Posts Tagged ‘Woods’

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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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.

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!

Quiet

Many people have asked how I enjoy the quiet here in the Maine woods.

Our house sits on the middle of a hill, surrounded by mountains and a boggy pond.  Sound echoes and carries far; every sound is magnified. When I heard what I thought was a deer running in our woods, it turned out to be only a small red squirrel!

There is no “white noise” so each sound is distinct.  I can hear a car coming from a mile away, and conversations from hundreds of feet away.  I can hear a single dried leaf falling from the top of a tree, gently hitting the brittle leaves that still remain on the same tree as the leaf floats its way down to the ground.

Although I haven’t made an effort to make my own recordings, you can share in the sounds I hear by listening to these sound bytes I found on the Internet.  Although there are many variations, I’ve chosen the ones that sound just like the noises in my own backyard.  Please note, unless otherwise indicated, the majority of these pictures were taken by others, were found on the Internet, and are used for visual reference only.

I can hear (and see) wild turkeys almost daily: http://www.nwtf.org/audio/Gobbling.mp3

Late at night I may be awakened by far-off coyotes (click on “Coyote 1”):

http://www.soundboard.com/sb/Wild_Coyote_sounds.aspx

The haunting call of a loon, from several ponds away: http://www.nhest.org/cloon.wav

We have both grey and red foxes in this part of Maine.  Foxes calling to one another sound very  eerie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxLHUxzEoRU

Barred Owls are busy too: http://pelotes.jea.com/AnimalFact/Birds/owlbard.wav

A few times I’ve seen moose at the pond across from our house (sometimes with a calf).  I took these photos in May.

(click to enlarge)

 

(click to enlarge)

 

Each time it took a step, the moose “krechtzed” and I nearly laughed out loud.  The bull moose in this video taken in Glacier National Park is making a quieter version of the same sound, albeit a bit less dramatically: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xZdWhVQ4RU

Here is a photo I took of  some moose hoof-prints on the sandy edge of the road just across from our driveway, at the rim of the pond:

(click to enlarge)

I took this photo of a bull moose about an hour’s drive from our house in early June.  Bull moose lose their antlers in the beginning of winter and they regrow in the spring.

 

Bull Moose in "velvet" (click on photo to enlarge)

The new antler growth is initially covered in a velvety coating which the moose removes by rubbing on the nearest tree trunk, at which point they begin to look the way you’d expect moose antlers to look!

During the summer there was deafening high decibel chirping by what sounded like thousands of birds at the pond, from dusk to dawn.  A naturalist  I queried via email suggested they might be frogs!  So I did a search for “frogs of Maine” and listened to the various frog calls.  (Ok, I know, you’re thinking “Get a life!”)  Bingo!  The nocturnal sounds that drive us nuts are indeed “Spring Peepers” – a kind of frog.  Here is an audio file, but really you can’t begin to imagine the intensity unless you could turn the volume up ten times louder than you will hear now:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4a/Springpeepers.ogg

One frog “concert” that I actually enjoy is the sound of Green Frogs in the spring.  Their call sounds like a loose banjo string being plucked (click on the word “listen”)

http://imagess3.enature.com/listen.swf?rndm=1580&audio=AR0027

My grandchildren were very excited about sleeping outside in our pop-up camper when they came to visit this summer.  But all these noises were too discomforting, and they were back inside the house with eyes as wide as saucers within the first 30 minutes of their evening camp-out.

So much for “quiet” . . .

BD”E, Mr. Bear

The trouble started this summer.  My neighbor down the road, who hails from Massachusetts and was spending the week at his self-built rustic cabin in the woods, made a careless mistake:  he left his picnic cooler on the porch.

A young male 150 lb. bear that must have been tired of the abundant wild blueberries, was most appreciative.  He climbed onto the porch, opened the cooler, had a little feast, and lumbered away.

The neighbor thought it was a great adventure: no real harm done, and a bear on his porch!  But the next time, my neighbor said to himself, he must be more careful not to leave food in the cooler.

So the next night, the cooler lay empty on his porch.  The bear came back, looking for more.  I know this because at 11 p.m. I heard my neighbor shouting, “Get away! G’on now! Git!” and my poodle was barking like crazy at the commotion.

The following night, my neighbor was out for the evening.  My neighbor wasn’t taking any chances, so he made sure that the empty cooler was inside the cabin.  But this was one determined bear, and when he didn’t see the cooler on the porch, he decided to check where that cooler disappeared to.  As no one came to the door when the bear knocked, he invited himself in by climbing through the window (breaking the glass with his sheer bulk) and sure enough, the cooler was inside.

Unfortunately the cooler was empty, and the bear did not take this well.  Disgusted, he threw the empty cooler out the broken porch window, and decided to find some dinner elsewhere in the cabin.  He rummaged through the kitchen garbage and made a heck of a mess.  But I guess Mr. Bear was conscious about his dental hygiene because he then ambled over to the bathroom, where he proceeded to eat a tube of toothpaste and jump out the bathroom window, all before my neighbor returned home.  By now even my poodle was getting used to the sounds of the bear down the road, and after a single “Ruff!” the dog settled back into the comfort of his bed:  so much for protecting me against wild animals.

I got an email.  “If you see a bear that has peppermint breath, you’ll know he’s the one,” my neighbor wrote.  He also mentioned that should Mr. Bear return, the next time he would be greeted with a shotgun.

Alas, the following night the bear did indeed return.  Again I awoke late at night to my neighbor yelling, “Git! Git! G’on now!” and then… KABOOM!  But I could tell from the gun’s report that the neighbor had aimed over the bear’s head just to scare him away.

This was only momentarily successful.  With my dog on alert due to the gunshot, and barking like crazy, the bear ran onto our property.  It was pitch dark and I didn’t see him personally, but I know he was there because nervous Mr. Bear very inconsiderately pooped in the middle of our driveway, and let me tell you, bear scat  does not come in size small.

He did not return for a few days, so my neighbor stopped sleeping next to his shotgun, and I was now able to sleep through the night without interruption.  Alas, it did not last.  Taken by surprise, my neighbor was nowhere near his gun when the bear once again entered his cabin.  Thinking quickly, he sprayed him with the entire contents of his fire extinguisher.

“He should be easy to spot,” my neighbor told me the next day.  “He’s the one that looks like a polar bear.”

After meeting up with the fire extinguisher, the bear did not return.

Two weeks later, bear hunting season began.  The very first day, a hunter shot and killed a young male bear, around 150 lbs., about 1/2 mile from my house.   Unlike most of the bears in the area, he seemed to be used to humans.

Wood

If Mainers were pagans, the preferred god of worship would certainly be the tree.  Here in the White Mountains, people live and breathe wood, be it pine, maple, oak, beech, birch, ash, hickory or larch.

This view was taken 10 minutes' drive from our home

It seems like everyone is in some way connected to wood:  foresters, woodsmen (loggers and sawyers), builders, carpenters, cabinet makers, fuel sellers (cordwood and pellets), landscapers (mulch), chimney sweepers, paper mill workers and artisans.    Property taxes are reduced significantly if one owns 10 acres or more under the Maine Tree Growth Tax Law, if one designates part of one’s land as forestland, used for growth of trees to be eventually harvested for commercial use and then replanted.

On a sunny day our solar panels generate 1200-1400 watts of electricity, usually adequate for our needs

I admit to feeling sad when we had to chop down so many trees (75 – 100) to prepare our building site.  And when we decided to use solar to power our home, it meant another 50 – 75 trees had to go:  their shadows were preventing the solar collector panels from doing their job.  But Mainers have no room for sentimentality, only sustainability.  Indeed, our downed trees provide a crucial resource that is the key to winter survival:  heat.

Make no mistake, a broken heating system in one’s house is treated like a 911 call by one’s heating contractor, because without heat, pipes freeze and burst, causing horrific flooding, damage and mold, not to mention the actual possibility of freezing to death in one’s own abode.  Heating contractors work under deplorable winter conditions, sometimes 25 degrees below zero, to restore heat to afflicted homes.  Summer homes, or “camps” as they are called locally, are big business for heating contractors who make part of their living shutting down seasonal homes for the winter (turning off water, draining pipes with air compressors and flushing them with antifreeze) and opening them up again in late spring.

Nearly everyone has at least two ways to heat their home, and most homeowners have backups to their backup systems, whether it’s wood, oil, propane, kerosene, or electricity.  But for economic and practical reasons, wood as a heat source is king.

We furnished our house cheaply (thank you craigslist) but we spared no expense on our soapstone woodstove.  The soapstone stays warm and radiates heat long after the last embers have cooled.  It is an airtight, high-efficiency stove that qualified for a 30% tax credit, and so far it seems well worth the cost.  It weighs 525 lbs and took three strong, struggling men to bring it into the house.

The woodsplitter in front of the woodpile next to the shed

Once all that wood was cut into logs and split, it had to be stored.

Splitting the wood

the massive and powerful gasoline-powered splitter, up close

I spent about 4 days stacking it into the woodshed.  It’s heavy, tedious work, but I kind of enjoyed it.  I have always admired a neatly-stacked woodpile, and there are many ways to stack and store the wood to maximize ventilation (good airflow so the wood can dry out) and weather protection (from snow, rain, animals and insects).  Besides the esoteric beauty of the pile’s pattern and design, and developing a healthy pair of biceps, stacking wood gave me a chance to think about all sorts of things (or not!) without distraction.  By the fourth day of this focused toil, I was convinced that we could lessen the affects of juvenile ADD by having schoolchildren stack wood for a couple of hours every day!

the now-split wood in front of our 12' x 16' woodshed (note the mezuzah!) Now it must be stacked, a log at a time, inside the shed.

At this point our woodshed is only 1/3 full; the wood is piled 6' high. Our Standard Poodle is wearing a blaze-orange bandana in case he is mistaken for a bear during hunting season - a genuine concern!

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