The local ridge where I flew in New England runs ten miles, barely high enough to matter at the near end and twice as big further south. Lower slopes are covered with second growth hardwoods, easy tramping, but the ridge top itself is a densely tangled thicket of ancient vegetation, living and dead, impenetrable ten feet deep. No trails anywhere, except of the game variety.
Halfway between the low end and high end, a little rill of folded bedrock crosses a saddle on the ridge, adorned with a chain of four jewel-like beaver ponds set within low trees and high brush. Sometimes they reflect the sky’s blue, sometimes its gray, but more often their aquatic green is only a shade lighter than than the olive drab camo of the forest itself. Hiding in plane sight.
One day three of the ponds were placid, but the widest one looked like a minuscule phonograph record, concentric circles vibrating sunlight. That called for a closer look. (Blowing off altitude is so much more more fun when you have a real excuse, but that’s another yarn altogether!) Down on the treetops I did a double take… Really? Yup, two huge moose straight ahead, up to their knees in the drink.
Surprised them like they’ll never forget, then pulled quick and hard back around to see more. But they’d already galoshed their way to shore and ducked under cover, leaving the water a roiled and muddy brown.
No doubt the moose visited there more often than I did, but that’s the only time I saw them in sixteen seasons and who knows how many flybys. Yeah, so, because the ponds had no official name (who else even knew about them?) I christened them Moosey Lakes and promised myself to bushwhack up there someday for a respectful look around. What I didn’t know was, they too were in the process of disappearing.
Not long after my moose sighting, one of the beaver dams collapsed, leaving three green eyes to stare at the sky. Then a couple years later, my last there, another dam failed. Only two left. Sad to think I never did get up there on foot.
When I reconnoitered in 2010 via GoogleEarth, only one pond remained, and then in ‘13 nothing but a grassy bog. End of an era. Had the beavers just gone away, or been wasted by a rabid Second Amendment enthusiast? Who knows. Whatever else you say about life, it does go on.
Chasing that stream all the way up a mountainside to its very source before getting down to business must have required extraordinary eagerness, even for beavers. Yet eventually all their work was washed away. Would they ever return?
Well, in 2016 GoogleEarth revealed that a new dam had been erected at the lower end and a new pond was filling up again. The first of several? We may suppose that beavers (like the moose) have come and gone from this tiny corner of Paradise unnumbered times over millennia, and will continue to until we render them extinct.
Now it’s 2018, and wouldn’t you know, another new dam seems to be in place, collecting water to restore that wider pond where two moose once had a UFO sighting. After nearly forty years this current cycle is not quite complete, but looks like it won’t be much longer. Nice to know it can still happen. Not like I need an excuse to go there and soar that ridge again, but celebrating one full and prosperous cycle would surely qualify. And in the process why not finally make that ceremonial bushwhack up to Moosey Lakes!
Let’s flush January down the old memory hole and try again, okay? We’ve had a long run of achingly pleasant weather lately, light wind and balmy temps, that should continue in the coming week. Countless ravens have been observed soaring – easy to see because none were going very high yet – but by Saturday thermals may be lofting as high as our snow covered mountaintops. Won’t that be nice?
SEE YOU SOON!
We often see pilots begin their downwind legs far higher than the standard thousand feet above ground level, or from some non-standard place, and we generally discourage that for several reasons. First, more than half our flights at Crystal are for training, whether with an instructor or solo, and it’s tough to get predictable results, or evaluate them, if we begin the process from a different point each time. Meanwhile other pilots may see us but simply not believe we’re really in the pattern, and commit to their own approach… And obviously we need to avoid having multiple gliders on final!
True story: the student entered downwind indecisively and three hundred feet higher than standard. I called him on it, so while pulling spoilers he protested that it didn’t matter. By then though, someone else was gliding under us at the proper height and on a line more parallel with the runway. (Quite likely we stepped on each other’s radio calls, so neither could hear the other.)
It’s good to be flexible of course, and able to adapt when necessary. But think of it like a hand of cards. Entering the pattern, you have only so many options left and should not discard any before necessary. During the couple minutes of downwind, base leg and final, the air has plenty of time to complicate things, so you need to be able to adjust in unpredictable ways. Consistency in landing pattern entry leaves all that other space available for improvisation in genuine emergencies.
Of course we encourage rated pilots to practice unusual approaches as well, when it doesn’t interfere with standard training, and only with appropriate communication beforehand.
After a chilly wind on Thursday, each day this coming week will be a bit warmer, with light winds from the north and east. As we always say, wind from the north is good for us here at Crystal, but from the east not so much. Last week we enjoyed our first real thermals of the season, almost a month ahead of schedule, so this week, with the sun that much higher we may as well expect a bit more. Only one way to find out…