Archive for the ‘boats’ Category

2016 pruning, remembering Poppy

March 12, 2016

Today was the day for the annual spring pruning, and it was a great occasion to remember my grandfather, who died peacefully earlier this week at the age of 95.  William F. Herman (‘Bill’ around town, ‘Poppy’ in the family) was a big part of my life as a kid, and his love of growing things inspired me to plant the orchard when we moved back east over 10 years ago.

Pops and my grandmother, ‘Ummy’ grew up and lived their professional lives in eastern Massachusetts, but spent a lot of time in Maine – her father was an avid rod-and-gun sportsman. In the sixties they bought a slice of land on a remote island in the midcoast, two miles beyond the end of the electric power lines near the village of Five Islands.  When my parents decided to settle down after some years of teaching mountain-climbing in the mountains out west, Um and Pops invited them to homestead on the land in Five Islands, and I grew up off the grid, surrounded by the natural wonders of the Maine coast.

In 1983, Pops retired from a 25-year career at Polaroid, and my grandparents joined us in Maine.  By then electricity had come to the North End, and my father built them a passive solar home.  Though rocky and overgrown, the land had been a farm until early in the 20th century, with stone walls, foundation holes, and odd bits of pottery and rusted iron in evidence. Over the years the family cleared land and planted gardens, berries, and apple trees, and some of my earliest memories of my grandfather relate to agriculture.  He kept a very neat vegetable garden, which he would weed in khaki pants and a button-up shirt (he’d shower and put on a jacket and tie for dinner every night until he was far along in years). He grew masses of vegetables – great sweet corn, bowls and bowls of shell peas, and so many cucumbers and tomatoes that he put a wooden box at the end of the driveway and wrote ‘Help Yourself’, to the joy of the neighbors.

The garden was surrounded by semi-dwarf apples – Cortland, Winesap, Rhode Island Greening, Red Delicious, and he showed me how to prune the trees.  There was also a big wild tree behind their house that was saved in the construction, and it gave great green apples that were my favorite kind when I was a kid. In the fall we would collect the fruit in bags, and Poppy, Ummy, Joanna, and I would press them using a hand-crank cast iron press that had belonged to my great grandfather – the same press that Alexis, Holly, Becky, and I used back in Cider Year 1.  I think he tried to ferment some a couple times, but it was a casual attempt in a plastic milk jug and I don’t remember anyone thinking it tasted good.

In all the years of living and romping around as a kid, I can’t remember Poppy ever raising his voice.  He became a respected character around town, serving as selectman and sometimes as moderator at the old-fashioned town meeting. An engineer by training, he loved to keep careful records – of the amount of firewood he burned each month of each winter down to the tenth of a cord, of the number of quarts of blueberries his waterfront bushes produced, and of gallons of maple sap we collected each spring.  He taught himself to play ragtime piano by ear, and made some pretty nice oil paintings in an engineer’s realistic style – I think he said Norman Rockwell was his favorite artist.

If I drank another pint of this 2014 cider I could probably go on all night, remembering Poppy teaching me how to build kites and drive a tractor, and ‘messing about in boats’, fishing for mackerel in the Sheepscot river out of a 13′ Boston Whaler – he loved the water though he famously would never swim no matter how hot the summer. As the years went by, Poppy’s world gradually compressed; the boat trips shorter and the garden smaller and weedier, but he stubbornly kept at it. I remember a couple years ago when I was working in the orchard, I looked back toward the house and saw him at the edge of the field, using his old-fashioned scythe instead of a cane – he’d take a couple of swipes at the overgrown brush, then lean on the tool to catch his breath.

As Poppy slowed down my parents increasingly picked up the slack, mulching and pruning the berries, planting the corn, and splitting the firewood. And in 2006 I asked him if I could clear some land off to the the south to start a new orchard for cider apples, and he was happy to let me get started. For as long as he could walk, he’d totter up the woods road to the orchard gate to see what I was up to, and we’d talk about trees and plans.  I’m grateful to my grandparents for the opportunity to grow up in a unique and beautiful part of the world, and for the sense that tending and caring for the land is a project that can last more than a lifetime, and build connections across generations.



Running the mighty Stroudwater

June 8, 2013

A couple of weekends ago, Emily, Andy, and Elsie came to visit, and Andy (who has done a lot more paddling than I) got the notion to run Stroudwater falls.

In dry times the river running through our front yard is little more than an overgrown brook, but when multiple inches of rain fall over a day  or more, it swells impressively.  Instead of sneaking around and through the abrupt ~1m rocky upper fall at low points in the bedrock, it rushes directly over the drop in a handful of weakly organized chutes into the millpond below.  We scoped it out and judged it (and the rapid below the ruined dam) doable.

running the stroudwater 1

Borrowing Joshua and Kelsey’s 16′ fiberglass canoe (not the beautiful cedar one his brother made for him), we carried upriver and put in.  The main channel in low water is a tight 180 degree bend at the far right, but we didn’t think we could maneuver that, so we went through the next largest chute, immediately to the left.  I half-expected we would end up swamping the canoe out of the knee-deep shallows below the fall, but although we shipped a few pails of water over the bow (which is not nearly as high as in some whitewater canoes), we passed without incident, and proceeded to run the rapid below the ruins of the dam and under the bridge, where Kelsey snapped some photos (see below).  Though these rapids were less imposing, we actually shipped more water over the bow, giving the boat a slow, plowing character in the flatwater below.  We pulled out on the  north side of the river shortly below the old bridge site and carried the canoe back over the bridge and home.

running the stroudwater 2

It made me wish the next half-mile or so of flatter water below the falls wasn’t so choked up with blowdown, so we could paddle to work – Pika Energy’s new home in Westbrook is similarly only a few hundred feet from the south bank of the Stroudwater, perhaps 3-4 river miles downstream.

running the stroudwter 3

Year 5: Sunday – the last of the cider

October 31, 2009

Sunday dawned clear, still, and warm.  Breakfast consisted of French toast, made with some of the multitude of baguette that Andy brought from the farm where he works.  There was plenty of time before a quorum arrived to make cider, so Joshua, Kelsey, and I took advantage to replumb the hydraulic system with the check valve and manual bypass appropriately positioned.  Meanwhile Keith stuffed one of the 4500psi recycled SCBA tanks with closed-cell polyethylene foam, and we backfilled it with hydraulic oil.  Joshua hung the resulting high-efficiency accumulator from the rafters to get it out of the way (and away from face level).  We then launched into cidering once again, and hit an impressive 75% yield on a carefully measured batch (the tally for the cidering as a whole was not maintained accurately, since there was a significant amount of filling of drinking cups directly from the press as it poured into the catch pail).  The repositioned check valve made all the difference, allowing a quick effort to pump the system up, whereupon it would hold over 2000 psi for a long time as the last of the juice gradually dripped out.  The addition of the accumulator made a smaller, though noticeable difference – the pressure would not fall off so quickly as the stack dripped out the last of the juice.  The improved pressure-holding capabilities of the re-plumbed press wreaked havoc with our last-minute press plate welding hack, which was pretty much pooched by the end of the morning:


Soon the last of the apples were pressed.  As a memorable grand finale, we used the press to crush a single Redfield apple, resulting in the following sequence:






Cidering being done but for the cleanup, we took advantage of the assembled peoplepower to move the heavy wooden dory that Joshua and I built years ago to the boathouse down by the water, which made for an interesting sight:


Some folks including the Summer Street gang had to get on the road; the rest headed over to #5 for a corn-and-bean casserole provided by the gang from Your Mom’s House.  There followed a generalized departure, leaving only Joshua, Kelsey, and Andy of the company.  It being a beautiful, warm afternoon, we put the dory in the water and paddled to Beal Island, which we hiked around, then rowed home with only minor mishaps, arriving around sundown to stow the dory in the boathouse in time for dinner.  I also kicked off a half-gallon starter of Pasteur champagne yeast, to be pitched Monday.  We played some tunes after dinner and chocolate cake, but found ourselves too tired to really make it happen, so we retired to the red barn for another round of Settlers, then turned in – another very full day.

Midnight on the water

September 30, 2007

[note: Midnight on the water is the name of a fiddle tune, a waltz by Luke Thomasson.]

Ela (a friend from college) turned 32 this last weekend, and to celebrate she invited a bunch of folks to camp out on an island in Squam Lake, about an hour from where I live. Alexis was at the hospital and couldn’t make it, and I had a bunch of things to take care of on Sunday, but the weather looked good so I decided to join them for the day on Saturday. There were ten other people, and everyone else was canoeing, but the forecast was for a nice breeze, so I took the sixteen foot lapstrake dory that Joshua and I built some years ago. When I arrived at the put-in there was a ripping northerly breeze with whitecaps on the lake. There’s a nice little boat ramp and a canoe/kayak rental concession at the Squam Lakes Association, with a shallow inlet that opens out into the south shore of the lake near the west end. We loaded some firewood and food in the dory, and I rowed out to the opening, dropped in the rudder, and raised the sail. Since I was single-handing, I sailed her with just the main, so she had a bit more weather helm than usual, but nothing ridiculous. The canoes followed me out, and together we headed upwind for the far side of the lake. I tacked and jibed in among the other boats in the lighter breeze as we worked our way towards the island, about two miles distant, then we headed out across a short stretch of open water to the lake. At one point I passed a line to one of the canoes and pulled them for part of the downwind run, and then I fell behind as the wind slackened in a slot between the island and its neighbor.

The island was perhaps 10 acres with three or four campsites on it, and everyone pitched camp; then we basked in the sun for a while. The wind was still good, so I took three others out for a sail around a neighboring island; with the jib raised we moved along nicely, pounding through the whitecaps on the upwind leg and driving powerfully on a broad reach. On towards sunset the wind was abating and I knew the moon would be bright, so I stuck around for dinner, cider, and conversation. At some point I realized that everyone around the fire was married – one of those moments when the vague mental finger pointing at the timeline of life shifts noticeably to the right. Ela was the person who lent me a spare fiddle, five or six years ago when I was first interested in learning, and we both brought instruments, so we scraped out some jigs, reels, and waltzes together by the campfire, another occasion to realize how far things have come.

The moon rose, and the fire died down a bit, and it was time to go, so I studied the lake chart, packed up my fiddle, and bid farewell. I raised the sail and lashed it up to the mast with the mainsheet, and rowed out northward, through the gap between the islands, and back into the wind, which had come a bit westerly and moderated to a comfortable level. Campfires flickered on the islands, the moon sparkled on the lake surface, and Chocorua rose up to the northwest. Once clear of the islands I pointed upwind, unshipped the oars, and loosed the sail, paying off briefly on the port tack. I had picked out landmarks at dusk; a headland on the south shore and a hill just west of the landing point, and I could make out the hill but not the headland. With the moon I could make out the direction of the ripples on the water, and with that and the wind on my cheek I kept her full and tried to sense the speed of the boat by the sound and the bubbles passing over the stern. As soon as I had my way I came about and headed eastward, aided by a buoy with a strobe about a mile distant. The wind was cool and the stars made it seem cooler, but the challenge of sailing in the dark kept me warm enough. A few puffs had me up on the windward rail, but nothing that made me doubt my sanity or think of slacking the sheet. After some time on the starboard tack I could make out the loom of the headland – I could see that I would not make it on that tack, which meant the wind had shifted further westerly. I was about even with the strobe by then, so I took a board out into the middle of the lake toward the light, and soon I could make out the small island that it marked. Another couple of tacks took me further along the shore, with the island and the light well astern. The wind which had held nicely to that point fell away to the point where it was difficult to tell if I was pinching, and it was after eleven, so rather than beat around in the dying breeze I bound up the main again with the help of my headlamp, unshipped the rudder and raised the board, and rowed toward the gap in the trees that marked the inlet.

The wind died away to nothing, and I ghosted in between the rocks into flat water. The lily pads guided me along the channel to the ramp, where I winched the dory back onto the trailer and headed for home, arriving a bit after 1 AM. The day could not have been more perfect, with friends, food, music, and an incredible moonlight sail – one of those times that bring the thrill of life close up in the chest.