Archive for January, 2010

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost…

January 29, 2010

It’s been a depressing couple of weeks.  I’m pretty much disabused of any optimism that the nation will take the long view, that cooler heads will prevail, that great leaders will inspire the people to make necessary sacrifices and put the ship of state on a steady course.  I’m reminded of the old nursery rhyme my grandfather used to recite, that starts with a missing nail on a horseshoe, and ends with the loss of a kingdom.  An incompetent small-time politician botches a special election here in Massachusetts, and in the process snaps the tiny thread holding the tepid remains of healthcare reform above the abyss.  The reform was a shadow of what it might have been, in part due to the obscene influence of corporate money, and the Supreme Court clears the way for the same corporate interests to vastly expand their malfeasance.  Perhaps most distressingly of all, the strategy that proved most effective against reform was not shopworn anti-government ideology, but willful ignorance and the shamefully unrealistic notion that people should be able to get however much medical care their hearts desire, and somebody else will magically pick up the tab – “get your government hands off of my medicare.”

Health care reform should have been the easy part – the lack of reliably affordable healthcare is tearing at the social fabric and sapping our national competitiveness, and practically every other modern country has universal insurance.  The failure of the smartest, most progressive government we could reasonably hope for to make this happen is a black, black omen.  It is not difficult to predict that nothing substantive will be done to address the massive shortage of jobs that’s plaguing the nation; we will not invest seriously to realign the nation’s energy supplies with the emerging global reality, and there is not an ice cube’s chance in hell that we will do anything sufficient to even begin to address global warming.  In fact, the above outline (in which basically nothing happens) is probably a best-case scenario – there is enough diffuse, roiling anger rising in the heartland to make gridlock seem like nirvana.

Some people have a deep abiding faith in the goodness of humanity to lift their spirits in times like these; others have a higher faith and are mentally prepared to write this life off like a bad loan.  As for me, I plant apple trees.  An orchard of trees on hardy seedling rootstock will provide food, spirits, shade, and beauty for generations – with care the trees will outlive anyone now alive.  As the arc of my life approaches its middle years, it is a great comfort to be able to see the work behind me and the work yet to be done, not abstractly in the trajectory of a career, but concretely in physical earth, on a rocky hillside with clouds and seasons passing.  The crisis of the moment always has its allure, but the human race has been through times much darker than these, and through the darkest of them the vital substance of human life remained – we need the fruits of the earth to make our daily bread.


A whole lot of bottling

January 19, 2010

We headed up to Maine Friday night, and made it as far as Scarborough, where we spent the night and a leisurely morning walking on the beach and playing old time tunes.  Made it to Five Islands a bit after noon, where I inspected the work that had been done on the new orchard ground and looked in on the trees – one (Opalescent) had been moused so severely below the soil surface that it was no longer attached – I pruned it severely and potted it in mulch and stuck it in the shade; maybe it will find enough root left to survive.  Other trees looked OK.  Saturday evening old friends Jeff and Ellen came to the folks’ for dinner, which with JT, Jake, and kids made a lively time. Just before bedtime I set a bunch of last year’s used bottles to soak overnight in B-Brite

Sunday morning I organized equipment, washed bottles, racked some cider, and got it chilling and carbonating in Cornelius kegs in a snowbank.  Around mid-day Kauf, Kelsey, Em, and Andy showed up, and we set to bottling in the old homestead.  Folks quickly got the hang of the fountain sanitizer, double-barreled semiautomatic counterpressure bottle filler, and benchtop capper, and we did three kegs before dinner.  This year I bought a bottle drying tree which helped a lot.  We had enough folks on hand to achieve the desired operating condition for any cidering activity, where a few people are working the equipment at any one time and everyone else gets to hang out, talk, and play music. As for the cider, I agree with Holly that it was a good year, well rounded, refreshing, and pleasantly tart.  The last batch of 08 cider from Farnum-pressed juice which had been in a keg in the root cellar since last winter had mellowed some and was also pretty good.

The 3 Cornies being empty, we went over to the grandparents to fill another couple kegs, then put them in a snowbank to chill.  After a fine dinner of lasagna and squash provided by Northland & co, we bottled 1.5 more kegs and played music, with the kids running around like banshees all the while.  Bottling, cleanup, and dessert (blueberry poundcake and chocolate-espresso birthday madness cake) done, the kids and parents went to bed; the remainder of the party retired to the red barn for a game of Settlers.

We woke up Monday to several inches of snow which continued to fall through early afternoon.  Some of the party went for a ski around the North End, while Alexis made some pumpkin bread for lunch and I dug out the grandparents.  With the easing of the snow we departed for the south, concluding a very satisfactory weekend.

Bottling party

January 14, 2010

This year’s cider was racked around Thanksgiving, and it’s been sitting quietly in carboys in the root cellar up in Five Islands ever since.  This weekend we’re going to do a big bottling blitz, with the double-barreled counterpressure filler and several cases of cap-able 750s.  Holly (who got to bottling his not too long ago) says this year’s stuff is pretty good.

In other news, a new (used) Kubota tractor is coming home this weekend – should come in handy for preparing the new orchard ground.


January 1, 2010

Ten years ago this weekend my wife and I went on our first date – only we didn’t know it at the time.  We thought we were going backpacking in the White Mountains with some friends.  But as it turned out, we were the only ones crazy enough to spend the millenium camping out in a snow cave.  Seven years ago this weekend we got married, when we were living out in Flagstaff, Arizona.  As my grandfather, married sixty-some years likes to say, “not a day too many!”  Life is good.

End-of-year orchard progress

January 1, 2010

Christmas weekend was a festive affair in Five Islands, celebrating the arrival of Joanna, Nola, Ellis, and Jake.  There was much food, drink, and merriment, but there’s only so much merriment I can take, so I took advantage of another window of good ground conditions to haul a load of four-foot hardwood out of the orchard ground with the trailer that’s made of a sawed-off pickup truck frame.  I then skidded the last few pieces of crooked pine trunk to the big compost pile, and twitched the big mess of saw timber from the south field over to the pumpkin patch, where it will be sawed into boards in the spring.  The hard freeze subsequently abated somewhat with a couple of days of warm rain, and enough frost came out of the ground that Evan Holbrook could come in with his big JD machine and stump out the new ground that we’ve cleared.  I’ve been in Boston this week but I understand that he has finished and he did a nice job.

We got lucky with the weather to have all the timber moved off and the stumps out this late in the season; the expansion project didn’t really even get started until after cidering was over.  At this point the land will sleep until spring; meanwhile it’s time to bottle the cider that’s been in secondary in the root cellar, and pick out trees for planting next spring.