A warm, melting sun cascaded over the horizon as the first week of February settled in on our country valley farm. There amongst the bent swamp grasses and winter-dried marsh, snow lay piled in the dips and knolls of the landscape. Out over our lawn, patches of brownish grass could be seen as the sun receded the snow’s winter blanket, ever slowly making mud of the entire yard.
My grandmother was sitting upon the porch stoop with me as we ate blondies from a cookie tin. There we waited for my brother’s school bus to arrive. We watched in interest as the snow melted away, and there amongst the snow-cleared patches something caught my attention which I had not seen before. Upon the ground were burrowed tunnels mounded into rows.
“Grandma,” I said as I ate my blondie, “just what in the world made those things?” My grandmother paused for a moment, stared at the ground and stated, “Why, those are mice.” “Don’t mice hibernate?” I asked. For a moment she thought about what I said, and then she began to tell a tale from a time long since passed.
In the deep valley of Donbridge lived a farmer by the name of Billy Tilson. He lived on the flats of the valley and was known for his winter gardens and early harvests. Most folks never really understood how Billy was able to cut through the sod to make garlic beds in the winter months or cut through the frost line in early spring months to have peas by early June. But as with all of Donbridge’s folks, his secrets seemed to be needed in the most desperate of times.
During a harsh winter, the lands of Donbridge froze so solid that it was believed the very ponds froze to their murky bottoms. Most feared that the land would not be ready in time for the spring planting and that there would be a famine in the town. Others saw it as a sign that it was time to leave Donbridge behind to seek warmer lands, and with that sentiment, the town took their monthly meeting and sought the advice of the town elders. A little-known fact was that the elders were actually descendants of the first settlers of Donbridge, and so their knowledge was often sought when monumental decisions were needed.
The meeting commenced at about half past 8 in the evening and the meeting hall was crowded. Most felt the doors would burst open if anyone breathed. The elders began to speak and address the town’s concerns over the spring planting. The elders seemed not too bothered by the concern; however, the oldest elder, Henry Mapes, stayed quiet until the yammering between the elders subsided.
When they finished, the town in concert looked to him. “What are all of you staring at me for? You should be talking to Billy Tilson; he has not missed a season since I have known him,” Henry said as he got up and headed out the door of the meeting hall. Most laughed at Henry’s mannerism, but still his point was clear. The crowd turned to Billy and as they did, he vanished from the meeting house.
A strange thing then occurred that no one in Donbridge could expect. That very next morning, every planting field and every garden was tilled with mounded rows where the snow once lay. The ground was workable and the folks realized that they would be able to plant again. But as for the whereabouts of Billy, it remained a mystery. In fact, even when Sheriff Brine visited Billy’s small farm to see if he was there, all that remained were a pile of clothes and hundreds of field mice borrowing into the winter grounds making mounds in the soil everywhere, keeping the soil fresh for planting.
I looked at Grandmother when she finished and marveled at her imagination. I could barely think that field mice would be responsible for the entirety of all the mounds in the yard. Just then, the school bus approached and stopped at our house. My grandmother got up and made her way to greet my brother. As I, too, got up to join her, a field mouse popped out of the ground near a mound in the yard, looked about, and then went back underground. Amazed, I went to my grandmother who now had my brother in hand. An old pickup truck honked a horn as it passed. Grandmother turned and waved.
“Just who was that?” I asked. She turned to me and smiled. “Just a local farmer making sure the field mice are hard at work in the fields getting us ready for spring.” With that, she headed in the house with my brother, and I smiled as followed her.
1/3 cup of butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup white sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees In a large bowl, combine sugars, butter, egg, salt, baking soda, baking powder and vanilla. Fold in sifted flour. Stir in chocolate chips and pecans. Separate the batter into two 9x13 baking pans which you have lightly greased and floured. Place blondies in preheated oven. Bake for 25 minutes. Check with a toothpick to make sure the batter is cooked through. If not, a few more minutes may be necessary. Be careful not to overbake.
Yield: 30 blondies depending on the size of cut squares.