I know, my title today has been sooo overused, but … it’s coming up on the Fourth of July and this is the time of year when New Englanders get all giddy over the first fresh, locally grown, vegetables of the year – PEAS! If you’ve spent a long cold winter eating canned and frozen veggies – or even home preserved veggies from last summer – the thought of early peas is overwhelming, almost orgasmic (with no offense intended and in spite of our normally reserved nature). We start to see the signs on farm stands – “fresh peas.” We stop and run our hands through the bins of pods. We select a pound or two and cart them home almost furtively. The first sniff of summer comes when we start popping open the pods and use our thumbs to push the plump and precious peas from pod to catch bowl. Children are drawn to the ritual and can always be counted on to help – there’s something primal about it. There’s the baptism of rinsing away the bits of field debris and “bad peas” under the faucet. The peas are covered with cold water in the pot and a touch of salt added, along with just a smidgeon of olive oil. We step away to allow the pot to come to a full boil (a watched pot never boils, remember?) then hover nearby for a few moments, carefully watching the peas rolling in the boil, ready to take them off the heat the second we see the subtle transition from raw green to bright, not too hard, not too soft, just right GREEN. In haste now, barely restraining ourselves from digging in, we drain our perfect peas, toss ’em back in the pot to melt butter over them, shaking the pan to be sure each little globe is coated. Just a pinch of salt and pepper and the peas are ready to be dished out. The first batch is always eaten in appreciative silence and rarely as part of an actual meal – these are the reward for making it through another year.
Everett and I were ready to retire, but didn’t take off on our RV adventures until March – well after the worst snows and freezes of the winter. We earned our 2013 peas with hours of snow shoveling and slippery roads and bundling up with coats and scarves and gloves and boots. This year’s peas were shucked at the picnic table on our campsite instead of our own back porch, but there was something even sweeter than usual about them. THIS year, we don’t have to rush back to work after the holiday. We don’t expect to ever have to shovel snow again. Oh, I get butterflies in my belly thinking of that, but I do wonder – will we still appreciate the first peas of summer 2014 without the winter experience? I’m willing to give the peas a chance.
I’ve been looking at lots of other blogs and travel writing lately and noticed that most folks seem to be Big Picture People. They post photos of themselves on the edge of the Grand Canyon or wide vistas of mountains, fields, forests, or rivers. Their tales are about the long roads they’ve traveled, the amazing sights they’ve seen, the hugeness of their adventure.
By comparison, Everett and I are small folks. Not in size – Everett’s a great big fellow of 6’4”, and while I’m short (never mind how short), I’m what you’d call a “large woman”. But our view of the world seems to focus on the little things, the small details, the daily-ness of life. Since retiring and not being required to rush and hustle and juggle priorities, we’ve relaxed into a place of contentment and small miracles of perfect moments. If you’ve followed us on Facebook you know that not every day has been serene, but even the tough ones have had their small joys. These are what we want to share, and as an example I’ll tell you about a recent “moment.”
During a 4-day stretch of rainy days, Everett – who was puttering in the campground work yard – heard a small splashing and scrabbling noise. A few minutes of investigation led him to an old barrel that had been left out and was about half full of rainwater . . . and a very wet, very tired chipmunk swimming his little stripes off trying to find a way out. They made eye contact and Everett said the message was clear: “HELP?” So Everett slowly tipped the barrel over to let water and chipmunk flow safely onto the ground. The chippy didn’t move right away – he got his feet under him, caught his breath, realized he wasn’t going to die today, and thanked Everett with another look. After a bit he walked away as quickly as his waterlogged fur would allow (rather like a toddler with a full diaper) and disappeared into the brush. We wish the little guy well and hope that he’s the same one we’ve seen on the woodpile since. A small survivor keeping an eye on his champion.
Just a bit of back story on today’s post. It happened more than a month ago while we were in Charleston, SC. I haven’t posted it before ’cause it’s not a story I’m proud of. But Everett’s been itching to tell you himself. So … today’s post is from the mouth of Everett. Be warned.
It was a very nice sunny day and we were taking a pleasant bike ride through the Johns Island County Park, which has miles of paved bike paths along the salt marshes and through the woods. Earlier in our ride, we’d gone past a small troop of girl scouts and their leaders who had spent the night in the park campground. They were all about 10 or 12 years old, cute as buttons, and excited to be enjoying their first outdoor adventures. As we came around a corner on the path later in the day, there they were again – posed on a park bench for a group photo. Ethel, affected by the fresh air and thinking she was 20 knowing all the hip internet lingo, got it into her head to “photo bomb” the girls. That’s when you jump uninvited into someone’s picture as a surprise and it apparently is all the rage amongst young folk (though I’ve got no idea why). So off she rides, ready to plunge into the group photo with arms spread wide and a goofy grin on her face – forgetting that she’s never been too successful at balancing the bike even WITH both hands and her full attention. I knew it was going to be a disaster, but one I couldn’t stop. And it was. Ethel went flying ass over teakettle onto the pavement, the bike flipped up and landed on her, the girl scouts froze in shock with eyes wide, and their leaders rushed to the rescue, as I stood shaking my head. End results: Girl scouts are probably emotionally scarred for life, but will never forget their trip to the park; Ethel is bruised from head to toe with skinned knees and palms, but luckily didn’t break anything this time; I had to repair the bike and get us back on the road. Worst of it was that the darned girl scout leaders never even took the photo.
Saturday morning the gear heads and garage rats and even some young steam punks brought out their cars and trucks and tractors and antique engines (like the ones that ran our farms in 1900) and even a couple of steam boats. It was quite a spectacle and Everett took lots of pictures to share with you (see below). The hillside was covered with couples strolling hand in hand, kids running free, old men with their heads together planning next winter’s projects. Some of the kids were the children of the kids who’d been running around a decade ago making friends who became their spouses. You could see the spark of a lifelong obsession with engines ignite in a young man’s eyes as he got under the hood of a truck older than his father. The Lions Club on-site chicken BBQ Saturday evening only cost $10 for half a chicken, roasted corn on the cob dipped in melted butter, potato salad, bread & butter, a slice of watermelon, and a cup of punch. (You’d best be there by 4pm or the tables will be full and the wait will be long.) After supper, folks gathered for live music by Doc Barter’s All Star Wrong Road Band, and the fireworks started after dark. One family brought their portable fire pit out to the center of things. Remember, these are New Englanders – they hadn’t gone to Camping World and spent $89 on a factory made decorative fire pit. They’d salvaged the wash tub from an old Whirlpool clothes washer – it was light weight, tall enough to hold several hour’s worth of wood, and the little holes in the sides let the fire shine through like the twinkling of stars. There were red hot dogs on sticks cooked over the fire and dipped in Ray’s mustard as well as s’mores made with peanut butter cups and stale graham crackers being passed around. You could hear loon calls, small waves lapping at the lakeshore, and (less pleasantly) one hysterical 6-year old whose brother reassured her the spider was really more afraid of her than she was of it. As the fire burned down folks slowly carried sleepy children back to their campsites or cabins, a few hardy souls stayed up to be sure all was secure (or maybe to drink a few more beers), and the women quietly discussed how nice it was that – due to a mysterious lack of internet connections – even the teenagers had spent the day running, swimming, laughing and generally participating with their families. I believe that so long as the Watson Wheels & Water Show (and other events like it across the country) continue to happen every year, the America-we-want-to-be will stay strong and proud and free and there will be hope for the future. It’s not about the engines at all.
Saturday morning at the Wheels & Water Show starts with everyone walking around the field admiring the vehicles on display. As always, my favorite is Dana Watson’s Model A with “seasonal accessories.” Back in the day roads were maintained for horse-drawn sleighs, not cars with rubber tires. Each town would have a large team of work horses pull a huge roller to pack down the snow on the primary roads. If you wanted to drive your automobile, you’d jack up the front to attach the wooden skis to the outside hub of the axles. Then you’d jack up the rear and run the steel traction tracks around both rear wheels on each side. THEN you’d be in business and could maneuver across the icy lanes dodging horses and sleighs and kids on sleds. Today, Dana still drives the thing across the pond each winter to visit the ice fishing shacks of friends and neighbors. It might not go very fast, but it can haul a lot of firewood (and maybe some brandy) to keep them shacks warm.
In spite of it being Father’s Day Weekend (i.e. mid-June and almost summer), the gentlemen gathered around this Model A got to sharing winter stories such as this one:
Skip and Agnes Bailey lived near the end of the peninsula just far enough that it was easier to get to the store across the pond than to drive down the road. One year, early in the winter when most of the pond had frozen over, Skip asked Agnes if she would walk across to get him some smokes and beer. Since it was a bright day and a walk would do her good, she agreed and asked him for some money. He told her not to worry. “Just put it on our tab, old man Stacey won’t mind.” So Agnes walked across the ice, got the smokes and beer at the store and then walked back along the same route. When she got home with her packages, she asked Skip, “You always tell me not to run up a tab at Stacey’s store. Why didn’t you just give me the money?” Skip replied, “Well, Agnes, I didn’t want to send you with cash when I wasn’t sure how thick the ice was yet!” They say Agnes had a December 1st appointment with Attorney Lester “Divorce is my Middle Name” Bradford.
Father’s Day Weekend Everett and I left our RV and joined the folks at the Annual Watson’s Wheels & Water Show in Maine. This event is much like stepping through a time machine into 1957 and is one of the highlights of our year. The Watson family own a good chunk of waterfront property that’s been allowed to remain pretty much the same as it was 50+ years ago with rustic cabins and huge old pines and hand built docks. We stayed in the little cabin here. No A/C, no heat, no drywall, no need for any of it. Just a cozy little kitchenette, tiny bath, sleeping room, and screened in porch. We went to bed with the peaceful sound of the lake lapping at the shore and woke with the loons’ early morning calls.
The event got started as an adjunct to a local music festival when some friends decided it was more fun to showcase their winter projects than to drink & dance with the tourists. Today it involves 3 generations of gearheads and steam engine aficionados who bring their antique cars, trucks, tractors, boats, and stand-alone engines, along with their tents & campers, for a weekend full of old fashioned fun. It starts Friday evening with a pot luck supper under the canopy – everyone from nursing babies to elders with canes and walkers, and all ages in between, gather with a casserole or bowl of salad or tray of cookies. You won’t see a store-bought tub of anything. After supper the relaxing begins with folks walking between campsites, sitting around campfires, and wading in the cool lake water. After dark, one group set up a bonfire using a hollowed out log about 5 feet long. They cut a notch in the base of one end, set it upright in the fire pit, loaded it with kindling, and set it ablaze. The fire burned inside and the flames and sparks rose to great heights without consuming the exterior of the log – looks like a giant roman candle and attracts kids and adults alike who gather with camp chairs and marshmallows and family stories and news of what’s happened since last year.
There was so much going on that I’m going to take several days telling you all about it. Please check back tomorrow for more!
Everett and I are “workamping” in New Hampshire this summer. I’m happily behind the front office counter answering phones, making reservations and fielding guest questions like “Can we use the pool?” from 3 teens in bikinis – at 8:30pm with outside temp registering 52 degrees Fahrenheit. Everett is working outside mowing lawns (in the rain), cleaning restrooms (from the results of much use during the rain – can you say MUD?) and hauling firewood. At 7pm each night the antique fire truck hooks up the hay wagon (with the hay bales wrapped in plastic bags against the rain), sounds the siren to call the kids, and makes a circuit of the campground at about 2 mph as campers come to the edges of their sites to wave at the kids. Everett’s responsible for driving the golf cart behind the hay wagon to keep bicycles and dogs and anyone else from tailgating. So far this has not been an issue, but should the sun ever come out it might.
As I mentioned yesterday, we’ve been enjoying “electric fireplace stories” with our neighbors. Fred and Winnie from site 52 remembered the first time they camped in their new travel trailer. They was some proud of it and excited to have “moved up” from a tent to a hard-sided trailer with electricity. It was after dark when they arrived, but they got it all set up on site, plugged into the 30amp outlet and went inside to enjoy the luxury of “shore power”. But when they started turning things on, they realized that the only ones working were being run off battery power. Winnie went crazy with worry that there was a short circuit somewhere that would cause a fire. Fred was angry that the camper salesman had sold them a defective trailer. They spent the whole first night arguing and cussing and generally being miserable. The next morning they went outdoors to investigate the issue in the light of day – and realized they’d never flipped the switch on the campground outlet to “on”! Enough said.