Breakfast with Keene

June 30th, 2010

I think it was the day before we went to Chesterfield that my mom, Arlene, and I went out to breakfast at Red Hot Roasters with Keene.

Keene is an old friend of mom’s whom we’ve met before and whom she talks about all the time — mostly things like, “Keene brought me over a dozen eggs one day last week,” and “save the eggshells for Keene’s chickens.” So I had forgotten that besides keeping chickens, he’s a clinical psychologist. He also has pretty strong opinions, listens intently, and looks like an authentic weatherbeaten westerner.

Red Hot Roasters is run by a Chinese couple. They have very good food, but maybe only have one person in the kitchen and don’t seem to have figured out how to cook more than one thing at a time — so service is slow. But we were going there to talk, so it didn’t matter.

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Monday June 14

June 29th, 2010

We went with mom to Chesterfield, Idaho. I’m pretty sure I blogged about it the last time we went there, but it won’t hurt to repeat.

Chesterfield was settled in the late 1800s by Mormon farmers moving out of the overcrowded (!) Salt Lake City area. Chesterfield was never overcrowded, and less so now. To folks from the East like us it looks like the middle of nowhere, but the most beautiful nowhere you could ask for:

The town was on the route of the Oregon Trail, and the founders expected that a railroad or major road would eventually go through it. That didn’t happen. The railroad went through Bancroft, ten miles south, and the through road going east and west is another ten miles south of that. That means that to drive to Chesterfield you have to drive twenty miles out of your way, passing nothing but a couple of dozen farms and Bancroft. The town was just too isolated to be economically viable. By the end of the 1950s it wasn’t really a town any more. Sometime in the last ten years or so some descendents of residents decided to restore the old houses and other buildings, places they remembered from visiting their grandparents. It’s been slow, but a labor of love.

We got a tour of several old buildings from Jack Jensen, a great-grandson of Denmark Jensen, whose cabin is in the middle distance here:

Do you understand why I love to go out to Chesterfield when we’re in Idaho? I wouldn’t put it on a list of the top ten things to see in the state, but it’s too bad that more people can’t see it. As long as you’re not looking at the road, you can pretend it’s 100 years ago.

We saw the Ira Call cabin:

Drove past the Ruger dugout:

Looked at the notions department in the Mercantile:

and saw one of the few surviving original McCormack “Daisy” reapers:

— not to mention the blacksmith shop.

The nearest place to get lunch was in Soda Springs, fifteen miles down the main road (after driving those 20 miles back to the main road.) There’s a geyser in Soda Springs, a little strange because it’s capped; there’s a timer that lets it erupt on the hour. Arlene and I saw it erupt once several years ago. Spray from it, with minerals that dissolved in the superheated water, got on our rental car. The minerals wouldn’t dissolve in normal hot water. When we left our the Geyser View Restraurant this time, I asked the waitress, “Does everyone in this town park too close to the geyser once?” She laughed and said, “It’s terrible! The only thing that seems to wash it off is a good rain!”

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June 29th, 2010

A day or two before we got to Pocatello someone had called my mom to ask for help with bird identification (this happens all the time to birders. Usually the callers don’t give you enough information to make an ID.) “Can you tell me what kind of birds are in my backyard? They’re goldfinches with red heads, and they’re eating my bees.” Mom figured out that they weren’t goldfinches at all, but western tanagers. Normally the tanagers don’t live in the valley here, but are found on the surrounding hills; but this spring has been so cold that they may not be finding enough insects yet on the slopes but are staying downtown.

At any rate, Arlene was looking out the kitchen window later in the day and said, “There’s one of the tanagers!” I looked, and only saw a yellow and black bird with a faintly fly away from where she was pointing, but saw another more brightly colored bird on a different branch. The yard was full of them! All right, there were three or a half-dozen of them in the trees at the back of the yard. We’ve been seeing more every now and then; they don’t stay all day, but groups will come through and forage around the trees for fifteen minutes and then move on. They aren’t really tame, but they’re not much shyer than robins. I was able to get reasonably close with a camera. Other people have been telling us they have been seeing them; so I think there are probably several hundred tanagers in Pocatello this week.

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Bear River and Cache Valley trip

June 19th, 2010

On Thursday June 10 we got up early (my alarm is normally set for 6:15. When I say early, I mean substantially earlier than that. In this case, I mean 3:15 AM) to get on a 6:30 flight to Salt Lake City on our way to Pocatello. Although the pilot (“Hi folks. I wanted to let you know that if you ever wake up in the wee hours of the morning with a desire to find yourself seven miles above the surface of the earth, jetting around at 500 miles per hour in an aluminum tube, we at Delta will be happy to accommodate you”) warned us that there would be turbulence ahead when he detoured around some thunderheads that were extending to 55000 feet and producing hail two inches in diameter, it was a pleasant flight. We got in 20 minutes early, by 10 AM Mountain time. I took the Legacy parkway, a road that Utah seems to have built to take some of the traffic off I-215 and I-15 around the northwest side of the SLC metro area; it was a excellent alternate route, fast enough and with no trucks allowed.

We stopped at the Bear River wildlife refuge visitor center. The little marshy area in front of the visitor center had a cinnamon teal, a marsh wren, and excellent views of yellow-headed blackbirds — in fact, one blackbird was sitting on the bridge railing and didn’t mind having human beings six feet away from it. The refuge’s logo features an avocet, which we haven’t seen many of; but the people at the information desk told us that if we drove a mile to where the road was closed we might be able to see some avocets in the adjoining field. We did — I mean, we did drive there, and we did see several avocets right there, as well as western kingbirds. We took a side road they recommended along the Bear River to the next freeway entrance north and saw western grebes and a pelican in the river and glossy ibises flying.

We stopped for lunch in Tremonton at our favorite cafe in Utah, JC’s Country Diner, and stayed off the freeway for most of the rest of the way. I have always wanted to take the slower route north from there, through Logan UT and Preston ID, what’s called the Cache Valley, just to see what’s over there. Preston is where the movie Napoleon Dynamite was filmed; it’s maybe 60 or 80 miles southeast of Pocatello. There’s nothing really remarkable on that route, but it’s nice to get off the freeway and see the downtowns of the small cities and tiny towns in that part of the country and to see the farms and ranches from closer up.

If this were fiction, the hailstorm that the pilot avoided would be a foreshadowing of more of our trip. There was precipitation on the road between Tremonton and Logan that made too much noise on the windshield to be plain rain. It sure sounded like hail to me, sort of like being behind a dump truck that was dripping some of its load of fine gravel on your windshield. After a couple of minutes of that we were driving on a road that looked as though a truck had spilled a load of mothballs. It didn’t ever get much bigger than pea size, I don’t think; certainly not bigger than marble size; and didn’t last long.

It was a beautiful ride. There has been a lot of rain this spring, and everything was very green. There were snowfields near the tops of the mountains all around the valley.

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Good weekend for birds

June 1st, 2010

From Pomona, NY, we headed north on the Palisades Parkway, against the advice of the GPS which prudently thought going back to I-287 would be preferable. We crossed the Hudson on the Bear Mountain Bridge. It’s a beautiful spot, but I only recommend it if you are OK with a very winding road along a cliffs on the eastern side of the river. Eventually the GPS got us back to I-684, just one exit before the junction with 84 near Danbury.

We got to Casco at a reasonable hour of the evening.

Monday I walked out to check on my hazels (doing great! At this rate, they’ll be respectable bushes in another three or four years) and the Koosa dogwoods Matt and I planted last weekend. The dogwood we have in Newton has messy squishy red-orange fruit which sprout often enough that I dug up five flowerpots full of foot-high young trees to put around the place in Casco. We’ve tried in past years, but maybe haven’t dug up big enough root balls. At any rate, Matt and I put in two pots full, probably four trees, near Sleeping Rhino last weekend, and I put in one pot in the little clearing on the far side of the property that we call The Patio and one pot just across the driveway. Well, yesterday just as I got close to the one I had planted near Sleeping Rhino, a bird flew away from virtually underfoot and landed at waist height in the trees beyond the rock. I didn’t have my binoculars with me, so I didn’t get a real look at it. From the way it was behaving, hanging around at a minimum safe distance from me, I got the impression that it had some business where I had flushed it from — maybe it had a nest right there. I left so it could get back home, if that was indeed home.

Patsy had said she would like to get out in a boat. We have four people-powered boats; one 8 foot long aluminum rowboat, one fiberglass canoe, one two-seat kayak, and one one-seat kayak. All but the rowboat were in the sand room of our basement for the winter. Getting them out takes a little maneuvering. The one-seat kayak is no problem; the two-seat kayak isn’t hard if you watch where you’re going; but the canoe just barely fits through the door if you hold it at the correct angle and pay attention not to bump the oil tank and the water heater. The four of us got the three boats out with less trouble than I expected.

Charley and Patsy got in the canoe and Arlene and I took the two-seat kayak. We headed south near the shore, past Jack Carroll’s house and the three houses along Azwelikit Road, about to the first house in Hancock Beach. I called back, “Remember, we should turn around when we’ve had HALF as much fun as we want to have,” and Charley promptly said, “I think I’ve had half as much as I want,” so we headed back. Patsy said, “What’s that bird?” It was a loon, not very far away on the right. We all got a good look at it, and then it dove, and we didn’t see it for a while until it showed up ahead of us and on the left of our path. It dove again, and when we saw it next it was only two boat lengths away. It didn’t really seem to mind as we paddled along. It was as close as we’ve ever been to a loon.

Arlene said to Patsy, “If you want to keep canoeing, Charley and I can go home and you and Dean can stay out with the canoe,” so when we got back to our dock Charley got out, Arlene and I put the kayak on the shore, and I got in the bow of the canoe where Charley had been. We went the other way, past our association beach and more than halfway to a tiny island beyond it. At that point the wind picked up and the waves got to a disturbing size. We turned around before getting to the island and paddled back, into the wind all the way home. By the time we got back we had had all the fun we wanted.

This morning (if you’re keeping track, that’s Tuesday. I took a vacation day to stretch out the weekend, since we weren’t in Casco until Sunday night) I took binoculars back to Sleeping Rhino. I figured that if the bird I had flushed there was really nesting there, I would probably see it again in the same place. My best guess as to what it would turn out to be was based on the size, about sparrow-size, and having flushed it from the ground; the only ground-nesting bird that size I could think of was an ovenbird. Sure enough! It did flush from just about the same spot, flew to exactly the same place as before, I got a decent look at it with the binoculars, and it was an ovenbird. I took Arlene out to see it later, and again it flushed from the same place to the same place.

Also, good weekend for fish. Late in the afternoon we walked down to the association dock with fishing poles. On her second cast, Arlene got a fish. And not just any fish! It was a good black bass, definitely legal size even in Maine, a good fourteen inches long. It was hooked through the lip and I had squashed down the barb of the hook so it was easy to release. Maybe if we had caught it earlier in the weekend we would have kept it to print, but it’s swimming in the lake again now, not much the worse for the experience.

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Good weekend for NY-area relatives

June 1st, 2010

We started out Memorial Day weekend by heading south, to Skyview Acres in Pomona, New York (Rockland County — on the west side of the Tappan Zee Bridge). There was a gathering there for the dedication of a plaque in memory of my mom’s cousin Irving Wolfe, who had died last year at the age of 96.

We left Newton in the early afternoon Saturday and went to my aunt Mimi’s house in Mamaroneck. It was the first time I used cruise control on our new car (did I mention (no of course not, I haven’t posted anything in months) that we got a new car, a 2010 Subaru Forester with a sun roof and a radio that tells you what song is playing, if the station chooses to let you know). We had a quiet evening visiting with them and watching the National Geographic channel in their den (their living room is really too big for just four people).

On Sunday, after a big leisurely breakfast, because in a house with two people in their 80s everything goes at a pace that seems leisurely to the likes of us, even though everything in our house goes at a pace that seems leisurely to Matt and Anne, now where was I, around noon we left for Wolfe Field at Skyview Acres. In between breakfast and leaving I was looking through some books, a photo book about Texas cowboys for no good reason, and Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast because it was there and I have never read much of anything by Hemingway. Holy smokes, that guy could write. I should know that, of course, but as I said, I have never read much of anything by him and didn’t really know. That book is about when he was living in Paris in the 1920s, hanging around with Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald and other people who are now big names but were just his friends when he was struggling to sell stories to magazines and Fitzgerald was having trouble finding a publisher for Gatsby.

At any rate, with some help from our GPS we got to Skyview Acres well before the event was supposed to start. Joe Ziner, one of Evelyn’s nephews, and don’t think “nephew” means he’s under 50 because he isn’t, had brought a softball and some mitts, and after several minutes of chatting with everyone we recognized he and I started playing catch. I don’t think I had thrown and caught a softball in the past ten years, but I did remember how. It was more surprising given that it was a mitt for the left hand, that is, for a right-handed person, so I had to throw with my right arm. I didn’t even try to throw overhand, but underhanded I had adequate distance and control. It must come from juggling.

I should tell you, because I did tell Joe, that when I think of Irving and throwing things I have to remember that one day Irv and I were throwing snowballs at my family’s house in Lexington (so this was between 1955 and ’59) Irv hit me in the nuts with a snowball. Of course it was accidental, and no hard feelings, but it’s not something you forget.

Joe had also brought his fiddle and a guitar. He got out his violin and asked me if I happened to play guitar. I haven’t in about 20 years; when I started playing with the klezmer band I concentrated on brass; but I said I used to and would try to strum a few chords with him. I’m not 100% sure I added rather than detracted from the sound, but it was fun anyway.

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May 25 ’10

May 25th, 2010

I didn’t want to be hung up over choosing a title.

I bicycled to work today, for the first time in several weeks and maybe only the second time this year. I stayed in very low gears on all the uphill parts, but didn’t feel particularly tired out by the time I got there or got home.

We had a substitute in yoga class at work today, a young woman (who else would be a yoga instructor?) named Linda who had apparently taught the class there a couple of years ago but whom I hadn’t seen before. She started out the class with some Tai Chi moves (none of which we do in our Tai Chi class there, but which definitely had a Tai Chi feel to them. To me, anyway. I don’t know what the Chinese woman in the class thought of them. Later in the class the instructor mixed in some Pilates moves. I don’t think a yoga purist would have been pleased. It was a less strenuous workout than we usually have, punctuated by the instructor saying something like “phew!” at the end of difficult poses — which gave the impression that it was fine if you had found the poses difficult, too!

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Second Seder 2010

March 31st, 2010

We had seventeen people for the second seder, at various times; not seventeen at once, because Patsy had to leave early to get to work, and David had bad traffic coming from Boston and didn’t get here until we were well under way, and Anne had to work late so she and Matt got here after the soup course. We set up in the living room:

Gena and Rachael and all the kids were there the whole time.

Mason and Jared (2nd and 3rd from the left) are reading a mile a minute. I took down my shofar and played one note on it and was soundly criticized by Jacob (in the blue stripes, on his mom’s lap), who knew it was the wrong time of year for that sort of thing. I had no idea where I was going to put the afikomen, and ended up putting it in the middle of the pile of hagaddahs. I didn’t expect it to last a minute before being found, but it kept the boys busy almost until time for dessert — about perfect. Arlene had bought a batch of hot wheels cars with state themes, including a beach buggy for Hawaii and a woody station wagon for California, for afikomen presents. They went over well! Here are Mason and Baylor about ready to go home (or at least to David & Rachael’s to sleep), clutching their cars.

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Early spring woods

March 31st, 2010

Just for a quick update of what the woods looks like in the early spring, here’s, first, a grackle — back earlier than most of the spring migrants:

Second, a chipmunk, one of many that are running around our corner of Maine the last few weeks:

Some of a broken tree. There have been a lot of windy days lately, and there’s always at least one tree that’s almost ready to fall. This one looked to me like a wooden stalagmite.

… and a good look at Sleeping Rhino, without snow cover and without trees and undergrowth in front of it. This late winter and early spring we’ve had clearer views through the woods than ever before, because of the lack of snow recently.

And while not boiling down sap or walking around the woods, I finished sewing this shirt. Charley took the picture before I did the buttonholes and buttons, but it’s all done by now.

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First try at sugaring

March 10th, 2010

The weekend before last, that is, Feb 27 it must have been, we drove up to Slattery’s Farm and Maple Supply store in West Minot (pronounced like what you do with coal, mine it) to get what we needed to collect maple sap. That was to say, some taps to put in the tree, buckets to hang on them to collect the sap, and covers to keep bugs, stray leaves, and everything else that’s out there in the woods that you don’t want in your maple syrup out of the sap. The woman minding the store, presumably Joni Slattery, was very helpful. “Become a tree hugger,” she said. “If you can get your arms around a tree and touch your hands on the other side, it’s big enough to put a tap in. If you can reach all the way around to your elbows, don’t tap it. If you can’t get your hands anywhere close to each other on the far side, you can put in two taps.” The other customers also were happy to give us some encouragement and pointers. I was thinking that we were spending some money on the deal, and that it was going to be an expensive way to get maple syrup, but I realized that if we got two gallons of syrup with the equipment before it wore out we would have broken even on it. It could happen. After we paid, Mrs. Slattery said, “and with a purchase over $30, you get a free 10 pound bag of potatoes!” So we got more than we bargained for.

Collecting the sap is just the start. You need 40 times as much sap as you’re going to end up with syrup, and the 39 parts that isn’s syrup is water that you have to boil away. So the key is how you’re going to boil down the sap. “A lot of people use propane, something like a propane turkey fryer,” said Mrs. Slattery. We saw a turkey fryer for sale on Craig’s List, but we really wanted just the burner part, not all the turkey wrangling parts. We stopped at Cabela’s, a big outdoor outfitter store, on the way north last Friday, to look for a burner. A very knowledgeable salesman said, “Really, the least expensive thing we have that will work for you is this fish fryer…” and it looked just right, for $40 instead of the $150 Craig’s List price for the turkey outfit. Add the propane tank, and it’s going to take more like six gallons of syrup before we break even; but it’s for the learning experience and, we hope, fun.

First thing Saturday morning, I took the taps, buckets, a hammer, and a drill out to the maple trees we had scouted out. You need to drill the hole slanted slightly upwards —

hammer in the tap (not too hard; you don’t want to split the wood, or the sap will flow out below the tap instead of through it) —

— hang a bucket on the hook that hooks through the tap, and put a cover on it —

and that’s one tree tapped.

Before I drilled the first hole I wondered if it was really going to work. Before I had a chance to hammer in the first tap, it was clear that it was going to. There was sap dripping out of the hole immediately!

Of course I took lots of pictures of the process. I tried hard to catch the drops of sap dripping. This was perhaps the most successful picture:

I put in three taps (because that was all the tappable-size maples we had found close to the house.) We went out to the local hardware store for a tank of propane (which could be a post in itself — but won’t.)

The next morning I collected the sap. None of the buckets was as much as half full, but the three together added up to more than half a bucket — probably five quarts of sap.

I hooked the propane up to the burner, poured a couple of inches worth of sap in the pot, and started boiling it. The burner put out a lot more heat than a stove burner. The sap started bubbling a lot sooner than a teakettle with half as much liquid boils, even though it was a watched pot.

It would have been a better idea to warm up the sap that wasn’t in the pot yet, rather than having it on ice. I kept ladling in more sap as the pot boiled.

As the sap boiled down, it started to have a little of that golden maple syrup color

Syrup is done when the boiling temperature is 7 degrees above boiling (which isn’t 212, unless you’re right at sea level). The books say that you have to be really careful when it gets close to that temperature, or you may boil it over (and lose all that work!) or overdo it and end up with a scorched mess (also lose all that work). I brought the syrup indoors and finished it in a smaller pot on the stove when it had all boiled down to just a cup or two.

Finally, after I had been standing out in the snow for two hours and boiled down those five quarts of sap plus another quart that Arlene brought back before I had finished with the first batch, we had a little more than half a half-pint jelly jar of syrup!

Arlene immediately scooped out two bowls of vanilla ice cream and put some syrup on it!

Wait, is that really me with all those exclamation points?

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