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thumbnail "Off to California"

January 17, 2021 -- Off to California! 

Well, not literally. We quite like it here in the U.P., cloudy weather and all. But we have friends who are soon heading to California to live so we thought we'd do this lively Irish hornpipe for them, and for you, too! It always cheers me up and I like the dancing chords.


January 13, 2021 -- Sunshine! Clear Skies! 

We awoke this morning to a rare day -- stars in the sky turning into clear dawn and the sun coming up into a beautiful cloudless blue. We've had a few partly sunny days these past weeks, usually later in the day and usually not too much of the sun part. Mostly it's been a real long stretch of mild gray. Particularly noted in the many times we've had to run the generator to charge up the batteries in lieu of the sun. Neither of us could remember when we last had a full day of clear sunshine but we knew it had been awhile. So this was a day to celebrate. While the sun quietly and efficiently charged the batteries and warmed the greenhouse, cheering the plants along, we would go outside and soak up as much of that sun as we could. The forecast was for mild and calm, as it has been. They also forecast 37 degrees but from experience we didn't put much store in that. Around 32 degrees would be fine (and indeed that was what we had). So we chose our destination and after an early lunch headed north to Bruno's Run to hike the south-west part of that trail, starting at Widewaters.

Bruno's Run Indian RiverThere had been enough snowmobile traffic into Widewaters campground (which isn't plowed in winter) to pack the snow so we were able to drive in to catch the trail there, heading south. They had a little more snow than we had but not much. This is a popular, and beautiful, spot in the Hiawatha Forest with snowmobile trails, cross country ski trails, hiking/biking, and in the summer camping, fishing, and boating. Widewaters is a lake-like wide section of the Indian River which runs into/through/out of it. Bruno's Run trail goes by the campground and along the Widewaters then along the "wild and scenic" IHwy 13 bridge over Indian Riverndian River. It was hard to keep ones eyes on the trail with that beautiful river flowing so near. Shallow and criss-crossed with blow-downs it was a peaceful companion. It was easy to imagine stepping into the water to cool your feet on a summer's hike. It was well worth the hours drive to get there. At Hwy 13 we climbed out of the river valley and crossed over at the scenic old bridge over the river, built in 1943 according to a plaque on the bridge.

Calm, sunny, 30 degrees - hiking heaven. The first 50 minutes to Hwy 13 was well trod and packed so, except for icy patches, was pretty easy walking. We crossed the highway and the river, leaving it behind as the trail headed off into the woods on the other side. We also left behind almost all of the tracks. Thankfully there were two people who had continued on this section and there hadn't been any new snow to cover their tracks. Without snow the well used trail would be obvious. But with snow the unmarked trail meandering through the woods would be at best a challenging guessing game without tracks to follow. We trusted that they knew where they were going, or even if not we were going to follow them (turned out they did). The trail curves and dips and dives through fairly thick woods. Our pace slowed walking in the soft, sifty snow but we enjoyed the peaceful surroundings with the sun slanting through the trees and across the path, warming us as we stepped into and out of the rays. We stopped to drink and snack in sunny spots to soak up all we could.

We had enough time, with slightly longer days now and clear skies, but we decided 3 hours hiking would be long enough. Especially so since we'd gone for a fairly long walk at home yesterday. So as we neared the 1 1/2 hour mark we looked ahead for a suitable spot to stop for lunch then head back on the trail. We remarked that it would be nice to find a memorable landmark for the turn-around. A few more turns and ups and downs and we suddenly came upon a small opening in the woods with a Dipper Lake bench on Bruno's Runview of a small lake -- the north tip, or handle, of Dipper Lake, according to the map. Not only that, but there was a nice wooden bench there, too! What a great surprise treat for hikers and bikers. We certainly found our memorable landmark.

We gladly set down our backpacks and made full use of the bench, admiring the Lake, resting our legs, and enjoying our lunch. For Christmas we had bought ourselves small Thermous food containers - the 10 oz "Funtainer" (though we passed on the many fancy graphics versions and went for plain silver/black and teal). Last month we had taken warm food in a regular tupperware type container which was nice to have but it didn't stay warm very long, even buried in our packs. We thought we'd try the insulated container. This was our first trial and they worked well with our simple meal of rice and tuna. Though certainly heavier than a sandwich it was real nice to have warm food on a (mildly) cold day, and 10 oz was a good size - half now, half later.

Based on our experience with our water bottles I plan to makeBruno's Run map hiked sections neoprene cozies for them which should keep the food even warmer, especially in colder weather. I had put mine in a simple wool blanket pouch and my food was a bit warmer than Steve's at lunch.   

But it was too cold to sit long so we soon gathered our stuff, thanked and bid farewell to the Lake and the bench and headed back down the trail for a nice walk back to the car (the yellow section on the map). What a great way to spend a beautiful sunny January day.

January 10, 2021 -- Back to Days River

This time we knew where we were headed -- the short hike/snowshoe trail to the ORV/snowmobile trail where we turned south instead of north over the bridge as we'd done last week. Another mild cloudy day, no new snow, calm, about 32 degrees - like a film strip stuck in rewind/replay, same weather we'd been having for quite some time now. But we're fine with that, we'll let the PNW taking care of all the wild weather! We just keep hiking. And a nice one it was. The trail going south heads through some real nice woods, young growth but with a decent scattering of bearing age oak trees, left when the area was last logged. Though the trees in general blend in with the other growth one could see them easily by the churned up leaves spread all around underneath each tree as the deer dug through the snow and leaves for acorns. I don't know how the acorn harvest was but it appears there are plenty of deer and by the looks of things I doubt there are any acorns left. I'm sure the squirrels and chipmunks took care of their share, too.

There were snowmobile and ATV tracks, though there wasn't enough snow for the former and too much for the latter, but they flattened the trail nicely. Quite a bit of foot traffic and a few bicycles, along with the many deer and usual coyote/fox/dog. As usual it was quiet on most of the trail. The farther south we went there were more houses and we were walking near back yards. Not as "off-in-the-woods" feel as other trails, and the track was pretty rough with ruts and not very flat at this end. But we had a bicyclist come along who stopped to chat which was nice. He had a beautiful fat tired bike with studs and an electric assist to help him up the hills. It wasn't the best conditions for biking but he lives somewhere near the trail and said he goes out nearly every day for exercise. Just as we were parting along came another regular fat tired bike going at a pretty good speed considering the conditions, but he wasn't having any trouble. We quickly stepped off the trail and he nodded as he sped by. Two different styles but both enjoying the trail their own way, as were we. We didn't see anyone else on the trail.

We soon arrived at a "rough" area with piles of dirt, some dumped furniture -- the beginning of the industrial park. Quite a contrast to the beautiful woods we'd been walking through. Though we'd planned to walk longer we decided to turn around there, and had a very nice walk back. When we got to the cut off to go back to the snowshoe trail we decided we weren't ready for the hike to end so instead headed on north for a ways. So it was about 3 hours when we got back to the parking lot, sun heading down and starting to cool off, to find a fairly large group gathered and chatting, with fat tired bikes sticking out of pick-ups and SUV's. I don't know if they were heading out or had already been but it was good to see folks enjoying the day and each other's company. There is a separate bike trail at the Pathway which is apparently quite popular.

January 9, 2021 -- Is it a Hike or a Walk

The new year begins, and the hiking continues. No new snow so we're still in boots, the snowshoes left hanging on the wall, waiting. But it will come. Maybe. It's quite a change from the last two Januarys with 3-4 feet of snow! We enjoy it all, and this year are enjoying still walking on almost bare ground. We go out daily, together or separate, do a few chores, go to the mailbox, go for at least a short walk, sometimes longer. So I got to thinking - when is a walk a hike? Sometimes we'll head out for a short walk down the road but keep on going and end up coming home 2 hours later. But that's still a walk. It's from home, it's casual. We may or not have taken backpacks, or water. Certainly not snacks or sandwiches. But if we're going to the "big city" (Gladstone or Escanaba or Marquette) we usually plan to include a hike on one of the trails, so we head out with appropriate gear and clothing, water, snacks, sandwiches, for a 2 or 3 hour hike. Manistique is just "going to town", it doesn't get such planning though we often walk the boardwalk along the Lake. It's funny how we categorize things, and how we think of them. But hike or walk, we're enjoying this can-do-just-about-anywhere activity.

Though we haven't much snow there is just enough in this area for the skiiers, and the groomers, to get out on the ski trails so the cross-country ski trails are now off limits for hiking. But both Days River and Rapid River have short snowshoe trails so on a trip over that direction earlier in the week we decided to check out the Days River Pathway Snowshoe Track. It was a mild, barely freezing (so not slushy), calm day - beautiful weather for a hike. The ski trails did indeed have snow so no walking there. So we took to the designated 1.8 mile "snowshoe" trail which was definitely not appropriate for snowshoes! But they did make an effort to provide a track in an effort to keep walkers off the ski trails. It was lumpy, bumpy, stump and brush strewn and well beat down. But it was there and so were we so off we went, figuring we'd stop at Rapid River on the way home and check out their snowshoe trail. Between them getting in a little hike.

creek at Days River PathwayBut to our surprise, halfway around the hiking/snowshoe trail, it crossed an ORV/snowmobile trail at the bridge. A wide, snowcovered, groomed, trail! A delightful place to walk and we could go as far and long as we wanted (ORV/snowmobile trails by nature cover a lot of ground). We weren't the first hikers to discover this windfall - the boot tracks were more numerous than the snowmobile tracks, though they petered out as we went on. We walked for an hour, sticking to the main route, no traffic, snaking through the vast pine plantation of this area. Then we turned around and backtracked to finish the rest of the official snowshoe trail back to the parking lot. A very nice walk. And it reminded us that the U.P. is covered with ORV and snowmobile trails, many of which are good for hiking, especially right now with the lack of snow. We have no lack of options that's for sure, near, far, or in-between. What a great abundance for fun.

video thumbnail Auld Lang Syne    12-31-2020 -- One Last Song

We just had to do it! It's a wonderful song that should get more play, but maybe we appreciate it even more since we only get to do it once a year. Link -->

And it has been quite the year. We truly hope you have some good memories, and have more fun plans for 2021. See you then!

 video thumbnail for Minstrel and the Bear12-28-2020 -- The Year of Videos for ManyTracks

Overall our year was not that much different than usual but I doubt we would have embarked on the video adventure if it hadn't been for the lockdown. Since we're into the onset of winter now (slowly up here but it is happening) we decided to finish the year with a favorite song written by a singer/songwriter friend, David Tamulevich (of Mustard's Retreat), called "The Minstrel and the Bear". The feeling and words of the song has always intrigued me and comes to mind every winter. Those special winter storms - cold, calm, then strong winds bringing in significant snow - don't happen every year but we've experienced enough of them to personally feel the song whenever we play it. Hope you enjoy it. Here are the words to the song:

“The Minstrel and the Bear” by David Tamulevich

The wind before the first snow, Creeps down from the north
The land is quiet, waiting for the storm.
The minstrel man picks up his bag, And with his bear sets forth
Along the frozen road to Volgagrad.

He always comes at evening, As the last shadows fall.
Is welcomed in and given food and wine.
He tells them news and stories, And sings them many songs
Of life beyond their knowing and their lives.

The night alive like fire; Starlight in the snow
The pines they roar like demons in the wind.
But it’s good alone and he likes the cold; It’s the life he’s chose
Being all but really no one’s friend.   

Days River Pathway 12-22-2020 -- Longer Days!

The first of the longer days made a good reason to celebrate - with a hike! And the Days River Pathway seemed an appropriate destination (convenient since we we had to be in Gladstone today). I know we'll continue to have beautiful days but today was likely the last of this warm dry stretch and, depending on whether or not there is any real snow accumulation with the forecasted storm, may be the end of walking on the ski trails.

The day was calm, cloudy, and warmer (34 degrees) with a few inches of new snow on the trail, which made for good traction, nice for the steeper ski hills and fun tracking. We came across fox, coyote, rabbit, squirrel, mouse, deer and grouse tracks, in addition Days River Pathway trail mapto a large variety of human, dog, and bicycle as the trail wound its way through the mostly young woods. The recent snow in the conifers added a special touch, and thankfully it didn't warm up enough to get them to the drop-wet-snow-on-the-humans state. In spite of all the traffic (which got lighter the farther away from the trailhead we got) we only came across people and dogs back at the parking lot.

Today we added the Fourth Loop to our last Three Loop trek (the trail loops are consecutive starting at the bottom at the south trailhead). With an added short diversion at the top we went about 7.2 miles, a bit more than 3 hrs, with lunch on the trail and necessary stops to admire the creeks, leaving the Fifth Loop for another time. A very good way to start Winter, with or without snow.

 12-20-2020 -- Celebrating the Solstice!!

With great date numbers, + or - 32 deg outside, light snow cover, light wind, the promise of longer days to come -- we simply had to start our Solstice celebration with a hike.

When we were buying our shoes yesterday we talked with co-owner Keith about Bruno's Run which is about 35 mi north of us. We'd been on that trail now and then over the years for short walks but it had been awhile. When we read the weather forecast for the day we decided it was a perfect day to check it out. Mostly sunny and already heading for 32 deg so we gathered our gear, made some AB&J sandwiches, added a few logs to the woodstove, and with a last scritch and a "we won't be late" to LilliB (who knows enough not to hold us to the latter) we were in the car by 11:00 heading for Hwy 13. An hour later we were at Pete's Lake and on the trail.Bruno's Run Trail map

Bruno's Run is a long-time very popular, easily accessible, 11 mile mountain biking-hiking-running single-loop trail through the Hiawatha National Forest. With beautiful hilly terrain, lakes, creeks, woods, very well maintained, it's easy to understand its popularity though it's not near any population center. Today, when most trails we'd been on would be empty of people, we followed fresh tracks of 2 bicycles, 2 dogs, and 4 people. We ended up meeting and had a nice chat with 2 of the people. Later added tracks of 1 or 2 more humans and a dog (there are a number of access points on the trail). Then a runner with an energetic young dog came by, adding their prints. It was a great day to be on the trail. We also had the company of chickadees, a downy woodpecker and at least one squirrel. And several sections were peppered with the amazing snow flea.

We started out with the sun shining through the hardwoods, though clouds took over the sky as we went along, but the temperature stayed plus or minus 32, with little wind down in the woods. This is a wonderful single track, traversing the hills but with no steep ups and downs, just a gentle roller-coaster loopiSteve at McKeever on Bruno's Runng along the edges. We appreciated that with the slippery footing in the light but trail-packed snow. With no straight or flat sections (except the small bridges over creeks) it was continually interesting. It took me awhile to realize the difference from the ski trails we'd been hiking. This trail was built for bicycles and hiking, avoiding straight ups and downs that would wear and wash out readily with bike traffic. Skiiers, on the other hand, go for significant ups and downs (well, the downs anyway!). The first half of this section, starting at Pete's Lake, was through mixed hardwoods, unfortunately heavy with dead and fallen beech but with enough young regrowth and maples and others to keep it a nice woods. Later were areas of mostly hemlock woods. Though the trail goes down along the lakes - first Grass Lake then along McKeever Lake - we didn't run into any swamps or wetlands, just low woods. It's an amazing area, hilly woods full of lakes. Sue at Deer Creek bridge on Bruno's Run

Two hours into our hike we turned around at the bridge over Deer Creek which runs rather swiftly out of McKeever. Having stopped earlier to sit on a downed tree (no lack of those) to eat our first sandwich, we did the same on the return trip. Two hours later we were back at the car having gone 8 or 9 miles (it's hard to guess mileage on a trail like this). But even though we still felt strong 4 hours was long enough. We got home in the daylight, ready for dinner, and happily satisfied with the wonderful hike.

We'll certainly go back to hike this trail again, hiking the rest of the main loop and maybe the McKeever Hills trail.

 December 18, 2020 -- A Day Off

Presque Isle Park Lake Superior

Today was a "day off" from hiking. Instead we headed up to Marquette to go shoe shopping, something becoming increasingly needed since both of us had hiking shoes with "issues". As neither of us are much fond of shopping we chose one store to go to, a good running/hiking/foot-oriented shoe store, and hoped it had what we both wanted.  They had expanded since we'd been in there last and thankfully had a wide selection and nice, knowledgeable owners - Queen City Shoes. It took a bit of trial but we both found shoes, Steve fairly quickly, me not so. They haven't yet come up with my version of a "just right" shoe, but it was close enough. They have a great store return policy - go hiking, go walking, go do what you do, if they don't work out return them. So we did. We got lunch, went out to our favorite and usual spot at Presque Isle Park to eat, watching the choppy waves on the Lake as the wind picked up. There are many trails up, over, and around Presque Isle and it's a very popular and well used park. It was nice to see so many people out walking, enjoying the day even if it was a bit chilly out in the wind. We simply went around to the other side, added a few layers, and walked along the black rock area and up into the woods. No matter where you are it's a beautiful and interesting place. It's always a nice trek and today we were also testing out our new shoes (not hiking mind you, this being our day off). With a decent hill climb and descent it was a good shoe trial. Steve's were good, mine were a bit too sloppy. So back to the store to check out some other shoes (and ending up with the same just a half size smaller). Which gave Steve time to visit the Marquette Bakery across the street, and next to that the Dead River Coffee Roaster to get a good mocha. All and all a fun day in Marquette, with lots of nice people, including our always stop at the Marquette Food Coop. We got home before dark, there were still coals in the warm wood stove, and it wasn't too far past LilliB's dinner time though she was waiting for us on the porch.  

 December 17, 2020 -- Still No Snow

It's like anything - the more you give your attention to it (no matter what it is) the more it comes into your life. For us right now it's happening with hiking. Need to go to Escanaba to get some boards at Menards? Sure, there's some kind of trail right nearby.  We'd have time for a short hike. We'd passed the small trail-head turn-out many times and knew it headed off into a big tag-elder (or something similar) lowlands which didn't look too inviting but one never knows. So we decided to check out the Escanaba Recreational Non-motorized Pathway in person, starting at the south end off the back of the Comfort Suites parking lot. Now they say it is for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter; and hiking, biking, running in the summer. With a couple feet of snow Escanaba Pathway mapI'm sure it will be a nice cross country ski trail. But the hiking, biking, running is a bit overstated, at least at the south section..

The trail IS generously wide, well marked, with some nice conifer woods and a nice ridge. But one has to first get through about 20 minutes worth of wetlands, really wet lands, which are thankfully well frozen right now. It is also full of frozen swamp grass hummocks and stumps sticking up through the ice and a generous covering of recently mowed thick dried (but very pretty) grass/sedge/reeds, with occasional stubble, all of which we traversed like drunken sailors, sliding a bit, walking and bouncing on and off the hummocks. We now know we both have very good ankles! This was the "EZ Loop". But one does get through that to Loop #1 and up onto the ridge and woods. It really was quite a nice trail at that point, especially being somewhat warmer (than recent outings) at about 30 deg and only a mild breeze. Loop#1 heads down and back out of the wetlands now and then but not hummocky like the beginning (and ending) trek. But considering what they had to work with the folks who built, and maintain, this trail through difficult terrain have done an admirable job and I think it might be a popular local ski trail. There are a couple of northwest loops that look more promising for hiking, however, with a north trail head which we'll check out next trip to Esky.  

 December 15, 2020 -- A New Day, A New Trail

It just keeps happening - another good day to go for a hike. A little colder than the last one but not too much, 23 to begin with and calm, partly sunny (hurray!) and it warmed up a few degrees later on. No new snow. Might as well check out another ski trail. This Rapid River Ski trail maptime the Rapid River National Cross Country Ski Trail. We don't know what makes it national but we know it's very popular with skiing friends. And we found it to be yet another great hiking destination, about 40 miles from home.

The Loop B we took (the gold one) is almost entirely in conifer forest - Red Pine, Balsam Fir, Hemlock, some Spruce, occasional Cedar. Designated "moderate difficulty" for skiing it makes its way, with appropriate ups and downs, along an surprisingly high, then very high, ridge. One certainly wouldn't want to accidentally ski off the trail down the sides (which isn't likely considering the generous number of trees). The trail does head on down to the low bogs/swamps now and then, but mostly it's high above on a beautifully maintained (by those ever busy volunteers) pine needle strewn trail, looking down on (now frozen) wetlands. There are sections along old and current two-tracks but that just makes for a nice change for side-by-side walking.

Rapid River Ski trail BMost trail walking is single file so we change off about every half hour, with a quick (or longer) stop for drinks and snacks, and midway usually a longer one for more substantial food. We finished the loop and were back in the parking lot sooner than we thought. So still with energy left and daylight (we got on the trail earlier this time) we took in a second smaller "snowshoe" loop. Flatter and calmer (most of it is also the "Tot Loop" and follows partly straight along a pipeline clearing) this was a good way to end the hike. Seven miles and less than 3 hours we were back in the car finishing up our lunch (we find it hard to take very much time to eat on the trail when it's cold, no matter how scenic it is). This will be another good trail to return to in the future, with more loops to explore as well, as long as the snow holds off. But when it does arrive (making very happy skiers!) it will be there waiting for us hikers next year. 

The one issue we're still challenged by is keeping our hands warm. We're still working on a good layering system. One that will keep those important fingers happy yet allow some dexterity. In cold temperatures one isn't very inclined to pull hands out of cozy cocoons for even quick chores. But with each trip we come back with ideas -- gives us something to work on during the non-hiking days! Fine-tuning the gear seems to be a big part of the fun.

 December 13, 2020 -- Pine Marten Run

About 20 miles north of us is a Forest Service recreation area called Pine Marten Run. It's mostly a horse trail system with multiple loops through pine and hardwood forests. With several camping areas it's very popular and well used in the no-snow season by the equestrian crowd. You can hike then, too, but it's really best to leave it to the horses. They're happier and a trail well trod by horse hooves is not that great for hiking. However, horse season ends Nov. 30 and with this year's extended hiking season we decided to check out these trails. So last week we went up and hiked not quite half way around Triangle Loop, which goes around and sometimes beside Triangle Lake, which isn't triangle shaped but is a pretty lake. It was a real nice couple hour walk through some beautiful pine and hardwood forest.

We hadn't planned to go hiking today since yesterday we had walked a couple of hours going north off our own property, keeping to the woods since there was a brisk north wind and it was only 25 degrees out. But when I checked the forecast this morning I saw 31 degrees (which would likely mean upper 20's in reality), calm wind, cloudy and no precipitation. With colder temperatures forecast after that with lots of wind, maybe snow (though not likely), it seemed today might be a good day to go. Of course, it was only 22 degrees and we'd gotten a half inch of snow but compared to what might be coming 'round the bend, this was great conditions. And we could still go in walking shoes (with warm socks!). We decided to put away the lists of all the things we were going to do at home today and headed back out.

Pine Marten Run mapOf course, it wasn't an instant walk-out-the-door. We had to decide where to go - there are so many options. Then there is gathering food & snacks, warm drink, deciding what to wear, organizing our packs. But that's a good part of the fun of hiking. We decided to go back to Pine Marten and hike the entire Triangle Lake Loop, going the opposite way around this time. It's a 6.8 mile trail but we figured we had enough time. Days are so much shorter now (maybe you've noticed!) it's something to consider if one wants to get back to the car while still plenty of light to see the trail in a forest setting. We could simply get on the trail earlier but there's always the hope that the day will warm up and the sun appear later. Well, it did get up to 27 degrees and not only was it calm there was absolutely no wind. Quite a change from yesterday's blustery north wind. The sun didn't make an appearance but it was cheery enough. We both were warm and comfortable with our chosen layers of clothing. And with plenty of food and snacks, and enough warm drink, it was a real nice 3 hr walk. 

Pine Marten Triangle Lake loop creekThese trails go through some beautiful mixed woods. There's been some logging but not overly where we were. This worst part was seeing the extensive blow-downs that happened in some very strong storms several years ago. This along with the die-off and subsequent toppling of large dead beeches made for some rough looking woods in areas. It was some real heroes who cleared the trails, not only here but across the U.P.  The Triangle Loop still has numerous step-overs which just made for interest when walking but I doubt would be so nice for horses. I doubt anyone would want to ski this section but it should be interesting snowshoeing when the snows come. The terrain is very up-and-down, rolling ridges and valleys, a diversity of woods. I think you'd be hard pressed to find a flat spot large enough for even a small tent! A pleasant surprise on the trail was coming to a small bridge over a small creek, very peaceful and gentle as it disappeared into the woods (and under numerous fallen trees) in either direction. Creeks are a big draw for both of us. When I got home and looked at Google Earth you could just barely make out its very winding route from Triangle Lake north to the Indian River.

So all-in-all, another enjoyable hike.

 December 10, 2020 -- Still No Snow  --  But a few more outdoor projects completed!

Dec 1 snowstorm househouse bare ground Dec 10  2020


What a difference a year makes...

<--2020                                 2019-->


 December 4, 2020 -- Enjoying Bare Ground

We continue to have dry and relatively mild weather. No snow on the ground and outdoor chores done (at least those that don't require warmer temperatures) so we've often been putting walking/hiking into our days. It's been great. Now that regular deer hunting season is over we're back to walking in the woods, especially nice when it's windy. We feel so fortunate to be able to just walk out our door and into the woods for as long as we want. But during deer season we simply took to the road, a'foot (and in requisite neon orange). We're enjoying doing what we talk so often of all summer but seldom take the time to do.

Trips to town gives us reason to hike different paths and makes the drive worthwhile. Without snow the cross-country ski trails make wonderful walking trails. Tuesday we stopped by Valley Spur near Munising. With a vast network of trails through wooded terrain it's interesting with a lot of options. However, you definitely want to print off and take maps with you! Their signage is marginal at best and geared strictly for the skiers who simply follow the groomed trails in one direction. In a 2 1/2 hr walk we mostly only really knew where we were when in the parking lot! And we're somewhat familiar with the place. Next time we'll take the maps. But we did make it back before dark and it was a nice side trip on the way home from Marquette.

steve on Days River PathwaySue on Days River PathwayWe found the opposite, signage wise, two days later when we checked out the smaller DNR Days River Pathway, north of Gladstone-Rapid River. A very nice park it was easily navigatable whether skiing, biking, or walking, and they welcome all three. With seven well laid out loops it is accessible to most everyone no matter skill or time. Their signs at crossroads/trails were exceptional and easily understood. Just enough signage without overdoing it. Though the Days River Pathway trail mapfirst loops were through recently logged and thoroughly trimmed Red Pine plantation, farther out was some very nice woods, appropriately hilly with the squiggly winding narrow Days River coming in and out of view as it followed its own unique path, often quite far below in cuts and valleys. It was easy to see why this is a very popular local destination, with or without snow. It was fun to see a number of people on the trail, with or without dogs, on a bike or afoot, together or single, each going their own speed, every one with smiles as we passed. We enjoyed our two hours there and look forward to returning.   

 November 26, 2020 -- Happy Thanksgiving! From our House to Yours

video thumbnail There is a TimeThe words of this song by Rodney Dillard and Mitch Jayne (The Dillards/Darlings), 1964, seemed to me particularly fitting, in many different ways, this calm 2020 November day. I changed a few words and the order from the original. I hope you enjoy this song as much as we do. LINK to the video.

        "There is a Time"

There is a time for love and laughter, These days will pass like summer storms;
The winter wind will follow after, But there is love and love is warm.

There is a time for us to wander, When time is young and so are we.
The woods are greener over yonder, The path is new the world is free.

There is a time when leaves are falling, The woods are gray the paths are old,
The snow will come when geese are calling, You’ll need a fire against the cold.

So do your roaming in the springtime, You'll find love in the summer sun.
The frost will come and bring the harvest, And you can sleep when day is done.

Time is like a river flowing, With no regrets as it moves on;
Around each bend a brand new morning, Full of friends you thought were gone.

There is a time for love and laughter, These days will pass like summer storms;
The winter wind will follow after, But there is love and love is warm.

     Yes, there is love, and love is warm.

 November 20, 2020 -- The Nice Days of Novemberthumbnail Oh Susanna & Emma's Pride

There have been plenty of gales and wind this month but we've also had an incredible number of nice days in the 40's, maybe even 50, with no snow, an unexpected bonus for working (playing) outside. Many projects that we didn't think would be done until Spring are done and off the list. What a fun time it has been. Many times we talked about doing a video, thinking to get yet one more outside before the weather really changes but the days went by so fast it didn't happen. Yesterday we realized that that might really be our last chance, looking ahead at the forecast of daytime temps heading down into the 30's. It was partly sunny, a bit breezy but not too bad, mid 40's. It seemed like a very nice day, and it was, compared to the really blustery colder ones we'd had. It's all relative though. We had rather forgotten that mid-40's is a bit cold to be playing outside, especially when the wind picks up and the sun disappears. But we still enjoyed it, maybe the last time outside. Though when we were done our fingers indicated quite firmly that the next video will be inside by that nice warm fire. We hope you enjoy our offering of a warm and cheery song and tune for those colder and cloudier days - Oh Susanna and Emma's Pride - Here.

 NNov 1 stormovember 1, 2020 -- And Now, November Begins

An exciting changeover from October to November with high end gales across the U.P. and both Lakes. South winds yesterday, north winds and snow today. The photo doesn't show the snow blowing horizontally! Actually, we're pretty well protected here, and the snow will melt, we hope quite soon since the 1-2 inches forecast turned into 6-8 inches, and the car is down here by the house, not up in its nice cozy end-of-the-road garage. But sunshine and temps in the 40's promised this coming week.

Manistique Harbor Nov 1 galeWe love the waves of a good storm (well, from shore) and these were high end gales so yesterday evening we headed into Manistique to check out the Lake. Yep, pretty breezy (as I get knocked back a step or two). We stopped at Rogers Park and the waves were quite impressive. But the wind was knocking the tops off the white-caps so the photos looked much more benign than it was. Of course, a lot of the experience of the high wind was in the noise, which wouldn't show in a photo. But we knew the Manistique Harbor would be active so we went on to the new pavilion by the campground, a spot we'd just wet feet from oct 31 Lake Michigan stormdiscovered recently. Sure enough - full scale exposure, high waves breaking against the breakwater, hard to capture but trust me, it was truly a gale. And well worth driving in for. We both took in our fill of the wind and waves and a number of photos. And just as I decided to take a few more shots, trying to catch a particularly high wave, the Lake decided to give me a little closer taste of the water. Fair enough! So we headed off to the restaurant to dry out and check out our favorite waitresses' Halloween costumes. There weren't many Trick-or-Treaters out last night but I think Nature did enough of that on Her own (today included) 

Though they say the winds are stronger today, we decided yesterday's was good enough so today we enjoyed the storm, including the blizzard, at home. A very fitting welcome to November. And we will equally enjoy the coming week of calm and sunshine.

 LilliB on the top shelfOctober 31, 2020 -- Happy Full Moon Halloween!

... from Lillibulero from her favorite safe perch. It wasn't easy to get to this spot but once she managed it, it has been her favorite since. A perfect spot for a dark cat to hang out on a wild windy Halloween night.

 October 30, 2020 -- The Tale of Two Apples (well, actually, quite a few apples but that didn't sound as poetic)

Norkent apples in treeIt's crispy fall, a full moon and Halloween tomorrow, and winding down of peak apple season. Apple crisp, apple bread, applesauce, apple cookies - I've had apples on my mind, and in my life, a lot lately! I mentioned the new (to me) Norkent apple earlier, when it first bloomed. It ended up with a great crop of beautiful apples. I harvested them Sept. 7 and found them to be crisNorkent apple cutp, juicy and delicious. We both really liked this apple. Now each apple variety has its peak time period for the best fresh eating and Norkent was great for a good month. I was hoping for longer (and it may be longer as the tree matures and in a not-so-hot year). But in early October I realized it was losing its special flavor zing, though still firm and juicy. And by the 25th it was tasting a bit blah though still sweet and firm and juicy. But it was time to make sauce of the last of the crop which, mixed with some damaged Haralsons, it did quite well.

The Beacons were gone, having been made into sauce mid October, being then past their peak fresh eating (but making great sauce). I had a lot of Haralsons but they were still on the tart side, though they made great apple crisp! It would be another month before they were ready for good fresh eating (they sweeten and mellow in storage). Of course, if that's all one has then they are quite good enough!

But I had one more variety - Splitter. A nice wilding, it got named at a time that Steve wSplitter apple in basketas doing a lot of wood splitting right next to it. A very nice smallish tree it usually puts out a light crop of medium size, what I call "Duchess type" of apple - late summer, more tart than sweet, a decent enough apple that usually got incorporated with other varieties in sauce or cider. I appreciated its crop as I do all my apples but never thought of it as special in any way, other than really enjoying the tree as it is right beside where we now park the car and I greet it often. But this year it got its rightful due - as a very good fruit - by being at the right place at the right time - in the cellar when no other apple was prime for eating. October 8 -I cut one up and, Hey! It was very good! I'd hit it at its prime, with a nicely balanced tart-sweet (enough sweet) and very good flavor. They had been dropping so I picked the rest Sept. 21. There were only 12 apples but we enjoyed every one after that. So now I know, they want 2 or 3 weeks of storage then they're ready to eat. From previous years I know they don't keep long but now they have a special place as fresh eaters after Norkent and Beacon are past, and before Haralson is ready. Yay Splitter!

Oh yes, one more apple - and it was only one. For its second year, Goodland (which is grafted onto one branch of the north Beacon tree) produced one beautiful large 8 oz apple, picked and eaten the end of September. Very juicy with a sprightly sweet flavor with a touch of ?grape? to it. Not real crisp but quite a very good apple. We grafted more onto other branches this year and I look forward to having enough of a crop to try it out for cider. I think it could be very good.

Hoholik2 appleAnd yet one more, but this is indeed the last and the last to be harvested. Again just one apple, what I've named Hoholik after the original farm family who planted (or allowed to grow) the mother tree maybe 100 yrs ago. The farm, now owned by friends, we'd gotten scions and grafted onto a rootstock in the orchard, which is growing well and healthy but hasn't fruited yet. We guess the original might be an old Golden Delicious. At the time we also put a graft on a branch of the above mentioned wild Splitter tree and this graft produced one apple this year (and three last year). A very nice 6 oz healthy pretty apple. It was Oct. 20 and due to the many freezes we were having I decided to pick it even though it wasn't real excited about coming off. It was mature though as the seeds were ripe brown when I cut into it a week later. Quite interesting, the apple didn't look much like the original (which was a green/yellow with just an occasional blush patch), nor like last year's apples (which were closer to the original). This year's had a lot of red. It was moderately crisp, moderately juicy, moderately flavor. No Wow but a decent eater. It's possible it needs more time in storage but I won't know until I have more apples to trial. Maybe next year! The original tree unfortunately fell over (it was well past its prime) and they had to cut it down. So I'm particularly anxious for our main tree in the orchard to fruit to compare to the Splitter's graft and to what I remember of the original tree's apples.

And that really is the last of my apple wanderings! We now have only Haralsons left in the root cellar but thankfully a very good harvest which will keep us in fresh eating apples as well as fresh sauce well into next year. It is our only real winter storage apple thus far and I'm so thankful it decided to crop heavy this year. 

 October 15, 2020 -- "Toad" update

Off and on during the night I thought about the toad - would he get in the mousetrap (livetrap), would he jump off the bed (falling on the very hard stone floor), was there enough for him to eat, should I have put out a dish of water, should I put him back outside ... A litany that did no one any good! In the morning I went right into the shop and shined a light through the window into the greenhouse and there he was, sitting on the wood sill near the parsley, looking east out the window, waiting for the sun to come up? I went out to talk to him about moving back to the garden. When I stepped into the greenhouse he hopped up on the side of the nearby small plastic waterintree frog on watering cang can, having no trouble hanging on. Oh... Steve came out just then with the comment that toads don't do that. Yeah, I know. My only excuse is that I expected a toad and never looked any closer (though you'd think the coloring would have given me a clue!). I've seen a lot of toads in the garden but never a tree frog. It didn't occur to me that one might decide to hibernate there, though it certainly is easy digging. But Tree Frog he certainly is, and a handsome cute one at that. Obviously quite awake I quickly scooped him up as he hopped to the top of the watering can and I worried he might hop into the water. We headed out to the garden and I set him down in the newly planted garlic patch with lots of mulch, freshly dug soft dirt, and no one digging in there until next fall. He calmly hopped off my hand, in no big hurry, and surveyed his newest surroundings. Thankfully there is plenty of time for him to re-hibernate before the really cold weather sets in. I think we'll both sleep better tonight.

 October 14, 2020 -- Moving Daygreenhouse bench October

Though the weather thus far this month has been rather mild (not counting the ongoing high winds!) they are forecasting a couple of low 20's nights this week so I decided it was time for the big move into the greenhouse. It was already cleaned and ready, the deep bed along the house watered and compost added (it gets very dry during the uninhabited summer months), and the spiders lectured on better moderation in their enthusiastic web building. We've had several days of on and off rain which was good weather for moving plants into their winter quarters. It's not a large crowd, mostly young lettuce and spinach seedlings and two full grown parsley. There is still lettuce and spinach in cold frames in the garden, too, and parsley, which I'll harvest from until it gets seriously cold or snowy. By then the young greenhouse plants will have had a chance to grow, though it is slow growing this time of year.

I also found and moved a young Calendula which is sure to provide a bright spot of color this winter. Calendula doesn't seem to mind the cold or lack of sun; it grows and flowers anytime of year. And an Alyssum side shoot which I hope will perk up to add a sweet flower aroma. The back of the bed looks a little sparse but there are four hibernating Stevia plants dug in to be replanted back out in the garden in the spring. I tried this with one plant the last two years and they did well. Though Stevia is a perennial it isn't hardy and will winterkill if left in the garden. Mostly I grow it as an annual, newly seeded each spring, but digging and replanting the mature plant is easier and grew larger.

greenhouse bed OctoberThe last, but not least, transplant into the greenhouse are the daffodil bulbs. I dig up a clump (we have a lot of them growing out and around) and wriggle out some of the healthy rooted bulbs to plant throughout the bed. Many of them will produce flowers mid winter to cheer up the cold white world outside. They are an amazing and tenacious flower! And then there is the very special guest this year. When I was lifting one of the Stevia clumps into its new home in the bed some of the dirt fell off and out fell a small toad! He had likely dug himself down into the dirt for the winter and I'm sure this was quite an unwelcome rude awakening. He is about 1 1/2 inches and a pretty black-white-gray coloring. I quickly moved him under a recently transplanted parsley with the hopes he will dig down and re-establish his winter quarters and get back to sleep. It won't be as cold as out in the garden, but hopefully to his liking. 

Addendum:  It's 8:00 pm and I just went out in the greenhouse with a flashlight to close the insulated front curtain. Might as well keep some of that daytime heat in. As I walked out I quickly shined the light at the parsley at this end and there perched on a leaf was the little toad, quite wide awake! I quickly turned the flashlight away, out of his eyes. I'm sure I moved in plenty of earthworms and likely other garden insects with the plants but whether there is enough to feed a small toad I don't know. I'll have to do some research. I may have to move him back out to the cold, but natural habitat, garden. Though I certainly wouldn't mind having a companion toad out there, if he might enjoy it.

 October 8, 2020 -- Beautiful Octovideo thumbnail Arran Boat Song - Shady Groveber

The changing colors of fall is such a magical time, and every year is so different. This year seems to be a lot of golds and browns with subtle small patches of red, and still a lot of varied greens. After a rainy spell we've had wonderful sunshine and been making full use of this great October weather to fill the woodshed and get the potatoes in the root cellar. Steve's been in daily contact with chainsaw and wood splitter (and so appreciative of the good tools that makes that big project go better!). I drop in to the project to help stack - a fall ritual I love. My time is, as is often the case, in the winding-down garden (mostly digging potatoes recently) and getting the young orchard trees ready for winter. It's a great time of year to be outside.

But we realized it is indeed "that time of year" when the weather can change rapidly and if we wanted to do another outdoor video while the temps were mild we better take time out to do that. Plus the beautiful leaves have a tendency to fall fast some years. So this was the day. To get some of that beautiful red maple color for our backdrop we took to the roof. It was fun to be up there and not be digging or hauling dirt! We enjoyed our morning musical interlude as a start to this beautiful day - hope you do, too. Here is the YouTube LINK (or click on the photo). The rest of our day was great, too. The woodshed is now full (hurray!) and there is a very good start on next year's stack in the field.  

For a list of all of our videos and links (in our Music section) click here: LINK.

thumbnail for Shenandoah September 22, 2020 -- Warm & Sunny, Head to the River

It would have been a great day for a row but this trip to the river was to do a video. We had thought of the fairly wide Escanaba River as a nice setting for the beautiful song Shenandoah and had checked out some possible locations on a previous trip where we discovered the Escanaba Boat Launch and Fishing Piers. An older installation with plenty of vegetation the piers felt surprisingly secluded, at least this time of year. As we had need to go to Escanaba today we decided to stop on our way home and do the video.  We much appreciated the warm and sunny day as we know there may not be many more of them yet this year. Click on the picture or HERE to go directly to the video on YouTube. Or go to the list of all of our videos (in our Music section) and click on the one you want from there - here is the LINK for that page. However you get there, we hope you enjoy our little musical adventures via video!

 September 18, 2020 - First Hard Freeze of the Season

Night before last there was mention of scattered frost, which meant frost for sure in our frost-pocket little valley. It wasn't the first we'd had this month so the blankets were ready at hand and the necessary plants covered. It got down to 29 in the orchard, and would be warmer in the garden near the still warm ground. All was well. But yesterday they got a little more serious about it - Widespread Freeze - with possible 20's hinted. And a red warning box on the NOAA forecast page. That wasn't really necessary - if you'd lived here long enough you could feel it - but I certainly took them seriously. As usual I'd hoped for a few more growing weeks since, as is often the case, it's supposed to warm back up after this cold spell. But not to be, so yesterday, while Steve went out to cut firewood, I harvested. And they were right - it got down to 24 degrees out in the open. Cold enough!

A really nice full sweet pepper crop with many ripe, red peppers filled up their spot along two walls of the root cellar, plants with their fruit hung where the under-ripe peppers will continue to ripen and keep surprisingly fresh for quite awhile. A small basket of cherry tomatoes at various stages of ripe will brighten our salads for many weeks to come. The grapes had done their best in spite of buds being frozen twice in the spring, with a small crop with enough ripe for a batch of juice. If there had been more I would have covered them but instead I harvested. NEXT year I'll remember to cover them in the spring so they can get that needed extra long growing season. Grapes are an iffy crop here but I keep trying.

winter squash harvestSquash had a late start getting going this year, maybe due to the unusual record heat so I didn't know if there would be any ripe ones. But I had detected some orange amongst the very lush large leaves so I hoped. Turns out there was no need to worry, they loved this over-hot summer and made record time ripening. I think we'll have enough squash! There were five not quite ripe good sized fruit left in the plants so I double-blanket covered those to see if they can make it.

Apples! I wasn't too concerned about the apples but the Beacons were about done aHaralson apple crop on treenyway so I harvested the rest - a light but very nice crop. And my one and only Goodland - big and beautiful. My trees all seem to be biennial bearing so each year is different as to what varieties we have. This year it was Haralson's turn to be top dog and it seemed to know it. It put out with great enthusiasm. I did some thinning early on (definitely should have done more!) and it did its own thinning later by early dropping damaged or too crowded fruit but it hardly looked like it. They're a keeper and will get milder and sweeter in storage, keeping well into late winter so it's a good one to have. As the fruit is real close to ripe (and keeps better if picked before really ripe) I picked the bottom half, what i could reach without the ladder, and got almost 2 bushels! Probably nearly that many still on the tree. I hope those hang on for awhile because the root cellar is not very cold yet. But it's fun to have it filling up.

Of course, though the garden looks pretty wilted and done-in today, there is still much out there - potatoes and carrots, parsley, spinach and lettuce to move into the greenhouse when the cold really sets in. Meantime, there will be many warm days yet, and likely frosts, and the woodshed is cleaned out and ready to start filling. Autumn is a great time of year.

 September 15, 2020 - Lush Rooflush planted growth on roof

new clerestory facade and growthApparently I really had planted plenty enough seed ...

maybe we should consider adding a goat to the roof.

 September 8, 2020 - The New Hill is Finished!

entry hill reburiedSteve spent the day shoveling, moving sod, sculpting, re-arranging, hauling rock. He finished just when it started to sprinkle so I quickly grabbed the last of the rye grass and tossed it out. Rain forecast tonight and tomorrow so it was good timing. A few more smaller projects on the window corner and we can have a celebratory dinner for the job done. All we'll have to do is watch it grow and enjoy this part of the outer house that we see the most. In a few years whoutside entry refurbisheden all the vegetation gets growing it probably won't look much different but we'll know and at least for awhile we'll remember. It won't take long for new projects to take our attention (I hardly remember the roof work!) which is what keeps us going. Always something new, even when it's old.

September 13 - the final odds and ends completed - and now we can cross this one off our lists!

dirt half way up the wall

 September 7, 2020 - Almost There!

Mid-morning we started in digging. Though it was still windy we had another beautiful day with enough clouds to keep us cool (and we are very much appreciating having good U.P. temperatures now! Even if we do have to wait for it to warm up in the morning). It was a pleasing rhythm - dig, stomp, dig, stomp. By noon the dirt was well up the wall! Wow, this was going faster than I thought it would.

almost buriedAfter lunch (and a welcome short nap) Steve went back to it while I headed off to the garden and orchard to take care of some other chores. Fall will arrive soon and there was a spell of rain forecast. As I went back and forth the change taking place amazed me. We had decided we wanted a different landscape footprint this time and Steve put his sculpture talents to the task but with dirt instead of his usual wood. It's amazing what can happen when one really gets into it and just keeps going. I certainly didn't expect it to be this far along by the end of the day. There's more to do but the end is now much easier to imagine.

chipmunk in dirtA resident chipmunk has been our regular companion. Sometimes I think he's enjoying the goings-on. But today it was obvious he was intent on stocking up and I doubt he appreciated this constant moving of his dirt piles and people in his way. Not to mention the destruction of well made tunnels (in yesterday's photos you can see a hole in the upper part of the bank, one of his most elegant entrance/exits). There really wasn't much we could do about it but trust he/she has time to stash enough when we're done, which I'm sure there will be. And I know he'll soon have new tunnels in the fresh laid dirt.

foam insulation on rebuilt entry wall

 September 6, 2020 - Making the Sandwich

Maybe not as tasty as some sandwiches but it certainly was welcome! First a second layer of new plastic over the old (just in case), then 2" of new insulation, kept dry by the main waterproof layer of sturdy EDPM. Before the dirt goes on we'll cover that with some closed cell foam that will help protect the EDPM from roots (and chipmunks and such). This is one secure wall! And certainly will be better insulated. The styrofoam and beadboard that we removed, which were on top of the waterproofing not under it, the way the whole house was built, were at various stages of waterlogged. That was the standard system of the time - now we all know better.

reburying from abovevinyl installed - start the reburyIt was a bit tricky getting all the slippery layers installed at this angle, especially with gale force winds to help! But it didn't rain and finally - it was time to start the rebury! The hole that seemed small when we were working in it how seemed quite large! Thankfully, we're digging sand not gravel or clay. And yes, I did get to do a share of the rebury. Wouldn't want to miss the fun.

good start to the rebury first dayBy the end of the day it was great to have the bottom knee-wall buried and being able to walk in at ground level. In spite of the piles of dirt to go it doesn't seem quite so daunting now that we've begun to put the dirt back. We no longer had to cover it with the hard-working tarp. It was a high point to fold that up and put it away! While the basic shoveling suits me Steve gets to do all the fine-tuning and bits and pieces that always go along with any job on our sometimes challenging house. It works - as he finishes up I go make dinner!

mixing concrete for footings

 September 4, 2020 - New Footings!

It certainly brought back memories! Gathering the tools, remembering the formula, mixing cement, sand, gravel in the wheelbarrow. I mixed and Steve hauled many wheelbarrows of concrete when we were building the house so many years ago. It wasn't all by hand (though there was quite a bit of that) since the main footing pour came by truck (remember that, Nancy?!) and most of the other concrete was mixed in our reliable and much appreciated green cement mixer . Later when we added stuffing concrete in footing formsbrick to the front wall and rebuilt the greenhouse of stone it was back to the wheelbarrow, keeping the brick and stone layer supplied with mortar. These are good memories.

Thifootings dones job was much smaller - three deep footings to replace the rotted bottoms of the posts - but it was still a lot of mixing and placing and tamping and finishing, made a bit tricky since the posts are at an angle and in place but the footings are straight up and down, stuffed around and under the posts, kneeling in a small space both inside and out. But when they were done and the tools all cleaned (I well remember that part, too!) we were very happy with the results. I expect this repair will well outlast us and whoever comes after. It was a satisfying part of the project.  

outer entry wall repair

 August 29, 2020 - A Step of Success

Digging and more digging - but the bottom finally emerged, down farther than I thought it could be. After removing a number of layers of foam, both insulation and barrier, it was great to find the bottom waterproofing plastic in good shape. Underneath, the boards were in good shape as well except at the bottom front edge where there had been a long term leak which rotted the boards in that area, and the rotted structural posts where they were in contact with the wet dirt at the bottom. We knew about both (though not the extent) so it wasn't a surprise.

The big question now was could the center post be jacked out successfully to get it back in line enough that we could just rebuild the bottom of the structure and not have to tear off and rebuild the entire thing. We had cojacking post back outnsidered a number of ideas, the easiest, though not the most creative, being to repair and rebury, keeping the same design. This is the solution we were aiming for, and today was test day. Inside, with the washer moved and the area cleared and cleaned, Steve carefully secured the jack against the laid stone floor of the main room and to the center post, which being at such an angle didn't make the process easy but it worked. So one pump at a time, without fanfair or fuss, the post moved back out. Oops, too far, now there was a hump instead of a dip. Back down. I checked the outside wall for straight across, and that was it. Back in shape. The end walls of this little space had kept the two side posts more or less in place. All three had pulled down some when they came in, but not excessively, and the only way to get them back in original place would be to tear it all apart. We decided it was good enough.

Of course, this isn't really it. There's a bit of work to do now, with concrete and new boards, to repair and rebuild the damaged bottom area, replace the insulating foam with new dry pieces, cover with new waterproofing membrane (the original design has the waterproof barrier under the insulation not on top of it, resulting in waterlogged not-very-insulating styrofoam), and then, finally, reburying. It seems like a lot but knowing where we're headed and having a plan makes it feel quite do-able, which I'm sure it will be. Having temperatures finally back to U.P. cool makes it easier as well, even if we're having to play cat-and-mouse with the scattered rain. But the rain has encouraged the recently reburied roof to grow. And it turns out there was plenty of buckwheat and oats left after the chipmunk had collected his share, so we have a healthy crop of both growing along with the more recently seeded rye grass. It will be a lush pasture soon!

So all in all, a good day, topped off with a trip to town for a traditional dinner out at a favorite restaurant (Happy Birthday, Steve!).   

 August 23, 2020 - Entry Hill Work Begins

shoveling dirt off entry hillWe took a few days off in-between, catching up on other chores, discussing options and ideas, then decided to just go ahead and start digging and figure it out when we get there. This is the east "wall" of our entry, or part of it anyway. The main house is sturdy and secure on larger-then-necessary footings (or so the building inspector said - after we had already poured the footings). But when it came to the pantry/root cellar and entry/porch we chose to build using cedar and tamarack posts for "footings", probably due to time, money, and ease of building. This worked well - until the the posts started rotting, as wood posts in the ground tend to do. We did what we could from the inside, and in the back (pantry and root cellar) decided that though they had moved in some, the wall structure appears to be holding things all together so we would just leave it be unless we saw more movement. To replace the posts would mean digging down all the way down to the footings - not a job we want to do (the roof and down a few feet was quite enough!). But the entry really did need more attention. The design is a bit odd but there is an 8 foot section next to a front window that slants out at an angle from the roof to the ground, making a nice little triangle area for the washer (the design was meant to help balance the dirt on the other side of the house). The wall boards rest on tamarack posts, the bottoms of which, having rotted, pushed in, especially the center one. We made temporary supports from the inside some years ago but it was time to make the major repair. Which meant, as most work on our house means, dig in, and dig it out. We're quite up to speed now on digging, and after a couple of hours made pretty good progress. As it is once again sunny, hot and humid that was enough for the day. But it felt good to get started on this project we've been considering for so long. And we had good company while we worked, the resident chipmunk sat nearby, cheeks full (I don't want to know with what), watching, or running across the area, up and over the dirt piles. We had to be careful not to toss a shovel-full of dirt on him.

 August 20, 2020 - Roof Work Finished

re-done rood and clerestoriesHurray! It's done! The last dirt hauled, the last sod placed, new front and ends on the clerestory, and seed scattered to help rebuild the vegetation. Since I had a supply of buckwheat and oats on hand I spread that seed around generously, knowing it would be hit and miss for germination since it wouldn't be properly buried, and with so much sifty sand as part of the soil structure some would likely wash away when we got a good rain. We hoped for some rain (August has been dry) but no gully washers. Well, we've been fortunate on the no-hard-rain but rather lacking in any moisture at all, so I've spent many hours on the roof with the hose, admiring the view, the new roof, and the many baby toads who don't at all like being sprinkled. Oh, and not to forget the resident chipmunk (or two) who has taken a great interest in all this activity. It turns out I didn't need to worry about how the buckwheat would germinate because it didn't take long at all for the resident chipmunk (with likely help from friends and/or a red squirrel or two) to vacuum all those neat little buckwheat seeds off the bare ground and safely bury for future consumption (I assume). Well, if I'd thought about it I guess that shouldn't surprise me, but I didn't think they'd take ALL the seed! I think they're working on the oats now. So next trip to town Steve picked up a bag of rye grass. Hopefully that much smaller seed isn't as popular. I had better luck with some extra lettuce and spinach seed that I tossed about. Maybe we'll be picking salads off the roof this fall! But all that is just to get something rooted and growing to hold the soil until the local vegetation  can regrow and spread out again. This doesn't include blackberries, however, who would love to take over, and which we will endeavor to keep out.

back cut in bankback doorAlong with the roof work we finally, after all these 35 years, put finishing touches on the back door area. It is an emergency exit idea that hardly ever gets used. But next to the door is a window into the pantry which lets in light and air when opened (and every year hosts a phoebe nest though it's isn't a particularly good spot). And now there is a much nicer view out the window which we're enjoying. And it feels good to step out the door, onto new brick and pavers, so maybe the back entrance will get more company now.

 August 16, 2020 - Alarm in the Buckwheat

buckwheat floweringA week or so ago I noticed the last patch of buckwheat was starting to phase from flower to seed so it was time to cut it down. I often grow buckwheat whenever I have an empty bed or patch for green manure or mulch. Letting it flower allows the pollinators to enjoy it (though they've been very sparse this year) and it's quite attractive. If I don't cut it well before it goes to seed I end up with buckwheat "weeds" next year. I'd already taken care of two earlier patches. (I usually do this with the scythe but as the space was tight I tried our Greenworks battery hedger which worked surprising well, even though I had to run it on my knees.)

So I put it on my mental list to get to this bed of buckwheat soon. But about the same time I became aware of some persistent chipping when I was in that area of the garden. This was more strident and intense than the common chip-chirp of the Chipping Sparrows. Then I saw who it was - a male Indigo Bunting was directing his chips at me from a perch on top of the buckwheat. He didn't fly away, but moved next door to the corn, watching me, and chitting, the whole time. The next few days it became apparent that something serious was going on here. Not only did I often have the male chipping at me but I realized there were alarm-chirps coming from within the buckwheat patch. Then I saw the male and female emerge together to perch nearby. So, no question about it now; there will be no cutting down of the buckwheat patch, at least not for awhile. It seems a bit late but with the unusual weather extremes of this year there really is no "normal" and it does appear that they've chosen that spot for an August nest. 

Indigo Bunting maleThe male is so attractive amongst the white mass of buckwheat blossoms so when I saw him there again I ran back to the house to get the camera. He usually sticks around for some time. But when I came back both the male and female were off nearby fussing loudly at someone else. When I came back into the garden the male flew over to a nearby nest box to check me out, staying long enough for a photo op before going back to help his partner chase off whoever else they were upset about.

Thankfully for their peace of mind I'm not spending a lot of time in the garden right now. I haven't seen, or heard, the male the last few days so maybe his guard duty has eased off, or he's decided I'm not that much of a threat. I've heard some chirps from the buckwheat patch and have seen the female briefly so I assume all is well. Meantime, I walk/work gently around that area when I'm out there and wish the Indigo Buntings the best weather for their new family.

 August 10, 2020 - Looking Better!

begin reburying the roofFalmost done reburing roofriday we finally began recovering the roof and after a couple of good hard work days, and a big incentive of wanting to get it reburied keeping us going, it is much closer to being back to it's "green roof" self. It's not done yet but we took today off to work on some indoor projects. Being a hot and very humid day with thunderstorms forecast (which apparently went elsewhere) helped that decision! It feels good to be able to imagine the completion of this phase of our summer house repair/renovation projects.

thumbnail Tam's Slow MarchOur new video camera arrived Friday so before we started working on the house yesterday we decided to give it a test and re-record Tam's Slow March. We were quite pleased with the results, both audio and video, and glad we switched from the phone. We had a little extra accompaniment on this one in the form of a nearby, and very vocal, cricket, and a fly-by bird adding its little bit. Nice to have company. The camera is a Zoom Q2n 4k. Here's a link to the video: LINK (or click on the thumbnail). 

  August 3, 2020 -- Update: Videos and Roof

After putting the videos online we discovered there was an audio problem with them. So we've taken the videos down. Sigh... Not sure what caused the issue so we did what one has to do -- we ordered a new video camera (we've been using a phone). And we will redo these two songs. They deserve it!

reinstalling foam on roofAnd the roof -- good news there. We had a beautiful U.P. weather type cool north wind day (ahhhhhhh) today and made good progress. It may not look like such  great progress in the photo but we are very happy to be at this stage of putting new (and old) foam insulation back on, and soon (tomorrow) new (and old) waterproofing. Then on to the fun part - reburying.

We had a healthy batch of new toads born this year (about 3/4 inch long now) and I'm sure they (and us) will be happy when we're done and they can hop around in peace without worrying about being stepped on, dirt thrown on, weird stuff in their way, and humans forever moving them or trying to direct them where they don't want to go. Same for small snakes and a lone chipmunk. One is never alone up here!

August 1, 2020 -- Up On the Roof 

Since we've been spending so much time on the roof we decided to do a couple of videos up there. The world around us is so intensely varied shades of green and brown and the different levels (roof and ground and tree tops) adds a lot to the design. Unfortunately, that part doesn't show up much in the video or photos, but the height of summer dress of the trees and vegetation is enough. We're sitting on the front east half of the house roof, the camera looking south.Wonderful World video thumbnail

So often these past months the song "What a Wonderful World" has been in my mind. The words seem to remind me that everything is indeed all right. We started doing this one early in the year and it's one of my favorites. Though we don't have any red roses (yet - I did plant one this spring!) we certainly have an abundance of trees of green, skys of blue, and clouds of white.

Tam's Slow March video thumbnail"Tam's Slow March" is a tune Steve discovered on a YouTube video some time ago and immediately wanted to learn it. I really enjoy it as well and have to keep focused on my playing so I don't just stop and listen instead. It comes from Scottish Borders fiddler Tom Hughes (aka Tommy or Tam) possibly in the early/mid 1900's. His grandson (who learned it from his grandfather) calls it Tommy Hughes' March.

You can click on the pictures to go direct to the YouTube videos. Or go to our Videos Page on the website where all our videos are listed and click on whichever video roof workers August 1, 2020you want to view. Here's the link to that page: VIDEOS.

Today's videos show the part of the roof that hasn't needed to be dug up (thankfully) since the moss is growing so nicely in that area. But after we finished recording it was back to work, back to the usual homestead attire, and turn back to the not-so-photogenic (right now) back part of the roof which we hope to get back to its wonderful repaired, buried, growing self soon. 

 July 24, 2020 -- House Roof Repairs Adventures

roof repair clerestory 2020Where to start - that seemed the biggest hurdle. We had two leaks, one of which Steve had temporarily repaired several years ago and as good as duck tape is it wasn't a comfortable permanent solution. The other we sort of knew at least part of the problem, and also had a temporary repair in place which worked except in big downpours, which meant there was more to it, somewhere. Both were caused by small holes chewed in our plastic waterproofing by some unknown little rodent for unknown reasons. The mice went elsewhere but the ants loved the easy entrance. It was time to fix both.

We had already decided this would be the summer for roof repairs and reconstruction (entry room and greenhouse). Our wonderful house is 35 years old, created and built with a lot of enthusiasm, not much money, and even less experience. In spite of that it has done us well so we aren't complaining at this year's work. We've done some repairs and upgrades in years past, but it's been awhile. It was hard to get the shovels out and start unburying what we'd hoped would never need to be unburied again, especially when we didn't know just where or what we'd find. But we had the extra incentive thanks to the mice.

We've had mice in the not ever quite finished add-on pantry and root cellar from the beginning. A few now and then, mostly in the winter. It wasn't much of an issue to trap and move them until we got around to putting the final touches on that back area. When we had two super hunter cats they no doubt kept the numbers down, too. But this year we've had a mouse explosion - not just in the back but in the main part of the house - 4 to7 a night - nicely spaced about an hour apart. Noisy mice, trap eating mice (we live trap), cute but sleep-disturbing-irritating mice. And a wonderful much-loved cat who is a moderate but not overly enthusiastic hunter. Besides, mice inside aren't as exciting or interesting as mice outside. Apparently. And if we thought it was hard to track down a leak, well, trying to figure out where a mouse, or many mice, were suddenly getting in turned out to be ridiculously difficult and frustrating. But this was a challenge that really needed to be solved. So as soon as the garden, orchard, firewood, spring chores were caught up our attention turned to the house. We hadn't planned on this year's record heat, which has slowed us down, but we've adjusted.

We had some fairly good guesses for mice entrances, and the leaks, and other more common construction issues. We'd just take them one at a time, and figure it out as we went along. After all, that's how we had built the house and that worked out fine. Sure, we'd do many things different if we built again, but we didn't want to build again. Considering that option, repairing was more enticing. And we've always enjoyed working on the house together. We just had to decide where to start. While we weighed pros and cons, levels of importance, this and that, a bear came along and decided for us.

In the middle of the night a number of weeks ago some noise woke me up. Being used to this by now, I got up without even waking all the way up, to take care of the noisy mouse. Steve woke up, too, and when I said something to him about "another mouse" he replied, "I don't think it's a mouse" as he looked out the clerestory window at a very large black bear, busily digging for ants and making a mess of our carefully arranged tarps covering one of the known leaks. The bear apparently didn't care for the sudden lights and noisy humans and took off, and we decided where to start our work, which we began soon after. The repairs would also take care of a lot of the ant problem. We'll never get rid of the ants, of course, but we don't need to encourage large populations by the house.

From the inside we stopped up possible mouse entrances as we discover them, including making a new cat door after I watched a mouse simply trot in that easy entrance. Lilli wasn't at all impressed with the new arrangement but after a few adjustments decided it would do. Another (we're pretty sure) entrance was unearthed along our west roof-wall edge, now blocked with cement. So the numbers have gone down, but not ceased completely. But there's hope as work continues. And we look forward to the day when the entire house is repaired-reconstructed-reburied-regrowing, and the inside is mouse and ant and rain free. Meantime, work is coming along and our mornings (before it gets too hot and when it's not raining) are committed to our house. garden July 2020Though the mosquitoes are apparently not taking time off this summer (this is their kind of weather!) the numbers have gone down so we can even work sometimes in the (sometimes) cooler evenings. Apparently we have gotten somewhat used to the unusual heat since a few days of wonderfully "normal" U.P. temperatures in the mid 70's actually felt cool! We've sure enjoyed those days.

Unlike us the garden loves this hot and humid weather and is growing happily and healthily with little attention from me, feeding us generously, with great appreciation from us. So summer continues here on the homestead. We're happy and healthy as well.


 July 9, 2020 -- Hot, Hot, and More Hot  --  And an Anti-Itch Solution

Used to be, just one year ago, 80 degrees was hot, something we'd get occasionally for a few weeks in July, with cool nights to keep the corn from growing too fast. But this year 90 with lows in the 60's has become "normal", and the corn is growing crazy. And it's just a week into July. South winds, sunny, calm, humid, with sporadic thunderstorms. I know, this is common for much of the country, so what are we complaining about? Well, you see, Yoopers can melt at those temperatures! Though we seem to be holding together just fine in spite of it; even (almost) getting used to it. I admit it's a nice change from worrying about frosts. And what most needs to get done is getting done, and what is better to wait for cooler weather is waiting. We search the forecasts and radar pictures for thunderstorm-clear weather to hook up the boat trailer and head to the water, and hope for a gentle rain at night for the garden and orchard. Life is pretty good here in the northwoods. No matter what, there's a solution to be had.

yellow dock in flowerAnd speaking of solutions, I just got a new batch of one of our most appreciated "solutions" going -- an herbal homemade anti-itch tincture. It's easy and it works well. This year has come with a bumper crop of mosquitoes (and black flies which have thankfully calmed down) so we've been using a lot of it. The main ingredient is Yellow Dock root. I used to have to head out north and south of our property to find some but I finally harvested some seed in the fall, tossed it in an area by the woodshed, and I now have my own patch. It's a hardy weed so I expect it'll be around now. Being biennial some plants are flowering now (the ones you can see in the photo) and others first year low growing but fairly large leafed plants. This is what I dig up to get the long root, clean it, chop into pieces into a jar and cover with vodka. Then a week or two later I gather the green herbs, chop and add to the mix. Let set for a number of weeks, stirring or shaking now and then, until I get around to straining and bottling the new brew for next year's itchy bites season (or anything else that causes itchy reaction). Just dab or rub in on the spot, several times and as needed, and it usually calms things down after a short time.

lemon balm and chickweed in basketThe one problem with this tincture is that yellow dock root is also a good strong dye plant, which means one has to take care since it can stain clothing. But the alcohol dries pretty fast and we're usually in work clothes anyway so it's not much of a problem. I've been making it for a long time and I don't recall when or just how I came up with the recipe but these are the herbs I've been including, all readily available in garden or field:

yellow dock root  //  lemon balm  //   chickweed   //   burdock or Witch Hazel leaf

This year I couldn't find the normally easy to see burdock. I think the very vigorous and aggressive wild blackberries crowded it out. But a few years back I'd planted a Witch Hazel bush which has grown well and perfect for this use. So this year's batch has Witch Hazel leaves instead of burdock. And I threw in a few plantain leaves, too. Basically it is a combination of anti-inflammatory and astringent herbs of kinds that I have available. It's a yearly tradition that we make good use of.

garden June 29

 June 29, 2020 - Summer!

Summer for me begins when the garden is all planted, growing and mulched, hopefully (and usually) by the end of June. And this year the garden came through right on time; it's happily settled in for the summer, feeding us well. But the coming "hot weather of July" that we usually plan for is a bit hard to figure since we've been getting those 80's July temperatures since the end of May! A strange year indeed. It's hard to guess just what July, and the rest of summer, will bring but we intend to enjoy it all the same. The mosquitoes, black flies and ticks are easing off, stacks of firewood are drying in the field, the orchard is looking good. Steve put the final touches on his Row Cruiser and it went for its first row of the season yesterday, along with my kayak, for a beautiful evening on the water. Other spring chores are finished so we're changing gears, planning to do some major work on the house and spending more time on the water. I think we're ready for July. We're ready for summer.

old Jensen fishing tug

 June 25, 2020 - Off-Site to Manistique Harbor

On land by the local commercial fish dock in Manistique is an old rusty fishing tug near where we often walk when in town. We've stopped to admire this sturdy work boat, wondering at its many Steve & Sue playing at Manistique Harboryears of hauling fishermen and fish. Stan Rogers song, "Tiny Fish for Japan", a favorite of ours, fit right in. So yesterday, before we headed to the Farmer's Market to play, we set up near the boat for our weekly video. It was a beautiful day and the large body of the boat did a fairly good job of blocking the wind, plus dampening somewhat the noise from the work being done on the marina next door. It felt good playing this song in an appropriate environment. LINK.

 June 15, 2020 - A Bit of Cool, a Lot of Sunshine

garden covered blankets frostWe've had a short spell of frosty nights and some truly beautiful warm enough/cool enough sunny days for great working out of doors. Thankfully the frosts were light though it did require covering a good portion of the garden for four nights. It's a bit late in the month for frost but not all that unusual. Many plants are still in their protective cold frames; easy to manage. But this year with the very unusual heat (we just don't get 80 degrees in June!) (well, we didn't used to...) things like potatoes and beans and corn, a good portion of the garden, were up and running, spurred on by the heat and the rain, and not at all up to being frosted. So the stack of old garden blankets and sheets were brought out, with not one extra left over, and everyone made it through with no damage. Today they were dried and back in storage as the temps are again rising, with more 80 degree days forecasted. What a roller-coaster ride.

steve rowing doryAnd off for a ride we went - a mostly calmer one - in the dory. Yesterday was such a beautiful day, sunny, in the upper 60's with just a moderate wind we decided to head out to the Lake. We had thought about going to Lake Michigan but the wind was just a bit too brisk for comfort in the wind-sensitive boat so back to Indian Lake. It was a great row, mostly calm, except when it wasn't, depending on how close to shore or in or out of the wind you were. We alternate rowing in 1/2 hr shifts. There were some people on the beach, in the water, in kayaks, enjoying the day and the sunshine. Wonderful to see. Many duck families, too! A very pleasing outing, and likely the last in the "big" boat as the next time out will probably be in the kayaks and/or Steve's new rower. I think summer is here!

thumbnail Simple Gifts/Davy

 June 10, 2020 - Nice Rain!

It's been a dry spring here this year so we really welcomed a generous inch of rain last night, with likely more coming in tonight. Hard to believe it came all the way from the Gulf Coast! It still had a good wind pushing it along but we're quite protected down here in our valley. I also didn't think it could get any greener out there but it looks even brighter today, all freshly scrubbed clean. Smells great, too.

But there was still plenty of green, along with the gentle lilac, for our video background yesterday. What doesn't show is the good number of yellow Eastern Tiger Swallowtails having a great time among the lilac flower, joined occasionally by a Monarch. I even spotted one of the beautiful black Swallowtails. In keeping with their short jaunts here and there from flower to flower we did a short set of two tunes - the gentle "Simple Gifts" into a livelier "Davy Knick-Knack", a couple of tunes we always enjoy playing.  LINK.

rhubarb flowing

 June 7, 2020 - And Then Cold

Life is always interesting here in the northwoods. And we don't mind at all a few cooler days for outdoor work, though I could have done without the frost last night. But it was a light one and the garden well covered. This is a routine I'm well used to. It didn't faze rhubarb flowersmuch of the outdoor world including the ever-hardy reliable rhubarb. What a plant! We love that lively flavor in the spring when fresh rhubarb sauce is mixed with our canned apple sauce. It never lets us down. But an often overlooked aspect of rhubarb is its flowers. Many people pull those stalks off as soon as they appear but I let ours go. We have plenty of rhubarb growing but I haven't noticed the flowers affecting the harvest anyway. And they are lovely flowers on those sturdy robust stalks. Not for the timid is rhubarb, even when flowering.lilac flowering But the main reason I let them go is for the pollinators - they LOVE the flowers, especially appreciated at this time of year when most of the trees are through flowering and summer flowers are still waiting for warmer weather. It doesn't show in the photo but that cloud of white bloom is buzzing with all manner of buzzer types.

Of course one can't miss the other queen of the blossoms right now - our wonderful lilacs. Planted as little inexpensive starts some 40 years ago our main lilac bush/patch south of the garden delights us no end. We have many lilacs growing by the house, too, and when the weather and breeze is just right the smell is mmmmmmmmmmmmmm. An amazing plant that is beautiful in all its seasons.

thumbnail Gypsy Rover

 June 3, 2020 - Back to Hot

The ups and downs of the weather in all its moods is hardly news, but these big swings up to 80 degrees this time of year still takes some getting used to. You just have to take each day as it comes and enjoy whatever it is. And the joy is very easy with the incredible beauty surrounding us. Dealing with the mosquitoes, black flys and ticks on the other hand ... well, we're still working on that. The techniques do come back and we adapt. A strong batch of homemade Anti-Itch helps.

Yesterday we thought we had the perfect morning for our mid-week Music @ ManyTracks video. A beautiful day, not too hot yet, clouds on the horizon but clear above, a light breeze, and a beautiful spot picked out. Just right for our chosen song, "The Whistling Gypsy Rover". And it was nice, except the edge of the woods where we decided to set up blocked what little breeze there was and it turned out to be a popular spot for a healthy population of hungry black flys and mosquitoes (with a few ticks to top it off). Good thing we love this place, and we certainly remember years when it was worse. But we didn't stick around for another take or to admire the view when we were done. We really do enjoy being able to play outdoors however. Here's the LINK to the latest. Happy welcome to June! 

 May 31, 2020 - And Then Frost

bees in plum blossomsMay decided to end its above normal temperatures with an all too familiar cold snap, heading down to 25 degrees last night just to keep us gardeners on our toes. So out came the old blankets, buckets, cold frame windows. And the garden came through just fine. Too bad about the grapes which had started growing, and the gardener forgot to cover. Sigh... But it appears the orchard did fine with plenty to appreciate and admire. Though most of the trees in the orchard are young, planted and grafted in the last three years, the full grown bearing trees get all the attention right now as they come in and out of bloom in succession - pears, plums, cherries, apples. And this year the blooms are FULL of a wide variety of pollinators - a cause for great celebration. The last years have been a noticeable lack overall of pollinators. We certainly had them, we had fruit and the various flowers and blossoms had attention, but not in the numbers we used to. This year it appears the numbers (and variety) are heading back up. I was particularly happy because both the pear and plum blossoms came and went at a record rate, likely due to the unusual heat. Thankfully the pollinators were busy during peak time.

young Norkent tree full bloomBut in all of this grandeur I suddenly realized there was a small apple tree in the new section that was in full bloom, and fully clothed, too. What a surprise. This apple, grafted only 3 years ago, didn't start out with just the usual few blooms of a young tree, it decided to go all out and no question about it! Not only that, it was the very first apple to bloom, with only a scattering of other trees starting. He was making sure he got the full attention. And he certainly did. Now normally a 3 year old is too young to let bear fruit. But the wild rootstock is strong and vigorous, and the variety grafted on is strong and vigorous (a great combination). It's a hardy Canadian bred variety named Norkent that I've read great reviews of though have never tasted - maybe this year! If the blossoms produce fruit then I'll let it keep some, maybe 4 or 6. I really should nip off some of the blossoms but I'm still in amazement, and admiring, this precocious young tree. I've been pointing him out as an example to some of my other, older, larger, and yet to bloom trees. See what you could do?! Oh well, they each have their own timeline, and my urging isn't going to change that.

thumbnail Garden Song

 May 28, 2020 - Plenty Warm

As much of a surprise as it was it didn't take us long to get used to temps in the 70's this second half of May. But the last few days of 80 degrees is a bit much for us Yoopers, even in July let alone May. Today brought the forecasted and much needed and welcomed rain (and a tremendous explosion of mosquitoes!) (those aren't welcomed) and cooler temps. No complaints really on the heat because they're talking frost this weekend (ah, the upper Midwest weather). But yesterday we realized we'd better get out early for our weekly video before the heat kicked in (which it did). The season chose the song, the Garden Song by Dave Mallett, which pops into my head a lot in May as I'm bringing the garden back to life. It's such an appropriate and cheery song and well liked. So we got set up out by the windmill north of the garden with the blooming plums a beautiful backdrop. And a beautiful slightly overcast 70 degrees. The only problem was, the mosquitoes and black flys loved this time, too. We've played out in heat and wind and sun and damp and cold. They're doable, if sometimes challenging. But playing while the bugs are enthusiastically biting is something else. We made it through the first take OK but definitely distracted. Mmm. Let's try one more. We wiped and shoo'd  and took a deep breath. And ... a breeze came up rustling hair and bugs. Ahhhh, that's better. It didn't do much about the ants crawling up Steve's legs (reminder, check for ants before choosing where to sit) but the bugs abated for those few minutes and it was a take. We dismantled and just as we got the last item in the house a little shower spattered down. Sometimes things just work out. Here's the results: LINK.

woodpile in field

  May 25, 2020 - It's That Time of Year

transplanting pepper plantsAlthough there is some variety to our days with numerous choices of what to work on there are several projects that are pretty regular this time of year. You can find me most every day out in the garden weeding, readying and planting. While Steve has been working on replenishing our firewood supply, with breaks to work on his boat. With this unusual heat wave we got a record number of grafts (70!) done in the orchard, a good week ahead of usual, now finished and ready to grow. Nature is having a great time all around us, and so are we.

  May 22, 2020 - Off to the Lake!

rowboat at dockSummer is here - 74 sunny degrees! From late winter to early summer overnight; guess we're skipping the inbetween spring temperatures this year as these warm temps are continuing. It's a bit disconcerting but we're happily adapting. And nature is on overdrive catching up for the early cold. Every moment has new leaves, new buds, and the first early blossoms on the Juneberries popped out today, others getting ready. It's an exciting world and we realized it was plenty warm to get out on the water. So I set aside my garden/orchard chores and Steve took a break from clearing and firewood and off we went with our trusty rowboat to Indian Lake for our first row of the season. It was short but fun. A nice light wind made for choppy seas so we doubled up on the oars for an energetic row out into the waves, with a few whitecaps as we got farther out. Then turn around and a faster and calmer row back with the wind and waves helping us along. Usually we take turns rowing while the other navigates and relaxes, but the boat has two rowing stations and two sets of oars (Steve prefers his slightly longer ones while I like mine) and as I was having a bit of a challenge getting us off the shore we decided to double up. It felt good both to be out there and to start getting those rowing muscles back in shape.  

  May 20, 2020 - Short Sleeve Warm

thumbnail TombigbeeWe do seem to focus on the weather a great deal, but it is a big part of our lives. And today was a special one - the first really warm day of the year, with more to come. It may change overnight but meantime we're thoroughly enjoying being in light cotton clothes. Shorts even! And it was our first time to be warm recording outside. Didn't even mind the bright sun in our eyes, and the beginning black flies even left us alone for awhile. A "warm" set of light tunes set the stage for a beautiful day, from us to you. LINK.

Steve & Sue video thumbnail  May 13, 2020 - Finally, Feels Like May - with a Smile

It may not be what many folks think of as "warm" but compared to the record low temps we've been having (17 degrees last night) today is almost downright balmy with possibly reaching 50 degrees [it did!]. In celebration of the easing of the cold spell we chose "When Irish Eyes are Smiling" for our weekly video, smiles included. LINK. Then off we went for an enjoyable day working outside with a vast array of spring projects to choose from. No mosquitoes or black flies yet - what a beautiful day!

pond in snow May 8  May 8, 2020 - March Returns

I'm not sure if Nature is making a point that each day is indeed different from the previous, or if she decided to do March over again. No matter the reason, there was no question of working outside with highs in the upper 20's and a brisk north wind, though the sun did come out now and then to cheer the spirits. It was a good day to be inside and we both enjoyed our plentiful indoor projects. 

  May 6, 2020 - Dragons in the Pond thumbnail Steve & Sue by pond

Another week now and the pond is receding fast since there's been no new snow or rain to replenish. Wanting to do another video there before it disappeared or became too covered with pollen we ignored the still too cold weather and settled ourselves pond-side. As we began we each realized our chairs were slowly sinking into the soft, barely dried ground. But the show must go on! And since there are certainly little dragons-to-be in the pond "Puff the Magic Dragon" seemed an appropriate song. And to sooth the little beasts a lilting but gentle "Planxty Fanny Power". Click on the picture to go to our Recordings page where both new videos are listed. We plan to continue our midweek Music @ ManyTracks videos, at least until we are out in live personal public again. Meantime, we're enjoying connecting in this way.

  April 27, 2020 - Our Own Crawdad Pond

thumbnail Crawdad videoWell, I doubt there are any crawdads in our small seasonal pond but there are Spring Peepers, a few who have just started with their evening calls (when it's warm enough). And the birds and small mammals (maybe bigger ones, too) like it. So do we; it's right out our back windows and we admire it greatly, our short-lived waterfront. So we decided to do our first outdoors video of the season by the pond, even if it wasn't really warm enough it was fun. And the Crawdad Song seemed to fit. Who knows, maybe there are tiny crawdads in there. Maybe they'll eat the mosquito larvae. 

Here's a link to our video list: www.manytracks.com/Music/recordings.htm. Or click on the picture here to go to this one.

  April 27, 2020 -- The rowboat has a new rudder ...Rowboat rudder

After researching small boat rudders I finally came up with a design that I think will work as a rowing rudder on this boat. Because rowing doesn't stress a rudder nearly as much as sailing I made the blade out of some high strength 6061 aluminum - a repurposed, salvaged 'Curve Ahead' road sign. The rudder is controlled by an indexed push-pull tiller, can easily be raised or lowered from the cockpit and will swing up on its own if it hits something in the water - like the bottom. It took me about a week in the shop, from design to done. The rudder head is made of marine plywood and the rest is stainless steel and aluminum. Everything but the gudgeons and pintles came out of our salvaged & saved bins. The main pivot pin is from an old photocopier; the tiller rod was a fiberglass driveway marker.

Next up is to work on lightening and balancing my long oars.

cows and calf in field

  April 26, 2020 - Our Nearest Neighbors are Back!

There is a fenced field beside our garage at the end of the road (about 1/4 mile from our house). When calving starts the neighbor farmer moves his cows into this field, and we get to see the new calves and watch as they grow and explore this new world of theirs. There are just a few so far (that's one on the ground between the two big cows). It's a highlight of our walks to the mailbox which is by our nearest human neighbors who also returned today from Florida. We're happy they made it back, too. 

  Avideo thumbnail World of Our Ownpril 22, 2020 - A World of Our Own

A timely song of the 60's that feels a lot different today than it did back then. I had modified one verse and added another, but singing it now during our current societal lifestyle brings a whole different meaning to the words. It makes me laugh when I sing it (which isn't necessarily a good thing). I hope it brings a smile to you, too.

Find the link to this newest video (and the others, too) at: Music at ManyTracks - YouTube. Cheers from Steve & Sue's recording studio.

  grated chagaApril 20, 2020 - Chaga Tea

We were familiar with Chaga from several directions. Many years ago we were involved in the local PowWow scene. Chaga was (is) a popular pipe and incense ingredient, having a pleasant sweet smell and Native American significance. And a friend uses it as a healing herb for arthritis. But it was my fairly recent interest in growing edible mushrooms that brought Chaga into our kitchen, and it didn't have far to travel as it is growing on one of two large birch trees that flank the back of our house. They were there when we chose this spot to put our dwelling. The Chaga came later, growing in and around a fairly large hole on the south side of one tree. We knew it was there, of course, but didn't know it was a mushroom, albeit quite a hard one. It's not what one normally thinks of as a mushroom. Our only thought about it was to hope that if the tree chooses to break at that spot that it falls away from the house.chaga on birch

But in my reading of the ways of edible mushroom growing I came across a piece on harvesting and processing Chaga for tea. That interested me so I went over to our birch tree to see if I could get a piece of this hard black mushroom. Thankfully it's within easy reach. Sure enough, a good handful sized piece broke off without much trouble. Then I searched online for some instructions on how to prepare it. My next big discovery was that Chaga is definitively "in". There were posts all over, most best ignored as is the way of the internet. But there were a few well informed, personal experience sites so I read those and decided on my own method.

Thankfully, it is not a difficult process. Using a kitchen grater I soon had a little pile of what looked similar to rough coffee grounds. It took a bit of muscle but was quite doable. I put a tablespoon or so in water in a pan and put it on the woodstove to simmer, not knowing if I'd even like it. I'm an herb tea woman, not much fond of coffee, and it sounded like it was more coffee than herb tea. But I kept an open mind. The brew turned a very dark color and I not only liked it, Steve did, too. It's a bit of a mild bitter flavor but not overly so. A little honey takes the edge off the bitter if you want. The next few times I kept track of how much grated Chaga, how much water, and how long a simmer so I could have some consistency in the future. It's not an exact science considering the many variables of particle size, age of the chunk, how much water, how hot, how long it simmers, etc. So it varied. But it was fine every time, just a little more or less strong. The last time I made it I used a heaping tablespoon of ground Chaga in 4 cups of water, simmered for about an hour then left in the pan for maybe several hours. Pour the very dark liquid off the grounds (which settle nicely at the bottom) into a jar, and store in refrigerator (which in our case is still the cool root cellar). Use as you wish. I like it straight thinned with water, in a small cup made by a local potter, sipped throughout the day or evening. Steve likes it in his everyday drink which is diluted orange, or other, juice. As he uses a clear glass mug for this the color is a bit odd but the flavor is good. He's tried it is his coffee and that was OK, too, but as his coffee has other amendments he prefers the Chaga in his juice drink.chaga on birch close

That first Chaga piece I harvested I hung in a cloth bag in the pantry between gratings. But I was concerned about it getting mold as the pantry was warming up now (mid 40's) and as hard as the Chaga seems it is a live mushroom. Plus it was getting harder to grate as is dried. So I grated up the rest of it, spread out and dried it in a glass cake pan (which hasn't seen a cake in decades) by the woodstove, and stored it in a jar. As I'd read one should only harvest when the Chaga is dormant (late fall through late winter) I decided to break off another piece right now, grate and dry it. It's much easier to grate when fresh. Our Chaga on the tree isn't real large and I don't want to inhibit it from continuing to grow so I didn't take too much - a small hand-full size piece. But I now have 3 cups of the fresh dried grated Chaga mushroom to keep us in brew (hopefully) till next harvest season. It's a nice addition to the homestead world.

  April 15, 2020 - Video Time

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This week's video is an old (as in 100 years old) standard - "Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue". I spruced it up a bit by adding another verse. We decided to travel a ways to record this one, all the way around the corner from our original spot. It did have a bit different sound, and lighting challenges, but fun none-the-less here at the: Music at ManyTracks - YouTube  recording studio.

potatoes laid out to chit  April 14, 2020 - Potato Chitting Time

The ground is once again covered with snow outside but gardening continues inside. The stored seed potatoes came out of the root cellar and new ones arrived by mail, just in time to be spread out to begin their pre-season growth. This gives them a little head start before they are put in the ground, which won't happen until the end of May when the ground, and weather, warms up. I enjoy this little task where I can imagine the summer, green growing plants, and fall's harvest. Each variety (eleven this year)  is different which makes it fun, if one likes potatoes, which we do!

                          April 12, 2020

yellow nasturtium, calendula - greenhouse


             Happy Easter

         Happy Spring

     Happy However You Make It!

                 Love, Sue & Steve

  April 11, 2020 -- The bowl is done ...

While cutting firewood last fall I saved a couple of particularly nice pieces ofBlack Cherry bowl "Keeper" wild black cherry for carving. In January I began roughing this bowl out from a 50+ lb. half-log and now, here it is, a bowl! I have enjoyed working with this wood; it has beautiful grain and has shaped up nicely. I have one coat of pure tung oil on it and over the next few weeks I'll apply several more coats. Tung oil doesn't produce a shine, more of a glow, and that seems appropriate for this bowl. I'll leave it in our south-facing front window to cure and the cherry will naturally darken to a deeper red color over time.

I'd say that this bowl, tentatively titled "Cherry Nest" will be ready for its new home by the end of April. Click on the photo to see more images of this bowl.

  April 7, 2020 -- Golden Slippers on a Rainy Day

video thumbnailToday was cool with scattered rain so a good time to create another music video or two. The first is "Golden Slippers", an 1870 song by James Bland, popular in that era, that was over the years to become a popular and commonly played fiddle tune. We like and do it both ways, as a song and a tune, sure to warm one up no matter the weather. It flows into one of the oldest and likely most played old-time tune called "Soldier's Joy". Steve (who is resident videographer and computer guru) put that one up on our ManyTracks YouTube Channel today. Link at: Music at ManyTracks - YouTube 

Soon the second April video will be online as well - a song we've loved for many years, "Night Rider's Lament" by Michael Burton. We learned it years ago from a wonderful guitarist singer friend so in addition to simply enjoying the song it also brings back good memories of a good friend. We hope you enjoy these as much as we do. 

  April 6, 2020 -- Rowboat outfitting - almost ready ...Rowboat projects stuff

Over the winter I managed to collect a few things to finish outfitting my 'Adventure Rowboat' so that as soon as it warms up enough I can begin work on the boat. I did a lot of research and decided to buy a Mantus Dinghy Anchor and enough 5/16" anchor rode (rope) for the water depth in the areas I'll spend most of my time rowing. Also on the bench are a few bits and pieces intended to make my late summer expedition (row my age in miles (76) in 48 hours) safer and more enjoyable. I am trying to discipline myself by not working on the boat until my bowl carving project is done. I'm hoping that will be in the next few days but the forecast is for nighttime temperatures in the low 20's this week so I may have to wait a while for warmer days. Let's see, what else might I need for the boat project? I'll be posting the boat project here: 2020 Rowboat Outfitting once I do get started.

chokepear winter 2017

  April 6, 2020 -- Big Pear Gets a Big Trim

When we first moved here more than 40 years ago we planted some apple trees and a pear. I don't recall the pear variety but it died to the ground the first winter or two. The unknown but hardy rootstock regrew to become a beautiful large multi-trunked tree and prolific producer of inedible little fruits, aptly named 'chokepears'. Forward many decades and I became much more interested in fruit, edible (to us) fruit, so as we got into grafting I decided to graft some known pear varieties onto this now rather old tree. Of course, we couldn't graft onto the ideal upper branches, and even if we did it would be only for the birds and squirrels as we wouldn't be able to reach the fruit, the tree being now 40 feet tall. Undaunted, I chose to graft on the lower but quite shaded branches that we could reach with hope they would eventually grow anyway. Young grafts much prefer sun and upper dominance to grow well. Soon the venerable old chokepear sported ten new little grafts.

We aren't the only ones who have enjoyed this tree. The the squirrels love the fruit, as did the deer before the re-fencing project put the tree inside out of reach, and likely birds eat the fruit as well. And it is obvious the woodpeckers and sapsuckers also love the tree, peppering the bark with myriad little holes, enough over the years as to possibly weaken the tree. The past several seasons the top leaves have been turning brown early. Most of the tree is still looking good and healthy but this has been a concern. I debated taking down the largest and most riddled of the three trunks hoping that it would help put more energy into the other 2/3 from the extensive roots system. It would also really open up this overgrown tree for more light and air, and give those little low grafts a better chance. I really don't know, but we had success cutting back the old apple trees so I decided to do it. It wasn't an easy decision because it is a beautiful tree that we really like.

This past week, once the snow receded from the base of the tree, I started pruning off side branches of the limbs of the chosen trunk. This is a very tangly tree, all branches well tangled into and around each other. My plan was to get as much cut off as I could reach and cut through with my pruning saw to hopefully limit the damage on nearby branches of the remaining two trunks, and most particular try to save the grafts on those branches, when the big trunk came down. Of course, the top priority was simply get it down safely and that would be Steve's domain. And then there were the nearest other fruit trees - were they far enough away, out of harms reach? I hoped so. Thankfully Steve was more sure they would be fine, as would the fence. I trusted him to put it down where we wanted it, he'd certainly done enough of that, but this wouldn't be an easy cut. The large trunk to be sawn was four feet from the ground, close in to the other two.

But today was the day. It was calm, cool but not too cold, cloudy. I went out and finished my part then got Steve to come out and we decided on a strategy. I went to get the taller ladder and he went to get the chainsaws. I took a long last look at this wonderful tri-trunked tree, then Steve started in. Judiciously balancing on ladder and limbs he started taking off what limbs and branches he could reach. I pulled a few with a rope as he cut to get them to come down in a bare spot instead of taking out a lower good limb. So far so good. I was amazed that several grafts right in harms way were still there. Then came the big cut. ... and down it came, right where it was sawing up trunk woodsupposed to, no damage to the remaining limbs, and not even very close to the other trees. Sigh of relief. Steve went on to cutting up the trunk and limbs. I hauled some brush then went in to make lunch. trunk sawn down

It looks a little out of balance but not as bad as I'd feared. It certainly is more open and it will grow into that bare area. In future years we'll take down a few of the east branches to help balance the tree. The little brush loving birds, and squirrel, will get a big fresh addition to their nearby home and we get a really nice pile of hot firewood, and probably some carving wood. All in a days (or several days) work.

  April 1, 2020 -- Happy April! ManyTracks now has a Channel.video thumbnail

We celebrated the end of March by recording and uploading several music videos to YouTube - our entrance into the digital music world. It seemed a nice way to share and keep in touch with our family and friends, and something we'd talked about doing for some time. And now was the time! Here is the link: Music at ManyTracks - YouTube . All of our videos will be listed there (just 3 right now). You can also search YouTube for ManyTracks or our names. And we'll have links on our Music Audio/Video page.

This was an interesting project, learning the process, the software, the hardware. I expect it will be easier as we get more experience. We hope to do a few more before spring and outdoor projects call us. The snow is melting fast and the bare patches are growing. Steve played a bit with the boat today during breaks from bowl work and I got out in the orchard to put on some more tree tags. Life is good here on the homestead.

house path bare of snow

  March 27, 2020 -- What a Day!

Snow melt is such an interesting time and today was a major step in that direction - clear, sunny and warm, calm, beautiful, we even made it up to a real 40 degrees in the shade! Warmer in the sun. We all celebrate each new patch of snow-free ground, happily walking on snow-free ground whenever we can. LilliB is thoroughly enjoying the expanding freedom of access, in and out of the house, checking out fresh smells and new possibilities. By days end there was noticeably less snow.

Steve sewing canvas bucketIn the morning I turned the "sewing room" over to Steve as he'd been patiently waiting for a break in my sewing marathon to work on a canvas bucket for the boat (which turned out really nice). In addition to storing a shiny new anchor right now it will double as a sea anchor should the need arise. I grabbed my own bucket of tree tags and headed out to the orchard. Each to his own passion!

Last night's 20 degree temps made walking on top of the snow a breeze, and the added foot or so an asset for reaching branches. I'd remade these tree tags over winter since what I'd done last summer hadn't worked so well, off they'd come for a redesign. When I only had a few dozen trees tags weren't needed. And even now I know my older trees well and mostly remember what is grafted where of the newer additions. The year planted or grafted, however, seems to not be so firm in my mind, and it's nice when working on them to know how old they are. Often I'm amazed at how long its been. I do have a map of it all but the trees now number 85 with an additional 48 branch grafts. And as the grafts grow they get harder to detect just where they start. So in addition to wanting to know just what variety is where, it's even more important to know where the grafts are so I don't mistakenly prune one of them off. And it was a great excuse to be in the orchard and get reacquainted with the trees as they emerge from winter.

As I was pleasantly standing in the warm sun, attaching a tag I heard a familiar call off to the north. First thought was turkey, but a minute later it connected - crane! The first sandhill crane of the season. As I was searching the sky to get a glimpse of this very welcome returnee I became aware (it wasn't like it was hard to miss) straight over mchickadee and tree tagy head from behind, just above the trees, a mature bald eagle, sun clearly highlighting the white tail and head, soared on by, to gracefully take a few laps just off our north border before heading off, regal as ever. I stood in awe for several minutes before returning to my my task. A very pleasant day taken to a higher level!

We topped the day off with a real nice walk in the warm sun, down the road, greeting our neighbor cows, enjoying our peaceful neighborhood. Later as I was taking a photo of one of the new tree tags in the orchard a local chickadee dropped in to say Hi. Or maybe just for the photo op. But we both knew the real reason - sunflower seeds? This is the human that stores sunflower seeds in her jacket pockets. Unfortunately for the chickadee I didn't have a jacket on. Oh well, next time, nice to see you anyway. And off it went.

lettuce seedlings in pot

  March 26, 2020 -- Gardening Season Begins!

There is still a foot of snow on the garden, or there was a few days ago when I dug a welcomed bucket of fresh carrots from under the snow and mulch. The snow is melting fast though with these above freezing days and some nice rain. But my gardening season doesn't wait. It has begun, as it usually does, inside. In a way it never ends with lettuce and parsley and other green things growing in the greenhouse all winter. But this is the new crop, the first young fresh seedlings of 2020 - lettuce, planted just 5 days ago. They are an enthusiastic bunch, from seed I grew this past season, a variety called Red Tinged Winter. It's my favorite fall-winter-spring lettuce; the kind we've been eating all winter (and still are). When those first seedlings emerge it feels like spring no matter that it is still white outside (though the patches of bare ground have begun).

pots of planted seedsAnd it won't be long before many more seedlings join in. Today I did my main planting - peppers, cherry tomatoes, flowers, herbs - nine pots of anticipation and a flat of onions. As it's still a bit cool at night in the greenhouse they all get to start out in the warmth behind the woodstove by the chimney, pushing kindling and drying boots aside to claim their spot. When they emerge they'll head back out to the greenhouse where there is more light and kindred spirits growing. But that will be a few weeks away, and more for some of them. Today it was just me and the seeds and the dirt - a happy combination.

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