Bucking a Tree in Autumn

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.

Fallen oak tree in Spring 2008

And a different perspective of the same tree this weekend before it was cut up for firewood.

Fallen oak tree before cutting up

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.

Oak tree log in pond

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.

Oak log floating in pond

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…

Pond turtle on oak tree log

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.

Oak log in pond

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!

Oak log pulled out of pond with John Deere 2320 tractor

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.

JD 2320 tractor pulling oak tree log out of water

 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.

Red Oak tree round looking at yearly rings

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 dendrochronologyFascinating 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). 

Shagbark Hickory tree nut

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…

Unknown clump of fungi

Hints of Autumn Color

October 11th, 2008

The green leaves of summer are finally giving way to yellows and reds.  In our area the peak of Autumn color is usually the third or fourth week of October.  It’s such an enchanting time that we often wish it would last longer.  But the next few weeks will be a lot of fun.  I think I see a leaf pile in our future… 

 Early fall color in Missouri

The bees are still hard at work gathering whatever they can.  The roses have come into full bloom once again, and the bees have found their pollen.

 Pink rose and honeybee

And weekends!  It’s not enough that we have work to do outside, here in Missouri football fever has gripped the state as we watch our Mizzou Tigers play.   But that’s not until this evening, so for now it’s time to head outside and get a little more work done.  Have a great weekend.

Fungus Amongus and the Trees

August 16th, 2008

While wandering the property this week I found a fungus bonanza in an area where the grass has not been cut under the trees for many weeks.   There were probably five or six varieties in a small area.  The fungus is fascinating to look at, but I have to wonder if they are also a sign of a greater problem with the landscape and trees?  

Oak tree decline is a problem in Missouri and other states, and it may affect us locally as well. Over the past few years we’ve lost 3-4 large oak trees, most likely stressed due to drought conditions during the same timeframe.  Once stressed, the trees are more susceptible to insect and fungus damage.    It’s hard to see a 70 or 100 year old tree die.  But I’ve planted other native trees in the landscape as well, and with a little luck they’ll achieve a similar stature one day.

 Dead Oak tree

Some of the tree decay and loss occurs naturally of course, but hopefully it won’t happen on a large scale over a short timeframe.   I see a few other trees that we may lose in the next year as well.  Although we’ve got a lot of trees on our small acreage, if we lost 3-4 each year, it wouldn’t be too long before our landscape changed dramatically. 

 I’m not sure what type of fungi this is, but there were a half-dozen scattered around looking like brown turtles!

Fungi that looks like turtles

Among the different types of plain looking fungi in the area, this red topped mushroom stood out.

Red fungi of uknown type

For now I’ll need to cut down several of the large trees that have died.  Sometimes  it’s good to leave a dead tree or two as a snag host for woodpeckers, insects and other wildlife.  But a few of the trees are in areas where people walk and play, and can be quite hazardous when the large branches let go.  And if I cut the dead tree down within the year, we’ll have a good supply of firewood to help keep energy costs down.   Every little bit helps. 

Editors note:  I wrote this a few days ago, to post in absentia while we are canoeing down some lovely stretch of Missouri river this week.  See you in a couple days!

That Dam Time Again

August 14th, 2008

It was finally time for the job I’ve been avoiding all summer.  Damn.  Or dam I should say.  The pond’s dam. Well  the particular form of the word depends on what I’m doing at the time!   Although the pond is only about one and half acres, it’s built on a long, sloping hollow and is fairly deep.  Which means the dam is fairly large and steep for a pond this size.  And with a small pond or lake it’s important to keep the dam relatively clear of brush and trees if possible, to help maintain its integrity over time.   The last couple of years I cut it twice during the year, but I think one time is fine this year (’cause I don’t want to do it again!).  August is a good time since it’s usually a little drier, and after clearing the taller weeds and brush the grass will have time to grow back during fall.

So out came the brush cutting machine and a few muscles I forgot I had.  I was surprised there were a half-dozen small oak and black cherry trees starting to grow just from this year alone.  I’ve learned the hard way to let the machine do the work, going side-to-side only near the top and then mostly up and down at angles. If it wasn’t so steep I would use the tractor, but I can’t think of a better way to do it.

Cutting the pond dam with a brush mower

It takes a few hours and a few bottles of water, but looks so much better when finished.  I’ll go back to that center area with a weed cutter. The ground was a little softer and I didn’t want to tear up the surface soil.   But this should keep the dam in good shape for another year.  Who’s that standing at the top?  Come winter he’ll be sledding down in the snow.

Grassy pond dam after cutting

Feels good to be finished with it for another year, and now we’re heading out this weekend to go on a short canoeing trip.  An end-of-summer hurrah! before school starts next week.  Hard to believe it’s already time for the kids to go back.  Pretty soon we’ll be busy into the fall and so much more, but right now there’s a trout looking for a pan somewhere and I’m going to do my best to find him!

A Cool Morning in August

August 12th, 2008

There are few things like coming home.  The familiar, the comfortable, all the sights and sounds and… the work to do!    We’ve been blessed with cool weather this summer, and for being almost mid-August it’s amazing to see the grass and landscape so green.   In years past the grass would be brown and not require cutting by now.   But it’s beautiful in the early morning, especially with the air so cool and refreshing.

I walked down to the pond and enjoyed watching the wisps of fog move gently across the warmer water.   What is it about mornings that I love so much?  The quiet awakening of the day?  The promise of things to come?  I really don’t know, but its always been my favorite time of day.

The pond on a summer morning

Our little apple orchard seems to be doing well, meaning that the trees have received enough water and the deer haven’t chewed them to pieces this summer.  That may change quickly in the fall, but for now I’m spraying deer repellant around the leaves and base of the trees to discourage the deer from browsing.  The next plan is to wrap the trunks and install some fencing to protect the little trees.   We even have a few apples developing still, the first for a small apple tree planted two years ago.  I’m not sure who will get to eat this apple first, us or the deer… but it looks pretty good!

Home grown apple

For now it’s time to catch up on chores (and writing and reading too).  It was interesting to be without internet access for much of our trip the past two weeks.  Sure I missed the convenience and instant information available, yet it brought back awareness of simpler times and was kind of nice to just “be” if that makes any sense.  More to ponder, but while I do the garden is still producing a bunch of tomatoes and cucumbers, and even a few beans.  It’s about time to put up some pickles again too!

Festival of the Trees #26

August 1st, 2008

It’s time for the August 1st, 2008 edition of the Festival of the Trees!  This week I find myself off traipsing (is that really a word?) across the north-central U.S. straggling from park to campground while seeking wifi connections.  We’ve ventured through oak-hickory forests, flooded farmland and endless cornfields.  No matter how often I’ve traveled this or another country, I’m amazed at the changing nature of the land (and especially the plant life) around us.   But here from the road is the Festival of the Trees.

As we enter the warmest days of summer, we are thankful for the shade of trees. The mornings have been cool, and the evenings bring a welcome respite from the heat of the day.  But could we ever imagine what our world might look like without the magic of trees?   It might look like those endless cornfields, or the pasture beyond the trees with a nice grassy meadow that is cut for hay every year.  But quite empty!

Of course deserts and oceans have their magic, yet I find that trees bring a unique contrast and perspective to life and somehow provide an extension of our vision and imagination.  This picture for example, taken by a 7-year old, sought the blue sky through the canopy of White Oak leaves and reaches through treetops for something more.

Blue sky through White Oak canopy

We so often lose our childlike wonder as we grow older, but seeing nature through the eyes of children allows us to remember it.  Seabrooke shares such wonder from children of the past and the heritage of The Royal Oak posted at The Marvelous in Nature.

Silvia, aka Salix Tree of Windywillow, shares a beautiful stand of Beech Woods.  Few trees strike such a magical chord within… I could get lost for hours among such gnarled branches!

And Wendy at Naturally Connected finds A Tree with a Special Message Inside, wondering if anyone else has seen something similar?

If you’ve ever been among the Giant Sequoias you almost feel messages of a different kind, and are humbled by the thousands of years they have stood tall among the moments of time on earth.  How does one grasp any sense of perspective while laying among the feet of these sentinels and looking up for hundreds of feet?

Laying among the Giant Sequoias

Rebecca from Pocahontas County Fare shares a more reflective view of Coleridge and how our imagination is often different from reality with This Basswood Bower My Prison (and those Rain Lizards are pretty neat too). 

Sometimes the same trees bring understanding and joy in new ways.  Shai Gluskin from EveryDayandEveryNight.com reflects on the personal history of a neighborhood tree with Linden Light and Shadow.

Yet so often our imagination reigns supreme. Jean at Tasting Rhubarb shares some shadowy Tree Creatures from the past.  They remind me of autumn, not so far off now, and becoming dizzy with flickering light and shadow while driving down a tree lined drive. 

Jane at Wrenaissance Reflections wonders Is There an Xfile for Trees?  I’ve seen many a storm damaged tree, but is there an explanation for this one?

And what would the roads of life be like without trees and forests?  I love a road that disappears among the trees for it conceals, for a moment perhaps, what new wonders lie beyond to surprise our fancy and stir the heart.

The road disappears among the trees

Sometimes we know little about the journey in the same way that we know little about a tree.  Yet it’s the journey that often reveals so much.  Pam Johnson Brickell  falls in love with a Loblolly Bay in the Low Country Wild, and has the chigger bites to prove it!   The pictures reveal her beautiful artwork and notes.

Mary Farmer shares her love for the science of trees with Deciduous Trees in the Tropics posted at A Neotropical Savanna.   Her site is an amazing labor of love, and an educational bonanza for those who want to learn more about plants and trees.  Count me in… or maybe I should just take a trip to Panama!?

Maneesh from Bangalore, India doesn’t share much about the trees, but he does share some amazing pictures about his beautiful country and the Singara Tea Garden.  

Jade Blackwater presents a New Book Release by Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, Between Earth and Sky: Our Intimate Connections to Trees posted at Arboreality – Tree Blogging.  Dr. Nadkarni’s book explores the countless ways that humans relate to trees in every aspect of our lives. Arboreality has so much about trees it’s amazing, and she shares the posts of several other bloggers below.  Thanks Jade!

In Stream of Thought at Anita’s Owl Creek Bridge we see a shadowy picture of a tree along a stream with equally shadowy thoughts.  I love the picture, and most of the poem….  Very creative and, ah, somewhat disturbing! 

Yet where some see shadow, others see light.  I am always amazed too by the size and shape of leaves.  Here we see Mulberry leaves glowing in the afternoon sun.

Mulberry leaves in July

Kate shares the connections she finds with Trees posted at Seeing is a Verb, and reaches even deeper to explore Trees, Roots and Suffering.

And Ash shares some interesting facts about Rock Whitebeams in Holyrood Park posted at Treeblog.  I didn’t even know there was such a tree!

The wonder of sharing our photography is that so few words are really necessary.  Something I forget at times, but Lene of Counting Petals reminds us quite simply that sometimes all we know of trees is what is left behind.  Almost like driftwood?  That might be a neat idea for a future edition of the Festival of the Trees, with pictures and stories of driftwood.

Yet today there is nothing left behind, and I thank all of the contributors for sharing your thoughts and creativity. I look forward to seeing you again… down that tree-lined road of our imagination.  Best wishes!

Cool Rain and Green in July

July 25th, 2008

This year is so different from the last, especially in the amount of rainfall we’ve had.  Even with a cooler, wet spring we expected the summer to become very dry as in previous years.   And for a while it was, but now we’re actually going on for a third day of rain and cool temperatures in the last week of July. 

A Canna leaf is covered by drops of rain.

Potted Canna leaf in the rain

The cool is so refreshing and the ground is saturated once again in mid-summer.  And unlike years past, the pond is actually full!  In most years at this time the water is nearly five feet down.  I wonder if this will increase the populations of fish and other aquatic life?

In late afternoon the summer landscape is often painted in light and shadow.

Fox Haven pond on a summer afternoon

 The plants and trees also benefit greatly from the moisture. We’ve probably lost 5-6 smaller oak trees in recent years from drought stress and insect damage.  Yet perhaps this year’s rainfall will help many of the rest.   And usually by this time of summer we don’t need to cut the grass nearly as much as it dries out and turns brown.  Now it’s still green and growing.  

With the moisture fostering grass and flower growth, I think the bees will find more pollen and nectar available throughout summer and early fall.   We haven’t seen such an abundance of wild blackberries before, due both to the bees as well as the rainfall this year.  They’re not very large as blackberries go, but “they make good eatin!”

Wild Blackberry patch

Making Hay and Other Doings

June 24th, 2008

“Make hay while the sun shines.” A wise old axiom that’s been around for generations, and has more than a few meanings. I like to think of it as “Get things done while conditions are favorable.” It has been time to cut hay for many folks in our area now, but the on again-off again rainshowers have made it difficult. Ideally a good 3-4 day stretch of dry weather is necessary to cut, rake and bale the hay. I’ve mentioned it before, but we don’t cut hay ourselves; a local dairy farmer makes the rounds and takes hay off fields that wouldn’t be used otherwise. We appreciate the fields being cut once a year, and they appreciate the good hay. There’s still one field left to cut, but this morning it rained buckets and delayed things at least another day.

Hay bales in June

I can’t imagine how much more it costs these days to “make” a bale of hay with the price of diesel fuel. I know I’ve reduced the number of hours I spend on the tractor cutting grass, but that’s not an option for a farmer who needs hay for his livestock. Hopefully energy prices will stablize soon, and head back to more reasonable levels. I’ve been calculating the cost of driving various places lately and it’s kind of amazing to see how much we spend on fuel. But it is what is. As for me, I need to “make hay” with quite a few projects too. I don’t always act while conditions are favorable… but I try!

Think I posted some day lily pictures before too, but I was wondering- do day lilies grow everywhere? They sure bloom abundantly here from plantings long established. And they just seem to get bigger each year. I like them because they really “grab” and help stabilize the soil, and can be transplanted very easily. You may dig a shovel of roots, plop them near a tree or ditch and forget about them. Before you know it they’ve sprouted and will bring flowers year after year. Maybe I also like their tall and showy color to brighten the landscape. But no pruning required… I wish all plants were as simple!

Day Lilies growing in June

Road Writings and Grassy Fields

June 10th, 2008

We’re exploring new environs and seeing family across the miles. It’s fun but free wifi is hard to find so far. When we left I had cut and trimmed the grass as much as possible so that it won’t be four feet high when we return. The mornings have been very beautiful this spring, especially after the rain. But so much rain this year! Everything just grows and grows… and the garden was doing beautifully. Maybe we’ll have some home-grown tomatoes, peas and beans when we return next week. We are fortunate to have a dear someone check on things while we’re traveling about.

This was a picture from a few days ago of the fields and grass in the morning. The taller grass will be cut for hay in a few days and the meadowlarks will wonder where their homes went. Probably the bunnies too, but they’ve finished most of their nesting for the year. Some folks try to cut hay twice during the season, and can do so when it’s wet like this year. But we prefer only one cutting of hay in late June. That allows the nesting animals to have a good season, and then for the prarie grasses to come in through fall and winter.

Grassy fields in June


And of course the taller grass is fun for those who love to run and play in them. The boy plays hide and seek with the dogs, and likes to get lost in the tall grass. He plays imaginary games and dreams of castles and secret places. They are in many ways, fields of dreams for all of us.

Tall grass as fields of dreams

Sunrise Over the Fields

June 5th, 2008

The dew has just been hanging on to the grass and leaves in the morning because the ground has been so moist.  I love how the sun glows brightly over the landscape as the day begins.  But our days are heating up quickly, and the humidity is much higher now.  Isn’t it amazing how the seasons change?   It can be such a gradual process, but sometimes I look around and wonder how everything changed so quickly.  

Sunrise over hayfields covered in dew

Maybe life is like that sometimes too.  Just when we start to get comfortable with something, it changes!  But isn’t change important too? I think that it promotes growth, depending upon how we handle it.  Many of the more beautiful moments in our lives are simply that- moments to savor and enjoy. And then things change.  But like a beautiful sunrise, they can be moments to remember.


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