Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sushi and Snow!

Last night for dinner we took a break from turkey leftovers (yes, we still  have some), going for a completely different taste with sushi and wontons. My sister rolled carrots, avocado, cucumber and sushi rice in sheets of Nori seaweed. These were topped with thin slices of pickled ginger and a dipping sauce of soy sauce, dry sherry, and scallions.

I mixed up fresh pork from New Roots Farm with scallions, ginger, oyster sauce, soy sauce, and sesame oil for the wontons. We folded a tablespoon of this mixture into each wonton wrap. These were cooked in three different ways: lightly fried, steamed, and boiled. Boiled was the most efficient and easiest, although the fried wontons had a nice flavor, as fried things do.

My niece was helping fold the wontons, until we noticed that it was snowing. Then she darted outside to the deck to make a six inch snowman......with the first snowfall of the year.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

November Wind

The wind blew hard on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. Hard enough that our power went out by 8:15 in the morning. That worried me as I was all set to bake cookies and rolls for the holiday. And what about roasting a turkey... Fortunately the power returned by late morning and despite wind gusts all day the power stayed on and Thanksgiving went off without a hitch.

It was a cold, bracing November wind. Invigorating if you bundled up and stood against the wind. While the power was out Kodi and I drove to Durham and hiked out to a scenic point on the Great Bay estuary. Few other people braved the wind, except for two very hardy duck hunters perched off the point in a blind with a bevy of duck decoys floating just off-shore. The wind whipped up white caps all around them. I shivered and headed back inland.

Over this Thanksgiving holiday we've eaten many hearty meals that included a homemade rhubarb pie that my 5 and 7 year-old nieces helped me make. The crust was perfect as was the rhubarb, which came from my parent's farm. To work off the meal yesterday we walked to a nearby conservation area. There we saw that beaver were also busy this week preparing for their winter meals. They were adding chewed branches to their lodge and stashing freshly cut twigs at the water's surface near the lodge entrance, where they can easily reach them from underwater once the pond freezes over.

alders, freshly cut by beavers

 the beaver's stash lying at the water's surface, the lodge is beyond

Milkweed pods stood empty in the field overlooking the beaver pond, their silky seeds blown free by the November wind. We walked home for another meal and another piece of warm pie.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

November Ice

For the past three days nighttime temperatures have dipped below freezing. The sun is low in the sky. The days are shorter, and, despite warmer daytime temperatures, ice is forming. You see it around the edges of ponds and along protected river shorelines. The ice is thin and irregular, but with each passing cold night it creeps farther offshore into deeper water.

Ice forms on the backwaters of the Exeter River

On our walk Kodi pounces on mud puddles that froze over during the night. He is startled at first by the breaking of ice. Then ice becomes the new normal and he moves on, in search of the next smell or movement. After leaf fall, the presence of ice foreshadows the approaching winter. It tells of cold nights and signals a time to slow down, to give thanks. Kodi, who lives in the moment, trots quickly on - no slowing, although he surely appreciates being outdoors. There is a skip in his step and a twinkle in his eyes. I move more slowly, pausing to admire the ice formations and to absorb the warmth of the low morning sun. It will be many months now before the river shakes free of its icy shores. November ice is here and winter is creeping in. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010


For some reason I know not why, one of my favorite lines in Lord of the Rings is when an Orc shuffles in to tell Saruman, "The trees are strong my Lord. Their roots go deep." Of course the next part is my least favorite, when they rip out all the trees, but then later the Ents take care of the Orcs and Saruman, so that part ends rather well. Trees are indeed strong, but do their roots really go deep?

When we lived in Minnesota a good friend who was a prairie ecologist spent a lot of time educating people on the beauty, diversity, and importance of prairies. She would go into classrooms and ask the kids, "Which has deeper roots, a pine tree or big bluestem?" Everyone said a pine tree of course, a pine tree is so tall compared to a grass. But is that so?

A big bluestem cultivar, growing in my garden

Prairie soils are deep and rich and the roots of native prairie plants go surprisingly deep. Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), the most common prairie grass, sends roots down ten to twelve feet. How about a pine tree? Despite their great height and mass, their roots extend less than two feet down. Instead, like most trees, their roots extend laterally some distance rather than vertically. This becomes obvious when you see a large white pine uprooted; we have many such fallen trees in the region as a result of major storms in recent years.

The following series of photos capture one such fallen white pine. The side shot shows a very shallow root system -- less than one foot deep. No wonder many of these trees are uprooted during major wind and rain storms.

Friday, November 19, 2010


Our home furnishings are eclectic and come from many places. Sometimes we make a great find when we least expect it. We have picked up several great chairs from the side of the road, after the owners cast them off. A few years ago we rescued a decent dresser from a burn pile (after we asked the owner and before the fire started). Yard sales are another source. Our favorite pieces are those we've made -- bookcases, a dresser, a pantry and sideboard, lamp tables, a blanket chest. All were made with the guidance of Al Mitchell at his Homestead Woodworking School just up the road.

Once in awhile we go in search of a ready-made, new piece of furniture for the house. For this we often look to Pompanoosuc Mills ("Pompy") based in Thetford, Vermont. Although a bit expensive, their furniture is beautiful, durable, locally made, and the company seems to be good to its employees.

This week I was thinking about bedside tables. Srini's woodworking list is a bit back-logged, so I set out to look at options at local furniture stores. I never fail to come home disappointed from such a trip. The unfinished furniture available from most retail stores is very poorly made -- something you might throw in the burn pile within a year (and I wouldn't rescue it). So it was a surprise when, at first glance, I thought I found inexpensive, well-made oak tables. But it was not so. This oak-like furniture is actually parawood - imported from Malasia (and probably elsewhere) and is flooding the retail furniture market, according to the salespeople. And the prices are ridiculously low compared to say a piece of furniture from Pompy.

Before this week I had not heard of parawood. After some research, I discovered that it is the rubber tree, specifically Hevea brasiliensis. I think the marketers changed the name, much like they do for fish, to make it more palatable. Having a rubber tree coffee tree does not sound the same perhaps as having a parawood coffee table. Parawood is touted as "green" and "ecofriendly" and very sustainable.

The rubber tree is native to the Amazon basin, especially Brazil. Almost all of the world's rubber -- for tires, tubes, footwear, belts, hoses, latex products -- comes from the rubber tree. The trees are cut and the latex (like a sap) is extracted for 25 to 30 years, before the tree is tapped out. Until about 15 years ago the trees were cut down and used mostly as local firewood. Then someone discovered it made good furniture. Now, when the rubber trees are spent of all latex they are cut down and turned into furniture. That is the sustainable part -- turning what was considered a waste product into a much more profitable product. So everyone feels good.

In the 1800s, the British, and perhaps others, took rubber tree seeds to Europe and more importantly southeast Asia. Rubber plantations got their start in Asia; Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia seem to be where much of the industrial quantities of rubber are extracted. Rubber (the latex) was once extracted by indigenous people in the Amazon at a scale that was sustainable. However, now rubber trees are grown in large plantations that displace large swaths of native forest that was once ecologically diverse. We all use rubber so we must expect some loss of native forest.

I wonder though if this surge in parawood furniture is causing more native forest to be cleared to grow more rubber trees, and hence produce more wood. So then it is not really "green" furniture. And the fact that it is shipped so far and is so cheap, there are a multitude of questions about human and environmental costs.

As I mentioned at the start, roadsides, yard sales, burn piles, and local woodworking classes are some of the best sources of "green" furniture. I have yet to find a nice bedside table in the ditch, so Srini has placed two such tables at the top of his woodworking list. I'll pass on the parawood.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Liberty and Flume

The high summits forecast called for sun, above average temperatures (into the mid-40s), and little wind, a rare combo for mid-November. So, yesterday we took the day off from work and headed north to Franconia Notch to hike Mt Liberty and Mt. Flume, two 4000-footers that we had not yet hiked. By 8:30 am we were on the Whitehouse Trail after parking at "Trailhead Parking" just north of the Flume Visitor's Center parking lot off Rte 3, that is accessed via Exit 34 off I-93. I mention the parking details because it is hard to figure out from the maps and guides.

Our fall packs were full of warm clothing in case the weather turned suddenly cold, which often happens above 4,000 feet in the White Mountains. Not today. One hiker passed us wearing shorts and on top of the ridge you could be in a t-shirt, it felt that warm.

Me, atop Mt. Liberty with Mt. Lincoln directly behind me

The first leg of our hike followed Whitehouse Trail over a small ridge for 0.6 miles, then two-tenths of a mile along a bike path that crossed the Pemigewasset River on a large, sturdy bridge, to the junction with Liberty Spring Trail. We turned right onto Liberty Spring and started up a modest grade through a beautiful northern hardwood forest with huge yellow birch trees. It wasn't long before we paused to shed our hats and heavy fleece. The trail was a little muddy and crossed a few small streams and one larger brook. We stepped carefully, but easily, across a set of logs that someone had placed securely for such a purpose.

Srini crossing the brook on Liberty Spring Trail

Hiking in late fall, after the hardwood trees have shed most of their leaves, is a beautiful time. You can see so far in the woods and the peaks are visible through the trees.

Only the beech trees retain a few leaves

Somewhere around 2.0 miles on the Liberty Spring Trail we entered the spruce-fir-white birch zone and the trail also changed. It got steeper and rockier. At about 2.3 miles, somewhere over 3,000 feet, we encountered the first small patches of ice and snow. The rock strewn trail made stepping over the ice patches easier. As the trail got steeper and higher, though, we finally stopped to put on microspikes, perhaps one of the best inventions for hikers to move confidently across thin layers of ice or packed snow. Kodi will not let us clip his toenails - he gets squirmy every time we try -- but the benefit is that he retains his own built-in set of microspikes. For him, scaling icy trails is easy.

 Kodi races up the icy Liberty Spring Trail

After reaching the Franconia Ridge Trail we turned south and hiked 0.3 miles to the summit of Mt. Liberty at 4,459'. What a view from the top. We looked north along Franconia Ridge to Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Garfield, northwest into Franconia Notch and across to Cannon Mountain and the Kinsmans. We could see clear across Vermont to Camel's Hump, and spread out to our east a spectacular view into the Pemi Wilderness and the Bonds and Bondcliff. And the big one -- Mt. Washington -- was clearly visible to the northeast.

The Bonds and Bondcliff with Mt. Washington in the distance

We reached the top of Mt. Liberty by 11:30 (3 hours from the parking lot). After a quick sandwich we continued south on Franconia Ridge, dropping down and then back up after 1.2 miles to the summit of Mt. Flume (4,328'). A lone boreal chickadee cheered us on as we hiked up the last stretch to the summit. After soaking up more views -- from here we could see Mt. Lafayette -- and enjoying some hot turkey soup from our thermos and a handful of mixed nuts, we retraced our steps back to Mt. Liberty and on down the Liberty Spring Trail. So we actually climbed three 4,000-footers, since we climbed Mt. Liberty twice!

 Mt. Flume, as seen from the Franconia Ridge Trail below the summit of Mt. Liberty

What seemed like an asset on the way up -- the exposed rocks helped avoid ice patches on the upper reaches of the Liberty Spring Trail -- was a bit of a curse on the way down. Every step was a little jarring on the knees and legs as we navigated through a mini boulder field that is the trail. I kept wishing the softwoods would give way to the hardwoods, as I knew only then would the trail ease and the rocks would thin out. But the rocks and the evergreens went on and on.

Looking down from Mt. Liberty at the transition zone from softwoods to hardwoods

Finally we emerged out of the softwoods and suddenly the woods were brighter with all the bare hardwoods letting in so much more light, despite a setting sun. The sun finally dipped below the Kinsman Ridge at 3:55 pm as we continued our descent.  Kodi glowed like a black torch amid the grays of the tree trunks and large boulders in the surrounding woods. 

At last we arrived back on the bike path and followed this all the way back to our car, arriving there at 4:30. Along the way we got a glimpse of the last rays of sun illuminating the top of Mt. Liberty.

The setting sun illuminates the top of Mt. Liberty
We hiked the 10.5 miles in 8 hours, taking our time along the way. The hike to the ridge was well worth the effort and the views from the top were awesome. My calves though are still smarting from the descent on the rock-strewn Liberty Spring Trail. Kodi as usual was a great hiking companion and loved every minute of the day.

 Kodi on Franconia Ridge

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Late Fall Planting and Harvest

Farmer Renee invited three of us volunteers over to help her plant the last of the seed garlic yesterday afternoon. We all eagerly joined her to spend a few hours under a glorious and warm November sun. The New Roots Farm garlic is now all in the ground -- I think Renee said it was close to 10,000 cloves. The sun was starting to set by mid-afternoon, but we all continued on to the beet patch, harvesting the last of that crop -- smallish beets that will keep well in cold storage and sold at upcoming winter farmer's markets.

One never leaves New Roots Farm after a few hours or more of planting and harvesting, without your own harvest basket full of produce. Who would have thought farmers could grow such beautiful vegetables this late in the season in northern New England. Here is what I brought home today:

Lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, broccoli, big tomatoes and grape tomatoes grown in a greenhouse, carrots dug fresh, small round sweet turnips, onions, beets (not in the picture), and one more thing in this you see it? Look closer...

There, behind the turnips and grape tomatoes .......

 blue oyster mushrooms!

These are a first for New Roots Farm, grown on straw in burlap bags. We'll saute these tonight in some olive oil or butter and garlic. Renee says they are delicious.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Green Shoots

A storm blew through the area a week ago Tuesday. As with many storms it gathered energy from the south and midwest as it tracked toward the northeast, then packed a wallop on New Hampshire. There was lots of fury and noise with this storm and there was a lot of devastation in its wake -- at least for some. But no one was immediately hurt, no houses flooded, no animals died, no trees were uprooted. For this was a political storm.

Democrats might describe it as a category 5 hurricane. Those who rode in on the storm's fierce winds would describe it otherwise; they see clear skies ahead.

As with many severe storms -- such as the eruption of Mount St. Helen's or the fires at Yellowstone many years ago -- the aftermath looks barren and bleak. If you believe in fairness, equality, community, reason, self-determination, and the environment, it is not clear how these ideals will fare in this new era. The new political leadership -- at least in New Hampshire -- is sounding harsh and brash.

Given the rhetoric of the incoming political class, the environment may take a beating in the near term -- with less regulation, more extraction, less support for conserving lands or managing existing public spaces. It took a few years, but eventually small green shoots started to emerge form the ash around Mount St. Helen's and among the burned lands in Yellowstone. I have hope that nature will endure this current still swirling political storm. 

One wonderful aspect of having a dog, or any pet for that matter, is that they are completely oblivious to human constructs, including politics. Our conversations about elections and politicians, still sound to them like, "blah, blah, blah, blah," although after last week it was more like "BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH!" Take a dog for a walk in the woods and any thought of politics fades away. So, Kodi and I set off in search of green shoots (Kodi of course was less interested in green and more interested in gray, as in gray squirrels).

As Kodi chased gray squirrels and chipmunks during our walk in College Woods yesterday, I looked for small green things and found the woods full of green shoots.

I feel better already.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Blueberry Bushes

Talk of blueberries is usually a summer topic, when the bushes are laden with sweet, plump berries for eating fresh or filling the freezer. Actually, now I am thinking of making a batch of blueberry scones with some of the stash in our freezer. But I digress.

My thoughts have turned to blueberries, specifically highbush blueberry bushes, because their leaves are gorgeous. Now, this is the autumn of week after week of stellar fall foliage. Just last week I was noticing the palette of colors on the oaks. Surely, that combined with the shedding of most maple leaves, was the end of brilliant red foliage for 2010.

Then a walk along the shore of Pawtuckaway Lake on Monday revealed still more stunning red color. The wild highbush blueberries continue the color parade into November.

Highbush blueberry, Vaccinium corymbosum, along shore of Pawtuckaway Lake

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Leaves

Yesterday I posted a leaf quiz and below this nice photo of Kodi are the answers. If you missed yesterday's post and want to have a look at the quiz before seeing the answers, click here. Otherwise, here it is:

The Leaf Quiz:

#1 = bigtooth aspen (Populus grandidentata)

#2 = sugar maple (Acer saccharum)

#3 = white oak (Quercus alba)

#4 = quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides)

#5 = red oak (Quercus rubra)

#6 = American beech (Fagus grandifolia)

#7 = red maple (Acer rubrum)

#8 = gray birch (Betula populifolia)

#9 = American elm (Ulmus americana)

#10 = witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Leaf Quiz

The first day of November is cool and breezy. With sun and blue sky it still feels like much of October, except many more trees have dropped leaves and are bare. Our thoughts turn to leaves as we shuffle through ever deeper layers of leaves on woodland trails and as leaves cover our lawns. It is leaf raking time (as opposed to leaf blowing please!).

With so many leaves blowing about in the wind, it seems like a good day for a leaf quiz. Here are leaves of ten common hardwood trees or shrubs that grow around here (New England and beyond).  What are they? Answers tomorrow.










Winterberry Bird Scat

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