Monday, March 23, 2009

We Stay Until We're Done

Walking through the soft, melting snow of Bickford Woods Rd. I trudge along with another curious sugarer, Beth. An abandoned sugar shack awaits us just down the noll. How long has this shack been out of comission we wonder? The entire shack itself has a lean that most people wouldn't dare go inside, but crusasders like me and Beth felt we had a calling. An evaporator the size of King Kong extends a good 20 feet if not more along a cord of beautifully aged, dry wood. The boiling pans turned over as if they were closing off the stove. Looking around we find a newspaper from 1983 with an article about Ronald Regan. (Not the actor, the president.) After venturing outside we find the old logging/sugaring road. It starts just at a rotting gate and looks downward on a clear pathway to and beyond the sugar shack with maples on both sides. It looks as if it would have been a piece of cake to run this trail with oxen or horses. Maples that have to be at least forty years old tower over you head like skycrapers. Most of them look like something out of a Tim Burton/Sleepy Hollow flick. You can identify an old tap, but it's nothing but a tiny piece in the bark. The tree has entirely healed itself since the last year it was tapped. This property feels like buried treasure to me. Something I could only dream of ever owning or having a piece of. You can feel the presence of the sugarers that were heading up this operation and hear the roar of the flames that scorched this stove.

This past weekend D Acres and I hosted a workshop on the sugaring process here at Dorchester. At one point there were at least 25 people following me around, collecting sap and trying to fit in a sugar shack made for no more than three people. A day in the shack is a test of one's personal endurance, as I tried to explain to our guests. There were a few that came back around, but it was Kip and Veronica who stuck it out to the very end. Their enthusiasm made the process that much more rewarding. All in a days boil, 17 hours later, I am down to approximately 2 gallons of sap left. Just enough to bring into the house and start the morning off with the smell of maple syrup in the air. I make some billini's with frozen raspberries from our garden and get to taste one of the first batches I did. So far we're at the three gallon mark, with 50 more gallons of sap waiting for me to boil down tomorrow. Somebody asked me how long we would be in the shack for. I told them our motto is "we stay until we're done." There is no other job in the world that I have felt more satisfied completing than sugaring.

Peace out y'all. coolio (see you in the shack)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sorting Out Life Plans(subconsciously) While Sorting Trash

It was perhaps three or four years ago when I met Josh Trought and was first introduced to the idea of this place called D ACRES. The Scene was the MOFGA common ground fair. I signed up to volunteer for composting and recycling team. Josh did too. Although I can’t recall all the details interesting conversation sure sparks up when digging through the aftermath of fairgoers.
Since that time D ACRES has continued to come up in my life in many forms and now here I am interning and participating in this community. Feels incredible to say the least.
For the past two years I’ve been living in Seattle and as a New Hampshire native I can’t think of a better way to reconnect with this state/New England culture. It’s good to be back in these woods! The North East forest offers such a diversity of plants, which I’ve been quizzing myself on walking around the D ACRES trails. And of course another perk of being in these woods at this time of year is maple syrup. I’ve been involved with two boils here in our ol’ sugar shack. The sugar shack is a vortex where time has no relevance. A welcomed vortex. I’m looking forward to the sugaring workshop tomorrow, which I’ll be helping Neil out with. Please come on by!
Although it’s early on in this experience I'll leave you with some things that come to mind: playing music, learning how to make bread, frozen compost, hearty kale, hearty spinach, hazing from the oxen , snow melting, thinking like water, cobb oven, slowing down, finding things in a new kitchen, seeing stars again, inspiration all around.
Feels good.
Happy Spring,

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Woo. 46 degrees F feels pretty good. The other day I walked outside with a shovel for the first time in 4 months to dig into the ground instead shoveling snow. With several feet of snow stocked up all melting at once, water suddenly becomes the next obstacle – a refreshing obstacle. Mud Season. Digging shallow trenches to redirect water away from the blacksmith shop is a joy. Not only am I keeping the water and occasional ice from invading the shop, but I'm also having the opportunity to think like water and earth. It’s all so loose and flexible – attributes I’m trying to strengthen in myself. I’ve been tying to distinguish wants from needs, and trying to let go of “wants” that aren’t beneficial as much as I can. This is tricky business in some ways. Sometimes I short myself and try without a need on accident – and things build up inside of me, much like the water in the trenches that is stuck in a concave area. Eventually the water spreads and deepens as more rushes in without an outlet, creating a large puddle, until it either spills over the concave area and finds a route down hill or soaks into the ground. It creates an obstacle for farm operations – making life for everyone a tiny bit more difficult. And when I have my personal “build-ups” I think it becomes an obstacle for the 9 other people I’m living and working besides every day. To help resolve this, I want to take better care of myself, or at least be more careful with digging trenches to relieve my “build-ups” so people don’t have another obstacle to work around, or get their feet wet in. Peoples’ energy is contagious and I want to contribute more to positive energy.

Anyway, enough with my attempts with a hippy-dippy analogy. I’m psyched about the blacksmith shop this year. I’m giving 3 introductory workshops in April; two of which will be three day sessions. Then on May 2nd my neighbor and friend, Rob Hudson, who is probably the most skilled blacksmith I’ve ever met (ranked best knife maker in the world in 1999) will be giving a workshop on how to make a fire poker while delving into the history of iron ore and how blacksmiths have been utilizing it for thousands of years. On top of that, Ralph Sproul from Iron Bear Forge, who is also a highly skilled blacksmith with a deep and all round handyman mentality might be coming up with a portable set-up to ad another workstation for participants as well as assist and be a resource of vast mechanical knowledge.

On top of the group workshops I’ve been doing a lot of private lessons on a weekly basis. Last weekend I had three separate lessons - two boys who are 13 and another who is 15. I see in their eyes what I feel when I’m looking at a hot piece of iron. Excitement and Possibilities! I’m always fascinate by what students come up with to make. Steel is definitely a route for some people’s genius to come out. I swear there is some sort of blacksmith gene. When thinking about all of the people I’ve shown the craft to or demonstrated for, one out of ten are wholly fascinated by it. There’s something very mystical about it. Glowing hot iron is out of this world - unlike any material the vast majority of people get to experience in a life time. When hot, it is elegant, fluid, and malleable. As it cools it gradually becomes harder and tougher to work, durable, sometimes brittle, and at times has the potential to be razor sharp. A piece you're working on can be like digging a ditch in New Hampshire’s granite filled earth (which can be very enjoyable), and other times it’s like floating down a river. A full mental experience, and not far from a total body work out as well.

The dates for the upcoming workshops are:
April 10, 11, 12, 12:30pm - 4:30pm Basic Blacksmithing
April 17, 18, 19, 12:30pm - 4:30pm Basic Blacksmithing
April 25 1-4pm Basic Blacksmithing
May 2 1-5pm Fire poker making w/Rob Hudson

Sleeping and eating arrangements can be made for the 3 day classes or private lessons.
Check our website for dates later on in the season and check regularly as workshops develop through the year.

Happy forging,