Archive for January, 2011

Wife-Carrying, Skillet Tossing, and Log Cutting

Harness racing at Fryeburg Fair (click to enlarge)

horses straining against the weight (click to enlarge)

Pulling tons of cement. Note the packed grandstands (click to enlarge)

In many ways, the Fryeburg Fair, held every year in October, is like any other county fair.  It has a midway, with carnies hawking tickets to side shows and turns at arcade games, the usual mechanical thrill rides, and loads of artery-choking food stands whose grease factor, when converted to biodiesel fuel, would be enough to power a third world country. There are plenty of farm animals, 4H competitions for sheep, horses, pigs, cows and goats, as well as agricultural and craft displays, prize-winning quilts and baked goods.

I was amazed by the draft horse pull.  Imagine a team of the giant horses (think Anheiser Busch) straining with all their might to pull tons of concrete (the winning team pulled 12,000 lbs)  Teams of draft horses and oxen are still used in the logging industry in areas inaccessible to logging trucks, as well as by the Amish.

They also have a wife-carrying contest, in which a man, while carrying his wife, must run through a long and difficult obstacle course.  The winners go to the national contest, and from there it’s off to Finland, for the International Wife-Carrying Contest.  I am not making this up!

For the women, it’s a skillet-throwing contest, but lest you think that sounds sissified, those iron skillets are heavy and awkward and the tossers put shotputters to shame (the record is 64′ 8″:  that’s one angry woman!).  In 2009, a certain Mrs. Heath of E. Conway, NH threw out the first skillet.  She is 100 years old, and threw from a wheelchair.  (She won in her age class, and according to newspaper accounts, she lifted her arms in triumph to an adoring, standing-room-only crowd in the grandstands.)

What makes the Fryeburg Fair a little more unusual than the average country fair is Woodsmen’s Day, a tribute to lumberjack culture.  There are two components to Woodsmen’s Day:  heavy equipment bargains and competitions.  Most professional power tool companies send representatives with displays of the latest and greatest, and they are sold at significant discounts.  Probably 1 out of every 5 people is lugging a new heavy-duty chainsaw, snow thrower, or other significant tool through the parking lot the end of the day, headed for their pickup trucks and home.

But it’s the Woodsmen’s olympiad that is standing room only in the grandstands.  Spectators come from hundreds of miles away to cheer and admire their favorite contestants.

Timed events include how fast these Paul Bunyans can cut through massive logs and cut down trees with chainsaws, axes, and bucksaws, logrolling, and to see how far they can accurately throw an axe.  Other contests test their skills as truckers on hydraulic loaders, and cable and grapple skidders.  Lest you think it’s only the men who flex their muscles, there are separate but identical contests open to women, who are known as lumberjills.  (Alas, dear readers, although I hate to disappoint you, I will not be entering any of these contests anytime soon.)

Usually the fair dates conflict with the Jewish holidays in October, but this year (2010) Sukkos was finished by the end of September, so I could attend.  It was a fun day, and I was only sorry my grandchildren couldn’t be there, too.  They would have loved it.

Some farm animals from the Fryeburg Fair:

This cow tried to eat my camera! (click to enlarge)

An ox named Blue (click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

This goat had a lot to talk about (click to enlarge)

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“Sukkot” in Maine

An ice shack on a frozen lake January 2011 (click to enlarge)

Maine is known for its fishing; the fact that the lakes and ponds freeze over does not stop anyone.  Ice fishing is a very popular sport and hobby; several towns and ice fishing clubs hold “ice fishing derbies” and people compete for the most and largest fish caught.  Depending on the lake, the varieties of fish caught include trout, salmon, perch, largemouth bass, pike, pickerel, togue and splake.  Personally I don’t know much about ice fishing because I have yet to venture out on the ice and ask a devotee to explain the whole concept to me.

For one thing, there are few women into ice fishing.  That’s because it tends to be one of those “male bonding” things (which usually involve lots of beer and televised sports).  So you can kind of understand what’s been keeping your Intrepid Reporter from knocking on the door of an ice shack and peeping inside.  That, and the below-zero temperatures.

First you chop a hole in the ice.  It’s not that easy when the ice is 3″ – 12″ thick. This link on youtube shows someone drilling with an augur:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMwNuBR450E&feature Fishing lines are laid in the hole, in the water, and then it’s a matter of waiting until the fish bite.  This requires checking of the lines every few hours.  You can’t just let the lines sit for a day or two; the ice must continually be broken up so the hole won’t freeze over.

I spoke to one woman whose son and husband go ice fishing.  (“I’m not into it,” she told me, “I think it’s boring.”)  Obviously it’s not real interesting twiddling one’s mittened thumbs in zero-degree temperatures for several hours waiting for the fish to bite.  To combat the boredom and the cold, many people build or buy ice shacks.

If it weren’t for the flat roof, ice shacks look identical to the sukkah that Jews use in October.  It almost makes me think that Mainers must have been one of the 10 lost tribes, and somehow their ice shacks evolved from this tradition.  From what I’ve been told of the fancier ice shacks, their interiors sport a sofa, propane stove, and a satellite-enabled television, where men sit drinking beer and watching football, ice hockey and basketball games and talking about whatever men talk about as they bond, warmed by portable heaters.  The shacks are unloaded on the ice via pickup trucks or snowmobiles, who tow them with ski runners on the shacks, whose weight is amazingly supported by the thick ice as they drive out on the lake in search of the perfect spot.    Here is a youtube video of an ice shack being hauled out onto a frozen lake:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2D_Bv20bAQ&feature Of course every year there are always stories of pickup trucks and shacks that venture out a little too early in the season when the ice isn’t quite thick enough, or wait a little too long at the end of the season when the ice starts to melt, and they fall through the ice.

Most of the shacks are pretty basic, just a simple door and four walls of plywood banged together.  The more luxurious ones are larger, have windows, and may be decorated or painted on the outside.

This is a nice report on one Mainer’s ice shack:

From the Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, comes the following information about ice safety:

“Thick and blue, tried and true. Thin and crispy, way too risky.”

The ice traveler should look for bluish ice that is at least 4 to 6 inches thick, in order to support people and their gear. Even if the weather has been below freezing for several days, don’t guess about ice thickness. Check ice in several places. Use an auger, spud, or axe to make a test hole, beginning at shore and continuing as you go out.

If ice at the shoreline is cracked or squishy, stay off. Don’t go on the ice during thaws. Watch out for thin, clear or honeycomb-shaped ice. Dark snow and dark ice are other signs of weak spots.

Choose small bodies of water. Rivers and lakes are prone to wind and wave action, which can break up ice quickly. Avoid areas with currents, around bridges and pressure ridges.

In the wintertime, outdoor enthusiasts frequently need to know how thick the ice is and whether it is safe to walk across it.The American Pulpwood Association has published a handy reference chart that gives a good rule-of-thumb for ponds and lake ice thickness.

The chart below is for clear, blue ice on lakes. Reduce the strength values by 15% for clear blue river ice. Slush ice is only one-half the strength of blue ice. This table does not apply for parked loads.

“Wait for a long cold spell, then test the ice thoroughly.

Ice Thickness Chart

Ice Thickness
(in inches)

Permissible Load – Clear, Blue Lake Ice
(Reduce strength values for other types of ice)

2

One person on foot

3

Group of people walking single file

7 1/2

Passenger car (2 ton gross)

8

Light truck (2 1/2 ton gross)

10

Medium truck (3 1/2 ton gross)

12

Heavy truck ( 7 – 8 ton gross)

15

Heavy truck ( 10 ton gross)

20

25 tons

25

45 tons

30

70 tons

36

110 tons

What if I break through the ice?

If you break through the ice, don’t panic.

  • Don’t try to climb out – you’ll probably break the ice again.
  • Lay both arms on the unbroken ice and kick hard. This will help lift your body onto the ice. Roll to safety.
  • To help someone who has fallen in, lie down flat and reach with a branch, plank, or rope; or form a human chain. Don’t stand. After securing the victim, wiggle backwards to the solid ice.
  • The victim may need treatment for hypothermia (cold exposure), artificial respiration or CPR

“If your feet are cold, put on your hat.”

  • That may seem odd, but it’s good advice. Most of our body heat is lost through your head and neck. So wear a hat and cover your face and neck.
  • Dress in layers. Wool, silk and certain synthetics are best; they’ll keep you warm even if they’re wet.
  • Insulated, waterproof boots, gloves and a windbreaker are very important. Take extra clothing.

Mush!

Mainers do not spend the long winters at shopping malls. This is partly because there is little disposable income in Maine; but mostly, it’s because there are maybe two shopping malls in the entire state.  Nor do Mainers mope, immobilized and catatonic, around their woodstoves, waiting for Spring’s arrival.  The newspapers are full of activities that celebrate the cold.

Children playing at a park, 6 degrees F. The yellow sign says "Freezin for a Reason!" (click to enlarge)

The other day I drove by a church whose billboard announced their “Ice Skating Rink Now Open!”

My synagogue back home doesn’t even have a social hall! (Though it’s standing room only, even without a skating rink.)

This past Thursday thru Saturday in Rangeley, Maine there was the Snodeo.  As the name suggests, this is a snowmobile rodeo, with a great variety of events, including trick riding, obstacle courses, daring gymnastics and races (top speed last year was 130.4 mph!) – all on snowmobiles.

Snowmobilers (click to enlarge)

Site of the Musher's Bowl: Beautiful, frozen Highland Lake in Bridgton, ME, with tracks from snowmobiles and dogsleds (click to enlarge)

We decided to attend an event a bit closer to home.  This weekend was the 16th annual Musher’s Bowl.  There is no such thing as “weather permitting.”  The temperature hovered between 6 to 11 degrees F, but we weren’t going to let anything stop us from a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity . . . to go dog sledding!

We gathered at Highland Lake in Bridgton Maine, where our musher/sled guide, Andy Chakoumakos of Lovell, ME, awaited us with his 6 Alaskan Husky mixes.  The dogs howled, bayed, barked and leapt into the air in anticipation of the upcoming ride.  They were very excited and obviously love to shlep their human cargo, even fatties such as moi. (Each dog can pull about 180 lbs, and we had 6 dogs for us 3 riders.)

That's me sitting in the sled just before the start of the ride. The restless dogs are anxious to get going! (click to enlarge)

There were two ways to ride:  seated in comfort, or balancing precariously on a sled runner (a ski) in the back of the sled alongside Andy.  My spouse and I traded positions halfway into the ride so we’d each have a chance to fully experience the joys of dog sledding from two different vantage points.

As we round the corner over frozen Highland Lake, you can see other sledders in front of us (click to enlarge)

It was a blast (of cold air)!

Now I'm standing and my husband is sitting - you can see his boots in the foreground as the dogs dash over frozen Highland Lake (click to enlarge)

enjoying the ride (click to enlarge)

We learned there are many types of sleds and different competitions, as well as different breeds of dogs developed for the various types of rides.  Siberian huskies are known for their endurance, but they are slow, so they typically are not used for short, sprint-type races.

No, pullng the likes of me did not cause this dog to collapse! (He was giving himself a back massage)

Alaskan huskies are mostly a blend of huskies, malamutes, and hounds, whose combined traits of endurance, speed, drive and cold-weather tolerance make them a winning mutt combination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the site of the "freezin' for a reason" polar plunge, a fundraiser for a local animal shelter. They had to chip away several inches of ice in order to reach water. (click to enlarge)

After our ride we passed a “swimming pool” that had been chipped out of the 5″ thick ice.  The previous day, fundraisers for the local animal shelter had participated in a “polar plunge” in their bathing suits (!) in 10 degree weather.

 

This beautiful apple orchard with the million dollar view was the site of the dog sled races. You can see a sled racing behind the small shack in the distance (click to enlarge)

We drove a short distance to a beautiful apple orchard, which was the site of dog sled races, as well as skijoring races.  Skijoring is a relatively new winter sport, consisting of a single skier who wears a belt that is tied to a long leash, at the end of which are 1 or 2 dogs.  The dogs pull the skier along a cross-country race course; it is a timed event.

Sled racing (click to enlarge)

pushing for the finish line (click to enlarge)

Skijoring (click to enlarge)

Skijoring (click to enlarge)

The races were attended by dozens of spectators who stood for hours in the extreme cold.  One guy commented to me, “I can’t believe you’re wearing a skirt in this weather!”  I answered, “Always the lady!” and he laughed, but the truth is, I was probably dressed warmer than he was.  Besides heavy wool socks and neoprene and rubber waterproof, knee-length boots, I was wearing long johns and sweat pants under the polartec fleece skirt; and a thermal undershirt, a polartec fleece top, an arctic-weight fur hooded winter parka, plus a wool hat, ski goggles to protect my face against icy winds, and fleece gloves.  It was so cold that several times I missed some good shots when my camera froze!  However, I personally never once felt cold and even my toes were toasty!

with all this clothing, it's hard to move (but at least it's tznius!)

(click to enlarge)

Every so often a very cool-looking ATV (all-terrain vehicle) with tracks would groom (smooth) the trail.  I wish I could afford one of these with a snow-blower attachment to plow our steep driveway!

at least my dog was concerned...

When we arrived home we decided to try walking on the frozen pond across from our house. Now we can truly say we’ve “walked on water.”  However, the pond’s edge turned out to be not as frozen as we thought (it was covered with about a foot of snow so we couldn’t see it so well).  I fell deep into a drift, the bottom of which turned out to be the not-completely-frozen pond!  My spouse seemed to find amusement in my sinking through the ice and hitting freezing cold water!  My loyal dog (more concerned than my spouse, I might add) was busy trying to rescue me.  My husband, on the other hand, was busy laughing and taking pictures as I flailed my arms and hoisted myself back to solid frozen ground like a beached whale (or make that “wail”). (It sounds more dangerous than it actually was.  The water was only about 6″ deep, and I was wearing waterproof boots, but because I was stuck in a snowdrift it was difficult to extract myself.  Honestly, my husband isn’t the sadist I’m making him out to be.)

(click to enlarge)

We returned to the house just as the sun was setting behind the mountains.  We heard that a serious cold snap would be hitting our area this evening, so my spouse quickly refilled the wood cart and brought it inside the house so we’d have plenty of fuel.  We love the challenges of winter weather in Maine, but in -25 degrees F (without windchill!) it’s just downright dangerous to be outside, and that is the forecast for this evening, so we want to make sure we have plenty of fuel within easy reach.

We ended the day with a bowl of homemade spicy chili – yum!  It really hit the spot.

We really do love it here and are constantly grateful, amazed and in awe of the number of once-in-a-lifetime experiences we’ve had so far!

(P.S. According to our thermometer, it only got down to -13 F last night, not the -25 F that was predicted)

Girl Scout Wannabe

My husband was supposed to return tonight, but that’s out of the question now.  We’re being socked with a heavy snowstorm.  It’s simply not safe to travel the 3 hours from the Manchester NH airport to our house in Maine (even if his flight is not canceled, which it probably will be).  Assuming the roads will be passable, it would in any case take much longer than the three hours’ travel time due to the necessity of driving extra slowly and cautiously.

It started snowing at 9 a.m. and isn’t supposed to stop until 5 a.m. tomorrow morning.  Right now the snow is coming down at a rate of 1″ per hour, and it’s supposed to get especially heavy this afternoon.

It’s just me and my dog, in my house in the woods, in the middle of nowhere, in a blizzard.

Last night, in preparation for the storm,  I drove 30 miles to the nearest market.  It was cold as heck outside (-8 F) but it was clear and the roads were dry, so I figured it was now or never.  As I passed Shawnee Peak, I couldn’t believe the amount of people night-skiing under the lights.  More than thirty years ago I skied in Colorado in +7 degree weather, and I still remember how cold that felt!  That was 15 degrees warmer than last night.  Mainers are certainly hardy souls!

The moon shone so brightly, I wouldn’t have needed headlights.

I also stopped to fill up the car with gas.  In such cold weather, it would have been an impossible task without gloves to grip the frozen metal nozzle – I had one of those annoying broken ones that wouldn’t lock into place and you had to keep it pressed down in order to fill up the car.  Ditto for grasping the steel shopping carts at the market – they were all parked outside.

As soon as I got back home I put away my mittens, and put on suede and shearling work gloves.  I went out to the shed and brought in several armloads of wood – about 6 trips’ worth that weighed a few hundred pounds.  Now even if it snows for 2 days, I can avoid going outside to refuel.

This morning, just as the snow began, I drove to the post office to pick up the mail.  I’m glad I didn’t tarry, since shortly after I got back home the snow started falling in earnest, and the roads are now dangerous.

I’m not scared to be up here alone (okay, I have my limits – I won’t be watching the movie “Deliverance” anytime soon).  The key seems to be advance preparation, enjoying simple pursuits such as reading, and a sense of adventure.  But it is a little extreme, I must admit; there is certainly more to this story.  I mean, normal people my age, especially most Orthodox Jewish women, just don’t do crazy stuff like this.  (And few have husbands who are so tolerant.)

I admit it, a certain part of me wants to “prove” my independence (to myself, not others) on a grand and heroic scale.  Which is ridiculous, because in general  I am an independent person  and manage just fine on a typical day, thank you.  I think this need of mine is a knee-jerk reaction to the fallout from taking care of our elderly parents for the few years before they passed away.  Is there anything more traumatic, terrifying, and demeaning than losing one’s independence, and being dependent on others for one’s most basic needs?  Is there anything sadder than to see one’s parent, someone who throughout one’s childhood was one’s rock and personification of strength and power,  so diminished?  Being surrounded by frailty only heightened my awareness of how tenuous life is, and how speedily time is marching on.  I have an exaggerated need to live independently because I am on a race against time, and the inevitability of dependence and loss of personal freedoms.  I’m pushing myself to new limits, trying and experiencing new things, no matter how out of character it might seem.  Spiritually speaking, it’s a ridiculous attempt.  Because who are we without HaShem? While we might have a psychological need to feel we have control over our own lives, who are we kidding?  The minute we forget Who is really in control is the moment that He will remind us, and it isn’t always a pretty picture.  It’s a conundrum, filled with not just a little ego:  I want to live life at its fullest on my own terms in a way that HaShem will allow . . . before I’m robbed of that choice.

The snow continues to fall . . .

Food?   . . . Check!

Fuel?  . . . Check!

Shelter?   . . . Check!

Emergency supplies?  . . . Check!

Margarita mix and tequila?  . . . Check!

Laying it on the Line

Last night we got an additional 2″ of snow, and while today promised sunshine, the next two nights it’s going to be -5 F (not including windchill).  Since my husband is back in our home town to say kaddish for my father’s yarzheit, as well as to attend some business meetings, I decided to take the opportunity of an empty house and do a thorough cleaning.  The previous week we had a malfunction with our woodstove, and when we opened its door, huge puffs of ash and smoke filled the house.  Now that the problem is fixed, I decided to tackle the fine layer of ash that seemed to cover every single surface throughout the house.  Since the day was sunny, and the solar panels would be recharging our batteries, I decided to also address the growing pile of laundry that I was getting awfully tired of looking at.

That’s when the slapstick comedy hour began.  After doing the wash, I realized I had no access to my laundry lines, due to about 18″ of snow.  Out came the snow shovel, not only to make a path, but also to shovel under the lines so the clothes could hang without touching snow.

I need not have worried about the wind knocking down the clothes from the line.  The combination of icy wind gusts and the 11-degree temperature ensured that the clothes froze on the line as soon as they were hung (along with my dampened and then frozen mittens).  The pile of clothes waiting to be hung that I held in my hand froze into a congealed ball  before I had a chance to hang them.  It didn’t help that I slipped a couple of times into the soft powdery snow, and had to come in each time to change out of my wet clothes into dry ones – and add the wet ones to that now-stiff laundry line.  I felt like a shuffling parody of a character from Little House on the Prairie.

I was not really sure when the clothes were dry.  Some of them did get freeze-dried almost instantly.  The towels remained stiff as boards; it was only when they softened up a little that I realized any remaining moisture had evaporated and therefore they were probably dry.  You couldn’t tell by feeling, because they were so cold to the touch it was misleading.  I hung the smaller stuff inside the plastic-panel covered screen porch, which gets sun all day and can be comfortably warm due to the effects of “passive solar” heating up that space.

Then it was time to take the dog for a walk.  By now the temperature was really starting to drop, but I was dressed warmly enough.  Recently I purchased “booties” for my dog to wear in extreme weather.   Lest you think I’ve gone “frou-frou,” these booties are the types worn by search & rescue dogs over rough terrain.   Besides protecting my dog’s  feet from frostbite  and snow pellets that ball up his fur and cause him discomfort, they are a useful barrier against road salt which burns the pads of his feet and causes him to limp and plaster the most pitiful expression on his face.  If he were a little kid he’d be whining, “Carry me!” He looks ridiculous with the booties but seems to enjoy wearing them, based on the displays of glee while jumping, bounding and racing in the snow.

I called it quits after 3 1/2 miles, but not before I met up with several snowmobiling families returning to their base camp.  Since I live across from several snowmobile trails, I can hear their buzzing ever so faintly in the woods.  One of these days I hope to rent one and give it a try.  They look like a combination of  bobsled and motorcycle on skis, and go anywhere from 15 mph to 45 mph (though I’m told that there are racing versions that go 85 – 100 mph).  They can hold between one and two people, and the more powerful ones can tow supply sleds (for gas, emergency supplies, food, etc.)  The nice thing is that, unlike ATV vehicles, snowmobiles do no damage to the trail nor do they uproot plants, and snowmobile clubs are extremely conservation-conscious.  There’s nothing like having access to the back country in winter – it’s so beautiful and still. It’s also fun to realize that one is far from alone in the woods, based on the myriad of fresh tracks in the snow left by an incredible variety of wildlife.

Winter Wonderland

Kewaydin Lake, covered with ice and snow. It's hard to believe I swam here this past summer! (click to enlarge)

The day after we got 15″ of snow, I was out and about with my camera . . .

Our house (click to enlarge)

Near the top of the property, you see our house on the left, and Kezar Lake in the far distance to the upper right (click to enlarge)

Birch trees, late afternoon (click to enlarge)

 

A snowmobile trail up the road. Maine has a wide network of interconnected snowmobile trails that are hundreds of miles long, and go all the way up to Canada. (click to enlarge)

My spouse took this photo of wild turkeys just outside our door. They seemed to appreciate the freshly-plowed driveway! (click to enlarge)

Got Snow?

This one reminds me of the Milk Council ads . . . (click to enlarge)

We got 15″ of snow, and our dog Spencer couldn’t be happier.  He had a great time this afternoon, romping in the snow.

Warp speed (click to enlarge)

Dog smile (click to enlarge)