UFO sighting – and that’s the truth…

Yes, its true, my father the late artist Bernard Safran drew a UFO in color on fine grey drawing paper in 1974 for the RCMP investigators who came to visit. They came because our little family all witnessed a UFO at our isolated farmhouse in New Brunswick, Canada. But we weren’t alone – many many people saw it that night too.

red house dusk147

Our house and barns in Jolicure – behind the house and down the hill was Long Lake. The house was alone on the rise, surrounded by open fields and then miles of forest in all directions.

It was probably February or early March the first night I saw it – I remember that my mother was able to drive to “Club” (the local quilting club) by herself because the dirt road was still passable, and I was busy at the kitchen table doing geography homework. My father was upstairs and I don’t remember where my sister was – probably at University.

encyclopedia britannica set

Our Britannica set.

I had the giant Atlas from our giant Encyclopedia Britannica set open on the kitchen table to one of the maps for industry in Canada – you know the kind that show little pigs for pig farming, trees for timber, oil rigs for oil drilling… I had to draw the same kind of thing for one of the Provinces for grade 8 Social Studies.

It was a year after we’d moved to Jolicure; a year in which we’d grown accustomed to the enormous night sky including the plane routes overhead, the rare satellite arcing above, the northern lights, and the constellations and planets that my mother and I regularly looked at with our star chart and flashlight.

We knew how to find the Andromeda galaxy and star clusters and recognized falling stars. In other words we knew our night sky like the back of our hands. And we knew the night sounds around our house that came from the forest and the lake and fields.

From our house there was only one barn light visible across the ridge in the opposite direction from the lake, in the direction of the Trans Canada Highway – several miles of forest away. It was very isolated there.

house and barns small image

The barns were clustered around an open barnyard next to the house. You can see the cupola of the long hay barn clearly in the middle of the roof line – it was above the cupola where I saw the bright light that first night.

Anyway, I was working away at my project when I suddenly looked up out the kitchen window to my left and saw a huge bright light hanging just above the long hay barn next to the house.

At first my mind didn’t understand what was going on – I’d never seen anything like it over the barn or in the sky before, and as I watched it it turned from an orange-red to white. I ran to the hall of the house and called my father to come down to see the strange light – he came running – but when we got back to the kitchen the light was gone.

The next night my sister was at home – and she and I had gone to bed. My parents were watching the night time news. Their bedroom window looked out over the black night scene of the sky and the forest and lake. A report came on about a UFO sighting in the area and as the report was being read my father, lying on his bed, looked out the window and saw a mysterious light rise up out of the forest behind the lake and travel across the lake toward our house. My mother and father woke us up and ran downstairs to the kitchen and our always handy binoculars were already being used when I got down there.

moon over barn jolicure oil sketch617

Looking out towards the huge, long field where we watched the UFO – this photo was taken from our backyard – the back of the long hay barn is visible on the left. The lake was down the hill to the right.

Out the window in the field beyond the barnyard was a mysterious glowing object moving quietly around the giant field. It wasn’t marsh gas – let me get that straight, and it wasn’t ball lightning – it was a conscious object moving consciously – up a little, then over a little and then down a bit and then up again and over, and so on – moving in a way that indicated it wasn’t being moved by the air or by nature but by some intelligence inside. I was the last to get a look at it through the binoculars as it was moving away. My father had the most time to observe it. That’s why he could draw it.

The next day everyone was abuzz. The RCMP had chased a bright object across the long flat highway of the Tantramar Marsh that night and clocked it at a high speed but never caught up with it. People in Sackville and all over the area saw it – my sister’s friend at Mount Allison saw it out her dorm window as it made its way across the Marsh.

The next three nights we witnessed tall columns of light rising out of the black forest behind our lake – they looked like those giant klieg lights they use for Hollywood openings.  One or two straight columns of white light rising up into the western night sky. It was a bright blueish white light – crisply defined against the black sky – not at all like the northern lights that sometimes rose up into the night in the north.

ufo kang and kodos

Was it Kang and Kodos visiting us in their UFO? From the Simpsons.

My mother was convinced that we were being visited by peaceful beings – so why don’t we go and find them in the forest?

…gee, I don’t know… why not?

jolicure close up map

The red dot is approximately where our house was located. You can see that its adjacent to Long Lake and behind the lake is wilderness and more lakes and bog. The entire area pretty much from Sackville (lower left) up through Jolicure is the Tantramar Marsh. The RCMP chased the UFO across Highway 2.

So she and I hiked for miles around our lake and into the marshy scrub that lay behind the tall trees on the far side. It took hours, and when we got there it was desolate wilderness as far as the eye could see and no sign of equipment or light towers or anything that could have made those columns of light. Nor was there any sign of a vehicle driving in – it was boggy and there would have been evidence.

The next day we took our canoe out and went all along the edge of Long Lake looking for anything unusual, but never found anything.

jolicure sunset Long Lake

Looking across the lake to the forest from our backyard.

Soon after farmers started reporting burned rings in their fields. People were asking a lot of questions and were getting worried. And guess what?, there were even several cattle mutilations reported, that the RCMP claimed were due to a pack of wild dogs – really?  wild dogs?

That summer the Air Force were ever present in the sky (and the only summer they spent training there while I lived there). Fast fighter jets flew in formation up and down the marsh basins.

cf18s in formation

Canadian fighter jets in formation (for the purist these are CF18s that Canada started using in 1982 – I couldn’t find a picture of what we saw flying in formation in 1974)

One hot day my mother and our cat and I were out in the vegetable garden in front of the house, and a jet came screaming down low over us and flipped straight up over the roof of our house – all three of us went flat onto the ground in terror… those jets move so fast that they are gone before you can breathe. The pilot must have thought it was sooo funny to do that…

Anyway, that year came and went and I never saw anything like it again in my life. It opened a new fascination for me for science fiction and the X files but like anyone experiencing  paranormal experiences – you don’t talk about them because people think you’re absolutely nuts.

Men in Black - Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith

Thank goodness we have the Men in Black to protect us from bad aliens.

But all four of us saw that thing that night, and the investigators came to our house and were very respectful to my parents and took the drawing that my father had done of the UFO. It was shaped like a squashed disc with lights that rotated around the central edge of the thing.

Lily Tomlin as Edith Anne and Herry Monster

Lily Tomlin as Edith Ann with Herry Monster from Sesame Street. Image from http://muppet.wikia.com/wiki/Herry_Monster

So before you start telling me why UFO’s can’t possibly exist and I must be making it up or I must have been a victim of mass hysteria… let me just say… (As Lily Tomlin‘s character Edith Ann used to say)  “and that’s the truth” (with a Bronx cheer)

 

 

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Wild Animal Friends -1970s

groundhog

Our friendly groundhog (Marmota monax).

In a previous post I wrote about our moose neighbors in Jolicure. We had many other animals that we lived among – none as big as the moose, but just as thrilling to see.

Our first summer in Jolicure (in 1973) we had a fat groundhog take up residence in our basement when part of the wall of the foundation collapsed inwards and we had a wide open hole to the outside. Our century old farmhouse was just barely sitting on a century old foundation made of massive blocks of stone, and the basement was literally just a big square hole in the ground. (and when the rocks fell inward they crushed our water pump –  so no water for a while til that got repaired too)

groundhog1So I guess the groundhog figured this big hole in the basement wall was an invitation to move in – and he did. It may be that he caused the collapse by digging in in the first place… we’ll never know.

It was a family crisis. What were we going to do with a groundhog in our basement? We couldn’t let a wild animal live down there – we had to be able to have access to the basement after all, and we stored our root vegetables down there.

My father considered shooting the animal, but the rest of us prevailed. Instead my mother went down there with pots and pans and made a tremendous noise until the poor intruder moved out. He found a very nice piece of real estate in our backyard by an old tree stump and stayed there for many years.

backyard mom and dad601

My parents in the backyard. Behind my father to the right is the large tree stump that the groundhog liked to sun himself on. Long Lake is behind us and beyond that is forest and marsh for miles.

In the summer you’d see my father sitting in his lawn chair in the backyard sunning himself, and alongside him on the smooth wide top of the tree stump, surrounded by mallow flowers, would lie the groundhog doing the same.

One summer evening I was all alone at home – the light was a soft golden color and as I sat in my bedroom window looking out past the lilac trees in front of my bedroom window to the field directly opposite the front of our house, I saw a beautiful lithe red fox hunting. He was jumping and leaping into the air over the old tilled remains of the field, now covered with thick grasses and wildflowers. It looked so joyful and lyrical, it made me happy inside.

red fox mrwallpaper

Red Fox leaping – image courtesy of mrwallpaper.com

There was also a wonderful porcupine who would lumber out in the evenings from the forest to the big long field by our house and nibble on the grass there. Because he was so prickly he never was fearful of us and we could walk right up to him and have a visit. Mind you, we would never try to touch him, and luckily our dog was well trained enough that we never had her get into a mess with the animal.

porcupine

Our friendly porcupine in the field of clover.

We always had a giant great horned owl that lived in the row of tall pines behind our house. In summer evenings with the windows open you could actually hear the near silent swoosh of his wings and see him in the dusk hunting back and forth for rodents.

Bubo_virginianus,_Great_Horned_Owl

Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)

We’d find his pellets containing the tiny bones of his dinner under his perch. And if you looked carefully during the day he was there high up in his pine tree.

Needless to say there were frogs – and in the summer especially, there were huge loud choruses of them along the lake edge where there were lots of lily pads and other plant growth. The marshy areas were thick with frogs too and even the mucky wet areas of ditches and the forest were homes to them. In the spring there’d be big masses of frog eggs in the shallower water – shiny and slick with little black spots in them. Then as time progressed hundreds of  tadpoles of all sizes would hatch and you could watch them develop into full sized frogs.

ermine

Ermine – image from the Canadian Wildlife Federation

We had a weasel for a few years that lived under our kitchen shed. It turned pure white with a black tip on its tail in the winter. It was so sleek and elegant and fast. We saw its tracks more often then we saw the animal – it was very wary of us and our pets.

common-loon by Roy Toft National Geographic

Common Loon – photo by Roy Toft, National Geographic. If you’d like to hear a loon call go to the following National Geographic page and click on Audio – http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/common-loon/

And for the entire time we lived there, there was a pair of loons on our lake – they’d return in the spring to nest and stay til just before winter came. They had such a beautiful haunting call. We’d see them out there with their babies every year – the mother bird would carry her crew on her back when they were tiny little fluffy puffs and not able to swim yet. When we went out on the lake with our canoe, the loons would repeatedly pop up right next to our canoe and then dive down into the deep tea colored water. It was a wonderful gift to be able to be so close to such beautiful wild creatures like that.

Being in the middle of such wilderness there were many more wild things that we encountered over the years – fish hawks, sparrow hawks, rabbits, bats, mice, shrews, swallows and more… all to be discovered, appreciated and left alone by us.

There was one tragic siting that I will also never forget though – something so disturbing I am still racked with a sick guilt and sorrow. My mother and I and the dog were hiking through the forest when we came upon a raccoon stuck in a horrible trap

Racoon in a tree wikipedia commons

Every living thing deserves respect including racoons. Image from Wikidpedia Commons.

– its rusted metal jaws were clamped shut on the poor animal’s leg and the raccoon was so frantic that it allowed us to try and release it. But we were unable to help; the trap was too strong (it looked like a bear trap – it was big and heavy and powerful – a very dangerous thing that I or my dog could have just as easily been caught in).

Rusty-Bear-Trap

A rusty bear trap – primitive and cruel.

My mother as brave as she was, couldn’t bring herself to kill the racoon and put it out of its misery – and I was near hysterical. We went home to get my father to take him back and shoot it. But he refused. He didn’t want to get into a war with any local trappers. All I could imagine was the suffering of that little helpless animal alone out there in the forest… I wish I’d had the strength to go back there myself and end his misery – but I failed.

And I will carry that with me to the end of my days.

 

 

 

1970s Teen Angst

house from  field011

I posted earlier about my father’s intense paranoia and how that drove him to move us to an isolated farmhouse in Eastern Canada away from the spying eyes of other people, especially people he believed were spying on him from Time magazine.

In addition to his paranoia, he also had a need to control everything in his life, particularly my mother, his money, and me. My sister moved out of the house half way through her first year of college to live in an on-campus dorm just a year after moving to the farmhouse (I know she felt the iron grip too). Though she spent time at home after that, it was intermittent.

My father had kept me from friends when I was little in New York, because he believed their parents were spying on him.

When I was a teen he exercised an even greater level of control over me just by living in such a remote location. I was stuck there miles from anyone, and couldn’t go anywhere without his approval. I had no privacy, and even if friends called me, he would frequently listen to me while I spoke on the phone located in the central hall of our house and then question me about who had called and why. Because our phone was on a party line it drove him crazy knowing that the neighbors could hear our conversations.

Jolicure, New Brunswick by Bernard Safran 1983

This painting shows the crossroads of Jolicure proper where the car is parked in the distance. To get to our house you had to keep going past the house with the green roof for another 2 miles. Jolicure, New Brunswick by Bernard Safran, January 1983 17″ x 32.5″ oil on masonite.

And he refused to let me learn to drive. I went where my parents went, or if my sister was around, where she went. I had no independence apart from where I could go on my bike or on foot.

This meant that I spent a lot of time at home alone with my crazy parents in that isolated farmhouse – it was frequently tense with my father in a fit over something, and my mother either fighting with him or walking on eggshells trying to handle him. I’d arrive home from school to find the atmosphere thick with tension – I seemed to be a neutral energy that both welcomed.

I was at times desperate to get out. At least I had the solace of the woods and fields, my dog and cat, and my cousin’s horse.

Living as we did in the middle of nowhere in the back woods of New Brunswick, Canada, had major disadvantages for my High School social life (which no doubt was just fine by my father).

red house dusk147

To get to and from dances, football games or any parties or after school stuff, I first had to get parental permission and then had to find someone to drive me or drop me off at my house which was 10 miles from the Town of Sackville where I was bussed to school. On rare occasions my mother drove me one way, but most of the time I had to bum rides from other kids, beg an invite to stay overnight in town with an approved of girlfriend (whose parents had to be met by my mother first), or just miss out. This led me to feel quite literally like an outsider, always trying to catch up and never really fitting in. (There were other reasons for my feeling different from everyone – being from New York, having two artist parents, and being half Jewish were just three of them).

And when I started dating you can imagine how that played out at home…

My first official boyfriend (who lived in Sackville) didn’t have a car and that caused some complications. He did call me every night, and I saw him at school every day and occasionally in town, and he took me to Senior Prom. He was cool – he smoked weed and tobacco and played bass and hung out with the other cool guys in school – he was a senior and I had just turned 16. We started going out in the Spring when he brought me a hand picked bouquet of flowers during lunch in the cafeteria and he declared his love for me.

violets

A bouquet of violets just like the one I received during lunch period in Grade 10.

One day he rode his bicycle 10 miles across the windy and open Tantramar Marsh along the Trans Canada Highway and down the dirt road to our isolated farmhouse, to come and see me. I was amazed at his dedication and passion.

My father caught us kissing down the hill from the house, and that was something I’ll never forget – my father’s expression: at first perplexed and then fuming. My boyfriend rode his bike back the 10 miles to town soon after. It wasn’t long after that, that that boyfriend was no more – 10 miles is quite a commitment especially with a fuming and searing father waiting for you at the end of a long and painful bike ride.

Map of Jolicure and Sackville, New Brunswick

Sorry that this map isn’t easy to read here, but if you click on it you’ll get full size. I just wanted to show you where my house was located – at the small red dot on Long Lake in Jolicure (close to the center of the map). In the left hand corner you can see Sackville. Now you can visually comprehend how far we lived from town.

To have “friends” who chat you up on the school bus and tell you all about the great things they were up to, but never invite you along, was a life lesson in itself – which I obviously understood – they weren’t really my friends. If they’d wanted me to go to their parties in town they would’ve easily included me… or to join a team that they were on “Oh, you should join the field hockey team!” which I heard repeatedly and which I really wanted to do but couldn’t because I couldn’t arrange to get home from practice even when these friends only lived a few miles away.

I can tell you from experience that trying to bum rides all the time is humiliating. More than once, I ended up in the cars of kids I didn’t know who either took pity on me or who had their own agendas for driving into the woods. You’d think that a controlling father would be more likely to drive me himself rather than let some unknown kid do it, but that way he saved money on gas, and 9 times out of 10 I couldn’t manage the rides so I stayed home.

One time my desperation resulted in being driven home by the biggest toughest looking guy in school and his “for the moment” girlfriend – who spent the entire time driving me home at high speed along the highway, and feeling each other up in the front seat of his black Firebird.

Pontiac Firebird Trans Am 1976

A black Pontiac Firebird Trans Am c 1976 – very much like the one that the big scary guy and his girl drove me home to Jolicure in one night from town. I guess I can’t blame him for not wanting to take the car down 2 miles of rutted dirt road.

They were so eager to leave me in Jolicure they dropped me off at the Jolicure crossroads and I had to walk in 2 miles along the dirt road in the dark (singing loudly and whistling to scare any bears away).

Their plan, like many teenagers, was to find a quiet spot to continue feeling each other up or whatever else they got up to.

In Grade 11, I had a new boyfriend – he was on the football team.  This time my football playing boyfriend had a car. It was a giant 70s car –  low slung, no seat belts, and room for numerous teens in it. We went on several double dates to movies, to a couple of dances, and on one or two occasions hung out with his friends in town.

We spent more time together than my parents apparently approved of. I think that one of the incidents that they most disapproved of happened during the winter of that year. We had gone to a movie on a double date, but my boyfriend had somehow managed to drop off the other couple and drive me home the back way…

giant 1970s car

A giant 1970s car similar to the one that got ditched on that cold, dark winter night, way back when.

… however, there really wasn’t a “back way” to my house except to go a very long way around the Marsh and through miles of forest on dirt roads that were in bad shape. I had no idea where we were going – it was dark and he was driving, and no doubt eagerly thinking ahead to some secret spot he knew of in the woods, when the car slid off the ice and snow covered road and landed in the ditch. God knows where… it was late, it was dark, it was cold, and I was really pissed off.

We could see a barn light in the distance so we carefully made our way along the ice sheeted road up to the farm – it was probably around midnight when we knocked on the door. “Please could the farmer pull us out of the ditch, down the road, in the woods?” The couple were in their pajamas and robes.

I asked the wife if I could use their phone to call my parents – it was getting really late and I knew what was happening at home – my father pacing, huffing, with one eyebrow raised, face beet red, thinking of the worst possible thing I could be doing –  snarling to my mother: “Jesus Christ Del!”.

On the phone I explained to my mother that the car got ditched, something which happened to my parents regularly, so they really couldn’t complain – I left out that my boyfriend had driven me somewhere remote… that would have ignited a fire storm.

And so the farmer got dressed and got out his tractor and kindly pulled out the dinosaur sized car from the ditch in the woods.

I got home, made my explanation short and went straight to bed. I was careful to never let that happen again – knowing that that time I’d gotten a free pass. What I didn’t know was that my parents were just waiting for a reason to make me end this relationship – and by the end of that summer they forced me to break up with this guy – something that I honestly never forgave them for. It wasn’t the first time or the last time that they forced themselves into my personal life, but it hurt the most really, because they didn’t trust me.

And it was just another way to keep me out there in the woods alone with them.

My father was always saying how wonderful my life was – just like an Andy Hardy movie – but the reality was that it wasn’t. It wasn’t all bad – but it wasn’t all that good either. I couldn’t wait to get away.

Baking 101

Betty with hairband age 7

Little me, around age 7

I don’t actually remember being taught to bake from scratch – it just seems to have spontaneously happened at some point when I was a small kid. I must’ve learned by helping in the kitchen like most kids do. But I was pretty young when my mother let me go it alone with a recipe. Like they say, if it doesn’t kill you…

One of my earliest memories of baking was actually with my Nanny who lived next door to us in Bronxville. I was pretty little at the time – I had to stand on a chair next to her at her kitchen counter and we made a birthday cake for my mother. She let me choose what kind of cake to make and how to decorate it. I chose a bright pink fuchsia colored sherbet for the filling between the three layers.

Nanny wearing pearls

My maternal grandmother, Elsie Innes, sitting in her dining room in Bronxville. Nanny always wore proper dresses and stockings and jewellery every day. She and I were very close and I spent a lot of time at her house while I was growing up. That is the window that we put the cake out of.

We made a white icing for the outside of the cake and she let me decorate it with bright lime green icing piped around the edges – it was in retrospect really awful looking – but Nanny let me have full creative control. Because we used sherbet between the layers we had to keep it cool before dinner, so we put it out her dining room window onto a box on the backyard patio (my mother’s birthday is in January).

I don’t remember much of anything about the birthday dinner held at Nanny’s, just the cake. When the time came for the majestic confection to make its appearance, Nanny opened the window  and cried out loud – the layers had slipped and smooshed onto the concrete patio. Oh the tears – the defeat – the cruelty of the universe… this was my first cake for my Mommy and it was a disaster. Nanny calmed me as she retrieved the layers and put it back together along with some newly added dirt and smudged lime green icing and sherbet. My mother graciously said she loved it and everyone ate it… but it was a sad affair for me.

Live and learn.

My first solo baking projects were cookies – I cut out sugar cookies of hearts and frosted them pink to take to school for Valentine’s Day. I made Sand Tarts, dusted with cinnamon and sugar for Christmas. I made peanut butter cookies and chocolate chip cookies.

But there is one cookie that I especially enjoyed making – and its great for little hands – Snickerdoodles. When I was little I probably ate more raw Snickerdoodles while I rolled the balls of dough, than baked ones!

I soon graduated to more complex baking projects.

One summer when  I was maybe 10, I decided to make brownies. By this time I was left to my own devices in the kitchen – my mother was off doing something in the basement – probably her book making, or sewing, or some other interesting thing. I pulled all the ingredients from the cupboard and carefully mixed the batter and in it went into the oven – my mouth watering at the smell of the chocolate baking.

Morton Salt 1960s

Morton Salt as I remember it from the 1960s – how could I have mistaken this for sugar?

So out came the brownies at the right time and they sat on the kitchen table to cool. My father had also been drooling over the smell apparently, as he was first into the kitchen to try the first brownie. I was so proud. Then he bit into it and his face changed from delight to something else. He said nothing, but I knew there was something wrong so I tasted my brownie. I had used 2 cups of salt instead of sugar and they were inedible… though my father pretended they were delicious and he actually ate the whole thing.

I cried… all that effort and anticipation – and then, such defeat.  I never made that mistake again.

Another momentous occasion was when I was baking alone in the kitchen one summer’s day (I was probably 10 or 11) while my father was in his studio, and my mother was somewhere else – and though I don’t remember what I was making I do remember that I was using the stand mixer. The batter was pulling up the sides of the bowl and not getting beaten so I took a spoon while it was running and attempted to push it down. What happened next was a shock – the spoon and my hand were grabbed into the beaters and jammed the machine to a halt. I screamed in pain. My father was the first to the scene with my mother close behind. My hand was mangled. They carefully checked each finger and ran their hands gently over my painful wounds. It was bleeding on every knuckle and joint – the whole hand was bruised – but it was not broken.

stand mixer with glass bowls

A stand mixer with glass bowls, like the one we had when I was growing up. Those beaters were solid.

We had no medical insurance (not until we moved to Canada) and a trip to the doctor or the hospital was costly, so my father made a splint for my hand and my parents gently attached it to my hand so it lay flat. I was in shock I suppose. I don’t remember anything after that – I probably was taken to my room to watch television and given an aspirin – the usual thing that my parents treated everything with.

It didn’t scar me for life – at least emotionally – I went back to using the mixer soon after that and I’d learned my lesson. I always turn off the mixer before attempting to scrape down the sides, even to this day.

By the time we moved to Canada to the red farmhouse in Jolicure when I was 12, I was already a seasoned baker.

Red house back door

The back door to the farmhouse entered into a shed which opened into the main kitchen. In this picture you can see Long Lake in our “back yard” – we were in a remote and beautiful location with no neighbors for miles.

Through my teens, I worked my way through almost every cake, pudding, pie, squares and cookie recipe in the Joy of Cooking.

Red House Betty with Nasturtiums age 15

Here I am about 15 years old, standing at the kitchen table in the big kitchen of the farm house in Jolicure. I’m standing in front of the pantry where we had our stove and fridge and counters and cupboards.( I liked to plant Nasturtiums in front of the house – still do.)

I had a lot of time alone, especially during the summers, and a good appetite from all my outdoors activities and gardening work, so I fed myself with goodies… and my father in particular enjoyed the regular surprises from the cookbook. I learned to make meringues, tortes, 7 minute icing – you name it.

I still love to bake, but now that I’m spreading with age and watching my weight the occasions are much less frequent.

When my kids were small and were in skating, gymnastics, and hap-ki-do – I had many coaches and teachers to gift at Christmas and so I baked and decorated literally hundreds of cookies each Christmas (I also gave them to the paper delivery man, the garbage men, the pharmacists and the neighbors – I must’ve been crazy, and I surely had more stamina then!).

This is our family recipe for Snickerdoodles:

1 cup soft butter

1.5 cups sugar

2 eggs

2 and 3/4 cups sifted flour

2 tsp cream of tartar

1 tsp soda

1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Sift dry ingredients together. Cream butter and sugar. Mix ingredients by hand. Chill dough and roll into balls the size of small walnuts.

Roll the dough balls in a mixture of 2 tbsp sugar and 2 tsp cinnamon. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets and bake for 8 to 10 minutes until lightly browned but still soft.

Enjoy!

 

1970s – Magical Moose

In Jolicure, NB, we lived in a pretty remote area, surrounded by empty fields and bordered by miles of forest and Long Lake, so we had our moments with the wildlife out there.

The red farmhouse from the lake in summertime

The Red Farmhouse from the lake – summertime. You can see the upstairs hall window on the left of the house – its the upper dormered window

The first winter we were there in January 1973, we had just moved into our old farmhouse and were in the process of making the house liveable – and we didn’t really know the area at all. We didn’t have a dog yet so we weren’t going for walks everywhere everyday and it wasn’t spring yet with the impassable mud road that we had to hike along. Also we were newbies to the countryside having lived in the NYC area for our entire lives and weren’t quite up to speed with the natural world that we had just launched ourselves into. So we had not yet met our wildlife neighbors.

One wintery January day close to dusk, I happened to look out our upstairs hall window. The view was across some fields and a hilly incline to the abandoned white farmhouse that stood between us and the forest – just down the road that went by our house to the tiny community of Midgic (which was about 7 miles of forest away).

The abandoned white farmhouse, Jolicure

The abandoned white farmhouse near our house on the road to Midgic. You can see the forest in the distance.

Anyway, I saw what looked like 4 horses frolicking around in a circle on the distant rise in front of the white house – they were big and very graceful and looked like some magical vision there in the wintery dusk. I called to everyone to come see – and as I stood there watching I realized they were moose. I couldn’t believe that these giants could look so light on their feet. Big lumbering awkward, funny looking moose – but these were so graceful – like ballet dancers graceful. It was a beautiful sight and one I never saw again… though we saw moose frequently thereafter…

Bullwinkle the Moose

I grew up watching the cartoon Rocky and Bullwinkle – I think this is actually a very realistic portrayal of a handsome moose.

We had one giant bull moose that lived somewhere behind our house by the lake. We would see him pretty regularly swimming across the lake in the evening as the sun went down – his big head and enormous antlers seemingly floating along the still water. And we could hear him sometimes – a big deep bellowing/honking kind of sound that echoed off the forest wall and across the lake. (click on the word ‘HERE’ at this link to hear a bull moose http://moosetique.com/moose-sound/)

The other moose seemed to live in the forest on the road to Midgic. It was uncanny how sometimes we’d go for a walk with the dog down the dirt/mud road and it would be clear of car tracks and animal tracks – washed clean, say, after a rain.

moose tracks, image from all-about-moose.com

Moose tracks
(image from all-about-moose.com)

When we’d turn around to go home along the same stretch of road we’d see our tracks from earlier. But it wasn’t just our tracks anymore – the entire surface of the road would be covered with moose and deer tracks. They’d apparently watched us go by, and then come out and run up and down the road. Then when we were returning, jump back into the brush before we could see them.

This is the honest truth, really. It happened all the time.

I spent many hours out in the forest alone with just the dog, and I never ran into a moose. The dog and I would follow game trails and old logging roads and find animal tracks, and droppings and see where wild animals had nibbled the trees and plants or left the remains of a kill.

A big moose seen in McAdam New Brunswick, http://northerncomfort.info/bigmoose.html

A Big Moose seen in McAdam, New Brunswick,
image from http://northerncomfort.info/bigmoose.html

I never encountered anything dangerous and only ever heard things breaking twigs or crunching through the underbrush off in the distance. I knew the moose were there, and I’d heard about bears, and I’d seen wildcat tracks. But these animals were elusive and though they may have been interested in us, they never approached and always kept a distance.

I was never afraid of the wildlife there. Even when I knew they were watching us…

I’ll be writing about some of the other wildlife near our house in Jolicure, in a future post.

Eating Wild Things in Jolicure

Labrador Tea

Labrador Tea

Living in the country provides many opportunities to graze and harvest wild berries and plants – particularly in areas like ours in Eastern Canada where there was a lot of abandoned farmland and nature had overgrown and reclaimed its place. We quickly learned to identify the plants in our vicinity and to learn which were edible and which were best left untouched.

We tried many things like wild Tansy Tea and Labrador Tea that grew along our lane way and along the edge of the forest.  We did it as more of an experiment to see how they tasted. They never became a habit like our Red Rose brand orange pekoe tea that we drank all the time. (Nor did we use them medicinally.)

LambsquartersWe gathered the wild greens called Lambsquarters. It grew like a weed in our garden so we were more inclined to rip it out of the ground than cherish it, but we did eat it in salads and cooked it like spinach on occasion.

The area we lived in (Jolicure) was connected to the great Tantramar Marshes – you only had to go a few miles in most directions to find your way to the these wetlands. So there were many boggy places around – not only in the marsh proper.

Not far from our house we found a lovely patch of cranberries growing in one such bog. We were able to pick these for ourselves every year, but we had to act fast because other locals would show up and pick them too.

Wild cranberry bog, photo by Chris Seufert

Wild cranberry bog, photo by Chris Seufert

They grew right on the edge of the forest in an old cleared field.

We also had raspberries near the house – but instead of local people, we had to be quick to get them before the birds and wildlife found them. They were hard to get quantities of – so you’d just eat what you could find right away and enjoy the sweetness in the fresh air.

Wild strawberries grew along our road and in various small patches near our house.

wild strawberries

Wild strawberries

We sometimes did manage to pick enough for a few pies – but again it was a challenge to beat nature to the prize.

There were other wild treats growing around our house like the patch of Fiddlehead ferns that grew in our backyard by a big old stump; we could harvest them once or twice a season for a few meals – usually as an accompaniment to the fresh trout my father caught in the lake.

Wild fiddleheads

Wild Fiddleheads

To pick blueberries we went to a commercial blueberry farm and used blueberry rakes to gather the fruit. Here we were guaranteed enough to freeze for the winter.

And on occasion we harvested the fallen fruit from abandoned orchards – though this fruit had to be used for making jelly – as it was generally worm ridden and had to be carefully cleaned for use.

We  experimented with our rose hips from the wild roses that grew along our lane. We made rose hip jam one year and brewed a tea from them on other occasions – rose hips are very high in vitamin C.

Rose hips, photo by Andy & Susie Vanable

Wild Rose hips

Once we tried making dandelion wine because our friends made some that was yummy and we had an endless supply of organic dandelions – but ours wasn’t a great success – it turned out more sludge than wine, but we tried.

We didn’t harvest wild mushrooms, of which there were many varieties. It was too chancy a risk that we’d poison ourselves and we didn’t trust our guide books for identification. Its important to really know what you’re doing with these things…

King Bolete mushroom (Boletus Edulus) http://northernbushcraft.com/

Here’s an example of what is considered an edible mushroom: “… An unknown bolete is safe if it does not bruise blue after being cut, is not red on the underside of the cap, and does not taste foul.
Small amounts should be consumed when testing an unfamiliar bolete.”

We had a stand of giant fungi that grew on our property along a tall stand of pines; a wind break treeline at the back side of the house. I loved looking at them with their big and brightly colored caps – but I was very wary of them and never touched them as someone had told me they were Death Angels, a very poisonous and deadly fungi.

I’ve since found out that what we had were toadstools; a kind of fungus that is also poisonous (you can die from renal failure after a long and horrible decline) and psychoactive. So they were pretty much just as bad as Death Angels  and  Death Cap Mushrooms (all three kinds of mushrooms are in the same family). These are the mushrooms famous in European folklore and fairy tales and you can see why…

Fly Amanita, Amanita muscaria var. guessowii

This is the same kind of yellow and orange toadstools that we had – ours were huge – like a foot tall and 6″ across: Fly Amanita, Amanita muscaria var. guessowii.

Toadstool, Fly Amanita

We had giant red toadstools too: Fly Amanita.

When I was in college at Mount Allison University a group of students got hold of a bunch of local, wild, hallucinogenic mushrooms which they happily ate until someone realized they were full of worms – upon which all of them got violently sick and apparently had really really really bad trips.

The moral of this post isdon’t eat what you don’t know!

Cold Water, Mud and the Heroic March of the Shower

Long Lake - Red House, photos by Bernard Safran

Long Lake – Red House, photos by Bernard Safran

We had a real problem in our old red farmhouse – a true lack of hot water. When we moved in there was a big old, cast iron, oil burning kitchen stove hooked up – attached to which was a hot water tank that was supposed to heat up when the stove was being used. However, no matter how hot or how long we had the stove/oven on, there was no hot water – some mildly warm water if you were being optimistic.

iron stove

This looks much like the awful stove we had when we moved in, but ours was black. It was powered with oil that came in through the wall from the big oil tank outside that also powered our furnace.

The stove just didn’t work – it was hot enough that I could rest my butt on the edge of it and keep myself warm (my jeans all became polished on the butt from this over the course of the winter), but for cooking or baking it just never excelled. In fact one time we had a fruit pie in the oven to bake for more than 6 hours and it still didn’t finish cooking.

Also, when we first moved in there was no shower and the tub was just big enough to sit in, in an inch of warm water and freeze. Eventually we started heating pots of water on the stove and pouring them into the tub to bathe in – but that wasn’t too satisfying. We finally ordered a shower to install in the tub from the Sears catalog and it arrived at some point mid spring thaw.

Imagine this fixture (see below) stuck onto the end of a tub with no wall behind it for support – it was truly free standing and wobbly and was probably the cheapest one available.

shower

This is not a photo of our old shower – this one is in a barn.

And since our water was pumped up from a well located down the hill and had low water pressure, and we had no hot water, it really wasn’t all that.

The spring thaw in Jolicure was a serious situation for which we city folk were very under prepared. All the dirt roads in the area got slick with mud and treacherous with deep holes.

Our road in particular was impassible for weeks at a time every year. We didn’t just have deep pot holes – we had oozing, bubbling volcanic eruptions of mud, and vast bottomless pits of mud – the kind of mud holes that suck a rubber boot right off your foot and leave you squishing helplessly on one foot to retrieve your lost boot or worse –  takes both boots and leaves you in your socks.

The kind of mud that cars slowly sludged into and couldn’t get out of – that even tractors got stuck in. The kind of mud that you ended up covered in by the time you got home and there was no hot water…

Mud road JolicureWhen the thaw started that first year we lived there, my father would drive our poor blue Maverick down the road, gunning it to swerve around the obvious holes and careening around eruptions when possible –  to ultimately slide somewhere unpleasant… we got ditched and stuck in holes constantly. You cannot imagine how horrible it is to get behind the spinning wheels of a car stuck in a deep mud hole (well maybe you can imagine), all the mud just sprays all over you and into your mouth while you piteously try to push the car out of the hole, only succeeding enough for the car to swoosh into the next one. It was humiliating having to get a local farmer to come and pull the car out repeatedly – this even became impossible when the tractor could no longer get out and a second tractor had to be called.

The Coming of Spring to Jolicure by Bernard Safran, oil on masonite, 24" x 30" March 1981

This is a painting by my Dad, of my Uncle Lorne working on the mud holes on his road which was considerably better than our road.
The Coming of Spring to Jolicure by Bernard Safran, oil on masonite, 24″ x 30″ March 1981

We eventually had to park our car at the crossroads of Jolicure proper and walk in the 2 miles to our house carrying our food and anything else we needed for at least 6 weeks till the surface improved enough that a vehicle could get in. On foot, we learned how to spot most of the bottomless pits before helplessly pitching in, but sometimes the surface of the road was like a sheer membrane that when you put any pressure on it, the entire surface wobbled and moved and if it cracked while you were still on it you had to somehow get onto something solid or end up sucked into the road crying for help.

And so when our shower arrived from Sears, we had to carry it in for two miles through foot sucking, wiggly wobbly, erupting mud. The thing was at least 5 feet long and required a person on each end to carry it; we had to coordinate where we were going and try to avoid falling… which we could not. Some of the time we walked along the edge of the forest on the uneven ground that was covered with moss, scrub and lumpy outcrops of grass and small trees.

We did eventually haul that damn shower in to the house, and we did get it hooked up so we could have showers – but it wasn’t worth it –  there was still no hot water.

Tractor and wagon spring 1973

When the school bus could no longer drive down our road our friendly neighbor would pick us up in his big pickup with 4 wheel drive to take us out to the corner to get the bus. Then when the pickup couldn’t make it through we went on a hay cart – sitting on a bale of straw- behind his tractor. (I got chilblains on my ears and outer toes one spring during a snow storm sitting exposed on the back of the wagon). When the hay cart couldn’t make it we stood on the back of the tractor behind the huge wheels and hung on. When the tractor could no longer make it I got to stay home from school. Here my sister is coming home with some groceries thanks to our neighbor – Spring 1973.

By the next spring we got rid of that old oil stove and put in an electric range in the pantry and a Franklyn wood burning stove (just for heating) where the old stove had stood in the main kitchen (still the only source of heat for the hot water tank). And we sold the Maverick and bought a Toyota Land Cruiser 4 x 4 – that looked like it was game for anything, and guess what? It got stuck too.

Note: you may find me sounding whiny about the hot water situation – but understand this: a year and a half after moving to Jolicure, my girl friends at school (in grade 8) started fingering through my hair and scalp and remarked on how filthy I was – it was embarrassing – but worse than that my body was scaly with filth too. And, with the road impassable for weeks and no hot water – clothes didn’t get washed either. So hygiene became a serious issue for me. My parents were quite oblivious.