Archive for February, 2010

Choker Setting 101

Remember in my last post how I said plans change?  Well, Saturday turned out to be a prime example.  My buddy, Ralph, came by after coffee with the boys (I didn’t make it down to coffee – by the time the boys meet, I’m two hours into my brush clearing day – no time for the java talk when daylight’s burnin’).   Anyway, I had in mind that Ralph would trim the limbs off a couple of large downed trees and I would somehow fluff up the flora around the logs – one that ran about 40 to 50 feet in length – and hide them in some fashion.  There was also an old stump that he started to take to task during the week of below freezing temps when I had my first burns. I thought we might finish up that job.  Change of plans.

Like a divining rod, Ralph was very drawn to an area of the property that I hadn’t even considered that day…but Ralph said “This pile over here has me curious.”   I know there will come a time when I’ll understand that men do things differently than I do.  I work small scale:  Pull out the branches, stack them, haul them, burn them, clean up the space – just in case company comes to call and they wander out to the back 40 and lift up tarps.  Ralph had no intention of pulling out the branches.  No, Ralph backed up that four-wheel drive diesel truck, wrapped some magic nylon cording around the trunk, hitched it to the truck and yelled “Okay, girl, get out of the way.  I don’t want to do you any harm.”  I don’t run really well in my work boots, and then there’s the bad back issue, but the one thing that I have learned is: stay out of a man’s way – especially if they’ve taken the time to warn you.  So, I clopped out of the way.  Lickety split Ralph pulled up a good size tree, a portion of the hillside, and proceeded to drag it down to where I had my fire going.  Okay, not what I had planned, but we’ll work over there today.  No, we won’t.  There was another tree – the one that stood some time ago 40-50 feet high that Ralph was itching to tangle with.

I knew it was serious when Ralph lit up his pipe and started talking “snags,” “pitches,” and “pop ups.”  I knew it was even more serious when Ralph’s dog…get ready – Pooh Bear, a black and white Cockapoo about the size of a pot roast, started pacing inside the truck.    Ralph set the first wrap and explained to me as he went along why he was wrapping the tree from the opposite side – in the hopes that it would roll.   “Law of physics?”  I asked.  “No, the law of pulling out a tree.”  Ralph corrected.  Okay.  “Now, when I back the truck up, you set the choke.”   Inside my head: The choke?  What’s the choke?  There was the hitch on the truck (even I recognized that) and then there was this nylon rope with a loop.  Still inside my head:  Would “setting the choke” mean putting the loop go over the hitch?  I took a chance and did just that, and then I clopped away as fast as I could because the tree he had snagged was lying behind another tree still in the upright position.  If that one toppled over, Pooh Bear and Ralph would be as flat as pancakes.  Better a short stack than a full stack, I say.  Someone would need to bear witness to Ralph’s and Pooh Bear’s bravery and pass it on to Peggy, Ralph’s angel of a wife.

The sound of a tree that large snapping in half was awesome; an echoing CRACK as if lightning had split it.  Ralph looked across the property where I stood and called “Now, you can call yourself a choker setter.”   It took three more ties and drags before the entire tree was out and wouldn’t you know, Ralph’s chain saw got stuck.  Being an expert, he had cut a wedge, but needed to go home and get his other chain saw.  Two chain saws?  That Ralph is one bad boy when it comes to his saws.   Ralph returned, Husqvarna in hand, a chain saw longer than my legs – and two Bud Lights.   We were going to celebrate my elevated status to choker setter, keep the fire burning and slice up that tree.   I’m pretty sure I’ve read that you should never drink when using power equipment, and so I was intrigued to see how the afternoon would play itself out.  I’m happy to say Ralph and Pooh Bear went home with parts attached in their original insertions and I only singed my glove on my right hand.

We used the rounds Ralph cut as stools while we drank our beers and enjoyed the fire and Ralph told me horror stories…broken legs, backs, widow makers; how I should be wearing a hard hat.  At that very moment a vision of my friend David, aka the construction worker in the Village People popped into my head.  I’m not wearing a hard hat unless I get a tool belt to go with it – and a contract.  We covered the cell phone issue once again and I promised that I would make sure the next time I was out alone I had it in my back pocket.  The Bud Light tasted great.  It was cold and went well with the stories.  The sun played its part and was nearing a westerly exit when we called it quits.

After Ralph left I surveyed the area.  There was quite a trench from dragging a tree that size across the yard, and the debris hidden under the tree looked to me to hold about three or four solid days of clearing.   There’s no time like the present.  I rolled the remaining logs and placed them in upright positions.  (Ralph and I  had decided that it would be great to use them as stools for guests at an outdoor campfire.  You know when it’s time to leave because your stool gets thrown on the fire. ) And then I grabbed my red iron rake, climbed the slope and started in.  Driving up to the back of the property in the old Dodge pickup left behind by my friend Dawn and filled with the first of many loads of debris, I found myself laughing at the video playing itself out on my road.  Not being able to raise the seat, I looked like the old lady in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  The large steering wheel, a mind of its own, taking me up the hill as well as side-to-side with me unable to see over it.

The next day down at the coffee shop Ralph told the guys I earned the right to call myself a choker setter.   A lot of  impressed head nodding and a pat on the back made the change in plans on Saturday worth it.


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Okay, before I tell you about my last two days of hoeing, I need to tell you to never Google the word “hoe.”  I thought it would be fun to add a picture of a hoe at the beginning of my post tonight.  I found Pimps and Hoes Outfits, Crack Hoes, Hot Hoes, Lil Hoes, Bros Before Hoes (a t-shirt with President Obama as the Bros and Hillary Clinton as the Hoe) and the Hoe Hoes before I finally found the image I was looking for.

It was good to be back on the property and close to the soil.  By close, I mean getting into an argument with a tree limb, losing and flying across the freshly tilled soil, landing on my shoulder, butt, bouncing and just missing my new red iron rake (tines up, naturally).  Important note:  The tines of any tool should always be down because you never know when you’re going to fall, lose a fight with an inanimate object or just wander around and step on the sharp end of the tool.  I will admit to you that I’ve come precariously close to falling on my saw, hoe, loppers, shovels, thatch rake – none of which were in the “down” position.  Someone is watching over me and I hope they never break for lunch.

Working my property has taught me one of the most valuable of life’s lessons.  Go ahead and plan…it’s not going to turn out that way, but go ahead and plan.  Every time I work on the property, I go out with an area in mind.   And I start out there because that was my plan.  Yesterday I spent over six hours pulling debris from one area of the property, however, it wasn’t what I had planned.  I’ve been working the back of the property and it was my intention to continue, but I found myself  at the edge of the woods near the house.   My other plan, and one that I was so excited about I did a little happy dance, was using my friend DZ’s truck to haul debris from the front to the back of the property.  That was going to make by job so much easier and I could move twice the debris.  Dead battery.  Plans change.  So, I was back to tarp hauling.  I had a nice big pile on a brand new tarp and made it half way up the slope when the grommets popped and I was driving without the tarp.  Okay, now I’ve got a giant pile of limbs and the like in the middle of the road leading to the back of the property.  What to do…what to do?  I tried placing another tarp in front of the loaded tarp, and pulling it onto that one…no go…but, I was pretty impressed with the idea.  Change of plans.  The pile was near an old burn spot so I did what one does when confronted with a change to the plan.  I went with the flow and had the fire right there.

About that fire.  Since Ralph and Peggy are still recuperating from hauling that mattress up Deb’s hill for me on Tuesday, I didn’t dare call Ralph and ask him to bring his propane blow torch over so I started my fire the old-fashioned way…matches and paper.  It took awhile, but I had enough old manuscripts lying around that I had a healthy fire going in no time.  As I was throwing branches and limbs on the fire, topping it with cedar droppings, I realized I was getting into this fire business.  There’s the spark of danger, the timing – when to throw dry brush on the fire; when to top it with damp brush, the danger of getting to close and smelling your hair melt, but just a tiny bit.  The joy of sitting near the fire in the late afternoon and eating your lunch and drinking a beer.   The ashes have what Ralph refers to as the “crust” formed over the top.  Ralph told me never to put the fire out completely so that I can take the ashes and start a new fire.  It’s kind of like cracking the sugar crust of a creme brulee.   It’s 9:00 p.m. and I’m following Ralph’s lead, but I’ve been out on the deck at least a dozen times to make sure the “crust” is still in place.   I think it’s going to be a long night.

Stinging Nettles vs. Blackberry Bushes – Blackberry bushes are extremely invasive here.  Stinging Nettles, once recognized, can be dealt with.  You step on their heads every time you see them pop up, however, the blackberry brambles are another story.  Double gloves and a heavy coat are part of my protective gear.  I have a corner of the property where the brambles are so thick you can barely see the ground.  I ventured in late in the afternoon today…after the beer, and played a game of Twister with them.  When a bramble catches hold of you, you have to turn a shoulder, bend down, turn away, place your hand on a red dot, your foot on a yellow dot, and still, you’ll find yourself in a losing position.

Tonight, as I sit and write to you, a sweet exhaustion plays through me, an old familiar song now.  February 5, 2009 was the first time I visited Whidbey Island.  It was during that trip I found this property; this life lesson that has taken me to heights I never dreamed possible.  On Friday, I’ll celebrate by walking to the end of the property where it opens wide to the sky and I’ll send up my thanks to whomever it is that’s watching over me, reminding me that if I had stayed with the “plan,” I wouldn’t be living my dream.

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The Month of Love

Ah, the heart.  This evening while dancing through the house broom in one hand, dustpan in the other, the song’s lyric “some things you never say, you think you will one day, a secret I kept, a Valentine I never sent…” moved me.

I know it’s the era of  emails, texts, tweets, and other forms of techno communication I can’t even name, but for me, they will never replace the excitement I feel when I walk down to my mail box and open it to find an envelope that bears my name with the return address of someone I love, or someone I thought I had lost through the passage of time, or from a move after thirty-three years at the same address.   My pace back to the house is always livelier, and it takes great willpower  not to open the card as I go down the lane.   I want to sit with you in my living room, or take you for a walk in the woods where your words will fill the quiet.

Letters, homemade cards, love notes, postcards, miss you cards, I’m sorry cards, funny cards, naughty cards, get well cards, sympathy cards; they’re all guaranteed to make their recipient melt, laugh, cry, appreciate, remember you as you remember them.  A  letter or card is a gift that we get to hold in our hands and a bit of the sender enters the room as I break the seal.  I picked this card just for you…I wrote these words for you alone…

One of my favorite cards came from my friend Tess just before she left on her sojourn to Turkey in December.  The card reads:  The adventure of love is calling us on a hero’s journey to walk the path of the heart.  Braving vulnerability for connection.  Exchanging fear for insight.  Risking change for vision.  A world where friendship flows from the eyes of strangers and every hand is held with love. Inside the card she wrote a lovely note.

Like all of my cards and letters, this one (after its refrigerator time has lapsed) will find its way into a book, a box, or  inside a drawer, and one day I will come across it quite by accident, and I will take a moment and read it over again.  It will be as if I’m reading it for the first time, and we will sit together once again.   And fortunately, unlike emails, texts and the like, I can’t accidentally delete her sentiment.

Take the time to send someone you love, miss, have lost through time, a note that says you remember.  Your words are worth holding close to their heart.

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