Easter weekend started for me by visiting my nephew Riker and niece Abi who live in West Pawlet, Vermont, a farming hamlet that makes Keene Valley feel large in comparison.
Riker and Abi's partner Pete work for and live on the Bardwell Farm, known for its artisan goat and cow milk cheeses. Bardwell, the first cheese-making co-op in Vermont, has helped stimulate the growth of artisanal cheese making throughout the Champlain Valley and beyond. Indeed, Pete's sister Margo, who learned the craft at Bardwell, with her husband Alex, now have a farm called the Sugar House Creamery in Upper Jay.
Pete's job is managing the farm, and a passion he shares with Riker is making craft beers. I enjoyed watching him brew his latest batch and can attest that Pete's IPA and lager are exceptional. Thus far, they are making enough for friends and family, but who knows, in the not-too-distance future, a new brewery could be gracing southern Vermont.
Kids show their Easter loot at the Keene Valley Congregational Church.
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)
When not jogging, Abi takes care of their pigs and Guinea fowl, an excellent predator of deer ticks and just about every other backyard pest. She is a nurse practitioner in Whitehall and pumped me for details of health challenges her uncles and grandparents faced. From Abi, I learned about the challenges of breeding pigs, especially when the sow is almost twice the size of the male.
Riker is a jack-of-all-trades, which ranges from caring for goats to taking on various construction projects at the farm. He's also picked up the family skill of cooking and demonstrated his abilities grilling ribs, a Cajun-style pork loin, spiraled hotdogs, and other goodies greatly augmented by dips and side dishes brought at day's end by friends, co-workers, and Abi and Riker's mom Susan.
As an aside, a rail-trail runs through the 400-acre farm, and I understand it is well-maintained by snowmobilers in winter and used by bikers in the summer. Indeed, a few were peddling along that day. The co-op, artisanal and organic farm movement has attracted a lot of young people to take up farming in southern Vermont as it has here in New York, especially in Essex County.
Easter Sunday opened for me at 7 a.m. at the Keene Valley transfer station with a service led by Pastor John Sampson of the Keene Valley Congregational Church. This being his first service at that time and locale, he arrived with a bit of a what-am-I-getting-myself-in-for look as concerns of rain, wind and cold, coupled with images of what a service at an old dump might be like. But the sun rose, the weather was warm, birds chirped, the view was spectacular, and the turnout was excellent. Pastor John was thrilled, and the locals were amazed by the balmiest weather experienced in some time.
This was followed by breakfast at the Noonmark Diner, a chance for people informally chat over a hearty home-cooked meal before going home to don their Easter apparel for church. A blessing was the many children who gathered around John early during the Sunday worship for a special story. Their post-church celebration and reward for attending was an Easter egg hunt on the church lawn.
Brightly colored eggs were placed everywhere, some just lying on the grass while others were hid in trickier locations. Young people dashed here and there, with older, taller ones often stopping to help a younger one reach an egg nestled in a branch, on a banister or another place a bit beyond their ability to stretch. It made me think of the challenge of finding Easter eggs at our home growing up as our parents were very creative as to where they hid them, such as replacing the bulb of a desk lamp with an egg, hiding them inside a shoe, or behind one of the hundreds or books lining the bookshelves.
Post service, I had Easter dinner with my former favorite neighbor Louise Gregg, who now lives at Saranac Village at Will Rogers. Her niece Betsy Lowe cooked a fabulous tenderloin roast and all the fixings. Louise's daughter Judy and her husband Rich came over from their home in Vermont.
Louise was a beloved host in Keene Valley. She usually created a meal once a week to which she invited an assortment of friends. She liked to mix up ages and experiences, and the meal usually started with people sitting on her deck and looking out over Keene Valley with Mount Marcy straight out in the distance. While she couldn't replicate the view, Betsy certainly replicated the warmth, hospitality and great food added and abetted by her partner Wiley.
Jim and Keela Rogers stopped by earlier on which led into a discussion of the different roots of Rodgers vs. Rogers. We Wikoffs don't have to worry about such nuances as for whether it's spelled Wikoff, Wyckoff, Wycuf or one of over 20 other variations; it's all the same family.
I ended the day having a long phone conversation with my nephew Pieter's 13-year-old daughter Pape, an accomplished softball player out in LA. We got chatting about her interest in science which had its roots in her two large backyard snail pets when she was 4 or 5 years old. The snails loved Pape. When she charged down the stairs in the morning, they'd perk up. Their upper tentacles which have their eyes on the ends would start waving about in anticipation of whatever adventure Pape would take them on, be it clinging to her wrists while she raced around the yard or getting rides across the floor in her toy cars.
I told Pape about how her grandfather Gerret (aka G), Uncle Quickly (Chris), and I had pet ducks when we lived on Swiss Road. In the summer, we took the ducks swimming down to the Mirror Lake Inn beach. I'd carry mine, but Gerret made his walk. We and the ducks would spend all day splashing and swimming about, and, of course, the ducks had a grand time. At the end of the day, we'd call the ducks and tell them it was time to go home. They'd swim over, and I'd pick mine up. True to form, Gerret would make his walk back, not a small hill for a duck to climb. Pape loved that story.
All in all, this was a great way to spend Easter on a couple of warm, mostly sunny days, with friends and family.