Nature Trail

Labor Day weekend is turning out to be a complete waste as far as getting any paying work done. There’s still a painting in progress on my painting table, and regular work to be completed. As usual though my lazy butt found other things to occupy my time. Yesterday I spent all day with my friends working on our Jeeps in preparation for our offroading camping trip. I was able to turn a wrench and change my sway bar links front (loose joint on the quick disconnect bar end) and rear (rusty factory links with worn out bushings). We also managed to fix my compressor for the lockers and even put a new tire inflation coupling on the compressor while we were at it. Full disclosure, my electrically inclined friend Jeff fixed the compressor; a new wire end and fixed fuse. I know nothing about electricity. I do know about grinding and cutting metal, so I jumped at the opportunity to hack away at a friend’s rock rail so his rear tires would clear then under full articulation.

Well, anyway, I realize you have no idea what I’m talking about; suffice to say Saturday was pretty much “Jeep Day” all day, and wore me out – covered with sweat and dirt I made it home in time to relax with the family unit before bed.  Being occupied all day with Jeeps meant no planting trees, other than I did plant the Japanese Maple first thing Saturday morning. And I tell you what, he has perked up quite a bit. With some love and tenderness he’s gonna make I hope. Heck, I may even keep him. He’s planted in the “nursery” bed by my studio so we can keep an eye on him and he’ll only get morning sunshine which is what he likes the best.

Today, Sunday, we did our usual watch CBS Sunday Morning and read the paper routine. I paid some bills (that’s sort of fiscally responsible right?) and around 11 o’clock we made it outside. The day was warm and humid, more August than September. The spouse continued the thankless job of weeding the front bed. I went over to the gravel driveway to do some work on the bat house post. The other day I was going to recycle a 5 gallon bucket of deck stain that had been sitting in our garages for the last several years. Then I thought, well before I pitch it maybe I can use it on the bat house post. I figure the stain would help preserve the pressure treated post. I’d need to stain it on the ground because no way would I get on a ladder to stain it once the 16′ long post is in the ground. I opened the stain up, stirred it a little and it looked fine. Staining in the driveway is a great job for little boys to do, so I employed both of mine to lend a helping hand. Their interest lasted almost the entire duration of staining the post, and bat house. Not to bad. While I had the stain out I decided to stain the posts and gates in the garden too, to help protect them as well. The brown color of the stain looks just fine with the rest of the estate. I didn’t finish the job but got a fair amount done.

My main task today though was to get those hapless river birch trees in the ground. Our plan was to start cutting a path in the south meadow, and dot the edges with the birch trees. That way the wife and kids have a happy little birch grove to enjoy. The trail starts where we planted our first, large birch tree. The plan was to then meander the path along the tree line and up towards the wild black berry bushes. Eventually it would work its way across the property to the bees. In theory, once all the paths are complete, one could take leisurely laps after dinner and probably cover a mile in a few laps. I used a gas-powered trimmer with a brush cutting attachment to cut my path about 3′ wide.

The boys were eager to check out the new path, wondering if it was going to be a maze…after all the meadow is about 4′ tall so from their perspective it may as well be a maze.  But mom informed them that it was a “nature trail”, and not a maze. After cutting about ten yards of cutting their patience wore thin and they were checking out the new feature of their land. They even found a nearly all brown wooly bear caterpillar so we had some fun letting his little fuzzy body crawl on our hands. Legend has it the number of brown or black rings on a wooly bear can predict how cold or mild the winter will be. Who knows, but I’ve never seen one with so much brown before. After the boys left to go relocate their new wooly friend I continued to cut. About every 5-10 yards I’d stop, walk back to the beginning of the path and make sure I liked how it was going. I purposefully made it “snaky” so that no matter where you stand: yard, house, on the path, you couldn’t really see the beginning or the end of the trail. This keeps the meadow visually intact, but allows us to navigate the space without tracking through shoulder height brush (much of which is really skin cutting sharp). The key is to constantly check your path as you cut. You can also stake out the path ahead of time but honestly, with tall thick grass and razor-sharp vines everywhere, your best bet may just be to “go for it”. For me, I’m a “go for it” kinda guy.

Eventually I cut all the way up to a thorny tree that marked today’s terminus for the trail. I tied the trail into another large tree along the way (a doomed ash tree I believe), and cleared out a nearby baby oak tree as well. There are plenty of things to see along the trail, no doubt. Once the path was cleared I selected five locations along the way and cleared out about a 3′ circle at each location, about 3′ off the path. Taking a spade I dug into 100 years worth of rich, farm-ish top soil which should be perfect for our river birch trees. Betula Nigra likes moist soil, so in reality we could have planted them anywhere on the property. While the trail is on a downslope it still has a lot of water run across it from the southeast wetlands to the south swale.  The trees I planted are clumps about 5′ in height. They’ll eventually grow to 40′-60′ long after my ashes are cast to the wind.

While I didn’t accomplish anything of real value this weekend (at some point I should partake in some paying work, right?), we can at least say Ohio has five more river birch tress than it had previously. And the boys have 60 yards worth of nature path to explore. I saw one other wooly bear with a little more black on him up by the last birch tree I planted. I’m not sure, maybe winter will be warm at the beginning of the path and cold up by the thorny tree. Regardless, we’ve got a fun new feature to enjoy in the yard.

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