Friday, February 02, 2007

Farmer Boy - part 1 of a group of stories of life on one North Country farm

The life of a dairy farmer is not one most of us would choose. In the winter, the work day begins around 4 AM and continues until early evening; in summer the hours often extend until it is too dark to plant, hay, mend fences or chop corn. I’m talking about seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. Typically the farm wife has a job off the farm, one that provides reliable income and benefits, and she may also milk cows.

Farm babies
Our best friends, Pierce and Sarah, are dairy farmers, a life they chose after leaving the service of the Peace Corps in South America back in the early 1970s, and one hot July 4th weekend - as they were approaching retirement - their son came home for a visit, introduced them to his Cuban-American girlfriend and decided to buy the farm across the road. These friends of ours suddenly veered off the path they had been traveling and embarked on an adventure bearing no resemblance to assisted living.
It took some fast footwork to purchase the farm. It had already been “sold” to another farmer, a man already milking some 300 cows and building a dairy empire, but ink hadn’t been put on paper yet. Pierce had always been a very good neighbor to the seller, and that fact swung the deal.

The view from one farm to the other on a January morning - Carmencita photo
Six months later, a wedding was held in the old church that sits within view of the two farms, a wedding attended by family and friends, some 35 Cubans, and the young Amish family who were Pierce and Sarah’s hired hands. A team of Belgian workhorses who (if they thought about such things) were also about to trot in a new direction, went “dashing through the snow” pulling sleigh-fulls of laughing wedding guests from one farm to the other and back. Matt and Anna left corporate jobs in warmer climates and took up farming in the North Country.

Morning light in the barn - Carmencita photo

This story to be continued...

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

My Favorite Gnome



From Randy Newman:

Last night I had a dream
You were in it I was in it with you
Everyone that I knew
And everyone that you know was in my dream
I saw a vampire
I saw a ghost
Everybody scared me but you sacred me the most
In the dream I had last night
In the dream I had last night
In my dream

I can dream, can't I?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Light in the Forest

I went showshoeing yesterday, hoping to get a picture of some diamonds for my friend Shaman. They glittered everywhere, but as she later commented, "Proof Diamonds are hard to photograph." Husband took to the woods on his cross-country skis, our paths occasionally crossing and going along together.

I was hoping to see fisher and fox tracks, but deer and coyote were what I found. The beaver pond is frozen over and tempted me to trust it, but I did not, owing to the fact that the snowshoes had broken through and gotten wet and ice-coated at one place along its edge. I am not a fool.


Everything was beautiful and pristine, brightly sun-lit and cold. The camera traveled inside my coat and at times my gloved fingers fumbled with its settings and shutter. Gradually, afternoon light began to give way to the golden glow of on-coming sunset, the temperature began its slide back to negative numbers, and we headed for home.

Near the end of our outing we passed through a dark spruce grove where I took the photo you see below. Titled The Light in the Forest; here is a haiku it inspired:

Woods quiet and dark

Winter sun peeks through branches

True enlightenment



Sunday, January 28, 2007

Woodstove Cookery

Women used to prepare all of their family's meals on and in "wood cookstoves". My grandmother used one, but - like every other woman of her generation - happily switched to the new-fangled coal, then gas and finally electric counterpart as they became available.

In the stove pictured here, the larger white door is the oven; the smaller one a second oven; the lower left-hand door is the firebox. There was a water reservoir (seen here on the right side of the stove). The compartment above the stove was for storage and for keeping things warm. Bread might have been placed up there to rise.

The cast iron top of the average kitchen stove had six "burners", varying in heat level by where they were located relative to the fire burning below them or the path by which smoke and heat exit to the chimney pipe. (You've all heard of putting it on the back burner - the cooler place where things simmer rather than boil). The chimney pipe doesn't show in this picture, but it would connect to the back of the stove just above the level of the burner top.

There is something romantic and wonderful about having a wood cookstove. Their heat is even, they warm the house as well as the food, and you feel connected to the generations of women before your time for whom this appliance was "modern". On the down-side, cookstoves take up a lot of space, eat a lot of finely split wood, and the dirt and bark bits falling off that wood constantly litter your kitchen. This appliance becomes damnable in the heat of summer.

I don't have a cookstove, but my house is heated by a woodstove (pictured in the previous post), and I can cook just about anything on top of it. The heat is even, and by placing a pan either directly on it's flat top or on one of three trivets of varying height, I can vary the cooking temperature. Like the old cookstove, the front of my stove is hotter than the rear. An oven is created by placing a large kettle upside-down over the pot and trivet, or by creating an aluminum foil tent of suitable size and shape to cover what you want to bake. I favor cast iron frying pans, and they are right at home on the woodstove top; the tea kettle boils quickly on a cold winter day.

One January several years ago we experienced The Great Ice Storm of '98 that left us without power for nearly two weeks. When power crews finally restored our electricity, we chose to leave it off. A friend had joined us, and we were just sitting down to our woodstove-cooked meal by candlelight: Mediterranean halibut, humus, tabouli and a salad. I had even baked brownies to enjoy with the ice cream from its frozen place on the front porch.

These last two photos are of that meal, a meal that was delicious and still the source of a warm memory.