March 2013


It looks like spring is finally arriving in New Hampshire, and with it, the opportunity to burn brush piles without a permit is fast evaporating. As long as there is snow on the ground, Northfield (and most other towns in New Hampshire) does not require a burn permit. So I got busy and lit one.

This snow is gone now

This snow is gone now


This brush pile was too big to light in situ. I was afraid the flames would climb a little too high and scorch the tree limbs that hang over it. I don’t think there were any tree limbs hanging over it when I started the pile, so that should give some idea as to how long I have been piling brush here.

Instead, I removed the brush from the pile and burned it in a much more controllable fire next to it. I thought I’d be out there until midnight, so I started the fire well before Beth was out of school. Unfortunately, it went quite a bit faster than I anticipated, and by the time she got home, it was nearly gone.

I saw another sign of spring on Thursday:

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)


These are the first flowers I’ve seen, and were blooming on the banks of the Merrimack River in Concord. When I got home after taking these shots, I went out and took down my sap buckets. There wasn’t much sap in them at all, and it had more of a yellowish color, so I dumped it out. All in all, I think I collected 8 or ten gallons of sap. I have boiled it most of the way down, but it needs to go a little more, as it’s still a little too thin. As is, I have almost a quart, but it will be less than that when I reduce it some more.

And now for some big news – last week I wrote that we were treated to the spectacle of an American Woodcock outside one of the windows at church. Well, I suppose that bird has taken up residence, as it was out there again today. The kids who go to school at our church tell me they’ve been seeing this bird all week. One kid wanted to throw a dodge ball at it, but one of my Pathfinders stopped him (yay!)

But I didn’t know about that until this morning. I was going to the Pathfinder trailer to get the rest of a flag pole when I heard the woodcock stir in the bushes, startled (but not too much I guess) at my arrival. He didn’t fly off, so I fetched my camera.

American Woodcock (Scolopax minor)

American Woodcock (Scolopax minor)

It started bobbing while I was taking pictures, so I went ahead and shot a little shakey hand-held video while I was out there.

Today was also a pretty big day for the Pathfinder Club. We drove up to the Laconia Church to present the worship service there. We’ve been working on another Biblical newscast. This one was taken from the Gospel of Mark, and included pre-recorded segments for our “live action reporters” as well as live, on-stage performances with our anchor crew who would interact with the pre-recorded performers.

We were supposed to present this at our church in Concord first, but a week before we were scheduled to do it, the external hard drive containing all our footage was plugged into the wrong power supply and bit the big one. So we rescheduled for April 13 and re-shot all the video. This meant that our second scheduled performance would become our first performance.

I’d post a link to the pre-recorded segments, but since they rely on banter with live, unrecorded people, it would be pretty confusing. We intend to record the live performance part too when we present in Concord, so if I can get my hands on that footage, I will link you to it.

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This morning after I dropped Beth off at school I went home by a circuitous route through the back roads of Canterbury. I had solved a geocache puzzle some time ago (maybe a year ago) and decided it was high time I picked it up.

Before I got there, a white tailed deer sprung out from the woods and crossed the road in front of me. Since this was a country road with no traffic whatsoever, I stopped and looked at the deer for a minute. She had another deer with her, and I expect it was last year’s fawn. They were too far off in the woods to even think about photography, so I left my camera in the bag.

Then I went off to collect the geocache. It was in a guardrail next to this pretty little stream.

A stream in Canterbury, NH

A stream in Canterbury, NH


Having found the cache, I got back in the car and looked for a place to turn around. Not finding one, the road took me to a farm (Hackleboro Apple Orchard), so I turned around there. I don’t like turning around where a road ends basically in someone’s driveway, but sometimes, that’s what happens.

As I made my way back through Canterbury, I saw a very large cat bound across the road in front of me. It was a bobcat! I had never seen one in the wild before, so this was a first for me. It stopped about 100 yards into the forest, turned around and looked back at me. I didn’t have a clear view, so I back up ten or twelve feet, thinking I might be able to go for a photo. But the bobcat thought otherwise. As soon as I began backing up, it took off running again and was gone in less than two seconds. Sigh.

I drove slowly trying to remember exactly where it crossed the road so I could look at its tracks, but I didn’t find them. Instead, I saw a pair of farm dogs galloping down the fence row on the side of the road from whence the bobcat had come. Maybe that’s what it was running from.

I am almost ready for warmer weather now, not because I don’t like winter (I do very much), but because I need some temperatures more conducive to canoe repair. I can’t use epoxy until the temp is at least 60, and 70 would be much, much better. I thought I might be able to heat the garage up some with a space heater if it was 40 outside, so I brought one home from church and plugged it in. It only raised the temperature to about 50 in the garage – not nearly warm enough. So I returned the space heater on Saturday.

Speaking of Saturday, while I was at church, one of the kids in my Sabbath School class noticed a bird outside our classroom window and wanted to know what it was. I took a quick glance and erroneously pronounced it a mourning dove. Upon further inspection, I knew that it was most certainly not a mourning dove. I had no idea what it was. We observed the bird through the window for about five minutes from less than 10 feet away. It had a very long bill and would use it to probe holes in the ground, presumably for snacks of the invertebrate variety. It would bob up and down rather comically. What a day for me to have decided to leave the camera at home! I always take my camera to church with me, but when I saw it that morning, I inexplicably decided… nah. :-/

When I left the room it was still out there. I sought out one of our church members who is a wildlife biologist. He has done some birding, but even though that was not his expertise, he came down straight away. He thought it might be an American Woodcock, but wasn’t sure. When I got home I looked that up, and I have to say, he nailed it.

So three rare (for me) wildlife sightings in as many days, and exactly zero photos of them. Still, just seeing them was a treat for me, and perhaps not being able to take pictures made me observe them more carefully in person.

Today is the first day of spring, but it doesn’t look anything like that here. We had a snow storm yesterday, and it dumped nine and a half inches of snow on my house. I am nearly alone in being happy about this, but I do love snow.

This morning I took Penny down to Sandogardy Pond. I wore snowshoes, and she weasel-jumped most of the way. She’s sleeping on the floor near me right now, one tired doggie.

Anyhow, here are the shots I made while I was out.
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It’s snowing today, and we are expecting about a foot. Since I am stuck in the house, and since Cecilia reminded me of an incident from my past, I thought I would share a story. Of course that story reminds me of another, so I will share it as well.

Syruping pot and container

Syruping pot and container


In my mercifully brief stint as a bachelor, I seemed to have a problem in that I would not remember to eat until I was hungry. Not having a microwave, that meant it would take way longer than my stomach wanted for any food to be ready.

I decided that I could speed things up if I made a big lasagna at the beginning of the week and then eat the leftovers every night after that until it was gone. This would surely solve the problem.

I made the lasagna, ate one serving, covered the pan with foil, and popped it in the fridge. It was delicious.

When I got hungry after work the next day, I popped the lasagna out of the fridge and into the oven. Wait 20 minutes, remove, take one serving, and pop it right back in the fridge. I did this every night for about a week.

At the end of the week, you can probably imagine that the lasagna was baked on the pan pretty solidly. I took one look at that and said to myself, “That’s going to have to soak.” I put the pan in the sink, added some dish soap, and filled it with water.

About a week later when I came to my apartment after work, my keen olfactory sense detected an odor. I followed my nose to the sink where the lasagna pan was still soaking, and did the most sensible thing that came to mind. I changed the water.

Another week passed, and again, the nose tipped me off to a slight problem in the kitchen sink. This time, I broke down and took the even more sensible action of actually washing the pan.

The other “bachelor” experience I had while living there involve my freezer. It was not frost free, and it had managed to build up a pretty thick layer of frost. I knew what to do, but didn’t have the tools I was used to using.

My Dad was an electrician and HVAC repairman, and as a result was also an expert at fixing broken refrigerators. I worked with him for a couple of summers when I was in college (and those were some of my best memories from back then – Dad was great, and was certainly the best boss I have ever had the pleasure of working for). Every now and then we would get a call from someone whose freezer had quit working. When we arrived, we found six inches of frost. Freezers don’t work when they get that way.

Dad didn’t mind defrosting someone’s fridge if they were paying him to do it, and it was often better for them to let him rather than do it the way people often did – by using a butter knife to chip the frost off themselves. The problem with that approach is that the thin aluminum walls of the freezer compartment also served as the outer sheath of the tubing through which the Freon would run. One slip of the knife, and the tube is punctured. The Freon escapes, and without that, neither the fridge nor the freezer are going to work. Aluminum is notoriously difficult – almost impossible – to solder, and replacing the freezer compartment cost almost as much as a new fridge.

It’s not that hard to defrost a fridge without a butter knife, but in spite of that, some people often elected to have him do that for them. He would use a hair dryer to speed the process.

Back to my apartment. I knew better than to use a butter knife, but I didn’t have a hair dryer. The engineer in me said, “Anything with a heating element ought to work” so I turned my thoughts to all of the appliances I had which were equipped with a heating element. Aha! The clothes iron! I was a bit worried that it would be a Bad Idea to put the iron in the fridge and have melted ice dripping all over it, so I placed the iron in a roasting pan, covered it with a lid, and turned it on.

While I was waiting for that to work its magic, I called Va. We were engaged, but lived 750 miles apart. I explained the ingenuity of my plan to defrost the fridge, and she asked me, “Why don’t you just use a pot of boiling water?”

Now why didn’t I think of that!

Yesterday I took Penny for a walk to Sandogardy Pond. It was a fairly warm day.

Chair in the Woods

Chair in the Woods


This chair has been in this spot in the woods for at least as long as we have lived here. When I saw it yesterday, I thought I would take a picture, as it reminded me of the album cover for “A Farewell to Kings.” All it lacks is a puppet king sitting on it.

While we were out, I could see where I had walked with my snowshoes a few weeks ago. The snow around the tracks has mostly melted, but the tear-shaped tracks are still there:

Snowshoe Tracks

Snowshoe Tracks

When we got to the creek I saw something green. Upon closer inspection, I was able to recognize it as Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata).

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)


This is a wild edible plant, but if you wait too long, the flavor becomes way too strong. It tastes very much like garlic. I ate a couple of these, and then picked all the rest.

It’s not usually a good idea to wipe out a stand of a wild edible plant, but in this case, it is actually a great idea. Garlic Mustard is an invasive alien, and if it were to gain a foothold in these woods, pretty soon it would establish a monoculture. Then these woods would no longer support any of the native herbs that grow there: wintergreen, jack-in-the-pulpit, several ferns, etc. All we would have would be garlic mustard.

I bagged it up and stuffed it in my pocket.

After school I was scheduled to take two of my Pathfinders on a field trip. We drove around Concord to assess the needs of the community. We were on the lookout for homeless people, unmaintained property, etc. While I had them in the car, I offered them some Garlic Mustard. They all tried it, but one kid liked it quite a lot. He asked if he could have some, so I told him to take as much as he wanted. He took half. When he got home, he fed it to his parents – neither of whom liked it. But he liked it OK, so maybe he can eat it out of existence wherever he finds it.

This stuff is probably best when added to soup or some other recipe. On its own, it is very potent, even when picked this early in the year.

I am sitting at the airport in Omaha, Nebraska as I write this, though I was not expecting to be here right now. My journey here started a month or two ago when I was invited to sit on the North American Division Pathfinder Honors Taskforce. This is the committee that reviews submissions for new Pathfinder honors and revises existing ones. I was invited because of the work I have done on the AY Honors Answer Book wiki.

It was a thrill for me to have been invited. Pathfinder honors have been a pretty big part of my life for a number of years now. It was not to go without a few hiccups though. The first was that my club had scheduled March 9 for our annual Pathfinder Sabbath, during which we present the church service in its entirety. But I am blessed with a large and capable staff, so I figured they would be able to cope with my absence quite handily. So we pressed on with preparations.

Our presentation this year was to be similar to the one we did last year – a broadcast television newscast set in Biblical times. This year we decided to cover events from the Book of Mark. We pre-recorded all of our “live action reporters in the field” so that we could project their performances on the screen, while our anchor desk interacted with them live during the presentation.

But one week before we were to make our presentation, the hard drive containing all of our footage – every single second of it – was subjected to a most unfortunate accident. So we rescheduled for April 13. The upside to this is that I will be able to attend the performance, and the kids all knew their lines even better when we did the re-shoot.

But I digress. I am still sitting in the Omaha airport.

I flew out here on Friday and met my friend Mark. He is the webmaster for pathfindersonline.org (and other sites), and he too flew in to Omaha, but from the DC area. We decided to share a car, so he waited for my arrival. Then we set out for Lincoln. We picked up a couple of geocaches on the way. Our car was a tiny little Fiat. It was so tiny, that I think I could have lifted the whole thing with one hand.

Mark and I standing in front of a Virtual Cache in Iowa.

Mark and I standing in front of a Virtual Cache in Iowa.

There is a trick of geography near the Omaha airport. The Nebraska/Iowa border was originally set by the course of the Missouri River. But after the boundary was set, the river changed course, though the boundary did not. So there’s a little spit of land on the west side of the Missouri that still belongs to Iowa. It’s funny to drive through that section of Iowa and see the signs say “Welcome to Iowa” and then “Welcome to Nebraska” in the space of about a half mile.

The cache above was in Iowa, and it features a monument honoring York, a slave who belonged to William Clark. When we got to the monument, I looked at the sculpture, and it showed a black man being pawed over by several native Americans. I said to Mark, “Hey, I bet that’s York, a slave belonging to William Clark!” We walked around the back of the monument, and there was a plaque declaring as much. Talk about a guy feeling pretty smug!

On Saturday, we went all over the Lincoln area finding more geocaches. I think we found nine of them.

A virtual cache in Lincoln.

A virtual cache in Lincoln.

We also saw three bald eagles. Two of them were juveniles, and one was an adult. I got a bad photo of the juveniles, but couldn’t get one of the adult.

Juvenile Bald Eagles

Juvenile Bald Eagles

The meetings started Saturday night around 6:30pm. I very much enjoyed them, which is a strange thing to say about a meeting, but we were talking about a subject about which I am highly passionate.

When I woke up on Sunday morning, there was an inch of snow on the ground.

The Blizzard Begins

The Blizzard Begins

It was still snowing quite heavily, and the wind was blowing a gale. It was a full-fledged blizzard. I kept an eye on the situation, as I was slated to fly out from Omaha at 6:45pm. My meeting ended at noon, and the situation outside was looking pretty grim. I consulted with Va and with those in control of the Division’s purse strings, and we all agreed it would be best if I stayed put in Lincoln for one more day. It seemed foolhardy to tempt the roads in a toy car.

The Toy Fiat

The Toy Fiat

My instincts were correct. Mark’s wife and new baby (12 weeks old) were schedule to fly into Omaha Sunday afternoon too. They were twelve minutes from landing at Omaha when the airport was closed, and they sent the plane back to Minneapolis. Not to be deterred, she tried another flight, this one directly to Lincoln. They took off, gained some altitude, and then the Lincoln airport was likewise closed. So she landed again. I don’t know how many frequent flier miles that would be worth, but a trip from Minneapolis to Minneapolis is about zero miles, even if you do it twice.

Meanwhile, the Nebraska State Police closed Interstate 80, so even if she had landed at Omaha, she would have been very hard-pressed to make her way to Lincoln.

There were a ton of other meetings scheduled for Sunday all the way through Thursday, and all related to my youth ministries. I was invited to sit in on a subcommittee meeting going over some new Adventurer Awards. I asked Va to provide some input on one of them, and she sent it to me straight away. It took me a little longer to get her input to the subcommittee, but they were all very excited about it, and I think it will make it into the Award requirements.

Mark, a handful of other people, and I were treated to dinner at El Toro, an authentic Mexican restaurant in Lincoln. The food was very good, but I could only eat half of it. I took the rest back to my room and forgot it in the fridge.

Mark’s wife and baby eventually did make it to Lincoln, and she had a car (as per the plan). So I returned our toy Fiat to Omaha. Along the way, I counted 28 cars off the shoulder, stuck in the snow. Most (perhaps all) of them had police tape on them. None of them were barely off the shoulder either. They were all way down embankments, pointing every which way, and I thanked God He guided me (and Mark’s wife) away from that fate yesterday.

While I was waiting here for the storm to pass, David was in Concord playing in a chess tournament. It pretty much took all of Sunday, but he played four games and won all four of them. This bumped his ranking up to 1985 (15 to go David!) and he will have to enter the “open” section from now on. He won $200 in the under 1900 section (as he was ranked under 1900 when the tourney began). I am very proud of him, and wish I could have been there with him to share the moment. But we shared via text & voice, so it was almost like being there.

So now I find myself with a bit of downtime. I needed to get the car back here by 2:15 to avoid another day’s charges, but my plane doesn’t leave until 6:45.

So there is time to write a blog post.

The other day I stumbled across a web site showing how to build a “rocket stove” which is two pipes that meet at a 90 degree angle – one vertical, and one horizontal. These pipes are then set inside a metal bucket, and the space between the bucket and the pipes is filled with sand. Fuel and air are fed into the fire though the horizontal pipe, and the flames, heat, and smoke go through the vertical one. The sand holds in the heat to make it very hot.

When I saw it, it reminded me of a Dakota fire. This is made by digging a hole straight down in the ground, and then digging a smaller diameter hole angling down so that they both meet at the bottom. Fuel and air are fed through the diagonal hole, and the heat and smoke go out the vertical one.

Since I have about five gallons of sap to boil down into syrup, and lacking a large metal bucket, I thought I’d give the Dakota fire a shot at it. Not that anyone uses a rocket stove to boil sap.

We have about a foot of snow in the backyard, so I shoveled out a spot to work and chiseled through the frozen ground (it was only frozen for an inch or two). Then I dug the Dakota hole, lit a fire in it, and set a big pot over the flame. Va gave me a pot. She doesn’t care if I make it suety, so I’m in the clear there.

Dakota Fire

Dakota Fire

I didn’t have the lid on the pot for very long, but it was on there when I took the photo. It would be hard to evaporate sap with a lid in the way holding all the steam in.

The fire did burn pretty hot, and I spent the whole afternoon feeding it sticks. But by the time it got dark, the sap had not been reduced by more than an inch or so. I took the kettle off the boil, let the fire die down, and went in the house for the night.

Since it took all afternoon to get it to go down one inch, I decided to just do it inside. I used a different pot since I didn’t want to get the stovetop all suety. I reduced the sap by another three inches or so, but I noticed that instead of smelling like syrup, it smelled like smoke. Since smoke is largely solid particulate matter, and since solid particulate matter does not evaporate, I reasoned that the smoke in the sap would just get more and more concentrated. Which is something I did not want. So I dumped it out.

The trees are making plenty of sap though, so five gallons is not a major loss. And I learned something.

Don’t use a Dakota fire to reduce sap unless you can rig up a chimney somehow.