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Friday, August 21, 2009

Chainsaw wrangling

The sawyer's apprentice

Daughter was here for almost a week, working off a debt in advance, I think (her arrangements were with Beloved, our money manager), and it was a fabulous time. Luckily for me, there are improvements being made to the Reading Room above my space at work, which necessitated my taking a couple of days leave -- it would have been awkward trying to work at my desk with concrete dust pouring all over me -- and I got to spend those wonderful days with her.

No one ever had such a good time working with her daughter, I am sure. When it was time for her to go home to the Big City Up North, I cried buckets and had to throw two hankies into the washer. But her Young Man misses her (he said so on Facebook) -- so fair is fair.

We cranked up the radio and rolled up our sleeves to tackle a number of projects: making apple, zuke and tomato leathers and "leather britches" beans, cleaning the kitchen and organizing drawers, cleaning the bathrooms, weeding, cutting suckers around all the fruit trees, watering, harvesting apples and veggies, blackberrying, composting, gathering eggs, changing duck pond water, washing the truck, dusting and sweeping out the house, preparing meals and cleaning up after them, and ... firewooding.

Last Son wants me to do a test plot for hops farming, which I suspect will turn out well -- hops were once a major crop hereabouts, is in relatively short supply, and is well suited to small farm production, with a little forethought. So, thinking ahead, I have been trying to visualize getting enough water, light and nutrition to a half-acre monocrop of sorts.

One thing that would have to change is soil water retention. All the brave little willow rods I planted last winter have died in the rather severe summer drought, as I had to leave them out of the watering plan. The south hillside, once used as a log yard, is heavily compacted and its grasses dry up and die back in June -- and even the Queen-Anne's lace gives up by August. Tough conditions! So we would have to break things up a bit. We can hire a tractor with a PTO tiller to bust sod and then we'd sow buckwheat and favas (I have a gallon and a half of fava seed beans from this year), and then till them in. Something along those lines -- check.

The second well, where the hand pump is now, could be put into service with a garden-hose electric pump, for watering the vines with soaker hoses. It would be nice to go with a solar or wind pump (lots of wind) but the initial cost is off-putting. So, water -- check.

There are a number of tall trees along there. Most of them we can handle, and most of them, ash and cottonwood and maple, tend to come back from the stump -- natural coppice material. So we could down them for firewood, letting in more light for the vines, and still have wood for the future from the same grove. Check.

So Daughter and I went after some of the wood. There is a pine, which we planted from a seed from a cone almost two decades ago, which had reached the power lines, so I went up a ladder and topped it. The top was heavy enough that we cut it into three sections to drag to our woodshed, where Daughter got her first lesson in chainsaw wrangling. She proved to be a natural.

Everything down to one inch diameter went to the woodpile, and the small stuff, with its load of long green needles, went to various trees and shrubs all over the place as mulch.

After this warm-up, we went after one of the cottonwoods.

This tree was eighteen inches at DBH (Diameter at Breast Height) and about eighty feet tall. It stood on the edge of the bank of the Stony Run dry wash, and leaned conveniently in a non-threatening direction along the creek bank, so there would be no need to cable it to be sure of missing anything.

I made the two face cuts, shoved out the wedge, and did the back cut, just as in Days Long Gone when I was Someone Else and expected to know how to do these things. It all came back to me. As the tree started to go over, I instinctively shut down the saw and ran back along the creek bed in case the tree might like to barber-chair (a nasty turn of events depicted in Sometimes a Great Notion). The demise of a big tree is to be respected.

With an almighty thump, everything went exactly as planned! We high-fived and set about making wood. All good ... however:

The differences between Days Long Gone and now are: 1) I was young then and am now sixty. 2) I have, in pursuit of goals important to me, lost nearly thirty percent of my muscle mass, on top of being old.

Time was, I would firewood three trees this size in a day. Now I can do about half of one in a day, with willing and cheerful help at hand.

At day's end, we looked along the creek toward the "farm" land broiling in the sun (at 97F) in the near distance.

Only about fifteen such trees to go ...

risa b

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