A backyard ramble with attitude and altitude.

View of the Broad Brook valley from the top of our backyard.

View of the pool area and the Broad Brook valley from the top of our backyard.

No visit to the October Country Inn would be complete without a through tour of our grounds.  The in-ground swimming pool is about a third of the way up the backyard hillside.  The pool deck and deckhouse may be all the further you’ll get.  Slouch in a deck-chair for a while.  Soak in the quiet and gaze at the unbroken forested hillsides to the south.  If you’re up for a little more adventure, just around the corner of the half-grown Eastern hemlock to the west, follow a mowed path uphill thorough the head high wild scrub and grasses.  This path becomes quite steep in spots.  Take any of the branches, they all come together at the top where you’ll find two chairs.  Have a well-earned seat.

Start of the mowed path to the left of the Eastern hemlock.

Start of the mowed path to the left of the Eastern hemlock.

Catch your breath from this short but very steep little climb, and once again soak in the quiet and gaze out over the Broad Brook valley.  Turn to the north and gaze into an untracked 300 acre forest.  Wander through it if you have the inclination, but be careful.  It’s easy to get lost in an untracked forest.

About thirteen years ago, just before we took over the helm, Richard and Patrick, OCI’s former innkeepers, had a couple of sheep staked our and grazing the back hillside.  The sheep were gone when we took over, but their effects could be seen for many years to come.  The back hillside was devoid of vegetation as if mowed by a professional groundskeeper.  At that time, you could easily see the two chairs planted on the forest’s edge at the top of our back hillside.  The winding pathway up to the chairs was visible, although there wasn’t much of a change in vegetation to distinguish it from the surroundings.

Looking north from the top into the untracked forest.

Looking north from the top into the untracked forest.

You can’t see those chairs today, although they’re still there.  We are letting the hillside revert back to its natural state, and although it’s still a long way from being fully forested, the mowed pathway to the top is like a trench winding through head high scrub and wild grasses.  We like it much better this way.  There is now a habitat for wild flowers, wild birds and other animals where there wasn’t one before.  Fox, and deer are frequent visitors, as well as the occasional black bear, and infrequent moose.

Feed them, and they will come.

Bird feeders under our 50-year-old apple tree.

Bird feeders under our 50-year-old apple tree.

Of country life in Vermont’s many simple pleasures we’ve learned to enjoy, a particular favorite is lounging on the October Country Inn’sbackyard deck in the late afternoon and watching the local wild birds dart back and forth among a variety of bird feeders hanging under a 50-year-old apple tree.  We are constantly amazed at the variety of birds that visit our feeders.  The general rule for feeding any wild animal is: do not feed when it might cause harm.  With birds there are few situations in which we can imagine harm being caused, so we say, go ahead  and feed the birds.  We like to think that, although our feeders may not significantly help overall wild bird populations, it certainly helps the birds in our neighborhood.

bearsHowever, there are other considerations.  In the Spring, a time when a generous supply of bird food would be greatly appreciated by the overwintering birds and early arrivals, it is also a time when the local population of black bears emerge from their winter dens in search of food.  Backyard bird feeders are an attractive food source for hungry bears during this time of year.  This is an example of where feeding a wild animal does it more harm than good.  It is not a good idea to encourage bears to mix with humans.  Not good for humans, and therefore not good for bears.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks

Apart from taking bird feeders down in the Spring, there is little other downside.  Our little corner of Vermont has a remarkable variety of really beautiful wild birds.  On any day our feeders may be visited by the following variety of birds:

  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • American Goldfinch
  • White Breasted Nuthatch
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Purple Finch
  • Blue Jay
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Downy Woodpecker
American Goldfinch.

American Goldfinch.

Birds are most likely to eat where they feel safe from predators.  Place feeders twelve feet from a brush pile, evergreen tree, or bush.  Birds can quickly fly twelve feet to reach safe cover, yet predators cannot use it to hide within striking range of the feeder.  A list of healthy bird food choices follows:

  • Black-oil sunflower seeds are high in fat so it provides good energy.  Seeds are small and thin-shelled enough for small birds to crack open.
  • White Proso millet is high in protein.
  • Suet cakes are commercially made to fit the standard sized feeder.
  • Nyjer seed is a favorite of finches.
  • Cracked corn.

We use a sunflower seeds, millet, and cracked corn mix in one feeder, a nyjer seed feeder, and a suet cake feeder.  Even if you’re not fortunate enough to live in rural Vermont, hang a few bird feeders out wherever you live.  It will provide countless hours of soul enriching pleasure, and the neighborhood birds will love you for it. 

No visit to a New England inn is complete without a chocolate chip cookie.

cookiesWhen our guests check in to the October Country Inn, having a supply of freshly baked Toll House chocolate chip cookies is a responsibility we don’t take lightly.  This famous American cookie is particularly relevant to New England.  The chocolate chip cookie was accidentally developed by Ruth Graves Wakefield in 1930. She owned the Toll House Inn, in Whitman, Massachusetts.  Wakefield is said to have been making chocolate cookies and ran short of melted baker’s chocolate. To make up for the shortage, she added broken pieces of chocolate thinking that they would melt and mix into the batter.  They didn’t melt and the chocolate chip cookie was born.

Scooping cookie dough into balls for freezing.

Scooping cookie dough into balls for freezing.

The nationwide craze for chocolate chip cookies is said to have begun during World War II. US soldiers from Massachusetts who were stationed overseas shared the cookies sent from back home with soldiers from other parts of the US. Soon, hundreds of soldiers were writing home asking their families to send them some Toll House cookies.  This recipe soon spread across the country.

The ingredients listed below will make about 4 dozen cookies:

  • 1 cup of softened butter
  • 3/4 cup of granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup of packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups chocolate chips
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
Fresh out of the oven and cooling.

Fresh out of the oven and cooling.

To make the cookie dough, combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.  Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla in a large mixer bowl until creamy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Gradually beat in flour mixture.  Stir in chocolate chips and chopped pecans.  Form dough into round balls about 1 1/2 inch in diameter.  Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 9 to 11 minutes, and cool.

In order to make sure we have a supply of ready to bake cookie dough ready to freshly bake cookies for our guests each day, we cluster the cookie dough balls on a cookie sheet and freeze them.  When frozen, the dough balls are easily stored in a plastic freezer bag and taken out and baked fresh as needed.