Friday, November 2, 2012
Not even the natives
Northern New Hampshire always was a tough place to make a living. Winters are long and cold. Soils are thin and acidic. Farming is hard. In fact, when the Ohio valley open up for settlement, New England farms were abandoned. Often the last thing they’d do before leaving was to burn the house down so they could sift the ashes for the nails. The woods are littered with old farm walls and cellar foundations.
Even the Native Americans didn’t winter here. In the summer, they’d set up fish camps. Ryolite, a flint substitute, was mined for stone tools and weapons. As winter approached, they’d head down the river to the coast. Coastal winters are milder and there’s an abundance of seafood.
The west was settled before the North Country of New Hampshire. It was hard to get here. Those in Androscoggin River valley were isolated from communities just 15 - 20 miles away in the Connecticut River valley. Water power and timber provided an economy. Later, paper making became a huge industry, now much diminished. There are some remaining dairy farms, but they struggle. It takes more feed to produce the same amount of milk as dairies in milder climates. The cows burn a lot of calories just keeping warm.
Surviving the winter used to involve storing up enough food during the brief summer to last until the next harvest. People ate a lot of potatoes and squash. A bad harvest would make for a very bad winter. There’s a New Hampshire story of a hunter who shot several moose, thus saving the town from starvation.
Living off the land here in the winter would be tough. Maybe you’d be lucky enough to kill a moose or a deer, but maybe not. Trapping rabbits would produce some meat, but it’s a lean meat without any fat to speak off. A smart survivalist would make sure to eat the eyes and brain too. Grouse provide fat, but they are hard to catch with primitive weapons. Fishing requires drilling holes in the ice.
Plant matter is an even tougher proposition. Cattail roots are frozen under the ice. I’ve eaten rock tripe. It contains rock dissolving acids so should be boiled in a change of water. The inner bark of pine trees is edible. Of course, it kills the tree, so should only be done in emergencies. Tea make from spruce needles provides vitamin C and is about the only winter source of the vitamin.
Prepping is normal in an area where it was the only way to survive the winter. People planed ahead, or died. Now, many of us head south for at least part of the winter. It worked for the natives. They weren’t stupid.