pine needles, 2015
Tuesday, October 20 2015
Today I produced a lot of wood from a couple fallen skeletonized oaks just below the north end of the Gullies Trail. My saw seems to be working great these days if I keep it properly oiled. I couldn't carry home anywhere near all the wood I managed to cut up; I carried home 112.85 pounds, of which a 24.8 pound piece of very dry wood went directly into the house, while the remaining 88.05 pounds went to the woodshed. The weather was much warmer than it had been yesterday, forcing me to take my shirt off before attempting to walk the load home.
For whatever reason, the White Pines began dropping their needles late this year, and only in recent days have there been enough to justify doing my annual pine needle gathering chore. Today I took advantage of the warm weather and gathered two large wheelbarrows from the ditches on either side of Dug Hill Road, storing the needles in the dog house as usual. A few cars passed me as I worked, and I'm sure they were puzzled at the sight of someone raking up pine needles far from any particular house. If pine needles (and other leaves) had more mainstream uses, Lowes and Home Depot would sell them, and there would be people who rake up their pine needles and pay someone to haul them away who would also go to Home Depot to buy properly-packaged bags of them. Because that's typical behavior in our society, which cultivates a lack of awareness about the flows of material through our lives while trying to convince people that all that really matters are brands.
One of the uses I have for pine needles is one that would necessitate a drastic change in American norms before it could ever go mainstream. After gathering my two wheelbarrow loads of needles, I set out with two five gallon buckets to gather needles for this use: a cellulosic bulking agent for the human excrement in my shit bucket. I dumped the needles on top of the shit (which had developed a crust and no longer had any fragrance) and then rammed them down into it with a strong stick (well, I started with a weak stick, which soon broke, necessitating a replacement). When I was done, the pile was smelling so terrible that I caught a whiff of it fifty feet downwind. But now air could get into it and start turning it into something a lot more pleasant.
Working around brownhouse and the greenhouse expose me to a type of bur that is the fruit of a species of umbelliferous weed down there. In past years, I've been oblivious to the burs until sitting at my computer and looking down to see my legs and shirt covered with them. This year, though, I've been more careful, searching my intended path for the umbels clutching loose clusters of tiny burs (much as I do in warmer weather when the unwanted plant is Poison Ivy). If I reach down and pull the burs from the umbels before they reach my clothes, I can toss them onto the ground, where (unless I am just wearing socks, which happens), they are completely harmless. This evening (mostly using keywords typed into a Google Image Search), I identified the plant producing these burs: it's Japanese Hedge Parsley, which, as the name implies, is an invasive exotic from Asia.
In addition to the burs, I also contended with a larger, more mobile exotic: the neurotic Australian Shepherd our neighbor Crazy Dave added to his pack several years ago to supplement Merlin (who has been up here on the mountain the whole time we have and is growing old; perhaps he's not even alive any more). Unlike Merlin, this new dog goes on long barking jags that are so common that Ramona and Eleanor (as well as the two yappy dogs across the street) generally ignore them. It's rare to actually see this dog, since he or she is usually tied up down at Crazy Dave's cabin and all that we know about is the barking echoing monotonously among the buildings down there. But today he or she suddenly appeared near the greenhouse (as Merlin had in the past; Crazy Dave let Merlin loose frequently). My first clue he or she was there was the barking, which came in a surprisingly loud echo-free manifestation. I looked up from the small White Pine I was dragging to its disposal site north of the greenhouse and saw an Australian Shepherd that was not Merlin. He or she (and the gender wasn't obvious given all that hair) acted like I shouldn't be there, like her or her territory extended to this side of the ravine that divides our property from our downhill neighbor's. He or she barked and barked, more or less ignoring my entreaties to come and get his or her head scratched. But gradually he or she allowed me to get within about ten feet. By this point the dog was averting his or her eyes, evidently trying to prevent the situation from escalating (that was thoughtful). Eventually I gave up and continued with my work, cutting down another pine from near the septic field, and soon thereafter the dog heard something and ran home. I hope he or she doesn't try to eat Oscar or Celeste, who spend a lot of time near the greenhouse.
This afternoon, the weather was so warm outside that it made sense to go around opening doors to let the warm air in. I even opened the sliding doors on the main basement guestroom, and when I did so, I found a dead Hairy Woodpeck just outside the door. Evidently it was another victim of crashing into one of our windows (I mentioned an earlier victim over a year ago). Hoping to eventually have the woodpecker's skeleton, I cut the top off a 2 litre plastic bottle, drilled a drainage hole in the bottom, tossed in the corpse, and nailed the bottle to a tree near the bend in the mountain goat path leading to the woodshed. Hopefully there are still enough insects to pick the bones clean before cold weather arrests all cold-blooded biology.
Late this afternoon, I build a big three by six foot bookshelf for the main basement guestroom. To make it look a little less drab, I used a hole saw to cut big four inch circles out of the sides on every shelf. Tomorrow, I'll be attaching a big piece of steel roofing to the back to stiffen it up and protect the books against moisture present in the masonry wall against which the shelf will be placed.
The warm day gave way to a warm night, and though it was full of the sound of late-summer insects, there weren't any Katydids. Apparently the frost had killed them off. Mostly what I heard was a continuous tinnitus-like trilling, probably some kind of cricket.
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