Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year Sampler

(Photo by Tyler Finck)

As we sit on the couch, sampling from a box of chocolates, it's tough to wrap my head around what sort of year 2012 has been. I can't find the right analogy, so I'll say just say it straight: it hasn't been easy, but after the year it's been I can say without any doubt that in life, you never know what you're going to get.

But when I remember 2012, I'm choosing to remember the last week. So with that, as you'll read below, It's been a great year.

Goofers on Madison 

"Goofers," I said.
"What's a Goofer?" they asked. 

 Kevin was wearing Carhartts and an L.L. Bean Parka. He decided to forgo a backpack, and had apparently stolen his cute little mittens from his 6-year old daughter. Pete had on low-top trail runners, relying on the fact that they were Gortex to keep them from filling with snow, or perhaps he was thinking that the magic textile would keep the sneakers once they were filled with snow. At least Tyler's beard made him look like he knew what he was doing. 

They were Goofers. Grossly unprepared hikers. And I was leading the way. 

All three of them could run a half marathon faster than I could hike four miles through the mountains. All three had done significant hikes: Tyler has recently been exploring the Adirondaks, Kevin has done Katahdin numerous times and Pete thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. 

But today, a day after Christmas, we were on my turf. Valley Way to the Madison Hut and up to the summit of Mt. Madison. In the winter and in the snow. 

Were they actually that unprepared? Nah. But with this crowd, any weakness is fair game to be picked on. Whether it's a lack of trimness to your manly figure or one bad time in in the 800m , its exploitable. You know what.. fuck it, they were Goofers. 

The snow on Valley way was nicely packed. At the hut, there was barely a sound, the wind stunted trees frozen into snow drifts and trail signs with their windward sides crusted with rime ice, a result of being wind blasted with cold, served as a nice reminder of how rare a nice day like this was. 

And we even made the summit of my favorite peak, Mt. Madison, as a merry band of Goofers. And I've never laughed so much on a hike. 

(Photo by Tyler Finck)

(Photo by Tyler Finck)

A "Roof" for Our Chickens

Our poor neglected chickens hate the snow and it hasn't taken long to figure out that we hate chickens being indoors all the time and the alternative, shoveling the run. 

So do we let the birds stay inside, plucking each others feathers and overeating in boredom (holy shit, do we have kids?) or do we break our backs shoveling their run and throw them outside— only to have half of them come right back in.

The run needed a roof. But they already had windows with latches, an outdoor area with a roof might just be too much. And buying materials for another roof? That would literally be too much. 

We don't have many coniferous trees on our land, but lately the few we do have been turned from green to white, their branches covered in snow.

An excuse to use the chainsaw. Knock one down. Off with it's limbs. We'd been meaning to cut that pesky balsam fur down anyway. It blocks our few south and filters out much of our precious morning light in the heart of the winter. 

With over a foot of new snow on the ground, and more starting to fall, we practiced our open faced notch, fell the 25' tree perfectly alongside the chicken run, and spread its limbs evenly over the fencing that was already securing the top of the run.  Our chickens a perfect "green" roof for nothing more than an afternoon together. 

Backyard Skiing

Coffee. Fresh eggs. Snow blow your way out of your driveway. Put your ski boots on in your living room. Turn right out of your driveway and drive five minutes. Park. 

It's going to be a good day. 

There were two cars in the parking area at the Doublehead Trail Head, but no one else was in site. I had 6" of fresh snow to myself. Two miles up. Two miles down. My first ski run of the year. 

It wasn't the prettiest run. My legs had their typical early season kinks, my thighs burning with each turn, but the quiet moments with perfect glide and rhythm between turns, rolling over the features that make the old school backcountry trail special, made it all worth it. 

I coasted out the flatter section of the bottom, letting the wind whistle by as I dodge water bars and barely covered streams. It was hardy 9 a.m., the lifts at the local ski area were just filling up, as was the trailhead when I got back to my truck— snowboarders, ready to posthole there way up the pristine trail I had just come down, then come down, pushing all the fresh snow into piles, just like at the resorts.

But I was happy. I had my fun. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Homemade Egg Nog

We started with this recipe from Alton Brown and adapted — more nutmeg, different (and double) booze.

Here's the gist of what we did:

4 eggs. Separate the yolks and the whites.

Put the yolks in a large bowl, whisk them a bunch — they'll get a little lighter —then slowly mix in the 1/3 cup of sugar.

Add 2 cups of 1% milk, 1 cub of heavy cream, and 3/4 cup of booze, our choice was Cabin Fever Maple Whisky. I balked at this at first, but it was a success.

Add some amount of nutmeg.

Then, beat the heck out of the egg whites in a separate bowl until they got all whipped and stand up on their own. Add to the other mix, chill and enjoy.

In the future, we plan to experiment with adding vanilla, cinnamon and cloves.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Playing With Wood

For anyone who enjoys a level of self sufficiency there is nothing more useful than wood, and the best wood of all is free wood. Firewood from ones own land—free wood. It takes time and a little hard work, but compared to the oil guy connecting his money-sucking hose to the side of your house, free firewood is money in the bank.

As the days shorten and fishing season comes to an end but there isn't enough snow for ski season, it's firewood season. The trees have shed their leaves and gone dormant for the winter making them the driest they will be all year; prime cutting so that after a year of seasoning it'll be perfect for burning. The ground is frozen— no mud. The days are cool— less sweat. This years supply, cut a year ago, is starting to shrink— motivation.

The process borders on primitive. It's simple enough that the mind can relax while the body does the work.  Gravity makes the tree fall down and I cut it into 16" sections. I wheel barrel the logs to the wood shed. The simplest of forces, a wedge on a stick (a maul) splits the wood, and then I stack it. A year later and it's ready to become fire. And heat, with no thermostat to keep low.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Chickens and the Snow

They never wanted to be inside. And such a nice chicken coop; all the amenities, electricity, window latches and a floor deep with hardwood shavings. Dawn to dusk, they'd be out scratching in the dirt, picking bugs a stretching their wings. When loose, they ruled the neighborhood. 

Until today. The chicken run is quiet. Not a single bird print in the snow. Not even Roosty is claiming his slice of outdoor territory. His crowing has been silenced, leaving this little part of the East Branch Valley strangely quiet.

I can't say I blame them. Come late fall, I'm ready for snow, but a few inches of slushy mess, followed by rain and a dreary fog—there's a good reason I'm on the couch starting a new blog. 

Today's resistance to the snow is just another quirky reaction to an ordinary situation from these birds. I won't claim they have emotions, or an abundance of intelligence, but they have just enough curiosity to keep me on my toes. You can tease me for this if you want, but each chicken does have a little slice of personality. 

Not wanting to raise a flock of soft chickens who refuse to step foot in snow that doesn't even cover their feet, I tried to coax them outside. No luck, so I took the next logical step. With little fanfare, I snatched Mr. Rooster and tossed him into the center of the run. His feet landed solidly in the snow. He froze.

Ok not literally, but he didn't move. Roosty, always shuffling his feet, keeping me in his site, rounding up his hens, perpetually on guard, stood perfectly still. And silent. I took a step towards him; he hunkered down. He was not going to move, at least not on foot through this slushy bullshit. Finally, after a quick glance over his shoulder, he sprung, turned in midair, and flew to the first snowless part of the chicken ramp. 

I tried to see if the ladies were any tougher, and grabbed one of the Delware hens and placed her gently on a snowy tree stump in the middle of the run. She stood firmly in the snow and squawked and squeaked without moving her feet. Finally, her wimpyness for the snow trumped my softness, and I picked her up and plopped her gently back on the snowless ramp. The rest of the flock had gathered on the ramp to watch the escapades waddled back inside with Roosty and the Delaware bring up the rear.

They're just waiting for a powder day I told myself. 

Or they were waiting for me to shovel their run. Which I did this afternoon. Damn chickens are smarter than I thought. When I went into the coop to gather eggs, they were all nicely on their perches, looking at me quizzically, with their feeder (full yesterday!) half empty. 

"We stay inside all day, we eat all day."


Shovel, shovel... shuffle shuffle... and the chickens were outside the rest of the day.