Tamara Burke


With apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein, I’ve never understood how whiskers on kittens made it into the top two of favorite things, unless it was necessary rhyme for mittens, and how many things are there on a kitten to work with? They are an excess of pointy parts wrapped in fur. Whiskers and tails are the least lethal parts and “tails” lacks a necessary syllable for the meter.

So, whiskers, on kittens.

I’m with them on the woolen mittens, though; they’re one of my favorite things too. There’s something marvelously romantic about a pair of boiled wool mittens, thick and warm, shaped just so to your hand, with little snowballs clinging to them. 

My recent return flight managed to squeak in between storms, developing a thin spattering of ice at altitude but landing on time and on a clear runway. The first flakes didn’t fall until we were pulling into the driveway two hours later, and by morning we were under 6 inches of heavy white stuff that might have clung to nose and eyelashes, but the tractor we plow with has a cab on it now.

Before, when the snow clung to nose and eyelashes, Peter would come in soaked and freezing. Now he plows in shirtsleeves, but still remains unamused by the wet, heavy snow that clings and requires multiple passes to clear.

If Peter were waxing lyrical on his favorite things, there’d be mention of a motorcycle (or two) and cabs on tractors.

If I’d written “My Favorite Things,” I’d have made mention of airplanes, those miracles of aluminum and jet fuel that go up, stay up, and come down where they are supposed to, on time. And likely, though I know Stowe does love snow, I’d have sung the virtues of fair weather for flying.

When the bee stings I’m armed with an epi-pen and hopeful of an emergency room close by. Modern medicine is how I treat bee stings and dog bites, or, in my case, sheep bites. When you show up in an emergency room with a hand lacerated by sheep teeth, the protocol for treating the bite is the same as the one for treating a bite from a lion. The lambs would be so flattered.

I think among my favorite things would have to be the Copley Hospital emergency room, which gleefully shares such tidbits as they’re stitching you back together.

But like R&H, I do love bells, and suspect that where there are bells the world is a cheerier place. Church bells and carillon bells and bells on sheep, ships’ bells and buoy bells, and the sound of halyards ringing against hollow masts.

I haven’t lived in a house with a doorbell in 40 years, so I can’t speak to doorbells, but there is one company still producing sleigh bells, New England Bells. It is one of our favorite businesses to work with. We use sleigh bells on the dogs. Bells last for years, but over time and with rough use, they will lose them.

The last time we ordered bells, we accidentally ordered them all of a size. This does not produce, when the dogs are rampaging, a happy jingling, but a clattering cacophony of sound. New England Bells cheerfully replaced two with varying sizes and we are back to a merry ringing when the pack charges after a ball.

The bells didn’t come in a brown paper package, tied up with string. Does anything come in a brown paper package tied up with string anymore? Instead they arrived in a US Postal Service Flat Rate Box, size small. Not even Rodgers and Hammerstein could finesse that mouthful into a lyric, but flat rate boxes are one of my favorite things.

I once shipped 50 pounds of cast iron cookware in a large flat rate box. The maximum weight you can ship in the large box is 70 pounds. If you’re wondering, a large flat rate box is 546 cubic inches. Seventy pounds of gold is 100.5 cubic inches. How you’d pack that box so the gold doesn’t shift, I have no idea. Cast iron pans have handles you can wedge into the corners.

But now you know: You can ship $1,229,310 worth of gold in a flat rate box for only $17.65. Insurance is extra.

Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings are nothing to lambs nestled into the wool on their mother’s back in spring, peeping out over her head, tucked safe and warm waiting for the sun. Nor even to chicks, their little heads periscoping out from under their mother’s feathers before being tucked back under again by an anxious hen.

And girls in white dresses just sound like laundry to me. Perhaps girls in white dresses, with their blue satin sashes, are a favorite if they’re not yours, and you’re not the one charged with keeping them clean and tidy, but I can’t imagine getting even an hour into my day in a white dress. A girl in blue denim with work gloves and glasses is more my speed.

For surely someone has to polish that bright copper kettle, and there goes that white dress, apron or no. But copper is also the color of a fresh egg, warm and smooth in your pocket on a cold winter day. Holding a warm egg safe in a coat pocket: That would make my list of favorite things.

Wood stoves and wood smoke and snowshoes on new snow, affordable health care and studs so the car goes. Boots with good grip and a new wooly hat, coffee and chocolate served up in a vat …

Silver white winters with no sign of spring, a season of joy and all that it brings.

May your holidays be filled with your favorite things.

Tamara Burke and her family were longtime residents of Stowe, leaving the Garnache-Morrison Memorial Forest as a gift to the community. She and her husband, the sheep, and a riot of golden retrievers now call Craftsbury home. She continues to work in Stowe. Email letters to news@stowereporter.com.

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