in the UP of MI
When I moved to the UP, the first thing I noticed was how CLEAN the air was. There are no industries where I am to add any kind of obvious pollutants into the air or the water. Having come from the Detroit area I knew nothing else, but once I was removed from those conditions, I started to feel better.
The next was the drinking water. It was from my own 90 foot well, unfiltered, unprocessed, and unfluoridated.
Then there were the sights and sounds. No longer was I listening to the constant drum of traffic. No longer could I walk from one end of the house to the other without a flashlight because there was so much ambient light from outside 24 hours a day. In the woods when it gets dark it gets REALLY dark and the sounds are of the leaves rustling.
I was amazed at how I felt and looked after a year of living in the woods. Then I started doing some research. What I have found out about the pollutants our government allows into our lives is staggering. And what’s worse, is most of it we are unaware of, or unaware of the consequences.
Take for instance our dental fillings. Everyone has them, right? Silver amalgam is probably the most widely known filling material. Amalgam is made up of a mixture of silver, tin, zinc, copper, and mercury, with mercury being nearly 50% of the mixture. MERCURY, one of the most toxic materials we can be exposed to. Remember the mercury fish scare? We were told not to eat fish from certain areas because they were so heavily contaminated. And now mercury is widely used in vaccines to ‘stabilize’ the material, even though it’s known to be toxic, but also might be the cause in the upswing in cases of autism in our children. This material in our fillings seeps into our blood and tissue over time. What damage is it doing? When I found this out, I had ALL of my fillings replaced with composite. Plus I started using only baking soda to brush my teeth, eliminating fluorides completely. It didn’t take long when I felt like my brain was clearing and I was thinking clearer. Of course my dentist says fluoride is good and mercury isn’t harmful.
How about our deodorant? The first ingredient listed on every commercial antiperspirant I checked is aluminum. ALUMINUM has been linked to Alzheimer’s and certain cancers, and we are willingly putting it on our skin, our largest organ, to be absorbed. I now use a deodorant stone. I’ve also gone to locally produced natural lotions for my skin, like goat’s milk and honey, instead of the creams that have a petroleum base.
Other brain fog inducing chemicals are Aspartame and HFCS (high fructose corn syrup). My favorite mixed drink is a rum and cola, but because of the calories I would drink diet cola. Double whammy! Now I drink spiced rum and club soda (no calories, no sweeteners) and I avoid anything with either of these as an ingredient.
Now let me mention food. Fast food is by far the worse thing we can ingest, with the fats and questionable ingredients. There are so many chemical in our foods it’s scary. Many are to enhance the flavor, or make the food more shelf stable, or add color. Most of the foods on the shelves these days aren’t food at all, just chemicals packed to resemble food. No wonder we have a society of sick and over-weight people who can’t think. Even fresh fruit and vegetables are sprayed with toxins to preserve their freshness or brighten their appeal. My solution has been to grow my own, and to prevent the next contamination with GMO’s, I grow only heirloom or heritage plants. I also have my own chickens for eggs and my sons hunt deer for my meat. If I can’t be confident of the naturalness, I do without.
With all the changes I’ve made in my diet and my life, I feel healthier than ever. Why did I do all this, instead of going with the flow? Because I want to give myself the best possible chance to survive what is coming.
I’d like to thank everyone that has followed me on this fictional journey. There are disaster outs there, waiting to happen, some not nearly as bad as what happened here, some worse. Will they happen? We don’t know, that’s why it’s called being prepared …for the unexpected, or even the expected. I do hope you, the reader, have learned something, taken a bit of information and made it your own. That’s why I wrote this.
She sat in the old rocker by the cold cook-stove, reading. A warm September breeze drifted in thru an open window, bringing with it the fragrant scent of the wild honeysuckle that now grew by the sliding glass door. She closed the old, well-worn Journal and set it down, the tears pooling in her dark hazel eyes. Oh, how sad Deborah had been, she thought, searching her pocket for a hanky; cloth of course, there’d been no paper tissues in a very long time, but she did remember them.
Emilee, now 25, lovingly stroked the smooth cover of the brown leather book her Nahna had faithfully kept for many years. There would be time to continue reading, she thought, knowing there was more written, much more beyond the five months she had just finished. She wiped her tears, shed in sympathy for the heart ache her grandmother had felt at the time, but also knowing that Grandpa John had come back to Nahna, not a month later, unable to stay away from the woman he loved so deeply.
Emi stood and stretched the kinks out of her back; she’d been sitting in one place too long, especially after hours of working in the garden. It would be a good crop this year, she thought, Nahna would be pleased. Her heart clenched. Nahna passed away three weeks ago; pined away is more accurate, died from a broken heart, Emi thought. Grandpa John had a heart attack and died two weeks before that, and Nahna just didn’t want to go on without him.
She glanced once more at The Journal. Yes, there would be time to read more of Nahna’s life later. And what a life it was! She knew, since she, Emilee Ashton Rush, was there.
Power has been back on fully for a week now. It’s been very easy to get used to again: water when we want it; lights in any room; the refrigerator making ice; coffee ready before we get up; and clothes washed and dried in the same day. The internet was back on too, and I spent way too much time catching up on the Groups, reading news, and sending emails, but it sure felt good. Watching TV at night feels surreal and mystical. But in reality, my life will never be the same ever again, no matter how free the power is or how much is now stocked in the grocery stores; our lives have been changed, damaged; for some, beyond repair: we’ve starved, we’ve killed, some have been killed. No, we will never be the same.
I woke during the night, heart pounding, gasping for breath, the result of a bad dream. I snuggled closer to John for comfort. He wasn’t there. I stretched my hand out across his side of the bed: the sheets were cold; he’d been up for some time. Still use to moving around in the dark, I found my robe and tied it closed while I wandered silently toward a softly glowing light in the other room. There he was, standing by the deck-door, staring out into the darkness. I leaned against the door way to watch him: sweat pants slung low on his hips, barefoot, shirtless.
“I can feel when you come near me, you know. I don’t have to see you to know where you are,” he kept looking out the window, the small battery lantern cast a soft glow; his shadow bounced off the opposite wall. I waited until he turned around.
“Are you ok, John?” I asked as softly and as evenly as I could.
“I couldn’t sleep and didn’t want to disturb you,” I noted he didn’t answer me. “Why don’t you go back to bed, I’ll be there in a minute,” he promised.
I turned and went back to bed. A few minutes later I felt him shift under the covers and he curled himself around me, holding me snug against him. We both finally fell asleep.
We made love that morning. It was sweet and gentle and ….. sad. Then John slipped out of bed; I could hear the shower start. I turned over and wept. All I could think of were all the unexplained hours away from home; all the quickly hung up phone calls when I came near. Before the water went off, I used the second bath to rinse my face and use eye-drops hoping to conceal the redness from my tears. I slipped on my usual morning sweatpants and t-shirt, both now too baggy on me.
I was already pouring a cup of coffee, when he came out, dressed in jeans and a deep green hoodie. I turned to him. “You’re leaving, aren’t you?” It was more of a statement than a question. My hands were shaking, the coffee sloshed; I set it down on the table.
“I got a message from Green Path. They’re starting up operations again, and I have to report back.” He crossed the room to me. I backed up. “Deb………,” his voice caught, pleading; that sweet, charming South Carolina drawl that I’ve gotten so use to, clawing at my heart.
“Why can’t you stay here and still work for them?”
“They just don’t work that way,” he ran his hands over his bald head in that oh so familiar way, and I lost it. The tears just streamed down my face.
“If you have to go, John, then just go,” I was surprised the words came out. I hadn’t seen his duffle already packed by the door. I wanted to reach out, to hold him; keep him from leaving me. But I can’t force him to stay; I can’t make him love me. My hands hung limp at my sides, twitching, aching to touch him, to hold him here, I wanted to beg him to stay. I stood silent. Pride stopped me. He picked up the duffle and walked out.
I stood at the door, hidden by the curtain and watched him walk down the road, the duffle slung across his shoulder; a sob escaping from my throat with every step he took away from me. He turned into the drive of the other Green Path house, likely to catch a ride back to Eagle Beach. How could he do this to me, to us? Did the past four months mean nothing to him?
On uncertain legs I went into the bathroom, hoping to find some relief under a hot shower. There on the dryer, all neatly folded, were the clothes I had given him that first day: sweat pants, t-shirts, socks. The 9mm Beretta sitting on top. He wasn’t coming back.
My world shattered. My life shattered. Then my heart shattered. My legs collapsed and I slid to the floor, as everything around me went dark.
**** EPILOGUE TO FOLLOW****
The chilly nights gave way quickly to a more moderate fifty degrees, and that meant open windows to me, and fresh air sleeping. Listening to the woods wake up in the Spring is very special: the night birds coming back, the animals rustling around in the leaves looking for food. I was very excited to hear geese honking high above us, and I almost wept with joy to hear the very distinctive call of the Hermit Thrush looking for his mate.
This morning’s 52* grew to 65* by noon and I knew how I wanted to spend the day: washing curtains and hanging them in the sunshine! John helped me sort thru the coils of rope stacked on a shelf. After the blizzard was over, we retrieved all the ropes, carefully rewinding them, tying them individually and hoping we wouldn’t need them for a long time. The shorter coils I knew were my clotheslines from last Fall.
I was giddy. “You don’t know how this makes me feel! I love the way things smell that have dried outside.” There is only room for four fifteen foot lines, but it’s enough.
“Since you’ll be spending the afternoon washing curtains, you don’t mind if I take the four-wheeler out for a ride, do you?” John asked, pulling the last clothesline tight.
“No, of course not,” I replied, when actually I was disappointed I wouldn’t have the extra set of hands for some of the other work I had in mind.
I took down all the curtains in the kitchen and dining room, setting them to wash. Then I started washing the windows they came off of. Yikes! Months’ worth of wood smoke was evident as I sprayed on the window cleaner, watching it drip in dirty streaks. I had to wash each one twice, but now they sparkle. When I got to the glass door-wall, I also had to clean the track that was full of mud and bird seed; no wonder it was getting hard to move; tooth picks and a tooth brush were needed to dig under the metal rod that guided the door.
When the first load of curtains was waving gently on the clothesline, I put the next load in: the bedroom and hallway. Since this room was the furthest from the wood stove, the windows weren’t quite as dirty, but still needed cleaning. As each window was cleaned, I left it open to help air the house out.
Trying to be systematic, I then moved the dining table, swept and mopped under it, moved it back and did the same to the rest of the room in preparation of hanging the clean window coverings back up. For some reason I felt an urgency to clean, or maybe it was just the warm breezes that was stirring me on. With the power readily available now, I vacuumed the bedroom and as a last thought, stripped the bed and washed those sheets too. We might even get fresh pillowcases tonight!
When the sheets finally went on the line, and all the curtains were back on the windows, I started cleaning up the yard from the winter; a very harsh winter in more ways than one. I stopped, leaned on the rake, getting my cloth hanky out of a pocket, to wipe the tears as memories bombarded me. I tamped down the emotions and lifted my face into the sun, welcoming its heat.
With all the curtains cleaned and back up, windows washed, floors cleaned, even freshly sun-dried sheets back on the bed, I sat down in my rocker with a sigh of satisfaction. It was then I realized it was almost 6:00 ….. And John was still not home.
The kids would be over soon for dinner. It was our Wednesday spaghetti night, and I had yet to put it together. I found a jar of pork shreds that would do for the meat, and two jars of sauce I made last summer; a pound of linguini instead of my usual angel-hair was next; then a package of ramen for Jacob. My arms were full as I walked out of the pantry, almost bumping into John. My heart leaped; I was so glad to see him.
“Did you have a good ride?” I asked, though I really wanted to tell him I was getting worried.
“Yes, I did. It was a beautiful day. Let me help with that,” and he took two of the jars from me. As we set everything down on the work island, he turned back to me. “The house looks great; nothing like fresh air.” Small talk. Inane, stupid, small talk. I wanted to scream. It was burning in me to know where he had been all this time, but just then the kids came in and the moment was lost.
The sap has been running really good, a constant flow instead of a fast drip; the weather is just perfect for collecting sap. From each of the six taps, we’ve collected almost two gallons twice a day; these are big, mature trees. In just two days of constant boiling we have enough for a gallon of fresh syrup. The work has been tedious and continuous, but certainly not hard.
I had just set a loaf of cheesy bread to its final rise, when John came in.
“You want to check this batch? I’m thinking it’s getting close to being ready.” He really has been pleased with having something to do and learning something new at the same time. We walked back out to the barn, steam rolling out of the big doors in fragrant clouds.
I stirred the dark golden liquid with the big spoon and let it run off the edge. “Yes, very close; you’re getting a good eye for this. Keep it cooking while I get the jars prepped and the canner heating. It shouldn’t take too long; I’ll let you know when that’s ready.”
A half hour later, we were ladling hot, deep gold syrup into pint jars, fixing them with a sterilized lid and ring. Five jars were submerged into the boiling water bath, and timed for ten minutes. I lifted them out and John set them on a folded towel to cool, and we started on the next five jars.
“Now that’s a beautiful day’s work!” I hooked my arm into his as we admired the ten pint jars of deep amber liquid, all perfectly sealed and lined up on the counter. I rested my head comfortably against his shoulder.
“Do we need to do more?” he questioned.
“Not really, not unless you want to. This should last us a while. Jason is doing his own, so we don’t need to provide for theirs.” I heard something tired in his voice. “We could pull the taps, now.” He just nodded.
I got the small wagon from the garden, and armed with a hammer and a near empty can of pruning seal, (another hole in my preps) we started at the furthest tree; First removing the tent, then the bucket, emptying any sap into the five gallon pail for tomorrow’s final coffee, and putting everything in the wagon. Next came pulling the tap out, which John did while I searched for just the right stick to plug the hole. I jammed the stick as far as I could and broke it off; John used the hammed to drive it in. A quick spray of sealant and we moved to the next one. The last bucket to come down reinforced John’s desire to stop syruping: the bucket had 2” of milky fluid in the bottom proving this tree at least, was done. I dumped it on the ground. It really didn’t surprise me though, the temperature had climbed back into the high 50’s. The removal process took less than a half hour, but I still had to wash everything so it could be stored for next year.
I told John I wanted to make something special with that first small batch he had made: the one we had used to dip Emilee’s bread into. There was about a cup left.
I melted two sticks of precious butter, plus a ½ cup of evaporated milk in a pot. I now had only four pounds of butter left from the ten I had in the freezer back in October; a sobering thought. Then I added the one cup of maple syrup to the pot, ½ cup of brown sugar, and two cups of graham cracker crumbs I found in the back of the cupboard, sealed in a glass jar. I cooked that at a boil for five minutes. Next I open one of the jars I had of canned crackers, using the club crackers. I lined a 9×13” pan with the crackers, then poured 1/3 the cooked mixture over them; then another layer of crackers, another 1/3 of the mixture; one more layer of crackers, using all that one jar. I took a chocolate bar I’d been hiding, and grated it into a bowl. I made sure the final 1/3 of the mixture was hot, spread it over the top, and sprinkled the chocolate over the surface. The heat softened the chocolate just right. Then I set the pan in the pantry to chill.
John watched, fascinated. “What did you just make?”
I grinned, “Maple Kit Kat bars! You are going to be amazed how good they are!”
“But you used a whole jar of crackers,” he reminded me.
I looked at him and smiled. “Yes, but, John, this is the reason I stored up what I did. All the canning I did, all the work I went thru, has been to provide things for myself and my family: things that might not be available when the time came to need them.” I got serious. “That’s what prepping is all about, Hon. Having what you need, when you need it. It might be tomatoes and ready-made soup; it might be aspirin and band aides; or it might be rope and crackers. It might even be something I forgot.”
“I doubt you’ve forgotten anything,” he put his arms around me for one of those special hugs I just love.
Later that evening everyone enjoyed the sugary treat, and none of it was going to the school!
I made my usual Monday run into the office, but the conversation I had with Darlene was anything but usual.
“I’m taking some time off, Darlene. With the power back on, everyone is happy, and things are getting back to normal. You don’t need me anymore.” I leaned back in my chair. “I’ll file a final report today; you can send it to Don or do whatever you want with it. I’m also officially resigning as your deputy.” I’m sure she conveniently forgot I was still sworn in from when she was down with the flu.
“Are you sure you want to do this, Deborah? I understand this has been very stressful for you; it has for all of us. You’ve been a tremendous asset to the town and we won’t forget all you’ve done.” She was quiet for a minute, as if trying to formulate the right words in her head for what she wanted to say. “You will be compensated, Deborah, I assure you.”
“I don’t care about that.”
“I know you don’t, but I do!”
“I just have other things I need to do now, Darlene.” This was hard to explain, and it wasn’t coming out the way I wanted. I needed to not worry about everyone in Moose Creek; I needed to talk to my sister and my friends; I needed to plant flowers and tomatoes; I needed to get my life back.
“You don’t have to explain yourself to me. I will accept your resignation for being my deputy, but don’t you dare try to resign from being Emergency Manager, that one I will not accept.” She had that fierceness in her eyes that makes her a good Supervisor.
“Deal.” And I turned back to my computer to do a final report. I wanted to go home.
Once again we had brought in some slushy sap and made a small pot of coffee with it. Fresh maple sap with fresh ground coffee; can’t get better than this. All this ran thru my mind as we went thru the process and the motions of plugging things back into the grid, setting the cell phones, the 4G, the Bluetooth and the Tablet on their chargers; powering up the satellite receiver on the TV and setting the clocks. How quickly we are reverting to those old ways. I felt saddened by this for some reason. I should be glad, shouldn’t I? Things are on the way to being back to normal, right? But was I happy with the old normal? I think I almost preferred my new normal. It was less stressful in some ways, and I think I was definitely happier, or at least more content.
It’s Saturday, no school for the kids. I called Jason… yes, called on the phone. Wow, does that feel strange. I made arrangements for Emilee to come over while I made bread; she’s ten, it’s time she learned how. I’m hoping Jason never finds Norene’s electric bread maker! Some things are just better by hand. Another interesting revelation: I keep mentally deferring to Jason as being in charge over there, where Eric is actually the older of the two. Yes, very interesting.
“So, Emi, did your mom ever make fresh bread?” I asked as she stood there grinning, in the blue denim apron her uncle had made me when he was just a few years older than she was. I had required both boys to take a home ec class when they entered high school; Jason chose to make me something in the sewing segment. My four ‘requirements’ had served them both well: home economics, drafting, typing and shop. They both could cook and do basic sewing; they both follow patterns and blue prints when building things; they could do many basic household repairs; and typing, it’s the way of the world with computers. Eric even called me one time from a training session while he was still in the military, to thank me for making him take typing. Wonderful memories for me.
“Only once, and she used the bread machine Grandpa Jim gave her,” Emilee said wistfully, stirring the flour with her finger. “It tasted really good!” she smiled, but I could tell she was thinking of her mom.
“Well, I’m going to show you how to make the same yummy bread without using a machine. Would you like that?” How do I get her away from thoughts of her mom; a mom she might not see for a long time? When she nodded vigorously, I remembered how resilient young children were.
“Well first we put a cup of warm water in this big bowl; the water can’t be too hot, but not too cold; here, stick your finger in to feel the temperature. You did wash your hands didn’t you?” I smiled down at her as she nodded. I couldn’t help but think of a framed picture hanging on my wall: Emilee at the age of eight, set into a picture of me, at the same age; except for the one picture in color, the other in black and white, we looked like twins; it was uncanny. “How does the water feel?”
“Warm, but not hot,” she answered. We then added two teaspoons of sugar and the same of yeast, and then she stirred it. We waited until it started to bubble and foam, then she added a teaspoon of salt and a quarter cup of oil, measuring it all carefully. Then it was a quarter cup of instant milk and one cup of flour. I let her do all the stirring. I don’t know how she got flour on her nose and on her chin, but there it was, and my heart swelled. We added flour until she couldn’t stir it anymore, and then I took over. Emi added flour a bit at a time while I stirred, until the dough was stiff. I sprinkled some flour over the top and worked it into a sticky ball with my hand, while she put more flour on the counter top. I dumped the dough into that and scraped the bowl.
“Are you ready for the fun part?” I asked. Her eyes got big. “Watch how I do this.” And I started kneading it, first pushing it with the heel of my hands, then pulling it back with my fingers, and then let her try. She got the hang of it pretty quickly. I was pleased. “Keep going while I clean the bowl.” I washed the big bowl and put a splash of oil in it, as she punch and beat the bread dough. We then put it into the bowl, turning it so the oil coated it and covered the big yellow bowl with a sack towel to rise.
Emi and I took a walk outside to watch John work on the syrup. He had collected and cooked down twenty gallons; the sap in the pot was turning darker all the time. I could tell John was getting excited over the prospect of doing his first maple syrup. By the time Emi and I collected eggs, the bread was ready for folding into a loaf, and its second rise.
“Why does it take so long, Nahna?” Ah, the impatience of youth!
“Good things take longer,” I answered. Another hour and the bread was ready for the oven. I set the timer for 40 minutes just as John brought in the pot of golden syrup. I stirred it, watching it slide off the spoon.
“Almost ready!” I smiled at him and set the pot on the stove, lighting the burner. It didn’t take long for it to start to bubble, and I lowered the heat so it wouldn’t scorch; it would be a small batch, but it was an important one. The excitement was high: Emilee’s first loaf of homemade bread and John’s first batch of maple syrup; both scents competing for our attention. What a wonderful combined aroma!
I slipped away to call Eric, sure he would want to be part of this. Everyone showed up a few minutes after I took the bread out of the oven, poking it with the instant read thermometer, to make sure it was done.
“Oh, man, does it smell good in here!” Eric exclaimed when he walked in and hugged his daughter.
“Dad! I made bread! I really did, didn’t I, Nahna?” Emilee looked over at me as she clung to her father.
“You sure did,” and I started to slice the hot bread, even though it was really too hot to cut. A couple of slices cut in half, for us to dip into a bowl of John’s maple syrup. Desert before dinner! It was wonderful.
I had let Darlene know that I would NOT be on hand when the power came back at noon. I really wanted to be at home, with my family for this momentous occasion: a step back toward normalcy. It seemed very strange to me to consider electricity ‘momentous’, and I feel certain that no one would have thought this way six months ago. But here we were, waiting for a light bulb to glow.
Last night we had brought in one of the sap buckets, pouring the contents into a pitcher and replacing the bucket on its tap-hook outside on the tree. The sap was slushy by the rapid cool down from the drop in temperature of the night. By morning, though, it was completely melted and there was just enough for the French Press.
John took a tentative sip of his coffee. The smile lit up his eyes first.
“Good, huh?” I smiled.
“We get to do this every morning?” he asked.
“Every morning of tapping.”
“Which is how long?”
“It will depend on the weather,” I answered honestly. “Some years it will be three weeks, others only a week. We can collect sap until it starts to run cloudy, then we have to pull the taps or risk damaging the tree.”
After we savored the flavorful coffee, we headed for the barn to uncover my old cooking stand, one I had used in the woods. Jason had made a custom cabinet for me that matched the cupboards in my kitchen. It was slightly smaller and just big enough to hold a 20# propane tank, but was as high as the counters, once the casters were installed, and easy to work on. I had purchased a single gas burner and the necessary hoses and regulator to fit the tank, so Jason was able to size the opening in the top; everything would be contained inside. The top is very unique: he made it with ‘sides’: a square trough. I had collected all kinds of rocks during my many walks and arranged them within a bed of cement poured into this ‘trough’. The first rocks that I placed were flat and set under the ‘feet’ of the burner so it was level; then the rest were arranged to fit. There were rose quartz and white quartz; sand smoothed glass; stones with red veins; chunks of granite and the glittery hematite; pieces with smooth holes warn from water constantly beating on one spot; all selected carefully; all very special to me. Once the cement dried and hardened, my ‘River Rock Table Top’ served as a heat resistant counter top for cooking with propane. Now it’s used only for cooking syrup.
“Why don’t we just use the gas stove in the kitchen?” John wanted to know.
He asks such good questions! “I did that. Once!” I laughed. “Many years ago when I lived downstate. The steam from cooking the sap down isn’t normal steam… it’s sugary. I had a sticky coating over everything in the kitchen, especially the ceiling. What a mess to clean up. From then on I cooked outside, but did the final cooking and canning inside.” He just nodded, the explanation was logical.
We set the cooking cabinet in the center of the barn after moving the car out. It didn’t matter if the upper rafters got some of the sticky steam, and we needed the wind block the barn would provide. John brought one of the full 20# tanks from on the deck that was for the grill, and I showed him how I hooked it up. From then on, it would be his job to change the tank when needed. We should only go thru two tanks, maybe three, but that depended on the length of the season.
We broke for lunch just before noon, and were rewarded with …. Lights! I got my digital alarm clock from the bed-stand, plugged it into a kitchen socket and set the time. This way we would instantly know if the power went out again, but came back on: the clock would be blinking if that happened.
Power was joyous, but we still had work to do, and after some soup, back outside we went. John poured the contents of the six collection pails into 5-gallon plastic buckets, and filled two! Ten gallons is a good first day. I strained enough of one into my largest cooking pot, to fill it half way, and set it to start heating. Remembering how I had two pots going out in the woods, over the wood fire, I asked John to bring one of the plastic buckets inside. I filled my next pot with the cold sap and set it on the cook stove.
“What about the steam?” he reminded me.
“This is just to take the chill off. It’s easier to boil warm sap than it is cold. We’ll take it out and add it to the big pot before it can come to a boil.” This was a lesson I learned that first year in the woods, and made the cooking down go much faster.
I saw the boys, their children, and the puppy, crossing the yard around 5:00. Jason stopped to examine the pails on the trees, making some comments to his brother.
I was about to say something to Jason about rationing when he set the six pack of beer on the table, but then he produced a bottle of zinfandel, and I figured I could remind him later.
“Uncle Tom tapped his trees, didn’t he?” Jason asked.
“Yes, so that equipment should be around somewhere; maybe in their barn? I know he used the deep fryer burner for cooking. He would always set up the syrup stuff and his beer brewing in that screened shelter you built him.” I remember seeing him sitting out there; a tarp dropped as a wind block, and felt my throat tighten a bit. “You going to tap?”
“Yeah, I think so. It’ll give us something to do; something productive.” Jason was getting bored; I think Eric would too, eventually. We all would in time.
I noticed Chevas sniffing around Tufts food dish, so I moved it onto the table and sat back down. She scarfed up the pieces that had landed on the floor, just as Tufts decided to make an appearance. We all watched with interest, but we wouldn’t let either animal get hurt. The pup went to Tufts, sniffing with playful curiosity; Tufts hissed and Chevas stopped; the cat sat down where he was and so did the pup; but Chevas, being a puppy lasted two seconds sitting still and ventured closer to this big black furry thing; when she got too close, Tufts gave her a healthy swat on the nose with a clawless paw, and she sent her scurrying to hide behind a table leg; Tufts slowly sauntered out of the room. I thought it went very well.
“Why don’t you build something, Jason?” We continued. What could I ask him to make for me? “Now that the power is back, I would think you’d be anxious to fire up your tools!”
His head came up sharply, and he turned toward the clock, with its red digital numbers shining brightly, as if seeing it for the first time.
“I had forgotten today was the day. Yeah, maybe I’ll make something,” he trailed off, lost in thought. He turned back with a smile, and raised his beer, “To electricity!” But he still had that faraway look in his eyes. Eric was preoccupied with his daughter. John was silent, staring out the window. Something felt very wrong with my family.