Wrapping up the Season

A.V. Walters



Post bucket

We’ve had nearly an extra month of fall. Tomorrow, though, temperatures are expected to tumble down to seasonal norms. We’ve been rushing around to take advantage of the extended season and to get a jump on spring, next year.

We garden in buckets. It’s habit, from California, where it solved some of our irrigation issues. It also kept the gophers out of the vegetables. We’ve kept it up here in Michigan for some of the same reasons–water, critters, and because our soils need a lot of work. The buckets let us amend most intensely where the plants will live. Before the next season, we pull the buckets and empty the amended soil and leftover roots back into the soil. It could wait until spring, but we had the warm weather, so I did it this week. It will make it easier to spread amendment over the whole garden area in the spring, but we’ll probably stick with the buckets for a few seasons yet. It is more work–but promises better harvests until we can get the garden’s soil into better shape.

It was also time to attend to the fruit trees. They needed an end-of-season weeding, and it was time to wrap their trunks before winter. There are two main reasons for wrapping the trunks of fruit trees. It prevents sun scalding. Winter sun can warm the trunk–expanding the bark and the moist tissues below–on the sunny side. The temperature differential can split the bark, endangering the tree. By wrapping the trunk with light colored material, you reflect the sun’s heat away. The other reason to wrap is to dissuade mice and other critters who’d be inclined to nibble at the baby trees’ thin bark. Mice can easily girdle, and kill a young tree. I knew I’d arrived to the task just in time, when I saw that one of the apple tree’s lower trunk showed the early signs of nibbling! Now all of the fruit trees are wrapped and ready.


A tidy wrap to protect the baby tree.


Lined up in winter finery.

Along the way, I noted some successes. Before we planted the trees, located in the fenced garden area, we dug amendment in deep–very deep. In prepping their planting holes, we went down four to five feet deep and at least that far across. We wanted to give them a good start, and since our soils are poor, it was our best chance to add nutrients to the soil for the trees’ formative years. It has already paid off. Because we were attacked early by deer, the garden orchard trees had both the fence and individual tree cages for protection. In spite of having been seriously nibbled by deer, the apple, plum and pear trees have all more than doubled in size. They’ve outgrown the cages! They look more like 3rd or 4th year trees than 1st season trees. We may even see apples and pears next year.


The cherry trees–grown outside the garden fence–didn’t get as much care. First, they’re all cherry trees. This is cherry tree country. One of the pioneer plants in our sandy soils is the American Black Cherry. I didn’t think that the cherries would require as much soil amendment. I only dug the amendment in to a depth of 18 to 24 inches. I also thought that cherry trees would be safe from the deer. They’re bitter! No such luck. We must have voracious deer. They munched on the cherries, too. Immediately after, we gave them cages, too. But while the others have recovered and really grown, the cherries have recovered, but stayed smaller. For future plantings, we’ll keep the deep-amendment program.

It makes me wonder if we should dig and replant the cherry trees. It’s a lot of stress on a little stick of a tree. I’m sure we’ll debate it all winter. More likely, I’ll be researching organic methods of fertilizing–not as good as a nice deep start, but we shall see. Any thoughts on that?

Opening Day Posting

A.V. Walters


We’ve debated it. After all, we don’t want to appear unfriendly to our new neighbors. Ultimately, we decided that we needed to establish our boundaries. The land has been vacant for twenty-five years and others have come to see it as open land, or even as something to which they have a right. In just this past year we’ve had trespassing mushroom pickers, berry pickers, Christian campers (claiming a leasehold from our neighbor! Lord only knows who has boundary problems in that equation), road commission workers and a farmer who finds it more convenient to park his heavy equipment on our land whilst he works his own. Apparently building a house is not enough to telegraph the message that we are here.

On our back property line, new neighbors, who are diligent about posting their own property, are not mindful of ours. They took a page from the farmer, and planted and poisoned to the very edge of their land, using ours for their tractor access and turnaround. They are not farmers; they plant a large “feed plot” to attract deer. I hope they are better hunters than they are gardeners. They inspired our decision to post, but they weren’t the only reason that we broke down and bought “No Hunting, No Trespassing” signs. As any good psychologist will tell you, one needs to establish healthy boundaries.

Yesterday was a beautiful day and we took full advantage to traipse about the property, hiking, surveying and putting up new signs. The signs from twenty-five years ago are long gone. They were sturdy metal signs, but the words have long since faded, they’ve been shot at, torn down, or the trees on which they were posted have toppled. If we were going to do it, yesterday was the day. Today is Opening Day.

For those who are not rural, Opening Day is a big deal. This next couple of weeks marks the official and traditional hunting season. Of course, folks have been hunting now in the various “special seasons” for months. There’s bow season, and there are special permits for farmers protecting crops. There must also be some kind of special “youth” hunting—because the pictures of tykes and their “trophies” have been in the local paper for weeks. Still, the die-hard traditionalists wait for Opening Day. That’s the day they all head off to go to Deer Camp.

Hunting season is real. Just try getting your car fixed this week (or worse, if you needed a plumber!) Though not entirely divided by gender, for the most part, men disappear this time of year. You can still find them at the hardware store, or buying liquor at Bunting’s Market, but nowhere else. Even the schools have attendance problems.

Rick bought the signs last week, while I was gone. He bought “Michigan lingerie,” too—the ubiquitous orange vests that make you visible in the woods. When I was a kid, hunters wore cammo gear. I guess it’s lucky that someone finally did research and determined that the deer are color blind; now the hunters can stop shooting each other. In past years, we’ve stayed out of the woods in season. It was safer that way. Of course, it was cold and snowy, too. This year is an ENSO year (El Nino Southern Oscillation) which should bring rain to California and a warm, mild winter here. We’re unwilling to surrender our time in our woods, so we suit up for safety. One would think it was unnecessary on one’s own land, but then, one wouldn’t expect Christian campers, either. We’re wearing the vests.


Cammo hasn’t completely gone out of hunter style, you can buy many, many deer camp accessories with the old pattern, wall paper, upholstered chairs, all-terrain vehicles, even refrigerators and freezers, come in the popular, man-cave pattern.

We wanted to be strategic about the signs. Posting the entire property would be time consuming and expensive. We concentrated our efforts on those areas of known (or suspected) incursion. The back line was easy. Our neighbors had posted numerous, bold, NO TRESPASSING signs, facing in our direction. (They’d even put hand-written additions to their signs, “no cross-country skiing, no hiking.” Sheesh!) We simply posted our orange, day-glo signs to the backs of theirs. There’s a comfortable, tit-for-tat in it, that is satisfying.

Another neighbor had joined in the no-cross-country-skiing litany. We posted there, too. We have always welcomed respectful neighborly use. What is it with this antipathy towards a sport that is so light on the land? And, from people driving ATVs and tractors, too! Go figure.

The surprise was on the Northern line. It’s low-lying, marshy with a small creek running through. We didn’t expect anything there, but it was a nice day and we were walking perimeters. Lo and behold—a neighbor on that side had set up his deer blind on the very edge of his property, facing ours! He’d amply chummed the area (his and ours) with apples. It’s a lovely spot and all—but rules are rules, and if you want to hunt on someone else’s land, you ask first. So we posted there, too. It’ll come as an unwelcome surprise, this morning, on Opening Day, when he sees our orange signs.

There was another odd thing. All around his chummed territory, there were a few apples up high, in the trees. These are not apple trees. We wondered, what possible purpose would those apples serve, up high like that? We decided to ask our friend, Fred, hunter extraordinaire. He laughed, “The hunter didn’t put them there. The thieving squirrels did.” Apparently hunters must endure boundary violations, too. The squirrels make off with the free food—decorating the area like some Christmas tableau. I guess we’re all ready now, for Opening Day.

NaNoWriMo Update

It’s only day three and already I’ve missed a day!

In my real life, we’re backfilling over the new septic field (and I thought digging it was hard), moving dirt back over it and being mindful not to damage all the underground pipes; it’s more backbreaking and exhausting than digging the hole in the first place! Yesterday, I started my NaNoWriMo assignment, and promptly fell asleep. So today, I had to double up to try to catch up. Right now my word count stands at 4,295–I’ll need to beef it up tomorrow too, to get back on track. Phew. (And I don’t get to include this in my official word count.) NaNoWriMo–It’s not for everyone. Goodnight All.

Happy Hallowe’en all. October was busy. What with work and building, (and, dead-tired exhaustion) there was barely time to blog. I’m working on it. But tomorrow starts November. What can I say? November is NaNoWriMo. It’s National Novel Writing Month. Bear with me; I’ll still blog. But the challenge is on to write nearly 1,700 words a day for thirty days. At the end (if past performance is any measure) I’ll still be 50,000 words short of a novel, but I’ll be well on my way! I am so into this, that I gave a pep-talk workshop two weeks ago, at our local library. I still have some October blogs up my sleeve, and I can always take photos. No matter what, I’ll be there again at the end of the ordeal. It’s time to finish novel number three, my Michigan novel. How about you? Anyone up for the challenge?

Past Challenges= The Emma Caites Way and The Gift of Guylaine Claire

Current Challenge= The Trial of Trudy Castor

In Time for Ladybugs

A.V. Walters


Two years ago, this week, Rick and I arrived in Leelanau. We’d loaded our truck at my brother’s on a clear, crisp autumn day. Not bothering to cover the load in such stellar weather, we then drove through three hours of mixed rain and snow, all the way to Empire. When we arrived at our little cottage rental, it was full of Ladybugs.

When autumn gives you mixed weather—a clear warning of winter to come—she delivers it with a garnish of Ladybugs. On warmer days, they descend, lighting on any surface warmed by the sun. The air is full of them. They get into the house. If they’re pests, they’re cheerful pests. It’s difficult to work up any insect-phobic reaction to excessive Ladybugs.

We’re rushing to complete some of the outdoor work before the weather turns. The air is full of Ladybugs, so we know well what’s on the way.

Our work is not specifically gender determined. We each take on those tasks for which we have experience. Gender typing does ultimately play a factor—because our respective lives and experiences have formed us along such lines. Generally Rick does the heavy lifting. I have become the expert on surfaces, sanding and architectural coatings. Rick is stronger than me, and has more experience with heavy equipment. I am not afraid of heights.

Rick is just finishing up the installation of the septic tank and field. That’s grueling work—digging, moving stone and sand. It would be impossible without the Kubota, but even with, there’s plenty of shovel work to leave you worn and sore by the end of each day. It looks wonderful, neat and crisp. He does good work (even the inspector said so.) It’s funny to put so much care into something that you immediately bury (and with any luck, you’ll never see again!) But a good septic system is imperative if you want to do your part in keeping surface waters clean. All water flows somewhere, and in this region, everything ultimately flows into our Great Lakes. Proper rural sewage treatment is not rocket science—but it is too often overlooked as a source of contamination. Rick is seeing to it that we are on the “part of the solution” side of the equation.



Everyone likes the idea of clean water. However, whenever the state legislature, or local code authorities try to strengthen standards or enforce compliance with septic rules, the individual liberties and property rights folks go crazy. As though it were their personal right to pollute our collective drinking water.

When you think of it, sewage treatment is a sort of litmus test for civilization. If you cannot figure out how to deal with your wastes—you’ll poison yourself in your own fetid soup. Not meeting that threshold, means you don’t merit the other percs of civilization. As a culture, we should reflect further on that starting point.

I’ve just finished the exterior sealing of the log walls. First there was the inevitable prep—the critical step in any good home protection system. When paint or stain jobs fail, it’s almost always a failure in the prep process. If your prep doesn’t take twice as long as your actual application, you’re probably doing it wrong. Then, two coats of stain. This has been a stinky, messy, oil-based operation. I cringe at it, but it is necessary for the long term care of our home. I’ve painted several homes in my life, but this is my first initial staining of a raw wood exterior. Before I started, I did research.

After two days of day-end skin cleaning, with solvents and abrasives, I figured out that I could start the day with my face and hands liberally slathered with a cheap, greasy lotion—to simplify clean-up and avoid the day-end toxic ritual. I must have looked a fright. I have “paint clothes” that I’ve used repeatedly over the years. They are more paint than fabric. To this I added a neckerchief over my hair, and one around my neck (daubed in herbal bug repellant.) And then I slicked that greasy layer over the skin of my face and hands. I was unrecognizable. By the end of each day, stain speckles on my glasses made me even weirder looking—and nearly blind.

You can only apply paint or stain within a limited temperature range. Some days, it was just too cold for the materials. I really wanted to get the double coat onto the logs, so I could rest assured that the house was protected for the winter—and for winters to come. Make no mistake, winter is coming—the meaning behind the profusion of Ladybugs wasn’t lost on me. I found a good rock’n roll radio station (or, as good as it gets, in Northern Michigan) and, pumped up with oldies from my youth, powered on through.


On logs, they recommend (especially for the first coat) that you apply the stain log-by-log, the full length of any given log, before moving on to the next log. Raw logs are so thirsty that if you don’t constantly work “from a wet edge” you’ll have forever-lap-marks on the logs. And, they told me to work from bottom to top. So that any drips can be brushed out. A stain drip on a naked log becomes a permanent feature.

I didn’t argue. Even though this method maximizes the number of ladder moves, I stuck with it. And, I grew muscled with the wrestling of the ladders. My work on the last side, the north side, was confounded by the trenches Rick had dug for the septic—further complicating the ladder dance. (And, it would be the north face—the highest side of the house!) I was chugging along in my usual rhythm until I hit the north side. Then, maneuvering my ladders around the trenches I lost my nerve.

I looked for it, high and low, but I could not get my nerve back. Maybe I was tired. Maybe stiff and sore legs wouldn’t respond as they should, and it made me feel awkward and uncomfortable on high. Maybe someone snuck kryptonite into my breakfast and suddenly, for the first time in my life, I was a mere mortal when working aloft. The farther up the ladder I went, the more cravenly rigid and jerky I became on the ladder. I was petrified. Only the sin of pride forced me back up there to finish that first coat (and then I vowed that I would not go back up until spring, or at least until the trenches were all filled.) I was firm in my fearful resolve, that is, until I saw the results of a second coat.

The first coat soaks into the wood. It looks flat and mottled. The second coat is the juicy, outer, protective coating. It intensifies and evens the pigment. It not only protects, it makes the house look great. And it goes on much faster. My second-coat practice on the east, south and west sides built up my confidence. Though some fear remained, I was able to grit my teeth and return to my usual ladder mobility. (It’s funny that I’m good on ladders and in climbing trees, because I’m an absolute clutz on the ground level.)


With my last brushstroke I called out to Rick (setting pipe in the rock of the septic field) and did a victory dance in front of the house. That’s one ugly job behind me. I triumphed over fear, and got the job done. Next, I need to start insulating the roof and upstairs ceiling. I hear that if you rub copious quantities of corn starch into your skin at the beginning of each insulating day, you can escape the usual “insulator’s itch. “ It’s at least worth a try (and, it couldn’t be any worse than slathering yourself with hand lotion.)

Winter is coming. I have recovered my nerve. We have Ladybugs everywhere, and my hands have never been so soft.


Waiting on Color

A.V. Walters

Color is late this year. Not just here, I’m hearing it everywhere. Back home, where normally it would be finishing up by now, most of the trees are still green. Here we’re a couple of weeks behind–and we’re only seeing the occasional branch, or isolated tree, that has bolted into spectacular. I keep telling myself I’ll blog when I can post great color shots. And then I wait.

It’s not like the weather hasn’t changed. It’s autumn here. Night time temps are dropping into the 40s. I have to harvest the last of my basil and tomatoes, before the first hard frost. I’m staining the cabin–and some days it’s too chilly to stain. Though staining is akin to paint–and should be an improvement–Rick and I have grown attached to the look of cedar logs. They must be stained, to protect from rot and UV damage. Still, we like the natural look and cringe that the work I’m doing makes the cabin look like Lincoln Logs. I’m sure I’ll get enough warm days to get the first coat on–the cooler days I use for prep. Rainy days, I work on the computer. Rick is busy putting in the septic. Those cool power tools, the Kubota and the backhoe, are seeing good use. We’ll get it in, and inspected, just in time for the weather to really turn.

Some folks plan their vacations around color. It’s a risky venture–trying to guess when nature will accommodate. Is it a failure if you head off to the boonies–and have only green to reward you? I suppose an early winter would be worse–or a dry year with only shriveled, brown leaves. Our neck of the woods has recently been voted the best color-drive in the country. I don’t know how such things are judged. (I’ll bet folks back in the Keweenaw, or at the Porcupine Mountains, will think the jig is rigged.) I only know that it will extend our tourist season–which can’t be all bad for the local economy. The wine-tasting vineyards and orchard stands will be happy.

In the meantime, we keep working. It’s a year late, but we have our winter-defendable shell in place. The doors and windows went in last week. Once we get the chimney in, we’ll actually be able to heat it, making for a cozy place to work until it’s ready for us to move in. All things in due time. Next time, color shots!

The Ugly Tree

A.V. Walters

Tom Tree

Even before I was born, my parents moved their young family to a new home on a site that had been a farmer’s field. Not one to miss a trick, the developer first scraped and stole all the native topsoil, and cut any and every tree that he could. (Then he sold the topsoil back to the new residents, at a premium, knowing that they couldn’t grow anything in the heavy clay he’d left behind.)

My parents immediately began planting trees—any tree they could get on their meager budget—knowing full well that they were planting for a future that would likely exceed their stay on the property. We had an area just northeast of the house that we called “the forest,” though it was really just a collection of hopeful, spindly saplings. The forest was visible from the kitchen window, where my mother did dishes. It was her view. There were cherished trees, (mostly hardwoods) free trees, and then “filler” trees—planted too close for the long haul and whose only task was to make the more desirable trees grow straight and tall. From time to time, we’d thin the fillers and then add more trees to the outer edges of the expanding forest of sticks.

My father liked the oaks. My mum favored the hard, red maples. Most of the fillers were soft maples, but there were some others in the mix. One was an unruly locust that my mother called the ugly tree. I thought all of us knew which tree she meant.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Decades later, my friend, Tom, emailed me a photograph he’d taken on one of his “walk-abouts.” Whenever Tom was blue, he’d disappear out into the wilds to recover his equilibrium. His photo was of a misshapen, “flag” tree in the foothills of California. He loved that tree. It had been topped and was leaning and bent by the winds. He saw its scars as a tribute to its survival. That battered tree spoke to him. I had the photo framed for his office, to serve as inspiration in tough times. Not everyone saw the beauty that Tom saw in that tree.

Tom and I had a falling out. It started as a misunderstanding—but Tom was bruised by it, and he gave me the cold-shoulder and cut off all communication. I had no idea why—I tried calling and emailing, to no avail. Later, I learned that he’d cut me off because of a rumor he’d heard—inaccurate, as it turned out; but hurt, he’d wasted no time in spreading it, and others. Then I was angry. Though I fully understood his emotional state, I was flummoxed that someone who was a true friend (and he was) wouldn’t come directly to me with his concerns. Clarity and communication would have completely avoided our pain and distance. Still, even when we cleared the inaccuracies, Tom would not apologize or acknowledge his role in the problem. He was too deeply entrenched in his hurt to see my position. Though I was angry, I thought about our falling out in the context of that tree in the picture, and figured he’d come around in time. One doesn’t walk away easily from a decades-long friendship.

We didn’t get that time. Within a year, Tom died suddenly of heart failure.

Clear, direct communication is a gift. It isn’t always easy. Sometimes, clarity is undone by our assumptions. One day, as my mother pondered the forest while doing dishes, she called out to my brother, who was mowing the lawn.

“While you’re out there, could you chop down the ugly tree?”

Chopping down a tree, even a spindly one, is a lot more fun than running a lawnmower. He got right to it. In fact, my mother was still standing at the sink when my brother came out with the axe, and in one stroke, severed one of her cherished trees. She cried out, but it was too late. She knew, in the flash of the axe blade, that she had not fully communicated. Beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder.

Since then, in my family, the expression “the ugly tree” is code for miscommunication. That’s all you need to say to fully explain whatever the bollix.

After Tom’s death, I spent a good bit of time looking at the picture of the Tom tree. It was Rick who pointed out that that lovely, twisted, solo tree was the lone survivor of a clear cut. I’m left to ponder the meaning of that observation.


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