Archives for posts with tag: chores

Opening Day Posting

A.V. Walters

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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.

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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.

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!

Baby Steps

A.V. Walters

Looking deceptively innocent.

Looking deceptively innocent.

The fence is complete. After tonight, the last night on which we expect a frost alert, we can put our garden starts outdoors into their permanent homes. We’ve been hauling them out every day (all seventy or so of them) and then hauling them all back in at night. They’ll join the orchard whips, to be protected from the deer by the new fence. If we had any doubts about whether the fence was needed, in the interim, a few deer stepped in to convince us we’re on the right path. We hope the trees will recover.

The bees arrived today. The same fence protects them from the bears. Today we simply placed their bee transport boxes next to their hives. They were too agitated from the trip to pull the frames and place them into the hive bodies—we’ll do it tomorrow. When we pulled the plug from the boxes, the bees from one of the hives poured out in an angry mob. I was afraid they’d swarm (and I’d fail on my first day of beekeeping!) Within an hour they’d settled down and already some of the bees had found the pin cherry trees, blooming right behind the hives. The autumn olives are in bloom, too; their near-tropical fragrance is the perfect bee balm. The bees wasted no time and got right to work. Tomorrow we’ll do the transfer to their permanent homes.

Home, sweet home.

Home, sweet home.

The roof framing crew showed up, too! Soon we’ll have a roof and we can settle in to the summer’s rhythm of finishing the house, minding the garden and the bees. We’re all on the same trajectory here. Things are looking up.

The Morel of the Story…

A.V. Walters–

We found another one! So now you see why morel mushrooms are safer to eat than most. They're so distinct looking, it would be hard to pick them wrong.

We found another one! So now you see why morel mushrooms are safer to eat than most. They’re so distinct looking, it would be hard to pick them wrong.

I am a middle child. What pleases me, may not be what pleases others. Middle children learn to like what they have—and not too visibly—or their older siblings will take that, too.

When I picked the property, I knew that it, too, was an odd duck. The “back forty” is too steep to develop or farm. Only the forest holds those steep, glacial sands to the planet. The front “panhandle” is slightly sloping down to the road, which was the reason for including it in the parcel. The property needed road access. Across the road is the swamp. At the low end, the swamp end, the soil won’t perc, so you cannot build there. It’s lovely bottomland, but it’s also the low spot where one can expect killing frosts. A neighbor planted fruit trees down there, and didn’t understand why, after a few years, they all died. Wet feet. The water table is so high that the poor trees literally drowned

The sellers waxed philosophic about the beauty, the views, the “potential.” They were realtors, had any of that been true, they’d have kept it. Not that there aren’t views, especially up on the hills, especially in the winter, when the leaves are gone. But you cannot build to take advantage of those views because the steep hills (and winter conditions) preclude any possibility of a road or driveway. The property is beautiful—it’s just not marketable for development. Oh, and the sellers told us, there were mushrooms.

Until last year, I’d never seen any mushrooms. Morels have a short season and, though I’d been here in May, I never saw them. Last year, I saw a bunch of them. They were in a plastic bag, dangling from the waistband of a mushroom poacher who was walking our south ridge. We ran the poachers off—but the morels went with them. I didn’t have the fortitude or attitude to demand that they surrender their bounty.

This year we’ve been regularly stalking our slopes, eyes glued to the ground. (So much for the view.) It’s been a dry spring, and cool, so much so that the leaf litter has been crunchy underfoot. Morels like warm and wet. We searched and searched to no avail. My sister, 150 miles south of here, went morel hunting several weekends in a row and found hundreds. She told me I just didn’t know how to look. Over and over again, she said, “You have to get low, they’re tough to see.” They are. And, they are especially difficult to see when they aren’t there.

This past week, we’ve had heavy rains. So, despite the fact that the season is technically over, Rick and I went for a last stroll to check for “shrooms.” We also figured we could harvest some wild leeks, “les ramps” to the gourmet crowd. For best flavor, you harvest them late—just as their leaves yellow. We weren’t twenty steps into the forest when Rick found the first mushroom—right in the middle of the path! We spent an hour or so—poking around, digging ramps and collecting beautiful morels. There weren’t many mushrooms, enough for a wonderful dinner. We had sautéed wild leeks and morels over penne—with thyme, and just enough goat yogurt for creaminess and tang. It was a feast for kings—as good as any served in this foodie-snob restaurant capital.

Maybe we’ll get an extended season. This will guarantee a few more hikes into the back forty, even though we’re really busy. Not bad for a couple of middle kids.

Sorry, no pics. We were so excited that we ate the evidence.

Beer Garden Blues

A.V. Walters

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We started our little garden plants in tiny peat pots, some weeks ago. We’d carefully researched our frost-free date, and back-calculated the time for germination. I’m picky about such things because one of my pet peeves is vegetable starts that are root-bound at planting time. The date came, and went, and the weather forecast still warns of possible frost, so we cannot plant. But, our little sprouts are ready to roll. To harden them off, we’ve been carrying them outside on nice days and back in again every night. It’s like babysitting.

Though I’ve never been an advocate of multiple transplanting (too lazy), this year I’m won over, if only to avoid the dreaded tangle of strangled roots in the bottom of the peat pots. Yes, I know that peat pots can supposedly be just dropped into the hole, but I’ve never done that, because even though the roots can grow through them, I’ve still experienced them causing a strangling ganglia of roots. And yes, I know there’s a whole school of thought that advocates multiple transplants for tomatoes—almost as gardening gospel. I don’t buy it. Like I said, I’m picky.

We’re going away for a short trip. Added to my root-bound anxieties is the knowledge that the tiny peat pots would dry out before our return. They desperately need larger pots that can hold enough moisture to cover our four-day absence. Transplanting is not an option; it’s a necessity. Since I wasn’t planning on it, I don’t have pots, one or two sizes up, in which to put these little sprigs. I had planned on going from peat pots, direct to the buckets dug into the garden. We’re not talking about a handful of vegie starts here; there are a lot of them.

After exhausting all of our yogurt and salsa containers, each washed and punctured with drainage holes, I started scrounging through the recycling bin for additional pots. I scavenged some milk cartons, a cocoa tin, and the plastic trays in which my co-op sells mushrooms. Still, we were short. What was I going to do with all those tomato starts?

I ran out to our local hardware store. They understood. Though they didn’t have a solution. (Their vegetable starts are in the same frost-free-limbo.) We all thought that the cold weather was done. Optimists, I tell ya! They suggested a trip across the county to a nursery/hothouse operation. Alternatively, they shrugged, there’s always 18-ounce, plastic beer cups. Sigh.

I’m not a disposable-cup-kind-of-gal. But, in the quest for environmentally sound solutions, one must weigh the impact of the nearby expedient, versus the drive-around-the-whole-damn-county looking for appropriately sized pots solution. The local grocery had a small stack of beer cups for $3.19. So, I went for it.

The plants will not spend long in their beer cups. I’ll save them for plantings in the future (along with all the punctured yogurt and salsa containers.) Next week, I’m sure they’ll all be ready for the final jump into the garden. I’m watching the weather site like a hawk. Next year, I’m gearing up for floating row covers. It’s either that, or it’s back to the beer cups.

New (to Us) Trailer

A.V. Walters

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There are probably a hundred things that we could have done today—some maybe more important than what we actually tackled. But, there is a special lure to a new toy, though. You just gotta try it out.

We’ve had cut wood sitting in the forest for some weeks now. Not that it matters; the firewood could sit there until fall. The problem was that, though we’ve cut the trails, we did not have a trailer to haul the wood out. I’ve been perusing craigslist for weeks. Trailers are not cheap! Who knew?

It needed to be small, to handle our steep terrain and tight turns. It did not need to be road-worthy. By that I mean that we didn’t need lights or brakes. We will never use this trailer off the property. And, we’re not likely to gather firewood in the dark.

I mentioned sometime back that I’m a bit of a scrounge. Indeed, I may be the Queen of Scrounge. Finally, last week we found the perfect trailer. It’s really junky! For some reason, that makes me love it all the more. The old metal frame is rusty, but it’s sound. The wood is a mess, but that can be replaced. This is probably an old military trailer. I guess we’ll refurbish it—though I kind of like it just as it is. Rick is just as enthused, in a more subdued kind of way.

Today was our first free day where we didn’t have to be doing something else. Rick was itching to try out the trailer. So, we decided to bring in some of the cut wood. Our funny little trailer worked like a champ. We brought in five trailer loads (plus what we could fit in the tractor’s loader.) Naturally, it turned out to be the hottest day so far this year—well into the eighties. It’s not ideal weather for the heavy lifting in this task. Still, off we went. We’re as happy as clams, though a little tired.

Now that so much wood has been brought down to the home site, I guess we’ll have to split and stack it. There’s more up there, but we’ve run out of room at the splitting station. Everything in it’s time…and then, we can go play in the hills again.

At Odds, Comedic… Timing

A.V. Walters

Not so much compost, after all.

Not so much compost, after all.

I drove into town the other day and was amazed that, almost overnight, lawns have turned green. There are swollen buds and tiny baby leaves on the lilacs and flowering quince. The tips of the maples are giving it away, too. In early spring, before they actually leaf out, their buds have a rosy glow to them. Across the valley, the areas with maples are blushing. The cherry orchards are blushing, too. Not blooming, but with a sort of out-of-focus burgundy haze. So, the landscape says spring.

The weather report? That’s another thing, entirely. Day-time temps in the low forties, and snow! I kid you not. They’re calling for snow, up to 2 inches cumulatively, over the next two days. It won’t stick; the ground has already warmed up. The Road Commission has lifted the frost restrictions from secondary roads. But we’ve seen snowflakes this morning already. It makes us wonder if we have our timing right.

Last week we had 45 yards of compost delivered. It sounds like a lot, but it isn’t. It looks like we have a really bad case of gophers. We’ll be digging it in deep to prep for the orchard trees (which should arrive next week.) The rest will be for the garden. We are on the threshold of gardening, but for that snow thing.

Spindly

Spindly

But growing by the day.

But growing by the day.

We’re still perched in a tiny apartment, across from our new digs. There are space and light issues here, mostly because we’re now sharing space with building materials and with hundreds of seedlings in peat pots. We used our seed favorites from Two Rock and have been pleased with a more than generous germination rate. (Oh, no! I’ll have to cull!) The only things that haven’t come poking up through the soil yet are the peppers (and, some questionable crook-neck squash seeds.) Peppers are notoriously picky about seedling temperatures–they like it warmer than we keep the house! I hope they’ll pop up soon. Everything else is up and growing. I certainly hope we didn’t start them too early. Like comedy, in gardening, timing is everything. Hopefully the joke’s not on us.

seedlings1

seedlings2

It’s snowing out there, right now. There’s a little anxiety, and a lot of hope, in the mix.

March of the In-Betweens

A.V. Walters

Critter calling cards on our stoop.

Critter calling cards on our stoop.

T.S. Eliot was dead wrong. April is not the cruelest month. March is. One day it’s warm and lovely, the next, snow is falling and the ground is white, again. For those of us waiting to build, to plant, to get a jump on the season… it’s agony. Those nice days—just teasers—don’t let them fool you into starting your seeds early. It’s March, the season of the lions and the lambs.

My years in Northern California, where daffodils come up in February and (if you’re lucky) March will deliver a seasonal, finale rainstorm, have confused me as to the truly transitional nature of March. March, in Northern Michigan, is here to teach patience.

I’m trying to find transitional, spring-readiness things to do. I’ve hung my laundry on the line in the snow. (Yes, it works.) We’ve assembled, primed and painted the bee boxes. I’m pulling nails out of some recycled flooring we bought on craigslist. It’s a time of enforced waiting. Today we’ve seen light snow and temperatures in the teens, again. By midday, we may see twenties—what’s spring-like about that? Those stellar 40s and 50s of several weeks back, spoiled us. Now, temperatures in the 20s and 30s feel cold. We’d spent February hiking in single digits and teens, without complaint but now, we turn up our collars on much nicer days.

We’ve been tempted to take the snow-blower off of the Kubota (and maybe replace it with the backhoe, for building) but for the fear that we’d trigger one of those late-March snowstorms. Maybe that’s the origin of the term ‘March Madness.’ (Basketball may have nothing to do with it.)

There are things that need this on-again-off-again season. Warm days and cold nights wake up the trees. Sap begins to run. March is the sugaring season. Without the stuttering warm-cold cycles, the sap production would go straight to manufacturing leaves—and we’d have no maple syrup. I’m a little in awe of the sugaring process. Who thought that up, all those eons ago? The whole thing is an exercise in patience; collecting the sap, literally, drop by drop; boiling it down, for syrup it takes forty gallons of sap to get one gallon of syrup; and bottling it up. Sugar-maple candy boils down even further, and then gets instantly crystalized, ladled into the snow. Around here, it’s mostly the old timers who still tap the trees. Our neighbors do, using new-fangled drip collection bags, (if you’re patient, you can watch the steady dripping that turns the season.) We’ve talked about it; we certainly have the maples. It goes into our ‘maybe someday’ list.

maple

The critters are out. We’re in a walk-out, basement apartment, so we see them almost eye-to-eye as they wander about, unfettered by deep snow. There’s a herd of deer who happen by everyday at dusk. Just before the deer show up, there’s a small parade of turkeys. The bunnies come out just as the last light fades. If we miss them, we can take attendance by the tracks left in the thin spring snow. Two days ago, the robins arrived. I was sitting by the window and suddenly the yard was full of them. To the impatient among us, they are a sure sign of Spring.

Timing the Jump.

Character and Compromise

A.V. Walters–

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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.

Observing the New Year

A.V. Walters

There must be near as many ways to bring in the New Year as there are people. My mother thinks it’s bad luck to start the year with any of her ironing left undone. That’s not a problem for me. My current life style doesn’t include ironing. I don’t even know where my iron is—somewhere in storage, I hope. My sister’s New Year superstition is about what you can eat on New Year’s Day. No poultry for her. (Apparently, if you eat chicken, or birds that scratch, you’ll spend the entire year scratching for a living.) She hasn’t indicated whether or not that eliminates eggs for breakfast. What does that say about pork? After all, pigs root around for food. Does that bode ill for the traditional New Year’s ham? (or bacon with those questionable eggs?)

I don’t do resolutions, either. Sure, I could lose a little weight, or be more regular in my sleep habits. I’ve already cut way back on sugar. I figure if there’s improving that needs doing, one ought not wait for the New Year over it.

I’m not one much for observing holidays, except Thanksgiving, which I like so much that some years I celebrate it twice—Canadian and American. I do like to have all the laundry done, not because of my mother, but it seems a shame to bring last year’s dirty laundry into the New Year. So, I guess my New Year’s observance includes tidying up a bit. We don’t go out. We don’t watch any “balls drop” on television. That would be boring and impossible, since we don’t have a television. Yesterday, though, we took the tidying to a new level.

We’ve been gathering wood. We won’t need it this winter, since we’re behind in the building schedule and the house isn’t ready. But we’ve been cutting, hauling and splitting deadfall off and on since the summer. It’s been piling up, waiting to be stacked. So we decided to finish splitting what we have and to stack it all as a fitting close for 2014. It was easier said than done.

We estimate that we’ll need four cords of wood to heat for winter. My sister uses just over five, but hers is a much bigger house—and three hundred miles north of us. They get a longer, colder season. We don’t keep the house as warm as some do—65 degrees is about as warm as we can stand. We figure that we have about four cords cut now—though we’ll know for sure by the end of the day. Yesterday we stacked two cords, snug up against the cord I stacked this past summer.

The aim is to have two year’s worth of wood cut and stacked. That way it’ll “season,” which just means that it’ll get good and dry for a clean, long burn. My sister (the show off) is working on being three years ahead. We’re continuing to clean up the deadfall in the forest through the winter and, as long as the snow doesn’t get too deep, we’ll likely have our two year supply cut and stacked by spring. When we start the “regular” firewood season, next fall, we’ll be working on three years, too. I’d feel pretty smug about that. A good store of firewood, now that is rich.

When I was a kid, my dad made me stack wood crisscrossed, the old way—so that it would be stable. I started like that for the first cord. I suppose that it’s the best way but it takes me forever. I get caught up in it and spend forever selecting the perfect piece to go in each spot. Rick rolls his eyes. So yesterday we started the day at our local hardware store, picking up some metal fence posts to hammer in at the end of the stacked rows. That way I can just stack without getting too finicky. We store our firewood stacked on wooden pallets and then tarped to keep it dry. At some point we’ll build a woodshed—after the rest of the house, and the pole barn, and the chicken coop, and the…, well, you get the point.

It took forever today to stack two cords. The wood pile has been a loose trip hazard, logs just tossed over after splitting. Part of it was covered, but we ran out of tarps during October’s constant rains, so as the pile grew, a good bit of it was open to the elements. It rained over Christmas, while we were away, and then the temperature dropped. By the time we were ready to move the pile and stack—much of it was frozen in place. It looked fine but when you tried to pick it up, it wouldn’t budge. So we had to first break it up with the sledge. Two steps forward, one step back. In the future, I’ll try to stack after splitting. (That’s a common sense plan, not a resolution.) And with that, we should ring in the New Year, just fine.

Sundays and Making Wood…
A.V. Walters–

indian pipes1
We’re busy building. I suppose, given how late it is in the season, we could/should just power on through and build every day. But there are other priorities in the mix. Once built, we’ll need to heat our new home. Our plan is to heat as much as possible using wood from the property. One cannot wait until the snow is thigh-high to go out for firewood. “Making wood” is what the old Finns call it, back home. Mostly, we’re cutting deadfall. There’s plenty of it these days, because those damned (but beautiful) Emerald Ash Borers keep killing the ash trees. At least the wood will still make good fires, and keep us warm in the winter.
Anyway, we decided to take one day a week to cut firewood. Sundays. It’s a lovely change of pace, and brings us deep into the forest. It’s still backbreaking labor, especially on our steep hills but there’s always something new to see. Today it was Indian Pipes.

Indian Pipes are a rare form of plant. Also called “ghost plant,” they are a luminescent white—turning to a soft pink. They have no chlorophyll, and so cannot make their own food. Instead, they tap into certain kinds of fungus, which themselves have tapped into certain trees. The fungus-tree relationship is mutually beneficial, but the Indian Pipes are parasitic—they do not give back to either the fungus or the tree. They actually flower, like a regular plant—and are food for bees, both in nectar and pollen. Because they have no “plant” color, many think that the Indian Pipes are fungal. Without chlorophyll, they don’t need sunlight and can grow even in the densest of forests. No bigger than the spread of your hand, they’re easy to miss on the forest floor. They are often found in areas with beech trees or pines. We have both.

We’ve seen several patches of them this summer. When I was a kid we used to find them in the northwoods of Keweenaw County. We picked one once, from deep in the forest, to bring to a naturalist friend for identification. She chastised my parents, because the ghost plants are so rare. That got my attention—an adult wagging her finger at other grown-ups—my parents! No picking! I took the admonishment to heart and, to this day, I treat Indian Pipes with respect. indian pipes2

The Indian Pipes were our big score of the day. Of course, the firewood, too. All of it came from trees that had already fallen. Unfortunately, when the ash trees fall, they take prisoners—crashing to the forest floor, dragging their neighbors down with them. Today we gathered mostly ironwood (hophornbeam), beech and a little maple. We’re clearing trails for future access, so the day’s haul was moderate. Next Sunday, we’ll be at it again and who knows what we’ll find.

Somewhere to Put It–

A.V. Walters–

“No, you have to start a lot wider than that. Over by the trailer is your line.”

I looked at him like he was crazy. “Dad, it’s a driveway, not a runway.”

“Just do it. In February, you’ll thank me.”

It’s still snowing here, and that brings back my father’s voice. When I was a teenager, we moved north to snow country. For my dad, the move took him home to the routines of his youth. We had a steep learning curve to adapt to the Keweenaw snows. He was doing the teaching, and we were doing the shoveling. There are two basic frameworks for how to approach snow control—pick a line of demarcation and stick to it, or clear wide in preparation for a winter of snow. My dad adhered to the old ways, taking a seasonal perspective on snow removal.

We felt silly; at our house we started the season clearing the snow five to ten times the width of the actual driveway. The neighbors scooped their driveway only 10-feet wide. Ours looked like a parking lot. We used the traditional Yooper snow scoop, pushing the day’s snow far from the driveway, into the woods. We thought our Dad was nuts. We scooped and shoveled anytime there were 2, or more, inches of snow. Needless to say, we shoveled—a lot.

By February, it was clear that there was a method to his madness. It snowed and snowed and snowed. And, we shoveled and shoveled and shoveled. Our neighbors were still maintaining their 10-foot driveway, but the accumulated piles on either side were so high that they had to throw the snow up, and over the banks they’d created. Then, they actually had to climb up on top to re-shovel the piles back even further. And, they had no visibility entering or leaving their driveway. Having pushed our early snow way to the sides, we were still shoveling, but we had plenty of space to put the accumulated snow. Our banks were manageable, and our driveway clear. My dad didn’t even say, “I told you so.” He just crossed his arms and nodded.

This week, in the local paper, the headline read, “We’re Number Two, Thankfully.” Snowfall to date, here in Leelanau County, is second in the state only to my old haunts up in Keweenaw County. Nobody with a shovel wants to be Number One. (Ask my mum and my sister, back home.) Many, these days, avoid the whole issue by using snow-blowers (or by scurrying, tail-between-the-legs, to Florida.) We still shovel. Rick does almost all of the heavy lifting here, and he started early season snow removal with a wide open swath of driveway. (How did a California boy know such a thing?) Though we didn’t expect this year’s record snows (and, admittedly, our banks are higher than my Dad would’ve liked) we still have a wide, clear area in our driveway.

It’ll be interesting how our two counties fare over the rest of the winter. Keweenaw’s lake, Superior, is 93 % frozen, considered “frozen over” for all practical purposes. That means that back home they won’t be seeing any more “Lake Effect” snow. Our lake, Michigan, is only just over half frozen, so, we should still be seeing Lake Effect snow, for some time. Who knows, we may yet be Number One!

I help some with the shoveling, and I like it. Nothing brings back my father’s voice like a smug and heavy snowfall in February.

Laundry

A.V. Walters

Today is one of those mundane days when you have to take care of the basics. Little else is more humbling, in modern life, than a trip to the Laundromat. When we first found our little winter safe-haven, it was advertised as having “laundry hookups.” We shrugged; we’d just buy a stackable unit and take it with us when we left.

Then, we made the trip to see our little honeymoon cottage. With just one glance at the laundry closet, we knew there was a problem. First, it was too small to hold conventional American laundry machines. Closer inspection revealed that, sure enough, there were water hook-ups, but there wasn’t a drain line, or venting for a dryer. Clearly, despite the listing language, nobody had ever done laundry in this cottage. When we mentioned this to the landlord, he hemmed and hawed. I can’t blame him; it is a vacation rental, after all. Who wants to pay the utilities so folks can go home with clean laundry? He said it hadn’t come up—vacationers and all. They used the Laundromat here in the village. We signed the papers and moved in, anyway.

It turns out that the local facilities are geared to the summer rental cycle. In English, that means there are no laundry facilities in town during the winter. We Googled it. There are no ‘winter’ Laundromats in the county, at all, except one on the bay-side of the county—about as far as one can get from us—maybe thirty miles. So, we can go to Traverse City, the next county east of us (a mere twenty-two miles), or we can go into the county south of us, a fourteen mile drive. Laundry has turned into a bigger deal than we could have imagined.

Generally, we head south. It’s shorter and the Laundromat there is cleaner, friendlier and fully staffed. There’s a bit of a snow squall out, today, and the run to my favored facility was hairy. I nearly spun out once, that, and the poor visibility had me creeping along at grandpa speeds. When I finally arrived, the attendant met me at the door. Sundays have short hours and I had just missed “last call,” the latest that they’ll permit you to start a load.

I’m stubborn. Having gone to the trouble of loading everything up and heading out into the snow, I wasn’t about to go back home without clean clothes and linens. Especially the linens. You see, most of our things are in storage and we have only one set of sheets. If I gave up for the day, I’d have to haul the dirty clothes back inside, pull out the sheets, make up the bed again with dirty sheets, only to have to strip them again tomorrow on a renewed laundry quest. So, I set off for Traverse City.

Surely, I figured, there must be a shortcut to eliminate the northern dogleg, before heading east. But if there is, I couldn’t find it. Peering through the snow, I took unfamiliar roads that seemed to head in the right direction. Soon, the road I was on got narrower and narrower (and the snow got deeper and deeper) to a dead end. I had to backtrack. After a couple of turns in near white-out conditions, I was lost. So, I headed north, knowing that it would ultimately have to take me to Empire—and then I could head east. Sigh.

Here, in the Traverse City Laundromat, the last dryer load is lofting in grand circles. My quarters are depleted. Soon I can fold, and head home into the snowy night. Like I said, these little household management details will keep you humble.