Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Last-Minute Chores Keep Tom Hopping

Winter sometimes comes in with a bang. Some years, the first major snowfall stays on the ground until the spring thaw, meaning that anything left on the ground outdoors remains out-of-bounds until spring. Knowledge that this may happen at any time serves as a great inducement to get yard work done, tools and machinery safely stored and also, to get every stick of firewood under cover for future use.

I recall the year that a major blizzard hit us on Thanksgiving Day and the snow lasted throughout the season. My boat wasn’t covered and much of my wood was still in a pile outside, waiting to get stored in the woodshed. That was a lesson for me, one that I haven’t yet forgotten.

So these last few days, beginning on Thanksgiving, were devoted to doing my last-minute tidying-up chores. The boat has now gotten its wooden frame installed and a cover over the frame. Gas was drained from the water separator on the fuel line and the gas container stored in the barn, where it will soon get funneled into another container and put in the gas tank of my car.

Because of ethanol, that nasty additive to modern gasoline, many of us must take extensive measures to protect our 2-cycle engines from danger. Ethanol rots gas lines and hoses, among other things. And while fuel stabilizer helps, it does not completely solve the problem.

Fortunately, 93-octane fuel mixture does the trick and this is available from many hardware and building supply stores. I bought a can and followed the instructions, which dictated draining the old (yeah, right…five-week old gas. But it wouldn’t last through the winter) gas and filling the tank with this 93-octane stuff. The final thing requires running the motor so that the new, snazzy fuel stays in the lines all winter.

By the way, the guy who sold me the 93-octane stuff tells me that we can expect gasoline, even gasoline with fuel stabilizer added, to last no more than six weeks. This seems like a terrible waste and it may even pose environmental problems, since the “old” gas must be disposed of in one way or another.

Getting back to my labors, I used the chainsaw to cut a bunch of limbs to firewood length, so I’m sure that the high-power fuel has thoroughly circulated. After that, the saw and also, my garden tiller, were stored in the barn.

But I wasn’t done yet. The house needed banking, which I did. Now, bitter winds will have a hard time sneaking inside and freezing my water pipes.

Finally, a pile of cut-up firewood needed splitting. Rather than haul the splitter out of storage, I chose to use a maul and wedges. After several hours of hard labor, the wood was split and stacked in the woodshed.

Now, with all this done, the time has come to sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labors. My freezer brims with frozen vegetables, both wild and cultivated. And my shelves bulge with canned veggies, including dandelions from my lawn and goosetongue from the seashore. And here and there throughout my little cottage sit winter squash, properly seasoned and waiting for me to prepare them as needed throughout the winter.

While aching muscles tell me that it was a good thing to finally get done with this preparing for winter, I also feel sort of let down. I ask myself, what’s next? Well, next can consist of anything. In addition to regular columns and feature articles for magazines, I have another book revision to work on.

And part of what’s next will probably include some serious music study, learning new fingering patterns on the Uilleann pipes and pennywhistle.

Certainly at night, what’s next will include stargazing with both telescope and image-stabilized binoculars. I’ve come to enjoy searching for star clusters, galaxies and nebulae.

Finally, what’s next will surely include some late-season partridge hunting and when ice finally becomes safe for foot travel, a bit of ice fishing.

In only a wink of an eye, the winter season will end and another hectic spring and summer will begin. But for now, it gives me great contentment to know that I have done everything in my power to prepare for winter and also, to know that the time has come for peace, contentment, rest and relaxation.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

What's It?

This blog is the first of a new feature I plan on running every so often. I call it my “What’s It?” feature.

Readers who think they know the identity of the item or items shown in the accompanying photo may email me at or, if they wish, reply directly to the blogsite. The first person with the correct identification will get mentioned in my blog.

Good luck and have fun.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Tick Horror Show

Tick Horror Show

The following is the letter my friend Dan Ladd of Belfast recently sent me. I offer it here in its entirety, since not only is it full of information that everyone who goes outdoors ought to read, Dan is an excellent and entertaining writer. So here is a guest appearance from Dan Ladd:
Here is a creepy story I should have sent on Halloween.
Walter Guinon and I hiked the southern section of the Georges Highland Path Saturday Oct 27. It was a fairly long section of 6.7 miles, but mostly flat along the Oyster River and through the Oyster River Bog. It does climb two hills, one near the beginning of the trail after Baker Woods just outside of Thomaston and one near the end of the hike which stops at Route 90 in Warren.
The Georges Highland path has 40 miles of hiking trails from Thomaston to Montville. They are not contiguous trails and are made up of  lands from about 50 private land owners who offered public access to their land. The Oyster River Bog has over 1200 acres held in conservation easements and was founded in 1977.
We packed a lunch, water, maps, socks, and a walking stick. We wore blaze orange because it was the first day of deer hunting season. We got a decent start at 10:30 and even carried matches and flashlights just in case we couldn’t finish before the 5:30 sunset. I felt that we were well prepared as we even spent a few hours scouting the trail at both ends and the parking situation.
 After a couple of hours on the trail we were packing our outer shirts and hiking in tee shirts as the temperature climbed to a very pleasant October day. We crossed a power line that was cut though the landscape straight as an arrow. It afforded us a clear view of the distant mountains and an opportunity to argue as to whether it was Dodge Mt or not and if it was northwest or north northwest. I had a compass in my pack but it mattered little and was more fun to debate than settle the point.
We hiked down through a beautiful oak grove and noted the lack of acorns and heard a pileated woodpecker. We talked about how far we had to go to reach Keene Brook which we would hike along for half a mile and once we crossed the brook we would be more than half way through the hike. We planned to eat our lunch as soon as we crossed the stream.
Shortly after we started along the stream bank we encountered thigh high grass. I looked at my legs and saw little dots moving up my pants. Walter was hiking in front of me and I saw his faded jeans speckled with climbing black dots. I didn’t need my glasses to tell that we were covered with ticks. We stopped and picked the ticks off our pants but we had miles to hike through this terrain and were nearly at the half way mark.
Fifteen minutes later we stopped and picked another dozen ticks off our clothes including our shirts. Walter said that we were fighting a losing battle. I could see the ticks land on my pants as the grass rubbed on my jeans when I walked through it. It was easy to flick them off but if they were not dislodged the first flick they were much harder to pick off as they dug in and held on.
We stopped on some high ground a little later and stripped our packs and shirts off. We did a thorough delousing but soon we were hiking in the tall grass once more. We stopped again and found ticks on our skin and one that had burrowed into Walters side. I could not dig it out with my fingers but Walter had a Swiss army knife which has tweezers in it. We crossed the foot bridge and didn’t stop for lunch as land was low. For the next half mile, we just pushed onward. We hiked into a timber cutting operation and the area was free of grass.
We stopped and picked ticks off and ate our lunch. Two hunters came down a woods road on an all-terrain vehicle with rifles slung on their shoulders. I was glad we were wearing blaze orange vests. They came over and asked if we had seen any moose or moose sign. We told them we had seen tracks. We also told them about the tick infestation but I don’t think they grasped the magnitude of it as they headed toward the bog. Ironically they were from Jay, Maine and had to come to hunt on the coast as that was their moose lottery hunting area. Walter said that they most likely passed more moose on the trip down than they would see here.
The tick situation improved as we hiked toward Spit rock which would be five and a half miles into our trip. The trail was flatter and was bisected with many woods roads which were cut for the logging operation. We were still finding a few ticks on our pants but not like hiking on the edge of the bog or stream. My ankle had been bothering me as we hiked near the bank of the stream which was uneven but after the lunch break and a good self-massage I could pick up the pace.
We were deep into a discourse on the merits of early voting when we came upon spit rock. From here forward it would be downhill to the Oyster River and then slightly uphill to Walter’s truck parked on Route 90. We crossed a dry stream bed with a foot bridge and wondered if it could be the Oyster River. But shortly we crossed the Oyster River and it had a nice water flow and a new log bridge with a plank seat which we utilized. We reached Walter’s truck at 4:30 after walking though Johnson’s boat storage yard and commenting on some of the sail boat designs. Walter suggested we check for ticks. We found that he had two and I had none.
Walter drove us back to the starting point where my truck was parked and on the way my right triceps started itching. Once we arrived I could see in the truck mirror I had a tick digging into my arm. Walter scraped it off and I got my magnifying glass from my truck and we took a good look at the tick.
This was a deer tick (Ixodes Scapularis) the black leg tick, the only type according to the medical authorities that spreads Lyme’s disease. The other common tick is the brown dog tick which (according to medical authorizes) carries Lyme’s but does not transmit it. I have seen deer tick which look like brown dog ticks and visa versa. The only way I can tell the difference is with a magnifying glass and checking the size of the mouth parts. The deer tick has much longer mouth part than the dog tick and after a few comparisons it is easy to see the difference.
In addition to Lyme’s (spirochete bacteria) New Englanders better be on the watch for Anaplasmosis, a white blood cell parasite transmitted by ticks and Babesiosis, a red blood cell parasite known as Nantucket fever. There is also evidence that the lone star tick bite can cause an allergy to a sugar protein found in meats. This allergy can cause a sever reaction to beef, pork, chicken, and lamb. A hike in the grass can make you a vegetarian.
The next time I hike I will carry a can of bug spray with DEET, even in December. Walter found one more tick on him after he got home, well embedded. I inspected my clothing and pack when I returned and washed it all in hot water and dried it on high heat. One can only wonder what other change the warmer weather will bring to New England. I never worried about ticks until the late 1980s.  It was the same time the turkeys were introduced in Maine. I wonder if there is a connection between the two?”