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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Farm Map Now Available for Viewing

Alan has combined GPS data with the latest aerial photograph of the farm to create a map of the property, a small image of which is reproduced below. You can always get to the full-size map by clicking the link at the top of the page. We'll add details as time goes by.

At present there is no legend, so here are some clues:

  • North is at the top
  • Solid pink is the lane from the road to the farmstead
  • Pink dotted lines are tractor trails and footpaths
  • Blue dotted lines denotes the creek and its tributaries
  • Yellow denotes the boundary fences
  • Circles are an incomplete inventory of the old growth trees
If you've any questions about what you're looking at, leave a comment below and we'll do our best to answer them.

    Friday, January 25, 2013

    Beamish Boys

    One of our goals is to bridge Kincaid Creek near where it enters the property and again where it leaves, so we can take the tractor anywhere on the place. At present, to get to the east half of the farm, we have to take the machinery out onto the road. We now have the basic structural materials to build at least one bridge.

    Friends who live in town bought a lot next to their home that was occupied by a railroad boxcar turned into a house. We borrowed a large utility trailer from other friends ("I know a guy who has a..." is one of the most useful things one can hear.), equipped ourselves with chainsaw, pry bars, chains, and related accoutrements, and drove into town. By the time Alan & I got there, the house had been demolished, the basement backfilled, and nothing left but the framing beams and miscellaneous ironmongery that had held the boxcar together. The lengthwise beams were 40-feet long and, figuring the bridge deck didn't need more than half that length, we cut the big ones in two and then exhausted ourselves loading the lot of them onto the trailer. This was work for a crane, not a couple of 50-somethings with hand tools.

    Anyway, back home, we used the tractor to pull the beams off the trailer, and now they're piled behind the barn, awaiting deployment. Next step: concrete footings.

    Most of the blizzard's snow has melted or sublimated and the drought persists. The landscapes have faded to monochromes of gray and brown. In the very cold weather of the past ten days, the creek has thoroughly frozen, a silver thread twisting among the cottonwoods and willows at the bottom of the valley.

    Here's the downstream face of the dam, where we've felled a bunch of trees to prevent further damage to the embankment. There are some firewood-sized logs in there, but it's mostly brush; we need to pull it all out before it's entangled by spring growth of grasses and vines.

    And on the other side, the ice is a good eight inches thick.

    Thursday, January 3, 2013

    On the Ice World of Amnac

    And on the first day of the new year, I ventured upon the frozen pond.

    In the morning sunlight, the four-inch thick ice began cracking with its little shifts and expansions. Here is a recording I made from the beach:

    Pond Ice – January 01, 2013 by American Nacre

    Reviewing these photographs (remember that you can click on an image to enlarge it), I was struck by the similarity to aerial views of the Great American Desert.

    Frost on the surface:

    Trapped bubbles, like water- and wind-sculpted sandstone monuments:

    The snow cover has made apparent the extent of active animal life on the farm. Here is a major deer crossing of the ditch along the lane, and you can see the tracks converging and diverging on each side.

    It appears we have an injured or lame deer. Note the tracks on the left in this image with one hoof dragged over the snow. I've followed these tracks all over the property but found no evidence of how an injury might have occurred. The hunter with whom we agreed to share a deer has only been on the place a couple times and so far as we know has not taken a shot. Alan's efforts to hunt coyote have been the same.

    This is the breach in the lowest of the four terraces in the observatory field, just above The Narrows on the lane, caused by overtopping due to failure or insufficient capacity of the drain beneath the terrace. Restoring this structure will be a big job at some point. For now, though, the farm is at rest and the land given over to the animals and birds.

    Wednesday, January 2, 2013

    Winter Arrives with a Demonstration

    A blizzard blew through on December 20, producing below-zero windchill temperatures and ultimately leaving about six inches of snow. The wind left some exposed areas almost bare, and drifts elsewhere up to six feet high. In the thick of it:

    The following evening, after tractor with blade + snowblower + shovel:

    A nice blanket of snow for the west garden to sleep beneath:

    Fortunately, none of the large drifts formed on the lanes and drives. This is the backyard.

    It was a couple of days before the pond completely froze over. Temperatures have remained below freezing since the storm and the ice is now very solid, at least four inches thick.

    This snag, a great favorite of the kingfishers and green heron, tipped from the vertical in the storm and has been leaning a little farther toward the dam each day since.

    The terraced observatory field:

    I found the gnomon on the ground – from the evidence, a deer had become caught in one of the guy ropes and pulled it over. We set a sturdier post that the pole can slip over and it's sturdy enough freestanding to let us set our observation points on the perimeter, then take it down again. We've only Groundhog Day remaining to have a complete year of quarter and cross-quarter day observations.

    Hidden Meadow:

    The ford at the ruined bridge:

    The Creek Trail:

    Winter Solstice sunset in flyover country:

    Firewood and the Three-Point Hitch

    Tractors were first called traction engines because traction, and draft, are the essential requirements for applying motive force to row crop operations. It's not a trivial problem, which continues to be studied in agricultural engineering departments at universities around the world. A great advance came with pioneering work in the 1920s by Harry Ferguson that led to his invention of the three-point hitch still used today. Prior to this, implements such as plows and cultivators simply trailed behind the tractor, like a camper behind a car, with no fixed positioning of the two components except at the single flexible point of connection. The three-point hitch makes the implement an extension of the tractor itself, allowing fine adjustment of working heights and angles, and directly applying the tractor's power to the soil operation. Three-point hitch implements don't have travel wheels; the hitch lifts them off the ground to be carried by the tractor.

    If there's a disadvantage to the three-point hitch, it's the relative difficulty of on-off and swapping one implement for another. We had able-bodied guests a few weeks ago and took advantage to collect and cut firewood, but first things first. We'd left the blade on the big tractor in anticipation of snow removal, but we needed the wagon to haul wood. Here I'm lowering the blade to be supported by a couple concrete blocks.

    The lower links are pulled wide and secured in that position, the top link removed, and the tractor can now drive away.

    Next we install a drawbar attachment between the lower links, attach the wagon tongue with a hitch pin, and we're ready to pull a trailer.

    While Alan took Frank down the creek to set more concrete chunks in the ford at the site of the ruined bridge, Debbie and I went to the top of the terraced observatory field where large branches had fallen from a snag, and got to work with the chainsaw.

    We filled the wagon, pulled it to the house and stacked the contents, and returned for a second load.

    If conditions were right, we intended to make a bonfire of the brush pile at the top of the orchard field, and there we left the second load of firewood. As it turned out, the evening was too breezy to torch the brush pile, and a few days later I added these logs to the stacks at the house.

    Things look very different now. Next: blizzard!