How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck?

September 9, 2008 at 8:16 pm (Authors, Books, Dogs, Jasper, Recipes, Rosina Lippi, Sara Donati, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

Life is but a dream...

Sammy and I had come home from our long weekend of night shifts and slept the sleep of the deep and dreamless. Well, not dreamless. September is always a strange month for me. It is the month when I feel the change of the seasons pull me most strongly. When I was younger and first out on my own I used to change apartments every September. In these later years I roam far afield, collecting flower seeds and odd pods, watching leaves turn and grasses brown. I write more, create more, and dream more in September. So, the dream I had was typical for the month. I always dream in color, and usually in great detail. In the dream I was on top of a ridge admiring the long grasses that moved with the breeze and sloped down to the woods line. An old woman was standing with me, her white hair down to her waist. I asked her, “What must I do?” She told me that I must build a fence of green branches and she swept her arm across what seemed an impossible expanse of space. I started the work, taking only a branch or two from each tree, knowing I could strip the tree and take all its branches as some would do to shorten and ease the task, but choosing instead to roam further and further to find my branches. As I went, I would collect plants and seeds to plant along the fence as it took shape. When I stripped the branches I would fashion bird houses, and baskets that I filled with earth and seeds until the fence became a living thing. Sometimes as I returned I would see the old woman. She became younger as the time passed. And so did I. All the middle age weight came off as I walked and worked and my arms and legs grew muscular again and my own hair grew out long and beautiful. I woke up when I realized in the dream that I really had to pee. I kept looking for a place to pee but kept thinking, “Not here, I can’t pee here.” It’s good I didn’t find a place or Sammy might have had a rude awakening!

Warm hands, warm heart!

A few days ago I had called one of neighbor Dot’s sons who has a hundred acre farm about a mile from us. For the past umpteen years he has allowed us to cut firewood from this, his mom’s, or other properties he owns. He explained a long time ago that a good land steward will judiciously cut standing dead trees, fallen trees, and encroaching trees from field borders. This encourages straight growing timber and lets in more sunlight to field edges. What is culled is firewood. We heat primarily with a wood stove in the winter, using our heat pump only when we are going to be away for more than 24 hours. Our wood stove is a handmade affair my dad had made. The body will accommodate a sixteen inch chunk of wood. Let me just say that I’ve had all kinds of heating systems in my life (gas, oil, coal, electric, hot water baseboard) and wood beats them all in my opinion. With the wood stove going in the basement the floors are warm to the feet and the heat finds every nook of the house. I can stay barefoot inside in the winter and be comfortable.

Pickup that needs a 'Pick-me-up!'

Well, this was the day we had designated as our first day of woodcutting. It was late afternoon by the time we got up and we wanted to get one truck load cut and brought home before dark. We have an old Nissan truck that we use as a farm truck. It has a crunched in front end, more rust than paint, an acrylic driver’s side window and back window that are caulked in place (Sammy is so proud of THAT fix) and a tailgate that will fall off on your foot if you aren’t careful opening it. The gas gauge hasn’t worked in years so we pour a few gallons from the gas can in it each time we use it.

Best to be prepared...

Sammy and I “dressed for the occasion”. Long sleeves, pants, and sturdy shoes. Cutting wood this early in the season has a few considerations. Primarily, until the first hard frost, the poison ivy is still full of juice and vengeful. Until I wised up I used to miss a day or two of work every fall due to oozing, blistered, itchy, raw poison ivy on my forearms from carrying wood chunks to throw in the truck. Secondly, there are still copperheads around while the days are warm and the rocks offer heat and shelter. I’ve never (knock on the woodpile) come across one but it is very much a possibility. A copperhead bite is rarely fatal or even all that serious for an adult but it is frightening, unpleasant, and something I don’t want to have to tell a story about! As the day’s temperature was in the 80’s, humid, and breezeless (not the ideal day to run a chainsaw and heft chunks of wood) we also donned headbands so the sweat wouldn’t drip into our eyes. I know what you’re thinking and yes, of course, we ARE old hippies and we sure do look the part. Sammy has long hair past his shoulders and his headband was a rolled handkerchief. It was also pink and had dancing unicorns and rainbows on it. Mine was a rugged red bandanna. What can I say, real men wear whatever the hell they want and my man likes dancing unicorns and pretty rainbows. Have a problem with that and I’ll beat you up… 🙂

We loaded up the truck with the chainsaw, 2 cycle oil, gas can, chainsaw tool, bottles of water, bug spray, toilet paper, our dog Jasper, and we headed out. Our friend had called us to say he had trimmed and cut down trees that had grown along the fields on his property and we were welcome to the wood. We headed out. The property isn’t too far from home and the short drive led us on a dirt road through Frog Hollow. This is a still wild area where I’ve seen deer, fox, a huge blacksnake hanging from a tree, skunk, raccoon, groundhog, red-tailed hawks, mink, and sometimes fairies and other enchanted folk. One of my favorite poems, “Verbena” (written by my alter ego September Butterfly) came from my wanderings in this area.

Fear the Chiggers!

We drove up the dirt drive and across the fields up to the top of the ridge to park the truck. Despite the high humidity the view here was still breathtaking. We could just see the tip of Buffalo Mountain, seven miles away! And, if we had remembered the binoculars, we could have just made out the clearing that is our own modest homestead two ridges over. Before we got started we sprayed each other down with enough bug spray to have the pesticide environmentalists paying us a visit. This is a fairly recent anointing following our experience when we harvested elderberries for our elderberry wine. We had, on that occasion, neglected to wear suitable clothing or any bug spray and suffered the ravages of chiggers. Chiggers, for those who have never experienced them, are microscopic insects that burrow under your skin and emit an enzyme to liquefy the surrounding tissue which they then feed on. The area becomes red and unbearably itchy. The little bastards are self limiting in about three days but it is a miserable three days. Along with my elderberries I got about a dozen or so bites but Sammy became a metropolis of chiggers. They had condos and apartments and went jogging in the park. He must have had 40 or 50 bites. We now have a borderline irrational fear and hatred of them.

Eydie and Sammy stock up on firewood for the winter.

Anyway, Sammy fired up the chainsaw and I began loading up the truck. The small brush that remained I stacked into piles that our friend will later use his backhoe to push into a huge mound in the field. Come this winter and a good snowfall he will have a magnificent bonfire. The pieces we cut this first load were all small enough that they would not have to be split. Pieces that have too big a circumference have to have the axe taken to them. Our sons are good at splitting wood. One mighty well aimed blow and a chunk is split. Me, I have to use a wedge. And use a wimpy little thunk for fear of missing and chopping into my leg. It isn’t pretty and I generate more heat getting a piece split than I do burning it! We got a truck load of wood cut and we were done in for the day. Cutting wood when the fall air is crisp and clod and the leaves are falling in little dances as you work and the sweat cools as it forms is delightful. Cutting wood when there is no air moving and the sweat soaks into every crevice of your body and the wood chips as they fly stick and itch and make you look like you have a fired chicken coating is a CHORE. And all the poison ivy sits there with a smirk on its leaves and waits to ambush any exposed skin.

We filled up the back of the truck and packed all our gear and started for home. Jasper had to sit half on my feet and half on my lap but with his head hanging out the window he was content. As we drove home with the last of the day’s light we agreed that we would NOT unload the truck that night. I was ready for a shower. We striped off our poison ivy contaminated clothes and hung them outside until wash time. As I padded upstairs to the shower in the clothes God gave me I was glad I live in an area where I have no visible neighbors. And the neighbors would be glad I wasn’t visible just then either!

After we got cleaned up I was “whupped”. Hungry. Cranky. I knew before Sammy even opened his mouth that he would suggest we snap the huge bag of green beans we had picked a few days ago and cook them with some potatoes and ham. And make some of Granny’s homemade cornbread. I was whining, opting for some cheese and pretzels and a beer. But, and chant along with us, Brother John, NO PRODUCE MUST BE WASTED! So, for the next 45 minutes, Sammy sat in the big brown chair and I sat on the floor and we companionably snapped beans and watched politics on TV. Sammy watched politics. I kibitzed until Sammy told me to be quiet so he could hear. I cooked up the ham, green beans, and potatoes in a little chicken broth and made up a pan of cornbread in the big black iron skillet. (Granny’s Cornbread Recipe is in our Food and Wine Recipes section). We put on some corn to boil and Sammy cut up a few ripe tomatoes. I felt much better after we ate. I felt so much better that since I was already in my pajamas I climbed into bed and read an hour or so of Into the Wilderness.

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Beekeeper Dan Comes For A Visit (Part 1)

September 6, 2008 at 10:03 am (Bees, Carboy, honey, New friends, Recipes, Visit, Yeast) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

A visit from Beekeeper Dan

We had been anticipating a visit from Beekeeper Dan for a couple of weeks and just couldn’t seem to get schedules to mesh, so when he let us know that yesterday would work out, we were tickled pink. The day before we had racked our wines from carboy to carboy to get rid of the first lot of “settlement” (dead yeasties and fruit pulp and such) and had been delighted to find that our mead was not in “stuck fermentation” as we had feared and agonized over for better than a week, but was still working, just working at it’s own slow pace. Sammy had worried so much that he had driven after work (night shift) to our local wine making supplier and slept in the car (again) until they opened. He was advised to go home, have a home brew and relax and let the mead ferment at its own pace. That was okay with us, even though our yeasties ride the little yellow school bus, we still love them!

I had been having a shamefully laid back day off. I had slept the long sleep of one who was avoiding watching the the republican convention (or any other convention) and woke up early. It was promising to be a scorcher of a day, hot and humid, but the morning offered a coolish breeze as I fed the shed cats and house kittens, cleaned litter boxes, rinsed and refilled water bowls, rescued Guido’s tank mates from his cannibalistic hunger, and fed the dogs. Sammy has decided that we should try to limit our power usage to off grid hours so he had done a load of laundry near midnight. As I hung the clothes out on the line the hummingbirds seemed to be fascinated either by my pajamas or Sammy’s socks and underwear because they hovered for seconds at a time in front of me in a rather quizzical fashion.. Best not to speculate the ADHD mind of the hummingbird. House chores done, I poured my second cup of coffee and wandered out back to check out my fine bed of Stonecrop sedum that was in full bloom. It was covered with honeybees and I couldn’t wait to show Beekeeper Dan. They were beauties, amber abdomens with black stripes against the pink sedum flowers. I watched to see where they went as they flew off. Somewhere into the sun…

Next thing I knew it was time to take a nap. Night shifters as we are, day time functioning requires a mid afternoon nappy. I melted into the bed even before Sammy had finished checking his E-mail. 45 minutes later I sat bolt upright, gasped, and said, “Granny!” Sammy said, “Wzzzt wzzmm?” I said, ” I don’t have any food made to offer Dan!” My grandmother (Granny to us, God rest her soul) would have been appalled that I had company and didn’t offer to feed them something. It’s the code of the country that as soon as someone crosses your doorway you start trying to stuff food into them. I can remember coming home from college to visit my Granny and Granddad and no sooner had I hugged and kissed hello than Granny was pulling out platters of sliced ham or turkey and Granddad was taking a pan of cornbread out of the oven and soon the table was groaning under the weight of “a little snack to tide you until supper”. Sammy was, by this time snoring again so I laid there and quietly tossed and turned and fidgeted and wracked my brains for an idea. We had been putting off going to the grocery store for several days to maybe over a week or so and Old Mother Hubbard ruled the pantry. I had racks of canned stuff I was going to share, but few people other than me can really sit down an enjoy an entire meal of pickled beets.

Blueberry Cobbler

So I lay there, mentally going over every offering of cupboards, pantry, fridge, and freezer. Freezer! I had it! The frozen blueberries from neighbor Dot! The day was saved and Granny’s spirit could rest easy. I got up and in short time had made a blueberry cobbler. Easy, and soooo tasty. Dot had frozen her blueberries in one cup baggies so I took four of these and ran cool water over them in a colander until they had thawed. In a medium saucepan I mixed a half cup of sugar and two tablespoons of cornstarch. To this I added the blueberries and heated the mixture, stirring constantly, until it boiled. This was allowed to boil for one minute (stirring) and then poured into an ungreased 2 qt. casserole. The oven had been preheated to 325 and the blueberries were placed into the oven while the topping was prepared. The topping consisted of a half cup of exceedingly lumpy brown sugar, a half cup of flour, a teaspoon of cinnamon, and a half cup of some multi grain high fiber cereal with oats and bran flakes, honey “clusters”, and rocks and twigs. A third cup of margarine was “cut” into this and this topping was crumbled on top of the blueberries. This was heated through until the topping was browned and crunchy. Since the topping was already crunchy this was a little hard to assess. I winged it and hoped for the best. If you don’t have any “twigs and rocks” cereal a half cup of oatmeal will do. And it really is better if the brown sugar isn’t lumpy. I had to beat mine with the side of the meat tenderizer until it submitted to my demand. (A recipe for Eydie’s Blueberry Cobbler)

Then I put together a care package for Dan of some of my recent canned goods, some flower seeds I’d been collecting (lunaria, hollyhock, poppy, zinnia, and marigold), and his empty honey jars and wine bottle. Next I did a quick poop scoop of the area around the house. Nothing kills the mood of a nice visit more than a shoe full of dog poop. The evening was shaping up nicely so I sat out on the deck with the mandolin and worked on the waltz “After the ball was over…”

Dan arrived on his Italian motorcycle. The purpose of his visit (other than a visit) was to asses our property for “bee worthiness” and discuss the best site for a hive. We also wanted to “talk chicken.” Sammy and I had been meeting such happy, friendly free range chickens over the past week that we wondered if a few might like to join our household. (And not be terrorized by the other animals. I, for one, have heard Guido express a fondness for chicken, should one ever pass near his tank.) More about our visit later.

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