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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Beekeeper Dan Comes For A Visit (Part 2)

September 8, 2008 at 7:13 am (Barbara Kilarski, bee hive, Bees, Books, Carboy, chicken coop, chicken wire, Chickens, Fenton, honey, Jasper, Lunaria, mandolin, mastiff, New friends, pit bull, Ranger, sedum, Stonecrop sedum, vines, Visit, wisteria) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

A visit from Beekeeper Dan

I was out on the deck playing a little mandolin and enjoying the evening when I heard the sound of an approaching motorcycle. Beekeeper Dan had arrived. He was greeted by the boisterous and inquisitive Love Mongrels. Felon is a rescue pit bull who at 50+ lbs. thinks he is a lap dog. I’ve tried my best, but he thinks all visitors will welcome his habit of jumping up and butting his head into whatever part of the anatomy he can reach, until he gets petted. Fortunately Dan has two dogs of his own and took Felon’s rude demands pretty much in stride. Jasper was a little better behaved, but I did catch him peeing on Dan’s tire as we went inside the house. I confess I pretended not to see. Just one more pebble dipping my judgment scales to the “hell side”…

We went inside and I showed Dan the flower seeds I had packaged for him and explained that the Lunaria (money plant) was a biennial. I had wanted to include some Cleome seeds but they weren’t quite dry enough to harvest. Cleome, I had discovered when my friend Carole and I visited Scotland a few years ago, is an undesirable roadside weed there and exists in prolific abundance. I find that even though it has a somewhat rank and stinky smell, it has a beautiful pink flower and bees and butterflies absolutely love it.

Sammy and Dan briefly discussed the Beatles motif of our kitchen and then we hauled out for perusal the wine carboys. The Minsi mountain mead stepped up to the plate and showed a little fermentation activity to “Pappa” Dan. Then we were ready to go check out the ‘bee zen” of our property.

Before we discussed bees, however, we went out to the shed to show Dan our current dog house and fenced in run. This was the proposed site of the future possible chicken coop. Dan had brought me a book to borrow called Keep Chickens! by Barbara Kilarski. The existing dog house could probably hold a small pony. It was built when our two dogs were an Old English mastiff (210 lbs) named Fenton and an akita-lab-mastiff mix (110 lbs) named Ranger. Like our dogs now, those two never really spent much time there. Only when we went on vacation and during deer hunting season when local hunters do cross our property. The fenced in area is roughly 20 ft X 20 ft. and shaded with a beautiful wisteria vine. I hastened to explain to Dan that the run has never doubled as a maximum security prison, despite its look. It just happens that our Shepherd/husky mix Jasper can climb anything. When we first got him I would put him in the run when I went to work and come home to find him sitting on the deck. We spied on him and found that he was hooking his hind legs on the wire of the fence and climbing over. So my husband put up inward slanting chicken wire along the top. I came home the next day, Jasper‘s sitting on the deck. We spied again. He was jumping on top of the dog house roof, then up on the roof of the shed, then down to the ground. So my husband put a wire enclosure on top of the dog house roof. Next day, Jasper on the deck. Spy result: He would run and hurl himself against the back of the shed, reaching high enough to catch paws on the edge of the dog house roof where it met the shed. Then he would use that corner where the two buildings met to give enough leverage to literally scale the fence around the dog house roof until he could reach the roof of the shed, then jump to the ground. We gave up but left the dog run as it was.

To convert the former dog digs to a chicken coop will be relatively easy. All we have to do is put some type of covering over the open run such as a mesh or chicken wire. Then we’ll have to cut an opening in the bottom of the dog house to be able to clean the droppings out, and build some type of shelf inside for nests to be off the ground. Dan also suggested some posts here and there for roosting. We talked about chicken eggs, and free range chickens, and my bad experiences as a kid with broody chickens. Tactlessly forgetting that Dan raises happy chickens who are pets and family members, I indelicately told the story of Great Grandma and the blindfolded chicken. Seems that when my Great Grandma was a young girl (about 14) she was sent out to kill an old chicken for the stew pot. Her mother went to check her after some time had passed and found her sitting on the chopping block with the bloody axe in her hand crying her eyes out. A neighbor heard some commotion and looked out his window to be met with the sight of a half headless chicken (like Nearly Headless Nick for Harry Potter fans), flopping past his house sporting a gingham blindfold around its head. Apparently not content with blindfolding the chicken against the coming judgment day, Great Grandma had also closed her own eyes at the moment of truth and missed!

I thought it prudent at this time to steer the focus away from the topic of chickens before I made gentle Dan cry, and talk about bees. Dan said the bee hives should face in a south easterly direction where they will receive the morning sun. The lower part of the yard was too close to the road. Our “traffic” is meager, but I did have a brief image of our Amish neighbors and their buggy meeting our future bees under less than happy circumstances. It would take more than a good will gesture cake to fix that bad bee business. (Yes, I did welcome them to the neighborhood with a Better-Than-Sex cake but I didn’t TELL them that’s what it was called so that was okay, right?)

We walked up past the garden and to the upper edge of our “orchard” (six fruit trees) and found the future spot for our bees. The bees like a clear “runway” back to their hive and we keep the orchard mowed. I asked about mowing. Dan said mowing doesn’t usually bother the bees as long as you mow so the clippings shoot away from the hives. Makes sense. On the way back down to the house we found several tomatoes for Dan and I showed him the “wild” honeybees on the sedum. He said they were Italians, meaning the original bee ancestors came form Italy. These honey bees have golden abdomens with dark stripes.

Blueberry Cobbler

Back at the house we sampled my blueberry cobbler and kept loading Dan’s backpack with canned tomato juice, pickled beets, blackberry jam, blueberry cobbler, tomatoes, a couple of books, empty honey jars (returns), and a lamp or two (remember Steve Martin in “The Jerk?”). I was a little worried that his motorcycle would just upend and leave Dan weighed to the ground by the backpack, waving arms and legs like a flipped turtle while he feebly tried to raise a helmeted head, but my overactive imagination gives me these little visions from time to time.

Sammy and I stood outside for a little admiring the broad expanse of Milky Way that stretched across the sky. Then we went inside, he to watch the republican convention, me to contemplate chickens and the image of myself licking the remains of the blueberry cobbler from the dish. It was a good day.

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