Monthly Archives: March 2016

Woodland Secrets in the Snow Prints

When the woods are bare, there’s little to be seen by an untrained eye like mine. But after a fresh snowfall, the forest really comes alive. All of its activity is etched into the fresh powder, like the words printed on the page of a novel. When I realized that there was way more going on in the woods than I ever anticipated, I started snapping photos of the prints so I could try to identify the animals that made them and learn more about what was going on.

wild turkey snow print trackSome of them are fairly easy, like wild turkey tracks. There’s a flock of about 10-15 hens that roams the area, and just the other day they were in our apple orchard scavenging. They’ve had a good winter because we did not get a lot of deep snow cover, and they’re social, so you’ll usually find multiple sets of tracks.  I love coming across their prints because it feels like I’m tracking a dinosaur and, in a way, I am. Did you know turkeys can hit a top speed of 25 mph on foot? Not too shabby for such an awkward looking creature, if you ask me. 

Tmouse snow tracks printshen there’s the little guys like mice and voles. You can quickly identify their tracks because of the teeny-tiny foot steps and the line that goes down the middle that’s left by their tail. A lot of times these little prints will come up from nowhere around the base of one tree, scurry scurry across the snow, and then disappear down another hole at the base of another tree (or under a log).

IMG_1369At first I thought the squirrel tracks were raccoon tracks because they have little claw-like fingers and the prints were spaced so far apart. But it turns out that squirrels use a dual-propeller action to leap along, so you’ll always have two tiny tracks close together (the front feet) closely followed by the larger tracks (the back feet) with spacings up to three feet apart if the little one is really cruising. I think chipmunks do the same. We have both in our woods, and they love to torment the dog.

Fox tracks are neat because they alternate steps, with the back paw going into the same print as the opposing front paw, so the result is almost a straight line. I read somewhere that this type of gait helps conserve energy in the winter because they’re using the same print twice instead of making a new one. fox prints tracks snow

And then the most interesting find of all was the five-toed foot prints that we came across one morning. I didn’t measure them, but they were fairly big, almost the size of my dog’s foot prints. My theory is that these are from a fisher cat, which is a member of the weasel family, but I’m not 100% sure. It could be also be a skunk. We’ve got both roaming the woods, to my knowledge. FotorCreated

All in all, it’s been quite an adventure learning about the snow tracks that the critters leave behind. If not for the snow, I’d have no clue how busy it was!

Of Corned Beef and Cabbage

I was tipped off on the pendency of St. Patrick’s day when I noticed in our weekly circular that corned beef was on sale. Though my days of Guinness-inspired revelry are well behind me, there is nothing like sitting down to a plate piled high with cabbage, carrots, and corned beef that’s been slowly simmering on the stovetop all afternoon. It’s always been a favorite of mine.

When I was looking through the ad I noticed there were two options for corned beef: flat cut and point cut. Other than the fact that the point cut was almost $2.00 less per pound than the flat cut, I had no idea what the difference was between the two. So I googled it. And I found this fabulous explanation:

What does this translate to in terms of dinner? Well, first of all, brisket comes from the lower chest of the cow and the meat can be pretty tough. As the photo shows, the point cut has a huge ribbon of fat that runs through it, which makes for fantastic pulled or shredded beef but not-so-good for slicing. It’s also pretty unappealing unless you just love chewing through large chunks of fat in the pursuit of corned beef bits.

The flat cut, on the other hand, is much leaner with fat that’s more evenly distributed throughout the muscle and thus better for slicing. Since I’ve always had my corned beef sliced, and we’re more inclined to dine on a leaner cut than a fattier one, we got the closest thing to a flat cut that we could find at the store.

Learning about the cuts of corned beef piqued my interest, and a little more poking around on its history revealed that corned beef and cabbage is not an Irish dish at all, but a distinctly American dish that was adopted by Irish immigrants who were looking for a substitute for their beloved bacon joints.  Mind you, they weren’t talking about bacon as we know it today, but were in pursuit of a brined and hefty cut of meat, like Boston butt or pork shoulder. Evidently, corned beef from the Kosher butcher fit the bill and the rest is history.

So, there you have it! Our beloved St. Patty’s day dinner is actually an Irish-American adaptation of a Kosher cut of beef. And it never caught on in Ireland, either. It’s very much an American thing, and that’s just fine by me.

Sláinte!

My First Town Meetin’

This week I went to my very first town meeting. It might not sound like much, but it turns out that town meetings play a very important role in Vermont, and it has been that way for more than 200 years.

The town of Orange has about 950-ish residents, and I believe somewhere between 75-100 showed up for the meeting. Just like a scene out of a movie, the town hall swelled with the laughter and voices of people exchanging hellos and catching up with each other. I’m sure I stood out a little bit, not knowing anyone, but I was happy to grab a seat and take it all in. The meeting started with the crack of a gavel, and the town-appointed moderator called everyone to order.

Unlike in Maryland, where the schools and the operating budget are maintained on a countywide level with relatively little democratic involvement by the community, in Vermont these matters remain within the firm grasp of each township.

In our case, the county we live in currently has a budget of about $830,000 dollars, most of which goes towards the Sheriff’s department and maintaining the courthouses. The town of Orange, on the other hand, approved a $2.8 million dollar school budget, and another $800,000 or so for town operations. And that’s just for a wee town of 950-something people!

There are different styles for Vermont town meetings, too. Some use traditional floor voting with the crowd voicing ayes or nays to each issue. Others use what’s known as an “Australian Ballot” which is where the voting is done through polls and you can either vote for or against an issue, but unlike the traditional voting, there’s no wiggle room for amending or changing the proposal you’re voting on. Some towns blend both voting systems. Except Brattleboro, which is the only town in Vermont that uses a representative system where only elected representatives (known as “Town Meeting Members” ) are allowed to vote at the town meeting.

At our meeting, every issue raised is subject to approval by the body attending (us) and also subject to amendment and extensive debate. I quickly learned who were my most outspoken and opinionated neighbors! If the ayes and nays were “too close” a paper ballot was called and the group would submit their vote on a little piece of paper that was collected and counted by the Town Clerk.

The meeting started around 6:30 pm and ended at 9:00 pm on the dot. A success, you could say, considering that in years past the contentious discussion on the school budget has pushed the meeting as late as midnight. And while some moments were tense, the meeting was largely productive and civil; a true testament to the democratic process.