Cherry/Pine Hall Tree

It’s the Stairs that are Crooked

The problem with being rusticated with your dear spouse is that she finds a hundred things for you to do. The truth is, I needed to do most of these things anyway.

A case in point is the Hall Tree, all but one of the pieces of which I have had for years. I finally got the last piece of pine for this, as the upright part of the tree is laminated from three pine boards (three 1″ x 3″s). The Cherry feet came out of my famous scrap pile, and the post is attached with a tenon. And then there is the hardware.

The small iron hooks are Amish handmade, and the nails were handmade in a World Heritage site nail factory in France. The big hooks came from my favorite tool seller, Lee Valley, which is based in Canada.

The big framed dingus in the background is one of the favorite magazine features that I have written. They also published one of the photos I took as a full page intro, of MJ fly fishing for brook trout. If she will model for free, I suppose the least I could do is make her a hall tree. And buy her a beer.

Citrus in Bloom

“The Murmuring of Innumerable Bees”

MJ’s mastery of citrus continues, as we have two Meyer lemons that are completely covered in blooms, at least three hundred to five hundred blooms or so. People don’t associate the Appalachians with citrus, but just bring them indoors in containers in the winter (Goethe wrote that they did the same thing in Germany, and that was over two hundred years ago). We’ll end up with only a few lemons, but we usually have enough to last us most of one year, until the next crop comes in. We freeze the surplus.

Key Lime Pie Waiting to Happen

The Key Lime is our most reliable producer of fruit, and we have had over 150 limes in one year, from just his one plant. We still have a bag full of these in the freezer. Beer with lime, anyone?

Orange Blossom Special

The Satsuma Mandarin Orange is the least productive of the plants, but the smell of the blooms is spectacular. This is grown widely on the Gulf Coast, as it is quite hardy for a citrus. There is even a town called Satsuma in south AL. The best Satsumas come from Plaquemines Parish in LA, which is just south of New Orleans. They even have their own Orange Festival.

Finally, MJ has some cuttings of Meyer Lemon started, and she doles those out to her family. All I can say is that growing citrus from cuttings is not for people with short attention spans. MJ has a waiting list of more than one year.

Fresh Maters, Precious

Noshing Time

Whenever the fresh tomatoes start rolling in, I always think about the great book by Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and the chapter that she titled, “Life in a Red State: August.” The title is overdetermined, as she was referring to the circumstance that she was living in Virginia at a time when it was run by right wingers, and the fact that she had so many tomatoes that she could not even see the surface of her countertops. That’s a serious canning job.

We timed using our last quart of MJ’s home canned tomatoes perfectly, as we used them last weekend to make sauce for our brick oven pizza. Then guess what, the new fresh tomatoes start rolling in. These are all local, and some came from around ten feet from our front door. The light colored ones are Bella Rosa, that we grew on our deck.

The purple ones we bought at the Festhalle Farmer’s Market, from the same farmer who grew that crate of tomatoes that are my logo. I suspect that they are Cherokee Purple, a great tasting tomato, as his daughter, who handled the sale, had dyed her hair purple. A farm girl has to do what a farm girl has to do.

Barbara Kingsolver writes that most farmer’s vote conservative because of the risk involved in farming–one bad crop or bad season, and you’re toast. I would add a lack of decent education in rural areas is a great contributor. After spending twenty nine years in the education system which is now the worst in the US, I can say that we have worked hard to become last overall. Irony alert.

I will instead concentrate on maters, having given up on learnin’, except for my own. We have a state run by looney tunes characters, except that they have no humor, which is not a good combination.

Favorite Woodworking Planes, Part One–Jointers

Big Honking Planes

All of my Jointer planes (used to edge plane boards for gluing, such as tabletops, or for general leveling), were bought used, which saved me hundreds of dollars. That left me with enough money to buy a fancy plane blade for the 22″ long Stanley #7C (that’s the iron one, with a corrugated sole). It’s an extra thick cutter, made by Veritas/Lee Valley in Canada. It will seriously slice up some wood, even though it cost more than the plane did.

The plane is something of a mashup of parts, with a wrong sized lever cap (the thing that holds the cutter on), and handles of different kinds of wood. I did just order a new correct sized lever cap from Fleabay, as I have numerous projects which MJ has ordered me to complete.

Ebony, Cast Iron, Steel, and Rosewood–and a little Brass

However, when I really want to flatten some wood, I reach down in my tool rack under the workbench, and grab the German made old 23 1/2″ beech wood Ulmia/Ott jointer (also in the top picture). It’s light, sharper than a razor, and easy to use. It’s the only large plane that permanently lives under the workbench. It’s that useful, and I used to feel guilty about how little I paid those Canadians for it, on Fleabay. Used to.

And then there is the first jointer I bought, a Stanley/Bailey #31. It’s a full 24″ long, but they made these in two inch increments up to 30″ long, the last of which must have been a special order by Andre the Giant. These are called “transitional planes,” as they are wood bodied, but with iron adjustments. They were completely out of favor when I bought five different ones at an Indiana Flea Market, and I doubt I paid $50 for the lot. They are excellent tools.

For a good long while, hand tools like these were only sought after by country living Luddites such as myself. Now a whole boutique industry has emerged to make planes that are fantastically expensive. A jointer this size from one of those companies now costs more than the monthly payment on our Prius Eco. I’ll buy one, as soon as one comes out that I can ride to the Farmer’s Market at the Festhalle, like our Prius.

First New Taters, Precious

Butter, Anyone?

Tater digging time has arrived down here, and there will be lots of them. The first few plants yielded four different taters.

There are two yellow varieties in the bucket, and they are Gold Rush, and the standby Yukon Gold. The reds are Norland Red, which is quite attractive, so much so that I think I will eat them. The classic Russet rounds out this group.

I did very little for these roots except treat them with soil sulphur, to keep them from rotting, and a handful of organic fertilizer. With that little effort, we will be in taters for the rest of the summer. That’s taters, not tatters, though I do a really great Mick Jagger imitation, singing “Shattered.”

Cherry Computer Desk

Corporate America, Beware of MJ

The giant Alabama based corporation Melanie Jane works for has rusticated her indefinitely, and possibly permanently. Then they tell her last week they have ordered her yet more computer equipment. Time for a new desk and some extra space. It’s not exactly Virginia Woolf’s a room of her own, but it is pretty nice.

I have one of the finest scrap wood piles in history, this having been salvaged from it. The Black Cherry wood is over fifty years old. How do I know that? Because the tree this wood came from fell on me. Hereby hangs a tale, as the Bard of Avon might have said.

Home Office, with Two Shelves of Cookbooks

The new corporate office above is overseen by a framed program featuring none other than actor Cleavon Little, who played the sharecropper Nate Shaw at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, in the play All God’s Dangers. Unlike Bob Marley’s song, Nate shot the Deputy, but he did not shoot the Sheriff. But it was in self defense.

At any rate, back to the story. My grandfather was one of the finest loggers for the brand new Tennessee Vally Authority, as they were building the giant chain of lakes on the Tennessee River in Alabama, which would be Wilson, Wheeler, and Guntersville. He would tell tales about trees so large that they had to weld two two man crosscut saws together, just to cut them down. So old growth forests were replaced by water, and the valley could have cheap electricity, and the world’s finest fishing for smallmouth bass. Everything is a trade off.

We had this beautiful tall Black Cherry tree by our house, when I was a small child. It produced massive quantities of black cherries, which were inedible for anything other than birds. The birds would eat them in mass quantities, and then crap black cherry colored crap all over the clothes on our clothesline. Note: no one we knew owned a clothes dryer back then.

My mother pronounced a death sentence for the tree. My father was dispatched as the executioner, and he grabbed his double bitted axe, and drove his old Plymouth down for me to sit, on, and witness his skill as a lumberjack. I was instructed to sit on the hood, and watch the remarkable display of skill.

Remarkable, it was. He managed to make the tree fall in exactly the opposite direction than he intended, and I was transfixed as the tree headed straight for my head. Only the limbs hit me, but the Plymouth took a strong blow to the roof.

I forgot about the entire incident, and soon enough went off to college for ten years. My father went on to join the choir invisible during that time, and so his sheds full of goodies remained untouched. I returned home for the summer before I started my first professorial job, and there they were–a double bitted axe, and a giant pile of cherry lumber, that had been drying for over twenty years. As a victim, I claimed all of it.

I was looking in my outdoor tool closet the other day, and found the axe. I had put a new handle in it, and I am about to grind it sharp, so I can also cut down trees in the wrong direction.

This reminded me of the great poem by Gary Snyder, “Axe Handles.” Here it is (copyrighted by Gary, btw).

Axe Handles

BY GARY SNYDER

One afternoon the last week in April
Showing Kai how to throw a hatchet
One-half turn and it sticks in a stump.
He recalls the hatchet-head
Without a handle, in the shop
And go gets it, and wants it for his own.
A broken-off axe handle behind the door
Is long enough for a hatchet,
We cut it to length and take it
With the hatchet head
And working hatchet, to the wood block.
There I begin to shape the old handle
With the hatchet, and the phrase
First learned from Ezra Pound
Rings in my ears!
“When making an axe handle
                 the pattern is not far off.”
And I say this to Kai
“Look: We’ll shape the handle
By checking the handle
Of the axe we cut with—”
And he sees. And I hear it again:
It’s in Lu Ji’s Wên Fu, fourth century
A.D. “Essay on Literature”-—in the
Preface: “In making the handle
Of an axe
By cutting wood with an axe
The model is indeed near at hand.”
My teacher Shih-hsiang Chen
Translated that and taught it years ago
And I see: Pound was an axe,
Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture,
How we go on.

Indeed we do (my comment).

Five Easy Pieces–PVC Chicken Feeder

Apologies to Jaaaack Nichooooolson

If you have a chop saw or a mitre saw, this is a thirty second project. I have what is probably a lifetime supply of 4″ pvc pipe, left over from the idiots who did our plumbing (they had our main drain running uphill). All I bought was this 4″ wye joint, and some test caps, instead of the more expensive plug ends. It’s only going to hold some chicken feed.

Total cost for this project was less than $15. It cost $250 to get my uphill drain fixed. This can be made in any size, but this one is small, to be fitted into our small coop. Next years project–a pen extension, another coop, and some Bresse chickens. Also an incubator, which I intend to build myself.

I had to include a gratuitous set of my old German tools in the picture, and my new 2″ bowl gouge, from PA. That thing can do some serious damage.

ISA Browns at Three Months

Prima Ballerinas

I knew that ISA Brown chickens grew fast, but these have gotten so big in such a short time that it’s almost scary. As stated before, this variety was the brain child of the French Minister of Agriculture in 1975. It is now apparent that he was bent on world chicken domination by the French (think of Volaille de Bresse, the famous blue legged meat chicken from Bresse, which a few years ago sold for forty dollars a bird in London).

So the French wanted the best eggs, to go along with the finest chicken meat, and they wanted mass quantities. Though the heritage of these birds is considered a corporate secret, it is apparent that a large part of the genetic line is the Rhode Island Red chicken. Apparently the Rhode Island White is also involved, as the roosters of these birds are always white.

And talk about hyper! The big fat Barred Rocks we have don’t even try to chase them anymore, as they can lap those big birds in one circuit around the big coop. They are also great at thieving the food out of the Rock’s giant feeder. Today’s project is making them a feeder of comparable size, out of PVC pipe. Film at eleven.

Hummingbird’s Nest

Mini Me

Here on the river, we have seen otters, a dog sized raccoon staring in our window, a red tailed hawk that opened up a gallon of fish fertilizer, and then wallowed in it, and a king snake that crawled between my feet to catch a toad, and swallow it whole. Wait, I left out the flying squirrels who like to nest in our bird houses. However, this is the first hummingbird nest we have ever seen.

It was lying in our front yard when we found it, under a white oak tree. The little hummers were obviously gone from it, and according to research, these birds will nest up to three more times this year. That’s a lot of ruby-throated hummingbirds.

This is a marvel of architecture. According to the interwebs, it’s woven together using spider’s web, and the outside is covered in lichen, as camouflage. Pretty clever for a bird that size. That, and they get free food from our two hummer feeders. Lucky them–this is too small for the flying squirrels to nest in.

Investing in Pepper Futures

Uncle Samuel decided to remit us some of the tens of thousands of dollars that we have unwillingly sent him over the years. It truly is a paltry sum, but I have decided to invest some of it in pepper futures. It’s a better use than sending money to defense contractors, or bailing out giant banks.

The amount I chose to invest was a total of $8.05. That gets me seventy five pepper seeds, more or less. My rate of return is likely to be enormous, as a small bag of fresh peppers at the Festhalle usually goes for around three bucks. At any rate, these are the three heirlooms I bought.

 Piment d’Espelette

Another of the official peppers of the Basque region of Spain. Mildly hot, it has only been around since 1523. Strangely enough, that was the year when I was born.

 Sigaretta De Bergamo

Let’s go to the Lombardi region of Italia, virus or no virus. A long sweet pepper, which surprisingly is the diameter of a cigarette. Try and find these at your local market.

Fushimi

Time to go to Nippon! That would be Japan. Another slim sweet pepper, and I can’t wait to try this one.

Moral of this story: grow your own, grow your own.

I am now at sixteen different peppers. Life is good. Thank you to the Federales for floating me eight bucks for pepper seeds. I threw in the nickel.