Category Archives: Sticks Life

Cold Season

A Summer Place

Snow bears the most wonderful scent. Particularly after a long, hot summer, a warm and wet autumn, when composting grass and molds perfume the air. The tiniest, shortest season-within-a-season is the Foliage Peak, around the first and second week of October. It’s easy to miss this one if you are not out in it, raking leafpiles or sneaking in the last fishing trips to the pond before it is sealed beneath a foot of ice. There will be just a few days when the tons of dried leaves create some of my favorite, delicate aromatic nuances.

The Golden Autumn

Then one morning, arising in the darkness, I open the door to let Sassy June out, and the smell wafts to me through the open door. It smells exactly like that of which it is made, cold and water. It is snow on the way, and this is the harbinger of Cold Season. In my book, there are a hundred subtle changes throughout the year which I identify as seasons-within-seasons. The Standard Four are just too long and vague. Spring has snow, then crocuses, then mud, then tulips, then American Robins and before you know it, the dozen springs move on into the multiple summers.

Sparrow with Apple Blossoms

And after the dozen autumns, the many parts of Cold Season approach. First there is just coldness. No longer do we revel in the luxury of stepping out the door without consideration of our garments. Slowly we add sweatshirts. Then gloves, and maybe a hat. As the season commences, we’ll get out our barn coat and snow boots. By the time we are deep within the middle of this odyssey, we will don long-johns and “base layers”. Wrap our faces with scarves, pull on the big Berne snowsuit, and the felt-lined Ranger Boots.

 

Am I supposed to feel my fingers?

Cold Season sports some of the most beautiful sunrises of the year. Or perhaps it is more related to timing. In the long, easy days of summer, Sun is up way before Sassy and me. In the evenings, it still hangs in the sky after the end of Jeapordy. During winter, Sun seems to seek my companionship. The morning commute is greeted with frozen sunrises. Crystals hanging in red skies. Delicate flakes fluttering Earthward, backlighted by  gold and pink and bright cerulean blue.

Winter Sunrise

The challenges of the season come along at a steady pace. Finding the ice scrapers for the car, closing the storm windows. Firing the pellet stove and gas heaters, the smell of hot dust as the heat machines slowly wind up. Oh, surprise! Forgot to shut off the water to the outdoor faucet, the ice freezing in the spray head, cracking the plastic. “You know your hose is on out here?” son Ryan asks on a visit.

We’ll have a little snow by Thanksgiving most years. We almost always have white Christmases, though I have known a year or two when the day was devoid of snow. For me and my ilk, snow is a requirement for a fully-enjoyable holiday. This year threatened to be green, but we were granted reprieve as the snow fell gently on Christmas Eve. Just enough for a pretty dusting, everything painted new and white. Just when some old guy says something to the effect of “We just don’t have winters like the old days.”, along comes a blizzard to suggest he may be mistaken. Somehow, these are every bit as exciting as when I was a child, and the prospect of a “snow day” off from school was most welcome. A double bonus; no school, and three feet of snow to play in!

Buffeted Crest

On the trails of Engleville, I can venture forth under the most challenging circumstances. Twelve degrees below zero and a ten-mile-per-hour wind. I can imagine myself on a Coast Guard Cutter in the Bering Sea, Sergeant Preston of the Northwest Mounted Police in the days of the Yukon Gold Rush. I’ll stand again atop Nishan Hill for the thousandth time, and feel the wind pounding against me, making me sway like a sapling. It is here I feel closest to this Great Cosmos. This must be what it’s like in space, on the surface of Pluto, the asteroids of the Kuyper belt. Of course, I have the back-of-my-mind assurance that I am only a twenty-minute walk to a hot fire and a cup of steaming coffee.

Now I will count the tiny handful of weekends we’ll have to immerse ourselves in all that is Cold Season. Ice fishing and snowmobiling, ski-joring with Sassy June, snowshoe walks past snow-covered pines, the birds of winter, the long, moonlit nights, gray days veiled in flurries.

This is a quieter season for the most part. No neighbor lawn mowers grazing, no clamoring combines rolling up and down Engleville Road. (Though the Town of Sharon’s big Oshgosh V-plow will rumble past a couple of times a day in bad weather, son-in-law Kenyon waving from the window.) On a sunny, snowy day, if you’re lucky, you’ll hear the kids from the farm and the “Blue House Boys” next door, sledding down the hills, building snow forts, engaging in snowball fights, the laughter of children filling the frozen air.

On another bright winter day, the whining sounds of snowmobiles will be heard from all directions as they ride the abandoned rail bed north to the village, cross the carefully marked trail lanes over the hayfields, climbing to the Corporation Land, Engleville Pond, and the State Forest beyond. And here on the ranch, my grandchildren will tear up the neatly groomed trails, carefully conditioned for an old man and his old dog, riding the Ski-Doo, pulling siblings and cousins on a plastic sled, arguing over whose turn it is to drive.

There will be walks in the woods, down to the Little Beaver Creek. There will be rabbit- hunting in the hedgerows. There will be warm nights in the high school gym watching basketball games. There will be frigid days when we fish through the ice and debate our sanity for doing so. There will be frozen moments alone on a trail, with silent steady snowfall and an evasive sun. And I will be filled with reverence for this place, this time, this planet, this cosmos, this simple, beautiful life.

Then one day, the rest of the world will smell a smell, note the steadily fading snowdrifts, perhaps see a tiny purple flower shoving its way through the snow. A tiny giant, driven by tenacity, unphased by the cold. And they will begin to decry and declare “We’re nearing the end of winter! Look, signs of spring!”

I will feign joy for their benefit.

Though inside, I will shed a tiny frozen tear for the passing of the Cold Season.

 

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Pazlo

 

Marching Into February (An Addendum)

Thought I’d drop an update on the snow. It’s over six inches now, and will continue to fall for maybe another 36 hours. We’ll have probably 20 inches or more when it’s done.

I meant to share more about the hok ski concept, specifically their origin and history. The concept originated in Northern China, where the Altai people (and no doubt other indigenous people) made skis then covered them with animal skins. The skins provided the same climbing/gliding action as the modern fabric skins. The fur would act as a grip when ascending, but would allow gliding when descending hills and trails. Here’s a photo gleaned from the web.

Altai man with hoks

I also forgot to include the photos of the hard-core football fan neighbors on Superbowl Sunday. Tom & Lynn always have a gathering for the game, and, like many Americans, they assemble a football game of their own to play before the big show. It’s quite a big event across the road, and the cars are crowded in their driveway and mine. The dogs (mine and Betsy’s) go nuts at all the traffic, and we get to witness the annual event, ready to call the ambulance when someone slips on the snow and breaks a wrist. Okay, so the worrisome patriarch takes over a bit. Of course snow, football, big guys and beer are a good combination for some potential injuries. Fortunately, there were no incidents (besides heated debates about where the line of scrimmage should be).

 

And I thought I was a winter die-hard!

Porch Pals

The American Robins are returning to their northwoods homes. They gather to roost in the pine stands by the hundreds, perhaps thousands at times. It’s quite a cacophony, and a sure sign that spring is right around the corner, however hard I may resist!

Lastly, I meant to mention that our winters, our snow cover, can actually linger long. I may have painted a softened picture of winter’s real potential. Of course, I wouldn’t be an old patriarch if I didn’t say “winter’s aren’t what they used to be.”, but I can back it up. With witnesses! One year I took son Ryan and daughter Kerry up to Cherry Valley to see the crevasses. These are large fissures in the top of the sedimentary ridge the Niagara River laid down, when it used to pass right through here a few hundred million years ago. A great upheaval caused a change to what would one day be New York State. That tectonic shift formed the Niagara Escarpment, and from thence forth the the great river turned northward, to its present-day track. Now “The Mighty Mohawk”, though dwarfed by the Great Niagara, follows the same 2-billion-year-old valley the Great One once did. Good thing, too, as Engleville was under a few hundred feet of water hitherto!

So, we had a “good” winter that year. Plenty of snow and late in the year, maybe a blizzard in March like the one I’m looking at right now outside my window. It was the first week of June when we went to Cherry Valley, and climbed around in the crevices that were perhaps ten feet deep on average. There, ten feet below the forest floor, in a north corner of this solid rock sanctuary, was a little remnant pile of the winter’s snow. We marveled at it. We handled it. We picked it up. And that was the year we will always remember.

The year we made snowballs in June!

 

Mind you, Ryan is now 36, and “the baby”, Kerry, is now 33.  A special bonus, a 25-year-old photo of Kerry throwing snow at me. A “good” old-fashioned winter!

Well, have to run. That snowmobile isn’t going to ride itself!

 

Take care, and keep in touch,

 

Paz

February Journal

Gosh, here it is the end of February already! Two twelfths of our year gone!

Gosh, here it is the beginning of March already! And I missed my deadline for the February Journal! Well, we’ll write about February in March. Here we go…

It’s been kind of a whacky winter this year, with temperatures oscillating wildly from fifteen below zero F to sixty degrees F in a two-week period. We set a record last Wednesday, with a high temperature of 73 degrees F. In February? What goes on?

Well, this is the first year that I’ve actually heard myself complain that it was not cold enough, and there was not enough snow!  I think it’s good (and fun) to embrace winter activities. Too many people live in this climate just hiding in winter, running from the cold and snow, and wishing for an early spring. Don’t get me wrong, I like spring as well as the next guy. Still, we live in a place that’s frozen and snowy at least 3 or 4 months out of the year. Sometimes it stretches out a little. A “good” long winter will set in around mid-November, and the landscape can be covered in snow until March or later. Most winters don’t quite string out that long.

When kids were little, I’d be out a lot building snowmen, snow sculptures and snow forts. There would be sledding down hills and generally playing in the snow many days. I’ve been an avid fisherman since I was a kid, but didn’t take up ice fishing until I was nearly fifty years old. Not sure why, though there was a time I was not so eager to expose myself to sub-freezing temperatures.

This year I took up yet another new winter activity, namely Ski-joring. Joring refers to being pulled by an animal, usually dogs. (There’s also Cani-Cross, motocross with canines!) Some ski-joring is done with horses, mostly in the midwest. In 1926, ski-joring was an Olympic event! Most folks have never heard of it. Anyway, this year I bought these things called Ski-shoes or Climbing skis, and they have a few other names. Invented and still used by the Altai people in Northern China, they’re called hoks (“hawks”) in the native language.

Altai Hoks

Hoks skin detail

So hoks, or climbing skis, have a “skin” on much of the bottom surface of the ski. A velour-like fabric, it’s like sharkskin; smooth in one direction and grippy in the other. So you can walk up hills like you’re wearing snowshoes, but on the backtrail or downhills, you can glide a bit. They’re not as fast as cross-country skis owing to the large fabric patch being a bit less slick than an all-ski underside.

Of course there’s more to it. I also picked up a trekking belt which goes around your waist, and attaches via a bungee lead to the dog. This way she pulls the belt, leaving hands free for ski poles. I did some water skiing as a youngster, but never skied on snow, so I’m learning the skiing part before strapping myself to a Husky that can run 25 miles an hour! The trail camera got a pretty good snapshot of the joring rig. You can see the Hoks yourself (or buy them) at Altai Ski. I think the whole address would be: http://www.us-store.altaiskis.com. The trekking belt and bungee lead come from Nooksack Racing in New Hampshire. (www.nooksackracing.com) Sasha’s custom-made dogsled harness comes from Alpine Outfitters of Bend, Oregon. (www.alpineoutfitters.net) (That’s grandson Kacey in the green hoodie).

Of course the temps were too warm (around or above freezing) for hok skiing, and even caused the snow to stick to the snowshoes. Then the snow melted and it rained. Boo hoo! In spite of all that we keep on hiking the trails and visiting our Wonder Woods. It’s always great to be out here, even if the weather doesn’t spoil us with perfect climes!

Snowmobiling, also, rose on the popularity list, became the buzz of the season, then was similarly hobbled by less-than-desirable weather for snowmachines. Max saved his money from working on the dairy farm all summer (and winter on Sundays only), and bought himself a shiny used Ski-Doo. His father, son-in-law Matt, went out after him and bought a sled, too. Not to be left behind (should snow ever fall) I also added a new Ski-Doo to my inventory. Well, not a new one, but a good used sled that will serve me for years. Of course we still have the Arctic Cat Jag my father handed down to me almost ten years ago, which is now painted orange with a “REVENGE” stencil in black on the sides of the cowl. Max had an idea we could take the Jag to the grass drags in Bouckville. Maybe we will, yet. Grass Drags are summer competitions for snowmobiles, where, as the name implies, they drag race on the grass. I guess someone is even more obsessed with winter sports than I am, and couldn’t let the whole summer go by without an excuse to ride his snowmobile!

Any excuse. My Ski-Doo on the two inches of snow we’ve had since I bought it.

We did manage to get a little ice fishing in before the temps warmed up and the rains came. Grandson Max and I plied Engleville Pond for half of a Sunday. It was quite cold, in the upper teens, and a bit of wind was blowing, so it was easy to keep moving out on the ice! All I had for bait was mealworms, which are okay, but not nearly as effective as shiners (or redheads). We drilled holes, we set tip-ups. We jigged with the short poles and made the rounds checking baits. Alas, our cold and wet quarry eluded us. It was cold and blowy, and in that visceral way it was a beautiful day to be out there. A steady snow fell all the while, and we had the whole pond and the little hollow all to ourselves.

Folks often think we’re out of winter when February ends. March sounds so spring-like. Many forget that the biggest blizzards we get are in March. (29 inches of snow last year!) So it’s no surprise, after all my lamenting, that another whopper of a storm is forecast for this weekend, with teens and twenties being quoted as snowfall predictions. Probably too late for the pond, and temperatures are forecast around both sides of freezing, so it’ll be too warm for snowshoes and hoks again.

I’m not getting my hopes up, but I hear there’s a new-ish Ski-Doo that wants to get itself buried in the snow on the trails of Engleville! Come on, winter. One last hurrah.

See you in that altogether in-between season, the season whose only claim to fame is Colt’s Foot and mud. Okay, so some folks actually look forward to Spring!

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

Wonders in the Woods

Rerun- This post was originally published in January, 2016 on Armchair Zen.

To the Woods!

To the Woods!

Headed out into the Magic on this New Year’s Day with two of my favorite beings.

Of course my canine companion Chuy was the catalyst, and my grandson Max joined us in the 28-degree air. In my super-eager, always-ready grownup fashion, we were striding past the barn before I realized Max hadn’t any gloves, and was rather underdressed for an hour or two of outdoor play. Back to the house, and he donned my spare “jumpsuit”, some gloves, hat & scarf. Now we were ready. We headed up the runway to the rifle range, and at the crest of the hill Chuy crossed through the hedgerow to “The Widowmaker”, a big hayfield which has seen many radio-controlled airplane crashes, and has claimed the scale pretend lives of many scale pretend pilots.

“Can we go to the woods?” Max asked.

Inside my forced-order grownup brain, the responses line up:”Well, your dad is on the way over to pick up you and your sister. He might be here soon, and we don’t want to keep him waiting. It’s a bit of a hike over the hill, and I hadn’t planned on it. And it’s pretty cold.”

What came out of my mouth: “Sure we can!

As we walked the treeline atop the Widowmaker, a sudden thunder exploded nearby on our left. In a flurry of wingbeats, a ruffed grouse made its escape, placing trees and distance between it and us. “Partridge!”, Max declared. “Never saw him.”, I replied.  As we entered the hardwood stand, the ground before us was free of snow, a blanket of tan, brown and bleached leaves carpeted the forest floor, ankle-deep and noisy.

“Which do you like better, winter or summer?” Max inquired.

This was met with a lengthy response about all the things there are to love about summer, followed by all the things to love about winter, a circling and recircling diatribe that ended where we started, without a real direct answer to the direct question. The summary was a vague “there are so many things to enjoy in both seasons, one precluded from the other, resulting in sort of a tie.”

As we walked through the woods, the ground seemed to crumble beneath our feet often. The sensation was one of walking on foot-deep piles of saltine crackers. A crunching sound followed by our boots sinking 3 or four inches into the humus. We stooped for a closer look. Upon examination, we found most of the ground to yield crystal structures rising six inches out of the soil.

“Crystals.”, I marveled, to which my companion replied “Are they valuable?”

Crystals of the Forest

Crystals of the Forest

This lead to a dissertation about the definition of crystals, crystalline structures, common types of crystals, and their definitions as common, semi-precious and precious gems. I theorized about the formation of these dirty glass ice crystal structures. We had a warm spell, and some rain, followed by a dip into temperatures well below freezing. Water evaporating from the ground met freezing air, and the crystals formed.

Dirt Diamonds

Dirt Diamonds

“Can we go look at the creek?” was Max’s next request.

Again, my brain tickled through a file of grownup reasons why we might not, followed by the exclamation “Sure!”.On the way we saw some interesting tree-ear formations, and I stopped to take a photo.

“They look more like tree noses.” said Max, and I agreed.

Tree Noses

Tree Noses

At the Little Beaver Creek, ice rimmed both sides of the frigid, flowing water. We stepped on the ice at the bank and it crunched underfoot. Then we had to throw rocks onto the ice on the opposite shore, trying to break through. The rocks were frozen into the ground on the creek banks, and we had to kick them to free them from their resting places. Three million years it took that rock to get there, and suddenly in one day it moves 20 feet. Changing the course of geological history, we pelted the ice to no avail.

Max vs. Ice

Max vs. Ice

Along the North Loop trail we came across a shotshell wad, and Max narrated last weekend’s rabbit hunting.

“I was here,” he began, taking his position and holding his arms in shotgun-wielding formation, “and Pierce was over there.” Max gestured to the other side of a tangle of brush. “He called ‘Are you ready, Max?’, and kicked the brush. The rabbit went right through here,” a sweeping arc of the arm, indicating the bunny’s course, “and BAM! BAM! I shot twice, but missed him.”

Conservation of angular momentum is the cosmic force brought to bear on objects circling other objects in space, the push & pull, the yin and yan of gravity versus centrifugal force resulting in an orbit. Some orbits are close, such as that of our moon. Some orbits are millions and millions of miles long, often ellipses, hanging a tight turn around their gravitational anchor, then sling-shotting off into the far reaches of solar systems and galaxies. Objects moving through space are affected by the pull of the objects they pass. Sometimes ever-so-slightly altering their course by degrees over millennia. In other cases, objects are drawn close, and the cosmic dance begins between host and satellite, and the once-free and boundless travelers become residents, orbiting moons or rings of debris.

My days and times with my grandchildren affect me in similar ways. I am pulled from the ultra-ordered, prepared-for-retirement, insured-for-everything, time-honored traditions of middle-aged American patriarchs, and drawn back into the world of wonder, the endless hours of childhood. To walk almost aimlessly, to stop and identify every type of scat. To play at edges from which grownups recoil. Throwing rocks onto ice, skirting the near-freezing water without cares, without worries of “what would happen if…?”

What would happen if we fell into the swiftly-moving current, plunging muscles and lungs into 34-degree water wearing 10 pounds of clothes?

“It would be a bad thing if Chuy went into the creek and couldn’t get back out.” Max observed, as the old dog approached the banks of the Little Beaver Creek. It was a parallel of too-grownup thought, the same things I am thinking about the boy. The boy on the brink of becoming a man. Let’s not hurry that, okay? Let’s have another year, another winter, another walk in the woods, where you are a child of Neverland, and worries are unwelcome. A place and time before you set out on that endless highway of adulthood. Before you fall into the traps, reading the road signs “What would happen if…?

“He’ll be fine.” I answer casually, carefully concealing the legitimacy of his concern. “Not likely to happen.”

Max the meteor streaks past Grandfather planet. I am pulled toward him by the unseen forces, trying to hold him.

He pulls back, as a glorious tail stretches out across the cosmos, hurtling by me at phenomenal speed.

My orbit affected, I reach out with my own unseen force, and try to grab that tail.

Max Meteor

Max Meteor

Be at peace,

 

Paz

 

 

Deer Season

Huntsmen

New York State has a long deer hunting season, that starts with bow and muzzleloader seasons, after which comes the regular firearms season.

Son-in-law Matt and Grandson Maximus are avid hunters, going back several generations in the hamlet of Buel, five miles north of Engleville. It’s been quite a while since I stalked deer with a gun, and I’ve moved on to a new hunt. With my camera.

I’m a catch-and-release fisherman. Except for a couple of shore dinners while camping up north at Forked Lake, I measure, photograph and release the fish I catch. I decided that since I’m past the game-taking stage in my life, I’d start a new thing: “Shoot and release”.  It’s unlawful for members of a hunting party to be unlicensed, so I have my big game tags on my back as we pursue our quarry. However, my Nikon is the only thing I shoot with.

Opening day I joined the lads and a couple other hunting buddies, Mike and Jeff, and we went on a couple of deer drives in Buel. Push-hunting, or driving, is a method that calls for a couple of members of the party to take a stand at advantageous spots, while the “drivers” start along the opposite side of the area (typically woods, swamps, marshes and the like) and we make noise and hoot as we drive the deer out towards the shooters.

After a couple drives in Buel, we headed to daughter Kerry’s farm, where Matt and Max have box blinds. These are raised stands enclosed by walls. We spent a few hours in the blind, until dark, without seeing any deer. Max got himself a good nap, though.

The day after opening day, Max got his buck. He and his Dad were at Kerry’s, and Matt drove the swamp towards Max. A fine 6-point buck was Max’s reward. It was a beautiful deer, in good health, with no sign of ticks.

 

Max’s buck

As the only unarmed member of the hunting party, I’m always a driver, or “pusher”. I get some great exercise and see some trails and terrain that’s new to me. The hunting party is actually glad to have me, as fewer and fewer folks pursue hunting these days. Back in the when, there would be a dozen guys assembled for some big drives. Sometimes the group would take more than one deer in a single drive.

I’m a little conflicted in the sense that I myself don’t kill things, and also I love all of nature and all its creatures. Thanks to Disney and The Yearling, many of us get emotional over seeing a deer killed. Thankfully, my over-sized human brain is able to understand the concept of overcrowding. There was a time when predators would take their fair share of deer, and there were no fields full of corn or pumpkins to feed them. Nowadays, deer get plenty to eat, and have power line right-of-ways and rear easements to wander through safely. If we don’t take responsibility for reducing the deer overpopulation, they’ll all suffer with starvation and rampant spread of diseases. They’ll also run out in front of your car or even occasionally crash through a picture window into someone’s living room.

For me, I’ve taken to joining the hunt to spend time with my grandson and favorite son-in-law (okay, so he’s my only son-in-law, but still…) in the great outdoors in all weather. It’s a fine adventure for an old Armchair Zen grandfather, and I am easily mesmerized by the many photo opportunities that present themselves. Alas, I’ve yet to “shoot” a good deer on a hunt.

Mostly it’s about taking game, but nearly as important is the camaraderie of the hunt. Jeff arrives with “tomato pie”, very popular in Utica, from which he hails. Between drives we’ll talk about the deer we saw or didn’t see, yesterday’s drive, tomorrow’s plan. We recall names of those that hunted before us and have since passed on. Max’s grandfather Mert, Mike’s cousin Ken (they say don’t mention Ken Jones locally, he was a real character. Loved or hated, no in-betweens). A neighbor stopped to ask where we were hunting and if we had permission, and after a couple of well-timed name-drops, the neighbor was glad to have us nearby. And “Yes!”, she said, she’d be glad to get some venison if we were successful.

So, another year of trucks lining the roads on weekend mornings, guys walking around armed like soldiers, and the sound of shotguns and rifles ringing out through the hills. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a good respectable sport, and we are responsible sportsmen, and we have some great times out in the snow and mud of November.

Until next year!

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

A Perfect Day, Again

Serene Morning

Journal Entry 6/13/17 – A perfect day, again.

After missing out the first day, Ryan scores a respectable Bass down past the fork and to the north (13″). One 13-incher for me, maybe a Crappie .Boat motor running poorly, fouling plugs, but didn’t leave us stranded. 

A pancakes & bacon breakfast, tuna salad on rye for lunch and Famous Deconstructed Pot Roast Dinner with fresh-baked corn bread. A brief shower in the afternoon, but otherwise partly cloudy with periods of full sun. Temps in the high 70’s. Ryan got a sunburn.

Mike and Joyce and Ann and Eric struck camp a day early, and we now have the island to ourselves. Resident friends included the robin, a pair of grackles, probably a nesting pair, and a couple of sparrows that I may mistake for pine siskin.

I awoke somewhere in the wee hours and stepped out of my tent. The night air was completely still. The three-quarters waxing moon hung high to the south, illuminating the fog with its orange glow. Venus stood thirty degrees above the horizon due east, and its doppleganger was reflected in the glass-smooth waters of our own personal lake. Except for the father-and-son with their own island next door, we have the entire campground to ourselves.

Ryan retired early, and I sat up for a long while, listening to loons playfully echoing one another. I slept the fitful sleep of the dreamer, exhausted by his adventure.

I awoke fairly early. Some awareness of different surroundings, probably. Things scurrying on the forest floor beside my tent, birds chirping ten feet away. Also, I’m as excited to be at camp now as I was at ten years old, and like to be up early. The world is different at sunrise. Before sunrise. Before the world awakens. It’s very, very quiet (except for birdsong), and all the world feels closer, more intimate. It is the best time to feel a personal connection with the world.

This morning, however, I heard the gentle sounds of a light rain. Barely more than a drizzle. As if the rain was waning and was dripping from the trees. I laid in bed (well, “in sleeping bag”) a bit longer, waiting for the rain to stop. I was awake, and as I listened to the sound it seemed oddly directional. I leaned over toward Ryan’s side of the tent, and found his iPhone in the net bag, set to sleep machine mode. All that water noise was Ryan’s phone!

I flew out of bed and ran from the tent with camera in hand to capture that golden hour.

Ryan whipped up a bacon and pancakes breakfast with maple syrup. Real maple syrup, We live in maple syrup country, after all, and in “March Journal, March 2016”, there’s a whole bit about Max’s Sugar Shack, tapping trees and boiling sap in the Cabana.

After breakfast, we hit the water. Forked Lake has a fork in it, as the name implies, and at the confluence of the two forks is the deepest part of the lake, with about forty feet of water. This is the deep hole where the Landlocked Salmon hide, a quarry we seek each year. Joe caught one about three years ago, and we haven’t seen one since. We motored past the fork and to the north, headed for a small cove Ryan had had luck at before. Sure enough, before long he pulled a thirteen-inch bass from the clear water. Having gone fishless Monday, it was good to “break that spell”.

I hadn’t done a tune-up on the boat motor, and the AquaMarie putted along more like The African Queen, slowly wending her way down the lake, then along the north shore. We hit a few spots and motored around for a few hours, then made our way back to camp for lunch.

We had quite a crowd of locals, at times. Seems there was some kind of Dragonfly Rally. I suppose it was mating season or maybe they were just racing, but they were everywhere, along with Swallowtail butterflies (or maybe Admirals). Typical of my behavior, I personified them all and began speaking to them regularly. Usually, we’d be out on the boat and see one or the other, and I’d scold them. “You’re not supposed to be out here in the middle of the lake. You’re going to get eaten! Get back to camp, now.”

Fishing was off a bit today, and we returned again to camp after a nearly-fishless afternoon session. Ryan began to prepare his “Deconstructed Pot Roast Dinner”. He likes pot roast, but not in slices, so he cooked up the meat then cut and shredded it like chili or stew beef. He proceeded to cook the rest of Pot Roast Dinner; potatoes and carrots. All cooked in cast iron over an open fire, the final touch was baking fresh corn bread (declared as my favorite camp food) in the cast iron skillet. We hovered over this pan like quilting-bee ladies on a newborn baby. We made great fun over exaggerating Ryan’s silly name, and soon it became “Mechanically Deconstructed Rehydrated one-pot Pot Roast Meal”. No matter what you called it, it was the best camp dinner since yesterday’s.

With a delicious dinner in our bellies, tired bodies from a hard day’s camping, and soaring spirits buoyed by the most beautiful place we know, we settled in for evening in camp. There is no end to the topics that are discussed around the fire. We laughed long into the night, now and then hearing a loon call, or the splash of a fish surfacing for a snack. By day three, we both remarked at how our faces hurt, our cheek muscles strained from an excessive amount of laughter in a short period of time.

Ryan’s my son, but calls me his best friend in the world. In a way, I wish for him that he had a compatriot of his own age, raising babies, remodeling houses, drinking heartily. Yet again, I must admit that there is hardly a greater compliment, a greater satisfaction, a greater honor, than to be best friend to your own child. The feeling is mutual.

So another sun sets on camp, and we while away the hours around the fire pit until Ryan retires first. As the journal entry states, I lingered long over the fire, watching and listening to my lake. All was still when suddenly I heard, perhaps a quarter-mile distant, a great thunderous crash, deep in the night. I realized I had just heard a gargantuan tree falling in the woods, a hundred-year-old hemlock probably, standing fifty or sixty feet tall before today. I felt a little thrill thinking I am the only person in the world to bear witness to this event.

I retired to the tent, well-worn from a day of adventure.

I vowed not to be fooled by the sleep machine tomorrow.

Perfect Day #3, next time on Life In Engleville.

 

Take care, and keep in touch.

 

Paz

Soft, Silent Snow

 

Hipsters

Hipsters

A mid-February storm front campaigned across our little world. She visited on a carefree Sunday, allowing me to enjoy every snowflake of the day. There would be drinking of hot coffee, and photographs of birds at the feeder through the kitchen windowpane.

There would be a long walk afield with Sassy June, more photos of the yellow-red dog romping with winter glee. Hour by hour, we shall watch the snow pile up from within the comfort of our rooms, or from the vista atop Widowmaker Hill.

We’ve had enough snow now to justify donning the snowshoes, but halfway through the walk the following day would find temperatures rising, and the snow would stick to the bottom of the snowshoes like muck. Abandoned and carried for the home leg.

I wonder that people who live in more temperate climes never experience the magic of snow. The world at once transformed and renewed, a whitewash on everything.

Out in the magic of a country wood, it’s as though a blanket were thrown over our bubble of atmosphere. Falling from the sky the feather-down stuffing of billowy clouds. Yet, though blanketed and muffled, if one listens closely no silence will be beheld.

Each flake through the air and falling on another emits the most minute, nearly inaudible whisper. In concert with millions, as the snow falls a soft hiss can be heard, the babbling of this vertical brook of temporarily-solidified water.

We watch as the concrete statue of The Virgin slowly disappears, as if sinking in white quicksand. Sasha’s plastic igloo doghouse sports a complete cover of snow, looking like the genuine article. The wren house, vacated until the cacophonous June return, builds up a welcome mat on the doorstep, growing higher with each subsequent viewing, threatening to cover the very portal it serves.

The radio scanner is on, and we listen to the calls for Sheriff’s deputies and State Troopers. “Vehicle off the road, Town of Carlisle. Vehicle in the ditch, Town of Seward.” Return calls for tow trucks, sometimes EMS. We listen to the plow drivers. “Better hit Sharon Hill again before you hit the back roads, Gary.” “10-4.” comes the reply, “Gotta watch that big turn on 145, it keeps drifting in pretty bad.”.

From time to time the big Internationals would rumble up Engleville Road, their giant steel plows scraping, seeking pavement, tire chains clanging. The dump hopper filled with sand & salt sprays out a swath from the spreader. The truck will stop and back up at the stop sign by the school to drop extra sand and salt, climb US 20 East up the hill at ten miles per hour so the de-icing traction aid will lay heavily.

As darkness falls, the snow continues. Solar yard lights buried up to their globes come on, illuminate the snow from within. The flashing orange lights of the snowplows streak up the fields, throw shadows of trees and houses as they crawl past like some iron bison, oblivious of the snow. The television is showing colorful maps. “Blue areas reporting 8 to 10 inches of new snowfall. Here in the purple areas,” Steve the weatherman says, pointing at the map, his finger covering Engleville, “reports are coming in of 18 to 20 inches, and still more to come.”.

I am overcome by a sort of pioneer spirit. The pellet stove will keep us toasty, and we can close the door at the pantry to hog the heat for the living room. If the power goes out, we have gas heaters that will work. The cupboard holds several old oil lamps with oil, just for such an occasion, not uncommon in northeast winters or July thunderstorm seasons. More lanterns are available upstairs amidst the camping gear, including one that will recharge in the car. There is a library full of books we could read to one another when the TV is off and the sparse light gathers us more closely. Soon I am fairly wishing for a power outage.

A chance to evade all these lights from room to room, better to see the moonlit snowfields before us. A time without fans whirring and refrigerators cycling and sump pumps pumping on and off, to listen to Frost’s gentle sweep, to read those words while living them. Alas, deep in the night the snow would cease to fall, and power went uninterrupted. So strange to feel we missed out on something due to the power staying on.

In my childhood, it seems power failures were a bit more common. My mother, always the wide-eyed adventurer, no doubt taught me to look forward to outages. We would not feel forced, yet were compelled, each to gather around the light. My mom would stop cooking supper (on the electric range), my dad would come in from his darkened garage. My sister and I would abandon our chairs, no Family Affair or Man From U.N.C.L.E. tonight.

And my mom would adventurize the experience. There would be Tee Pees of blankets, or they might become Conestoga wagons, prairie schooners. There would be foods that didn’t require cooking, like peanut butter and crackers which would become K-rations for the troops at the front. Baloney sandwiches became “chuck wagons”. And there would be reading.

Here’s hoping the next storm packs just a little more wallop!

Off Season

Off Season

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz