Lunch with Swift

Roaming southern New Hampshire's Monadnock Region and beyond — visiting unique places and tasting the local flavor..

By a Mossy Brook

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Paddle to the sea
I am next to this brook thinking of an experience I had years ago when I was involved with a bunch of youngsters building a dug out canoe.  This nice lunch spot is bringing it back to me.   A warning here,  this is going to stray on the convenience store mission of Lunch with Swift and stretch a bit.
The spot in this clip is hidden in the woods up the road from the Washington Store.    Washington vies for the  title as most photographed town in the area with Harrisville.  It is especially great in the fall in when the leaves are turning.   Snowmobiles park all over the town in winter and especially in front of the store.  In the summer,   There are lots of folks who have houses on the many ponds in town.   But, now its spring,  people are slowly untangling themselves from too much time curled in front of their wood stove.  Mud season is over, gardens are going in.   It is awfully quiet at the store right now.   If today was rainy, you might find me at the  lunch the counter in the store where  they make a great hamburger and breakfast all day.

But I am up the road from there and in the woods for lunch today.  Its in Lempster where this little brook runs down the hill.   Water collects and joins the Ashsuelot river.   From here it will travel 45 miles from here to the Connecticut River.   Some of the towns it will be passing through are Marlow, Gilsum,  Keene,  Swanzey, Winchester, and out to the big river in Hinsdale.  Then, the water that is going by me now will continue for another 115 miles to head through these towns in Massachusetts — Gill, Greenfield, North Hampton, and Springfield where in Connecticut it will pass through Hartford, and head into Long Island Sound at Mystic.    These drops of water will pass by a lot if people.











It stirs my memory  to a time when I was invited by Temple, the founder  of   Mountain  Shadows in Dublin, to work with the students to build a dug out canoe.


Looking back 23 years  ago, the kids I worked with are now done with college and some may even have their own children.  I remember we started the project by reading Paddle to The Sea by Holling C. Holling.

This book about a little Native American boy had us thoroughly  engaged.   When we started the work, the kids and I were all primed by reading and rereading it.   During that Fall and the following spring we took one little step at a time.   That is the only way a dug out canoe could be built.    It was 1991  with no internet– I went to the library to find some literature about how it is done.  There was nothing I could find out in the Peterborough library.  Next I went to the Boston Public Library.   I did find some interesting and useful material there but even that was limited.   Later,  I went to the Plymouth Plantation down in Plymouth, Mass  and talked to the folks there.    The people that staff the village are the “keepers of the flame.”  They know how to build dugout canoes.  Talking with them helped me understand how to approach the project.
I spoke to one man in the dusty replica of Plymouth Plantation who was dressed in a deer skin suit of the period.  He was working coals around a cherry burl.   “You have to keep the edges cool and daub mud on the rails as the canoe becomes hollowed out.”    He said,  “Don’t let the fire get too hot.   Don’t rush. ”   And then he blew on the burl that he was turning into a bowl.  A whisp of smoke rose from the blackened surface and a small spot glowed red.   He was doing was the same thing to this piece as what we would to build our canoe.    It was simple.   We needed a log.
Back in Dublin, at Mountain Shadows,  we went down into the woods with a tractor and pulled up a big fallen pine.   It was about 22 inches in diameter with thick bark and clear and about 30 feet long.    We set it in a side yard where we could have a series of fires in it and around it.    We chose the best 16 feet of it  and cut it to that length
Then , we propped it up along it’s future keel.    Every step was simple.    One step led to the next.   Over the next months the  we gathered wood and had a number of fires on the log.  Sometimes, when the fires were out, we would chop at the coals.  We got better about how to build the fire and how we could direct the flame and  heat to focus on forming a particular part of the log.  The canoe slowly took shape.    Our fires were much more than little whips of smoke and little glowing coals.  They raged with high flames.   We had long fires on the top of the log to cut through the bark and eat into the log.   We had other fires forcing flame at the bow and stern forming  the outer part of the canoe.   As time went on the canoe got lighter.    It was never very light like a modern canoe,  but it was light enough for us  to handle.  There were at least 20 different fire episodes during that year.  We kept returning to the book,  Paddle to the Sea as our guidepost.  There were so many opportunities to explore the metaphors of journeys  in this project.  We were getting a unique experience as observations came up about the log and it’s transformation.   We  found metaphors in fire, water, and wood.   It was a slow process.   We thought of the native villagers who might have heard from scouts that there was a raiding party from another tribe coming in their canoes to do their people harm.   We thought of them rushing to get the canoe formed up and run away to safety.   As we were learning this was not something that could be rushed.
Finally, the hull was formed.       We took it to the water on a beautiful warm spring day.   We discovered that if we made a number of slings under the canoe, we could, with pairs of  small kids on either side, lift the boat.   In this way, we moved the boat over the Dublin Lake beach.  We placed it in the water.   There it bobbed with just enough of the log in the water and enough free-board out of the water to make a reasonably seaworthy craft.   I can remember kids paddling it around.    I can’t remember getting it out of the water or taking it back to Mountain Shadows.   However, it was returned to the school somehow and placed in the woods at the end of a long field.     It still rests there.   To my knowledge,  it was only ever in the water that one spring day.  But it didn’t matter because the journey for this boat was in the building the boat not actually using it.
So I’m here on this little stream in Lempster on the side of this mossy brook, thinking of paddling to the sea.    I could get there from here.



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Lunch under the Gnome– at The Enchanted Bakery — Westmoreland, NH

Keene people, you have a lot of places to eat and things to do in town but when you read this, my prediction is that you are going to get in your Charger, your convertible Mustang, your F150, Kawasaki ninja, jeep or whatever and head on west to Westmoreland. You will drive over the hill and peek out toward Vermont but with no need to go. You will pass the cell towers on the right and head down the hill.

Come on in and join me under the big gnome at the Enchanted Bakery. They are making up sandwiches to order right now! I’m having an egg salad sandwich with provolone, cucumbers, and hot peppers piled high on focaccia bread. Guaranteed to be the best egg salad sandwich I have ever had.

Strangely, after the skinny man with the beard and the baseball cap has bid goodbye, I am the only one in here. Soon they will be closing for the afternoon. My kind sandwich maker has given me extra napkins for the car. I am coming back. This place is a winner. The sign says they serve breakfast all day until they close at 2. Real maple syrup on your pancakes is also a plus for those early afternoon breakfasts. That is for an other time. You will read more about this place.


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Somewhere on a lonely NH Highway

A text comes through at 6:35. It is Swifty. “Dad, what are you doing for breakfast?” “I dunno.”

“Lets go to the Peterborough diner.” For those not in the (603) 924-XXXX area, its one of those shiny old rail cars joints with lots of choices on the menu, paneled veneer walls, lots of stainless steel and a counter with slick vinyl covered stools. There are booths too. Some times when the light is just right that it takes on the look of an Edward Hopper painting. And you can get right into that mood.

But it isn’t like that today. As usual, its morning so at least one of us is full of beans. That one would be my boy Swifty.

We peruse the menu. The waitress comes over. We order.

After a few minutes of Swifty talking about the cool tree work projects he is working on, “dad, dad, dad, you should have seen it, it was so amazing, I had this tree rigged up so it would fall just so and it just slipped into the chipper like nothin’. The machine was barely working…, and it was such a transformation on the land … and I made up 2 cords of firewood in an hour.. yep, that’s the way to do it…”

Our breakfast comes.

The conversation shifts to my blog. “dad, dad, dad, you really need to go negative on some of these places” “I can’t do that, I don’t want to go there” then I add “but I was in a convenience store a few days ago that was really something. You should have seen it. It was a big place on the side of a main NH highway. It was raining hard and I walked in and shook off. There was no other person in the store except the cashier. There were no cars in the parking lot. I was thinking of some tea and snack crackers. I looked around. The store was a bit of a jumble and the lighting was flickering fluorescent in the front of the store and almost no light in the back. I could hear a leak in the roof dripping at a quick drip, drip, drip pace with drops smacking on some laid out loose plastic sheet on the floor. It felt like a zombie movie or post disaster.

One wall was entirely cheap wine. MD 20 20, Red Rooster, boxed stuff. It stretched back it the darkness like it was reaching the vanishing point. I searched around for snack crackers. Nothing. I saw a few cans of Dinty Moore Stew and some Brillow Pads. There were no potato chips in bags. In this food desert, this was the Empty Quarter. I did finally find some Sour Cream and Onion Pringles and some crappy off brand ice tea. I was reasonably sure the canned chips would be ok even if they were old. They probably were. Pringles have so much oddball artificial stuff in them they would be fine. But it was shocking to be in a place like this and have to search for a snack. Then, I went to check out. Around the cashier was a rack of lottery tickets, a rack of cigarettes, and laid out in front of him like someone had come in with a bucket and tipped it out were a bunch of colorful shiny cheap pocket knives. While the store flickered with dim fluorescent light there was a bit more light shining on these knives. I had to think that this store was in a last gasp effort to be open. But I won’t say where this place is, maybe it was a dream– every where can’t be the Dublin General or the Harrisville Store the two best kinds do country  stores around. It’s the spectrum of the quality of these places that makes things interesting. It’s the fabric of the countryside.”

Swifty says, “yeah right, dad.” And we gobble up our breakfast while the weather lady on the big TV on the dinner wall tells about spring coming to New Hampshire. And outside the sun is shining on a forsythia, all bright yellow.


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The Newfane Creamery Rt 30 Newfane, Vt.

It was the middle of the winter when my friends and I started talking about a canoe trip. When I thought of all the deep snow in Vermont, I thought about it melting and washing into the rivers there. I liked the look of the White River which flows out of Warren and the Sugarbush area and heads over to the Connecticut River. I bought the AMC river guide book.

They said the time to run the White River is in late April and early May. Any earlier and the water would be too high! Any later and there would not be enough…

It’s a Friday afternoon May 2, 2014. We are gathering. There are six of us. We are headed for the white river. Tonight we will be camping. But we will be stopping on the way for dinner.

Michael says its pizza night at the Newfane Creamery. Let’s go there. Michael says it’s only 10 minutes out of the way. None of us question this. It turns out that that it would be 2 hours and 10 minutes out of the way. I am not complaining and what happens after is worthy of another story.

Having driven for an hour past Keene, we pull into the Newfane Creamery. I am a little surprised. I have worked for years in Townshend and Newfane on a continuous forestry project in town and I have never noticed this place. We go in. It has that long time, lived-in look. It has definitely not just opened. This is another blackboard special menu type of place. In the case are your slaws, salads, and delicious looking carrot cake. What really catches my eye are the crab cakes.

Our fresh faced waitress comes over and we order our pizzas. But I have just got to have a crab cake, too. It’s worth the trip. There are six of us. We order three of them. When they arrive. We descend like seagulls. Gone in 15 seconds. Our eyes roll back in our heads. I lick the plate of the remnant aioli and crab cake.

Our pizzas come. They are out of the ordinary, excellent and tasty. We eat every crumb.

All the while we tell stories and laugh. It’s Friday night and we have been set loose in Vermont.

Newfane creamery, How did I miss you?

When we finish our meal, we have a fascination about some furniture made of silver dollars setting over in the corner. It draws us over and we hang around the place too long like little annoying children who are fixated on a toy at a toy shop. The waitress wonders if we will ever leave.

We eventually do leave and set out for the next segment of our journey that little do we know, we will be needing all of this good nourishment…