Beau October 14th, 2008
The last few weeks have been so busy, both at home and on the national economic front that it’s hard to keep focused at times. Perhaps it’s the drumbeat of the seasons changing, and with winter coming we feel a pressing need to prepare. It’s strange… sometimes it feels like there’s nothing more I can possibly write about or take pictures of. Then I’ll see too many things and not have enough time to share them. But lots of work accomplished this weekend outside. Long days with the chainsaw that finally cleared a fallen tree. This is Part I of the story, and Part II explores using a chainsaw safely.
This tree had been near the pond’s edge since April, blown over one night in 50 mph winds. Here’s a picture the morning after I awoke to see it laying on it’s side. Looks deceivingly small, but it was at least 50-60 feet tall.
And a different perspective of the same tree this weekend before it was cut up for firewood.
The tree was still living through summer, but in late August all the leaves turned brown. No sense of urgency to cut it up in the hot summer, so I awaited for the right autumn day. It took most of two days to “buck” the tree, cutting the wood in 16-18 inch sections and beginning to clean up the branches afterwards. Most of the work was on the uphill side, and it’s slow going to make sure there are no surprises as the tree shifts and moves when cut up.
It’s always interesting figuring out how to drop the larger sections safely. And then there was the slope to the pond with the large trunk of the tree almost over the water’s edge. Should I hook it to a chain on the tractor? I was afraid it might pull the tractor in the pond or damage it in some way if the tree rolled too quickly. The base of the tree was tucked next to the small cedar at right, and the left end was wedged against another tree. I cut through the left side first and then cut the right side free from the base with the chainsaw… Whump! Splash! Ah, success. Okay, glad I didn’t try to hold it with the tractor.
The twenty foot log floated out towards the middle of the pond. I counted on the wind to eventually blow it back towards the side of the pond with a gentle slope, where I might pull it out with the tractor. I love to watch how these logs float, and the young boy wanted to swim out and climb on it.
Gives new meaning to the word “waterlogged”… I didn’t want to lose the wood, and thought it might become too saturated (and heavier) in a matter of days. It wouldn’t sink for some time, but might be too difficult to handle if I didn’t get it out more quickly. There’s probably several weeks of winter warmth in terms of firewood in that log and I plan to use it! Meanwhile a large turtle found a new temporary home…
We went to bed that night hoping the wind kept it near the dam. Sure enough, the next morning the log was snuggled near the spillway, within reach. Interesting to see the greenish cast of algae blooming in the water. With a hoe I prodded and pushed the huge log along the shoreline, reaching a flat rocky area that would serve as a good foundation to pull it out.
A pair of tall rubber boots (with leaky toes!) helped me wrap a heavy chain under the log while in the water. Then it was time for the tractor and wrapping the chain around the loader bucket. I don’t know how heavy the log was, but I estimated it was close to 2,000 pounds. The loader capacity on the small tractor is only 1,100 pounds, but with the tractor backed slightly uphill I knew it would not be lifting the full weight of the log. I just needed to swing it out of the water. I’ve tried towing or pulling smaller logs out before, and that works. But it damages the pond’s edge and makes a big muddy rut. Plus this log had a heavy y-branch sticking down into the water making dragging it very difficult.
As I gently lifted the loader, the log swung up and towards the tractor, almost surfing through the water up and onto the bank, traveling about 6 feet. I imagine the working weight of the log was quite a bit less while partially bouyant in the water. But as it swung closer, I could feel the tractor slowly tipping forward and sideways. And I quickly dropped the loader down. A few more times however and the log was beached… hooray!
It really didn’t look that big until I pulled it out of the water. The gloves at the end of the log by the bucket provide some perspective, and it was bigger than I thought. I couldn’t even roll it over by hand.
Now it’s time to cut the log into rounds, split them and stack the firewood for late winter. See Part II of the story for more about using a chainsaw safely. They say “wood warms you twice… once when you cut it, and a second time at the hearth.” Well, okay. But by that logic I’ve been warmed 23 times so far! It takes at least a couple of sharp chains on a good chainsaw to get an oak tree cut up. A good 18 inch bar helps as well. I can’t imagine how they did it by hand in the old days. Then again they didn’t spend time taking pictures and writing on blogs either…
As for splitting the rounds I finally wimped out and got a small hydraulic splitter this year. I went through 4+ trees a couple of years ago, splitting it all by hand with axe and maul. My forearms were practically destroyed that year and took 6 months to rehabilitate. Not getting younger by any means I guess. I still love chopping wood with a sharp axe for the fire, but I don’t mind letting the hydraulic splitter go through the bigger rounds. That’s the project for this week.
The wood smells really nice by the way. This tree was a Red Oak and as much as I was sad to see it fall in the wind, I know the wood will provide almost a couple of month’s warmth in winter for us. We took the time to count the rings… the boy counted along with me and the tree was about 125 years old! I was amazed, because it looked smaller than that. But we talked about the annual rings spaced closer together in times of stress and drought, and the wider rings where the tree grew faster in times of more rainfall or favorable conditions.
Some of the larger oak trees around the area must be closer to 200 years old. I always have a difficult time reconciling the age of trees to the passage of history. If trees could talk… well they can, sort of. Ever hear of dendrochronology? Fascinating research. I introduced it to a sixth grade class once with cut specimens of cedar and pine to let them count tree rings. But it’s amazing to see how the wood from Viking ships helped researchers determine when and where the ships were built.
By the way, our small hickory tree was loaded with nuts for the very first time this year. We think it’s close to twenty years old which is about right before they produce nuts the first time. We found quite a few on the ground, and also hugged the tree to shake it a little as more nuts came falling to the ground. The boy likes the outer husks for boats in the bathtub. I wasn’t sure what type of hickory it was until we saw the nuts, and it appears to be a Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata).
We have two other Shagbark hickory trees across the pond so it’s not surprising that it grew here, planted by some industrious squirrel. I had not shelled and eaten hickory nuts before. They’re small but we tasted one and it seemed mild and faintly sweet. They probably need time to dry out and maybe we could roast them? But they’re going to require a little patience. We’ll save them for winter along with those walnuts.
And here’s an interesting fungi specimen to add to our collection. Anyone know what this is? There were two of them, with dozens of brown, round mushroom heads packed closely together. The entire fungi was about the size of a dinner plate. It sprouted and lived for only a couple days, fading quickly after that. Reminds me of a pile of pennies…