When I spoke with my friend Shirly Hook at the end of July, she was feeling down. Shirly is the author of My Bring Up, stories about her Vermont childhood, which Korongo published last year, and she has been working on an Abenaki cookbook. As we spoke, she expressed regret that she had been unable to concentrate on her writing. I suggested that she keep a diary and just write a few words per day, about whatever was on her mind. I was already designing a diary-keeping workshop, and I asked Shirly if she would help me launch the project here on the Korongo Books blog. She graciously agreed. Shirly, I should add, serves on the council of chiefs of the Koasek, a band within the Abenaki tribe. Her diary is an inspiration. Despite the harshness of the year 2020, or perhaps as an antidote, she focuses, in her writing, on the abundance in her life—the natural world and its wonders, the pleasures of growing her own food and seeing her hard work come to fruition, enjoying the company of her children and grandchildren after months of isolation. She ends her daily writing with an affirmation that seems directed as much to the reader as to herself, a reminder to look for the goodness in life. The woman is a leader, a pathfinder; as I study her writing, I notice the importance she places on ritual and daily practice—taking walks, following the patterns of birds and animals, preparing food, tending her garden, repeating words of faith, and, for now, recording her days. This installment of her diary begins at her Braintree home, where she has come to do a few chores before returning to a camp on Shadow Lake in northern Vermont, to spend some time with her children. —Sara Tucker
The Journal, Part 3
By Shirly Hook
August 13, 2020
Slipped out of bed about quarter to six. The morning started off cool, about 58 degrees.
The string beans, cucumbers, broccoli, squash, and tomatoes were picked the night before.
Supper was cooked on the grill: steamed broccoli, Kennebec potatoes, and chicken.
Sitting on the front porch of the cabin is so much different than the lake. Many different birds, and other sounds surround me.
The hummingbirds are gliding back and forth, up and down, warning the others of his space. The beautiful colors reflect in the morning light. He sits on top of the shepherd’s staff, and catches his breath a moment, and jets off to bother the other hummingbirds.
In the distance, a bulldozer is repairing the large pond; the water was let out about two weeks earlier. The geese, bitterns, and blue heron are wondering where their pond went. The center of the pond looks to be about 25 feet deep. Now there is just a mud puddle that the birds venture into. The heron and bittern, with their long beaks, are able to go into the puddle and get creatures that burrowed into the mud to survive.
The tribal garden is doing well. Squash and tomatoes are plentiful. The skunk beans are happy climbing up the teepee trellis. Flowers dot the climbers. The Abenaki sunflowers nearly 10 feet tall follow the sun, staying at attention, and gently waving to the people that drive slow, to read the sign and enjoy the view.
It is getting warmer, need to get the canning going. The beans are washed and placed in sterilized quart jars. They are placed in a hot oven. Water is boiled to pour over the beans,
and the sterilized lids placed on the jars, and then they are put in the canner, at 10 pounds pressure, for 25 minutes.
The noise of the canner cuts through the silence, letting me know it was up to speed, and I needed to set the timer.
I busied myself, getting the laundry done and folded, ready to go back to Shadow. Emails and phone calls returned.
A light bulb falls off the shelf and shatters in front of me. Getting the broom and dust pan, it is swept up.
The timer goes off, and the canning, for the day is done. I did hit my goal, for string beans. My goal was 50 quarts, but I have 59!!!
The tasks were done at the tribal garden, the canning caught up, and the other vegetables picked. The emails and phone calls were answered. Had nearly 100 emails. Answered the ones that needed a reply. Some of the emails that had the biggest volume of replies were put in a folder, for later viewing.
The truck was packed and ready to go.
It was close to lunch, so we got a couple of sandwiches and went on a back road, where there was a bit of shade. Actually, it was the road that went to Wilkins Harley. I loved the old place. It was sad that they moved into a brand new place, but I guess they had to. The home atmosphere was gone, replaced by a lot of modern designs.
I will sign off.
Every day is a gift.
August 14, 2020
Coldness seeps into my bones this morning. It is about 56 degrees. The days are getting shorter, reminding one that cold weather will be here sooner then you think. The maple trees are starting to turn.
The water is crystal clear, mirror like. No action except for the minnows that are coming to feed.
Doug said that the fish were calling him, so he got in the old fishing boat and silently disappeared in the mist of the morning.
Made a light breakfast of a muffin with egg and cheese in the middle, and broiled. Add a cup of coffee, and you are golden.
Doug is busy repairing an old paddle boat that has been sitting there for a number of years. Hopefully, it will be workable.
Tiredness gripped me and held on. I went in for a nap, but the dogs started barking at some people that were walking through our lawn. They finally figured out where they were and were pointed in the right direction.
I started the camp fire and started to get supper. Fresh vegetables and chicken. A quick meal.
We played a game of Scrabble and headed for some needed sleep.
Amy just came running in: There’s an otter near the dock, she said. I grabbed my camera and ran. It was a beautiful sign. The little bugger was laying on its back, with his feet sticking up. His little face was just above the water. He was making a cute little sound, then he disappeared. Years ago we had a family that lived here. You would see them all the time. Some of the fishermen didn’t like the idea, so they probably trapped them and took them away. They don’t understand that they are all a part of Mother Earth’s family.
Nature is beautiful!
Enjoy this wonderful gift.
August 15, 2020
The sun is finally rising. It seems to get colder every day, about 55 degrees this morning.
The loons started to converse at 3 a.m., and they are still going. There were four of them yesterday.
The eagle was high in the neighbor’s tree, watching for something to catch. There are three eagles that are here. A juvenile, and the two adults. What a gift it is to see, and hear.
Amy and Alex will go home today. Will miss them. Their pups are so well behaved that it is a lot of fun to have them around. They went paddleboarding yesterday, and just lie on the board, sometimes sleeping. They stopped at a little sandy beach on the property, and they jump off and take a long drink. They are attired with life vests, they almost look like a dog in a suitcase. We took care of the pups while they went to take photos, Alex to develop and Amy for her painting. The pups, waited for them on the dock, hoping to get a sighting of them. When they heard their voices, they were overjoyed.
The otters are at the shore, next to the dock. They are so much fun to watch. We only saw one yesterday, but today there was at least three, perhaps another one. They would float on their backs and then dive down to catch a fish, and then come back up and suck it down. They made little hissing noises. They would come toward the dock and then dive under, flipping their tails.
The day is getting nice and warm.
Will sign off, till next time.
Enjoy your day to the most.
August 16, 2020
The birds woke me. I rolled out of bed and dressed in a hurry. Darn, it was downright chilly, in the 50s.
I grab a coffee and my notebooks and head for the door.
I opened the door, I turned around and added a vest and a Carhartt jacket. Now, I will be most comfortable.
I sip the coffee as I go down the stone walk, making my way to the dock.
I hear splashing and the huffing and chatter. Three heads come up and then back down.
They dive down for a fish and chomp it down, and then get another. The baby is really cute as a button. They eat and play for a while, and then head back to the lake grass, where they will be safe from the boaters.
The heavy mist was rising from the lake, making it magical and beautiful. A few boats go by, one with a weird-sounding motor that interrupts my thoughts.
The sun finally rises over the mountains, warming me, but I still keep on all my heavy clothing.
We cooked inside, late night. As soon as the sun goes down, it starts to cool down. We had Paul Galdone special. It is a stir-fry: Venison was fried; then, onions, peppers, and squash were stir-fried. That was what was on hand. You can use any vegetable that you want. When cooked, put over pasta. It is a quick and easy meal.
After our evening meal, we went fishing. No fish were caught, but the lake was beautiful. You can’t beat that.
Will be heading back to the gardens, to see what needs to be canned or frozen. Most likely tomatoes will be ready. Hot and sweet peppers. Perhaps more string beans to turn into dilly beans.
Enjoy this gift of sunshine.
Till next time.
August 17, 2020
Rose early, opened the door to go outside. It was in the low 50s. I dressed for winter and went outside to do my walk.
It was cloudy, and teasing of rain. We really need it.
I heard on the news that Death Valley was 130 degrees. I remember going through there on a 750 Honda. It was rather hot, 115 degrees! They had water every few miles, so if anyone needed it, they could survive. We would stop and get a little bit of water and dump it over our heads. I don’t know how we made it in one piece. It was an adventure! It is one of the most beautiful places I have traveled to. Part of it is the story, how it came to be.
Close to twenty turkeys came by and ate bugs across the lawn, looking like they were in formation. They spent a bit of time, and single-file went into the woods.
Started early on the canning. Canned 7 quarts of tomatoes. We are good for a few days and will do more. They aren’t turning red too fast; the season has been strange.
Looking out the window, we noticed that there were a lot of peaches on the ground. Checked it out: The raccoons had a field day picking them off the tree, taking one bite, then throwing it on the ground. We decided to pick them. We filled a five-gallon pail. I was testing them—they are so good fresh off the tree. They will be canned and some dried.
Had an all-vegetable supper: baked potato, string beans, and broccoli. A supper fit for a king.
Sat on the porch and watched the sun go down. The crickets and frogs were singing their song of joy.
The dishes done and calls answered.
Enjoy every day!
August 18, 2020
Last night was warmer than the last three. You didn’t have to dress like winter was here!
I grabbed the number 6 spider and started making home fries. I diced an onion and the potatoes. Put olive oil in the spider and got it hot, and added the onions. When they were done, took them out and put them in a warming dish. Potatoes were then fried. When done, add the cooked onions, spices, herbs, to your liking. Make a little indentation in the potatoes and crack an egg into it. Put in oven until egg is done. Serve in the spider—it will stay warm longer. Add wheat toast and tea.
Went for my walk. The pond is still a crater in the ground. It should be finished by the end of the day, and then the quiet will come back.
There were signs of coyote on the road. It has been odd that they have been silent most of the summer. They usually come out at night, and sometimes during the day and start yipping and howling, making a lot of desert noise.
The pileated woodpecker, a family that has been here for a number of years, are pecking their favorite tree to find bugs and other insects. They are quite interesting.
Turkeys were in the field, picking bugs for their breakfast.
Speaking of breakfast, 2 slices of toasted French bread, put your favorite cheese on top, pop into the toaster oven, on broil, bake until melted. Take out of oven, put hot peppers, and sliced fresh tomato, add cheese on top, broil again, and enjoy your creation!
Worked in the garden, picked some vegetables, and delivered them to some elders. The potato plants are dying off but the potatoes are still growing. My dad would be so proud of our potato piece. He loved growing potatoes. My uncle and dad would have a contest every year to see who could grow the biggest potato. They would pose for the camera and grin, and they were so proud.
Will sign off.
Do something adventurous today and smile.
August 19, 2020
The mist was rising off of the field, along with the fog. A beautiful sight. I put on my winter duds, a touk, heavy jacket, and warm mittens, and I set off for my morning walk. It was peaceful. The jay’s cries of alarm broke the silence. Warning the other birds that I was in the area.
The pond is finished, and the big machine is quiet. I look at it, and I thought what a good job the man did. A very beautiful pond will be back in its full glory. The ducks, family of geese, and the blue heron will be happy to see their home back.
I wrote some thank-you notes, wrote some letters, and answered emails. A lot done on the list of things to do.
The weather is cloudy and on the cool side. We did get a bit of much needed rain. The gardens were happy.
Tonight, for supper, zucchini boats.
Will sign off.
Take a moment to smell the roses.
August 20, 2020
Woke to the chill in the air. Looked out the window to see what the temperature was, a hot 42 degrees. The days are getting shorter, and it is telling you what is coming. The fog rose high into the mountains, and then the heavy mist came, a beautiful day to look at.
I noticed that a lot of birds are starting to leave. The bluebirds, after having two broods, have left, until next spring.
We still have the hummingbirds around; there are still a lot of flowers that are blooming. They are so much fun to watch, there are at least four of them, zig and zagging around the cabin.
About noon, the sun came out strong, and the temp went up to 62 degrees. I can now take off one of my jackets.
Worked a bit in the native garden. Picked some tomatoes. Will try and deliver some later.
The shell beans are getting closer to be picked, every day. Have tomatoes ready to can later this afternoon.
Last night I was looking out the window and was watching a doe pick apples off the tree. She would stand on her hind legs and reach for the apples. Chewing contently, enjoying every bite. I watched her for a while and then a little buck came out, looking for food. Earlier a woodchuck was spotted, he will have to find new quarters to live at. He was heading for the gardens.
The zucchini boats we made for supper were excellent. Plus, they are easy to make. Tonight, cooking outside on the fireplace, making roasted corn and potatoes, and chicken.
That’s it for now.
Slow down and really see what surrounds you. You might be surprised and delighted.
Shirly Hook is the author of My Bring Up, stories about her childhood in Chelsea, Vermont. The Illustration, above, is by her daughter, Amy Hook-Therrien.