Bread and Fire

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It was Saturday. I had time. So I baked some bread. And it was light and fluffy. Bread flour, that does the trick, I tell you. All that extra gluten stretches things out. Like magic. A big round fluffy loaf of goodness. Hot and fresh and delish. It went well with the soup I made. I put kale in the soup. Trying to be trendy? Nope. It just works in a vegetable soup. So, yeah, fresh bread and hot soup. Can’t beat it.

We lit up a fire outside Friday night. All summer I was thinking it would be great to have a fire in our fire ring outside. Look out over the dark field, watch the stars, flames dancing, sparks drifting up. All that romantic business. But the sun sets late in the summer. Start a fire just before dark and you’re up until 11:00. Some of us have to go to work in the morning.

But this time of year the sun sets much earlier. So crackling flames while we  hang out and listen to the coyotes sing? That’s a good deal. We did smell a skunk that night, but we talked loudly enough we hoped to keep it away. Apparently we did.

Saturday we cranked up the fire pit again. It was windy, but at least that kept the flames alive the whole time. We nibbled on Halloween-themed Oreos, talked about summer and Christmas and school and traveling, and we watched the stars pop in and out from the behind the clouds that were whipping across the sky.

It was so much fun that when friends unexpectedly came over on Sunday night we lit a fire one more time. We polished off those Oreos, and the bread, and laughed under a starless sky. We wore jackets. Some of us had to go to work in the morning so were were not out there too late. But three nights in a row with the comfort of a fire on a beautiful night? Stellar.

Fall Sky at Day’s End

Walking a couple of nights ago, the sky put on a show. Steaks of pink and yellow and orange. I mean, damn. It kept getting better as we walked. We turned around and it kept getting better.

We were surrounded by loveliness. I know a gazillion people post sunset photos on Instagram. It’s a thing. Pictures of sunsets have been a thing for as long as color photos have been a thing.  Still, I took some photos and here they are. 

I guess they are a thing because a glorious sunset is amazing. Look at these photos, for god’s sake. Nice! And they don’t do any justice to the real thing. You’ve seen a sunset like this. I know you have. It is awesome in the real sense–it inspires awe. 

The leaves are starting to turn. The air is colder. This morning’s temperature was 37 degrees.  We had a fire outside last night. We watched the almost full moon over the gathering fog while the flames flickered. Gotta love fall.

This was the culmination of that sky. This is where I live. Not bad.

Smoke News

My wife surprised me and took me out to dinner this evening.  She got someone to watch the kids, got all gussied up to look more beautiful than she usually does (which pretty much makes me get all weak-kneed on a normal day) and we headed over the hill to the Bearded Frog in Shelburne.  They have good food at that particular establishment.  The last time we ate there I had to try three times to make something resembling the melt-in-you-mouth squash soup we tasted.  My soup was good but it wasn’t as good.

We sat in the corner, all cozy and romantic, only you can’t really have a cozy and romantic dinner when you are bound to run into somebody you know.  One of our neighbors and her daughter, visiting from New Jersey, sat at the table next to ours once things got hopping.  We chatted, of course, as was polite, and genuinely interesting in this case.  And fun.  We shared some laughter and the people at the next table over got into the conversation and it was generally a good time.

But the point here is that our neighbor is the one who owns the property where the smoke has been coming from (see yesterday’s post).  It was still smoking when we left the house for our sans children event.  It turns out she was away, came home about 5:00 to see the tower of smoke rising near the house.  She could tell right away it wasn’t the house (her first fear) and thought it might be the barn (fear number two).  Fortunately it was just a pile of hay.  It was a big pile of hay, combusted by the heat of the day.  Some folks pushed it around to make sure nothing else would catch, and smothered it as much as they could.  But a fat old chunk of hay is going to burn until it wants to burn no more.

The house still smelled of smoke when we got home, but it obviously was starting to burn itself out.  So no one hurt, nothing lost but a good deal of hay, and a mystery solved for sure.  The sky is still a little hazy but at least we understand more clearly.  That’s something.

Holy Smoke

Still Smoking, 24 Hours Later

Still Smoking, 24 Hours Later

Last night as we sat on the deck and ate fresh wraps for dinner (delicious=mayo+pesto+just picked tomatoes+cucumbers+lettuce still warm from the sun+arugula+Shelburne Farms smoked cheddar) I looked up and reacted to what I saw with “Holy smoke!” What I saw was a big cloud of smoke.  We all turned and looked at it together and wondered, What’s that all about?

It smelled like burning wood and the smoke was white.  A house fire means black smoke and nasty smells, not to mention lots of sirens, and vehicles zooming about.  So I figured it was some big brush pile or a bonfire.  But it kept burning.  Long after dark it glowed, and the sound of back up beeps chorused with the crickets and cicadas.  Even when I woke in the wee hours the smell of smoke drifted through the house.  It was still going.

This morning we could still smell it.  When I drove up over O’Neil Road this morning I could look down and see the white plume.  I was gone all day but when I returned it was still smoking.  So what the hell?  It was clearly not out of control but who could be burning something this long?  And why?

My wife went for a run on a route that would take her past the mysterious smoldering.  When she returned her report was this:  It was a huge pile of hay, smoking away.  It may have caught fire spontaneously in the sun.  It may have been triggered accidentally.  In any case, the pile was big and the smoldering was going to continue.

It still makes everything smell smoky.  The sky, before the sun set, was dimmed where the smoke drifted.  And it keeps on.  It seems to be contained.  I hope it is.  It seems a loss of good hay and hopefully that is all that is lost.  Smoke in the air did provide an aura of autumn for a while.  Now, however, it is starting to seem plain old stinky.  We are on track for some showers tomorrow.  Maybe that will muffle the fire.  Just in time for the really chilly nights.

Fourteen Below and Thinking About Gardening

Garden Beds Waiting for Spring

Garden Beds Waiting for Spring

That was the temperature this morning–fourteen degrees below zero. You might say it was chilly. I wimped out on going for a run. I had planned to do so today but I stayed inside, stoked the fire, got some work done and even read a book. So much for training.

I have been thinking about the garden lately. January is the month to plan it out, to figure out what to plant, how much of it to plant, and where to fit everything. The corn can’t go where it went last year, but it can be planted with the squash. I look forward to sitting down with the legal pad and sketching out the garden plan.

Of course, it is way too cold to do anything with the garden at the moment. It sits under the snow, waiting for spring. I am glad we have snow cover. The blueberries and strawberries will fare batter with the insulation. And the snow adds an element of beauty.

The circle I carved out of the lawn for our garden feels like a work of both labor and art. I want to grow food that is fresh and tasty and that I can’t get elsewhere (Striped Zebra tomato anyone?), but I also hope it adds some pastoral artistry. I want it to be beautiful. That takes work and luck and a willingness to let things grow as they need to grow. Seeing what the plants will do with what they have gives me joy.

So I wait it out and dream of warmer weather. I love this cold snap we are having, even though I chickened out of running today. Winter just isn’t satisfying if we don’t have some days below zero. I have seen the mercury rise to six degrees today and now it is back down to four. Once the sun goes down, I am sure it will break through the zero mark again.

Maybe some of those cucumber beetles will take a hit from the cold. I won’t count on it, but since I am imaging a perfect garden, I might as well dream that too.

Fresh Snow and Cold as Nuts

We had a couple children spend the night with us last night.  It gave their parents a chance to have some time to themselves.  The youngsters had a good time.  It was even fun for me.  I even got to tell them about the rooster who thought he was useless and so ran away from home and caused all the animals to sleep in too late and miss their farm duties.  They went to bed too late anyway.

When we all work the sky was white.  They ran in excited about the fresh snow.  They played outside, sledding, for a while, although we worried a tad.  They were bundled but it was 7 degrees.  And breezy.  Can you say frostbite.  We pulled them in before they got too cold.

Then, after dropping the two extras with their parents, we went skiing.  We last a while.  Our last run was a cheek biter, however.  The sun had dipped behind clouds, the wind picked up, and brrr.  We headed in after that.

The snow is pretty amazing–beautiful to look at and fun to ski upon.  It was just right for a couple of beginning skiers.  They did great today.  Both of them seemed to take a significant step in their learning.  That was good for my back.  It won’t be too long before we can all ski together, and then they will leave us in a cloud of snow, zooming down the mountain.

This week it should get cold again.  Way cold.  Highs in the single digits for several days.  That’s nuts.  It is now zero.  I’m thinking that early morning run in the dark before work just ain’t gonna happen.  Some cozying in bed won’t be the worst thing.  Maybe I will be a good husband and wake early to make coffee for my wife and to crank the fire to make a warm house.  That will be as satisfying as a run.  And no danger of frostbite.

Fire in the Stove

When I was growing up we had a wood stove to heat our house.  Mostly, this was an economical choice.  It was a lot less expensive to burn wood than oil, especially in our old house with its old furnace.  It got me hooked, however, not just for its penny-wise benefits, but for the heat it produces and the process it requires.

Back in the day we would get a truck load of logs delivered to the house and prep it all summer.  A full-sized logging truck would back down the driveway and unload with the claw.  I remember raising the power line to the house with a long board (safety first!) so the truck would fit under it.  Then we had a pile of logs to cut.

At first my dad did it all, but then I was allowed to help out.  I used the chain saw at some point and I definitely helped split once we had stove length pieces.  We borrowed a homemade log splitter from John Coile, one the tallest men I have ever met, and spent days busting them into logs that would fit into the stove.

We then, of course, had to stack it in the wood shed, rotating through the dry stuff from the previous year.  It was, indeed, a lot of work.  And we still had to start and maintain the fire once winter came.  It saved us money, sure, but I enjoyed all that work.  I learned to love to split wood.  And I learned how to start a fire and keep one going.  Now, married and with my own children, we have a stove and we keep it fired up.

It does save money.  We might get a tank refill of propane that costs us as much as a cord of wood.  We save hundreds of dollars each winter.  I like that the resource is both local and renewable as well.  It produces more greenhouse gases from our house, but probably fewer if you account for extraction and transportation of fossil fuels.  What I really love, however, is the ritual if it all.

I love to rise early on a cold morning, the house chilly, the clouds low, and crank up a fire.  I love to sit next to the stove with a book.  I love to feed the stove, carry in wood, split logs into kindling.  It is more work than turning the thermostat dial, but not all good things come easy.  I have no expectations that heating with wood is simple or takes little labor.  It is a task.  I emptied the ash bucket for the first time this winter, for example.  I had forgotten about that task.  Even that, however, helps us build compost when I dump the ashes on the compost pile.

We have a fire in the stove right now and I sit next to it as I write.  We have enough kindling and firewood indoors to start a fire tomorrow.  We will be warm when we head to bed and the house will cool as we sleep.  When we are gone during the day tomorrow, the propane will kick in.  I can live with that.  When I get home after a day of work away, I will pile up some wood and take a match to it.  Then I will warm my back and know that we will stay toasty, even in the worst of weather.