February 9, 2007
Winter weather has finally arrived!
Sunny days this week with temperatures in the 20's meant that we had perfect winter walking weather. With only 4-5 inches of snow, the frozen ground was easy to traverse and we discovered yet more old logging roads on the mountain beyond our farm. We've explored this hill for decades, but revisited some old paths we hadn't been on for years and discovered that they met up with other paths, old and new. It's especially fun for Rosie to investigate this place more deeply - she has the hound's passion to know everything that goes on around here. The surface has changed a lot in her six years between the damming and flooding the beavers have done and the logging of the men. Our old path into the woods is quite flooded now, and our old route through the woods a complete mess. These newly discovered paths hold promise for a nice, new circuit that offers some outstanding views. Barley, noticing all the wood that we kept bringing into the house, decided to help by bringing long sticks of dead wood back from our walks. He carries them proudly!
We've been spending our time hunkered around the woodstoves, cooking and reading. This winter we're sharing books about the native Indians who lived in this area before the English arrived. While digging for a pond a couple of years ago, Ralph uncovered a large flat stone with an circular area worn into it - a grinding stone used by the natives to grind corn. (He'd also uncovered a perfect arrowhead when rototilling about 15 years ago.) This autumn he discovered a tool which fits perfectly into his hand - a mallet or pestle perhaps. We couldn't understand why this place seems to be so rich in relicts, but the answer is becoming clearer to us. Our road, Burt Hill, is actually a pass in a small ridge that leads south down to Pauchaug Meadows, the rich farmland in Northfield (Squakheag) alongside the Connecticut River where the natives grew corn. Up and over the hill to the north is the oxbow of the Ashuelot River, a rich fishing and hunting ground - each site a short walk of three miles or less. Even today our woods are inhabited by turkeys and grouse, and deer, bear and moose live here too. The woods also abound with grapes, and in the old meadows grow cousins of the same berries we cultivate - wild strawberries, blueberries and blackcaps. I've learned that most of the farming was done by the women and I'm honored to share this piece of land with other women who grew and preserved food. We've read a lot about the daily lives and seasonal lives of these people who preceded us and I think about them as I walk the hills. Much about their lives and native wisdom still rings true.
One thing above all has overtaken my head and heart, body and soul in the last month. My dad passed away on January 10.
In Memoriam - Lawrence Middlemas Powers - May 18, 1920 - January 10, 2007
He had such a smile - a grin that spread from big ear to big ear. His blue eyes laughed right along with his mouth and when he threw out that smile, we were all caught up in his net. Lots of people loved him, but if you were his daughter, well, that smile lit up your whole life.
At 33 he was an older first-time dad, but he had come of age during the depression, then had served in the Marines in the South Pacific throughout World War II, and by the time I came along in 1953 and my brother four years later, he was bursting with parental love. Our home and big back yard became a welcoming place for lots of kids. Dad proudly attended all my brother's sports games and my recitals and plays. Dad and my uncle even built a ski tow on the hill behind my cousins' farmhouse where we spent every winter weekend.
He loved me so very much and supported me enthusiastically, even when I made unconventional lifestyle choices - like leaving the entomology department and becoming an organic farmer. He loved hearing about my farmers' markets and wondered if everybody in Newton hadn't bought a bottle of vinegar from me already. He enjoyed showing up at events like the Keene Flower Show or Tower Hill's Autumn show and in a deep voice asking where was the "good French's mustard!"
In spite the temptation from my Mum's never-ending bounty of delicious home-made pies, cookies and breads, he kept himself fit and strong, playing golf into his 80's and working out on a Nordic track almost every day into his mid-80's.
When he was 82 he decided to saw an old dead limb off of one of the ancient oak trees in the back yard. He climbed the ladder about seven feet and had begun sawing when my Mum, who was holding the ladder called to him that it was slipping. Without his hearing aid, he couldn't hear her and the ladder swayed and he fell - directly on to my tiny 100-pound Mum, breaking her leg. That incident could have finished them both off, but they drew on their deep stores of love and optimism to heal and heal each other.
My mother is the love of his life, and her passion (and his) is her gardens. This past summer, Dad rototilled the vegetable garden (and the rest of the neighborhood's) and mowed his lawn, staked the tomatoes and helped mulch the beds, and kept up everything all season long. In the autumn, he raked all the leaves from under the ancient oaks and cleaned every leaf out of the old stone wall. His mind stayed vigorous too. He read several books every week and was such a favorite at the Shrewsbury Library that when he died, several librarians sent cards.
I'm so grateful that his health, mind and body were strong right up to the end. I'm so grateful that we got along very well and saw each other often, and I'm especially grateful for his ever-loving smile.
If you know me from farmers' markets or holiday shows, you know of the beautiful bouquets I bring of "Silver Dollars" - the dried form of the plant "Lunaria" which looks like a hundred coins of silvery-white. My Mum began growing those for me almost 20 years ago, sowing the seeds in the back of her vegetable garden and encouraging volunteers in the leaf litter under the old oaks. Every summer she would gather the stalks when the weather was sunny, and hang them in the greenhouse to dry. It was my dear-old-Dad who peeled every single seedpod - removing the outer coat and casting aside the small seeds to reveal the shiny coin. He literally peeled thousands of silver coins every summer for me. Mum would then arrange the dried flowers into bunches, wrap them and tie with a ribbon. I have a bunch in every room, and I see his smiling face in every shiny silver dollar. If you have one of my bunches of silver dollars, you can see my parents' love in every coin.
Mad Hatter's Pepper Preserve update
"El Jefe", a jalapeno pepper variety from Johnny's Seeds that Dancing Bear Tom introduced us to is an exceptional pepper - productive as all get-out, early ripening to red, and hot! We experimented with these when we put up Mad Hatter's Pepper Preserve last week and WOW! It's wonderful. For a short time, we have a choice in this preserve. We have both our original "pleasantly zippy" version of Mad Hatter's, and the new, HOT variety.