Monday, March 11, 2013

Somtimes it takes a village... and a tractor... and a trailer... and a big truck...

Few things are as satisfying as a win/win. This weekend Larry and I were able to help out some neighbors, improve our sugarbush stand, and get some good exercise. I suppose that makes it a win/win/win.

A couple of weeks ago, John and Jennifer Otruba of Sugarbush Farm here in Schroon Lake suffered a devastating barn fire. They lost a number of their animals in the blaze. The Otrubas are a local success story in how they have turned their little valley farm into a successful CSA, growing beyond their expectations. They are also the parents of a herd of four little girls. Their homestead is one of happy chaos. In short, they are crazy people.

Their fire has brought the community together, which is culminating in what is turning into a huge potluck for their benefit next week. In the meantime, people are helping out with animal feed and other items. Larry decided we could best help by providing them with dimensional lumber for their rebuilding effort.

The Man at work
We have a sugarbush stand (or at least, that’s what Larry’s calling it) that has many struggling maple saplings trying to reach the sun. Larry envisions this as his future maple syrup production stand. In this plot are a number of very tall, very large pine trees. We have thinned the area out a little over the years, but the Otrubas gave us the perfect excuse to drop the biggest of the pines to have milled into lumber. The plan was to drop the pines, cut them into 12 foot lengths, then bring the lengths to Joe Delczeg’s sawmill in Riparius to be cut.

Down it goes!
It was one of those projects where the gods smile on you a little. The weather was great. The equipment all worked (for the most part). Larry dropped four pines which we limbed and cut into lengths. These were not small trees. They shook the ground and spooked all the animals when they fell. Then there was the challenge of skidding them out (around other trees) and staging them to load on the trailer.

The tractor did well serving as a skidder, and those logs that were too much for its little John Deere heart fell to the truck. As Larry and I like to say at times like these, "That what we got it for." Four wheel drive low it went, and eventually we got the biggest of the bad boys out. While the warm weather was nice, it made for increasingly slippery conditions. Traction was sometimes a problem, but ultimately we got the job done.

That's a whole lotta tree
Then came loading these monsters on the trailer. Larry did an awesome job maneuvering the logs via chains attached to the bucket. He would lift an end of a log onto the edge of the trailer, then get behind it and push it with the bucket up onto the trailer. We learned with the biggest logs that I had to stay in the truck with my foot on the brake so he didn’t push the whole show out into the road! Doing all of this took time, finesse, and patience. Rolling logs with peavies is hard, but sometimes that was what we had to do to get them into position to pull out. At one point Larry said to me, "This part will be easy," to which I replied, "Don’t use the "E" word with me."

Larry doing his tractor magic

Joe makes quick work of our load job

We took one load to Riparius Saturday, where Joe unloaded them to cut. Going down the road, I watched the trailer tires from my side view mirror, as they flattened out a little from the weight of the logs and every bump on the road seemed to squish them down a little more. It was a lot of weight! The last thing we needed was a flat.

Sunday, with all of the cutting done, it was easier getting the logs on the trailer by Larry lifting a log and me backing the trailer under it. I had an awesome day backing that trailer up! I had to get it into some tight areas but managed to pull it off. Sunday around noon we brought a second load to Riparius, and to our amazement Joe had already cut up the first load. He said he could have the second load done in a few hours if we wanted to pick it up later that day!

The finished product
That was perfect. We went back in the afternoon and voila! From all those trees came ninety-two twelve foot 2 x 6 boards. They are green but will season fairly quickly, and since they are for framing, they should serve their purpose just fine.

We brought the boards directly to Otrubas, where we unhitched the trailer to leave for them to handle the wood at their convenience. As we were unhitching the trailer, I heard "sssssssssssssss" and sure enough, a tire on the trailer was going down before my eyes. At that point we didn’t even care - we were just grateful it didn’t blow out going down Route 8 with thousands of pounds of trees on it!

The perfect weekend was topped by my friend Judy making us dinner Sunday night, which we ate covered in pine sap, sawdust and grime. We appreciated it more than we could say.

They say people volunteer not just to help out other people or organizations, but also because it makes them feel good. To be honest, I’d have to say that applies to this weekend. It was a help to us to get the pine down, and we were delighted to be able to help the Otrubas by doing so. But it also felt good to put the work and time into the project, to have received help in the way of a quick turnaround from the sawmill and a dinner we didn’t have to worry about cooking, and for Larry and I to remind ourselves of how well we work together as a team. It was a lot of physical exertion, but we also laughed a lot and appreciated how hard each other worked. That may be the biggest feel-good of all.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Waiting Game

This past weekend Schroon Lake hosted its annual Ice Fishing Derby. The lake surface becomes a shanty town of optimistic fishermen in little huts dangling a hook in a hole in the ice. It’s also Party Central, as lots of alcohol is consumed, on and off the ice. Witherbees Restaurant holds its Annual Bayou Bob Crawfish Boil, in honor of Bobby Machutas, formerly of Louisiana and Charley Hill Road fame.

March is a month of patience. Great, strained, threadbare patience. It’s overtly illustrated by ice fishermen bundled against the elements (that’s where alcohol antifreeze comes into play), hoping to land that prize winning fish. But it’s also in the faces of animals. Our cat lies on the back of the chair, staring dully out the window, yearning for warm weather and active rodents. The horses are starting to shed a little and are teased by the occasional day in the 40's, only to be smacked back into temps in the teens, weary of frost on their whiskers and icy water buckets. My old man Cass used to get such a puss on his face come March, when the temperatures would take a dip. The chickens, who stopped laying altogether in November, started sporadically laying in mid-January. Getting 1-3 eggs a day out of 5 almost 4-year old hens isn’t bad.

I personally have been struggling with the winter blues this year, much worse than years past. I don’t know if it was the mid-January trip to balmy New Orleans, that made coming back to -20 such a kick in the head. This time of year, though, I start to worry if we’ll have enough firewood to get us through. I tire of my hands always being cold. By the end of March, I’ll be sick to death of putting wood in the woodstove. I’m ready to go play in the dirt and plant things and watch things grow.

I know that, in good time, I’ll be outside and I’ll feel that first warmish breeze on my face, and it will stop me in my tracks as I recognize and savor it. The snow pack will slowly go down; rivulets of water will begin to run down the driveway. The sun will pack a little more punch, putting some warm weight on my shoulders. It’s coming. It always does. I can almost feel it today. It’s a patience game. The trick is to make it through to the other side. Wait for it... wait for it...