Northerners Anonymous

“Hello, my name is Ethel.”

Chorus:  “Hi Ethel!”

“Umm, yeah, my name is Ethel, and I’m a recovering Northerner.”

Chorus: “Welcome to Florida, Ethel!”

Look, I was born and raised in New England.  I believed to the bottom of my warm woolen double knitted socks that if you didn’t have the fortitude to stick out eight or nine months of cold and snow, you didn’t deserve to enjoy the short but perfect New England summer.

December in Maine

December in Maine

We used to joke about it:

“Say, Everett, what do you want to do this summer?”

“Gee I’m sorry, Ethel, I’ve got to work that weekend.”

But I was SOOOOOO sick of shoveling snow.  Again, I realize this is sacrilege to a good Northerner.  It’s healthy exercise, warms one up, clears paths and decks for winter use.  But we were tired of it and decided to winter down south after retirement.

So here we are in central Florida.  In December.  In the sunshine.  75° Fahrenheit.  No jacket.  Flip flops on my feet for crying out loud.  And BLOOMING FLOWERS!!!  No one ever told me there would be winter-blooming flowers!  I mean, I’d heard of Christmas Cactus and Poinsettias, but those are indoor plants that sit in your grandmother’s dining room.  Everett and I went to the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville this Monday and there was COLOR!  Outside!  We even saw a blooming BANANA TREE!

It IS winter.  It still gets dark around 4:30, 5pm down here, just like up North.  But the locals call anything below 70° “freezing”.  And I can walk my dog 3 times a day without spending 20 minutes getting bundled up before and unbundled after.  And I can stop to smell the flowers EVERY time.

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Saying Goodbye

We’re packing up and leaving NH this week.  Lots of end-of-season chores and time-consuming errands to do.  Parting from a loved one is never easy  and, after living in this beautiful place for five months, we feel that pang.  So this seems like a good time to relate the story of the Old Man of the Mountain.NH’s iconic Old Man was a group of rocks on a cliff edge that, when viewed from a particular angle, appeared as a rugged man’s face gazing over the hills.  The view was so popular it was used as the state emblem on license plates, coins, and millions of tourist gifts.  When I was a child, my family would drive to Franconia Notch Park every summer to view the Old Man and other White Mountain glories.  In 2003 he succumbed to gravity and water damage and fell.  Wikipedia has a lot of info about him if you care to visit.  What that site fails to mention is what we consider to be the “real” story . . .

Native Americans in the White Mountains tell of a chief who met his beloved at an intertribal pow wow far away.  He was able to bring her back to his mountain home only by promising her father that she would be able to visit her family from time to time.  The couple were very happy together for many years and their tribe thrived.  Eventually however, the woman wished to see her family again and a trip was arranged.  She left in the early summer and was expected to return by fall.  As the months went by, the chief deeply missed his wife and started climbing to the top of one mountain to look out over the land, searching for signs of her approach.  He went every day and stayed longer and longer.  The weather was growing colder and winter was approaching.  As the days shortened, his tribe became concerned for him.  They begged him to stop waiting on the mountain top – she’d come in the spring, they said.  The chief however, simply asked for a warm blanket and to be left alone.  He’d maintain his vigil until she appeared.  And maintain it he did.  When the tribe next checked on him they found nothing but his stony face staring from the cliff, awaiting the return of his love.

Many, many years passed.  Eventually, the spirit of the wife who could not return somehow made it back to the mountains.  Her love, still strong, released her chief from his long wait so they could spend the rest of time together.  And the stones fell.

Modern men made efforts to shore up the stone visage which so many people came to see.  The chief may have been forgotten, but his image was much loved.  So well loved, in fact, that a group raised funds and created a monument to him called Profile Park which makes it possible to see again the chief awaiting his love’s return.

The Old Man Reassembled

The Old Man Reassembled

Fall Projects 2

As I mentioned the other day, our friends and family are starting their fall projects.  Lonnie Wilson’s wife is after him to get their woodpile in order. He spent a good part of the summer splitting logs into stove-sized pieces and tossing them in a pile to air dry.

Lonnie Splitting Wood

Lonnie's Wood Pile

This type of pile takes up a lot of room and can be the source of problems during the winter.  The wood can get wet and freeze together.  If it thaws for a few days, the topmost pieces can tumble down unexpectedly.  If you take the wrong stick from near the bottom of the pile, the whole thing can collapse.  These issues not only make it an adventure to pull what you need to heat the house, but can affect the way the wood burns.  Most folks agree that the way to go is a neat stack with lots of airspace between the sticks and a small “footprint” with some type of cover (either a tarp or tightly spaced bark-side-up sticks on top).  So Lonnie was expecting to re-stack at some point.

Gladys Wilson has always had airs and ever since Lonnie was appointed to the Cemetery Committee she’s been doing her utmost to let folks know about his elevated status.  Now it’s one thing to insist on driving the newest, shiniest, most trendsetting truck in town, but to worry about the looks of your woodpile?!?!?  She found this picture on the Internet and has been hounding poor Lonnie to duplicate it in their dooryard.  Frankly, I don’t see it happening.

Artistic Wood Pile

Give Peas a Chance

first peasI 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.

Wheels & Water Show / Part 3

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.

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Wheels & Water Show Part 2

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. 002

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.

We Go Camping at the Wheels and Water Show

ImageFather’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!