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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Preparing for the Dormant Season

September 13, 2008 at 3:46 pm (Authors, bee hive, Bees, Blackberry, Books, Carboy, honey, Mead Making, Plants, Rosina Lippi, Sara Donati, Wine Making) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

Super Eydie

I woke up this afternoon to the sound of a steady, gentle, windless rain. I woke up this afternoon to the knowledge that we are off work for a week of vacation! Woohoo! (I hate that exclamation but sometimes if the woohoo fits you gotta go with it.) This is somewhat of a working vacation, a time to get the property ready for the change of seasons from the growing season, to the harvest season, to the dormant season. So, some seasonal things that are in the works this week if the weather cooperates: Wood. A priority. Last year we cut wood from our property and from the adjoining property of our new Amish neighbors. Last year they hadn’t built their home and weren’t yet living on the property so they hadn’t a need to cut firewood from there. Last year had some time consuming components occurred that resulted in the plain and simple fact that we didn’t cut enough wood to see us through. We were reduced to slogging out in mid-winter when the weather cleared enough to allow and cutting a truckload of wood here and there. On one memorable (but not pleasurably so) occasion I was clearing the snow off dead fall with my boot, then pounding the ice off with a stout branch so Sammy could take the chainsaw to it. The days worth of firewood had to be placed around the wood stove the day before it was used to thaw. Sammy developed the habit during those last winter weeks of slowing the car down whenever we saw a particularly abundant woodpile by someones home and drooling, “wood.” The same drooling word applied to tempting dead fall tantalizingly close to the roadsides. We did “liberate” a bit of this. One night as we were coming home from the movies (the nearest movie theaters are an hour away) Sammy put on the brakes, skidded to a stop, jumped out of the car and next thing I knew he was struggling with a frozen hulk of storm downed dead oak. I was not dressed for the weather (although we do carry emergency boots, tow rope, shovel, overalls, sleeping bag, water, granola bars, and in my case a steamy romantic novel stashed under the seat) and I found myself putting the back seats down and spreading an old blanket over cargo space as wet slushy snow filled my “good” shoes and my fingers froze to the chunk of wood as we levered it in.

Our Real Wood Burning Stove!

Another chore for the week is to prepare the wood stove for the season. I always try to hold off having the first fire until Halloween night. This week on the appointed day I will dismantle and carry outside the three pieces of stove pipe that connect the wood stove to the chimney and Sammy and I will carry the wood stove outside. I have two kinds of stove black, both leftovers my dad gave me from his stove. One is a paint on stove black and one is a rub on buff off product. I’ll use the paint on stuff this year because I didn’t black the stove last year and it’s a bit scaly. The stove first has to be gone over with a wire brush to remove scaly rust and accumulations of burned creosote from the last winter’s fires. Creosote forms from the sap contained in wood and from burning “green” wood or wood that still has a high moisture content. Pines and “soft” woods like soft maple contain a higher degree of creosote and as such are less desirable for wood stoves. These “soft” woods also burn faster, requiring more work and attention to keep a fire going. Once the stove is scraped clear I’ll paint the thing with the stove black and allow that to dry. After a stove is blacked and is “fired up” for the first time it will stink to high heaven and give off nasty fumes that will fill the house. That’s a project for a day when the windows can be opened. Also, the first fire should be run “hot” (the dampers opened to allow more oxygen in to cause a hotter fire) to season the new black.

Which brings me to the next chore. The chimney must be checked and cleaned. This is Sammy’s department because I am moderately not okay with heights. I CAN do heights if I have to, when I was widowed the first time (I’m a widow X 2, Sammy is a brave man of strong faith) my dad had me get up on the roof of my house at the time and help in the re-roofing. And I do fly these days without needing to drink heavily as I did my first couple of flights. Now I drink heavily merely for the pleasure (ha ha). The chimney for our house runs outside the east wall of the house. At the base of the chimney, outside the house, is a small metal door for the “clean out”. This is opened at the start of the wood burning season and several times throughout to scoop out the accumulated ash and creosote that falls to the bottom of the chimney. After this is cleaned out, (if I didn’t do it at the end of last year and I’m guessing I didn’t), I’ll take a hand held mirror and angle it up the chimney, if I see light reflected I know the chimney is at least patent. Sometimes during the summer birds will nest in the chimney. Come the start of a fire, any blockage, if not cleared, will not allow oxygen to reach the fire or the chimney to “draft”. In a clear, well functioning chimney, the air flowing over the top will entrain the rising warm air to cause it to be literally pulled out of the chimney. This decreases smoke, which will otherwise fill the house, and also allows the fire to burn more efficiently. A “cold” chimney (one in which a fire is just being started) will also smoke and refuse to draft. This is why a “cold” fire should be started with some quick, hot burning materials such as newspaper twists or pine needles. I find that the dried out stalks of my summer day Lilly’s work great. Once the chimney is checked with a mirror Sammy climbs the ladder to the roof and pushes down the chimney brush. (Go watch the movie “Mary Poppins” if you need to see what one looks like.) A rope is tied to the handle so he can pull it back up to brush out the chimney. After several passes I scoop out the “clean out” and we’re ready for fire!

A few other chores that are on the list for this week are: Bring in the house plants that have enjoyed the summer outside underneath the deck, bring down the fall (and winter) clothes from the attic and pack up the summer clothes, harvest the pears from the one tree in the “orchard” and make some pear butter, harvest flower seed from the sunflowers, Cleome, morning glory, etc. I discovered a few years ago that sunflowers, especially the giant sunflowers we like, make an excellent support for a variety of climbing flowers. I have a large flower bed Sammy named “the solstice bed” because not only does it have all day sunlight, but we grow beautiful sunflowers in it. I plant a few morning glory seeds with each sunflower seed in the spring and have a gorgeous “wall” of morning Glory’s that climb the sunflower stalks in the summer. I have read that the native Americans used the same technique with corn and beans that I will try next year. Another chore (well, I’m REALLY looking forward to this one so maybe chore isn’t the best word) is to get the base prepared for our future bee hive(s) next year.

But, all that’s in the future for now, tonight is an evening to anticipate, plan. and relax. We had some leftovers for supper: ham, green beans from the garden, and potatoes from dad’s garden for supper, a cinnamon raisin bagel topped with Minsi mountain honey for desert, and a look at our wines for entertainment will about fill the rain filled evening hours. The blackberry wine is about ready to bottle and has become a clear ruby red. The elderberry, in puberty to its pathway to the sublime, is still cloudy and will need to be racked soon, and the mead, still fermenting slowly, has just begun to clear somewhat. I did watch a introduction to beekeeping video tonight. The result of the video was that my “Santa” list now includes a bee veil, smoker, and hive tool.

Sammy and I would like to proudly show off our “Girls”. Please click on any of the images to get a larger, clearer view. Aren’t they just beautiful?

Mead Image #1 Mead Image #2 Mead Image #3 Mead Image #4
Wine Image #1 Wine Image #2 Wine Image #3 Wine Image #4

And now, a self indulgent gluttony of the second Sara Donati book, Dawn on a Distant Shore. I wish I had some of our wine, alas, it’s not ready yet. I’ll have to settle for a beer. Sammy, being a southern boy, drinks “red eye beer”, which is beer with tomato juice. My dad has a conniption fit about using good canned tomato juice to “pervert” good beer. But Brother John and Sammy like it. Who am I to say? I eat stuff I pick out of the yard each spring.

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How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck?

September 9, 2008 at 8:16 pm (Authors, Books, Dogs, Jasper, Recipes, Rosina Lippi, Sara Donati, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

Life is but a dream...

Sammy and I had come home from our long weekend of night shifts and slept the sleep of the deep and dreamless. Well, not dreamless. September is always a strange month for me. It is the month when I feel the change of the seasons pull me most strongly. When I was younger and first out on my own I used to change apartments every September. In these later years I roam far afield, collecting flower seeds and odd pods, watching leaves turn and grasses brown. I write more, create more, and dream more in September. So, the dream I had was typical for the month. I always dream in color, and usually in great detail. In the dream I was on top of a ridge admiring the long grasses that moved with the breeze and sloped down to the woods line. An old woman was standing with me, her white hair down to her waist. I asked her, “What must I do?” She told me that I must build a fence of green branches and she swept her arm across what seemed an impossible expanse of space. I started the work, taking only a branch or two from each tree, knowing I could strip the tree and take all its branches as some would do to shorten and ease the task, but choosing instead to roam further and further to find my branches. As I went, I would collect plants and seeds to plant along the fence as it took shape. When I stripped the branches I would fashion bird houses, and baskets that I filled with earth and seeds until the fence became a living thing. Sometimes as I returned I would see the old woman. She became younger as the time passed. And so did I. All the middle age weight came off as I walked and worked and my arms and legs grew muscular again and my own hair grew out long and beautiful. I woke up when I realized in the dream that I really had to pee. I kept looking for a place to pee but kept thinking, “Not here, I can’t pee here.” It’s good I didn’t find a place or Sammy might have had a rude awakening!

Warm hands, warm heart!

A few days ago I had called one of neighbor Dot’s sons who has a hundred acre farm about a mile from us. For the past umpteen years he has allowed us to cut firewood from this, his mom’s, or other properties he owns. He explained a long time ago that a good land steward will judiciously cut standing dead trees, fallen trees, and encroaching trees from field borders. This encourages straight growing timber and lets in more sunlight to field edges. What is culled is firewood. We heat primarily with a wood stove in the winter, using our heat pump only when we are going to be away for more than 24 hours. Our wood stove is a handmade affair my dad had made. The body will accommodate a sixteen inch chunk of wood. Let me just say that I’ve had all kinds of heating systems in my life (gas, oil, coal, electric, hot water baseboard) and wood beats them all in my opinion. With the wood stove going in the basement the floors are warm to the feet and the heat finds every nook of the house. I can stay barefoot inside in the winter and be comfortable.

Pickup that needs a 'Pick-me-up!'

Well, this was the day we had designated as our first day of woodcutting. It was late afternoon by the time we got up and we wanted to get one truck load cut and brought home before dark. We have an old Nissan truck that we use as a farm truck. It has a crunched in front end, more rust than paint, an acrylic driver’s side window and back window that are caulked in place (Sammy is so proud of THAT fix) and a tailgate that will fall off on your foot if you aren’t careful opening it. The gas gauge hasn’t worked in years so we pour a few gallons from the gas can in it each time we use it.

Best to be prepared...

Sammy and I “dressed for the occasion”. Long sleeves, pants, and sturdy shoes. Cutting wood this early in the season has a few considerations. Primarily, until the first hard frost, the poison ivy is still full of juice and vengeful. Until I wised up I used to miss a day or two of work every fall due to oozing, blistered, itchy, raw poison ivy on my forearms from carrying wood chunks to throw in the truck. Secondly, there are still copperheads around while the days are warm and the rocks offer heat and shelter. I’ve never (knock on the woodpile) come across one but it is very much a possibility. A copperhead bite is rarely fatal or even all that serious for an adult but it is frightening, unpleasant, and something I don’t want to have to tell a story about! As the day’s temperature was in the 80’s, humid, and breezeless (not the ideal day to run a chainsaw and heft chunks of wood) we also donned headbands so the sweat wouldn’t drip into our eyes. I know what you’re thinking and yes, of course, we ARE old hippies and we sure do look the part. Sammy has long hair past his shoulders and his headband was a rolled handkerchief. It was also pink and had dancing unicorns and rainbows on it. Mine was a rugged red bandanna. What can I say, real men wear whatever the hell they want and my man likes dancing unicorns and pretty rainbows. Have a problem with that and I’ll beat you up… 🙂

We loaded up the truck with the chainsaw, 2 cycle oil, gas can, chainsaw tool, bottles of water, bug spray, toilet paper, our dog Jasper, and we headed out. Our friend had called us to say he had trimmed and cut down trees that had grown along the fields on his property and we were welcome to the wood. We headed out. The property isn’t too far from home and the short drive led us on a dirt road through Frog Hollow. This is a still wild area where I’ve seen deer, fox, a huge blacksnake hanging from a tree, skunk, raccoon, groundhog, red-tailed hawks, mink, and sometimes fairies and other enchanted folk. One of my favorite poems, “Verbena” (written by my alter ego September Butterfly) came from my wanderings in this area.

Fear the Chiggers!

We drove up the dirt drive and across the fields up to the top of the ridge to park the truck. Despite the high humidity the view here was still breathtaking. We could just see the tip of Buffalo Mountain, seven miles away! And, if we had remembered the binoculars, we could have just made out the clearing that is our own modest homestead two ridges over. Before we got started we sprayed each other down with enough bug spray to have the pesticide environmentalists paying us a visit. This is a fairly recent anointing following our experience when we harvested elderberries for our elderberry wine. We had, on that occasion, neglected to wear suitable clothing or any bug spray and suffered the ravages of chiggers. Chiggers, for those who have never experienced them, are microscopic insects that burrow under your skin and emit an enzyme to liquefy the surrounding tissue which they then feed on. The area becomes red and unbearably itchy. The little bastards are self limiting in about three days but it is a miserable three days. Along with my elderberries I got about a dozen or so bites but Sammy became a metropolis of chiggers. They had condos and apartments and went jogging in the park. He must have had 40 or 50 bites. We now have a borderline irrational fear and hatred of them.

Eydie and Sammy stock up on firewood for the winter.

Anyway, Sammy fired up the chainsaw and I began loading up the truck. The small brush that remained I stacked into piles that our friend will later use his backhoe to push into a huge mound in the field. Come this winter and a good snowfall he will have a magnificent bonfire. The pieces we cut this first load were all small enough that they would not have to be split. Pieces that have too big a circumference have to have the axe taken to them. Our sons are good at splitting wood. One mighty well aimed blow and a chunk is split. Me, I have to use a wedge. And use a wimpy little thunk for fear of missing and chopping into my leg. It isn’t pretty and I generate more heat getting a piece split than I do burning it! We got a truck load of wood cut and we were done in for the day. Cutting wood when the fall air is crisp and clod and the leaves are falling in little dances as you work and the sweat cools as it forms is delightful. Cutting wood when there is no air moving and the sweat soaks into every crevice of your body and the wood chips as they fly stick and itch and make you look like you have a fired chicken coating is a CHORE. And all the poison ivy sits there with a smirk on its leaves and waits to ambush any exposed skin.

We filled up the back of the truck and packed all our gear and started for home. Jasper had to sit half on my feet and half on my lap but with his head hanging out the window he was content. As we drove home with the last of the day’s light we agreed that we would NOT unload the truck that night. I was ready for a shower. We striped off our poison ivy contaminated clothes and hung them outside until wash time. As I padded upstairs to the shower in the clothes God gave me I was glad I live in an area where I have no visible neighbors. And the neighbors would be glad I wasn’t visible just then either!

After we got cleaned up I was “whupped”. Hungry. Cranky. I knew before Sammy even opened his mouth that he would suggest we snap the huge bag of green beans we had picked a few days ago and cook them with some potatoes and ham. And make some of Granny’s homemade cornbread. I was whining, opting for some cheese and pretzels and a beer. But, and chant along with us, Brother John, NO PRODUCE MUST BE WASTED! So, for the next 45 minutes, Sammy sat in the big brown chair and I sat on the floor and we companionably snapped beans and watched politics on TV. Sammy watched politics. I kibitzed until Sammy told me to be quiet so he could hear. I cooked up the ham, green beans, and potatoes in a little chicken broth and made up a pan of cornbread in the big black iron skillet. (Granny’s Cornbread Recipe is in our Food and Wine Recipes section). We put on some corn to boil and Sammy cut up a few ripe tomatoes. I felt much better after we ate. I felt so much better that since I was already in my pajamas I climbed into bed and read an hour or so of Into the Wilderness.

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