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A Flock of Your Own Icelandic Sheep
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Hobblewood sounds like a suburban development, the name of a castle with a fair maiden imprisoned in the turret, or a retirement home with a funny sense of humor. Pick one.

Hobblewood could surround the castle and fair maiden; it is a tough little plant which winds back on itself, tripping up all who would wade through its turf. And it grows, Mr. Reit told me a couple of weeks ago as we stood on a ski trail with spring a mere splash into sap buckets, on the edge of my hill.

Ernie Reit was on a quest that day. I was walking the dogs (I am always walking the dogs). He stopped to tickle the puppy, admire the eldest, and tell me of hobblewood, romance, and spring. 

Every year, about this time, Ernie Reit makes the trip up and over the hill in pursuit of a sprig of hobblewood for his wife and daughter. Just one sprig, so there will always be sprigs. A bud of hobblewood, popped in a glass of water, blooms delicate white flowers in a little halo. Before there are crocus in the yard, or robins on the lawn, in a cup on the sill is a spot of spring. Mr. Reit is retired now. That's a fair number of springs he's made the trip and brought his wife back a bit of the woods, light flowers to dance in her kitchen.

I love November, with its frozen ground, silent gray, and chickadees lighting on the feeder. But April is November flowing backward. "Off Season" the tourist industry calls it, and the natives flee for points south, taking advantage of slack business to rush into the arms of summer on sandy beaches. And miss this romantic dance of season.

My neighbor taps maples on the edge of our property line. High up in the hills they grip the shallow soil with determined roots and bask in their southern exposure. To bring the sap down from this elevation would require a team of horses, or plastic tubing. My neighbor has opted for a simple set-up of pipe. One big hose leads down the hill. But on the trees hang old buckets with their tilted lids, from even older spouts. Since my neighbor is intimately involved in the tourism industry, I understand using the old buckets down where the public can see his sugar operation. But up here on the hill, only the dogs and I walk through these trees.

Does he come here, my neighbor with all he has to do, does he come and walk through the trees to listen to the bucket music? The puppy pokes pails, so I hold him up to peek under the lid. He doesn't find the slow forming of drops as magic as I do, and tumbles off to roll in the snow.

Now that the snow is retreating, I'm splitting the wood we'll burn next season. Birch splits easily, hit it square and halves drop neatly to either side of the block. Maple splits harder. Maple dies harder too. Winds tore the crown clean off one of our roadside maples this winter, so Peter felled the trunk. My old dog is spending her days cleaning off the sap as it rises from the roots, soaking the top of the stump. Sweet spring tonic for an old friend.

The fields are just beginning to whisper green. The same pair of ducks that claimed the pond last year have returned to do battle for it again this year. The dogs lie on the porch dripping and panting while the drake laughs at them from behind a shrinking floe of ice. The first puppy has been joined by a second, two winter puppies discovering dirt for the first time. The house is not clean, will never again be clean. Here there are wood chips, puppy paw-prints, boots not quite stomped debris free, and a surprise of cobwebs in the corners.

But in my kitchen is a husband's gift of spring, a sprig of romance, a promise, a love, a dance, a season, a lifetime of together, in a little cup. Who could notice mud?

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Stories From a Vermont Life:

Camilla Blue
Frozen Gifts
Making Wreaths
Shearing
Hobblewood
Flush
The Fourth of July
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The Farm at Morrison Corner raises Icelandic Sheep on the last hill farm in Mansfield, VT.  Learn about Raising Icelandic Sheep, Raising Chickens, Moving to Vermont and Living in Vermont on this and our other sites.

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