When winter and spring duke it out they both end up looking silly, the dooryard fills with slush and streams jump their banks. Freezing rain gave way yesterday to sleet and ice pellets before turning to snow last night, which is when the lightning and thunder began. Another band of rain moved through with a shot of warm air and this morning felt positively balmy.
Posts Tagged With: Rural Life
Going from a rainy 50°F (10°C) to -20° (-28.9°C) and back in a week must surely qualify as a Weather Event. Streams and rivers swelled, then froze, then swelled again. The ice sheet on the lake groaned as the water beneath it rose and fell but the spillway system functioned and the flow continued on its merry way downhill.
With dozens of tributaries flowing into the valley below, ice broke up on the river, churning in the current, banging its way downstream. Finally jumping its banks, the river fanned out on a floodplain and dropped its load. As on a conveyor belt, thousands of ice slabs piled in from behind and before you could say, “Robert is your father’s brother,” an old-fashioned ice jam had formed.
The punchline is, “I call him Tiny because he’s my newt (minute)!” but he’s not really my newt.
The late Dr. Allen Foley, Professor Emeritus of History at Dartmouth College, related a story in his book, “What the Old-Timer Said”, about a local boy who came across a boy from the city who was tormenting a toad.
“Put that toad down,” he said.
“Why should I?” asked the city boy. “He’s my toad, ain’t he?”
“No, he ain’t,” replied the local lad. “This is Vermont. He is his own toad.”
Safe travels, Tiny.
(We’ve paid tribute to the Celebrated Professor Foley before, back in 2014, in a post about Vermont Town Meeting Day (see Hibernation Ends and How Did You Know My Name Was Mac?) . This year’s meeting is still more than a month away but already some people have taken to running serpentine routes from from the Post Office, ducking for cover behind parked cars or trees on the green when necessary.)
The curmudgeonly demeanor so essential to my charm nearly veered into the ditch of sociopathic behavior a few times this winter as the Shack Nasties made their annual bid for control. The Shack Nasties are terrible things, related to Cabin Fever but having nothing to do with the need to get outside. Cabin Fever is easily treated but the Shack Nasties are insidious and, once contracted, their cure consists mostly of endurance. Hundreds of blog posts and internet articles appeared this winter, with headlines like “Ten Quick Hacks to Beat the Winter Blahs” and I could almost relate, but my hacking was from working in the cold air and, on a good day, if I tried real hard, I could almost get myself worked up to “blah.”
When folks who are used to a lot of snow say, “That’s a lot of snow,” you know it’s a lot of snow.
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. Continue reading
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.)
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
I’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.
Thank you, Rob, Ann, Carl, Harry and everyone else who was at the cabana the day I visited. I had a great time!
(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:
Instead of glancing off at low angles, the sun shines more directly on surfaces these days and, in spite of the unseasonably cool temperatures we’ve had, eaves drip and the sound of running water is heard in the stream beds.
Dark surfaces become warmer than the air that surrounds them, and even a light coating of dust is enough to tip the balance and allow ice to become water, if only for a minute. Melt water on the road flows to the shade of the cedar tree by the drive and hardens to a smooth, slippery finish and opaque ice builds beneath the eaves like stalagmites in a cave.
Slowly but surely, this year’s snowfall makes its way to the ocean, advancing as far as it can during the day before the angle of the sun changes and the chill of night sets in. Each day brings another few minutes of sunlight that is increasing in intensity, and each day the snow, the ice, and even the woods themselves react.
Water flows year-round from springs in the valley, and streams run throughout the winter here. Some of that constant flow makes a short stop on its way to the Atlantic, coating everything it splashes as it drops from the outlet of Fish in a Barrel Pond. Cold water meets colder air and fantastic forms arise.
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.
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