Tuesday, February 07, 2023

The Weather and Feathered Friends

 We have had reasonable weather for the past couple of days, and it is VERY welcome! I think most Vermonters take this kind of weather in stride, pretty much without missing a beat, but that doesn't mean we like it, nor does it mean we aren't going to complain about it. Weather is a big part of our lives. I suppose it isn't as important to most of us as it used to be when nearly everyone was either  operating a farm or dependent on one in some way. Weather was, and still is, a big deal for farmers. Now our main concern is what the roads will be like, and especially who we may have to look out for because their car is no properly equipped or they are inexperienced drivers - or worse, inattentive drivers. We are looking at some potentially nasty weather later on this week - rain, a little snow, a mixture. But we are nearing the middle of February, and that can only mean we'll be on "the other side" of winter. Hooray!

Just a quick reminder about the wake boat controversy - the informational meeting that is coming up on February 15th. The public is invited to attend either in person or by zoom - details are HERE.

My friend, Mary Whitcomb, has been busy bird-watching with her camera. She recently sent these very nice photos of guests at her feeding stations in Central Vermont. I think you will recognize these subjects - and identify with their antics if you are feeding birds or are a bird watcher. 

Sometimes birds just look really cold and unhappy, but most of the time they happily go about their task of finding food and shelter. Here they have a good friend looking out for them and as you can see, there is quite a variety visiting Mary. Thanks for the lovely shots, Mary.

I just realized once I publish this, the photos go a little crazy, and I have no control!  Enjoy the warmer weather and our Feathered Friends!

Thursday, February 02, 2023

Groundhog Day!

It's cold, and no self-respecting groundhog will venture out today, but if he did, he would not see his shadow, traditionally indicating spring is six weeks away. In case you are not aware - it was Punxsutawney Pete who predicted the weather back in 1887, when Groundhog Day was first celebrated in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. In 1952, William A. Swartworth, a somewhat cynical reporter for the Associated Press in 1952, either by design or disregard for details, changed the groundhog's name to Phil. When challenged about the change, he claimed he named the 'chuck after Pittsburgh Phil, a notorious con man. However appropriate that might be, some prefer to think of Phil as Pete's son - but either way, we can probably depend on having at least six more weeks of winter weather ahead of us here in Vermont, regardless of Phil's predictions in Pennsylvania.

 Some of you may be interested in this profile Amanda Legare wrote for this month's Cabot Chronicle.

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Rail Trails Network

Brrrrr! It was COLD this morning! about eight below overnight; that said, it sounds like we're going to have much colder weather starting tomorrow night - with wind chill it could get as cold as -45 degrees! That's cold enough! Last night was one of the few nights I didn't have my bedroom window open just a tiny bit. I figured, why heat all outdoors? Even though I turn the thermostat way down, I know that heat escapes whenever there is even a small opening to the outdoors, and even with the door closed, it robs warm air from the rest of the house. So some nights it just isn't practical.

I watched the thermometer climb to a balmy 22 degrees (the high point I saw) and when I looked a few minutes ago it's 15.4F. There was glorious sunshine during the first half of the day, but it was still cold. Now clouds have obscured the sun and it's gloomy again, and it seems as if tonight should be warmer with cloud cover, but perhaps not.

Here's an interesting proposition put before the Northeast Kingdom Chamber of Commerce meeting in St. Johnsbury last Thursday: a new rail trail project proposal, the Twin State Rail Trail, that would connect the LVRT from St. Johnsbury to Whitefield, NH via an existing rail bed (Twin State Railroad Line) that hasn't been used for twenty years. This new trail would begin on Mill Street, where St. Johnsbury's new bike park pavilion is located on the extension that will connect the present LVRT trail to downtown St. J. That project has not been completed, but will be in the near future.

The proposed Twin State Rail Trail project is similar to the LVRT project - an overgrown and unused old railroad line that runs through small communities and beautiful back country. It will be interesting to see if this materializes. From what I saw in the article in the Caledonian Record, this would involve some 21 miles of rail trail and would connect the LVRT with two existing trails in New Hampshire, the Ammonoosuc Rail Trail (from Littleton to Woodsville, NH) and Presidential Rail Trail, (from Whitefield to Gorham, NH). The Presidential trail connects to the Cross New Hampshire Adventure Trail that runs 83 miles between Woodsville, NH and Bethel, ME. All sorts of possibilities there - and great scenery, I expect. I like to imagine what it was like to ride in a train along these tracks back in the day when passenger trains were popular. I'm sure it was breathtaking.

To learn more about the proposed line from St. Johnsbury to Whitefield, click HERE.

Stay warm and safe, and be sure your pets and any livestock are inside and protected from the cold.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Wind, Wool, and Strawberry Milk

 We are well on our way into a blast of real cold weather - the bone-chilling kind that is dangerous. My thermometer was only 13 degrees this morning - as I write this, I'm already seeing 7 F, and it's going down. There is still a bit of wind, straight out of the north, but only 3 or 4 mph. Earlier today it was at least hitting the 15-20 mph mark which put the wind chill below zero. And that was with the sun shining brightly most of the day. We can expect more of the same for most of the week, I guess. 

I was outside only once today, just long enough to get the mail. Some days I wish Tim would just hold onto it until the weather is warmer. I could leave it in the mailbox, but if I do, the next day he would probably come up to see if I'm ok. That's the great part of having mail delivered here in rural Vermont. Tim has been on the route for a long time, and I really appreciate him. Mail carriers slog through all kinds of weather and road conditions to get our mail to us, and some like Tim, are kind enough to look out for us older folks.

Years ago, our long-time mail person was Raymond Peck. He normally drove a car on his route, but in the winter, I remember him coming with a horse and sleigh. He had mail in large bags next to him, and he had a heavy robe over his lap. I remember he was bundled up in a sheepskin lined coat, very common in those days, and a hat that had a visor and ear flaps that appeared to be lined with sheepskin. No matter what the weather, he was always smoking a cigar. I don't know how he kept it going  in the wind and snow - or maybe it was unlit - I have no way of knowing. The roads were often only passable with a horse and sleigh, and even then sometimes it was so badly drifted and the wind was blowing on the Plain so hard that being out in that kind of cold was foolhardy, and the mail didn't get delivered for a few days. I remember being told to go home from school early a few times where there were bad winter storms, but I don't recall school often being closed due to the weather. And most of the students showed up, bundled up, but still pretty cold, some walking a mile or more through the snow to get there. We dressed for the weather - woolen pants, jackets, mittens, caps and scarves. It was thick, felted wool, and we had layers of lighter woolen garments underneath. And always several pairs of knitted mittens - all worn at once so we looked like we had boxing gloves on. But our hands were usually warm. I remember being bundled up with a scarf that covered everything except a narrow space for my eyes to see through. My breath made icicles on the outside. Everyone wore woolen clothing or sheepskin in those days - with lots of layers that had to be peeled off once we were at school and spread out near the single, large hot-air duct that heated the school room. The smell of wet wool is something one doesn't easily forget - it lingers in one's nostrils and memory.

I recently found these old photos taken in May, 1935. Apparently we had a bad snowstorm on May 1st that year. It probably wasn't terribly cold, but there was a lot of wind and snow. The photo on the left is the snowplow in the yard at the farm that day and below, left, my uncle Bill was a student at Cabot High School and rode a horse to school. He was wearing a sheepskin coat as protection from the cold wind. And above right, me in my layers of wool, about 3 1/2 years old. I suspect that was really a pretty mild spring day when my picture was taken - all I know about these photos is that they were taken by the teacher at the Plains School at that time, Regis Woodcock. Her niece was kind enough to send them to me a few years ago, along with several others taken about the same time. Miss Woodcock boarded at the farm, and my parents were also living there then. I think we moved to the house just below the farm that summer. My father and mother restored it as time and money allowed, getting it fit to live in after it had been unoccupied for several years.

I just noticed that in the top photo, it looks like there is part of the barn on the far right that is falling down, but actually it was a high-drive that went to the 2nd floor haymow, so it was built at an angle. It was blown off its foundation in the hurricane of 1938, but I think they repaired it. The barn on the left was our horse barn, and there were chickens and pigs under the high-drive, and stairs leading up to the stable. Later, the horse barn was abandoned and horses were kept in an addition build onto the main barn. The big barn burned in 1969, but because the house was across the road, it was unharmed, and is still standing today. 

Before I close tonight, I wonder if anyone remembers a milk truck that used to park in West Danville and sell strawberry-flavored milk? Andy Rudin mentioned he looked forward to that treat summertime when he was a kid growing up at Joe's Pond. I had never heard of it, but I'm betting someone will remember - and if you do, send me your recollections - janebrowncabot@gmail.com, or comment on this page.

That's it for now. Wrap up in wool if you must be outside - it's good stuff, even if it does smell bad when wet - and worse if it gets singed while drying near a hot wood stove! Be safe, stay warm, and enjoy our winter!

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Snow, Old Movies, and Peace Lilies

 Our glorious sunshine yesterday gave way to a pretty gloomy day today. There was a glimmer early this morning that gave hope we might see the sun, but that didn't happen. At first we had a few snowflakes, then more, and finally this afternoon - those large, fluffy mulit-section wisps of snowflakes drifted over us, once again coating trees, roofs and roads with a new coat of white. Skiers and riders will love it, no doubt. We can't complain - yet. We will be justified in grumbling a bit as we progress into the coming week when temperatures are predicted to plummet. No surprise - we all knew there would be payback.

I watched an old Bette Davis movie today, "The Bride Came C.O.D." a l941 romcom with James Cagney and Jack Carson. Yesterday I watched "Romance on the High Seas," with Doris Day and Jack Carson. That was from 194 - it was Doris Day's first starring movie. I get a chuckle out of watching these old movies, most of which I saw when they first came out, but I don't recall ever seeing either of these. It's nice to watch a film that is purely entertainment - not filled with horror and murder - we get enough of that in our daily newscasts. Having Doris Day break into song, wherever she is, is such a pleasure. Carson was big and bumbling, not a typical leading man, (but I read later he and Day had an affair after that movie), and Oscar Levant, another of my favorite actors/musicians, was his usual caustic self, but his piano artistry was unmistakable. 

Even with watching a movie, I also got some other things accomplished. Like laundry and rearranging things in the basement. That is an on-going, ever-lasting project that ebbs and flows according to time and whim. Sometimes I "rearrange" the stuff down there because I'm looking for something. Other times it's because I need space to work on something that's broken or, like today when I decided I needed to clear space to do some art work. I had Bill Jones make three canvas stretchers for me just before Christmas and finally got the canvas on them last week. My original intent was to do something for Christmas, but that ship has sailed for this year. Now I'm just thinking - experiment with something. However, all flat surfaces have piles of "stuff" on them, so by the time I decided where I wanted to set up shop and got the space cleared, it was lunch time. I watched the movie during lunch and afterwards came into my office to do some computer stuff. I misplaced an important file yesterday and that had been nagging at me, so I concentrated on finding that, and in the process became interested in some research on my great grandparents - so I never got back to setting up a space to paint. Maybe tomorrow. I did find the lost file, though!

Back in the basement to fold laundry and water my plants, I discovered a tiny new sprout coming from the Peace Lily I think I over-watered and killed back in the fall. I finally cut back the struggling plant and set it down in the basement where I keep some other plants that like a cooler, quieter place to live. I have my Christmas cactus there and some seedlings I needed to protect from "Thor" - Tangeni's kitty, when he visited. They are all doing fine with the solitude and only weekly attention. So I was surprised to find that I have a new plant growing - with no help whatever from me. In the meantime, I still have a large, very healthy plant in my bedroom that is just beginning to flower for the first time in several years. I don't pretend to understand any of it, but I appreciate when these lovely surprises happen. 

Drive carefully, be safe, and find an old movie to watch!

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Winter Snow Update and Common Crackers

Well, we haven't seen much of the sun recently - at least, not here at Joe's Pond. I think the Champlain Valley has had some pretty pleasant periods over the past few days, but for us it has been snow squalls and overcast skies without letup. This has produced a nice cover of fluffy natural snow without overburdening road crews and independent snow removal folks. I've measured an inch or two several mornings, but so far nothing exceptional. We have another storm coming through later today and overnight. We may end the season with a fairly normal snowfall recording after a very slow, skimpy start.

I was interested in an email I received this morning from Responsible Wakes for Vermont Lakes. It was a reminder of the hybrid meeting in February, but also gave a partial listing of other states that are concerned about the use of wake boats. Those states have either set up strict regulations regarding how far they need to be from shore, generally from 700 ft. to 1000ft., or else they are banning the use of wake boats altogether. Wisconsin has limited their use or banned them from many bodies of water; Idaho has set limits at 1000ft. or banned them; Oregon, North Carolina, and Minnesota have all either already enacted strict regulations or are in the process of doing so. If you are interested in joining the February meeting, either in person or virtually, there are details HERE.

The other night, about the time I was thinking about checking my email one last time before going to bed, I felt a little hungry and decided to have a snack. My go-to comfort food on occasions like that is crackers and milk. As I was crumbling saltines into a cereal bowl, I was remembering that my grandfather Bolton used to have either bread and milk or crackers and milk before bed almost every night. Not saltines, like I have, but what we used to call, "St. Johnsbury crackers" - the round, fat, puffy ones that Hastings Store used to have in a big wooden barrel. They were made in St. Johnsbury almost 200 years ago, in 1828, but then the business was sold and for a while they were made in Montpelier, becoming "Montpelier Crackers," and then known as "Cross Crackers."  After the company failed in 1970, Lyman Orton bought the machinery at auction and his family (The Vermont Country Store) still makes them, rebranding them as "Vermont Common Crackers." They are smaller and way more expensive, but they are the same recipe and are  made with that original equipment, now retrofitted from being driven by horse power (a horse on a treadmill) to using electricity. 

For any of you who aren't familiar with Vermont Common Crackers, they like an English muffin in that you split them open (and slather them with butter or jam or top with a slice of Vermont cheddar and pop them in the oven for a few minutes until brown - so good!); but they are dry, like saltines. They are basically flour, water, salt and shortening, so they keep well. I don't believe my grandparents were ever without a supply of them on hand.

These crackers are lackluster for lots of people. Candace Page, a journalist in Burlington, wrote in an article in 2016, "In short, as a snack the Common Cracker could only appeal to a person who had milked 30 cows by hand before cutting a cord of wood in the driving snow." 

The thing is, you have to know how to eat them. Think of them as a base upon which you can assemble any taste-bud sensation you personally desire. It's like having an edible plate, and in combination with your favorite, whether it's peanut butter and jelly, Cabot cheese, or Alaska smoked salmon, the Vermont Common Crackers hold up beautifully and compliment your choice.

I'm content with my occasional bowl of saltines crumbled in milk before bed, sometimes with a slice of Cabot cheese on the side. All good stuff, and thanks to Grandpa Bolton, I also inherited the genes that make me like smoked herring and sardines. He used to buy smoked herring by the box, and I remember being excited when he brought those home. That was a better treat than candy - with the possible exception of those old-fashioned pyramids of chocolate with sugary white creme filling, in combination with salted peanuts, if I was lucky. I haven't seen any of those chocolates for years. Oh, well.

Editorial from Barton Chronicle

Joseph Gresser , Editor, Barton Chronicle