Tag Archives: Community

Fire On The Mountain

Fire Ring

In his song “The Devil went down to Georgia”, Charlie Daniels’ hero Johnny plays the fiddle on a wager, his soul for gold. He plays a medley of folk songs, and begins thusly:

Fire on the mountain!
Run boys! Run!”

The folk song referenced is nested in bygone days, a different time. It doesn’t sing “Call the fire department!”, nor “Dial 911!”. It comes from a time when there was no 911. Here on this mountain, there was no fire department. If there were, telephones do not yet exist, or perhaps have not reached the hills and hollows of sparsely populated rural areas.

It evokes a vision of mother or grandfather, one hand on a porch post, looking across the valley. Smoke is rising, not from a forest or a glen, but from John and Mary’s, or perhaps the Widow Bouck’s. The conflagration is not anonymous. We can imagine Mary’s face buried in her hands, or thankful that the winds are not blowing toward their home. We can see John, the weight of the entire world on his shoulders, face and hands blackened with soot as he beats back the burning bushes to protect his family, his farm, and every irreplaceable thing he has, no one to turn to or call on for help.

The boys arrive, perhaps on foot, perhaps on horseback, perhaps brimming from the bed of a truck we know from episodes of The Waltons, from The Grapes of Wrath.  They are farmers and millhands and pastors and barbers. By twos and threes they race without orders into the fray, disregarding their own safety. With shovels and picks, axes and hoes, these ordinary men confront the beast, shoulder to shoulder. Through the night the battle rages, and at dawn they will kneel together. They will give thanks for all that was saved, or will share tears for their losses.

In the world of 2020, the majority of people live in densely populated communities. Cities and sprawling suburbs and housing developments. Most benefit from full-time, fully-equipped, fully-trained fire departments, whose heroes are no less brave or appreciated than Johnny and his neighbor boys.

According to the 2000 Census, and I doubt it has changed much, the population of the Village of Sharon Springs stood at 547 persons. I live about three miles from the village line, in the larger tract called the Town of Sharon. It is comprised of about 1,900 people, which includes the village populace. When I moved here in 1985, we had a constable. He drove around in an older Plymouth with a big, round gumball machine-looking light on the roof. Once Phil reached retirement age, the position of the constable was dispensed with. The well-equipped county Sheriff’s department would cover the village in his stead.

Our fire department and ambulance squad are all volunteers. So it is for all of our surrounding communities. One would need to drive about fifty miles before reaching a community with paid firefighters and EMT’s. In this past year, my grandson Max began his training to join the Canajoharie Volunteer Fire Department. My sister’s parents-in-law were both on the Greater Amsterdam Volunteer Ambulance Corps. My dear late friend Jim Bixby was a Lieutenant in the Middelburgh Volunteer Fire Department. He was honored, as was my daughter’s father-in-law, with a “Final Call” via radio dispatcher, at their funerals.

We had a blow-down last week at the ranch. A twenty-foot, twelve hundred pound chunk of Sugar Maple #1 along the road frontage fell across the end of our driveway. Already a miracle, it didn’t fall six feet to the west and end up blocking the road, nor did it blow over due east, the predominant wind, which would have placed its top somewhere around the second shelf of my grandmother’s curved-glass china closet in the parlor. As luck would have it, I was only three miles away, just over the village line, when my wife called me home. Unable to use my own driveway, I parked across the road at Tom & Lynn’s. Before I got across the road, Lynn was out the door calling to me.

“Tom and Matt will be here in a few minutes. They’re setting up for Paul’s funeral.”

“That’s okay,” I replied, “I’ll just hook onto it with the truck and drag it out of the way.”

I didn’t need to inconvenience Tom or their son Matt, who were doing some of the behind-the-scenes things done for funeral services. They had just enough time to come home and change in order to attend the services for the friend and neighbor.

I went into the house to don coveralls, and before I made it back to the end of the driveway, I heard Matt firing up the chainsaw, his father advising him as to the best approach for cutting the huge obstacle. We worked together, and in less than ten minutes had chunked up and removed the fallen trunk, and cleared the driveway. Handshakes and thank-yous, and they were off to get dressed. Neighbors are such a blessing.

Lester plowed my driveway until one year, at the worst of times, his plow truck broke down, and he found himself in no position to repair or replace it. Without inquiry, another neighbor, Mike, began to plow my driveway for me, refusing all offers of compensation. This year I have my own plow truck, and have had occasion in the last two storms to cross the road and plow yet another neighbor’s driveway. Betsy lives alone and is no shrinking violet. If necessary, she would clear her driveway with a shovel. It will not be necessary as long as I am “Lester of the watch”.

It must be nigh on twenty years now since we had the chimney fire. I have no head for time and find memorization of dates and years tedious. But I remember that like yesterday. Weren’t we lucky to be standing in the kitchen when we heard the rush of the draft turn to a grumbling roar, a gut wrenching and unmistakable sound. Barking orders I commanded my wife to grab the two girls, go get in the van and drive it across the road to Tom & Lynn’s. Here they would be safe. Now I called the Schoharie Fire line, there was no 911 yet.

“O’Connor’s, Box 66A, Engleville Road,” I related the data, followed by the reassurance “They all know where I live.” It seemed I had just hung up the phone and grabbed the fire extinguisher, mere seconds later, Tony (the Sheriff) pulled into my driveway, followed closely by Lester (yes, the same Lester). Then Ray, who delivered our heating oil when we had a furnace. Then Scott, the plumber son of plumber Ruben, whose family built their modest fortune maintaining the famous bath houses of the village. One after another familiar faces arrived, threw a ladder, advised one another on the safest approach, tossed a chain down into a chimney inferno from which flames were shooting fifteen feet into the air. They knocked down the creosote, eliminating the fuel, it’s flakes ironically smothering the fires at the base of the chimney liner.

They laughed with one another as they stowed their gear, called me by name as they bade good night, drove home as if it were just another day. An hour ago I was facing the utter destruction of my home, and in minutes these ordinary heroes saved it all without a drop of water.

 

Blue Light Flashing

The rising wail of the whistle is heard three miles hence,

It quickens one’s pulse,

fills the hills and valleys, an echoing plea,

“Help!” it’s crescendo cries “Help!”.

 

Leaving us to wonder and worry for whom the alarm is raised. 

 

In an instant we see them.

Family sedans, compact cars, and pickup trucks from the farm hasten past,

Blue Light Flashing.

 

We see neighbors racing headlong into danger without thought

Of reward or return, offering up their own safety,

To help neighbors in the grip of calamity.

 

With great gratitude for one and solemn sympathy for the other,

We pray for both.

 

 

Bless you, all you boys (and now girls, too!) who respond to the call: “Fire on the mountain!”

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

Mud Season

Juney In The Mud

St.Patrick and the Easter Bunny have their work cut out for them if they want to reach the door of our house. Better be wearing some muck boots.

My house is around 1130 feet above sea level, and up around 1200 feet is Engleville Pond, and a few feet higher is the Corporation Pond. They are situated right across the road, perhaps a half mile away. Well, water runs down hill, you know. The main water line from Engleville Pond, which is actually a reservoir for the village drinking water, runs right past my house and on to the water tower another mile and a half away.

When I first moved here, there was a faucet sticking out of the ground out by the shed. One day when I was enjoying the thrill of home ownership, in this case replacing my deep well pump 70 feet below us, I noticed the trickling, leaking faucet was still running. Well, it turns out that it was a tap from the big water supply line. I guess when they put it through here and tore up Mr. Baker’s property, they offered folks a tap from the line. Mr. Baker raised pigeons and kept a couple of farm animals such as a cow and turkey, so the water supply was welcomed.

About ten years ago, the guys from the village came by and asked if I still used the spigot out back. Turns out they were looking to reduce leaks in the mainline between the pond and the water tower. I assured them I could get by without it, and civic-mindedly agreed they could shut it off and remove it.

Ever since then, especially in the spring, we have quicksand in the driveway. I don’t mean mud, I mean quicksand. Real quicksand like in the movies where it sucks people in to their imminent demise. One year I thought I’d fill the “soft spot” with some solids, to build it up. I sank about a half-dozen bricks into the muck, and they disappeared out of sight. Haven’t seen them since. A few more rocks and wheelbarrows full of gravel all met with the same fate.

Over the weekend, I was out in the driveway, trying to squish flat all the ridges and ruts in the quicksand before May comes along and dries them out and turns them into curbs. A long time ago, almost twenty years now, I guess, I had Pomella Brothers come over with their backhoe and dump trucks to work on the driveway. I had them sink drain tiles in it, from the center, draining out to the ditch at Engleville Road. This seemed to help a bit when there was four inches of stone on the driveway. By now, it’s difficult to pick out the areas where the stone laid. In a few places it’s still gravely, but there’s a sort of swirl shape that leads to the quicksand hole, like gravel circling slowly down Earth’s drain.

When we first moved here, I presumed this was just a brief spring melt-off thing. We’d place planks at the top of the driveway so one could proceed to the back door over a boardwalk. After the boardwalk sank into the quicksand, I realized the problem was a bit bigger.

Finally, I called the village and asked if there was anything they could do. My cellar looks more like a koi pond, and has frogs living in it. I almost reported my daughter missing, thinking she sank into the mud, until she showed up later in the day. We were missing a couple of cats, too.

Well, digging up the main line to prevent the mud in my driveway was not something the village was enthusiastic about. More accurately, it took several minutes for the guys (I was on speakerphone) to stop laughing enough to talk to me.

No, they really had no way to check for leaks underground. If interested, I myself could personally buy the $38,000 ground-penetrating radar system used by large municipalities for just such occasions. Otherwise, they suggested, perhaps I should relocate the driveway to the other side of the house.

Oh, and by the way, I was reminded, I would need to call Pete, the local codes enforcer.

I am required to have a permit to build a boardwalk or a koi pond.

Quicksand holes, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, are not regulated by the local authority.

 

Stay dry, and wipe those feet (and paws)!

 

Paz

Family Farm Day 2016

August 13th was Family Farm Day in Schoharie County, and we headed for daughter Kerry’s farm, about 3 miles from home. She and beau Kenyon operate the Parsons flower and vegetable farm, selling both at their farm stand and at local Farmers’ Markets.

Mom & Dad’s main job on Family Farm Day is to bring the Cooler Corn, for serving Corn-on-a-stick! It’s called Cooler Corn because of the easy prep, using your picnic cooler. Shuck the corn and toss it in the cooler, boil enough water to cover the corn, pour it in the cooler and close the lid. Twenty minutes later, you have perfectly-cooked hot corn on the cob!

Corn-on-a-stick

Corn-on-a-stick

Kerry & Kenyon are very fun people, and aside from promoting Healthy & Local, Family Farm Day is a bit of a circus atmosphere, with games, activities, prizes and food sampling. The most popular by far is the Corn Toss, where contestants throw whole ears of corn and try to land them in bushel baskets. Inside each basket is a label (actually a paper plate) that indicates the prize you’ve won (if any; last year Kenyon labeled one “Loser”. It was funny, and most folks got prizes anyway).

This is the day you’re encouraged to play with your food! For youngsters (and wanna be youngsters), there’s the Vegetable Art Table. Most popular this year was the construction of Zucchini Cars, closely followed by creation of Vegetable People.

Of course food is a big part of Family Farm Day. There were tastings and samplings, and even the Pampered Chef representative on hand. The peach salsa was a big hit, and everyone got corn on a stick.

Carrying contests were arranged, whereby the contestant needed to carry as much as possible. First there was the Pickle Carry (pre-pickled cucumbers to be exact). The winner managed to carry 64 pickles over the course. Not bad for six-year-old arms!

The Corn Carry was a different matter, and attracted older attendees (like teenagers). We didn’t count the number of ears carried, we were too busy laughing at the contestants!

Surrounded by beautiful flowers, fresh vegetables and lots of friends and family, what could be a better way to spend a day?

Check with your Farm Bureau or Cooperative Extension to see if your county has a Family Farm Day! We’re already looking forward to next year!

Take care, and keep in touch.

 

Paz

Pancake Season

Breakfast Time

Breakfast Time

I live in upstate New York, and we’re surrounded by sap houses. Those are the places where Maple sap is boiled down to that best-of-nature treat, Maple Syrup.

Maple syrup is made from the sap of the Sugar Maple, a tree which grows throughout the northeast United States and eastern Canada. Virtually all of the Maple syrup comes from this area.

So I don’t know if folks do this elsewhere, but around here spring means Pancake Breakfasts at the firehouse. Why? I’m not sure where the tradition started, but it’s a tasty one.

The Pancake Breakfast is an event, a meal, a community gathering and a great fundraiser for volunteer fire departments.

The Ames Firehouse

The Ames Firehouse

There are a lot of small communities around, and the Pancake Breakfast is the event that brings them up the hill from Canajoharie and down the hill from Sharon, west from Sprakers and east from Salt Springville.  It’s kind of like the spring cotillion for all the villages.

Everyone Turns Out

Everyone Turns Out

So we stand in line with all the other folks that braved the February weather to get to the firehouse at 8:30 and get tickets. The line snakes around stanchions strung with yellow plastic link chains. We wait patiently with our tickets in hand, as a volunteer looks for groups to fill tables.

“A three? Anyone with a party of three?” and the lucky winners are whisked away into the dining room (which is also the meeting room and the all-event room for the firehouse).

Volunteers, with their Fire Company shirts and STAFF emblazoned on their backs become line cooks, servers, bus boys,  and waitresses as what seems like the entire town cycles through the annual feeding frenzy.

Firehouse garage

Firehouse garage

Patiently Waiting

Patiently Waiting

The meal is served family style. We sit at a table for twelve, the three of us seated with total strangers. No wait, they’re strangers, but not total strangers. We may not know their names and homes but we know they are “of us”. They live in our towns and plant the corn that feeds the cows that produce the milk that feeds the children.

Volunteer Firefighters become Restauranteurs

Volunteer Firefighters become Restaurateurs

Family Style

Family Style

Here there is a teacher. There is our veterinarian. There are Sheriff’s Deputies and snow plow drivers, ladies of the Auxiliary, Rotarians, school kids, moms & dads.

Community

Community

The cars keep parking and the lines keep growing. By threes and fives we’re escorted to our seats, plied with orange juice and coffee and real maple syrup.

Stacks and stacks of flapjacks, an unending stream, plates filled automatically when they’re empty. Piles of sausages, sausage gravy, platters of bacon, buckets of butter, home fries, eggs.

We gleefully fill the makeshift dining room and we eat together the most important meal of the day. Nay, this is one of the most important meals of the year!

Sure, we could stay home and make pancakes. We could go to Denny’s. Service may be faster or prices may be lower.

But here, we’re doing something a little more. We’re not just raising money for the fire company, for hoses and boots and ladders and training.

We’re also showing, by our presence, our commitment to one another, to our communities. To the volunteers that respond to that dreaded sound, the fire siren. For the men and women that will be there, at my house or yours, at 3 a.m. in February in fifteen-degree air if need be.

They’re not paid. Receive no benefits, no pension, no health insurance. They risk their safety for the sake of others. For us.

Besides, where else can you eat breakfast with the mayor, the Sheriff and your retired teacher at the same table?

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz