Years ago when I got my first pair of snowshoes I thought I would be able to dance across the top of snowy surfaces without sinking down. Not so. Snowshoeing through deep snow — however powdery — while easier than walking in boots, is still a sweaty slog. Tonight the dogs and I went out at dusk. Tugging first one duck-shaped foot and then the other up and forward, I waded along, getting increasingly hot and wondering why I hadn’t just gone for a walk along the plowed road. Then panting up the final hill toward home, I noticed a faint glow in the snow ahead and looking more closely saw that my shadow had appeared to urge me on. Turning my head to see the moon rising behind me, I mentally thanked her for the company.
As we glided across the gray ice on Megunticook Lake and then stopped to bask in the setting sun’s purple, pinkish glow, John looked at me and said “skating is really your favorite thing isn’t it?”
He might be right. As we stood by ourselves in the middle of a huge expanse of winter water, the slowly disappearing sun was going out in style, shooting rays of color into the clouds, the sky, and the mountains. All of it was reflected in the ice, which became brighter than even the setting sun. The darker the sky became the more the ice looked liquid, just with its ripples and wind-blow waves frozen in time.
Swimming through the water in the summer takes effort — the joy it gives comes from the soft feel of the water on my limbs. Skating over frozen water, on the other hand, is about the speed. It’s like that surging rush in a sailboat when the wind suddenly catches the sails and pushes the boat forward. Except on the ice, I get that feeling of speed with no boat or sails. Just me and my long blades.
I can go so much farther with so little effort.
On Saturday, knowing that a blizzard was on the way, John and I and the dogs went out for a morning skate. I headed out ahead of John across the smooth surface, left blade carving a long line, then the right blade, then the left, right, left, in a gentle rhythm marked by quick scraping sounds.
We met a lone woman skating back to the shore. “Great out here, isn’t it,” she said.
Further along, we saw a bald eagle perched in a tree watching us, especially Roger. The eagles hang around ice fishermen looking for handouts. This one was contemplating whether Roger might taste better than a dead fish.
Ice brings out interesting characters. Last year we met a man riding a bicycle with studded tires on the slippery ice. Sometimes I have run into a guy who golfs — I have found his lost balls stuck into the ice. There also are ice-boaters and ice-fishermen. Most of them use untended tip-ups with flags that alert them when the bait has been taken. Saturday, though, we saw an elderly fisherman who was jigging for white perch. He sat on a small overturned bucket next to a gas heater and was using a small rod to catch the fish and pull them out. Perch travel in schools, he said, and when you catch one, you can be sure you will catch another right away. More than a dozen silvery green perch lay next to him on the ice, one or two still slowly flopping.
“I think he was lost,” the fisherman said. “He asked me which way to go to get to Moody Mountain.”
We were not lost. We went all the way down the lake to the other end, where we removed our skates and hiked over a short spit of land and onto another smaller body of water, Norton Pond. We skated to the end of that, and just as the snow started to fall quite heavily, we headed home.
Woodsmen have been out in force in our neighborhood over the past few weeks clearing up the mess from November’s freak storm — the metallic whine of their chain saws cuts harshly through the air.
Today as the dogs and I picked our way through the crusty snow out back we heard some more gentle and natural woodsmen at work: pileated wood peckers.
The first one flew in a zig zag over my head as I was walking up a hill. It squawked a slightly frantic, whinnying “keykeykey” before landing on a nearby ash tree and looking down at us, with its big red head cocked to one side as if to say “what are you doing in my woods?” As he watched us and we him, we heard the drumming sound of yet another woodpecker echoing up through the trees and then yet another, or was it the same one trying out another limb. Were they part of the same crew or were they fighting over territory? Whichever, the dogs and I walked home content that nature’s clean-up crew was hard at work.
Every so often the stars align to create perfect black ice strong enough for skating — several days of below freezing temperatures, not too much wind (it can create ridges) and no snow. It only happens once every few winters and never lasts long, maybe one or two days before inevitably the ice is ruined by snow or rain. And it’s always a little scary because you have to be sure the ice is thick enough and even then you have to be careful, always carrying ice picks and watching where you glide.
I am an ice skating junkie. I will go out on almost any sort of ice, picking my way through snowy ridges or around high, wind-blown ice bumps. But black ice, well it’s like the most perfect meal you ever ate, the most beautiful sunset you ever saw, maybe even better. It looks liquid, reflecting the sky, the sun, the trees and even me.
We had it here in Camden, Maine, yesterday and today. And tomorrow it will be gone, covered by freezing rain and snow.
My brother, who also is an ice skating nut, is part of a company that makes something called “Kite Wings.” They come in all sizes and recently he has made ones for amateurs like my husband, John and I. He gave us one for Christmas and we tried it out yesterday. Luckily we were wearing our skiing helmets — something I always do when on the ice now — because John fell and hit his head. He’s got a nasty black eye, but is otherwise ok. He wanted to go skating again today — black ice is that way it calls you even when you’re feeling sore — but did the right thing and stayed home resting.
I, however, could not resist that siren call of ice about to disappear and went out for one last solitary set of spins.
The only Christmas trees we have ever had in our house were cut in the woods out back. They always look bushier in the wild than inside. My husband, gracious man that he is, says he likes our trees because they do not block the light or view of the mountains from our living room window. I like them because they are natural, and because the annual expeditions into the woods with dogs, children, neighbors and handsaws, are always fun.
Each year I proclaim, “This tree is the best we’ve ever had.” Even though the boughs bend down at the tips under the weight of our ornaments, we still are proud. Visitors make snide comments like: “Nice Charlie Brown Tree” or “Where did you find that, at the dump?” I do not mind. They are just jealous.
This year I had hoped to recycle a blow-down from that freaky November blizzard, which blew the tops off so many of our firs. Alas, those blow-downs not only were looking dry, but also the branches had warped in weird directions from being on the ground so long. We had to find two trees, one for us and one for the neighbors. About a half-mile in we found the first one and quickly cut it, sending it home through the woods with the three boys (wondering if either the tree or the boys would make it in one piece). The second took more careful searching — a big beauty, tall and bushy. It was so big it required three adults to haul it out of the woods and load it onto our truck for delivery next door.
Today, I took the decorations and lights off our tree and put them away until next year. Handling each handmade ornament as I wrapped them and tucked them back into a box brought back memories of my children when they were little. My oldest son hopes to go away to school next year. Will he miss the annual hunt for a tree? Will I want to go out in the woods without him? No, we will wait until he gets home. This tree — green, sweet-smelling, natural and flawed like all of us — represents life, rebirth and hope. The adventure in the woods to find it is our family tradition.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Bring it on, Winter, we’ve got front row seats.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The next morning was warm enough to eat on deck. John cooked us all eggs and bacon served on toast.
The sail home, a hustling, bustling close reach was a fitting end to the fall sailing season.
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: