Woods Walking on a Snowy Afternoon

A snow day off from work calls for a walk in the woods. I took two today, one in the early morning, just after feeding the animals, when I could look back at a moment of clear sky in the west.


And one in the afternoon when, though a certain gloom had fallen over the woods and the snow was just beginning to assert itself, I couldn’t stay inside. Like a little kid on a day out of school, I put on my boots and hat and headed out again.


I found I wasn’t the only one walking in the woods. The beginning of a snowfall, before it’s deep enough to hide the evidence, offers all kinds of clues to who shares the woods.

Here, in the morning light, are the tracks of a rabbit heading into the brush.


And nearby, the skittery  footprints of some little rodent making her way across the path.


Bird feet, two by two, hopping, hopping:


I have to admit, some of us leave less elegant notes on our passing:


But now, sound the doom music, the rumbling kettle drums, the minor chord of danger nearby…

A coyote makes his way uphill through the snow. See the marks of his toenails ahead of the pads. Imagine him moving along the trail he knows so well, sniffing the air…


His tracks run in a straight line, trotting through the woods except for evidence of a moment when he paused… To whiff the scent of prey just missed? To scratch?


Here, a crossroads: rabbit and coyote. Which passed first? The coyote follows the cleared track. The rabbit keeps to the brush except for a half dozen hops to the other side.


just like the bird who crossed here:


The bird has the advantage of flight if caught in the open. It seems that, on this occasion, the two shared ground but not time.

Oh, and back home again, we have Brer Cat, who had emerged from his briar brush to inquire whether meal service had arrived.


It had.


Published in: on February 7, 2014 at 3:52 pm  Comments (7)  

Dark and Light

A  month or so ago, amongst other winter observances, we hurrah-ed the Solstice as if the sun were about to give us balmy days and springtime. Astronomical markers and conditions on the ground are not necessarily the same thing. We are pressing through the dark months here, the weeks of shortened daylight, the days of chill wind and rain, and ice. Solstice is the beginning of winter, and the edges of winter overlap both autumn and spring.

Here, a roadside apple tree on a frozen morning is so seasonally decorated, we think how it must have come to someone to hang colored balls on a tree for midwinter. The next good wind storm will dash them to the ground, but on this morning, they’re beautiful; abandoned and beautiful.

Our farm (where we would never leave apples on the tree into January, no matter how cheerful they be!) seems to sleep for now. Nothing much to do,

but huddle in a stump. The gardengoyle looks philosophical. It may be a long wait for spring.

But stop! There are signs of life in the woods and garden. Like tiny fires under the snow, Cotoneaster berries glow. They’re not really berries, but tiny pomes, like the apples by the road in fact. The birds seem to need to be quite hungry to take them. I suppose they prefer the fruits we would like to enjoy as well.

Fairy rings of tiny branching fungi have appeared in the tree lot. There will be dancing there in the moonlight, but you don’t want to see it. It never comes to any good when people go spying on fairies in the night.

Here in the woods I spy tracks leading off into the scrub. They might, I think, have been faun tracks. We are, after all, in the season of deepest mystery in the forest. Yes, I am pretty sure those are faun tracks. I’ve never seen the faun, or the fairies, but I’m certain they are out there. Who else could be walking through the snow with feet like that? I shudder to think of taking my barefoot toes into the frozen woods.

As a matter of fact, though I wear my wooly handmade winter socks as I sit here typing, I do not need to run barefoot after fauns to have the cold in my feet. My feet are always cold in winter.

With that thought, I will take myself upstairs now, where I have a secret going on in the attic. Here in the laboratory, under clinical light tubes, in plastic incubators…

the promise of spring.

We welcome you to this new year, little seedlings.

You, too, my readers.

Published in: on January 22, 2012 at 8:05 pm  Comments (6)  

An Autumn Congeries

Ah, the foul weather has come, and we are shuddering and building fires in the stove. We had our first snow last week, gone now and turned to mud in the yards.

But there are fine things going on anyway. The young ram is courting his ladies. And courting. And courting. Being he’s just a youngster, he seems assiduous enough in his amours. He’s fairly polite about it all. When the mood for love strikes, he sniffs the air for confirmation, and trots toward the lady of his desires. He bumps her gently on the hips. She steps away demurely. He’s sure by now, so he turns toward the action end of things. At first she may walk away from him. He follows. He reminds her he is there with an additional few nudges. By the time he decides to consummate things, they are in agreement over the matter, and she pauses, presents herself to him, and… it’s done. It takes longer to work out the deal than to perform the act.

Our woods are damp and chill. Across the road and along the path up the Butte, Fall is as good as its name, with foliage littering the way. The scent of autumn in the woods is earthy, moldy, tannic and fungal. It’s a good scent.

All our complaints through the long wet summer have given way to joy: the yield of mushrooms in the woods has been good this year. Here is the beautiful Chanterelle in its native home.

And here it is in my home:

In several collecting days we bagged around 15 pounds live weight. Done in the skillet, in their own nectar, packaged and frozen into serving-size portions, they will come out for later use as fresh as fresh.

The scattering of fungi all through the woods is a wonder to the eye. Here are puffballs, spent of their puffs and looking like chimney pots.

And here, you see, the fairies are back in the woods. This is where they have been a-dancing overnight in the woodlot.


In the barn we have two litters of rabbits all warm in their nests. The doe pulls hair from her coat to make the softest nursery you can imagine. There are seven little ones in here, snuggled next to each another. Mom hops in and out with what seems like careless disregard for the babes in her way, but none seem to get smashed.

Here’s proof: that’s a tiny black rabbit in there.

They’re not into petting at this age. The little buggers are so wiggly and reluctant, it’s impossible to get a good photo of them.

Here are some 3 week-olds. Eyes open, they’ve come to the cute stage. Really, really cute. They fall over one another as if no one had bones or nerves.

They’ve trampled that beautiful nest into nothing, but by this age they snuggle for shared warmth, and that’s enough. Those rabbit skin coats they wear are remarkably warm. In summer, when they don’t want the insulation, their big ears serve as radiators.

These little ears require some growing before then.

And as I speak of warmth and weather, what better time is there to sit by the fire and work wool into garments? Here’s a beautiful batt of blended wool and silk, carded into color layers, ready to spin.

By selecting gobs (that’s a technical term of art) from different parts of the batt, spinning the varied colors, and then making a 2-ply yarn, the hues come and go through the yarn in partly intentional, partly unpredictable changes.

The passages of color are long enough to create broad bands in the knitted garment. Five balls like those above, make this:

Warm as a bunny’s butt.

Published in: on November 28, 2010 at 2:23 pm  Comments (2)  

Seeds and Feathers and Things

We might reasonably have mistaken the beginning of autumn for a continuation of our dismal summer of rains. But there are signs things are moving toward winter. Here’s one:

The sweetpeas of summer are setting seed pods, readying themselves for next time.

Fall apples are dropping faster than we can cook them into crisps. There are plenty for fresh eating and for sharing with the livestock. William the mule is fond of his morning apple.  Here is evidence the little rabbit in the orchard likes her apple a day, too.

It was not I who left all those nibbles on the ground.

On the fringes of the road, while most of the Queen Anne’s Lace has drawn up its petticoat and is ready to scatter itself into the grass:

a few examples are still fresh and hopeful.

It is said the tiny red flower in the center is a drop of Queen Anne’s blood, a prick from her lace-making. Others, imagining less and defining more, believe the red drop of flower is an insect attractant.

Perhaps it can be both.

In the woods, the autumn fungi are appearing again. Their names are far too difficult for me to work out.  It doesn’t matter whether these are welcome at the table.

Their delicacy of color and shape nearly escapes description.

Some are best viewed from ground level.

Some from above.

In our barn I found a cast feather. This one, I believe, is from an owl, probably an owl taking care of rodent business in the nighttime barn.

And this, from the edge of the woods, a crow:

A Steller’s Jay (When I was small, I thought these were called Stellar Jays, because they were so beautiful):

And this, from near a small carcass in the field, a Turkey Vulture:

We might think of these birds with loathing but without them and others of their ilk, we would soon be knee deep in decaying corpses. I looked up one day and saw the owner of this feather. A vulture lingered on the air, clearly missing a primary feather from its span.

Even with all this appearance of fungi in the woods, this dropping of seeds and feathers about the farm, it’s notable that not everything is getting ready to shut up shop for the fall season. We remember that fall is breeding season on the farm. Soon we’ll bring the ram to his ewes. And here we have, oh dear, someone who has found the day just right for love:

This, my friends,  is slug love. I share it only so you won’t be deceived that everything around here is lovely and lyrical.

It might, however, be sweeter than we believe if we could listen in to the cooing going on in that embrace. Who am I to say what poetry one slug sings to another?

Published in: on October 3, 2010 at 5:30 pm  Comments (9)  

Clip, Snip, Shiver

As I head out to the woods to cut greens, I am thinking about the annual round again.

It comes to me frequently now that we live on a farm with woods. Since we came here — and I am a little surprised to note it has been better than 10 years now — I’ve come to see how city life shelters a person from the progress of the seasons.  It’s not just that we sweat more in summer and shiver more in winter (and we do!), but that I notice more of what’s going on close at hand.

In art, one thinks of Nature on the grand scale. In the woods and farm, I find I have time to pause and see the tiny packages that make up the big one.

So, as I was clipping greens for seasonal wreaths, and taking care to choose the unblemished leaves from the thickets, I could not help but admire the damaged ones:

How could a perfect leaf be more beautiful than this one in its dying moment?

For that matter, though we think of the white berries of Symphoricarpos as its main attraction when we see it in a garden or along a roadway (those would be the cultivated forms of Snowberry; in the wild the branches are spindly, the leaves are tiny and without distinction, and even the berries are sparsely held). But look at this one, this beautiful rot on last summer’s stem.

Or this perishing haw clinging to a thorn’s winter branch.

I am not trying to be contrary here. These are wonderful colors and shapes, tiny details we catch only now, as winter heaves around the calendar toward us.

In the forest floor, fungi of the most amazing colors

and shapes

erupt from among the needles. I have no idea what they are, only that they are strange and mysterious to my eye, and easy to miss in the hurry-hurry of weekday city obligations. They seem so fragile,  and there they are, all on their own in the big woods, blasting color into the winter.

I found this while I was out cutting greens, too:

This is a coyote track on the path down to the woods from our stock pens. Or, perhaps, it is the path to the stock pens. And freshly set in the mud, too.

After cutting my buckets of greens, there was still a good part of a glorious blue-sky early winter day left. Even in December, the garden beckons. I took cuttings from the gooseberry bush in the vegetable yard, in the hope that by next spring I will be building the garden around  the house construction site, and I’m thinking a path down the back would be a good place for a casual hedge of gooseberries. They don’t look like much, little sticks.

But each has its growth nodes ready to put out next spring’s branches and leaves.

They are set into soil now, where they can sleepily make roots over the winter. I will report on them when buds break, months from now.

And then, back down to the vegetable patch. The last item of harvest for this year is the shelling beans. These were Scarlet Runners. By this time, the pods look pretty well lost. But you know by now I am taken with the beauty of spent remnants of plants. Look at the beautiful colors remaining in the pods!

I wish I could share also the snap and crackle of the papery shells as they break open. And look here inside! Whole, huge beans, beans big enough to grow a stalk to the sky, beans great enough to take in that trespasser Jack.

With a ham hock and some good roots (parsnip, turnip, carrot…), these make a fine, farty soup for a winter day!

But, alas. The season of the garden truly is at an end. The signs are there at morning feeding. Frost on the blackberries signals a long plunge into the dark season here.

There are just so many tiny things to see! Slow me down, big world, and let me look around!

Published in: on December 6, 2009 at 7:23 pm  Comments (7)  

Rites of Autumn

Aside from the retrieval of flannel sheets from the storage chest, we are seeing clear signs of the change of seasons. Some things that come along every year are pleasing just because they are such certain indications.

We separate the young ewes from their elders in preparation for breeding. Here is Ava on her way to her winter digs. She’ll join some half-sisters there.

Ava on her way to new digs

Some shepherds breed ewes their first year. We think of them as youngsters at that age, and still call them lambs. Just because a teenager can breed, it doesn’t mean she might not be better off growing up.

The pace of knitting for winter picks up in autumn.

A little winter cap

This little cap went home with one of the solar contractors working on the house.

The woods and fields are full of fungi. Among the pleasures of fall are these, Coprinus comatus, the Shaggy Mane mushroom. There are a scant 3, more or less, wild mushrooms I am comfortable to pick and eat. The Shaggy Mane is one of them.

Coprinus comatus

It will never be a commercial commodity; it famously turns to black ink within hours of emerging.

This is a clever mechanism for dispersal of the spores. As it “rots” its way to old age, the edges of the egg-shaped young mushroom flare out, leaving the spores exposed to the elements. Shaggy Manes are a mess at this stage. The black liquid gives this type of mushroom another common name, Inky Cap, and the ink migrates everywhere once you touch it. But the liquid must be an effective means of carrying spore, because Coprinus can dot entire fields with its ghost-white caps. This year we’ve been lucky and have found them young and firm.  When you are lucky, they make a fine seasonal treat sauteed and served on toast.

We were thinking about the possibility of propagating Coprinus in our own pastures. They like disturbed ground, grassy areas under tree litter, and manure-y areas. We have some of that. So this year we sacrificed a mushroom to an experiment. We let it age to a fine state of liquefaction, tossed in some stem cuttings that seemed likely to have mycelia attached, mushed it all together in the food processor, and poured it into a jar with water to fill.

Nice, isn’t it? The farmhouse laboratory at work.

Ink of Coprinus

I took it down to the orchard and sprinkled the black liquor along the fence line. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, most of the mushrooms and other fungi in the woods are strangers to me. Right now they are erupting in the hundreds, and some of them are beautiful beyond any expectation.

A woodland fungus...

The last of the apples wait to be collected.

The Liberty Apple

These are Liberty, which is a fine disease-resistant fall apple, good eaten fresh when it’s young, good cooked when it’s mature.

Another ritual of the season is the planting of shrubs, trees and bulbs in the garden. Our garden is still the workplace of too many heavy-footed men to permit much gardening. The plants chosen to fill the beds around the new house will be far too valuable and vulnerable to risk next to the continued battering of cast-offs and short-cuts. But one place seems completed enough to permit a hopeful gesture. I really could not stand it one more minute, and I drove off to town one raining Saturday and bought a load of red-leaved shrubs for the northwest corner of the house.

Truck of shrubberies

It was a dim, grim day, with rain in sheets blowing across the roads. The cab of the pickup was a steam-bath inside; its old heater groaning against the window fog was barely up to the job. But I was glad of heart as I drove home with an assortment of blueberries, a maple tree, and 4 Euonymous in brilliant red. I would plant something.

By coincidence, my order of heritage garden bulbs arrived the same week, and I was forced to buy some stoneware pots to house them.

Pots o' bulbs

These bulbs came from Old House Gardens where they sell bulbs collected from generations of gardens, tenderly cultured and closely held by gardeners who value the lineages old varieties. These are the bulbs of our grandmothers, and older still. Go there to meet the blue Hyacinth orientalis, the Roman hyacinth known in gardens since 1562, or the English bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta, whose honey-scented blooms were known to Shakespeare, but were ancient in gardens even then. Who can set such a bulb in the earth without knowing some sense of the long time from then to now?

I chose pots I thought would keep them well,  these old bulbs grown new.

Meanwhile, back to the season coming on… We had our first frost this morning.

First frosting

It makes me think again of those flannel sheets and of the down-filled comforter. It’s a fine season, this one, given to color and scent and temperature.

I like fall best.

Published in: on November 14, 2009 at 9:30 pm  Comments (1)  

Construction Update: Color and Light

Since last I wrote, the house has matured a little. I had reported on the installation of the solar panels. We’ve had them running through a billing cycle now.

Solar panels -- the early days

In good, sunny September, we generated about 1,000 kW of electricity. With the brand-new reversing meter installed by Portland General Electric, any wattage over our own use is credited back to our account at, we are surprised to learn, a handsome retail rate, including transmission and distribution charges. We had earlier been given to expect a credit at wholesale prices. That was a nice surprise. In the last late summer blast of high temperatures, we found the inside to be comfortably resting at about 75F, even with its plastic windows and doors still substituting for real ones. The cold weather hasn’t come our way yet, so the performance of the house in the chill remains to be tested.

The next big, visible change was the application of the “render” coat, over the “parge” coat, over the construction blocks. See the post Construction Update: Captive Electrons about the earlier layer of waterproofing. The coat they call “render” is the final layer under color.

East wall with Render coat applied

It’s too bad, in a way, to have to cover this up. It made me think we had a house on a far-away Greek island. Ricardo, one of the construction crew, whose arm must be tired of applying this stuff to the walls, liked it white, too. “It looks good,” he said. “Leave it.” Of course, in this land of red soil, it would be white for about a month. The first splatter of mud would transform it into… a muddy house.


West wall with color

We thought something like the color of the native soil would be appropriate.

The choosing of colors is not a simple thing. Just when you think you’ve dealt with it, someone reminds you there are window frames and door frames and fascia boards to think of. And then you go back to the color chips, wondering how you’ll come up with something that will go with the rest of it, which you chose 6 months ago and which might not, or might, be a bit of a surprise when you actually see it on the wall. We don’t want it to look tentative… We don’t want it to look ordinary… We want it to be a statement, both to the site and to the sun, which are, together, the whole point of the design. But, you know, a house could come out looking like a cartoon, too.


Back to the color chips. It is astonishing how much difference there is in a color depending, on whether you see it in the light of the ceiling lamp or the light of the sun. Between rainstorms this weekend we’ve been running outside with pieces of colored and numbered paper, holding them to the walls, shaking our heads, negotiating, making lists of numbers, and then going about it all again. Of course, paint can be changed if you make a terrible mistake, but it’s expensive, and some of it is hard to reach. Better to get it right the first time. Results will be reported.

Meanwhile, inside, things that will never be seen again are winding through the walls

Pipes and wires

and overhead

Pipes and pipes

in mysterious ways,

More pipes and pipes

leading to very technical ends.

And more pipes

Enough of that.

Meanwhile, as they say, back on the farm, the hardy cyclamen are in bloom.

Cyclamen hederifolia

It pleases me to see them. They are about the last remnant of  garden that has survived construction of the house. These are from seed I started over 20 years ago, when I lived in Portland. They propagate themselves happily once they’re established, and before we left town I dug a good bucketful from their place under the maple tree. They settled in quite well in their new location beneath the Linden tree here. They are sturdy little things, liking the dry ground where tree roots suck the moisture from the soil. Though I dug some up again before construction started, and set them into pots, the building process has been much longer than we anticipated, and it’s been asking a lot to expect them to make it in holding pots. I wasn’t sure they would survive the passage of construction crews over their native site. So, I smiled the day I saw them show up this fall.

The grapes were coming along nicely

Wine grapes turning color

until, as so often seems to happen, the wild birds paused in their southward passage, took a look, and stopped for luncheon. We did get a few for a glass of juice. Once the house is finished, it’s on my list to provide some protection for the grapes. I recall visiting a vineyard a number of years ago and taking note of the intermittent blast of air cannons. Those explosions were intended to keep birds off the harvest. I don’t think we’re going to install cannons, but a bit of bird netting might be to the point.

The blackberries remaining on the vine are hard and sour. Although they look like they might, they will never ripen. Wasps will have them, or deer, but not we.

Last of the blackberries

And fairies have been dancing in the woods again. It’s a sure sign of autumn:

Fairy ring

Time is passing.

Here’s hoping we’ll be living in that house soon.

Published in: on October 17, 2009 at 6:57 pm  Comments (1)  

Summer Moving on…

Gone to seed

We see clear signs the summer is coming ’round to an end. Weather is still warm and bright, but suddenly it is no longer light when the alarm goes off in the morning.

I found this in our woods. It’s a fragment of what had been a fairly large paper wasp nest.

Wasp paper fragment

Here’s a view of the interior, the living quarters.

Inside the nest

Someone was bold enough to knock it from its location in the treetops, probably to harvest the larvae in the nest. You can be sure it was not me! I happily engage honeybees. Vespids are another story.

These were probably Bald-faced hornets:

Dolichovespula maculata

This is not my magnificent photo. It comes from the Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of  PiccoloNamek. The Bald-faced hornet is not as fierce as she looks — I’ve encountered them many times with no sense of aggression from them. That doesn’t mean you want to walk up and mess with their nest in late summer! They will protect their home with every intention to drive you away.

The Yellow-jackets, on the other hand, have been fierce these late summer days. The other morning one of the men on the construction crew came hurtling up the slope, swatting and cursing. He’d found a nest under a pile of pipe and neither he nor the Yellow-jackets were one bit happy about it. He called them ‘bees,’ and I was stern in my insistence that those were not bees; they were wasps. He didn’t seem to appreciate the distinction. Bees take the rap for Yellow-jackets all the time.

Meanwhile, the gone-wild crab apples are hanging thick on their branches in waste areas.

Wild crabs in season

Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) are molting their flight feathers, one by one. It must affect the rise and soar of the birds, but they stay up there anyway. I’ve seen several of them recently with serious gaps in their wings and tails, and a generous shedding of feathers onto the ground. These are big feathers — a foot or more in length.

A cast feather

Empty husks are appearing in the woods, a sign someone has been squirreling away nuts.

Hazelnut husk

Crickets have begun to sing.

And the woods overall have a scent of rich balsam. The orchard has begun to exhale that perfume of slightly fermented, nearly rotting windfall fruit in the grass.

Everything is sighing at the end of the season, casting its seed, gathering itself for winter.

Here’s something new from WordPress: audio files embedded in the post. Click the Go arrow, and listen to Summertime while there is still summer in the season.

Published in: on September 4, 2009 at 3:54 pm  Comments (2)  

Competition in Housing

The other day when I was out on a mushroom walk (and not finding much of any, by the way) I happened upon this:


Immediately I thought, What vandal has been chopping trees here? How indignant I was. This is public riverbank, along the shore of an old quarry behind an island in the Clackamas River. Cottonwoods grow here, and a fair amount of brush, and sometimes, in the fall or spring, edible mushrooms. Taking mushrooms is one thing. Chopping trees is another. Hmpf!

But then I noticed the unmistakable marks of chisel-teeth on the stump.

Incisive evidence

Ah-ha! Rodent at work! These are the marks of beaver teeth.

Contemplate for a moment, this young tree of 8 inches in diameter. Consider cutting it down with your teeth. It makes you think.

I met a couple of beavers once, long ago when I worked for the city zoo in Portland, Oregon. I was a college kid. You take the jobs you can get when you’re working your way through school. My mother pretended I was a research assistant. That sounded much better than the truth, that I was there to clean cages and feed the animals in the quarantine area on the hill above the gardens.

It was interesting, though. A cage-cleaner gets to meet animals she would never encounter in ordinary life. Animals coming into the zoo had to pass through qurantine before they could enter the general population, so we few, we lucky few, got to see them all. I served as hand-maiden to a juvenile lion, a pair of siamangs, 6 opossums (another time I may tell about the opossums), a couple of romping young cougars, a heron, a Hamadryous Baboon (blue face!), 3 gibbons, a Sun Bear, several owls, a Capuchin monkey, a Ring-tailed Lemur, a Ring-tailed Cat, and: 2 beavers.

The beavers were not glad to be there. They were not glad to see me each day. They were not glad to have their cages cleaned. They might have been OK about the feeding, but if so they didn’t betray much. They hissed at me. They showed their xanthodontous grins and chattered meanly. I was there to serve them. Did they appreciate it? I do not believe they did.

You see them in children’s books and they’re cute. Think of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. What could be more appealing?


It is my opinion that, close-up, beavers are nasty big rodents.

But, anyway, I was out strolling that day, and came upon such skillful beaver-work on the banks of the old quarry. A person does have to be impressed. There were trees down everywhere. Some had been skinned for the tasty bits under the bark:

Beaver breakfast!

Some had been chopped and chiseled and left to lie. I can only wonder what the author of such industry had in mind. It’s as if the beaver simply has to cut down trees, even if only to leave them littering the shore.

I looked about for sign of the beaver’s house. Everyone knows beavers build lodges. Given the old quarry hasn’t any current or any stream to dam, I thought maybe the beaver lodge would be built into the bank somewhere near the cuttings. But there were so many trees were down all along the bank, so haphazardly and without plan, I couldn’t make head or tail of the architect’s intent. If it were me, I would cut trees near where I intended to use them. Obviously I do not have the mind of a beaver.

Castor canadensis

I’m rather glad about that, really.

At last I gave up the quest.  You can only spend so much time looking for the front door to a rodent house, and odds are when you find it you will not be invited in. These local beavers do not have the manners of the Narnian ones.

On my way back to the road, however, I spotted this in the brush and felt a little sorry for my superior attitude.

Sign of the beaver?

How was I to have known?

Published in: on April 28, 2009 at 3:35 pm  Comments (1)  

Construction Report: They Used to Use Whole Trees

Who remembers this kind of scene?

Parade o' Log Trucks

If you were a kid in the Northwest in the 1950s and ’60s, you’ll have your hand up. Trucks like this used to roll down the highways with one giant log on its way to the mill. They moved them on the rails, too, tucking a couple of little trash logs in under the big one, like in the photo below, from the Oregon History Online website.

Logs on a train car

If you needed, say, a roof beam, someone went out and looked for a piece of a tree big enough to make one for you. These days, I doubt there is a mill in the Northwest that could handle a tree like that. No one then would have imagined trucking a load of little pencils like this one:

A modern load of forest logs

And if you needed extra long boards, why, those could be found, too:

Long-leggedy logs on a truck

If you come across old dimensioned lumber from back then, you’ll find that a two-by-four measured  2″ by 4″,” which might seem normal unless you’ve been lumber shopping in the modern era. Today they are 1 1/2″ by 3 1/2.” And if you want that piece more than 24 feet in length, it will now be finger-jointed together from shorter stock.

I am not suggesting we enjoy a lesser quality of wood since then. If anything, let’s consider those memories of a time gone by to be evidence that we were pretty careless of our resources. There was so much of it! Everyone could have what they wanted from the forests!

In this 21st Century, we are beginning to learn to do better with less.  In an earlier entry I wrote about the Faswall blocks we’re using for the exterior walls of the house.

Faswall block

They make use of otherwise wasted wood remaining after the milling of conventional lumber. Other parts of the house have arrived on the site in what is called Engineered Wood.

Engineered wood is plywood, Gluelam, particle board, wafer board, Masonite… any number of products we’ve become accustomed to seeing in homes. They’re made by taking forest logs and peeling them, shredding them, blowing them apart, smashing them, or collecting up the waste bits of them, and gluing them back together into various forms and shapes. They make use of timber that would be otherwise useless as structural material and, a big plus, the various forms have properties that are predictable in ways not found in natural wood. I admit, I find “real wood” to be more desirable than glued up pieces of wafers and chunks. But we’re past the time when we can indulge the luxury of pillaging our forests for its giants. A managed timber stand of Douglas Fir is harvested at about 40 years of age. The mills are now tooled for trees of modest dimension. Those 40 year-old logs are too valuable to be used wastefully.

So, last week we saw the delivery of a load of I-joists made from engineered wood:


These joists, to hold up a conventional subfloor or roof, would have been solid two-by-twelves. These measure 2 inches across their laminated bases and are 14 inches tall.

And this arrived as well:

The roof beam

It’s the roof beam of the house. It measures 8 3/4 inches by 32 1/2 inches, by 48 feet. Look down on it and you can see the finger joints.

Finger joints in the roof beam

Look at the side, and you can see the, umm, whatever kind of joints these are. C’mon. I’m a woman. How should I know?

Some kind of lap joint or something in the roof beam

And here’s a piece cut off the end (the beam arrived a little over-long). That’s glue in there between the pieces.

Glue joints in the roof beam

This beam is so far from what these men


might have contemplated, it’s mind-boggling.

Meanwhile, the house now has gables (the better to hold up that beam)!

Gables on the ends!Suddenly it looks less like a suburban medical office and more like… maybe the ruin of some ancient house? Appearances are deceiving. It’s not ancient; it’s just right for today.

Published in: on February 15, 2009 at 6:57 pm  Comments (4)