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Fish in a Barrel Pond, in Winter

Winter Scene, Fish in a Barrel Pond

This ain’t my first trip around the sun and we’re passing through a very familiar stretch of orbit right now. Shrouded in snow, littered with  snapped utility poles and downed trees, it is winter and we cope with the cold, brace against the wind and prepare for the occasional shredding of the network of power and communication lines that serve this neck of the woods. No one needs to be told to go home and hunker down until the storm is over, allowing plows, emergency workers and utility crews to do their jobs, and no one emerges from their shelter pissed off that they took cover from something short of Doomsday itself.

It is winter. Embrace it, endure it, or leave.

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At Least it Smelled Good

The traditional attempted cremation of the year just past was held on New Year’s Day, using as proxy the western third of a large cedar tree, recently split apart by heavy snow. A modest, aromatic affair, it behaved better than the fire burned this summer to make up for last year’s fizzle, but even that might be saying too much.

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Every so often, someone asks about the status of the appropriately named Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society Newsletter, usually resulting in that someone being appointed editor and publisher by the Board. A true periodical, the Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society Newsletter has returned and will be published again until enthusiasm wanes or, as usually happens, someone prints something that upsets someone else or starts an argument over which way tippet goes through a hook eye and all the fun goes away.

In spite of past failures and future challenges, the new editing team at the Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society Newsletter asked if I would be willing to contribute something to their inaugural edition of its latest incarnation. Admonished to consider short attention spans and the fact that very few members are aware of this blog, I kept what I wrote under 1100 words, figuring four minutes was not too much to ask of the average adult.

It was easy to provide a distillation of what winter is like at Fish in a Barrel Pond because of the repetitive nature of things each year, but it was missing the details that make winter such a fascinating season. Because that distillation was inspired by what has already been chronicled in these pages it seems appropriate to poach it for use here, filling in the missing details via links to previous posts.

It’ll be déjà vu all over again!

Just like winter.

northshore

My contribution:

I hesitated when the editors of the Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society Newsletter asked if I’d like to contribute but when they said I could write about anything I wanted I rubbed my hands with glee and got right to work. Then something happened that I hadn’t seen happen before and my article, “Removing Grease From Septic Filters,” would have to wait.

It got so cold so fast the other night that the line from the well pump froze where it comes into the cellar, four feet below grade. That was a new one on me, and others, too, as for the last couple of days the talk around town has been all about frozen pipes and ways to thaw them, even though it’s not like none of us have thawed frozen pipes before. Warming the block wall around the pipe with a 700-degree blast from a paint stripping gun did the trick in this case and we were back in business in no time at all (unless you count the time spent finding the problem spot in the first place and then the time put into plans A and B before trying C).

According to legend, the Caretaker’s residence once sat where the lake is now and was moved to where it sits before the original dam was built. The Parmacheene Belle and Mickey Finn camps both date to the 1920s, the Cahill  and the Lodge are older than that, and a lot of time goes into just the basic functions of this place, no matter the season. Of course, the water has been drained from the camps for a couple of months and the lines blown out with compressed air, the drains have been pulled or filled with anti-freeze, and it has been weeks since a mouse was caught in a trap or raided a bait station.

We’ll see how it goes with the water (last April the Cahill was fed via a last-minute by-pass, backwards through the hose bib, due to ice in the main line) and, no matter how many traps are set, the surviving mice will find a way to be fruitful and multiply. The trick while waiting is to be sure the joint still stands on Opening Day. Not only does the temperature dip to thirty-darn-something below zero once in a while, we also see anywhere between ten and twelve feet of snow every winter and we’ve had more than four feet of snow on the ground at a time, as measured by how deeply the hay rake in front of the house was buried.

The neighbors are used to seeing me on the road with my snowshoes hanging from a shovel slung over my shoulder. They know I’ve been back to the Queen of the Waters, clearing snow. This year’s snow has been heavy and mixed with rain so it comes off the roof in great icy slabs that land with tremendous thuds. The roof on the Gray Ghost recently shed its load without any help, evidently all at once, and I’m surprised it didn’t register on the Richter Scale somewhere. At least the footing is solid (but very slippery) and it doesn’t take long to get to the camps on foot; in knee-deep powder it can take as long as forty-five minutes to get to Queen of the Waters on snowshoes. Snowshoes only make the impossible difficult but that’s how it is around here sometimes.

GrayGhostroof

When water flows in the house and the roofs of the camps are not making ominous noises, it is a treat to tromp on the trail around the lake. The tracks of deer, moose, and even bear, are easy to follow. Snowshoe hare, turkey, grouse and squirrel tracks can be seen during the coldest times and even the porcupines get out and about once in a while.

I once came across tracks on the ice showing that a pair of coyotes had ambushed an otter where a feeder stream comes in. The otter had been under the ice, hunting crayfish, and they got it when it crawled out to enjoy a tasty snack. The otter put up a good fight but ultimately lost and the tracks showed where a third coyote came in and tried to rob the first two, resulting in quite a scrap. Tracks and blood and fur in the snow — it’s a cold, hard world out there in the woods.

The springs north of the lake flow the same temperature year-round and never freeze. Even in the middle of January a few native brook trout can be seen feeding on midges hatching from the silt. Tucked into thick forest, out of the wind, it’s a fine place to sit in the sun on even the nippiest of days.

Just as sure as we’ll see bone-chilling, pipe-freezing, mind-numbing cold every January, we can also count on a good warm-up. The January Thaw brings run-off and rain and flooding, and a few years ago the material around one end of our spillway washed out. Because the cold always returns, sand-bagging operations were conducted in twelve-degree weather, floating full bags into place on slabs of lake ice. I was able to take advantage of the situation, though, as it provided an excellent opportunity to check my waders for leaks.

spillway2

Our road is at its very best this time of year, just as smooth as can be. No pot holes or door-rattling washboards, just ten inches of packed ice, topped with a sprinkling of sand (and an occasional coffee cup). It’s better than it sounds, although the road does narrow considerably as the town plow builds up the banks. In a wet year like this the banks set up like concrete so when you spin you don’t get stuck in them; you just bounce off and continue on your merry way.

Winter can be a challenge in this neck of the woods, with snow and cold and floods, but it is not without its rewards. The lake ice booms like cannon-fire in the night while frost on the snow sparkles like diamonds in the pale light of the full Wolf Moon. Trees pop in the cold, icicles hang from the eaves, and the silhouettes of owls loom in the trees below the barn. The days are gradually getting longer and we’ll be taking reservations again in four short weeks, but for now it’s still cold and snowy January at Fish in a Barrel Pond, a month as significant as any other in these parts, even when nobody else is around.

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As a special treat for those with the attention span and fortitude to make it this far, The View from Fish in a Barrel Pond is pleased to share the following poem by Red Green (a true role-model for people like me) reminding us that when men reach a certain age they experience certain feelings and that there is nothing wrong with pausing to savor those special moments that can only be experienced in winter:

Categories: +The Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society, Humor, nature, Rural Life, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Closing Up

Everyone is anxious in spring, wondering when the ice will be gone, but I don’t field many inquires as to the time of its first appearance. The ones I do are often followed by, “But isn’t that early? or, “But isn’t that late?” or some such other nonsense.

nov 18

Fish in a Barrel Pond, November 18

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Categories: nature, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How Are Things in Glocca Morra?

Every now and then I am struck by something that gives me pause, that makes me stop for a moment and think. It might be the serenity of a fine fall day, or it could be the top fifteen feet of a tree that was deader than it looked and folded back in exactly the opposite direction intended, but two weeks ago I was struck by the news that Larry and Ruth Daley had drowned in a pond, one apparently trying to save the other, while going about their duties as caretakers of a property in Peru, Vermont.

Both still working in their eighties, they were probably doing things they’d done for years, the same way they’d always done them, and no one will ever know for sure what happened. It was a few days before anyone knew anything happened at all.

The View from Fish in a Barrel Pond remains dedicated to those who somehow find a way to get away from it all, but most especially to those who take care of them when they get there — the caretakers, attendants, guides, outfitters, rangers, managers, support staff and others who not only make sure everyone has plenty of toilet paper and gets back home intact, but also do everything they can to be sure the places we love are still there when we come back.

boots

Just About Wore Out

The skinny jeans of spring are now the fat pants of fall, held up by suspenders until I’m back to my winter weight, which doesn’t take nearly as long as it used to.

Another season has come and gone at Fish in a Barrel Pond, six full months of Life Among the Anglers, a fly fishing dream. They’re all back in what they call the “real world” but their presence is still felt, if only in stark contrast to their absence.

squall

I Don’t Care if it Rains or Freezes …

Oak leaves skitter and crab across the dooryard, maple and birch molder in the woods, and now when it rains no one complains. The wind is not cursed and the sun and the clouds are not judged. The trout take their proper place in the overall scheme of things and Nature goes on, doing the things it does whether the anglers are here or not. So do I, but with a lot less wiping of whiskers and sweeping up toenails now that the camps are closed down. Continue reading

Categories: Fly Fishing, Humor, nature, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Struck Dumb

Having spent countless hours watching others fly fish, I can say I’ve learned a thing or two from the anglers of Fish in a Barrel Pond. More than the same old tips, tricks and “wisdom” that most of us have heard a hundred times before, a lot of what I pick up is subtle and nuanced, yet profound, and a few of these gems go so far as to challenge some of my most cherished and long-held fly fishing assumptions.

For example, in my previous post, “Halfway Through the Season,” I stood firm in my belief that when a man hands me a highball glass and asks me what the heck a guy has to do to catch fish around here, the proper response is to declare myself no expert but suggest that it probably doesn’t involve highball glasses.

My position wavered not, even when the situation was complicated by the fact that the man in question was also in his underwear, but my stance has since softened. Sooner or later, one is bound to see it all and, thanks to a kindly proctologist from the Cape, I now know that a man drinking Scotch in his underwear is just as likely as the next guy to catch a fish, as long as there’s a rod in his hand and he’s got a fly on the water.

The anglers of Fish in a Barrel Pond are not the only things that leave me speechless. Here are this year’s Obligatory Vermont Fall Foliage Photos (click one to enlarge or view as a slide show):

 

 

 

Categories: Fly Fishing, Humor, nature, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Halfway Through the Season

I am willing to admit that, when a man uses “finger quotes” for the fifth time, explaining why the “rules” don’t apply to him, a quick left jab to the nose may not be the best response, even if it seems perfectly appropriate at the time.

I am also willing to admit that, when on the way to stupid, pain-in-the-ass, court-ordered anger management classes, taking it out by swerving into a group of young turkeys on the shoulder of Route 5 might come across as a tad offensive to some.

I will even concede that, when a real judge suggests a little “cooling off and drying out time,” a stay at Detox Mansion might not be such a bad idea, even if it might mean doing yard work with Liza Minnelli.

Each of those statements is true but none are applicable to this season at Fish in a Barrel Pond (so far). No one has been punched in the nose (yet) or been to court and ordered into behavior modification, no turkeys were harmed in the making up of this nonsense and, I assure you, Quill Gordon’s Steel-Toed Drinking Shoes remain laced, all the way to the top.

The ice went out and the loons returned. The large black and white aquatic birds came back, too. It’s been all anglers, all the time, following pretty much the same script as every year, except for the 18 hours I spent spiraling in the vortex of airport Hell that is United Airlines in Houston, or being struck by the thought that I, of all people, could arrive late, find my way through a throng of thousands from one terminal to another in Chicago, and catch a flight with just seconds to spare while a man from (name any city) can barely find his way around an old camp in Vermont measuring 20′ x 20′.

Six times in the last 12 weeks posts have been started and not finished, leaving three people wondering what might have happened to Quill Gordon. The truth involves discussing feelings and emotions and such so, when people ask, I just let them go on thinking I’ve been raking leaves with Liza.

lucky1

Lucky, I guess.

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Categories: +Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Here We Go Again

Fish in a Barrel Pond, April 20, 2014

Fish in a Barrel Pond, April 20, 2014

An entire winter’s worth of snow slowly condensed into a thick layer of ice, sitting on lake ice that formed in December. With less than a week before Opening Day, there was nothing to be done about the ice but hope it would go out in time. Meanwhile, there were camps to prepare, repair, and otherwise make ready for the upcoming season.

Fish in a Barrel Pond, April  21, 2014

Fish in a Barrel Pond, April 21, 2014

Woodland creatures were evicted, floors were swept, and beds were made, as if there were no ice at all (other than in the usual low spots in water lines) and, while anxious anglers left messages asking about the lake, cussing and banging gave way to sighs of relief at the sound of trickling faucets. Continue reading

Categories: +The Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society, Fly Fishing, nature, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Recently Seen (Photo Gallery)

It is a photo-rich environment around here, which explains why there is nearly always a camera in the truck or slung over my shoulder. No need for sneaking around or hiding and waiting to see interesting things; I can stop along the road through the swamp or look just offshore, on the ice, and see something worth photographing.

Winter is over and spring is gaining ground.

(Click a photo to enlarge and/or open a slide show.)

Categories: nature, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Flashback Friday: Fly Fishing Time

south bend

 

Weeks away? More like days. Opening Day at Fish in a Barrel Pond is next weekend, provided the ice goes off the pond and I can get the camps up and running again (See Quill Gordon and The Nonesuch Mountain Howler). Every day I find a string of messages from angst-filled anglers asking about the ice and if they will be able to fish in a week but I have yet to hear someone (other than my supervisor) ask if the faucets flow and toilets flush or if the woodland creatures have been evicted from beneath the beds. My head is sore from knocking on wood but every year the ice goes out and the camps open on time.

The ad above appeared in the April 1948 issue of Outdoorsman magazine. From the first trout to the last fightin’ bass, South Bend was there to make your sport complete. With split bamboo rods starting at $16 and nifty automatic reels for $10, an angler could still splurge on a nice double taper line and be fishing for $35! It is a virtual certainty that at some point in the season someone is going to show me a new rod that cost what I make in a month and tell me “you get what you pay for.” It’s also a good bet that same guy will be the one who asks who to speak to about the fishing around here.

Today’s dollar is a different animal than the dollar of 1948, and today’s anglers are different, too. Or are they?

masland

The weather on Opening Day can be as unpredictable as the fishing but C.H. Masland & Sons had every angle and angler covered in 1948. Their handy “opening day check list” consisted entirely of clothing items from their catalog, for all kinds of weather, including a nylon rain cape, knee-length for the same price as a South Bend reel.

One of the best things about C.H. Masland ads from the late 1940s was the cartoon at the top of each one. Illustrator Tom Rost (1909-2004) began his series of “Opening Day” hunting and fishing cartoons while at the Milwaukee Journal in the late 1930s, after a stint as an artist with the Civilian Conservation Corps (two of his watercolors were purchased by Eleanor Roosevelt as a Christmas gift to FDR in 1937). He enjoyed a long association with Field & Stream and other wildlife magazines and had a very successful career as an illustrator and artist.

I just can’t imagine where he ever came up with the things he included in those Opening Day cartoons.

Opening Day 1948

Opening Day 1948

Opening Day 1947

All of us at The View from Fish in a Barrel Pond wish everyone out there the most successful of Opening Days, no matter the weather or the cost of their rod. Of course, the definition of “successful” will vary from angler to angler; Quill Gordon will be happy if the toilets flush.

 

 

Categories: Flashback Fridays, Fly Fishing, Humor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Visit to Sugar Bob’s

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I see Sugar Bob at the hardware store now and then and I see him and Ann at Boxing Day parties but usually that’s about it. This time of year, though, I see him almost every day (or at least hear him) as he drags his trailer with a tank on it through the mud on our road, collecting sap from scattered stands of maples he’s tapped. Sugar Bob and his crew are acutely aware of the relationship between sugaring and Mud Season. “If the roads are good, you are not making sugar,” he says.

Not everyone has a sugarbush on a hillside, with sap collecting right there at the sugar house like Skye and Tina on Bobo’s Mountain. Enterprising, hard-working sugar makers like Sugar Bob tap trees where they can, spending a good part of the day driving to collection points and hauling the sap back home. The rest of the day and most of the night are spent boiling it down before the next batch comes rolling in.

Sugar Bob makes his syrup somewhere in this vicinity, but in the other direction:

Somewhere in the vicinity of Sugar Bob's

Somewhere in the vicinity of Sugar Bob’s

With daytime temperatures nudging above freezing and nights dropping below, the roads were falling apart and the sap was running, so — after finagling an invite when he stopped by Bobo’s one afternoon — it seemed as good a time as any to motor through six miles of mud a couple of weeks ago and pay a visit to Sugar Bob.

Sugar Bob's

Sugar Bob’s

Ask any reasonable person if there is a reason for the white bucket on the roof and they will tell you there is. Sugar Bob is no exception. Ask him to tell you about his sugar house and one of the first things he will point out is that it is not so much a sugar house as it is a sugar cabana.

The Sugar Cabana

The Sugar Cabana

Tea, made with boiling sap, flowed in both “fortified” or “non-fortified” versions and, after a song, small cups of “fortified” syrup were hoisted to celebrate the day’s boil. A handy barber’s chair offered a comfortable seat for those who might find themselves overly fortified.

Inside the cabana

Inside the Cabana

Sap Tank

Sap Tank

Unfortunately, because my visit was during the day, I missed the excitement of the night life at Sugar Bob’s but it’s probably just as well that the disco ball comes down in the morning or I might have hit my head.

Sugar Bob's Disco Ball

Sugar Bob’s Disco Ball

Sugar Bob can make syrup with the best of them, without vacuum collection, reverse osmosis or a big Steam-Away unit, and he sells a lot of what he makes at the local farmer’s market. What really separates Sugar Bob from the rest of the pack, though, (aside from his big, glittery ball) is the way he puts Yankee ingenuity to work, embracing “Venturi injection principles” to create something really special.

Sugar Bob infuses syrup with smoke.

IMG_1569I’m not a foodie but I sure like to eat, and it is no secret that I love maple syrup. I’m also a big fan of smoke flavors but Sugar Bob is not kidding when he tells you that Sugar Bob’s Finest Kind Smoked Maple Syrup is probably not for your pancakes. It is, however, pretty amazing as an ingredient, especially combined with savory flavors. The blend of sweet and smoky adds a whole new dimension to sauces, glazes, marinades, and even whisky.

Someone with a more advanced food vocabulary or repertoire of recipes could describe Sugar Bob’s Finest Kind better than I and really do it justice as the versatile ingredient it is. I have no doubt there is some fancy-pants chef out there using it to create some fancy-pants “experience” involving tiny portions to make foodies swoon, but that’s not the type of cooking that takes place in my kitchen so we’ll leave that stuff to the experts and stay close to home.

Snuck into a batch of beans, Sugar Bob’s Finest Kind adds sweet smokiness that comes through in waves without swamping other flavors. Drizzled over chicken in the oven, it brings the taste of a summer cook-out indoors but without the mess and, as the highest compliment I can pay, Sugar Bob’s Finest Kind Smoked Maple Syrup is the secret ingredient in Quill Gordon’s Super Top Secret Recipe Hot Wings and we can’t wait to try it in barbecue sauce once grilling season gets here.

Learn more about Sugar Bob’s Finest Kind by visiting their web site or check it out on facebook. Order yourself a bottle or two online. It’s a heck of a lot easier than driving through six miles of mud.

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Thank you, Rob, Ann, Carl, Harry and everyone else who was at the cabana the day I visited. I had a great time!

 

 

 

Categories: Maple Syrup, Product and Gear Reviews, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Maple Syrup Time

The sap run seems to have hit its peak with this week’s mild weather, and sugar houses across Vermont have been very busy places. Boiling it down as quickly as possible, just to keep up with the flow, sugar makers put in long hours during the short, unpredictable sugaring season. The sap was still coming off the hill when yesterday’s boil ended on Bobo’s Mountain but there was room in the tanks for more, to be boiled down today.

To celebrate, I took a picture of the next to the last draw of warm hot syrup we made.

2:30 a.m.

2:30 a.m.

That would be 2:30 a.m., close to seventeen hours after we started.

It was the 10th day in a row of boiling sap on Bobo’s Mountain. The run could end tomorrow or it could end next week and, when it finally does come to an end, all my sticky, sugar-coated friends will be able get some sleep.

Sweet Dreams.

Categories: Maple Syrup, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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