Lisa Bondurant

My photo
I spend my time raising kids, gathering eggs, cutting wood, scoping out trees for tapping, making syrup in the last days of winter, watching my garden NOT grow in the summer, writing, wishing that there were more hours on the clock for sleeping.

Friday, December 31, 2010

The Blond Bomb Shell

  She is a blond bombshell and there is nothing on this earth that she wants more then to be a mother. So strong is this desire that before the wee hours of the morning, before even the sun has broken clear of the timberline on the eastern mountains, she moves quietly past her sleeping roommates, climbs to the second story and escapes through a cracked window.

   Racing silently across the frosted grass, she slips into the tangled deadwood of the old rose bush. Once there she settles down onto the thick bed of dead leaves and waits. So quietly she waits, unmoving in the dim light. Waiting and listening to her friends as they awaken. Waiting as the light grows brighter. Prepared to defend her location for hours and at all cost.

   I find her there every morning, glaring out at me with a look on her face that warns me to keep my distance. I promise to keep my distance, for now. Off I go to do my chores, wondering all the while... why the rose bush and not the solid warm walls of the house.
 Perhaps it is her wild ancestors whispering to her from another time and half a hemisphere away. Her ancestors lived in the steamy tangled jungles of South America.

  She is an Americauna hen,with golden yellow plumage, a cross of an Anacauna jungle fowl raised by jungle tribes for their lovely blue eggs. Blondie as she is known, lays a blue green egg, just a pale tint of the whisper from her family to the south. She guards her family jewel, hissing at me when ever I get to close or another hen drops by to see her.

  I let her stay there setting on her hopes and dreams, feeling bad about what I must eventually do. I wait untill all the other hens have gone back to the coop for the night and the darkness has swallowed the mountain. Quickly I grab her and pull her from her thorny nest.

"Sorry Blondie", I say softly as she tucks beneath my arm. "Mr. Fox will eat you if I leave you out all night"

 I scoop up the egg and hold it up to the moonlight as we walk back to the hen house. The egg almost glows and I wonder if somewhere deep below the roll of the southern hemisphere, if another deeper blue egg glows as brightly or hold as much hope for a little hen, as this one.
  I set Blondie into the golden light of the hen house and make her a promise.
 " Maybe in the spring Blondie, I'll let you hatch them all".

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Cowboy Coffee, Morning Fires

Whether summer or winter the morning would start the same every day. 
First the thumping of an axe as my father chopped kindling and the bang 
of the cook stove lids as he fired up the old Martha Washington cook stove. 
Soon the smell of wood smoke and warm currents of air drifted up the 
stairs to awaken everyone in the house.

The first order of business, after the fire was lit, was the
 making of his cowboy coffee. A large speckle ware coffee pot that held
 at least a gallon, was set over an open burner. Orange flames jumping 
against its blackened bottom and my father would add more dry oak 
wood. The water need to roll with boil, as he said.
Soon as the water was rolling up and small droplets jumped and 
spattered across the now hot iron of the stove top, my father would 
flip back the pots round lid.

“One, two, three, four, five, six,” he would count, adding heaping 
scoops of ground coffee to the bubbling water. I think he counted
 for the benefit of his young daughter who watched closely, trying
 to learn the exact science of this wonderful morning brew that
 everyone in the house drank, even ones perhaps too little.

“Now” he would nod to me and I knew it was my turn.
“One thousand one, one thousand two…” and I would count for exactly
 15 seconds. On 15 he pulled the coffee quickly off the hot burner and 
back to the cooler back of the stove.

“Now get the egg shells”, he ordered. Yes eggs shells to trap the

 grounds at the bottom of the pot and I would hand him shells saved
 from yesterday’s breakfast. Into the pot they went and he would smile.
“Won’t be long now,” he would say. I would fetch the mugs and wait 
with him as we watched the time tick slowly out another five minutes
 on the old Seth Thomas clock above the stove. This was a precise
 art that could not be hurried.  Sweet smells teased our noses and
 made our mouths water. The second hand swept past 12.

Finally it was time; he would pour the black, strong liquid into the
 mugs. Only two thirds full, then the milk, swirling like the currents of 
the early spring floods, brown and dangerous.
Heaping spoons of sugar, a quick stir and a cup so full it always 
spilled on the way to our lips.

For  just a moment hesitation was best, just as the mug reached your
 waiting tongue and warm, sweet , coffee flavored steam condensed on 
your lip and nose and stirred your mind to awaken fully.

He would raise his eye brows and then wink.
“Good stuff,” he would tell me.
“Good stuff,” I would agree.
"Now lets feed them horses," he would say as he headed for the door.
"Yep, horses," I would run after him. After all I now had lots of energy.

At least three more times,the old speckled pot would be filled before
 the day burned out.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Giants of Another Ocean

Where blue green waters swirl and slow to deep, cold pools of liquid crystal, giants of another ocean lie. Huge boulders of sandstone, cast from sands of a prehistoric ocean that once owned this land where mountains now rule. So huge are these giants, that no powers on this Earth seem able to budge them, even fractions of an inch.

The most raging floods sent down from the highest peaks above, have smothered over the boulders, snarling and tugging at them in great brown currents like lions trying to bring down the beast. But when the floods give up and move on, the giants are still and unmoved. Like the lions, the floods will try again.

On quiet days you can swim the cold waters and bob beneath the shadowed over hangs and run your hands across the petrified ripples left from waves of that ancient ocean. How many times had my father swam me out to tread above the tugging depths, and darting rainbow trout, to see the past? And now how many times have I? Each time I am lost for words, but not for thoughts. How deep was this ocean? How far did it stretch? What creatures swam its chilly depths? How can an ocean have been where mountains now live?

When I swim back across the waters to the warm sandy beach, I am left with the feeling that I have encountered magic of a sort. Magic that let me reach back to touch another time, another place. I think that I can hear the waves. I whirl around to search this world, but only find the sky and wind .Beneath my feet on the wet, sandy beach, I see ripples formed and can only wonder if these will someday be giants of another ocean yet to be.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Good Run

There is a fan blowing, a window cracked and the hood running over the gas range, outside the temperature is freezing. Even with all this, to step into the kitchen and dining room is to step into a tropical climate. Steam billows up off of six large pans, that tick and hum with heat absorbed from the Home Comfort cook stove. The sweet smell fills every room in the house but the kitchen air could make a person cough with a deep breath in. There is an old saying that sugar makers like to say. When they know you are making sugar inside.
“Do you have wall paper? …You won’t.” Then they chuckle. But that was before electricity and now the fan and hood keep enough moisture moving out of the house that the old faded wall paper is still hanging. I am looking at the old wall paper and thinking maybe to have it slip off the wall would be a most excellent idea! Then again that would make more work at a time when more work could do us in. The last run has been very good with nights freezing and days in the low 40’s. We have been boiling sap for at least 18 hours a day. Then the stove is stoked heavy and drafts shut down to allow the sap to continue cooking into the night. By day cutting wood for the stove and gathering sap. I finish off a couple of cups by 11:00 then put more sap on the stove to replace it. Around 30 gallons of sap is cooked off in a day, if the wood is good and dry. I dream of a big stainless cross over pan and an arch to put it on out in the yard. 3x5 that will cook off 25 gallons an hour with sap dripping in on one side and syrup coming out the other end. Maybe next year! And a sugar shack? Yeah, a sugar shack! With a chair to snooze in beside the warm arch and an extra chair for visitors….Oh sigh! Maybe someday! But for now slow and steady to make the liquid gold.
The season has just begun in Highland County. It should be just ending. The weather had finally broken from snow and cold to sun and warmer temperatures. The folks there are rushing to tap and boil to get enough syrup for the Maple Festival next week. Rexrode is said to have made only 50 of the 300 gallons they average every year. The temps have been just to cold that the sugar water in the trees is not melting and surging through from root tip to twigs. The weather is suddenly turning warm for us on the other side of the mountain now, so the run ends as abruptly as it started. We hope it will get cold again, then that the trees will not bud out. If they do “bud out” the season is over. If they do the maple syrup becomes a precious commodity and the price soars so high it is questionable if people will buy real maple syrup or just buy the imitation syrup. I am told by sugar makers that know a lot more then I, that the supermarket brands, that are already expensive are not pure maple syrup but stretched with beet sugar and such. That is why the real producers use the labels of “100% Real Maple Syrup” and that maple syrup by law is to weigh 11 lbs. per gallon to insure the quality.
I will boil off this run today and hope and wait for the return of slightly colder weather. For now working on gallon number six. Hoping for 15 to 20 for the season. Hoping for a sugar shack… a big pan… a huge pile of dry wood… a big chair to snooze in….Now that’s real syrup making...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A warm rain

A warm rain fell on the layered winter just before dusk. So gently it was almost unseen. But then the warmth of rain touched cold snow and a great fog began to lift from the forest floor, like a ghost ascending from a frozen grave. The fog thickened and lifted in layers, like milky water. Layer upon layer of fading gray, paler and paler into the distance till the mountains were only soft silhouettes of the giants.I hesitated before my last step into the woods, unable to shake the uneasy feeling that fog can give. The question when fog hangs in the air before you was always the same, what is beyond?“Nothing”, I told myself, yet felt no better. “Just step into it.” I stood still another moment anyway, scanning the woods as best I could for movement. The woods, where I had heard the something in the night. For days I had been searching for sign of bear or large cat, but had found nothing more than an occational rock or log disturbed. That had been before the big snows. And sense then the forest had been almost too quiet. There was nothing moving now and I finally stepped forward and walked to the first tapped tree.
The buckets hung heavy and nearly full with the clear sap. Pulling the first bucket free, the tap began to drip steadily down into the snow. I was surprised, the temps were only now shifting and I had not expected such a good run. But once again the trees seemed to know what was to come, before I did.
I gathered from a row of trees along a large game trail, working my way back into the forest. The thrill of a good run had made the thought of an eerie fog leave my mind. With a good run, there were more trees that needed tapped. I placed the bit to bark and began cranking. As the bit bore in, tiny flakes of dark brown fell to scatter the white snow at my feet. Then light brown and finally the cream colored flakes of live wood. The wood grew wet before and I drew the bit back. The bit pulled free and a tiny gush of sap spit from the hole then trickled down the maples dark bark, towards the ground. I laughed; it was always a good feeling when a tap ran well. I hammered a tap into the hole and with the last hammer strike the sap splashed back into my face. I had read once that the old sugar makers said “… up north the sap drips, down south it runs…” Within a minute I had a milk jug hung and the quick tap, tap of sap dropping into the plastic seemed to be the only noise in the woods.
I scanned down the foggy trail for more trees to tap and wondered why it had seemed so spooky a few minutes before. “The something in the dark night’ was like a whispered answer that came as soon as the question had formed in my brain. Suddenly the tingling feeling of caution returned. Even if nothing could be seen now, the feeling that warned could not be ignored. There had been too many troubles with bears and to dismiss them would be foolish. And then there had been the neighbor who had seen the mountain lion in the late days of fall. It had sped across the trail before her and disappeared up the side of our mountain. The local forest rangers always dismissed reports of mountain lions with a mocking laugh. A laugh that was too practiced and the same line would follow, “There are no mountain lions around here, if there were then people would see them and there would be more reports” It was a line that might have worked the first time or two, but was now just foolish. People did see them and did report them and always got the same response. Those people who then talked among themselves about what the rangers had said, and shook their heads, laughing. It must have been a bob cat or dog, was the rangers follow up answer too those they suspected of not believing their cover story. As if we, the people that spent our live in the woods, not just worked there, could not possible tell a cougar from a dog or bob cat. It was widely suspected that a cover was all it was, to protect the big cats. For if the cats were seen by the wrong people than a wave of fear was soon to follow. The animals that were just beginning to come back to the Appalachians would soon be in mortal danger by trophy hunters and those easily spooked by stories of the big cats hunting hikers and bikers.
A cat was unlikely, but the chance was there. I had heard the hiss of the big cat, as a child. It had been near darkness of night in the summer and the stallion Rawley had gone crazy in the field, casting wild, fearful eyes towards the darker woods and shaking his main and head as he ran the fence line looking to escape his paddock. The hissing went on for some time, but nothing ever came out of the woods to pounce upon the stallion. I had often thought that perhaps the cat had only been doing it to amuse himself. So wild and beautiful had been the horse, running back and forth in the twilight, I had been unable to take my eyes from him. I had been with my father then, his hand, rough as sandstone holding mine as he whistled softly under his breath in amazement.
“Look at him go, Lisa. Look at him go.” There was nothing he loved more than a wild running horse and the danger of a big cat had meant nothing.
“What happens if the cat comes out”, I had asked?
“He won’t attach the horse while I am here”, my father had said.
“But what if he comes after us”, I asked at a whisper, looking up at him. My father had turned his gaze from the horse to me.
“He… Will ...Never… Attach ...Me”, he said the words slow and steady as if making sure I understood the confidence with which he said them. I already understood though, I could see it in his face. He had been fearless. Perhaps the cat had been as mesmerized as we had been by the stallion. This had happened several times over the years, always at the same time, early evening.
“Good thing they don’t hunt sugar makers”, I said out loud, looking at the dim light of early evening. I gathered my equipment to leave the woods. It was getting too dark too tap. As I left, I thought of how fearless my father had been and how being with him, a hand so powerful holding mine, I had been fearless also. But now caution would do, I did not know what was awake in these early spring woods.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Following The Snowball

To follow the snowball, the snowball would not roll down the hill. By the time it had come to rest in its final spot the snowball was wider then it was tall, because I had not been able to rotate it from side to side to keep it even, for the last (quite a long while actually) of rolling and forming. Then the good neighbors who had come to plow, had actually plowed a huge pile of snow right up to the front of the ball and stopped. That mountain of snow froze! The snowball froze, all the way to the gravel and maybe the Earth. My father and I had put shoulders to the beast and shoved with all our might. On day three of trying to shove the ball unsuccessfully my father was beginning to be a little irritated with me! He rolled his eyes at me and stated...
"You won't do this again!" I agreed, without hesitation. By now the road where plowed was nearly free of snow. By now the road behind us where I had rolled up so much snow was nearly free of snow. If only we had, had the truck at the top of the hill we could have pushed the ball away. If only it had not been such a wide snowball the neighbors could have gotten the plow around it to push from the top. For that matter, if only I had not made a snowball...
"Yes", I assured him on the fourth day as he once again walked around the snowball, to walk all the way down to the truck at the bottom of the mountain. "I won't do that again" Two days later, we tried to shove the ball down the hill. It wobbled and stopped against the mountain of plowed snow. Then with great effort we turned the ball to the electric cut on the road's side. I was getting excited again.
"This will be good", I told my dad. "Just wait, you’ll see. It will speed down the steep cut and hurdle into the air and smash across the field at the bottom of the mountain." My pride was renewed...there was new hope for me. The neighbors would laugh at me no longer once they saw this monster rolling, smashing, and bouncing past. We balanced it on the tippy top of the electric cut and shoved. It rolled more! Three feet ... six picked up speed...
"It's going" I cried out. "Look! Look! It's rolling... it's..."
The ball rolled to a sad, soggy thudding stop, into an electric pole just ten feet away. My father and I just stood there. Perfectly still as if someone had hit the pause button on us and the ball, A long moment later the ball shuddered then crumbled into slurry of slush and mush at the bottom of the pole. Out of the corner of my eye I saw my father slowly turn to look at me.
"Well that wasn't too exciting", he stated and rolled his eyes in that way he had when telling me...
"Yeah, I won't do that again" I mumble.
February 2010.
George was walking down the mountain to the truck parked at the bottom so he could go to town for groceries. He sees the Good Neighbor Tim trying to plow out our road for us again.
"Tim, just watch out for the giant snowball at the top", he jokes. Tim looks surprised and worried.
"Oh God!" he exclaims “Don’t tell me she did it again"

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Big Snow, Cabin Fever

I was fifteen and two weeks into being stuck on the mountain. Such a deep snow had come to the hills that year. My father had gotten the truck off the mountain, but getting back up was impossible. I was so glad that school was out, but very bored. I had exhausted all forms of entertainment available to the mountain. I had tracked every animal through the woods, cut wood with my father every day and read till I could not sit any longer in one spot. I remember standing at the window looking out at the endless white with one last idea left. I could build a snow man? No, that was way to immature for a fifteen year old. There was no way that could be risked, what if someone saw? Fifteen was almost grown and one could not risk one's reputation with such childish things as snowman building! Yes, I remember thinking that! But the idea of a snow man led to a new idea. What could be uncool about building the biggest snowman in history?
I was soon in the back yard, forming a small, hard snowball. I packed snow around it till it was big enough to fill my arms. When building a giant snowman you should make sure to start with a well compacted bottom ball, I had thought. Finally it was big enough to start rolling, and I carefully planned out where to start so that I could finally end up in a good location to build when the bottom snow ball was so big I would be unable to move it.
The snow was wet and heavy and had packed on easily, just to make sure of total success I had stopped every few minutes and smacked the surface of the ball till it was hard as ice. My snowman would be like a giant, nine feet tall. I was planning on rolling the base to the edge of one of our garden walls and then shoving it over the wall. Then it would be at the perfect place for rolling the second body ball into place. After all I thought, this ball was already 3 feet across and getting pretty heavy.
Before long the ball was four feet tall and wide and very solid. I had found many slushy puddles and had used this to soak and pat down the snow. I stopped and leaned over the ice ball, trying to catch my breath as I scanned the yard where criss-cross paths now wound back and forth through the yard. Oh no! I had a problem! I was far from the drop off wall now and I feared that I would not get the ball back to it. I looked around trying to figure out how to save my day, a pole for leverage maybe? That did not work, a running start perhaps?
That did not work and was painful. I stood rubbing my sore arm and looking at the ball. Wow!, It was huge, like a giant snow ball from a cartoon, the ones that roll down mountain sides wiping out everything before them. I looked over my shoulder. Nothing but hill! Who needs a snowman, thought I. Now this was exciting, I thought. I could see it now rolling at great speeds, ripping down the mountain side that had held me captive for so long, to smash in a cloud of snow and noise at the bottom of the mountain. It would make up for all the days stuck on a mountain. Not only that it was clearing the snow from the road. I had a great plan!
I started pushing and shoving down the hill. It was not going to take off just yet. I would have to get to the crest of the hill where gravity would take control of the giant for me. The crest was a good quarter mile away. I could make it huge by then, I thought excitedly. It would take all I had for now it weighed hundreds of pounds but gravity seemed to wants this as much as I did. I pushed past the front porch. I pushed on down the lane a foot at a time. By now the ball was close to five feet tall, I knew this because I was five three and could just look over it. I now had to lean against it with my back and dig in my heels pushing till I was almost lying out on the road. The crest was within sight though and I tingled with excitement at the thought of that moment when I would shove and gravity would suddenly take it. A few more feet! And it could not come too soon; this ball was almost too big to move. It was taking everything in me to move it just a foot and it was now over five feet. The crest was three feet away. I dug in with everything and shoved. It resisted, and then suddenly I felt it, gravity taking it. I pushed harder with all I had. It was rolling! I jumped back, my heart pounding from exhaustion and excitement. Slowly it took off down the hill, it would pick up speed soon it would tear off down the mountain, rolling in an insane path of speed and freedom and terror. It was about to hurdle into...It rolled to a slow shaky plop and stopped.
I could not believe it. I shoved again. Nothing! I shoved and squirmed against the ball. It would not move, frozen in place. NO! I cried, no. I struggled and pushed till I could not move another inch. My lungs burned, my muscles burned, I was done. I sunk into a heap at the bottom of the snow ball. The snowball, now over five foot six was stuck fast into the middle of the road. In fact it almost filled the road. My dreams of a hurtling snowball were dead!
I headed back to the house, exhausted.
"What have you been up to", my mother asked?
"Making a big snowball", I sunk into the chair by the cook stove half frozen, and completely drained of hope and energy. I was still in that chair a few hours later when footsteps pounded across the front porch mixed with breathless laughter. Two neighbors stood at the door stomping snow from their feet and laughing till they nearly choked for oxygen.
"What are you all doing up here" my mother asked as she led them into the kitchen? This question made them laugh harder.
"We...we" gasp "we were...” laugh, gasp "...Trying to ..." gasp "...Plow... You out" laugh, gasp, laugh. My mother must have decided our good neighbors had been drinking, she had rolled her eyes at me.
"Well that's great!" She smiled "We need plowed out. We've been stuck for weeks and all we need is the road cleared a little and we can get out and about. Lisa would be glad of that; she's a little stir crazy right now." The two neighbors looked at each other and roared with laughter, pointing to me.
"She...she's the one", they laughed. They were bent over now laughing harder, and harder. “The ...big…Biggest...Damn…" laugh, gasp, point to Lisa, laugh harder.
"..Biggest dam snowball… we ever saw..." laugh, gasp, laugh. I sunk deeper in my chair. "I told Tim…" gasp "someone has the worst..." laugh and laugh "…The worst cabin fever…we have ever seen." They both dropped into chairs overcome with laughter. My mother looked at me confused, my father shook his head.
"I think our neighbors have been drinking' he laughed. Our neighbors shook their heads, in defense
"Honest to God Barclay, the biggest damn snowball I've ever seen", there they go again laughing and laughing.
"Can't get the plow around it…" laugh, gasp, "Can't push it out of the way. Two of us and a plow can't ...move…" laugh and laugh. "I see this thing as we're coming up the road. What is it Paul, I ask?"
"A big damn snowball, I tell him", Paul fills in. I am now sitting so low in my seat I am almost on my head. My face is so hot and red. Now my mother, father and both neighbors are laughing till they cry.
"She is a strong girl" my father gasps out.
"We can't plow you out Barclay, you'll have to wait for it to melt", says Paul. "Going to be a long wait…" and they are laughing again.
"What were you thinking?"
What was I thinking? Right then I think of walking out into the snow and not stopping. Walking till to a new place where no one nows Lisa. The neighbors finally left, still laughing, mumbling about a bad case of cabin fever and wait till they tell the other neighbors about the huge snowball, and how "we could have gotten them off if only that snowball had not been in the way."
I walk to the snowball and see the clear road now plowed right up to the giant ball. So close to freedom, I think. So close. If it had not been for the snowball I could have been free to leave the mountain. I could have been free from my Snowball embarrassment. It was another full week before the ball melted enough to be moved. It's been 30 years waiting for my neighbors to quit laughing and reminding me about "…that year you made the biggest damn…" laugh, gasp...

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Let the Forest Sleep

Quietly falling in the dark of night, the snow came down like a bobcats steps. The woods were still, so very still as blankets of white fell soft and thick.Winter whispered too the forest, sleep...sleep a while longer. Not even the deer moved from their beds beneath thick evergreens. No tracks scarred the snow for as far as could be seen.
Up to my knees in snow, I pushed through to the hen house. Nearly two feet of powder piled high, made the coop seem like night inside, but warm and dry. The hens crooned and clucked a quiet greeting as I opened the door letting the daylight spill in. They gathered around my feet watching closely as I filled their feed and pushed the snow from the collapsing hoops.Clucking the whole time as if asking me what had happened to their predictable world of bright days and long nights.. As soon as the door closed behind me they fell silent again, as if night had fallen already.When I opened the outside door to the egg nest they clucked another good morning. They would do this all day, I thought. Thinking it was day, then night, then day.. for as many times as I would open and close the door. It seemed the spell of sleep cast by Winter's big storm, fell on all creatures.
Stepping into the warmth of the house, I had to agree. It was a good day to stay close to warm fires and do little.
Bev made "Maple Wax Jack" or " Maple on Snow" for the kids. She boiled dark maple syrup till it formed a soft ball. Then pour the dark amber liquid in strips over a pan of packed snow. The thick, hot syrup instantly, melted into the snow then formed a taffy like candy that was eaten right away with bits of snow still attached. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote of making this candy in the book "Little House in the Big Woods"
She had written of how much she loved the candy, but maybe it was the making it with her parents and sister she loved most. I could not tell which our kids liked more. They had fun, was all I was sure of.
I remembered how big and quiet Laura Ingalls had said the big Wisconsin woods had been in winter. I could imagine winter had cast spells of sleep upon the forest then as now. Our forest would sleep for now, and we would wait for the warm touch of spring to waken the maples on another day.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Maple Festival coming soon!

The Highland County Maple Festival will be here soon!
This is a 2 weekend event and those dates are:
March 13-14 and the 20-21.
Check out the Highland County Chamber of Commerce site for information.
The maple fest is coming! We look forward to it like Christmas. I think it has something to do with having a sweet tooth. My sister Julia told me the other day,
"If it is dipped in sugar, people are going to eat it" and I think the folks in Highland County would agree, but they would say "If you dip it in maple syrup they will not only eat it, they will come and get it"
Head out early and be hungry. All along the twisting roads to Monterey, where the main festival is held you will find a dozen ways to fill your hunger. There will be all you can eat pancake breakfasts at firehouses, buckwheat pancakes also, maple dipped doughnuts, maple candy, vats of beans, chili and soup at some locations. Once there, if you choose to go to the town, you will see signs for trout dinners, pork & chicken dinners, pork rinds, kettle corn, country ham sandwiches. And did I mention the crafts? There are booths set up that offer fresh ground cornmeal, buckwheat, shitake mushroom plugs, handmade knives, and much more.
Of course the main attraction in town is the Mill Gap Ruritan doughnut trailer. Look for the line, it will be long on very cold years, very, very long in good weather. If you get in line to buy doughnuts, and you should, really! Then tell everyone near you that you will only be buying a dozen. This is when you will be able to pick out the "Maple Doughnutter" a hardcore, veteran of the maple fest. People who already know the magic of the Highland County Maple Doughnut. The secret, that I will tell you now is, once you take your first bite of the melt in your mouth golden ring, you to will be a "Doughnutter" in the making. You will recognize the vetern by the way they dress, layers upon layers to withstand the cold of waiting in line through any weather, and when they use the words "dozen doughnuts" it is always preceded by a large number. They come from all over, Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and more. They will look at you and roll their eyes like "Yeah, right! Newbie! Just one?"
You will not be taken seriously! You will hear the talk then. The ridicule of those ahead that make a terrible mistake, not buying enough doughnuts!
"Looky there' one will nod and all serious doughnuters will glance towards the head of the line.
"One box!", and all will laugh, shaking their heads.
"Why bother showing up" the last part of this is said just loud enough for the offender to over hear. By now you are half way up the line and have seen the ill judgment you have exhibited. So you up your anti, say, maybe 3 dozen? You will get a shrug from the hard core maple doughnuters that maybe there is hope for you, but the proof to them will be in the end-of-the-line. By the time you near the end the line, the number will be somewhere between 4-5 dozen. Not only is your pride forcing the number higher, but the smell. The sent of hot oil that has just cooked fresh doughnut swirling through the cold mountain air promising sweet reward for your frigid torture.
Then finally you are there! You climb the steps and peer into the window to where the magic is made. Racks of rising doughnuts, being fussed over by flour covered volunteers. Vats of hot oil and rows of golden, just cooked doughnuts, dipped with long dowels into a pool of warm maple syrup glaze. The dowels are crusted a half inch thick with maple syrup from hundreds of dives into the syrup vat, where doughnuts take their finale swim. You have been waiting so long now that you might be tempted to bribe the cashier for a dowel to chew on like a giant lolly pop. But now there are more important matters. One, you can almost taste the doughnut that are just moments from being in your grasp. Two,the Doughnutters behind you have fallen silent, waiting to see what you will do next. You glance back and consider all at stake.
" I was going to get 5 dozen", you tell the man behind the window loudly, then pause for effect. "Give me 6"
"Now that's what I am talking about!", you hear from behind you. Soon you will leave the trailer with a stack of white pastry boxes so high you can't see around them, but the respect that you have earned from fellow maple doughnuters will be eminence. As you leave the line, peering around your still warm tower of boxes, throw them a nod and glance, say...
"See ya next year, same time, same place". You will leave proud, head high or at least bent to the side so that you can see. The other doughnuters will nod back their approval as they speak words of praise for the newest to join the club.
"Now that's a stack! Good job! Only serious doughnut eater need apply"
Do not despair if you do not want to go into town and be bruised by crowds, or maybe are intimidated by becoming a "Doughnuter" in your rookie year,there is always the "sugar tour". Pick up a map that marks the sugar camps that like visitors and start driving. And if you missed the doughnuts, Puffenbargers has fantastic doughnuts, as well as a state of the art new sugar house. Keep going and visit as many as you can, for all the sugar camps have something a little different to see. Eagle Camp is a sight to see. Tucked away in the woods with it's red board buildings. Firewood piled high to feed a wood fired arch. A great little store to feed your sweet tooth with syrup, maple creme, candy,... maple this, maple that, maple of any form! "Southern Most" in Bolar has pit cooked BBQ and their own BBQ sauce plus, again maple of every kind.
Go from camp to camp, or till you can not stomach the sweet smell of maple and smoke or frying doughnuts. Keep going till when you look in the back seat the kids are covered in crumbs and half eaten maple lolly pops stuck to their cheeks, whispering "No more! No more sugar"
Then you can go back home and dream of next years Maple Festival.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Standing Guard Along The Shady Trail

It had once been an incredible tree, a huge Virginia Pine that stood guard along a shady trail on the south side of the mountain. I had played under it so many times, sitting at it's base gathering the stone-like bits of layered bark of rich chocolate brown. I would look up at the emerald crown far above and swear that nothing so strong and beautiful could be anything ordinary.
"You are a king! A Knightly King", I had told it once as a child. "You can be the Knight King of my forest and guard it from the enemy". The crown had swayed against the turquoise sky as if in agreement of his new royal posting. A position it had held for so many years as I grew up. But the Knight King had not lived long enough to see my own kids play beneath it. It had fallen after the first onslaught of the pine bore beetle. I had been so sad that spring, as I looked up into the stiff golden brown crown that no longer swayed or danced in the wind. I had felt like I had lost a friend. Then the wind had come and taken it down. It's once powerful trunk now busted into sections. Now, after falling to earth, my kids came to know this tree. A huge log to climb and play on. To practice balance and flight from. Ageing slowly and beautifully into a new form of life for the forest. A home to others.
Now it was sliced open, like a huge baked yam. Carefully though, just the top skin ripped off to reveal the soft orange of the rotted pine log. The pulpy inside had been pilfered, a careful search for bugs that left it fluffy and slightly piled. Not a bug was left.
I stood over it, my sap buckets still in hand, looking for claw marks or or foot prints. There were none, but I did not need them to tell me what had done this precise surgery on the fallen tree. I had not gathered sap on this side of the mountain since yesterday afternoon and the log had been, as it had been for many years, A large piece of trunk. It lay along the shaded trail, it's thick layered bark long gone and replaced by a beautiful blanket of moss and lichen of a dozen shades of green. The sun was often dappled and dancing on the colors and tiny insects could be seen crawling quickly along it in the summer, like busy little people in a small world. Fresh bits of bright chewed wood dust dotted the log's darker skin, giving hint to the hidden universe within. A universe that had been destroyed over night by the long ebony claws and hungry tongue of a black bear. The layer of dead leaves on the ground stole any chance of bear prints. The work of this damage might be easily credited to a coon, but for the size of it and nearby, a large stone had also been carefully over turned, leaving a perfect "fit the shape" hole beside it. I glanced around the nearby forest, looking for more of what might be out of place. Nothing. Nothing but quiet trees and sun dancing on the forest floor.
I headed back the trail towards home with my full buckets of sap sloshing and wondered at the very careful, almost delicate work of the bear. Maybe it had been one of the she-bears we had seen with cubs the summer before. They had been near the front porch, eating from the blackberry patch.
We surprised them. My mother and I were driving up the hill coming home from town. Their black coats had glistened, shining and shimmering in the sun like something liquid. The small female mother had swung around from the thicket of berry brambles and green leaves, looking right at us in her surprise, then loped quickly off into the woods, a cub chasing after her. The windows had been down in the truck and yet no sound had been heard of their fast retreat. Every movement had been a motion of grace and soft flowing black that shimmered with every step. We had stopped the truck, leaning forward in our seats, our mouths open as we took in this rare and special sight. We sat like that for a few long moments as if hoping they would come back. Then we had been so excited, chattering to each other about what we had just seen and how wonderful it was. How beautiful they had been and how lucky to see a cub as well. My words had suddenly stuck in my throat, but my mother's said what I could not.
"Oh My God", she whispered." There is Gab". We had both looked over towards the house at the same time. There, on the bottom step of the porch, just feet away from where the bear had been, was my daughter. She was singing softly to herself and playing with flower petals in the sunlight. She loved to play there and to walk the small loop of a path that went down the porch steps, up against the blackberry patch and back to the porch. She would walk that loop, singing her favorite songs and picking flowers, unaware of anything else around. Just as she was on this day, unaware of the danger that had been just a short lope away. Now as I walked out of the shadowed winter woods, into the sunlight of the open yard I remembered how I had felt suddenly cold on that hot August day many months ago. I, who had never been afraid of bears, had been chilled to the very bone by the thought of my young daughter having been so close to a mother bear and her cub. That had been only the first of three more bears seen in the area just in the next week, like a flood gate had been opened. One was a huge boar bear that had tried to get into the hog pen. That bear had not been afraid at all, even when we had fired a shot over his head, he had turned toward us and began walking our way. Another shot had sent him off, but very slowly as if not bothered by us or our danger to him. He had moved on though and had not been seen again by us or neighbors. The bears had been all of different sizes, so we knew that there were at least four bears on our mountain.
Our policy for how and when the kids played in the yard changed that day. No more playing just out in the side yard by themselves, where I could watch them from the window or playing on the porch alone. An adult was always with them. But then winter had come and we had let our guard down, the kids had played alone in the yard many times. The bears were suppose to have quieted down or gone to sleep for winter, so the bear biologist I had talked to during the summer, had told me. They would be no problem in the winter months, "Unless' he had added "they are very hungry or showed unnatural behavior, such as coming towards a human instead of fleeing" If that was the case then the bears' most likely been "ruined' as he worded it, and then they could be very dangerous. Most likely cause, he had told me, was baiting by "Bear Clubs"
I set my buckets down next to the others I had carried from the mountain that morning and looked back into the woods that surrounded our yard. Splattering sunlight and shadows on the forest floor, dark straight trunks and curving trails, dotted with sap buckets. No animals moving other then small song birds flitting from oak to pine looking for food. I had recently been told of a neighbor that was baiting bear on the mountain beside us.
A sudden clawing at my leg made me look down. Gracie the dachshund leaped and clawed at my shin to say hello.
"Great! Ruined Bears, Gracie!", I told her. "Time to put the kids on lock down again" I asked? No! Just be careful and I would keep an eye out for sign and watch closely for more bear talk along the trail

Friday, January 29, 2010

A million tiny lanterns

I gathered sap by starlight and a waning moon. The storms so long snagged upon our ragged mountain tops had finally torn free and slipped out into the quiet valley in the late hours of the day, out across to the Eastern Shore, to disperse into the vast Atlantic. Now there was only the sharpened tree tops reaching up as if trying to grab the glistening stars from an indigo sky.
I had to gather or sap would be lost in the night. The weather had fluxed enough to make the trees massive roots begin their powerful job of sucking great quantities of water from the Earth's wet soil. Forcing it up through the groggy trunks then down into the roots again as the temperatures dropped off. An early wake up call, a nudge to say that Spring would soon come to the mountains.
I turned my eyes from the sky to the dark woods that I was about to enter. In the night's dark tricks, the trail ahead looked like a tunnel of black. The ground was crunching as setting cold began to crust the earth. I closed my eyes a moment to let them get use to the darkness. When I opened them I sucked in a deep breath. Single drops, left behind by the storm, hung on every limb and twig and scattered on the ground. The drops freezing into perfect crystals to catch the scarce and precious light. A million tiny lanterns to mirror the stars above. I did not move for a moment, all I could do was take in the world, sparkling, deep into the stretching forest.
It was a sound that finally made me move. Somewhere deep up the dark trail ahead of me, beyond even the light of enchanted ice crystals and starlight. Something large and slow.
"A bear" I whispered to myself? Something, and I decided I should not discover what on my own, in the dark. I gathered quickly through the trees, stopping now and then to listen. Nothing! I turned for the open field and headed for the yellow glow of the house beyond. I heard the movement in the forest far behind me. What ever it was, it seemed unhurried. Probably a bear moving slowly along the black trail, just looking for something to eat. Not me though! I was stepping within the glowing halo of the houses' light. Glancing back, the world beyond my force field of light seemed much darker then it had just moments before. There was something though, large and dark just at the farthest edges of the lights reach. Could be anything in the nights dark magic, a bush, a pool of deeper shadow cast by a trunk. I would consider it later I thought and headed for solid walls.
Cold night air and warm sweet air swirled crazily as the front door swung open. I dropped the buckets beside the stove and began to fill the sugar pans. The steam rose up in sweet waves into my face, chasing away the cold that still clung to the skin. I could not take my thoughts from the starlight and crystals of the world outside the door or the "something' in the dark. It was very early for bear. I would have to look for sign in the morning light. But for now, it was time to stoke the fires hot and cook syrup late into the night.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A big run and little sap

Rows and rows of big dark cloud...and the rain keeps falling all around.
At first it fell in the tiniest of particles, so small, perfectly round atomized fragments of water that could float through the air and land so lightly upon your skin that it felt like the brush of a cold unseen hand. I had looked up from gathering sap, surprised by the cold touch that had not been there the moment before. Woolly sodden clouds drooped down towards me, and I would swear that there had been white puffs and turquoise blue when I had started emptying my sap buckets. But then I had been distracted by the nearly empty buckets, when I had been certain that the sap would run faster today. I guess the trees had felt it coming for the temperature rose soon after the rain had started and the sap that had been running good just hours before, was slowing to a lazy drip. I gathered what there was and headed for the house. Before I had the first pans full of fresh sap the rain was coming down in a steady shower and the temp climbed. By evening the rain was falling hard. By the darkest hours before dawn it seemed to pour down on the tin roof like a river had shifted into the heavens above and it was steamy warm. No sap the falling morning but a river where a creek had been and a plain of brown rapids and white caps where the river had been. The river trail where some of our best sugar maples was flooded, but the temperatures would drop in a few days and another run was due.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Of little tracks and tiny fellows

Let me go back a few days to when I first started tapping for the season and tell you about an interesting fellow we met along the trail. I was really excited about setting my first taps for the year. The morning was cold, but warm temps were coming in a few hours . I could not wait any longer for " sugar fever was a burning in me so.' I hurried out with my tapping gear leaving Lakota, my son, to eat breakfast with his grandma. The sky was deep blue and the ground was covered with an inch of a sparkling , crystal snow that seemed almost magical in the way it sparkled in the bright morning sun. I tapped a few trees, then ran out of jugs ( yes, jugs, I use milk jugs for some of my close by trees) and returned to the house to get more and to get Lakota. In a few minutes he was trotting along beside me, his yellow curls bouncing up and down and his tinkling voice scorning me for having gone without him earlier. He soon forgot his grudge ."Oooh, twacks," he whispered as he leaned low to the fine, sparkling snow.
" Yes, many tracks today" I said.
"Lets see! What kind? " he bent even lower till his nose was a few inches above the prints and his butt was high in the air. He straitened suddenly, looking up at me, pleased. "I think they barrr twacks", he announced.
"Bear! Really? Kitty I think. Very tiny kitty", I said.
He squinted unkindly at me and shook his head.
"Really! Kitty! Now see there's, dog tracks", I pointed. We walked the rest of the way to the maples I had tapped, looking at the different tracks on the ground. Near the edge of the woods we found some small, perfect, hand like prints.
"Opossum", I told him."They have hands almost like yours."
"Monkeys", he announced.
"Not monkeys. Really, they are possum tracks", I said. He gave me another very displeased look. I began working, Lakota began talking, about everything. A few minutes later I looked up from the tree I was tapping and just 3 feet away a black eyed opossum looked back from the sapling beside me. A small dark eyed, young possum, pretty as possums go with a soft, fuzzy coat of gray. Lakota saw it also.
"Wellll loooky there" he said. " A dog!'
"Not a dog, A possum", I told him. He looked at me for a moment as if deciding if I was telling him another lie.
"Well looky there", he said finally, " A poss-M. Well hello little possum. You are just a baby possum. Oh cooochy cooochy coo, little possum". He made little wiggly finger motions in the air at the possum as if tickling him from a far. I quickly warned him not to tickle the possum for real as the possum would not really like to be tickled and might bite him. I went back to work, he went back to air tickling the possum, then just talking to him. He chatted like a little bird to his new friend, telling him with a tinkling voice and dancing hands about everything that is important to little boys, chickens that laid big brown eggs, cartoons, places in the yard were he plays with imaginary dinosaurs and sisters that don't agree with him. When I would look over, the black eyed possum, sitting on a small branch, would be quietly listening to the small boy with the yellow hair. The critter seemed remarkably unafraid and very interested in all the bird- like chatter. His way was not blocked and he could go at any time, but he did not as if mesmerized by his new friend. Lakota went on to explain why Mommy was" dwillen" holes in the trees and that "maple serrriP" would run right out of the holes, and that was why he ( the possum) would see jugs every where on all the" tweees."
Soon I was done tapping and finally convinced Lakota we had to leave our new friend alone and go back inside. Once inside he grabbed his grandmas' hand.
" Let's go Gran'ma. I's got something to show you."
Well he drug his grandma out to look for the possum that was by now long gone.
" We can follow his tracks", Grandma suggested and off they went following perfect hand prints in the fine snow, through the woods. Tracks that led to other trees that we had tapped, by the chicken coop where big brown eggs were laid, through the yard where Lakota liked to play with imaginary dinosaurs and back into the woods again. After a bit Grandma went off one way and Lakota the other.
"Gran'ma, yous going the wrong way", he calls "Hinton did not go that way. He went this-a way"
" Who's Hinton", she asks? Lakota rolled his eyes.
"The poss-M, Gran'ma.", he tells her. "But you don't has to call him Hinton if you don't like. Yous can call him Puppy Lickens' for short."
Of course Grandma is telling me about this later, or trying to, for she is laughing to hard to hardly get words out. Every day for a week, as we would go out to gather sap or tap more trees, we would find tiny, perfect little hand like prints in the crystal snow, following along every trail, to every tree we had tapped. Puppy Lickens' as he is now known, does not seem to ever bother with any tap, just comes to within a few feet of the tree and stops. You can see where he sits, and checks out the tree, maybe waiting to see the syrup run out as promised. Then he moves on along beside our tracks, always beside like he is being careful to follow the large foot prints, to the next tree that has been tapped. If I tap a new one, his tracks are there the next day. Now I can no longer walk along the trail with these small prints following and not wonder at the intelligence and curiosity of this small being. I cannot help but wonder what he must be thinking. This little fuzzy fellow, that met a little yellow haired fellow along the trail one day. A little yellow haired fellow that chattered like a song bird and passed along all kinds of interesting news to the fuzzy fellow about the trail they both shared. For all I know now his name really is Hinton, his nick name has always really been Puppy Lickens' and there is more magic then I ever guessed in the crystal snow and small talk of little souls that meet along the sugar trail.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

We have sweetened our pans!

From deep, deep freeze to toasty 40's. Warm enough to tap. So tap we did on the 15 Th and a good run of sap followed. A half gallon + of sweet maple syrup. Tickled to pieces! And the fever catches you up for another year. The weather is turning cold again, freezing rain, sleet, snow, so the run is over but another will start again by Monday. It gives us enough time to finish off the sap we have. Cooking is done on the old Home Comfort . What a heat machine! running about 40 gallons sap to 1 gallon syrup.That will change as we tap more reds, 60 to 1 or higher. When the season gets rolling, there will be more sap then can really be handled on the cook stove. We are trying to come up with a makeshift arch ( a giant boiler) outside that will run on junk wood, old pine, etc. that can't be burned inside.
Here are some pictures taken last year at the Highland County Maple Festival.The barn that looks like it is burning is The Rexrode sugar house, their arch is the big old brick one that oozes smoke and flame. The big stainless sap tank and green building is the Puffenbarger sugar shack replacement. The sugar house burned in the second week of festival 2 years ago. Ivan Puffenbarger thought they were done, but the community and customers made sure that they came back, better then ever! They make the best maple doughnuts ever! The tank in picture is full.
Post again later.
Soooo... this is a blog?
I wondered.
I created.
I blogged.