Fire on the Mountain …Again

 smoky haze
The slight smoky haze that first alerted us to the fire.

I kind of knew that three whole springs without a forest fire along the Norfolk-Southern’s grade over the continental divide was pushing things. Hoped maybe their relatively new-found practice of carefully checking their brake connections BEFORE heading uphill into the ‘loops’ might become a habit. It’s been raining pretty steady, and yesterday it snowed. Not more than an inch, though, and that was melted by noon.

Fire_on_the_Mountain2It’s that period of early spring when the wind has been blowing and the greenery hasn’t made its appearance yet but the sap is running, when molten-hot metal from what passes for brake pads on train cars can find some handy tinder and quickly set the dry leaves ablaze. It can actually be good for the forest – the older, established trees can take a bit of bark-char, and the ashes help balance out the acidity of red clay soil. Trick is to not let them get out of hand. Back when they were clear-cutting these mountains and carrying out the logs by steam trains, the fires got so hot they sterilized the soil to more than a foot underground. As abundant as these mountains are, it took decades to recover.

Fire_on_the_Mountain3Grandson noticed the smoky haze in the late afternoon, shortly before the spotter plane arrived to circle overhead and let us know the fire was just over the tracks along the back side of the property. We hiked on around the ridge to see what was what, found Old Fort’s Finest [VFD] already on the tracks and in the woods, on the job. In years past they’ve staged from our place, since we have direct access to the forest, and I always like them parking that nifty tanker truck right next to the cabin for the duration. Heck, I’ll make coffee for them all night long if they make sure my house doesn’t burn! But this one didn’t start on our side of the tracks or jump them, so we were in no serious danger and they used the scout camp access road instead.

The first bladder-chopper showed up about 6 pm, the second about half an hour later. Our fat white ducks Gladys and Amelia definitely didn’t like these fat, yellow, low-flying and incredibly noisy things one little bit. They quickly stashed themselves underneath the back deck to be invisible to these very strange raptors, and complained incessantly every time we got buzzed on their way from the lake at Camp Greer to the fire line. It was on the private hunting land immediately north of us and encompassing some acres of state game land just to the west, but didn’t get as far as the National Forest boundary on the other side of the northwestern cove. It was moving steadily east along the cove ridge, toward the railroad wall.

fire-on-the-roadsideOf course I sent hub out to take pictures, being as he is a professional photographer and all. This one – which I particularly like – was taken with the camera resting on the rail as the wall heads into the ridge cut. Our property is on the left side of those tracks, so we do have some appreciation for the sheer height and width of the rock rail bed that forms the wall. It takes a darned hot fire and a really stiff wind to jump that firebreak!

As darkness began to fall the 50 or so firefighters on the line sent out for coffee and take-out dinners, catered by the railroad watchers in their nifty track-truck. The fire was halfway up to the top of the ridge by the time the spotter and helicopters had to shut down for the night, so they didn’t bring the fire train usually kept in the rail yard in town. Nice multi-hose pumper contraption on a flat car between two tankers – one with water, the other with chemical retardant. The scheduler was getting antsy by the time the truck made it back to the line with food and drinks, kept calling to find out when they could start moving trains again. It was kind of humorous, since the fire by then had crept back down the mountainside and caused the firefighters to have to scramble straight up the loose rocks of the wall to get out of its way. Below is a shot of that bit of temporary excitement, from the 5th ‘hole’ of our disc golf course, called “High Springs” because 1) it’s a high point on the property, and 2) someone many years before us left a metal bedspring up there that a tree now nearly 3 feet in circumference grew in the middle of.

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It definitely looks exciting, but as usual it was mostly leaf and deadfall that burned. This morning there wasn’t even any smoke left, and by this time next month the forest floor will be even more thickly covered with greenery than it was before. Minus a few of the smaller saplings, which need to be thinned occasionally anyway, and maybe now that the leaves are ash we won’t get any further fires that close this year. We’re hoping, at any rate!

How to Survive Until Real Spring

Dig Out an Old Project, see if you can finish it…

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Sigh. I hate early spring. The weather goes from gorgeous and warm to bleak and icy in no time flat, and one dare not plant out anything that can’t take at least a couple of inches of ice on top. One day this week we had a 50+º swing between 73º at 2 pm and 22º before midnight. That’s what my Mama always called “pneumonia weather.”

The wood pile is down to dregs too, this having been one of the coldest winters in the entirety of our 22 years on this homestead. Though the first spring we spent here we got the “Blizzard of ’93,” which is still a big topic of conversation down at the auto parts store. 3 feet of windblown white stuff and sub-freezing temperatures, electricity out for 9 days. ‘They’ finally came by in a National Guard Huey helicopter to see if we were still alive, spotted the wood smoke and decided we were fine. It started on March 13…

So. Got the new seed catalogues in January. Ordered and received the new season’s seed bounty in February, started some things still in flats. The local organic super supplier – Painter’s Greenhouse – opened on March 1. Now I get almost daily warnings from them via email telling me to either NOT plant anything I bought out yet, or cover it with plastic because it’s gonna freeze. ARGH!

Thus It was that I re-started a project I’d begun 4 years ago – a bed quilt. I’m one of those people who knows how to sew, to crochet, to knit, etc., but hardly ever actually finish anything I start. But this Christmas it was so cold that we taped up the back door and hung a blanket over it to keep out the cold, and our daughter the decorator replaced that blanket with the quilt top I’d made all those years ago out of three color-coordinated sheets I bought by the pound at the mill outlet in Swannanoa. I’d managed to get it big enough, then realized that the pattern would be much better if I cut it into quarters and rearranged things. That being far too much trouble at the time, I folded it nicely and stashed it in a corner shelf of the blanket bin in the basement, for if I ever got ambitious.

And that is where daughter found it. She decided it looked a whole lot better than the wool army blanket we’d put over the door, which is next to the living room corner where we always put the tree. More Christmas-y. Thus I got to look at the darned thing all of January, and by February I’d decided to go ahead and quarter it and start over again. Maybe finish it this time.

Natural Car Cleaners

Natural-Car-Cleaners

Cars are constantly in need of a good cleaning, even if you are meticulous about keeping it spotless. With more environmental awareness being spread throughout the world, from things like paperless insurance statements to reusable air filters, it’s no wonder that there has been a higher demand for natural cleaners for cars. Whether it’s the inside or outside, harmful chemicals aren’t necessary to make a car squeaky clean. Here are a few options for the nature lover in you.

1. G-CLEAN Heavy Duty Hydrophobic Car Wash

This runoff friendly soap should give you the cleaning power you need while not being terrible for the environment. Also their car wash is a renewable product that can even clean off wash rags as you use them, allowing for up to 10-15 times more use. It also helps to repel water from the side of your car so that it doesn’t leave those pesky water marks.

2. Homemade Natural Cleaner

Don’t clean windows on your car with chemicals that could damage the earth. Instead, grab half a cup of vinegar, a fourth a cup of alcohol and a cup of water and mix them together. Put the concoction into a spray bottle and use a microfiber cloth instead of wasting a bunch of paper towels.

Natural-Car-Cleaners

3. Zymbol Cleaner Wax

This mysterious natural wax coats your car and allows you to wipe it off just like regular wax. They claim that it clears up blemishes and minor car scrapes as well. This might be a reasonable alternative to those who are interested in innovative technology that is also good for the environment.

4. Eco Touch

This company offers a variety of products that allow you to wash your car without the use of water. Their products clean interiors and exteriors, though they also offer towels, bulk orders, and some premade kits. It is great for the environment, and it can be used as an all-purpose cleaner.

Conclusion

Don’t be afraid to get dirty while cleaning your car as long as you don’t pollute the environment. Even if you just want unique options, there are a variety of natural cleaners that reduce or eliminate waste and help you clean your car at the same time.

Those Spoiled Ducks: The Pond

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Gladys and Amelia are indeed as pampered and spoiled as any fat Pekins can be. Which was of course entirely predictable due to my husband’s tendency to spoil his pets unmercifully. Gladys, in fact, still insists on being tucked in to the coop every night, and she’s pushing 15 pounds of what one of the grandsons calls “Jabba The Duck.”

Thus it was over the last couple of weeks when the bitter cold gave way to days in the 50s and 60s, that the family was called together to finally finish the duck pond project begun last spring and not finished beyond a hole big enough for the plastic kiddie wading pool that served as bath until now. In this picture you can see my elder daughter the experienced labor straw boss overseeing the elder grandsons as they widened and deepened the depression that would hold the pond liner.

spoild ducksNow, any project that requires more than a year’s worth of planning – usually over beers around the campfire across the back yard from the someday pond – can’t just be as easy as digging out a hole, laying down the liner, and filling it with water. Because it’s a duck pond, and ducks poop in their ponds just like bears poop in the woods, it has to have drainage capability that will allow it to be emptied and hosed down occasionally (I figure from size and depth about once a month). This means the deepest part must have a drain mechanism and a stopper on a chain we can pull, plus a length of pipe extending through the back dirt wall to channel the dirty pond water to the downslope. From a year’s worth of kiddie pool clean-outs plus filling and draining the pond-pond as we engineered over the past couple of weeks, there’s already a water-cut arroyo bisecting the back-back yard extending past the shed to the drop-off at forest edge.