Archive for December, 2012

Road Building

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

It was sunny today and not as cold as it has been, so I donned chainsaw chaps, hat, mittens, and boots, and headed out to the woods. The goal was to work on improving the road I’ll use to get a significant chunk of next winter’s firewood out. This has been a planned project. The major impediment out there was the fir trees, that were as thick as the hair on a dogs back. So I used this area to gather the fir boughs that I sell to my friends at the Einerlei for Christmas wreaths. That helped a lot. I tend to keep the area pretty neat when I’m gathering fir. I like to carry the logs away from where I’m working so I won’t trip on them. I also like to pile up the brush I generate to keep it from under foot.

When I went out today, I mainly cut out the small spruce trees that were left after removing the fir trees. I also stacked a lot of brush away from the area where I’ll be skidding the logs. The results are pretty spectacular. I wish I’d have taken before and after pictures. Where before you could barely move through the area without getting a lot of snow down the back of your neck, it is now open and inviting. I walked around a bit after I opened it up, and I can see how I’ve completed the 5 acre parcel that the foresters marked for me several years ago. I also found several more marked trees that need to come down. I could have worked on them also today, but I’ve learned I can’t trust Franco out there when I’m felling trees. We had a close shave once that I don’t want to repeat.

I have plans for major projects next summer, so anything I can get done on the firewood project now will give me that much more time next summer.

Look For The Helpers

Monday, December 24th, 2012

Talking about the Newtown massacre with John the other day, he told me about some wise words from Fred Rogers of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood:”

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

This sort of attitude changes the whole narrative of the event. Instead of focusing on the bad things, we look for the people trying to put things to right. Instead of looking at the person that wants to hurt, look at the people that swarm in to help. I plan to try to instill this habit into myself.

Cards

Saturday, December 22nd, 2012

Alice and I just sat on the couch and read our Christmas cards together. This is the first year we’ve done this, and I hope we can continue the tradition. It was great fun to read about our far-flung friends and their adventures. We didn’t get our Christmas letters mailed until today. We sent out about 130 this year, printed on our new color laser printer.

We also had some friends over today to get their tree. We’ve been getting together with them for years, and enjoy it a great deal.

It is a good time of the year to reflect on the connections we’ve established over the years. Some tenuous threads, and some heavy cables, but all important and worth maintaining. Ken Burns called our national parks, “America’s best idea.” I would add that Christmas is mankind’s best idea. To have a season of the year where blessings are counted, friendships renewed, gifts given and received, and the celebration of the lengthening of daylight hours, is a good thing. If only we could come up with some decent music to go along with the celebration 🙂 (I am a Christmas music curmudgeon.)

The Tears Finally Came

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

This morning I was cooking myself one of my favorite breakfasts; hash browns, onions, garlic, and eggs, all fresh, and all combined in a single skillet. As is my habit, the radio in the kitchen was tuned to NPR’s Morning Edition.

Since the horrible event in Newtown, Connecticut last Friday, I’ve switched the radio off whenever this much covered event came on. For some reason, listening to it was more than I could handle. Since we don’t have a TV, and since I can mostly control what I read on my computer screen, I’ve been able to avoid most of this coverage. I don’t understand why this particular event has caused this behavior in me, since more horrific things are likely happening to children over the world every day.

This morning as I was paying attention to my breakfast on the wood stove, a piece came on about a group that brought some service dogs into the community for the children. They began describing a yellow lab from Chicago, and I completely lost if. I was sobbing into my skillet with tears flowing down my cheeks. That this event is complicated, there is no doubt. That it has touched many of us in ways we may never understand, there is no doubt. Will I ever be able to look into the trusting eyes of another 6 year old again without my vision getting blurry… I wonder. It is one thing for civilized adults to let each other down. We seem to thrive on such competition. But to so utterly fail those first grade vulnerable trusting souls in a place that should be a refuge of safety tells me at least, that we need to rethink some things. In my case, the vector of this realization was a pair of trusting eyes belonging to a yellow lab who was brought to Newtown to help the survivors. My wish to you is for a vector to find you too, because when we let out children down, we need to rethink these things.

Chipmunk Cemetery

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

chipmonkWe plant our garlic in the fall before the ground freezes. Garlic is a tough little plant. It comes up early in the spring as a cheerful green sprig in a world that is still largely brown. It it wasn’t tough, it would freeze back many times over the course of the spring, but it takes all the cold that spring tosses its way, and keeps growing. Sometimes the deer nibble on it, but usually only a plant or two, and even those plants seem to recover.

When we plant the garlic, we take some thin-split kindling sticks and place them in the ground every 4 bulbs or so. That way in the spring we can rototill if we need to before the little guys come up.

This winter has had less than usual snow, and the temperature is higher than normal, which has exposed the garlic patch when it is usually under it’s white winter blanket. Alice and I both commented that the rows of little sticks look like a chipmunk cemetery. What to you think?

MNA Hike

Friday, December 14th, 2012

I did something today I seldom ever do… I visited a Michigan Nature Association (MNA) sanctuary, and didn’t do any work. I realized how weird it felt to have someone else leading the hike, and for me to just walk and enjoy myself.

mnahikeThis sanctuary had a nice stand of old growth hemlocks, which I’ve learned is good winter habitat for deer. So when we came upon a place where deer had obviously bedded down recently (because the snow was melted in a deer shape) I decided to try it out. I will tell you the deer really know how to choose a place to sleep. I lay down in one of the deer sized ovals, and it was as comfortable as a bed. I pretty firmly believe that I could have fallen asleep if I’d tried.

mnahike1We hiked around under the expert guidance of Adrienne Bozic of the MNA. We learned about the mix of tree species in the sanctuary, the critters leaving their marks in the snow, and other interesting aspects of the area. And I met some very nice people who were respectful of the place, yet curious enough to keep the hike intellectually lively. If you aren’t a member of the MNA, you should look into it. And if a guided hike happens to be in your area, you should take advantage of it. You might just stumble onto one of the gems like I did today.

Tiller’s International

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Having discovered several years’ archives of “The Woodwright’s Shop,” I’ve steadily worked my way through the very enjoyable episodes. Although I am much more machine-centric in my woodworking habits than host Roy Underhill is, I enjoy learning new ways to do things, and appreciate Roy’s personality. One episode I came across a couple of months ago is THIS ONE, where I learned about the fine folks at TILLERS INTERNATIONAL, near Kalamazoo, Michigan. I looked at their web page and noticed they had a two day blacksmithing course coming up in early December. I contacted Steve and John and asked if they’d be interested in taking the class with me, and they said yes.

The planning commenced, and we were able to dovetail a nice visit with my Mom and Dad into the trip.

blacksmith2On arrival at the Tillers farm, we quickly checked in, had a light breakfast in their lovely kitchen/dining room area, and proceeded to the blacksmith’s shop. We paired up with two to a forge site, and then John, our instructor, gave us a brief demonstration on how to start the coal fire and begin our first project. One piece of information I brought with me to this workshop was that blacksmiths use a lot of hammers. If you look at the shelf behind our instructor, you’ll get some idea of just how many and what the variety of hammers we used.

blacksmith1In this picture, Steve and John are working together to draw out a bar of hot iron with a hammer and sledge. Working as a team you can use a much larger hammer to draw out the metal on the anvil.

After two days, we headed back to Lansing to spend the night with my parents. Our stash of iron was jingling merrily in the back of the car during the trip. We each made an iron ring that we hot welded on the forge, a hook, spoon, and cold chisel that was temper hardened by us. The pieces are spread out on the dining room table as I write this, and we each find ourselves stopping and fingering our work now and then. Tiller’s has many more workshops, which we hope to avail ourselves of in the future.

Shop Reconfig

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

I recently discovered a PBS program called, “The Woodwright’s Shop.” Actually I think I may have seen it before in the days when we had a television (35+ years ago,) but for some reason, I came across the show online and started watching the back episodes. Host Roy Underhill’s woodworking philosophy differs from mine in that he does not use power tools. Still, when I watch the show, I get lots of ideas of things I can do better and smarter in my own shop.

As I was looking around in my shop the other day, I realized that my table saw is in the center. It has a large table that I can work on if I need to, and much of the work I do out there involves using the table saw to cut lumber. Mr. Underhill’s shop’s center is his workbench. As I’ve watched him work for hours and hours, I’ve come to see the wisdom of this arrangement. My workbench is pushed against the wall, and is cluttered with all sorts of semi-permanent stuff. I almost never use it as a workbench, which is a shame, because it is a good workbench.

The table saw weighs almost 1,000#, and is equipped with inadequate casters. One swivel caster in particular has been repaired numerous times because the weight of the machine has torn the rubber off the caster rim. I found some much heavier casters at Menards some years ago, but haven’t installed them yet.

So my reconfiguration will be to first put the decent casters on the table saw so I can move it around, and move it up against the wall where the workbench is now. The workbench will occupy center stage of my shop, after all the useless junk has been removed from it. When I need the table saw, I’ll pull it out on its shiny new casters, and when I don’t, it will live alongside the wall.

In order to get these new casters to work on the table saw, I had to make some heavy steel plates which will be bolted up under the table saw. These were cut out and ground smooth today. In the next few days, I hope to get the holes drilled, the old casters removed, and the new ones installed. Then we’ll see if my productivity skyrockets.