Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Memories Are Made of This

If you want to experience a true slice of Americana, there are numerous things you can do. Among my personal favorites are go to a drive-in on a warm summer night, work in a truck stop (I think everyone should have to do this at some point in their lives) and go to a county fair. You can also go to a Memorial Day gathering.

Yesterday Larry and I attended the Memorial Day service here in Schroon Lake. Our town erected a lovely memorial wall a few years ago. It serves as a somber reminder and respectful dedication to those residents who have served their country.

It was a scene played out this weekend across the country, in towns large and small. The color guard, the gun salute, the playing of taps. But being in a small town, where you know so many people, gives it a special kind of intimacy.

A local bed and breakfast owner, who also hosts open mic nights at Witherbees, provided the sound system and stood at attention in his Ray Bans. A handsome young man in his uniform, who was part of the color guard, cringed and muttered to himself when he made a slight wrong turn with his flag during the ceremony. I heard a splash down by the waterfront and saw a dog swimming after a stick tossed in the lake. I looked at the backs of the Boy and Cub Scouts standing at attention, some of them sons of friends of ours. I watched my elderly veteran neighbor (who once told me, in all innocence, that her cat was named Obama because "he’s black and white, you know") shuffle assisted to the edge of the memorial to lay the wreath at its base. A young boy with a fishing pole walked down the sidewalk towards the docks. I recognized most of the people who spoke at the podium and enjoyed those who, as Larry observed, "weren’t afraid to not be P.C." I saw lots of folks I recognized from the law office - people who I’ve assisted with wills and deed transfers and various matters, all items entrusted to me by the office’s ethics of confidentiality. 

Communities like these are the backbone of this country. They care enough to support each other. They take part in ceremony for the things that are important to them.

After the conclusion and thank-yous for attending, the slightly somber mood was immediately lifted by the noise and bustle of kids cut loose and running in the grass, smiling faces and handshakes among friends, ice cream cravers heading over to Stewarts.

This is all part of what Memorial Day means. Time passes. In addition to those no longer with us, remember this simple, good stuff. It’s what lives are made up of.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Zen and the Art of Raking (or how raking is like running a marathon)

Larry and I put several years of backbreaking labor into clearing land for pasture. Forest does not become field without a major fight. The first year, 2005, we cleared what we now call Pasture A. The following year was Pasture B, and the area that was cleared in subsequent years became half Pasture C and half Pasture I Don’t Give A Damn Anymore. Altogether, we cleared about 3 acres by hand (well, with a 1952 tractor and two chainsaws) and that was enough, thank you. It’s work for younger backs than ours.

It wasn’t enough that we were clearing forest; we were also fighting the fact that there is not a speck of flat ground to be found on our 30 acres. We also have rocks of every size, shape and depth into the ground. They don’t call them Charley Hill potatoes for nothing.

Slowly, the fields have improved as we continue cleaning and cultivating. A and B are looking pretty good at this point. C and the remaining areas are still in dire need of cleaning up, stump popping and rock rolling. Fortunately our newer 21st century tractor is well equipped to help us with that.

As idiotic as it sounds, experience has taught me that one of the best ways to improve your pasture is by raking it. Tedious, endless, blister-busting raking. I did this on the pastures at my parents’ house in Corinth. In the spring, you have a winter’s worth of manure you really have to rake up. Otherwise, your pasture just becomes a trashed plot of land that your horses will never enjoy and will look like crap (pun intended).

I’m not one of those summer-long, crazy rakers. I hit the grounds around the barn and the house once a year, in the spring once the mud dries up, with occasional touch ups.

In the pastures I’ve spot-raked to get the worst of the junk up, but this weekend I raked A in earnest - the entire thing. Raking can be a very zen activity. You have lots of time to think and reflect. I realized how a raking job like this is like running a marathon. Which I’ve never done. But given enough running friends and living in a town that hosts a major marathon every year, you start to think you can make analogies:

1. You start from the farthest point. You do this because your enthusiasm and energy level is high, and you know it’s going to be a long haul, so use some psychology on yourself.

2. The ideal weather is a little cool and cloudy. Yes, it’s the beautiful sunny weather that gets you outside, but once you realize how sunburnt you’ve become and how far from water you are, you pray for some cloud cover.

3. Your feet start to hurt. But you focus on the butt muscles you’re working out, especially when pushing the wheelbarrow uphill. (Okay, you’re not pushing a wheelbarrow in a marathon, unless you’re in a seriously hicksville foot race.)

4. It becomes self-competitive. "I could quit here, but I have to do just a little more, go just a little farther..."

5. You hit that rakers/runners high. "I’m in the zone! What blisters? Look how far I’ve gone! I’m not stopping until I hit that finish line!"

And the finish line is oh-so-sweet!




Thursday, May 2, 2013

Reality Smackdown (Or Leaping Before You Look)

The day after my excited post about hawking my cheese at the Schroon Lake Opening Weekend, the walls of reality came crashing down.

I discovered that I can’t sell my product to the public unless it comes from a licensed and inspected facility, i.e. a kitchen that passes NYS Dept. of Health and NYS Ag & Markets criteria. I’m sure NYS would be less than impressed with the officialness of my kitchen.

This is what happens when I let my enthusiasm race me down the road without taking the time to adjust my mirrors.

I suppose the fact that two folks who were kind enough to give me a gallon of raw milk to play with said, several times, "I can’t sell it to you, but I can give it to you," should have been a tip off. I was dipping my toes in NYS’s shark infested waters.

Yesterday I read up on the regulations and requirements online for a bit. When my head felt ready to explode, I reached out to Essex Co. Cornell Cooperative Extension for some information in laymans terms. When I asked if I was taking a chance of being arrested at Opening Weekend, I was jokingly told I was at risk of being put in handcuffs and chains and put in the stocks in town square. I told her I wouldn’t tell Larry about that, because he might actually volunteer for it.

In the end, a helpful representative from Adirondack Harvest confirmed what I was interpreting - I can make cheese for home use and personal consumption, but to sell anywhere, I need to be licensed. I’d have to have or use a commercial kitchen for my production. Ultimately, I withdrew my application for the weekend.

I do have options. I could produce it at someone’s licensed kitchen, but that somewhat defeats the purpose of my doing it at home, when I have time. I’m not really into having to go somewhere and losing more time from home. Depending on what type of cheese you’re making, this could involve a lot of back and forth. Quite frankly, I’m not really into that.

And that’s okay. My friends and family will continue to be the beneficiaries of my home kitchen-based experiments. We’ll keep cheese production as part of The 30 Acre Wood’s business plan, and make it an aspiration for down the road. Meanwhile, I’ll keep trying different types of cheese and perfect my craft, as it were. I’m keeping it fun, which is what it’s all about!