The Wind Storm of 2017

November reeked of chain saws here at Nebraska Knoll. Gas and oil fumes percolated through Carhartt work pants, jackets, wool hats, and gloves. I asked the guys to leave them in the mudroom, or better yet, to air them out in the woodshed.

November resounded of chain saws whirring at assorted pitches from all quarters of this valley: the call and response of men clearing roads, yards, and sugarbush tubing lines.


It wouldn’t be right to drift out of November without citing the wind storm that altered the sugarbush and altered the course of work and life here at Nebraska Knoll. In the wee hours of Halloween, roaring in from the southeast, a furious wind uprooted the spruce, pine, and hemlock trees. In forty years here we’ve never witnessed destruction on this scale.


The next morning (Halloween) a crew of seven got to work clearing the driveway (Falls Brook Lane). Freedle and Ben, the guys in red rain jackets, grew up playing in the sugarhouse. Both just happened to be around; with great good cheer they dropped other plans to capably run chainsaws and the truck for five days. Those first few days felt rich in community.


Eleven loads for Old Blue cleared much of the road. Only softwoods succumbed to the wind. We are saving the wood to burn next year in the sugarhouse. On the lower part of the road some trees brought down the power line; we left them for the town crew to remove.


Next came an assessment of damage in the sugarbush. Most maples survived the storm but the tubing was buried or mangled. Chief of Operations had just completed routine fall tubing maintenance a couple of days before the storm.


A wind storm breeds lists:
A list of chainsaw parts and supplies: gas, oil, bolts, washers, screws.
A list of instructions for crew on how to safely proceed with tubing repairs
A list of groceries: ground beef, chicken, potatoes, eggs, milk, butter.


Yes, and wind can do this.


Wind can do this?









Midway through work liberating the Main Central line.


Chief of Operation writes about this photo: Main Central has been resurrected (Yeah!), with ample hangfire accentuating the setting. Truth be told, the looming hangfire resulted from concern of removal danger rather than aesthetics. [NOTE: Hangfire is an avalanche term for the remaining piece of unstable snow slab that has not slid. In this case, a synonym for hangfire is widowmaker.]


Current status of cleanup: Corridors have been cut for the mainlines. Reworking the mainlines  requires two skilled workers. Chief of Operations and crew fit it in here and there around other work commitments. November was relatively cold and quite snowy. Unless December is mild they will be fighting the weather soon. Sugar season isn’t far off; we’ll be tapping in two months. It would be very good to finish this project by Christmas.

We feel as though we can now relate in a very small way to the hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, Texas, and Florida. Media coverage has moved on to the latest disaster, but you know if you stop to think about it that the tedious work of recovery plods on and on. We are grateful that we didn’t lose many maple trees. By the way, the wind strength registered 126mph on top of nearby Mt. Mansfield that night.




Newfoundland. Post Script

 I told this story to a friend in the campground, Gillian of Saskatchewan, who knows the ways of First Nation people through her work as an alternative educator. She said that in Saskatchewan it would be a rare occurrence to give away the smudge dish and ceremonial feather. The tribe does not offer its secrets and knowledge to outsiders.

I felt surprised that she was surprised when I showed her the shell and feather.

I suggested that Kevin, in working for the national park, must have concluded it was important to share the culture of the First Nation Newfoundlanders with visitors. Since it was the final fire circle of the tourist season, it no doubt felt natural to him to give away the smudge dish and ceremonial feather. 

Gillian nodded, then noted with surprise that we were allowed to drop the tobacco into the fire in prayer. “Maybe it’s easier to give away for the Mi’kMaq,” she said.

“Maybe the knowledge is so buried that sharing it is the only way to give it new life,” I mused.

She felt with me how special my gift from Kevin was.

“It comes with responsibility,” I said.

She nodded. “It always does.”


NORTH.            Black                 (black lichen)             Air                              Ancients                Winter

EAST.               White       ( Labrador tea)           Water                        Infant                       Spring

WEST.                  Red   (Black-fruited stink moss)    Earth                        Elder                         Autumn







SOUTH.           Yellow              (Fungus)                      Fire                           Adult                         Summer


END OF SERIES.      [Photo credit all photos: Lew Coty]




Newfoundland. Part IV: The Gift


The Benediction:

Kevin picks up his grandfather’s medicine bag from the blanket, pulls out grandfather’s ring, and rubs it between his fingers.

“Am I thinking about the fight I had with my wife?” he asks. “Who am I thinking about?”

“Grandfather,” says the blue-eyed woman from England.

“Yis, not the trivial argument with my wife.”

“This lighthouse is a special place. We all need a special place to go to where we can sort ourselves out. Do you have a special place?” He pauses but does not expect an answer.

The Blessing:

Going clockwise (the direction of the sun) Kevin hands out sage leaves, first to the man with the red-and-blue-collared dogs, then to Lew.

When he comes to me I say, “We’re together, we can share.”

“I don’t want you to have to share.” He holds the leaves out to me, so I open my palm.

Then he reaches behind him to the red blanket, and deft as a magician hands me the sea shell bearing the smudged sage.

Smudge Dish. Painting by Ana Lucia Fernandez


“How did you know I wanted it?” I gasp. Only as I hear myself sputter these words does the wish take shape in my mind: I want to hold the shell, I yearn to be pure and to feel protected from evil, I wish to smell the smudged sage leaves close up. 

 “I didn’t, but the Creator did.” 

I cup it in my hands as though it were fragile as a robin’s egg. The sage leaves smell like Thanksgiving dinner.

After distributing sage to all, Kevin says, “Thank you.” One by one we shake his hand. I am last.

He once more reaches down to the red blanket and this time hands me the ceremonial feather.

“Here, to go with the other,” he says.

Ceremonial Feather. Painting by Ana Lucia Fernandez







Newfoundland. Part III: Right?


The evening program at Gros Morne National Park continues.   

The Sermon:   None of this ain’t nothing, right?

Kevin tells the group gathered around the red blanket:

“Grandfather advised me to seek spiritual direction from an elder. Afterward, I dreamed of a large bear, but I was not afraid and I did not run. That was decades ago. Last week, I happened to drive a bear off the road with my truck, which could have been dangerous. What did the bear do? The bear gestured twice and ran off. Another time, at a zoo, a bear acted aggressively to all who passed, but not to me. The bear just gazed at me.”

Kevin raises his arms. “I don’t know, but there must be something to these spiritual dreams.”

“Now…..what’s in your bank account….the fancy yacht you own….the trips you’ve taken…. none of this ain’t nothing, right? All that matters is how you walk through the world.”

“If you miss the boat, you’d better catch the next boat.”

Kevin means it. No one stirs.

NORTH. Black. (Canyon)  Air. Ancients.

EAST.                   White (Reindeer lichen)
Water.               Infant.

WEST.                    Red. (Thistle)            Earth.                  Elder.







SOUTH..                  Yellow. (Bladderwort)        Fire.                    Adult.


The Prayers of the People:

Kevin bends over the red blanket, picks up tobacco leaves, and hands them out to the nine of us in the circle. He instructs us to walk clockwise around the blanket and say a silent prayer for someone as we drop the pieces of tobacco into the imaginary fire (since the meeting is indoors due to the rain).

The tobacco feels dry. I wonder where Kevin got it. I picture the tobacco drying sheds in the flat fields of western Massachusetts that I studied from the car window on family trips to visit my grandparents – before interstate highways – straining but failing to glimpse the tobacco leaves through the skinny slats. 

                                                  Couldn’t do it here in this shed:
                                                  Lay tobacco leaves at the base of the each maple tree                                                           In thanksgiving

The Hymn:

“Now let’s sing Amazing Grace,” says Kevin.

A song we know! He sings it through in Mi’kMaq then in English. We nine join in tentatively but gain strength with each line. Lew’s baritone voice soars; I sing harmony.

                                                   Don’t brag about grace, he says





Newfoundland. Part II: DRUM drum DRUM drum



The Smudging Ceremony

From the blanket
A drum offered to the Scottish woman,
“Drum like so,” says Kevin.

Shell and Sage Leaves. Painting by Ana Lucia Fernandez

On the blanket
a shell to hold the sage leaves,
a match to ignite them.

Kevin bearing the shell to each of us in the circle
clockwise, each in turn scoops the smoke
over face, chest, mouth, heart.

To purify
To ward off evil spirits
DRUM drum DRUM drum.

Kevin asks, “What does the drumming make you think of?”
“A horse,” I pipe up.
A heart,” offers the man with the red-and-blue-collared dogs.

“Yis,” lilts Kevin, returning the shell to the red blanket.
Sits legs crossed.

                                                         park program turned worship


The Lessons


The Moose and the Calf.

Kevin tells us a story. “My grandfather and I were moose hunting. We saw one by a bog, but Grandfather squatted, lit his pipe, and smoked in silence while I fidgeted, thinking of my mother’s frying pan sizzling with moose meat. Eventually a moose calf walked out of the woods. Grandfather knew all along that it would; he had noticed that the cow moose was full of milk. He snuffed his pipe and we moved on across the barrens.”

“The first thing Grandfather did after killing game,” adds Kevin, “was to say aloud, ‘Your spirit will live forever. Thank you for giving yourself to feed our family.’ “

”One time, as a teenager, I shot a robin,” he continues. “Was Grandfather angry? No, but he cried when he saw the worm in the robin’s mouth.”

“You see,” he reflects softly, “Every action has a consequence. Aboriginal people seek to give, not take.”

NORTH.           Black. (Bear print)


White (Cottongrass)

Red. (Sundew)







SOUTH           Yellow. (Caterpillar)



Kevin looks around at our rapt faces. “Did anything you ate today come from something that was not once alive?”


Grandmother and the Blueberries. Kevin tells another story. “One day, my grandmother and I walked to the barrens to pick blueberries, each with a container to fill so grandmother could bake a blueberry grunt for supper. We scooped berries by the handful – there were SO many – and I wanted to return home to get a larger container.”

“ ‘But,’ said Grandmother, ‘what if we pick so many that Mr. Stewart’s wife won’t find any when she decides to make a blueberry grunt and comes picking?’

‘And what about Mrs. Goudy?’ “

                                                                     Squirming of congregants
                                                                     I want to tell Mrs. Goudy to hurry up
                                                                     The well-fed dogs sleep






Newfoundland. Fire Circle, Part I: Mi’kMaq


Possibly you wonder where Chief of Operations and the Blog Editor, also known as Lew and Audrey, retreat on summer holiday: It’s to the Canadian island of Newfoundland, also known as The Rock. What follows is an account in four segments of an experience from Summer 2014.


Lobster Cove Lighthouse



The Park

Gros Morne National Park on the western coast of Newfoundland offers visitors an array of naturalist programs such as Stroll through Strata or The Night Life. One August, an interpreter named Kevin Barnes led Lew and me and others on the Medicine Walk.  We didn’t get far: there at our feet, Kevin knew every plant and its value. A year later we attended his evening program Fire Circle at the Lighthouse.


The Chapel

Kevin’s Talking Stick. Painting by Ana Lucia Fernandez

It’s raining; there won’t be a fire this evening. Kevin moves the talk into a shed. We nine visitors from Germany, England, Canada, and The States sit on benches in a semi-circle around a red blanket on the floor. Kevin sits across from Lew and me holding a feather attached to a stick. He’s a man of square build like many Newfoundlanders; his salt-and-pepper mop of hair matches his jeans.

This Fire Circle is the very last one of the summer.


The Welcome

“I’m Kevin,” he tells us, looking around at the tidy faces. “My ancestors are Mi’kMaq, the aboriginal people of Newfoundland. I pronounce our name in the soft French way, MEEG-mahq. It means ALL KIN PEOPLE.”

“You may wonder why we’re having this talk at the lighthouse,” he lilts. “My people believe that when a person dies he or she visits everyone and every place that mattered. The family keeps a fire going for four days and four nights to guide the spirit back home. My people call it The Sacred Fire. The lighthouse guides people home in another way; it’s on purpose that I give the talk here.”

“Whoever has the feather, we will listen to,” says Kevin. “Listening is the most important skill.”
The German woman nods.


NORTH.           Black.           (Boulder field)


White. (Foxglove)








For Lew’s photo journal of Newfoundland, go to:




Wrap Up


“Sugar season 2017 is officially over,” declared Chief of Operations on Sunday.

the sugarhouse gleams again;

What he means is that we released the trees and thanked them;









the gloves got their moment in the sun before being stuffed into a pillow case to protect them from the sugarhouse mice until next February;



(couldn’t resist)







the RO “diapers” lined up for their spring airing;









Joe split wood

and Chief of Operations compiled the annual chart of stats to mount on the back wall of the sugarhouse.

while Ross stacked (we finished May 11th, a personal best);











A Look Back: As always happens, we learned that our season was similar to that of sugarers on the other side of Mt. Mansfield and in the rest of our county, Lamoille County. Some made syrup in January (not, and probably never, us). Everyone made a lot of syrup in February, relatively little in March, and we all ended the season with a whopper of a run ca. April 8-11. Was it a good year? Yes, we nod, but not as good as last year. What about grade? Well, for us it was the Year of Light Amber Rich; I can’t speak for others.

Did we break any of our records? Yes, in two categories.

2017 beat out 2016 by one day in the category “Longest Season” which we measure as the first through the last day of boiling. The dates? February 20 – April 11 for a total of 51 days.

2017 also beat out 2016 by five days in the category “Earliest Start.” This year, February 20; last year, February 25.

For me it takes some of the fizz out of the experience to compare Nebraska Knoll’s season with that of other sugarmakers. When someone asks “How was your season?”, all the uncertainty, the waiting, the worry, the adrenaline rushes, the pots of coffee, the giggling fits, the syrup spills, the filter press woes, the bass beat emanating from the boom box, the stoking gloves wrapped in duct tape, the sagging faces of the stokers, the filthy ash-cleaning wool hat hanging on its peg, the aroma of ham and scalloped potatoes, the play within this play called Waiting for Lorenzo, the steam, the clank of the stovebox door being jerked open, and the sticky rooster-shaped timer set at 8 minutes between stokes – all as ephemeral as the spring beauties – reside within my response “It was good.”

It was very good.

Now, dear readers, the long-like-this-season phase of the blog ends, but the blog door stays ajar. Thanks for clicking or tapping this way, and as I have said other years, “For goodness sake turn off those marvelous digital devices and get outside.”

Blog Staff:
Photography: Chief of Operations
Food correspondent: Maple Trout Lilli
Artist in residence: Ana Lucia Fernandez
Contributing photographers: Tom and Laurie Silva and the crew
Contributing writers: Sarah Bailey, Joe Renish, Chief of Operations
Supporting Cast: The Crew
Senior Editor: AC