Thursday, 30 November 2006

The Butcher, The Baker, The Candlestick Maker.....

But not quite in that order!

The Thanksgiving weekend was a busy one, with lots of folks, food and fun. Though snow did not make an appearance, plenty of outdoor activities were happening. The weather was quite mild, unlike any Thanksgiving in my recent memory. This made for great hiking, as the trails have recently been cleared for the upcoming winter. Getting out into the woods was a good thing to do, following the many fine meals that we all enjoyed over the course of the weekend.

We fired up the bread oven on Friday and made a batch of ciabatta, and some potato bread with leftover mashed potatoes. Some of our guests made oatmeal bread, too, and it all turned out very well. The only challenge with the bread oven right now is how quickly it gets dark outside. Night falls so fast, we have to use flashlights to finish the baking. Pizza baking outside is on hiatus until next May. In the meantime, we will be making pizza inside with a large piece of slate as our "rock hearth". This works very well, especially if it is first heated to 500 degrees for an hour.

On Saturday, I pulled out the wax and pots, and we had an excellent day of candle-dipping. It is an all-day process, as it takes some hours to melt the wax in order to begin. I started at about eight, and by eleven, we were ready to go. In a kitchen filled with steam ( the wax needs to be melted in a double-boiler) and the smell of beeswax and honey, we cut wicks and patiently dipped until the candles were about an inch thick on the bottom. Several of the cabin guests and lots of the neighborhood kids joined us throughout the day to make their own batches. We went through at least ten pounds of beeswax and five pounds of paraffin, and we had lots of fun doing it. On Sunday afternoon, Addie and I finished up the project when we made several pairs of candles ourselves, some for gifts and some to sell at our Fiber Guild Holiday Sale next weekend.

We still had one deer to process, after a successful hunting season for Greg and Paul. So on Sunday, we sharpened the knives and set to work on butchering the meat. This is a necessary job, one that always takes me back to my anatomy class in high school. The two biggest challenges are keeping the knives sharp and keeping our hands warm. It took us about two hours, and then we were ready to package and label the meat, and put it in to the freezer. The bounty will keep us fed on good, natural meat for the next year. Some of it will be made in to jerky, but most of it will be cooked up for dinners.

Time passes so quickly this time of year....the holidays that we wait and plan for finally arrive, and then they are suddenly gone.

Sunday, 12 November 2006

Wistlandpound Reservoir

Wrapped up in warm winter coats, hats and gloves we ventured out this afternoon for a Sunday afternoon walk. Head out of Barnstaple towards Exmoor and after about nine miles you will reach Blackmoor Gate, a quick right and right again will lead you down a narrow country lane to Wistlandpound Reservoir. It supplies local drinking water and there are signs up around the lake warning people not to bathe in it. The water levels seemed unusually low for this time of year.

We took a leisurely stroll around the lake and it took us about an hour. There are wooded parts, grassy paths by the water's edge, streams to play Pooh Sticks on and a jetty where you can wander down to the water and try your hand at skimming stones. We managed about two skips today and were put to shame when we were joined by a boy who managed eight or ten several times in a row.

After heavy rain it can be quite muddy in places but today it was fine and quite sheltered too. My daughters had shed hats, gloves and scarves by the time we'd completed our circuit. I, however, was glad of a cup of tea when we reached home.

Friday, 3 November 2006

New Stories at Planet Heston's

It took some time, but we're hoping that it was worth the wait! Finally, some new stories at Planet Hestons. Greg wrote up his journal from his recent trip to Alaska with Robert, and included many pictures. And we have added a true "Planet Heston's" encounter, that also takes place in Alaska. Click on the link and enjoy!

Thursday, 2 November 2006

Early Snows

Methinks that October fell off the calendar this year. Could it really have been October when it often looked like November instead? Around the tenth of the month, just in time for a planned trip to Duluth, the prediction for our first snow "event", as they called it, came over the wires. Not only was it the first snowstorm, it was also possibly going to drop eight to eleven inches on us! Way too early for that, and certainly not what I want to hear as I am about to drive for three hours. Despite the dismal weather outlook, we proceeded to the big city, and plowed our way through several hours of errands and appointments. We left for home early the next morning, while snow flakes swirled around us. Fortunately, the driving was fine, with mostly wet pavement. On the way, we took a photo of the North Brule River, as it was looking so serene in the early snows.

It continued to snow for the next three days. How odd it seemed to me to see this much snow falling so early in the fall. I believe that if the ground had been cold enough, we would have ended up with between six and eight inches. But most of it melted, with only about three inches to show for it. Since then, we have had many days of flurries, and some warmer days. As a result, there are only patches of snow left here and there. Until yesterday, that is, when the afternoon was filled with large white flakes drifting down, sometimes fast and sometimes slow. At times, we couldn't see Canada, and that is a sure sign that it is snowing hard. The wind has been blowing strong for about two days now, and the lake is cooling off, too. My guess is that we are in for an early winter, but what do I know! I hope that we are, and that we don't have a November thaw that takes us in the opposite direction.

Sharlene had some excitement at her bird feeder a week ago. She spotted a cardinal helping himself to some of the black sunflower seeds. She called us to let us know, but he didn't fly this way until about two days later. Some of the neighbors saw him at their feeders as well. Sharlene called our local birding experts, Ken and Molly Hoffman, to see if anyone else had reported a cardinal this far north. Ken told her that she was the first to confirm a sighting up here on the Gunflint Trail. For a few years, the cardinals have been coming to Grand Marais, and recently they have begun nesting there. But until this sighting, no one had officially reported cardinals up here. While it was exciting to see this, it is a bit disheartening, too. We all were in agreement that it is another sign of our warming climate that these birds can now be a part of our neighborhood.

On our trips to town in recent weeks, we have been seeing deer activity on the Trail. They are in more places than ever seen before. We had one the other night that seemed determined to run right in to the car, but fortunately we were spared. The widespread sightings lead us to believe that the deer population is not only thriving, but increasing. The bad side of this is that we don't see as many moose now. The two can't co-exist very well, so as the deer become more prevalent, the moose find other areas to inhabit. The months that we spot the most moose are now beginning---November and December traditionally are the times when I frequently encounter them all over the road. We'll see as these weeks progress how many we come upon---and we will keep our fingers crossed that they move steadily and quickly out of the road!

We have a resident fox in the neighborhood lately, too. Yesterday, Paul and I were outside and we saw him at the base of the cedar tree near the workshop, looking up. High above him, a squirrel was certainly vocal in expressing his disapproval. If that fox could climb trees the way the squirrels can, I think that we would have seen quite a chase. Greg and I had seen the fox two days earlier, sitting near another tree, hoping the squirrel would come back down. And someone told me over the weekend that they saw the fox with a squirrel in its mouth---they have to eat, too. You win some, you lose some.

Speaking of squirrels, in September, some of our guests got to see an albino squirrel----too cool! He regularly came up to the porch railing at White Pine cabin to feed. Janelle was kind enough to share some pictures with me. Here is a view of the little guy--

Deer hunting season begins this Saturday. Already, Moses and Jethro are sporting their blaze orange collars. It is very easy to spot them, and they don't look much like deer. They seem to tolerate this bit of decoration each year. We've pulled out our own wardrobes of blaze orange, too. It is a good idea to wear it when out walking, so that we can be seen.