Ossipee Mountain Vortex: a ghost story part 2

This is the second installment in my 3/4th true ghost story about my week in a New Hampshire cabin. To be clear, the scary stuff mostly didn’t happen, except in my febrile imagination. You can read the first part here, but I recommend instead you read it in this Google doc where I’ve also embedded pictures from the “real life” portion of my journey. I’m a day behind, so perhaps I’ll get the third installment tonight. It’s just a hunch, but I think things are about to get much worse (and therefore fictional) for our protagonist.

What I had wanted for my sabbatical was to hike, write and read, in that order. Although between the two of us, I wasn’t ruling out video games either. Hiking got first billing because reading and writing can be done in winter, in less scenic locations. But hiking was best done here at the height of blueberry season, in the gentle warmth of mountain summer.

Having signally failed to find the Ossipee mountain trails I intended from the back of the circle, I decided instead to take the well-marked routes from the Lake Winnepesaukee side. They all originated from the Castle in the Clouds parking lot. As I pulled in, under the shade of an old oak tree, I contemplated the different New Hampshires on offer. Yesterday had been the rural, poverty-touched, “Live free or die” New Hampshire woods. Today was the bucolic, orderly, historic “Currier and Ives” version of New Hampshire. The green fields were separated on the horizon by white picket fences before turning into the summer-dark green of the trees. Sparkling blue ponds (manmade) held clean gray boulders and were alive with fish and ducks. There was a stables nearby, as well as the eponymous castle a bit further up the roads. I frankly wasn’t sure which New Hampshire I preferred. Yesterday’s had felt rather more authentic.

My planned route this time was on the shorter side, the longer trails having been marked as strenuous. The first hour was marked by frequent dog-walkers, with joyful off-leash beasts who to a hound “just want to lick you”. The last of my encounters was with a woman who kept her hound in close reach on a leash, and she looked spooked. I called a cheery greeting, and she replied with a warning. “I have never seen that before!” she declared. “There was a porcupine that almost got Lucy here! She was off leash and ahead of me, and I didn’t even see the porcupine until she nearly had him! Good thing Lucy is good at stopping when I call her!” The protective cling of the leash was well-explained, then. I’ve heard that porcupines smell like delicious dinner, only to be the snack of great pain. I was relieved to see an unpunctured muzzle on Lucy – she was very lucky she was well trained. “Thanks for the warning!” I called back. “I’m glad you’re not headed to the vet right now!” “Me too!” her voice faded as she disappeared down the path. I was momentarily sad that I was not taking that trail. I’ve never seen a porcupine in the wild before. But it had probably also been rattled by its encounter, and had scurried to the undergrowth.

But a few miles up a broad, even, gently sloping carriage trail (according to the interpretive signs) led me to suspect that my path was only strenuous for a lady in a bustle with a parasol and shoes designed to show her ankles to advantage. It was as boring as it was easy – mile after mile of deep forest gentle slope, with no viewpoints in the homogeneous and well-mannered forest. By the time I hit my first peak, which finally had views, I was impatient with the placidness of the place. I resolved to switch my itinerary to a longer, theoretically harder one to stretch my legs a little more.

I regretted my decision to prioritize length over peaks by the time the sun was on the other side of the mountains. All I’d bought myself was a longer stretch of boring. Worse, instead of being a full-shade trail, there were now few enough hiking boots and plenty enough light that I often found myself hiking through high grasses – the favorite home of my least favorite creature: the tick. I consoled myself with the liberal dousing of bug spray that had started my day, but itched to get out of these broads and up to peaks.

Glancing down what seemed like aeons later, I saw my light gray pants legs were liberally coated with black dots. Moving black dots. Sticky moving black dots. There were maybe twenty ticks coating my lower body. I looked ahead and saw a shady, clear patch and sprinted, boots and all, to the welcome loam under a pine tree. I brushed off the ticks from my legs, pulled up the stretchy material as far as it would go and evicted a few more. I carefully checked my socks. Finally – I hadn’t seen another person in three hours – I took off my pants entirely right there on the trail and meticulously inspected both myself and them (removing a few more unwanted guests) before putting them back on. That there showed me beyond a doubt that I was really alone up here. Nothing summons other hikers like stepping off the path to rebalance your water ratio.

My knees, and the rest of me, were still a bit shaky. I’m not generally a scared person. But I have a *thing* about ticks. I want my bloodsucking attacks to be ones that I notice, not stealthy, horribly embedded ones that pay me for my blood by spilling poison back into my system, THANKYOUVERYMUCH. I was actually proud of my cool, collectedness and rational response to these ticks (as I drained a bottle of picaridin over myself). But I was still having a bit of a shock reaction to encountering my fears in such abundance.

So it took me a moment to pay attention to the circumstances in which I found myself. I was standing on the soft loam of under-a-pine-tree, but the tree itself let through the sky past skeletal branches, cold white against the blue of the sky. It wasn’t the only one – there was a big patch where the boring green I’d been lamenting had been turned to the white of bark-bare limbs and virulent green of pond slime. The air was still in this depression. A high-flying cloud in a mostly blue sky chose that moment to fly over, casting the mire and me both in shadow. From the unseen depths of the marsh came a strange sound, like the twanging of a huge rubber band. I stood, unsettled and transfixed by it, immune from mosquitos temporarily due to the fog of bugspray that still hovered around me. I noticed a great, old tree nearly divided in two and leaning towards the water. Like old man Willow from the Old Forest in The Lord of the Rings.

Yesterday my thumbs pricked. But today I couldn’t help remember a phrase I’d read in that crazypants vortex print-out: “Twisted trees, time/ space anomalies, bodily responses are markers of a vortex.” This was definitely a twisted-feeling space. I reassured myself what it REALLY was is a beaver pond and a sign of a healthy and evolving ecosystem, which would cycle through swamp to pond to meadow before returning to forest. But it FELT like a twisted place. I checked my watch to make sure I hadn’t experienced any temporal anomalies, and was informed that it was probably past time to get myself down off this mountain and get some dinner. And maybe boil all my clothes.

I picked up my pace and the fastest way down (that didn’t include going back through tick-glen) and such was my focus that when I started the pheasants, I almost leaped backwards. I was trotting through a section with heavy brush on the sides when those sides exploded into action and feather and flight, and three birds launched skywards with velocity. But one beat against the brushes as if caught, moaned piteously and then crawled away, crying in fear and pain just out of reach.

This might have been of concern if I wasn’t on to the bird’s tricks. I’d never flushed pheasants before (how bucolic!) but I knew that this was a favorite mommy-bird trick. She had a nest near where I was standing. But she was inviting me to come eat very visible, audible, clearly injured her instead of her chicks. She’d keep flopping *juuuuuust* out of reach until I was far enough from the nest, and then fly away completely uninjured, having bamboozled me and saved her chicks. I grinned at her excellent acting, but my feet kept to the trail and I let her save her little ones the easy way.

That was not the only animal sighting on my way down. I encountered gigantic hoof prints in soft mud that must be the elusive moose. There were a few times I could hear brush-scrapes or the sounds of large, moving things headed down the mountain. I was happy to find my car and the relentlessly scenic meadows.

As I pulled out the gracefully-designed road, I had to stop as three deer bounded in front of me, headed down off the mountain towards the lake. I wished them well in avoiding all other cars on their journey, and drove with eyes peeled for the remainder of my way circumnavigating the Ring Dike on Rt. 25. It was good I did, since I encountered a crazy number of other animals crossing the road all (I noted uneasily) heading AWAY from the Ossipee range. I swear I even saw a bear in a flash through my rear view mirror just before taking a curve.

Nightmares were probably inevitable after the day I’d just had. I tucked myself in, having scoured every inch of my body and tightly bagged my clothes, prepared for the tick nightmares. But while I’m sure there were some creepy-crawly dreams, I thrashed all night with dreams of running away, of fleeing, of looking back over my shoulders and seeing something horrible gaining on me, and needing to run faster. My dream-self was flooded with adrenalin and the need for greater speed, and my waking self sat bolt upright in bed, gasping, heart racing – filled with fear and dread and the desire to flee.

The fine line between caring and obsession

My plum tree has been on my mind a lot lately – as I wrote about last week. The kills of the last two winters have made my hypersensitive to this time of year. It’s a time of great hope and anticipation, and great fear. Will one of the first heralds of the spring be a white-decked lady, a debutante of the back yard effulgent in lacy buds? Or will the last jealous grasps of winter shear off her bloom yet again, like some jealous Disney villain? And just how cold does March need to be to kill summer’s hope?

A text I sent to my husband

I thought we might have escaped this year, but then the overnight forecast showed itself unkindly. I fretted in the days leading up to this weekend, wondering if my tree would make it. I found this very useful chart, upon which I anchored my fears. The temps were supposed to get down to 10 degrees. I have no idea what my backyard microclimate is. I’m not really sure what the budding stages are, but I am decided that bud swell seemed like the closest option. Even so, that looked to me like a significant killing frost – taking out maybe 50% of my buds? If only I could get the temps up for a little bit?

If that’s a “tight cluster” instead of a “bud swell” we can just write this year’s harvest off.

Adam and I swapped links on smudge pots and fans. I definitively ruled out renting a helicopter as a solution. (That’s actually a thing.) I am still not super sure I understand how fans raise temperatures, even though I read several articles on it. It also wasn’t clear to me how many degrees swing you could get using some of these techniques – and I needed quite a few degrees. But I couldn’t just sit back and do nothing and watch my plums die AGAIN! They deserve a chance!

My husband loves me dearly. He’s so patient with my insanity. After careful thinking, I decided our propane heater was too dangerous to leave running unattended – even out in the backyard in the snow. But we have this electric oil-filled space heater, see. It’s gentle heat – so no chance of fire. I’m not sure if it was enough heat, or if it could possibly make a difference. Still, under the waning light, we set up the space heater under the tree, hoping the cement wall would reflect the heat and help it stay warm.

True love in action

Adam cooked up the idea to use insulation on the other side of the heater to further guide the warmth tree-ward. So he chopped up some staves, staple-gunned them to the insulation, and pounded them into the frozen soil. All without wearing a sweater, of course. We New Englanders basically give up on winter garments as a regular thing about this time of year, due to being sick of wearing them.

Chop chop!

I have no idea if it worked. The buds all look the same, of course. The forecast shows the end of the killing frost (or at least it’s five degrees warmer tonight). The forecast looks quite chilly. The highs don’t break out of the 40s for the rest of the month. (By comparison, it got up to 70 in February.) But if April comes and goes and the green leaves break out and there were no blossoms – we’ll know that winter won despite our best efforts.

Here’s hoping to see white instead!

Yankee ingenuity – or possibly insanity

March Snow

If there is anything a New Englander can learn about March, it is that suffering is finite. Here we are, in the middle of Lent, and the skies opened and dropped 16 inches on us Friday – a far cry from the predicted tally. It was a stark contrast to the “Shut everything down a day in advance” that we experienced with Nemo, though. My son’s school was closed. But Boston schools carried on. We all shrugged and went to work and pulled out our well worn shovels and started shoveling. But not the frantic, precise shoveling of January, where every snowflake promised a near-permanent constraint of movement for the remainder of winter. But a lackadaisical, good-enough attitude far from the typical dour perfectionism of New England.

Not long after the last flake fell, the melt began. No matter how well or poorly you shoveled, the heat of the nearer sun wipes away the sin of a bad job like grace at Easter. The shlump of heavy snow falling persists. My sons wander around in shorts and tshirts to our various engagements, and I let them because it’s downright warm! Like 45 degrees! No matter the high drifts to left and right.

Death, thou shalt die. And snow, thou shalt melt.


In less existential news, I have been following the Four Hour Body diet with near-religious adherence for four and a half weeks. Many days, not so much as a stick of artificially flavored gum has passed my lips. I have waved away carbs and fruit. I got a gym membership, and have worked out with unusual consistency for me. I have eaten eggs and beans for breakfast. And lunch. And dinner.

For my pains, I have… not lost any weight. It’s hard to tell, of course. There’s so much signal and noise with weight. Drink a huge glass of water, and you gain almost a pound. Weigh yourself in the morning and you’re down two pounds. But on my “cheat day” I weighed myself and my weight was back where it was when I started. After a full month, I consider this a sign that this diet does not work for me. Any of the modifications to the diet that I might try come back to calorie restriction PLUS food type restriction. In studies, 10+% of compliant participants fail to lose any weight. I suppose I simply have to acknowledge that I am in this minority and change methodologies.

So I have to decide whether I really want to lose weight, and if so what different methodology I should use. I’m thinking pure and simple calorie restriction is probably the best choice.


I’ve been travelling what feels like a lot for work lately. I was in Minnesota for two days last week. I found it particularly moving to watch the snow fall from a 20th story corner room. The city appeared and disappeared as the snow picked up, and the winds moved white drifts between the buildings. I found it hard to turn off the lights, remove my ability to see (contacts) and shut my eyes. It was fun to see the same storm twice.

I’m headed out again for almost three days in another week. I’m hoping that’s it for a while! At least the next trip is training, and in Tampa.


In other news, one son is reading. One son is building beautiful things with magnetic shapes. We have rejiggered our dining room to look like we live here and are not squatting in someone else’s house.

And it is March. Both Easter and Spring will come soon, and wipe the snow and cold away. And we will walk with bright hearts under a hot sun again.

What a wondrous time is spring

I have spent the better part of 12 years being confused about Spring. I think there must be one year in your childhood — I’d have to pick the year I was 9 if I had to guess — where you solidify your view about how certain aspects of the world ARE.

Sweet and sour anything is yucky. I like hiking. Spring starts in March.

Some of these ideas are more easily modified than others. I have yet to get over the “Spring Starts in March” issue.

In Washington State, it does. The crocuses are probably starting out, even in my mountain home. The days are getting lighter. The last snow has probably fallen for the year. By the end of the month, there will be daffodils and you will be able to smell things outside again (for good or for ill). But I live in New England. Not even Southern New England. No. Middle New England.

It was 12 degrees when I woke up this morning. There is a foot of fresh snow on the ground, and more in the forecast. It is, by no means, the beginning of spring. By the end of the month, there will be 6 inches of dirty snow left on the ground and we will have at least one surprise snow storm in front of us. Possibly in June.

But somehow I can never quash that inner child who believes Spring is coming. My husband laughs at me because I always pointed out the red buds at the tips of the trees as a sign of the imminence of Spring. I had lived here maybe 8 years before I figured out that the red buds appear at the END of FALL. But still. I can’t help myself.

My youngest, my baby, has never in his entire life known a warm, welcoming world. His toes are rare and unusual visitors to his curious hands. It snowed the night he was born – an unseemly early snow in the Berkshires I barely processed in my post-partum fog.

But.

There are tiny little daffodil spikes under the snow, in front of our basement window fan (where it is much warmer). I saw the beginnings of snowdrops during a recent melt. I showed my son.

I heard birds singing this morning.

The days are longer.

And look! There are totally red buds on the tips of those trees!