Thursday, November 20, 2008


Last night's low hovered around 10F. Today's high might hit 25F. Snow in the forecast too.

Wish i had planted those spring bulbs last week...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Best Damn Supper...ever.

Tonight, I had venison tenderloin seared to a medium rare in bacon fat, onions and winter greens. Add a pile of boiled purple potatoes seasoned with salt, pepper and butter with a glass of tasty yet inexpensive red wine. Absolute heaven.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Tigers and Lions and Bears...Oh My!

Crazy how quiet the village is lately. Hardly a car goes down the road, the local stores are noticeably empty and the usual burr of the locals is silent.

That said, there is tangible excitement in the air. The men are more ancy, looking dapper in brown camoflauge and bright orange stocking caps. The shelves are suddenly full with convenient foods like macaroni and cheese, beef jerky and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Several families are missing from town altogether because they've taken vacation time and every church on every corner is volleying to feed you breakfast this weekend. The next two days, school lets out early under the pretense that it's "Parent Teacher Conferences", but everyone knows that isn't the real reason. It's impossible to get my furnace fixed right now and never mind having anymore wood delivered before's a two week holiday in the Northeast Kingdom and the little things in life will just need to be put on hold until hunting season is over.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008, sort of

It's here. That lull between seasons. The fall colors are gone, but the snow has yet to fall. Skies are gray and the air is cold. This morning, I ponder my food.

I made myself a cup of coffee this morning, dark and earthy, lightened by a generous glug of raw cream from my neighbor's cow. I finished a bowl of whole milk yogurt made by a farm in Westfield and sweetened by yet another neighbor's maple syrup. I'll snack on a crisp local apple while i walk up the hill to the college kitchen where i work. A localvore without even trying!

We are baking potatoes in the Kitchen today. Big, crackly russets with starchy flesh to be filled with sharp VT cheddar, fresh salsa made from tomatoes still growing down the road in the greenhouse of my (albeit recently) famous farmer friend and hardy cilantro that managed to find cover underneath the yet to be pruned, bent over branches of stubby sunflowers. There will be sour cream, crumbly bacon, pungent winter hardy greens for salad and a warm cauldron of creamy broccoli soup to accompany.

Tonight, a reading of Wendell Berry's Mad Farmer is happening at Claire's Restaurant, sponsored by the wonderful Galaxy Bookstore in Hardwick. Yay!

Snow? Yes, snow.

In rural Vermont, transplants like myself learn to either plan for the seasons or move to Burlington. I'm still here, but finding I have a lot left to learn about getting ready for winter.

Yesterday, I hucked 1.5 cords of seasoned wood into my basement with the help of the farmer who cut it for me. We were working against time, as we knew the rain was coming and wood is only valuable if it's DRY. We covered up the rest with gigantic blue tarps that make my tired old place look just this side of unkempt. Only 5.5 more cords of wood left to haul and stack. For those of you who do not have the handy dandy Guide to Country Living at your finger tips, a cord of wood measures 128 cubic feet, or 4 ft wide, 4 ft high and 8 ft long. Yes, it is a whole lot of wood. It felt good to be physical though, even if my back ached and i found muscles in my arms i didn't know existed.

My manual labor isn't limited to wood though. I borrowed a machete from my friend down the road to wack down the knotweed that has taken over a patch in the backyard and hope to plant a few more hyacinths, tulips and alliums before the ground freezes. What is left of my vegetable patch from a year ago, needs to be mowed down, seasoned with compost, manure and ash, then tilled under before being put to "bed" for the winter. Not sure i'll get to that in time, but hope springs eternal.

Tonight we experience our first actual snowfall of the season. The cold, icy rain will soon turn to fluffy puffs of snow, covering 3 inches by dawn tomorrow. Even as i type this, I can see in the pool of light from my neighbor's porch lamp that the falling water is more slush than liquid now. In about 15 hours, another 2 to 3 inches will coat the banks of the road, the green lawns of the village and the rusty metal roofs of our homes. Winter, at least here in Vermont, is finally here.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Going Home Again

Didn't someone, somewhere, once say that you can never go home again? Two days ago, I moved the rest of my things from the little house in the woods back to my drafty, yet well loved farmhouse in the village. I brought with me my friends' cat Edmund (or Eduardo when i'm feeling especially Californian) and Chuck the dog. Unfortunately, my flock of chickens was reduced to three hardy, yet nervous hens who have survived being picked off, one by one, by the neighbor's jack russel terrier. A friend is taking what is left of my beautiful flock from their coop in the woods to a dry, haven on a dairy farm twenty miles away. Godspeed little ladies. Godspeed.

The house is pretty empty, save the stacks of boxes littering the open spaces. The windows are dirty, the floors are cold without their rugs and the kitchen seems barren and neglected. The paint on the walls need to be touched up and god help me, where is the vaccuum? The house I left last spring was in transition from being a home filled with a raucous family to a house that would be occupied only parttime. Now, as i sit here in the morning light, drinking coffee strong enough to make my stomach gurgle, I contemplate the need to move forward and arrange this house back into the home and haven that it should be.

I'll clean the windows, inside and out, scraping the paint from it's panes. In the next few weeks, the boxes will be gone and the rooms will lose their echo as furniture is moved in and around. The floors will be covered with worn yet colorful rugs and I'll hang fabric in the windows that will still let in the warm light of the morning sun. The walls will be touched up with paint and if I'm feeling especially ambitious, will take on a whole new hue. I'll find the vaccuum, clean out the dust bunnies and in time, I'll reclaim my home.

Yet, it won't be the home I left all those months ago. This makes me sad...and hopeful. I miss much of my old life, but I've discovered much happiness in this new one. So, it's true. I can't go back to my old home again, but I can create a new one. That is a very good, warm and wonderful thing...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Goodbye Friend.

A friend of mine was diagnosed with melanoma a few years back. He fought valiantly, was free of cancer for a year, then over the summer brain tumors were found and we learned his condition was terminal. Two days ago, I brought he and his wife a meal of hot soup, homemade bread and apple crisp. It was to be his last meal. Today, he died.

Jeff Bickart was quirky, intelligent, occasionally broody and a writer of great talent. He left behind his loving family and a community of grieving friends. Below, is an essay he wrote and submitted to the NPR program This I Believe, before he had learned of his terminal diagnoses. It's one that is a favorite of mine and I wanted to share it.

Married to This Land

I am an agrarian. My life is grounded, literally, in the soil. I am sustained by it and by all that grows from it, that gives life to me and to my family. The vegetables from our gardens, the fruit from our orchard, the sweet sap from our trees; the milk, the eggs, the wool we get from our neighbors.

Sustained physically by the fields and forests of our farm and our neighbors' farms, I am also sustained spiritually by that rampant life that rises yearly and forever from the soil, the creatures both domestic and wild that with astonishing exuberance live and flourish and die in this place. The trout lilies that push up through the dead maple leaves before anything else has greened. The peepers and wood frogs and toads that in the earliest spring announce with their voices their determination to keep on with it all. The young foxes exploring around their den in May. The peas performing flawlessly their annual act of germinating in the cool soil of April, and the bees visiting the blossoms on our apple trees.

So I believe that the health of the land comes first: that as all lives, including my own and those of my family, depend ultimately and completely on the beneficence, the goodness, the life-giving drive of the earth, I must take care. I must go out to my garden with reverence to plant my beans; I must enter the forest with humility to cut my firewood; I must stalk the deer with respect and awe. I must do no harm in my use of the land. I must cherish, though barely understood, the life of the soil. I must be grateful for the tireless work of the unseen earthworms and sowbugs and mites, for the endless digestion of the dead by fungal mold and bacteria. All other life begins down there.

I believe in the hard work of the body that helps bring forth food from the earth. I believe in the cool waters of the river that wash the sweat and grime from my skin, the exhaustion from my arms and legs and back.

I believe in the good work of devoting myself for decades to one place, to one piece of ground. Here in northern Vermont, I have given myself to these 87 acres, to trying to understand what goes on here, to trying to understand how to best make a good human life here for my family and for those I hope will follow. I have, indeed, become married to this land along the Wild Branch River: I have made a vow to care for it, to treat it with respect, to learn from it and be taught by it, to love it until I die, until I myself fall to the ground, pass into the soil, and rise up again from it, singing in the voice of the leaves in the wind, with the spirit of the chickadee in the branches.

by K. Jefferey Bickart of Craftsbury, Vermont

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Moving On...

One week ago, I moved most of my "material" stuff to a new home. Lots of changes in life lately, mostly the really heart wrenching kind of changes, but necessary all the same. Friends of mine have lent me their house for the next 2 plus years while they fulfill their mission for the Peace Corps. I have a house in the village, which i love (both the house and the village), but it was time to take a break and re-evaluate, hence the move.

Now I live in a small little "castle" with a turret and 48 treads on a winding stairwell that links the house to the treacherous, tricky driveway some 200 feet away. The house came with a cat named Edmund and 10 acres of wood and field. My friends are woodworkers and builders, so this house is reflective of them. Wood panels, wide plank floors, broken tile mosaics in the kitchen and bathroom, and a wide open floor plan. It's cool.

Winter is fighting to stick around. We had an ice storm last night, followed by powerful wind gusts and now snow this morning. The kids are settling in, staking their claim in the upstairs bedroom and finding places for their toys and books. Space is tight when all four of us are here, so we are learning to respect each other's assigned "4 square feet" of personal space. Easier said than done, especially when your life experience spans all of 3 1/2 years. Thank goodness for 7 year olds. They SO know how to draw the line in the sand and then follow through with the punishment when you cross it. Sheesh...