February 2011

It started snowing here sometime during the night. Beth’s school is out for winter break, and Jonathan’s classes were canceled. I needed to go to the office though, so I carefully drove in. It was slow going, but there were no problems.

Six of us went to an Indian restaurant for lunch, and I snapped this shot then:

Downtown Concord

Downtown Concord

I like it when the snow sticks to the trees.

I had come in to work Sunday evening, and was pretty well caught up with my work, so I bailed at 2:30 or so. I wanted to get home while the getting was good.

Road conditions had deteriorated significantly. I held to 30MPH on the Interstate. It wasn’t until I got off that the trouble started. They hadn’t plowed the secondary roads in Canterbury or in Northfield for a while (there was nine inches of new snow on the ground, and six inches of snow in the road). I was having a really hard time climbing the tiniest of hills, and was pretty worried about climbing an unpaved section. It was slow going, and there was plenty of tire spinning, but I made it up that hill eventually.

When I got to the road I live on, I was not able to get up the hill. I guess I was still 300 yards from home, so I called Va and had her dispatch Jonathan with a snow shovel. I just wanted to get my car out of the road and into a neighbor’s driveway. Between shoveling out a path and using the floor mats of my car for traction, we got the car off the road. Then I walked back to the house and got the snowblower. I snowblowed a track for the passenger side of my car on the way from the house, and did the same for the driver’s side on the way up. I parked the snowblower about halfway up, and fought the car all the way up the track I had made. Then I started snowblowing again, and told Jonathan to follow me up.

But he couldn’t. So we traded places. While I was struggling up the hill, a neighbor drove by and offered to pull me up the hill with his 4WD. I accepted his gracious offer, and he took me all the way to my driveway (which Jonathan had cleared earlier). I think I need to buy some new tires.

Whew! Now I’m pretty well exhausted.


Yesterday was Pathfinder Sabbath. That meant that the Pathfinders presented our church service in its entirety. I thought the best part was the skit we put on – “Showdown on Mt Carmel.” It was the story of Elijah vs Ahab set to the Old West. We had background music from a couple of Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns, a minute of Foggy Mountain Breakdown, and the theme from The Magnificent Seven. It was pretty well received.

At one point, a couple of cowpokes each took a pail of water and used it to douse Elijah’s altar. We had laid down a brand new tarp for this, and had four broomsticks arranged underneath that in a square so that the water wouldn’t run off the tarp. But when it was poured on, some of it did indeed splash right off and hit David in the face. That was… funny!

After the church service, we had lunch, and then the Bible Bowl. Bible Bowl is like a Scholastic Bowl, where the kids (and adults!) study a given section of the Bible before the event. In our case, it was Exodus 21-40. On the day of the event, the kids are put in teams of up to six. Adults form their own teams. Then the questions are asked, and the group writes down an answer and runs it up to the judge’s table.

After that, we had supper, and then came the Pinewood Derby. My car was not very fast compared to the others, and when I saw some of my competition, I was convinced that I would probably not get a blue ribbon in either creativity or craftsmanship.

The competition.

The competition.

I thought the best I could hope for would be a red ribbon. I thought Paul’s Moose Mobile was utterly fantastic, and Warran entered in red sports car with a very professional-looking paint job. Nice.

I didn’t even place in the speed contest, but I didn’t come in last place on all the races either. Here’s a shot of my car crossing the finish line in second place (for that run).

Close Contest

Close Contest

This shot is pretty grainy. I was aiming for a quick shutter speed in dim light, so I had to make some compromises. I didn’t want to use flash, as that would likely impair the judge’s view just as the cars crossed the finish line.

Much to my surprise, my car took the blue ribbon for both creativity and craftsmanship. I was in total disbelief.

This morning I picked up the wreckage of the gutters that ice tore from the back of my house on Friday.

Ice & railing chunks

Ice & railing chunks

That piece of wood came from the rail of my deck:
Rail Damage

Rail Damage

A forty pound slab also landed on top of my lawnmower.
Ice vs Mower

Ice vs Mower

I don’t think it damaged it, but it’s kinda hard to tell without digging it out of the snow. I have no intention of doing that. I usually park the mower under the deck, thinking that might protect it from the snow. I wasn’t thinking about ice falling off the roof. I had the boys cut the grass most of the time this summer, and they parked where it is now. Under the deck would have been better. I wouldn’t have been able to say why before now though.

Not that it matters too much. This is a “disposable” mower from Walmart. If I have to get a new one, it will probably be a Snapper, as I am of the opinion that those are built to last thirty years. “Yard Man” mowers are built to last one year, and I’ve had this one for five. Snapper does not sell to Walmart, because they thought the price pressures Walmart would apply would destroy the quality of their mowers, and I have a lot of respect for them because of that. So secretly (until now!) I want to get a Snapper just because of the stand they took.

Here’s a shot that clearly shows which part of my roof is insulated.

Insulation on the left

Insulation on the left

I think if I had finished this project before now, I wouldn’t be wondering if my Yard Man was crushed by ice or not. I had no icicles on the north end of the house either, so I’m pretty sure that the extra insulation will prevent that in the future (assuming I can make time to finish the job).

I had not taken the eave heaters off the back of the house yet, and that’s what those two cables hanging down the house are. I was going to take them down today, but they are pretty well frozen to the roof still, so I will wait for warmer weather for that.

I did drag the ladder around to the front of the house. I climbed up and attacked a chunk of ice up there with a mason’s hammer. I knocked some of it down, but it was an awful lot of hacking for not much ice removal. Most of that ice chunk is still up there.

I’ve nearly finished my entry in this weekend’s Pathfinder Pinewood Derby race. I will be pitted against other adults, so no boohooing about me competing with kids. Anyhow, here’s the car. No wheels yet, and the paint is still wet:

Boots & Backpack

Boots & Backpack

I started with the hiking boots (modeled after my own).

Hiking Boots

Hiking Boots

The backpack was an afterthought. Either it’s not to scale, someone has a tiny backpack, or huge feet. Such are the limits of the pinecar medium (at least in my hands).

Most of the work was done with a coping saw, half inch chisel, and a pocket knife (but mostly chisel). I think it came out pretty OK, but I doubt it will be fast. The hardest part was the shoelaces (by a long shot). They are not one piece. I did drill holes for the shoe’s eyelets and poked one end of the thread into each. Then I laid them across the tongue, clipped them to size, and glued them down. But tying the laces was even more difficult than getting them on the boots in the first place. I almost went for the untied look, but hey – Pathfinders are supposed to be neat, so I persisted.

I have made no attempt to make this car fast. I usually go for the creativity or craftsmanship ribbons. Hopefully this will bring one of those home!

Tonight after I got home I strapped on my snowshoes and headed into our wood lot. On the way, I grabbed a syrup bucket, a maple tree tap, my brace and bit, and a hatchet. I would have gotten a hammer instead of the hatchet, but it was in the basement, and I was already wearing snowshoes. I did not want to try the stairs with 42″ feet, and I didn’t want to take the snowshoes off, only to put them on again.

On the way into the woods, Beth caught up with me. She didn’t know where my one maple tree was, so she followed. I bored a 7/16″ hole into the southeast side of the trunk, about an inch and a half deep. Then I drove the tap into it with the butt of the hatchet. Then I got the hook that holds the bucket and realized… oops. It’s supposed to slip around the tap before I drive the tap into the tree. So I levered the tap back out, slipped the ring in place, and drove it in again. Then I hung the bucket on the hook and remembered that I left the lid in the garage.

While I was in the garage retrieving the lid, I hung the hatchet back up on the wall where it belongs. Then back out to the tree to secure it in place.

Syrup bucket with lid, hanging on the tap.

Syrup bucket with lid, hanging on the tap.

While we were out there, Beth asked me how I could tell a maple from other types of trees. In this case I knew, because I found that particular tree in the summer when it was in full leaf. They are much easier to identify then, but they can also be identified in the winter. I showed her how the twigs grow out from the branches:

Maples are opposite

Maples are opposite

In the case of a maple (and a few other trees, including viburnums, ash, and dogwoods) the twigs grow out of a branch on opposite sides of the same spot. But in most other trees, only one twig grows out from a given spot. The next one will grow out farther up the branch on the other side, and they alternate like that (which is why they are called “alternate”).
Most others are alternate

Most others are alternate

I don’t have any dogwood on my place, nor do I have any ash (much to my chagrin, as that’s the proper species for making snowshoes). I do have lots of viburnums, but none of them are bigger than an inch or so in diameter, and most of them are way smaller than that. Since you can’t tap a maple until it’s ten inches in diameter, it’s not important to distinguish tiny viburnums from tiny maples – at least for the purposes of syruping.

There are only a handful of species of ten-inch diameter trees on our lot: maple, red & white oaks, white pine, and birch. Pines are opposite like maples, but they also have needles, so there’s no confusion there. Birch have distinctive bark. All I really need to tell apart are the oaks from the maples, and I do that by making the alternate/opposite distinction. It’s not that hard.

With any luck, I should have a bit of sap in the bucket by the end of the week. It’s supposed to be cold tonight and then warm up. Sap flows when the temperature dips below freezing at night and rises above freezing during the day. That’s our forecast for the next several days, and I expect it to continue along those lines for the next six weeks or so. At least, I sure hope so!

Last Saturday I had planned to get in a three-mile snowshoeing trek with Beth after church. But I had forgotten that I had planned something for the Pathfinders that afternoon. Actually, it’s even worse than that – I had double booked two Pathfinder activities and ended up having to reschedule one involving a small number of kids.

The Pathfinder activity we ended up doing was to visit a church member who lives in an assisted living home with several other people who need assistance. We had made soap for them last month, but in the confusion, didn’t manage to give it all away (not by a long shot). Also last month, the church member we were intending to visit wasn’t there when we arrived. So we opted for a re-do.

This time I spoke to Bert the week before as well as that morning. He was happy we were coming, and this time he was there when we arrived. We sang a half dozen hymns and visited with the people who live there for 45 minutes or so, gave them the soap, and then left.

When I got home, I was so wiped out that I could barely keep my eyes propped open, so instead of snowshoeing with Beth, I took a nap. But come Sunday, we gave it a go after breakfast.

We walked down to Sandogardy Pond, and cut through the ex-forest on the way. That stretch is pretty difficult to navigate during the spring, as the loggers left a huge mess of limbs all over the place. It is literally a foot deep with brush left over from the logging operation. Penny loves going there though, as there are sticks aplenty. With two feet of snow cover though, it’s a lot easier to walk through it – assuming one is equipped with snowshoes (as we obviously were). I imagine it would be close to impossible to travel through that field right now without snowshoes, but with snowshoes, it was a snap – better than walking on the road (where we are treated to the constant clack-clack-clacking of snowshoes on the pavement/hardpack). That can’t be good for the snowshoes either.

When we got to the pond, we headed down to the creek that empties it and crossed a little snowmobile/ATV bridge. Penny hates that bridge and refuses to set foot on it. During the other three seasons, she will gladly wade through the stream, and I’m pretty sure she would have this time too (she made several feints in the direction as I rebuked here). I finally caught her and carried her over the bridge. The last thing I need is a hypothermic dog. It was only about 15 degrees outside, so even though she was more than willing to plunge into the stream, we decided to let the human do the thinking this time. Then we shuffled over to the railroad tracks.

These tracks are not used by trains in the winter, and are in fact, a designated snowmobile trail. We hiked up that for maybe half a mile, when Beth reported that she was just dying of thirst. I don’t know why I didn’t think to bring water, but there you go. We had none. I was not thirsty, but she insisted that she was. So we turned around and headed back towards the house.

Instead of crossing the creek at the bridge though, we detoured across the pond. That was pretty easy going for Beth and me, but Penny sure had a hard time of it, as the snow was deep, and she sank in with every step.

She eventually figured out what I’m calling a “weasel walk” – where she’d leap from one spot to another. It was only a hundred yards or so across that corner of the pond though, so she managed OK.

We saw several squirrels on our hike, and some mystery tracks. I don’t know if coons are active yet or not, but the prints sure looked like they could have been left by one of those. Or maybe skunk. Or mink. I really ought to compare the few photos I took to my field guides and then make a guess. I’d post them here, but I haven’t downloaded them off the camera yet. Yes, I am feeling that lazy today.

Because we turned around a little too soon, we didn’t quite make 2.5 miles. I wanted to take a three mile hike so I could claim the newly-minted Snowshoeing honor. Hopefully, the snow will hang around long enough for me to pull that off this winter, but I won’t get another chance for two more weeks.

When we got home, we were both pretty tired. Whoever said that early morning exercise would invigorate a person is nuts. I was not invigorated – I was completely wiped out! And it wasn’t even lunch time yet. I plopped down on the couch and Beth climbed into my lap. When I woke up, she was asleep there.

So even though I had a nice nap after my morning hike, I was still pretty tired! That tiredness stayed with me the whole day too.

Va is of the opinion that one should not engage in vigorous exercise just before bedtime, as the endorphins (or whatever) will prevent an easy passage into slumberland. Well, I say that’s nuts. My passage was plenty easy!

Now that the sun it still (barely) up when I get home from work, I do plan to tap my one maple tree that’s big enough to tap. Maybe this year I can get more than one pint of syrup out of it. And maybe if I can round up a couple more buckets, I can tap a few birch trees this year too. I have maybe half a dozen of those I could try. We’ll see what happens!

Today on the way home from church I saw this locomotive upright on the rails.
Righting that train | Concord Monitor.
It is usually parked on the tracks near exit 18, which is where my path home diverges from I-93. I had heard that an engine had derailed in Concord, but I didn’t know it was this same one until someone commented in the online version of an earlier newspaper article. Then I wasn’t sure where it had happened until I saw the engine on the rails this morning.

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