last minute widowmaker
Thursday, February 7 2013
A huge blizzard was predicted for the region beginning at some time tomorrow, so this afternoon I went a short way down the Stick Trail with the Stihl chainsaw in search of dead standing wood that would be immediately burnable should we end up snowed in for a week or more. I soon set my sights on a moderately-large dead oak which I've been thinking about felling for years. The problem with standing dead trees is that they can behave unpredictably when cut down. For example, vibrations from the saw can shake loose a big enough piece from the crown to kill the person operating the saw. (I only know this through my father, who probably learned it from the maternal uncles who taught him the manly arts. His note of caution on this matter is probably the echo of an ancient fatal accident involving an ax, a dead tree, and a woodsman in Austria; people haven't been cutting trees down with saws for very long.) Recently, natural pushed this standing dead tree to fall to the northwest, though it became hung up on a moderate-sized White Pine, which it nearly toppled. Trees hung in other trees have their own challenges (indeed, they are sometimes referred to as "widowmakers"), but with nothing directly overhead, they intimidate me less. So I went for it, cutting the tree nearly through close to the ground. Not being able to tell which direction would result in a pinch-free cut, I then began cutting through a second time about five feet higher on the trunk. When the cut was nearly done, I ran off and got the steel rod that I use for beaking up rock when digging holes in the ground. Using it at a lever, the second cut was easily snapped through. Now the tree was detached from its base, but it was still hung up in the tree, so I then used the iron rod as a lever to gradually move the base of the tree in a direction that would cause the branch it was hung upon to slide free. It was so exhilerating to be able to move such a large mass of wood with my own human power that it was difficult to keep from over-exerting. When I reached a point where I could no longer inhale enough oxygen, I made myself lie down on the ground and rest. Eventually I was able to walk the tree to a point where it slipped free and fell to the ground with a satisfying crash. I took a break and then came back later to cut most of it into lengths suitable for our woodstove.
Later this evening after Gretchen got back from wherever she'd gone for the day, she volunteered to help me bring most of that wood back to the woodshed. We used a handtruck to move most of it the 50 or 80 feet to the northern end of the Stick Trail, and then schlepped it up the steps. Gretchen was amazed when I managed to carry a piece back to the woodshed that she'd barely been able to tip end over end. Given the relatively-small amount of time we spent on today's woodgathering task, we managed to add impressively to our firewood stockpile. Best of all, the wood is about as dry as wood can get and ready to burn.
Today I took delivery of an Atmega48-based capacitor measuring kit, which I intended to use to quickly prototype a system for measuring fuel oil levels in the household fuel tank. Assembling the kit was somewhat complicated by the proximity of some of the through-holes. But it pretty much sprang to life and worked perfectly the second time I fired it up. (I'd forgotten to install one of the resistors to the LED readout the first time I fired it up.) Testing it with tiny capacitors, I found that it gave very stable readings, although unless I used short wires, it seemed it became susceptible to radio noise, which would cause the readings to fluctuate wildly. Fortunately, conditions within the oil tank will be ideal; its steel walls will make for an effective Faraday cage, and I can also make it so that the ground wire of the two-wire capacitance input runs to the outside pipe of the capacitor probe, which is designed as a pipe-within-a-pipe.
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