Thursday, March 31, 2011

Still alive

Yes, I am still alive. Yes, work has been insanely busy. Yes, grades are due next week. Yes, I am going gray. Yes, I would have it no other way.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Park Serve

Every now and then Kevin will ask me, "Why do you always take me to state parks?" I say, "Because they're fun. Don't you like going there?" "Yeah" Kevin replies.

Since the parks have become such a big part of my recreational life, I decided to give back a little to them by volunteering at one on DCR Park Serve Day. A number of parks are having volunteer opportunities on April 16 to get the parks ready for summer. I am going to volunteer at Wachusett Mountain doing some general cleaning and planting flowers.

See the link here if you're interested in volunteering at one.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Maple sugar and marshmallows

Before last year, I really had no idea how maple syrup was made or anything about the season for making it. I took Kevin to a sugar house last year in North Andover and was very intrigued. Maple sugar season is only a small window - March - so the opportunities to see it is limited.

I was going to take Kevin to a maple sugar demo at the Blue Hills in Milton but discovered one in Uxbridge at the Blackstone Heritage State Park. This is a unique park as it's a joint state and national park. It seemed more fun - a movie, tours, etc. I also figured there would be less people. So we headed down and got there around 11am. It was a beautiful setting. You park down the road from the site and as you walk down, you see many of their trees that are tapped. There was a lot of flow and you could hearing the sap dropping into the buckets. Once at the visitors center, they gave you a ticket and a time for a tour - it was very well organized. The tour began with a brief movie on maple sugaring, a talk by a ranger, and then walking over to tap a tree. The tree they tapped didn't have any sap yet but they had a big bucket of sap to give to the kids who had their own buckets.

We then saw a demo of how Indians made maple sugar - they would heat up water in in a hollowed out tree and reduce it down by putting hot rocks in it, a process that took weeks and weeks. We then saw a demo of how maple sugar is made today. After that we got samples and bought some maple candy. Kevin kept begging me for more maple candy and we both finished the box quickly. He later told me that I shouldn't give him so much sugar!

We ran into some folks from Lynn's side of the family while we were down there - her brother-in-law's parents Tom and Ruth. Their daughter and son-in-law, Amanda and Sean, live right near where we were and were coming down for a walk anyway so we hung around to see them and their new baby Mackenzie.

From here we took a ride to nearby Upton State Forest. I wanted to check it out because it was a CCC camp and they still have some CCC buildings up. One of the buildings collapsed during the winter and it was sad to see it destroyed. But there were about 3 other buildings. I didn't get out of the car, I just wanted to see them. I am very interstesd in the CCC and hope to go down again in the summer.

Then finally we all headed to Constitution Beach in East Boston for the monthly roasting marhsmallows on the beach. The DCR does this every month at a different beach in the Boston area. Last month we went to the one in Lynn/Nahant. This was a really nice beach - all new bathroooms, an awesome playground, a boardwalk...and it's directly across from the airport. It was so cool being so close seeing the planes taking off. Even better for Kevin, the blue line runs parallel to the beach so he saw a ton of trains. We are definitely going back here in the summer.

We stopped at my parent's house to feed the kids and to get them into their PJ's. We were back home around 10pm and I was dead asleep in less than an hour. I was up early to be on the radio from 6am-8am so it was a long but awesome day.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Into the woods

This weekend was my long awaited camping trip with Kevin and my friends Dan and Bill in the Mohawk Trail State Forest in the Berkshires. Camping of course is a relative term - we stayed in a cabin but it was very rustic.

I met Dan at my parent's house in Melrose around 3pm on Friday and then got Kevin who was with my parents at a local restaurant. We then headed west on Route 2. We stopped for groceries and dinner in Greenfield, about 20 miles from the forest and arrived at the forest around 6:30pm or so. Let me tell you, it was dark. The Mohawk Trail State Forest is in the middle of no where on Route 2 with very few stores within driving distance. It's so dark I initially drove right by the entrance. Once we got into the forest, I wasn't sure where the cabins were and there was NO ONE around. There was a headquarters but no rangers. We saw some lights up a hill and drove up there and found our cabin but we needed a key. Luckily I found some fellow campers and they told us where to find the key (hanging outside the headquarters).

Using the light from my cell phone, I was able to find the keyhole and the lights inside the cabin...BRRRRRRR. It was so cold inside, about 30 degrees cold. Thankfully they left three bundles of firewood in the cabin but it took Dan a long time to get it started (it wasn't his fault, everything was just so cold it wouldn't heat up fast and we didn't have a lot of kindling). Eventually it got going but it stayed pretty cold throughout the night. Meanwhile, Bill was having a hard time finding the place and there was no cell coverage so I couldn't help him. I went out looking for him as we were able to get some texts through so I knew he was in the area. As I was out driving, he texted me that he had found the cabin. Phew. When I got back, I noticed Kevin was pretty cold so I put him in his PJ's and just laid next to him so he could warm up with my body heat. We both fell asleep soon thereafter.

I didn't sleep all that well and kept on waking up. Plus, the fire had gone out and I had to go to the bathroom but it was too cold to get up! We all began to wake up around 7am (well, Kevin woke up and got us all up) and I went out looking for more firewood. You have to buy the wood from the park ranger but he wasn't around. But we were freezing and needed something, anything. But there are no stores around so I couldn't find anything. By the time I got back to the forest, the ranger was there and I was able to get some wood. Dan and Bill had that thing roaring quickly and the cabin was warm the rest of the weekend.

Bill had brought some cooking stuff so Dan made coffee and we all had some muffins for breakfast. We then headed out for a little hike in the forest. The snow was still pretty compact but we (especially me) kept falling through it which made it a little frustrating after a while. Kevin was doing really well and seemed to be enjoying himself. We eventually made it into a clearing which, I assume, is a big open field in the summer. Kevin was getting tired and I was up to my knees in snow so we stopped while Bill and Dan went ahead. Dan came running back about 10 minutes later waving his hands saying "Go, go, there is a wolf or something back there." Now I know Dan and I knew he was messing with me but he was pretty convincing. Bill too came running like hell and did an Academy Award winning performance, constantly looking back, acting scared, etc. After a few minutes of running they fessed up. The whole time I knew it was a joke but with Kevin there I wasn't taking chances!

The way back was a little tougher as we had to walk up some hills but we made it. Once back to the cabin we had some lunch and then took a ride to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge and then to downtown Stockbridge for some coffee and cake. That evening Dan made a delicious dinner of steak, potatoes, and carrots on the hibachi. Bill had to leave that evening so after he left, we took Kevin for a car ride to get him to fall asleep. Dan and I then played some cards until we went to bed around 11:30.

The next day was packing up and cleaning and we were off by 8:30am. We stopped at two breakfast places but the first had a 45 minute wait and the second only took cash. Luckily we found another place that was more of a farm store but that also served hot breakfast. After we ate we were on our way.

It was a wonderful trip and it made me want to learn more about the forest. I guess it's stunning in the summer so I want to make it back there after the snow. I am not sure I would stay in the cabins in the winter again, at least with Kevin. It was a great experience though and I cannot wait to do more things like that in the summer.