Cutting Firewood To Make Nut Brittle

October 7, 2008 at 12:32 am (Andrew Davidson, Arrowheads, Artifacts, Asplundh, Authors, bee hive, Bees, Books, Brother John, Butterflies, Companies, Dogs, Fair Paladin, Family, Fossils, Friends, German Shepherd, GOD, Hiking, Hobbies, honey, Insects, Jasper, mandolin, Monarch, music, Nut Brittle, Pets, Places, poetry, Recipes, Religious, Ricketts Glen State Park, Sylvia, The Gargoyle, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

When you chop a walnut tree, sometimes you harvest walnuts!

Sammy and I had had great aspirations of filling our wood shed to overflowing when we were off on our “working vacation” a few weeks ago. And we did bring in several loads. Then, the rains came. Not for 40 days and 40 nights, although the people of Texas probably felt that way, but enough to make our access into the fields a mucky nightmare. So, this past Thursday we sallied forth (well, Sally didn’t go, only room for two in the truck plus Jasper) to our unidentified neighbor’s farm to cut a load of firewood. It was actually chilly, intermittently overcast and with a stiff breeze blowing. Enough so that I had an old gray sweat jacket on and came home with pink ears and a somewhat windburned face. Our neighbor had cut several trees down that grew along the access drive to his 100 acre property. He had done this so that in the winter the sun would be able to reach the road surface and melt some of the ice. I’d been on that road a few years ago when it was possible to skate (or in my case slide on my backside) down the length of it to where the truck was parked at the bottom, unable to make it any further up the drive.

The first tree Sammy began cutting was a nice sized walnut. It was big enough to provide that day’s truckload of wood. And, it was covered with walnuts. I’ve already mentioned that I have this quirky survivalist mentality. To me, a tree full of easily accessible walnuts means a source of protein for the winter should society fail completely and Sammy and I be unable to keep us in squirrel and deer meat in the style to which we are accustomed. The walnuts also mean my favorite nuts for Dad’s Microwave Nut Brittle. The first year he made this stuff (two or three years ago) I thought it couldn’t possibly be any good. Wrong. I put that first piece in my mouth and it had just the right crunch of nutty goodness. Let it stay in your mouth a bit and the whole mess melts into a sweet sticky glue that renders you incapable of separating your jaws for several minutes. (Great for kids if you know what I mean!) Dad has since doctored the recipe to include coconut, confectioners sugar, brown sugar, and peanut butter. I’m going to experiment with (of course) honey this year. I have to laugh at this mental image I have of Dad bringing out the container of nut brittle at Christmas time. It’s like the pied piper if you can picture a gaggle of (mostly) overweight middle aged adults all trying to get their sticky hands into the smallish plastic container at the same time and fighting over the “big” pieces.

My job, when we are cutting wood, is all the ancillary duties. Sammy cuts, I load the truck. I also pull aside and stack the ends of branches too small to cut, hold pieces still as Sammy cuts them, pull out fallen (and usually brier covered) limbs and dead fall, and play with Jasper in between. (Brother John here… I once worked for the tree trimming company Asplundh and, except for Jasper…, these were also my daily duties. The person doing this type of duty was called a “Brushy” back in the day). Well, to add to my list, there were walnuts to collect because, (chant with me Brother John, and Sylvia, you’ve been around enough to join in too) “NOTHING MUST BE WASTED!” I had no idea how many walnuts a tree has when the entire tree has been cut and all the nuts can be harvested. And, not knowing the nuts would be there, I hadn’t brought a bag along. Imagine. I was unprepared! After a minute or so of abject humiliation, and after shortly abandoning the thought of filling my jacket pockets 20 or so nuts at a time, I graciously volunteered Sammy’s jacket (which he wasn’t wearing) and started loading it up with nuts. Each jacket load I would then dump in the front foot well of the passenger’s seat of the truck. Why I didn’t just throw them in the back I don’t know. Maybe nuts and wood, like oil and water, don’t mix in my head. Anyway, by the time the truck was loaded with wood I had enough walnuts to reach up to the seat. I sat in the seat, my feet resting on a mountain of walnuts, and realized that with the back full, Jasper had to ride up front. On my lap. Seventy-five pounds and I hadn’t peed before we took off for home (on some of the finest washboard dirt roads ever traveled).

When we pulled up the driveway I had Sammy stop at the top and let me offload first Jasper (who had enjoyed the trip home immensely, with “Mom” serving as a captive petting machine) and then the walnuts. Drive around the county this time of year and you’ll see many a driveway full of walnuts. The walnut comes off the tree with a thick green hull. This turns brown as it dries. This hull has long been a natural source of brown dye. The first time I hulled walnuts I used my bare hands. I had dyed brown hands for nearly a week. Now I do what everyone else does and throw them in the drive way to be driven over until all the soft hull has been worn off. These hard walnut shells are so tough that even driving over them doesn’t crack them. They scoff at traditional nutcrackers. (Brother John here… I always wondered why people did that! I always figured the nuts would get smashed into little bits, making that a very stupid thing to do. Now I get it Sis!). I place a few nuts in a rag and then take the hammer to them. Dad uses a vise, I think. I’m open to a better suggestion. But, it is one of the late autumn/winter pastimes when the weather is nasty. Sit around the wood stove, crack some walnuts while Sammy cleans a rifle or plays a little sweet guitar. A truly rustic picture. Completed by the image that I am, of course, in my pajamas.

Tomorrow we are going to get a few more loads of wood and meet up with our unidentified neighbor who will be cutting down a couple of the larger trees that still shade the drive. I’m hoping that after the work is done he’ll suggest a walk. He has lived in the area all his life and has shared some amazing discoveries with us. I have been along when a wild honeybee tree was harvested (the bees had swarmed and were given a new hive to populate). I’ve seen heavily fossilized shale covered with the imprints of shells and algae. I went along arrowhead hunting and collected blanks and pieces of arrowheads along with one that was complete. One day we walked into a field of wildflowers. He clapped his hands and suddenly the air was full of fluttering Monarch butterflies that landed on our arms, head, and clothes.

I always keep my “other” eyes open when I am out in the woods and fields. My imagination fills them with fairy worlds that live just beside the one we know. I often feel something else, an energy, or presence, or spirit. These days I call it God. I call it all God. It could be called many things. But I know, on those fall days when I lie in a cut field and feel the earth cool beneath my shoulder blades and the sun is warm on my face and a red tailed hawk soars searching in the blue sky above me, I know that there IS more. It gathers beneath me, goes through me, and connects with things unseen. One of my poems, “Fair Paladin” came from the magic the special places hold, or at least that I imagine they hold.

I have a bucket list. For those that didn’t see the movie, it’s stuff you want to do or accomplish before you kick the bucket. I have three things on my list so far. I plan to live to be a hundred and three so I’m hoping to add a few more.

  1. I want to get my book of poetry published. It’s so close. I want to see it on the Arts Council shelf and on the local artist shelf at Borders. I want my mom to be there when I do my first book signing, hopefully at the Arts Council where I’ll provide homemade blackberry, elderberry, and mead wines for my friends (and maybe a stranger or two) to drink. I want someone to pay real money for a copy of my book.
  2. I want to walk through an airport carrying my fiddle or mandolin to take it on a plane to somewhere and know that I actually play the darn thing well enough to deserve to carry it through an airport.
  3. Goblins Under Tree Stumps #1 Goblins Under Tree Stumps #2
    Fairy Houses Alligator Jawed Dragons
    Hunting for Ice Eggs Ice Egg in the Sky
    Walking Tree Ents #1 Walking Tree Ents #2

    I want to take a hike on the falls trails at Ricketts Glen State Park on a perfect day in the company of someone who sees and feels and loves the magic I talked about earlier as much as I do (Sammy and Brother John would do nicely.) We’ll find goblins under tree stumps, fairy houses, alligator jawed dragons, ice eggs, and walking tree Ents.

  4. Eydie, Brother John here. I have no imagination it would seem. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out which “other eye” vision each of these represent. Hover the mouse and you’ll see one idea, and click on the item to see that and other ideas. It would help greatly if you would define which is which. And maybe throw in a bit of real description as well. Ricketts Glen State Park looks very nice!
The Gargoyle - By Andrew Davidson - An extraordinary debut novel of love that survives the fires of hell and transcends the boundaries of time.

But for now, Sammy is out sharpening the chainsaw on the living room coffee table and me (in my pajamas), a novel (The Gargoyle), and the big brown chair have developed this undeniable attraction for each other. Throw the blue gingham angel quilt into the mix and I won’t be long for this world… Zzzzz.

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The Walk

September 29, 2008 at 10:00 pm (Bees, Brother John, Dogs, Family, Felon, German Shepherd, Hiking, Jasper, Pets, pit bull, Plants, sedum, Stonecrop sedum, Visit) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

Just keep truckin' on...

I went for my first walk of the fall season this afternoon. We had been down to Brother John‘s yesterday for his BIRTHDAY!! and he had made a request that I take some pictures as I go on my walks. Brother John likes to stress me. (Brother John here… I really don’t enjoy stressing out my dear Sister. Honestly!) I’ve only just figured out how to use the digital camera, and the thing still hasn’t quite learned who its master is. It likes to flip into other realms like video footage, stored photos, and settings. Sometimes it will just sit there and refuse to take the picture. Other times it will snap off about 20 shots of the same thing before I even know what button I pushed. The more advanced we become technologically, the more I want to cower in my cave and paint on the walls.

I have a little “purse” I take with me when I go walking. I got it ages ago from some army surplus magazine. It used to be a Swiss medical field bag and I’ve found it to be just about indestructible. It has a shoulder strap I place over my head and across my chest, and a flap closure that keeps stuff from spilling out when I lean over, yet is quickly accessible. I always take a a few plastic bags for any wild plants, seeds, nuts, feathers, stones, or other interesting “stuff” I might come across. I have a knife for taking specimens and in the heavy flower season I take my medicinal and flowering wild plant books. I also take tissues (for… well you know), a bandanna, cell phone (’cause Sammy makes me), notepaper and a pen, granola bar and a bottle of water. I know the home woods well enough that I am never truly lost. Up hill leads to ridge tops where I can see and identify the “big” ridges, Raccoon Ridge to the north, and Middle Ridge to the south. Downhill eventually leads to water, water eventually leads to the Big Buffalo Creek, and the Big Buffalo Creek eventually leads to a road. So, lost for days, no. Lost for an hour or so longer than planned, yes. There are so many little glens and valleys and knobs and passes. They can all look pretty similar, especially when foliage is out.

Well, I set off up Hominy Ridge, stopping to take pictures of the upper pond. Or what used to be the upper pond. We had a lovely little eight by eight, five foot deep pond that our to-remain-anonymous neighbor had dug out for us several years ago with his back hoe. There originally was an existing depression where a spring head comes out. The water was clean and clear and supported lots and lots of frogs. I tried putting koi in it the first year, only to find that after the first couple of days either the koi were being coy, or I had no more koi. I learned that not only do bullfrogs enjoy a nice, young, tender koi, but so does the snake we caught swimming through the overflow pipe and into the pond. A few years later, the tree on the south side of the “pondette” put roots through the dam wall, causing the pond to spring a leak. Instead of water going through the overflow, down the cut I had so carefully “prettied up” with rocks to create miniature waterfalls and planted with daffodils and day lilies, and then flowing into the little frog pond I had so lovingly created with my own hands and a shovel, the water leaked out of the dam wall and began to flow down the access road and right across the driveway! Then, the bullfrogs tunneled into the sides of the pond for their winter sleep, and water followed those channels in the spring to create MORE leaks. We shored it up and packed it down, tried lining it with plastic and some bags of concrete until finally about two years ago we gave up for awhile. It’s still on my long term list as “Do something about the @#$%&*!! pond!” (Brother John here… I LOVE ponds! What a wonderful and natural habitat for all kinds of creatures! If only I lived closer to ya Sis, I’d find a way to restore it!).

For those that don’t know me, I am somewhat of a survivalist. Not at a “live in a commune” level (at least not yet) and I still like my flush toilet and the occasional movie, but I decided about 16 years ago that I don’t ever again want to live somewhere I don’t have a reasonable chance of growing or harvesting or hunting enough food to sustain me and my loved ones. I have just enough medicinal plant knowledge to slap a reasonable poultice on something I’ve stitched up. And just enough edible plant knowledge to feed us without either starvation or poisoning! I view this knowledge and the people who have imparted or inspired it in me as gifts. Not only do I want to accept them gratefully and gracefully, I don’t want the knowledge to be lost. Harvest only what you need, and never harvest all of something.

Was I proselytizing? Why yes, can I get an “Amen!”

Click on the image to see a larger view of Sammy and Eydie Wight's Upper Pond

I wanted to get a few pictures for Brother John so I walked around the pond to try to get an angle that might show something of what it used to be. As I worked my way around to the north side, I got nearer and nearer to my aster supping beautiful “wild” Italian honeybees. They were just as numerous and active as they had been when Sammy had first noticed them the other day. I moved close enough to them to try to take a few pictures, but none came out showing the bees as more than a blur. I realized that the view of the pond I wanted was smack dab in the middle of the asters. So, I thought, “might as well see how even tempered my fine Italians are.” I slowly waded into the aster clump, covering my sweatpants (no pajamas today), with dot sized dusting’s of pollen. The hum of the bees (either really, or just in my imagination) grew a little louder, but not (really, or just in my imagination) angry or threatening. Maybe just a communicated “what?”. I stood there in the midst of honeybees and asters with the sun warm in my face and counted a quick blessing and said a quick “thanks”. Life is good. I got my picture of the pond and slowly waded out of the asters. During the time I had stood there a few bees had briefly landed on my clothing, but none on my skin, and none that seemed at all upset.

Click on the image to see a view looking down Hominy Ridge

Jasper, Felon (Brother John here… we could use a nice Felon story hint, hint 🙂 ), and I headed on up the ridge. As we began to go up the access road Jasper and Felon checked out all the really good smells while I panted a little and remembered what a trek it is up to the top. I kept having to stop to duck under or step over spider webs that were spun across the way. I can’t remember who it was, my dad, or my granddad, that used to tell me spiderwebs across the trail meant no Indians had been there in the past few hours. I didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed. On one hand meeting up with an Indian would be really cool. On the other hand, meeting up with a startled, unhappy Indian might not be. I believe the tribes that would have hunted, scouted, and traveled in this area were Iroquois. Our unidentified neighbor has found arrowheads and artifacts along the Big Buffalo Creek.

Click here to see a full sized picture of the deer stand.

I can never seem to find the deer stand up at the top of our property. Even though I know where it is, tucked right in the northeastern- most corner, I can still be looking right at it and just not see it. My second husband did the camouflage paint job. He was very talented and did nearly too good a job. It sits about 20-25 feet up a nice tall ash tree. Our access road joins with one that runs east along the top of the ridge and across the back of several of the neighbor’s properties. There are no houses up this far. As we head east, first Jasper, and then I, startle a large gooneybird (it’s actually a pileated woodpecker that we call a “gooneybird” in these parts due to the sounds it makes) and watch it fly from the standing dead tree it had been pecking on to the top of a red oak.

Turkey Feeder

As I walk along, I can hear chainsaws in the woods south of me. Firewood time. I can also see scrapes where the wild turkeys have been feeding, the remains of acorn and hickory shells where the squirrels have been cutting, and the deep nipped underbrush where a deer took the easy path of the access road and grazed as it went.

My sort of goal was another access road that cuts across the ridge and ends up on the top of Asper Hill. But, rather than connecting to the one I’m currently on, it appears about halfway down the backside of the ridge. I can never find it. And, I can never find another trail that ends up at an old, many years abandoned farm that sits in the plateau near the top of Asper Hill. I know this much, I go east on the top access road until it peters out into an impenetrable (I know this for a fact) bramble and sumac patch. Then, I keep to the right of the twisted lightning struck tree and head northeast along the edge of the huge boulder field. If I continue east, I should run into part of a road that was put in when timber was cut about 40 years ago.

I got that far, and started down the road, and then realized that both dogs had disappeared. Jasper never strays far, and did come running when I called his name. Felon will follow his nose to the ends of the earth. I called him, no answer. But, if he’s having a good time, he could be ten feet away and still not answer. So, I clapped my hands. Clapping my hands is like when your mother has called you to get up for school three times and she is now sending your dad up the stairs. I immediately heard Felon‘s panting coming up from the hollow. The dog sounds like a steam locomotive. Once the happy family was reunited, I looked at my watch and realized I had to start home to get a nap in before work.

This trail I was on may or may not lead to the ones I want, and I’m dying to find out. On the way back I noticed that the wild blueberry bushes are dry as a bone. Most of the leaves have fallen into a little brown heap at their feet. We need some rain. As we head home Felon races ahead, his attention already moving on (he’s like an ADHD kindergartner after nap time). Jasper hangs back to walk with me at exactly the right pace for me to ruffle his fur. He looks at me, and I swear he is smiling, saying, “Didn’t we have fun?”

More of the Deer Stand

One more view of the Deer Stand

Tree Fungus (Fairy Ring Not)

Seedum w/ Butterfly

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