Archive for May, 2011

Our Canadian Friends

Monday, May 30th, 2011

canada.jpgMost years since we’ve had our ponds, a pair of Canada Geese take them both over and raise a brood of goslings. Some years the founding pair have a vigorous time defending their home against others that have similar designs on the property. This year there was no such ruckus. In fact, we didn’t really know they were here until the other day when I observed them proudly swimming in the pond with their fluffy yellow offspring in tow.

Some years, we just get a quick glimpse of the goslings, and then the parents take them somewhere else to fledge and grow. I’ve heard about this and don’t really understand it, but I can tell you it happens most of the time. By the time we see them swimming, they are often gone the next day. This year we’ve had them around for several days, and it has been great. Franco is learning (slowly) to leave them alone. I’m guessing the adults would teach him a bit more forcefully than I do if he got close to the young ones.

We had some more lovely rain today. The creeks are all running pretty full, and the gardens are both muck pits. We’d like to get some work done out there, but until things dry out some, we’re stuck just watching. It is a nice problem to have, when considering the dry springs we’ve had for so many years now.

Pines Boardwalk Extravaganza

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

epines.jpgToday Alice and I left the house shortly after 6:00 AM and headed north for Copper Harbor. We picked up our friend Charlie Eshbach along the way. We met 3 other guys at the trailhead at the Estivant Pines, loaded up the wheelbarrow with tools, and headed up the trail. The goal was to build the 3 boardwalks that we had staged the lumber for last fall during Michigan Tech’s “Make a Difference Day.”

epine2.jpgWe decided to start with the shortest and simplest boardwalk, a 16′ one that crosses a seasonal creek on the newest part of the trail. As the guy in charge, I wanted everyone to understand how these things go together. The downside to this one is we all spent quite a bit of the time slogging through some pretty slimy water. The upside was that once it was done, no hikers would have to get their feet wet again. It did take us a while to figure out what was going on, but once we got the hang of it, the project went very well.

Our next stop was the second project, which also happened to be on top of a long hill, and about as far into the sanctuary as the trails go. epine3.jpgGetting the wheelbarrow full of tools up there was the biggest challenge, but by working together, we managed quite well. When we got there, I suggested we dig the lumber out that was stashed away out of sight, and lay the stringers out to get an idea where the foundation pieces should go. Without another word, the guys got to work, and that was just about the last suggestion I had to make. These guys learned so quickly that we had about 40′ of boardwalk completed in about half the time it took us to build the 16′ one earlier in the day. In this picture, we have laid out the treads, and are screwing them down to the stringers. After that, we built a stair step on one end out of a squared off cedar log, and we called it completed. It isn’t obvious in this picture, but to the left of the boardwalk the trail goes through a very wet area that will never have to be walked again.

Other projects have been undertaken at the homestead since the last post. I managed to nurse the old John Deere around the lawn and get it finished. The fuel system was leaking, and the grass was so long after weeks of neglect that the poor old mower really had to work to get it done. At the end I parked the mower in the garage, and hoisted it up on jack stands to see if I could find the fuel leak. This leak was unfortunately my fault. I’d replaced the fuel line some years ago, but instead of using the correct material, I used the plastic tubing used in fish tanks. That stuff proved to be too flimsy for the environment it had to work in. I thought I’d just install a repair barb at the site of the leak, but on second thought, I purchased enough regular fuel line to completely replace the old stuff. Now I’ll hopefully won’t have to redo it again for a while.

As I was doing this repair, I noticed the belt that transmits power to the mower deck was in very bad shape. I decided to replace that too, and had luckily purchased and stored a replacement one. With Alice’s help, I got the mower deck belt installed, and the mower deck back on the machine. The engineers of this mower did some very smart things, but surely figured that someone with smaller arms than mine would be installing the mower deck. It eventually got done, and the refurbished mower was proudly backed into its barn.

While I was in town buying the parts I needed for the mower, I bumped into a friend from work I hadn’t seen in years. He invited me to visit for a while, and I took him up on it. It was great to sit down with him and his wife, both of whom were colleagues during my Michigan Tech years.

I can remember how as a kid, I hated to go “visiting” with my parents. It seemed like all they did was sit around and talk. I’ve found as the decades have rolled by, that sitting around and talking is not all that bad. Although, after a day in the rain in the pines, laying around in a warm bed sounds even better.

Pines

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

pines.jpgAlice and I got up early yesterday morning and headed north to Copper Harbor to work at the Estivant Pines. As usual, we tried to make our trip to town serve multiple purposes. Houghton is 20 miles away, and we have never developed the attitude that we can just jump in the car and run to town regularly. With that attitude, things pile up and tend to get taken care of in a slug.

We drove the car and truck to Hancock, and dropped the car off at the tire place. We were getting some road noise that I didn’t like the sound of, so decided to let the tire experts have a look at it. We were to call them mid morning from Copper Harbor after they’d had a couple of hours to look at it, so we could decide how to proceed. We talked about the poor cell service in Copper Harbor, and the tire guy said he was sure there were pay phones in Copper Harbor.

We drove north to Mohawk, and stopped at Slim’s for breakfast (a family tradition.) After a full belly, we continued north and got to Copper Harbor a bit after 9:00. There were indeed 3 pay phones in Copper Harbor. The first one I tried had a quarter jammed in it such that no other quarters would go in. I poked around in there with my Leatherman for a few minutes and gave up. The second one at the General Store had a big sign on it saying OUT OF ORDER. The owners said the only working pay phone was at the place across the road, so we drove over there. After putting two quarters in and dialing the number, someone did answer on the other end, but they could not hear me. Shoot.

kiosktree.jpgWe gave up on calling them and continued out to the pines. We were greeted in the parking lot with a maple tree that blew down. It is not unusual for us to encounter lots of blow-downs on our first trip to the Pines in the spring. They tend to accumulate over the winter, and we always come equipped with the tools to remove them. This one was scary, though. If it had fallen slightly to one side or the other, it would have taken out our expensive parking lot sign, or our lovely information kiosk. Lady luck was swimming by our side this time.

We hiked all the trails and had to chainsaw about 23 trees over the trails. Some were small and some were huge. There were several more trees that were small enough for us to just carry off the trail without starting the saw. I am conscious of the noise that machine makes, and try not to start it unless it is necessary. What a machine a chainsaw is! Some of the monsters I had to move would have taken me all day to deal with if all I had was an ax. We managed to get the trails in tip-top shape in about 3 hours of pretty heavy work.

lunch.jpg About 3/4 into the project, we stopped at a small bridge that Alice and I, along with Estivant Pines Friends Pete and Stella built last summer. I managed to prop the camera up on a stump, set the timer, and crash through the creek in time to get this shot.

We got all the tree sawing done and back to the parking lot. I told Alice I had discovered two loose treads on the long boardwalk we had built several years ago. I told her I’d like to walk back up there and fix them. I was worried someone would step on them wrong and hurt themselves. Trooper that she is, she accompanied me back to the boardwalk. Last thing we did as we left the parking lot was to stick a spare battery into my tool belt.

It took a while to find the offending treads, and when I did, I started screwing the first one down with my cordless drill. One screw got partway down when the battery died. I smugly removed it and put on the replacement one I had brought at the last minute, and continued to work. I got all three treads pinned down nicely, and we headed back to the truck, and then headed home.

The first time we had a bar on our cell phone, I pulled over to the side of the road and called the tire place. They told us we needed 3 new tires. These tires were new a year and a half ago, but if they were shot then so be it. We told them to go ahead and put them on, and they had just finished up when we pulled in the driveway. Alice took the car home, while I took the truck over to another place to have the driver’s side mirror replaced. It seems some bonehead was throwing the dog’s stick in the garage, hit and broke the mirror. It wouldn’t be so bad if it would have been the first time this had happened, but it was in fact the second time. Our future plan is to switch from stick throwing to tennis ball throwing when we’re in the garage.

Gary Player

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

I was listening to NPR news a month and a half ago or so when a story caught my attention. Scott Simon was interviewing South African Gary Player, the first non-American to win the Master’s golf tournament. Mr Player was telling Scott about the budget he had in his days of golfing. He often had to ride the Greyhound bus between tournaments, for example. Scott asked him how he kept in condition under those circumstances. He answered:

“I’ve always been very fit and exercised profusely, even at 75. I do every day that I’m not traveling, I still do 1,000 sit-ups and I’m a vegetarian. I work very hard on my body. My body is a holy temple and I keep lean and mean and I’ve got tons of energy.”

ONE THOUSAND sit-ups each day! At age 75! The story aired April 9th, and it has been with me ever since. I began doing daily sit-ups about 15 years ago when my boss at that time, Jim Cross, told me he did 200 per day. Jim was in great shape. I was in the habit of swimming during my lunch hour during my work week, but felt I could add something. So I started out slowly, and gradually increased to 100 sit-ups several mornings per week. I felt pretty good about maintaining this routine until April 9th.

With that kick in the pants, I started increasing again. I did 125 sit-ups the next morning, and kept it up at that number for a week or so. Then 150. On my birthday, May 3, I increased to 175. On our recent trip, I brought along my sit-up floor mat and cylindrical pillow, and managed to do the 175 every day we weren’t travelling.

This morning, I kicked it up once again to 200. When Jim Cross tossed that number at me all those years ago, it seemed too big for me. Today I made it, and plan to maintain or even increase it. Will I make 1,000?

Epiphany in Jamestown, NY

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

Last Thursday, on our way back from visiting Steve in Mainesburg, Pennsylvania, we stopped for gas in Jamestown, NY. After filling the car, I pulled forward and got Franco on the leash for a short walk. As we were heading back to the car, I had an encounter that lasted a few seconds, but has been on my mind ever since.

A woman walked out of the gas station and started across the driveway between the station and the pumps. She was holding onto a boy that I guessed was about 5 years old. The boy made a noise that must have caused me to look up. I saw Mom’s stern face looking straight ahead, then heard her say, “Maybe Mom should just let go and let the fucking cars hit you!”

My jaw must have dropped and I think I stared for a while before I dropped my eyes and kept walking to where I was going. No, I didn’t walk up to that woman and slap her.

Here is what I pictured:

When the little boy and his Mom walked out of the gas station, and toward their car, there were sounds, shapes, colors, and smells that were new and interesting. Children, being learning machines, are attracted to new things, and the young fellow may have felt an exuberant itch to explore, except that his Mom was holding on. He cried out, tugged, and licked his lips in anticipation of the adventures awaiting. He was painfully jerked back and scolded by the most important person in his life. What, I wondered, died inside that little developing jewel as a result of that one incident? And how often had that incident been repeated already in his short life? How many times will it be repeated in his future? How many times had his Mom been treated the same way by her parents?

We all encounter jerks in our daily lives. And many of us, myself included, treat them like jerks when they make their personalities known to us. Do they deserve our contempt? Weren’t they likely unwillingly herded down the road they’re walking by parents without the skills or abilities to cultivate that wonderful spark of curiosity? I feel I understand people just a little bit better after that incident, and I hope I treat folks with more compassion as a result.

Goodbye Pennsylvania

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

I’ve been able to spend some serious time this trip doing what I really enjoyed… watching big modern wind turbines run. The place Steve lives is in view of 10 or so turbines. The make a whoosh whoosh sound as the move in their majestic circles. I observed the operator feather one turbine’s blades so that it stopped rotating. I watched it start up again. I watched several rotate in response to a wind shift. These things are huge, and do not react quickly, but they do react visibly if you have the patience to watch for a while.

This has been a rainy vacation. It has rained most every day we’ve been gone, I’d say. This is undoubtedly good for the aquifers, but it changed our plans a couple of times. I can say, though, that if you like pretty green hills, valleys, streams, and rivers, you should consider a trip to the north central portion of Pennsylvania. I believe we’d like to come back again.

I Heart Maxalt

Monday, May 16th, 2011

On our trip I had a bad headache that I managed to manage with the take-as-needed Maxalt I carry for this very reason.  Sometimes it just takes the edge off, but the headache still lurks.  This time it worked like a pinhole in a balloon.  The air went out of the headache slowly, but it did go away, and I am so grateful that I was given that reprieve.  I have no idea what is inside that little pill I put beneath my tongue, and I probably don’t want to know.

Michigan Today, New York Tomorrow

Friday, May 13th, 2011

We’ve had a nice trip so far.  We arrived in Lansing Wednesday, and drove up to Gladwin on Thursday for the memorial service.  We had a car full.  Alice and I were in the front seat, Mom and Dad in the back seat, and Franco in the very back.  He was good as gold, for which we were grateful.  We stopped often and walked him when we could. 

 Today (Friday) we were busy all day.  I ordered about two tiers of firewood for Dad’s firepit from the local landscape supply place.  They delivered it about mid day today, and I spent the next couple of hours stacking it.  One thing I have experience with is stacking firewood.  This amount of firewood should keep him going for another year or so I hope.  We did this for him last year too around his birthday.  It is hard to figure out what to buy him sometimes, but we know he’ll enjoy his fires.  He has a cedar yard swing he sits in while he watches the river go by and the fire burn.  At 83 years old, he’s earned the right to sit and watch.  At 59, it doesn’t feel too bad for me either.

Tomorrow, we’re leaving early and driving partway to Steve’s place in Pennsylvaina.  Then Sunday morning, we’re heading the rest of the way.  It has been a good trip so far.

Like Being Cooped Up With a Mad Moth

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

I was the mad moth today. We’re taking a trip, and I spent all of today racing from one “getting ready” project to the next. As far as I know, we’re all set. Whew.

Some Progress

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

Yesterday the weather cooperated, and an outside day was had. I got the sawmill started and finished off the 16′ log that had been on the bed for months now. I got some nice 2x4s out of it. Next I took some wide boards off my “seasoned” pile and stacked them edgewise on the bed, and sawed them into 2x4s too. Since these boards were dry, I was able to use them for the firewood partition I was rebuilding in the garage.

On my afternoon break, I looked at the local paper online, and noticed the Calumet Players were doing “Arsenic and Old Lace” at the Calumet Theater. This was to be their last performance, so I asked Alice if she was interested in going. We hemmed and hawed, and eventually decided to get cleaned up and go. We had a very nice meal at the Irish Times in Laurium, and then headed to the theater. We knew many of the cast members, and saw several friends in the audience. A good time was had by all.

partition.jpgThis morning, I went back to work on the firewood partition in the garage. I needed some help to make sure the mark I made on the upper plate was plumb with the mark on the lower one. There is almost no good reason for making these studs plumb other than I am a fussy codger. Alice kindly came our and helped guide my finger on the string on the upper plate, and the plumb bob on the marks on the lower plate. Between the two of us, the upper plate got marked accurately. Next I needed help measuring the distance for the 4 studs. After I had the data, I went to work on the miter saw and using a large number of air, cordless, and power tools, the wall was back in place. I do not worry about firewood causing a collapse of this wall any time soon.

avion.jpgNext I walked over to the Avion camper I’ve been puttering with for several years now. I’ve rebuilt part of the rotted away left wing of the camper, and it’s been sitting in my shop for a while. Today I got it out to the camper again and fitted it into place. I had to do some adjusting and hammering, but I finally got the thing the way I wanted it. So I drilled and screwed in one of the faces of the wing. There is more work to do on it yet, but this was an important step. Once I complete this project, I’ll be able to jack the camper up on its legs and go to work on the floor that is also rotted out. Then I can start replacing the various components of th camper that are broken and/or obsolete. The Avion is an aluminum camper that is over 40 years old. I feel like I’m building our own personal rocket ship.