Posts Tagged ‘Shabbos’

The Eagle Has Landed

Many people ask us, “What do you do for Shabbos?  Isn’t it boring being out there by yourselves in the woods for an entire Shabbos?”

We do have guests for Shabbos; sometimes friends or family from home, other times complete strangers; but it’s always interesting (we are members of shabbat.com – an international web host-guest “matchmaking” service  – check it out!).

This past Shabbos, we did not have guests, but it was certainly not dull!

At 6:15 this morning, I was awakened by a very loud noise outside my bedroom window.  I recognized the noises.  First there was a soft squeak.  Then there was a very loud, high-pitched screech.  Then flapping, like a bird taking flight.  But it wasn’t any old flapping. It was very loud and deep, like something HUGE.  How can I describe the sound?  If you shook out a bath towel on a windy day, it would make a certain type of fluttering noise.  But if you took an 8′ x 10′ tarp and shook it out the same way, it would not be a fluttering noise – it would be a low thunder.  Instinctively, I  knew immediately – it was an eagle!  But:  I was in a Nyquil-induced fog.  Stupidly lazy, I yelled at my husband:  “Quick!  Go to the window!  There is something out there!”

Bless him, my husband awoke like his pajamas were on fire and ran to the window, only to see a huge dark wingspan that looked as wide as our driveway (actually, the wingspan is a maximum of 7′) rising from the ground, sailing up into the sky.  That was it – mere seconds – and the eagle, grasping whatever little creature had squeaked when caught by its talons – – was gone.  A couple of years ago I’d seen a young bald eagle hanging around the bog at the bottom of the driveway – – when young, bald eagles are one color and look just like golden eagles; they develop their iconic white-feathered heads when they reach maturity, at about age 5.  But this was the first time one was seen directly on our property – – and right beneath our bedroom window!

A little while later, my husband was about to start davening, when he looked outside.  There, in my orchard, were two wild turkey hens, accompanied by two chicks.  When they sensed they were being observed, they ran quickly into the woods.

Yesterday – –  Friday – –  it had rained non-stop for 24 hours; a hard, unremitting, driving, pounding rain, falling in sheets; we got 6″ of rain and there were flash flood warnings on the roads.  But today it was absolutely perfect.  The sky was a deep azure blue; there was a stiff breeze so the bugs were few; the sun shone brightly and it was 77 degrees.  After davening and lunch we went for a walk, but upon our return I felt like I needed some more outdoors time.  Around 3:30 pm I was laying in the hammock, looking into the woods, relaxing.

Suddenly my dog gave a short, quiet, “Woof!” and ran towards the woods.  Much to my utter amazement, a moose cow was running through our property!  Again, the whole thing was over in seconds.  Had it not been for my dog, I would have missed the moose entirely.

Later in the day we walked over to the cabin  down the road to report the moose sighting to our weekend neighbors.  “Yes!” said the woman, “I was just out blackberry picking in our woods and I suddenly heard a noise.  I turned around, and there was a moose not ten feet away from me!  I don’t know who was more startled!  I looked at her, she looked at me . . . and then the moose simply walked away.  I am so excited!” she said, giving her husband a huge hug.

I don’t know what makes seeing a moose so exciting, but it is!  I never get tired of this experience.  How a creature so huge and ungainly looking can somehow move with such grace and speed, and camouflage itself so effectively so as to “disappear” in front of your eyes – – it’s both wondrous and endearing.

So that was our Shabbos . . . certainly not boring!

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Survival of the Quickest

I was suffering from a bad bout of insomnia for several nights and finally I couldn’t take it anymore.  So Friday night, which was layl Shabbat, after dinner and some reading and endless tossing and turning, I made a l’chaim with Nyquil when the clock hit midnight.  I didn’t take more than the recommended dose because one shlug is all it takes for a wonderful night of uninterrupted sleep.

A Nyquil-induced sleep is a beautiful thing, but woe to anyone who is forcefully awakened out of this drug-induced slumber!  If you try to wake before your body is truly ready to be woken, you will feel yourself moving in a slow-mo fog, completely disoriented as you strive to greet the day.  Alarm clocks and previous-night Nyquil do not mix.  But the following day was Shabbat, and I had nowhere that I had to go and other than serving up my cholent, no real obligations to meet, so Nyquil and I had a midnight meeting.

Within moments the Nyquil had its intended effect; I slept a blissful sleep.  When I awoke at 9:30 on Shabbat morning I felt rested and well.  I still had plenty of time to daven the Shabbat morning prayers before kiddush and lunch, so I got dressed at a slowpoke pace and wandered into our dining/living room, where my husband had just finished davening shacharis.

“You aren’t going to believe what I saw!” he said excitedly.  “I didn’t know if I should wake you, but I was worried that by the time you’d get to the window, it would have been too late anyhow!”

It turns out that while davening, out of the corner of his eye, he sensed movement outside the window.  He looked at a tall tree 30′ from the window, and running up the tree was a squirrel.  Chasing the squirrel was a Canada lynx!  The Canada lynx was hot on the heels of the squirrel (do squirrels even have heels?) and my husband thought, “Okay, that’s it for the squirrel – he’s a goner.”  But at the very last second, the squirrel jumped across to a neighboring tree, which stopped the lynx in its tracks – the branch at the top of the other tree was far too thin to support the lynx’s weight.  Slowly, while looking across at the squirrel, the lynx inched its way back down the tree to the bottom, and then scampered off in search of breakfast elsewhere.

Canada lynx are extremely rare – in fact they are on the endangered list – – and many rural Mainers, including outdoorsmen who spend a great deal of time in the woods, will go their whole lives without ever having the privilege of seeing one.  This is our third lynx sighting in 3 years, although the 2 previous sightings were fleeting and at night.  It’s probably the same lynx that is calling this general area its territory, but wow!  It was actually on our property and in broad daylight!  I am so happy my husband was able to witness this natural drama.

“Are you upset I didn’t wake you?”  he asked, feeling a little guilty.

“I am sorry I missed it,” I replied, “but in the life-and-death battle of Nature, animals and mankind . . . Nyquil wins.”

You can find out more about Canada lynx in Maine, and how to tell the difference between a lynx and a bobcat,  by clicking here.

Shabbat in the Maine Woods

I could really relate to this and next week’s Torah portions.  Avraham is out in the middle of nowhere, recovering from several life-changing experiences, and he decides to seek out guests.  So he leaves his tent doors open, waiting.

Well we didn’t leave our door open (too many bugs and falling leaves) but somehow we found Shabbos guests, the “P’s.”  And they are both Jewish!  Who knew?  They live two mountaintops away, and like everyone who comes and settles in this part of Maine, they are “interesting” (in a good way).

First, a bit about my Shabbat preparations.  I had forgotten to bring a small blech from our “home town” (the stovetop piece of metal that keeps our food warm), and I didn’t want to keep the propane oven running the whole of Shabbos (propane is expensive and we’re conservation-conscious).  That’s when I realized we could use the top of our soapstone woodstove!  The night was cold enough so that a crackling fire would make things cozy and comfortable, in addition to serving as a food-warmer.  I’ve attached a photo so you get the idea…

 

Soapstone Woodstove as a Shabbos blech (hotplate)

 

Back to the “P’s.”  It’s a second marriage for both, nearly 20 years strong.  Both were idealistic hippie-ish kids in the 70’s, children of affluent doctors and lawyers and academians, suburban Jews on the East Coast, and both were part of the “Back to the Land” movement that was prevalent way back then – a kind of predecessor to the “green” movement of today, when people bought cheap land on which they grew what they needed to eat and live, building teepees and cabins and yurts, sometimes living communally and sometimes as hermits, raising families and becoming generally self-sufficient.  Many couldn’t hack it – it was a hard life; some realized that there was little romance in having to toil at all hours in extreme weather; with little guidance or experience many found handling tools and livestock beyond their ken; for some the isolation was too great.  But those that made it became modern-day homesteading pioneers.

Mr. P came to Maine simply because land was cheap.  He bought an entire mountain – several hundred acres – and with his wife and a couple of babies they started to carve out a home.  And I do mean carve – literally.  By themselves, they started excavating a long, winding road up the mountain to their home site, cutting trees, removing stumps, smoothing, laying gravel up the steep incline.  The house itself sits on ledge – solid bedrock.  Mr. P had to shave the granite so it would be flat enough to place his foundation.  They were too far from power lines, nor did they have the funds to think about (or desire) having electricity, so they put in some solar panels and a small generator for the most basic needs they couldn’t do without.  And slowly, every day of their lives for 30 years, they toiled (and continue to toil) to build and maintain their house and property as it sits today.

The challenges were immense.  An experiment with a windmill tower as a power source ended when it was hit by lightening, and the entire house burned to the ground, leaving them with only the clothes on their backs (Mr. P and his 3 children were fortunately not home at the time).  The fruits of their years of toil were over in minutes.  Yet, the next day, he walked to the bottom of his driveway and found the back of his pickup truck piled full of food, clothing, toys, and written offers to help him rebuild – all from neighbors (“neighbors” in these sparsely populated parts can mean people living 10 miles away) who were just being “neighborly” in the way often-reticent Mainers are.

Mr. P’s marriage ended, but 6 months later he began his providential relationship with the current and like-minded Mrs. P.  She works as a teacher in a school for high-risk teens; Mr. P works as a private consultant and installer of solar-powered systems for people living off the grid, as well as a mason, a carpenter, a woodsman – a jack-of-all trades, completely self-taught.  They may not be “rich” but they pay in cash and have no debts.     They use only what they need.  They are happy.

Their life is not an easy one.  Their road up their mountain is too windy and steep to plow in the winter, so they park at the bottom and walk up in snowshoes.  Come November, they buy all the non-perishable food they will need for the next four months – huge commercial-sized barrels of rice, oats, beans, flour, powdered milk and condiments.  Mrs. P spends the summer canning and preserving the multiple fruits of their orchards and the vegetables from their large garden.  Any fresh food is brought up in backpacks.  Since bad weather is no excuse for not appearing at her work in school, Mrs. P must climb down the mountain to her car when it is still dark in the early morning hours, sometimes in blizzard conditions and gale-force winds, with a windchill temperature of –25.  While it’s impressive under any circumstances, it is all the more so when you realize they are in their late 50s.

We met the P’s when I was looking for someone to install our solar array, so we could divorce ourselves from the heavy hand of the power company.  It’s not that we were so into being “green” as it was a practical consideration:  we knew it would be expensive to power our home in the winter in Maine, and the power company could charge whatever they felt like for that privilege.  We were (and are) generally worried about what will likely be a very limited income for us once my husband retires (or G-d forbid, loses his job in the current economy) and how the heck we will pay for the most basic of needs (power, heat, etc) as we age.  So we decided we’d attempt to live as self-sufficiently as possible, and not let outside forces dictate how we’d power our home and to what extent, based on affordability.  Plus, here in Maine, the weather is so bad that power outages are a fact of life.  We have a back-up generator (powered by an underground propane tank) but it’s noisy and annoying and can take half a day to recharge the house’s batteries.  Solar seemed like the best option (yes, despite the severe winters, there are plenty of sunny days with brilliant blue skies, and solar power is based on the amount of light, not the amount of degrees outside).

The P’s invited me up to their place to see for myself how a self-sufficient household is run.  That’s when I noticed a yellowed photograph of one of their sons wearing a tallis – a classic bar mitzvah picture.

“Um, excuse me for asking – but are you Jewish?” I gasped.  I had yet to meet a single Jew anywhere within 50 miles.

Not only are the P’s Jewish, but they are very proud hosts of an annual Passover seder – where 40 Jews (and some with their non-Jewish spouses) gather amid lots of food, Manischevitz wine, charoset and the Four Questions!

“You’d be surprised to know how many Jews are hiding in these parts,” Mr. P confided.

So we invited the P’s for dinner.  They especially enjoyed the Shabbos zemiros (songs) and discussion about the weekly Torah portion.  We got another surprise when they told me about what a wonderful Sukkot gathering they had this year – for twenty people!  Apparently one of their Jew in the Woods friends had recently taken an interest in rediscovering his roots – and had been corresponding with a Chabad rabbi in NY via the Internet.  The rabbi offered to send some rabbinical students with a portable sukka… and the rest is history.  The Lubavitchers drove 7 1/2 hours up the 95 in a rented pickup truck that they had converted into a portable sukka – and over lox and bagels the P’s rounded up 20 Jewish souls to celebrate the Sukkot holiday for their very first time.

Life in Maine just keeps getting more and more interesting…

 

Our Shabbos table overlooking the Maine Woods