Running on the Battenkill: Easter Sunday

Easter Run 2 Edit

Your body is a temple.

I’m an adherent but lately have not behaved in a way to reflect this heartfelt conviction owing to circumstances and such. I started running about fifteen years ago for several reasons, chiefly to energize myself in the early morning hours ahead of a long day dealing with a difficult child. By 2011 I was running 35 miles weekly with my Clarence-the-Canine, ’til this annoying problem reached epic proportions and forced me into retirement in October of 2013. I’ve coughed and sputtered a few times in the intervening months, but with each renewed attempt to run, the foot has objected, loudly.

There is nothing in the world like running, and if you’ve never been a runner, you’ll need to take my word for it.

In recent weeks I’ve felt some changes in the injured area of my left foot that might possibly indicate healing. (Shhh. Don’t tell the universe.) I spend eight hours a day sitting on my arse in front of a computer, and it could be this was precisely the pathway to health I needed, without fully admitting so: I would not have gone down that road willingly otherwise.

Mild weather has urged me and everybody else in these parts outdoors to indulge. Two weeks ago I bought a pair of running shoes that people who share this particular foot problem I have, swear by. Something about “give” in the area of the heel that does not aggravate it—I am still unsure exactly why it’s so special, but if the price tag is any indicator it sure as heck better be. Anyway, at this point in time I would pay a king’s ransom for the privilege of running again; I am okay with short, slow runs, happy to allow others more fleet of foot pass me by like I’m standing still.

Today was the day.

The early spring Battenkill River is flowing full and beautiful right now, a far cry from about this time last year, when there was still so much ice everywhere after the winter from hell. Mud season has pretty much come and gone, and River Road—where I’ve run in the past, and also ride my bike—is just about perfect right now.

Easter Run 3 Edit

The early spring this year is simply stunning. Little streams that feed the river are flowing at full tilt; sound byte at the bottom. Today could not have been more glorious. I arrived back at the car pink-cheeked and positively giddy, and significantly, pain free. The only thing missing now is a leashed shepherd in my right hand.

Easter Run 4 Edit

Easter Run 5 Edit

 

 

Garden State Highway: Beauty in Unexpected Places

Garden State Parkway

If driving were a metaphor for the rancor which seems to characterize the tenor of American politics these days, it is playing out on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey. Any remnant of human decency that real, face-to-face interaction demands is lost once you’re behind the wheel of a car. And on this particular stretch of road that privilege evidently extends you carte blanche to be a bonafide jackass. It’s the kind of behavior you might have known standing in a cafeteria line with the bullies in your sixth grade class—elbowing and pushing and jostling, cutting in line: generally behaving like a jerk. You’d never tolerate it in the grocery store queue as a grownup, where you could directly confront your offender.

The stakes are much lower in the sixth grade cafeteria line than they are on a multi-lane highway where the speed of traffic is easily ten- to fifteen-miles an hour over the limit to begin with. (Apologies to my New Jersey friends, and you have my deepest sympathies if you must travel this road.) The most infuriating aspect of the driving we saw on the Parkway yesterday was the overt expression of this sentiment: my agenda is more important than yours, and I am willing to risk your life to achieve it.

The reason for our visit to the Jersey shore is bittersweet, a memorial service for a beloved family friend who was an exemplar for a life well lived. It was also supposed to be a nice, if brief escape from our little corner of the world for the Chef and myself, but a virus that insinuated itself earlier this week is now in full bloom, leaving me holed up in the hotel with a box of Kleenex while everybody else is at the church; thought I could power through this one quickly, I was wrong. I feel bad for anyone who’s had to be near me for the last few days, not least of all HCB. I figure his symptoms should emerge just about any second now.

Spring has not arrived here like it has in the South, where I gather foliage is already exploding left and right. Here (at least in Vermont) we can only just see the tiniest hint of fullness and color coming into the tips of deciduous branches. At home our chives have sprouted, but elsewhere the land still lies barren from our mild winter, with snow still in the forecast.

Spring foliage covers a multitude of sins, but it’s still way too early. The scenery whizzing past yesterday was brutal: seamy, industrial, poor, decrepit towns and suburbs, juxtaposed against beautiful ancient foundations in the woods and stacked stone fences that once marked property lines. I could not get them in my lens, and instead aimed the camera skyward and surprised myself with the results, at least until it was yanked out of my hands by the G-forces of the car as we swerved (again) to avoid being nailed by another selfish somebody. HCB has excellent reflexes.

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Decaying barbecue grills and forgotten backyard toys and other roadside detritus will soon be obscured by spring’s lovely foliage. It is just too dang bad it can’t do anything to obscure the human condition as it careens down the Garden State Parkway.

Warm Days & Cold Nights: Sugaring Time in Vermont

Yesterday Handsome Chef Boyfriend and I drove past three sap buckets hanging on roadside telephone poles in Upstate New York; somebody’s got a sense of humor. HCB’s brother would enjoy that, I am sure; there is a longstanding dispute in this family about who makes the best syrup—New York (where brother S lives) or Vermont. Though I don’t really have a dog in that fight, I will stick out my neck and say Vermont is not known for its (ahem) superior maple syrup for nothing; behind every cliché there is always at least a kernel of truth and in this case, a whole lot more.

Maple 7A

Maple sugaring has come early this year with record-breaking warm temperatures; the tree outside our kitchen window is more prolific than ever. HCB taps it every spring in an exercize that is equal parts science project and culinary fun.

Big producers don’t use old-fashioned buckets anymore—everywhere in the Vermont countryside you’ll find roadside networks of the telltale blue plastic tubing that drains the maple sap and carries it from the trees to large collection tanks for serious syrup production. It is distinctly un-romantic, but still yields the sticky confection that is so magical in the mouth, ostensibly faster, better and more efficiently, and all that.

We still do it the old-fashioned way for fun. The thing is, buckets of syrup boil down to virtually nothing: when HCB insisted we had a bumper “crop” of sap this spring, my observation was something like, oooh, maybe we’ll get three tablespoons this year.

That is of course completely beside the point.

There really is not all that much to making maple syrup except collecting the sap, reducing it, straining it, and canning it. But you do have to keep your eye on the stove. It’s what’s been going on here for the past several delicious days.

Maple 8A

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Maple 1A

There was so much sap this year the bucket was overflowing the first time around and HCB had to use a commercial pot in the beginning.

Maple 2A

Maple 3A

Our biggest stock pot held all the sap after many, many hours of reducing:

Maple 5A

Maple 10A

Thence to a smaller pan, just barely:

Maple 11A

HCB watched it carefully from this point forward, observing its viscosity as he allowed it to fall from a spoon. For me the über-sweet aroma announced its arrival: at some point our house began to smell distinctly maple syrup-y.

Next came filtering, where the residue—particulate from the tree that eludes the eye when the sap is running—is really observable.

Maple 13A

Maple 14A

Our yield was phenomenal this year; one of us might have indulged already.

Maple 15A

There really is no substitute for real Vermont maple syrup. Totally worth the expense, to say nothing of the sticky laptop keyboard.

Maple 6A

 

Snowless Winter: A Walk in the Woods

The woods are lovely, dark and deep—Robert Frost

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Mt. Equinox looms over the Vermont Valley at 3,816 feet, the highest point of the Taconic Range, a finger of the Appalachians, and the oldest mountains in the country: Mother Myrick Mountain lies to its north, and Red Mountain to the South, the place we call home. Everywhere are streams carrying snow melt from the higher elevations, dumping it into the nearby Battenkill River, thence to the Hudson River after twisting across Vermont’s state line a short distance from here, into New York. Like it does elsewhere in the state, the topography in Vermont’s southwestern corner delivers breathtaking vistas—not only from its higher reaches, but also down below, where meandering valleys sit at the bottom of vast, chiseled bowls.

There is not so much as a patch of snow in these parts, save in the highest elevations. This winter’s snowfall has been rare and fleeting, standing in blatant contrast to last winter’s fury. The mountains look for all the world like somebody’s just shaved their nobs, leaving them to shiver ’til spring finds its way here, soon. There is a beauty to the landscape in spite of its nakedness, and maybe because of it; for the time being nature is betraying her fabulous secrets, as if the curtain that concealed them were being held back so we could take an indulgent peek.

It is an ephemeral chance to observe what spring and summer foliage will obscure in a few short weeks, and with no shortage of wonderment:  a pair of pileated woodpeckers have hewn three large holes in a mainly-dead tree standing right at the edge of the road that leads off our mountain, the telltale pile of detritus below it evidence of the best kind of neighborhood construction project. A colossal pine forest nearby reveals its timeworn past in the magnificent trophies that long ago succumbed to the elements, giving the discoverer pause to surmise a course of events. Hand-sized sections of pine bark evoke intricate tortoise shell patterns; the underbellies of felled trees betray evidence of entire ecosystems writ small that once inhabited them (and maybe helped hasten their demise). Ancient moss is iridescent against the wheat-grey hues in the woods, a resplendent cape lain on the shoulders of a massive tree trunk. Even the frigid streams have secrets to reveal: hardy brookies cavort in unimaginably cold water; an ice formation shows sharp teeth as if poised to snap its jaws shut against the bones of its prey; and just upstream a face leers eerily at passersby from below.

I invite you to see and hear Vermont woods in winter; sound byte at the bottom.

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