Archive for July, 2013

A Gallon of Wine and a Story

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Today was our shopping day, which I spend strolling past aisle after aisle of items. These items all seem to have one thing in common; they have no soul. The wine bottles differ in slightly different shapes of the bottles, different labels, and different prices. I suppose the contents differ too, but I am no judge of that.

cherryLater on in the day, we got a call from our neighbors, whose sour cherry tree has had a stellar year. They had picked all the cherries they needed from the branches they could reach with their ladder, and wondered if we would like to pick the rest. We loaded up our 8′ stepladder and headed over.

While I climbed the ladder and picked, the ladies held my ladder and chatted, and Franco found an old board with a rusty nail in it. After about a half hour of pleasant labor, we had 3 nice plastic containers of very nice cherries. Starting tomorrow morning, I plan to make a batch of sour cherry wine from some of them.

And that brings me to the point. This wine will have soul, regardless of how it comes out. There is a story associated with our picking of the fruit, our neighbors’ generosity in allowing us to, the dog’s stick with the rusty nail, and the time I dropped an almost full bucket out of the tree.

I’m beginning to understand that we are a family first, but are also members of a community. And stories are what bind us as a community. Memorable things happen when we get together, get remembered, told, and cherished. And it helps to have a bottle of wine to share while the stories are told.

Otter Lake, Otter River, Otter Pond

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

otter1I was a little low on pep this morning. After breakfast Franco and I walked outside to open the greenhouse, spin the compost drum, and take stock of the situation. My glasses fogged nicely when I opened the doors of the greenhouse. All looked well. I did the internal debate of whether I should water today, tomorrow, or what. I really didn’t feel like hauling the buckets around this morning.

wateringdock“How about doing just one load of two buckets,” I asked myself. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. The questioning half of my brain knows it is scamming, and the questioned half knows it is being scammed. This morning I scammed myself and walked down to fill up the buckets on the watering dock.

otter2When I got close, 5 mammals lifted their heads and contemplated the other. I saw 4 otters swimming in the pond just off the edge of the dock. They were watching Franco and me with obvious curiosity, as I was watching them. (Franco was watching his stick.) Trying not to spook them, I got the camera out and started snapping pictures. Things seemed cool enough that I actually got to stand on the dock and watch them. There were two adults and two large pups, I think. The adults coughed at me, and I coughed back at them. Finally they got bored with me and swam to the other side of the pond, where they either had their den, or where they got out of the water and walked across the field to the other pond.

I often think about the honors I’ve received in my life… probably more than I deserve. But when a chickadee lands on my gloved hand, or I have a chance to interact with some otters, I think I’ve just received the greatest honor of all.

Two Ladders and a Plank

Monday, July 29th, 2013

woodpileOur winter’s wood is stored in a lean-to attached to our garage. The very back row of firewood is pretty tall… probably over 12′. My technique for doing the firewood up until this year has been to haul the logs from the woods to a spot near this lean-to. Then I’d cut them up, split the chunks that were too big, and carry the firewood under the lean-to roof. Things went swimmingly until the pile got taller than I could reach. Then I had to climb a ladder with as many chunks as I could carry, place them on the pile, get another load, and repeat. It took a long time.

This year I’m hauling all the firewood that I’ve cut and split with the Scout, which I back up very close to the lean-to. I tried to think of a way to avoid going up and down the ladder, and came up with two ladders and a plank, or what is often called scaffolding.

Since the firewood that is sitting in the back of the Scout is already 3′ off the ground, I made the scaffolding about a foot higher than that. I gathered the wood from the back of the truck, stepped onto the scaffolding, and haven’t had to climb a ladder yet this year. It goes much faster.

We got rained out of the woodpile project yesterday. Today was a great weather day for working outside, and I got quite a bit done. If I have a good day tomorrow, I should be close to finishing up the woodpile for this year.

New Setup

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

firewoodIn anticipation of all the logs I would be getting from the powerline right-of-way expansion on our property, I made a few changes to my firewood processing system. I built a new sawbuck out of sturdy 2x4s, lag bolted and screwed together so I’d be able to repair it when the inevitable creaks and groans set in. I also bought a new log splitter. Except for the first few years when we were living out here, I’ve always split the firewood by hand with mauls and wedges. I decided that was a luxury I couldn’t afford this year.

My new setup involves positioning the sawbuck, splitter, and Scout pickup as close to the logs as possible. I stack the smaller ones on the sawbuck until it is full, and then I saw them up and toss them into the Scout. The larger logs are cut in place on the log pile. After I cut them to firewood length, I toss them into a pile by the log splitter. When I have enough piled up, I contact Alice, the operator, and with her on the lever and me hoisting the firewood chunks up, we split and toss into the Scout.

This new system is working very well. The Scout seems to fill up with firewood almost like magic. I then back it up to the woodpile, stack up what I’ve hauled, and go back for another load. The goal is to hit the firewood project hard while the weather is cooperating, and hopefully get as much done as I can.

Once this year’s firewood is done, I plant to implement phase two of the log project. I hope to continue making firewood both for the house and for the maple syrup operation, and custom build some pallets on which to stack this wood. I’ll use chunks of an old greenhouse cover to make a tarp for the top of these pallets. Then I’ll move these pallets full of firewood with the forks on the dozer someplace where it is out of the way. That is the plan.

Charmed

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

My Mom is 87 years old. She looks great and is still very engaged in her world. I visited recently and we all went out to eat at one of the local buffets in Lansing, Michigan. The young woman at the counter and I worked through the details of the transaction for that night’s supper. When we were finished, she looked up at my Mom and complimented her on her earrings.

“You like them?” Mom asked her.

“Yes I really do.”

Mom took one of them off. They were the clip on kinds, not the kinds that stick through a hole in your ear lobe. I think the clerk thought she was going to show her what the earring looked like up close. Then she took the other one off, and handed them to her.

“They’re yours,” she said.

The look on this young woman’s face was priceless. Her jaw dropped and she quickly put them on. They also looked very nice on her. It may have been partly because of the million dollar smile she was flashing at my Mom. By that point, we were all smiling, though. Mom because she had done such a nice thing, the clerk because of the wonderful unexpected gift, and me because I was so proud of Mom.

Tattoo

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

I think the ancient Egyptians had the right idea in their worship of the sun god. Our own sun is the difference between the cold and dark of outer space and the warm light of our world. Red giant stars explode after a long life, and the destruction of their nuclear furnaces make the heavy elements we depend on for life itself; elements our own sun is too small to forge in its death throes. It is the remnants of these massive red star explosions that formed the earth and made life possible.

I further think that tattoos are not pretty. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a square inch of skin that was improved by having ink needled into it.

tatooSo imagine my surprise when I was sitting in the Lansing bus station last Friday afternoon, and idly looking out the window, when I was struck dumb by a tatoo on a young woman’s shoulder. Besides being a pretty striking sun, it also reminded me of my friend Oren Krumm, who died when he was just 18 years old and a freshman at Michigan Tech. Oren was also attracted to the sun, and I believe he would have been attracted to this tattoo.

For much of my life, I have been a shy person, so what I did next surprised me, as I’m sure it did the young woman on who’s shoulder this tattoo lived. I took out my camera, walked up to her outside, and said, “excuse me.”

“I couldn’t help but notice that lovely tattoo on your shoulder, and was wondering if you’e mind if I took a picture of it?”

She looked at me and I could see the wheels turning. Is this guy hitting on me? I looked back at her with all of my 61 years of grey beard and bald head, saying, “don’t be silly” without using any words. In about 2 seconds, she said, “ok.”

Without my asking her, she turned her shoulder toward me, moved her hair out of the way, and moved the strap of her blouse down so the tattoo was completely visible. I took my picture, showed it to her, thanked her, and walked back inside.

When I got back home, I made a print for Oren’s Mom, and asked Alice to give it to her. We both had misty eyes that day.

Why We Need Artificial Color

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

I returned from a trip downstate on Saturday morning, and did the usual rounds. I looked at the length of grass in the lawn, the state of the weeds in the garden, and the wine. I racked the Strawberry Wine before I left, and when I got home, it had started to clarify.

strawberrywineIn order to take this picture, I put a bright light behind the glass jug. I happen to think the color of this wine is lovely, and that the picture does not do it justice. I used some very nice local berries, trimmed each one with a knife, removed all the bad spots, chopped them up, and put them into the straining bag. The red color of those lovely berries just jumped out at me.

I think we somehow know what good strawberry juice should look like when it is treated properly… it should look like the picture. I also think that unless they charged $100 per bottles, no winery could make a profit making wine the way I do. So they use berries not quite up to my standards, do not remove the bad spots, leave on a stem or two, and the result is a somewhat different color. So to fix it, the big wineries add color.

Mulching Gets You Dirty

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

mulchToday we finished hilling the potatoes, tilling between the rows, and mulching the potatoes. This mulch job was the final one for the gardens. It is good to get it done, but the bags of leaves and yard clippings took on a strange attribute after sitting outside this summer.

The City of Hancock wisely requires its residents to use biodegradable corn-based leaf bags for their yard waste. When exposed to sunlight, these bags just disintegrate. The part not exposed to light, however, does not. So my pile of bags of leaves, being exposed to sunlight, all had holes in the tops. When it rained, which it has done a lot of this summer, the water got into the bags through the top holes, but got trapped in the bottoms of the bags. This made the partially bagged leaves into a tea colored soupy stratified glob.

Someone had to wheelbarrow the bags into the garden, empty them into the rows, and spread them out across the rows and around the plants. You might think it would be possible to do this chore without getting dirty. I would agree with you that is might be theoretically possible, but it didn’t work that way for me today. While Alice was happy that I was the one that did this work, she was particularly stand-offish when I tried to give her a big hug to celebrate the completion of the mulching of the potatoes. After a long shower this evening, the stand-offishness seemed to disappear.

Round ‘Em Up, Bring ‘Em In, Everybody’s Sure To Win

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

buck1Those of you that recognize the song from the title to this piece, are either old enough to remember Howdy Doody, or are really into nostalgic black and white television. I was humming that little song for a lot of the days projects today.

It was time to harvest the buckwheat today. I like to let it grow until it starts to blossom, then till it under and plant the next crop. I let it bloom for a while to let the local insects gather the generous nectar from the lovely white flowers. But today was the day to grind the buckwheat into mulch with our trusty Troy Bilt tiller.

buck2I was lamenting earlier that there didn’t seem to be any bees working the buckwheat blossoms, which was unusual for us. As I went around and around the greenhouse garden with the tiller, I was concentrating the insects into the center row of buckwheat that was left, or “rounding them up.” This is how the song got stuck in my head. I am happy to report there were a few bees in the last row in both gardens, so the bees aren’t completely gone.

Our First Burp

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

One of the great things about our lifestyle is the positive feedback we get. Sowing a row of seeds usually results in a thin shy patch of green plants coming up after a week or so. We both delight in being the first to see this event, and usually grab the other one to come and see it.

It is now strawberry season in our neighborhood, and we are lucky to have some reputable growers nearby that produce and sell some very good fruit. We both strongly believe in local food, and in supporting anyone stupid enough to want to grow and sell it (stupid because it is a LOT of work.)

We were afraid we’d missed the boat with the strawberries last week. We were coming back from working at the pines, and actually drove past a couple of stands selling strawberries. When we pulled up to the place near home where we like to get them, we learned they were sold out for the day. We had a stop to make at the store in Tapiola anyway, and were lucky to see a young person selling strawberries in front of the store. So we bought 4 quarts.

With most of the berries (about 2 1/2 quarts,) I started a gallon batch of strawberry wine. The first day, all the ingredients are added, including a crushed tablet that kills off any yeast that might have come in with the fruit. The yeast killer only lasts for 24 hours, so a day later (last night) I added the yeast, stirred, and put the lid and bubbler back on.

This morning, I slid the primary fermenter across the counter, and sniffed the top of the bubbler. The first day or so the wine usually smells like very sweet juice. As I was sniffing it, Alice came down, and I told her it looked like the batch was starting to work. We both happened to be looking at it, when a bubble came out. Our first burp!