Monday, April 13, 2015

A walk in the woods

The jet stream managed to climb north of us for a few days, so we finally got some of the warm air the rest of the country has enjoyed for weeks. It climbed to 60 F yesterday, and was hot enough to work outdoors in a T-shirt, although except for the usual Sunday chores, I did no such thing.

Instead, Aimee and I took a drive with Roo and the dogs over to the Sebasticook Regional Land Trust's Great Farm Preserve. This is about fifty acres of forest and trout stream, of which Aimee is the official "Steward."

Most recently the land trust had a logger in to clear out some brushy lumber and let in more light. SLRT is a working land trust and doesn't believe in keeping land locked up from agricultural and forestry use, so some of their plots get logged.

Unfortunately, this particular logger did a miserable job. In particular, they blocked the trail for many yards with small trees and brush. It will have to be cleared, probably by hand. The land trust board is going to be pretty upset when they hear about it. Aimee took some pictures.

In the meantime, the good citizens of Jackson, Maine, will not be able to hike the whole length of their forest trail. That's going to put a damper on our local FrogWatch this year.

For the record, even when damage is done to trails, there's a big difference between this kind of logging where the intent is to grow the trees back, and the kind of clear-cutting for agriculture we've begun to see around here. Logging for lumber, pulp, or firewood can be sustainable, if the trees are left to grow back. Logging can even improve the carbon sequestration of soils and trees. In this case, part of the intent was to remove small brushy conifers and replace with hardwoods, which would have let in some light and improved the biodiversity of the forest floor habitats. This much was achieved, despite the trail mess.

Logging for agriculture on the other hand, whether for palm oil in Indonesia, beef in the Amazon, or farming in Maine, replaces what was a forest with an agricultural landscape that is no longer capable of sequestering carbon to the same degree.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

A slow start to spring

Photo: One of us at least isn't too bothered by mud season. Roo, delighted with a Big G's Deli eight-inch whoopie pie, the Maine state treat, no less. Don't worry, she was only allowed a little tiny taste of it!

It's April, and we still have a good foot of snow on the ground on most places. Everywhere else is mud. Frozen mud on the colder nights, or just plain mud. Or dooryard looks like a quieter section of the Battle of the Somme.

More snow fell yesterday morning, just a dusting, but to add insult to injury. Aimee's vegetable plant starts are growing like weeds under their UV lamps in the south facing window of the den, but there won't be anywhere to put them anytime soon. Normally they'd be able to go out to the greenhouse during the warmer April days. We'd carry them out every morning until risk of frost had passed. But we can't even walk over there without post-holing. I'm worried that by the time it all melts, the tomatoes and peppers will be taller than the shelves they sit on, all spindly and bent double.

School has but four weeks to go and we're well ready for it to end, mostly so we can get on with the job of raising baby Roo without interference from the toad work for a few months at least. It's been hard to juggle work and caring for a baby, even with two of us on flex-time, or the equivalent. We still put in well more than forty hours each, but until May, many of those hours will continue to be late at night, early in the morning, or on the weekends. I found myself editing a document at three am the other day, just because it had to be done and I couldn't sleep. Thursday night found me so tired after six or seven "contact hours" without a break, I felt as if I was catching the flu. It's been a grind, and we need it to end.

Neither of us has much elasticity left, work wise. If we lost another hour or two we'd easily fall behind. We have to do what we have to do. But we're determined to be there for her these crucial months, so she's our priority, and she gets the best of our attention. Neither of us wants to miss out on anything big, like first steps or first words. There are only a few hours a week when one or the other of us, or both, isn't with her, which is when she goes to our friend Eileen's house for a regular play-date/childcare session so Aimee and I both be at work at the same time.

When she naps during the day, though, we tend to collapse with her now.

In the fall, hopefully by then walking and talking, she'll be old enough for daycare. Life will be easier then, we hope.

Our vehicles are covered in mud and salt, and I long to get my automotive lift working and get rid of all that crud with the pressure washer. I hate vehicular rust with a vengeance and don't wish to see us waste thousands of dollars allowing it to take hold. But the weather isn't cooperating with that scheme. There's the remains of a sizable snowbank still on the lift pad, where all the snow came off the back roof, a good three-feet of it. Which admittedly is much less than the four or five it was, but still disheartening. I'll also be glad to get the plow off the Rover, so I can use it for regular driving again.

It won't be long now until spring really takes hold. There's a moment in the Maine climate year when the ground thaws out and all the meltwater starts to drain properly. Mud season ends and the grass starts to grow, a green show, first in the bottoms of ditches, and then fields and lawns. Dirt roads become more passable, and frost heaves on macadam roads begin to subside. Driving becomes much more pleasurable and garage sales begin to come to mind.

I would guess we'll experience that moment sometime in the next two to three weeks.

I can hardly wait. But in the meantime, our April showers are snow showers today.

By the time Memorial Day comes around and the first tourists begin to show, the braver ones who either haven't heard, or aren't afraid, of blackflies, they might be excused for imagining we never had a winter at all.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Cold again: only 5 F this morning

A taxonomy of cold weather clothing, by increments, while feeding the sheep and doing other farm work each morning:

At freezing (32 F), we can walk out in our comfy no-one's-coming-to-see-us-today clothes, sweat shirt and sweat pants and Crocs, without injury, except that we may get a little bit of hay or chickie-shit on us. The main thing to worry about is mud. Substitute wellies for Crocs, and you're all set.

At moderately cool temperatures (20-32 F), we need to put on a coat. I use a double-layered heavy fleece coat made by a Canadian company. I bought it years ago in Canada, and it has lasted well. But the mud is frozen, so you can wear your Crocs if you have thick socks. Except that your wife will yell at you because she worries your worn-out old Crocs will slip on the ice. I tend to think my smooth-soled Crocs stick to the ice better than my boots, but no-one believes me. Take your gloves and hat, but you may take them off later if you don't need them.

Between 10 and 20F, it's too cold for Crocs, and becoming too cold for sweats, even with a coat. I wear felt-lined thermal "Pac" boots, in this case made by LaCrosse, a Canadian company that knows how to keep feet warm. They're expensive, but there's really no adequate substitute. You'll also need to change to warmer clothes if you mean to stay out for more than five minutes. If it's just a night check, and the snow is plowed, I can run out in my sweats and Crocs and run back in without harm, but if it's a longer job, I first change to insulated bib overalls. Gloves and hat are also required for longer jobs. You can take your gloves off for a short length of time to do more delicate jobs, like fixing wiring on the trailer, or tightening a bolt. But not for long. Fingers will get cold fast.

Below 10 F, insulated overalls are a must for just about any length of time, especially if the wind is blowing. Warm socks too. We use thermal liners with thick wool oversocks in our felt-lined boots. Gloves stay on nearly all the time, as does the hat. Fingers will now stick to bare metal, so best keep your gloves on, even when handling tools. I have liner gloves I can wear under my main gloves, which allows me to take the main gloves off for a few minutes to do finer fingery types of work. But for the most part, if it's this cold, I just don't do those kinds of jobs outside until it warms up.

Between -10 F and  0 F, we wear our gloves and hat and insulated overalls and felt boots and double layer of socks. We may add a long sleeved, thicker undershirt, and switch to our warmer pair of gloves, which are made by Carhartt, another good brand name for cold weather stuff. All these clothes are cotton or cotton blend, except for the hat, which is wool, and the insulation in the overalls and gloves, which is usually a fiber-based product. In this kind of cold, cotton clothes are fine, if they're thick and strong and designed for the cold. The old outdoor activity adage not to wear cotton no longer applies.

Between -20 and -10 F, we may switch to a fur-lined "mad bomber" hat, as well as a pair of insulated coveralls instead of bib overalls. We keep our inside clothes -- sweat pants and sweat shirt -- on underneath.

Below -20 F it's best not to go out if you can help it, but the sheep will still need to be fed, so you must. I just wear all of the stuff above, but stay out for only as long as I need and come right back in. If I'm working and there's no wind, its fine. If I'm not moving much and there's a wind, you get cold fast. I have a pair of long bright red cotton "combination" underwear that I can add to stay out just a little longer. But it's very easy to freeze skin, especially your fingers, ear lobes, cheeks and nose. I've had frostbite and can recognize the feeling, so I try not to get it again.

It's always nice to come back in to a warm house when it's this cold outside. Our house has multiple and redundant heating systems for safety in case of power cuts, so we're never really cold inside. We usually use the wood stove and a little electrical heat and that's enough especially with good quality hardwood, but if it gets really cold, we can just crank up an oversized oil furnace, and be toasty in minutes.

Here's how to rock this kinda style:

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Skinny young Mick

This was sent over by a guy who was on my aircraft engineering course at RAF College Halton in 1979. I'm the skinny blond on the right.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

More lambs

I managed to catch one of our students' colds -- an occupational hazard. Students are routinely disgusting when it comes to colds. They come staggering into class, just dripping snot and spreading it on everything they touch. I sometimes wish I could just spray them down with an anti-viral solution.

I wish they'd stay in bed, but I expect they worry about keeping up with the work.

This one was mild, but primarily involved a snotty, itchy, sneezy nose. Not the best thing if you are trying to keep quiet so as to not wake a sleeping baby. I felt fine as long as I was outside, in the shower, drinking soup, or sipping scotch. The rest of the time my nose itched and I sneezed my way around the house. Just like one of my students, in fact.

I managed to drink all the actual scotch in the house. It sounds like a lot, but there was probably an ounce-and-a-half left in a bottle I'd been nursing for nearly ten years. Even that was enough for two of my normal "drams." I'm not a big whisky drinker.

I tried some of Aimee's Bourbon, but it wasn't the same. It dried up the nose just fine, but the flavor was all wrong. So I bit the bullet and went to the supermarket to buy another bottle of decent scotch.

I wanted an Islay malt, and they had Laphroaig, one of my favorites, but at $47 I just couldn't do it. I settled for a $22 McClellands faux-Islay, which turned out to be quite up to the task.

But then I got better. No excuse for drinking whisky now! I expect we'll still have the McClellands in ten years time.

In other news, Roo is eating bread-and-butter "soldiers!" It turns out that Americans, or at least Aimee, don't know what bread soldiers are. This is when you cut up a slice of bread into sticks just small enough to fit in a child's mouth, or the top of a soft-boiled egg in an egg cup.

Our old mum used to make me and my sister Carol bread-and-butter soldiers to eat with soft boiled eggs. You crack the top off the egg and dip the buttered bread inside so it comes out covered in yolk. Yummy.

Roo is not yet eating the egg part. She can have egg yolk, but not egg white, the doc says, something about avoiding allergies later on. But she loves her soldiers.

Two more lambs were born early yesterday morning, to lead ewe and head cuddle-sheep Nellie.

Nellie is our all-time tamest sheep and has been my favorite for years. She gave birth to two strong ram-lambs, one of which has a black pirate's eyebrow patch. No pictures yet. I'm not taking my own sheep pictures this year -- I've already dropped two cameras in the sheep's water over the years, as well as broken quite a few, and now I have a nice camera, albeit one of Aimee's cast-offs, as well as a (secondhand) iPhone, I'm trying not to do the same. All my sheep pictures are stolen from Aimee this year.

The weather has been cold and clear and windy since the weekend's snowstorm. It will get a little warmer today. We now have our deck back -- all shoveled off for the first time since Christmas Day, and when it's warmer you can take Roo out there for a little sun.

We're sort of done with winter but it keeps lingering on. Maybe spring will come next week. We should know after long experience that April is the month that winter ends in Maine, but hope lingers on.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Lambing live

Some slight difficulties ensued yesterday when lambing season began here on the farm. We normally "schedule" our lambs for the college's Spring Break, by allowing the ram access for "tupping" exactly five months before. Unfortunately, the first two ewes to give birth hadn't read the calendar, and as a result my teaching was almost interrupted.

The first two, to older ewe Quinn, came before class. Actually, we don't know when they were born, but they were waiting for me at feeding time this morning. That gave me just enough time to sort them into a lambing pen and provide the mothers a separate feed and hay and water facility before my 8am class.

The second two, to first-time mom Tia, came during faculty meeting time. Aimee was home with Roo, and tried to manage while also holding the baby, but needed help and emailed me. Luckily there wasn't any item I particularly wanted to vote on or debate, so I raced home. These two lambs were cold and slow and wet and needed to be placed on the mother's teat and helped to begin feeding, not something you should attempt while holding a six month old since it requires wrestling the mother to the ground.I was able to get it all sorted in time form my 12.30 Physics lab.

It's now nearly midnight, and while I've had a few hours sleep, I'm also up again, first to cut off a couple of lambs' tails, their mother having bitten them both to the point of bleeding. This is something sheep mothers sometimes do. We use elastrator bands to stop the bleeding. All that accomplished, I managed to sneeze on my way back to bed and wake our own baby, so now I'm working on getting her back asleep.

Such is the life on the farm, but at least there's new life, both human and sheepish.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

A moment of peace in a crowded week

Roo is down for a mid-morning nap, so I can write on the blog and catch up with events. A precious few moments of peace for mummy and daddy. What to write?

We can start with the basics.

Work: The toad. The college calendar is advancing. Spring Break arrives the week after next, then it will be a short five weeks to graduation. We're looking forward to the break, and then the summer soon enough after that.

Weather: The weather is still cool, but warmer than it was and you can now be outdoors some of the time without layers of protective clothing and insulated boots. Aimee wants me to set up the shelves for the spring seeds, but I don't know where they are.

Chores: Around the farm there is still an enormous amount of snow to be dealt with, and some shoveling and plowing will need to happen to move snow from vital service points before the thaw sets in and makes a muddy mess. I made a start on the deck, which had four feet in places, but then the roof avalanched, leaving me the kind of rock-hard avalanche debris we used to see at the foot of gullies on Ben Nevis. I moved most of the debris and we now have access to about a third of our deck again, but the rest will take work, and there's still more to come off the roof! The auto lift area will need to be plowed or partially plowed and shoveled to let the propane delivery man in. That's a job for the first week of break. The gas man comes on the 18th.

Warmth: We used almost all of our firewood because of the very cold weather we had this year.  I need to save enough for a power cut, just in case, so we're reducing our use of the woodstove by around 70% to conserve what is left. We're "springing out" on a few bags of kindling from construction jobs -- I have about eight left, and of course are running the oil heat as a consequence. This is a waste of money and adds climate emissions, but finding dry firewood to buy this time of year is a crapshoot. I always get the feeling that the kind of guys who make a living delivering dry firewood by the pick-up load are also "casing the joint." I'd rather not deal with them. In the spring we'll get delivery of our usual two cords from our usual very reliable firewood guy, and be happy with that.

Roo: Is waking and has just started singing to herself, so I may have to go get her. I'll post this now, but maybe finish it later. But she is now officially on solid food and has developed a liking for bread as well as beans. Just like Mummy, whose two favorite food groups these are. She can't walk or even crawl yet but squirms herself around pretty well sometimes. She's a very happy baby and delight to us and all who know her. Grandma and grandad are going to get a visit soon.