...to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free....

31 March, 2011

have you heard?

Heard what, you say??
...The long, low groan that is resounding throughout the state
as we learn the prediction of a new 7-12 inches
of snow beginning around midnight tonight
and continuing all day tomorrow.

Did I mention the 25 mph winds that will accompany said snow?

Parking bans.  Cancelled events.
Mobs in the grocery store.
The whole nine yards.

All this week, those trusty public works guys
I've shown you before have been sweeping
the streets and sidewalks clean
of a winter's accumulation of salted sand.

Here we go again. 

 A state motto is "The way life should be."
They leave out the asterisk that leads to the small print:
"except in March".


"Poor man's fertilizer" is my new mantra.

(...and "This, too, shall pass".)


29 March, 2011

not at all grey

 Just dropping in to say hi after a busy work day.

I've been quieting down by looking at some of my photos of rocks.

I used to think that all rocks were grey.

Then I opened my eyes and took a better look.

Who knew??

(good night, good people.)

27 March, 2011

a poem for today

 What We Need Is Here 
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.
                                 Wendell Berry

26 March, 2011

sugaring: March's home brew

I was driving along yesterday, minding my business (well, almost)
and I came upon this lovely, evocative scene.

Someone had tapped the maple trees in the woods along his driveway,
just as we had always tapped our maples
at the farmhouse we sold four years ago.
Sugaring is a sweet rite of spring in these parts.

When we first looked at our old house so many years ago,
one of the first things we noticed
was the soothing steam in the kitchen, and the maple smell, 
as the owners boiled down maple sap on their stove.
(Talk about "staging"!)
 We maintained that tradition for almost every one of
the 28 years we lived there.

Nothing could deter me from stopping to take photos 
for all of you, to share this little miracle of March.
(Not even  my husband's impatience when he decided I was taking too long.)

Meet Brad, the sugaring man.
Brad generously let me follow him around taking photos 
as he emptied the last buckets of the day,
and then he allowed me to visit his sugar house to show the rest of the process.
Now get this:  I didn't believe this for a short minute, but in this small town
nothing surprises me anymore.  He is relatively new
to this property, having bought it from the widow of the
late naturalist whose writing I used to love to read each week in the newspaper.
As we talked, I discovered that he is the brother
of the woman in the family that bought our house four years ago!  
She brings the sap from the trees in our her yard
over here to be boiled down by her brother.
Small town, small world!

So grab a cup of tea, maybe sweetened with maple syrup, and
follow along in the sugaring process:

**~    ~*~   ~**

Here is a sap spigot. 
It gets hammered into a small hole drilled in the tree to collect the rising sap.
Don't worry about the tree.  The sap collected does no harm to the tree,
and the holes from last year can easily be re-opened the next year
to collect sap once more.  In between, the tree seals the hole
with congealing sap.
As you can see, the spigot has a hook that fits in a hole in the bucket rim.
(We always used gallon milk jugs, but this is far more beautiful and traditional.)
The cover on each sap bucket keeps the snow, rain and flies out.

In the winter, when the trees are dormant, the sap does not move 
through the tree's circulatory system.
When things start to warm up, usually in the beginning of March or so,
the sap begins to flow up the tree to nourish the little buds
for the maple leaves and flowers.  (Those buds were made last year.)
When the temperature falls at night, the sap reverses its direction.
If the next day is warm enough, it travels back up the tree,
making an ideal situation for sugaring.
Once the nights are warmer, the sap stops moving up and down,
and the sugaring season is then over.

The sap comes out--drip by drip by drip.
Over a day, this one tap could fill the bucket fairly full.

For some reason, some trees produce more sap than others.
Here is Brad, emptying the last of the day's sap
from one of his most productive trees.

A closeup to help you see the liquid pouring from the bucket into the pail.

The sap is crystal clear, and is only the least little bit sweet.
Or maybe it only seems to be sweet because you know what it is.
 I have seen squirrels and birds sitting on recently broken small branches
waiting for a drip or two, so maybe they sense the sweet, too.

This sap will be combined with all the other sap and boiled, boiled boiled.

Here is Brad, entering his most excellent sugar house.  
The smell in there is intoxicating:
equal parts wood smoke and maple scented steam.
And for me, these smells bring back hundreds of happy memories.

Brad feeds the roaring fire when he comes in. 
The rig above the wood stove is the evaporator that 
magically turns sap into syrup (well, almost syrup)
by the grace of this fiery energy.

The fire warms the sugar house, so much so that the doors were left wide open.
This time of year I love to be out in the air,
and I also love not freezing my fingers off.
A sugar house is the ideal compromise.

Just inside is the holding tank.  Can you believe that the 60 or so taps on the trees in the woods
would create enough sap to require this large a tank?
Or, on the other end, that it would take this much sap to make maple syrup?
(The answer to both is "ayuh, that's right.")

Brad collects sap every day.  He pours it into the tank.
When it gets time to make syrup,
 (a good day with lots of time to tend the fire),
he draws sap from this little spigot and pours it into the evaporator, bucket by bucket.

Notice how not a drop is wasted!

It takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to make a quart of syrup.
Brad makes enough to give away to friends,
as well as to enjoy for himself and family.
This is by no means a commercial operation.

Here is the evaporator, which sits over the wood stove's fire.
The smudges you see are yummy scented steam.
Sap goes into the container at the top.
After the faucet puts the beginning amount into the 
evaporator, it slowly keeps adding more sap, as the faucet 
remains slightly open at all times.

As you can see from the photo above, there are 
three chambers in this evaporator.
Below you can see the first chamber, and the faucet from the tank above it.

I asked Brad what was the technical term for the white stuff that collects as 
the dilute sap is initially boiled.
He paused with bemused but graceful politeness, then responded,  "Foam."
(Silly me.)

The more and more condensed sap moves
from channel to channel, so that the liquid in 
the channel at the top of the image is not quite syrup, but
significantly boiled down.

Then it gets collected into the sugar house's cookware and 
further condensed on this propane stove.
The thermometer in the pot to the right
 is an important piece of equipment.
When it reads about 7 degrees above the boiling point, 
you have syrup!

The bubbles in this pot go "blub, blub"
as the boiling liquid gets thicker and more fragrant.

The smoke and steam and the smell
create a magic atmosphere.  Wouldn't you like to 
spend some time in this chair, watching the 
process, feeling the warmth, and taking in the maple aroma?

This looks to me like Brad's chair.
It says "Big Dog" on the backpiece.
I had to smile at this scene.  Here is what  the modern sugar maker does
 as he tends his evaporator and his fire.


Many thanks to Brad for generously sharing this process.

Here's what Photoshop did with a very imperfect
image I took yesterday.  

Pancakes and syrup for Sunday breakfast tomorrow, anyone?

24 March, 2011

the sea captain's gift

I was in my favorite neighborhood yesterday, and I came upon
my second favorite tree in town.
(My most favorite is a mulberry tree that is on our 
old farmhouse property--you can see it in
my very first post.)

This magnificent tree looks wonderful in every season. 
I particularly like it when it is bare, and the sun
puts its reflection on the barn nearby.

The story that goes with it is this:
Long ago, a sea captain who was really missing his wife
brought a tiny sapling home to her from his very long journey
so he could plant it in their yard
for her to remember him by on his subsequent journeys.

I have heard many recountings of this story.
I have heard almost as many countries declared
as the birthplace of this tree.
I have also heard this story is not true at all.

I don't care who is right. 
I love the story.  I love the tree.  
That's true enough for me. 

(Thanks to each of you for your kind and generous comments.
Each one means so much to me.)

22 March, 2011


One day I will have a long lens.
And know how to Photoshop.

For now, I just had to share with you the magic
 down at the post office late this afternoon.

The trees alongside the parking lot became a magnet
for a flock of cedar waxwings.
As they stripped the branches bare of last year's fruit,
I heard them "tsee"-ing softly to one another.

Probably saying, "Thank goodness we found this!
We've flown a long way to here today, and everything
else is covered with snow!"

~~*    ***    *~~

Ice is out on the river, people!
More about that soon....

21 March, 2011

poor man's fertilizer

We got a delivery of poor man's fertilizer today.

I used to wonder whether the term was meant to
keep us from losing hope when it snowed in spring,
or whether there was any science to calling
a spring snow "poor man's fertilizer".

The term is not a public relations scheme.

These plants will do better 
with today's snow.  Nitrogen is the reason.
Snow has lots of nitrogen.  So does the rain in thunderstorms.

Snow, in seeping into the ground slowly as it melts,
delivers a healthier dose of this important nutrient than the 
soaking rain in a good thunder-bumper.

All you northern New Englanders who got snow today:
don't you feel better knowing that?

20 March, 2011


My dear friend Michelle gave me a great idea in her comment 
on yesterday's moon post.

She said the photos kind of took on a painted look.
So, I took one of the images to Photoshop and
applied "Filters." Several of them, as a matter of fact.

One of the best things I have learned in my life is
how to adapt.  (Got lemons?  Photoshop them!   ;o} )

Photoshop mystifies me.  I like fooling around with "Filters"
but basically have no idea what I am doing.
I just fiddle until I like what I see better than I liked the original.
If you asked me to take the original and re-do what I made above,
I couldn't do it if my life depended on it.
I have seen someone work with 'Layers' and I really aim
to learn how to use them.
Some day when I have a few hours of uninterrupted time, that is.
That kind of time doesn't come easy around here.

So, what do you think, good people?

How have you adapted when things didn't go as you planned??

19 March, 2011

magic moon

Gosh, the moon was pretty tonight.
As close as it's going to get for the next 30 years.

So hard to capture with my simple camera
as it rose tonight just after sunset.

:     :     :

simple camera

grainy photos

...magic moon.

18 March, 2011

sunshine, shadows and reflections

Today we came back to our parked car and it was warm inside!
(A definite turning point in our neck of the woods.)

As Equinox approaches, I have been looking at light
and its many effects.


 fan light

 mackerel  sky


Small miracles, every one.

16 March, 2011

pausing for a moment

I'm having trouble thinking about much else today.

                                                                                                                                                                              Matt Dunham / AP
                                Survivors keep warm under covers in a school gymnasium being used as a shelter in Ofunato, Japan                                                                                                                       

Can we share ideas about what people can do to help?


14 March, 2011

watching the river flow

The ice is breaking up.
As people say around here, "Winter's back is broken."

There is still plenty of snow, but it's disappearing more and more every day.  
We will probably see it snow again, maybe several times--
But the sun and the air will make sure it won't stay long.

As the river rises above its banks a little,
it shows beautiful reflections and makes lace with ice.

~*       *~*      *~

The water looks different depending on where you look.

 Here it piles ice chunks together.

You can see the river bottom once more in some quiet places in the shallows.

 I like how the ice is thick in spots, and thin in others.

(This guy stopped off for a drink before heading home for the night.)

~*       *~*        *~

Under the bridge, the water seems calm--

 but it's not. 

These whirlpools hint at just how fast the water is moving.

As winter releases its grip, the river comes alive.  

Don't you feel more alive, too?