“I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house. So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air.”

— Nathaniel Hawthorne

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A Visit from the Tree Guy

A Visit from the Tree Guy

The single sugar maple tree in my back yard — for some weeks clearly stressed — is a lost cause, says the tree guy, and is soon to be a pile of wood for autumn bonfires. Acer S., the tree guy notes… Acer saccharum. We have other maples… Red maples (Acer rubrum) and black (Acer nigrum). We have a massive ash tree (Fraxinus) and a picturesque stand of birches (Betula). We have cedar and spruce and hemlock trees (Juniperus, Picea, Tsuga) but only the single sugar maple. I’d planned to tap that tree to try my hand at backyard sugaring, but hadn’t gotten around to it, and in retrospect I’m awfully pleased I didn’t; I’m sure I’d worry it was me what killed that tree. Maybe it was lonely. I think I’ll replant another sugar maple when all is said and done. Not a single sugar maple, but two. Just in...
After the Storm: Vermont in Irene’s Wake

After the Storm: Vermont in Irene’s Wake

So it turns out that Irene wasn’t the “Storm of the Century” for folks on the Atlantic Seaboard — beach town and megapolis alike were spared the brunt of Irene’s wrath — but rural Vermont wasn’t so lucky. Torrential rains lingered idly over Vermont’s already soggy mountain terrain, swelling creeks and rivers into raging torrents that undermined roads, swept bridges downstream, and inundated homes and businesses, alike. Now villages up and down state are isolated islands, cut off from all directions by washed out roads and bridges… you just can’t get there from here. Towns like Waterbury — the center of my working life for most of the last seven years — were inundated as rivers escaped their banks much like they did in Vermont’s historic flood of 1927… which was likewise caused by a wayward tropical storm that meandered its way up from the Caribbean. Folks — family and friends, alike — are mucking-out today; mud and foul, fuel-oil fouled water, and waterlogged possessions. The unsalvageable bits go to the curb, the rest: photos, family heirlooms, items imbued with meaning and memory are fussed over and set aside with guarded optimism. Folks here are stubborn (though they might prefer the word, resolute.) And while Vermonters will get on with the business of repairing, rebuilding and renewing their communities, there’s aspects that simply can’t be patched and fixed-up, losses that can’t be recovered. Three people died in storm-related incidents. Historic clapboard buildings, and centuries-old covered bridges are bits of Vermont’s heritage that can’t be merely replicated and made aright. In the wake of the storm I’m feeling both grateful...
Sugaring Season in Vermont

Sugaring Season in Vermont

Driving around Vermont this time of year you’re sure to see the telltale blooms of steam billowing from hilltop sugar houses… Vermont’s surest sign that we’re at the muddy intersection between a long, snowy winter and spring greening. I suspect I won’t have opportunity to head into the woods this year to revisit some of Vermont’s family-owned sugar shacks, so I’m reprising a visit I made to the Isham family farm and maple sugarhouse… just down the road aways in Williston, Vermont. Maple sugaring is a tradition that has flourished at the Isham family farm for five generations. It’s on the verge of a sixth generation — Mike Isham’s daughter Jennifer may well prove to be the first iPod-wearing sugarer in Vermont — provided the weather holds out. Maple sugaring happens only in the subtle dance between winter and spring, where the cycle of warming days and freezing nights makes the sap run. In the face of global climate change, Vermont’s tradition of sugaring may be in danger. The essential techniques of maple sugaring are unchanged from colonial times: tap a stand of maple trees to capture the sweet sap that runs in early spring, and then boil the hell out of it. Fresh from the tap, maple sap is about 2% sugar. Boiled for hours in custom-built evaporators, the sugary solution is concentrated until — at precisely 66.9 percent sugar — it’s Vermont maple syrup. Technology, of course, has changed things. Complicated networks of plastic tubing (networks! of tubes!) syphon sap directly from trees into collection tanks, replacing much of the tradition of metal sap-buckets and draft horses....
White on White (on Red)

White on White (on Red)

Local news: an untold billion crystalline paratroopers cast their downy way down, whirling, twirling, tumbling to land — gently — on roofs and posts and caps and the occasional expectant, outthrust tongue. It’s winter… it should by god snow. Mind you, this is heavy, wet stuff; surely the prodigious sort that (we’re told) Eskimos have a hundred words for.1 This is the stuff that sticks, that clumps and bunches on wet, black branches and gracefully-draped power lines alike, and on the occasion that the first leans a little too much on the second, then it’s good to have a backup power supply. A genny.2 Meanwhile, it sure is pretty. And — fair warning — it makes for a right awesome snowball. They don’t, not really. But they should. And if not Eskimos, then Vermonters. Maybe the old-timers do. Maybe they speak snow-language with Eskimos when anthropologists aren’t paying attention. [↩]Old-time Vermonter for ‘generator.’...
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