Tag Archives: Spring

The Pinnacle Days Of Summer

Bow View

We’re right smack dab in the middle of it now, this summer thing. Hot weather, T-shirts and shorts, long days with the sun setting at 8 o’clock. Misty, humid mornings. Hazy humid afternoons. Passing thunderstorms. Welcome trips to the lake or the ice cream stand.

Spring’s constant is change. Each day nature reveals something new. A flower, migrating birds, trees leafing in. The days grow longer and the temperatures milder. Away with coats and hats.

Then we roll into June. Busy as can be with grade ceremonies and graduations and weddings. The fields are getting greener, the pumpkin plants can be seen now, starting their march to Autumn. By the end of June, we’ve pretty much accepted summer weather as the status quo.

Too often, our senses are so calmed to summer that the slightest change will awaken them. A particularly chilly night, when we are shocked to find ourselves lighting the heater on a June morning. A hot day, which is what we would expect from summer, becomes the topic of whining conversations. “It’s oppressive today.” “It must be the humidity.” “Looks like rain all weekend.” “My air conditioner never stops.”

It takes focus to remember these are unique days. The brain purposely makes you forget February and snow and down comforters, and lulls you into thinking that life will be like this from now on. But the clock is ticking, the Earth is tilting, and these days we dreamed of in the depths of winter are numbered.

Now we arise each day and move through it without noticing the outdoors and the subtle changes in the flora and fauna. The lilies are blooming and the hummingbird regularly visits the foxglove. It’s just another summer day for us, but for the wildlife, the clock is ticking, too. Babies must be raised, taught foraging and camouflage and self-defense, and fattened up for the next set of seasons. Fledglings fledge and leave the nest, often under the watchful eyes of parents.

And so what looks like just another summer day is anything but. Thick leaves on trees hide the squirrels, thick underbrush hides the mink until she scurries across the road with lunch in her jaws. In tall grasses, Common Yellowthroats and Skippers and Crickets disappear, save the occasional glimpse of movement, the flash of a wing.

Now I am on watch each day. Every day I remind myself (and the dog, when she’s listening) that these are our pinnacle days. I must remind myself to look and to see and to treasure these moments. Lush, full trees. Red-winged Blackbirds. Summer storms. Each and every day counts, and I am bound and determined not to simply let them pass by without notice. Every evening I stand outside and marvel at the mild air, the starfield above, the calls of creatures of the night, the owl and the coyote.

When I awaken in my armchair at 1 a.m., and Juney wants to go out, I follow her. I note the position of the Big Dipper, off to her summer place, and far from her winter home. I note the morning sun rising over the Sumacs instead of the south side of the barn. On my commute she rides quartering-off to my left, a welcome relief from the dead-ahead of the equinoxes.

“Remember these lilies,
These misty mornings,
This thick underbrush,
This Pinnacle Day.”

And now I am off for the weekend to my favorite lake way up north in the High peaks Region of the Adirondack Mountains. Here I will commune with loons, lure some fishes. Sleep on the ground with the sounds of night things rustling beside my tent. I will rise with the sun and smell the air, scented with water and perfumes of pines. I will gaze out on the glass-smooth water under the stars. I will be in touch intimately with these Pinnacle Days, and will relish every moment before my return to civilization.

Keep watch now.
These days seem to pass so quickly, and I wouldn’t want you to miss a minute of it.

 

Take care and keep in touch.

Paz

Budding Season

The four seasons called out on calendars are but a repository, a filing cabinet of sorts, for the thousand seasons-within-seasons that we observe during one trip around our sun. Within each quarter-year drawer are dozens of files, arranged chronologically of course. Once in a while, a file will be out of place, and some reference others. The paper calendar and the imaginary filing cabinet lend an air of order, of regimentation. If we look more closely it is sometimes more random, almost haphazard, sometimes chaos in defiance of logic. If you’ve ever had a late freeze, a simple cold snap on one solitary morning in April or May, you will understand. How this will echo and follow you daily, all the way around our planet’s course until next year.

No lilacs. Frozen apple blossoms results in a full year without apples. No little green starters in midsummer. No fruit on which to watch the blush of summer grow redder on its cheek, until it hints at the next season. No piles of apples amid the autumn leaves for deer to nosh on. No soft brown blobs left when the snow recedes, their presence welcomed by those who’ve toughed out a long, frozen winter. Of all the things a late freeze steals from me, I feel the greatest sense of longing for the apples. Fingers cramp from crossing until June.

After a long winter with rather little snow, we have now seen in this second week of April a number of flurries, even a few inches of accumulation which usually lasts only a day. We have a few tulips that have opened on the south lawn, where they bask in full sun beside the stone foundation. Tulips doused with snow somehow look entirely natural, perfectly contented. An April snow is easy to love, as one is keenly aware that it will not stay and pile up and need to be shoveled. It’s especially welcomed this year, to bring up the water table. Spring snowmelt fills our reservoirs and water towers, and starting the year in the hole brings trepidation.

April also brings a breathtaking and captivating burst of growth in nearly every tree and shrub. It is a tiny season-within-the season of spring, and if you’re not watching, you could easily miss the Budding Season among the trees. It’s easy to spot the pussy willows, their fuzzy catkins begging to be petted. So, too, the “Tulip Tree” magnolias will start to show bulges at their fingertips, gently unfolding into pink blossoms. Cherry trees catch the eye with their white flowers, and dogwood glows red in anticipation of leafing out. But if you look up, if you look into the woods, you will see giants in bloom.

 

 

“Redbud!” I declare when first I see them. As if it is a scientific name for this exciting taste of the day-by-day changes spring gifts to me. Red is the most popular color for the earliest leaf buds as they sprout from twigs, just babies. Not yet old enough to produce the chlorophyll that will paint them their trademark green. Some are yellowish, and some are indeed green when first they appear. Some trees will produce catkins, mossy-looking or fuzzy or string-of-pearl tendrils dangling like elegant earrings.  Ready to greet the turkeys for their spring cotillion, a festive display for the dancers in the fields, the bachelors sporting their finest.

It is a feast for the eyes as well as good food for the soul. Even one who embraces winter, and feels woe at spring’s arrival, such as myself, must delight in the colorful profusion on those naked sticks one has viewed since October. Winter is quite monotone, with a few splashy highlights. It’s mostly grey bark and white snow and a trim of almost-drab evergreen, dotted with a blue jay, a red-bellied woodpecker or a northern cardinal. Now these giants are dotted with colors, pale yellow and deep burgundy, and adorned with kinetic energy. Herein is a trusted source and undeniable sign that winter is fading behind us. Not an observant groundhog or college-educated meteorologist’s best guesses, not the reading of signs and recollections of years past. Here is solid proof from the authority.

Flowers, flowers, flowers. From Mother’s Day to the mums of Thanksgiving we love flowers, flowers, flowers. But how many are waiting for that May day to relish in the beauty of blooms? How many are ordering seeds and starting morning glories on windowsills and cleaning out the greenhouse on a mild April day without looking up, looking out, and beholding the biggest display of the present season? Sure, we’ll have fields of wildflowers if you want to wait three months. Sure, we have yet to smell the lilacs and peonies, to be wowed by the locusts, and mesmerized by the honeysuckle. You’ll have all summer for that.

For Budding Season is one of those rare and brief moments in nature, when she’s on the move and swinging into action. Like the nesting birds and calving cows and lambs that dot the farmyards, it is soon to be overwhelmed by all the life and living that summer brings.

It comes along at just the time we need to be reminded that these cosmic clockworks never fail us.

 

Take care and keep in touch.

Paz

Built To Last

South Lawn And Barn

March and April are the best time to shop for a home. You really get to see it at it’s worst. By summer all the winter’s mess has been raked, flowers are growing, Hostas skirt foundations. The mud room is swept, the gentle breeze wafts through window screens, and the paint on the porches may have seen a touch-up. September is the worst time to shop for a house, because you’re already inebriated with fall and everything looks prettier. Not to mention the present owners have had all season to spit-shine the place. By October, trees are starting to get bare and you remember to think about things like heat and drafts, and sellers may be anxious to escape before the onset of winter.

I first saw The Ark in July or August. We closed on September 11th, before it meant anything else, in 1985. Jake was a farmer. His wife Joanna had passed and it was down to him and the turkeys. It was a big house, and an old one. I was twenty-six, and optimistic as well as capable and ambitious. It was a tough winter, and we lived paycheck-to-paycheck, sometimes buying five gallon cans of kerosene to keep the furnace on ’til payday. Between seasons, heating with those catalytic kerosene heaters that were really popular then.

So, the first spring in The Ark was as welcome as the surprise daffodils on the south side. Who knew they were there? Shortly after, the lilacs bloomed. When I say the lilacs bloomed, you must imagine hundred-year-old lilacs, lining the road frontage and growing in great hedges around the shed. Fifteen feet tall, full and lush with flowers that perfumed the whole yard. Only the peonies of June would out-smell them.

I didn’t know the water table was about a foot higher than the cellar floor. I didn’t know much about wet cellars, as my parents’ house was dry as a bone. What a shock to discover the water so deep it flooded the burner for the boiler and the water heater was submerged by a foot. I was broke, and still weaning from my folks, so I drove up to their house and grabbed the sump pump my dad had in the basement. Not entirely sure why, as there was never as much as a drop of water in the basement of that house. I grabbed the pump and flew home, stuck a pool hose out through the basement window, and began the 34-year battle with the water.

I’ll tell you a story about how things were made in the old days. I may sound like an old man talking about bygone times, but then I’m an old man talking about bygone times. I ran my dad’s pump for a couple of years until one spring when I spent some of the tax return money and bought my first, very own, brand new sump pump. It even had a float so we didn’t have to flip the cellar light switch to turn it on and off, as was the case hitherto. I chucked dad’s pump on the cellar shelf.

Within two years, the pump made some funny noises but wouldn’t move any water. I pulled it up out of the cellar and dismantled the bottom part and found where it was plugged up and jammed with sediment. Cleaned that out and put it back to work for another year. One day, I opened the cellar door to check, and there was a foot of water down there, flooding over the bottom step of the wooden stairs that led from the pantry. The pump had failed. All the tinkering could not make it come back to life, and so I threw my dad’s pump into the sump, crossed my fingers, and plugged it in.

Vzzzzzz- Whoosh! That pump came on sounding like it was brand new, and it cleared hundreds of gallons out of the cellar in a matter of hours. I cobbled together a float switch and ran the pump’s power through it so we didn’t need to control the pump with the light switch. I suppose I should try again for a modern update before this ancient pump fails. Let’s see, my dad already had the pump, and had lived in Broadalbin for twenty years or so. Let’s guess it was ten years old when I “borrowed” it. Now add the 34 years I’ve been at the Ark, and we can guess this pump must be 45 years old or more. Maybe I should wait ’til it dies, if ever.

I ran the pellet stove for about eight years, during which I replaced a couple of components. Routine failures one might expect. An igniter (or two), the room blower fan, which failed around the five-year mark. Inside a pellet stove is a nasty environment for electronics and motors. High temperatures and a lot of dust. Clingy acidic dust. So at the beginning of year eight I did one of those decidedly-unlike-me things, and I replaced the working convection blower with a new one as a form of anticipatory maintenance. Year nine I fired it up, and within a few weeks, the one-year-old combustion blower failed. It would not surprise you, I’m sure, to hear I cleaned up and stowed the “old” working combustion blower as a backup. It’s still running.

There was a time when people wanted to build things that last. Like L.L.Bean and his original guaranteed-for-life policy. Even that has changed. Like Craftsman tools which were guaranteed for life. I had a Craftsman router fail (a long, long time ago), and when presented at the store it was summarily replaced with a brand new one. Now Craftsman is just another brand, sold at Home Depot.

The Town Of Sharon has a few snowplows. We still have the big Oshgosh plows. I don’t think Oshgosh is in business any more. But their trucks are still going. Still plowing Engleville Road each winter. Some things were built to last.

Oshgosh B’gosh

The Oshgosh #13V is from 1959. So am I.
I guess I was built to last, too.

 

Take care and keep in touch,

Paz

A Changing World

March Sunset On The Ranch

As the spring equinox arrives, it brings to a close one season of changes, and escorts in yet another. Winter is not boring. One day is filled with sunshine and crisp, clear air, the next is dark and gray and blowing and ever-so-cold. Like snowflakes, no two winter days are identical.

Snow falls and piles up, mounded by the plow, piled by the shovel. We embrace its uniqueness, especially when new, as it is each year, each snowstorm, each blizzard. We frolic in it, throw it at one another, photograph it as if we’d never seen it before. We lace up boots and strap on snow shoes and skis, harness the dog and don the jorring belt. We marvel at the way it paints the trees, the hillsides and meadows, the mountains in the distance.

In between, the snow will fade. It gets thinner and thinner, some bare patches may be seen. Just when you think it’s safe to put away the snow shovel, a late March blizzard will dump 30 inches of snow on us. There will be in there somewhere an ice storm, which coats everything in our natural world with a glaze of glass.

The ponds evolve daily, our visual barometer of the season and calendar of change. First a small opening appears in the center of the ice. The next day it is twice the size. A week later, ice rims the edges of ponds, and creeks cascade over ice-covered rocks.

Now spring brings another season of change. Here the tulips are popping up through the snow-matted south lawn. We spy red-winged blackbirds and grackles, harbingers of summer. Each day is a guessing game. Do I wear the longjohns? Do I bring the “winter” coat? One day we swear winter is still upon us, and the next we revel in temperatures that call to mind days in May, lilacs and dandelions. Regulating the heat in the Ark can be a challenge. The pellet stove drives off the 34 degree F chill driven by the wind. Then by noon it is 82 degrees F in the kitchen. Pellet stove off. Doors flung open. Other days seem mild, and we’ll leave the wood stove on standby, use the gas heaters, and in the evening we flip a coin to decide if it’s cold enough to warrant a fire.

The driveway goes from a solid sheet of glacier to a massive mud bog, complete with a sinkhole in the middle big enough to swallow small pets. The lawn changes from a pristine field of white carpet to a mess of sticks and leaves and such, previously hidden beneath snow. The sump pump in the basement works tirelessly, pretends it’s a bilge pump on the Titanic.

There will be one more round of big changes as spring barrels its way into our world. Leaf buds on trees, crocuses on the ground, orioles in the air. The first tulips, the first hummingbird.

By comparison, summer can be a bit boring. A little monotonous. Sure, we can watch the peas growing in, we can start cutting hay in June and watch for the next round. We can look forward to three days at the lake. But besides that, it’s pretty much the same each day. Green grass and green leaves and flowers of every color and profusions of growth in all directions. Birds of every kind. Well, I may not see a dark-eyed Junco again until November.

I will bear it only because I know, like all things in this universe, it is fleeting and temporary.

Soon enough, with some patience, my dear friend August will start the first hints. Hints of change. Pumpkins getting large, morning glories climbing.

And I will be glad the boring sunshiny summer is behind us, and I can again be entertained by a changing world.

 

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

 

The Ark: Windows

From My Window

 

All of the windows in my 113 year old farmhouse are original, except for the one new triple-track aluminum deal in the kitchen that looks out onto the driveway. Much of the glass is original, too. “Albany glass” they call it around here, but in other parts of the country it probably has other names, or perhaps the name of the town where the glass factory stood. The old glass has ripples in it, actual wrinkles you can feel with your fingers as they pass over the otherwise smooth glass. And bubbles. In some places, quite a few tiny air bubbles, and in other places, individual larger ones. I’ve had to replace a few panes of glass during my 34-year tenure caring for the Ark. It always makes my heart ache a little when I must break up and throw away this antique glass.

The lifting and latching of the windows brings a mixed bag of the original workings. A single spring-loaded latch is in the center of each lower sash. On some windows, the ancient cast iron pieces within have cracked and broken off, and the latch does nothing at all. These windows get propped open with retired curtain rods. On a few of the windows, the latches still work. Most probably had window weights concealed within the window frame. A rounded length of iron about the diameter of a cigar, usually about a foot long. These were originally attached by sash cord, long since decayed within its wood confines. The window weight would offer a counterbalance, an assist to lift the window as well as a resistance to slow the sash’s descent.

They are as inefficient as one would expect an original 1906 window to be. Pretty sure I have actually seen tiny crystals of snow driven through them in the height of a winter’s blizzard. In the frozen season, condensation on the inside of the windows often freezes on the glass. Whenever we see this, we call it “Zhivago glass”, as it reminds us of the scenes in “Dr. Zhivago”, when he and his charges are holed up in Siberia. Giving it ringing names and associating it with the stark beauty shown in the movies helps distract us from the fact that the window is no better than the one Zhivago looked through in 1890.

 

Juney

 

The windows are large and ornate. Houses don’t have large and ornate windows anymore, just vinyl rectangles. The tops of the windows out front are rounded. 10 round-top double-sash windows frame the coffin doors, with two round-top lights of its own. (“Coffin doors” refer to the main entrance at the front of the house. ((We call that “the dooryard” around here)). One door is used most of the time, the one with the doorknob. The other side of the double door was intended to be opened to bring a coffin into and out of the house. When it was built, this is the way funerals were done in the sticks.)

We had a sales person call on us to pitch us custom vinyl replacement windows. His first shock was the sheer number. For living spaces alone (excluding the “attic” windows) there were 18 of them. He measured and calculated. Were we sure we wanted them the same size? “100 united inches” I think was the term. Surely we would want a standard, smaller vinyl rectangle? Less expensive and more energy efficient. He choked a little when quoting the price (more than twenty years ago) at $18,000!

Okay, last thing, window guy. You know your custom windows that are made-to-order to fit the openings in my home? Well, will the ten out front have the same rounded tops? Well, not exactly, window guy says. We could fashion a mask for the outside that evokes the shape of the round top. Nope. Stop right there.

 

The Coffin Doors

 

There is a tremendous beauty in these windows. Like most things I love, their inherent beauty is the attractant. Not efficiency. In the fall, I make my rounds to each one. A couple of screws jammed in the sides will hold the lower sash tightly against the upper. Then rope caulk is applied to the gap. In the spring, I visit each again, removing the caulk and the screws. Flinging them open, however briefly, symbolically putting winter to bed.

I could have had eighteen modern, efficient vinyl rectangles in these places. A lower heat bill. No need for rope caulk.

In June I will go upstairs and open the front and back windows in the center hall. This is the official start of summer for me. Breezes will move through, and birdsong. And the smell of the rain, and the sound of the neighbor’s birthday party across the road. The rumbling of summer thunderstorms, the voice of the wind in the leaves of the great maple trees which tower over the two-story house. In spring, the sound of the robin leaping from the nest it has built atop the window frame. In August, the smell of the third cutting of hay, drying in the field adjacent. The smell of the diesel tractor crawling up the road with a wagon of hay bales stacked impossibly high. The sound of lawn mowers and dirt bikes and dogs barking.

 

Windows go both ways

 

In the peak of the summer heat I will go upstairs to fetch something. At the top of the stairs I am met with a unique fragrance. It is the smell of a very old house. Century-old wood. Horse-hair plaster over hand-cut lath. Ancient wallpapers. It smells of all the things it has always smelled like, and not unlike the attic of my parents old farmhouse. I can’t know how much longer I will be in this house, or in this world. But I know in the meantime I will delight in that old familiar smell of an old, old house owned by old people. Unchanged but for those few places where it was deemed absolutely necessary. And my kids and grandkids will share this experience. This smell. This old Ark.

And until I go, you will not smell vinyl. You may be a little chilly in the winter. And you can look out at ancient trees which are as old as the wavy, bubble-filled glass you are looking through.

 

Take care, and keep in touch.

 

Pazlo

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

In The Wonder Woods

This post is a follow-on to “Walk With Me” (10-27-17), wherein we walked our trails from the Great Lawn, and eastwards up to the top of Nishan Hill.

Across the top of the hill on our walk, we arrive at the great forest we call The Wonder Woods.

“Seek not after answers, but after the joy of wonder.” – Chuy The Wonderdog

Breakfast Company

We find so many fascinating and curious things herein, hence the name. It is a breathtaking and beautiful place to dwell and linger, wander and wonder, in all seasons.

It’s a marvelous place to be in Spring, as the days grow longer, the snows recede and vanish. Spring Robins will roost in the pines at sunset. By the hundreds they’ll noisily gather in the grove, settling for their evening’s rest on their migration northward. The earliest tell-tale signs can be found of new growth, the thawing of our world, and nesting season.

Throughout the long summer, the woods grow thicker with vegetation and undergrowth. Squirrels rule the day, and they will begin barking at you as you walk through their domain. Summer bird visitors are seen now. Woodpeckers love the aged wood. From time to time we’ll see the huge Pileated Woodpecker, looking like Woody himself. An indigo bunting is an eye-catching sight, and after the Goldfinches come their near-lookalike, the Common Yellowthroat. Catbirds will follow us on our walk, albeit at a safe distance, and the Cedar Waxwings will work at gleaning the wintered-over seeds of the Sumacs.

Turkeys scratch and dig in the forest floor for grubs and worms. They walk the same heavily-trod path followed by deer, coyotes and even the occasional black bear. To some, the wood may look untrammeled, but those with a keen eye, the trail can be seen. A few kicked-up leaves here, a snapped twig there. It’s easier to see if you get down to coyote level. 

Of course our wood is beautiful year-round, but few seasons are as striking as autumn. Granted, the landscape is dramatic and captivating in the snow, and we find as much to see therein. There’s no competing with fall color, and the activities that accompany the season. Deer will begin scraping the velvet off of their antlers in August. Squirrels and Chipmunks are running marathons to gather and store food for the coming winter. Deer are consuming everything they can while it’s available, before being trapped in their winter yards. Overhead, Canada Geese wave long goodbyes, and mile-long flocks of Starlings will transit the drumlins of Engleville.

Winter is a wonder unto itself. The landscape seems almost alien. Frozen and packed with snow, it is far from devoid of life and activity. Winter is the most visceral season, with winds whipping up snow devils and piling drifts. Like the sand of a beach, the surface tracks activity among forest friends. Big turkey footprints, tiny mouse footprints, trails leading every which way, some burrowing beneath the snow. It’s a season of light, even though the days are shorter. With the canopy devoid of leaves and clear frigid air, light finds all corners of the woods.

In all seasons and the seasons-between-seasons, the Wonder Woods is my ever-present friend and guardian. There is never a trip into the forest that does not bear some gift for you.

Look us up if you’re out our way, and we’d be glad to take you along.

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

March Journal

Sugaring Season

Sugaring Season

March is all about sugaring, the collection of sap from sugar maples, and the boiling down of the same, to produce that sweet prize of nature, pure maple syrup.

Over the hill, past Leesville, the Everett family augments their dairy operations with maple product production at Stone House Farm. They built a sap house, sometimes called a sugar shack, across the road from the house, and filled it not only with a huge evaporator for making syrup, but also a kitchen and dining area for serving pancakes during sugaring season.

Daughter Kerry and her beau Kenyon joined me, my wife, and grandkids Madison, Elizabeth and Max for a great pancake & waffle breakfast in the sap house. A classmate of son Ryan, (Madison’s dad), Amy Everett, served our table. All you can eat!

We left the sap house full and inspired.

“Can we try tapping your trees?” asked ever-industrious Max. It’s not hard to guess what my answer was! Back at the Engleville homestead, Max and I set forth with a bit & brace, a few pieces of copper pipe, and a mish-mash of whatever containers we could find.

We bored some holes in the big Sugar Maples that line the road frontage, five trees total, studded with seven taps. We proceeded to hang a couple plastic pails, an iced tea jug, and a soda bottle, among others, below the copper pipes, and eagerly awaited the outcome.

 

We impatiently awaited the sap. Max checked the taps every couple of hours. We dipped our fingers into the sap in the pail. You could taste the sugar and the mild maple flavor. (Maple sap contains about 2% maple sugar, the balance is clear water.)

By 3 o’clock there was a half-gallon of maple sap collected, and Max was eager to move forward through the process. We put the kettle on the stove and boiled the sap down, and in fact didn’t finish before Max had to go home. He took the sap and finished it off at home, made enough for him and his dad Matt to have a yummy breakfast treat!

Well, the taps were in and the sap was flowing, so for the next week I walked the sap line each day and collected the sap. Put a kettle on the stove a couple of times to boil down a batch. (And fall asleep in the chair completely burning one batch!!)

Fast-flowing Sap

Fast-flowing Sap

Over Capacity!

Over Capacity!

Stovetop method

Stovetop method

The following weekend, Max returned for sugaring operations, and we borrowed Ryan’s giant outdoor gas burner (which he bought for his own sugaring last year). We had about sixty gallons of sap to boil, and it took all day, and well into the night!

We put up some tarps for a wind break, and set up the burner in the Cabana at the Engleville Tick Ranch. (Some folks call it the wood shed. I like the sound of cabana.) We boiled off the sweet syrup until after 9:30, finishing barely in time to catch Svengoolie at 10 on MeTV.

We had a great time in the Sugar Shack, and the sap is still flowing. We bottled our wares in Mason jars as Max tried to figure out how to sell syrup on Ebay. We all caught maple fever, and in just a week we had purchased real sap buckets and started making plans for next year.

Max’s dad Matt wants to get an evaporator, and we’re keen on asking Mr. Nishan if we can tap the maples in his woods. Plans abound for next year. All told, we’ve made about a gallon and a half of mostly-pure maple syrup (it has some sediment in the bottom). It was an interesting and informative venture, seeing how much sap is produced by a tree, the length of time it takes to reduce it to syrup, and the curious way the syrup gets darker and stronger as the season wears on.

Late Night, Sugar Shack

Late Night, Sugar Shack

Yummy Production!

Yummy Production!

Max plans to become a maple syrup tycoon, and has built his own web site for Max’s Sugar Shack. Ah, the sweet smell of success!

It sure smells like maple.

Max's Sugar Shack

Max’s Sugar Shack

Take care, and keep in touch.

 

Paz