It was such a tease. I mean really, 85 degrees in early April? But we jumped in with both feet, wanting to take full advantage of the amazing day; which meant doing the one thing I enjoy as much as cooking. In fact I am content to do it for hours on end, stopping only for beverage or bathroom breaks. What could get me so worked up? Tilling. That’s right, tilling. I find it soothing, contemplative, transporting. I feel fulling engaged with the earth and endless memories find their way into my consciousness.
Whenever I till, the chugging of the engine and the turning of the blades are cathartic. The land becomes a canvas. Any past transgressions from the previous year, are swept away. It is spring, the season of renewed hope. The land opens and we begin. Weeds are no longer weeds, but green manure adding nitrogen to the soil. The scent is part rot, part nurture, part birth. There is nothing quite like it. Both the land and I simply breathe.
When I was a child our family vacationed at a resort called Journey’s End. It was a group of cabins along the Connecticut River outside Brattleboro, Vermont. Each of the cabins was named after a particular bird. There was the Chickadee, the Robin, the Sparrow and the Junko, all clustered along the river. I remember them to be quaint and close together like birds at a feeder. Our family stayed in one that was farther up the mountain, called the Raven. I loved the mystery of its name and the way it was positioned at the top of a gully that was carpeted with bracken fern under a canopy of birch trees. There was always an under current of tension in our family, but this tension would dissolve when we arrived at Journey’s End.
Perhaps it was the mountains, or the trees, or the screened in porch that ran the length of the cabin. Maybe it was the mismatched china, the squeaky iron beds, the huge stone fireplace, the claw-foot bath tub, the absence of a schedule or agenda. We seemed to collectively exhale as a family. We played games and hiked. I went searching for antiques with my parents. We ate clam chowder, bread pudding and apple pie with a slice of fresh cheddar on top. But my strongest memory came one afternoon when everyone was gone except my father and me. My brothers were with friends and my mother had gone into town for supplies. It was dark and gray, with thunder rumbling in the distance. My father was practicing his harmonica, while I was laying on one of the twin lounging beds out on the porch. It had a faded canvas cover with large pink roses on it. It sagged under my weight and smelled slightly musty. I felt safe; life felt simple. Large rain drops started to fall on the metal roof, their cadence mixing with the sound of my father’s harmonica, the musty bed, and the wet earth. My heart broke open and tears ran down my temples. I understood our family’s pain and sadness were not permanent. Whenever I smell moist earth, and the rot of humus, I feel strangely hopeful. It is visceral and a salve. I somehow knew my family would find its way and that I would too.
I have tilled 2.5 acres of our land. Val has planted over 100 rows of spring veggies. We are sunburned and hungry. Val wants something earthy, so I suggest Cheddar Polenta with Mushroom Ragu. Val pours wine and we begin……..
Each experience leaves an imprint, its transformation into something useful is a choice.
Cheddar Polenta with Mushroom Ragout
- 1 Tbsp salt
- 1 1/4 cups instant polenta
- 1 cup half-and-half
- 1 Tbsp freshly ground pepper
- 2 cups shredded sharp white Cheddar cheese (6 oz)
- Bring 5 cups of water to boil in a heavy medium saucepan. Add the salt. Gradually whisk in the polenta over moderate heat. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until thickened and smooth, about 5 minutes.
- Stir the half-and-half and pepper into the polenta. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese. Spoon the polenta onto a warmed platter or individual plates and serve with the Mushroom Ragout.
- 1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms (1/2 oz)
- 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 3/4 lb cremini mushrooms, stems removed, caps thickly sliced
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1 Tbsp finely chopped shallots
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
- In a small bowl, soak the porcinis in 1 1/2 cups of hot water until softened, about 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, melt 1 Tbsp of the butter in a large heavy skillet. Add one-third of the fresh mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a large plate. Repeat the process twice with 2 more Tbsp of butter and the remaining mushrooms, then return all the cooked mushrooms to the pan.
- Drain the porcinis, reserving the soaking liquid. Rinse and coarsely chop the porcinis and add them to the pan with shallots and garlic. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring for 3 minutes. Add the porcini liquid, stopping when you reach the grit at the bottom. Boil over high heat until reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Stir in the parsley and season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining 1 Tbsp of butter. Serve at once.
I came across your blog when searching for “Journey’s End Brattleboro” We now own the main piece of property in West Chesterfield on the river that had the family house on it. We still have 5 of the cabins on the property, Swallow, Robin, Chickadee, Oriole & Cardinal, which had been converted to year-round residences before we bought it. Our friend owns 2 of the cottages along with the apartment building and house on the adjacent riverfront property. According to the subdivision plan we have, one of those cabins was named Bob-o-link. Our friend still has people stop by during the summer telling him they used to vacation there and want to look around and relive memories 😀 So was the “Raven” cottage across the road from the main property? The 1979 subdivision plan shows a cottage across the road that I can see from my front office window, but it’s not named. That cottage has had a lonely existence since we moved to this property. It sat empty while going through foreclosure & then a family from eastern NH purchased it and we found out the husband had also vacationed there as a child! They only visited the property a few times and no one has been around for at least a year, so sad. The trains (including Amtrak) still go by on the VT side of the river, the trail along the to Mt. Wantastiquet is now gated, but it’s still a beautiful trail for biking & walking. My kids discovered the cemetery when we first moved to a house further up Mountain Road in 2002. I wouldn’t mind having that “Raven” sign to go with our large “House for Rent Journey’s End” sign that used to be out on Route 9, lol
Hey River Gal:
Oh my goodness! I have to tell you that my brother just posted on facebook a picture of my mother and her best friend who vacationed with us at the “Raven” at “Journey’s End”. The picture was from 1967 and my mother was 37 at the time. I was in 7th grade. The “Raven” cottage was up a hill away from the rest of the cottages. I remember the large cottage across the way from the other smaller cottages, but I can’t remember it’s name. Our family had so much fun at Journey’s End. I have several pictures of the cottage, the old cemetery, and the grounds. Both my parents have since died, but our sweet memories remain. It still remember the squeaky iron beds, the miss-matched plates and silverware, the beautiful stone fireplace, the screened-in porch, the claw bathtub and the scent of pine. Some of the best times of my life were there. I remember the old family house and the smaller cabins. I stayed in the cardinal once. Its not hard to believe that folks still stop by to relive memories. Thanks so much for your post and information. You are on a beautiful piece of land, in a great area of our country. 😀
PS River Gal: I forgot to mention that we have a screened in porch with a metal roof that has a wooden plaque “Journey’s End”. 😀
For probably 15 years, we visited Journey’s End for a week at the beginning of the season, a week at the end of the season and over Columbus Day Weekend. Not only that, but Raven was our cabin of choice as well. (Wasn’t it just a little creepy way up there at night?) I loved the sound of train whistles from the opposite riverbank and listening at night to Red Sox games on the radio while being suffocated by the fragrance of mothballs. Did you ever find the little colonial cemetery in the woods?
You may know that Journey’s End was broken up and sold off in the 80’s. We stayed in Raven toward the end, and someplace I still have the white sign that hung over the screen door.
Thanks so much for the memories,
OMG! Yes, I knew it was sold around that time. Yes, my father and I did find the small cemetery. I have a pic of it somewhere. These memories are so precious to me as both my parents are gone now. It sounds like you recognized how special that cabin could be…..even though the mothballs were rather heavy! Thanks so much for your response!
Phew….I loved your recollection of your family’s summer vacation…you sure can tear up paper and pen…what a talent, Kim. Love you…
Another heart warming read to start one days. This put a lump in my throat and tears to my eyes and I smile once again. Waiting and welcoming what is next to come. The adventure of Brickyard Farms sharing all it’s beauty, the new journey of spring has just has begun.