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Bears in the Blueberry Bushes

July 24-26, 1999

"So", I asked, "do you ever get any critters down in the blueberries?"

"Sure, lots of birds - they eat their fill of berries. We have deer that come in at night, but I don't know that they like blueberries. Why we even had a bear out there once, a couple of years ago", replied our tenant Gerry, soon after we bought the Farmhouse last August.

"Black bear?"

"A pretty good size one too."

"So what did you do?" I asked

"Just watched him from the house. That was close enough for us."

"And what did the bear do?"

"Pretty much what the bear damn well wanted to do - we weren't going to interfere!" Gerry answered. "He rolled around a bit in the bushes, ate his fill, and when we looked the next time he was gone, back into the woods."

Well, we haven't run across any bears in the blueberry bushes yet this year - but if we do, he's welcome to his share. The blueberry crop this year is going to be a bumper one, and there is plenty to go around.

When the blueberry bushes were just beginning to come into flower this spring, Dot had predicted a good year. The combination of a mild winter, short spring, and the warm and muggy days we've had this summer has brought out the very best in our 1,000 or so high-bush blueberry bushes. Last year, Dot harvested nearly 900 quarts, and she will easily exceed that this year.

The bushes are loaded
with big blueberries

The bushes are now bowed under their weight of ripe berries - dark blue and huge! As part of our arrangement when we bought the Farmhouse last summer, the blueberry crops for 1998 and 1999 are Dot's. She picks every day, and then sells the fresh fruit, jams and jellies from her place down on the lake. We often see her straw hat moving down the rows, filling quart containers at a speed that I can't even hope to match. The berries are so large and plentiful that one day this summer she picked 62 quarts! But, she admits, the berries are getting ahead of her. The early ripening bushes are still bearing, and the mid- and late-ripening varieties are now starting to come in. So many blueberries - so little time!

Penny and I wonder how we are going to deal with this avalanche of blueberries once we take over their care and picking. Thankfully Dot has been showing us the ropes, because we know little or nothing about blueberry culture. We have a bunch of brochures from the Extension Service, and Dot has shown us about pruning and basic care. It's going to be a challenge next year to do as well as she has.

We've thought about a "You-Pick-'Em" operation. As berry pickers at several such operations in Michigan and New Hampshire, we found it to be a fun outing for the family. We would pick 20-30 pounds of blueberries and freeze them - that was enough to provide a taste of summer all winter long, in blueberry pancakes and muffins. And what a great way to meet all your neighbors! There are downsides to running such an operation, however, that we'll also have to consider. There is the inevitable damage to the bushes from careless pickers, parking and traffic, insurance and licenses, and the need to be on hand to deal with customers when a fellow could be out fishing instead. Still - we've got the berries, and it is an idea that we'll be checking out and giving careful consideration to.

Are We Having Fun Yet?"

This was a rather wearying weekend for us. My plane back from a week of "day-job" business meetings in Durango and Denver, Colorado, was delayed. I missed my connection to Albany, and I got to spend Friday night at the Washington/Dulles airport. After about three hours of pseudo sleep, I caught the first plane out Saturday morning. By the time I got my bag and a cab, it was 9:30 am before I arrived in Clifton Park - and we were supposed to be on the road by then. By the time we packed up the car and trailer, it was 2:00 pm before we hit the highway for the drive over to the Farmhouse. With several thunderstorms and traffic, it was nearly a six-hour drive before we pulled into the dooryard there. After unloading the trailer (our fourth load so far - this one was 16 metal bookcases for the barn), all we wanted to do was to fall into bed.

Sunday morning we hitched up the trailer and drove up to Athens, Maine, where we met sons Jim and Chris and their wives. In addition to the books (see the Journal Entry entitled Maine - The Way Life Should Be for the yarn about moving the books) in storage at Jim's barn, we also had some furniture and boxes from several different homes in the past, from Michigan to New Hampshire to California. The six of us moved it all from Jim's barn into my trailer and the two-axle trailer that Jim had brought. We successfully dodged thunderstorms, got the loads covered, and started our three car/two trailer caravan back to Sebago around 3:00 pm. In our rush to load up and get going, however, I committed the cardinal sin of trailering - never overload your trailer.

We made it about 10 miles down Route 201 when the first trailer tire blew. It didn't take much to jack up the trailer and replace the flat with a brand-new 6-ply tire I'd bought for just such an accident. We figured that the flat was simply a bit old and worn. Everything seemed fine, and we made it to the Maine Turnpike at exit 36 with no further problems. Penny and April were in one car, and Jim and Alison with the other trailer were in his car. Chris and I were left in the rear, as the slowest. But not to worry - remember, we have a new tire on the trailer, and all was pulling smoothly. Everyone then moved along at their own speed, and we were left by ourselves.

Chris (left) took charge of loading
our trailer onto the flat bed

About two miles north of exit 33, the new tire blew! Time for plan "b". Chris and I figured that we'd have a wrecker carry the trailer back into Waterville, and the next day I'd come back with a couple of new tires and bring it back to Sebago. After calling several towing services on the cell phone we located one that had a flat bed, and he arrived on the scene about a half-hour later, along with a couple of Maine State Troopers for an escort. Unfortunately, he arrived with a flat bed trailer, not a truck. His trailer was the same width as my trailer! Further, he admitted that he'd never hauled a trailer before, and wasn't sure about how to start.

All secured and ready to roll

Chris jumped in and took charge, directing both the wrecker guy and I to jack, or winch, or heave, or whatever. My trailer safely secured on the wrecker trailer, Chris and I left for the Farmhouse, leaving instructions that we'd be back in the morning to finish the move.

By the time we got to the Farmhouse, Jim and Alison had already unloaded his trailer into the barn and left. Penny and April had ribs going on the grill out by the pool, and the four of us had supper. Chris had to work the next day, so he and April left for the 5 hour drive to Burlington, Vermont after supper, and Penny and I took a quick dip in the pool and collapsed.

Thinking that you can never have too much of a good thing, Penny and I drove the Jeep and the Jimmy back up to Waterville Monday morning. We picked up two new tires for the trailer, and found it sitting at the wrecker yard waiting for us. I changed tires, and then yielding to common sense (as I should have done the day before), we moved everything from my little trailer into Jim's dual axle monster trailer that he lent us for the day. The load capacity of mine is about 800 pounds - his is 8,000 pounds! It was hot, sticky work, and we were pretty weary at this point.

Are we having fun yet?

Luckily Paul was at the Farmhouse when we arrived around 1:30 pm, and helped me unload the boxes (for the second time) into the barn. Penny packed up our stuff, we loaded the car, and we left for New York. During the 58 hours of this trip, I added up that we were behind the wheel driving for 24 hours and either loading or unloading for 16 more hours. That is not my idea of a relaxing trip, although it was productive.

I always try to find the bright side of things, but on this trip I could only come up with the pleasure of seeing both kids and their wives at once (a rare occasion), and finally moving all the stuff that has been in storage at Athens to our own Farmhouse. Other than those highlights, I expect that this trip will soon fade into only a weary memory - the sooner the better!

Shipping Room Shaping Up

The shipping room is now all framed
and ready for the dry wall

Paul has made great progress over the last few weeks - the shipping room is now all framed in, and ready for the sheetrock. The new door to the back yard, and the two new windows on the driveway side, make it a bright, cheery room to pack books. This part of the carriage house is where someone in the past "spliced" the building moved into place onto the barn. A different type of construction was used, with unpeeled pine logs from the woods for the joists and stringers. Since the beams in this "spliced in section" ran at right angles to the original carriage house building, we were able to remove them and raise the ceiling of our new shipping room to give more head room. This also had the effect of including the second-story original window in the new room for even more light.

High ceilings and
a new back door

Since our woodchuck family has moved out to the field, he was able to replace the wooden walkway from the kitchen door to the pool (the old one was full of treacherous holes and had rotted out). Paul's kids and their friends came up for a few days after school let out, and they cut up the huge pile of old lumber and beams into firewood and stacked it all in the cellar next to the wood furnace. Paul fitted out the pool house with storage lockers, shelves and a changing room for guests.

Penny and he settled on the type of wainscotting for the office, and a few other details as we get ready to close things up. Otto was supposed to be there on Sunday to finish the cable/fiber optic installation in the carriage house, but he begged off. He called Penny on the phone that the last time he was there "hundreds of bats were dive-bombing me in the carriage house", and "I'm not coming back until the bats are all gone!" Paul and I may end up doing the work ourselves. Paul has also cut the new door from the mud room into the kitchen, and we've settled on where the opening into the pantry should go. Things are moving right along!

Bat Update

The colony of male bats in the second story of the carriage house is starting to leave. Every day there are fewer and fewer of them there, and in the space of a week or two more they'll all be gone. They normally leave for their hibernacula about this time, and should be completely gone by mid-August. The females and their babies will start leaving from their colony in the attic starting in mid-August, and should be completely gone by the end of the month. We then have until next summer to finish the bat-proofing job that we failed so miserably at this season. Although you normally don't associate "wait till next time" with bats, but that is how we're looking at it, anyway.

Allen and Penny Crabtree

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Last updated July 29, 1999

Copyright © 2000 by Allen Crabtree