Finally, this trail is open.

The weather got a little cold for planting, and with the most important anti-erosion measures in place, Rick suggested that we work on the trails.

Our property is criss-crossed with old logging trails, a number of which had become impassable because of fallen trees. With the emphasis on building, we’ve not done much trail maintenance in the past few years. As a result, our zone of “Kubota” access area has been getting smaller and smaller.

We use the Kubota extensively in gathering wood. It delivers us to the site, carries our tools, lifts logs (using chains and the front-end loader) and drags them into safe, accessible work areas, pushes rotten logs to the side to clear the trail, and then pulls our loaded, ragged, little trailer back out of the bush to our woodpile, for splitting and stacking. These two seniors would be hard pressed to heat with wood, without the assistance of our trusty tractor.

Rick’s motivation for trail clearance isn’t just about clearing nice paths. We’ve had high winds of late, and there are a few big trees, newly down, (one in particular) that he is itching to cut and gather. But I’m open to the task–because I like nice paths. In the process, we’re harvesting any burnable wood that has fallen across the trails–though gathering is not our first objective.

Most wood left on the forest floor begins to rot quickly. Beech turns to mush in just a year or two, as does Basswood (Linden.) Maple lasts a little longer. Ash, especially if kept up off of the dirt, can last for years. The champion of the forest is ironwood (hop hornbeam), some of which we’re still collecting from the last time loggers were on the property in 2004. If wood is spongy or mushy, we push it aside. Sometimes we’ll cut it, just enough so that it lies flat on the forest floor–just to accelerate its return to the soil. Sound wood is harvested down to about three inches across. Twigs and branch ends are cleared from the paths, often using it for filling in the divots left when a tree falls. This fills in the lumpiness, and creates habitat for critters.

Though trail clearance is our first objective, in the past two days, we’ve cut enough for next year’s heating requirements, just from trees that had fallen on the trails! And we haven’t yet touched the big ash trees that have Rick salivating. And, further up the slopes, there are some “widow-makers” that we won’t touch until nature brings them down. Regardless how tempting, safety is our first concern.

This is the tree Rick wants.

And here’s a widow-maker! We won’t touch that.

The temperatures have been in the mid-thirties, but we’ve hardly noticed, even stripping down during the heaving work. We are wearing “Michigan lingerie,” the orange vests that mark you has “human” during hunting season. It’d be a shame to get shot right on your own property. Every year in Michigan, somebody gets shot by hunters with more enthusiasm than sense. Let orange be your safety flag.

I had intended to post a full set of photos with this, documenting all of the aspects of wood gathering and trail clearing. But once the work started, the camera stayed in the tool bucket. What can I say?