October 2011


As forecast, we were hit with a major snowstorm yesterday evening. I measured the snow depth on the deck just after midnight and it was 13 inches deep then. I estimate that we got an additional two inches after that.

13 inches

13 inches


If you look closely, you can see Penny in the shadows in that photo.

I slept until 8:30 or so this morning, and by then, the snow had stopped and the melting had begun. Va made pancakes for breakfast (as is our tradition), and I read the Internet a bit before finally getting off my duff to clear the driveway.

By then it was only six inches deep in the driveway, so the melting was fairly earnest! With the driveway clear, I decided to don my snowshoes and make a path around my wood lot. I brought Penny and the camera along.

Neighbor's yard

Neighbor's yard


This shot show the weirdness of an October snowstorm the best. A tree in full autumn glory with a deep blanket of snow on the ground.
Penny can find sticks under the snow

Penny can find sticks under the snow


I liked this shot too. Penny has no trouble whatsoever finding sticks underneath the snow.

We went to Concord for lunch, and while we were on the way there, Va remembered a detail from last August. Our church had been presented with a contract for snow removal, but the agenda was so full, that it was tabled. The problem is that it was never untabled, meaning we did not have anyone lined up to plow the church’s lot. That wouldn’t be a problem except that we operate a school in the same building. We decided we’d drive by and see if it had been plowed.

Before we could manage that, however, I got a call from Katrina (our school’s teacher). The lot was unplowed! I called the pastor and left a message. I called Ken (our head elder). He called back, but I managed to bungle the buttons on the phone – so he left a message for me. When we got home again, Va dug through her records and found the plowing proposal, so I called the guy up. The plan there was to pay him for a one-off job until the church board could act on the contract. Unfortunately, he didn’t answer, and his voicemail was full and could not record any more messages. I don’t know why he even has a phone (it did that every time I tried to call him last winter).

I called another church board member thinking he might know someone with a plow. He started making calls, but had no luck. I eventually remembered that a co-worker of mine has a large truck and a plow, so I called him and offered $100 to plow us out. He jumped on that offer and I met him at the church 30 minutes later.

So now the lot is plowed and we can have school tomorrow.

Whew!

Here are some photos I took last weekend. Since I don’t have a lot of things to say this evening, I thought I’d let the pictures do the talking instead.

Unidentified, but very red mushroom

Unidentified, but very red mushroom


Unidentified mushroom

Unidentified mushroom


I like the way this one reminds me of a fan – you know – the type kids make by folding paper.
Sugar maple (Acer saccharum)

Sugar maple (Acer saccharum)


I liked the color on this leaf.
Western conifer seed bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis)

Western conifer seed bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis)


After I took this photo (and many others) Beth and I captured this bug. I have identified it as a western conifer seed bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis), and I think that’s probably correct. It eats pine sap, so we added some very resinous pine cones to the jar we put it in. It has now survived in captivity for six days and is showing no signs of flagging.

The jar itself is a one-pint mason jar, but instead of using the metal disk in the lid, we are using a couple of folds of paper towel. The bug can’t get out of that, and it lets air go though easily enough. I like that setup.

It snowed here last night – we got about an inch. It’s mostly gone now, but the deck is still covered with slush. I didn’t get any photos though, because I didn’t wake up until it was time to leave the house. Then we had to rush Beth through the morning routine, leap into the car, and get moving. She was only two minutes late for school, so I guess that wasn’t too bad.

We are supposed to get another six inches of snow tomorrow evening. We still have plenty of foliage on the trees too, and the weather predictors are saying that’s not a good thing. More leaves mean more wet, heavy snow will be caught by the trees. They are expecting lots of tree damage (and power outages) as a result.

I will surely get some photos of the snow if it comes.

I went for a walk yesterday during lunch. I was surprised twice. As I approached an intersection with a traffic signal, I noticed that there was someone waiting to cross the street – and that someone was smoking a cigarette. Ugh. Rather than standing on a street corner inhaling second-hand smoke, I took a detour. It shortened my walk by 200 yards or so, but that’s where the surprises came from.

This is the first surprise:

Forsythia

Forsythia


This is forsythia. It blooms profusely in the spring, and covers the plant with these yellow blossoms before the leaves appear. After a few weeks, the flowers fade and then fall off as the leaves come out. I have never known forsythia to bloom again in the fall, and I am almost positive that these flowers are newly formed, and not spring leftovers. They look too good for that!

The second surprise was a plant that was unknown to me. I don’t see those very often anymore, and this one was in bloom, making it a ton easier to identify.

Strawberry tomato (Physalis pruinosa)

Strawberry tomato (Physalis pruinosa)


This is strawberry tomato (Physalis pruinosa). This evening when I downloaded my photos from my camera, I decided to take a crack at identifying it. I could not find my Wildflowers field guide, so I reached for my Edible Wild Plants field guide instead. It was there, and it is edible (or will be soon – the unripe berries are poisonous).

Psych! Here are some more shots of this specimen:

Strawberry tomato (Physalis pruinosa)

Strawberry tomato (Physalis pruinosa)


Strawberry tomato (Physalis pruinosa)

Strawberry tomato (Physalis pruinosa)


The photo above shows the sheath which holds the fruit (yellow berries). The sheath is made from the flower’s sepals, and the berries usually don’t ripen until after the sheath holding them falls to the ground.
Strawberry tomato (Physalis pruinosa)

Strawberry tomato (Physalis pruinosa)


I cheated on this photo (above) by placing the blossom on a leaf so that the leaf would hold it in a position where I could aim the camera into the flower’s naughty bits.

Shame on me!

Today Jonathan and I had lunch at the Tea Garden in Concord. We usually eat there on Friday, and the staff has come to know us by name. Today Kari, saw us through the restaurant window coming up the sidewalk from afar and had our egg drop soup waiting at our table when we walked in. I was impressed! This is one of the reasons I like to eat there.

We took the long route back to the office. I wanted to see if the stand of Jerusalem artichokes that grow in the taxi cab parking lot were still in bloom. They were, but I didn’t stop to take any photos. We proceeded along the railroad tracks where we saw an engine busy moving “Ciment” cars from Quebec around on the sidings.

There were several bunches of Butter and eggs (Linaria vulgaris) still in bloom:

Butter and eggs (Linaria vulgaris)

Butter and eggs (Linaria vulgaris)


I also saw a bit of Common Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) still hanging on.
Common Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis)

Common Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis)


There aren’t many flower still in bloom in these parts, but I was surprised to see so many downtown. I have nothing but asterids at my house.

The hawthorns (Crataegus spp) are heavy with fruit too.

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp)

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp)

I grabbed a handful of berries and ate them, and they were far better than when I last tried them. Maybe they weren’t ripe back then. Though they tasted great, they were still pretty difficult to eat because of the many seeds. I sucked on them for a few minutes until I had as much of the pulp off the seeds as I thought I could manage, and then spit them out. I’ll have to consult Peterson to see how he recommends these be consumed – maybe jelly?

The other berry along the tracks that I thoroughly enjoyed was the autumn olives (Elaeagnus umbellata). I really need to get out and pick a bunch of this so I can make some jelly. We have several bushes growing at our church, and I have taught the kids to eat them there. That kinda freaks out their parents, but then the kids will all say in unison, “Mr. Thomas says they’re edible!” And they’re very good too, so how can they resist? I am always careful to instruct the kids to never eat any wild plants unless they know what they are and they know what part of it is edible.

If I don’t pick some for myself pretty soon, the kids will have all the bushes cleaned off.

We were pretty busy people on Saturday. First we had our annual induction ceremony for the Adventurers and Pathfinders during the church service. That went pretty well, and I received a lot of positive comments on it.

After that, Va had an Adventurer meeting planned. It started at the church, and then moved to the Haggett Farm. Saturday night the Haggett’s had their annual Harvest Party, and a good time was had by all. I was pretty wiped out when I got home though. I went to bed about two hours earlier than normal, and stay in bed an hour later. I guess I got 10 hours of sleep, but I sure felt like I needed it.

After breakfast, I took Penny out for a walk.

Penny bring me a stick

Penny bring me a stick


As usual, we went to Sandogardy Pond. I took an off-route to get there though, as none of the kids were with me, and Penny doesn’t care how we get there as long as I throw sticks.

The water level in the pond was up markedly. So much, in fact, that the end of the dock was under water.

High Water

High Water


The beach was also not quite as wide, and a lot of plants that are normally growing on the shore were out in the water instead.

We made a side-trip to the sand quarry on the way home again. That made the walk a little longer, and it meant I threw even more sticks for Penny. But she’s OK with that!

Beechnuts (Fagus grandifolia)

Beechnuts (Fagus grandifolia)


Last weekend we were camping beneath several American beech trees (Fagus grandifolia). They had dropped their beechnuts and our camp site was covered with them.

The ones in the picture here are about the size (and roughly the same shape) as chocolate chips. They are not very big at all.

Beechnuts are one of those edible wild foods I had been wanting to try, but I had never seen them until last weekend. I recognized them immediately, then looked up and verified that we were under a beech canopy. Yup. I cracked one open on the spot and ate it. Then another, and another. I did this all weekend, as did several of the kids.

We collected beechnuts throughout the weekend. I was lucky in that one of the kids inexplicably didn’t like the taste of the nuts, but sure liked shelling them. I did her a favor and ate the ones she shelled.

By the time we were ready to roll out I had collected about one cup of nuts, and another one of the kids collected about twice that – and gave them to me. Score! I didn’t try to talk him out of it.

I did some Internet research to see if I could find an easy way to shell them, but so far, I’ve not turned up anything other than what we had been doing all weekend: start at a corner and peel off the shell. It’s a laborious task, and I would guess it will take me four hours to shell the three cups of nuts I brought home.

I popped them into the oven tonight to roast them. I let them go for 30 minutes at 300 degrees F, and man… if I thought they were good before, I was wrong! They are twice as good roasted as raw, and that’s saying a lot.

I will experiment with crushing them and trying to separate the nutmeat (aka mast) from the shells with water. I don’t know how well that will work.

I also tried popping a whole beechnut into my mouth and shelling it sunflower-style: crack with the teeth, find the kernel with the tongue, and spit out the shells. That kinda worked, but it crushed the meat making it difficult to get it all out. And this stuff is so good I don’t want to waste a single crumb.

As I experiment with shelling techniques, I will also continue to shell them one at a time and eat them as I go. I will either eat them all this way, or I will find a good way to do it more quickly. Then I’ll try to bake them into muffins or something.

I’ll keep you posted!

I took the Pathfinder club camping at Russell Pond this weekend, and the weather, which I can describe with one word, was perfect. Usually when we camp, it is either wet, or cold, or both. But not this time. When I woke up Sunday morning there was not even one dewdrop on any of the tents. For once I did not have to pitch them when I got home to dry them out. Hooray!

I had been worrying about one aspect of this campout for a couple of weeks – none of my female staff were able to come, and the club has more girls in it than boys this year. Cheryl was inspired to call our friends Robbie and Coral, a retired couple who worked with us in Mississippi when we went down there in February 2006 to do hurricane relief in the wake of Katrina. They will be joining our club on a trip to Arizona this coming February, and they were excited to come camping with us.

What a delightful couple. I love these people! Robbie is such a cheerful person (ex-military, so he loves order as much as I do), and Coral is so tremendously helpful. She insisted in helping in the kitchen at every meal, even though I had assigned other staff members to do that.

On Friday night I introduced the kids to a game I had kind of made up. The purpose of the game was to get them to memorize scripture, and it was pretty effective at that. In this game we had the “good guys” and the “bad guys” as two equal teams. The good guys had to memorize a scripture at one base, and then sneak to the other base to write it down without getting tagged by any of the bad guys. If they were tagged, they had to go to jail. When everyone on their team was in jail, we switched sides. The bad guys were not allowed within 20 feet of either base. This game was a tremendous hit, and the kids begged to play it on Saturday night was well. I was happy to accommodate them in this request.

After a leisurely breakfast on Saturday morning, we packed up some sack lunches, piled into out vehicles, and drove north to the next exit on I-93 to Lincoln. About a half mile before the exit, there was a long line of cars on the shoulder – this was the exit. 😦

Leaf peepers.

It took another 45 minutes to get to the Lincoln Woods trailhead where there were exactly zero open parking spaces and at least a dozen cars orbiting the lot waiting for one to open up. We had three cars, so I figured we’d orbit for an hour before our last car could park. Luckily, I knew of another (nice, but not as nice) trail near our campsite, so we headed back down the Interstate and found the trailhead to East Pond instead. All told, it took 90 minutes for us to go from our campsite to our eventual trailhead. If we had headed straight to East Pond to begin with, it would have taken us 15 minutes, tops.

The trail to East Pond is not very long, but it makes up for that with its steepness.

East Pond trail

East Pond trail


This was one of the less steep parts. We persisted climbing though, and were rewarded with the view at East Pond itself:
East Pond

East Pond


The last time I was here was about five years ago when David, Jonathan, and I went camping with another Pathfinder and her father. He had camped here before (though not at the pond – that’s not allowed) and led the way. It poured rain on us five years ago, but luckily, it waited until we had broken camp and were hiking back down the mountain to the cars. This year though, we had no rain at all.

We used my water filter to refill our water bottles. This fulfills part of a requirement for the Camping Skills IV honor, so we were sure to have our Camping Skills IV candidate do this.

We got back to our campsite a little before dusk and were treated to a beautiful sunset featuring a cross:

Cross in the Sky

Cross in the Sky


All the kids that had been to the Camporee in Oshkosh in 2009 remembered the “cross in the clouds” we saw there. I’d post a photo from back then, but… I’ve archived that photo away. If you’re interested you can find it on Youtube.

On Sunday morning I was planning for us to cast animal tracks with plaster, but we ran out of time. We had another leisurely breakfast, and then made our lunches and began breaking camp. It took a lot longer to break camp than usual, and I don’t really have an explanation for that. We finished at noon, and that was checkout time. So instead of casting tracks, we drove home exhausted. We’ll get the tracks next time.

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