Sunday, October 13, 2013

These last warm days

The back woods

October is an aging diva, hanging on to the shredded brilliance of russets and yellow, but tired and slumping before the steady march of encroaching cold.  In early morning, the distant hills misted blue and the valleys are swaddled in fog.  Our world has lost the luster of a few weeks ago, wind and torrential rains have stripped the scarlets and glowing golds from the trees, and the crisp chill of dawn urges all on in their winter preparations. While the fields and meadows still glow rich green, the lowlands and swamps are cinnamon and punctuated here and there with burnished reds.  Enough leaves have fallen so as I travel the roads that trace the river and climb the ridges, the dusty beige of logging roads appear in the distant woods, crisscrossing the countryside like spider threads, and once hidden houses and barns sit like children’s toys scattered across the countryside.
Lowland meadows
Our days have been warm and gilded with sunshine, but there is still a tang to the air, especially at the breaking and closing of the days, that reminds us all of what is to come.  In what once was the center of the village but is now only a cluster of homes, the town barn, and the post office, the beavers have been busy in Salmon Lake Brook.  Just upstream from the bridge, they have built and rebuilt a dam of brush gathered from the bankings, and beyond, the water swells and rises, submerging jewelweed and plantain, arrowhead and water willows, engulfing the ankles of witch hazel and shad berry.  Harvest is winding down and the potato diggers and threshers are now parked beside the barns, replaced by firewood trucks that rumble on our narrow roads. The beavers too know the urgency of buttoning up their winter homes, but this year’s heavy rains have often washed away the dam and likely the lodges built upstream where the water pools and deepens.  Each time the deluge sweeps away the dam, the beavers begin the next day, piling the branches, weaving them together, staunching the flow of water.  Readying for winter.
Ending harvest
Beavers are not particularly welcomed here as they make use of any flow of water to build their dams, often blocking culverts and flooding roads and pastures.  Our road agent takes a weekly survey of the mostly dirt roads that link the town together, always on the lookout for beaver activity.  At several locations, devices to block the construction of dams have been installed, but beavers are persistent and often find ingenious ways to build their dams in spite of man’s efforts to stop them.  The dams are routinely removed in the hope that the beavers will move their construction efforts elsewhere, but when they are particularly determined to set up housekeeping, a  trapper is usually hired.  Because the beavers on Salmon Lake Brook seem to have chosen an appropriate spot to construct their dam, a location unlikely to flood roads or damage property, it is likely that they will be left to their industrious activities.
Trapping has a long history in this part of the state, and not only provides an effective way to manage nuisance wildlife populations, but also extra income for many who live here in the north.  Although the image conjured up by the word trapping is one of a rugged mountain man, both men and women trap in Maine, and the practice is closely regulated by the state.   As I have gotten older, I find myself becoming more and more resistant to the killing of animals in any way, but I understand the need to balance and control populations to reduce the likelihood of dangerous or damaging encounters between man and critters, especially as humans push farther and farther into wildlife habitat.  One of the commonly held beliefs here is that one takes only what one needs, and for some, the fur proceeds provide a much needed supplement to low incomes. Trappers generally, like most sportsmen here, take what they need and will use, and are always mindful of the impact their activities have.  Of course, there are always a few who believe they are above the law or who in some perverse way believe that killing is a casual sport.  Serious sportsmen, however, are usually the first to turn them in, and Maine wardens are ready to make arrests. 

The road to town
These last warm days are often a time of traveling to visit friends and family before winter swoops in and locks us in an icy grip.  We head downstate to Bangor to shop for winter jackets, boots, early Christmas presents, and simply to enjoy for a brief time the hustle and bustle of more urban areas.  Years ago when we first started coming to northern Maine for camping, we never would have called Bangor urban. Compared to Portland, it was a small town, and usually we stopped there, coming or going north, only for lunch or breakfast at Dysart’s or a few last minute perishables from the supermarket.  We never ventured into the mall, a practice we seem to have continued, preferring instead to keep to the margins – just off the ribbon of highway, then speeding north.  This is also when friends and family head north to see the foliage, catch a glimpse of a moose, and enjoy the quixotic weather that can change in a blink from warm sunshine to wind and driving rain.  This week, my brother’s boys – Evan and Josh and his wonderful wife, Michelle, along with baby Kenley have made the eight-hour trek north from central New Hampshire and it has been a whirlwind time of laughing together over the children, roaming the countryside, and sharing memories – some sweet and some bitter. 
Three generations
In watching the boys, as I still refer to these strapping young men who are busy with their own family and building careers, are aching reminders of my brother who I miss deeply, and who would have loved this wild country where we live.  It is a good way to spend the last days of fall.  We gorge ourselves on roasted chicken, a quart of garlic dills, and fragrant apple pie that leave Josh and Evan patting their full stomachs in satisfaction, and me content that I have in some small way nourished them.
The weather in October is erratic and as we gather the last of the garden bounty, we focus on food – what we put away for the long, dark days to come, and what we eat now, savoring the fruits of our labors.  Although we have not yet cleaned and put the grill away for the winter, our menus have changed to more substantial meals: spinach and cheese ravioli with from-scratch sauce made by Bruce, pork roast rubbed with fresh sage and rosemary, larded with slivers of garlic, and a new dish that daughter Kasey got from her friend Rachel during a weekend visit to Portland: butternut squash, leeks, rosemary and feta quiche.  I would love to claim the recipe as mine, but instead I offer it here as part of the country habit of sharing dishes that satisfy both body and soul. 
To begin, preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and make a crust sufficient for a single-crust pie.  Although a quiche pan would give a more elegant look, I lined a nine-inch, deep-dish pie plate which gave us a more robust quiche.  Good ingredients are an important part of this lovely dish, and they are: 
4 farm-fresh eggs (this does make a difference)
1 cup milk or cream (yes really, although I used half and half in the interest of the heart health
1 leek
1 cup cubes butternut squash or pumpkin or sweet potato (I had fresh butternut)
3 tablespoons fresh rosemary, stripped from the stems and left whole
8 ounces of feta – don’t skimp on quality; it makes a difference
 4 tablespoons butter and a splash of olive oil to help keep the butter from burning.
Peel and chop the squash or pumpkin in one-inch cubes, and slice the leek just up beyond where it begins to turn a rich green, and then chop the disks in half.  In your largest pan, heat the butter and the oil over low-medium heat, add the chopped leek. Sauté, stirring often, and when it becomes transparent, add the rosemary and pumpkin or squash.
Cook all together for about 20 minutes or until squash is browning and soft. Adjust the temp to keep the rosemary and leek from burning. When the squash is cooked, add the chopped up feta, again in one-inch cubes. Toss around and then add to your pie crust in the pie plate.
Whisk the eggs together, then add milk and whisk thoroughly, then pour the quiche into the crust.  Rachel warned that it may get very full, but that's okay.  Put in oven & bake for 35 min or longer to set. Let cool for 10 minutes or so and serve.
We accompanied it with a tossed salad that contained some of the rose-edged lettuce that is still thriving in the garden and the last of this year’s fresh cucumbers.  Frost took the rest earlier this week.
The blend of flavors in this dish is everything that is wonderful about the bounty of the harvest, and even my mother, who is sometimes reluctant to try dishes that are not anchored in the New England tradition of meat and potatoes, loved it.  It’s likely we will incorporate this quick, easy, and luscious dish into our regular rotation of meals.
Pumpkins and squash: New England Long Pie, Caspers, and Sunshine
The days are shorter now, the weather frosty in the mornings and warning in the late afternoon. The slant of sun has changed, and at night, the sky is filled with stars sprinkled like brilliant daffodils across the field.  We have been blessed in the last few weeks with northern lights in brilliant reds and greens that dance and writhe across the northern sky. We stand outside in the dark, wrapped in our coats, dizzy from staring upwards, awestruck with the beauty. It is a time of gratitude for this place where we live and the family we love, and of wishing that all were as blessed as we are. 
Ready to stack

No comments:

Post a Comment