(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:
Depending on the prevailing wind during a storm, impressive drifts accumulate in certain places; this roof gets its load primarily from the west, with help from the pines in the background.
A standard roof rake crumpled on impact so a six foot long shovel was used to chop and pry slabs off the face, revealing a record of every storm we had this winter, including the darker bands toward the top, representing the alternating rain and cold of three weeks ago (see Mad Marchness).
All the way around, carefully minding the weight distribution, heavy chunks were removed and tossed off the roof, creating a blocky jumble below. With more rain in the forecast, the goal was not to completely remove the snow or poke holes in the shingles, just lighten the load and prevent a collapse, so six inches of ice was left behind and the remaining drift was chopped up and spread around.
Getting no help from Mother Nature, with Opening Day only four weeks away, I’m just like a little ray of sunshine.
It’s been a long winter, for sure, but things can change fast around here. With the ground still frozen and three feet of snow in the woods, mud season is bound to be ferocious and the rivers will soon be churning with ice. The meltdown will happen.
An old pig farmer once advised me to, “stick to your long-johns ’til they stick to you.” There is a certain shrewd logic in wearing long-johns until it is too warm to wear them, assuming Mr. Osmer was not simply sharing his way of knowing when it was time to do laundry, which reminds me of a story:
My friend Eugene was concerned one winter that he was using more water than necessary. In a stroke of brilliance that could come only to someone like him, he took to conserving water by combining bath night with laundry night, climbing into his wash tub every other Saturday with his long-johns on.
Lava™ soap, as it turns out, is not just dandy as a bath soap; it works well in the laundry, especially when whites don’t necessarily need to be their brightest. Eugene was proud of himself and his thoughtful ecological tendencies (not to mention the trips he saved, hauling half the usual buckets of water) as he stood by the wood stove, turning every now and then as he dried to avoid scorching.
In the intervals between washings, the hair on Eugene’s legs, arms and etceteras slowly grew through the weave and the thorough scrubbings he administered every other week helped bond him and his long-johns even more tightly. By May they were one and Eugene’s pal Purly had to hold him down while I cut them off with an old pair of sheep shears. The oath of secrecy we swore that night prevents me from even mentioning it.
(See also: Careful With That Axe, Eugene; Eugene, Purly and Chef Gordon Ramsay; The Disappearance of Ethan Allen; Eugene and the Dangers of Shatter-Proof Glass, etcetera.)
Some people I know did not wait to ditch their long-johns this year, myself included, and it was funny to hear people say — on the warmest day in at least a couple of months — “Brrr!”
But the sap was running and soon, thanks to a fire started by an expert, things soon warmed up. It had been three weeks since the last boil on Bobo’s Mountain, almost a month with temperatures below freezing, even with the sun growing stronger every day. When the sap finally runs you make syrup until it stops, or at least until what runs is the funky stuff the old-timers call frog water.
A copy of Vermont Life magazine from 1969, showing a woman in her 80s checking her syrup, is held up against the arch at Bobo’s. One of the first things we noticed, besides her lack of a big shiny “steam-away” unit, is the size of the pans she’s boiling in. She is cooking a lot of syrup. We might come back to her and that Vermont Life article another time.
For now, though, the sap is running on Bobo’s Mountain and Skye and Tina are working overtime while it does. A chilly Sunday, spent stoking the fire in the sugarhouse was a grand old time, and I hope to get over there for another boil or two before things get too hectic around here.
It’s called “sugaring” instead of “syruping” because the sap used to be cooked all the way down to sugar. The sugar took up less space than syrup and was easier to use as an all-purpose sweetener.
The run is on! Check it out: Bobo’s Mountain Sugar.
Twenty Four Days until Opening.
I found some stairs.
Sweet! The story … and … the syrup! 😉
Up to New Hampshire this week to see what the season has wrought. They’re down to two feet of snow so I hope it won’t be too troublesome getting in. We’ll see.