Washboard Situation

We live on a dirt road. It might also be called a gravel road, or an unpaved road. I am not a fan of referring to it as “unpaved” since that implies that the norm is paved, when there are more miles of gravel roads in the world than paved roads. In Vermont, there are 1,500 more miles of dirt roads than paved roads.

A gravel road has its charms. Generally fewer people drive on them. Paved roads are faster and usually more direct, so they take the bulk of traffic. People tend to drive more slowly on dirt roads. And they look better, if you ask me, since they feel like they are cut from the earth, even they are often solidly engineered. Nature could take them back, if we let it, or so it seems. A paved road just seems laid on top of the landscape–foreign and immovable.

There are, of course, disadvantages. Our road is open, so it bakes in the sun. Many dirt roads turn to mud in the spring, but ours dries out pretty quickly. Mud season is short on our road. But that sun drying things out? That means dust. When summer comes and we haven’t had rain for several days, passing cars raise clouds of dust. And the wind blows it our way. Our porch can get covered in dust. When we eat outside at the porch table, we need to wipe that thing down or expect grit in our teeth.

We are in the season of dust right now, but it isn’t too bad lately. That is because of another problem–washboarding. We have the worst washboarding we have seen on our road since we have lived in this house. The phenomenon gets its name because it looks like an old fashioned washboard. Wheels bouncing on the road cause ripples to form in the dirt surface, and these get enlarged with more traffic. This means a really bumpy drive. It shakes the dash and rattles the windows. Not good for your car.

However, this washboard situation means that everyone driving past drives a little more slowly. With slower driving comes less dust. So when we leave the house and drive down the road, I am none too happy about it, but when other people drive down our road I am pleased that they kick up less dust.

The town grades our road a few times each year, and they have not done it in a while now, so we are due. I am surprised they have not graded it yet, given just how bad the road has gotten, but I know there are plenty of other projects in town. Grading our road is a priority for me. It may not be for the town as a whole.

One possible delay is the installation this summer of fiber optic cable along our road. It has been buried, like the power cables, rather than strung, so they have been digging. That digging ended a month ago, but maybe they have more to do? It may not make sense to grade the road if more digging is going to happen. Really, I have no idea.

It will be great to have high speed internet, finally. But I sure would like a smoother drive and to prevent some car damage. In this case, I will take some dust. It is easier to wipe down the table than to replace auto parts. Costs less, too.

Ready for nesting

Of the four birdhouses sitting on posts at the edge of the field, only two were in good shape. One had a busted roof with a hornet nest under it. One had fallen off and had gotten buried in the snow. Another was loose but at least it still stood. It took care of some of that today.

These birdhouses have been around a while. The only thing I have had to do in the past was to clean them out each spring. They do get used. Two of them had old bluebird nests in them this time. They are made up largely of white pine needles. The other day, as in the past, I dumped the old nests in the field.

Unfortunately, one of them had a dead bluebird in it. It was odd. It was perfectly preserved. Maybe it had not been there long. Maybe it had gotten frozen. I found a spot for it under the white pines. That seemed fitting.

I removed the busted house from its post. That one is sitting on the porch. I am not sure I can easily repair it. I might just replace it. The fallen one I remounted and reattached. I tightened the loose one. The one on the end, closest to the fir tree and the forsythia, seems to get used the least. It had no nest last year and typically does not. It needed no help.

So three out of four next boxes are ready to go. Tree Swallows will be back soon. They often nest in one of them. Bluebirds sometimes get two hatches out of a box. One summer House Wrens used the far one. It will be good to get that fourth one back on track. I am not sure they have ever all been used at one time, but I like to give our avian companions options.

This is the start of cleaning things up outside after winter. I can see we need to rake leaves and clear out debris. Fallen branches need to be hauled away. Our driveway has some ruts that could use some smoothing. But at least the bluebirds and swallows can get started on their annual duty of raising chicks. Already Red-Winged Blackbirds and Song Sparrows are staking out territories with their songs. Once the ground thaws it will be time for us humans to get cracking as well.

Mowing Done

It took me several days but it got done. Every year I try to mow our ten-acre field at just the right time–in the three-week window after July 4th. Completion date this year: July 13.

We mow the field because Meadowlarks nest there. And Red Winged Blackbirds. And Savannah Sparrows. And, if we are lucky, Bobolinks. If we manage it well, and grasses grow more than other plants, then Bobolinks will nest there. It is because birds nest in the field that we wait until July to cut it. Once the chicks have fledged for these ground nesters, we can pass over those empty nests with sharp spinning blades. Baby birds don’t do well with sharp spinning blades.

We have to cut late enough for the birds but we are also cutting to keep the Wild Parsnip at bay. I’ve been reading lately about Giant Hogweed. That is a similar plant that is becoming more widespread. Rub against it, get the oil on your skin, get some sun exposure and get some nasty burns. Giant Hogweed isn’t around here yet. But Wild Parsnip has been around for years.

If we keep cutting, then the stuff will be held back. Already there is less of it. And the plants are smaller. It seemed to flower later this year, too. But it won’t go away without management. The key is to cut it before it goes to seed. Cut it too late and it just spreads the seeds around. With this year’s cutting, we’ve got two years in a row of good timing. I’m hoping the field has even fewer yellow flowers next year.

I cut it over the span of a week. The first day I cut a big chunk. I would have kept going but going through the big patch of quack grass in the corner (another invasive species I’d like to reduce) I turned around to see clouds of smoke rising from the brush mower. It had happened before. Busted belt burning up. That quack grass is thick stuff.

My wife bought a new belt the next day and together we replaced it. In the past I’ve hauled the mower to the repair shop down the road. But that costs money and, more importantly, time. Thanks to YouTube, however, we felt confident enough to disassemble the machine and make some repairs. Once we tightened those last nuts back up we were back in business.

We have a few Wild Parsnip plants kicking around the edges. I’ll have to cut those manually. With some long clippers. And gloves. After the sun goes down. But mostly, project done. At least for this summer.

Another Windy Day

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Our one fallen tree, toppled into the woods

Last Sunday we had some wind. Lots of people had some wind. OK, lots of wind. Strong wind. Hurricane-force wind. It didn’t really start up until after dark. We went to bed. We slept little.

Wind buffeted the house. Meaning, the house literally shook. I have not felt wind like that here before. It whistled through windows and any other crevice it could find. It blew stuff around outside. We tried to sleep, but it was just too dang loud.

In the morning we saw our aluminum porch chairs scattered on the lawn. Another chair, plastic, was in the neighbor’s field. While searching for it, my wife discovered the flipped trampoline. The wind lifted that puppy up and tossed it against the garage. Imagine what would have happened if it had blown into the field. It might have rolled right into town.

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Unfortunately, it didn’t fare well. It’s frame is made from steel tubes. Several of those tubes are bent and ripped. Not safe. We managed to right the thing, four of us leveraging it to standing again. It looked, however, pretty sad.

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Sad trampoline

The thing is, it is still windy. The wind has not kept up constantly but we have had some stiff winds every day for a week. Right now, trees wave back and forth. Hang on to your hat. I have been to the lake a few times this week to look for shorebirds and waterfowl. Whitecaps. Rain has fallen frequently among all this wind. At least the convection is keeping things somewhat dry.

Some of our neighbors had their power restored only yesterday. We lost ours for less than a day. That makes hygiene easier. Plus checking the weather. I baked blueberry raspberry muffins this morning. Electricity makes that possible. Eating a hot muffin and drinking hot coffee while looking out over the windblown field makes for a fine Sunday morning. The wind keeps blowing and the house still stands.  On to next week.

Loving Late Summer

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Could the weather be more fine than it is here in Vermont these past few days? I left the house early this morning at under 50 degrees. The temperature rose to about 70 by afternoon. Cool, sunny, a light breeze. Lovely, that’s what it is.

I didn’t do any house staining yesterday. It was just too dang nice. It was a perfect day to stain the house but I went birding and to the dump. I cut all the Purple Loosestrife growing in the ditch and at the edge of the field. I read a book.

Today I planned to stain, despite the temptation to laze. I got suited up, pulled out the ladder, even cut a couple of low branches growing too close to the house. Then I grabbed the paint can and the easy hefting made me remember that I am almost out of stain. So much for that. I could have gotten more stain today, but I plan to go right by the paint store tomorrow, so it can wait a day.

Shore birds are migrating. I saw sandpipers at the lake this morning, pecking along the shore. I passed a flock of geese in a field. I guess they are on the move as well. The orchard where we like to pick apples is picking peaches now. We may need to grab a few of those. Peach jam? Peach ice cream? Can’t go wrong there.

School starts this week. I am back to work full time. Summer, as far as the easy schedule, is coming to a close for all of us. But we have some solid days of summer yet. We will get in some swimming, and some paddle boarding. And some outdoor tasks. I scheduled a chimney sweep appointment. The firewood is stacked. Getting ready for winter, I guess.

My son is not ready for school. I mean, he is ready, in a physical sense, but that kid hates it when summer ends. I can’t blame him there. The Monarch Caterpillars are chewing on milkweed now but soon they will flutter their way south as butterflies. Summer isn’t really over, but it is time to start heading forward to new things. Off we go.

 

Water this Summer

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High water on the Winooski River

I was planning to continue working on staining the house siding today. That wasn’t going to happen. I got up early enough. It was not raining, but it was going to rain. I didn’t want wet stain to get rained on. I would have had to stain it again. So I held off. Good thing. The rain came down.

It came down in sheets. Not for long, mind you, but in that short time we got a lot of rain, tossed around by strong winds. The forecast called for rain throughout the day and we got a few more bursts like that. Staining will have to wait.

I was away for a good chunk of June. My son and I were in New Hampshire last week. My wife was home and reported heavy rain, enough to flood our road, which I have never seen. Three inches of water fell in as many hours. That was mid-week.

My son and I came home on Saturday. As we headed west to Vermont it started to rain. It was a hard rain, so hard we slowed to a crawl it was so difficult to see. Once the rain let up a bit we kept going, slow but steady. We passed route 25A and I considered heading across that way, but decided to try 25C, farther north. But shortly after we turned onto that road we encountered a ROAD CLOSED sign. Maybe we should have taken 25A after all, I thought.

But at 25A we found a couple of rescue vehicles blocking the road. They were not there when we had passed the first time. I asked the man there if the road was blocked due to flooding. “I don’t think you’ll float,” he said, looking at our van, before adding that several other roads were closed. That was good information. Hopping onto the wifi at the store down the road (no cell service to be had), we chose a long route around. It took about three extra hours to get home that day.

I did get started on staining the house this week. We had a few days of sun. Yesterday I had to stop early. A thunderstorm moved in. I’ll get it done over time. I have some summer left. Water is high now. The ground is saturated. With more heavy rain like this, we might get more flooding. I hope we don’t get too much.

 

Oh, there it is

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Months ago we lost the remote control for the television. Who doesn’t do that, who owns a television, right? It falls between the couch cushions. It gets left on the table. It gets stashed in a drawer. It happens. Usually, however, it shows up at some point.

But ours never showed up. We each took turns looking. Those couch cushions got lifted up too many times. The couch got moved so we could look beneath it. The drawer, where we so tidily and responsibly kept the remote, was turned upside down more than once. We looked and looked until we exhausted places to look. It just was nowhere to be found.

I held out for months, then did some research into getting a replacement. I mean, your old television you could get by without a remote. You got up and changed the channel or the volume and you could at least feel that you were not being lazy. But this remote had so many features that trying to adjust some things was a challenge, at the least. Enter a Netflix password without that remote? I guess we skip the movie.

So finally I broke down and ordered a new remote. It was easy to find. There were multiple options on Amazon and elsewhere. When it arrived I slid in some batteries, pointed it at the television and boom! Success. Our easy life was back.

And we lived with that new remote for months. It worked great. No complaints. It was now what we had, even if it looked different than the old one. The old one was forgotten, slipping into the past, as things do. Then Easter came.

My wife pulled the Easter baskets from up-up stairs, as we call the semi-finished third floor of the house. She sorted through the various Easter decorations. She pulled the fake grass from one of those baskets and “No way!” there was the remote. How it got into one of the Easter baskets, fully covered in that fake grass crap, we still cannot figure, but we would not have found it. There is just no way we would have looked there.

So now we have two television remotes. We can choose the one we want. How First World is that? The Easter baskets are again tucked away. In films, those who make them often now hide what they call “Easter eggs:” small jokes or references that can spotted in the background. We had our own Easter egg this year. And it came before Easter, as if risen from the grave. Fitting, no?