The leaves upon the swamp maples lining my parents’ property against the slow country road seemed to dull in the August sun. Their bright glossy appearance mellowed as though they had tired from the bright summer sunlight. As I sat upon the swinging porch sofa glimpsing nature’s side show, I saw my grandmother’s car slowly pull into our driveway. Watching her exit the car, I suddenly smelled the aroma of Italian sausage coming from our kitchen as my brother and sister opened the door to the kitchen that led out to the sidewalk where they rushed to meet our grandmother.
After a few moments, my grandmother made her way to the front porch where I was sitting.
“What are you up to?” she asked, as she huffed a bit climbing the last stair steps. Seeing she needed some help, I hopped off the sofa and went over to her to hold her arm as she ascended the final stairs.
“I have just been sitting here looking at the swamp maple leaves. They are getting tired, Grandmamma,” I said as I helped her to the swinging sofa.
Interested in what I said, she peered out under the porch eave to get a better look at the trees.
“Summer is ending and soon a long, cold winter will be upon us,” she said with assurance. Bewildered, I asked her, “Just how do you know that?” Looking around, she sat back and said, “Well, I know because my ancestors taught me how to tell. There was one particular ancestor in our family who lived over 300 years ago and her story is most remarkable.”
In the woods of the Tamarack Forest, a Medicine Woman lived amongst nature. She was the last of the Lenape people, a tribe that had inhabited the region for centuries until European settlers pushed much of her tribe west. Her skills of medicine were sought after from far and wide, and her ability to predict the coming of seasons was followed by near every farmer in the region.
For as far back as the town could remember, the Medicine Woman was always a part of the history of the town. Many people felt her to be unnatural as her life continued far beyond the years of most any person that lived in the region. Others felt her life force was extended far beyond the reaches of time and that she was a spirit of the valley. But one thing was absolutely clear, her ability to heal and protect were known as astounding.
It was a brisk fall afternoon and much of the town’s harvest had been completed. The vegetables and preserved meats were in plentiful supply and the preparation for the winter seemed complete. Many felt the bounty of the gardens was ample enough to push through the snow and cold, and so the town closed their root cellar vaults.
As the last of the leaves fell from the oaks and maples of Donbridge, the Medicine Woman appeared in the center of the town, sitting on the bench near the sentry bell. Many people were intrigued to see her as she never came to town. Curious as to her appearance, the lamp lighter, Mr. Keating, decided to approach her. When he did, he saw the woman was tearful and her face was shriveling up as she spoke.
“Your end is upon you and you have but a small chance to fill your vaults before the winter will encompass this land for a full year,” she said. Keating went to speak to her and respond to her prediction, but as he turned to her, her clothes fell into a pile on the bench and all that remained was a caterpillar that was black in the front, orange in the long center, and black at the top.
Townsfolk had heard warnings like this in the past and took nothing to chance. Quickly, plans were made to harvest fish from the ponds and preserve them, and hunters took to the forest. Mr. Teakwood, who owed the town’s only greenhouse, converted the entire structure into a winter garden of cold-growing vegetables. The town knew they only had a short period of time to overstock the reserves and as the last leaf finally fell, the snow and cold began and never stopped for a full year. When the year ended, Donbridge was the only town to survive the longest winter in human history.
When my grandmother finished, my mother called us into the house to have sausage and peppers.
“Grandmamma, how could that woman know winter was going to last a year?” I asked as I looked at her, puzzled. “Well, you can never tell what is truth and what is fiction, but know that not all things are what they seem,” she said. And as she opened the door, we saw a black-and-orange caterpillar (a wooly bear) inching its way along the door frame. Its orange center was longer than either side of the black front or black back. My grandmother grabbed the frame, turned to look at the caterpillar, and said, “Looks like a long winter is coming.” She turned with a smile into the house.
Mom’s Sausage and Peppers
1 package of sweet Italian sausage
3 large green bell peppers
1 small Vidalia onion or yellow onion
3 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Place sausage links in a large skillet and add two tablespoons of olive oil along with 2 cups of water. Place a lid over the skillet and cook at medium-high heat until water has evaporated. While sausage is cooking, chop up the peppers, onions and garlic. Make sure not to mince these items; garlic can be cut into slices as well as onions and peppers. Once water has evaporated, add in vegetables and turn the sausage links. Add 1 cup of water and set the fire down to low-medium. Total cook time is 45 minutes.