Archive for July, 2010

Perfect Weather for Trail Work

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

carry.jpgToday was a day off from the woodpile, and a volunteer day of two different sorts. Our good friends from Iron Mountain Pete and Stella and their dogs Sam and Mocha stayed with us last night. We planned to rise early and head up to the pines to do some trail work. Just as we were getting organized to head north, my fire department pager went off, and I was called to a medical emergency. It was close to our house, and I was the first to arrive and start treatment. It set our departure time back an hour, but the work I do with the fire department is some of the most satisfying that I do.

start.jpgArriving at the pines a couple of hours later, we got to work carrying materials back to the project. I wanted to rebuild a bridge over a creek that was becoming unsafe to cross. We can’t blame the old bridge; it has functioned perfectly for about 30 years. The biggest job we have in the pines is getting tools and materials back to the site. As a wilderness nature sanctuary, no motorized vehicles of any sort are allowed, so everything was carried by hand and wheelbarrow.

Once enough lumber was at the site, I could begin fabricating the main structure for the bridge. It consisted of 3 2x8x11′ cedar boards almostdone.jpgI had milled on my sawmill the year before. I attached them together with 2 2x8x3′ boards. Then a downed cedar tree was located nearby and cut into 2 40″ lengths and leveled on either side of the creek. The frame was then tipped onto these cedar logs and toenailed down.

Following that step, the treads were scattered on the frame and the cordless drills were put to work attaching them firmly. This is the stage of the project that it all starts to come together. Everything stiffens up, and it becomes easier to walk across the structure to fetch something, rather than walk through the creek. Once firmly attached, the only project left was to find another bigger downed cedar tree to make a couple of stair treads. Stella was the lucky finder, and we again cut them to length, sawed a step into each one lengthwise with the chainsaw, and attached the finished product to the bridge.

finished.jpgAfter cleanup we were leaving the site, and turned around once more to look at the bridge. In my humble opinion, it is as pretty a bridge as anyone would want to see on a nature sanctuary trail.

With another half hour to spend in the pines, we convinced Pete to show us what has been called the biggest white pine in the sanctuary. It involved hiking up the Memorial Trail until a special place was found, and then bushwhacking cross-country.

Find it we did, and we proudly posed at the base of this magnificent tree for a group picture. We unfortunately didn’t have bigtree.jpga tape with us, because it would have been fun to calculate the diameter of this beauty. Seeing things like this reinforces why we spend so much time and energy volunteering at the Estivant Pines.

Da Pines

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Alice, Franco, and I spent another day in the Estivant Pines today. The weather was perfect. Perfect temperature, blue sky, and enough wind to confound many of the bugs. We had several goals, all of which we achieved. The first was to finish putting the sign back together at the Bertha Memorial at the high point of the Memorial Loop Trail.

vandal.jpgTo give you some idea of the mental acuity of the folks that vandalized the signs, here is what they scratched on one of our map signs before they tore it off its posts and threw it into the woods, then removing and breaking one of the posts. We brought along the necessary tools to fix the sign with longer screws this time. Hopefully the updated sign will be more bonehead proof.

bertha.jpgHere is a picture of Franco and I assessing the damage. I believe in accepting all advice that is given in the spirit of cooperation and good naturedness. The last thing we did after putting this sign back together so people can figure out where they are, was to screw a board between the two posts near the bottom. I’ve heard this makes it harder for vandals to pull out the posts, because they have to take both out at once, or figure out some way to remove the board. I sound a little bummed, and maybe I am. We have lots of important work to do up there in the limited time we have, and it is a shame to have to repair what never should have been broken in the first place. I’ll get over it.

board.jpgNext we decided to choose 3 good 12′ boards to serve as stringers for a bridge we have to rebuild across a creek. The bridge that is currently in use has seen constant use for about 30 years, but it is now becoming dangerous. The creek is low now, but in the spring it can roar through there, so we feel it is time to fix it up. On my way down to the site with one of the boards, I leaned it up against one of the big pines to give some sense of scale. This is a 12′ 2×8, and it looks like a toothpick next to this tree.

This trip we took several breaks, and also took time to talk to several of the groups of hikers. We met some very nice people, and enjoyed every interaction we had. We even met one family today that we also talked to last Sunday. They remembered Franco and each seemed delighted to see the other again.

On our way home we stopped at the Peterson Fish Market on Quincey Hill and had one of their fish dinners. We had worked hard all day and were looking forward to a nice supper, and a nice one we got. One of the members of the family came out and talked to us a bit. She said it is a family operation where everyone has a job. I think today must have been one of those days you are destined to have nice conversations.

Nice Walk

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

This morning we walked the dogs as usual before breakfast. On our way down the Autio road, Randy Kuester’s dog ran out, and Randy, still in his bath robe, ran out after him. Randy drives long distance trucks, and was home for about a week after 54 days on the road. We said our hellos after getting the dogs sorted out, and continued on our way down the road. On our way back, we saw something on the road, so quickly put Franco back on his leash. It soon became clear the something was Randy, dressed for the day, and coming down the road to walk with us for a spell. He walked into the neighbor’s driveway so we could put their dog away, then down to our house and out to the dock for a short tour. Alice went back inside, but I decided to walk Randy home, so Franco and I got about 4 miles this morning.

Now Randy is as conservative as I am liberal, but we both really like each other. We can also talk politics and do find ourselves agreeing now and then. I’ve always felt that real friends can be different in major respects, and still be friends if they can agree to disagree amicably.

I didn’t get home from the walk until 10:30, so had a late breakfast. I skipped lunch, and spent the afternoon on the woodpile cutting, splitting, and stacking once again. I have everything except about 9 big logs off the trailer, and anticipate they will just about fill the space under the eaves of the garage. After that I have about 3 full cords to go… a cakewalk.

The Hookaroon Verdict

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Yesterday on our trip to town, we made a special trip to Calumet (about 20 extra miles) to buy a new tool called a hookaroon as discussed in yesterday’s post. Today I finished cutting, splitting, and stacking what was left on the trailer, and this afternoon braved the heat to go out and get another trailer load from the woods.

Before I reveal the hookaroon verdict, don’t you agree with me that it would make a great title for a mystery novel? It has everything. The word hookaroon is not a common word, so it can invoke pirates (think doubloons,) prostitutes (think hookers,) the legal profession, and on and on. I may need your help. When (not if) someone steals this title for their book, I may need you to testify on my behalf that you did indeed read it here on July 27, 2010 🙂

hook.jpgWhat is the verdict? The hookaroon worked great, as soon as I got the hang of it, which didn’t take too long. I was able to move some very heavy logs onto the forks of the dozer without bending over so much. As you probably know, lifting bent over can hurt your back. With the hooker, I could stab the log and pull on it. I didn’t need to expend energy holding onto the log either. The only downside I saw was having the pick come out while I was pulling backwards. I sat down pretty hard a couple of times. I even used it as a cant hook a couple of times. All in all, a great tool for anyone moving heavy logs around.

Alice and I walked Franco and our neighbor’s dog Rusty this morning. There was lots of activity today; probably a month’s worth for our seldom traveled road. There were trucks and equipment here removing trees from along the REA powerlines. We walked the dogs past the activity and up to the cemetery near the blacktop. As usual Franco was racing around experiencing the environment with his nose. He ran around the buildings at the cemetery as he often does, and then suddenly there was an explosion of clucking and birds! He had stumbled into a clutch of wild turkey females. One flew directly over my head and I was able to see the wild expression in her eye. It appeared to me no harm was done except for some expended turkey adrenalin. Franco, on the other hand, looked pretty pleased with himself.

Hook-a-Roon

Monday, July 26th, 2010

Today being Monday, we did our in town chores. Today being six months since my last teeth-cleaning was also my dental appointment at 8:15. So we postponed breakfast until after the dentist. We had another good sit-down breakfast at the Suomi in downtown Houghton. After that we drove to campus where I dropped Alice off, and then ran around town looking for a pick-a-roon. This is a tool used by woodsmen to move heavy logs around. It had an ax head on one side, and a long thin pick on the other, which you would drive into the log so you could lift or shift the log without bending over so much. This year I am looking for ways to not wreck my back during the step of shifting the logs from the forest floor onto the forks of the dozer.

sailing.jpgI went to all 3 hardware stores in Houghton/Hancock, and found no such tool. I know I’ve seen one somewhere, but could not find one to save my soul. After my third try I called my friend Mike Gretz to see if he could get away for a couple of hours of sailing. He said yes, so we jumped on his lovely sailboat for 3 hours of perfect sailing. The wind was about perfect, the conversation good, and nothing broke. To top it off, on our way back the tall ship that is currently in Houghton was on the canal, and we were able to drive by and get some pictures.

hookaroon.jpgOnce back on shore, I met Alice in her office, and used her phone to call my last resort hardware in Calumet. They said they no longer stocked pick-a-roons, but had some hook-a-roons in stock. These are similar to their older cousins, but lack the ax head. We drove up to Calumet and bought one of their two remaining ones. For those of you that live near the Copper Country, the hardware in downtown Calumet has almost never let me down. These guys know how to run a hardware. It is a pity they are so far away from us.

We didn’t get home until almost supper time, and what with chores and odds and ends, the day was pretty well shot. Hopefully I’ll get the remainder of the logs on the trailer cut, split and stacked tomorrow so I can go back out and get myself another load of logs. I predict they will practically fly onto the trailer this time, aided by my brand new hook-a-roon.

Estivant Pines

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

This morning we got up early, did chores, and headed up to Copper Harbor for a day of work in the Estivant Pines. It is lucky we forgot something and had to come back home, because Alice noticed we had not opened the greenhouse. We would have had cooked vegetables if it would have stayed closed today.

Our goal was to hike and GPS all the trails, including a reroute we are working on, and then make a map we can send to the Michigan Nature Association headquarters downstate, which they can use in a new brochure they are printing for us. We also brought the tools along to repair a reported case of vandalism in the sanctuary. We brought our trusty wheelbarrow along too, and hauled some treads up to a boardwalk that is currently under construction. On our way up there, we got a report from one of the visitors that a large tree was down across the trail on the Cathedral Loop. I had the chainsaw in the truck, but didn’t bring it along for this first hike on the trails. We decided to complete hiking and GPSing all the trails so we could see this supposed “big tree” across the trail.

pinesalice.jpgAs you can see in this picture, it was a BIG tree across the trail. The place it fell made it impossible to walk around to, so people had to climb over it. Once we saw it, we hiked back to the parking lot, gassed and sharpened the chainsaw, and hiked back to the downed tree by way of the reroute. We did some much needed chainsaw work on the way to the big tree.

pines.jpgTackling a big tree like this one has its challenges. When it is cut through, it can pinch the saw and make it impossible to remove. Rock and dirt can be hit at the bottom of the cut dulling the blade. My saw has a 20″ blade, making it a pretty formidable tool. Yet I was unable to cut through this log on one swipe. I estimate it was about 30″ in diameter where I cut it. I was also taught in the Forest Service chainsaw school to cut it in a wedge shape with the wide part of the wedge pointing in the downhill direction. If you make the mistake of cutting a big tree like this one square, it will surely jam when you try to remove the cookie.

pines2.jpgEven doing everything as close to correctly as I knew how, the first section I cut out remained stubbornly stuck, so I had to find a stout pole to use as a pry bar to get it removed. After that, I cut one more section out to make the trail once more clear of its big daddy obstruction.

We hiked back to the parking lot all pretty hot and tired. I’m not a huge fan of air conditioning, but we cranked it up full blast for the first part of the trip home, and it was fun to watch Franco stick his nose right into the dashboard vent and smile at the cool air.

Once home we had our dock sit, some supper, and I did my 2 mile backpack walk even though I could have rationalized my way out of it for today. I’m no stranger to my mind trying to convince me that I really don’t need the workout today, so I shouldered the pack and Franco and I did our miles. I expected him to be at least a little tired, but never underestimate the spunk of a 2 year old German Shepherd.

Coming Along

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

We wimped out of the Estivant Pines today. We got up early and did chores, during which it rained steadily. We need the rain, but it makes for tough going in the pines. We checked the weather and it looked similar in Copper Harbor, so we decided to postpone until tomorrow.

rack.jpgI worked on and off all day on the trailer load of firewood parked near the woodshed. I carry the littler ones to my funky old sawbuck. When it gets full, I saw them up to length and stack them. Everything that goes on the rack is too small to split. While I was stacking I had a disagreement with some bees or hornets, so I reluctantly broke out the wasp spray. It seemed to do the trick and allowed me to continue stacking.

split.jpgThe logs too big for the rack get rolled to the back of the trailer and sawed there. I then split them using a splitting sledgehammer and a small 2# sledge to drive the splitting end in if needed. I have the splitting pretty much down to a science. The goal is the maximum split for the minimum effort, because there is so much to do. I consider the split a failure if the bolt flies apart, because I used more energy than necessary. Over the years I’ve learned to look the bolt over and apply just the right amount of swing to make it split. At least that is the theory.

franco.jpgBefore supper we did our usual dock-sit. The weather was just about perfect. The pond was just like glass when we got there, and soon a bit of wind kicked up making it very nice. Franco was pretty concerned about his stick, and the chasing thereof. He is learning to launch himself into the air off the dock when Alice throws his stick in. I tried to catch him in the air with the camera, and this is the best I was able to do. We’re trying to teach him how to shake the water off his fur on command, but he frequently cools us off with a shake-bomb.

Tomorrow we plan to head up to the pines. Among our chores will be the repair of one of the trail signs that was vandalized. As my friend said that emailed me about the incident, “I hope the moron who did it felt better after!”

Ex-Burnbarrel

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

sawing.jpgI got load one of the firewood logs sawed, split, and stacked this morning, and got load two this afternoon. Things went a lot better today. It seems that making lots of mistakes and paying for them makes one more cautious and perhaps a bit smarter (perhaps not.) At any rate, the loading and hauling today went much better. It was breezy enough today that I had some wind even down on the forest floor. I’m working in a place where the bucketful of 8′ logs I’m hauling take some finesse to get out of the woods. I have several trees I’d like to save that are pretty close together making it necessary for me to dance through them with the dozer. I got two good fork loads on the trailer and drove them home.

burnbarrel2.jpgOnce home I had to back the trailer into place. It is a long trailer and I have some tight quarters. I’ve succeeded in not bending much of the siding on the garage, and I’d like to keep it that way. That probably explains why I was not looking at the burn barrel while I was backing up. Poor old thing was on its last legs anyway, and I fortunately didn’t wreck the tire of the scout when I drove over it. And also fortunately I have another one ready for a replacement. We don’t burn nearly as much as we used to. At one time we burned all our trash, and just hauled the ashes to the transfer station a couple of times a year. I became convinced this was bad for the environment, so now only burn papers and haul everything else to the transfer station.

Tomorrow I hope to make a trip up to the Estivant Pines to get some work done, and to get ready for a work weekend that is coming up a week from now. We have to make sure we have all the tools and materials available so no one stands around. Volunteers, I’ve learned, don’t like to stand around. They volunteer because they believe in the project so you have to be ready for them with sufficient work when they arrive.

Blush of Green

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

blush.jpgOne job I don’t care for much is destruction. Last summer I had to build a stretch of farm trail across a swampy area, and needed to generate quite a bit of dirt to do it. So I removed some trees (roots and all) in an adjacent area and then scooped out the dirt I needed with the dozer. I left behind a pretty rough looking scar in addition to a very usable road. This spring I smoothed out the scar and about a week ago seeded, fertilized, and mulched the area. Today when I walked out to get some logs, I noticed the first blush of green coming up through the mulch. I will tell you that few things I do give me as much satisfaction as making things grow. I had trouble wiping the smile off my face for a while after I saw it.

skid.jpgI had the Scout and dozer staged in the woods, so first used the dozer to skid the logs. The picture shows the main line that runs from the winch on the back of the dozer, and a couple of chokers attached to some logs. Once it is all hooked up, I just have to sit on the dozer and engage the winch. If things go right, I have a nice pile of logs to be rolled onto the forks of the dozer and then loaded on to the trailer to haul back home.

Things went kind of alright. I got the forks loaded up with logs and went to lift them, and found that one end of the forks had disconnected from the bucket. This is a disaster when the forks are full of logs, because the usual solution is to unload the logs, reposition the forks on the bucket, and then reload everything. This time I managed to bend my forks too. But things eventually got loaded back up.

load.jpgThe next step was to load the logs onto the trailer. If everything goes according to plan, I can drive behind the trailer with the dozer, lift the bucket and tip it, and the logs all roll down the slope and onto the trailer. That wasn’t quite the way it worked this time, but it worked ok. I eventually dumped the logs onto the trailer started to haul them back home.

This procedure is normally fairly straightforward, except this time I ran out of gas just as I was turning onto our road from the farm trail. By this time I was becoming immune to disappointment, and just got out of the Scout and Franco and I walked home. We were just in time for a sit on the dock, which Alice, Franco and I all enjoyed tonight. The weather was perfect and there was a welcome and wonderful breeze off the pond. Supper was a delicious quiche that Alice made.

So the day had its ups and downs. Definitely more ups than downs.

GPS

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

I had an appointment at 8:00 AM Central in Iron Mountain this morning, so had to leave around 6:30. It was foggy but leaving a little early meant I didn’t have to rush. I got there a bit early, but got right in and was back on my way around 8:00. My next stop was Escanaba to drop off our TV, which quit working a week ago. We don’t use it for a TV, but instead just to watch movies, so we can use the computer in the mean time. The TV weighs around 200# so it was interesting getting it into the back of the truck by ourselves. The GPS took me directly to the place in Escanaba, where I did my business, and then told it to take me home. And there is where the fun started.

It must have decided a back-road way home was some miles closer, because back roads we did take. I never would have trusted this stretch of road in the old map days, for fear of getting lost, and by lost I mean buzzards-cleaning-up-your-bones lost. In fairness it was blacktop of sorts most of the way, and also in fairness to the GPS, it suffered a bit too, because the rough road caused enough shaking inside the cab to make the GPS fall off the dashboard once. On the way I saw a coyote carcass, numerous deer, including two sets of twin spotted fauns, potato fields, and lots of wild country. Unlike the stretches of road I would have taken if left to my own devices, there were interesting things to see around every bend, and bends there were plenty of.

pipes.jpgI must have come out somewhere behind the Tilden Mine because I passed the Tilden Town Hall at one point, but also because I saw this interesting run of pipes crossing the road. What do these pipes carry, where do they come from and where do they go? I’ve never seen anything like them, and had to stop and take a picture. I kept expecting to come out on US41, but the GPS kept announcing one more turn.

When US41 did show up, I thanked the GPS gods for turning this otherwise mundane trip into something to remember. I also asked the convenience gods to shortly reveal someplace to relieve some bladder issues.

buyinggroup1.jpgI got home about 2:15 and we left about an hour later to drive into Houghton to pick up our buying group order. Buying groups are a way to purchase bulk and usually organic food as a group, and thereby pay wholesale. We can help unload the truck or do other chores to get a “worker discount.” I was too tired to drive so Alice took the wheel. It was another of those chores that mixes things up a bit in life and makes things interesting. There were lots of young families, middle aged, and some oldsters too. Everyone shared an interest in good food and cooperation. We usually meet someone new and reacquaint ourselves with old friends too.

buyinggroup.jpgWhen we got home I unloaded most of the car, and Alice got to work packaging the things for storage mostly in the freezer. Of course we had to taste things to be sure their quality was tops, and it was.

Tomorrow we hope to harvest peas and some wax beans. The greenhouse garden is a riot of tangled green right now. The tomatoes are so close together it is hard to get between them to water. That seems funny now, because when we planted them, they looked like slips of green on a large brown field. I think this will be a good tomato year.