John Harrigan: An old-fashioned winter, and the possums come on

JOHN HARRIGAN March 15. 2014 9:12PM

Beginning Wednesday and culminating Thursday afternoon, we experienced a real old-fashioned winter storm. When it was over, I figured that just shy of 20 inches of snow had been added to the three feet already in the back yard. It buried the four-foot high well-head marker I'd put up in October, to avoid bashing it with the bucket-loader.

Once again, I cancelled appointments in Concord, not because I couldn't get there - no weather has ever stopped me - but because I did not want to expose myself to the risks of the road. So I cancelled everything, stayed home, and as the snow drove sideways onto the old house cobbled up a pot roast, one of my favorites. The drive Down Below and the appointments could wait. Appearances to the contrary, spring is nigh.


Possible possums? You bet. They are considered a southern animal, but possums have been moving north during the warming trend, just like ticks, and even in this, one of the true old-fashioned winters, they've showed up in previously unknown places.

A week or so ago I got a call from Harmon Whitcomb of Bloomfield, who said he and his family have been visited by two of the strange creatures, which seemed interested in a recyclables bin and a burn barrel. Pauline Johnsey was the first to spot one, and Paul Cauley got a picture of one rummaging around in a bin of cans.

This was no great surprise to me, because reports from readers have indicated a steady northward movement. "They are not know to be fast getting across the road," Harmon observed, putting it mildly. Hitting one, drivers report, is like hitting an upside-down kettle, or more colorfully put, an upside-down pot-hole.


When the famed Balsams Grand Resort Hotel shut down three years ago, all of its contents, from beds to chairs to crockery, were auctioned off. This was a traumatic event for those who worked there, lived there, had family there, or just plain loved the place - and still do.

I was too absorbed in the drama of the event to bid on anything, but longtime friend Paul Nugent knew of my family's long association with the hotel - I caddied there, my brother was a bellboy and elevator operator, my elder sister taught horseback, my younger daughter worked in housekeeping - and gave me a plate from his trove.

This all came home to me this morning as I tried to remove the stains on the plate from an old iron three-tined fork, using a recipe I gleaned from Heloise, of Helpful Hints from Heloise, which I've been following for decades. Heloise loves baking soda and vinegar. She claims that this combination could rule the world - no, the universe.

What does this have to do with an outdoor column? The Balsams, situated in one of the wildest and most remote parts of northern New England, required gentlemen (their term) to wear dinner jackets at supper, but was also smack astride the routes taken by hunters and fishermen bound for or coming back from far-flung points.

Longtime friend John Lanier's father was one of those who, having spent time searching the likes of Rapid River for trout, and who, sick of his own trailside cooking, was hungry for more refined fare when he reached Dixville Notch on his way home. Arriving at the hotel, as fish-slimed and muddy and grubby as a guy can get, he could ascend the grand staircase and arrive at the dining room attired (sort of) in a dress jacket, always left in a closet for him by his friend and fishing pal Dr. Randall Brooks of Colebrook.

.The other day, I saw two distinct otter slides down over an embankment along Route 145 between Colebrook and Pittsburg, parallel to Beaver Brook.

As a guy who loves to see evidence of otters on ice-shelves along patches of open water in rivers, I've been concerned about what looks to me like a drastic drop in evidence that otters are still here in healthy numbers.



After the big storm ended Thursday, seeing a clear sky just as darkness enveloped the land, I turned off all the lights in house, shop and barns before I trudged out to add the night's final pieces to keep the outdoor furnace humming along through the night.

Halfway there, I stopped and craned my neck to behold the heavens. There was absolutely no artificial light - none from my buildings or from visible neighbors, there being absolutely none.

The starlight was overwhelming, physically and mentally, providing enough illumination bouncing off the snow to make everything, after my eyes and mind had adjusted, perfectly clear. Well, in the latter case, not even close.


John Harrigan's address: Box 39, Colebrook, NH 03576, or

John Harrigan

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