First frost

The snow-covered green bushes on the left are tomato plants

The snow-covered green bushes on the left are tomato plants

Saturday I spent the day harvesting the last green tomatoes, a lone eggplant, peppers, and  a few stray cucumbers, including one that had wedged into the fence around my garden and grown into an orange balloon. I potted all my celery plants and the leeks in big tubs and hauled them into the garage where they will keep for most of the winter, and I put a row cover over the swiss chard.

The garden at its summer peak

The garden at its summer peak

Then Sunday we had our first frost at East Fork Road, Camden, and it was a doozy. An early winter storm dropped over a foot of wet snow. Usually the first frost is a beautiful sparkly thing that paints the garden a glittering silvery patina before killing everything it touches. This storm allowed no such transition. We went from green to white, just like that. I can still see a few shocked green tomato plants under the white mantle, wondering, perhaps, what happened.

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When I went down to check Monday afternoon, after the sun came out and the temperature once again rose above freezing, I saw a tiny narrow path across the top of the snow made by the family of field mice that lives under one of my raised beds. Did this take them by surprise, too, forcing some rushed last minute provisioning from my garden?

What can you do with a cucumber like this, except turn it into art?

What can you do with a cucumber like this, except turn it into art?

Up in the house, thankfully, we were ready. As I write this I am sitting in front of my wood stove, warm and dry, dogs sleeping at my feet. The power has been out for two days, but we have a generator.

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Bring it on, Winter, we’ve got front row seats.

 

From apples to cider

A little over seven bushels of apples ready for pressing

A little over seven bushels of apples ready for pressing

We have about five big apples trees on our property but because we do not spray them, the apples are only really good for cider. One year we tried making our own with an antique apple grinder and press that we borrowed from a friend. A day later, we had managed to make about two gallons of unfiltered cider. Not only did it taste bad, but it also made us sick.

Instead we now collect our apples and take them over to our friend Bob Sewall’s place. He runs an organic orchard and is known for his great cider, as well as his cider vinegar.

Loading up the cider press with apples, one bushel at a time

Loading up the cider press with apples, one bushel at a time

Bob specifies that the apples must not have been sprayed or picked up off the ground (his cider is certified organic and he does not want to risk contaminating his press). He also requires a minimum of at least five bushels of apples.

Gathering enough apples for the pressing is one of my favorite parts of the process. For weeks before my appointed time on Bob’s press, I drive around with empty bushel baskets in my car, looking for apple trees whose fruit has not been harvested. This also allows me to come up with a blend of different varieties.

I always get some from my mother’s backyard- she has a nice old red delicious. Sometimes I get some from my doctor who has a Wolf River tree outside his office — really big apples with a fairly bland taste. This year I found some pears in the backyard of a house near my office — they taste great in cider.

This year we had help from our neighbors, the Cranes. Jon Crane is just as much of a scavanger as me. He found some Tolman Sweets, a very sweet green apple, Northern Spies (tart and crisp), and Macouns (sweet and crisp). We added these to my Cortlands, Empires, a few Golden Delicous and some UFOs from a friend’s orchard for a total of seven bushels and headed up to Bob’s place on the edge of a mountain. It’s a glorious place to be on a fall afternoon. You can stand in the doorway of his pressing shed and and see the ocean in the distance.

Bob has an old press he bought second hand. We poured the apples into a hopper where they are hosed down. They are carried up into a grinder and the mush comes out of a fat hose. Bob lines each tray with a heavy cloth, fills it with the mush, wraps it up and piles another tray on tap. When he has a stack of enough trays, he puts them under the press where powerful hydraulics extract every bit of juice, leaving behind only a thin mat of skin and seeds — all the pressings from our apples fit into one big rubber bucket, which I brought home and put in my compost bin. Of course the whole time during this process, juice drips down the sides and into the big vat underneath. The fruity smell of apples is intoxicating.

Filling trays with apple mash

Filling trays with apple mash

Juicy juice!

Juicy juice!

Eventually when our load has been pressed, Bob bottles it in plastic jugs. Always important is the taste test. Delicious. Sweet, but not to sweet and a nice backbeat.

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Our seven or so bushels make 28 gallons of cider and it only took about 45 minutes. We will freeze most of it to drink over the winter. Each time I drink some I will remember this lovely fall day, the apples, and the neighbors who made it all possible.

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Glorious beacons of beech

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First walk in the weeks after almost two weeks away. Last week’s three-day storm accelerated fall’s progress, tearing down leaves and limbs and throwing rotted tree trunks onto the path the dogs and I follow. But we saw a way around them, and on the way back through the beech woods, found that the glorious gold understory has so far evaded nature’s Hoover winds and fall’s relentless clawing fingers. Luminous in the mist, the glowing beech leaves helped us find our way home.

Fall cruise

 

The Camden Hills viewed from the ferry

The Camden Hills viewed from the ferry

Jack on the almost empty ferry headed to North Haven. He was too busy reading to notice the light. Rhapsodies about the setting sun don't start happening until you are older anyway.

Jack on the almost empty ferry headed to North Haven. He was too busy reading to notice the light. Rhapsodies about the setting sun don’t start happening until you are older anyway.


Last year John and I sailed alone on an overnight to North Haven to celebrate our anniversary. This year we brought the whole family, dogs and all. Jack and I came late to the party since we had to drive up from his crew race in New Hampshire (his team won!) and catch the late ferry. The setting sun turned the white ferry pink and the ocean an extraordinary shade of purple blue. It was one of the most gorgeous rides across the bay I’ve ever had, made all the more lovely by the knowledge that I was with my son and headed to spend the night with my husband and other son — the people I love the most in the place that I love the most.

Jack with his medal. The Megunticook team beat out a dozen other men's novice junion 4 to win at the New Hampshire Rowing Championships

Jack with his medal. The Megunticook team beat out a dozen other men’s novice junion 4 to win at the New Hampshire Rowing Championships

John and Sam had sailed over earlier in the day on Wild Rumpus with the dogs.

Nature smiled on us and the temperature did not drop too much. The full moon on the flat calm Thoroughfare in the middle of the night shone through our the portholes. I got frequent glimpses, since truth be told I was awake quite a bit as the dogs roamed from bunk to bunk, nails clicking on the floor, and small whines, before trying to crawl into my bag and settling for sleeping on top of me.

Penne and Roger had a good night's sleep with me in my small bunk.

Penne and Roger had a good night’s sleep with me in my small bunk.

The next morning was warm enough to eat on deck. John cooked us all eggs and bacon served on toast.

The chef

The chef

Dining on deck

Dining on deck

 

The sail home, a hustling, bustling close reach was a fitting end to the fall sailing season.

Farewell North Haven until next summer

Farewell North Haven until next summer

 

A lake and lots of funky boats=fun

The theme of the 10th annual Polly’s Folly Fall Regatta on Megunticook Lake in Camden was cool boats. In addition to the usual Laser crowd, the race included a classic wooden moth, a sailing canoe, a Lightning, a Bluejay (sailed by the fleet’s youngest racers), a GP14, a rowing shell, and a kayak. The wind had gone elsewhere, so the second theme was cheating. Several racers were seen using paddles to move up in the fleet.

 

And in a first for the regatta, there was a near sinking. One of the Lasers was rigged without its plug and began to sink out in the middle of the lake. Luckily, a race organizer was able to get there in time to rescue the boat and her sailor. The deeper question here is: was JKHJr trying to sabotage his old friend Carl?

The first race course was a windward leeward around a big rock; the second involved a small artificial duck that was hard to see in the gorgeous fall light reflected off the mountains and lake.

Below are some photos:

race10race38race39race11race12race13race14race35race15race16race36race17race18racw19race21race22race24race41race23race25race26race27race28race29race42
race1race2race31race32race3race34race33race30race5race9race4race6racefinal

 

 

Last Sail

 

Me taking Frolic for her last sail

Me taking Frolic for her last sail

Sitting in my office looking out at the harbor, deep blue with just the right amount of wind, sunny with enough clouds to make the sky interesting, I knew.  It was time for The Last Sail.

Crisp September days with their strong breezes and bright sun make for some of the best sailing of the year. But this also can be a time of strong storms and the weather can change on a dime. Deciding when to let go of summer and have your boat hauled can be tough. Pull it too early and you might miss another week of fabulous weather. Wait too long, though, and you can get stuck spending a sleepless night listening to the wind howl and worrying about what’s happening down in the harbor.

Heading out Camden Harbor

Heading out of Camden Harbor

This time I knew.

I had been spending my afternoons like the grasshopper, playing on the water, when I should have been thinking like the ant and getting ready for fall, and winter.

Putting off working in my garden in order to frolic on the boat meant a delay in digging up the sweet potatoes — some lucky field mouse had time to eat most of the crop before I got there. There were apples to pick; cucumbers to pickle, yet more tomatoes to can and the rest of the potatoes to dig.

It was time to move off the water.

The last sail is special. Time to savor the rustle of the water along the boat hull, the gentle clunk of rigging and the creak of wooden spars rubbing, turning, working. Relish the salt spray that leaves a rough crust on my cheeks and hair. Stretch my eyes out along the blue water, past where it meets the blue horizon and uncoil all those internal knotted lines. Then store it all in the memory bank.

Looking up at the mast and gaff mainsail

Looking up at the mast and gaff mainsail

 

Leaving the Camden Hills behind as Frolic and I sail in Penobscot Bay

Leaving the Camden Hills behind as Frolic and I sail in Penobscot Bay

Thankyou, Frolic, for all those great outings this year, for carrying me away from the mundane and into the blue. See you next spring.

Frolic is a Dark Harbor 17, built in the 1920s and restored in recent years by Artisan Boatworks.

Frolic is a Dark Harbor 17, built in the 1920s and restored in recent years by Artisan Boatworks.

Fall blooming

Some plants, like blueberries, grow faster after they have been pruned or burned. The stress forces a reaction — a frenetic, last-chance, all-out blooming. Fall has that affect on me. Each day of warm sun seems so extraordinary. Each sail out on the bay feels like the best ever.

A glorious hike up Maiden’s Cliff — do the lake and ocean sparkle brighter this time of year because they are closer to a sun that now sits lower on the horizon; Or is it the contrast to winter’s creeping shadow?

In my garden a week ago I found as many as eight large cucumbers a day and had picked so many tomatoes I’d run out of counter space in my kitchen to line them up on their way into the canner and freezer. Still, even though we’ve been eating gifts from the garden since June, a tomato warmed by the late September sun somehow tastes sweeter than one harvested in mid-August.

Winter hangs in my awareness this time of year, like the Camden hills, heavy and majestic.

Canadian geese flying south above our field screech the message that colder nights and eventually snow approach. I hear you. I hear you. I’m walking faster. I’m sailing harder. I’m soaking in the sun. I’m getting ready.

 

 

Hugs, poetry and poop

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Some mothers get breakfast in bed, fancy bouquets, or maybe even taken out for breakfast on Mother’s Day. I am luckier than that. My Mother’s Day celebration was a bumpy drive to Appleton in John’s old Jeep truck to pick up a load of lovely composted manure from Cheryl at Terra Optima Farm for my garden.
To top it all off, just at the end of the day, Jack and Sam came in with a small bouquet of cheery daffodils, and better than even the flowers, big hugs for me.

The boys wrote me this poem a few years ago on Mother’s Day.

Lizards have them
Little frogs have them, too
But no one in this world
Has a mother who’s
As sweet and fine as you!

Poetry, poop, and hugs. These boys know the way to their mother’s heart.

Still winter

 

The setting sun casts a shadow of pink and orange reflections on the shiny gray ice far larger than the fiery fading orb itself. The cold breeze pushes my body back as I skate into it, my blades grinding in rhythmic metal swooshes. It may be mid-March, however, winter still holds this lake and me in its cold, tightly clasped fist. Sure I’m sick of the cold and the snow. But spring will come. It always does — I’ll read seed catalogues tonight in front of the woodstove, and have already begun pruning my fruit trees. In the meantime, this afternoon, this lake, the setting sun, this smooth ice are winter’s finest offering.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UaIfVvA49VE&feature=youtu.be

Tiny homes on ice

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Today was a 2-lake skating day – Chickawaukie in the morning and Megunticook in the afternoon. The ice wasn’t great, but getting out and about was.

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One of the best things about skating on lakes around here is checking out the ice fishing shacks. These fishermen’s homes away from home are extraordinary examples of whimsy combined with practicality. Utilitarian shelters designed to keep fishermen warm and provide a cozy refuge on the cold, windy ice, they also are lovely examples of creativity.

1redshcakI have seen shacks painted all sorts of colors, such as bright blue and red ones. Some are sided in spectacular sheets of steel that relflect the blue sky and white snow. Others are rigged on skis to make transportation easier.6domeshack Today, I saw a shack with a rounded roof and gables that looked like halved wagon wheels. The owner invited me inside to share the bacon and eggs that he and his friends were cooking on a small woodstove. Overhead hung a miniature set of deer antlers (it’s small because this is a small house, the owner said) and a fan of pheasant feathers. The owner explained he designed his shack to have lots of head room since he is tall. He sheathed it in treated canvas to make it light enough for him to move and set up without outside help.

I’ve read about Minnesota where people tow huge houses onto the ice, complete with large screen TVs and kitchen. Here in Maine, ice shack architecture, like the landscape and its people, is economical and functional, but also quirky and wonderful. Why waste money on something big and gaudy when smart and small will do?

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