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Skull in the Woods

September 12, 2018

It was a beautiful fall day down on the farm. A happy group of hikers (two moms, four boys) returned from a trip to the ice pond excitedly shouting that they’d found a dead animal. The boys were full of gory details. It had its neck ripped open; there were lots of bones—maybe it was a fisher cat. I was intrigued, but doubtful. Firstly, fisher cats are pretty rare. Some years ago, my father told me he’d heard it’s eerie call – half-avian shriek/half-feline yowl. I tracked a recording down online and couldn’t help but wonder what it must have sounded like to the first Europeans to hear it. I am sure it caused those Pilgrims to pray with increased fervor and sense of purpose. Secondly, how would these kids know what a fisher cat looks like? Thirdly, fisher cats are large-ish members of the weasel family. What would be able to dispatch one by ripping it’s neck open? More than likely it was an unfortunate cat or dog that had met up with a coyote. But, as I said, I was intrigued. I posted my “Back in a few” sign and took off at a trot for the woods, shouting thanks to the hikers over my shoulder.

 

When I got to the ice pond, the sight was even stranger than I had imagined. For one thing, the skull was almost clean, and I was fairly certain it was not a cat or a dog. For another thing, not only did it seem it had been killed by a bite to the neck, buy it seemed to have been torn inside out. The spinal column and rib cage were both fully exposed and the skin was attached to the skull only at the chin. It was as if something had grabbed it by the neck and swung it around until the skin flew off. At this is the part I began feeling a bit like I might be in the midst of a Jurassic Park moment. I detached the head from the carcass and the neck from the spine and carried my prize back to the ox barn in a plastic bag.

 

Twenty-four hours later I found an old camping cook pot, popped the skull in, and set it to boiling. Those one or two of you who have followed my blog may remember a story I posted many years ago about my grandmother Cornelia, and what a good sport she was. It concerned the time my Uncle Peter found a seal’s head at the beach and how he boiled the skin off it in one of her cooking pots on the stove. Well, now I truly understand what a good sport she was—and, as it turns out, what a good sport my lovely wife Lisa Dee is—because my little skull boiled over on our stove and it. Smelled. Foul.

 

Lisa Dee simply closed the door to the room she was in and kept on working. I removed the pot from the stove, cleaned up the mess, and attempted to boil something fragrant to cover the stench. (Ed. Note:It did not work.) I then set up a small camping stove in the backyard and continued the boil. After several hours I was able to remove all the skin and most of the ‘gristle’. I soaked it in Chlorox for a half-hour or so, rinsed it, and soaked it in hydrogen peroxide overnight. The next day I rinsed it again and re-assembled the pieces. The skull was so complete the re-assembling consisted of little more than putting about seven teeth back in to their sockets and gluing the others that were loose. I scraped a few last bits of ‘gristle’ off and glued the jaw to the upper skull.

 

My current theory of the poor critter’s final moments is that it met up with two canids (possibly coyotes, but I guess dogs because the carcass was not consumed) – one grabbed its neck and one grabbed its tail whereupon a vigorous tug-of-war ensued, which our protagonist lost decisively.

 

The only mystery now is what was the poor creature? I have looked at many skull images online. It certainly could be a fisher cat.  It is not a dog, fox, or coyote (snout too long).  Does not appear to be in the cat family (face too flat).  It is too big for a mink or weasel, though it looks very similar. The view that shows the most definitive differences is the top view. There is a distinctive ridge on the skull and a narrowness between the eye sockets which I did not see in any other images. So, if you have anything to add, please feel free to chime in.

Skull from the woods

“Fisher Cat Skull”?

You never know what an early fall day down at the farm will bring.

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Why It’s Easier to Cut With an Angled Blade

August 5, 2018

I am doing something a little differently this time.  I am posting a video i made in which i talk about why woodworkers often use their cutting tools (chisels, planes, drawknives, and the like) at an angle.  Let me know what you think.

 

Build a Bench

July 7, 2018

A few weeks ago, i posted a series of photos on Facebook.  They are images i took as i was making a solid walnut bench.  The wood came from a tree that had been cut down a couple years ago.  The bench seat is made from a slab i split out of the log last year (2017) and allowed to season somewhat over the winter. The legs come from another log i cut and split this spring.  The “rudimentary lathe” is a jig i build for making legs, but is not a true lathe as it does not spin the wood, but merely holds it firmly while i work it.  There is a typo in one of the photos near the end (i hope it doesn’t diminish your enjoyment of the pictures.)   The resolution is not the highest (it didn’t load properly at the highest resolution.) I hope you will enjoy it.  And if you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

10 Day Forecast

July 2, 2018
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School ended one week ago. We had a beautiful spring. An early jag of heat in May or early June got everyone complaining that we’d jumped straight to summer. “Typical New England,” was the oft repeated phrase. But, no. We had a wonderful spring–enough rain, many days that could have passed for autumnal if it weren’t for the crocuses and tulips popping up, or forsythia bursting forth. the nights were cool-to-cold, but no frosts to freeze the blossoms as happened last year. And now school is out, my days are free, and the temps are soaring. We are in the midst of a five- or six-day stretch of 90+ degree weather. Typical New England.

How can i be so sure it is typical? Every July 4 i stay home and watch the folks on TV attending the Boston Pops concert and fireworks down on the Esplanade. And every year, there is Keith Lockhart, the Boston Pops’ conductor, drenched in sweat, while the undaunted audience searches the sky for fireworks and lightening. they always get the former and frequently the latter.

But, believe it or  not, i didn’t not take pencil to paper (yeah, I still write on paper) to complain about the weather. I am writing not to complain about the abysmal weather, but to whine about the weather reporting.

Most people complain about the forecast never being right. I hate how accurate it is. Sure, sometimes they say we will get a foot of snow when we only get an inch or they call for snow and we get rain. But they get the temperature within a couple of degrees and that (those few degrees) makes all the difference. And the current ten-day forecast is as accurate as a two-day forecast was twenty years ago. So, when i see a six-day stretch of 90+ degree weather, i know they may be off by a couple of degrees but my fate is sealed. Of course, improvements in weather forecasting are a boon to farmers, power grid planners, and managers, etc. But, as is so often the case for me, i am out of step with the times. I miss uncertainty because in this case the old uncertainty meant hope. So, I am hoping these days will pass quickly, and that they don’t keep me from getting to enjoy this Typical New England weather.

New Chair, Old Wire

April 30, 2017

Over the past few months, I have been working on an armchair. It is similar to the pair that I sold last Fall to my Aunt and Uncle in Virginia.

P1010997The originals had rope seats, as you can see in the picture. I had to buy the rope which I am not so keen on, and so when I ran out in the middle of making this seat, I tried a number of things instead. I attempted to weave using less rope in different patterns, but none was very satisfactory. I tried using twigs and rope, which worked, but I didn’t like the look. Then I tried a semi woven pattern using very heavy gauge copper wire. I have had the wire for years, but it is so stiff  (it is about 1/4″ in diameter) that it really hasn’t worked for anything in the past.

As I was struggling with the wire, it occurred to me for the first time since I found it that it is probably the wire that was originally used to electrify the barnyard. It hangs from very crude insulators on several trees and then drops to the ground, where it is buried under the leaf litter between several of the barns.

The farm has been in my family since the 1840’s, but my grandfather, Richardson White was the first one to try his hand as a farmer in the 1930’s. He built and/or oversaw the construction of several of the farm buildings (including an blacksmith shop, a tomato barn, a saw mill, horses stalls, and an ox barn – wherein I play furniture maker). This was in the early to mid 1930’s and this would have been just about when electricity would have been installed in these sorts of buildings for the first time.

My grandfather’s father also lived on the farm (at least he did in the summer) while working in Boston. He commuted by train when he was in Cohasset. The rest of the year he walked from his home on Marlborough street, Back Bay to his job at MGH every day. He had a couple phobias. On was a fear of burglaries, and apparently had multiple locks on his many doors. He was also frightened of the possibility of fire, particularly on the farm. I don’t know whether it was a relief when they replaced the gas fixtures in his house on the farm with electricity, but I do know that it did not end his concern. Even when he had his own family, my grandfather ate dinner with his father. My grandfather’s livelihood depended on rain, for sure, but also on sunny weather in abundance enough to dry out the hay he fed his livestock, to dry out the fields enough to plow, and to nurture the vegetables he trucked into Boston. Yet my father, Donald recalls my great grandfather dining with his family and exclaiming to one and all that, “what this country needs is a good soaking rain!” To which my grandfather could only grumble quietly to himself.  When I was a teenager.  I had a copper bracelet that I had bought in Northern Michigan.  While i was visiting my grandfather, someone asked what it was.  I explained that I only knew for sure what one of the symbols on it meant, rain.  My grandfather was kind enough to merely groan, but refrained from throwing it out the window.

So after decades transmitting electricity to the barnyard barns, some old copper wire is holding up a seat on a twiggy chair.  And I think once again on my good fortune getting to be a part of a long chain.

 

 

Back in the Saddle

April 18, 2017

It has been a long time since i have written anything, and rather than write about that, i am just going to post some pictures and try to work my way back into posting more regularly.  Here are a bunch of benches i have made over the past year or two.  Many of them are made of walnut from some trees that were taken down to increase the sunshine on the educational garden round the other side of the barnyard.  Several of the benches were made as gifts.  The most special (to my mind) is the love seat.  It was made from an enormous oak tree that came down some years ago.  I convinced my brother, Owen to help me split a slab off its trunk.  He saw immediately that i didn’t have nearly enough wedges to do the job and that i had totally underestimated the difficulty.  But he worked on it with me for hours.  It was cold and exhausting, and initially unsuccessful.  But the following week i bought more wedges and finished the job.  The following summer i cut it down to size and made the seat, and a year after that, July 2016)  i was able to present it to him and his wonderful bride, Lyra at their wedding.

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I hope you enjoy these pictures.  I should have more soon.

More Stuff

August 9, 2016

No excuses, I’m just not feeling much like writing. However, I have been making stuff, despite the very hot weather. So, this post will be mostly pictures.

There were a number of infrastructure projects that needed to be taken care of. Firstly, there was a leak in some plumbing that runs in front of the ox barn. To repair it, a large hole had to be dug in front of the shop to get at the cutoff valves. I did not do this job. However, when it was done i did fill in the hole. See the hole. See it filled in. Yeah!

My father and brother Arthur are having quite a bit of work done on the surrounding buildings. They are also getting the ox barn clapboarded. So, I decided to build new doors for the ox barn. I am planning on painting them soon. The last bit of infrastructure was to deal with the heat and sun. I put up a large canvas awning. It is supported by bamboo poles from my front yard. I am glad they’re of some use, given what a pain they can be.

The first new piece of furniture is a love seat I made for my brother Owen and his new wife Lyra for their wedding. The seat comes from a large oak trunk that he agreed to help me split a couple years ago. The trunk was huge and we were woefully unprepared (only two wedges) and I know he thought the enterprise was mad. But he hardly squawked at all, and gave it his all. We got it partially split. I bought a few more wedges and finished the job and this is the result. I hope they enjoy it for a good long time. Lastly, a new Adirondack-type chair. It is a full sized chair with short legs, and it is quite comfortable. That will do it for now. I hope you enjoy the pictures.

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