I can sense it in the air. The slight change and shift in feel and mood. Mornings are just a bit nippier when my toes reach out from the duvet to touch the bare wood in those early hours. Evenings are filled with the rhythmic shrill pierce of cricket chirps as they observe the same slight changes. Occasionally, a faint scent of burning woods floats into the house as the evenings cool and nearby farm families enjoy a crackling fire while wrapped in blankets after a long fun-filled summer's day. Pine needles are raining down leaving a soft downy quilt on the edge of the roads.
We've had a full summer indeed and have soaked up so many moments of beauty that New Hampshire gifted us with from spring well into high summer. Discovering the "History Weekend" tours organized by The Hancock Inn in neighboring Hancock made discovering more about our lovely state so much easier...and more fun!
For July...Marcia, the innkeeper, and her staff organized a group outing to the nearby historic town of Stoddard, NH. Rising above the midst of Andorra Forest, we were all going to gather together at the very top of Pitcher Mountain. Not only were we anticipating the discovery of bushes and bushes bursting with wild blueberries but we were going meet the family that has worked tirelessly for generations to insure that their lands can keep these beloved traditions continuing into the future.
Rosemary and Charles Faulkner, as well as their extended family, have been preserving for generations these 11,000 acres of land from development so people like me can sigh with pleasure at the spectacularly sweet views of surrounding mountains and lush green panoramic vistas...all while filling containers with delicious wild blueberries.
|The adorable and quaint village of Stoddard, NH|
Growing up in the deep south of Louisiana, I rarely saw mountain views. As a pre-teen, I used to read a mystery series called Trixie Belden Mysteries. Trixie, and her band of best friends, were always getting caught up in one mysterious circumstance or another. Many of their adventures took place in the Catskill Mountains of New York.
|Wild Blueberries picked from the bushes at the top of Pitcher Mountain, NH|
I often imagined what it would be like seeing these mountains...or any mountains! I would hang on Trixie's every description of their forays into the Catskills. There were bobcats in the mountains. I had no clue what a bobcat looked like as a child. I imagined some sort of screeching cat sound piercing the night air. Often, Trixie and her band had adventures in the fall when the leaves were bursting with oranges and reds. Seasonal changes were another tempting vision that I worked hard to imagine as a child. Or, their mysterious journeys took place in the winter when they had to bundle up and dash in between the snow flakes. I could recall seeing snow as a child once...and it was less than an inch!
These childhood stories made a dent to fulfill my wanderlust desires. Through the pages of the many stories told by Trixie and her friends, I could escape up into the Northeast and visualize the scenes being described through their many escapades.
As a grown woman, it amazes me the affect that reading these stories so many years ago can have on my adult perspectives. This summer, as silly as it sounds, I feel like I am now a part of the world of Trixie Belden and her friends. Each time I climb one of the mountains here and observe the treats each season has to offer, I gain tremendous satisfaction that I have the freedom to live and enjoy such a beautiful place.
Patrick was away on business, so it was just me on this month's journey up Pitcher Mountain in the morning followed by a cozy evening stay at The Hancock Inn. That morning, I rolled the windows down, breathed in the fresh summer air, and let the New Hampshire scenes flow past the car windows.
Farm stands are around every bend. Often these farm stands have a metal lockbox. One simply has to drop in a few dollars and proceed to pick which vegetables and fruits to carry away. I think this arrangement says so much about trust and honesty of the people around here.
|ooooohh, a blueberry picking basket attached to a belt...next time|
Now that I see how many zucchinis one plant can produce in my garden, I chuckled when I saw the over abundance of crates of zucchinis at these farm stands. I, too, have been offering, eating, admiring, and pondering what to do with all of the zucchinis that I now possess. They certainly outnumber every other vegetable growing in the garden. One zucchini plant is dominating an entire planter. I need to rethink that one next year.
So with my childhood imagination in full bloom, I slowly wove my car up and up and up the densely forested and windy dirt road along Pitcher Mountain to eventually reach the parking area at the top. The road is dirt packed and I happily bumped along while keeping my eyes out for any signs of bobcats, turkeys, deer...or perhaps bears!
|The views from the top of Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard, New Hampshire|
After nothing more than a few sightings of chipmunks and a squirrel or two, I un-adventurously pulled up to the top of the mountain, grabbed my blueberry-picking bucket, and wondered how exactly to proceed picking blueberries.
|A sugar shack...tucked in the woods waiting for next winter's maple syrup boiling|
Truth be told, I had only seen blueberries in the wild once before. That was years ago when the kids were young and we lived in upstate New York (yes, upstate New York...the terrain of Trixie and friends!). There was a family farm that cultivated neat little rows of blueberries at their farm up the road from our house. This time...it was great fun then to see blueberries for the first time, but high up on this mountain. No cultivated little rows of blueberries up on the mountain. The bushes were scattered all over the terrain and mixed in with other types of berry bushes as well.
I had arrived an hour before the group was to gather so that I could pick loads of blueberries to take home for baking (and eating). So I started to wander through the dirt paths to see if I could locate blueberries. After unwisely sampling a bitter dark black berry as well as a lip -puckering eye-squinting red berry, I eventually identified the edible and sweet blueberry and got to work.
I took all of an hour just to fill up my recycled soup container, now blueberry bucket. It was slow picking because these little jewels are so tiny. When the group gathered together to meet the Faulkner family, I noticed that blueberry pickers in-the-know have really special baskets and cans that become traditional blueberry picking receptacles. Attaching cute baskets to a belt buckle allows for two-handed blueberry picking. My one hour of pain-staking plucking the teensy tiny blueberries might have been cut in half with the two handed plucking arrangement. Note to self: search for one of the adorable woven baskets in order to be a in-the-know-New England-blueberry-picker...next time.
The group all gathered in the middle of the swaths of blueberry bushes to listen to Rosemary and Charles Faulkner talk about their life's work to preserve this land for the public to enjoy. What originally was a simple outing to enjoy picking berries turned into a broader and fuller understanding of just how much work it takes to protect these lands so this simple pleasure can continue another generation. The Faulkner's are in their 70's now and are working with their next generation of family members to help them carry this preservation work forward.
The sun of this mid-summer day high up on the mountain glowed down on us. After the group disbanded, I decided to climb higher to the very tip top of Pitcher Mountain in order to take in the 360˚views from the top. It was breath-taking. I climbed all alone after the group had scattered at the end of the gathering. Rarely have I hiked through the woods and up a mountain top by myself. Even though I'm a grown woman, I felt like I was on quite the adventure. It took a few minutes of hiking for me to find my rhythm, enjoy my aloneness, and savor the moments spent in the woods and at the top of Pitcher Mountain.
So many changes happened this year and so many changes are about to happen. My son, my baby, is going to college. Processing the realization that my active mothering years have come to a close has hit hard. I'm having moments of elation about the prospects ahead. I'm having moments of identity crisis asking myself, "Who am I?". I'm questioning whether the job as a mother was good enough, "Was I patient enough? Did I listen enough?"
By the time I finally wandered slowly down the mountainside and made my way to the village of Hancock to check into The Hancock Inn, I was famished. I spent so much time carefully and painstakingly filling my blueberry container that I didn't dare eat too many of my precious pickings. Also, I knew a gourmet dinner was to be served that evening and I wanted to savor every bite.
|Roger Swain of The Victory Garden on PBS|
These "History Weekends" begin with a morning field trip, often with a historical theme, and end up in the evening with a gourmet dinner hosted by a speaker that continues a discussion of that particular theme.
Wonderfully, we were to be treated to a dinner discussion with Roger Swain. Roger is known as "the man with the red suspenders" is most famous for hosting the television show, The Victory Garden on PBS. The Victory Garden is a television program about gardening and other outdoor activities. It is the oldest gardening program produced for television in the United States, premiering April 16, 1975.
While I dined on Chilled Beet Soup with Yogurt and Dill, Herbed Ricotta Polenta with Grilled Summer Vegetables, garden Herbs and toasted Pine Nuts...we listened to Roger tell us about the history and tradition of blueberry growing and picking in New Hampshire.
What a wonderful day that started at dawn and ended at dusk. I was sleepy but I relished each delicious bite of Lemon Pound Cake topped with lavender Mousse and blueberry Crumble. It is on evenings like this one that I really feel like New Hampshire was the right choice for us and these weekends of discovery and fellowship leave me so grateful that we uprooted ourselves this past year in order to chase after a dream destination in order to plant future roots for our family.
To overuse the proverbial phrase, I slept like a log in the cozy inn that night in my room upstairs with its walls dressed in sweet vintage blue wallpaper. If I could recollect my dreams , I would imagine my name had changed to Trixie and I, and my fellow teen mystery sleuths, were galloping on horses named Henry and Theodore, through the woods trying to track down some elusive clues...all while cleverly evading the prowling bobcats of the mountains.
Morning breakfast was delicious as usual. Marcia laughed when she realized that my furrowed brow meant that I was trying to break my routine of ordering the English Muffin Egg and Sausage "Stack" in favor of the blueberry pancakes with New Hampshire Maple syrup and locally sourced bacon. Oh, it was worth it! Why didn't I venture towards the pancakes sooner? The blueberry pancakes were sweet, moist, buttery, and delicious. How I love, love, love breakfast!
After breakfast, I wandered around the newly planted flower and herb garden at the inn. I had no time constraints nor expectations to meet so I took my time. I forced myself to move slowly and not feel like I had to rush off to the next beckoning task in my life. The house rennovations could wait. The dirt and debris would be waiting for me no matter when I arrived home. Perhaps next time at the inn, I'll play a game of croquet in the back field or just leisurely hang my legs off the hammocks tucked under the trees.
Or, I may choose another mountain in the lovely state to climb with a picnic basket in hand this time. I'll anticipate the views of the soft purple-hued mountains gracefully overlapping one another as far as the eyes can see.
That quart of wild blueberries made it home safely with me. Wild blueberries are tiny and have a wonderfully floral earthy taste. We were going to a birthday party the next day and I wanted to use these precious hand-picked treasures in something for a dessert to bring. Still being without a fully functioning kitchen, I decided to throw together an easy blueberry clafoutis.
This is a simple french dessert that is popular in the Brittany area of France but has now been adopted all over the world. Often it is made with cherries but I thought I would use the blueberries I had just gathered.