If you’re just tuning in, this is a recurring series in which I document each month of our lives out here on our 66-acre Vermont homestead. After leaving urban Cambridge, MA in May 2016 to chart this wholly different life, we’re experiencing a constant learning curve of exploration (and plenty of stupid novice moments). Check out last month’s installment here.
March in Vermont started off with a tease of spring. From the bay window in our living room, I could just barely make out a few tall, determined blades of grass poking their brown, sword-tipped heads above the blankets of white.
And then winter–a jealous master this year–roared back, dumping foot after foot of snow, suffocating those intrepid blades, tunneling us back into the depths of cold. I’m not organized enough or scientific enough to report on just how many inches of snow we accumulated this month, but I can tell you it was a lot.
This isn’t a bad thing, however. Mr. Frugalwoods and I don’t view winter as a lesser season or something to be avoided or an interminable waiting room of spring.
Snowshoe hiking is actually better than summer hiking in many ways because there’s no brush to contend with and, with the leaves off the hardwoods, I can see deep into our forest–pole after pole of beech, birch, maple, and hop hornbeam. The summertime, conversely, chokes our trails with enthusiastic weeds who spy their only chance at sunlight in the middle of the trail, grappling for a foothold in an already crowded forest.
Pulled by parents in her game sled over marshmallow layers of snowfall after snowfall, Babywoods falls asleep, thinking she’s gliding on air. I prefer pulling to carrying on my back and so, I prefer the snow that allows me to do just that.
Town Meeting Day
On the first Tuesday of March, towns in Vermont hold their annual town meeting. In our hamlet, we gathered at the town center to discuss, debate, and vote on officers of the town, budget allocations, and more. It’s an opportunity for every resident to voice their opinion on how the town should operate.
While delightfully quaint, it’s also a testament to the power of direct democracy. Town meetings have occurred in Vermont since before Vermont became a state. The rich history permeating Vermont culture, the respect for divergent opinions, and the opportunity to be involved in hyper-local government are yet more reasons why we love our adopted state.
Several of our town’s exuberant 10-year-old girls happily watched Babywoods in the town center basement while the meeting progressed. Thrilled with the chance to play house with a real live doll, they popped in every 15 minutes to report her activities to me in excited, breathless whispers (“She’s laughing! We fed her a doughnut! We read a book to her!”). After the meeting there was, of course, a potluck lunch. While there are plenty of things our town doesn’t have, such as stoplights, paved roads, restaurants, or a movie theatre, we seem to compensate for this dearth of modernity just fine.
School Board Meeting Day
March also saw our annual school board meeting. Our district is consolidated, which means several small towns banded together to form a larger district with more kids and more resources. One of the reasons we decided our homestead was the one is this school district–it’s well ranked, has low student to teacher ratios, and the school buildings are in excellent condition.
Even though Babywoods won’t be a pupil for another two years–she’ll start their free preschool program at age three–we feel it’s important to show our support now. I rallied my fellow toddler parents to attend the meeting since we all consider this district a valuable attribute of where we live. Not all rural areas are fortunate to have such a vibrant school district and my friends and I feel strongly about ensuring its longevity.
The interesting thing about living in such a small place is that, quite often, the difference between a budget passing, or a road being fixed, or a community dinner coming together are the actions of just one or two people.
Back in the city, when we’d volunteer for something or attend a city meeting, we were in a cast of thousands, our voices just adding to the din and clatter. Now, we see that each person has the ability to affect real change. We’re so grateful to all the people who’ve given so selflessly of their time and talents to make this little part of the world such a wonderful place.
Mr. FW already serves on two local nonprofit governing boards and we’re both mapping out how we’d like to become more involved as the years go by. We feel an imperative to keep our community strong and to lend our support where we’re able–even if it’s just attending a meeting and voting ‘yea’ instead of ‘nay.’
One more community event to report on this month: a pancake supper at the town center! The pancake eating was following by a lecture on climate change and its impact on maple syruping. As hopeful maple syrup maker wannabes, this was a great opportunity to learn more about the process. Our plan is to start tapping trees for syrup next year.
Apple Tree Pruning
Spring–even when it’s a snow-covered one–is the time for pruning fruit trees. As the lucky owners of a small orchard of apple trees, we had quite a bit of pruning to accomplish this year.
Mr. FW took several workshops on pruning and then set out with his clippers to try and bring our long-neglected apple trees back around to good health. Apple trees require annual pruning in order to ensure that the strongest branches survive, which in turn ensures a better crop of apples.
Branches shouldn’t cross one another or rub and, as the old saying goes, you should be able to throw a cat through the middle of the tree. To phrase it less dangerously for felines: trees should grow out, not up and there should be a good deal of open space in the center of the tree. We pruned our trees inexpertly last year and didn’t remove an adequate number of branches. This month, Mr. FW took out massive proportions of wood to try and help our trees grow more auspiciously. If an apple tree has too many branches, it’ll put its energy into growing taller–not into producing apples.
Mr. FW pruned the ten apple trees that comprise our backyard “orchard,” with careful attention to each branch. Next, he’ll turn his attention to the so-called wild apple trees that ring our property and dot our woods. These trees produced quite a few apples last fall and, with attentive pruning and care, could be coaxed in producing quite a bit more.
If trees are pruned annually, there’s not much work to do each year. But when trees haven’t been pruned in years, there’s a cycle of cutting back and regrowth that needs to occur. It’s possible this extensive pruning will cause the trees not to produce this year, or, it could encourage them to push forth bounties of apples. Either way, pruning will ensure their longterm health and viability.
This is a gross oversimplification of the somewhat complex art of pruning, but you get the basic idea. Starting next month, Mr. FW will work on a pest and disease mitigation regimen for our trees.
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Onward to April frugal comrades!