Archive for August, 2013

Spaghetti Stick

Saturday, August 31st, 2013

stickFranco spends a large part of his outside time carrying sticks. He frequently misplaces them and isn’t fussy about a replacement. Any chunk of wood he can find will do. Occasionally, a stick will last him all day. What with the stick being thrown by an obliging human, caught and chewed by himself, the sticks do tend to take a beating.

Today’s stick deserved a picture I thought. About all that was left was a strand that was about the thickness of spaghetti. As you can see in the picture, Franco is watching events closely in case that stick is tossed. I think small sticks must smell less than larger ones, because he prefers to see where they land to make his hunting job easier. I think he also appreciates the fact that I can’t throw these tiny sticks very far, making the fetch to effort ratio very favorable.

Wine Update

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

wineI just put our 5th jug of wine in the basement, and they looked so nice all lined up that I took a picture. So far this year we’ve made a batch each of dandelion, strawberry, sour cherry, raspberry, and blueberry. On my walk today after supper, I happened upon some chokecherry trees with a lot of fruit, and tried a handful. The flavor of chokecherry is not for everyone to be sure, but this year’s berries tasted juicer and sweeter than I remember. So, in consultation with Alice, the decision was made to pick some chokecherries tomorrow and get batch number 6 started.

Lowering the Docks

Monday, August 26th, 2013

We have a dock on each of our two ponds. The one closest to the house is our “watering dock.” It is pretty small, and only there for me to dip buckets for watering the gardens. The other larger dock is on our back pond, and is used for recreation… we have a “dock sit” in the afternoons before supper. It is a time to just sit and enjoy the beautiful place.

These docks sit on steel pipes that are augured into the mud. They both have floats on them as well, and the way they should work is the dock floats a few inches above some pins in the steel legs, until a dog or human comes on them, at which time the extra weight makes the dock rest on the pins.

As the level of the ponds drop, I need to lower the pins. Otherwise the whole thing rests on the pins, which is not stable. Yesterday, I realized I had let things progress too long, and the floats were no longer doing their job. When this happens, the lowering of the pins is harder, because the weight of the dock is on them, and what should be an easy matter of pulling the pins out, becomes an ordeal of driving them out with a hammer.

So armed with the tools I needed, I got the canoe out and worked my way around all points of both docks and got them lowered. Many strange things happened to me as this job progressed. Once, I drove out a pin, and before I could grab it, it shot out into the pond. I have no spares. So I had to take off my clothes, get into the water, and dive down in about 5′ of water, and feel around in the muck until I found the pin. From that point on, I tied the pins to a bit of string before I drove them out.

On our walk after supper last night, Franko and I closed the greenhouse as is our habit. It was then that I noticed I had left the canoe tied to the watering dock. I walked down there, cast off the painter, and started paddling towards the back pond where the canoe is kept.

At that moment, I put the paddle down and stared. There was something about the still water, the weeds on the margins, and the fat dragonflies that reminded me of the pictures that Hiyao Miyazaki is so adept at painting. The peaceful water scene. A moment before I was only thinking about putting the canoe away, and the next I was transported into another world.

The remainder of the paddle was filled with different thoughts. How lucky we are to have such a beautiful place, one where we can dip our paddle whenever we please. Where we can grow a significant portion of our own food. Where our creativity and hard work is rewarded over and over. We are lucky.

The Pepper Taster

Saturday, August 24th, 2013

Last year’s jalapeno peppers were pretty mild. And we got a lot of them. We used most of them up because it took a lot in order to pepper things up appropriately. This year’s garden is way behind because of the late start. Last night I noticed some reasonably decent sized jalapenos on one of the plants, and on a whim picked one and absent-mindedly began taking bites out of it as I walked along.

The first nibble or two had the expected mild flavor. Perhaps I got cocky. I took a bit bigger bite the next time, thinking I’d just get this wimpy thing out of my hands and into my stomach. That bite must have encountered some seeds, because it was HOT.

“I’m tough,” I thought to myself, and took another bite. It was really hot. I was heading towards the house by this time, and became nostalgic for the garden hose. I picked up my pace while the inside of my mouth was expressing its displeasure. The garden hose is black rubber, and the water is normally pretty hot when the hose is sitting out in the sun all day. Once I got the water running, I figured I’d let it run so it could cool off. Two seconds later, I said the heck with it and swallowed a lot of water.

I’ve heard that water doesn’t counteract the effects of hot peppers. This water sure helped me somehow, though. Perhaps it was physiological, but I calmed down a lot as I walked inside the house. I think I’ll be a little more scientific about my next taste of garden peppers.

Dog Hazard

Saturday, August 24th, 2013

coon2I saw my neighbor out walking along our road this morning, and among other information we swapped, he told me he had just seen a porcupine. Franco has met up with one of these guys before with some pretty bad results, but it was long enough ago that I wasn’t sure the lesson had been learned, so I was on the lookout.

On our usual walk after supper, my radar was still alert. Porcupines move pretty slowly, so one seen this morning could well still be in the neighborhood. We were close to home when Franco darted into the woods ahead of me. I quickly called him to me, and, being the good boy he is, he came. I looked up in tree near the place Franco was interested, and saw a dark blob shaped thing, and congratulated myself that I’d found the porcupine.

coon1Well not exactly. As I looked up into the tree, I felt like I was being looked over at the same time. Then I saw this little raccoon just a few feet from me, staring intently at me. As I stepped back and took a better look, I saw four of them, all frozen in the position they were in when we came into their view. They happened to be in a chokecherry tree, and the chokecherries were ripe. Franco and I wished them bon appetit, and continued our walk.

A Near Thing

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

We started our fourth gallon of wine the other day… this time it was blueberry with fruit from our own bushes. I followed the normal procedure of adding every ingredient except the yeast the first day, and then “pitching” the yeast 24 hours later. The mixture was then stirred and the waiting began. I did attempt to warm up the proto-wine in the sink prior to adding the yeast. I’ve learned over the years that cool liquid temperatures can make the yeast die off ruining the batch.

This morning one of my first projects was to take a look at the bubbler on the primary fermenter. I would have expected some obvious action by this time. There was nothing. I opened up the lid on the primary and looked inside. I neither saw nor smelled evidence of yeast activity. A bit worried now, I closed the lid and put the primary back in the sink, and added hot water to the sink in an attempt to warm the liquid and thereby perk up the yeast. This went on many times today; as the water in the sink cooled it was drained, more hot was added, the cover lifted up and the contents inspected. Nothing obvious was happening.

Alice and I were in the kitchen talking about this batch, and were about to admit defeat, when a bubble made its way through the top. We both looked at each other, then back at the fermenter. Slowly the cap inside the bubbler began to rise and another bubble escaped. Yes! Houston, we have fermentation! As the day progressed, the bubbles became more numerous, which is exactly what we had hoped for. Now the search is on for some blackberries.

Sack o’ Sugar

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

When I was growing up, the family business was a feed store. Many many tons of heavy sacks of things moved through the store every week. When supplies got low, big trucks arrived, backed up to the storage barn, where the unloading took place. No fork lifts were involved in this process. Every sack of chicken feed, softener salt, lime, and cracked corn was stacked at the back of the truck by the driver, lifted onto the shoulder of a man on the ground, carried into the storage room, and stacked by hand. From the time I was able to lift the smallest 25# sacks, I was expected to help. I saw nothing unusual about this.

As I grew in strength, I graduated to larger and heavier sacks. When I got my driver’s license, I naturally took the truck out on deliveries. I had other jobs as I was growing up, but “helping Dad at the store” was something that was always part of my life.

The other day, we were getting low on granulated sugar, and I foresaw a need for a lot more. We had jam to make, and wine too, both of which used a lot of sugar. So I had “sugar” on my shopping list. When I got to the store, I looked at the 25# sacks of sugar, and said, “why not?” I stuck one in the bottom of my shopping cart along with the other week’s supplies.

It wasn’t until I got home and started unloading the groceries that I unconsciously tossed the bag of sugar over my shoulder. Lots of memories of so many bags on that shoulder came flooding back. I brought the sugar inside and left it on the couch for a day or so just to remind me of the sacks of freight I’ve shouldered in my day.

Firewood Pallet – Version 1.0

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

firewoodpalletFailure!

Version 2.0 in the planning stages, and will see construction in the next few days.

The powerline right-of-way widening project has netted us a lot of logs, and my idea was to use some of the logs to make lumber, from which I’d build pallets to store the firewood until needed. That way I could move it out of the way until I wanted to use it, and then move it back relatively easily. It sounded simple like so many things.

I came up with what I think was a pretty good first firewood pallet attempt. Once it was filled with firewood and covered with a piece of a discarded greenhouse cover, it was time to move it. I didn’t have any idea how heavy this much green hardwood would be, and whether the dozer could even lift it. I started it up, engaged the forks, and up it came. So far so good. Next I drove the dozer forward a bit. Everything was still a go. I moved it out into the road, in an attempt to move the pallet to the back field where I planned to store it. I got about 50 feet before one side of the pallet wall gave way, spilling firewood all over the road.

I backed off the road, tossed the scattered firewood off the road (no traffic was impacted during this time.) Then I calmly came inside, did a google search on “firewood pallet,” and printed out my favorite design. This I attached to the metal door of my shop, where I’ve been looking at it for the past couple of days.

Stay tuned for firewood pallet – version 2.0

“I Need More People”

Friday, August 16th, 2013

Alice, Steve, and I were lucky enough to hear Kurt Vonnegut speak at Michigan Tech some 20 years ago. We found his talk very interesting, and were also lucky enough to be able to attend an informal gathering with Kurt after the talk in the Memorial Union Building. I’ll never forget what he said that night. He was talking about living in Manhattan, one of the most densely populated places on the planet, and complaining that he needed more people. He was talking about community, and how even in the midst of the crush of all those people, that a small group of people that one could rely on, and that could rely on you, were indispensable to his well-being. A group of people bonded by something larger than themselves, and that made the sum greater than its parts.

I don’t know how much of this sunk in at the time, but during this last week, his words resonated with me. It all started a few months ago when I got a note from my good friend and Isle Royale buddy. A trip to the island was in the works, and one of the six people planned for the trip cancelled. Would I like to come?

I asked for more details.

voyager1It seemed that Project Lakewell, part owner of a 25′ replica birch bark voyageur canoe, had received free passage for the six members of the crew, plus free passage for the canoe on the Ranger III, the National Park Service boat that takes passengers and freight between Houghton MI, and Isle Royale. In exchange, the six agreed to put on 2 programs about the voyageurs. “Sign me up,” I told him, and that was that.

voyager2I’d made arrangements for the crew to stay the night before the boat ride at the Feedmill Cafe in Tapiola. We all met there for dinner that night, and in the morning when I arrived, the boat and crew were ready to make the trip to Houghton for the trip across Lake Superior to Isle Royale.

The boat’s name was Gabagouache, which means, “Big Mouth,” in honor of the place where the Grand River in downstate lower Michigan empties into Lake Michigan. We called her Gabby for short. I’d never paddled anything like her before, and was looking forward to learning the ropes. The trip to Isle Royale was very nice. The summer had been cold and overcast for much of the season, but this day the sun was out and the temperature was moderate. Before we knew it, we were at Mott Island, the only stop before we were to disembark at Rock Harbor on Isle Royale.

I stepped off the boat at Mott to stretch my legs, and was pleased to see my friend Dr. Rolf Peterson, who happened to be meeting the boat on other business. We had a nice visit. I looked around and saw another dear friend standing on the dock waiting to go to work, and had a very nice visit with her. This trip was really shaping up!

All too soon, the Ranger III gave a short toot, and it was time to board for the short trip to Rock Harbor. After unloading and securing Gabby for the night, we hauled our gear to a campsite we were sharing with a french couple, set up the tents, and settled in for the night. We were up early the next morning, struck camp, and hauled our gear back to the boat. We worked well together to get the gear properly stowed, and then headed out into the harbor for our first paddle. Our destination was the Daisy Farm campground about 7 miles away.

voyager3By this time, we were really coming together as a crew. The most important position in these boats is the Avant or bowman. This person ran the boat, kept a sharp eye out for rocks and other obstructions, and set the pace for the rest of the paddlers. The gouvernail, or steersman, sat in the back of the boat, and was responsible for steering the course. The rest of us were the middle crew, responsible for providing the paddle power for the boat.

After a beautiful paddle along the wooded and mostly empty beaches of Isle Royale, we arrived at Daisy Farm, unloaded, and went hunting for a shelter. We were lucky enough to procure a shelter very close to the shore. We set up camp and started exploring our campsite. We had a day to get ready for our first program. That allowed us to organize ourselves for sleeping, food, water, and all the other things necessary for life in a wilderness setting.

voyager4On the afternoon before our first program, I walked around the campground and told everyone I saw about it, and encouraged them to come. In the end we had about 25 people for our first performance. Since I was a late comer to the program, I had no role in the program, other than to look the part of a voyageur. In this picture, the gouvernail is talking to the audience about the life of a voyageur, as our half-french and half-indian or mixed blood actor looked on.

voyager5Our mixed blood closed out the show by doing a very moving monologue about a native american flood story in which the lowly muskrat saves the world by diving to the bottom and bring up a bit of earth, which the creator magically converts into all the dry land the plants and animals can live on. After that he picked up his hand drum and did a chant. The drumming and chanting really moved the audience.

The following day we headed back to Rock harbor. The gouvernail took us across the harbor to Mott Island for a quick break, and then through Lorelei Lane, a beautiful sheltered passage between islands that took us most of the way to Rock Harbor. It was a windy morning, and we all needed to keep paddling steadily in order to keep the canoe moving forward enough for the gouvernail to be able to have enough way for steerage.

The avant began chanting something I didn’t quite catch in the front of the boat, but that really seemed to help keep the number of our strokes high enough to be efficient. Although I didn’t understand any of the words, I chanted my own version along with him, and found it a very effective way to keep my strokes constant and efficient. Once we reached the end of Lorelei Lane, we had to make a dash across some windy open water with whitecaps. The boat and her crew performed admirably, and we were soon tied up at our dock at Rock Harbor.

voyager6We were becoming proficient at unloading and moving our gear. We found a shelter, squeezed in (six adults in a shelter is about the max that can fit) and prepared for our program that night. This time our audience numbered about 75 people, and we did some running around to arrange the performance area to the best advantage and gather as much seating as we could. Again, our mixed blood closed out the program with a drum/chant. This time I felt compelled to do a native american dance step as the drumming continued. I motioned to the audience members to join me, and one young person did. We made a couple of circuits around the area, and ended just as the drumming stopped. I felt as exhilarated as I can remember feeling in a long time. There is something about the drum and the simple dance steps that touches one.

voyager7The next morning we were up early so we could be on time to get Gabby loaded onto the Ranger III. Before we knew it, it was time to board for the 6 hour trip back to the mainland.

I’m sure I’m not alone when I suggest this crew of six bonded in the few days we were together on Isle Royale. Our message was one of respect for the planet, and respect for the days when these amazing travelers hauled tons of freight in flimsy birch bark canoes in conditions that kept them just a notch this side of disaster. When we returned to the mainland with our cars, houses, and financial worries, we all felt we’d experienced something special as a group. For the duration of that trip, I was content enough that I didn’t need more people.

Another Perk for Bucket Hauling

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

Today it was once again time to water the greenhouse garden with buckets from the pond. I usually start slowly with these projects. I chuckle at myself as part of my mind is madly calculating other more pressing projects and arguing for a postponement, while another part of my mind says, “Just suck it up and get this done!”

So I sucked it up and started hauling buckets. I was early in the project when I saw a strange bird, and heard a very familiar call. We’ve had Kingfishers nesting around the ponds for years, but lately we haven’t been so lucky. I heard some this spring, but almost nothing all summer… until today. A pair flew into view as I stood on the watering dock and watched. One of the pair in particular flew very close to me, such that I could see every detail of its plumage outlined in bright sunlight.

The pair were obviously very interested in each other and called back and forth as they shifted positions from one tree to the next. By the time I was able to get my camera out, the event was over. But is was another one I’ll remember for a good long time.