|Notes from the Woods|
15 August 2006
During the summer Ralph began taking down the well house (squirrels in the attic and gophers underneath!). Moss from the hillside had originally been used as insulation in the ceiling. Since we now use this moss mixed with garden soil to grow our tomatoes in five gallon cans on the front deck, Ralph packed the moss into a large garbage bag. He stored this bag in our outdoor toilet building to be ready for next spring’s planting.
Preparing for my Open studio, we decided to sleep in the Sauna cabin and turn the bedroom adjoining the studio into additional show space. I go to fetch a rolled carpet—also stored in the toilet building—for the sauna floor. On picking up the roll, a deluge of dried mushrooms fall at my feet! A food cache. The bag of moss has also been chewed. And I remember a super charged squirrel which had recently been providing entertainment for Ralph and I.
Later that day, we paid particular note of this squirrel dashing back and forth from the outhouse to a point under the front of the house. Cheeks bulging and mushroom protruding from her mouth one way, empty on her return. Next day when I went to clean up the mushrooms very few were left! But bigger holes in the garbage bag. Clumps of moss lay on the floor, clung from the walls, strands hung from holes in the bag. I plopped the bag onto the outside step. We watched our squirrel return, charge up the wall, and go inside. Then quickly re-appear to sit on the window frame. She looked inside, then turned to stare at the bag on the step outside. She clambered down and sat in front of the bag. She walked around it. She climbed on top. Then finally she continued hauling mushrooms to the other end of the house.
While she was at the far end of the house, Ralph decided to move the bag to the barn before she had a chance to tear it open again. Our squirrel returns, racing over the deck this time—almost over Ralph’s foot—across to the outhouse step…and stopped. She sat in front of the now vacant spot where the bag had been…looked to the open window…and back to the empty step. Look again...and back…again. Amazement? Confusion? She looked at us. Then she began a tirade of chatter (*&#$%!!)
being told off or what! Who says animals can’t communicate?
Heading to the garden to prune the fruit trees, I glance from the window and spy a grouse perched on a limb of the apple tree most needing work. Cozy and basking happily. To give it some time, we studied its variegated and camouflaging markings through binoculars. Half an hour later it showed no signs of leaving so we walked around it to start with the cherry tree. Then we moved to the Rosa Rugosa, and finally to the crab apple, having made almost a circle around the grouse. We need not have worried. Puffed up enjoying the sun and warm weather, it remained remarkably calm, only occasionally turning its head to mark our progress. We were about to leave and prune a tree outside the garden when the grouse glided off to a thicket behind the barn. How accommodating!
It was a day many creatures were active. Ralph had heard a Pileated woodpecker intermittently in the forest and then we saw it bobbing and hammering on the trunk of a fir by the house. I feel privileged every time I see this unique and colourful bird.An eagle soared low over the garden, then on to perch in a treetop by the river.
The best was yet to come. We were taking out trees we didn’t want growing amongst the lilacs when I saw the undulating hop of something white coming closer. An ermine, in gleaming winter coat with a black-tipped tail, came within a length of our feet and peered up at us. Inquisitive and fearless it bounced around the area while we watched and admired and appreciated it’s showing off.
We were not alone in enjoying this beautiful day.
I picture a giant tarantula with a dragon neck and gaping mouth. With four legs braced on the sloping wintry terrain the long arm of the backhoe turns, lowers, and—slashing from side to side—it’s bucket chomps into the ground. Rocks grate, water sloshes and a mouthful of dripping muck is raised. The arm twists and rolls and tips its load into designated hollows and holes to the side. Back again biting deeper and further. Loose layers of silt and gravel—and high water—create a challenge to excavate faster than the soil caves in.
We are deepening and enlarging our sauna pond. I have always found a fast dip (this water is cold!) with quick contortions and exercises has a remarkably loosening effect on my back. But over the years, windfall and subsequent rotting debris and the gradual breakdown and sliding of soil on the bank where we entered have made the pond too shallow. Moss and lichen have also taken hold and have attracted spring use by a family of ducks. We have often been entertained by the acrobatics of these birds as they dabble and dive, swim and squabble, and feed on pond life—but they also churn the water into a muddy soup. This makes the water useless for humans. The ducks will have to be happy with the larger shallow “lake” below the house.
This morning we had awakened to a –15˚ C winter blizzard. Our beautiful fall weather has dramatically changed. A ‘Blaeberry Blow’ (strong, cold north wind usually lasting about three days) began at noon yesterday. Now I am taking refuge in the sauna cabin where, in the loft, I peek turtle-like from my shell of jacket and blanket and have a perfect viewpoint looking down on the activities. The storm has hit so quickly we do not yet have our winter jackets out and Ralph is hunched in two layers of summer clothes as he stands by. I admire the operator’s skill with his machine—he and the machine are as one. Thank goodness he has a sheltered cubicle.
Despite the difficulties and handicaps, three hours later we admire a shoulder deep, kidney shaped pond.
We’d finished the sauna pond and I now saw why we hadn’t started the well first. Around the pond was a sea of mud into which the machine might have disappeared.
I’d given Ralph a heavier jacket. He and the machine operator were slopping around trying to get the old well casing out so they could place the same casing back in the ground a bit further away and deeper. Preparing the new hole first—that hole kept getting wider, the machine backed away as far as it could—yet the front wheels threatened to fall in. Deep enough!
Encircling the metal well casing with a chain, they easily hauled the casing out like a hooked fish. Now they needed only to plop it back into the new hole. From the same spot and with the same chain they lowered it into the water. Now the complications began. The chain jammed. The machine operator slacked off and shook the chain but a link had twisted and wouldn’t let go. Very gingerly the operator moved the machine over and lowered the bucket right down over the casing. He got out of the machine, climbed into the bucket, and tried to free the chain. Ralph pulled and pushed the chain with a long pole trying to get it to loosen. With the operator hanging out of the bucket, one hand grasping to prevent himself from falling into the muck; his other hand probing deep into the icy water; Ralph jangling the chain—I held my breath, expecting them both to fall into the morass of slop. Finally, off came the chain—and a big sigh of relief. Back to the machine; some rapid filling around the casing; some quick leveling of the ground; and up to the house for a hot tea!
When the neighbour/operator got up to leave, we noticed a large puddle where his winter boots had been—I suspect that the felt liners were totally soaked inside!
One week later…storm over, bright and cold. Our friend arrives and he and Ralph do a walkabout to discuss the trees to be felled.
Twenty feet south of our living room window is an old fir with a pronounced lean away (thankfully) from the house. The recipient of many ‘Blaeberry Blows’, it has tenaciously held ground even as the tilt got perceptibly greater. Even when it became a major factor in blocking the sun from our solar panels we could not let ourselves remove this veteran. When we noticed cracks in the soil at it’s root, prudence took hold. It would be removed along with other smaller trees. And we would immortalise it in some building projects we had in mind.
This would be
the first tree taken out. I watched with sadness as the faller sized it up
and checked the location where Ralph had indicated it to land—a strip of ground
between the ridge and a young apple tree. Then trepidation as the blade of
the saw took hold. It seemed a long time(although I know it wasn’t) before
I saw the tremble, then heard a crack and groan as the big tree, slowly and
majestically at first, then with force and speed, fell with a great crash
and vibration hitting ground. Exactly where planned! Counting the growth
rings they decided it was probably a young tree when David Thompson passed
Other trees followed,
clearing a path for the sun’s rays and a sight line to the river which had
become overgrown. One last tree remained.
Uh oh! I looked out the kitchen window and saw a chagrined faller eyeing the tree—180˚ from the planned point of fall! It had initially hit the house roof exactly over the kitchen where I stood, hence the huge crash, then had rolled onto the porch roof where it now lay. Surprised and somewhat dismayed after what had been a perfect performance we all surveyed the offending tree. Not being huge, it seemed to have done little damage other than an extra dent in the metal eave. The faller analyzed that he had over trimmed a bowl at the trees base which made it break earlier and in the wrong direction.
Just a bit of excitement and drama at the end of the day!