Normally I’d be out in the sugar shack by now. It’s not really a shack, more like a roof over the arch and evaporator I use to make maple syrup. But the weather ain’t cooperating. Very cold. Bitter cold. But, on the horizon, there may be warmth coming.
February is really when you get out the most up here in Vermont; the days are a little longer, the sun a little warmer and it feels, sometimes (for a fleeting moment or two) that winter might end and that it’s worth dreaming over the seed catalogs.
This year in addition to the usual, I saw ice swimmers at Lake Memphramagog, buffalo roaming the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont and began what I call Humans at Work which I will be publishing in due time. I have begun with Shelburne Orchards (four seasons; February/March is mostly pruning time) and with Joe O’Leary, a farrier.
In Vermont the official calendar shows that January has 109 days. It doesn’t really, but it certainly feels that way. One begins to yearn for sugaring season long about the second week of January, as the impossibly short days and the bitter cold takes hold of you, your home, your world. This year has been a winter of old — lots of snow and bitter cold, with intermittent and momentary rushes of thaws.
But the month also brought a rare treat — clear, smooth ice for skating. But only for a few days.
There is an excitement in December — the possibility of a big snow, the transition to a time of year when you actually adapt and go outdoors more, to ski or snowshoe or chop wood or hike. Things quiet down.
Vermont in November is, in some ways, the bleakest time. All but the beech trees have lost their leaves; the cold wind reminds you that the long winter is approaching. The garden is mostly harvested, the prospect of growth and greater abundance is gone.
But November also can be magical in its grays and muted colors, the surprise snow, the flights of geese overhead, the restless deer and turkey — even bears are on the loose in final foraging.
As I shift gears to the next adventure, I find I take greatest solace in intentionally slowing down, in embracing aloneness and in looking, closely, at all that is around me. I intend to post a monthly slideshow of what I see most immediate to me — nature. This can be my yard, the mountains, our gardens, iconic events, new explorations. I don’t know what.
This month, I look around my yard which is 4 acres surrounded by woods in northern Vermont. We have lived here for 20 years, the longest time I’ve ever spent in one place. We have cleared paths in the woods and turned much of it into flower (and vegetable) gardens. It is truly our home; it is where my kids grew up. It is where I grew, too.
So this month, September, I look at the flowers. I’ve taken all these at the end of the month to show how September is a month of change, when the most hardy flowers hang on to the last few days of summer, to the last few days before the first frost. To me, the colors are more vibrant because of all that is going dormant around these hardy plants.
These photos were taken over the last several years at county fairs in Vermont. Fairs are still vibrant parts of people’s lives, particularly on the first day — when all the animal judging takes place — and at night when people sip from go-cups and try the rides and eat like crazy.
There is something compelling about a team of enormous oxen that can with sometimes gentle, sometimes sharp direction, pull a sled of 5,000, 10,000, 12,000 pounds. Some of the teams are used in the winter time to pull logs out of the woods — a practice that’s much easier on the forest and the loggers’ budgets.