Posts Tagged ‘winter’

Of Mice and Men

A full tray of D-CON is about to replace an empty one.  I have spared my dear readers a picture of the dead mouse!

A full tray of D-CON is about to replace an empty one. I have spared my dear readers a picture of the dead mouse!

After driving through the night, we arrived in Maine on Sunday at 7:30 a.m.  Once inside, we were greeted by three totally empty trays of D-CON (mouse poison) and one very dead mouse (my husband had the unpleasant task of removing it).   A propitious start, I thought.

I’m always a little on edge when I walk into my house after a prolonged absence . . . especially between seasons, when there are extreme temperature changes.  Once the wildlife know we’re gone, they are only too happy to “house-sit” in our nice, cozy abode while we’re away.  Intruders of the non-human variety can mean anything from beetles, flies and wasps, to rodents,  porcupines, raccoons, fishers, or even bears.

When our house was being built, shortly after we installed our garage door, a very determined mouse gnawed at the hard plastic and rubber weather seal at the bottom, breaking it and creating a glaring point of entry.  This kind of damage was not covered under our garage door warranty, and repair would be expensive, since they’d have to take apart the entire door in order to replace the weather-stripping.  We decided to live with it, and try to fill the hole with spray-foam insulation and steel wool.

Meanwhile I took no chances, even though I didn’t really have a mouse problem – – yet.  I put trays of D-CON throughout my house:  under the kitchen cabinets, behind the microwave,  in our basement under our food storage shelves, and at the bottom corners of the garage door.  We do a visual check for possible mouse infestation each time we return to Maine from our home town, especially since that time when my husband went to use the bathroom upon arrival – – and found a dead mouse in the toilet. (We now make sure we keep the toilet lid closed before we go away.)  Once we noticed that the tray of D-CON behind the microwave oven had been delicately noshed, but no further signs of mice or their droppings were discovered.  (I should mention at this point that when our grandchildren come for the summer, we remove all the trays of D-CON for safety’s sake.)

This time, though, I had a feeling that mouse presence would be worse, because the house had been vacant for 3 weeks and outside it was terribly cold.

Sure enough, all the trays of D-CON inside the house had been ravaged.  One small dead mouse was on the floor next to our food storage shelves.  Fortunately, the food was completely untouched (I store large, emergency-sized non-perishables such as grains, flour, nuts, seeds, condiments, etc. in glass jars and industrial-strength sealed plastic containers that are inaccessible to non-humans).  Unlike rats (thank heavens we don’t have those!) mice desiccate and are odorless after death, but even then it is unusual to find a deceased one out in the open.  I only found a couple of random mouse droppings.  But the hole in the bottom corner of the garage door is a little bigger so it looks like we will have to have that weather-stripping under the garage door replaced professionally, after all.

The problem with finding evidence of a mouse is that, left unabated, they multiply rapidly. (You can click here to see what happened to our pop-up camper when it was taken over by mice two summers ago.)  I couldn’t be sure it was “only” one mouse, even though at present there was no evidence of more.  This meant an unplanned trip into town to buy more D-CON, a drive I was not enthusiastic about doing after being on the road for the past 10 1/2 hours.  After all, I had loaded the car with groceries from our home town so I wouldn’t have to do shopping for a week.   But with predictions of a snowstorm headed our way the following day, it was now or never, so we did make the 45-minute trek into North Conway.

But before setting out, there was even more important business to take care of:  getting our house warm.  We cannot simply turn off the heat when we leave, as the pipes will freeze, but we do set the thermostat very low so we won’t go through too much (expensive!) propane while we’re away.  When you’ve been driving through the night, the last thing you feel like doing when you come into the house exhausted and cold is building a fire and puttering around to keep it going.  I’ve learned from experience that before we leave Maine, I layer kindling and firewood in the woodstove and close its door, so all I have to do when I return to Maine  is open the woodstove door,  light the pre-prepared wood with a match, and an effortless fire awaits.  Even with the hottest of fires, though, it takes hours to bring the indoor room temperature from 45 degrees F (!) to 67 degrees F.  But by now I have the routine down pat and make sure that longjohns/leggings, sweaters, gloves, hats and coats are close by.

Suddenly we realized that we had forgotten to replace the screen panels on our porch with plexiglass ones.  We use our  porch, which is located just off the kitchen, even on sunny winter days, thanks to its ideal southerly location.  In the summer, the porch is shaded by trees and the cool breezes flow pleasantly through the screen panels.  In late autumn or early winter, once the leaves have fallen and the outside temperature cools, we replace the screens with plexiglass.  The southern exposure of the porch means that the sun shines on the plexiglass panels on a sunny day, and through this “passive solar” heat our porch can often reach temperatures of  60 – 65 degrees F on a 20 degree F day!

But because we had neglected to do the switch-over before returning to our home town, we were now faced with unscrewing the screen panels and screwing in the plexiglass panels in 22 degree temperature!  Needless to say that although we worked quickly, we were forced to seek shelter indoors in between each panel installation to warm our hands (gloves were too bulky to handle the tiny screws).

Taking down the summer screens...

Taking down the summer screens…

. . . and putting up the plexiglass panels

. . . and putting up the plexiglass panels

We had planned our departure from our home town carefully.  Since a snow storm would hit the East Coast on Sunday but not reach Maine until Monday, we decided to leave right after Shabbat, on Saturday night, and drive through the night.  We figured that if we could fit in a nap after davening (religious prayers at the synagogue) and lunch on Saturday (not an easy feat considering the short hours of daylight), we’d be rested enough to travel the distance to Maine, especially if we could  alternate the driving between us.  An added bonus would be the lack of traffic at night, but unfortunately we hadn’t counted on New York’s perpetually jammed George Washington Bridge (with the rip-off toll price of $13 for the “privilege” of traversing it) being busy even at midnight.   But once we managed to get out of New York the rest of the way was quick and uneventful.  Indeed, the very next morning our home town experienced a huge snowstorm even bigger than predicted, and the entire New Jersey turnpike was hazardous  with snow, ice, and accidents, so our timing had been perfect.

That same snowstorm finally hit us today.  I did manage to trek 3 miles in the woods with my very enthusiastic dog in the morning, while the snow was still sparse.  I walked with trekking poles in case it got icy in spots, but this turned out to be unnecessary.  The temperature was 22 degrees, but I was wearing layers and a down jacket and in reality I was a bit too warm.  At least now my cheeks have a rosy glow.

Instead of attending to work responsibilities (I have several clients waiting on photos), I spent the morning cooking enough food to last for the next 2 days.  I made a hearty vegetable soup, some butternut squash, sweet potatoes, lentils, beans, and a large tub of yogurt – – all “stick to your ribs” kinds of food for the coming cold spell. (Forecast for Wednesday night is 3 degrees F and 0 degrees  F Friday night.)

After heating 1/2 gallon of milk to the foamy stage and letting it cool slightly, I added a few tablespoons of yogurt to the milk and stirred well.  Then I poured this warm mixture into a bowl, covered the bowl with a plate, and wrapped it in a beach towel for extra insulation.  Usually I let the yoghurt ferment in the trunk of my car on a summer day, but in winter I put the bowl on a trivet on my wood stove.  After about 8 hours the yoghurt will solidify to the proper consistency.  I then let it sit overnight in the fridge to firm up some more.  The next day I will spoon it into a large glass jar and enjoy.  This is about a 1-week supply.

Homemade winter yogurt:  After heating 1/2 gallon of milk to the foamy stage on my regular propane range and letting it cool slightly, I added a few tablespoons of  plain, store-bought yogurt to the milk and stirred well. Then I poured this warm mixture into a bowl, covered the bowl with a plate, and wrapped it in a beach towel for extra insulation. Usually I let the yogurt ferment in the trunk of my car on a warm summer day, but in winter I put the bowl on a trivet on my fired-up wood stove, since our indoor room temperature of 67 is not warm enough for the yogurt to culture properly.  After about 8 hours the yogurt will solidify to the proper consistency. I then let it sit overnight in the fridge to firm up some more. The next day I will spoon it into a large glass storage jar.   I like to use the yogurt to make smoothies, or to eat 1 cup plain with 1/4 cup of raw oatmeal and frozen blueberries mixed in.  This makes about a 1-week supply.

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What Sunshine Brings

After two weeks of cloudy skies, we woke up to bright sunshine and brilliant blue skies.  Although the forecast said it would be 45 F over Shabbos, we were surprised with 61 degrees!

I set up a chair outside to soak up the day’s warmth and when not reading, I enjoyed listening to the quiet and looking out into the woods.  My dog sat about a foot away from my chair, when suddenly a little black field mouse scampered between us.  My dog lifted his head in surprise, but looked at me with an expression that seemed to say, “Nah, not worth it.” And so the mouse lived to see another day.

The warmth meant that cluster flies’ larvae hatched.  Cluster flies look exactly like common houseflies, and as far as I can tell they do not bite.  What makes them odd is how slowly they fly around, almost clumsy in slo-mo and masochistically easy to swat when they come into the house to annoy us.

In the midst of my lazing around I suddenly heard very loud buzzing.  I thought it was the cluster flies, but upon closer investigation I realized that the strong sunshine had warmed up the beehives and for the first time all winter, the bees had exited their hives and were foraging.  Unfortunately for them, there is simply nothing for them to forage – – there is no pollen nor flowers as yet, and they were angry, tired and weak.  One that flew near me plopped to the ground, wobbled a bit like a disoriented, drunken clown, and after a few tries managed to get airborne again.  There is still honey and some supplementary sugar paste in the hives which served to nourish them over the winter, so for those strong enough to find their way back to the hives, they would survive their premature exit.  I cannot help but wonder about all those who were not so lucky.

I walked quite a bit this Shabbos, trying to make the most of the glorious day.  The snow is thin, especially along the well-used snowmobile trails, and I suspect tomorrow will be the snowmobilers’  last day till next winter.  While out and about a fellow on a snowmobile stopped to talk to me.  I couldn’t really see who I was talking to, since he was wearing dark goggles and had on a full helmet.

“Was there enough snow on the trails?” I asked.

The man answered me and I really had to strain to understand his thick Maine accent, but I still missed much of whatever he had to say.  Suddenly I realized he wasn’t talking about snowmobiling at all, but maple syrup.  And then he said, “By the way, my name is Buck.” He pulled off his helmet and I realized it was the fellow I met at the local library this past Tuesday.  In a conversation I’d eavesdropped upon, he mentioned that his “trees were running well” which means that the syrup was flowing from his tapped sugar maple trees.  I stepped forward and asked him if he had any maple syrup to sell and he said I was welcome to come by later in the week when the syrup-making was further along, He’d tapped 72 trees so there should be plenty of sap this year, he said, and the warmer days and cold nights of the past week were ideal for a high yield.

Now here is a funny thing about rural Mainers:  they are suspicious of people “from away.”  Mainers are very friendly (you cannot walk anywhere down a country road without a passing car’s driver raising his hand to say hello), and some are downright chatty.  Ask advice about any topic and they are happy to give it, but never to take it.  Anyone worth his salt has been living here for generations, and they’re perfectly happy with life as it is and they don’t want to hear about how people “from away” do things or how things could be better.  To them, a person “from away” represents change, and perhaps altering the culture and values they cherish.  So when you meet a rural Mainer, they will be perfectly polite, and may talk your arm off for 30 minutes – – but they will never introduce themselves, and never tell you their name.  They might tell you their name if you ask (and then it would be only a first name), but it is considered rather uncouth to ask.  When I met Buck for the first time at the library and asked about his syrup, he told me on which rural road he was located, but no street number (even though there are 5 houses on that road), and he certainly didn’t offer his name.  Had I gone looking for him, I would have had to look for a small shed with a chimney (a sugar shack), or knock on doors asking for “the guy who makes syrup.”

So when he said, “my name is Buck,”  it wasn’t just an introduction.  He was not saying “you are one of us now” – – that will never be – – but he was saying, “I guess you’re here to stay, so  . . . welcome.”

And that was no small thing, here in rural Maine.

Almost Over

winterbirch1

That’s not smoke, fog, nor a low cloud – – it’s snow blowing due to high winds. Brrrrr! (click to enlarge)

I’m now back in Maine:  YAY!

While in the post office yesterday, it became clear to me that not everyone is as excited by winter as I am.

“Didja he-yuh, more snow fuh this week?”

“Ayuh.  I say, enough already!”

Perhaps it’s because I was gone for a month and missed the cruelest part of winter (it was -30 with windchill); but I still get excited with every bit of snowfall.  Thanks to the woodstove, our house is always nice and toasty, and we really are at the stage where the weather can’t quite decide if it’s the end of winter or beginning of spring –  – temperatures continue to hover  just above or below freezing.  Hopefully we can avoid a lot of sleet, which is never fun, and of course, once the melt begins, we have mud season to look forward to.

But for now, there is still ample snow on the ground, much to the delight of snowmobilers  and dogsledders who love to explore the wooded trails that crisscross the White Mountains.

People often ask us if we are bored on Shabbos.  It is very quiet, but never uninteresting or unenjoyable.  This is actually a busy time in this part of the woods, and there is more traffic than usual (in summer we get an average of one car per hour down our road, if that).  While out for a walk this past Shabbos, we saw at least a dozen snowmobiles, plus a dog team of 6 American Eskimo, Husky, and Malamute dogs pulling a sled with a “musher,” his wife , and their preteen daughter.  Of course we stopped to chat – – that’s just what you do in Maine.  We also met up with the law enforcement side of the forest service – – a game warden.  We spoke with him as well, and he told us that they patrol the trails (on snowmobiles, of course), checking snowmobile registrations (you have to register your snowmobile much like you register a car) as well as ensuring that snowmobilers are sober and safety-conscious.

Just down the street from us, we drive down this six-mile-long road, which leads to Evans Notch in New Hampshire, all summer long, but it's open only to hikers, snowmobilers and dogsledders in the winter.  Think of this scene the next time you are stuck in city traffic!

Just down the street from us, we drive down this six-mile-long road, which leads to Evans Notch in New Hampshire, all summer long, but it’s open only to hikers, snowmobilers and dogsledders in the winter. Think of this scene the next time you are stuck in city traffic!

As we made our way back home, we met up with a single woman who was also out for a walk.  Laura is a life-long Mainer whose Maine roots go back many generations.  It turns out I’ve passed her house many times on my walks in the woods – – she is  my  second-closest full-time neighbor, only a mile-and-a-quarter away (!).  (By “full-time,” I am excluding those who live in summer/vacation cabins.)

She regaled us with stories of  her “Grampy,”  who lived in Norway, ME (about a 30 minute drive from here) his entire life.  He had worked for decades at a wooden dowel factory.  It was his custom to walk home for lunch.  After a perfect on-time attendance record, one day he was 15 minutes late getting back to the factory after lunch.  He was so mortified, he figured if he couldn’t walk fast enough to get back to work on time, he wasn’t good for anything.  So he quit that job on the spot!

“That’s when Grampy was 89,” Laura added.

Life is awfully good here in Maine.

Nemo

Due to complications from my recent surgery, we were unable to return to Maine according to our preferred schedule.  Unfortunately this meant that we missed Nemo entirely.  I say “unfortunately” because we love snow and extreme winter weather, especially when experienced from inside our woodstove-heated house that has plenty of stored food and emergency supplies, along with 2 different backup systems if there is a power failure:  indeed, we are snug as bugs in the rug, despite windchill temperatures of -30F.

And when the storm finally clears, there is nothing more magnificent that first few hours post-blizzard than a deep blue, crystal clear sky; the brisk frigid air that is tempered by the sun’s reflection on the powdery white, gleaming expanse;  the branches heavy with clumpy snow; the intermittent chaos of sliding and pounding snow falling off the roof at any given moment; the fun of trudging and exploring on snowshoes or cross-country skis; my dog jumping and diving and burying himself in the drifts with utter exuberance; the clean whitewash of terrain as far as the eye can see; and especially, the still quiet that is so profound that it makes your ears burn and your soul leap.

Our friend Peter was kind enough to send us a photo from Old Orchard Beach, where a tiny pocket of Jewry maintains its presence along the Atlantic shore.  Oh, how I wish I could have seen it!

Where sand, snow and surf meet, post-Nemo:  Old Orchard Beach, Maine.

Where sand, snow and surf meet, post-Nemo: Old Orchard Beach, Maine.

“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)

Bereishis

Only a few weeks ago we once again began the cycle of weekly Sabbath Torah readings from Bereishis, Genesis.  The first line is “In the beginning HaShem created” and we learn how G-d makes “something” (our world!) from “nothingness.”

Building a house is, in a small way l’havdil, an act of bereishis (creation).  I am amazed at the myriad of steps, coordination, and work it took to create this something from nothing.

From a piece of raw land, it wasn’t just a matter of hammering lumber together to make a house.  A driveway had to be built- trees had to come down, earth had to be moved and flattened, gravel had to be laid.  A foundation had to be poured – and whatever was done, had to be done with precision since it was literally “set in stone” and could not easily be altered.  Lines had to be laid for plumbing, electricity, sewage.  Each of the multitude of workers labored within his incredible specialty with finesse and craftsmanship.  Each man’s work was separate, yet dependent on the others’ to see the house to completion. Just as each instrument in an orchestra has its own unique sound, lovely in its own right, united they make a symphony.  Perhaps it sounds melodramatic, but it is not without some awe that I look at the completed structure which only months before was a messy sketch on a notepad, and realize: this is an act of bereishis.

Lest a sense of accomplishment go to my head, King David brings me back to reality in Psalm 127 (which I have reproduced on post-it notes placed strategically throughout the house):  “If G-d will not build the house, its builders labor on it in vain.”  Whether it’s the Beis HaMikdash (the holy Temple) or l’havdil one’s own house, HaShem is the true Architect.  As I look at the nature surrounding me here in the woods of Maine – animals,  insects, plants, mountains, the changing seasons – I am truly awed by the incredibly detailed and wonderous miracle of G-d’s Creation.

Here are pictures of the driveway being built from the raw land, so a homesite could be laid out:

 

 

Most people would start building a driveway at the end of spring, but our excavator, a real "Maineah," loves a challenge in the dead of winter

 

 

 

The beginning of the 500' long driveway

 

 

 

The driveway starts to take shape

 

 

 

 

now graded, the driveway still needs a layer of gravel

 

 

 

Looking down to frozen Little Pond, a bog that attracts moose in Spring and Fall