The view from the wildlife observation deck off the orange trail at the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center.
I always figured that Vermont and Canada had pretty much cornered the market on maple syrup. Which is pretty much the case. But New Jersey has a maple sugaring season, too – granted, around here it’s much shorter than it is to the north.
I learned a few things about maple sugaring in late January, when I headed down to the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center in Chatham for a short group hike and a maple sugaring demo.
The center, near where Essex, Union and Morris counties come together, is part of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.
Well, trail heads, Happy Valentine’s Day (also celebrated in some cultures as “Singles’ Awareness Day” or “That Useless Made-Up Holiday That Only Benefits the Greeting Card Companies”).
Earlier in the week, I was toying with what to write for this week’s posting. When I realized that I was scheduled to put up my next blurb on the 14th, I thought, hey, why not a Valentine’s Day posting?
It’s a strange holiday, I know – after all, nothing says celebrating the rather gruesome martyrdom of a third-century saint by going overboard with chocolate, roses and public displays of affection.
But Valentine’s Day for outdoor people? I mean, if you and/or your partner are hiking people, what would make a good Valentine’s Day present or date night?
One of my earliest camping memories involves me sitting in the front seat of Dad’s old tan Jeep Cherokee, munching on a packet of oatmeal cookies (the soft chewy kind with lots of molasses) as Mom and Dad got the tent pitched. (At three and a half years old, I was a bit too small to do much of anything with tent pitching, but I was big enough to lift up one of the aluminum tent poles.)
But like Proust with his madeleine (makes you wonder what Maman Proust put in her baking), I got to thinking about some of the other foods we’ve dined on around the campfire over the years.
Some people seem to think that being out on a camping trip means being deprived of real food and eating freeze-dried this and powdered that. Granted, yes, my dad, being an Air Force guy, had accumulated a ton of MREs over the years. And thankfully for our health (and stomachs), the MREs stayed packed away in the attic, where they belonged. (Dad’s always joking that not even refugees in famine-plagued countries would go near MREs.)
But our various treks have always involved real food. Fruits and vegetables. Eggs. Meat. From-scratch pancakes. (Yes, it can be done.)
Now, we’ve done some of the usual stuff. We’ve roasted a fair number of hot dogs over campfires – and when I was seven, I discovered that it takes a certain knack to keep your hot dog from slipping off the toasting fork and into the fire. We (or at least, my brother and I) consumed plenty of marshmallows, too. But I was a grown woman before I ate my first s’more. (See also: my previous exegesis about s’mores on this blog.)
How many blog postings can one person do about s’mores?
Quite a few, it seems.
I took an informal (very, very informal) poll of people I know – college classmates and professors, co-workers, Facebook buddies, etc. – to ask them for their thoughts on s’mores. A lot of people offered their two cents’ worth, and the responses were all over the map – an indicator that s’mores are something that people can feel very strongly about.
I have a confession to make, everyone.
I did a ton of camping with my family when I was a kid, across Alaska, the Yukon, British Columbia, Texas and Maine. I’ve helped pitch tents, gone swimming and kayaking, helped my mom fix blueberry pancakes on the camp stove, and roasted my fair share of marshmallows and hot dogs over campfires.
But I never ate a s’more until I was in college.
It never fails to shock people when I tell them this. Their reaction is “You never ate a s’more? You had a deprived childhood.” Or, “Aw, man, what kind of camper are you?”