When the Weather Starts to Warm

This winter has been brutally cold so far this year.  This past weekend the temperature rose to the mid to upper 30’s and it felt like spring was on its way.  It was the kind of weather when staying indoors is not an option and Bill decided it was time to cut trees.

Saturday’s tree is along the ridge going down to the back forty.  The trees there have always been too close together and because they are on the east side of the garden and quite tall they shade the southern half of the tilled area until almost noon.  There is a tree that we will keep for it’s shade and I will just plan the garden accordingly but this will begin to bring earlier sunshine where it’s needed.

The first thing done when felling trees is to look it over to make sure you have a good idea where it it will fall.  This tree only had limbs on one side of it and was leaning over the bank so it was not difficult to discern where it would go.  Bill made the first cuts on the side the tree would fall then sawed the other side as you can see in the video.

The next phase is to cut the limbs off of the tree

IMG_0099Once that was finished we use the logging winch on the back of the tractor to bring the log up to the spot where we will chunk it up and split it for firewood later.

Okay, originally I thought that this was a really pricey add on to the tractor but after about a month of tractor ownership you realize if you are going to use the bucket for anything you need weight in the back of the tractor.  If you are going to work in wet, muddy areas you probably are going to need to winch yourself out at some point. If you are going to cut down large trees using a winch becomes a safety issue at times. It turns out that what I thought was a pricey toy really is a workhorse and we have never looked back.  As you can see from the last video it has made Bill’s life a lot easier.

A Year in Review

CranesJanuary was spent trying to finish my thousand cranes – a resolution I make every year and never quite finish.  I figure a couple more years and they will be done.  I do recommend this to any and everyone.  It’s simple to do and is one of the most meditative things I have ever done.

130227(5)The weather was wintry and exquisitely beautiful.  Each and every storm left behind a landscape that screamed to be walked through on snowshoes and photographed.  The quiet that goes along with weather is restorative and I always look forward to a snowstorms aftermath.

corned-beef-cabbageSt. Patrick’s Day will be one of the most important days of the calendar year to me now, not because I’m Irish but because it was the day I talked to Scott for the first time.  Given up for adoption in 1972 I had come to regard this moment as something that may never happen.  I had left information on a website and through a convoluted chain of events was contacted through an intermediary.  The rest of this year has been spent with each of us getting to know our new family members, a blessing in so, so many ways.

130407 Sugar (3)Sugaring this year was amazing although the snow was rather deep in the beginning.  A lot of work gathering those buckets without the aid of snowshoes.  It makes up for it when we boil and smell that hot maple goodness wafting through the sugar house.

IMG_20130511_104220Spring came in its normal time this year, no hot spells or odd cold snaps and the pear tree was happy.

130609 Throw (2)I made my first overshot throw in wool and discovered a passion for weaving that far and away exceeds any other handwork I have ever done.  My grandfather had wanted me to weave I think, I have a faint recollection of receiving a small, plastic kids loom when I was very young but without someone to teach me.  This has been a special journey with a connection to just about every member of my family.

131225 (4)Every morning the weather cooperates this is what I look at as I drink my first cup of coffee.  There is nothing like walking out the door in your pajamas and sitting in an Adirondack chair overlooking your land.  Day to day the view is different, each having its own beauty.  I feel very, very blessed to have this be such a big part of my life.  It’s grounding.

130817 Heath Fair (3)The end of summer brings with it the fairs.  I took full advantage this year.  Heath Fair is one of my favorites with something for everyone.  I also had some validation with winning a blue ribbon for my weaving.

130818 Wood (4)Wood, wood, wood, we cut and split a lot of wood.  It’s best when it’s like this – family all gathered to make it all go quicker and easier.  It’s also more fun.  Everyone pitched in and Chester thought is was awesome.

130818 Percys PointChester started swimming this summer.  He is a very hot dog when the weather is warm but loves playing fetch more than anything.  This was the perfect solution.  He was a bit of a panic swimmer the first day but after that he looked forward to coming to this spot each and every day we were in Rowe, sometimes twice a day.  He is an amazing animal.

130915 (2)My garden had its issues this year but my popcorn, the experiment of the year was a complete success.  There is no better feeling than finding out there is something new you can grow that’s beautiful and functional.

130904 (1)I went to Belfast, Maine to Fiber College this year and spent quality time with old and new friends and ate lobster every day.  It was a fiber weekend for some but for me it was more about photography.  I need to be alone to do my best work and I came away with images that were everything I wanted them to be.  It was also a time to reminisce about childhood, we spent many summers up this way while I was growing up and I hadn’t been here in a good 30 years.

Red Tree

This autumn the foliage was more beautiful than I had seen it in years.  So many of my friends shared exquisite images of scenes right out their front doors that were breathtaking. Photography slows me down and forces me to look at the details.  The photograph above of the red tree was taken almost at dark.  I drove by it in the center of town, said wow to myself and kept driving.  By the time I got to the bottom of the hill I turned around to capture this.  In my head I initially said “Oh, just take it tomorrow” but a few hundred feet down the road I realized that it wouldn’t be there.  Those are the best photographs, the ones that catch that fleeting moment.

131114 SunsetThis fall I saw some of the most amazing sunsets ever.  Enfield never looked so good under these vibrant skies.  This particular evening it seemed that everyone I knew posted a photograph from a different place.  It was like the sky made everyone stop whatever they were doing to watch.  It’s comforting to know that the people I love were all looking at the sky at almost the same time and then sending what they saw to others.

131129 Bonfire (2)Thanksgiving weekend was about family, our immediate family.  What is usually a crowd was just Bill, me and the two girls, our nuclear family.  It was the first time in so many years that it was just us and it was wonderful.  It’s probably the most difficult thing to experience – the loss of your children to adulthood.  The best time of our lives was raising our girls and they have both turned into amazing, remarkable women.  It was good to have the opportunity to have them all to ourselves.  For a treat Bill built an amazing bonfire to share with them and a couple of their cousins.

131225 (3)Christmas has come and gone, although the remnants are still in the house.  A few decorations will return to their boxes in a week or so and life will begin its new cycle.  There aren’t any resolutions this year for me other than to absorb the gifts around me.  The time seems to go by so fast each year it leaves me breathless.  I will spend the winter months planning the garden, weaving and cooking for the people I love.  I will follow in the rhythm of the seasons and work the way I do for each year.  It may seem a little dull but planning my life around what’s growing or the weather is the most comfortable way for me to live at this moment in time, you just roll with it.  I take every moment spent with the people I love and savor it like a fine wine.  Those times of love and laughter are what sustains me through any other trials that come along.  The simplicity of it is all I need.


Another Home Improvement Project



Saturday morning Bill and I took a ride to Friends of the Sun in Brattleboro, VT to purchase a wood stove for the kitchen.  I had done some pretty extensive research over the past few weeks figuring out what would be the best option for us.  The stove would be mounted on a 9″ raised hearth with the hookup using the fireplace and chimney.  The fireplace, as beautiful as it is, has not been something we can really use for heat, or anything else for that matter.  When my parents had it built in the ’70s the chimney was not built to the same height it was originally.  Any time we used the fireplace we ran the risk of the wind blowing from the west, over the top of the house and directly down the chimney.  I once had to move a blazing fire into another fireplace because the smoke and ash suddenly blew into the kitchen.  Many times I woke up in the morning to a kitchen with everything covered with ash.

We decided on a Hearthstone Hearthmount.  It’s a soapstone stove which is something I have always wanted because of its heat retention properties and its beauty.  When we arrived at Friends of the Sun the stove was sitting right in their showroom and we soon found out they had one in stock.  I had anticipated having to order it so this was a bonus.  Although after a look in the warehouse our salesman told us we would probably have to wait until next week to pick it up because their warehouse guy wasn’t in and it was in an odd location.  He set us up with the materials for the chimney installation and sent us with the owner to pick up what we could.

131116 Stove (1)This set up is going to solve a bunch of problems.  It will keep the chimney dry and we will be able to heat the ell with wood.  The box consisted of 25′ of stovepipe, along with insulation and a cap.  It all seems so simple and easy when you are picking up the parts.

I swear the owner of this business is Mr. Rogers incarnate.  If he’d been wearing a cardigan it would have been perfect.  Their warehouse is a small, packed little building a short drive down the road from their showroom.  When we got there Mr. Rogers informed us that he could get the stove out for us if we wanted to take it right then.  Woohoo!

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So after moving some things around it was taken off of a rack. . .

131116 Stove (3)and loaded into the truck.  We tied a couple of things down and made the trip home.  Oh, did I mention that the stove weighs 440 pounds?  Hmmm, think about that for a minute.

131116 Stove (4)As soon as we got home BIll got the tractor out, took the stove off of the truck and unpacked it except for the pallet it was bolted to.  We decided the only way to get this into the kitchen was through the patio door.  Bill drove right onto the patio and approached the door only to find that it was too wide to fit in the door.  Damn, now what?

We decided to put it in lengthwise but the pallet was too narrow to hold it with any stability on the forks.  We stood in the yard trying to figure out how the two of us were going to get this inside and I just kept thinking WWDD? (what would Dad do).  I remembered there were two dollies in the barn that my father had used to move heavy things around. We got one and put it under the stove pallet, then picked it up.

131116 Stove (5)This pic is pretty blurry – probably because I was yelling at Bill while I was taking it.  When you are driving the tractor you have no way of knowing the height of the load you are carrying, especially when it is near the ground.  He came into the edge of the patio a little low and I could just imagine the sound as the stove hit the ground.  We were only able to get close enough to the doorway to set down the first set of wheels on the floor, he tipped up the forks to make it slide the rest of the way off, ran around into the kitchen and the two of us eased it off into the room.

131116 Stove (6)There it is all uncovered waiting for installation.  Honestly, that move took about 6 years off of my life it was so stressful.  Just writing about it raised my blood pressure.  440 pounds is really, really heavy – thank God for Dad’s little trolley (and remembering it was there).  Bill called Mike and made a date for Sunday morning to install it.

The first couple of hours of the installation on Sunday was spent wrapping the 25 feet of stove pipe with insulation and wire mesh.  They then went up on the roof and tried lowering it down the chimney.  Did I mention it was raining and we have a metal roof?  Yeah, even with ladders it was scary.  They were unable to get it up there and drop it down so decided to pull it up from the bottom.  We had been told that we would probably have to flatten some of the piping to go through the damper in the chimney but we were fortunate to have a damper that allowed the pipe to go through as is.  A rope was dropped from the top of the chimney and the pipe was pulled up and attached to the cap.  That was the easy part.

131116 Stove (7)As they began to move the stove Mike told me we really needed four strong men, one for each corner.  We couldn’t think of any other guys to call so it was up to them.  Fortunately the dolly had placed the height of the stove just a little higher than the hearth.

131116 Stove (8)We had to do a lot of lifting and shimming to get this to work.  It had to be “walked” over because they could only lift it a little at a time.  Another stressful little period of time.

Getting all of this to fit together was another challenge.  There was a lot of fabrication going on in the garage and a trip to Wilmington to the hardware store for a piece of stovepipe that would finally enable the hookup.  There was a moment when it looked like this wasn’t going to happen without getting a different part for the back of the stove, a minute when they both walked away.  Some times you need those moments to walk away from a difficult situation to think of it in a different way.

Both guys were determined to build a fire in this before the day was over and figured out a way to connect all of the pipes in a safe way (not without a few more frustrating moments mind you).

At 2:45 Bill told me to light the first fire and this thing is everything I’d hoped it would be and more. In about an hour the temp in the room went from 55 to 76.  Bill thought that was a little too hot, I thought it was just right.  And it’s beautiful to boot.

131116 Stove (9)On our way back to Enfield Bill said this was probably the best home improvement we have done.  The heat in the kitchen never turns off once it really gets cold outside.  The stove is designed to have greatly reduced carbon emissions and will stay hot for 12 hours or so.  It should make a big difference in the oil bill.  What really amazed me was how efficient the burn was, once it was started we burned 3 good size pieces of wood in 3 hours and it was still burning when we left.  Sweet.









Days of Grace

131013 Wood (4)We are into what many people refer to as “days of grace”.  This, for us, is after the gardens are done, the canning is finished (for the most part) and we are seriously thinking about winter.  It’s the time between the leaves falling and the snow flying.

With that in mind we brought wood in over the weekend with the help of Amanda and Yusuf.  We had to move most of what was left from last year out of the way because it is very dry and bring in what we have been cutting and splitting over the past few months.  This is when the tractor really comes in handy.  The bucket can be loaded and driven right into the shed.  The wood is unloaded and stacked at waist height, it cuts down on the bending over which can really save your back.

131013 Wood (3)

The project lasted through the weekend, we figure we put in about 4 and a half cord with a little over a cord left from last season.  I can’t tell you what a relief it is when that project is over.  It’s one of those never-ending things.  The seasons are dictated by cutting, splitting and stacking wood.  Trees will come down this winter with the brush stacked for burning.  The burn season starts in January and runs until May.  We usually cut and split throughout the year when the weather permits – it’s not something you want to do in summer heat.  With any luck it spends the summer drying out a bit.  In the fall it comes in.  It will continue to dry until it gets burned.

Other projects on our list are re-glazing windows.  Tightening things up in the house.  We are considering a small wood stove for the kitchen in the ell but we will have to see what the next few weeks bring.  A little more insulation in the attic over the kitchen would probably go a long way toward keeping it warmer.

131013 Wood (2)The one other vital thing to do is put the electric blankets on the beds upstairs.  There has never been any heat up there (except the bathroom) so if we don’t want to sleep under 10 pounds of quilts electricity must be used.  There is nothing better than getting into a nice warm bed in the dead of winter.

This time of year always has an anticipatory air to it.  There’s pressure put on whatever time you have.  Once the temperature plummets, the snow is on the ground and the wind is blowing the mood changes.  We are doing things indoors.  We spend more down time.  This is when my time is spent on handwork.  There are so many crafts that I do in cooler weather because they are just too hot to do any other time of the year.  I will be finishing up a couple of hooking projects and I will be weaving.  Yes . . . lots and lots of weaving.



A Recap of Fiber College and Maine

What a whirlwind this trip has been.  I drove home to Rowe last night, leaving at 6:30 after class (and picking up lobster and clams).  I arrived about 11:30.

This was my first foray into the “fiber” world and all I can really say is it was interesting.  I find it amusing the style of dress “creative” people wear.

My first day (Thursday) I took a book binding class with Anna Low of Purplebean Bindery.  We made Buttonhole bound books.  They are brilliant in their simplicity.

IMAG0890Anna was a great teacher and we each made two beautiful books that lie flat when they are open (always a plus for me).  There were 10 of us in the class and it’s always such a joy to spend time with other creative people.

IMAG0889The class got out early – around 3:30 so I decided to take a drive up Route 1 and see more of Maine.  I rounded a corner coming into the Penobscot River crossing and saw the new bridge.  It defies description really.  Beautiful to look at, creepy to drive across (that could just be my own bridge phobia talking).  I went into Bucksport and all I could think about was that bridge.  I looked it up when I got back to my room and decided to spend my free Friday morning at Fort Knox State Park and ride to the observatory at the top.  That, my friends, will have to be another post.

Friday afternoon I had a class on making scarf pins with Cindy Kilgore.  The class was a couple of hours and was crowded, hot and sooooo much fun!  Did I mention it was loud?  Picture 7 women at a plastic banquet table pounding 12 gauge brass wire with a ball peen hammer on small square metal bench anvils.  Yeah, loud.

130906 Scarf Pins

Cindy was a fun, patient teacher.  She explained things really well and by the time I was done I felt really comfortable with the design possibilities and was pleased with my pins.  Not the best photograph but you get the idea.

Saturday I had two classes, one in the morning, one later in the afternoon.

The first class was with Tom Cote, a wood carver from northern Maine.  What an amazing guy.


Tom was an art teacher for 30 years teaching grades K-12.  You could tell, he was talented and could tell a story and keep you interested all while you were sanding little pieces of wood.  This class was all about making buttons and closures out of found objects.  The closures I made were out of a stick picked up off of the ground in the campground, a wooden bobbin from a weaving mill and a chunk of wood cut from scraps in his wood shop.  It was really all about seeing things around you in a different way.  Almost everything was done with a coping saw, sandpaper and a drill.  A little oil and you have yourself a button.

IMAG0976This photo doesn’t do these buttons justice – but I took it on my fleece jacket on the ground outside of the tent so it is what it is.  They are beautiful.

My last class was with Jennifer Carson.  I’ve been following Jennifer for quite a while now, I love her art and especially her creature creations.  I’ve made stuffed bears and dolls for years but decided to take her class because it had to do with design.  It was great fun with a lot of very funny women.  I have found over the years that doll makers are one of the best groups to hang out with.  We all make up back stories for our dolls as they are created – great fun.

IMAG0984This was an exercise in creating from scratch.  We started with a pencil and piece of paper and everyone ended up with a head.  I love doll making for this reason, you really don’t know what you’re going to end up with – it evolves.  A lot of techniques were used in this and the wool felt it the perfect medium – very forgiving.

This half week getaway was a lot of fun.  I met a lot of great people from all over the U.S. (yes, people travel all over just to go to these things).  Each and every one was creative with a need to learn and share.  The location was amazing, right on the shore.  If you needed a quiet spot it was only a few hundred yards away.  This is the kind of event that sends participants home re-energized and ready to create something new and unexpected.  It takes away the fear of the unknown.  You learn that anything taken in small simple steps can be accomplished.


Family Affair

130818 Wood (2)

The wood still needs to be cut and split and we had some help on Sunday.  Daughter Amanda, her boyfriend Yusuf and sister Sue all were all there.  I can’t tell you how much you can get done with helping hands.  The saying “many hands make light work” really rang true.

130818 Wood (1)

Each person had their own job, depending upon their skill level with pieces of equipment.  Well, everyone can use the splitter but not everyone can wield a chainsaw (that’s the piece of equipment I stay away from).

130818 Wood (4)

Chester just likes to be in the thick of things.  He’s not afraid of the noise of the equipment or tractor (although he stays away from the chainsaw as well).  The splitter is a real godsend to people our age or anyone for that matter.  The pieces of wood that were dispatched were large, some 25 to 30 inches across.  If they weren’t full of knots they were spit with ease.

130818 Wood (8)

The wood we split Sunday was ash and cherry.  I love splitting ash, it’s beautiful and splits easily.  Cherry on the other hand . . .

130818 Wood (7)

By the time we were done we had a wall of wood over 25 feet long and 5 feet high.  All in all a great days work.

130818 Wood (6)

Of course this was happening all day with anyone that was near him.   Chester had a good day too.



130116 (7)out·build·ing – (outbldng)

n. A building separate from but associated with a main building.

There are a few outbuildings on Fort Pelham Farm.  Some were there when we arrived in 1967, some were put up after we got there.  The interesting part about some of these buildings is the reason they are there.  The buildings in the photograph were built by my father to house a Chase Sawmill that he purchased in the early ’70’s from Gerald Truesdell.

My father has always been a tinkerer and collector of large machinery – especially if it could be run on steam.  His big dream was to own a locomotive and have tracks running around the property – it didn’t happen. Along those lines though he amassed collection of very large machines. I remember it starting with the sawmill.  He built the original building to house it and set it up to run with the diesel power unit that came with it.  It took a while to work the bugs out of it. I remember on one of the first runs the carriage running off of its tracks and firing through the building wall – he kept it open for a while after that.  He ran it quite often and did it all by himself.

Shortly after getting the mill he purchased a small steam engine to power it.  I remember him buying a boiler that had once been in a laundry in Shelburne Falls.  I was working at Lamson & Goodnow at the time and spent the better part of a morning upstairs in one of the buildings there watching the riggers pull it out of the roof of a building across the river.  I think I was really wondering how he was going to get that huge thing into his mill.  I can’t recall if this particular piece of equipment was put in by riggers or if he managed to get it in himself.

One of the amazing things about my Dad was his ability to move huge, heavy things by himself.  He was a master of block and tackle.  He worked on this project for a long time, fabricating the things he needed to get this steam engine running.  This all was happening during the Carter years when there was a huge interest in renewable energy and he got a grant to help pay for some of the materials he needed.  When he decided to do something there wasn’t anything that was going to get in his way. The mill was glorious to watch run on steam once he had it set up.  The only real sound was the saw blade cutting through the wood.

He built the building that is currently there after snow collapsed the original one.  The boards on the outside were ones he sawed himself as well as the ones on the garage.  The mill currently sits idle but with a little effort it will be running again only with a diesel power unit this time. We look forward to cutting some of our own boards for use in other projects around the place. There is a lot to be said for having this capability. Just being able to replace siding on this outbuilding from your own woodlot is a win.  Not to mention the satisfaction of knowing that everything you’ve used has come from your property.

Dad in Mill

1978 Running the Mill


Sugar House on Fort Pelham Farm (2)

The forecast for the weather today is very mild – they say in the 40’s.  When that happens in January I always start thinking about maple sugaring.  Bill and I sugar with our friends Russ and Carmen in the next town over.  We do it because it is a really fun time (most of the time) and gives you a real sense of accomplishment.  Russell and his son started laying the pipeline last weekend.  Things will be ready when the time comes to tap the trees.

The photograph above was the sugar house that was in the back of the house in Rowe.  There are still remnants of the metal equipment that they used out in the wood lot  although I confess I personally have not seen them. I’ve walked to that area a few times but what was once a sugarbush is now over grown with huge pine trees.

In the middle to late 1800’s there was a lot of maple sugar made on Fort Pelham Farm.  The first record of it was in the 1860 Farm Census where 700 lbs of sugar was recorded for that year.  1860 holds the record for the most maple sugar ever made in the U.S.  One of the reasons being this was the ramp up to the civil war and people were boycotting cane sugar due to slavery.  They replaced a lot of that cane sugar with maple.  In 1870 they produced 300 pounds and in 1880 they produced 450.  I am assuming that pounds of sugar was both syrup and sugar but it may have all been sugar.  Until 1860 there were only wooden spouts to tap the trees and iron pots to boil the sap in.  The process involved a number of pots at various stages of boiling so instead of having an automated draw down to syrup as we have today they were manually transferring sap from pot to pot until it reach the sugar stage that they were looking for.  When I read that 700 lbs. of sugar was made it came as a huge surprise just considering the amount of work that is involve.

So I decided to do some math.

On the average, it takes 40 gallons of maple sap to make 1 gallon of pure maple syrup.  One tap hole in each maple tree gives 10 gallons of sap in an average year. So, 4 maple trees, 40 to 200 years old, are needed to make one gallon of pure maple syrup.  Some trees have more than one tap but all should be over 10 inches in diameter.

Maple sap is 2% sugar and weighs 8.35 lbs. per gallon.

Maple syrup is 66.9% sugar and weighs 11 lbs per gallon.

One gallon of maple syrup makes 7 lbs of maple sugar.

All I can say is wow.  The best year we ever had was 2 years ago because it was a long season.  We made 130 gallons of syrup.  We had 1,000 taps on pipeline and about 200 buckets.  We used a reverse osmosis rig to take a lot of the water out of the sap before we even started to boil it.  We burn slabs from a local sawmill and the fire is stoked every 4 minutes – yes, every 4 minutes.  I’m not sure how much wood we burned.

They were just using buckets to catch the sap.  Each bucket had to be emptied at least once a day by a person, stored and boiled.  They must have been boiling 24 hours a day everyday throughout the season.  At the time on the farm they had two oxen which I’m sure were worked gathering sap.  Fortunately the season is short.

Then I remembered a conversation Bill and I had a couple of weeks ago about the amount of wood it would have taken to heat the house.  We figured anywhere from 15 to 20 cord a year.  Add to that whatever they needed to make maple sugar and these men had to have been doing nothing but cutting wood year round – with saws, axes and mauls and those oxen. This is why they tell you that you could see to the ocean from Western Mass.  Every tree had been cut down and burned by the time 1880 came around, that’s when people began burning coal.

People always ask me why the price of syrup is so high and I always tell them how much work is involved in it.  I don’t think we even get enough to justify any of our time, we do it because we love it.  I can’t imagine thinking it was fun half way through the season in 1860.

Sugar Orchard at Fort Pelham Farm (2)