• I enjoy the smell of wood smoke trickling from the kitchen stove when I return from a walk on a crisp, October morning. It reminds me when I was growing up. The smell of wood smoke meant not only warmth, but also family, hearty meals, and good stories.
• As a chilly October sun slowly peaks above the horizon, I walk the trail south of the cabin and spot a ruffed grouse, its neck feathers puffed in colorful display. Then several grouse explode from the underbrush — one, two, three — I lose count because several fly up together. They evoke memories of an earlier day when I carried a shotgun in search of this elusive bird, but was usually so surprised when they burst in front of me that I didn’t even raise the gun to my shoulder.
• The storm comes up quickly, booming out of the southwest with thunder and lightning and drenching rain. I pull up the hood on my parka and stand under a pine tree, one smaller than those around it, for I know the way of lightning. Soon rain drops are dripping from the pine needles, and the smell of fresh pine is everywhere — a smell that so many have tried to duplicate but none have succeeded in doing.
• Watch out for deer when you drive in the country. October is the start of the rut, that time of the year when bucks and does seek to add numbers to the species. Driving at dusk is especially precarious, as hormone-driven deer jump in front of your car and race this way and that with no concern for roads and automobiles. The rut is an eons-old biological event — in recent years autos made it more precarious.
• Take time to “read” a block of wood before you swing the splitting maul. Take time to “read” a person before you open your mouth.
• Fog sneaks in during the night, quietly, without fuss. In the morning I can see only dimly the pump house, and it is less than a hundred yards from the cabin. The back shed is lost from sight completely. I walk the woods trail feeling very alone. It is like walking inside a closet that moves as I move. It is at the same time eerie and comforting.
• Several tamarack trees grow alongside a little field south of the cabin. The tamarack is a living contradiction. It appears to be a conifer, like the pines, spruces, and firs. But with the first hard frost, its delicate, light green needles turn a golden yellow, as yellow as the aspens that grow on the nearby hills. The tamarack, unlike other needle-leaved trees, drops its needles in the fall, starting over again with new ones the following spring, following the way of the deciduous trees such as the oaks and maples. In the past, native people used the tamarack for food and medicine. The roots were used to make woven baskets. Pioneers used the tree for everything from house and barn frames to fence posts. The wood is sturdy and extremely weather resistant. The tamarack is a tree with a long pioneer history and that continues to delight today.
• For many of us, it’s apple-picking time. Here is one of my family’s favorite applesauce recipes.
3 to four pounds of cooking apples
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
Wash apples. Cut into quarters and place in a big kettle with a small amount of water. Stir to prevent sticking. Bring to a boil and then simmer until the apples are soft. Stir occasionally.
Put apples through a food mill to remove peels and seeds from the pulp.
Measure out 4 cups apple pulp. Put the pulp in a big kettle.
Add sugar and cinnamon.
Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes.
Put applesauce in clean, sterilized pint jars, with two-piece caps.
Process jars 20 minutes in boiling water bath.
Remove from canner.
Cool away from drafts.
Store in a cool, dark cupboard.
Excerpted from “Living a Country Year: Wit and Wisdom from the Good Old Days,” Wisconsin Historical Society Press. Visit www.jerryapps.com to learn more about Jerry’s writing and television work.