Archives for category: logs

Been awhile, eh? We’re coming to the end of a long string of challenges, so I’ll try to wrap it up and get on with regular blogging.

2022 was a doozie. When I last left off, we were heading into summer after Rick’s unfortunate encounter heading down the stairs on his ribs. He actually had a miraculous recovery. Five broken ribs would normally sideline one for months—but he was up and running in weeks. Things went a little hairy after that.

We were grappling with how to handle the previous year’s diagnosis of brown spot needle blight on our Scots Pines out front. Remember, we are tree-huggers. Hundreds of trees were infected, and our State’s Ag University (MSU) advised us that we should cut all affected trees—and quickly—to prevent it from spreading.*The scope of the job was well over our heads, so the search began. Unfortunately, there is no timber value to the Scots Pines. They can be chipped, but they are not a viable commercial logging option. We were concerned that any delay could result in the blight’s spread to the acres of plantation red pines back behind the house. We connected with a local outfit—who were slow to come up with a bid for the work.

Then, one day, almost a year ago, we took a shortcut through the red pines, and both of us stopped short. Something was wrong. The light was wrong. We were accustomed to it being much darker under that canopy. We turned to each other, horrified. Had the blight spread? I reached out to MSU for advice. They wanted samples.

Easier said than done. As best we can figure, these red pines were planted in the late 1970s. They are 60 to 70 feet tall. MSU wanted samples from the canopy. We had to wait for a storm to knock down some branches. When that finally happened, Rick collected an armful of samples and we shipped them off to the diagnostic labs at MSU. 

The results were confounding. Not the blight we’d expected. Our red pines were infected with yet another ‘needlecast’ disease, Lophodermium. But what was the prognosis? Unless we thinned, and treated (and we’re talking acres of red pines) our trees had six to eight years. 

How could this be? How could we have two, different, lethal, needlecast diseases at once? The short answer, climate change. Though our area of Northern Michigan is forecast to be a “climate change winner,” that doesn’t mean we won’t see changes. One of those changes is that our trees, now in slightly warmer and dryer conditions, find themselves susceptible to fungal diseases that are usually more prevalent in regions south of us. Even slight changes in climate can stress established species. Stressed trees are at risk. 

Part of this speaks to bad decisions made decades ago—the likes of which continue to be made all around the country today. Whose idea was it to plant acres of one tree species? Monoculture is death on the installment plan. A healthy forest has many different types of trees—each with its own different nutritional needs, and contributions, all dove-tailing together in a diversified concert of life. In a monoculture planting, once a blight takes hold, the stressed trees succumb quickly. You cannot reasonably treat acres of trees. They’d require spraying, at canopy level, (seventy feet up) up to six times per year…indefinitely.

We were left with the prospect of clear-cutting almost seven acres of red pines, and another four acres of Scots Pines. Thousands of trees. And, if we didn’t, cut them, they’d die anyway, and we’d be left with acre upon acre of unmarketable, standing dead timber. A conflagration in waiting. We lived in California long enough to know the dangers of forest fires from standing dead. They call them zombie forests.

We are not clear-cut people. But neither are we oblivious. Addressing it sooner, rather than later, gave us an opportunity to begin the process of re-foresting, and diversification, while we’re still young enough to make an impact. 

Most loggers will not consider small parcels. Small is, apparently, less than ten acres. They’re also not thrilled about logging on steep slopes—and our trees form the toe-line of the steep hills to the west. Rick and I went about our business while we awaited the bids from local tree outfits. In short order, we found ourselves dealing with just one company. In the meantime, we were still gardening, caring for trees we’d planted and building a quonset shed for our equipment. When the offer finally came in, it was acceptable, except for the time frame. They wanted a two year window for their work. We countered, offering generous incentives for an earlier window. They said they’d consider it and get back to us. Then they stopped taking our calls.

Then, in late August, Rick had a ladder accident on the shed job. Not a little accident. He broke off the bottom end of the tibia and pulverized about five inches of the fibula. Major surgical reconstruction, lots of hardware, and a guaranteed 3-5 months, flat on his back. He had to build new bone. He was despondent. Not only wouldn’t the shed get finished, but we’d made no progress on all the larger issues on the property. 

At the same time, we were dealing with family obligations, and my mother was ill. It was not a good time.

Other than caring for Rick’s convalescent needs there didn’t seem to be much I could do to move things forward. Thankfully, because of the power of the internet, I was able to research other logging options. And I found one. A solo operator who logged “the old-fashioned way,” and who was not hostile to our request that he log so as to save any and all deciduous trees that were mixed in with the pines. We walked the property and I explained our long range objective to reforest with a diversified deciduous blend of trees. He was on board—and he was available to start in the late fall. Rick’s relief was palpable. We signed.

Rick’s superpower is healing. His ankle is nearly back to pre-accident performance. We are back working on the property—and, once the snow is gone, preparing to finish the shed. Once Rick was mended, I could take some time to spend with my Mum, who is also, now on the mend.

In a couple of weeks the logging will be complete, and in time for this season’s tree planting. Even better, those Red Pines were peppered with volunteer maples. And hidden in the lower Scots Pines were a dozen or so mature, American Black Cherry trees. Though it looks a bit rough, there are enough standing trees that it has an almost park-like appearance. We still have plenty of re-planting to do, but we are wildly pleased with the results. In just a couple of years, you won’t be able to tell we logged at all.

Turns out, our decisions, and the end result, were not so clear-cut.

* As we look around, it’s clear that Northern Michigan’s conifers are in trouble. Now that we know what to look for, we see sick trees everywhere. Though we’re thrilled to have solved our own blight issues, this is not a problem that is going away soon, or at all.

Friction Fit

A.V. Walters


I’m sorry that I haven’t been posting. I have been busy with everyone’s favorite task in home building. I’m insulating.

For good reason, Michigan takes insulation seriously. Back in California I remember building inspectors glancing at insulation, with a nod and a wink. Not so here. Normally, we have winters that warrant a rigorous inspection. Without insulation, we’d spend a fortune (and a lot of natural resources) to keep the place habitable in the winter.

Because there’s little you can do to insulate log walls, the remaining areas get extra scrutiny. In part because the default—fiberglass–is such a miserable job, we considered all of our options. Rigid, closed-cell board, which is not itchy at all, was time consuming and expensive. We secured bids on foam spray installation. They were outrageous—especially because of the manual labor to install the cold-roof baffles, before the spray. Ultimately we opted for the tried and true, the fiberglass, do-it-yourself option.

We have to meet R 49 in the roof and ceilings. When you include the cold-roof baffles, there’s not enough depth between the rafters to get R49’s worth of insulation. So, we found a company that made sturdy R5 baffles AND we firred-out the rafters with 2X2s for extra depth. Then we used high-density fiberglass batts. Of course, they don’t make such things in the depths we needed, so we opted for three layers of R-15 batts to get to the R-value we needed. It has been an amazing amount of work, most of it overhead, unpleasant and itchy (on a ladder, in protective layers and mask.) With three layers, it means dozens of times up and down the ladder to fill each bay. The first two layers are “friction fit,” that is, they are held up by their sheer orneriness. The last, faced, layer is stapled.


It’s nearly finished. Some of it has to wait—to accommodate wiring and plumbing first. I don’t mind the break, though it might be hard to go back to it. Our little house will certainly be cozy when this is all done. I’m curious to see how it will fare in summer—whether the cold-roof baffles and ridge vent will really keep the roof (and thus the upstairs) cool. In that department, we are blessed that the house falls in the shade of the hill in the afternoons and that should help us keep comfortable, too. It’s important, because we’ve opted not to air-condition.

I’m happy to be nearly finished. It turns out that the only part of this task that is not friction fit, is me.



Character and Compromise

A.V. Walters–


I’ve been sanding, again. Sanding seems to be a big part of my contribution to this project. And, there’s plenty more of it in my future. This time, I’ve just completed sanding the interior of the log walls. The cedar logs come rough-milled. Maybe it’s me, but rough-milled doesn’t meet my needs when it comes to interior walls. Rustic shouldn’t mean slivers. And, I’ll have to keep this place clean in the future and rough milled sounds to me like a haven for dirt and dust. So I donned my sanding uniform—mask, ear-protection and grubby clothes, and set to it.

In no time, Rick and I were headed for trouble. “Whoa there! Don’t sand so much. It’s a log cabin. We want to keep the character of the logs.” I stepped down from the ladder. “Not if ‘character’ means slivers, we don’t.” “Well, we don’t want them with a completely smooth finish, they’ll look faux.” That’s a man that knows my weak spots. Really I don’t want them to look faux-finished. I don’t like anything faux. I went into my spiel, you know, slivers, cleaning, all of my justifications for over-sanding.

He pointed to a lovely spot on a log that revealed its craggy whorls and texture, “We don’t want to lose that.”

I winced. “Maybe, just a little… to take off the sharp edges.”

Usually, Rick and I are very much of one mind aesthetically. We’re also both very practical and rational—common sense sort of folk. We negotiated a truce. The top sides of logs (where dust will accumulate) could take more sanding, as can areas where hands will contact the wall (like on the wall up the stairs.) The general objective is to keep things as natural as possible (without being sharp or slivery!) I had to relax my normal super-smooth sanding standards. He had to let go of the complete au naturel look.

From time to time, he’d look up from his work (installing windows)—to keep tabs on my progress. He said little. I know that I probably sanded a little more than he’d like. It seems fair, since I sanded less than I’d like. Maybe, seeing my needs, he compromised more than I did. Not too much, I hope.

We’re hiring our old friends, the Flanagin Brothers, to help put up the roof framing. I told Fred I was eager, what with the warmer weather, to get things moving. He asked what we were doing in the interim. I told him Rick was working on windows and on the post and beam supports for the front porch.

“Yeah, what about you?” he egged.

“I’ve been sanding.”

“What are you sanding?”

“The interior of the logs.” There was a long pause. I checked to see if the call had disconnected.

“You’re sanding the logs?” “Yeah, just to take down the slivers.”

“Most folks just call that rustic, you know.” I sighed. I didn’t try to explain. Later, when I went back to my sanding, I kept it to a light touch—well within the compromise. And, I wondered about just who was the character in this scenario.