Winter Games, as noted, have not been regularly scheduled events, happening on short notice when conditions were right for sledding. Chthonic sledding requires a minimum of about 8 inches of snow and temperatures at least a bit below freezing. A typical winter, surprisingly, only provides these conditions for a few days and some winters fail to deliver them at all. The sledding operation relies on a 4-cycle snowmobile that pulls a train of sleds carrying prone sledders and their sleds uphill to the top of one of three runs. This opportunistic scheduling and the fact that the snow machine can only pull around seven sledders uphill at a time keeps the number of participants of winter games relatively small, usually 10 to 15 people. Conditions suitable for ice skating on the ponds also occur erratically but we are currently taking steps to enhance and extend them. We have scheduled a date for winter games for early February 2015, with prayers for proper weather conditions and plans for bonfires and bathing outside, as well as indoor games and eating if skating or sledding fail to materialize.
The signature chthonic activity of winter is sledding, which as noted elsewhere, really requires at least 8 inches of snow depth to happen correctly. The basis of Franklin Chthonic sledding is a 4 cycle snowmobile, a machine designed for work rather than thrills. The snowmobile pulls a train of three heavy-duty toboggan-like plastic sleds to the top of three runs, along with a half-dozen, prone sledders and their sleds. This uphill ride is fun in itself and strangely meditative. The sled runs are up to a half-mile long and sledders can reach speeds close to 30 mph on their way down. The most common sledding position is feet-first-on-one’s-back, luge-style. Sledders steer by touching the surface of the snow with their hands to create resistance on one side or the other. It is always satisfying to watch new participants develop technique, which usually takes a dozen runs or so, and see a sledding group’s skills coalesce into making entertaining races.
Collecting the sap of sugar maple trees and greatly reducing it to make syrup is a very ancient activity of our region (extending to eastern Canada, Minnesota, Tennessee) that happens nowhere else in the world. Before they obtained metal cookware from the colonizers, the Indians concentrated maple sap by repeatedly freezing it and removing successive layers of water ice and by dropping hot stones into buckets of sap to boil off more water. The settlers and farmers who cleared the land continued this practice of tapping trees and reducing sap, probably expanding the proportion of sugar maples in our particular area as they transformed the landscape. The cultivation of a “sugar bush”, an easily tapped grove or row of hard maples, and the building of a “sugar house”, a shed for evaporating 95% of the water in maple sap to make syrup, were standard features of 19th century farmstead design. Sugaring was an important activity on the farmer’s calendar, a celebration of the end of winter’s grip that also made good use of weeks still too cold for fieldwork. (Maple sap only “runs” when nighttime temperatures below freezing are followed by daytime temperatures above the freezing point). Collecting sap in buckets and evaporating it in pans or cauldrons is a slow process that yields small amounts of precious syrup, but it the only method we are equipped to follow, although additional maple sap can usually be obtained from a modern sugaring operation in the vicinity. No chthonic calendar for our area can easily ignore maple sugaring in March and we do not intend to do so in 2015.
FESTIVAL OF FIRE
The forest produces a ceaseless cascade of dead wood as branches, limbs and whole trees fall to its floor. People, including particularly the first people of these hills, have (for a variety of interesting reasons) always gathered and burned this wood. Our program is to build many bonfires and set them off in the twilight, creating spectacles of fire. And also eat a lot, play games and assist our resident gardener Angie "Pam Finch" Moore.
In 2013 and 2014, in association with the Silent Barn Collective, Franklin Chthonics hosted a variation on Joestock, the Heptagames, which involves around a hundred participants, most of whom arrive and depart together in rented vans. This larger number of people tends to make several of the Joestock games unwieldy, but these were replaced in the program by musical performances, the Walkabout game and other performances and installations. Another innovation of Heptagames 2014 was the formation of rival tent villages in different sites that competed for the allegiance of participants. These groups were the Uplanders, centered on the tent and kiosk pond, the Baba Yagas, based around the garden and zipline pond, and a breakaway group of Yagas, the Wood Goths, who established themselves in the hut. Each tribe touted the superiority of its culture and offered small gifts and blandishments to win adherents. The last event of Heptagames was a moment of decision, when, after final exhortations, each person chose to stand with one of these three bands.
With inspiration from the work of British artist Andy Goldsworthy, this is the most stimulating event of the chthonic calendar. Every natural element and material of the land (stone, stream, seeds, flowers) becomes a potential medium for the interplay of order and chaos. At last year’s Goldsworthy, a child-like spirit of zeal and experimentation seemed to seize each participant. And there will be lots to eat and games to play.
Last year we brought in a great bounty of corn relish, cauliflower pickles, wild apple fruit leather, Pesto sauce, tomato sauce, Dilly beans, lemon cucumber pickles, Mixed hot chiles, and more. Great meals were cooked in the outdoor stove and fine foliage was observed.