Rural Life

Say It With Me

Go ahead.

Say it.

You know you want to.

Tufted Titmouse

Titmouse.

Some people can’t help but titter when they hear it or say it themselves, expressing child-like delight at making something so cute and delicate sound so nasty. A single Titmouse shows up at the feeders once or twice a season, events so few and far between as to be worth noting on the calendar. The other day they appeared in droves.

Well, maybe not droves. Probably not even a full drove, if you get right down to it, but the definition of drove is decidedly ambiguous so who’s to know? The point is, there was a dozen of them, which may not seem like many, but they were menacing.

It had only been an hour since I published my post about beard balm, where I wrote that the birds would have to wait if they wanted my winter whiskers for nesting material. The Titmouses came closer and closer and I began to think that maybe they didn’t want to wait, but how could they have known?

After a few photos (for identification purposes later, if needed) I struck what seemed, to me, a reasonable bargain with the Titmouses: In exchange for two cups of sunflower seeds a day in the meantime, I am allowed to keep my beard until the ice is off the lake.

Tough Titmouse

It was 78°F outside (25.5°C) that afternoon and I started thinking my negotiating skills could use a little work.

A Warm April Afternoon

The threat of a vicious plucking doesn’t have me thinking about toting a shotgun when I cross the dooryard (maybe a tennis racquet)  but that ice was looking kind of feeble and I wondered how binding a promise is when that promise is to a Titmouse.

Other bird names sound just as made-up as Titmouse. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is one of my favorite silly names. It sounds funny, except when it doesn’t.

There are Coots and Boobies and Stints, Wandering Tattlers and Greater Yellowlegs (Lesser ones, too). Then there is the quadruple-entendre Bushtit and the (boom)Chachalaca. Throw in some Greenshanks, a few Beardless Tyrannulets, Cuckoos, Noddies and Snipe and there are hours of immature fun to be had with the bird-watching crowd. Don’t even get me started about Woodcocks.

Alas, new species of birds don’t come along very often (and the old ones have a way of disappearing) so the need for creative new bird names is quite limited.

A glance through fly fishing catalogs and magazines will convince anyone that those who tie flies are bound by no such constraints.

New patterns appear each year, whether created from scratch or as significant variations on a theme, and each of those new flies has a name. The need for names for new flies is virtually unlimited, but coming up with a catchy name no one has thought of requires creativity and deep thought. After all, once someone names a fly Rat Faced McDougal, what could be left?

Quack Doctor might have gotten a few chuckles, back in 1892, along with Cow Dung, when they were included in Mary Orvis Marbury’s “Favorite Flies and Their Histories”. Green Butt Skunk must have a story but I’ve never looked for it and I don’t know how the aforementioned Mr. or Mrs. McDougal felt about the whole thing.

Fly fishing has Boobies, too, along with other flies that lend themselves to innuendo, such as Stimulators, and Green Weenies. Others, like Bitch Creek Nymph are named by virtue of birthplace but are still fun to say.

I can only imagine what those who don’t fly fish think of those who do when they hear the names of some of our flies (or go poking through these pages). I learned early on that not everything I hear is quite as it sounds and I no longer faint like I used to when snippets of fishing camp conversations reach my ears.

Opening Day is the Saturday after next and I brace myself for eagerly anticipate the annual onslaught return of the anglers to Fish in a Barrel Pond. After six months of quiet, it takes some time to adjust to so many voices outside my head but it won’t be long before I can walk by a camp and not give it a second thought when someone yells, “What did you do to my Montreal Whore?” or, “Hey! Check out the size of my Meat Whistle!” or, “Where’s my Butt Monkey?”

To the ignorant or uninitiated, hearing such things might be shocking but somehow, to me, words like those are as much a sound of spring as peepers and song sparrows. Some of the men talk that way, too.

With less than two weeks to go before opening, me and the titmouses have not been the only ones watching the ice on the lake. Most haven’t been actually watching the ice; they’ve been calling and emailing to ask about it but it changes from day to day, even hour to hour, and I don’t get paid to stand around watching ice melt. The ice has been deteriorating — of that there is no doubt — but the changes can be subtle, at least when observed over the course of the average human attention span.

A camera on a tripod, however, can stand around all day.

And now, for something more dear to an anglers heart than Boobies or Butt Monkeys.

Say it with me:

Ice-out.

 

 

Categories: Humor, nature, Rural Life, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Balmy Days

Last week’s cold snap was forecast to end on Monday, maybe, but it didn’t happen. Tuesday, maybe, was a possibility but became a definite not. On Wednesday, however, the temperature climbed enough for the sap to run again, the tank filled, and the arch was fired up one more time at Bobo’s (boil #8).

Steam and Snowflakes

The stuff in the front pan, left behind from the last batch to “sweeten” the next, had frozen to slush due to its high sugar content, but the weaker stuff in the back pan was decidedly more solid and, according to the forecast, it’s going to happen again.

Not Exactly Sugaring Weather

Despite the snow and sleet, sap ran into the night and, in order to leave behind as little as possible to freeze, the fire in the arch was stoked until almost midnight. The shed has a lot of wood left in it, but prodigious quantities have already been burned. Opening the doors to feed the fire, especially when they are pulsating like angry cuttlefish, can be like flying into the sun, and closing them quickly — before one’s clothes burst into flames — can become a matter of some importance. Continue reading

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Steamy Video

The recent record-setting warm spell could not possibly last. It is March and this is Vermont, after all. Sap was still trickling down the hill as last evening’s boil ended at Bobo’s Mountain Sugar and, while the collection tank didn’t fill all the way, it had enough sap in it this morning to justify firing up the arch again.

Another justification for processing a not full tank is the fact that temperatures are predicted to drop to well below 0°F over the next few days. Anyone who has ever dealt with a thousand gallons of solidly frozen sap knows how that can slow down an operation. Everyone else can probably imagine.

As dependent on weather as sap runs are, boiling that sap into syrup can be affected, too. Barometric pressure has an effect on the boiling point of liquids and wind gusts to 50 mph have a strange way of preventing steam from leaving the building. Even with doors open.

Fogged-In

Fogged-In

It didn’t help that the outside air that did get in was cold and getting colder, and that it, too, turned to fog when it met the warm air rising from the arch.

Sitting down once in a while is allowed.

Sitting down once in a while is allowed.

The edge of a cold metal barrel is not really a comfortable seat but it will do. Lest readers get the impression I sit a lot, I don’t. Sometimes I stand and stare at the ceiling.

Looking up, into the steam coming down.

Looking up, at the steam coming down.

Mostly, my role in Bobo’s sugarhouse is stoking the fire and drinking beer acting as a role model for children. Mostly, it’s stoking the fire.

Heat

Heat

The sap tank is empty, the arch is quiet and the plumbing is drained. There won’t be another run of sweet sap until this bitter cold blast has moved through, maybe by Monday they say. It was freaky foggy in the sugarhouse today, but not constantly. The fog came and went, as you will see below.

The four foggy photos above are part of a series, a series of 299 images which, when stitched together, form a time-lapse, boiling down two and half hours to thirty seconds. The big hairy guy even does a little dance.

 

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

A Big Hot Metal Box

Snowshoes were appropriate footwear on Bobo’s Mountain last Tuesday as the last taps went in, racing against a warm-up that promised a run of sap (see “Something is Running and It’s not Me“). The race was won, the sap was caught, and by Friday children were seen running barefoot.

Three feet of snow disappeared. Some simply sublimated but most of it melted, running noisily down the hill as runnels met rivulets and rills became brooks, braiding their way toward the river.

Melt-Down

Melt-Down

It turns out that this year’s first boil took place on the same date as last year’s but whether or not that means anything is still open to conjecture. By the time this first run was over, somewhere in the neighborhood of 7,000 gallons of sap had been processed. Continue reading

Categories: Maple Syrup, Rural Life, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Something is Running and It’s not Me

Long-term weather forecasts can be useful but they are subject to change and not always accurate. A predicted period of snow showers followed by a slight warm-up can become 10 days of ice, snow and arctic winds followed by a drastic melt-down and, before you know it, the scramble is on. In this case, the scramble is up and down and across the slopes of Bobo’s Mountain, driving taps into every available maple tree before the sap starts running in earnest.

Making Tracks

Making Tracks

By mid-afternoon, sap was dripping from freshly drilled holes before spiles could be driven and drop lines hooked up. Licking a tree is not something normally done in polite company, but up on the hill, where nobody can see, why not? Faintly sweet and tasting of forest, those first drips are an elixir, pushing aside visions of snow drifts and cold, replacing them with thoughts of mud, hot fires and steam.

Across the Brook

Across the Brook

With all hands on deck, the last tap went in yesterday afternoon and the collection tank began to fill. Some of those hands, though, are a little worse for the wear, scraped by rough bark and sliced by sharp bits, all in pursuit of syrup.

Professional Hand Models, Bobo's Mountain Style

Professional Hand Models, Bobo’s Mountain Style

Today, the arch will be fired up to boil the first run of sap on Bobo’s Mountain, giving sore muscles and busted knuckles a break and allowing those hands to experience burns and scalds instead.

Bring on the mud!

 

Categories: Maple Syrup, Rural Life, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

From Other Places, Taking American Jobs!

The following item is the result of recent conversations with local activists. Some did not wish to be identified, fearing reprisals for not being “politically correct enough.” A few, however, agreed to be photographed in order to illustrate their plight. We ask that their privacy be respected and remind readers that, while the statements made and opinions expressed by these brave workers do not necessarily reflect the views of the management here at Fish in a Barrel Pond, their patriotism can’t be denied.

“I don’t want to sound racist or nothin’,” said an activist we’ll call ‘Roy’, “but they all look the same to me! It ain’t right.”

“Yeah,” added ‘Myra’, “especially when they’re all in a big group outside the store, practically begging to go home with people. It’s creepy.”

“Just look at ’em!” said Roy. “I think they’re into drugs, too!”

We Know Why They're Smiling

Why Are They All Smiling Like That?

Continue reading

Categories: Humor, Rural Life, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Pink and Purple Pictures Because People Are Like Pistachios

Some are quite average and run of the mill. Some are pleasant, others merely tolerable, while still others exude goodness and make you wish there were more like them. Overall, as a group, they’re not so bad, even easy to take, but every so often one finds a bad taste in one’s mouth.

A really bad taste. The kind of taste there’s not enough root beer in the world to cancel. Jarring and traumatic, it lingers long after the initial shock has worn off, inspiring great trepidation at the thought of chancing another experience like it and putting one off one’s feed in general.

People are like pistachios. Continue reading

Categories: nature, Rural Life, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Spring Black-out

For a while there in April it felt like we were on the verge of May. Then, March-like conditions swept in and we were on the verge of tears. It doesn’t seem fair, having one’s chain yanked like that, but that’s the way it is around here.

“… You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March…”

~From “Two Tramps at Mud Time” by Robert Frost

Of course, if you’re anything like me, you just sort of black out in mid-April and, before you know it, it really is the middle of May and swallows are chasing down mayflies among snowflakes. Continue reading

Categories: nature, Rural Life, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Frog Water

Phrenology is the study of bumps on a person’s skull to determine certain aspects of the individual’s personality and character.

Phenology is the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life.

The end of sugaring tends to come at about the same time amphibians thaw out and get active, so some sugar-makers call their final batches of syrup “frog water.” Appropriately, a small chorus of wood frogs was sounding off in the puddles as the fire was lit for an April Fools’ Day boil at Bobo’s last Friday afternoon.

April Showers

April Showers

Continue reading

Categories: Humor, Maple Syrup, nature, Rural Life, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Duck Ice

Duck Ice (n): Ice that will hold a duck, but not much more.

While caretaking on an island on Lake Champlain, I heard stories about the caretaker on another island who strapped giant plywood duck feet to his shoes in order to walk on thin ice, just for fun. He was also known for “jumping chunks” to shore when his boat became mired in the pack ice each spring and he liked to drive back and forth on his ATV, stopping by with predictions of how much longer it would be “safe” to make a run to shore.

“You’ve got another six hours, easy,” he once told me, two days after I’d nearly scared myself to death making one last trip for supplies.

A Long Walk

A Long Walk

Those, of course, are geese, not ducks, making their way across the last of the ice on Fish in a Barrel Pond. Their wide feet distribute their weight somewhat, but even they run into problems from time to time. Continue reading

Categories: nature, Rural Life, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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