Cooks of the North (A True Story of Survival)

If you’re traveling in the north country fair

where the winds hit heavy on the borderline…

–Bob Dylan “Girl From The North Country”


We who chose to live here in the North Country are a hardy breed.  You can see signs of this all around you.  The cows have thicker hides, the trees have thicker bark and the lakes sometimes gets real hard…hard enough to walk on.  Some extra hardy types actually put little wooden huts or tents on the lakes and fish through the two-foot layer of ice.  And, they do this starting in late September.  I have seen, with my own eyes, odd vehicles that don’t have wheels to move through the snow.  They have treads of some kind and the engines make a whistling noise and the air turns blue.  The people who ride around in them wear lots of clothes and all those layers are covered with a heavy one-piece suit.  They even have helmets.  It looks like a sub-Arctic Area 51.

They claim its fun.

Sometimes it’s so cold that if a guy were to go tee-tee in the woods, the tee-tee will freeze before it hits the ground.  Actually, that’s not true.  There is no ground…there is about three feet of snow and ice beneath your frozen feet.  And this happens no matter much you paid L.L. Bean for those fleece-lined, thinsulated, wool and felt-lined boots.

So, if you’re thinking of moving to the North Country, be advised that no matter what size home you buy, you will need to pay a guy named Bear to build an extra room just to hold your winter clothing, skis, snowshoes, mucklucks, and fleece gloves.  Don’t worry about the extra room in the summer…there really isn’t one.  There is a window of about 16 days where it’s not snowing or raining…and that is sometime in August (that would be the 14th to the 29th, to be exact).

You’re asking yourself as you read this: “Hey, just how hardy is this guy who is pushing 70 years of age?”

Two mornings ago, I woke up and it was 41 F in the bedroom.  Ok, it’s December, that sounds about right, right?  But this is my bedroom!  Even with the fleece blankets on me, I was chilled.  (I don’t own an electric blanket because I may want to have another child someday.)

We discover that something is wrong with the oil burner.  Not only am I hardy, but I’m smart.  It only took me about an hour to realize that the lack of heat was due to something being wrong with our oil burner.

Being hardy means being far-sighted.  Several years ago we had a wood-burner stove installed in our family room downstairs.  So, I lit a fire.  Isn’t it good?  As sure as flapjacks are good…the room downstairs got warm.  And it got even warmer until the little thermometer (digital/Radio Shack) said 88 F.  Now, I tend to be chilly a lot in these later years of my life, but 88 was a bit much.  Especially when I had no idea where any clothing not made of fleece or wool happened to be stored.

So, I watched the fire from the other side of the room.  I used my birding spotter scope to check on when a new log needed to be added.

By now it was near the dinner hour.  For some reason I didn’t feel like my pre-dinner dish of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia.  But it was my turn to cook.

So, I went up stairs to the kitchen and planned dinner.  Something quick and easy.  I decided on a stir-fry.  I like to have a nice glass of Chardonnay while I cook, so I took the bottle out of the fridge and put it on the counter so it would cool down a little.  I prepared the carrots, mushrooms, peppers and rice.  I mixed the soy sauce and put aside 1/4 cup of peanuts and scallions for the garnish.

I knew that stir-frying can sometimes be splattery, I put on my special North Country L.L. Bean endorsed red apron from Macy’s.  It was lined with fleece.

I then put the silverware and plates in the microwave to add a touch of warmth, and cooked.

It turned out to be a great meal.

But, we only have TV upstairs so we bundled up in fleece and wool while we ate and watched Episode 6 of Season 3 of Game of Thrones.

I felt a chill watching all the violence and sex.  They kept saying that “winter is coming…the white walkers are coming…it’ll be a long winter.”

I can relate.


[I’m really not that overweight, it’s the blanket I was wearing under the apron.]


[The meal just before it frosted over.]


The Great Hiking Pants Problem


If a sweater was hanging in an empty forest, would it still be Cobalt Blue?

I ponder these kinds of questions…maybe a little too much.

Every time my wife suggests a hike, I can find some kind of excuse.  And most of them are real concerns of mine.  It’s not that I don’t like to hike in the glorious woods of the Adirondacks, but there’s often an honest reason to stay at home.  I don’t “do” bugs.  Black flies are a nightmare to be avoided.  So, there goes May, June and most of July.  The mosquitoes, of course, are around most of the time, except when it’s -36 F. (and even then they can find a way to my skin).

The mud of spring is a no-go in most people’s book.

“I have new hiking boots, Mariam, I can’t get them dirty!”

That pretty much leaves some of September and early October.  The leaves are in full color and the weather is cool and crisp, like a maple syrup crepe.

But, a new challenge has come up.  I was browsing through a few holiday catalogs and I found a reasonably priced ($39.99 + tax) pair of hiking pants from Cabelas.  These Trailhiker II Pants had it all.  I especially like the 9-oz 100% cotton-canvas basketweave fabric.

Basketweave pants?  Wait a minute.  I’ve caned canoe seats before and that’s where I hear the term basketweave…but pants?  I began to sense trouble in the road ahead.

I looked over the rest of the description.  The knee patches were double-layered.  There were 7 pockets!  Seven! (with a reinforced knife-clip patch and a hidden cell-phone/media player pocket.)

What happened to the old pair of jeans that had 4 pockets?

As I was narrowing my search down, I was confronted with one last, but insurmountable problem.

The color.

I remember when Lands End began to bring in strange color names.  They were glorious names that evoked the seashore or the mountains of Maine.  But they were still a bit strange.  Then L.L. Bean jumped on the wagon and a whole new lexicon of hues and tints, dyes and washes made my pants search more and more difficult.

Now I had to think about not what felt comfortable…but what was going to look good (color-wise) in the place where I was going to wear the new pants.

I looked over the choices for the Trailhiker II pants.  I could get them in British Tan, Otter, Gunmetal and Foliage.  On the same page a Henley sweater was listed.  The colors available: Nutmeg, Evergreen, Dark Midnight and Sandy River.  I flipped the page.  Another Henley sweater.  Colors? Cobalt Blue, Sage, Cayenne, Antique Brass, Black and Brown.  Brown?  I was forgetting about Brown.

I picked up a copy of the L.L. Bean holiday catalogue.  I flipped through the pages checking out the colors from Freeport, Maine.  A sampling: Weathered Leather, Saddle, Plum Wine, Heather, Dark Indigo, Charcoal Heather (maybe that was two colors), Collegiate Blue Camo, Mountain Red Buffalo, Deep Garnet, Glacier Blue (I’ve been on a glacier…it wasn’t this color), Cabernet, Dark Terracotta, Bright Mariner, French Blue (now we’re talkin’), Pink Lilac, Deep Mint, Crisp Lapis, Molten Red, Treeline, Warden’s Green, Moss Khaki, Alpine Gold and Dusty Olive.

I was exhausted.  Colors swam before my eyes like an Esther Williams water-color palette.

I turned back to Cabelas for relief.  After a few pages I found a pull-over in Medium Brown.  Whew!  Then I realized that Cabelas was mostly a hunter’s catalogue.  You were not likely to find a Medium Brown pull-over in Miami.

Thank God I couldn’t find my Lands End catalog.  I might be in the early stages of sensory overload right now.


I woke up screaming the next morning.  I was soaked in sweat.  The room was spinning like Linda Blair’s head.  I had this unspeakably horrific nightmare last night.  I dreamed that when I went for the mail, Mike, our local postmaster, told me that several dozen back issues of the J. Crew catalog were found in the back room of the post office.

They all had my name on them!




I’m In Love With Inspector 4

I opened the package several days ago.  After giving the contents a quick once-over, I tossed them on the bed of our spare room.  The bed held a pile of clothes…it was quite out of control.  I glanced at the closet, looking for a coat hanger worthy of my new purchase.  I spotted nothing but those cheesy wire jobs that you get from the cleaners.  Most of the time the cheesy hangers had a paper wrap on them that read: “We Love Our Customers”.  Well, I wonder how much I’d be loved if I found the cleaners home address and stopped by one evening telling the guy that I loved his wife, and could she go bowling with me?

I wouldn’t do that, mind you, that’s too cheesy even for me.

My attention went back to the pile of clothes on the bed.  It wasn’t my fault there were no decent hangers.

“Mariam, there’s no decent hangers in the spare bedroom!”  I figured she’d know where they were or where she put them.

It was lotto night, so I slipped on my new purchase.  I grabbed some change from the kitchen counter.  They were brand new L. L. Bean Lined Jeans.  Did you notice I said “lined”?  Just like I had in the 1950’s when I froze in my parents house.  Now, I’m freezing in my own house.  The difference is that now I can buy my own lined jeans and not wait for my older brother to wear his out.  Once they’re worn out, they’re not very warm, are they?

I drove to the nearest market.  I didn’t like going there because they spiked the prices on everything.  They were counting on your desperation and unwillingness to drive another twenty minutes to where the prices were normal.  I mean, they want $1.19 for a Mounds bar, when in town, the drug store is only asking $.99!  It’s outrageous!  It’s unfair!  It’s blackmail!

Anyway, I scrounged in my right pocket for the $1.19 and for another $2.00 for an Instant Scratch Lottery Ticket.  I grumbled something about highway robbery as I paid the $3.19 + tax for the Mounds bar and ticket.  I had some change so I put it in my left pocket.  I feel it’s important to keep “new” money, i.e., the stuff yet to be spent, in a different pocket than the change.  That way, I can keep track of how much I spend and how much I get to take home (that would be the change, in case you weren’t paying attention).

On the way to the car, I double-checked my left pocket, fingering the loose coins, when I felt it!  They had made a mistake and given me too much change back.  I pulled out the paper.  It was small (not big enough to be legal tender even in really small countries like Andorra or Monaco).  There was some writing on it.  It must be a code.  If only I had my glasses, I could read it.  I drove home with the secret slip of paper in my chest pocket.  That was always a safe place because I only put my Bic pens in there, but I really hate Bic pens so I never use the pocket.  That way the pocket stays safe and untouched.

I’m no fool.

When I got home, I put the slip of paper on the floor and bent down to examine it.

The message was simple.  It read: INSPECTOR 4.

I began to wonder who this Inspector 4 was.  A guy or a girl (not that it matters, mind you).  Were they trying to say something to me?  What was their life like?  If it was a guy, was he handsome? Strong? Buffed? And if it was a girl, was she petite? Cute? Available?

All I can say is that whomever this Inspector 4 is, this I know:  He or she is from Maine.

And we know a thing or two about those Maine folks, don’t we?