20 April 2008

Snow on the Spring Flowers

Looks like I may have spoken too soon about the arrival of spring - we got more snow!

It didn't stick for more than a few hours, but nonetheless it was there. Once the sun came out it melted quickly, so we only had a short window to capture the moment photographically. The snow vaporized into steam, which can be seen in the background of the garlic photo below.


- Mike (& Corinne)

14 April 2008

Pouring Concrete, Burning Ditches

Spring is here again (finally!), so it is once again time to prepare for the growing season. This weekend was irrigation ditch cleaning, where everyone that has shares in a given ditch (theoretically) comes out to help clean out the rocks, weeds, trees, and beaver dams that have accumulated in the ditch since the previous year; see last year's irrigation cleaning post for more details.

We're on 2 different irrigation ditches, one at each end of our property. Last year I was elected to the board of directors of one of those ditch companies; my theory is that I'm relatively young, I attend all of the meetings, and seem to have warm blood flowing through me. Well, apparently I still do; I am now on the board of BOTH of the ditch companies. I think it's pretty important to get the next generation of residents involved in the operation of the ditches, since eventually it will be our responsibility to see that they continue to provide what the local farms and home gardeners need.

This year's ditch work day involved more than just cleaning. The headgate of one ditch needed some repairs, including pouring some new concrete to shore up a retaining wall. While most people worked on cleaning the rest of the ditch and Corinne stayed home to work in the field (more on that later), I was assigned to help the rest of the engineer-types to work on the repairs. (I suspect that is another reason that I was a popular choice for board membership - despite the fact that I know nothing about civil engineering!) Before we could successfully pour concrete, though, we had to figure out how to block the flow of water. Thank goodness for the workers of Trout Lake Farm, without whose labor we would have been much more tired - that's a lot of sand bags!

Once the water was blocked, the concrete truck rolled in through a field and along a rocky ditch, which was a sight to behold by itself. I wish I had snapped some photos of the actual concrete pour, but we were so focused on getting the concrete where we wanted it that I missed it. Hopefully with these repairs the headgate will last another 10 years without needing any major repairs.

On the day following the official ditch cleaning, we noticed our neighbors Harry and Judy out burning our lateral. A lateral ditch is used to transport water from the main ditch to 1 or more individual landowners; maintenance of a lateral is the responsibility of the landowners served. Since we share a lateral with our neighbors, we also share the responsibility of maintaining that ditch. A fair amount of dried grass - typically canary grass - surrounds and accumulates in the ditch, and the easiest way to clear the ditch is to do a controlled burn of the dried material. Corinne used to talk about her Dad burning ditches back in Montana, but I had no idea what she was talking about (there aren't a lot of irrigation ditches in NJ, as you can imagine.)

I joined Harry and Judy and spent the next few hours walking up the ditch, using a butane lighter to ignite the grasses, then monitoring the fire and periodically spraying water from a backpack sprayer to control the spread. Ah, country life. Next year we're going to consider buying a propane torch to help the process along.

- Mike (& Corinne)

13 April 2008

Stereotypical Cat Incident

Max has had lots of opportunities to spend time outside recently, but it's only in the last week or so that the weather has been warm and dry enough for him to want to spend any significant time there. This past Saturday it was 75+F. We let him outside in the morning, and he spent the rest of the day practically "drunk" with sunshine. Several times we tried to entice him inside, but he was perfectly happy where he was.

As the sun sank below the horizon, we called for Max but saw or heard no sign of him. Finally at about 9pm, I went outside to call for him again and this time heard a faint response. I walked around, continuing to call and listen for his response, trying to locate its source. After less than a minute of this I could tell that the sound was coming from the stand of trees to the west of the house. As I walked closer, the sound seemed to get stronger but seemed to be coming from above until finally the sound was directly above me.

Yes, that's right: Max was stuck up a tree.

Max wasn't up just any tree, either; he had climbed a Grand Fir, a coniferous tree with relatively small branch spacing and dense needles. By this point it was completely dark outside, so Corinne pulled the car over and shined the headlights on the tree to help find him. The branches were so dense that it was difficult to see more than a few feet up the tree. After several minutes of searching we caught sight of him about 15 feet up the tree, wrapped around the trunk.

After using our neighbor Jack's orchard ladder last fall, we bought our own 12' model, and it seemed that this would be its first use. We grabbed the ladder from the shop and got it as close to the tree as we could. From the top of the ladder I could see Max a few feet above me, but I couldn't get close enough to him to help him down. I talked him down several feet but then he just wouldn't go any further and I still wasn't close enough.

At this point we got out one of our pruning saws and pruned the lowest row of branches so that we could move the ladder in closer. Max really must not have liked this - and I can't blame him - because he had started to froth at the mouth, and his whining had turned into more of a whimper. But now I was at eye level with him at the top of the ladder, and while he was clearly scared, he was still responsive to me and I managed to talk him out onto a branch so that I could grab him, put him on my shoulder, and walk down the ladder. Once off of the ladder, he jumped off my shoulder and ran into the house.

He didn't seem too worse for wear after his ordeal, but he was very restless that night, pacing from room to room, never settling very long in one spot. The worst part, though is that his fur now was speckled with sap from the tree. He would try to clean himself as cats do - using his tongue - but he would make a terrible face and shake his head every time he did. Over the next day or so he managed to clean himself up pretty well, and we would find small clumps of hair scattered around the house where he had pulled out some of the sappy fur. When we let him outside the following day, he spent the entire time sitting on the stoop right outside the door. Since then he has gradually returned to normal outdoor behavior.

We're still curious as to what prompted him to climb up that tree. Did he hear something (real or imagined) that spooked him? Was he chased by a local dog or coyote? I guess we'll probably never know.

- Mike (& Corinne)