Winding down

Winter changes everything.

Most of what we do happens between April and November. Fishing, gardening, foraging. Turkeys, mushrooms, lobsters. None of them go through the winter, and this is the time of year that we decommission the garden, put away the fishing gear, winterize and store the boats.

We have a few winter activities. We’ll still have the chickens, of course, and they’ll still lay eggs. We make our own sea salt, and we’ll ramp that up just as we shut everything else down. A few things may survive in the hoophouse, and they’ll need our attention. This year, we’ve also got a few projects we’re plotting for the long cold months. Mostly, though, we’ll be dormant.

No turkeys to feed, no fish to catch, no pheasants to hunt. No plants to water, no produce to harvest, no mushrooms to scout. The bees go into survival mode, and all we have to do is give them sugar candy.

It’ll be just me and Kevin, with nothing to do.


We’ve been through two winters here, and they have both seemed long, snowy, and cold. Cape Cod in February might as well be on a different planet from Cape Cod in August. The restaurants close, the streets empty, the people flee for Florida. This year, though, after a spring, summer, and fall of non-stop activity, I can’t think of anything I’d like better than a couple of months with nothing much to do.

I’ll read an actual book! I’ll tackle the wallpaper in the bathroom! I’ll cook new things in new ways! There might even be time for – ahem – more intimate activities.

So, as we dismantle and deactivate, shut down and shut off, I feel no sadness. The garden’s already decommissioned, the cover crop sown. The fishing is over, the rods stowed in the garage. The turkeys will meet their maker in less than three weeks.

And today, we started taking in our lobster pots.

There are ten – or there were ten, at any rate. Now it seems there are only nine. Today, we went out to check them for the first time in six weeks, and to start bringing them in. As temperatures drop and wind comes increasingly out of the north, there are fewer and fewer days that we can take our boat out into Cape Cod Bay.

Today was one of the days. It was almost dead calm, and the water in Barnstable Harbor was glassy and still. There were friendly little wavelets out in the bay, and it was a smooth ride out. It was cold – about 45 degrees – but wind is what matters most. On a windless day, not only is the cold not as biting, there’s also much less danger of falling into the water, which is the real danger.

Possibly the biggest lobster of the season -- not legal to take, alas

Our plan was to bring in half, but when we pulled the first one and found two huge lobsters in it, we reconsidered.

In a pinch, we can fit all ten pots (and certainly all nine, if one has indeed disappeared permanently) on the boat in one trip. It’s mighty crowded, though, and a little heavy. It’s easier and safer if we take a couple of shifts to bring them in.

When we saw the lobsters in the trap, our first impulse was to leave all the pots out there. But when we saw that they were both egg-bearing females, not legal to take, it tempered our enthusiasm.

We checked all nine, and found a good half-dozen females to be reckoned with, but only one keeper. We compromised and brought in three of the pots, leaving six out there. That way, we can easily get the rest in one fell swoop if that’s what the weather seems to require. Regardless, we’ll have everything out of the water and stowed away within the next few weeks.

I don’t think I’ll miss either lobster or lobstering. One of the pleasures of procuring your own food is getting your fill in season, and getting a hankering again just in time for next year’s season. It’ll be exciting all over again in May, when we’ll put the pots in for the 2011 season.

Same goes for the garden, and the mushroom hunting. I’ll miss the salt water fishing, though. I love fishing. Luckily, we’ve got trout in our backyard, and that’s almost as good.

We’ll ice fish, we’ll shellfish, we’ll make salt. We’ll feed the chickens, collect the eggs, and tend any plant hardy enough to stay alive in our hoophouse. But that won’t take anything close to all our time, and I’m really looking forward to that.

14 people are having a conversation about “Winding down

  1. So you can’t fish because it’s not safe to – or there are no fish?
    I guess fish must follow the seasons too.

    It’s such an alien thing you describe – this being too cold to do stuff. Living down here I managed to spend the first 18 years of my life in shorts, shirt and occasional jumper.

    I’ve always thought the cold is the reason for such a rich (ex-)european culture ~ we developed singing, stories, pantomime & toilet humour simply because that big bunch of cold days were pretty boring otherwise. The winter solstice celebration so significant because “Woohoo! – Half Past Winter!”

    Anyway, I’m digressing…

    Are the turkeys still liking the acorns?

    • The fish, I’m sorry to say, have left for greener pastures.

      I love your theory about Western culture. I’ll add a caveat, though. If it’s TOO cold (think Greenland), civilizations end up spending all their time trying to feed/warm/clothe themselves, and they’ve got none to spare for niceties like literature and music. There’s a happy medium in there somewhere.

      Turkey/acorn update coming soon …

  2. That’s a great photo! I think you have the same thought running through your head that I had all summer every time I pulled up a crab net with a giant Dungeness in it (“How can I hide this safely in my jacket?”). Luckily, Dungeness season just started for us out here in California, as well as the season for harvesting mussels. At a limit of 10 pounds per person per day, I foresee a lot of mussel-recipe-tinkering in my future. First on deck: mussel macaroni and cheese, with the last of the garden’s peppers to cut all that richness.

      • Accidental Mick says:

        Are Americans too honest to have developed poachers pockets? Take a knee length coat and inside at the back just above the hem, sew a pocket large enough to take the pheasant or rabbit that you you were not supposed to catch. Even if you got it legaly, there is an secret pleasure in walking along with it bumping against the back of your knees whilst knowing that nobody can see it.

        Might not be a great place to have a live lobster though 🙂

  3. This time of year I am always looking forward to winter. I have worked hard all summer on the garden and by fall canning, dehydrating, and freezing take all the free time I have and then some. I can now start to think about all the projects and reading I had set aside.


  4. Tamar, the entire timbre of that post is rich with the break you both have earned. I have always loved cleaning the garden for winter and thinking of what to plant the next year. There is something amazingly simple and relaxing about getting ready for winter, even here in the high desert of California.

  5. What a beautiful thing, to live a seasonal life. Civilization has stripped that from us, but that’s how it’s supposed to be. Work hard during times of plenty, wind down otherwise.

    It’s one of the things I love about teaching – there is once again a rhythm to my life. I wish the three-month break were in wintter so I could hunt ducks incessantly, but the reality is I get a three-month break, and it makes the periods of really hard work much easier to take.

  6. Hope you enjoy your down time, we’ll look forward to seeing more of you two! And, the boys want to see what ice fishing is all about, so please let me know when that time comes.

  7. Reading this makes me think I need to suit up and get outside- I’m not near as ready for winter as you are. But then, I’m not as far north as you are…

    Enjoy your downtime.

  8. I love that I can post something, and get people from all around the world chiming in. I see I’m not the only one who appreciates seasonality.

    Will someone please remind me of that in the dead of February, when I start complaining about being house-bound?

  9. Tamar, if you need some sun in the dead of Febrary, pop over to the Western Cape of South Africa… our temperatures in the Swartland where I live reach 45 deg C, and we start hibernating for a totally different reason! All outdoors activity ends by 8am!

  10. Do you feel the seasonality more with your life on the Cape than you did in NY? Or is it a different type of seasonality?

    I notice on other blogs people are talking about books they’re reading now, or eating the last of their harvests, and there’s a general feeling of winding down and hunkering down for winter. I hope you both enjoy your winter hibernation.

    Have you discovered the joy of leafing through next year’s seed catalogues yet? It helps to ward off cabin fever.

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