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Tag: Small Town Life

Tis the Season

Winter2008Master 161

We’re well into the first full week of spring and snow still covers our yard.  It’s almost time to plant peas, and my garden is a slushy mess.  The fact that Vermont’s gardening season commenced at least a week or three behind the calendars in every gardening book (even one or two written by Vermonters) once caused me consternation.   By March, I’m ready to get out of the house and start digging.  

A decade of digging later, however, I’ve learned to relax about this thing I absolutely can’t control.  My springtime serenity stems from two sources.  The first comes from observing the long-term effects of that saturating late winter snow pac.  Soggy in spring but still moist enough to prevent the need for watering well into summer, I’ve come to trust that Mother Nature knows what she’s doing.  The other source of my calm comes from discovering a spring signal far more reliable (and delicious) than a date circled on my calendar. 

The sap buckets start appearing in late January.  The large maple syrup operations set long blue tap lines that run from tree to tree and then into huge covered containers, but there are still plenty of do-it-yourselfer’s and small operators who use the old-fashioned taps and buckets that are symbolic of the season.  

We made maple syrup a few years in a row.  Our buckets were recycled milk jugs.  We collected sap for days and made exactly one gallon (you need 32 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup) on our old wood stove.  Our old house was drafty enough that we didn’t mind turning our kitchen into a sauna for a few days, and it was the best maple syrup we ever tasted.  

We buy our syrup now, and, even though it’s available at even the smallest producers through most of the year, picking up a gallon or two at the end of March has become as much a ritual as taking Thing2 to see Santa at the town Christmas party or planting my peas in soggy spring soil.

The steam started pouring from the sugar houses in late winter.  Even now, the nighttime temperatures are still mostly in the freezing range even as the days get warmer, and the sap still flows.  Last weekend, the first weekend in spring, the sugar houses opened their doors to tasters and tours, but it was just a date on the calendar.  For me, it won’t be until the sap slows that spring will really begin.  It’s when the sap buckets along our road come down.

 It doesn’t make the spring season any less welcome, but it does make it a little bittersweet.


Practice Makes Peace

It’s amazing how such a little thing can pull you out of a funk, and I’ve been in a deep one for weeks.

The recent weeks have been flooded with flu’s and funerals and pneumonia, and at a few points I was ready to stop treading water and just sink to the bottom of the black cold pond of life, letting the ice close over if only to get a little quality sleep (I’d given up on the reset button on Friday).  I was still feeling funky Saturday morning as we raced to make it to Thing2’s (our six-year-old son) basketball practice.

Neither the Big Guy nor I had thought to set the alarm Friday night, and when I opened my eyes and looked at the clock, I realized we had 21 minutes to get everyone up, dressed, and chauffeured, to a school 20 minutes away.  I raced to the kids’ room yelling, “Up! up! up!,” half-aware that my twelve-year-old son, Thing1, was already up and locked in a video game (as I threw clothes at both of the kids he calmly explained that he also doesn’t pay attention to clocks on weekends).  Surprisingly the wild goose chase that constituted the rest of our getting ready and on the road did nothing to penetrate my gloom.  But when we walked into the caferia-turned-gym of the elementary school, the ice over my head began to melt a bit.

We live near Arlington, VT.  Their school and the elementary school Thing2 attends in the next town is so small that they have to combine with each other to get the minimum four players needed to form a team.  The kids are all in first and second grad, and, with no million dollar sponsorships on the line, it’s often a toss-up as to whether we’ll arrive at a Saturday game or just an extra practice.  Five minutes after we arrived, we stopped wondering if the other team might just be late, and relaxed as we realized our panic had been completely unnecessary.  Today was a practice.  We grabbed a few folding chairs and found a safe spot at the edge of the cafeteria to wait and watch.

Like most parents, my butt already has a permanent flat impression from years of waring the bleachers at ballparks and gymnasiums, and I am not proud of the fact that part of my routine includes indulging in a little smart phone therapy (I know, I know, I should be committing every play and bounce to memory for the mental scrapbook).   But today, as the coach drafted another parent and a few players’ siblings to participate, something made me put away my phone and pull out my pen.

Thing2’s team is a bit rag-tag in style as well as size.  None of the kids have fancy sneakers, and several play in jeans or whatever the weather dictates.  The kids are competitive but never cutthroat. They’ll share the ball as often as they steal it.  While the coach maintains structure, he’s enthusiastic about the game, not militant about discipline.  When his enthusiasm infected Thing2 again this overcast Saturday morning, SuperDude, Thing2’s evolving, multi-talented and perpetually joyful alter-ego, exploded onto the court and, with a twirl and a leap and a dancing ‘dunk’, yanked me through the hole in the ice, out of my funk and back into life.

Watching him twirl and run, stopping occasionally to climb the makeshift rock wall with a teammate, reminded me once again just how good the rag-tag chaos we call life is.  It reminded me how even the things that fomented my funk are mostly indicative of our blessings rather than any host of misfortunes.  And, as they wrap a tied practice game of two on six (one coach + one parent vs. four players + two sib’s), I am amazed again at how life can breathe itself into you when you least expect it.  And maybe that’s the time you need it most.

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