of my skin melting would be too icky, so I used this pic instead.

I thought an image of my skin melting would be too icky, so I used this pic instead.
(Image courtesy Steve Hankin via Flickr)

Fall: Uh, oh. It’s gonna get cold. Any day now. And it will happen like this: Monday – 70 degrees, Tuesday – 64, Wednesday – 72. Maybe winter won’t come? Thursday – 74. Friday – 69. Saturday 28 degrees! HA! Take that beautiful fall weather!

Denver Snow

How I see fall and winter in Denver. (Like I’ve said before, I do exaggerate sometimes)

Winter: Did someone move Colorado to the North Pole when I wasn’t looking? *Reference same picture as above*

CLUES BASED ON THE SCHOOL YEAR

Fall: Crap school is starting. How many weeks until my next break?

back to school

Image courtesy USAG – Humphreys via Flickr

Winter: At least we have two weeks off for Christmas. And they won’t expect us to do any work the two weeks before either. It’s like a whole month off!

advent calendar

How a kid sees the month of December
(Courtesy Rene MT via Flickr)

Spring: A week-long break for what? I don’t know. Just to celebrate spring? I’ll take it.

spring break

Image via Daniel Ramirez via Flickr

Summer: Utter and complete, joyous freedom!

(Courtesy Craigfinlay via Flickr)

(Courtesy Craigfinlay via Flickr)

CLUES FROM TV COMMERICALS

Spring: In three months I’ll be able to ditch the mittens and go to the pool and have water gun fights just like the folks on TV. Until then it’s just cruel to show people having summer fun. Oh and don’t forget to do your Christmas shopping.

Pool

Image courtesy David Goehring via Flickr

Summer: Why are you already advertising notebooks and colored pencils? It’s July for crying out loud. I hate you Wal-Mart. And by the way, school supplies can make great Christmas presents too.

Colored pencils

Image courtesy Luxt Designs via Flickr

Fall: It’s Christmas time! Really? I thought it was the end of October. All right, put away the scarecrow and pumpkins. I didn’t really want to give thanks anyway.

Christmas in October

Image courtesy Jo Naylor via Flickr

Winter: Now that Christmas is over, there are still more things to buy. And they’ll be on sale. Really, you should just start shopping for Christmas now.

Christmas ad

Image courtesy e r j k p r u n c z y k via Flickr

Now that I’m a bit older, I notice more than the clues above. I notice the little things–small details that my self-absorbed, youthful self never noticed. It’s funny how once the world stops revolving around you, you notice more of the world around you.

In the spring, I never noticed the first shoots of green emerging from the earth, or the first ladybug babies snacking on aphids. My younger self only noticed the obvious. It was getting warmer and lighter.

In the summer, I never noticed how certain perennials thrived in the 100 degree heat, while others wilted and browned. My younger self noticed it was hot.

In the fall, I saw the leaves turn and knew it was getting colder.

But now I have a new way of knowing fall is here. In addition to the fact that it’s cold, sometimes snowy, and apparently already Christmas, I know summer is behind us because of a small migratory bird. A bird that I never noticed before. In all honesty, I didn’t notice many birds when I was young, and probably could have only identified five that lived in Colorado.

But as I grew older things such as birds started to interest me, so I studied up on all the little guys that frequented my feeder.  The one I’m talking about today is the Dark-eyed Junco.

Snow Junco

These little guys arrive in Denver every fall and hang out under our feeder or our shrubs happily eating millet or whatever else they scrounge up. And then, one day in  spring, they all take flight and head north or to the mountains for the summer.

Last Monday, the first teeny, tiny snowflakes fell in the city. It was the same day I noticed the first pair of Juncos in the backyard.

That night I asked my husband to guess who I saw in the backyard. With some prompting (they come every winter, I’m talking about a bird, with dark eyes and their name begins with J) he finally got it.

My younger self would have relied on the snowflakes to know fall was here and winter was coming. Today, I don’t need the flakes. The Juncos are fair warning.

What are your favorite clues the seasons are changing? Do you notice things you never used to? Are you finished with your Christmas shopping? Do you exaggerate how cold or hot it is? Are you secretly happy when the back to school commercials begin? Please, share your thoughts!

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Hiking to Blue Lake: moose, mosquitoes, and a really fit old man

Sign at trailhead for Mitchell Lake and Blue Lake

Sign at trailhead for Mitchell Lake and Blue Lake

Hiking. The Rocky Mountains. Waking up before dawn (well, not me) to beat the traffic to the best trailheads. It’s all synonymous with summers in Colorado.

My first confession: I haven’t hiked all summer. Not that I’m some fancy, gear-toting, Powerbar-eating, mountain goat like some of the people who live here, but I do enjoy climbing the hills every so often.

My second confession: Hiking always sounds like a good idea the night before. Then, 6:00 a.m. rolls around and I wake up wondering why I so foolishly uttered the words: we should go hiking tomorrow.

Around 6:30 yesterday morning, I was in full denial mode. We should have been up at least thirty minutes ago, the bed was unusually comfy, and I could always go hiking next weekend instead. I rolled over and pulled the blanket over my shoulder.

Then my husband did the unthinkable. He sat up and stumbled out of bed.

Crap. He’s actually getting up. I think we’re actually going to go. Fine, I guess I’ll have to go enjoy the fresh mountain air and beautiful scenery.

I doddled. He kept forgetting things. Whole Foods had nothing appetizing in their prepared foods section. Everything seemed to be standing in our way.

We got to the Brainard Lake Rec area at *gasp* 9:10 a.m. We knew this meant certain misery. We wouldn’t be able to park at the trailhead.

Since we hadn’t been there all summer, we didn’t realize they had a new day use parking area. You can no longer park along the road. Now, we had to walk an additional (I’m going to guess) mile (I have been known to exaggerate) to the trailhead. On the way there, it’s not so bad. On the way back you begin to wonder why they couldn’t install one of those moving walkway things like at the airport.

The hike started off okay. I tried to pace myself.

We hadn’t even made it to Mitchell Lake and I began to struggle. My thighs were trembling, my heart was in overdrive, and I couldn’t get enough air to satiate my demanding lungs. I began to wonder if I was too young to have a heart attack.

“I don’t know if I can make it,” I said to my husband after the first big push past Mitchell Lake. Like a good husband he was encouraging and sympathetic.

Then, during our 18th stop for me to rest, he asked if we could get moving again. Why was he in such a hurry? Because he was getting cold! Cold! I had already stripped down to my tee-shirt, my face was flushed, and I was dreaming of diving into the next pond I saw. And he was cold. What a show off.

I was becoming more and more dejected. I was ready to give up. But I found motivation–twice.

At the last big pond, before the trail gets rocky in a very ankle-twisting way, we saw moose. Two of them. They were just relaxing, watching all of us gawk at them. The Brainard Lake rec area is a great place to see moose. We’ve seen them here before. The last time we were so close he could have trampled us in four strides if he wanted.

Moose we saw last summer on the hike to Blue Lake

The moose we saw last summer on a hike to Blue Lake

This time they were off in the distance, but no less remarkable. My hubby and I lingered and I got to rest before my husband dragged me farther up the mountain.

Moose relaxing by the pond

Moose relaxing by the pond

The trail steepened and I continued to struggle, but the joy of seeing the moose kept me motivated enough to continue. Descending hikers began to bounce past us, laughing, talking, big smiles plastered on their faces. I hated them. I’m always jealous of the hikers going downhill.

I looked up to make way for the next pair coming down and I felt ashamed. Embarrassed. The guy in the lead was like 100 and pretty feeble looking.

After they passed, my hubby looked back at me with a big grin on his face. He didn’t need words. I knew what he was thinking.

I set my jaw and plastered a look of determination on face. I was going to make it to the top with what little dignity I had left.

The final ascent was glorious and well worth it. As we rounded the final corner, we were greeted by chirping marmots, bright pink wildflowers and the clear blue lake. We marveled at the scenery, ate a few dollops of hummus, and repeatedly brushed away mosquitoes. Seriously, at 11,000 feet you can’t get away from these things. People say cockroaches will be the last creatures on earth. I think mosquitoes might be right there with them.

Snow at Blue Lake CO

Snow at Blue Lake captured during our hike last year

As usual, I excelled at the descent. Hiking is much easier when you’re working with gravity, not against it. I smiled and waved at all the folks going up, happy to no longer be gasping for breath.

Now I’m sore and a little tired, but I’m glad we went. I’m glad we pushed past the little obstacles that can easily become excuses to quit. We got some great pictures of the moose, and I was able to enjoy my shrimp boil without remorse. We’ve even talked about heading back up next weekend. He he. We’ll see.