Moments in Autumn, at Dawn

November 16th, 2008

We’ve settled in to that late autumn weather pattern with cold nights and mild days.  Which means gathering wood and sitting around a warm fire on those chilly evenings.   I always feel like this is my favorite season, and I’m not sure why.  All the seasons are wonderful, but there’s something about a crisp fall day that I just love.  The run of holidays and special times that brings promise and hope, or maybe the lead in to a new year. But it’s more than that.

I’m finally feeling human again, and made it outside for a bit this morning to join the ritual of the fall hunt.  It was a quiet, blue sky dawn, just below freezing with the wind rustling gently through the trees.  A few birds darted here and there, and the gray squirrels chased each other, prancing about in the trees.  And then, about 200 yards off, my heart quickened as I saw the breakup of tawny brown feet moving slowly between the trees.  It disappeared for a short time, only to reappear farther off, and there against the backdrop of sky I saw, for a moment, the shadowed silhouette of a majestic buck standing tall against the light of dawn.  It moved off with a determined pace in search of a doe, and I wished it well…  

Missouri oak hickory forest in November

Well, I also wished it would come back towards where I was…  But it was not to be and I enjoyed another hour of a peaceful morning in the forest.   It was a moment of joy, of excitement, of peace, of beauty.   And that for me is the greater part of the autumn season.  It doesn’t matter whether I succeed or not, because I’m already part of the day, part of the whole, and where I want to be.  Eventually, if I am lucky or determined enough, or perhaps both, I may also join the harvest and have meat in the freezer for the winter. 

Do you have a favorite season?   Or some part of the season that awakens something within?  Of course to have a favorite season means you are somewhat familiar with the seasons themselves, either far enough north or south in the world’s hemispheres to experience such change.  Many prefer to live where it’s warmer or moderate all year round, and the seasons are marked more by the school year or the type of sports or festivals taking place.  Maybe the “rainy season” is the biggest change for the year?   

For now I need the seasons in my life; to feel the changes taking place, and experience the dramatic swings in temperature, plant growth, cloud and snow.  This morning I felt so alive as my fingers and cheeks grew cold, the squirrels danced, and the light shimmered through the trees.  I hope I always feel that way.

Wood Stoves and Warm Thoughts

November 10th, 2008

Time for a few chores once again.  With the temperatures much colder, the leaves are mostly gone from the trees now.  And I haven’t seen a bee outside its hive in days.  I decided to wrap the hives with some insulation for the winter.  They are first year bees in new hives, and I’m trying to help ensure they make it to March.

Nothing like a warm fire to start the day however.  I got up early to get a blazing fire going for everyone.  Sitting by the fire with a hot cup of coffee before the day begins…  Is there anything better?   The young boy wakes before school and runs to the fire to warm up too.  After breakfast I’m looking everywhere for him, trying to get him packed up- where is he?  Sitting by the fire reading the sunday funnies.

Warm fire in the wood stove

Also have an old wood stove that’s been in the barn for a couple of years and I’ve finally decided to get it set up.  The picture above is from our newer “clean-burning” wood stove.  You can have a roaring fire in the thing, but when you look at the chimney outside there’s hardly any smoke coming out at all. It’s called “non-catalytic” technology, and the heated air is recirculated to burn most of the hot gases and emissions using a method called “secondary combustion”.

The old stove in the barn is not as efficient as today’s catalytic or “reburner” woodstoves, and I’m sure it produces a little more smoke.  But we really like saving on energy costs and usage.  Heating with wood really helps as well as provides a more self-sufficient lifestyle.   Even though this older stove isn’t quite like the newer stoves, it’s in great shape and should work just fine.  I probably won’t use it that much, but I’ll be glad to have it.

So this weekend I finally managed to a) remove all the rust, and b) finish repainting the old wood stove.  Heck, the thing is a beast- close to 400 pounds and over 25 years old- not too far from the time I was going to those Mizzou football games with my Dad.  I still need to cut down 4-5 trees that have died over the last few years, so we have a lot of wood to use.

The stove is set on bricks on a concrete floor, and will be close to 4 feet from anything else.  It should provide enough warmth to help get those winter chores done inside the barn and shop, just enough to take the chill off.  It still looks fairly plain in this picture with some of the hardware removed, just after finishing with the “high-temperature” paint that comes in a can.

Repainting a wood stove

I guess it looks a lot better- it was pretty rusty before.  It’s made of cast iron and welded steel plate, and should last longer than most of us.  I’m looking forward to getting it going, and maybe I can finally clean up the work bench I’ve been putting off for a couple years :)  I’ll take another picture when it’s set up with the chimney and such… soon as we have another warm day or two!

Fall Football Fun

November 9th, 2008

Cold and crisp this weekend, just perfect for watching football.  The boy and I drove up to the Mizzou Tigers game against K-State- it was a lot of fun.  I remember driving to the Mizzou games back in the 1970’s with my father and brother.  We would bring a bucket of KFC, and sit in the bleachers on Saturday afternoons a couple times a year.  I remember wondering why we drove for a couple hours to watch college football, especially since they always seemed to lose to Nebraska and Oklahoma at the time.  In hindsight I think I understand it was my father’s way of introducing a larger perspective of college for us.  The University of Missouri is a really big school, but I don’t remember being inclined to go there by watching football games!  Honestly I remember it as a lot of fun though, and a chance to do something together.  I think I was also amazed by all the hoopla.  In retrospect it seemed kind of intimidating at the time, and I couldn’t believe so many people would go to one place to scream and yell for a game. 

Come to think of it, after driving up yesterday I’m still amazed, and the boy was too.  We must have seen 50 “tiger tails” hanging out the back of cars on the highway.  The University and surrounding city has grown twice as big it seems, and I did a double take when driving by the schools fundraising sign.  Get this-  the University of Missouri has raised over $1 Billion dollars during their fund drive.  That’s kind of staggering really- they said something at the football game to the effect that they are one of only 19 universities that have achieved that goal in the nation.   I hope that’s a good thing, and that the money can help a lot of folks with educational support.

Finding parking was a hoot, eventually being packed in among fraternity houses, campfires and BBQ grills. The hoopla has been multipled many times over since I attended years ago, especially since the Tigers are nationally ranked these days and the games are televised and played at night (watching the Tigers is a lot more fun than watching the Rams this year…).

I don’t know how many people were in that stadium, but the roar of M-I-Z! … Z-O-U! from both sides was just awesome.  We were sitting pretty high up in 35 degree weather, but it wasn’t too bad.  The boy hung in there, all bundled up, and really enjoyed the half-time show.  Missouri was leading for the win in the 3rd quarter, so we beat the crowds for the long drive home.  It was a good trip, and even included a  short visit with relatives.

Falling Leaves, Conservation Thoughts

November 7th, 2008

Windy and cold!  The weather has turned, and it’s surely November.  The leaves are blowing off the trees and changing the previously green landscape to brown everywhere.  A literal carpet of leaves.  Soon it will be time to rake and mulch, and the leaves will disappear.  But first there’s a really big pile of leaves to be made out there waiting for people to jump into it!

Carpet of leaves in November

And the leaves are blowing into the water too… I am always amazed how many leaves accumulate in the pond.  How long do they take to decompose?  Do they pile up on the bottom year after year?  Who knows… but they seem to disappear in a matter of weeks.

Leaves in the pond

But weeks is all we have to really work on outside projects before the winter cold sets in.  Not that I don’t work outside in winter, but it’s a little harder to work with metal, tools and other such things in 20 degree temperatures.  I’ll admit it, I think it’s just more fun (and comfortable) to work on things when the weather’s nice.  I think the real issue is that I love being outside.  So when it’s really cold, I don’t get out as much.   Which is a bit of a contradiction, because I just love the snow.  Or maybe I love looking at the snow.  Well the boy won’t let me off the hook so easily this year, and I’m sure I’ll be out tromping around with him soon!

Deer and duck season have arrived in Missouri, and it’s time to think about putting some meat in the freezer.  I only went out a couple times last year and the freezer stayed empty, at least of wild game.  Contrary to popular belief, hunting wild deer is not easy for most people, especially if you don’t have private land to hunt on.  Most of us hunt public lands, along with a lot of other folks of course.   Also it’s not really a shooting gallery out there, again contrary to that portrayed in the media.  I’ve only seen one or two other hunters when I hike back on public lands, and most of the time you only catch a glimpse of a deer or deer sign such as tracks, etc.  I’ve taken one deer in three years; poor hunting by some standards perhaps. 

Those hunting on private lands usually have more success simply due to less competition. It helps to scout early and by placing deer stands or blinds in strategic locations.   In most states there are strict regulations for what sex of deer may be taken, usually by county, and other strict regulations for the type of hunting method used such as archery, blackpowder or modern rifle.  Bow hunting season is the longest, and it’s the most challenging method of hunting because your effective range is limited to about 30 yards.  It’s very difficult to stay quiet enough, still enough, and not “smelly” so that a deer comes within 30 yards! 

Blackpowder or muzzleloader hunting is also a little longer of a season since you manually load your powder and shot, and have just one chance to shoot accurately.  It’s like musket hunting in the era of Daniel Boone.   Rifle season offers perhaps the best chance to take a deer at farther ranges of course, but the season itself is only 10 days long each year.  Most hunters try their luck during that 10 day period, and that is also when the most deer are taken each year.

Do I hunt here at Fox Haven?  I would, but we only have a few acres of “huntable” land really.   Deer transit our properly usually at night when you’re not allowed to hunt (hunting after dark or with lights is called “poaching”!).  I do have my eyes open for a transient deer that loves to rub his antlers on my trees.  One of our last remaining maple trees- planted two years ago with the young boy, was stripped of it’s bark last week.  I should have covered or protected it earlier- as I’m trying to do with the apple trees.  But I put up a little wire around it for now, and we’ll see if it can still grow with half it’s bark missing.  I’d like to find that deer though…

Maple tree bark stripped by deer antlers

I’m a little more determined this year, and maybe I’ll be more successful on the public lands I hunt.  If I do well I know a couple of families that really could use the food.   We have a wonderful “Share the Harvest” program in Missouri where deer meat (venison) is donated to many charitable organizations that need the food.  In 2007 over 5,500 hunters donated more than 260,000 pounds of venison!  This is not only helpful for the charities that receive the food, but it’s also a vital management tool:

“The Share the Harvest Program is extremely useful in the Conservation Department™s management of Missouri™s deer population.  The Department works with the Conservation Federation to target areas with high deer numbers by increasing local processing-cost incentives and Share the Harvest promotional campaigns. This results in an increased harvest in areas where deer populations are high.”

So why manage deer populations?  Primarily for health and safety- both of the deer and especially for people!   In the late 1990’s statistics showed more than 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions each year, resulting in more than 29,000 injuries and over $1 billion dollars of insurance claims.  I’m sure it’s higher today.   And where there are deer, there are deer ticks which may carry Lyme (or other) disease, a rapidly growing and debilitating disease in the nation.  The damage to agriculture from deer is also in the billions of dollars, and many urban communities are struggling to balance public appreciation for deer as wildlife with the damage and risk that is also present to the community.  

On balance, hunting is one of the best methods for controlling deer populations, and offers benefits in many different ways.  Harvesting deer not only provides food for many purposes, but the money from licensing and training requirements benefits many different conservation and natural resource programs.  In the duck hunting arena, the nation has benefitted immensely from wild land preservation and conservation initiatives to help waterfowl populations.  Too successful in some areas as we’ve seen with Canada and other geese populations.  But as the interface between human populations and wildlife grows closer through the years, we’ll need to ensure sound conservation practices are in place to manage the inevitable conflicting resource needs.

Chores and More for November

November 3rd, 2008

Such a busy weekend!  We’re still recovering from our sugar highs after a fun Halloween week.  After trick or treating we stopped by a local community center where many little games and tables were set up for the kids.  It was silly, goofy, dopey and just plain fun.  The young one loved it, and all the kids won prizes.  Nice lead in to the weekend to get a lot of chores accomplished. 

The peak of the leaf color change was a few days ago, and as quickly as the colors peaked, they are fading quickly to browns.  But it was just beautiful this past week- here’s a shot of the oak trees on the north side of the pond.

Oak trees in Autumn at Fox Haven

The big agenda was servicing the tractor- it was due for a complete service of the engine and transmission systems.  I’d never really done a lot of servicing except for oil before, but after talking with the dealer I realized I could save over $350 by doing it myself!  So after getting gallons of fluids and filters, I spent the better part of Saturday on my back turning wrenches.  It was kind of fun really, especially with the boy to help and learn too. 

I never realized how nice it is to have someone helping, especially when you need that one particular wrench that’s just out of reach.   We talked a lot about safety and why certain parts were connected like they were, and about the PTO shafts and other moving parts. I don’t know that he enjoyed it as much as I did, but hopefully he learned something.  We finished up, and it felt pretty good to save so much money.  I was dreading the cost, but learning a little how-to can go a long way.  

It was also time to remove the mower deck from the tractor, and get it cleaned up and put away for the year.   These things do a great job, but if you just let them sit they’ll rust out in a few years. 

John Deere 62D Mower Deck

After cleaning the top side, it was time to go underneath with the scraper.  After a couple of hours most of the chunks of grass, old paint and a little rust came off.  Blades will need sharpened again too.

Cleaning underside of mower deck

 Then it was time for a fresh coat of paint to protect from rust, and voila! Almost good as new.   Here’s my two helpers… one of whom figured out that after sweeping the floor it was a great place to scoot around on a skateboard!

62D mower deck after repainting it green

While sitting there scraping away, I realized that it was a better job for the winter if I could heat the barn.  Well, our “barn” is really more like a big equipment shed with a concrete floor, but we still call it the barn.   I’ve got an old wood stove and I’m thinking of buying stove pipe and such to go through the metal roof.  It’s not something you change your mind about half-way through (or after the hole is in the roof!) so I’m still mulling it over.  Whatever I do I want to make sure the roof doesn’t leak…   But I may just get all the materials this week while the weather’s still nice and try to get it done.  Wouldn’t it be great to be out there on a cold, snowy day with a toasty-warm wood stove!?

Not to be outdone for Autumn, here’s my little bonsai maple tree.  This little guy is over 4 years old now believe it or not, and that’s a petunia flower growing in the pot.  My goal is to shape it like a mature tree eventually, but to keep it about this size.  I had two of them, but the other one grew too fast and I didn’t keep up with it.  But it’s neat to see how small some of the leaves become (they’re about the size of a nickel), and I enjoy watching it change colors in the fall.  We’ll see how long I can keep it growing! 

Bonsai Maple tree in Autumn

October Rain

October 23rd, 2008

Awoke to a cloudy darkness that gave way to heavy rain this morning.  It will be with us most of the day so the outside projects will wait.  I know it looks so dismal, but for some reason I enjoy rainy days… mostly.  Of course one time we lived near Seattle and had 96 days straight of rain! That’s a bit much.  Missouri rain is often intermittent, heavier and then gone almost as quickly as it comes. But today the storm system will pass slowly.

I think rainy days help provide a reason to relax inside or catch up on things we’ve put off for a while.  Of course it makes travel a mess, and next week we’re due for our first real frost and freeze.  Glad it’s not Halloween today.  I think three out of the last four Halloweens were cold and rainy here.  Hopefully it will be a decent night for the kids next week, and thank goodness it’s on a Friday this year. 

Rainy October day in Missouri

Oh, another bug question to figure out. Beetle Doc are you still around?!  I found this “nest” of some type when cutting up that oak tree the other day.  It’s very fibrous, with a small, dime-sized opening at the top and what appears to be some type of eggs or balls inside.  Is it an insect gall? A spider nest?!  I’m not sure what else it could be, but I laid it aside in the bushes.

Insect nest or gall

We still have a few things to finish up outside on the pre-winter checklist, so this weekend will be a good time for that.  Up until today I’ve been working on so many different projects, but sometimes I don’t pay enough attention to what the Yellow Lab is up to!  I caught him about to go for a swim in the pond a couple days ago.  I forget how much he loves water, and when I’m not looking he goes right in.   That must be his way of telling me we don’t train enough.  He’s two years old now by the way.  I swear he looks right through me…

Yellow Lab in October ready for a swim

Pile-O-Piglets and Other Critters

October 21st, 2008

Last Friday we went to a fun night for families at the elementary school.  It was great seeing the kids go crazy, and enjoy some silly activities.  They even had a mini-petting zoo with a cute “pile-o-piglets.”  These little guys were pretty tuckered out from all the attention.  It would be neat to raise some  pigs as Ron’s family has done this year, but I’m not so sure we could, uh, invite them to dinner if you know what I mean! 

Pile of piglets

It has been wonderful weather outside, and a chance to get a lot done.  Of course it’s nice to just enjoy the outdoors as well, and after school yesterday we jumped in a little paddleboat on the pond.  The boy loved paddling around collecting leaves, while the basset hound followed around the shoreline going “Bowwooo!”   We saw a few of our large Koi swimming around.  There should be five in the pond, but we’ve only seen four recently…  we call this one “Orangey.”  I’m not sure how big they’ll get, but compared to those oak leaves this one is really growing.  I’ve heard they can live for decades.

Big Koi named Orangey


The big garden news:  After planting 3-4 watermelon starts and watching dozens of vines grow and flowers bloom this year, we finally have our ** ONE ** watermelon for the year.  Yipee! I don’t know why the plants didn’t set more fruit… they were in full sun and really nice soil. We’ll see how this one ripens before we try it.   Our pumpkins didn’t set this year either.  Maybe it was too much rain?

 Homegrown watermelon

But the tomatoes are doing great- and I put up another 3 quarts of spaghetti sauce.  We’ve got enough green tomatoes on the plants still for another 3-4 quarts of sauce, but I may have to pick them all before we get our first frost.  For now we’re enjoying cool nights and warm days.  The frost can just stay away, thank you very much!

For the bug aficianados out there, here’s blue and black butterfly of some kind.  I thought it was a swallowtail of some type, but can’t quite identify it.  ***Update***  Beetle Doc was kind enough to tell us this is a “Red-Spotted Purple” butterfly.  That’s what I was going to say! Not… :) 

Unknown black and blue butterfly

And here’s a Comma butterfly, or maybe a Question Mark (yes, that’s a butterfly name!).  It’s the first one I’ve seen here.

Comma butterfly in October

Okay, one more bug today. This little thing is really strange.  It’s a wood wasp of some type I think, and was flying along just above the ground.  It’s about 2 inches long!  That long part is normally an ovipositor for laying eggs.  But again, I tried and was not able to identify it.  Anyone? The wings are a blur as it is flying along in this picture.  *** Update ***  Beetle Doc got this one right too! It’s an Ichnuemonid wasp, and lays eggs into larvae of beetles, caterpillars and other wasps using that long ovipositor.  Strange critter…

Uknown Wood wasp

Colorful Fun in the Fall Season

October 18th, 2008

We spent a nice day enjoying the fall weather and visiting a local pumpkin farm.  The kids love the activities, while the adults enjoy watching the kids.  Some sweet funnel cake was very nice, but if you see a sign for home-made rootbeer or something, don’t do it!  It sounded good, but it was really awful.  Their “rootbeer” tasted like soapy water without carbonation… and they probably didn’t clean the bottles properly, blech!  We stopped somewhere else later on and I had to drink a real rootbeer so that it didn’t ruin my appreciation of a good one.  I think that first one is embeded in my taste memory though.  But it was good to see folks out driving around the countryside (and lower gas prices certainly helped). 

Bought a bottle of BBQ sauce from a young entreprenuer who had a booth set up.  He said it’s a little tougher this year, but sales are going fine.  He was very upbeat about his prospects and said that when people talk about the economy and the hard times we’re having he said, “If this is bad, I’d sure like to see what good is!”  I thought that was great perspective in light of the emotions flying around these days. 

It was nice to see some Autumn color too. We’re still probably a week away from the peak of the season here, but the leaves are beautiful.   

Colorful Autumn sunset in Missouri 

And the roses are blooming again!  We’ve been fortunate that the frost has not arrived yet- apparently much of the eastern U.S. will see frost in the next couple of days.  We still have a few outdoor projects to take care of with winterizing equipment and protecting various plants.  Even the tomatoes and beans are still producing, but not for much longer.  For now we can enjoy the weather and the beauty of the flowers and leaves.

Roses blooming in Autumn

We were working outside the other day and the boy yelled, “Daddy, Come here!” He said he had a surprise for me, and showed me his discovery of this wild mushroom in a place we never expected.  We see so many different types of mushrooms and fungi that it’s hard to identify them all.  They only come up for a day or two and are gone.

Wild Mushroom

But the Woolly Bear caterpillars are everywhere right now! These caterpillars are the larval stage of the Isabella Tiger Moth, and are seen crossing roads in October.  Folklore says the width of the middle brown band can forecast winter weather.  A wide brown band means it’ll be a cold one…  I’m not sure if this is very wide but it feels like we’ll have a cold winter this year for some reason.

Woolly Bear Caterpillar

Bucking a Tree and Chain Saw Safety – Part II

October 16th, 2008

The wood cutting theme has continued over the past few days, and between cutting grass and fixing machinery, my bones are feeling the effects.  Good to get the exercise but it’s more of a psychological relief to clean up a couple of downed trees and get the wood ready for winter.  The young boy has been a big help too, but on weekdays we have breakfast together and then I get him off to school before heading outside.  The dogs are company of sorts, but not much help!  There’s so much more that would be nice to do, but you make progress where you can and come to some type of balance with nature’s energy and all the other stuff on the list inside and outside the house.

I was putting on my safety chaps the other day and I got to thinking (yes, it happens sometimes).  I realized that if I’m going to write about cutting firewood and using a chainsaw (see part I here), then I should probably talk about a few safety issues.

Bucking, or cutting up an oak log

While mulling this over and bucking that log pulled out from the pond, I managed to pinch the saw.  Meaning that the chainsaw was stuck in the cut I was making (that’s why it’s sticking out from the log in the picture above).  Those cuts do not go all the way through the log.  They’re about 80% through, then the log is turned, and the final cuts are made to free the sections. Part of the log is under compression because of the slope of the land.

When cutting, you have to watch carefully for movement, be patient and not try to do everything at once.  Sometimes you have to pull the saw out a little faster when you sense or notice changes.  But sometimes the wood pinches the saw very quickly.  If the saw gets hung or stuck, the best thing to do is nothing!  Shut it off, step back and look at the situation.  Better a broken saw than a broken something else.

Log peavey to roll over oak log

In this case, I used a log peavey and rolled the log enough to free the saw blade.   If I had been a little smarter, I would have used the peavey earlier, and shortened the log to prevent such compression and pinching.  But everyone does it their own way.

Oak log cut in rounds

So I’m not going to talk about how to use a chainsaw, since there’s many sites that talk about using one safely.  OSHA has some excellent information about logging operations, and this site shows how to fell a tree using a chainsaw.  And if you read this site, you may never want to try using a chain saw at all:

“If you place your hands on a chain saw, you must keep in mind that it is like grabbing a hand grenade without a pin in it. It is very likely to go off in your face. From the moment that you take it out of storage to the time that it goes back to the same place, you can be hurt by either it, or by whatever you will be cutting.”

“The chain saw is the most dangerous hand tool that can be purchased on the open market. It requires no license and no training to own or operate it. “Most chain saw accidents are preventable. The only answer to reducing these accidents is proper training and knowledge with a lot of time using a saw – which is experience. You can gain experience the hard way and have the scars to prove it or you can do a little preventative reading.” –  Carl Smith, fifth generation logger and chain saw expert.

What I do want to mention involves the basic safety gear.  I strongly believe in the “accidents are preventable” mantra, and reading whatever I can to learn.  A chainsaw is one of those things that takes practice and as cited most folks learn by experience.

The way I see it, using a chainsaw could be a little like driving a motorcycle naked… It gathers your full attention (and everyone elses), you better not make a mistake, and you feel every bump along the way.   And no, I haven’t learned that by experience.

 Chain saw safety gear

I have learned that when using a chainsaw, you need to stay focused and very deliberate or a moment’s inattention can really hurt something.   So what do I do before I start the motor?  I always check to make sure I’m properly dressed, no loose clothing and that I’m phyically prepared for the work. Most importantly, the chainsaw must be in good working condition, with a sharp and correctly fitted chain.    Here’s my safety gear list:

  • Gloves:  Non-slip and cut resistant preferred.  Gloves are important to help grip and avoid the wear and tear, splinters and pinching that happens frequently when cutting wood.  They shouldn’t be too thick because you still need to “feel” the chainsaw properly when using it.
  • Steel-toed Boots:  Essential.  I can’t tell you how many times a large chunk of wood has fallen or rolled on my foot.  Those steel toes are worth every penny, especially if the chainsaw blade hits your toe.
  • Safety Chaps or Bibs:  Also essential.  These fit like leather chaps but are there in case the chainsaw blade slips and cuts toward your leg.  If the chainsaw blade hits the chaps, the material is designed to stop the blade, or at least slow it down greatly. It tangles up the chain blade with some type of fiber, but meanwhile the blade doesn’t cut through into your leg.  I’ve never cut into my chaps before, but sometimes the chainsaw seems close- and I’m glad to be wearing them.
  • Safety glasses:  Also essential.  When you use a chainsaw the wood chips and dust fly everywhere.  Never know if something’s going to hit your eye, so it’s another thing that I’m glad to wear.
  • Hearing protection:  Chainsaws are loud!  Foam earplugs help a lot, but should also be worn with some good “mouse ears” to cover your ears.
  • Hard hat/Integrated face mask:  Depending upon the type of use for your chainsaw, a hard hat and facemask may be necessary.  Branches swing and fall from many directions, and a hard hat can save your life.
  • Log Peavey or Cant Hook:  This tool is like a big hook on a wooden pole.  It is very helpful to move and roll over logs and cut sections.  I think it’s a safety item as well because it allows you to safely roll a larger log, and to brace it for cutting or on slopes.
  • Pre-mixed fuel and chain lubricant:  Chainsaw gas tanks are small, and require frequent filling- which helps keep the saw light when using it.  But plan to have extra fuel on hand so you won’t need to take shortcuts or try to hurry.  Don’t fill the tank when they’re hot!  Needing to refill the tank actually gives you time to catch your breath and take a 15 minute break.  And when you fill the gas tank, you can also top off the chain lubricant which is essential for smooth operation.  Check the chain tension at the same time. Sometimes they work very loose and you don’t even realize it.

One other big point:  Take your time and be aware of your surroundings.  As you go along cutting or delimbing a tree, and work towards “bucking” the larger parts into sections, it’s very easy to have a huge mess of branches and cut logs laying around.  What’s the biggest safety hazard now?   That’s right… your work area.

You may think everything is going just fine, but then you step on a little round branch and your foot goes out from under you.  Don’t want that to happen.  So when you take breaks to fill the gas tank on the saw, use that time to clean up the work area around the place you’ll be cutting.  It’s peace of mind and a good habit to get into.   Otherwise, read and heed the safety intructions for using the chainsaw!

 Moving oak tree rounds in tractor loader bucket

Those are the core essentials for safety…  Did I miss anything else?   Oh… all the cut wood needs to be moved somewhere else right?  You’ll be doing a lot of lifting and a tractor or truck bed helps a lot.  Lift with the legs and not the back ’cause “The job ain’t over ’till it’s over.”   Eventually you’ll have a nice pile of wood ready to split.

Pile of oak tree rounds ready for splitting

Then it’s time for the axe, maul and wedges, or a good hydraulic splitter.    If firewood is an important part of your home heating in winter, then investing in a hydraulic splitter could be helpful.  After using one this year I’ve found it works about four times faster than I can with a maul.  Not only that, it splits the really difficult joints much more easily than possible by hand.  This angle joint was split in half, and then into four good-sized pieces of firewood.

Splitting oak rounds

But the splitter is no picnic either; you still have to lift and position a lot of wood.  You’ll get a good workout either way, but the hydraulic splitter makes it a much faster process.

For now there’s a few other trees that need cut down and cut up. This hickory tree blew over in another windstorm, and it blocks a small area of grass I like to keep cut (actually it’s  on the way to the boy’s secret spot, so I need to do something about it!).  I haven’t decided quite how to “buck” it yet, and the fact that it sits higher makes it a little more dangerous.  Any ideas?

Hickory tree blown over in windstorm

And just so you don’t think I go around cutting up all the trees here’s a couple of other pictures.  This little oak tree is a Mossy Cup or Overcup Oak.  The young boy and I found the acorns under an enormous, very old tree in the county and brought them here to plant on our property two or three years ago.  Two of them sprouted and this little tree is doing well!  Who knows, maybe when the boy grows up he’ll see a beautiful oak tree, or someone else will be sitting under this tree a hundred years from now.

Mossy cup or Overcup oak tree growing from acorn

And at the end of the day it helps to look at the landscape and appreciate the beauty of the living trees around us.  I hope these continue to stand strong and tall for generations to come.

Autumn evening at Fox Haven Pond

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

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