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The Word for World is Forest

The last two mornings we have woken up to -23C temperatures. It’s nice to have a wood burning fireplace. Ours is a Vermont Castings “Defiant” model made in 1975. It throws a lot of heat and our problem has never been being too cold. In fact we have to keep the damper turned down substantially. The problem with keeping the fire at low heat for long periods of time is a tar-like creosote buildup in the flue and chimney. So today I am running a special log that helps eliminate creosote.

Meanwhile, out in the woods when it isn’t cold and windy, we go on our near-daily snowshoe treks. It’s a good time of year to take stock of the forest, the progress we’ve made and what needs to be done for this year and into the future. Generally, this time of year is good for planning and introspection

Sure we have the farm work during the warmer months but the forest has always had a special place in our hearts. They are the lungs of the world, a rich environment where animals and plants thrive, a filtration system for fresh water. We try to take care of our forest and not deplete it of resources. We harvest Chanterelle mushrooms in the late Summer and take out small amounts of firewood for heating.

Towards the old growth forest

Lately, as part of my introspection, I am mindful of the damage we can easily inflict on our environment. When Eileen and I were first dating, I traveled to Newport with her in the Summer of 1986 to see her ancestral home. When we arrived most of the forest on the property had been destroyed. Her mom had sold harvesting rights to a logging company and they had come in and clearcut. It was a sickening sight. The place looked like it had been carpet bombed, the earth churned by heavy equipment and nothing but stumps across the property. Eileen had grown up with this forest and was heartbroken by the sight. The company, as part of its contractual agreement, planted mono-culture seedlings. They also proceeded to spray (by airplane) the acreage with Roundup so that only their seedlings would flourish. Many of the seedlings were planted inches apart and when they grew they crowded each other, rarely thriving and serving as a constant reminder of this grotesque industry.

So now, 36 years later, we are still cleaning up the damage. After the first Roundup spraying Eileen ordered the company to desist. Once in a while I go in with brushcutter and chainsaw to get rid of the crowded seedlings. We have encouraged diversity in the forest and I have strict limits on how much firewood I can take out and from where. Another aspect of creating diversity is simply by keeping the forestry companies out and letting nature take its course. I was thinking of a science fiction book I read back in CEGEP by Ursula Leguin while writing this, hence the title of today’s blog – “The Word for World is Forest”.

Although the forestry company gave preference to their seedlings we have been pleased to see the return of all sorts of species. Besides Balsam firs and Black Spruce we also have White Birch, Yellow Birch, Red Maple, White Spruce, Cedar and now – White Pine!

Four years ago Eileen was thrilled she discovered a small, spindly looking white pine tree by the side of the forest road. It looked like the sad Christmas Tree that Charlie Brown got. So we named it – Charlie Brown. Not far away was another White Pine that was leaning against another tree. We named that one Linus. Last week we discovered another White pine. Her name is Lucy.

Eileen with Charlie Brown

Not all of the forest was clearcut in 1986. There remains a section of old growth forest on the property with beautiful old trees. There are a couple of creeks that run through it and some amazing Yellow Birch trees. As long as we are here we won’t be selling the trees for thirty pieces of silver.

Lastly. Our activities during the last couple of weeks have focused mainly on the indoors. With the arrival of the Omicron variant and the cold weather we have gone into Winter survival mode. I have baked dozens of cinnamon and chocolate rolls, Icelandic rye bread, oatmeal bread and just plain white bread. Eileen was delighted to have found a recipe for hot and sour soup – one of our favourites from our Montreal days. This time of year, cooking and eating seem to go hand in hand. Just doing our bit during these cold Omicron days.

Cinnamon rolls
Icelandic Rye Bread
Hot and Sour Soup

Follow the White Rabbit…

December 27

Wintertime allows us to see something we don’t normally see in warmer months – paw prints. Eileen is the authority on paw prints in our family, as she is for tree, plant, animal, bird and mushroom identification. Basically anything organic.

Today we came upon tracks that threw her for a loop. The prints were large and the spacing between the repeats were about three feet. She surmised it was quite a large animal moving at speed.

“Bobcat, Lynx?”, I ventured. She shook her head.

“Hmmm. Looks pretty big. Could be a pine martin”, I suggested.

“Pine martins are pretty vicious”, she replied as her hand visibly tightened on the ax she was carrying.

“Well, I’m glad one of us is carrying an ax today”, I replied.

“It might be stalking us right now…”, my voice trailed off into a mock whisper.

She shot me a glare that said I’d be sorry when that pine martin went for my throat.

We walked home through the darkening forest, intrigued by these new prints. Along the way the paw prints were upgraded to wolverine and the possibility of black bear was floated. As soon as we got into Wifi range I could see her furiously working her smartphone, querying the ether for an answer to the day’s mystery.

“Snowshoe hare, a Giant White Rabbit!”, Eileen announced laughingly from the living room a half hour later. She showed me the Google image.

“Well, it could have been dangerous”, I replied, “you know, like the killer rabbit from Monty Python’s The Holy Grail.”

She just sighed and shook her head.

January 2021

Eileen and the woods

January 19

Just back from a walk in the woods. Two days have passed since we had a good snowfall of around 30 cm (that’s about a foot for my American friends and family). The snow is brilliant in the sun and the forest is beautiful. We’re getting some good use out of our snowshoes. Have a great day everyone!

Into the forest

January 28

I finally got out to do some winter chainsawing today. I tried two years ago by pulling a toboggan and on snowshoes. This year a friend loaned me a “beater” snow mobile. It has a 16″ wide track and short, so not good for breaking trail but okay on already established paths. Also does not have a reverse gear so you really have to plan your route.

So, I tied the toboggan to the back and headed up into the woods to do some weeding. I hope to widen the road enough so that I can drive my truck up there and pick up firewood I cut.

I cut a whole bunch of small and medium trees that have been growing too close to the road. It worked out quite well. The road is visibly wider and I will pass by in the Spring to chipper shred the smaller trees.

Towards the end I had my first chainsaw mishap in over 18 years. After cutting a small tree I tried to direct its fall, letting go of the chainsaw with one hand before the chain stopped. My other hand lowered the saw and the moving chain ripped into my pants. They are chainsaw pants and are designed to stop or slow the chain. Fortunately the chain went through the pocket but no further. A good reminder to always wear the safety equipment no matter how small the job. And always carry a compression bandage with self applied tourniquet.