Clear

The task at hand.

This morning was one of those Zen dawns with no color, no real light for a while, but a nice cool breeze and very gentle rain. It felt good to be outside, and not have insects buzzing around and without the humidity trying to kill me. I’ve been waiting for this morning to arrive, because the back fenceline desperately needs attention, and so many things have gotten in the way of me getting back there and getting the job done.

I have to cross over the fence into my neighbor’s property to hack down a bunch of stuff because wild grape wines, as well as a few other species of vines, are getting on the electric fence and that will eventually cause a short. The wild grape vines do not produce wild grapes, tame grapes, wine grapes, or any other grape, but their leaves look like the leaves of grape vines, so that’s where they got their name. 

The vines have partners in crime. American Beautyberries, a waist high bush with small purple berries, grow in abundance in South Georgia. The vines use these bushes as launching pads towards the top of the fence, so the plan is to clear a section five feet wide and go after any bigger vines if I can get to them, and I have a bush hook, so yeah, I can. 

Slow Progress, and more to go!

It’s a cool day, I feel good, it’s early in the morning, kinda, and it feels good to swing hard and work muscles again. I had major surgery late last year, and this is the first time I’ve really set out  to push, and push hard, my body with this sort of work. The bush hook is a great tool for clearing and the best piece of exercise equipment a human can own. 

There’s vines growing up out of the ground that have cut marks on them, where I hacked on them three years ago. The vine will grow from another shoot, not the old one, so I can tell how many times I’ve cut them. None of this stuff is big but it is thick, and it is bushy as hell. I hack, and hack, then push the stuff away from the fence, hack so more, push some more, and slowly, a path is cleared. 

Hacking isn’t just hacking away at a clump of vines or bushes, or both. There’s a system here, depending on where the open part is, where I need for it to be, and how close to the ground I can cut the bushes, or the stems of the vines. Position of the target dictates position of my body, how much power I have to use, how well I can aim, and I can cut exactly where I want the blade to be. I use a slight slicing movement when I swing, and again, depending on what I am cutting and where, that will decide which side of the blade I use; the flat side for thicker stuff, the side with the hook for vines, so they cannot slip away uncut. I’ve been using a bush hook for decades now, and it’s a part of my body when I work. 

The Rescued Tree

It’s work. It’s hard work. The day wears on and I am wearing down. My breath is quicker and heavier. The handle turns in my hands as my strength ebbs. But fatigue and I are also old friends. I know my limits, or I once did, and this is the first test of my strength and endurance since December of last year. I know better than to push too hard, but where is the point I ought to quit? Isn’t quitting just as bad as going too far, when I have already finished more than half?  

The last twenty feet or so aren’t thick but the twenty feet before that is the very thickest. There’s an Oak tree being strangled to death by vines in that mess, so I decide to, at a minimum, rescue the tree. I have to cut wider to get the debris out of the way. Vines stealing the crown of the tree have to be pulled down. The remnants of bushes and the still grabby vines try to bring me down, because they sense my weakness. Stumbling, yet still upright, I swing away, much less able to hit a target, my hands slipping, my breath ragged, yet moving forward, cutting bush and vine, and making progress. 

An After Photo of the very bushiest part, shown in the first photo.

Suddenly, I reach the end. I’m careful now, tired, no, not tired, I am exhausted. Sweat dries quickly because of low humidity and it is still a beautiful day. There’s nothing about how I feel that seems to indicate injury, but oh yeah, I am going to feel this tomorrow and maybe for a few days to come. I climb the fence to get back over to my property and Budlore Amadeus awaits and escorts, his stubby tail wiggling. The walk to the shed to put the bush hook, hat and gloves seems overly long. 

My left hand isn’t fully functional at the moment. It’s cramping up and hurts. My knees ache. My back? HAHAHAHA! That’s going to be interesting tomorrow, certainly. I cannot remember the last time I was this tired. Yet this is exhaustion, my paycheck from swinging a bush hook for three hours. I have cleared the entire back fence line on the back side. I feel good, my body responded to my demands for more when there didn’t seem to be any, and the job is done. 

It feels good. I feel like me again. 

Take Care,

Mike Firesmith

Compost Again

The night shift project, actually two of them, lasted about a year or so, and then I retired. Then came surgery that flattened me out for a couple of months, and god dammit it, then a plague hit, and I started working again. There really wasn’t for a garden two years ago, or last year, or this year, and I didn’t worry about it. The compost pile, subject of many an essay on life, death, decay and rebirth, fell into disuse. I maintained the fenceline, and that was all I had time or energy to do, and for a while, that was enough. 

A month or so ago, I finally bought a riding mower, and I told myself if I ever bought one of those things, I could go into composting in a big way. Today was the day I went big. The last couple of mowings produced a lot of clippings, and I did dump all of it on the old compost pile, which is now the new compost pile. 

It took five rounds, at six bushels apiece to mow the lawn today, and now I have to expand. But I also needed new logs, rotting logs, to use to delineate the compost pile. Rotting logs are one of the keys to a great pile. They already have all the bacteria and bugs a compost pile needs. Old logs retain moisture and they’re good starter stuff for decay. I dragged a few out of the woods, and I’ll add a few more next weekend. I also started the process of turning old compost in with the new stuff, and making sure there’s enough moisture in it all. 

I realized that I miss that sort of work, and I miss the process. 

The clippings from two weeks ago, which didn’t amount to very much, were already dried out and powdery. The grass catcher’s chute clogged up many time during the first mowing because the grass was so high. There’s a couple of cardboard boxes, no colored ink, underneath the powder so it all gets some time with the water hose. I spread it out, mix it in, water it, and repeat. 

Soon, in a matter of days, the grass and leaves will begin to decay. The bacteria and bugs in the logs will move out and begin to feed. Other insects will move in to feed on the bugs that are feeding on the decay. Frogs and toads will move in to feed on those. Termites will make a home here, and the toads love that. Birds will drop in to check out the buffet, and the dogs will slip in to dig up any rodents that show. 

Eventually, not any time soon, and certainly not even this year, a layer of organic matter will begin to form at the bottom of the pile. Decayed vegetation, the waste of a billion microbes, the dead bodies of countless insects, and much more, will begin to accumulate. That’s soil. It’s what makes vegetables grow. It’s the purpose of composting, other than repurposing the stuff usually discarded. For not only grass clippings and leaves, but the remains of any organic matter from the kitchen, from orange peels to eggshells, to the ends of peppers unused, will be tossed into the pile, and be turned into dirt. 

It’s been a while since I did any work in the woods. The paths need help. I broke my bush hook today, cutting the branches of a downed tree. I got worn out by hacking on the tree, and almost overheated. 

There’s honest sweat here. There’s hard work and I’ve always said yardwork was the best gym in the world. The bush hook busted on a tree I should have moved six months ago, but now that I started on it, the realization returns of why I miss doing this so much. Skill, determination, muscle, and sweat will turn part of the tree into a bonfire, and the rest into compost pile boundaries. But it’s a damn good workout. Back muscles, arms and shoulders, and all the body is used to pull a heavy branch towards the burn pit.

I miss this work. I miss turning waste into soil, and therefore food. I miss being outside in the woods, even with the insects getting their fair share of blood, and I miss making my heart pump hard to get things done in the yard. 

It’s time to return. 

Take Care,

Mike

The Bent Tree

Can you see the nest?

I have eighty percent of a hectare out here at Hickory Head, and even though it’s a tiny thing, I try to do as much good, and as little harm, as I can. Twenty years ago or so, when I moved out here, the deer ate most of the young saplings in the woods, and the wild grape vines had taken over most of the back acre. I fenced it all in, introduced two dogs with some size to them, and nature gave me trees. I had to keep the wild vines cut back every year and that’s some work, but at the same time, it is trees. 

Last year, I found a downed branch that had landed on a Live Oak sapling, and bent it down to the ground. I picked the branch up but the Live Oak stayed bent, and it seemed impossible to help it. But if it died it died, and if it lived it lived, so I tried to help. I took a piece of an old water hose and tied it back kinda straight. Over the space of a few months, I kept pulling it up straighter and straighter, wondering all the while if it would recover. 

It’s been a busy year, and I haven’t had time to check on it in a few months now. So this is what I found: Not only is the Live Oak standing tall and looking good, but there was a bird’s nest in it, from this spring, likely. I knew the Cardinals had a next somewhere out in this part of the woods, but I had no idea it might be this tree. 

If you save it, they will come. 

Rescue a tree today, and for years to come, you’ll be thanked for it, in ways that you might not have ever imagined. 

Take Care,

Mike