Saturday, April 26, 2008

With the right tools, you can do anything…

But somehow nature always wins. And, for the record, mud sits at the top of the nature hierarchy. I’m getting ahead of myself… let’s go back before we go forward.

My fascination with power tools has been widely documented. The bigger and louder, the better. Enter the rented stump grinder. We reserved it Wednesday and hoped for good weather on the weekend because it had rained all week (this is a very important detail that was lost on me). We picked it up on Saturday morning and I was so excited about it that I barely listened to the mechanic who was giving us the low-down on how it worked (no need to draw attention to that detail).

I asked a couple of questions, he answered Michael. I don’t think I can ever fully explain how frustrating that is to me. I asked the question and he looks at Michael when he answers. And, when Michael asked a question, he answered Michael. Argh.

That said, the man was nice and went over the machine even pointing out that one renter once put gasoline in the hydraulic fluid tank when trying to top off the gas. I laughed without seeing where he was pointing. Not a costly mistake as both are clearly labeled and we had no trouble filling up the gas before we returned it.

Again, I’m getting ahead of myself. We hook up the trailer to the van and we’re off. Other traffic (what little there was at this hour in the morning) stayed clear of the van and the towed machine – they knew we meant business. We get home, easily get the grinder off the trailer and get to work.

And, for the record (and for the benefit of those who thought they needed to remind me to wear protective gear when I told them of our weekend plans), we both wore ear protection, goggles, steel-toed boots and leather gloves. A stump grinder is loud, throws wood chips and has a very sharp and fast-moving blade. We both like our limbs and senses which are all still intact.

We started in the front of the house – we blew through about 20 stumps. The first few were a bit clunky, but we quickly became familiar with the controls and worked them with ease. While it was a loud and powerful machine (going 10 inches below the surface to tear out any bit of tree root), the controls were a bit wimpy. I mean, there was no force necessary, no pressure and no shaking. I was expecting a jackhammer for tree roots and it took less effort than a vacuum albeit a lot more fun.

One person could easily run the grinder so I was off to work on another project. While I could have easily picked up one that had been started days or weeks earlier, I didn’t. I started a new one. I ripped out our sidewalk. I could easily go off on a tangent here, but this sidewalk is worth a separate post (and the story is still unfolding).

With Michael working in the back and my station out front, I didn’t see what was going on with the stump grinder. He had been working in the area where we’ve been clearing the phragmites, downed and diseased trees. We were able to save some trees and the work we’re doing will help them to thrive, but again, I’m getting off track. With all of the brush, it was difficult to see just how wet the ground was. The rain from the week before had really made a mess of the area, but we’d been working without problem all day. Until… Michael found a particularly deep stump and the heavy machine was sinking as it was grinding. The stump was gone, but the grinder was bogged down.

Michael got me so that I could run the controls while he pushed it out. He managed to also sink in the mud as the grinder continued its descent into soft ground. Before he was able to pull out the MyGyver magic, I managed to provide some comic relief during a pretty tense moment. As we’d been clearing the area, we had been raking, digging and whatever else you do with brush and limbs. Tools were strewn about the yard and I managed to find an errant rake with my very heavy steel-toed boot and, just like in every Bugs Bunny cartoon I had seen as a child, the handle of the rake quickly found my forehead. I really thought ridiculous things like that only happened in the cartoons.

While I didn’t see birds and stars floating around my head afterward, it did take a few moments to regain my balance and composure. It really hurt, but it was so much funnier than painful. After we both had a good laugh, then McGyver sprung into action. He created a bridge for the tires to get some traction and we got the grinder out. He found a few more stumps that afternoon and we called it a day with only about five stumps left and rain in the forecast. We were exhausted.

Fast forward to Sunday morning, the last day with the grinder. It was raining… and it was not letting up. At about 2 we decided we had better just get out and finish the couple we had left. These stumps were about 20 feet from the water and it’s always damp in that area, and the constant drizzle wasn’t helping. However, we were emboldened by our previous success. We easily got two done and as we finished the third, the grinder was stuck -- really, really stuck. We hit the gas and were both covered in mud and the grinder didn’t move. No worries, we’d build a bridge. We used the same tactic from the day before and our bridge sunk deeper than the tires. We needed a taller, sturdier, wider bridge. Got it! The previous owners had some pavers that we tore out last summer, they would be perfect.

We got the pavers back to the sinking grinder and eased it out of the mud pit one paver at a time. We then used the pavers to make bridges to and from the rest of the stumps. We were covered in mud and soaked, but we were done. We cleaned up the grinder the best we could and delivered it back to the rental place Sunday evening. Since then, we’ve cut all of the wood up for firewood and what we couldn’t use we added to our neighbors burn pile (think Texas A&M).

Our next rental is the industrial tiller… I’m sure it will come with a story, too. And, we’re considering renting an excavator -- that should provide enough material for my first book.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Green Eggs, but no Ham

We’ve been clearing a lot of our backyard. We try to imagine that we’re pioneers settling new land, but we’re rudely brought back to the present by the trash of those folks who lived on this land before us. Amongst the vine covered trees and fragmite, we’ve found wayward car parts, piles of discarded shingles, errant golf balls and even a lonely Christmas tree stand.

So last weekend when I was wielding my favorite power tool (hedge trimmers*) with what some might call reckless abandon, I wasn’t surprised to hit into something that wasn’t plant or tree. But was horrified to find what I did hit – a nest of eggs.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned how sharp the hedge trimmers are – very. In fact, when choosing them at our local farm store, I sliced Michael’s jacket. Doesn’t everyone try out trimmers in the store without the protective cover? Needless to say, we were sold on the spot.

Back to the eggs. The jacket fared better than the two eggs on top. However, the five underneath were in perfect shape – and the shape was just like a chicken egg, but larger and an off green color. Michael and I were clearly not going back to yard work when we had a mystery on our hands. What bird lays eggs in the ground and leaves them? Other than the obvious answer of a stupid bird, we decided to explore further. Because the two eggs on top were broken, we looked inside to see if we could see any pre-animal shape. Nope, just like any other egg we’ve opened. Strike one.

Could it be a heron? And if so, I should probably get a new name for “Harry.” But, no, strike two. Heron eggs are light blue and herons smartly build nests in trees.

Turtles? We were pretty excited at this possibility. We’ve already had three new turtles in the pond this year. That excitement was short lived as turtle eggs are small, much smaller than what we found. Strike three.

So we went inside and turned to the internet. We found a bird in the UK that was known to lay green eggs. Strike four (if you’re still counting)… location ruled us out for that one.

After looking at a lot of pictures and doing a bit more research, the eggs are probably from a duck. And, we’ve had two male ducks following a female duck around the pond lately... definitely adds credibility to this theory. We originally thought the ducks had abandoned the nest, but it turns out that ducks will lay an egg every couple of days and only sit on the nest after she has a full “clutch.” So, we’ve left the eggs there hoping she’ll come back.

Still, I was hoping they were dinosaur eggs and fancied Kent Island as Jurassic Park. But ducks are nice, too.

* little sidebar on the hedge trimmers -- a birthday present from Michael a couple of years ago. Oh, and don’t laugh, he got a chainsaw that year. I came out way ahead in that deal!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Living with Macgyver

Let me start this by saying that I’ve never seen the show. But who doesn’t know the cultural icon?

I call Michael “Macgyver” all of the time. Not really my most clever nickname (he has many), but it’s appropriate as he is really handy. Once when we were boating he fixed the engine with a fishhook. It was amazing. He bent it and attached engine parts and we were off.

Of course, there is a down side to living with Macgyver. He doesn’t understand the concept of too old, too run down or just plain broken. Oh, he’s a wee bit stubborn, too.

Last summer we bought a tiller from our neighbor at a yard sale. In its day, it was a really good tiller (circa 1940 in my mind). But for only a $50 investment, it seemed worth the gamble. It turns out the tiller was a bigger project than anticipated and he needed parts to make it go. Lucky for us (written with a smirk), we went to an outdoor auction and found the exact same model and we bought it for $5. Now $55 dollars in and countless Macgyver hours, we have one tiller that operated for about 45 minutes and one tiller carcass. In that magical 45 minutes, he tilled a swath of grass in the middle of the yard about 3 feet by 10 feet.

We’ve decided to rent a tiller as we had a good experience renting other power tools (stay tuned for an entry on the stump grinder). However, Michael’s already on to his next project. Who am I kidding? Projects… many, many projects.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Our biggest tax break – our home.

I don’t like tax time. It’s not just that I don’t like paying taxes (and, really, who does?), it’s that my mom is a CPA and she’s basically missing in action from mid-January until now. However, what I do like is what we can now deduct… insulation, mortgage interest, home office space.

So, happy tax day to all and welcome back to the land of the living, mom. We missed you.