Archive for November, 2016

Rusty Milk Can

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

If you looking to hire a decorator for your home, you probably don’t want me. I believe I could probably get good at it if someone could explain it to me. I’m sure folks have tried over the years, so maybe I’m just one of those that will never get it. I accept that flaw in my character.

I was thinking about this today as I was scrolling through the Black Friday Deals on Amazon. I bought my Fire tablet this way last year, and saved $15 on a $50 purchase, so thought I’d give it another look this year. I came across a section that was called something like “Farmhouse Kickshaws.” In this section were such items as rusty galvanized milk cans, tables made of weathered barn lumber, and a block-and-tackle with some frayed sisal rope that was incorrectly rigged. The prices for these things, which seem to lie in abundance in the refuse piles around here, were pretty surprising.

I wondered what sort of customer pays for a rusty milk can, pays to have it shipped, and once it arrives, what is done with it? Is it proudly displayed next to the block-and-tackle? Does a red and white checked table cloth go over the barn lumber table? I honestly don’t get it.

My design for a kitchen would involve having the best kitchen tools I could find be handy and ready to be used. It would involve a work triangle size and shape suitable for the number of people that will likely be working in it. There would be counter tops that would look nice and be easy to clean when the meal is prepared. If I had to lift something heavy in the kitchen, I guess I’d have to jump on the computer and order that block-and-tackle. I’d take the time to rig it correctly first.

Rubber Neck

Saturday, November 19th, 2016

Alice, Franco and I just returned from a 5-day trip yesterday. We were all tired but happy with the trip. Gee it is always great to be back home with the food we like, the comfortable furniture, the snug house with the woodstove crackling. Just as we were falling asleep the power went out and stayed out for several hours. With the stove packed with firewood, we didn’t have the worries others do in these circumstances.

On the way home yesterday, the GPS had us bypass Munising and Marquette by taking M94. This is a familiar road to us because it is the route we took to scout camp when Steve was in scouting. I like these two lane roads a lot better than the divided highways they have downstate. I do a lot of “rubber necking” on those roads. There are often yards that have projects of interest, and I only get a moment to look things over and determine if the place is interesting. I almost always come away from these drives with something new I’ve learned.

suburbContrast the M94 bypass to a walk Franco and I took near the complex where both my parents live (a very nice facility for seniors.) By cutting across a field, we found ourselves walking down a sidewalk of a suburban street just adjacent to my parents’ place. I didn’t get many ideas walking down that sidewalk.

There was very little activity while we were there. No kids on bikes, or adults raking leaves. I saw one cable truck, and a water softener truck while we were there, but no other human activity. Every lawn was the same length, every mailbox identical, and the houses on this street looked pretty similar too. Possibly there was something of interest in the back yards, but Franco and I thought our curiosity might be misinterpreted if we poked around in these people’s back yards, so we cut our walk short and headed back.

I guess that is one of the reasons why I like living in the neighborhood I do. It seems like most every house has a pile of dirt somewhere, or some lumber, a piece of equipment parked and ready to go to work, or a half finished tree fort. I’m not suggesting the folks on the suburban street don’t work, but I do believe their connection to the earth is different than ours. A tree fort is something you’d buy at Lowe’s and pay someone to put up, not a pile of rough sawn lumber and a dream.

Want Friends? Get a Dog

Friday, November 18th, 2016

Alice and I just returned from a 6-day trip downstate to visit my family. This trip came up suddenly… only 90 minutes elapsed from the time we decided to leave until we pulled out of the garage. Franco, as always, was delighted to leap up into his crate in the back of the car, and to settle in without a peep… until we stop the car. Then he’ll loudly announce that he is up for anything as long as we go with him.

Having a dog along gives one access to places normally denied to non dog owners. Dogs need to be walked, and big dogs like Franco often clearly express to their human where the next best smell is located. I do not mind this because Franco deserves to use his nose during our rare and all too short stops.

francoOne of the best features about owning a German Shepherd is other German Shepherd owners. I’ll be walking Franco and folks will come up to me that would have normally just walked by, and strike up a conversation about dogs. They’ll scratch Franco, which he really likes, and tell story after story about their dog. If Franco is really lucky, they’ll throw a stick or ball for him while we’re talking. I am not making this up. It happened over and over this trip. I got to meet and swap stories with folks from all walks of life, and walked away smiling and enriched by the contact. I also find myself doing it with people walking their dogs too. When I see a dog owner that obviously likes their dog, I know I’ll find a connection there, and I know that starting a conversation with that person will be as easy as saying, “What a pretty dog!”

Why Do You Do It?

Wednesday, November 9th, 2016

We have had the longest nicest fall weather I can remember in the 40 years we have lived up here. By this time of year at this latitude, by rights we should have snow on the ground. Instead we’ve had several 60 degree days in a row. It is pleasant to work outside this time of year without mittens on.

The other day I came in the house from working on the sawmill. I was full of sawdust (although I have learned the habit of vigorously shaking my sweatshirt before coming inside) tired, and probably a little grumpy. Alice, picking up on my mood as anyone who has been by my side for all of these 40 years, asked me, “Why do you do it? Why do you saw up these logs?”

She went on to explain her confusion. “You’ve worked hard, saved, and are retired. You don’t need the money, so why do you spend these nice days out there on that (dirty) sawmill?” I remember making some sort of a flippant answer to her questions, but they did stick with me. “Why DO I do it?”

pinebridgeMy thoughts went up to the bridge at the Michigan Nature Association sanctuary, the Estivant Pines, that I’m currently building. It is coming along, and will be a nice addition to the sanctuary when it is done. I think of it as my art. Then I got thinking about the process of making art. No matter what sort of art, there are lots of tedious details that all need to be brought together with the artist’s skill and persistence, to create the final product. Does every artist enjoy every step of their craft? I doubt it. The eye is always on the final product, but it could also be argued that attention to the details focuses energy into the final product.

So when I see a cedar log on my pile, I see a series of steps. Putting the forks on the dozer, lifting a forkload of logs onto the sawmill rack, rolling them one-by-one onto the sawmill bed, creating as little waste as possible in the slab pile, and then watching the lovely boards peel off. Then there is the shoveling the sawdust, cutting, splitting and stacking the slabs, drying the lumber, and transporting it up north. But when the pieces that were cut so meticulously back home are assembled and actually start to resemble the bridge that I formed in my mind’s eye; the satisfaction is hard to describe.

Every road we travel, trail we hike, and bridge we cross was the work of an artist that took care of the details, took pride in their work, and came up with a functional finished product. It is my hope that readers of this story will cross my bridge in the pines someday and appreciate the care and pleasure that were expended that took this project from a mental image, to cedar logs, to lumber, and into a beautiful bridge.

Dancing on Marbles

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

Lots of attention is being paid to neighborhood firewood piles this time of year. I think one of the best things about our rural life is that we have options if times get tough. While wood heat isn’t as even or convenient as a fossil fuel furnace, it works when the power or the money runs out. And up here in the dead of winter, keeping warm is a priority for 4 months of the year.

firewoodLast weekend, a buddy of mine and I spent a couple of hours helping a disabled neighbor get in a few more cords of firewood for the winter. We both brought our saws and worked at opposite sides of this log pile. While I was cutting, I thought back on the 4+ decades of winter wood I’ve made.

In the early (more agile) days of my firewood career, I would cut up lots of logs at a time. There would be 16″ “rounds” laying all over the ground in all sorts of directions. What I liked about that technique was I could roll a log up onto the rounds, cut it up, and not have to worry about my chain hitting the dirt. There is a downside to this technique, however.

There is a lot going on when running a saw. It is easy to be concentrating on one thing and lose concentration on another. One wrong step and your foot can plant itself on a round. Suddenly there is a running saw being held by a goofball that is dancing on marbles. In my more agile days, I’d laugh at my stupidity, pick myself up, dust myself off, and resume sawing.

Now-a-days, I roll one log, maybe two, off the pile, saw them up, shut off the saw, toss the rounds into the pile, and then roll another log or two. Nothing to trip on, no more dance routines, no running saw to toss away as I’m going down. The wood pile grows more slowly than it used to, but I spend more time upright on my two feet.

Yellow Balls

Friday, November 4th, 2016

This year we’ve made several trips to Green Bay. If I had to vote for my favorite Green Bay attraction, it would be the Fleet Farm store. Oh, what a great selection that place has, with prices comparable to any I’ve seen. I can spend an hour just wandering around the place getting ideas. Alice came with me once, and wound up sitting on a bench in the breezeway/entry to the building. It seems she was able to see everything she was interested in seeing in about 5 minutes. I tried to hurry, but I could tell she was getting impatient sitting there watching all the happy Carhartted men walking past her.

I found some hydraulic hoses I needed, but couldn’t find the necessary fittings. In the trailer/towing section, I found a cheap little item that I impulse-bought. It is a simple thing that I figured would probably not work as advertised, but was cheap enough I tossed it in my cart. This item is designed to help hook up a trailer.

It consists of two yellow balls attached to two telescoping rods, each with a magnet on one end. The idea is you stick one magnet on each end of the trailer connection, extend the rods, get in your truck, and back right up to the trailer. These little babies came home with me and wound up in the Scout until today.

yelloballs1I was hauling some logs with the big yellow trailer, and needed to hook it up to the pickup. This process usually involves getting in and out of the truck many times before things are lined up properly. Today, with the help of the yellow balls, I backed up one time and slid the pin in. ONE TIME! I could hardly believe it. Just to be sure, after my first load of logs were hauled, I unhooked the trailer and hooked it up again. Same thing. One time!

Numerous people in our community enjoy travelling to Green Bay for football games, and more power to them I say. In my opinion, Green Bay’s greatest asset was and still is the Fleet Farm store. I wonder what other time saving tools are on those shelves. I’m looking forward to another visit to figure it out.