When my siblings come to Squabetty each year, it’s a time of intensity – projects we have been talking about and planning since the previous year, nurtured over the colorful days of autumn and the cold winds of winter, become reality. We work hard and long, taking care to honor the integrity of the old place, yet adding fun twists to the modern lives we live. The hard projects are cutting into the stone barn foundation to make a ramp for equipment or remaking an old sliding door, using the turn of the century parts and calculating how to make it work with the unevenness of the multi -century old building. Perhaps it’s digging out the old well to make it deeper or crawling under the barn, jacking it up to remove rotting wood footings and pouring new concrete ones. And then there are the fun projects – adding a maple tap spigot and valve to an old shower head above the sauna rocks, or creating a whimsical sign post to places near and far. Regardless of the various projects underway each day, time at the old homestead allows us, as an extended family, to be together. For us, that’s one of the special qualities of Squabetty – it brings us together – the east coasters and west coasters – for a very, very cherished time, each year.
Runamok Maple, the company which taps the trees on Squabetty land, has created a new flavor- ginger root infused maple syrup, which is delicious. We are fortunate to have plenty of maple syrup, but this infused sweet stuff is special – it would be delectable in a chicken dish, and enhance a cocktail such as a Dark and Stormy or Moscow Mule. My squash soup in the autumn will be extra delicious, infused with this new gem. Furthermore, pancakes and French toast taste better - if that's even possible. Okay, I do love ginger flavor. When infused maple syrups first came out, I considered them for someone else, but not me. I couldn’t understand how one could stray from good old pure maple syrup. But this ginger infused sweet stuff is changing my thinking. While I drink my coffee with a touch of maple syrup, I’m still not inclined to try the ginger infused in that! Not yet anyways.
One of the most rewarding parts of readying Squabetty for guests is making little vases of flowers to spread around the house. I prefer wild flowers, but supplement from my cutting garden, perennials and wild flowers around my house. As the neighbors are readying for work in the morning, I’m wandering around in my mud boots, searching for blooms. Maybe you’ll see someone driving slowly along dirt roads here in the north country, looking out along the roadsides. It might be me. I know which roads are likely to have Joe Pye Weed, loosestrife (yes, invasive), and steeple bush. In my glove box I keep scissors, not for self-protection, but just in case I see something lovely along the roadside. I love these summer and autumn flower drives – I never know what I’ll find – and it’s luxuriously lazy. I feel like what we used to call old fogies out on a Sunday drive. Once I gather loads of flowers, I set them out in vases – antique bottles, tiny vases that have been in the family for generations and new bottles I like. And when there’s too many flowers, I make myself a bouquet and bring it home – a little present to myself.
I have been neglectful in keeping up this blog. For this I apologize. It’s summer, which means more time at Squabetty. I spend a lot of my time thinking about the people who once lived here. As I grow older, I become more reflective of the old stone walls, the cellar holes and stone wells. I wander along them, wondering about the lives of the farmers and families who lived here on the mountain side. I touch a rock wall and wonder about who put that rock there. What was his life like 100, 150 years ago? I find the old apple trees, out of place in a forest of maples, ash and beech trees. What were the people like who ate these apples so many years ago? Did they make jelly or pie? I go to the town offices and search back in the land records. I love small town Vermont records. There are books of handwritten entries about the people who lived and died here. Gazetteers tell of livelihoods and census data tell about who lived in the house. We know that in 1887 John Flynn, his wife Ann and their 5 children were living in the house when a 2 mile long landslide came “within a few rods of John Flynn’s house.” In 1900, Fred Shanley lived in the house with his wife, 4 children and 6 other relatives or laborers. I know the rock which sits at the base of the stone steps leading up to the front door has carvings in it. I can make out the name Redmond. The town records tell me that Rufus Redmond bought the place in 1913. I continue to search for stories, journals – something more personal and robust than dates and ages and names. The search is long and so far I have found very little of flavor. But that doesn’t really matter. The more I learn, even simple dates, the more inquisitive I get. Answers beget more questions. And search continues.
5.5.17 There’s this time between seasons, when there seems to be a lull – it seems nothing is happening; a void between what was and what will come. But the signs of spring and the farewell to winter continue to be undeniable: trout lilies, bellwort, trillium and dutchman’s breeches litter the forest floor. While Squabetty is a special place any season of the year, the spring holds ripe the promises of summer. There’s excitement in the air as my siblings and I look more closely at the projects for the year – the ones we have been thinking and talking about since last summer. We’re ordering supplies and discussing the prioritization of projects. Keeping an old place like Squabetty in tip top shape is a labor of love and talent. Because we are able to do most of the work ourselves, we know the quality meets our high standards. While our long term goal is to turn Squabetty over to the next generation in prime condition, the short term goal is to cherish the time in this heavenly place with family and friends. Feeling grateful.
4.16.17 It’s been a week since snow fell, and happily melted. Spring-like daytime temperatures and longer days have finally given way to spring beauties in the woods, peepers in the wetlands and the green, green grass of another season. There’s an excitement in the air – of better things to come. I’m impatient, and turn over the decaying autumn leaves, searching for sprouts, quickly covering them back up when I find them, knowing all is well. The old place wakes from its slumber. We throw open the windows and doors, anticipating the time here, with family and friends – the best days of each year. I’ll clean the garden beds and plant more flowers, knowing full well that the magic is not in the flowers, but in the memories families and friends create here.
3. 27.17 We survived the dumping of Winter Storm Stella two weeks ago – about 30 inches; and the cold and continued snowy weather since then. Spring is nowhere in sight here in the North Country! Despite the whims of Mother Nature, this weekend was Vermont Maple Open House Weekend, an annual event when sugarhouse across the state open their doors to share their operations and samples of sweet treats, even when it’s too cold and the sap is not running! I headed up to Runamok Maple in Cambridge, to taste their new line of infused maple syrups. As mentioned in a previous post, Squabetty trees are tapped by Runamok. Because this operation is huge – 81,000 trees tapped, producing 2 million gallons of sap – there is no quaint sugarhouse with steam escaping from the vents in the roof. Instead, it’s a technologically advanced system of tanks, tubes and machines. Regardless, the end result is a fine thing – delicious, sweetness right from the land. The infused syrups are a treat for the palate. For more info on Runamok’s operations, see their website: http://runamokmaple.com/. There’s something to be said about eating food from your own land. On long walks in the woods, I hug the trees and thank them for their sweetness.
3.18.17 It’s cold up here in Vermont recently – today a high of 7 degrees with a wind chill advisory for 25 below. The chickadees and finches are all puffed up and filling up on suet and black oiled sunflower seeds. Despite the cold outside, I’m pouring over seed catalogs, looking for flowers to fill the new beds at Squabetty. With a new grow lab system, I’ll be starting the seeds inside so I can transplant over Memorial Day, when it’s safe to put plants out here in Northern Vermont. Looking forward to warmer days.
Welcome to our new website and weekly blog. Today, the temperatures are in the 50s for a second day in a row, meaning the sap is running in our sugarbush . Our maple trees are tapped by Runamok Maple in Cambridge, VT. Here are two links to see what the operation looks like and the products they are making.
Oprah Winfrey listed Runamok products on her annual list of Favorite Things this year. We’re hoping for a banner sugaring year.