« August 2019 | Main | October 2019 »

The Most Important Task

Image1 (13)

This will probably be a quick check-in for the week as I don’t feel there’s much to report.  And yet, the week was full and satisfying. I’ve been in one of those delightful nesting, quiet, introspective autumnal moods, and my work here at home reflects that. Digging potatoes, moving squash, onions, and garlic down to the cold room, packing jars with sauerkraut. Did some furniture rearranging which is my favorite way to deep clean a room. It felt like a week of ceremonious domestic rituals as we close one season and welcome another. Transitions can be difficult in life, stifling even, but to me there is something about seasonal transition that is life-giving, clarifying. There is still more to do before winter sets in, but it feels good to check a few things off the list. Especially things that happen to result in a cleaner, tidier house. Peace of mind.

I didn’t leave the ridge this week aside from a single trip to the feed store, which is about forty minutes away. Three miles from here there is an abandoned building with a sign shingled above the front door that reads: Feed Store, but their days of providing feed and other sundries to this remote community passed long ago.

Autumn is the most challenging time of year for me to write. I’m not exactly sure why, maybe I’m rendered speechless by the beauty of it all, especially October. Every attempt feels like a fumbling mortal contribution, a meek offering of words describing something indescribable. But I keep plugging along, writing for twenty minutes each weekday, sometimes more, never less. At the end of the week, one of those twenty minute sessions might find its way here.

We have a solid workday planned for tomorrow, then on Sunday, we’ll pack a thermos of herbal tea and some oatmeal raisin cookies, lace up our hiking boots, strap the canoe into the truck bed, and see where the perfectly sunny 65º near-peak foliage day in northern Vermont takes us. Autumn is here, and the most important task before us right now, is to not let it pass us by unnoticed.

Glad to Stick Around

Image1 (12)

It’s not every day you stop at a farmstand and have a chance to speak with the farmer who grew the food that sustains you. Usually it’s a quiet, self-serve affair. This week, while walking back to my truck after visiting one of the cutest farmstands in my area, the farmer pulled up, his truck bed filled with late season varieties to replenish the stand. It caught my eye as a mid-eighties model Ford, the same kind of truck Adam had when we started dating. The farmer’s truck was the prettiest robin’s egg blue with a hint of green.

Once parked, he hopped out and called over to me, “Hey! I want to give you something!” He approached with a funky looking gourd type thing in his hand and asked if I knew what it was. I did not, but threw out a few guesses, including a cross-pollinated mishap, a gourd, or an unusual winter squash variety... he told me it was true cantaloupe! An old variety known as Prescott Fond Blanc from Fedco. He thought I’d like to try it.

He was a tall, slender man with long greying blonde hair woven into a braid, his face half covered by a grey beard nearly as long. Our conversation trailed in a hundred directions for the next thirty minutes. I needed to get home, but he was friendly and interesting and had much to share. I don’t see as many people as I did in my former life, so I was all ears for anything this human felt like sharing.

daily mushroom hunting :: plowing, discing, then planting 50 pound bags of black oil sunflower seed every year (his farmstand is famous for their bouquets) :: raising his kids on Lake Willoughby :: the amount of traffic on his once quiet road due to the busier than ever Kingdom Trails :: passing mountain bikers on the trail with a high-powered rifle slung over his shoulder while bear hunting, and the looks he receives :: the number of ambulances he sees drive by to help the injured on the trails; "they don't talk about that much, but I see it!" :: the amount of deer now raising their families in the valley where his farm sits because their habitat has been compromised due to bike activity on the ridge :: his girlfriend owns a cafe in town and he works there - double shifts as a cook :: canning about 500 jars of jams, jellies, fruit butters, and salsa every year, sometimes working until 2am on many nights to get it all done :: hand-drawing every single label that goes on those jars - how he uses brown paper grocery bags, and fine point sharpie markers (which are “too inky” upon purchase so he rigged up a way to “wear them out a bit” on a record player for about twenty minutes before they are prime) :: the scoop on every single business and their owners in East Burke; "the guy who opened the smoothie place owns a bunch of strip clubs in Florida, which people have a lot to say about, but I think he's a good guy." :: how he doesn’t like going outside much in the winter anymore, but he put a woodstove in his barn this year so maybe he will tinker around in there :: turkeys are almost ready for him to butcher, after that he’ll only have chickens to tend over the winter; "not too bad" ::  he’s not preparing for the end of the world, but to him it makes sense to always have two years worth of seed on hand, and a bit more to share :: he’s lost a lot of weight recently and is now "skin and bones" :: how certain old time seed companies have become prohibitively expensive to buy seeds from :: the ins and outs of making crab apple jelly... and on and on.

Mostly I listened. He was full of energy and a good talker.

I glanced over at his homestead and noticed the turkey pen, the acres of sunflowers, the impeccably stacked supply of wood ready to heat his home for at least a year, maybe two. He was one of those people that you think surely has thirty hours in their day or something. How can I get in on that? I felt astounded by all this farmer/cook/hunter/artist/father/partner/forager/midnight-canner tends to in his days. I found myself hoping some of that energy was bottled up in my jar of crab apple jelly.

Through all of this, the one thing he did not talk about was the fact that he only had one arm. Not a single peep about the compromises, modifications, or limits he must face because of it. In fact, he seemed unfazed by it. Maybe it’s grit, maybe it’s lack of choice in the matter, maybe it’s deep acceptance. He seemed like the kind of guy that maybe wasn't thinking, "I only have one arm," that maybe he was thinking, "I have an arm!" I don't really know, but I was glad to stick around and get to know the man who foraged the apples, made the jelly, drew the label, and grew funky melons to share with a random passerby.  

The Way to a Food Preserver's Heart


Recent birthday celebration, and the return of puzzle season. 

There is chatter about the warm weather that has returned to Vermont this week. I’m not sure 72º constitutes warm, but that’s what the locals tell me. To me, autumn is here and has been for a couple of weeks. Not a drop of summer left to our days.

Life is moving at a quick pace with winter preparations underway; the limitless days of summer have been replaced with the get-it-all-done-now days of autumn. Here is what I know: it won’t all get done. We’ll have firewood, we’ll have plenty of chicken in the freezer, we’ll have freezers and a cold room filled to the brim with food that we’ve grown and also a bunch grown by others, and hopefully in November, there will be venison.

It’s a lot harder to hunt deer here than it is in Connecticut; the population is lower and the landscape vast in comparison. In Connecticut, it was a rare year that Dad and Adam did not both bring home at least one deer, usually more than one. Actually, I can’t think of a year neither of them got a deer. It’s a different story up here. We’ll see how it goes.


Forty meat birds arrived this week. Kept all their things close together for the first few hours after their arrival, then spread it out a bit once they settled in. Now they are running all about, being expert chickens. 

One of the projects that needs finishing is the addition on the pole barn. The existing structure is a dirt floored three-sided building that was built 35 years ago as a “five year barn.” It is the only shelter we have aside from our house, and if you are like us, you understand that house square footage does not matter much (well, except for mudrooms and proper pantries... those matter!), but outbuilding square footage does. We’re trying to create a little more space out there. I should also mention that the open side of the barn faces the road, and our driveway is not long, so any random objects we have kicking around in there are visible. Granted, it’s a dead end road that sees little traffic, but I care about these things. It looks messy all the time, even when things are neatly arranged on shelves. The stuff of life on display: gas cans, potting supplies, building supplies, folded up tarps waiting for their next important job, stacks of five gallon buckets, etc. It adds up to a lot of visual clutter and the new addition will hide much of that, in theory at least.

Image1 (11)

A few weeks back, as Adam began work on this project, Uncle Kurt stopped by for a visit. I was inside making relish and salsa that day and noticed his truck pull in. Once I got to a good stopping point I took a break to bring him a gallon of green beans that I’d picked that morning. For the first time in many years he and his wife did not put a garden in, so I figured they would enjoy them. His face lit up as I handed him the bag, then he told me he had a jar of mine to return, the one that was filled with strawberry sauce I’d recently sent over. I was thrilled it was already gone! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve given canned goods or maple syrup to friends and family only to see them still on their pantry shelf a year later. Have you experienced this? Maybe most of us have been indoctrinated by the FDA to feel skeptical of anything without their seal of approval on it. Not Uncle Kurt! On another Saturday visit in the early weeks of summer, as we chatted in the kitchen, he inquired about the ruby red jars lined up on the counter across the room. He asked if they were beets, to which I replied that no, they are strawberry sauce. Would you like a jar? “Sure!”

We told him how we best enjoy it: over vanilla ice cream or over yogurt. I admit to thinking that like so many gifted jars of the past, it might be placed in the cabinet and forgotten about. So you can imagine my delight when just a few weeks later he reported every last drop was gone and the jar was washed and ready to return.

I could tell Adam was a little surprised, too. Really, it’s gone already? That’s great! How’d you like it? “It was excellent! I had it over ice cream every night until the jar was empty!” Now that’s the way to a food preserver’s heart, and a way to guarantee many filled jars and offerings from the garden in your future.