Category: History

Close one. A windstorm brought down a Douglas fir within 20 feet of this truck.

Now that my father is in assisted living, and the small-engine mechanic tenant has left, I’ve no one left to run a chainsaw, man-handle the 200 pound brush mower, start the gas-powered trimmer, or fix the riding mower that always seems to have intractable problems. I’m on my own now.

Thus, when a large tree fell across the driveway the other day, I felt frustratingly helpless. I have a small Stihl chainsaw that belonged to my father, and I’ve had lessons in filing the chain, starting it, and even running it. But I cannot start it alone (it requires more strength and weight than I have), and, frankly, I’m scared of the thing. I’ve a poor track record with knifes and saw blades, so imagine what I could do to myself with a chainsaw (my father told me I’d probably cut my head off).

I’m therefore left to solicit help from others in exchange for firewood. Such is the arrangement that I have made with a neighbor to cut up the fallen fir.  However, I wanted to do something while waiting for him besides feeling the helpless maiden, so yesterday I limbed and topped the entire tree with my pruning saw and piled the branches into a towering heap. I know a guy with a chainsaw could have done it in minutes, but it was good exercise and made me feel that I was at least putting forth the effort.

It is truly amazing what I can do with my pruning saw.

In fact, I accomplish all of my brush cutting with a pruning saw and a machete. It’s just the big trees that I can’t manage. And the thick grass where I can’t get the regular lawnmowers. For those areas, I use a scythe.

Since my father modified the dam, what is a lake in winter requires mowing in summer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I explain to people that I almost exclusively use hand tools, they seem to presume that I am intentionally pursuing a ‘green’ lifestyle, but it is really more out of necessity. Still, I appreciate the quiet of a handsaw over the roar of a chainsaw, and the machete is much less destructive than a gas-powered brush blade by allowing me to selectively remove some plants and leave others rather than leveling everything.  Slow can be good.

 

Women on the homestead

  • January 14th, 2014
  • Posted in History
  • Comments Off on Women on the homestead

A moss covered rock wall built by my mother in the 70's or 80's.

A moss covered rock wall built by my mother in the 70's or 80's.

This old stump was cut back during the days of springboards and whipsaws. A 8" x 3" rectangular mark indicates where the end of a board was inserted to allow a man to stand further up the trunk to make the cut. Many of these old stumps remain on the property. They serve as 'nurse stumps' and make great garden centerpieces.

This old stump was cut back during the days of springboards and whipsaws. A 8" x 3" rectangular mark indicates where the end of a board was inserted to allow a man to stand further up the trunk to make the cut. Many of these old stumps remain on the property. They serve as 'nurse stumps' and make great garden centerpieces.

The yard upon which I have started is but a small piece of the larger 20, which consists mostly of disturbed Douglas fir forest mixed with Pacific madrone, redcedar, red alder, the occasional dying hemlock, and an understory of mostly huckleberry and salal.

The place was logged over back when they used springboards, and a stump in back of the house bears its marks.

My father purchased it as part of a 40 acre spread in the early 70’s when it was undeveloped. A large wetland area occupied the northeastern side; he still retains full ownership of this 3-acre area. I used to skate on it in winter and paddle it in my rubber raft in summer, but it is now gradually filling in. As a kid, I kept up to three horses on the property, riding them through trails and field that my father made. It was the reason I loved the outdoors, and precipitated my decision to become a biologist.

My mother, a former librarian and later full-time homemaker, landscaped the three acres surrounding the house with rocks that she personally grubbed from the property, and plants ‘borrowed’ from many places, including a mountain laurel from her home state of North Carolina. I still find her many rock walls hidden under the encroaching native shrubbery, covered in moss, encircling the places that she loved best. It feels like finding the remnants of some forgotten civilization.

Within this context, I arrive to try and turn the place into the botanical garden that I truly believe that it can be. The front yard was the easy part, a warm up to give myself something to admire each day so that I can begin the long effort of convincing myself that I am up to this. It is, really, a dream of mine that never came through with the postage stamp yards of the houses that I could afford, or the rentals that I had to leave in California.

I approach it with the zest of the suppressed artist that I never became, and the analytical scientist that I was trained to be. Before I even left SoCal, back when this was just my notes during long management meetings or weekends when I was totally fed up with work in general, I prepared sketches and management plants. Arriving in late May, I already had the plans for the front yard in my head. But that is only about 1% of what I really want to do.

To create a garden of this size, you need a plan, a theme, a feeling of unity and continuity. I want to enjoy this but I also want to make it my own personal legacy. The mulling, dreaming, planning and scheming are the best part of this, my own tabla rasa.

Focus is critical. The front yard is nearly done but for the grass, but there is so much more. Here is what we fondly used to call ‘the center thing’, a circular planter of rock surrounding a 100 ft+ Douglas fir in the center of the driveway between the house and garage. A patch of weedy daylily fills an area between the planter and the driveway split. The peonies, heather, and other flowers that my mother planted there 30 years ago area long gone, and the place used as a holding area for logging chains and boxes of nails.

Then there is a cove in the woods above that where the driveway splits*, a weedy disaster harboring the property’s first known incidence (quickly eradicated with snips and motor oil to finish the job) of poison oak. Once home to roses, redhot poker, purple bearded iris and pinks, the place has been overtaken and the domestics have long died.

Beyond that is an area that my mother designed as a little creek for winter runoff that is now a lumpy mess of bulldozed soil, weeds, and a 100’ x 5’ ditch ripped last winter to abate the flood that resulted in the destruction of the front yard.

Surrounding the once domesticated areas are woods full of blackberries, English ivy, and Scotch broom deserving to be tamed and turned into placid places to stroll amidst ferns while gazing at the remnants of the lake.

Historical musings