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Henningsen: Last Week Of Summer

09/17/10 7:55AM By Vic Henningsen
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(HOST) Now back in his classroom for a new school year, teacher, historian, and commentator Vic Henningsen looks back fondly on the final week of the summer.

(HENNINGSEN)  At the end of summer everything I treasure comes together in one glorious week.  

For two days, my son and I discuss his future while climbing Mount Washington. Later, I join an old friend to traverse the Pemigewasset Wilderness from the Twins to Bondcliff.  Days in the hills make for deep thoughts and long conversations, the things that keep relationships in good repair.

On Sunday morning I bake apple pies for the Thetford Volunteer Fire Department's Labor Day barbecue. Later, our neighborhood gathers at the end of the road for the ceremonial pressing of the first of this season's apple cider.

This always takes a crowd.  First, we debate how to mix different varieties.  What's the proper ratio of sweet-tasting apples from trees by the pond to the tart crab-apples from further up the hill?  Someone begins to pour them into the hopper as another neighbor turns the grinder handle on the portable cider press.  Once a load is ground into mash, it's time to crank the press - a bit like old pictures you've seen of sailors weighing anchor. As the mash compresses, out flows the new cider.  Helpers keep the buckets from overflowing, pour the cider into jugs,  and shovel the apple mash into a barrel our neighbors will carry down to feed their pigs.  What they won't use gets carted into the woods where it'll ferment and the deer will find it and wander boozily through the orchard.  In the meantime we sample the results. This year's cider seems darker.  It's certainly tart - "Like new wine" says one optimist.

It's a bit like painting the fence in Tom Sawyer.  Guests arrive and say "Gee, that looks interesting."  My next-door neighbor grins and says "Give it a try - there's nothing to it!" - gleefully relinquishing the job of cranking the grinder to a newcomer who now must keep up with the insistent demands of those filling the hopper with new apples.  

Part-way through, a rain shower disrupts the activity and the one person with a rain jacket is left to handle all the tasks at once, while the others retreat to the barn to eat cheesecake and offer advice.  As the sun emerges, the lower pasture turns burnished gold and a double rainbow frames Mount Moosilauke in the distance.

In the evening I walk back up the road carrying jugs of cider, my clothes stained rusty orange from the apple mash.  

On Labor Day, I bike down the hill to the parade and chicken barbecue in Post Mills. I catch up with folks I haven't seen in a while, eat some wonderful food, and see if people like my pies.  Next day I'm back in the classroom.

Family, friends, neighbors, mountains and apples, with a parade at the end - that's the last week of summer.  It's truly a blessing and, like many blessings, all the more precious for being momentary.
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