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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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

Little Mister Sunshine

(The following was begun not quite a fortnight ago, while we were still waiting for winter to quit throwing stuff, finish packing, and just get the heck out. Other than the potential for a spiteful squall or two, we believe winter is gone. We hope so because a certain somebody shaved.)

One year, on the second day of February, while the rest of the world whooped it up with Punxsutawney Phil, a small group of Vermonters gathered in Waterbury to establish some traditions of their own. Because so much is wrong with the spectacle of dragging a large rodent (everyone knows it’s a “woodchuck,” not a “groundhog”) from its den on a cold February morning, and because this is Vermont, Woodchuck Day participants vote, electing an Honorary Woodchuck to perform the prognosticating.

Also because this is Vermont, the standards are a little higher when it comes to the meaning of shadows. Six more weeks of winter might seem dire enough to the good folks of Gobbler’s Knob when Phil is hoisted before the cameras but if our Honorary Woodchuck’s shadow appears it means we get another twelve.

Having not read the news reports, I am assuming a shadow was cast this year.

Tradition holds that when someone says “Happy Woodchuck Day!” in February the proper response is to shout “Bug off!” so readers may infer whatever they wish regarding the temperament of Vermonters with three feet of snow in the woods toward the end of March.


It takes more than mild sunshine one day out of four to make it feel like spring, especially when it snows the other three and the temperature is below freezing on all of them. More than one person I know has sworn to let the next snow sit, they’re so tired of moving the stuff around, and no one I know is digging into random piles just for grins, but sometimes we must take matters into our own hands when spring isn’t making much headway and even seems to be losing ground.

Cropped to resemble a random pile of snow, this picture is of a roof:

A Load of Snow

A Load of Snow

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Categories: Humor, Maple Syrup, Rural Life, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mad Marchness

When the lion of winter lashes out like it’s wounded, roaring with cold, and the lamb of spring kicks up wet showers, those who live where the two meet get pelted with ice balls. Back and forth it goes every March, and we know spring will eventually prevail, but so far this year, March belongs to winter.

The Road to Fish in a Barrel Pond

The Road to Fish in a Barrel Pond

When snow is followed by rain and the rain is followed by sub-zero cold, an icy crust develops. When that cold is followed by more snow and more rain, the best term to describe conditions is “glaciated”. We are encased in ice. Continue reading

Categories: Maple Syrup, nature, Rural Life, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

There Were Going to be No Posts About Winter This Winter

February can be a strange month around here. Poke through the archives of this blog and see for yourself. For that matter, a lot of the winter-time stuff found in these pages verges on the odd, perhaps due to a phenomenon known by some as “cabin fever.” Some others will say they’ve come down with a mild case of the “winter blahs” and a goodly number of folks will become so s.a.d. they must sit near bright lights of appropriate spectrum to survive. Around here we prefer the term “shack nasties” but the irony is that, no matter what you call the way folks feel mid-way through a long winter grind, it can happen even to those who are able to get out of their cabin or shack.

A Giant Drift, Cresting Like a Wave

A Giant Drift, Cresting Like a Wave

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Categories: Humor, nature, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Quill Gordon and the Nonesuch Mountain Meltdown

So there I was, ready to wax rhapsodic as spring returned, but winter threw a hissy fit.


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Categories: +The Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society, Humor, Maple Syrup, nature, Rural Life, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Tapping Out

(A new tab at the top of this page (or this link) will take you to a collection of photos and links following the production of maple syrup this spring from the sugar bush of some friends. Their new enterprise is called Bobo’s Mountain Sugar, and the taps are in on Bobo’s Mountain — all 2500 of them.)

In mixed martial arts, tapping out is an act of submission, the end of a fight, and often the result of a violent twisting of arms. In maple syrup production, tapping out is a declaration of victory, the end of a job that no one’s arm had to be twisted to do.

big old tree

The snow was deep when I started helping on the hill above the sugar house, but I waded and floundered and stomped my way along the lines, tapping trees for a few hours each afternoon, doing what I could. The steepness of the hill, combined with thickets of beech and short balsams, had me convinced I made the right call in leaving my snowshoes at home, even as more flakes fell every day. After struggling in the wake of an additional 14+” from one storm, I finally gave in and strapped them on the next day.

If, as they say, snowshoes make the impossible difficult, it was a very hard afternoon. Without my snowshoes I had sunk to my knees; with them I still sank to my knees and had to high-step to clear the holes I’d made, with the decks weighted down with snow. Lifting a leg, expecting 25 pounds of resistance but getting none because the snow slid off, resulted in a few sharp blows to my chin and twice I kneed myself in the ear when my right foot sank deeper as I lifted my left. Continue reading

Categories: +Uncategorized, Maple Syrup, Rural Life, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Another Nice Day to Live in Vermont

More than a foot of snow snuck in the first part of this week, in the form of several small batches, so when Wednesday’s already grim Winter Storm Warning included the words “locally higher totals possible” it was a good bet Fish in a Barrel Pond would get its fair share.


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Categories: Maple Syrup, Rural Life, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Where The Storms Have No Names

The Weather Channel (not the National Weather Service) has decided that winter storms need names, in the same way hurricanes and typhoons need names. Blizzards and hurricanes don’t care what they are called but evidently TV producers feel their coverage is more compelling if we are able to somehow humanize dangerous meteorological phenomena, which is interesting because effective propaganda generally dehumanizes the enemy.

We humans name all kinds of stuff that need not be named, and I myself admit to the occasional anthropomorphic fit. A chicken I called “Tiny” was snatched away by a bear last spring and I once knew a tapir we called “Jim” because it was easier than saying “ear tag #P379″ but the closest I’ve come to naming weather would have to be “that awful cold snap in ’92” or “the huge freakin’ blizzard during lambing in ’05.”

This most recent storm was given a TV name and many people will use it when they look back on this historic nor’easter. They got hammered and maybe it will help to have a name to shout as they shake their fists at the sky, but step away from the news and the roads and the towns and it was just more wind and snow.


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Categories: nature, Rural Life, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Snow Wraiths

The Outdoor Blogger Network’s most recent photo prompt is “The Look of Winter.” A week ago I would have posted a photo of brown woods and green ice. Today, I post this:

Fish in a Barrel Pond, January 13, 2012


One 1250th of a second. A random snippet of time, an instant, now long gone — never to occur again — but preserved forever in cyber space. Weird.

That image says something, conveys a feeling, suggests a mood, but it is just one tiny note in an opus. This little opus here is a bit more than 150,000 notes long:


Categories: nature, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

And So This is Winter

As if on cue, rain started to fall shortly after I began writing A Pause in the Wobble the other day. As I wrote, the ice went from being hard, like thick glass, to something softer and more pliable, like plastic, as a giant puddle formed across its surface.

The rain that fell could only spread out across the level sheet and the mild air kept it from freezing, creating a lake on top of a lake.

(True story: I once had to transport a queen-size bed halfway across the state of Vermont and then across a mile and a half of ice on Lake Champlain. Used a pickup truck and, of course, it rained. It rained a lot. It rained so much there was six inches of water standing on the ice when we got there so I walked the entire way, slipping and splashing, looking for holes, while Mrs. Gordon and her brother followed slowly in the truck, doors open and seat belts off, just in case. Kind of like Ice Road Truckers, but with a lot more screaming. Mrs. Gordon was a little upset, too.)

The images above are just not what one would expect to see in Vermont a few days before Christmas, but as quickly as things changed the other night, they changed again last night and these are some pictures I took when I went out this morning: Continue reading

Categories: nature, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

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