Last spring, several steady, soaking rains caused a couple of large trees to uproot and fall to the ground down in the canyon, just below our house. Then, in early summer, a huge elm tree that had rotted in the middle, snapped off about 15 feet up the trunk one windy day, and scattered a huge amount of debris across the lane that winds its way to the wildlife feeding area. At the time, there was little for us to do about it other than move the large pieces off to the side of our buggy path with a tractor and wait until we could cut up and burn the rest of the wood.
Winter and early spring are my preferred months for cleanup in the woodlands. Obviously, summer is out of the question, as it is generally windy and hot – two prime conditions that usually promote the issuance of a burn ban. When woodland and prairie grasses are dry, one must pay close attention to humidity levels and wind speeds, and be very careful about burning brush piles. I generally keep about 300 feet of hose strung out from the house to the burn pile – just in case.
Another deterrent to cleaning up brush during the warmer months, is that the vegetation grows lush and wild out here, creating a perfect environment in which mosquito and insect populations thrive. But most importantly, at least from a personal standpoint, you will rarely find me in the woodlands picking up wood and debris once the snakes make their warm-weather appearance. It is not so much the simple surprise of suddenly seeing a snake wiggling through the brush that bothers me, it’s that we have venomous Copperheads on the property, and a Copperhead absolutely loves a good wood pile.
Naturally, we cannot clean up the entire woodlands – and we do not wish to. Dead trees make great snags for birds and all sorts of wildlife. Fallen trees and dead brush make for nice little dens and shelter for all sorts of living creatures. Also, the rotting and decaying matter adds to the soil quality of woodland floor, creating all sorts of microcosms we never see on the surface. But there are areas we keep picked up in order to have paths for the electric buggy, for checking perimeter fences, or for simply taking a walk through the woods. All winter and spring, when the weather is agreeable, you will find me gathering logs, limbs, and branches and toting them to the burn pile with my electric buggy and small trailer. Back and forth I go, all the day long. It is pleasant, therapeutic work, allowing me to spend time just being in nature.
Speaking of cleaning up debris from dead and fallen trees, you may remember my post from last May (Nature’s Gym) about FD and I taking down a dead walnut tree that we considered both a “widow-maker” (having the capability of falling on a person and killing them) and a threat to causing damage to either, or both, of our barns. After conferring with several tree removal services, FD and I decided we would have to remove it ourselves as the prices were just too high to consider hiring it out. We were successful in bringing the tree down without harming either of the barns, and we saved a lot of money!
Back in February this year, the weather finally warmed up a bit and we knew we needed to get after the most threatening widow-maker on the place. FD had just constructed a fire pit in the area we call “the bowl” of the canyon – an open area surrounded mostly by sharply sloping walls. There was no way we could entertain folks around the fire pit with that monstrosity looming overhead. Neither of us were surprised to find that, when FD cut it down one weekend, it crashed right next to the fire pit!
After bringing the widow-maker down in the bowl area, FD and I did not get many more opportunities for further brush clearing, as late February was filled with Arctic fronts and frigid temperatures, followed by snow in early March. Naturally, I was exasperated that these extreme cold spells and wet snows delayed my woodland work. And then, as the days warmed in mid-March, and the trees began to pollinate, I came down with the worst allergy symptoms I have experienced in a couple of decades. A sinus infection and total misery has kept me indoors for a couple of weeks now, while everyone else has been out putting in gardens and enjoying the spring weather. So, after spending much more time than I can stand stuck indoors, I was chomping at the bit to get outside this weekend and make up for some lost time!
Not a puff of breeze, and slightly overcast skies indicated to both FD and me that we needed to get after the next troublesome widow-maker on the place. It towered with creepy, long limbs over my mother-in-law’s garden space. For several years, FD and I have known that monster of a tree must come down – before it fell on mom while she was out working in her garden! At the very least, we thought, it might destroy her small, metal garden shed that housed the mower and all of her garden tools.
As our work began, FD first cut down a smaller dead tree that stood lateral to the widow-maker. The only threat this tree posed was falling on the garden fence, and it was a fairly simple matter to bring it down. Once on the ground, and the bigger limbs cut up by FD’s chainsaw, I began the clean up process using my electric buggy and trailer, while FD got started on the monster tree. I always worked nearby in case FD needed me, but also knew to keep well out of his way when he was bringing limbs or trees down!
While I carted the first load of dead wood to the burn pile, FD began cutting the widow-maker down, limb by limb. But, as I came down the lane on my return from the burn pile, I found FD walking toward me looking quite serious and appearing to be holding one of his hands. The first thought I had was, “Oh no! He’s cut himself with the chainsaw!” In the last few years, we have twice spent a weekend day at the emergency room to have FD’s fingers stitched. Both incidents occurred while FD was on a ladder handling sheet metal, and I could not believe it had happened again – only this time with a chainsaw!
Fortunately, as FD came closer, I realized that the worst had not happened again – at least not something that would require another trip to the emergency room. With a sheepish look on his face and a slight smile, he opened his hands to expose two baby squirrels, curled together in his palms. FD explained that, as he was re-positioning a completely hollowed limb to cut it into smaller pieces for me to haul off, the limb cracked in half, exposing a squirrel’s nest and the two youngsters inside. Had that limb not cracked at the site of the nest, he would not have known the babies were there – and may have cut right through the nest.
Of course, once I got past thinking, “Whew, FD didn’t cut his fingers off” and “Darn, those little babies are so cute!”, the reality of the situation began to sink in. “Just when we had finally gotten our two orphaned squirrels, Punkin and Mr. Gambini, off on their own,” I thought, “here we go again…” Oh well, might as well just welcome little Buddy and Miss Francesca to their new home in a cardboard box with a heating pad, and make the best of it… I guess, this time, the old widow-maker turned out to be an orphan-maker!
© 2015 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…