<< January 2021 :: February 2021

I'm lucky

We don't get to travel much—no destinations more exotic than Rockport—but that doesn't matter, because there's so much loveliness around here! On Saturday before lunch I took the dogs for a walk in the woods around the airport. It was about 10° and beautifully clear, with a couple inches of snow on the ground—well-packed on the paths. On the wide trails gently sloping among the pines I felt just like I was out at a ski resort! But one that allows dogs. Unfortunately I don't have skis (or, more precisely, I don't have boots) but it was still delightful. So much so that I went back again in the afternoon without the dogs and with my bike and did the same loop again.

on the snowy path through the pines

just like skiing

The snow was perfect for riding on. Solidly packed and smooth on the unpaved bike path I rode on to get to the woods, and looser packed singletrack in the woods that made the riding fun and entertainingly challenging on my old-fashioned 1.9-inch tires. And it was way more exercise than the same loop would have been on dry dirt! As I paused at the top of the mountain (as we call it) overlooking the airport to basked in the afternoon sun, life felt pretty good. I sure am lucky!

my bike on top of the hill

the bike basking

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no day

After the blizzard before Christmas we've barely had any snow for over a month, so a storm forecast for Monday was big news. Details were uncertain, since apparently it was hard to tell where the rain-snow line would end up; so hour by hour the projected totals swung wildly. But it looked bad enough Sunday evening for the NWS to issue a winter storm warning beginning at 7:00 Monday morning, and the schools to call an early-release day. We were doing school too, at our house, and I thought early release would work for us too: we didn't even have to set an end time, since everybody's ride would be sticking around the whole time. But it's hard to hold firm when the forecasters are so excited, and at around 8:00 we decided to cancel for the day. It wasn't snowing yet, but we understood that it would start soon.

Well, it wasn't snowing at 10:00 either, when we were meant to have begun our day; nor at 11:00 when the boys and I biked over to Chip-In to pick up some emergency supplies (eggs, milk, and candy). A few flakes tickled our noses on the way home (and one hit Zion in the eye) but by the time we were done with lunch they were gone. At 2:00, when our school time officially ends, there was maybe a little snow mist in the air. At 3:00 it was snowing well, but barely accumulating. Not til 5:00 was there enough that you could start to shovel if you wanted.

It was a weird day, with all that waiting. I hadn't planned to do anything but school, cleaning, and cooking... and without school I just did the other two. The boys felt like it was a snow day, so they didn't want to buckle down to anything; but through the morning there wasn't much else to do. After lunch things did pick up a little bit with friends getting out of school, and then in the afternoon they managed to find enough snow that they came home pretty wet (and were rewarded with hot chocolate!).

At suppertime the snow started falling in earnest, and when we woke up this morning to well over a foot on the ground I had to concede that the forecasters knew what they were talking about when it came to the magnitude of the storm. The timing, though, they maybe didn't nail. Oh well. We can see our friends on Friday! Oh wait, there's rain and snow coming Friday?

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walking (and walking and walking) in a winter wonderland

Yesterday afternoon I took the dogs out for a walk in my favorite woods. It was maybe a little ambitious, given that it had snowed 18 inches the day before, but I figured—to the extent that I thought about it at all—somebody probably would have broken a trail in the more than 24 hours since the snow had stopped. That was not the case. Climbing over the pile left by the plow to get into the woods I sank up to my waist, which set the tone for the next hour.

It was strange snow we got in this storm. It has some fluff to it—it must have to accumulate so high just overnight!—but it's also super wet. The shoveling was easy where the snow was undisturbed, but where it had been stepped on or even brushed off somewhere else and fallen in a pile it was practically solid. And walking on it on the trail was kind of like I imagine it would feel to wade through not-quite-set concrete.

As I made my slow and laborious way, it occurred to me that one feature I like about the woods by the airport is the length of the loops. So the shortest one we could take would still be longer than I would have really liked. But of course I would never dream of turning back. It's loop or nothing! So on we trudged (or I trudged; the dogs bounded). At least it was very pretty!

the dogs ahead of me in the snowy woods

beautiful and exhausting

(That's from one brief section of trail broken by a skier... the only place I had the energy to take out my phone for a picture.)

In trying to stick to the shortest way around I ventured onto a trail that I don't often take, and after a little ways found that it had disappeared. With the snow bending all the trees over everything looked so different! There was no going back, though, so since I knew the direction of the main trail we just pushed ahead between the trees. I could play up the drama, but really the woods aren't that big and I knew I'd come to a landmark I recognized before long; sure enough, after only five minutes or so of bushwhacking we were back on a recognizable trail—unbroken trail, of course, but at least I knew exactly where I was.

Only where I was was a section of the trail that's been ruined by 4-wheelers and is nothing but a series of muddy holes that in the spring resembles nothing so much as a World War I battlefield. It was warm enough that I had a moment of concern for the ice over all those holes (some of which held up to 18 inches of water less than a month ago...), but I was so tired I couldn't do anything but push ahead on the shortest path. The dogs shared my concern, or maybe they were just tired of breaking trail, because they waited for me to go first.

I did fall in once or twice, but it hardly mattered since I was so wet already from the snow and from sweat. And at the end of the treacherous holes I came across a section of trail that had been broken by someone on snowshoes, and soon after that passed two actual other humans. Civilization was near! In another few minutes we were back at the car, where we all collapsed. I had to catch my breath for a bit before I felt safe to drive.

It was exercise the likes of which I hadn't got for a long time, and today my body didn't let me forget it: my calves especially are absolutely killing me. Of course it didn't help that I went back to the same woods this afternoon with the boys to explore some new sledding hills... but that's a story for another day.

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backwoods sledding

As I mentioned, the boys and I ventured out yesterday afternoon for some backwoods sledding. We love sledding, but even after 16 years in Bedford I never located a favorite local sledding spot. The two places we know in Lexington are so good, to say nothing of our friends' hill in Chelmsford. But there's definitely something to be said about being able to hit the slopes without 40 minutes of driving, round trip. What if we were to exchange that driving for a little bit of walking in the woods?

That was my thought early this winter, when the first snowfall made me see a hill by the airport in a different light. Unlike most of Bedford's hills, which are forested, this one is kept clear by the airport folks because it's just in line with the runway. It's not super long, but it does have one steep drop and when I saw it with snow on it I figured right away that it would be worth a try. Of course, right after that the snow melted and we didn't get any more for all of January. But it's back now!

the view from the top of the sledding hill down towards the airport

at the top of the hill

Just like the day before, we were faced with deep snow on unbroken trail. Even worse for morale, someone else had started in from where we parked and then given up after 25 yards and turned back. But we're made of sterner stuff, and even with the deep snow even Elijah marched on strongly into the woods.

on the trail pulling sleds through the woods

mushing

It was maybe longer than we remembered getting up to the hill—last time having been under somewhat easier conditions—but moving as slow as we were let us notice opportunities along the way for some warm-up runs. It's not often we get to try glade sledding!

Harvey and Zion toboganning down a path in the woods

they could sell tickets for this!

Despite the beautiful spot the snow was actually pretty disappointing, being both deep and sticky, and there was a little grumbling and unhappiness among the party. But we pushed on, and eventually came to the open space atop the hill, where we traversed across like explorers crossing High Greenland. And when we reached the steep part I'd been looking forward to trying since December our long journey felt well worth it! After just a couple runs we had a smooth trail laid down, and could take our fill of thrilling, if short, plunges down the steep side of the hill. And it was fine that they were short, because otherwise getting back up the hill would have been too much work!

Zion and Lijah walking across a snowy field

to the main event

Besides the sledding, there were also snowcovered rocks to climb up and jump off of, and planes to watch, and we spent a happy hour enjoying all those things. Then suddenly we were done—wet, and cold, and tired—and we were glad it was mostly downhill on the way home. That made pulling Elijah on the sled almost easy! We're looking forward to going back for more soon, and especially to knowing that next time will be even better: I expect never to see snow this sticky ever again.

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not going quietly into the good night

Leah usually goes to bed earlier than I do; I tend to take some time in the evening to finish up work (and, you know, write blog posts and things). The dogs go up to bed with her, but while she's settled in for the night they most emphatically are not. Every time I move around—especially if I go into the kitchen!—they come racing down the stairs to see what I'm up to. When it's nothing, they decide they have to go outside. And they don't just walk calmly out the door when I open it for them: every time, they whine and yip and dash out like there's who knows what they might catch if they don't waste a single instant. Of course usually there isn't anything interesting out there, so they come right back in, only to repeat the process as soon as 15 or 20 minutes later. If I don't let them out the next time—because, you know, they've just been out—they sit by the door in such a state of high excitement that I can't concentrate on what I'm doing. And of course, when I do open the door for them, it's another mad yipping rush into the yard. I wonder if they realize how they're repeating themselves?

moments from the week

Elijah and Joan Marc in a blow-up sled

sunny day sledding

Moments from the past week.

Zion riding his bike on snowy doubletrack

no biking like snow biking

the chicken coop under lots of snow

digging out the chickens

red-cheeked Elijah clearing snow from his shirt cuffs in the living room

ready for some hot chocolate

Elijah and Zion jumping off a big rock into deep snow

that's some deep snow

Elijah running by the camera

indoor energy

the boys standing against the horizon on the sledding hill

the sledding horizon

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why don't they make ski-barrows?

After the big snow the beginning of last week, it was all I could do to shovel out the essentials: the walk, the driveway, and the path to the chicken coop (and even for that much I really appreciated some help from our across-the-street neighbor and his snowblower after our next-door neighbor's plow service buried the back end of Leah's car...). So for a few days the areas at the back of the house were completely impassible. I finally got to work there this weekend—because the compost situation was getting a little out of control, and also because I do enjoy having the back deck cleared if I can manage it. It's a great space at any point, and all the more so when it's surrounded by snow. And who knows when we might want to have a fire? But it's not been easy to get it shoveled.

Part of the problem is that I waited too long, and the first load of snow developed a crust which then got covered by more snow from the next storm or two. But even more challenging is the fact that there's just not that much room to put all the snow! Sure, some of it I could just push off the edge, but before long the level of the piles was up as high as the deck (it only stands a couple feet off the ground at its highest point above ground level). And I could only pile in a few spots, since I didn't want to bury the fireplace or bank too much snow around the chicken coop for fear of it leaking.

After some contemplation, my solution was to dig out the wheelbarrow and use it to carry loads of snow over to dump on the garden beds, where it will act as a (very weak) fertilizer. Of course, to do that I had to fashion a ramp down from the deck out of a 10-foot length of 2x10, because the snow ramp wouldn't support the wheelbarrow. The challenge of walking up the slick snowy ramp was balanced out by the fun of sliding down it behind the full wheelbarrow. Then, since I couldn't actually push the wheelbarrow on the snowy ground, I had to shovel snow from the single dump pile at the base of the ramp to all the various garden beds. Needless to say, the project is ongoing—would be ongoing even if it didn't keep snowing more. No complaints, though: I do love playing in the snow!

the wheelbarrow on the snowy deck

is this sane?

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filling in the memory hole

Yesterday afternoon Zion and I went sledding (again). We didn't get out to the hill until after 4:00, it with the cold the snow was in great shape, so we were still going strong as the sun dropped below the trees. It wasn't only the good conditions that made me want to stay out as long as we could, though; the weather forecast gave me a feeling that it could maybe be our last sledding of the year. So, thinking as I often do of how to tell the story, I went to take a picture of Zion walking up the hill towards the setting sun. But my phone, at that moment, ran out of batteries.

The main reason I write in this blog, as I've probably said before, is so I can remember what happened in this adventure that is our life. So, just like when I miss a photo, when I go for a while without writing I feel some loss. Like the last two weeks, when a combination of factors left me unable to write and post coherent thoughts. But never fear! Yesterday we were out with friends who took a photo just like I was thinking of and, unasked, texted it to me! And even though I haven't been posting I've actually been writing down at least the outlines of some things I want to say, which I'll retroactively publish when I get a chance. Thus the historical record will be preserved! (And then I suppose this post will just be confusing, but never mind; count it as the memory of a particular moment, right?)

eggs in February

Other people's hens lay during the winter, but not ours; they take a break from mid December until mid February or so. It's not the cold that stops them, as I understand it, but the light. The light is definitely coming back now, so at least one of them has started up egg production again. But until this week it wasn't at all warm, which led to an interesting moment at breakfast on Sunday. On Sundays the boys like to have cereal, so I'm my own for breakfast; I decided to have a fried egg, and I decided to use the freshest egg, the one I'd just brought in from the coop half an hour before. I had the pan all heated up and buttered, I moved the potatoes I was also cooking out of the way, I cracked the egg in... and I was very surprised when the yolk clanked into the pan and didn't compress at all from it's spherical shape. Ah yes... it was 11°F out, after all! I probably could have cooked it anyway, but what's the point of having a fried egg if the yolk isn't perfect?! So I scraped that egg out to give to the dogs and cooked the second-newest egg, from the day before. It was fine. The moral of the story is: it's possible for something to be both fresh and frozen.

these dogs let THEMSELVES out

Our first dog, Rascal, was nervous of doorways and small passthroughs. He was reluctant even to push through a partway closed bedroom door, and would never dream of trying to squeeze through a gap in the fence. That's not the case with Scout and Blue. Their first day at our house they kept slipping under the gate from the yard, so the second day I had to do some construction work to make it puppy-proof. It was a whole new level of responsibility! And while that fix worked, their drive for pushing or squirming their way through to places where we don't want them hasn't dimmed at all. In the last few days they found a hole in the fence somewhere, so that when we let them out into the yard we were actually letting them out into the whole wide world. I tell you, it was a little surprising when they just strolled in the front door while we were reading our bedtime story a couple evenings ago. I had no idea they were even outside! (and yes, they managed to open the front door themselves; that shows how secure our house is). I found the hole yesterday and fixed it, but not well enough. Knowing the potential, they pushed it open again and we had to call them in from the neighbor's driveway. It's not like they're going to run away—they've got a pretty sweet deal here—but it's a little embarrassing to have them wandering all over the neighborhood. This evening I fixed the hole again, and better this time. But I have no doubt they'll find another one before too long. Just another thing keeping life interesting!

visit to the potato cave

Often when we're thinking about where to go for a walk Elijah asks if we can visit the potato cave. He's talking about an old root cellar or prehistoric dwelling in the Nashoba Brook Conservation Area in Acton. Friends introduced us to its splendors last spring and we've been back a couple times, but not as much has Lijah would like: because it's almost half an hour away. As nice as it is—and not just for the cave—there are lots of other nice woods in between here and there. But yesterday, when we needed to be out of the house for a while for Leah to do a podcast recording, seemed like a fine time for a return voyage. Plus we'd never been there in the snow!

the boys and dogs approaching the mouth of the cave

the main attraction

Now that the weather's turned warmer the snow can be squashy and lots more tiring to walk in, but yesterday afternoon at least the footing was fine and we could go at a good pace. But enough snow was melting that Nashoba Brook—which is really a river, at least compared to the brooks by our house—was roaring cheerfully. After I pulled the boys away from the cave, which doesn't hold as much interest for me or the dogs as it does for them, the water provided some interest as we went along. So, for them, did talking about Minecraft. Sometimes I wonder how much of the outdoors they really experience, when in their minds they're deep in the world of blocky fantasy. But that's fine, they're moving anyways—and let me say, Harvey and Zion are good walkers these days! And with the bright sunshine on the melting snow and the water rushing in the brook, even the most dedicated gamers can pause for a moment to soak it all in.

the boys looking over the railing of a bridge at Nashoba Brook

and enjoy the winter sun

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<< January 2021 :: February 2021