Archive for November, 2011

Black Friday at the Pines

Friday, November 25th, 2011

Alice and I set the alarm for 6:00 am in eager anticipation of the day’s festivities. When it went off, we quickly and quietly got dressed and got out the door, eager for this long awaited day and the pleasures it had in store.

As we drove by Walmart and Shopko, we smiled at the full parking lots. We continued north and stopped in Mohawk for breakfast at one of our favorite Keweenaw restaurants, Slims. Then it was on to Copper Harbor and into the parking lot at the Estivant Pines. At last, we’d reached our Black Friday destination.

Every late fall, we like to make a last trip to the pines before the road closes due to snowfall. We store the toilet paper in the outhouse in a wire cage I built to avoid (as much as possible) rodent damage to the paper. Then we like to hike the trails with the chainsaw to do any trail clearing that is needed.

Looking at the patterns in the snow and ice in the parking lot, we could tell that visitation had been light lately, and that we’d likely have the place to ourselves. Yes, Black Friday was shaping up to be a perfect day. The weather was cool but not cold, and there was a mist hanging over the pines that gave it the primeval feeling that so often typifies the place.

The first tree we came upon was big enough that I had to start the saw to clear it off the trail. It took a few cuts and I felt the shot of adrenalin that one should any time a tree of this size is cut while leaning. You’d think gravity would always cause them to fall down when cut. They can fall unexpectedly, though, pinching the saw, or worse they can spring out at you if they happen to have pinched between two trees just right when falling. This one fell as expected, and we probably only spent 10 minutes from start to finish here. But the next one was a different story…


Unfortunately, one of the old growth pines fell this autumn, and right across the trail to boot. This tree and its nearest neighbor succumbed to a wind storm earlier this year, but didn’t fall to the ground. Some friendly downwind trees held both of them up, even though their windward roots were broken and lifted out of the ground. We worried about these trees, and it turned out our concerns were justified. We always hate to see these beautiful old guys die. They’ve witnessed hundreds of seasons and numerous events that could have caused their downfall, but always scraped by until this year.


This picture shows how the big pine finally fell. Instead of pulling its roots out of the ground, the trunk shattered just above the root mass. On the left side of the picture, you can see the roots of its nearest neighbor sticking out of the dirt.


This is my first cut. As I feared, the saw’s 20″ bar would not go all the way through this tree, meaning I’d have to crawl over the tree after each cut to finish up the other side. I learned with this cut that the tree had a rotten section typical of these big old trees. I’d say at least half of the trunk at this point in the tree was rotten.


Having finished cutting this side, I moved to the other side by sliding over the tree trunk. In years gone by, I could have vaulted this tree, but now scrape my butt across. There was snow on this tree. My butt got cold and wet.


Here I’m completing the first cut on the back side of the tree.


I managed to get the first cut completed without getting my saw stuck, and am starting the second cut here.


I decided to cut a wedge out of this one in hopes that it would fall when I made it through. It didn’t work.


…so I started a third cut. Not a bad idea anyway, because even if the piece between the first two cuts had fallen, it would have been too heavy to move.


Even with all three cuts complete, the sections would not fall. This is a critical point, because you can forget that hundreds of pounds of dead wood are hanging above you by just a thread. You have to be ready to get out of the way in case something lets go. I kept moving from side to side, cutting a bit here and a bit there, and kicking the sections getting to move ever so slightly until…


Down it came. Now all I had to do was roll them out of the trail. I was puffing like a steam engine by this time.


The trail is all cleared and I am tired.

Many thanks to Alice for the photography in this post.

Waited Too Long

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

Getting the dock out of the water is a project that shouldn’t be put off. For years now, I’ve obeyed this to the letter, but this year something happened. I’ve whined in previous posts about how I postponed the firewood project this summer, and didn’t complete it until September. Perhaps that is the reason for procrastinating. Whatever the reason, the nice days in late October and early November came and went with me occupied with other projects.

The dock is built in three sections, each of which has flotation drums that allow them to float into position, and also do most of the work of holding up the dock and the dockupents (interestingly, my spell checker didn’t know what a dockupent was.) In addition to the floats, there are heavy pipe sleeves bolted into the corners of each section. I slip 1 1/4″ pipes through the sleeves and down to the pond floor. The bottom of each pipe has an auger bolted onto it. Once the pipe touches the pond bottom, I use a pipe wrench to screw the pipe into the mud. Each pipe has holes drilled in it, through which I place heavy pins. When enough weight gets placed on a dock section, it sinks until the pipe pockets hit the pins, and then the dock sits solidly.

In the fall, I need to remove the pins (without dropping them in the water,) unscrew the augers from the pond bottom, pull the pipes all the way out, pin them up, and then take the sections apart. Once apart I can just barely drag them out of the water by hand.

This year I had to pull the pins after they had been frozen into the pond ice. The ice was just thin enough that I couldn’t stand on it, but thick enough that the canoe broke it but didn’t disperse it. So working from the canoe, I unpinned, unscrewed, and repinned each pipe section. The first picture shows 4 of the 6 pipes pinned in place, with 2 to go.

This year the ice didn’t allow me to unpin and float each dock section to shore, so I fired up the dozer, wrapped a chain around the first section, lifted and dragged the whole shebang onto shore. Lots could have gone wrong with this method, but on the whole it seemed to work ok. We’ll know more come spring when it will be time to put it back into the water. If it sinks, I may just leave it there (smile.)

Manure Satisfaction

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

Have you ever had a project that made you feel pretty good when it is done? When the combination of events that combined to make the recipe for the project just seemed to jibe at the end. I had one the other day that involved some horse manure.

Some friends split the crowns of their rhubarb a while back, and kindly gave us about 8 of them. They came at the beginning of winter when the digging was getting kind of hard. I picked a place to put them where a row of blueberries had been planted, died, and abandoned. I consulted Rodale, and he told me to excavate an area “the size of a bushel basket” for each crown. Hacking something like that out of our clay soil is hard in any season, but was out of the question as far as I was concerned. Once the hole was dug, most of the hole was to be filled with the topsoil I’d saved, plus copious quantities of manure. I had no manure, but I did have a few bags of peat moss.

So a hole the size of a 2-gallon cooking pot was dug, a quarter bag of peat moss was added, along with the rhubarb crown and whatever topsoil I managed to save. As this project was under way, my friends emailed to say they had some extra raspberry plants if I’d like them, otherwise they’d DIE. So I stopped by and grabbed them too; a dozen or so very healthy looking raspberry plants.

This time I fired up the rototiller and worked up the sod a bit before I dug the trench for the berries. The plants went in the ground and I cleaned up and walked away. But something nagged at me. I thought about those poor rhubarb crowns having to come to life next spring with only a couple of gallons of peat moss, rather than the bushel of manure they deserved. So I called my neighbors with horses to see if they had any spare poo. They did!

I drove over with my Scout, a wheelbarrow, and some tools, and spent a fun half hour with my neighbor raking, shoveling, and wheeling the pungent crop. In the end we got 6 full wheelbarrow of the stuff in the back of the scout, and had a good time reacquainting ourselves.

The next morning I drove the scout across the snowy yard, and wheelbarrowed until the truck bed was empty. It was when I took a last look at the project as I was getting ready to put the scout away that I got that satisfied feeling, and snapped the picture at the beginning of this post. Now the rhubarb will come up next spring surrounded with a warm happy layer of poo, as will the raspberries. My neighbor’s horse shed got cleaned out, we had a good visit, some plants my other friends didn’t want will be cherished, and hopefully provide us with good food for years to come. Now that, my friends, is manure satisfaction.

Blueberry Wine

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

I started a gallon batch of blueberry wine yesterday. We had purchased some great blueberries during the season with the idea that we’d use them for wine, but sadly didn’t have enough 1 gallon glass jugs at the time to start the batch, so we froze the blueberries. Since that time we’ve made an effort to accumulate more jugs, and as of yesterday, the time was right to start the magic.

The first step is to mix all the ingredients except the yeast in the primary fermentor, which is a 2 gallon plastic pail with a tight fitting lid, and a grommet in the cover to accommodate the bubbler. Included in the ingredients is a crushed camden tablet, whose job it is to kill off any wild yeast that might be clinging to the fruit. The potency of the tablet wears off completely after 24 hours. The fruit itself is poured into a nylon mesh bag, tied with a piece of kitchen string, and then wrung out into the primary. Everything is then mixed, the squeezed out bag placed back in the primary, and the thing is sealed for 24 hours.

Tonight I added the yeast, wrung out the fruit bag again, and mixed everything with my brewer’s spoon. In my experience, it will take a couple of days for the mixture to get bubbling. When it does, the kitchen smells like a brewery; and not unpleasantly so, I might add.

The 2-5 gallon carboys of cider wine are ready for bottling tomorrow. I just counted out empties to make sure we have enough. If there isn’t too much waste, I should get around 50 bottles of this wine. I hope it is good.

Good Smelling

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

I’ve been working on balsam fir bough bundles for the Einerlei for the past couple of weeks now. The trees are encroaching in my maple sugar stand, so I cut down the trees with a bow saw, chop off the branches with a hatchet, and then clip the boughs off the branches into my trusty wheelbarrow. When it is full, I wrap a couple of lengths of binder twine around the boughs to make a bundle. When I get two or three bundles, I wheel them out of the woods into the garage, where I toss them into the back of the pickup for delivery on my next trip to down.

The smell of these fir boughs is really nice. And my sense of smell doesn’t seem to adapt and ignore the smell after a while. I continue to be wrapped in this heavenly aroma all the while I’m out there working on this project.

For the past few years, I’ve been using the long thin balsam fir poles that are left after I’ve stripped the branches for firewood for the evaporator. About the only part of the tree I’m not using for something is the stump, and I’m working on that.

If you’d like to see a picture of the lovely wreaths the Einerlei makes from the fir boughs I bring them, CLICK HERE.

Volunteer of the Year Award

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

Alice and I were honored this year by the Michigan Nature Association to receive their Volunteer of the Year Award for the work we’ve done in the Estivant Pines. The award banquet was held in Lansing on October 28th. Alice was unfortunately not able to attend because of her professional obligations, so I accepted the award for both of us.

I made arrangements for Mom and Dad to attend the dinner with me. We almost didn’t make it. We’d taken a tree down in their yard, and were busy getting things cleaned up until it became clear we’d have to leave soon. So we rushed around and made it out the door just in time.

One of my MNA friends, Natalie, was kind enough to take my small camera and take some pictures for me. This one was of the three of us at our table before the dinner started.

The speech I’d prepared depended on some slides I’d put together on my laptop computer. I’d asked a couple of times what sort of projector/computer system would be available at the dinner, but never receiving an acceptable answer, I just stored the slides on my computer and hoped for the best. We got there early enough that we could experiment with my laptop, and it appeared that it would work to just plug my computer into the projector.

I began my talk by introducing Mom and Dad. The crowd immediately applauded them, and I think many of them recognized the Soldan name from the family business.

As we all know, things often don’t turn out the way they are supposed to. When I tried to get my slides to work before going up to give my speech, the results were disappointing. The young woman in charge of the setup worked on it while I began my talk. Occasionally she would get something up on the screen, and the crowd would cheer… they were on my side. Toward about the middle of my short talk she was back in sync with me, and the crowd saw the talk as I had intended it.

At the end we got a very nice ovation. The chair of the board of trustees was up next, and called my speech “eloquent.” That felt pretty darn good. Mom and Dad were getting tired after our long day of work so we left a bit early and headed home. I think we all slept pretty well that night.

Michigan Maplefest 2011 Part 2

Saturday, November 5th, 2011

Since I had some free time, I took a walk around the area. I had no interest in the numerous gift shops lining both sides of the main street, so I just wandered at first. To get from the hotel to the downtown area, you have to cross THE COVERED BRIDGE. I was mildly interested in it as I stepped onto the pedestrian part of the bridge and began walking. As I walked across I felt the bridge “work” as the cars, trucks, and buses made their way across. I started looking at it more closely. It appeared to be all made of wood. The overlapping joints between the wooden members had numerous wooden stops in them. Old time wooden structures were often pinned together with trunnels (from tree nail.) These are large wooden pins driven into precisely drilled holes. As I walked and looked, I became more and more interested. By the time I got to the other side, I’d lost interest in the walk, and found a breach in the fence that guarded the sidewalk from the river, and walked beneath the bridge. Everything I saw under there was wood. I looked it over as much as I could from the vantage point I had, and then walked back to the sidewalk. There was a plaque that told about the bridge, and said there was a video that played continuously in one of the gift shops that detailed the construction and installation of the bridge. I found the place and sat there through the whole thing twice. It was amazing! The trunnels were real. The whole thing was built on one side of the river, and dragged across the river by two oxen attached to a capstan. (Click on THE COVERED BRIDGE above for more information and pictures.)

Unfortunately, the bridge seems to be falling into disrepair. There were several cedar shingles missing on the roof, and when I looked at it carefully, I could tell that no one was paying much attention to it.

On Tuesday the technical meetings started, and I attended all that my schedule allowed. I felt very good about what I learned on Tuesday. Wednesday was set aside for tours. The one I chose involved a trip to Sebewaing (in the thumb area of Michigan) and the sugar beet factory. It was amazing. Because of homeland security issues, we weren’t allowed into the factory, but they did park the bus in the parking lot where trucks were moving the beets from storage and dumping them into the hopper for the first step of processing. The beets are washed, sliced, and squeezed. The juice is centrifuged to clarify it, and then boiled to remove the excess water. When the sugar content is just right, a small amount of seed sugar crystals are introduced into the pans, at which point the granulated sugar precipitates out. This is then dried and stored in a huge double walled concrete silo until it can be packaged and shipped. Did you think, as I did, that table sugar was made from sugar cane? Well, according to the experts at the plant, 50% of table sugar comes from beets, 40% from cane, and 10% from other sources. If you want to buy a pure Michigan product next time you buy granulated sugar, choose Pioneer or Big Chief brands.

After this tour, we visited a 5th generation sugar house, and were able to ask questions from the owner. He said the 6th generation was running around, and there was no reason to believe they wouldn’t take over someday. Their maple trees were huge! They had barely escaped a fire that raged through the thumb are decades ago, which explained why the trees were so big. It is one of the few stands of old growth maple in the area.

When we returned to the hotel after the tours, I jumped in the rental car and headed back to Lansing for a very nice visit with my parents. In addition, we were all to attend a recognition dinner on Friday night where I was to receive the Volunteer of the Year award from the Michigan Nature Association for the work Alice and I had done in the Estivant Pines over the years.

Michigan Maplefest 2011

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

I joined the Michigan Maple Syrup Association a while back. My intent was to associate myself with the folks in Michigan that produce maple syrup products. This, I figured, might help me when it is time to expand, or when I run into a problem I couldn’t figure out on my own. Unfortunately, I’ve not made it to a single meeting until recently.

The North American Maple meeting shifts between the US and Canada. When it is in the US, it is often in the Northeast, where most of the maple activity is centered. This year the big conference was in Michigan, so I decided to go. As a bonus, it was held in Frankenmuth, which is only about an hour away from my parents, so I was able to work in a visit with them.

The meeting kicked off with a dinner on Sunday, October 23. I got on the bus in Baraga around 12:30 am Sunday morning, and arrived in Lansing at about 3:00 Sunday afternoon. From there I caught a city bus to the airport, where I caught a shuttle to the car rental place. I picked up my Toyota Corolla, told the GPS to take me to the Bavarian Inn in Frankenmuth, and settled in for the drive. As usual, the GPS unerringly took me right to the destination. I got a little balled up because the Bavarian Inn has a restaurant on one side of the Cass River, and the hotel on the other side. Since I got to the restaurant first, I assumed it was the hotel, and walked around for a bit until I realized my mistake. I got back in the car and drove across the covered bridge, found the hotel, got checked in and registered for the conference.

By this time, I was pretty tired. I had a headache coming on too. The kickoff buffet was to start in about an hour, so I did one of the smartest things of the trip… I located and availed myself of the hot tub. It was a really nice hot tub, and it was almost deserted. I think I stayed there for most of the hour I had with the jets churning on my shoulders. I then crawled out, up to my room, and took a shower. Then I headed down to the dinner.

The captains of the buffet clearly did not have vegetarians in mind, so pickings were pretty slim for me that night. I did have the good fortune to sit next to a husband and wife that were in the maple business, and that didn’t mind sharing their experiences with an inexperienced maple producer. This guy tapped 6,000 trees. He didn’t own any of the trees himself, however. He made deals with property owners along the road, tapped the trees into collection basins, and then drove his 2,200 gallon 5th wheel tanker to do the collecting. He then drove his rig to his building, pumped out into his holding tanks, and boiled everything with fuel oil. He was proud of the fact that he never lifted neither an ounce of sap nor a stick of wood.

Monday morning there were meeting scheduled, which I dutifully attended. The one I started with was all about the workings of the organization. When the treasurer’s report was given, and he announced they’d spent a bit more than $40 on postage that year, I started planning my escape. I waited until the next speaker was finding his way to the podium, and walked out. I went upstairs to the vendor displays, and waited for the Leader Evaporator rep to finish a call on his cell phone. I then spent what was probably the most productive half hour of the conference talking to him about my setup and my plans to expand. I took copious notes and walked away with lots of ideas swirling around in my brain.

A quick look at the rest of the day’s scheduled events told me that I had some free time, so I walked out into the beautiful fall air.

>>>>>Stay Tuned For Part 2<<<<<<<