The sudden cold weather that brought the first sleet of the season to Chappaquiddick reminds me of a Thanksgiving several decades ago when our Vermont friends and relatives decided to come to Chappy for the holiday. They concluded that they had suffered through enough frigid North Country weather already and wanted to spend the long weekend in what they recalled as a delightfully warm and sunny paradise. Late Wednesday evening a dozen weary Vermonters arrived at the Chappy ferry on a crystal clear but chilly night. As chilly as it was, it was still two dozen degrees warmer than where they had been that morning.

We had big plans for the next few days. They were anxious to take walks on the beach and in the woods without the necessity of thick down coats and insulated boots. There was even talk of fishing! Amazing to them to go fishing without having to saw a hole through a foot of ice first. Nobody concerned themselves with looking at a weather report since everyone was on vacation. Being Vermonters they just naturally kept the wood stove full. I remember somebody cracking open one of the kitchen windows.

We were gradually getting closer to putting our plans into action when someone noticed the indoor/outdoor thermometer screwed to the window frame. That person immediately turned to me and said, “Your thermometer’s busted, Pete! I know that it’s not five degrees outside!” It turned out that it truly was that cold outside. And that wasn’t the coldest that it would get during those four days. Each night the temperature touched zero! We were still determined to go for a walk on the beach. We searched with limited success through the mitten drawer for matching pairs. The Vermonters neglected to bring anything to keep their hands or feet warm since they were leaving the frozen north far behind.

We dug a fishing pole out of the shed and went to the Gut. Mercifully, the air was completely still. Glaring sunshine lit up the smoke rising vertically off Cape Pogue Bay and the outer harbor. People were entranced by the beauty of the scene. We had to take shallow breaths or we felt that we were inhaling sharp-edged ice crystals. Somebody stepped to the water’s edge and cast the lure out of sight into the mist. I’m certain the nearest fish bigger than a minnow was at least 100 miles away. Upon attempting a second cast we discovered that the wet fishing line had frozen to the spool. A couple people picked up rocks to skip them on the water. The rocks immediately froze to their mittens. Pretty soon everyone was holding their hands over their reddening cheeks and agreeing that we should get back into the car. We stayed in the house the rest of the days, occasionally thanking our lucky stars that at least we weren’t in Vermont. Imagine how cold it was up there if it was that cold down here. On Sunday the temperature shot back up to 40!

The next evening we got a couple of thank-you phone calls from our visitors. We prepared ourselves to be awestruck upon asking how cold it got while they were away. Turns out that they had a sudden thaw, with a day of warm rain that turned dirt roads to mud. The good thing was they weren’t there to rut up their driveways and before they got home, Vermont went back into a deep freeze that turned that mud to concrete!

Over the past few weeks you may have seen plumes of gray smoke rising over Martha’s Vineyard and the Cape. These were the result of various prescribed burns. I love the smell of burning brush. It reminds of my childhood, when homeowners would rake their leaves onto the sidewalk and set them afire. It’s one of those smells that transports me back to the much more carefree autumn days of youth.

The Trustees of Reservations recently performed a prescribed burn on half a dozen acres of grassland at Wasque. Just beyond the gatehouse you will see blackened grasses and withered pitch pines. It’s all part of a management plan to keep unique species from disappearing. TTOR posted a notice prior to the burn which explains the operation so well that I repeat it for you here. Of course this is all past tense now. Thanks to Caitlin Borck for the informative lesson in land management.

“The Trustees Of Reservations, in conjunction with partners, will be conducting a prescribed burn at Wasque this fall. A prescribed burn is the controlled application of fire to the land to accomplish specific conservation and land management goals. The Trustees’ woodland, grasslands and scrublands contain many rare species of plants and animals adapted to and dependent upon frequent fire. In applying prescribed fire, this partnership will reduce fuel loads and the risk of wildfire, provide training for firefighters and perpetuate these rare natural habitats. Prescribed fire is a natural, effective means for managing these habitats and has been used successfully in Massachusetts since 1985. This work will be conducted under the leadership of a certified prescribed burn leader utilizing a professionally trained burn crew to ensure the safety and protection of surrounding resources. The entire reservation will not be closed to the public on the day of the burn activities but certain trails and areas may be. All necessary permits have been obtained from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.”

By all appearances the burn was a success. Years ago I attended a wildfire class and helped with a few prescribed burns. It was enlightening to observe the development of a brushfire. In the fire service we immediately put fire out so we don’t get to see what would happen if left to burn. It is increasingly important for firefighters to know how to deal with brushfire on Chappy as it becomes more overgrown. Most houses are now surrounded closely by trees and brush. We say in the fire department that house fires can become brushfires and brushfires can become house fires. You can find out how to protect your house from a brush fire by Googling “fire wise.”

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