Archive for January, 2007

Slash and Burn

January 24, 2007

Last weekend there was an inch or two of crusty snow on the ground in the orchard, so we headed to Maine to burn the brush that Vance had piled up in the middle of the clearing when he stumped it out. The usual Maine custom for burning a brush pile is to fill up an old tire with newspaper, douse the newspaper in kerosine, stuff it in the pile, drool used motor oil over the whole works, and torch it off. I figured that in the spirit of ecological responsibility I’d try a cleaner approach, and the brush was pretty dry, so I cut a hole in the side of the pile with a chainsaw, laid a fire inside with a few pieces of paper and an armload of pine kindling, and set it going. There was a strong, gusty northwest wind, and the pile lit off right away. Pretty soon it looked like this:

orchard-brush-fire.jpg

At its height there were some pretty impressive sheets of flame coming off of it, but with the recent snow and rain there was no danger of spreading. I dropped a medium sized pine tree from the south side of the clearing towards the fire, and Emily and I cut it up and fed it in, with the exception of a 10 foot butt log that Dave will have sawed into boards. By evening the fire was pretty much burned down to ashes and some of the bigger chunks, which we gathered up and piled together so they would keep burning down. In rough numbers, I suspect a total of about 100 gigajoules were liberated, mostly over about a 10 hour period, or approximately 2 megawatts average.

As I was clearing the orchard I had dreams of renting a chipper and turning the brush pile to mulch, and it’s a shame to waste all that good organic matter, but time constraints being what they were, this was the best we could do. I do hope to get a chipper in the spring to grind up the brush that I’m generating in clearing the perimeter of the orchard and down towards the cove for the maples.

Holly’s Cider Page

January 7, 2007

Holly has a new cider page on his website, describing this year’s activities.  He also wrote an article on last year’s cidering for the first issue of Craft, a companion ‘zine to Make, which has gone largely over to EE stuff apparently.  [Holly is an electrical engineer at Eink, makers of low-power, high-contrast electronic paper for cellphones, ebooks, etc.  I am a mechanical engineer with GreenMountain Engineering, a renewable energy engineering company near Cambridge MA, where Holly, Alexis, and I went to college.]

Winter Projects

January 7, 2007

It’s January, and despite the ridiculous weather (showers and in the 60s today in New Hampshire), there’s little to do orchard-wise beyond dreaming of spring.  The site would quickly turn to a mud-wallow if we so much as drove the tractor over it.  We climbed Mt. Cardigan this afternoon in shorts and t-shirt, but the short days put me in mind of The Oxcart Man, a children’s book that describes the seasons of a New England Farm.

We came out of the holidays at least a bit more relaxed than we went in, with a visit to Maine for Christmas and a blitz trip to St. Louis before New Years, and we distributed cider wherever we went.  For the most part it seemed to be well received; I think it would be a bit more accessible if it were a bit sweeter and more akin to the commercial stuff folks are used to.  I am almost ashamed to admit how happy I was to find that the Seven Barrel Brewery in West Lebanon serves the local Farnum Hill Cider for four bucks a pint.  The food and beer are not what you’d call inspired, but the people are friendly and some of Alexis’ friends frequent the place so we’ve gone a couple of times.  It is inspirational to drink high-quality, unadulterated hard cider less than a mile down the hill from where it is grown, pressed, and brewed.  I do miss the legislated no-smoking policy that kept bars in Massachusetts and Arizona fresh; none of that for Live Free and Die.

I’ve been spending more time with the fiddle recently, mostly working out of The Portland Collections, great compilations of contradance music from Oregon.  I also found a tunebook recently for Crossing To Scotland, a wonderful album of Celtic cello music by a gal named Abby Newton.  I am only just becoming able to read music at a painfully slow pace, and converting from the bass clef is throwing me a bit, but the tunes are worth it.  Someone up in Sharon, VT is doing a class on contra music starting tomorrow, and I think I’ll go; having something to practice for would be a useful incentive.

I started a blanket box of half-inch maple plywood with douglas fir trim, but I am fetched up at the stage of mortising some brass hinges for the lid; one of these days I will push through and finish it, and the closet will be significantly less crowded for it.  Woodworking is much more inspiring when the finish can be applied outdoors.  Alexis is rapidly filling the bookshelf I made last year with medschool texts; one of these days I’ll make another matching one, but the oak veneer plywood at Home Depot is of such pitiful quality that I can’t bring myself to pay $50 for a sheet of it.

Every couple weeks I’ve been baking bread using a modified version of my grandmother Ummy’s recipe, Sherwood Inn Dark Bread: [2c rolled oats, 1c bran, 1/2c cornmeal, 1-2Tbs canola oil, 1Tbs salt, 1/4c flax flour, 4c boiling water] mix it up in a big bowl and let it cool.  [1.75c lukewarm water, 2Tbs dry yeast, 1-2tsp molasses] mix in a measuring cup, let it proof for a few minutes, then add to big bowl.  [1c molasses, 1/4c wheat gluten, 2c whole wheat flour] mix into bowl.  Add white flour 1c at a time and mix till you can’t mix it with a spoon.  Then start kneading; keep adding flour as necessary to keep it from sticking.  After 10-15 mins when the dough is smooth and elastic, oil it and put it aside to rise.  When doubled, punch and form 3 loaves.  When they have risen, bake at 325 for 1 hour.

Alexis gave me The Lobster Chronicles for Christmas; a book by Linda Greenlaw, who grew up on Isle au Haut, an island off the coast of Maine.  She apparently went to some decent Maine college (Colby, maybe) but then pissed off her parents by going to sea and becoming a swordfishing boat captain.  I understand that she wrote a book about it (which I have not read) and it became somewhat popular along with the Perfect Storm craze a while back.  Anyway, she quit the swordfishing business and goes home to live with her parents and try her hand at lobstering; Chronicles is the story of her first season on the island.  It wasn’t bad writing and I was happy to finish it, but it didn’t really have much of a narrative arc to it.  There’s a bit of drama about the lobsters being scarce; her mom gets breast cancer, and she tries to get some mileage out of a vain hope of cultivating a love interest on the tiny island, but then it just sort of ends with a passing mention of her having a house built on the island; presumably with the proceeds from the sale of her first book.  I couldn’t help but think that after the apparent success of her first book, her editor prodded her to serve up another helping of quaint personalities and salty humor for the Barnes and Noble crowd in Boston, and she obligingly turned it out.

I also read Shoutin’ Into the Fog, a memoir by a guy who grew up in Five Islands during the depression in a family featuring unrewarded ambition, insufficient nutrition, and excessive parturition.  It was fun to catch some glimpses of what life was like 80 years ago in the place I grew up.  One thing that struck me was how much more integral the community was back then; there was a one-room school in the village and an active general store and post office at the Five Islands wharf, where now there is only a lobster shack for the tourists.  I can just barely remember going into that store when I was a young kid; old men used to play cribbage in the back.  At some point in the 80s someone figured out that the place was full of asbestos; the place was gutted and the volunteer Fire Department burned it down.  The whole town turned out to watch; somewhere I have a picture of it that I took with my first camera.