Sunday, March 25, 2012

Easter Egg Hunt at Maple Syrup Time

Hunting for Easter eggs in the maple hills north of town was a brief experience but one which was exceedingly special during a certain period when I was young.

This opportunity likely came about through my teenage brother. He worked for a local concessionaire. A born entrepreneur, his boss began his concession business at the age of fifteen at our county fair.

In the summer the crew went "on the road" to many small town festivals in the Midwest and the rodeo country of eastern Montana.

My brother's earnings were probably redistributed rather quickly as he tested his skill on Midway games and rode the rides. He had a great time in his seasonal job.

He came back with stories. It's been suspected he withheld the better stories from us younger ones.

One year he brought stuffed animals for my sister and me. They were prizes he won. As with most prizes at the fair, some good luck and concentration of aim was involved.

Surprise gifts are wonderful. They're even more so when they meet a desire you possibly didn't even know you had.

They were our first cuddly creations not counting dolls. We thought them very special. I got the black ocelot with spots. A red ribbon around its neck had visual impact. It was as though it took the trouble to show its personality.

My sister had the tawny-colored lion. She may have it still. She named it Tiger Lily. Casting about the farthest recesses of memory the name I pull out for mine is Moonbeam. It sounds correct. The two of us went for fancy names.

With one bent ear and one green glass eye missing my ocelot is otherwise remarkably well preserved. She remains guardian of the space of my former room at home.

My brother's employer, besides providing pay checks to dozens of teens, and some oldtimers who loved the excitement of the road, was generous to the place he was born.

He lived close to the land. He hunted and fished. He saw the need to safeguard what he so much enjoyed. He was a founder of the area chapter of Save the Wetlands. A civic booster, he participated in the locally popular Smelt Fry held each spring.

Among his interests was property in the maple hills where the Easter pancake feed tradition came about. There on sunny slopes he tapped his maples for syrup in the warming-up days of March and April.

With the good maple syrup boiled down from sap he collected (assisted by family and surely friends as he was sociable to the core) the makings for a pancake feed were right at hand.

The Easter invitation might have been going on for years when our family began attending. The event may have been a way to give back to the community. It was a chance to round up the concession workers and create a link to the carnival season ahead.

The welcome was obviously wide open. For there we were, my dad parking our Chevrolet sedan alongside the other cars in a field adjacent to the pancake feed, or alongside the dirt road with just enough shoulder (in places) to let a car sit.

It was all country where we were. Event parking, with folks to signal you to a space, hadn't been concocted yet. At any rate it would have been snickered at.

I can surmise what would have been said. "Not able to find my own parking space? Who do you think you are, Buster!" There would be self-sufficiency, and perhaps some mild indignation, in their expressed attitudes about this.

We came to the pancake feed hungry. I had an even keener appetite for the excitement soon to get underway. There was freedom in running through the woods looking for hidden eggs.

If I'd known to look, spring ephemerals were popping out of the ground. They catch the sunlight before the leaves come on.

Easter can be early. Winter is often late. We dressed warmly when this was the case. Sometimes snow lay scattered in thin drifts at the edges of the woods. It was usually soft snow and wouldn't last long.

Out of direct sunlight there remained pockets of compacted snow. This snow had an icy translucence as it thawed and refroze in the fluctuating temperatures.

By Easter even the most obdurate of snow piles was headed out of town. Faced with bare ground the hard snow was usually no more than silky smidgens of ice soon to be gone.

The remnant snow contrasted with the signs of spring all around. The contrast intensified the joy of the season to me.

The area covered in our egg search was moderately rough. It wasn't an Outward Bound course but it had its obstacles, mostly bumpy little hills and briars that could catch your clothing.

Inevitably there were muddy spots. There were puddles to step into if you had boots, or avoid if you wanted to keep your shoes brand new.

The wild grasses that clad the open slopes lay flat in a state of compression. Sporting their fall color - which spring rains would soon green up - the grasses were as tawny as Tiger Lily, my sister's little lion.

Sun fell with abandon on the bare slopes, hastening the warmth of the day as you undid a button or two on your jacket. You stood for a moment in tune both with nature and the noisy clamor unexpected of this quiet spot.

The older set was somewhere. This included, by our reckoning, anyone who was a teenager. They were vague background to the kid-level activity going on.

I place the growups around the food. They're enjoying pancakes, coffee and maybe bacon hot from the skillet. Bacon, getting appreciative sniffs as it sizzles over the fire, seems essential to hearty breakfasts served outdoors.

No single detail of the pancake feed is recalled except, perhaps, a sense of collective relaxation. Folks mill around or sit elbow to elbow over filled plates at the table.

They visit in loose knots of constantly forming groups as is natural when almost no one is a stranger to you.

For the kids there may have been other games. There maybe was a sack race or an Easter egg relay. There might have been the game in which you move an egg with a spoon in a straight row to the finish line.

Most is a blur, blown swiftly across my personal screen saver like the movement of milky-white clouds in a brisk spring sky.

The Easter egg hunt stands out for its sheer energy. We were a pack of kids in pursuit of the moment.

Literally bounding over the maple hills, our hopes were tied to the Easter baskets we carried that surely would fill.

Memory, broken down as if by the sun on recalcitrant ice, can be as bright as the colored Easter eggs we set out to find.

Ro Giencke - March 25, 2012

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