October Antics

The Mountain Farmgirl is bedazzled by the sudden onset of Autumn’s splendor in this, her favorite season of the year. Strange ‘folks’ are suddenly popping up all over town, though … and they’re not here to view the changing leaves. Come join Mountain Farmgirl Cathi Belcher and take a peek at what all the hubbub and commotion is about…

Howdy, Gals! I love all the different seasons, which is why I make my home in the mountains of New England, where each one is unique and distinct. It’s officially autumn here now, the nights are appropriately crisp and clear (brrrrr…) and our maple trees are beginning to turn their characteristic fiery hues.  If I absolutely HAD to choose, I’m sure this would be my favorite season of all. Apples, pumpkins, hay bales, cornstalks, crunchy leaves underfoot (smelling deeply of the earth), and the unmistakable aroma of wood smoke … Mmmmm, put it all together and I’m in my glory! I just spent parts of the last few weeks on two of my favorite activities in the whole world: splitting & stacking firewood, and building a stone wall.  I am convinced that if everyone occupied themselves with either of these activities from time to time, the world would have little need for therapists! It clears my head, gets out any pent up frustrations, and leaves me totally satisfied, with a feeling of great accomplishment and a good healthy ‘tiredness’ after all is said and done. Also, just last week I discovered a new variety of apple which actually rivals my previously favorite Mutsu; it’s called a Honey Crisp. Have you tried ‘em? I’m salivating now just thinking of them with their tart, aromatically crunchy flesh, brimming with juice. Next year I’ll remember to stock up on them early. (Better yet, I think I’ll plant a couple … fruit trees are just like money in the bank). As it is, the local orchard has already sold out for this season, and my half-bushel basket full of these beauties just seemed to evaporate before my very eyes. Ahhh, the gifts of the harvest!


Now Farmgirls, I don’t wanna brag (well, maybe a just little!), but when it comes to autumn, New Hampshire is up there on the Must-See List. If you’re ever up in these parts I hope you’ll stop in and pay me a visit.  Anyway, this year Yankee magazine finally came out and named my little town of Jackson (population 700-something), one of the Top Ten Foliage viewing spots in all New England, calling us “The Jewel of the White Mountains” in their Sept/Oct issue. While we have always known this to be true, it is no longer one of our Best Kept Secrets … the truth is out!

Up until a few days ago, fall appeared to be getting a late start. Some years, when conditions are favorable, color can sometimes tinge the leaves as early as mid-August! As of Monday, though, the view from my “laptop perch” here at the front desk of our Lodge gave me the false impression that it was still summer … everything was so lush and green. Then on Tuesday I looked across the street and noticed that two trees on the hillside had just the beginnings of the slightest blush of red  … On Wednesday I was amazed that these same trees, (which from my vantage point seemed to be positioned just above the peak of the old barn across the road), were a deep burgundy red and the maple to its right was beginning to hint of orange. Yesterday it had become a deep and unmistakable fire-orange, as were a few others. Today as I look across the street, I see autumn in all its glorious splendor … nowhere yet near peak in intensity, but looking like a New England postcard nonetheless. How in just 4 short days, is it possible to transition from summer to fall so abruptly? The answer is (as you probably know already) that the colors were there all along! As they begin to shut down their food-making factories, the green chlorophyll disappears from the leaves, and as it fades away, we begin to see colors that have actually been in the leaves all summer! I wonder if people are like that? Are there layers of colorful beauty lying underneath in all of us, just waiting to reveal themselves as we pass on through various stages in our lives? I like to think so … it gives me hope as I grow older, as the patina of years and experiences begin to shine through (the wrinkles)!

Now let’s see … a couple blogs back I wrote about rituals, and this week I’ve been enjoying a few of my favorites … how ‘bout you? … and since then my mother and sister came to stay with me for our semi-annual visit. As always, we snuck in our little rituals of dinner out, a bit of crafting, hunting for the ultimate “finds” in unique shops, and of course, the Mother/Daughter pedicure splurge!!  We listened to each others triumphs and the things which delight us, and also shared each others troubles and worries over bottomless cups of tea. My sister has the wonderful gift of laughter … an infectious laugh that affects everyone she meets … (believe me, no one is immune to its magic!) … and it’s such good medicine that I’m convinced everyone who meets her will live longer because of it.  (That's my sister with the big fish she caught ... see what I mean?!). Anyway, we laughed and laughed over everything (and nothing) until we almost cried … the belly-aching, healing, gasping-for-air kind of laughter that cleanses and rejuvenates. What a wonderful time we had.   It was sad having to say goodbye so quickly (time FLEW!!), but following closely on their heels as my mom and Sue drove away were the “Leaf Peepers” to keep us busy! These are the tourists who make their annual pilgrimage to New England to see the colored leaves, snap their photos next to our covered bridge, buy some of our creamy maple sugar or have a picnic near our waterfalls for which our town is famous. (Note: Our Jackson Falls are responsible for the start of the tourism industry here in the White Mountains. In the 1800s the ‘Hudson River’ school of artists somehow found us and started sending their beautiful paintings of our falls out into the world. Viewers wanted to know where such beauty resided and started coming to see for themselves. Of course there were no hotels here then, so folks stayed with farmers in their homes, which quickly became the first ‘bed and breakfasts’ and it all took off from there!).  I love this time of year and the interesting people I might otherwise never have the opportunity to meet.  They come from as far away as Europe, California, Canada and Florida, and everywhere in between. This week a few on our eclectic roster of guests also hailed from England, Switzerland, Ireland and Germany. But they are not the only folks to flock to Jackson, NH. each October; not by a long shot! Let me introduce you to some others, a few of whom are undoubtedly bound to make you smile!  Farmgirls … Meet “The Pumpkin People”! 

For nearly two decades now, “Pumpkin People” have returned to Jackson as surely as birds flock and fly south! And they come in all shapes and sizes, doing all manners of crazy things, ranging from “little folk” no bigger than Lilipumpkins (er, I mean Lilliputians) to larger than life Jack(o’Lanterns) and the Beanstalks (or in this case, Cornstalks!).  Pumpkin People visit nearly every business in town and most of the residences here in Jackson as well, and it has become a much anticipated, down-home ritual, known far and wide ... a lovely tradition! Made of wooden frames (such as 2x4s with hinged joints), rounded out with bubble wrap and duct tape, and dressed in real clothing, the Pumpkin People are as varied as the imaginations of those who make them.  Their only common denominator is that each and every pumpkin person must have a real live pumpkin for a head! Like magic they appear for the month of October, when thousands of folks flock to our tiny little town in search of them all!  Our local Chamber of Commerce prints a map with the locations of all the displays, and folks take the self-guided tour, going from one to the next, trying to find them all, and voting for their favorites. It is good, clean homespun fun!

In years past, our family has chosen different themes for our displays. Our first year it was “Celebrating the Great Outdoors” with Pumpkin People kayaking down the storm drains, another downhill ski-jumping off the roof of our Lodge, one cross-country skiing on the grass, and a hearty fellow rock climbing up the outside of our stone chimney.  What fun!! We’ve had Pumpkin People ‘playing tennis’ in real live poses on our tennis court;  Harry Pumpkin (Potter) and the Sorcerer’s Stone, with all the characters around a bubbling cauldron (spewing bubbles from a bubble machine). One year we won First Prize for our rendition of the 3 Musketeers, which we called “The Three Pumpkateers and the Cardinal’s Gourds”. It featured two Pumpkateers having a duel and the third one made to look like he was flying through the air on a zipline to break up the fight! This year my theme is Simplicity (of course!) and our display will be set up near the Tiny House.  I am illustrating a quote by Henry David Thoreau which I have always loved: “I’d rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion”.  Our Pumpkin Person (whose name each year is always ‘Longfellow’) will be sitting on a huge pumpkin, while tons of tiny pumpkin and gourds (their faces painted by my two youngest kids) will be all ‘squashed’ (no pun intended) together on a big, fuzzy pillow! You can see how much fun we all have each year at this time. The competition is ‘fiercely friendly’ with everyone getting into their displays with reckless abandon. Some are interactive, some are innovative with moving parts and light shows, but regardless of how festive or flashy they are, everyone puts a lot of time, energy and work into them for the entertainment and enjoyment of all.

But truth be told, while our little New Hampshire community rallies together for good clean fun each October, these ‘innovations’, cute as they are,  are  really nothing ‘new’.  Farmgirls the world over have been creatively embellishing their homesteads for generations … from their scarecrows which appear with first greens in spring gardens, to wallpapered henhouses and everything in-between.  Farmgirls lovingly and creatively enhance life around them in so many ways, costing us nothing but our creativity, but adding priceless moments  to remember ... even if the memory is just a vague ‘feeling’ of the warmth and love that shows we care. Whether it be the fluted crust on an apple pie, the canning jar full of flowers on the windowsill, a sprig of lavender in the linen closet or a myriad other little touches, the Farmgirl conditions of our hearts constantly overflow into everyday life. So how about it, I’m curious … now that you’ve heard what I’m doing this week, what are some of the ways you spice up YOUR life in this beautiful season?  I’m all ears and smiles, waiting to hear.  Until next time, ladies, have a wonderful week. With much love and hugs from the Mountain Farmgirl,
Cathi Belcher



By: Claudia
On: 10/04/2010 07:42:19
Love Ne Hampshire in the fall. I love the way people decorate and smell in the air and just everything! Thanks for reminding me it's time to come back.
By: Patricia Yelle
On: 10/04/2010 08:33:14
So glad you enjoyed your family visit, certainly looks like you had lots of fun, and I hope enjoyed a wonderful fish dinner!! I so much look forward to your blog and thank you for sharing your thoughts and activities with us - its like being there. This time, I especially liked your "Pumpkin People"! You are certainly creative in New Hampshire, and I hope you don't mind if I pass this idea on to our local Chamber of Commerce - it is great!! Have a wonderful Fall!!
By: Dot
On: 10/04/2010 10:16:27
I love all the pumpkin people...it would be worth the trip just to see them along with the trees, of course!
By: bonnie ellis
On: 10/04/2010 15:22:15
Cathi: If I were able, I too would flock to your town. Those pumpkin people are such fun. My husband and I went to Vermont when he went to a photography school. I ventured into NH a lot and it is indeed beautiful. Minnesota has loots of maples and it is gorgeous here to. I will put you on my bucket list and maybe next fall I can make it. Happy autumn farmgirl. From Bonnie
By: KimberlyD
On: 10/04/2010 19:28:49
I like part of two seasons, the end of summer and begining of fall. The end of summer all the veggies are ripe (love fresh from the vine tomatoes!) and begining of fall for same reason, also for the leaves changing, I don't like the endo of fall when the leaves are all gone. I too have just tried the Honeycrisp apples, they are yummmy! I think they might be my new favorites also!
This weekend is our annuel Tuscola County Pumpkin festival in Michigan, all the yummy pumpkin pies for sale and vendors selling cute little crafts, even a parade.
Michigan has great fall color tours, and I have been enjoying the show, we have farm fields and sometimes in the middle of them a patch of woods and I always think they look like a quilt made by "mother nature".

I would love to visit your kneck of the woods some time, been south, been west, but never east, guess I will have to fix that...lol and it sounds like the best time to come is in October.
By: LaVerna
On: 10/04/2010 21:00:19
I read your blog all the time and really LOVE IT. I liked this one especially because I too love making scarecrows and have made some pretty interesting ones myself enjoyed seeing some more different and unusual ones . You and your mom & sister sound alot like me&my sister. people in our area say they can hear us all the way down the valley laughing, they know exactly who it is They either come over or phone cause they know were having fun LaVerna from Hillsboro Ohio
By: Cathy Harvey
On: 10/05/2010 05:29:57
Cathi, Just a note to tell you how much I look forward to your blogs every month! I always pass them onto my friends and they feel the same way. They are inspirational and full of good, clean fun. Thanks a bunch!
By: Kris
On: 10/05/2010 11:04:32
Love the pumpkin people, especially The Beatles. When your Thoreau Quote is finished please show us that too.
By: Sneaux
On: 10/05/2010 18:21:09
I adore the pumpkin people! They're so creative and awesome!
By: Lyndee
On: 10/08/2010 10:19:30
Delightful! Hope I get to come there someday and be a tourist. I love the fall here in WI too. The drive from Mauston to La Valle is lovely just about now. Your visit with your mom and sis was fun to share in. Uh oh late to tea. Must rush!
By: Cheryl R
On: 10/10/2010 20:11:26
Fall, glorious Fall!! I SO share your enthusiasm for this most amazing gift of a season. Here in Missouri our Falls are just as gorgeous as you describe your own. I, too, love reacquainting myself with the smells and views each and every year. I adore the outdoors, the chores, cleaning up the yard and flower beds, planting mums and decorating here and there as time and money allow, anything to make the season last a little longer. This year a first for me was making my own apple butter and canning it. What a thrill to hear the pop of the seal on those jars! I know, crazy to some, but not to us "farm girls", even if we are in the suburbs like myself. I'm hooked and plan to make a larger batch right away!
Take care, Cathi, and may God continue to bless!
By: Christine
On: 10/12/2010 04:25:39
Love reading your blogs! We have to cut wood to heat our home. Cutting wood is great exerise and you get warmed up twice, once cutting it and once when you burn it! LOL Pumpkin people look like a fun project to do. Love the Beatles one. God is such a wonderful artist for us, isn't He! The colors are so vibrant and warming even when the weather is chilly. I love fall too, except not as much as I used too. I have allergies from now until next June. My body doesn't like cold and dampness. So its like having a cold for all those months.
By: O'Dell
On: 10/12/2010 19:04:46
Hi Cathi,

I always love the fall the best too! I've just made 2 apple pies....some for the neighbors who have taken in 2 teenagers who's parents gave them the boot (they're addicts, sadly). These are good kids, who are working, and contributing to their new family, so I thought pie would be a way to welcome them to the neighborhood. I will look for the honey crisp apples...do you think they'd make good pies?
Love the pumpkin people too....we dont have anything like that here in MA...
happy fall!
By: Jennie
On: 10/23/2010 15:32:40
Wow, the pumpkin people are really creepy!

Sisters are great...wish mine lived closer. I think there's no one else you laugh as hard with as a sister.
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On: 11/29/2010 02:23:18
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Cathi Belcher

Cathi Belcher,
an old-fashioned farmgirl with a pioneer spirit, lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As a “lifelong learner” in the “Live-Free-or-Die” state, she fiercely values self-reliance, independence, freedom, and fresh mountain air. Married to her childhood sweetheart of 40+ years (a few of them “uphill climbs”), she’s had plenty of time to reinvent herself. From museum curator, restaurant owner, homeschool mom/conference speaker, to post-and-beam house builder and entrepreneur, she’s also a multi-media artist, with an obsession for off-grid living and alternative housing. Cathi owns and operates a 32-room mountain lodge. Her specialty has evolved to include “hermit hospitality” at her rustic cabin in the mountains, where she offers weekend workshops of special interest to women.

“Mountains speak to my soul, and farming is an important part of my heritage. I want to pass on my love of these things to others through my writing. Living in the mountains has its own particular challenges, but I delight in turning them into opportunities from which we can all learn and grow.”

Column content copyright © 2010– Cathi Belcher. All rights reserved.

Mountain Bounty

“Keep close to Nature’s heart ... and break clear away once in awhile to climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods, to wash your spirit clean.”
– John Muir