Monday, February 11, 2008

Blanket Statement

Sunday, February 10, 2008

We have a saying in New England: “If you don’t like the weather here, wait a minute, it will change.” Nasty weather was forecast for Sunday, but after doing a few chores and running a few errands in the morning, it was unexpectedly warm, sunny and calm. I knew a change was on the way but I thought I had time to sneak up to Moose Hill for lunch.

By the time I got home, brewed a pot of coffee and cooked some oatmeal, the clouds had already moved in. I wanted to make this a quick trip, so I took the touring bike and pedaled the mile and a half to the beginning of the Vernal Pool Trail. This bike has fenders that were appreciated as I rode through the slush that was left over from overnight snow showers. By the time I pushed the bike up the trail a ways and traded my bike helmet for a fleece hat, it was drizzling.

I walked up the trail and in no more than a half hour after leaving home I was at The Boulders. This is a high bedrock outcrop just off the trail that I’d visited several times before. I usually sit on one of the high points on the rocks, but on this day they were slush-covered, so I went downhill a bit to find a place under the pines that was sheltered from the slush and drizzle. I sat down on an insulating piece of packing-material foam I carry to keep my rear warm and dry (Note to Self: Get a bigger piece of foam!) and draped my new fleece blanket over my shoulders.

I’d been thinking about carrying a blanket for a while. Sitting quietly in the woods in winter can get uncomfortable and I liked the idea of carrying a portable instant shelter. I might have preferred a natural wool made-in-America blanket, but I have a feeling such things are rare and expensive these days. The fleece blanket had the advantage of being warm, light and free. (It was a new-member premium from the Trustees of Reservations who manage Moose Hill Farm. Thanks TTOR!) I felt like I was rediscovering a bit of old-fashioned woods wisdom. A simple blanket could be used as a wrap, or - draped over sticks or tree branches - it could make a quick shelter. On a nice day, I could imagine wrapping myself up in it and taking a sylvan snooze. I’m sure wilderness travelers of yore never ventured forth without a blanket, but who carries one today?

After I settled in, I poured a cup of coffee and opened up the oatmeal. It was still warm from the kitchen and the raisins were perfectly plump, soft and sweet. In the past couple of years, I’ve had breakfast in the woods quite a few times, but this may have been my first lunch. I sat thinking about other meals I might bring to the woods and watched the clouds change form as the promised cold front advanced and the wind began to intensify.

I figured I should get moving so I packed my bag, wrapped the blanket around my shoulders to protect both my backpack and me from the cool air and light rain, and headed back down the trail. Along the way I stopped to examine a clump of American chestnut (Castanea dentata) sprouts. Most of the sprouts were dead and from the lone live branch hung limp, bleached, toothy leaves. I’d been reading American Chestnut: The Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree by Susan Freinkel. I thought how a century ago this tree was one of the most magnificent gifts offered by our eastern forests. It grew as much as a hundred feet tall and provided versatile rot-resistant lumber. In the fall, natural orchards dropped a bounty of delicious nuts, like manna from heaven, that fed all manner of wildlife, people and livestock. For many early Appalachian settlers, nuts harvested from the forest floor were their most reliable cash crop. The chestnut blight swept down the East Coast in the early part of the 20th century, killing virtually every tree. The tree longs to live and keeps sending up sprouts from stumps and roots, but the blight keeps slapping them back down. Even this sad little clump of sprouts bore orange fungal fruiting bodies.

I took the sprouts as a reminder to appreciate the good things we have before they are gone. I hugged my little green blanket a little tighter, as if it were a prayer shawl, and promised myself I would count my blessings. I reminded myself to recognize and nurture the good things in life. As I rolled down the hill on my bicycle, the wind was picking up and the temperature began to drop. When I got home, I brought an armload of firewood in from the shed and got a big pot of soup going on the stove. Good food and a warm house are things we might not think about much these days, but on that winter afternoon, I felt lucky to have both.

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At 7:04 AM, Blogger Crayons said...

Wow Moose Hill,
This is a lovely post. It makes me realize how out of step I am with nature. I've never had breakfast in the woods. I'm not able to notice signs the way you do. I have such a peaceful feeling after reading this. Thanks.

At 7:13 PM, Blogger robin andrea said...

I like those days when we brave the elements and hike. We've definitely found that the right gear makes hiking much easier, especially staying warm and dry on cold drizzly days.

It is always so sad to read about the American chestnut. Such a loss.

At 8:14 AM, Blogger nina said...

I’ve left a thank you to you/for you at my site!

Have you read Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver?

At 11:36 AM, Blogger Paul said...

MM, I read your last 3 posts with a map of Mouse Hill to follow along on your meanderings. Enjoyable!

At 11:07 PM, Blogger Julie Zickefoose said...

Nothing tastes as good as hot food in a cold woods. Every winter, Bill, the kids and I try to have a hamburger cook off in our woods. You load up a backpack with matches, paper, raw hamburger, salt, pepper, and your crappiest old skillet, and then you have the kids scrounge twigs and kindling. By the time those hamburgers are finally done, over a tiny weak flame deep in a snowy woods, you have never tasted anything so good. I'm sure it drives the coyotes and bobcats mad!
The thread in this peaceful post is being thankful for the simplest things. I like that.

At 8:14 PM, Blogger Larry said...

I like the idea of bringing a blanket, coffee etc.-I want to get set up like that during the winter and spend some time in one area.

At 8:44 PM, Blogger SimplyTim said...


Great little outing you had there!

I like to add some almonds along with the raisins when I'm making oatmeal. Sometimes I'll also add a dollop of peanut butter to it.

Ever tried quinnoa...distinctive flavor, easy to prepare, nutritious. Can add some maple syrup onto it...I don't mix it in.

I hope it's ok with you that I added you to my blog roll...category = people who are leading lives of conscious simplification


At 9:24 AM, Blogger Maryanne Stahl said...

hello. I've come here via dharma bums and am so glad I did.

Funny, I was told the "if you don't like the weather..." saying was Southern! I suppose it's Earth-ly.

Anyway, your post are lovely. Thank you for them. I'm originally from the north and I miss the woods...

At 7:38 AM, Blogger bullthorn said...

When I first moved to New England I lived with my great aunt Mary in one of the oldest houses on Hammond St. in Chestnut Hill. In the yard was an ancient and gigantic Chestnut tree. One day I heard an unearthly crack and managed to make it to my bedroom window just in time to see the branches rush past as the tree fell to the ground where its life ended with a shiver. I have a clear memory of 89year old Aunt Mary, who was born and soon afterwards died in that house, sitting on the badly damaged side porch fiddling with one of the huge chestnut leaves. A poignant moment.

At 11:53 AM, Blogger Lynne said...

Another beautiful post with a gentle reminder to appreciate the simple things in our lives. You've got a terrific bunch of comments here too.

You're making me long for spring at Hasty Brook. I'll take my camp chair, binoculars, a water bottle full of iced tea and a bag of pistachios. I'll park myself on a level spot near the creek and wait to see what reveals itself. Sigh...

At 9:29 AM, Anonymous Sven said...

Good Job! :)


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