9 December 1992

 

Dear Friends and Family,

 

I guess this must be our seventh annual Christmas letter, after 6 years in Rochester. It's been another fine year, with two major trips, and camping trips almost every weekend throughout the warmer months (late April to early October). Eileen continues her substitute teaching, which has the advantage of no work to take home at night, and complete flexibility for vacationing. I am still enjoying my job at Kodak very much. My major achievements this year were getting a better parking space (a real issue in the winter) and moving to a new office, which is much larger and is in a very quiet area with nearby plotters and laser printers. Despite the frequent reorganizations characteristic of many companies, I am still in the same division as when I started with Kodak, and have changed research laboratories and offices only once each. It's really pretty stable. Most of the work I do now falls in the areas of computer modelling and perceptual experiments.

Eileen and I continue to enjoy our house, which we still think of as new, although we have been in it for 2 years now. Eileen has become very interested in gardening, and had quite a bit of success starting plants from seeds indoors in February, and transplanting them outdoors in May. At this latitude, there are a lot of plants that need the head start indoors in order to beat the short growing season. We had a lot of landscaping done this year, including planting four 2-inch caliper shade trees in the front yard; finishing digging beds all the way around the house; and combining two mulched islands in the back yard to eliminate some lawns areas that wouldn't grow due to shade (we have about 25 lindens, 5 hickories, a few elms, and a cherry tree in the back yard; the lindens are good-sized, about 50 feet tall). We managed to refinance at just the right time and reduced our 30-year mortgage to 15 years, with no change in monthly payment! Actually, though, at the rate we are repaying, we should own the house in ten years; the refinancing saved about a year and a half of payments.

We didn't take a lot of trips this winter, but did manage to see a great gray owl in Pennsylvania in January, and visited the Bruce Peninsula (in Ontario, between Georgian bay and Lake Huron) for a long weekend in February to look for snowshoe hares. We see lots of snowshoe hares in their brown summer pellage, but have yet to see them well and photograph them in winter when they are white. We failed again this year, but did find a hunting boreal owl one night, a good record. On this trip we hand-fed dozens of chickadees and a red-breasted nuthatch. Also in February we finally got really good looks at a gray phase gyrfalcon, a bird I had seen poorly twice before, and that Eileen had not seen at all.

Over Easter we visited my Mom and brother Chris in Virginia and photographed early wildflowers. In late May we visited Virginia again to photograph the native rhododendrons and azaleas of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We got a number of exciting wildflowers on this trip, including wild bleeding heart, shooting star, spiderwort, and crested iris. We also visited Pt. Pelee and Rondeau Parks in Ontario on successive weekends in May for migrating songbirds. We spent 3 weeks in June on our second trip, in a series of four, covering the Rockies from north to south. This segment included western Wyoming and most of Colorado. On the drive out we stopped at Devil's Tower, and spent a night at Cody, Wyoming to see the rodeo. Then we continued west to Yellowstone, where Eileen's folks and my Mom us joined for a week, which was great fun! The wildflowers in east Yellowstone were excellent (e.g. jacob's ladder, blue columbine), and we saw a number of species of mammals and birds, including blue and sage grouse, sandhill crane, sage thrasher, and trumpeter swan. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is superb, and Mammoth Hot Springs was very impressive. Our last day in Yellowstone it snowed, closing the passes. After visiting this park and the Grand Tetons, we headed south in western Wyoming, stopping at Fossil Butte and Flaming Gorge, and then crossed over into northeast Utah to visit Dinosaur National Monument. The fossils at Fossil Butte and Dinosaur were outstanding, and the geology of Sheep Creek at Flaming Gorge was stunning. In the Colorado portion of Dinosaur, we viewed the magnificant scenery at the confluence of the Green and Yampa Rivers.

From there we visited Colorado National Monument, and then the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, a most impressive chasm with nice birding (Virginia's warbler, gray flycatcher, plumbeous solitary vireo, poorwill) and camping on the north rim. Next was Maroon Bells near Aspen, the most photographed place in Colorado, where black swifts flew over our campsite at dusk. The Great Sand Dunes were indeed great, and we survived the four-wheel drive past The Point of No Return, without incurring the $500 towing bills that many travelers suffered. Although we did not find brown-capped rosy finch on Mt Evans, we finally got some good telescope views in Rocky Mountain National Park, despite rain, sleet, and fog. This was the first time I had seen this subspecies, although I had heard it overhead in flight before. In total, Eileen had about 10 new birds and 5 new mammals; I saw one new mammal, Nuttall's cottontail. However, we did get nice photographs of a number of species and some excellent 45-inch negatives of scenic views. On the 2-day drive home, we went through Pawnee National Grassland, where we saw mountain plover on their breeding grounds and McCown's and chestnut-collared longspurs.

July and August found us camping and conoeing in the Adirondacks most weekends. Some of our more exciting finds were both species of purple-fringed orchis, a quillwort (a grass-like fern relative that grows submerged in water, and so is hard to find), turk's-cap lily, and a baby jumping mouse. We made our annual pilgrimage to Rondeau to try to see nodding pogonia, a rare and unpredictable orchid, and found a single leaf, bringing our total to two leaves in four trips! We'll get one in bloom someday! Eileen's sister, her husband Patrick, and their children Corey and Claire (a new baby) visited for several days, my Dad stopped in one weekend on his way from Vermont to West Virginia; and Eileen's brother Paul came for a week. It sure was nice to see all of them!

In September we made two trips to Algonquin Provincial park in Ontario, a roughly 5070 mile park, the interior of which is accessible only by canoe, snowshoes, or skis. The first trip was our annual timber wolf excursion; in 2 of 5 years we have heard the wolves well, and most years we see the aurora borealis well. The second trip was for fall color, though we were slightly early. The following weekend, when we were in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks, the color was at peak. During this time, Eileen planted scads of bulbs in our freshly-dug beds; I know we'll be heartened by the sight of all those flowers next spring! The last few weekends of camping, including our mid-October weekend to see tamaracks turned golden, were cancelled as both Eileen and I got bronchitis, which was little, if any, fun!

In November we went to the Hawaiian Islands for 2 weeks. I was sent by Kodak to attend a week-long conference on Maui. Eileen enjoyed staying in a resort hotel on the beach, and the temperatures were mighty nice compared to Rochester! We did as much snorkeling as we could fit in around the conference, which was great fun. Eileen and I spent four extra days on Maui, driving all the way around the island, and hiking into the caldera of the dormant Haleakala volcano. We also spent four days on the Big Island, where we found a selection of the native landbirds at high elevations on the slopes of the volcanoes. It was especially exciting to be able to view a fresh pahoehoe lava flow (just a few hours old), and also see the steam (and breathe the vapors) where the lava slowly flowed into the sea. We also toured Oahu, visiting the U. S. S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. Unfortunately, Eileen and I could not visit the most interesting island from a natural history point of view, Kauai, due to hurricane damage.

It's December now, and there's a foot of heavy snow on the ground. Winter is here in earnest, and it will be four months until we see Eileen's bulbs blooming through the last of the snow. Maybe we'll get those snowshoe hares this winter...

We hope that this letter finds you all in good health and good spirits