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A New Experience

February 18, 2015

This is February vacation week, though with all the snow days we’ve had this month one would hardly know the difference. Even if we had school this week, Monday was Presidents’ Day and that would have been the fourth Monday in a row with no school. I have spent plenty of time outside this month, along with untold thousands of my fellow New Englanders, shoveling. But somehow I have not felt particularly productive. So, I started the break by making a new pair of mittens. I had just enough elk skin lying around to make a replacement for my old deerskin pair. As much as I liked the old pair, I think the new ones are a definite improvement. The pattern for the new ones came from a company that makes patterns for re-enactors. In addition to the mittens, I have made a couple pairs of gloves, which as you can see from the picture, get quite a bit of use. But for the mittens I decided to use my old sewing machine, instead of sewing by hand, as I did for the gloves. The machine is a beauty, but it takes a while to get tuned up each time I use it, which is not often, and it can make me a little crazy until it is going smoothly.

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With my new mittens, I decided to head down to the farm, not on my usual Saturday trip, but on a Tuesday. The traffic was lousy. As you may have heard, the commuter situation in Boston these days is horrendous. The T (subway) is running about 30% capacity, and they are literally hiring folks off the street to shovel the outdoor lines. Yesterday I heard they were paying thirty dollars an hour! (I thought they should consider trading T passes.) For me, the best parts of the drive are when I can view the ocean. So, I always look forward to Wollaston Beach in Quincy and from Hingham Harbor on down to the farm. This time, Wollaston Beach was hidden behind massive piles of snow many as tall as fifteen feet. However between the piles I could glimpse a frozen Quincy Bay. With no wind, the water was frozen well out into the bay. The Northbound traffic was making very slow progress up Rte. 3a. As far South as Weymouth traffic was a crawl. At Forest Avenue, the small beach was also frozen. Against the rocks the slush water sloshed about disconsolately, but a few feet out it was frozen and appeared frozen several hundred feet out into the ocean.

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When I got to Cohasset the street pavement disappeared and I didn’t see it again until I left.

When I pulled into the barnyard, it looked like nothing I had ever seen before. Snow was piled everywhere. The road down to the turn around was plowed only as far as the blacksmith shop. I drove my truck to the ox barn and went to check in with my Aunt Jean. She told me that my Cousin Charlie , who lives up in the woods with his family, has been doing a great job plowing the main drive. But even on a farm, there is only so much room. Every so often a friend with a Bobcat front-end loader comes by to scoop up the great piles and move them out of the way. Nugget the horse was frantic because he couldn’t see his little pal Pumpkin the pony in the paddock (the drifts were so high). And they couldn’t be in the same paddock because there was so much snow.

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One paddock was filled right up to the top of the top rail of its fence.

The first thing I did after checking in with Aunt Jean was shovel my way into the oxbarn. My first job for the day was replacing the sled chase I had broken the previous week. Then I went out into the barnyard and pulled some of the snow off of a couple roofs. Most of it had been raked by someone else, but I try to help out where I can. Then I decided to go snowshoeing.
If you read my last post you will know that during last week’s outing into the woods I had some trouble with the snowshoes I made. The toes of the shoes kept getting stuck in the snow and I would stumble forward. Well, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that this week I had a much easier time of it. The bad news is that I used an old pair of snowshoes that I did not make. This time I was not pulling the sled, so that may turn out to be the problem. But if it really is design of the shoes, I will hang mine up on the wall and switch to these new old shoes. In any case, the hike was truly unlike any hike I have ever taken on the farm. There was so much snow that the trails became purely theoretical. The horse briar, which normally makes the woods so impassable, was buried under three to four feet of snow and it was possible to walk anywhere. Stone walls, small streams, underbrush, poison ivy, I was tromping above it all. At one point I caught a glimpse of a small, dark, possibly canine sort of critter. It was about fifty yards off and I was able to walk directly toward it. In the summer, not only would I never have seen it, but it would have extremely difficult to approach it through the underbrush. But I made a beeline toward it to looks for tracks. Unfortunately, I didn’t find them. I walked straight to where I thought I saw it and found nothing at all. I can only imagine that it had a den in the vicinity and was safely ensconced inside. I saw no tracks in the area. One thing I did find was the largest oak tree I have ever seen down there.

I would say its circumference was well over double my arm span (that is, just under six feet or twelve feet total). And that was at my chest height plus the three feet of snow I was standing on. In other words, at eight or nine feet up the trunk the circumference was about fourteen feet or so. It was a magnificent sight and one that I would never have seen in the summer. The woods were also wonderfully quiet. Activity in the area was minimal and the snow absorbed much of the sound that was around. Several times I simply stopped where I was and sat down to listen to the quiet. After an hour or so out in the woods, I stepped down off the snow and onto the driveway with a jolt. It was as if I had been walking around on one giant mattress and then landed on a hardwood floor. I hadn’t collected any materials for furniture, but the trip had been well worth it. I hope to get another such one in again soon.
My grandfather used to tell me of his youth when, rather than plow the roads, they rolled them with logs pulled by teams of horses, so that they were smooth enough to sleigh on. Apparently the town of Cohasset is renewing that old tradition, as they seem dedicated to making sure no ones’ runners are damaged by the salt or pavement.

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It is hard not to wonder what my Grandfather would have made of this year’s snow. He always contended that there was much more snow in his youth. But I think this year’s totals might even have matched his memory.

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