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Another Snow Day

February 9, 2015

We have now had our third snow day Monday in a row. I hate missing the school and the idea of having to extend the school year further into the summer, but the extra days off have been giving me a chance to write. And so it is today. After a morning spent shoveling, I have some time to write another post.

Front steps on another snow day

Front steps on another snow day

The drive down to the farm two days ago was quiet. The latest weather had not yet moved in. The roads had narrowed, but were all passable. Wollaston Beach was frozen and calm. The sky was gray. Driving up Rockland St. in North Cohasset the great Hull 2 wind generator was being pushed by a strong West Nor ‘west wind at a pretty good clip. As I came round onto Jerusalem Rd in sight of the ocean, the sea was flat, and the horizon was invisible. The barnyard was piles of snow, infiltrated with paths and lanes for people, cars, and animals. The ox barn was snowed in again, and I had to dig my way in through to the side door. Only a bit of snow had filtered in through the main door. After my usual check-in with Aunt Jean and a quick introduction to the gentleman who’d come over to clear snow with his bobcat, I pulled my sled out of the snow bank and hooked up the traces. After getting my snowshoes on, I gathered my harvesting tools and threw the leather yoke over my shoulders to head out into the woods. Over the past few weeks we’ve gone from no snow to more than a couple feet. Last week I went out without the snow shoes and it was pretty tough going. This week I was wearing them and it was pretty tough going, but at least I wasn’t sinking more that a few inches. Sadly, I think one problem may be the design I chose when making these shoes. I made them in the Ojibwa style. I really like the look. But the extended “toe” of this shoe may make for tougher walking as the toe often gets caught in the snow as I lift my foot. On the other hand, as Grandma Cornelia often said, “It’s a poor workman who complains of his tools.” Perhaps I just need more practice.

Ojibwa style snowshoe

Ojibwa style snowshoe

When I stopped to begin cutting I realized I’d left my saw in the barn. I like to use the pruning saw, especially when cutting farther up the trunk of the tree because it leaves a cleaner cut than the axe. The axe isn’t bad if you are cutting close to the ground and the trunk can’t move much, but further up the tree and the trunk can move with the each strike absorbing the energy of the blow. I hit the first tree trunk where it emerged from the snow and the tree moved several inches. When I checked the depth of the snow with the axe handle I found it was over two feet. This meant that unless I wanted to clear away the snow from each little tree I’d have to cut them at about two feet and they’d be a pretty sorry sight in the spring. So I did the best I could with the axe. After I trimmed the saplings and cut them into manageable lengths (from six to twelve feet) I lashed them to the sled. About a quarter of the way back to the barnyard the sledding got very tough, and I was really yanking on the traces when one of them gave way. As I sat panting in the snow, wishing that I had finally remembered water and marveling at how thirsty one gets in the working in the snow, I debated whether to leave the sled and come back later to pick it up. It put me in mind of a trip I had taken with my buddies fresh out of high school from our home in Michigan to the mountains of western Montana. We were camping in the Lewis and Clark National Forest, when the strap on my backpack broke. I was already anxious about being out in the middle of the wilderness on our own, and I started crying and carrying on. Craig and Alan basically said, “Get over it. We have no choice but to fix it and get going.” Despite my protestations that that was impossible, I dug out my sewing kit and fixed it and we got going. And so it was this time. I removed the leather yoke from the traces and threw the broken trace on the sled to fix at home. I tied one end of the yoke to the sled and held it in my left hand. I held the remaining trace in my right. Sometimes there ain’t nothing to it but to do it. And I hauled it home. It was a tough slog, but not truly that far to go. And I was more worried about exhausting myself for basketball the next day than about survival. I got back and had a lengthy drink from the water bottle, unloaded the wood and bent a few choice sticks around the stanchions to use in chairs in the summer.
The last job for the day was to fashion a new handle for the lovely adze that my pal Robert had given me when he came down to visit a few weeks ago. The trick with this sort of tool head is that instead of fitting the end of the handle into the head, as with an axe or sledge hammer, the entire handle has to slide through the head, as with an grub hoe. This makes for a tool which is much less likely to fly off the handle, but requires that the entire handle be shaped.
adze head - handle inserted

adze handle full length

I chose a piece of ash that I found that day and used a pair of drawknives to shape it. This morning when taking these pictures I discovered that the very green wood had checked. So I am not sure whether it will be suitable for use. We’ll see in a few weeks when I get a chance to try it out.
Last week, during another snow day I tackled an indoor project, sorting and replacing many old photographs into a new album. There were pictures from the first six or so years of my life. Many, many were of the farm. Amongst them was this one. Apparently I have had a longstanding interest in wood. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

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