In the Woods with Dogs.

Budlore Amadeus, the Dog of the Amadai, wanted to go out after breakfast. It’s not that he wanted to, or needed to, go out, no not at all, he wanted me to go with him. It was wet, foggy, and damp outside, and going out into the woods with Bud meant my shoes would be wet, and I might pick up a tick or two. But when a dog wants to go into the woods with you, there’s an unspoken agreement that going out into the woods is the best thing ever, so out we go. 

I called Wrex Wyatt to go with us, and he hesitated, and once outside, he quickly doubled back and waited on the porch for us to return. Wrex is aging, and this is the first time I’ve noticed he didn’t join us. 

Both Jessica Elizabeth and Bud hit the trails at speed, and disappear. They’ll wend their way back and forth, closer then further away, no scent unsmelled, no trace of an interloper left uninvestigated, and in Bud’s case, no tree left dry. But Budlore comes in, staying just ahead of me on the trail, tail up, nose to the ground, and he steps over a small rat snake, as do I. There’s no reason to get excited, and the snake freezes, allowing us to go our way, as he will, too. 

Spiders have cast webs, trapping tiny drops of water, magnolia leaves have ponds on them, and the whole world seems soaked with dampness. High above, there’s some clearing, but close to the ground the air is a semiliquid that delays the dawn, and mixes shadows with darkness and gray. 

The overstory of the giant oaks acts as an umbrella, blocks direct rain, but leaking fog through. It’s a surreal and magical feeling, to be embraced within the atmosphere of such ancient and powerful creatures, who stand without effort or strain, reaching towards the nearest star, and the center of the earth, for every moment of their lives. 

I stop to take a photo of the trees, but the light isn’t right. Budlore comes in at speed, as fast as he can run, and I know to stand still, and he will pass. Bud zooms by, barely grazing me, his body a rocket with four legs. He makes the circuit before I can go fifty feet, and comes back again, this time to check in, to show me how happy and excited he is, too. Jessica, on the other paw, is somewhere in the woods, likely digging, but she’s getting to be more solitary now. Jess may, or she may not, follow us in, or she may decide to stay in the woods, and do whatever it is that Jessica does when no one else is with her. She’s becoming an adult, forming into who she wants to be, more and more each day. She likes the solitude of the woods, off the path, alone with the scents that draw her attention. I feel this, and understand it, too. 

Lilith Anne doesn’t go with us anymore. At ten years old, she’s no longer interested in leaf collecting, or whatever creatures are passing through the woods. She slowly chases spots of sunlight, finding a nice place to nap and be warm. This morning is not her type of day, and so the bed will have to suffice. 

Half the pack is inside, not motivated to go out. I’ve seen this before, many times, where a puppy is suddenly gimpy, ten years after arriving here. The very young become more independent, the old dogs become increasingly slow, and the cycle repeats with each new dog.

But Jess comes with us, following Bud, and as we head inside, I wonder why I never grow tired of walking in the same woods every day, sometimes more than once. The dogs never tire of it either, Bud running like he’s chasing the wind, and Jessica investigating the earth Herself. Light or dark, wet or dry, cold or hot, the woods are always the same, and never the woods they were an hour ago. Every space within gives life, feeds life, is everything there is in life, and that is why I am drawn to the trees and the undergrowth, the mushrooms and the snakes. Here in the woods is where we were always supposed to be, even if we never learn it as a whole, there are those of us who will always call this home. 

Take Care,

Mike

Time for a Little Hugelkultur.

Basically, Hugelkultur is a system of layering logs, limbs, compost, leaves, and that sort of stuff to create a compost system a gardener would plant on top of or create a large pile of compost.

Back last year or so, I expanded my compost pile and this year, I reaped the harvest of some really great compost. But the garden is getting bigger, and more compost is needed, and even more in the coming years.

One of the failed experiments was the Branch Office of the Compost Complex, where I piled up branches, threw leaves on them, and waited for the branches to turn into compost. It not only did not happen, but a large pile of branches was the only product.

The next plan of action was to get a wood chipper, which seems to come in two types; very large and very expensive chippers, that work well, but are loud and smelly, and very small ones, that are like oversized plastic pencil sharpeners, which work very poorly and get bad reviews.

My Facebooks friends, when they weren’t referencing Woodchippers in movies like Fargo, and listing items needed to dispose of a body, one of them came up with Hugelkultur.

 Hugelkultur is composting vegetative matter while using it to grow plants. A multi-layered approach, Hugeltur promised to render the Branch Office into soil, and if I wanted, I could grow something on top of it. At this point, I need more compost.

Just as I was about to begin, the thought arrived that this might be the time to take my neighbor up on his offer of free manure from the cow pasture. Away I went, got a load in my truck, and then back to the Compost Complex and the Death of the Branch Office.

Load of manure!
This is the Branch Office when the sun came up this morning.
After clearing all the branches and logs away, this is the area I was going to work with.
This was all the stuff stripped out of the Branch Office
The first layer of logs, if you can call them that, was pushed down in the compost that had formed under the Branch Office. Yes, it had worked better than I thought, but I had no access to the compost.
The second layer was branches, some of them old, some of them new, but the directions said to walk them in, then add grass and leaves, then walk that in, too. Notice the water hose. Moisture is a big part of compost. It’s not a nice neat pile but it’s what it needs to be.
The logs in this layer are more rotted than the first. I added some stuff on the side, larger stumps, and I hope that will start to decompose as well.
This was the end result. I hit it with a lot of leaves and grass, a little manure, then flooded it with water.
The Dung Heap, all the leftover manure. I’ve always heard about these but I have never had one until now.

I don’t have much left over from the Branch Office. What I do have will be made into another Hugelkultur tomorrow, or the next day considering how tired I am right now. But this seems like it will work, and it has everything it needs to do so.

Stay tuned, next April or so, when I start really gearing up for the garden!

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

The Deer and the Snake

Screen Shot 2020-07-15 at 7.38.28 PM
Cottonmouth photo of one I relocated out of my yard several years ago.

 

Today I saw the twin fawns that I first spotted six or eight weeks ago. They are still hanging out with their Mom, but the spots are gone, and there was another older deer with them. They’re getting wary of humans, and bolted before I could get a good photo of them. But at least I know they made it this far. After they leave their Mom’s side and get off on their own, or with a herd, I won’t know it’s them anymore. It’s very rare when I don’t see at least half a dozen deer, and not uncommon to see a dozen or more.

 

Animals get used to human activity, especially when the humans aren’t shooting at them. It’s against federal law to carry a gun on a federally funded construction site, and not too many guys want to be fired, then arrested, for shooting a deer out of season, at work. Fewer still employers will put up with that sort of behavior. But guys are stupid sometimes, when it comes to guns, and the deer are wary about getting too close. I whistle at the deer, so they’ll get used to the sound I make, and they’ll know it’s me. “Sit still, look pretty” is my tune of choice, and the deer seem to like it.

 

I’m deer watching today, eating my sandwich for lunch, trying to get them to come close enough for a good photo, when I see the snake. There’s a sizable Cottonmouth that hangs around a low place in the woods that’s flooded. I think it’s the same snake because, one, it is big, and two, for a big Cottonmouth, it still has a very distinct pattern, and most do not. The darker color is a deep olive green, and the lighter color is brownish. I think this is one of the most beautiful snakes I’ve seen, and as I ease my phone out of the pocket, two of the guys from the project come to see what progress I’m making with the deer.

 

This ruins the progress I’m making with the deer, and infinitely worse, it means they might try to kill the Cottonmouth, unless I stop them, and if I stop them, it’s going to cause friction. But this is a beautiful snake, and I’m not going to stand around and watch someone beat it to death in front of me. The snake is made entirely of the stealth. The scales of a Cottonmouth are what is known as “keeled” which means there’s a ridge running down the middle of the scale, and this refracts light. Snakes surprise people sometimes because of the way their scales scatter light, and so the snake seems to just appear out of nowhere. You have to see the right kind of light, or the lack of it, to see the snake. To me, the difference between the shadows cast by trees and the dark figure of the snake is clear. Neither of the guys has seen the snake, but the snake’s body language tells me it has seen them. Right now, it’s staying put, pretending to be the shadow of a shadow, and it’s working.

 

Throughout the years, I’ve learned the hard way people will kill snakes for no good reason at all. Toss in the snake is packing and they’ll hurt themselves trying to kill it. My theory is people feel inadequate when they’re in nature, and killing something makes them feel more in control and stronger. Which explains why so many people can’t handle being in the wild. The truth is, the ability to blend in, and survive with the environment, is the only way to live. Yet here they are, talking about shooting deer, even if they are unarmed, and there’s a venomous snake less than six feet away.

 

It’s an act of treason or sorts, a violation of man code, but while they’re standing there talking to me, friendly like, and we’re being social, I send their foreman a text and ask him when we’re going to be ready to pour concrete again. This prods him into looking around and realizing two of his men have wandered off. It gets them both into a little hot water, nothing serious, but he recalls them with a few words about wandering away from the project. I get to wander because I’m inspection, not construction, but my time on the fringe is limited, too. Slowly, ever so slowly, the snake begins to move. It eases back towards the woods, and the water, and I still cannot get a decent photo of it.

 

The temperature is mid-nineties, and the heat index is pushing everything into triple digit heat. The bridge deck’s bare steel skeleton radiates heat, and it becomes an oven. This is where it matters, where what I do makes a difference, and so I endure the heat, and make sure things are as they should be.

“So what in the fuck was that all about?”  the foreman asks.

“What?”

“You text me while those two guys are over there talking to you? They piss you off?” he asks.

“Not especially,” I reply, “but I was trying to get the deer to come closer.”

“Bullshit.”

“What?” I ask.

“You were looking back into the woods when I called them, there a moonshine still out there?” he laughs.

“If there is do you really want to know?” I reply. No one in their right mind walks up on a still in the woods. Oh yeah, it sounds like fun, like getting shot is fun.

“No, really, you got a reason for us not to be over there?” the foreman asks. “I can put a stop to it,”

“Do that,” I say. “And don’t ask why, okay?”

“You got it.” And the man knows that this far out in the woods, whatever it is, he doesn’t want to know, and he doesn’t want his guys messing with something out there. They have a job. It is not in the woods.

 

The Cottonmouth and the deer get a little bit more protection. I get another chance to photo the snake, and the deer. The snake gets a chance to live another day, and maybe have babies in a couple of months. That would explain the girth, actually.

 

If it sounds strange to you for me to go to that much trouble to save a snake, a Cottonmouth at that, you just met me. I get stranger, but at the end of the day, I’m closer to nature for it.

 

Take Care,

Mike