Category Archives: wildlife

Straight Line Wind

8.2.2017 – Wednesday

I’m back at the cabin and having a look around. It’s different now. Fewer trees for sure. I remember first walking the land and seeing the towering Balsam standing like sentinels over the lowlands. Basswood reached above the crowns of the maple trees on the high ground. Poplar trees stood shoulder to shoulder along the two-rut road leading to the cabin. Those trees are absent. Their bones litter the forest floor as reminders of what the forest used to be.

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On July 6, at about 8pm EST, a powerful storm moved through. It moved swiftly over the cabin and created powerful strait line winds. These jest of wind were irregular but uniformly oriented. While no-one was at the cabin at the time of the storm, wind speed was projected to reach 90 mph. Patches of forest were leveled and trees that shouldn’t have ben felled by wind were tore out root and stem.  Basswood trees snapped off 30 feet up as the crowns were forced toward horizontal. The point of failure on some maples was over a foot thick and over 20 feet off the ground.

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I arrived on Monday, after work. The storm passed through in the twilight hours on Thursday. The County had just opened up the main graveled road. The Ol’ man had warned me to take the long way around because the road was impassible by vehicle. While grateful for his wisdom I ignored his advice. There were heavy equipment tracks on the roadway from what looked like a large front end loader. Word was passed to me that the storm hit hardest on the other end of the graveled road. I figured they would start at that end of the road (the end of the road closest to the County garage). Seeing tracks at the North end was a sign that the road might be open again. I was also prepared. I had two Husqvarna 61 chainsaws freshly tuned up with just-sharpened chains. Over the past three years I’ve cut about 40 cord of firewood and become quite proficient with my saws and with my sharpening techniques. One saw would have done they job but there was room for two in the trunk of my 2007 Honda Civic.

As I approached the area hit hardest by the wind storm I slowed my pace. The 3 inches of ground clearance that my economy car yielded didn’t inspire enough confidence to drive swiftly as limbs and leaves began to litter the roadway. I came to an intersection and met a County truck. It was a large and fairly new Ford F-250 crew cab. I got the good news that the road was now open. Along with the good news I also got, “are you crazy driving that through here?” Not wishing to explain the merits of driving an automobile renowned for reliability, efficiency, and low maintenance costs I instead stated that I had two chainsaws and was about to get to work opening up the road to my Cabin. As I drove off I put on my Lee Vally cap and felt a little more rugged. When I reached as far as I could drive up the two rut road I changed out of my dress pants, collared shirt, and dress shoes. Now appropriately dressed in tattered blue jeans, steel toe work boots, and a stained T-shirt I prepared my saws. I fueled up, greased the bar sprocket, and filled up the oiler. I strapped on my professional kevlar chaps and chainsaw helmet. While I may be saving money with my choice in automobile I spare no expense on safety equipment. An injury would really wreck my day and it’s about a half mile walk from car to cabin at this point. Furthermore, emergency care in these parts isn’t, well, all that good frankly.

My first saw was a bit lethargic and after sitting for a year the carburetor was out of adjustment. I switched to my other saw and enjoyed quick cutting. Most of the trees in this spot were poplar, with a basswood here or there. The 3/8” chain with rakers filed just a bit deeper than the recommended 25 thousandths was the perfect combination for this job. Despite the success I was having the number of trees that lay before me was daunting. After three hours of only cutting I made it to the gate before walking back to the car to change. Wind fallen trees are a bit more than a nuisance and each one would easily cause an injury requiring a change in plans and I painful drive to the emergency room. The primary issue is that the trees were upset from their natural state. The wood is under stress and can snap violently at any point in the cut. The tops are also unsettled and can roll one way or the other as the trunk is cut. Of the nearly 40 trees cut tonight I had to carefully examine each one from root to crown and look for potential hazards.

Unscathed and a bit dehydrated I trudged back to my car to change and pack in to the cabin. The walk was hot and treacherous. I packed light but the further along I got the more I thought I could have packed lighter. Eventually I arrived. I rested up and replaced the water and calories that I spent earlier. Astounded with the damage of the storm I was eager to see what the rest of our land looked like. The ‘not-knowing’ was fueling my curiosity and I set out on foot to walk our trails. The walk usually takes about 15 minutes but this time took almost 2 hours. I even took a short video because after a while all the photos start to look the same.

Looking down the road from my parking spot.

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I was sweaty and tired after 2.5 tanks of gas.

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Setting out for the cabin I walked over my cuttings.

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Some trees were uprooted, some broke off up high, and others like this one shattered at their strongest point.

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Five poplar trees in a mess at the gate. A 6th is to my right just barely out of frame of the fisheye lens.

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The gate once again survived in tact.

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Heading away from the gate toward camp I came across one more large tree down and a few limbs. It didn’t look too bad… yet.

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Then I started hopping over trees.

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And more trees…

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Over some, under others.

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The road turned into the wind and 5 or 6 trees were uprooted right alongside the road.

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After setting foot on our property I crossed over a single basswood on the way to the cabin.

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TV reception didn’t look too good. I climbed up on the roof and straighten and repositioned the antenna after my walk.

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The cabin was just out of reach. Phew.

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On my walk down the slope on our trails I saw a few snapped spruce. The beetles did a number on the trees and the wind finished off the remaining trees.

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There was a forest here… the large food plot is straight ahead, through about 10 or more trees. Of coarse they are all matted down in a cluster.

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I made it to the plot. Looking back toward the hill now.

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Plot looks nice at least. Any grouse and deer that weren’t blown away or crushed should have food.

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A jet plowed through the center of our lowland. You can clearly see the direction of the wind.

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I crossed the plot and headed up the trail to the 6×6 stand.

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I snaked around through the woods and stepped back up on the trail and looked back the way I came.

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The stand survived! The clear cut along out Eastern border wasn’t to blame for the wind but it didn’t do any favors for our forest.

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The back trail was thinned by GMO a few years before we bought the camp.  Those trees folded right over across the trail. They are small and shouldn’t be too bad to clean up, but there are a lot of them!

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This view (1), or path, if able to walk would lead you straight across the center food plot and into the center of the pond. See the satellite image I annotated below for reference.

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(2) At the other end of the path, on the bank of the pond looking back.

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Back at the cabin I called the Ol’ man on my iPhone, setting it on the bed and using my bluetooth headset to keep the phone positioned in a location of good reception. Dad asked how they cutting went. Funny… I never said anything about that. In fact, I was advised not to start cutting until he arrived tomorrow morning. Bob, from the neighboring camp called Dad and said something along the lines of, “Some one cut a shitload of trees and made it all the way to your gate! Does you kid drive a Honda Civic?” So that’s how Dad knew what I was up to… I headed back out to the car after Bob stopped cutting, drove up to the gate and then cut for an hour around the gate.

Nightfall halted my efforts. I trekked back with my chainsaw gear this time along with one of my saws.  The next morning I got an early start.  Dad texted when he was 30 minutes out. I made it to the gate around 8am and started hiking out the trail. When I met Dad he had just got the tractor unloaded. The Ol’ man arrived around 8am EST. He appeared to have the same eagerness to open up the road that I did. Too bad he didn’t have steel toe boots though. After discussing the merits of protective gear he dropped a tree on his foot and limped about for a bit. All his toes on one foot except for the smallest toe was purple, and the front third of his foot was discoloring. He iced for a bit while I continued on with the tractor. After icing for a while he pulled the truck up to the gate and we headed up the cabin road cutting and setting the logs and tops aside with the tractor. I suppose we would have been a bit more productive had the Ol’ man not stopped to ice his foot 4 or 5 times today, but overall it went pretty well. Good thing we discussed safety gear before cutting… I suppose after this post is finished I should give him a call and see if he bought a pair of steel toe boots. Now that it’s a few weeks since the storm it’s worth mentioning that the foot was only bruised… same as his pride. Luckily both healed, leaving no lasting damage.

Rudy has also arrived this morning. His camp is the next one up from ours. He started cutting toward his camp but then broke the handle off his saw. In other words, he got it pinched in a tree and tried to pull it out. Both my saws are over 30 years old and both have their original handles. There is value in having two saws (or a separate bar and chain at the least). It guarantees that if a saw gets pinched you can free it up without damage. In this case, Rudy had to call it a day and pack up.

We made camp at 2pm EST. Not too bad. After a brief lunch break, our energy returned and we got back to work. Everything on the ground by the cabin was cleared and most of the leaners were taken down. All told, the tops of 7 trees were removed and 5 leaners were felled. A total of 13 trees fell down or were damaged to the point where removal was required within 200 feet of the cabin. By day’s end the lawn was clear and there was a lot of firewood to cut up. Eleven trees down and two to go.

We took care by the garage and used the tractor to remove logs and persuade trees to fall where we wanted.

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Bob stopped over to thank us for the work on the road. After demonstrating the versatility of a few choice words to describe the storm, work done, and work yet to do, he headed back out to the road to cut. Nice guy. Fairly hard working. After the yard was cleaned up we put in a pizza, some local sort with quality meat and a healthy quantity of fresh mozzarella cheese.

The next day I drove the two rut road and remembered what it used to look like.

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What’s next? The Ol’ man will continue to work on the trails and hopefully by the beginning of August we will have unfettered access to our stands (marking a milestone in the clean up, not the conclusion of it). The basswood will be cut over the next several years to make campfire wood and the maple will be cut in the next 18 months and either split and stacked for the cabin and maple sapping stove, or hauled out to my house for the outdoor wood burner. The lowlands will mostly be left alone. The poplar and balsam that were felled by the storm will be left as cover for whitetail deer and other animals. This is the way things go. Give and take. The lowlands were at an apex back in 2007. No longer! The ridge was thinned of basswood; good thing! had they not, many more maples would have been damaged from wind-felled basswood. The cabin was not damaged and the solar panels are still in place. Both elevated stands survived unscathed. A culvert on the cabin road was crushed by the processor that cut up wind felled trees as part of a salvage operation. Plans were already set to replace the culvert, but not until next year. The Ol’ man and I would also like to do another fly over in Spring 2018.

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Every unexpected event is an opportunity. And like an old timer up the road said standing by his truck parked at the end of the road to his cabin after the storm, “It’s bad, but at least the cabin is OK and I have my health.” I replied, “I like how you mentioned the cabin first.” He chuckled.

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Michigan Maple Syrup

4.9.2014 – Wednesday

A warm spring night, a wood fire, and the sweet smell of hot sap 100 yards off…

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With my mid-week break I packed up the family and we trucked to camp in the Pilot… well, most of the way. The Honda has some neat AWD tricks but when the Ol’ man decides to park his Z71 Silverado 4×4 at the end of the road and walk the rest of the way, I wasn’t about to bury the Pilot and risk damage to a vehicle without proper skid plates. Quite handily, the Ol’ man was kind enough to provide us with transportation via the Pioneer. Once the family was dropped off at the cabin, Dad and I made a gear trip and hauled the rest of our supplies to camp. This also gave me a chance to document the mud. There are a handful of photos in this post that are HDR (high dynamic range). Each HDR photo is a composite of 3 photos taken at different exposures. I processed my HDR photos to achieve realism (versus the over-processed artsy stuff you find elsewhere on the internet).

IMG_9622 HDRThe loggers chewed up the half-mile of road it took to get from our forest parking spot to the gate. While the ride was rough, the heavy machinery drove the frost down so the real mud didn’t start until our little two-rut road.

IMG_9638 HDRThe frost had kept the water on top of the road and created some spectacular mud. It’s thick and slimy, resisting remodeling just enough to force the Pioneer’s tires in to the ruts. The 11″ of ground clearance was used up in a number of spots. After our trip we regrouped and ate supper. During supper, the Ol’ man mentioned there was a spectacular view to be had from some recent logging a few miles down the road. The night was young, and that was all the push I needed to take an evening side-by-side ride with the kiddo. Meanwhile, Sarah and the little one decided to tend the fire and see how far they could sink into the big comfy couch.

IMG_9690 HDR We soon found ourselves on a beaver dam the loggers used as a road. The water was beginning to eat away at the frozen embankment. After the crossing we scaled a steep hill that the Spring melt had turned into a 200 foot mud-run. The Pioneer made it about 100′ before coming to a stop. It appeared that the spectacular view was in jeopardy, and additionally that I had the entirely wrong footwear for trekking through a foot of mud. Quite amazingly, 4-wheel differential lock got us moving again. Sorry, no photos of the hill. Dad wasn’t stopping once we started moving again.

IMG_9681 HDR A view from the beaver pond.

IMG_9658 HDRIt was worth the trip. In the right 3rd of the above photo the clear cut can be seen.

IMG_9696 HDRLooking back at the ridge we just traveled. The previous photo was taken from the ridge in the center of this photo. Tomorrow we would start boiling.

The equipment has been in storage since Spring 2013 – when we originally planned to do the inaugural run. Going back to 2010 I can remember the slow acquisition of parts and supplies. Bags and holders were one of the first supplies bought. I think some of the bag-holders were acquired in the 1970’s. The pan was the next big purchase. It was custom made from stainless steel. After the pan a steel stove was produced by a high-school shop class to match – for the price of metal and a pizza party upon completion. Later acquisitions included ball valves, garbage cans, buckets, skimmers, hydrometers, a turkey deep-frier, bottles, and so on.

The stove, sketched out by high school shop teacher Derek is revision 2. Revision 1 had a tapered fire box that ended at the pipe. Revision 2, what we have, has a square firebox with a flat exhaust to the pipe. Ultimately, we achieved a very controlled boil with no foam. Revision 1 has historically produced a lot of foam and a very strong boil. It’s a mystery why we did not get foam from boiling, but we noted a few differences between last year’s boil from Revision 1 and this year’s boil at our camp from Revision 2:

  • We used bags to collect instead of buckets
  • Our stove produces a consistent boil, but the smaller fire-box means the boil is not as vigorous as the boil produced from Revision 1
  • Our trees are 30 miles North and about 30 years younger

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Nonetheless, the reason for little to no foam from our boil eludes us. To achieve “ideal boil” we established the following settings:

  • 3 – 4″ of sap in the boiler pan (24″ x 48″ x 7″) and the top dripper pan (12″ x 24″ x 6″)  slowly adds sap at about the same rate as the boil removes moisture from the sap.
  • Bottom ash tray was opened about 2″ for increased airflow to the fire
  • Maple and birch was burned in the firebox, criss-crossed to form a latticed stack three pieces high by 3-4 pieces wide
  • As soon as the wood burned down we raked the coals and made a new stack of wood (about 25-30 minutes)

IMG_9745 HDR IMG_9759Unlike a wood burner in a house we did not want coals. A complete combustion is preferred with lots of flame. A hot fire gives a good boil and clears out the coals, making room for more wood. Too many coals kills the boil.

IMG_9765We tested our boil rate to give an estimate to how many hours would be required to boil down the 200 gallons of sap we collected. Once we had a stable boil and the depth of the boiler pan was consistent at 3.5″ we measured the drip-rate at 2 cups in 1:16.00 minutes. That came out to about 6.25 gallons per hour.

IMG_9774 HDRWhile the boil was underway we collected sap from the 80 taps placed a few weeks earlier. The sap flowed hesitantly this year, so today’s collection was 3 days worth of sap. The plastic tailgate on the Pioneer needs some reinforcing when there is over 500 pounds of sap sloshing around. It may be hard to see, but there is a strainer cloth (flour sack dish towel) bungee-corded to the top tank inlet. We filter the sap at collection.

IMG_9784 IMG_9797 HDRToday’s collection didn’t even average a gallon per tap over three days. The bags pour better than the pails and we had very little spill when transferring to the collection tank.

IMG_9801 HDRThe collected sap is then drained into a sterile 5 gallon bucket and transferred to some 35 gallon garbage cans buried in the snow bank or a larger snow-covered tank just barely peaking into the photo below. From there, sap is added 5 gallons at a time to the dripper pan.

IMG_9804 IMG_9812Tools of the trade: folding chairs, card table with foam skimmers, the 5 gallon bucket, and some iron tools for raking and shoveling coals.

The last bit of the process was not documented. My break ended a day earlier than required to see the process completed. We ended up boiling about 200 gallons of sap and getting 5.75 gallons of syrup (after spills). Once the sap reached the correct moisture content (59 brix at boil) to become syrup the fire was quenched and the hot syrup was transferred and strained through a flower sack dish towel into a 6 gallon turkey deep frier. The frier is stainless steel and allows us to strain the finished syrup and reduce the surface area to volume ratio of the boiler pan, keeping temperature and specific gravity stable, allowing more time to fill bottles with hot syrup. The bottles are filled, capped, and set on their side for at least 20 seconds before being stored upright. Due to my absence during the final steps I don’t have photos or much in the way of commentary. For more information on how to make maple syrup, check out this helpful document from the University of Maine Extension: Bulletin #7038, Maple Syrup Quality Control Manual

Ice Climbing

4.6.2014 – Sunday

Brian and Paul made the trip up from Milwaukee after Friday classes. When not in med-school they trade a place to stay and home-made breakfast for access to their ice climbing expertise and gear. We climbed the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly on March 29th… on roughly 5 hours of sleep.

Stats:

8:30am – start out on foot across lake
9:45am – reached destination of hike (2 miles later)
10:45am – reached the easy ascent route
11:30am – ascended easy route
12:45pm – reached final climb
2:30pm – repelled final climb
3:15pm – began climbing
5:30pm – concluded climb
6:00pm – began trek back to car
7:30pm – reached car
8:00pm – departed for home

Star Trails

8.18.2013 – Sunday

The 2013 Perseids meteor shower is now past peak. I caught a few photos and shot some more time lapse, and was lucky enough to catch some faint Northern Lights over Lake Superior and a few decent meteors.  I updated the time lapse compilation to include two new segments (the last two sequences). The video continues to be a work in progress.

Here is a still from the video and a composite star trail photo (click to enlarge!):

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StarStaX Perseids 113

Camp Chuck Box

7.20.2013-Saturday

We’ve been camping…

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And that leads to my latest project in the wood shop…

We went camping two weeks ago at Lower Hurricane Campground in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (above) and used plastic totes for our food and cooking materials. Well, that just about drove me crazy. It takes forever to figure out how to get stuff to fit. Then there is the issue of finding stuff and repacking them at the end of the day because food can’t be left out on the picnic table overnight. After some time in the R&D department I think I have a pretty good solution. Using my Google-Foo skills I found a few pictures of camping chuck boxes and then broke out my measuring tape, a pencil, and some paper. Soon I had a rough design sketched out. It took about three days (of my spare time) to construct the box and then another four days to add three coats of polyurethane and one more day to mount all the hardware. All in all this project required a $125 investment for materials (one and a half 4×8 sheets of half-inch birch plywood accounting for over $75 of the cost).

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The box closes up and the legs slide over the top. The whole thing then slides into the back of the Honda Pilot. Please excuse the quality of the next photo – it isn’t quite up to the level this blog is used to (DSLR > iPhone).

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We tested out the box on our most recent camping trip. Aside from the record high temperatures, humidity in the 90% ranges, and healthy swarm of mosquitos and lake flies, we managed to survive. The box wasn’t the reason for our survival but it provided at least one less thing to complain about. Some action shots:

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With the doors open there is support for the top panels to open on to. This doubles the counter space. Overall dimensions of the box are 20″ x 20″ x 30″ with a 60″ x 20″ top when opened. It’s a spacious box and is not meant to be carried across a lawn or park (at least not by oneself).

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In action the box has two drawers that are fully removable. The top small drawer (on the bottom in this photo) is for silverware while the larger drawer is for cooking utensils and lighters). The bottom compartment is made specifically to fit the cook stove.

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The left door features a paper towel holder. It is no ordinary holder however. I used my threading kit to thread the end of an oak dowel and then make a corresponding maple flag nut. This allows the paper towel to be mounted with zero clearance on either side ensuring the perfect tear for every sheet of paper. No more holding the roll with one hand and tearing with the other. It also took 2 hours to make (mostly in set up for the threading and tapping).

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The right door features a three position adjustable shelf. Both doors have a lip on the bottom to keep the contents in place during travel. In the main compartment are two more shelves (1/4″ birch plywood) that are adjustable.

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The whole rig was assembled with great care. Dado and rabbit joints are used everywhere possible, and since I don’t yet have a pneumatic nail gun I counter sunk and screwed everything together (in addition to glue). The stand is left over cedar paneling and is super lightweight. Only glue, lap joints, and dados used for the stand assembly – no screws.

It’s been mentioned that I should make and sell these. At $125 for parts and what amounts to 10-16 hours of my free time I’m not sure there is much of a business case for the production of a second copy. It’s going to be added to the growing collection of one-off wood creations coming out of the shop. Fr’ instance, the following two projects aren’t slated to be duplicated anytime soon:

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A wood-screw type gun vise (I do have plans to make several cam-style gun vises in the future however). This vise is pretty much 100% hard maple with sliding dove-tail joinery and real leather padding.

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William’s train. He likes the wood shop. He likes wood. He likes wheels and stuff to grab on to. Seemed like a good fit for the kiddo. But with ash, maple, cherry, birch, and oak and some 60+ pieces it’s not easy to make. I also don’t have a lathe, so making round parts is also quite a bit of work. If you are considering making your own train and have the tools, here is the documentation.

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…so a little off the off-grid path I suppose. But given that woodworking/craftsmanship is an integral part of DIY ventures like off-grid power systems and that camping and shooting sports probably fits that same demographic, I figured it may be worth sharing. And the train… well, who doesn’t love trains?

Some scenes from our travels in the U.P. this summer:

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wild life :: birds

3.11.2012 – Sunday

Last time I wrote a post on wildlife it was a rare capture on the game camera of a pair of coyotes taking down a fawn. Before that in the post “battery enclosure I” there was a bobcat. While I’m still waiting for a picture of a wolf I was more than happy to get a few great captures this past week:

Gold Finch

Common Redpoll

White-Breasted Nuthatch

Grey Squirrel

Pine Grosbeak

Female Pine Grosbeak

Trumpeter Swan (largest swan in the world)

Bald Eagle

Cabin :: tour #2

With a successful battery monitor and auxiliary lines install without any substantial set backs there was ample time to take a walk around the forty and enjoy the forest (despite the deer flies). The cabin porch however, is the place to be, thanks to it’s unexplained lack of bugs that eat human. A few theories for this phenomenon arise from either the pond creating an excellent spot for dragon fly maturation, the recent tree thinning allowing for good air movement in the under story, and/or a rebound in the bat population. But none-the-less, here is what I found when I ventured off of the porch… in my bug bitten wanderings about the land.