finding old logging camps: simard, 1924-1925

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It’s early May, and I still had snow slipping into my rubber boots as I hiked up a small unnamed creek leading in to an old logging camp. The camp, designated on one of my old work maps as ‘Simard’ (a common surname in the region), was likely small and only in existence for one winter, 1924-1925. Had it existed longer, it probably would have made it on to other maps with more information, such as date of occupancy.

I love how quickly traces of humanity can disappear up here. I think about it sometimes, and wonder in 90 years how much of the present will have vanished. In some ways, it could be even greater than the past 90 years have been, given that most of our trash is now trucked off-site, and any abandoned buildings are buried, rather than burned or left to rot.

Something about these old camps calls to me. Using a generalized dot or hand-drawn smudge on a map, and topo features such as streams and lakes, I challenge myself to locate these old camps as precisely as I can, without having to trudge around for an hour or two before I find something. All the old camps were located along streams for easy water access, though given that the operations only took place in winter, I’ve found some of the streams to be surprisingly undersized. In-woods engineering in the days of yore was impressive.

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Unexpectedly small.

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There wasn’t much to find at this camp. There was an old moose antler, chewed to shit and looking like it was giving me the finger. And there was an unidentifiable bone from an unknown animal. There were a few old metal tubs, a bunch of disintegrating aluminum cans, a small amount of scrap metal. No glass bottles to be found here.

One of my favorite things to see at these camps are the decadent old spruce trees that grew up adjacent to any clearings. Lateral branches remain from whichever side of the tree was exposed to the extra sunlight of the clearing. This makes it relatively easy to see where buildings and roads were located way back when. It’s not a glass bottle, but it’s still pretty neat. I’ll take it.

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Old lamps are a staple of these camps. If the camp was large, the discard pile of lamps would be in a separate location from other refuse. The bigger the camp, the more outbuildings. This camp had no sign of a blacksmith, for example, and there was only one small trash midden.

In an interesting twist, some harvesting equipment was sent into this area two years ago, so the majority of trees that had grown up in the clearing were recently cut. The trails that the machine traveled on are filled with his brush. So it’s difficult to tell if any more old shit was hidden underneath his tracks or not.

Not much to find here, but it was rewarding nonetheless. Digging up history that very few people will ever see, especially considering that it will continue to decay, is a unique experience.

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wild leek pancakes

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This past weekend took us to Vermont. We joined friends of mine from grad school to ride the Muddy Onion Spring Classic around Montpelier – 35 miles of gravel roads, scenic Vermont vistas, and a halfway fuel stop stocked with a cooler of PBR, chocolate covered bacon, and maple syrup shots. It was my second bike ride of the season, as things have only recently been thawing out and drying up where we live. I couldn’t stop proclaiming afterward that it was the most fun ride I’ve ever done, which is saying quite a lot given that I’m normally averse to hill climbing.

But it was just so beautiful out. The weather was perfect; it started off cool, but clouds gave way to sun partway through the day. I got to try out my bike with its new triple crankset setup, which likely explains why I enjoyed the climbs so much. Hill climbs are so much easier when you can stay seated, without effort, on even the steepest pitches. The early spring made for dry roads, which was a plus. 35 miles of sloggy muddy roads would have definitely been too much for me so early in the season, so I appreciated that. All in all, another ace weekend in Vermont.

Along the ride, I kept noticing wild leeks, or ramps, all over the place. In riparian zones near streams. In a bowl-shaped valley sheltered from prevailing winds. Underneath a maze of tap lines in a maple syrup sugarbush. And everywhere I looked, there were No Trespassing signs posted, until I finally found a small pocket growing within the right-of-way of the road. I snagged one and made quick work of it.

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It’s been something like seven years since I last picked ramps. They don’t grow up where I live in Maine, and I don’t think they’ve had them at my grocery store during that time either.

But if you know me, you know that I love free food. Free food sitting in the woods, waiting to be happened upon by me, my grubby hands, and a plastic bag. It’s a siren song I can’t resist. And resistance is futile when your friends know of a place just up the road from their home that has all the ramps you can dream of.

Since it’s still early in the season, the bulbs haven’t yet developed fully, but that’s no reason not to do a little foraging. After all, it’s been seven years since my last opportunity. So we did a little pickin’ and grinnin’.IMG_6183
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Joe and Jane kept a handful of our bounty, but graciously allowed us to bring the rest home. They can go back for more whenever they wish. A handful goes a long way with these little Alliums, they are awfully garlicky and oniony, and I love them. I cooked with ramps last night, and I can still smell them on my hands today.

And now that I think of it, I kind of prefer ramps in this early phase before they develop fully, because they’re a bit more mild. I remember popping a few late season some years back, and getting heartburn on the spot because they were so strong.

I chose to make Wild Leek Pancakes with mine, in homage to the scallion pancakes that we find on occasional dim sum menus, and can’t get enough of. This homemade version isn’t quite the restaurant quality I remember, but it was just as delicious, and just a little bit different. Perhaps if I had chopped the ramps finer, I could have rolled the pancakes out thinner, and achieved the ultra thin pancake I was aiming for. Oh well, laziness always wins.DSC06608DSC06615DSC06625

Wild Leek Pancakes (because Ramps Cakes sounds weird)
Recipe for Scallion Pancakes from J. Kenji López-Alt, with ramps used in place of scallions

Pancake Ingredients:
2 c. all purpose flour, plus more for kneading and dusting
1 c. boiling water
1/4 c. toasted sesame seed oil
2 c. wild leeks/ramps, sliced thin (I used the white parts, and an inch or so of the greens)

1/4 c. or more vegetable oil
Kosher salt

Dipping Sauce Ingredients:
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp wild leeks/ramps, sliced thin
1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger (or even a little more)
2 tsp sugar

Directions:

Combine all sauce ingredients and set aside at room temp.

Put flour in the bowl of a food processor. With processor turned on, use feed tube to drizzle in 3/4 of the cup of boiling water. Process 15 seconds. If dough has not come together, drizzle additional water in, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough has just come together.

Transfer dough to floured countertop, and knead for 1-2 minutes until dough turns smooth. Transfer to a bowl, and cover with a damp towel. Set aside to rest for 30 minutes at room temp, or overnight in the fridge.

Divide dough into four equal pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll the first ball of dough out into an 8″ round. Brush a thin layer of sesame oil over the top of the disk with a pastry brush. Roll disk up jelly roll style, then “twist roll into a tight spiral, tucking the end underneath.” This is a bit difficult to do, but do what you can to tuck the ends in and bring the dough back to a round shape, and then press dough down to keep the ends from separating. Flatten dough by hand, then re-roll to an 8″ round. Brush a second layer of sesame oil onto the rolled out dough, then sprinkle with 1/2 cup of ramps. Press ramps lightly into the dough. Again roll disk up like a jelly roll, twisting and flattening gently. Being careful to avoid ramp rupture, re-re-roll dough into a 7″ round.

Set prepared pancake aside on a lightly floured surface. Repeat prep steps with remaining three balls of dough.

Heat oil in a small nonstick or cast iron pan over medium high heat. Kenji recommends an 8″ pan; I don’t have one that small, so I added extra oil to my pan. When oil is shimmering, slide one pancake into the pan. Cook until underside is an even golden brown, 2 minutes or so. Flip pancake, and continue cooking until second side is also an even golden brown, 2 minutes longer. Remove pancake from pan and place on paper towel-lined plate. Season with salt. Repeat with remaining pancakes.

Serve warm with dipping sauce.

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Happy as a ramp in a quality northern hardwoods forest

one day in the woods: late april

April 29th  ||  Clayton Lake, Maine

old mapmapping
7:46am. I’ve been spending the better part of my days of late looking at old maps, new aerial imagery, and subsequently putting together harvest plans for the next few years. I feel like I’m playing God, holding the fate of so many acres of forestland in my hands. It’s a weird feeling really, and tough to contemplate. I calm my thoughts by choosing appealing colors for my harvest blocks.

clayton lake
10:41am. The ice started to move off Clayton Lake yesterday, and I’ve been keeping an eye on it ever since.

yard
10:42am. A solitary day at Clayton Lake. The loggers are home for mud season, and given the snow pack still on the landscape, there isn’t much to do in the woods right now, because getting around is tough. We’re all waiting for spring – – but by the time it arrives, it may well be summer.

fridges
10:44am. A seemingly abandoned row of fridges, used by the loggers when they stay out here in the woods.

coltsfoot
11:37am. Coltsfoot flowers, the first to bloom. They come as a surprise, especially when there is still so much snow about. Local lore has it that when these flowers appear, you can expect bears to emerge from hibernation. Makes sense.

culvert
11:47 am. In the spring time, culverts are trouble. The road surface above many culverts sinks (especially when they weren’t installed deep enough), and this makes travel slow and occasionally dangerous. It’s good to keep tabs on where the especially problem culverts are, such as this one, so that they can be the first issue addressed when the logging contractor shows up in a few weeks.

stream
12:09pm. I was all excited to take a picture of my gorgeous salad accentuated by this ravenous stream, but then….

sad salad
11:57am. A sunken culvert snuck up on me, and braking quickly to avoid decimating my suspension, my lunch skidded off the passenger seat and onto the dirty floor. I put out a hand to stop it, but it had already been stopped by something else. The dirtiest snippets were thrown out, but I put the majority back in the bowl. I found myself wondering what was pepper and what was dirty floor pebbles, until it crossed my mind that the pepper was only on the top-most leaves, and those were the leaves I had thrown out.

I ate it anyway. If you eat rocks slowly, they may not hurt you. I remembered later all the times my cat has thrown up on that floor, and, uh, I should really stop incriminating myself now.

snow
12:15pm. There is still enough snow in spots to flood my boots. And this is in the open, on a lonely road. I walked this road looking for antlers, I mean to check on the condition of the road from my harvest last fall, since I’ll be using it again later this year.

ugly pine
12:51pm. This white pine was rubbed by an itchy moose, who scratched it in an attempt to shed his antlers. Pretty sad looking tree. It wasn’t taller than 12 feet, but it already had one cone on it. Stress city.

elderberry leafing out
1:00pm. Noticed that the elderberry started leafing out today! It’s all uphill from here – until the black flies come out.

mud
1:17pm. Sometimes muddy water looks tasty, kind of like incorporating taffy? It’s easy to spend an hour or two opening up puddles with my foot or a stick, to help them drain more quickly, and thus dry out the road surface sooner.

clearcut
1:55pm. A clearcut my co-worker oversaw this winter. The understory had been regenerating sparsely and poorly, and the remaining overstory was falling down left and right. This area is within a parcel managed for deer, so the treatment applied this year will hopefully in time bring good and plentiful regeneration to satisfy both the foresters and the wildlife biologists.

directions
2:11pm. The extent of navigational assistance out here in the woods. If you’re headed for Churchill Lake, you’re out of luck bud.

seedlings in the sun
2:37pm. Brought the sad sack seedlings out to celebrate their first day of sun in at least a week. This is their first day out of doors, though they’ll be brought back in at night. It hasn’t reached 60 degrees here yet (wut wut), but I celebrated today’s 52F by running down the aforementioned lonely snowy road without my coat and hat, then without my sweater, then briefly without my shirt, in the hopes that I could soak up a tan in a minute’s time. Didn’t last long, guys.

ugh
2:45pm. Pretty tough to resist a shelf full of Snyder’s of Hanover Hot Buffalo Wing Pretzel Pieces, especially when there is an open bag – and no one around to stop me or roll their eyes at me. I complemented this salty treat with a pack of Swiss rolls, because I have zero self-control mid-afternoon.

clayton lake again
2:48pm. Better check the lake again. Looks like a bit more ice has receded.

romance novel
5:39pm.  Closing time is a bit earlier lately, as I just can’t stare at the computer screen for twelve hours every day. I’m pumped to be able to get back into the woods soon. Meanwhile, new day, new romance novel. And this one features a female State Forest Ranger! So nearly applicable.