Saturday, November 17, 2012

Decisions, Decisions

A coupla weeks ago,  a friend of ours called to offer us two (or more) acer pseudosieboldianum x palmatum 'Northern Glow' maples which he had purchased from a nursery in Minnesota.  I'm a nut for Japanese maples, but we've never been successful in overwintering them in the past.  This tree is a cross between a Korean and Japanese maple.   Here is a link to the image:

 'Northern Glow' is supposedly hardy to Zone 4 and was developed by Professor Ed Hasselkus of the UW-Madison Arboretum’s Longenecker Horticultural Gardens fame. Professor Hasselkus visited our humble garden on a bus group tour that stopped here a few years ago.  We were honored and intimidated to meet him in person; he is a legendary gardener and plantsman, just what would he think of our goofy garden?  But I needn't have worried, he was very kind and patient, and answered several questions we had, too.  Any tree he developed has got to be great.

We ended up buying two of the maples from our friend.  Both of them were over six feet tall already.  Then comes the age-old question, where do we plant them?  We have a large garden here with room to spare, but finding 'the' right place for every tree has always been a struggle.  I don't want to construct any new beds and planting trees too close together or in the shade doesn't work, either.  We walked all over the gardens, debating endlessly on this site or another, but really didn't come up with a solution.

Weirdly enough one morning I woke up before dawn and had the answer.  We'll put the trees in front of the barn where they'll be visible from Aaargh.  The only problem?  There are already two trees in front of the barn.   Two big honey locusts, over forty feet tall.  Sigh.

I'm not sure what type of locust the trees were; we bought six of them as teeny, tiny seedlings from a greenhouse when they were less than four inches tall about thirty years ago.  I stuck them in the ground and was amazed by their rapid growth rate.  I was not thrilled, however, with their thorns.  The greenhouse had offered them as thornless, but such was not the case with four of them.  They developed massive thorns, some over three inches long, capable of ripping a person to shreds if you weren't careful.  Those four trees were soon cut down, but the other two we left stand as they were fairly free of spines.  We did like their fine leaves and the filtered shade they provided, but as the trees were getting bigger, we noticed some limbs were crossing each other and all in all, they didn't look to be a sturdy tree.

Still, I get attached to things very easily and these trees were no exception.  We've planted every tree on this ten acres ourselves starting with seedlings, and it's hard to part with them.  Actually, it feels wrong.  I know gardens have to change as they mature, though the process can be painful sometimes.  I still remember Adrian Bloom's comment in one of his gardening books about removing trees when they have outlived their usefulness or beauty.  He said not to look upon planting a tree in an awkward place as a failure, but rather as an opportunity for change; the tree served it's purpose and now it is time for something different.  (Mr. Bloom is far more eloquent; my apologies.) 

I kicked the plan around all day long, weighing the pros and the cons. I wasn't sure what Carl or Joel would think, but when they got home from their respective jobs, I raised the issue.  They both agreed it was a shame to lose the two big trees, but they felt the maples would be a much better fit in their place.  Joel went straight to the garage to sharpen the chainsaw and Carl set off to find chains.

We're impulsive, I'll admit it.  (But being impulsive means I don't have to agonize over making decisions for too long.) 

  Let's do this thing.
Getting dark already.
The trouble with this time of year is the fact it gets dark out way too soon. We didn't get a start on the actual cutting until well after 4PM and sunset is 4:30-ish so we had to fly.   Joel climbed up and limbed the trees as high as he could reach from a ladder while I speedily walked up to Mom's to get the 574.  We always hook up a tractor and chain to any tree we're cutting down for safety reasons, especially when there's a nearby building or anything we don't want squished.
In the picture, you can see the chain on the left-hand side which is attached to my tractor.  Joel makes the notch cut and then proceeds to the back of the tree to make the final cut.  The wedge is knocked out and I slowly tighten the chain to keep some tension on it until the saw has gone all the way through.  If everything works out just right, the tree gets a tug in the right direction and everyone is safe.  Cutting down a tree is dangerous work and we don't take it lightly.    Joel always stops sawing and makes eye contact with me right before he makes the final cut.  Here we go.....heads up!
Wedge is out, time for me to back up slowly and  take the slack out of the chain. 
Timber! and me skedaddling out of the way on the 574.
Once the tree starts to fall, I have to back up a whole lot faster, or end up underneath it.  I'd only get hit by the branches on the end, though, not the trunk, since we had a series of long chains involved.

One down, one to go.
Joel limbed up the downed tree while Carl quickly unhooked the tractor from the first tree and rehooked it to the second one.

Joel repeated the process of sawing the notch and was getting ready to make the final cut.

Tree #2
That's when we ran into a problem.  As I was putting a little tension on the chains, the 574 suddenly stopped running.  It was out of gas.  I hollered as loud as I could to Joel to stop sawing and Carl finally got his attention.  Of course, we had no gas on hand, not one single, solitary drop.  Now what?
I'm way too close to the tree this time and can't back up...
 Darkness was descending and we had a tree 3/4 of the way cut down.  Any little breeze springing up could spell big trouble.  Joel hopped in his car and got our International H out of the machine shed at Mom's while Carl and I unhooked the 574 and readied the chains.  As soon as Joel arrived with the H, we hooked up to the chain on my tractor and pulled the 574 out of the way.  Then we hooked Joel's tractor to the chains on the tree again and finally, we were back in business.

Timber again......and I'm backing the H out of the way in a hurry, too.
Time to breathe again...and pick up brush as Joel saws off limbs.
Though the trees were green, we were able to burn all the brush that night in our campfire ring.  I've been limbing up the dead branches on the pine trees in Back Eight for a few weeks and have oodles of kindling to start a hot fire with. 
Dead twigs

We've been trying to clear out the white pines so we can walk through the woods more easily.
We have to thin more of the white pines every year as they are much too close together.  Again, this is a melancholy chore for us; I wish we had been able to transplant more of these trees before they grew so large, but we ran out of time.   We've been making plans to plant some more trees next spring, though, to replace the ones we have to cut down.

The glow of the campfire lit up the Quarry Hill.  Can you see the Big Dipper?
We spent a late night burning the rest of the brush from the two locust trees and cooked supper over the embers.  Yes, there's regrets around here for cutting down trees, but there's always hope for the future, too.

Time will tell if we made the right choice.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Grapevines and Exercise Balls

The stone loading and moving is still going on, weather permitting.  Carl has been helping me with the tidying up whenever he has a few spare moments since Aaargh construction has come to a halt.  I have a problem with the changing seasons; I'm just not ready to throw in the towel for this year yet.  Someone told me today at exercise class that next week is Thanksgiving.  Wow. I was stunned.  It can't be that late already, can it?  I don't have the statuary put away, there's flower pots all over the place, garden hoses need draining, the garage and barn needs organizing and, ok, I'll get a grip.  There's a whole bunch of stuff to do.

Carl loading stone on pallets.

 And then I go and dream up some more work.  First the grapevine saga:

 We had an abundance of grapevines growing on the old rock pile in the picture above. Trying to get to the rocks on the pile was a hassle, talk about a tripping hazard; I swear if we held still long enough, they'd have us engulfed, too.  The vines were growing up into the spruce trees nearly twenty feet and yanking on them by hand was proving an exercise in futility.  Tractors to the rescue; Carl hooked chains up to the roots and with me backing the tractor, the vines came down bringing along with them spruce branches and sumac trees and anything else in their path. By the time the silly things were free of the rock pile, the tractor and I were nearly out to the road. 

Well, what do you do with grapevines?  Burn them?  Compost them?  Yes, you could.  Or we could make wreaths out of them, but I already have a couple.  That's when I got the bright idea of making a big orb.  But how do you make it perfectly round?  I had done some research and came across an article where a lady was using beach balls to make grapevine balls.  Ernie the Urn needs something for the winter but we don't have any beach balls.  And a beach ball would be lost in Ernie.  We need to think bigger. 

Hmmmmm...I do own an exercise ball.

I'd been wanting a new Swiss ball  for quite some time.  My original one is over ten years old and has seen better days; there was a particularly deep gouge in it on one side.  Since I've started the weight lifting routine one of the exercises I have to do is called a 'Prone Jackknife'.   As you can see from the video above (no that's not me) there is a lot of stress placed on the equipment.   There's a few other silly exercises I have to do, too, and the thought of the old Swiss ball suddenly exploding mid-jackknife or pushup was rather terrifying.  I know the resulting crash of my face plowing into the hardwood floor wouldn't help my looks any.  And I would hate to startle my snoozing Shih Tzus, too.

So, I purchased a new Swiss ball (with sand inside so it doesn't roll away so easily) and we put the old ball to use as a grapevine form.  I didn't do much with the construction other than fetch and trim errant branches off the grapevines for Carl as he rolled and tucked them into place around the ball.  It was amazing how many grapevines were required, but we had enough to go around.

 I forgot to take pictures of the process, but here's the end result.
Ernie's Ornament
One thing we forgot to do was deflate the ball and take it out of the middle before there were too many branches in place.  I didn't think we'd ever get the ball out, but Carl didn't have a problem.  We might make a few more this jumbo size before the snow flies, but first I had Carl make me some smaller ones, too.

Smaller ones lining the driveway on the plant stands.
Carl just rolled the vines into a circle without anything in the middle for the smaller ones.  They're not perfectly round, but they're close enough.  I've got some ideas for decorating them with mini-lights and some greenery.  We'll see if I get around to it.  As you all know, I'm dreadfully unorganized. 

In the meantime, I'm getting the hang of the new exercise ball.  It's so much more stable with the sand inside.   When I'm not exercising, I could use it as a step stool to reach high things in the kitchen cupboard, too.

On second thought, maybe that's not such a good idea.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Time is Growing Short

November is a tough month around here.  This is the month we traditionally take inventory of what we have done and what we will end up leaving undone for yet another year.  As the days grow shorter and the weather deteriorates at about the same rate, hope begins to fade for much more progress on projects.

I'm not sure if everyone who lives in a distinct four season climate feels this way or not, but we like to be outside as much as possible for as long as possible because winter is a long season here.  Now that the garden is pretty much put to bed, I have time to do other things, like tidying up the mess around here.  (And that's just the outside mess, the inside mess is still to come, but it will snow soon enough.)  I decided to focus on rocks starting last week.

I was out in the Back Eight loading rocks on pallets today when I heard the windmill groan.  On really damp days, the mill makes eerie noises, especially if the wind is switching a lot.  When we have drizzle and a slight breeze the mill develops a quiet knock on every revolution.  This may sound weird, but since I work outside alone when Carl is at work, I welcome the windmill's commentary.     I know just how it feels, because I groan quite a bit too.  Rocks are heavy.

 I took a break from the stone work and stared at the Aermotor the other day; it could use painting again. We'll have to add that job to the never-ending list. 
Our circa 1920-30's Aermotor windmill gets ready to face another winter.  Gray skies abound.

It's a long way to the top if you want to paint your windmill.
 I know, it's only 40 feet....but that's a long way for me.  I've only been to the top of the mill a few times.  Do you see those little braces on the one leg of the tower?  That's the ladder.  The little platform at the top is made of cedar and it's teeny-tiny.  I have never stepped off the ladder rungs to get on the platform, but Joel has.  Many times.  See, Joel is brave. (And I wonder why my hair turned gray?)
Joel in 2004 on top the tower.

 The windmill looked a lot better eight years ago freshly painted back in '04.
Carl and Joel hauling the mill to the tower.  The bullet holes are only slightly visible from a distance after painting. 
I was thinking l could just stand on the tower holding a can of spray paint while the mill went around and voila, a new paint job.  Ok, I was daydreaming about that.  Of course it wouldn't work.  (Would it?)  Nah.  Put in on The List.

November weather can be challenging with cold drizzle, brisk, biting winds and freezing nights.  Low cloud banks form in the northwestern sky, looking bruised and moody.  Some days I feel just like our little angel statue; forlorn and pouty.

I miss summer already.
And, once again,  Aaargh is going on The List, too.
Carl has been cutting stone to go around the round window.
We're going to put the mortar mixer in the shed for the winter this weekend since we're all done with cement for the year.   We decided to go with a radial pattern around the window and Carl's been hard at work cutting stone to fit. 
Fussy work.
While Carl's been fussing with the stone cutting, I've been going through the pallets out in the Back Eight sorting rocks again.  After two years (or less) most of the pallets the rocks are perched on have rotted.  So, we get some fresh pallets and we spend days transferring rocks from the old to the new.  We like to go through our stone inventory to make sure the best of our stone supply is getting put to use on Aaargh construction.  The problem is the grass has grown up around the rotten pallets and it's hard to see what we have.
There's rocks in those weeds........

And in those weeds........

AND in these weeds, too. 
Who knows what lurks in the tall grass?  I'm about to find out.  So many rocks, so little time.  Luckily, we have access to some fresh pallets.

The guys bring pallets home from work.
The pallet in the picture above has just about disappeared and the rocks are sitting on the ground.  Time for a new one. 
I enjoy the work.  It's peaceful and even if it's in the 40's or near 30's, the work warms me up.
All new pallets, good for another year or two.
Each one of these pallets can weigh up to a ton by the time they're full.  I lift some and roll most, trying to put the biggest ones on the bottom and hoist the smaller stuff on top.
Carl has a lot of pallets to choose from for Aaargh now. 
I still have oodles of limestone flat rocks to dig out of the tall grass yet, too...but Carl's got enough to pick through at the moment.   That's when I got another bright idea.  (There's something about this time of year that brings out the idiot in me.  I think it's the change of seasons and spare time on my hands and Denial all rolled into one.)

For years we have collected rocks of all kinds, no duh, you all know that......but the Quarry and Aaargh have been constructed of only limestone.   For the most part, we've kept our collection of limestone separate from the granite.  Not all limestone is the same quality, color or consistency, either, depending on quarry, so that's all separate, too.  Any miscellaneous rocks we have found in our wanderings here and there have been deposited on yet another rock pile.   And that rock pile is over 30 years old and overgrown with grapevine, sumac and blackberries.  In other words, it's a massive eyesore.

The rockpile that started it all. Sitting here since 1978 and growing every year.
 Here's where my idiocy popped up again.  I decided to try to tidy up this pile and sort it out by stone type.  Unfortunately, I ran out of pallets in a big hurry.  There's everything from limestone, granites of all colors, tufa, quartz, rhyolite and other unknown minerals all together.  That's when I decided we should build something out of this mess instead of merely moving it from Point A to Point B.  Joel helped me load the really big flat rock last week since there are really large pieces and if I drop them, they will break.  Whenever he has spare time, he lends me a hand, and boy, do I appreciate it!

First I started adding on to the low stone wall we tossed together last year.  We know it's not good to put stones so close to the trees, but the trees aren't going to be with us for too many more years anyway; they are blue spruce and too crowded here with not enough light to sustain the lower branches.  It was one of those mistakes we made as rookies when we first started gardening, but they were beautiful when they were young.  (Weren't we all better looking back in the day?)  We've got some ideas of what to plant once the spruce have run their course, but that will probably be in a few years. 

Piles everywhere.
At least the tufa is light.  We're going to add on to an already existing tufa wall in the hosta bed with these.
There was some nice limestone in there, too.
I've also found bricks and cement blobs we've made over the years.  Not sure where that's going yet.

It's like a time-capsule, I'm finding all sorts of stuff.

 I think there's too much stone here for the stone wall.  Carl agreed.  We got to thinking about making a weird pile somewhere in the garden, like a pyramid of loose rock.  Ok, I know, like we need something else to do...but the rocks are just sitting there.......and it wouldn't need mortar.......(and Carl agreed with me!  How scary is that??  See, we both don't want to see winter come yet!)

But then it rained.  And since I don't like loading rocks in the rain, we decided to do something with the grapevines last weekend.  And a friend of ours bought two fancy trees at a greenhouse in Minnesota and asked us if we were interested and, and, and........well, this is long enough.  I'll have to write another blog post to fill in all the details. 

Yes, the time is growing short for this year, but we're gonna give it all we've got this weekend.  Snow is forecast for next week.

That's ok, I've got a snowblower.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

They Walk Among Us

Last night we worked on Aaargh until 6:30 PM and between encroaching darkness and cold hands, we decided to call it a day.  I had some tools to put in the barn and Carl beat me to the house with his grinder and rock hammer in hand.  He was busy putting the tools away when I came in and shook off the cold.  Before I took off my coat, we realized we hadn't locked up the Girls for the night.  I volunteered to go back outside one more time to tuck the hens in.  Gosh, the sunset was quick; it was pitch black out already. 

 I'm not afraid of the dark at all, but being Halloween, I was a little more wary than usual.
That's right, I'll admit it.   Sometimes I am a little chicken.
 On my way back to the house, I thought I heard something odd in the hosta bed.  In classic horror movie stupidity (the hapless idiots always go alone, don't they?)  I ventured down the trail a little way and then stopped when I saw a pair of weird red lights hovering about six feet off the ground. 

I ran to the house like a woman with a banshee on her tail and told Carl what I'd seen.  He thought I was silly.  I told him to bring a flashlight and then, on my way out the door, I saw the camera sitting on the kitchen table.  I grabbed it.  Armed with auxiliary lighting and a recording device, we sallied forth.

It didn't take long for Carl to see something, but he wasn't sure what it was either.  And then the flashlight went dead.  I handed him the camera instead, and he kept taking pictures, brave man, while I tried hard not to pee my pants. And wouldn't you know, the flash on the camera wouldn't work either?  By now the moon was rising and we could see the Thing eerily backlit.

Where did it go?  Oh...there it is....
Do you see what I see?

Camera's getting a little unsteady, even Carl's scared.
Carl keeps backing up as the thing gets closer.

Oh, run for the hills, this thing is Big!
 We ran for the driveway and the Thing followed us.  Since the flashlight failed to work, we hoped the automatic driveway light would illuminate the situation.  How close would this Thing come??

Carl's really shaky now...
Oh no, it's in the driveway now, and headed right for us...

It's spotted the light and slowed down a bit.............

If it comes one step closer; I'm getting ready to bean it over the head with a rock if need be......

Thankfully, the Thing stops advancing.  Maybe the light is too bright?  Or it got a good look at us?  (We are pretty scary in our own right.)

Suddenly there was a flash of red lights and the Thing evaporated into thin air. 

 By this time, we've both nearly 'soiled our armor' but we Survived.

Happy Halloween!

In case you didn't figure it out, the Thing is Joel.  This is the costume he wore this year working as a volunteer at the haunted house the entire month of October.  Scary-looking, isn't he?