Monday, October 31, 2005

I'm From a Logging Town

I am learning to split wood. Despite all my crowing about my pickaxe/mattock skills, I really stink at splitting wood. Mostly, I hack up my “chopping block.” I surround the term with quotation marks because I don’t think a rotten tree round really qualifies as a chopping block, but that is how I use it. I’m already on my second “block,” having chopped the first one to pieces. I just add the "chopping block" bits to my hacked up logs and carry it all in to the fireplace.

In an effort to cut our heating bill this year (last year was $200/mo.) our thermostat is permanently set at 62 degrees. This is usually a comfortable temperature for me, because I am rarely still. Mike, though, is freezing his arse off as he sits and studies for school/plays on the internet. Although using the fireplace for heating purposes is incredibly inefficient, the wood is free, so what have we to lose? (In fact, we have an overabundance of wood thanks to our dead tree and routine pruning.) Mike’s usual seat is close enough to the fireplace to feel some of the warmth.

Some find it surprising that I am splitting the wood, and not Mike, but the truth is, I enjoy it. I don’t even give Mike a chance to help. I run out to the wood pile every evening and swing the axe around like a madwoman. If my mom witnessed my reckless behavior, she’d definitely have a heart attack. I have to admit to having very little control over the axe at times. My legs are bruised from flying wood and the kitties know to steer clear. Every once in awhile though, I manage to (1) hit the log and (2) split it cleanly. When the two halves fly to either side, I feel like a true woodswoman.

While I am ostensibly outside cutting wood to keep my husband warm, I have found a second benefit to my axe flailing. The exercise warms me up to the point where I find our 62 degree house sauna-like. Mike objects, though, when I want to open windows to cool down.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Trite Tree

Almost one year ago, a tree fell in our yard. Like the proverbial lonely tree in the forest, it made no sound. We had no idea that it had fallen until Mike happened to glance out the window one morning to see the huge tree sprawled across our backyard. It had missed our house by only a few feet.

We did nothing with the tree until spring. In early March, while alone one weekend, I attacked it with my bare hands and then a handsaw to removed most of the branches and limbs. A few months later, we borrowed Tim’s chainsaw and tackled the rest of the limbs. (Neither of us had used a chainsaw before. Mike operated the beast while I remained poised to dial 911.) The chainsaw was not large enough, nor our skills advanced enough, to cut through the thick trunk, so the rest of the tree moldered in our lawn all summer.

This weekend, at the expense of Mike’s macho pride, I arranged for Tim to come over with a bigger chainsaw and cut the tree into fireplace-length rounds. In return, we had Tim and his girlfriend, Joni, over as our very first dinner guests for an Indian feast. The next morning, recovering from near alcohol poisoning, I braved the cold drizzle and cleaned up the tree parts.

I can be somewhat of a gloomy Eyore. In a self-improvement effort, I’ve been trying to look at “obstacles” as “opportunities.” Sunday morning found me standing in the mushy backyard, reeking of alcohol, thoroughly nauseated, and trying to maintain a positive attitude. I looked at the downed tree, I said to myself, “Yeah! Free firewood!” I then realized that we’d have to split the wood. “Whee, outdoor exercise!” Finally, I was confronted with the gnarled root end of the tree. Here, I said, “Garden art!” and muscled the stump into the north corner of the yard.

I’m not sure if this is attractive or hideous, but it is definitely a focal point. Try to imagine the three Redwing Viburnum trilobum (American Highbush Cranberry) grown up and flanking the stump. Picture an attractive groundcover carpeting the ground. The stump itself will be hollowed out a bit, filled with soil, and creatively planted (with, perhaps, a fairy garden?). Garden art, or garden horror, it was a bitch to move, but, hey, I thought of it as a “Whole-body workout!”

If a tree falls in the backyard, and no one is there to hear it, it absolutely makes no noise. Obstacles can be opportunities. And beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Still Hoeing

It’s October, and I’m still wielding the hoe. I’m planting at a frenzied pace only comparable to last spring. The plants and bulbs I ordered during the summer months began arriving in mid-September and the last package (fragrant lilies!) showed up on Saturday. I was also seduced by a few late season sales at the local nurseries. Finally, two of my coworkers have delighted me with sacks full of plants from their gardens. I am digging almost every day.

Planting takes me a very long time because I am still developing my beds from cheesy clay to friable, compost-rich soil. Nearly every week, I go to buy more “bags of poop” (i.e. composted manure). Mike finds it absolutely hilarious that my Subaru is perpetually filled with sacks of shit. I go through my supply quickly because every hole I dig requires that I chop up the clay with a hoe and work in humus, manure, and/or peat moss. This constant soil working keeps my planting rate at about 20 minutes per plant. After arriving home from work, I can only get about 5 plants in the ground before it is simply too dark to see.

I’ll admit it; I’m exhausted! Our weather is staying unseasonably mild, so the planting season has been extended. I’m almost praying for a frost to end things. Just when I think I have nothing but a few bulbs left, Margie brings me a bounty of green growing things (including my first peony!) and I’m out digging again.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Straw is Messy

I dug a trench to delineate the edge of the magnolia bed (named for the Sweet Bay Magnolia in its center) at least 2 months ago. In September, I planted two mock oranges, two red hot pokers, two black eyed susans, and a butterfly bush. As usual, I mulched with newspaper, and then bark. The result was a bit unsightly looking: a chain of flapping newspaper islands, populated by single, scrawny plants, floating on a grassy sea. Although it was amusing to suggest to my neighbors that I was finished with the bed as it was, this weekend was finally the time to give it a proper dressing.

First, I smothered the remainder of the grass with multiple layers of wet newspaper. Crawling about on my knees, dragging a bag of paper and a container of water, gave me a true appreciation for how large a bed I’m creating. (I also tore through half my stock of recently acquired newspaper.) To keep the newspaper from blowing away, and to pacify my neighbors, I bought two bales of straw to cover the bed.

I’ve never handled a bale of straw before. I was prepared for it to yield an amazing amount of straw, but I wasn’t expecting the bale to EXPLODE when I cut the cords. The kitties and I had some good fall fun making a huge, yellow mess with the chaff. When I had finished, the bed was covered in a cozy straw blanket, upon which Cleo promptly curled up and took a nap.

The straw looks very nice (much better than newspaper alone or compost), but I have some reservations. Although it has remained intact so far, I’m still afraid the straw will blow away. I am also worried that, just as my cats found it inviting, I’ll be attracting chipmunks, moles, voles, and other burrowing critters into the bed. I will be depending on the kitties to keep it rodent-free. Finally, I wonder if I’m setting myself up for a weed fest when the seeds mixed in with the straw germinate next spring.

Like most of my gardening experiments, I’ll “wait and see.” I will be sure to report on whether the straw blanket was a stroke of genius or a disaster. In the meantime, I find myself in a fall holiday mood every time I walk past my cheery straw pile.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

23rd Post, 5th Sentence

This post comes courtesy of the of a meme chain link I found at eclectic garden:
1. Go into your archive.
2. Find your 23rd post.
3. Find the fifth sentence (or closest to).
4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.
5. Tag five other people to do the same.

My 23rd post, 5th sentence reads: "I would stop every few steps to wipe the crumbs from the bottom of my feet onto my pant (or bare!) leg." It was contained within an entry I wrote on my new vacuum cleaner.

If this sentence is supposed to reveal something me, it would be that I abhor a dirty house, but don't like to make the effort to tidy it. But, can't you say that about almost anyone?

The extraction also highlights the fact that I used to have a house blog. Now I have a garden blog. I expect my attention will veer inside again as the weather chills. (In fact, I am anticipating my winter projects with glee!)

Like a gardener, I don't choose to tag anyone, but if you volunteer, leave a comment!