Snow Logging

A few days ago I attended a funeral for a friend’s mother. It seems, in the last year or so, that death has declared open season on Baby Boomers and she was one of the many claimed by 2016.

On leaving the service I walked with an old friend from college days. We talked about our kids and I mentioned that my oldest was taking a gap year in Athens, establishing residency before enrolling in UGA, probably in the fall. I talked about how weird it was moving about that town after an absence of almost 25 years. A few things remained the same, recognizable relics, but much had changed and I had to acknowledge that much time had passed.

Lynda went to Auburn and said she hadn’t been back yet. “I really oughta go,” she said.

“It’ll force you to realize you’re not 25 anymore,” I said.

“But that’s how I feel,” she said. “Don’t you feel like you’re same as when you were in your 20’s?”

“Hell,” I said, “I still feel like I’m nine years old.”

Which leads me to today. Last night we had one of those rare Alabama occurrences, a snow storm. Really more of an icing, but nonetheless white stuff fell from the sky and stuck to the ground. Roads were, by Alabama standards, impassable and wiser folks stayed at home. Which meant I got an equally rare occurrence, a full Saturday at home without having to go in to work at the gym.

Nana found a new recipe for gluten-free biscuits (yes, we are those people) and had a batch coming out of the oven as I stumbled into the kitchen in search of morning coffee. I’m really enjoying the Yeti knockoff thermal mug I got for Christmas and, after a hearty breakfast of biscuits, bacon, and eggs, I set off, mug in hand, to follow Samantha and the girls as we walked the dogs through our new winter wonderland of a neighborhood.

 

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It doesn’t look so bad…

On the way back I suggested that we check out Boo Radley’s house, my pet name for the property adjacent to ours that hasn’t had a tenant in the eight years we’ve lived here, or quite possibly the ten before that. Boo Radley was the creepy guy in an old run down house in To Kill a Mockingbird. The house that sits on this property is falling in on itself. Luckily, the landowner, while she has the property listed for sale, has a woefully inflated sense of the property’s value. Priced out of anybody’s sense of reasonable coupled with an uninhabitable structure insures quiet neighbors and a strong sense of the rural quality of our neighborhood.

At one time this was property was something. An old house, dating back from the thirties when this was a mining community, covered in cedar shake. The house belonged to the company doctor. I’ve been told power lines that served the machine gun nests placed on the hill to keep out unionists originated in that house. You can see the remains of what must have been a beautiful garden, a Japanese style gate graces the driveway, a lap pool fringed in an overgrown bamboo forest sits in the back, only half full due to our recent drought and choked with leaves. I’m convinced there’s a prehistoric turtle that lives at the bottom of that murk.

I often fantasize about this property. It’s five acres running alongside and behind my own. Five additional acres I could use to keep small livestock, more raised garden beds, and a wood lot. Mmmm, wood lot. Here is where we get to the nine year old.

I grew up in a family that originated from the Presbyterians of Scotland. Ever heard of the Protestant Work Ethic? Yeah, we wrote that. As a boy all I ever wanted was to be included with the men as they went out to do chores on my grandfather’s farm. The often necessary exclusion, I would have quickly become bored and in the way, made that prospect even more attractive, to the point, that now as an adult I find ways to make work in my spare time. Nine years old, remember?

I have a fireplace insert in the living room and when the winters get cold enough I use it to help heat at least half of our house. The economics probably don’t play out. I spend much more in my own labor and effort to cut, split, stack, schlep, and burn than I get in gas savings, but I get something else, too. I get enjoyment. The boy inside of me gets to relish in the strength and power of the work and I feel a visceral connection to the men who labored before me. I get to play.

I can only imagine what those men might think of what I do. Life was very different for them. My father and uncle, my grandfathers, my great grandfathers all experienced this kind of work in a very real, this-is-what-we-have-to-do kind of way. Even for a portion of my father’s and uncle’s lives firewood was a necessity. It heated the house and, during my grandfather’s childhoods, it cooked their food. I do it because I think it’s fun.

I wanted to scout out Boo Radley’s place and see what kind of future uses I could put it to. You know, when the landlady suddenly takes an altruistic turn and cedes me the property or there’s a convergence of her suddenly realizing her property’s true value and I finding myself suddenly flush with excess cash. Both quite unlikely, but the idea of having a woodlot I could manage and steward strangely excites me and I wanted to see what could be.

In truth, not much. Like I said, this area was once part of the Overton Mines and in the 30s was almost completely clear cut. After the mine closed it turned over to small residential farms. Older residents have told me they used a path behind my house to get to the river and that there was a small spring up there where they kept minnows and other live bait. At one time the current owner of Boo Radley’s place had horses and that hill was their main pasture.

Now, it’s a lot of scrub and brush, bumble around long enough and you’ll find the old fence posts, the wire fencing long trampled or rusted away.. Privet and wisteria run rampant. Some of the wisteria is as thick as my forearm. The trees on this hill are young, mostly pines with a few hardwoods, saplings mainly, scattered in. There’s a couple of tall pines, wide enough I can’t reach my arms around and an oak that might be 50 years old.

I did find a old red oak down several years lying in the leaves, still solid enough to serve as some well seasoned firewood. Just enough to send the nine year old scheming for a new adventure.

Just before Christmas I acquired a ten foot choker cable with two solid metal rings one on each end. Given the ice and snow I thought conditions would be just right to section the trunk into logs I could drag back to the truck. First I’d have a cut a trail, but how much fun would that be? (No, really. That’s not sarcasm.) The afternoon temperature hung in the low 20s and the ice crunched noisily underfoot. When would I get another chance like this?

20170108_114849I loaded my tools into the truck and backed down Boo Radley’s overgrown driveway, past the Japanese gate and as far back as I could go. Which was actually not very far. My 1976 Chevy stepside, while certainly the coolest truck on the block, is not much of a four wheeler and I quickly lost traction. I shut the engine off and said a silent prayer asking that the weight of the wood I hoped to collect would be sufficient enough to aid in getting me back out again.

I picked up my ax and belted on my hatchet and trudged my way through the snow and ice frosted bamboo. About a 150 yards from the truck lay my quarry. I had to walk past the collapsing garage, corrugated sheets of tin perched atop a structure of tar coated 4x4s. Back in the summer my friend and mentor Chip Conrad and I used this spot to shoot a promo video for Adex leverage clubs. The suburban decay we joked about had accelerated a good bit since then. There’s hardly enough left to stand under let alone use as a set. It’s just a pile of scrap metal and trash wood bits, remnants of someone else’s life now moved on.

Beyond the garage lay a scattered assortment of junk, an old metal work table, something I would have grabbed a long time ago if two of its metal legs hadn’t already rusted halfway away, a folding chair, a motor with a giant gear on it whose original purpose I can’t begin to fathom, hundreds of plastic pots, the kind landscapers use. Past this graveyard of useless items, the ground begins to slope upward. There’s a break for the powerline and then the woods begin again.

I found my way to my tree and began clearing the wisteria and privet that had grown up around it. My studies of ax mechanics and lore had certainly paid off. The edge on my hatchet was keen and I quickly cut through the scrub brush and vines. I still think the handle is a little too thick, my hands burn with fatigue after a dozen or so swings.

The hatchet is a Snow and Nealy that Samantha bought me for Christmas a few years back. I’ve come to realize it’s a really nice tool, despite my gripes about it’s handle. I used it to clear the small stuff and make room for the axe to clear the larger privet trunks.

I’ve been restoring a few different axes in the garage, even toying with carving my own handles. I have a single bit that belonged to my father, and a couple double bits that I’ve picked up over the years. None of these are ready for the woods. The first double bit, the first handle I carved myself, is actually going under a refurbish. I carved the handle from a hickory branch (later learning that’s not the preferred method, although I’ve also read contrarian views on this, so I guess it’s still open to debate.) but carved it way too thick. I thought a beefy guy needed a beefy handle and I kinda got lazy after having removed so much of the original wood already. This’ll work, right?

I’m now going back, under the tutelage of Dudley Cook’s The Ax Book: The Lore and Science of the Woodcutter, and shaving it down to a more reasonable size.

The axe I do have that’s suitable for the woods is a hand forged German model I picked up from some catalog. At first I thought it was a dud, but after learning that most axes straight from the factory need their cheeks thinned (the area just behind the cutting edge on either side of the blade) to cut well. After a little time with a bastard file (and the belt sander, I really gotta work on this patience thing) I’ve got a really nice axe. It cut deep with each swing and I made short work out of clearing my trail.

A short hike back to the truck to gas and oil up my chainsaw and I was ready to start working on the log. I almost hated to crank up the chainsaw. Until now my work had been quiet and peaceful with nothing more to break the silence than the bite of my blade, the crunch of my boots, or the labor of my breathing. At one point a Carolina Wren, winter fat and puffed up against the cold, hopped in front of me, unperturbed by the swing of my ax or the shudder of the sapling sized privet I was cutting.

As nice as the relative silence was this log was close to sixteen inches in diameter and more than I wanted to tackle with a bow saw. I relish a good crosscut saw, but until I can get one, I’ll settle for my Stihl. I cut the log into sections, roughly eight feet long, and slipped the choker cable under the first log and the smaller ring through the larger. As I walked away from the log the cable cinched down and grabbed hold. It slid fairly easily across the ground.

Walking backwards and rowing the cable toward my chest I made my way down to the powerline, across the small drainage ditch, past the suburban decay, through the bamboo forest and to the truck. One down, three to go.

img_20170111_172052The second log was heavier. Of course it was. I was getting closer to the base. This log was wider and more of it solid wood than punky rot. This was a little rougher going until I figured out that if I faced forward and threw the cable over my shoulder I could make better progress. Holding the ring by itself was a bit of a problem, but I stopped again at suburban decay and rooting through the debris found a 1×2 I could fashion into a crude handle. That lasted about 20 yards before I snagged on some of the bamboo and snapped the handle trying to pull free. From there I just used my hatchet handle (and found myself suddenly grateful for the extra thickness), careful to keep the leather sheath on and the blade pointed away from me.

It was about 4:30 when I got the choker cable around the final log and I began summoning the strength to get this one moving. Only not so much. This was the butt end of the tree and not at all unheavy. At it’s current length it was not going to budge and my light was fading fast.

I could cut the log again, shorten it to, say, four feet and attempt to pull that out, but I knew if I did I would only get one log to the truck before it became too dark to work. Ice and snow in Alabama does not last long. If that melted before I retrieved the remainder of my log I could just hang it up. It would be too muddy or, even once dry, I’d lose the benefit of dragging over ice and snow.

 

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Hey Dave, I can see your house from here!

It was about that time I looked up and realized the fence to my lot was less than 15 yards away. I could just cut the log to stove length, toss the pieces over the fence and retrieve them tomorrow. Hell, from there I could just roll them down the hill. With a little luck I might even roll them into my splitting area, or at least close.

 

And for the first time all afternoon the adult me looked at the Nine Year Old me and said, “Really? We just spent four hours doing an hour and a half’s worth of work?”

 

img_20170111_171853And the Nine Year Old said, “Yeah, wasn’t it awesome!”

 

So I wrapped up. I quickly cut the log into 18 inch sections, tossed the remainder of my tree over the fence and hiked my gear back to the truck. I still had those other eight foot sections to get into the bed along with various other sizeable pieces I had found along the way.

I returned home feeling accomplished. The cold was never uncomfortable, just invigorating and somehow made the whole experience more fun. I went in, kissed my girls, and sat down to a well deserved supper. As I began to warm in front of the fire it all hit me and I found myself moving with the speed and grace of an 80 year old man.

Samantha and the girls laughed at me as I hobbled from the supper table to the big green chair in front of the fire. Halfway through our movie I had to move to another chair as that one was too soft and my stiffening muscles began to complain. There’s a reason Papa Bear favored the harder chair.

But even the stiffness couldn’t dampen my mood. As a gym owner I have seen, and even promoted myself, all manner of play based workouts. There’s a serious effort to get people moving and trying to get past the discomfort of exercise, the dreaded chore of the workout, seems to be the marketing ploy of the decade. Only work, hard work, physical work can be amazingly fun.

My dad hated the work he had to do for my grandfather. He became a computer programmer precisely so he could sit all day and not have to work hard. I’ve spoken to others with similar backgrounds who talk about how much they hated the labor that was thrust upon them.

I know I live in a bizarre and blessed time. A time when I can actively seek out the labor my ancestors worked tirelessly to ensure I didn’t have to do – and turn it into a game.

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Waldorf Pentathlon, A unique rite of pas

Waldorf Pentathlon,
A unique rite of passage.
Helping kids grow strong. #ironhaiku

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Product Review: The Best Smart Ash Shovel

Smart Ash Shovel

If you’re new around here you might not know I have a wood burning stove. If you’re not new, you know ALL about it and quite frankly I’m surprised you’re still here.

I do tend to go on about my wood stove, cutting and chopping wood and all that goes with it. If you are still here odds are you get it. You get my passion for the wood stove, splitting axes, chainsaws, boots, gloves, sweat and effort.

My good friend John Paul gets it. He’s been heating his home with a single, wood burning, soapstone stove for well over ten years now. A few years ago for Christmas we gave him a firehawk, a handy poker-blower combo that makes reviving a smoldering fire a great joy. I’ll post a review of that tool later, for now I want to talk about the tool he gave me this year, aptly named The Best Smart Ash Shovel.

Simply put, The Best Smart Ash Shovel is a fireplace shovel with a hinged wire grate over it that allows you to remove spent ash from your fireplace or stove without removing the coals. I cannot express how amazingly awesome this is.

If you have a stove you know that the coals are a prime commodity. That’s heat. Coals are just little chunks of wood, scorched to charcoal hardness that’s on fire. Coals are what you want in a wood burning stove. In fact the whole wood burning process is just a vehicle to get coals.

In wood burning parlance, coals are the shit.

There’s so much heat to be gleaned from those glowing embers. The problem comes when the ash (wood that has been burnt to the point it won’t burn no more) has built up to such a point that it’s affecting airflow and threatening to smother those oh so essential coals.

Historically I’ve put off cleaning out the stove until I just can’t put it off any more. Usually I wait to scoop the ash until the air intake is threatening to clog and the space for new wood is limited. I try my best to rake all the hot coals to one side, remove the ash on that side and then rake them over to the other side so I can get the ash that’s left. Invariably, I end up removing more coals than I want.

It’s just a mess, because now, not only have I robbed my stove of precious heat, but I have these chunks of fiery hotness sitting in my bucket of ash. It’s neither safe nor practical to let this sit on the hearth, so now I have to take it outside and let it cool before it can be dumped onto the compost heap. Normally that wouldn’t be such a big deal but for fire safety’s sake I have put it away from the house, but I have these two ginormous German Shepherds and the odds of those ash buckets are not knocked over and scattered are pretty much nil.

With The Best Smart Ash Shovel I don’t have to worry. The wire “cover” only allows the fine ash to sift through to the shovel and with a quick shake the coals are knocked aside and back into the stove. Each morning I give the stove four or five scoops and I maintain a very efficient stove the rest of the day.

There’s a demo video on the website. In it the owner/inventor shows how you can using the natural draft of the fireplace to draw the fine ash dust that often wafts up when you dump the contents of your shovel. It basically gets sucked back into the stove and cuts down on the amount of dust that tends to settle in your home.

This is basic ingenuity at its finest. A guy with a problem, solves that problem and then takes his invention to market. If nothing else buying a Best Smart Ash Shovel supports and revives what was once great about this world.

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Emerson’s Acre Revisited

So, now that 2013 is finally in the bag I can let out a sigh of relief and exclaim, “Finally!”

Only, I still have reservations. Like any good 21st Century psuedo-intellectual I like to pick and choose my cultural traditions and develop a well rounded sense of how the world really works based on the various explanations that appeal most to — well, me.

chinese zodiacThat said, one of those cultural traditions/explanations of the world I like is the Chinese zodiac and for no other reason than it makes sense to me and helps me wrap my tender brain around the events of my life in a way I can understand better.

Whether any of this is real or not is irrelevant. It’s a tool that works for me and provides a perspective for my understanding.

The Chinese zodiac is based on the traditional Chinese calendar, which is lunar. That means that the Chinese New Year doesn’t show up until January 31st this year. So, I’m kind of in a New Year’s limbo right now, which as I see it is a pretty good place to be. I get a full month to transition. I can mull over the past year at my leisure, savor its lessons, grieve its losses and celebrate the victories. I can use this month to make sure I get everything from 2013 right, or at least as right as I can get it, before launching into 2014.

Let’s be clear, 2013 was not an easy year. It wasn’t my worst year, but it was tough and consistently so. Hardship and difficulty compounded upon hardship and difficulty to create a year that at times felt like Chinese water torture.

In terms of the Chinese zodiac 2013 is the Year of the Snake. I was born in 1971, the year of the Pig and if you know any thing about pigs and snakes you know they don’t get along. On the farm pigs are known for eating snakes, this year however has been the reverse, except…

As the year is coming to a close I’m starting to see some of the positives. Snakes are known for shedding their skins, in essence, renewing themselves each time. I’ve gone through not a few changes this past year, culminating in what I see as a grand shedding of old skin.

I’ve addressed some creeping health issues, re-oriented my training and my business, in some ways I’ve come back to ideas I held in the past and in others I’ve come to a whole new level of understanding.

One of the big changes has to do with this, Emerson’s Acre.

Despite the lack of blogging I have been working steadily at the house, mostly cutting firewood, but I built a new compost bin and launched a serious effort to accumulate and compost as many of the fall’s leaves as I could get my hands on. I also managed to clear the last of the privet and wisteria from Harriet and Honey’s back area.

Over the next few months I plan on renting a chipper/shredder to render all the brush I’ve cut into mulch and then follow up with a controlled burn to kill off as much of the poke and other weeds that threaten to take that area over come spring. There’s also much that needs to be done to the house.

Our Christmas gift to ourselves this year was a new bath tub and tile surround. I spent New Year’s Day painting the walls and ceiling and hope to get to the door and trim work this weekend.

Of course with the New Year in bloom I’ve been re-inspired to cultivate this blog, but this time with a different understanding than I had before.

It started as an offhanded conversation right before the holidays with my friend and fellow Alabama Waldorf School parent, Clay Leonard. We were talking about cutting firewood and how much joy and pleasure we got out of it when he said,

“You know, when I was younger I was always in a hurry to be done. Every job was just about getting to the end, to finish. But you know, I came to realize, you never are done. There’s always more to do and all this rushing to get finished is just a bunch of anxiety over something you’ll never really achieve.”

Of course I agreed with him, but it wasn’t until sometime later that this idea really took root and I could see how much of my time was spent rushing to finish this or the other thing. It had gotten to where that welling sense of urgency was becoming a constant companion and I became certain that it was doing me no good.

So this year my goal is to do as much as I can without feeling like I’m doing anything. Urgency and stress and anxiety are what I’m seeking to avoid. There’s much I want to do this year, the house needs painting, inside and out, the crawl space needs to be sealed, I need to run a vent over the stove in the kitchen, and there’s still much left to be done with Honey and Harriet’s area, not to mention I’m determined to have a good garden this year.

But…

I’m going to approach each thing in it’s own time. 2014 is the Year of the Horse, but for me this year is a draft horse, strong steady, unhurried, getting work done. I’ll leave the thoroughbreds to someone else.

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Time is running short! Sign up for Menta

Time is running short! Sign up for Mental Meat Heads 3, before the early bird rate ends Jan 1. http://ow.ly/rRBmM

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Of Plans and Purpose

The A-Team

I love it when a plan comes together.

That’s the catch phrase of one of my childhood heroes, John “Hannibal” Smith of the A-Team. Actually, my real hero was Mr. T., who played heavy muscle and mechanical genius B. A. Barracus of the aforementioned team, but “I pity the fool” doesn’t really play into today’s blog post.

And truth be told I’m stretching Hannibal’s catch phrase because in all honesty I’m not much of a planner. I just sort of head off on a particular path and then revel afterwards about how everything seems to fall into place of it’s own accord.

And so today’s theme is really more of a “I love it when everything just seems to fall into place.” For you dedicated fans of the A-Team I apologize. I’ve bastardized a prize catch phrase and possibly pulled you unnecessarily out of cyber space and into this rambling post which really has very little to do with the A-Team after all.

As an aside, for those of you who like myself hold fond childhood memories of this popular 80’s action drama, just keep it that way. Don’t go back. I know it’s tempting with Netflix and the ease of watching your old favorites again, but don’t. It’s not worth it and there’s no point in destroying a fond memory with harsh reality. It just wasn’t that good of a show.

Okay, now back to my point. I have what is considered a wide variety of interest in this world of health and fitness and somehow manage to encapsulate camps that are often seen as quite disparate. I didn’t intentionally plan it this way (remember, I don’t plan) it just sort of happened as I followed my interests and let them bloom into passions.

This weekend, however, I got to see how they all just might fit together.

Aside from my wife and daughters, I have two main passions in life and depending on where you’re reading this you’re aware of one but maybe not the other. Those passions are fitness — real fitness as in “to be fit for,” as in “to be capable of,” not this spandexy, “it’s better to look good than to feel good” monstrosity the Fitness Industrial Complex has unleashed upon us to feed upon our insecurities and drive us to spend money on much that is counterproductive to our over all health and wellness — and homesteading.

Homesteading, or my own attempts at a suburban version of it, is an exercise in the Emersonian ideal of self reliance. It also gives me opportunity to explore the older values of craftsmanship and ingenuity that seem more and more on the wane in this fast paced consumer culture of ours. As I began my journey into these ideas I began the blog Emerson’s Acre.

Because fitness is my business, I’ve devoted much more of my time to blogging about my gym and the things I find wrong with our industry on my website Agogefit.com. Well, that and homesteading is really hard. In fact my first two years have resulted in various failures that have caused me to casually walk away like a cat that just fell out of the window, “So what? I meant to do that” or in my case “I’ve just got more important things to take care of right now.”

If you follow me over at Agogefit.com then you may have read that earlier this summer I hired Eric Hulse to help me deal with a few creeping health issues. After running a few tests he concluded that I was having stress issues that were creating hormone imbalances and we started an elimination style diet to see how that would affect my concerns. As I adjusted to a life of no grains, sugar, dairy, alcohol or eggs, things began to improve but there was still more to be done.

A few weeks a go I submitted a test aimed specifically at assessing gut function. I was a tad bummed to discover that I have what’s affectionately termed as “leaky gut syndrome.” What this basically means is that the fauna and flora of my intestinal tract are in such a state of imbalance that the lining of my innermost innards has become somewhat permeable, to the extent that partially undigested proteins and other food particles are passing into my blood stream and thereby raising a general alert and provoking a pathogenic response.

What that really means is another $200 or so in supplements and at least another sixty days on the diet, which I must say I have become comfortable with even if I did have to give up a nice whiskey every once in a while. Just so you know I got a wonderful little whiskey glass for Father’s Day this year that still remains in it’s box on top of the refrigerator awaiting some future emancipation.

My wife, Samantha, an early childhood educator, is aware of the theoretical link between leaky gut and autism and, while we don’t think I have autism, became very interested in my new supplement protocol. One night last week we sat down and reviewed my prescriptions and explored the contents of the capsules I’ll be taking for the next sixty days. Those contents are all vegetable and herbal in origin. Things like oregano, parsley and garlic figured prominently in the ingredients. It was then that I began to see the connection that thus far alluded me.

There was a time when kitchen herbs were a staple in my diet. We lived in an older part of town with rich fertile soil and I kept a small garden of cooking herbs that I pulled from daily. Garlic went into almost everything I made. But then we moved. Our new house is just as old as the old one but the land is different. The new house is part of an old mining district and the land was once clear cut and scraped down to the clay. The soil just plain sucks and thus gardening has been more difficult.

That and I got lazy with my cooking.

So this weekend I made efforts that I hope will reverberate into the long term. Wait, is that what planning is?

I put my gym time to work. I got a real sense of why the pulling muscles trump the pushing ones and a practical lesson in the futility of over training those muscles you see in the mirror. Work comes from the back. Remember that. Pulling weeds, chopping with a hoe, shoveling and spreading mulch, and toting with a wheelbarrow all involve the back.

As bizarre as it sounds, for me, work is play. I find the same level of losing myself in my tasks that most of us find in intense play and my work is no longer labor. Well it is, but not in the bad way.

So all weekend I worked with a mind toward correcting past mistakes of omission and bringing back elements I had lost. I got to see how that silly obsession of mine with the wood burning stove and keeping firewood played to gardening, as the wood chips and bark left over from the wood splitting made a rich mulch that earthworms just love, and how the gardening played directly to my nutrition which played to my general health and my abilities in the gym which plays to my ability to earn a living and to my ability to work on the homestead which is the woodpile and the garden and Ohmagerd that’s a cycle and how perfect is that!

I pity the fool who can’t see that.

To our perfect imperfection,

Dave

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Missing but Not Forgotten…I Hope.

dogs

So, I’ve been a little MIA lately. Last years’s “grand experiment” didn’t go so well and I allowed the demands of my business to distract me from (read: avoid) my failures and to ignore what few successes I did have.

My partnership went bust.  My eager and willing associate, with whom I had intended to share the labor and bounty of this grand effort, had medical issues mid season that prevented her from all physical labor and the gym just needed so much of my time…

The hugelkultur beds worked beautifully.  The soil we added settled more than expected, but the beds stayed moist with minimal watering.

But the Pet Stop fence didn’t keep the goats out and everything but the basil got eaten. This is through no fault of the fence, mind you.  It works beautifully, but the collars need their batteries changed every three months and I was too busy to keep up with it or to develop enough of a relationship with the goats to make them more tractable. Once they realized they wouldn’t get zapped for crossing the boundary the garden was toast.  Except for the basil, which grew quite well. Who knew goats don’t like basil? Somebody, I’m sure, just not me. This year, I know where I’m planting lots of basil.

With the goats in the garden I gave up on worrying about the collars, which proved a big mistake.  Bronwyn noticed extensive scabbing on Harriet’s neck under the collar.  When we finally got it off we realized the prongs had actually punctured her neck.  Again, not the fault of the collar — my fault, and mine alone.  Once discovered we bandaged her neck and penned them both for a week or two until we felt she had healed enough to free graze again.

And it was here I learned the mistake of building a pen on the side next to my neighbor.  They finally complained of the smell and in October I moved the pen to the opposite side of the yard.

Through the winter I occupied myself with my business, my family and firewood.

Now, Spring is calling and I’m answering. This year my expectations are lower, but my involvement is much higher. No partners this year. I’ll do what I can with the time that I have and that’ll be it, but already I can feel the benefit of working with things in their own time at their own pace. The gym side of my business can get somewhat frenetic and I get overwhelmed with sense of what needs to happen NOW. The garden doesn’t work that way and I’ve become especially grateful for it.

Oddly enough, I’ve gotten a lot done.

In the last two weeks I’ve:fig

Planted two fig trees. The soil around my house is mostly red clay.  I dug holes twice the size of the fig’s containers and planted them in with a fifty-fifty mix of native soil and compost.  I’m worried about one of them as our new German Shepard pup, Pippin, mistook one of the figs as a new play toy. She “pruned” it back to a quarter of it’s original size.

bed 1Established the “in yard” garden. When we moved in to this house there already existed two 12 x 12 raised beds bordered by railroad ties. The first spring it yielded a fantastic garden of tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini.  The next year we got Olive, our first German Shepard, and I just didn’t feel like fighting her over digging rights.  This year I’ve broken the beds by hoe, worked 150 pounds of cow manure into each bed, raked them clean and planted collards, onions, mustard greens and lettuce.

 

asparagus

 

 

Planted asparagus. I started a new asparagus bed this past weekend.  I took 18 seed starts and planted them in a 3′ x 83″ bed bordered by split oak logs I harvested off the back lot last spring.  The soil is pretty heavy clay so I amended it with compost and sand.

Sifted compost. If I’m not the best gardener I am a champion composter and this pile has been cooking for two or three years.  I’ve a two bin system and I just sift out what I need and throw the unfinished bits into the empty bin.  Over the past two weeks I’ve sifted out around four wheel barrow loads to use with the fig trees, the asparagus bed, and to amend and feed various established plants around the property.

Sift

wormsWrangled worms. While I built the asparagus bed on Sunday, Samantha worked her way around the yard wrangling worms from under stones, wood stumps or any other available haven.  Her haul?  Over a hundred squirming, red, organic tractors that were deposited promptly into the main beds.

Today, I’m sitting here on the couch in my bathrobe, frustrated on day three of the flu, contemplating my lessons, railing at my own frailty and the elusive balance between what I can do, what I should do and what I think needs to be done.

It’s the first day of spring and I’m itching to be back at work, which is good, yesterday just handling the remote to the TV was exhausting. Today, I’m a bit stronger.

This weekend I hope to be even stronger.  There’s a lot of bark over by the woodpile that would make good mulch and I have tomato starts I’d like to get planted in the cold frames. Oh yeah, and there’s a gym to run and a family to provide for, hopefully all this effort propels me in the right direction, provided I can slow down enough to see which way I’m going.

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