Carnivore Girl

Our kids have a variety of nicknames. I rarely call my son, “Short Stack” to his face, though he will respond to it if you say it repeatedly in a loud clear voice and somehow manage to break through the impenetrable attention-wall of whatever he happens to be doing at the moment. Usually toy trucks or toy trains. Either way, whatever it is, it’s almost always more interesting that what an adult will tell him. Getting through is a tough job. Lulu Belle has quite a lost of nicknames as well but is easier to get her to pay attention to you. I’m guessing that this is because she hasn’t fully discovered the thrill that trucks and trains can bring and unless we can convince Short Stack that sharing is good, she never may, either.

What I have noticed about their nicknames is that I seem to have a theme based list that I draw from. What they get called tends to depend on what activity we are doing at the moment. Mealtime is the perfect example. Short Stack goes by the moniker, “Fruit Bat” while Lulu Belle proudly wears the label, “Carnivore Girl.” You don’t need a second guess why they are called what they are.

My wife, Action Girl has had a varied and meandering path she has followed when it comes to food. As a child growing up in rural Vermont, she was daily presented with a dizzying menu of far reaching proportions. Though she had spent her entire life in the Green Mountain state, he parents were transplants from Jersey City and Yonkers. Though the baked ziti and casserole recepies common to church suppers and Rotary meetings found their way home from time to time, the kids were just as likely to find a plate of linguini and clams, calamari, or matzo ball soup staring back at them from the dinner table. Her parent’s, remembering their metropolitan roots, were creative, often to the consternation of the younger inhabitants of the household.

With this varied gastronomical background, Action Girl made an early discovery. She really, simply, honestly, didn’t care for meat in general and red meat in particular. At an early age she and her older brother who couldn’t stand vegetables, (He ate peas one at a time, swinging each one down individually with a gulp of water, pill style) came up with a lively and lucrative trading business at the table when their parents weren’t looking.

Later on, after she grew up and eventually met me, I witnessed the carnage that was her attempt at eating steak. The ‘meat to be eaten’ to ‘meat to be discarded because it looked yucky’ ratio was about one to one. My inquiry if she would like a set of silver dissection needles with her meal was met with that special scathing gaze that girls work at perfecting, starting at age nine. Done correctly, it can actually leave marks.

Then, one year she scored a great adventure/summer job. She would be working in Colorado on a dude ranch. It would be tough to be away from her for so long, but I knew it was something that she really wanted to do. She had spent her whole life in New England and going out west to work on horseback was going to be one of those magic, life-defining kind of moments. It was. It was also full of buffalo meat.

In one letter, she told me how they had been served buffalo sausage for breakfast, buffalo burgers for lunch and buffalo steak for dinner. She also remarked how there were brownies for dessert and she was eyeing them suspiciously, suspecting that some buffalo hand managed to work its way in there somehow.

When she returned later that fall, she was a committed vegetarian.

But that was fine! We got an apartment together when she returned and she leaped into her vegetarianness with gusto. Action Girl has never let me down in the kitchen and her more than excellent talents shone through in her endeavor to make us wonderful meals with no meat included. She succeeded. We happily lived the vegetarian life for well over a decade and during that time, though I had not abandon my carnivorous ways, I never felt like I was missing it at home. Burgers were had when we went out for dinner or over to friend’s houses, but at home, the meals were delicious, filling and critter free. I was fine with this. It worked.

Then, years later, I walked though the door after a long day at work and found… a pork roast.

I did walk into the right house, didn’t I?

I checked.

My wife was there.

My stuff was there.

The address was, in fact, correct, but the dinner table did not lie. A beautiful pork roast was waiting there for me. No. For US.

EH?

Thirteen years of happy vegetarian eating had gone to the wayside for one, compelling and undeniable reason. She was pregnant with our first child and her body had one demand. No pickles or ice cream. MEAT! NOW!

Happily, I rolled with it and for the last four years, we’ve been an omnivorous family.

Some of us more than others.

Our son, whom started my lovely wife’s journey back to the meat eating side of life, is not easy to get meat into at all. The only way he will even consider it is if it’s in chicken nugget form, fish stick form or hot dog shape. Outside of those three, you can forget it. He will, however, devour just about any kind of fruit that you put in front of him and in any quantity. He actually thinks of applesauce as dessert! Or as he calls it, “kazzert.”

Lulu Belle will eat fruit as well if she’s in the mood and if it’s one of her favorites. Meat, though? That’s different. As she chomps her way through it, she will sometimes actually say, “Om nom nom nom!” as she chews with the same gusto normally encountered in the company of carnivores of the four legged variety. Some day, I’ll have to give her a turkey leg and film it for posterity/hilarity.

There is an excellent chance that someday Lulu Belle will be subjected to some heavy peer pressure that eating animals is bad and that she shouldn’t do it. It seems to be a stage that a large segment of adolescent girls (and a few boys who want to go out with these girls) go through at some point in their lives, and I have an unfortunate tendency to roll my eyes when I encounter this. Action Girl, who always was squeamish when it came to red meat, honestly had gone off it after her, ‘All buffalo, all the time’ diet and I can respect that. She didn’t wan to have anymore, not because she felt badly for the buffalo, but because she honestly didn’t like it.

Some folks believe that relying on animals for our own purposes is wrong as well, and I can respect that too, providing they turn in all their leather shoes, handbags, belts and stop eating Jell-O. In my book, anything else is hypocritical and can therefore be legally mocked. (Mocking, by the way is 100% animal free)

Some day, it could happen that Lulu Belle or Short Stack decide that meat is not for them and as I say, providing that they mean it, I’ll back them up 100%. I’ll always back them up if they mean it. They can count on me like that.

On the other hand, if Lulu comes home from sixth grade some day and announces that she doesn’t like meat anymore, I’m sitting her down and getting out the video of her in the highchair with the turkey leg.

OM NOM NOM NOM!

Local Talk

Short Stack and I were out the door early this morning and though he didn’t know it, it was motivated more by me wanting him to see his next birthday rather than getting the jump on a beautiful, late Spring day. He hasn’t quite developed the survival instinct about waking his mother up earlier than she wishes, so I, who already bare the scars, decided to intervene and remove him from the premises before he came tottering in to ask her yet another question in that whisper/not-a-whisper that three year olds seem to have perfected.

Other than my own vision being blurry around the edges with the half vaporized dreams of sleep, the day looked crisp and warm and I was happy to get a chance to go and enjoy it with my son. A long walk to the beach, down said beach and then up to a beautiful expanse of grass that overlooks the bay, left him happy but understandably tired. When he started inquiring about breakfast, I knew that he wasn’t making it back to the house under his own power and in one fluid motion, *WHOOSH*, up on my shoulders he went. I’m used to carrying him like this and although he’s getting bigger by the day, I enjoy it very much as he hugs my head and points out items of interest with a pudgy finger.

“Look Dad! A butterfly! Can we catch it?”

As I hefted my chatty load up the last hill and away form the beach, we happened to pass an elderly islander who was on her own morning jaunt.

She greeted us with a smile and approving nod to my wiggling burden. “Well, that’s a mighty fine perch, isn’t it?” She spoke through that smile only old, white haired women can flash, but the smile I came back with was spurred on by more than just a friendly salutation. It was the way she said “perch”

“peauuurch”

This is spoken with the lips extended into an almost kiss when you say the “u” sound.

THAT is how a real Mainer says it. Or, I should say, “Mainahh.” Actually, it extends far beyond the borders of Maine. My Grandmother lived in the flatlands of New Hampshire and I vividly remember the first time she encountered the word “Nerd.”

“Neauuuurd? What on eauuurth is a Neauuurd?”

What is commonly referred to as the “Down East” accent was widely heard in my youth, but is disappearing at mind numbing speed today. Words such as Yassah (yes sir), proppah (proper) and my personal favorite, “wicked pissah, meaning a mighty good time and/or a bad storm and/or someone full of moxie and nerve… um… neauuuurve, are drifting away into the past and being replaced by the bland, universal TV speak that we’re bombarded with, daily.

I have an ear for accents, both conscious and unconscious. I perk up when I hear one and can’t help trying to guess where the speaker is from. I suppose that makes me a bit like the jerk at the embassy ball in “My Fair Lady,” though I do not, in fact, “know everyone in Europe” or teach linguistics, but there is a reason I pay close attention. For me, accents are contagious.

When I am thrown into an environment with foreign or heavily accented speakers, my speech starts to bend and twist in an effort to match. I can’t stop it and it drives me nuts at times.

In England, I sound like a Brit.
In France, I start sounding French.
In Massachusetts, I sound like a Kennedy
In Germany… I sound like a Brit again… I don’t know why. This one REALLY bugs me, especially since I can speak some german.

Action Girl hails from central Vermont and as such, speaks crisp, soft English through mostly closed teeth. When I’ve been visiting old relatives from the coast of New England, she quickly points out my changed speech patterns.

“Please stop! You’re not from Danvers, Mass!”

“That’s pronounced ‘Daanvzz’” I helpfully quip. That usually wins me a flash of “the look” which I attempt to deflect with a toothy grin and quick retreat.

In my head, I can hear both of my Grandmother’s voices with their accents, dropped consonants and drawn out vowels, but my memory is the only place to regularly encounter them. Outside of the pale and pathetic comedians impostering these old linguistics and spinning them into a form of kitsch, you need to hand around with the disappearing generation if you need your yankee-talk fix. I have to say, I love it. It makes me feel like I’m home.

Oddly enough, Short Stack seems to be picking it up here and there, though I don’t know if it has a chance of sticking. Every once in a while, he’ll be telling us something and out will slip my Grandmother, or my friend Jeff or old George, the lobsterman, gone now for over twenty years. Short Stack will be yammering away, as per usual, about the interesting bug he’s spotted or whatever and say something such as, “Well…. That’s rathahh funny, innit?”

There is no way I would ever correct him in this situation.

Someday, the accents will be gone, buried beneath the tidal wave of perfectly quaffed anchor men, gritty action heroes and infomercials, but until then, I’ll try my best to enjoy each one ‘till at last, the bowl is empty.

As we walked home, we spotted a white lilac, decked out in its full springtime glory. My diminutive shoulder monkey pointed to them with enthusiasm and declared that we should get some for Mom. Balancing my son around my neck and snipping off a few branched with my pocketknife, we quickly had our bounty clutched in his happy, little hands as he chirped his monologue the rest of the way home.

Mom was thrilled, naturally, having eked out another half hour of uninterrupted sleep before Lulu Belle decided to start her day. She gratefully received the gift and put them in water as Short Stack pulled out toy trucks, preparing them for a hard day’s workout.

If Grandma were there, she would have told him that the flowers were “wondah-ful.”

All in all, it was an excellent way to spend a morning. In fact, I’d say that it was wicked good, indeed. Finest kind.

Right Grandma?

“Yessah!”

Field Stones

The drive up to my in-laws for Thanksgiving was not too hard. Though the way up was prematurely darkened by changing seasons and daylight savings, it was nice to get out of the house and then farther away from the city where we spend much of our time when out and about. A few years ago, Jack and Ellen decided it was time for them to look for a new place to call home. Back in the Last sixties, they were fleeing New York and Jersey City and landed for many years in a valley of central Vermont. Having raised their children there, they had grown accustomed to country living and even after the kids had all moved away to other New England states, they stayed in their valley for many more years. As grand kids entered the scene, they took to driving long distances to see recitals and ball games, baby sit and gather for holidays. As the years went by, they decided that it was time for a change of geography.

Unlike many their age, they elected to move north, rather than join the conga line to the southern golf courses and bridge tournaments. That’s not their style, at any rate. They’d go crazy in two weeks. With two out of their three children living in Maine, they sold their house of thirty or so years and moved to the Pine Tree State. They live about an hour and a half away and though in a pleasant location, it’s not what I’d call picturesque. It’s farm country, plain and simple. Slowly rolling hills and young tree forests where vast fields used to cover the landscape. The old, colonial style farmhouses still perch on the hillsides, looking down on their slowly shrinking and mostly unused fields.

Even so, there’s still a good deal of farmland being used, mostly for hay and corn. One of these small “gentleman’s” farms sits next door to my wife’s folks. Being outgoing people and good of heart, they immediately became friends with the old bachelor farmer who lives in the old, white farmhouse nestled in a dip on the way up a hill, leading out of town. Short Stack loves visiting there too. There are chickens!

The morning after we arrived, a heavy fog was sitting over the land, giving things a softened quality that one would usually associate with snow. Snow had, in fact, already arrived just a few days before but didn’t have cooperating temperatures to keep its foothold. The five or so inches that had covered everything was gone with the warm front and had found new life as the fog and a heavy rime-ice dew that gave what would otherwise be smooth surfaces, a spiky shell of minute crystal. The grass, though wet looking, would crunch under each footfall. After getting the various children fed, visiting with rarely seen relatives and topping up my internal coffee tank, I decided to take a walk in the foggy fields.

farm-equipmet

One of the things that I love about New England is the stone. More accurately, I should say, the stonewalls. This area of North America was covered in a massive ice sheet over a mile thick during the last ice age. The action of that weight and motion ground down our mountains to their roots and left us with few imposing peaks. Where all that stone till went was directly into the soil. This makes for a difficult soil to plow since it’s full of beautifully smoothed, rounded rocks ranging in size from a small orange to a plush living room chair.

Years ago, I went for a walk with a friend of mine who grew up in Nebraska. As we strolled along path through a deep wood, he stopped at a pile of boulders and exclaimed, “Will you just LOOK at these rocks!” When I replied with something witty like, “Um. Yup. Those sure are… rocks” he set me straight. He explained to me that where he was from, a rock was about the size of an unshelled almond, and that was it. To him, the stones that had vexed New England farmers long enough to turn most of them into Nebraska farmers, we amazing to see littering the ground.

With all these massive balls of granite filling your fields and cows that were none too clear on where they were supposed to graze and where they were not, it was natural that stonewalls would quickly crisscross the landscape, and indeed, they do. If you go out for a walk in any New England wood and head off in just about any direction, I will guarantee that you will eventually find a stonewall. Eighty percent of the state of New Hampshire, to give you an idea, was open farmland just a hundred and fifty years ago. Now it’s eighty percent forest. The trees here grow quickly. When the leaves have fallen but the snow has yet to obscure things, you can fly around in a small plane and get a clear picture of the way things once looked. The arrow-straight walls run off to the horizons, transforming the rolling geography into the ghost of a quilt, long since nibbled away by nature as she reclaims what was always hers.

As I crunched out through the field across the road from the house, I was lamenting the use of a modern electric fence to keep livestock in place, rather then the traditional wall. So many traditional, if labor intensive fixtures of life have disappeared from our culture. The modern solution, though simpler and faster, will simply not stand up to the test of time. That’s for sure.

I walked a bit farther on in the mist and could, in the silence of the countryside, just make out the sound of a brook somewhere. What my eyes I couldn’t see through the fog, I found by ear. As I got closer, the sound was beautiful and entrancing.

Download Running Brook 2.WAV

stones

The farmer had dug a huge drainage ditch to allow a stream to pass through this place with a minimum of flooding come spring. It measured easily ten feet wide and was roughly five feet deep in a smooth half pipe curve. The entire bed of it, he had lined in beautiful round stones, doubtless from his fields. Beneath the layer of rocks came the sound of a hidden run or water, showing its self only briefly here and there before once again vanishing under the bits and pieces of broken and smoothed mountain tops. This, the traditional building material of the northeastern farmer, will endure, and that makes me smile.

Vermonsters

As I drove up the rural onramp to get up on I-91, I knew that something wasn’t right. The notion that car just didn’t seem as peppy as it should be floated through the back of my head but the alarm bells were hardly going off. I was driving an elderly, but good and solid Subaru Legacy up to a cousin’s wedding in the northern reaches of Vermont. The drive was going to be a long one and I had already done a lot of driving the day before. I was okay with that, though. I didn’t mind the drive. Then the power really started to fail. Hmmmm. This was starting to not feel right at all.

“Holy crap!”

My eyes popped as I looked in the rear view mirror and I realized that the giant grey cloud that was rapidly filling the onramp was coming from me. Not good! Alarm bells! Bad! I pulled off the highway having not quite made it out of the merge lane and shut the car off. Three things were in my favor here. One was the fact that I was following my parent’s car and they had noticed the smoke screen that I was laying down behind me. My father, ever an astute individual, figured that I was not trying to screen the fleet from marauding u-boats and that perhaps, I might need a lift. The remaining two aces in the hole that I had were my a cell phone and a AAA card.

As soon as we had made the call, we transferred my stuff to their car and then waited on the side of the highway for the tow truck. Moment’s like that are always interesting to me. I didn’t expect to have a lot of time to chat with my parents that morning and especially not sitting on the scrubby grass next to cars whipping by at eighty mils per hour. As we cleaned out the Subaru, we talked about how different this sort of thing used to be and what it meant.

Not so very long ago, a break down like this would have meant a lot of different leg work. If I was alone, I would now be walking down the road to the village about six or eight miles back. I would be looking for a pay phone and then trying to explain where the driver could find both me and my car. Having gone through this in cell-free, years gone by, it made this situation look like cake. Not fun, to be sure, but hardly high drama either. The tow guy came around twenty minutes later but had sadly, left his personality in his other coveralls. An older man, round and mustachioed in a striped cap, it looked for all the world like having your car moved my a grumpy Mario. I wondered if Luigi was back at the shop working on Princess Peach’s Fiat. A few grunts from our Nintendo-esque tow truck driver and we were on our way again, packed in tight for a two and a half hour drive.

Vermont is a beautiful place. Action Girl hails from there and I have both spent a lot of time driving through it and briefly living there my self. It’s those amazing mountains. The Green Mountains are not like mountains you find in other places. They aren’t even like the mountains of New Hampshire, where I grew up. They are their own thing. If bare of vegetation, they would stick up like the teeth of an enormous granite, saw blade. Any one looking at them would immediately forgo any notion of hiking over the long ridges and precipitous cliffs. That’s how they would appear. In actuality, they are green. They are in fact, very, very green. Not only do the forests of Vermont seem to go forever, but it’s the fact that they are mostly hardwood forests that makes the autumns here so spectacular. The soil, though poor for large scale farming, is perfect for maple and oak trees. Pines, though abundant as well, are relegated to the edges of rock formations too ambitious for their slow growing, leafy brethren. Together, they turn the landscape into a softened spectacle, reminiscent of rumpled sheets on a bed freshly mugged.

As we climbed through the state along its highway spine, I waited with anticipation for views that I knew were en route. Deep river valleys speckled with towns opened up beside us. A cluster of old homes crowded close to the high white steeple of the village church marked the place where farmers had settled and toiled for hundreds of years. It made me want to move back, nestle into the soil and never leave again.

Eventually, we got off the highway and took the smaller roads that by necessity, wound deep into the dark valleys, following closely the path of the rivers and streams. In much of the state, a five mile trip “as the crow flies” means a fifteen mile trip, winding along the bits of the landscape that are actually passible to anything terrestrial. It’s a beautiful way to travel, but slow. You’ve got to be patient.

The wedding went off with out any undue drama. The bride was beautiful, my cousin looked calm and the backdrop for the out door event was a lush mountain range and a mirror smooth mill pond. You could literally not have painted a prettier picture. I mean that. As the party moved inside and we met folks from far away, we got to answer some questions about New England.

“Was it so green because of excessive rain?”, asked a couple from California. “No.” We replied. “It’s supposed to be like that.”
“How bad are the winters?”, asked another woman from Maryland. “Oh, it can get pretty spectacular. Especially in the valleys where the snow can really pile up and is shaded from the sun. It’ll be several feet deep come spring.”

It’s with a real sense of pride that I call my self a New Englander. Living here is not an easy thing a lot of the time, but to my mind, it can’t be beat either. Years ago, when describing the oppressively humid summers and the bone chilling winters to a young man in Germany, his immediate reaction and next question was, “Why do you live there?” To be honest, I don’t have a good answer to that. The extremes of the seasons are breathtaking and require a lot of work, but I do love it here, Mario look alike tow truck drivers and all.

The next morning as I took my hangover out for a walk, I just kept looking up at the Green Mountains. In the distance, I could listen to birds in the trees, watch the wind move along the hills and over the next ridge, just make out the report of someone sighting in a rifle, possibly getting ready for deer season. On the way back to my folks house and my car problem du jour, we stopped at a little diner called the Wayside, where I had enjoyed many a greasy breakfast when I called this place home. It was just as I remembered it and the pancakes came with real maple syrup, naturally. It was fantastic.

I really do love Vermont and New Hampshire and I miss them terribly sometimes. I’ve lived on the coast of Maine for over a decade now and I honestly don’t see us leaving. Where we are fits up mighty well, though mountains do call to me still. I know they do for Action Girl as well and some day, I think we’ll have to get a little cabin up there. It would be nice to have a place to call our own. We could go there in the summer and swat mosquitos and black fly, chop wood until our the sweat gets in our eyes and come winter, try to shovel out and not freeze to death.

I know part of my heart is still up there in those high valleys, because all that actually sounds like a good time to me. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that we ever left. I’ll have to go back soon anyway. I’ve got to see what Luigi’s done with my car’s head gasket and if they accept payment in 1up’s or or floating gold coins.

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