Saturday, August 25, 2012

Where's Paul Bunyan and that Big Blue Ox?

In an amazing discovery of overwhelming and colossal proportions, like a cosmic variation of  jelly doughnuts and designer shoes, a primordial manifestation as old as time has become apparent right before my eyes.  

Just like when Pericles discovered he could not speak without a tongue.  Uh, throat.  No, maybe tongue.  Whatever.  Just like when Socrates discovered enemas.  I mean enigmas.  And Homer.  When he discovered Marge.  And what about Copernicus?  With all that heliocentric cosmetology stuff.   Ha!  Nothing compared to this.

I have discovered trees always get bigger when they have been chopped and hit the ground.  And in the abysmal despair of that discovery I have howled, "Where's Paul Bunyan and that Damn Blue Ox????"

There's been about fifty trees dropped since we moved here.  A few of those were little scrappy fledglings,  six to ten inches in diameter and twenty to thirty feet tall.   The majority had a good foot (or more) diameter trunk, all ranging from forty to seven hundred fifty feet tall.  See?  I told you they grew when they hit the ground.

About twenty of those were cut down by our tree guy.  The others have been dropped by myself, family and friends.  I have a standing order here: anyone that comes out and helps cut trees is taking home fifty percent of the firewood.  With oak around $300 per cord it's a worthwhile endeavor.  

Our tree guy is Phenomenal.  That's not his name.  That's his ability.  He has dropped big trees from the bottom (and top) and has not missed one yet.  In his late 30's, he still straps on his spurs and clambers up them beasts with the greatest of ease.  Well, that includes his climbing line, small rope, long rope, flip line, lanyard, cooler, carabiners, tweezers, harness, hair spray, high heels and  two chain saws on his belt.

One is a Stihl with a little 12" bar, the other another Stihl with a modest 24" bar.  Trend?  He takes down branches as he climbs up, then lops off about four to six feet of the top.  He keeps dropping down four to six feet at a time and continues taking her down, usually leaving a completely manageable six to eight foot stump.  (I get to play lumberjack in a completely safe zone!) 

He's been out twice now to handle trees of a delicate nature.  Like the ones I don't want in the bathtub or living room if I tried to take them down myself.  Anything that was close to the house, existing fencing and the propane tank were all dropped by him.  I think I have a few others I'll need him to do, plus cleaning up the two remaining view oaks, which we'll get to in a few paragraphs.

We had to winch a tall Digger Pine that was close to the road, just to make sure it fell our way.  I was the wench guy.  It came down with ease, precisely on target.  As I said, he's phenomenal.

What other species of trees do we have?  Besides the Diggers, of which I think I have about six or seven remaining (from twenty to sixty feet tall), we've got a few good size Ponderosa Pines (eighty feet plus in height), a ton of Black Oak and a number of Live Oak.  There are also about a dozen smaller cedars lining the drive, however their growth has been stunted by the natural and preponderating occurrence of the oak.  Or the lack of stewardship by the previous owner.  Or both.

We are meticulously thinning the herd.  I have been taking out the nasty black oaks that have been choking off the cedars.  With a little luck, in another four to five years we'll have some nicely formed cedars.  All the large Ponderosa's stay, but there are about sixty saplings from one to four inches in diameter that are getting the to speak.  They'd make great Tepee poles, if anyone has a need.  To make a Tepee that is.  And if you make a tepee, then you're probably gonna need some feathers.  And some buffalo.  Maybe a small herd.  Or just some jerky.  Either one.  And then you're gonna need a big rifle because some wolf is going to want your buffalo.  And all you want to do is dance around the fire in front of your tepee.  Drink a little moonshine.  Smoke a little peace.  Howl at the moon.

Then you could, you know, pretend like you went back in time again.  Or maybe you really did.  Go back in time that is.  As a Native American.  A wolf.  A bear.  Or a manatee.  I mean, who really knows for sure? Where the hell was I?

If a tree has a projected free fall zone, then there's no need to have a professional come in.  That's when you want Bud and the boys, all liquored up with a couple of large axes.  I've been involved twice.  It's a hoot.  I have pictures.  Pre-digital age.  I digress again.

If it has a projected free fall zone, then there's no need to attack it from the top.  First you make a low pie slice on the side and direction you want it to fall.  Depending on the size of the tree, you're going to slice in from two to four inches, and then physically take the pie wedge out that you've just cut.

Then on the opposite side of the tree, from ten to fifteen inches above the pie wedge you start your cut.  If all goes well, you'll hear a little crack and rumble.  That's when you grab your ankles.  No, wait a minute, that's if it falls in your direction.  Just back away.  Or run like hell.  Whichever suits the moment.

This oak was a perfect drop by our son-in-law the scientist.  First drop, with a saw that is.  Besides his scientific wizardry he does OK with a chain saw too!

Even when you have made a nice pie slice and your top cut is in perfect alignment, sometimes, if a little top heavy, the tree can rock back onto your chain saw blade.  Then you gotta get a steel wedge and tap that in to free your saw.  Or get a football team to push the tree in the right direction.  Whichever is easiest.  Fortunately that has only happened once so far.

You can make the perfect cuts and sometimes the tree doesn't cooperate.  The cleanest cut and fall allows the tree to fall directly on the ground without hitting anything.  Like a barn, or a house.  Or propane tank.  Or getting hung up in another tree, which gets extremely dangerous.

Then you have to get in and up and piece by piece start slicing the branches that are hung up, all the while being extremely cautious and ready for movement.  The trees gonna move, cause that's your goal.  You just don't want it to move onto you.  It's a lot of cautious, painstaking and dangerous work, much happily avoided if at all possible.  And fortunately, that has only happened once so far.

Slicing a big tree off at the trunk is merely the beginning. Once it's down, then begins the "brushing" process. This is when you take your chain saw and essentially cut all the small limbs off the larger branches and trunk, leaving on what you want to retain as firewood.  I typically cut everything containing leaves, and (ideally) one should try to time the drop when the tree is leave-less, if possible.  It's much less work. 

So then you take all this "slash" off and stack it somewhere.  Ideally you could have this stuff chipped for your soil.  That's a little bit more work.  And a big machine rental for me.  Since I have been doing most of the clean-up work myself, I have burned all mine so far.  And that's still a lot of work.

I've got about eight piles ready to ignite.  I won't start till after the first rain this fall when the ground gets wet.  Then it's all about getting a small "seat" going and let her rip.  I don't care if some of the seasoned brush is damp, nor if some of the brush is green.  Once I get  a "seat" going, it's on.  And that "seat" sometimes starts as small as a shoebox full of dry kindling, and then grows to about a six by six by six foot pyre.  All I need then is a dead Viking.  But then I'd have to go back in time.  Again

Then you start slicing up the bigger branches and trunk into four to six foot manageable lengths.  And then all that gets piled.

Then, once your body recovers from that abuse you "buck" it all up, slicing it into the correct lengths for your wood stove, in my case about twenty inches.  The smaller diameter (up to six inches or so) sticks get stacked right away.

The larger rounds get piled (yet again) and await my brother in law and his magnificent log splitter.  This thing has a Hemi in it, I swear.  It slices through the most knot gnarled thick oak truck with the ease of a soft breeze.  It could split a splitter.  It could split railroad ties with the train on the track.  Can't wait to see what it will do to this gnarled bit.

Once split, them pieces (of wood) all get stacked and await cremation this winter to keep out bodies warm.

This house came with a nice Vermont Castings wood stove in the living room.  We also have a gas heater with a thermostat, just like downtown.  It's nice to hear that kick on at five in the morning, but once a little coffee is coursing through my veins I'm making a fire.  With the assistance of a ceiling fan we're able to disburse that heat pretty well throughout the main living area of the house.  The gas heater rarely kicks on at night due to the heat from the wood stove.

Wood is a renewable energy, and ideally should not contribute to green house gas if it is perfectly combusted.  And most wood stoves these days are getting better at combustion, ours has an after burner catalytic converter, just like downtown.

We burned three cords of wood last year, 95% oak, which is probably the best hardwood to burn here on the west coast.  It burns much cleaner than a soft wood like pine, and hence there is less creosote build-up and less of a chance for a chimney fire.  Right now I've got just about one cord stacked (a cord is a neatly piled stack of wood that is 4'x4'x8') and about two more bucked and ready to be split.

Then I've got another three to five cords of oak on the ground in stages of brushing and bucking.  There's also about five to six cords of pine that's down.  I'm going to brush and buck that up, and my son (for one) will use it for camping.  If you're heading up to the Sierra's to go camping (and I know you) and you need some fire wood stop by.  I'll load you up while supplies last.

Then there's probably another few cords of oak that will be coming down as soon as I get my current mess cleaned up.  They're coming down so I can plant my fruit trees.  And once that is complete I'm gonna stop clearing for a year and concentrate elsewhere.  But by that time I'll have the stuff down that will allow me to do my deer fencing, the subject of another post.

I still have an easy ten to twelve or more cords of oak that need to come down, so I figure I'll have dollar-free energy for about a decade.  Definitely not energy free, it's the most physically taxing of all the fun stuff around here so far.  By that time the land should be clear and I'll be ready for a natural gas/propane conversion because my body will be battered and worn.

Besides thinning the trees, I'm also thinning most of the brush.  There's a lot of Manzanita on the "Upper 40", and I'm going to retain most of that natural charm.  I will continue to thin out and burn all the dead and dying stuff, of which there is a lot, since homeboy (the previous owner) was not so motivated during his last few years here.  Once that is done I may splash the hillside with some azaleas and rhododendrons as design sees fit.  We'll see.  But the main thing is getting it all cleared.  That drops the fire hazard plus gives me an opportunity to visualize the splashes.

Oh, and by the way, I also must mention that trees, given the opportunity, will grow just about anywhere.  On our land, they have not chosen to grow in one wonderfully level spot.  Nooooooo.  Not here.  They start at the bottom and go all the way to the top, and everywhere on un-level land in between.  It's been challenging to say the least.

I donate blood.  (Nice segue I know, but there really is a trick to this tale-just stay with me...)  So anyway, I went down after 9/11 and they didn't need me then.  They had more donations then they could handle at that one particular moment in time.  So I made an appointment and went back about sixty days later when they needed more.  I've continued to donate every 54 days (or whatever it is) since and they're always having a shortage.  It's been over a decade since 9/11.  Come on America, do we really need a catastrophe to drop a pint?  Couldn't we just do it a couple times a year for the fun of it?

I used to donate blood in a previous life, like back when I was an alien.  I donated then as I do now for three reasons: The people there have to be nice to you, even if you smell bad.  You get free treats, like cookies, even if you smell bad.  And I get my blood pressure checked for free, even if I smell bad.  I also feel that my alien body benefits from having to do the Corpuscle Hustle, allowing my entire circulatory system to get a semi-routine aerobic workout.  They say donating blood saves lives.  I do it for personal gain.

Oh, and by the way, to any Bill O'Reilly fans out there that are O Positive:  If you received a shot of OP blood in the San Francisco Bay Area about thirty years ago and sometimes feel like you're from a planet like Uranus you may be correct.

So last summer I had a regularly scheduled vampire event and my son in law the scientist was up with the fam.  He's a donator too and went down with me.  On the way there, there or back from there, or somewhere in between he convinced me we should chop down a tree.

I did tell him that my chain saw was in the shop, but we did have a couple axes.  He was adamant.  He was on a mission.  I think there were lumberjack issues.  So after donating a pint each, and after listening to them say that we should not have any strenuous physical exercise for 72 hours, we came back to the casa here and chopped down a tree.  It was a modest pine, only about a ten inch diameter and thirty feet on the high.  We huffed and we puffed, but that bad boy came down.

The next time he was up he took my new Echo for a road test.  I have a new Echo 310 with a fourteen inch bar, which is perfect (for me).  As long as the chain is sharp, I'm cutting everything in my path and the smaller bar is not nearly as physically draining as a larger bar can be.  Here he is (below) dropping that oak (above) as well as a couple others.  He has now proved his lumberjack-ness.  He is now a lumberjack, and he's OK.  He can sing the song with impunity. 

                                                               Cutting the pie wedge.
                                                               Making the big slice.

Since we have moved to this house, there has been a lot of stuff going on.  I'm sure of it.  Anyway, we do have a lovely covered porch in the front, and nice lawn (I'm working on) and picket fence.  The fence needs work, you'll get to hear all about it later!  But it's still a great place to relax, especially in the morning.  You don't want to be out there on a summer afternoon though, you'll end up like that toad in "African Violet's Like it Rough" land. 

So I was out there one day this last winter, taking a thirty-eight second break from my chores around here.  And as I gazed out upon our threshold, I saw the proverbial forest through the trees.  There was a sunset view out there and I was gonna get it.  There were only about fifteen obstacles in the way...

                                          The above "window" was not there a few trees ago...

Our phenomenal tree guy will be out again this winter cleaning and trimming up another three huge oaks in front.  The goal is to watch the sun set without interference beyond the westward range about two miles away.

Rooster Update

The Gold Master has recently run into potential borrowed time.  I've now had a couple personal run ins with him and (unfortunately) have sent him flying like a split roasted Brazilian soccer ball into the fence, a good six or more feet away.  He perceived I was accosting one of his girls, charged right on at me and then went flying like a kick ball when I was in sixth grade.  My wife has also had a run in, and he actually left a bruised wound.  She sent him flying with her hand, sort of like a volleyball.  Hey, I'm noticing a sporting trend...

BUT then, the day after they whacked each other, she had him in her arms and they were having a chat.  I dunno.  Anytime he perceives a threat to his girls, he gets aggressive.

If it continues, he has a house and ten acres waiting.

African Violet Update

These lower three violets were split (by hand) about three weeks ago.  They were also juggled and stuff and had no blooms.  They are happy, healthy and blooming now.  You can read more about them and my treatment thereof in "African Violets Like it Rough!"   And they look infinitely better than the silk replicas below.