Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The domino effect

Few things come easy.

At our house and in our yard it seems that every project needs prep work. Sometimes lots of prep work. I call it the domino effect: you can’t do one thing without first completing one or more other projects and those projects often spawn others.

After Gustav, we decided the hurricane created new room for more fruit trees. Two prolific satsumas give us the desire for greater number and larger variety. In South Louisiana, we can grow grapefruit, lemon, lime and orange trees. They are low maintenance and productive in our climate and soil.

Our friends and family share in our citrus bounty. I also work at canning Satsuma marmalade with varying degrees of success but that saga is for another posting.

We’ve also looked at other fruit trees and ruled out all but pears. Everything else – apples, peaches, plums – are too high maintenance for us. We have no time in our lives, nor room in our yard for anything that demands a spraying schedule.

So, Gustav’s depredations got us dreaming about a small orchard. On paper, that looks good but, in real life, few things come easy. Gustav did not completely clear the way; other trees had to come down.

We are blessed with almost 50 trees on our acre and a half: several species of oaks, a few kinds of pines, sweet gums, hackberries, a holly, elms, one majestic sycamore, cherry laurels, wax myrtles and yaupons. We are cursed with far, far too many water oaks. If you don’t know them, they are the problem children of the oak family. Often ugly, always messy, water oaks are short-lived trees forever dropping branches and limbs.

One or two may be nice but they dominate our yard. Most of the damage during Gustav came from water oaks falling on houses, power lines and roads. Not at our place. Every one survived. Including one in the back corner of the yard – smack in the middle of our planned orchard expansion.

It had to come down. No qualms from Dr. Spouse. She hated that tree: wrong species in the wrong place. Even less regret from me: any excuse to crank up the chain saw and I love cutting down a tree. I don’t often get the challenge of felling a 75-foot oak and dropping it on a specific spot.

If I did it right, the oaks crown would land smack on top of the brush pile. If I did it wrong, the worst that could happen would mean more work hauling branches a little farther to the brush pile. I grew up with chainsaws, axes and sledge hammers. I learned early how to cut split and stack firewood. My lumberjack skills aren’t razor sharp but felling a few of our trees over the years have kept those skills in respectable shape.

Dr. Spouse (she’s a veterinarian) did not share my self-confidence. She came out to watch and up her chair about 90 feet in the opposite direction from where I planned the drop the 75-foot oak. She had her cell phone.

To save time. For when she had to call 911.

She never had to pull out the phone. I dropped the tree right where I wanted. No great feat, the oak was straight and balanced easily persuaded. “That was a thing of beauty,” Dr. Spouse said.

With the rush of felling a large tree still glowing inside, I began the drudgery of cutting off the limbs and slicing the trunk into manageable pieces. We have no fireplace, just a large charcoal grill. I do plenty of grilling and had cut and split more red oak than I would burn in two years. In our climate, the bottom of the stacks would probably rot before they made it to the grill.

With that much wood already stacked (thank you, girls), the newly downed water oak was destined to rot away on the brush pile. Something deep inside me would not let that happen. I looked at that trunk and felt a primal urge to cut, split and burn. Water oak is mostly useless. Not good in the landscape (even dangerous in a hurricane) and too cranky and brittle for lumber, it does burn.

That’s when I remembered: charcoal. It stores forever and could be fun to make.

I hustled back to the internet and found myself a new hobby … and more work.

The domino effect at work.

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