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The month of August slipped by without an entry and I’m thinking back on what happened during that period of time to share here.

I finished the Midsummer Mozart festival on the 4th and came home. It was wonderful to see James again after an unprecedented three-week separation, and it was certainly a relief to be back in The Woods, basking in the peace, quiet and beauty of this place.

August was mostly very hot. This discouraged any real activity for most of the daytimes; James and I ended up going to the river to cool off, then took naps every day during the height of the afternoon’s heat.

I spent many hours at the computer but didn’t feel like writing words. Writing music took up much of my time. I worked on an arrangement of three tarantellas (Italian dances) for recorder orchestra which we will read through at the September 6th rehearsal in Berkeley. I just finished it last week. Hooray! What a relief.

James worked even harder on his arrangement for recorder orchestra, a medley of popular Italian songs. It is a masterpiece!

We drove down to Nevada City every couple of days, where James took care of our friends’ yard and garden while they were away in Ireland.

Another dear friend and her husband are now visiting us from England for ten days! I met Caroline at the MacJams music site several years ago. We quickly became close “on chat”, emails and telephone calls. Then we met in person last summer when she came to visit us in Arizona, and the three of us got on so well that Caroline has made a return appearance, bringing her husband Peter along. The two of them are delightful guests and are enjoying the serenity and “gorgeousness” (Caroline’s word) here.

If you look at this blog’s earliest entries, you can read about Caroline’s previous visit last year.

James and I now have a DOG! Ringo belonged to our former next door neighbor (“Cowboy”, in Arizona) which he reluctantly decided to give up now that he’s taking a job on an offshore oil rig in Texas. A mutual friend brought Ringo to California a week ago Thursday, and we picked him up at her sister’s house in Oakland.

Ringo immediately recognized us and wagged his whole body furiously in greeting. We were extremely pleased that he remembered us.

He’s the most intelligent dog James and I have ever encountered. Ringo is a mix of border collie and wolf, and began his life “cutting cattle” on a ranch in Oregon with Cowboy. Over the years, the dog has been trampled on by horses and cows and run over several times at Cowboy’s car shop, and has a slight limp. But this doesn’t slow Ringo down when he fetches the ball!

He understands and obeys every command. James is keeping him close to his side for the next two months, to ensure that Ringo bonds with his new owner effectively.

He’s about seven years old now — the same as our cat Rupert, in fact.

Rupert’s first greeting to Ringo was a growl and a hiss. As with all dogs, the cat stood his ground; he’s fearless. Ringo respects Rupert’s claws and is very laid-back around the cat, which is helping Rupert accept Ringo into our family. Although Rupert is still very protective of his “personal space”, the two of them occasionally sit close together, as in this shot:

I’ve always been more of a cat person but I really, really like this dog! Ringo is so smart that he’s no trouble around the house, and he’s a lot fun to play with.

He seems to be loving it out here in The Woods, and would be very tempted to explore on his own. But James keeps him close with either leash or commands at this early bonding stage.

This hot phase of late summer has minimized the variety of wildflowers in the area, but I did take this shot of chicory growing in front of the barn:

Caroline just showed me pictures of a couple of different red wildflowers that she recently took (that I will research and identify later). They are growing along the north side of the house:

In fact, Caroline has been taking LOTS of wonderful pictures of the visit, so I’ve been particularly lazy about using my own camera. (All of this post’s shots were taken by Caroline except for the cat/dog and chicory pics.)

By the way, James and I got married last Wednesday at two o’clock.

We took Caroline and Peter to “Trailer Trash” potluck on Saturday night. Caroline has had dreams of mashed potatoes every night since, and pines for more. The locals embraced both Brits with their “interesting attempts at a British accent” (Peter’s phrase). I found Don’s Aussie accent the most amusing. He apparently got it from watching too much of Crocodile Dundee.

Having guests relax in our environment makes it easier for James and I to do so. These past few days are passing by in a pleasant blur, as the four of us sit outside at the picnic table under the shady cedar tree, or kick back on lounge chairs under another cedar at the opposite side of the barn, or hang out on the back porch facing the meadow.

It cooled off enough on Sunday night to light a fire in the Franklin stove on the cement patio. The sky was clear and moonless and sprinkled with stars. It was like camping out. I love moments like these!

Caroline and Peter will be with us until Saturday morning, when we take them to the Sacramento airport for their flight to the East Coast. They will visit family and friends in the Philadelphia area for a week before flying back to England.

The day stretches ahead without any real agenda. Delicious slothfulness. I will feel that I have accomplished at least something by finally posting to my blog!

not “that cigarette”, as the lyrics go — but smoke from numerous fires currently raging throughout Northern California.

The local paper advises that outdoor activity should be avoided today because of heavy smoke from fires surrounding Nevada County.

The news article went on to say that if you can see and smell smoke, you are most likely breathing unhealthy levels of particulate.

It’s the worst particulate levels since the district started measuring air quality 15 years ago; almost 400 micrograms per cubic meter, and the hazardous level is 260.

Our little town is at the top of the priority list because “that’s where we have the most residences in proximity to the fires”, according to Greg Cleveland of the U.S. Forest Service this morning.

No evacuations have been ordered but the complex grew to more than 2,000 acres overnight and inundated the Grass Valley and Nevada City area with heavy smoke.

The Scotchman Fire was on the north side of the South Fork of the Yuba River Monday and stopped about one mile east of town.

This is the fire closest to our house, just over a mile away.

The entire Yuba River Complex is only 5 percent contained, according to authorities.

The U.S. Forest Service, which has established a blaze command center at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley (only a few yards away from our trailer!) says: “The fires are difficult because they’re spread out.”

With only 259 personnel on the fire, the command center is hoping to get more firefighters and equipment in coming days as other blazes die out, the Forest service authority said.

He went on to say that the main area of concern is our little town. The Forest Service will hold a community meeting at 6 p.m. tonight at the local Fire District Hall for a fire update.

At about 10 this morning, I took the following footage of our Airstream trailer at the Nevada County Fairgrounds. It gives you a rough idea of how smoky the air is — but you have to breathe it to really believe it!


My final rehearsal for the Trio for Horn, Violin and Piano is this afternoon at the hall; then I’ll have a three-hour break before the concert.

James suggested driving me to the concert hall — even though it’s only a seven-minute walk from our campsite — to minimize my exposure to the excessive smoke. I am already hacking and coughing, even inside the air-conditioned trailer. There’s a little tickle in the back of my throat which won’t go away.

As for James, he is feeling ever-so-slightly better as a result of taking antibiotics. He also needs to stay indoors as much as possible.

On Saturday afternoon, ominous black clouds filled the sky over the Nevada County Fairgrounds where James and I are staying in our Airstream trailer.

We are currently being hosted by the Fairgrounds management; the summer music festival is going on right here. It’s a much more convenient commute than from our place in The Woods. In fact, it takes me all of seven minutes to walk from our campsite to the concert hall.

Seeing the dark clouds made us hope for rain, which is so desperately needed all over California.

It didn’t precipitate in our immediate area, but other areas reported some brief moisture.

There was a great deal of lightning; over 3000 strikes were reported throughout Northern California which resulted in 602 wildfires.

One of these fires is burning only a mile-and-a-half from our house. We had no idea about any of this until D. called on the backstage telephone yesterday as I was about to play a concert. D. agreed to drive over from Nevada City to notify James at the trailer, since our cell phone was turned off.

They drove up to The Woods to scope things out. D. went up the hill a mile to our neighbors who are situated closest to the fire, while James stayed at our house and gathered together our musical instruments, important papers and computer equipment and put them in the truck.

Needless to say, I was somewhat preoccupied during the concert, wondering how things were going up the hill.

We finally got in touch after the concert and I had returned to the trailer and turned on the phone. James told me that the area was extremely smoky, although the fire had not crossed Scotchman’s Creek just below the neighbors’. The wind had just shifted and was coming in from the southwest, so the fire would be heading away from our neighborhood.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

Several hours later, I met James and D. at D&L’s house in Nevada City to help unload the harps and trunks. We were grateful that they were willing to take care of our instruments. We transferred the trunks into the Scion where they will remain until the fire danger has passed.

Today we’ve been in touch with the neighbor as well as L., who told us that the fire is not spreading further, but is smouldering out. Hooray! The winds are light and are not expected to pick up much, so the fire should stay confined to the ground — rather than igniting the tops of the trees, which would be very bad.

Our neighbor will let us know immediately if there is a change for the worse.

On another note: the music festival is going well, although the pace of rehearsals and concerts is very hectic. I can’t believe how much playing I’m doing! And this is immediately after performing sixteen shows in a row of Phantom.

It feels very good to play and it is wonderful to see my old musical colleagues again, but I wish I had more time off to rest. Today is the first free day I’ve had since June 2nd.

Today won’t really be free, however, because I need to practice a brand-new piece of music which we are performing tomorrow night. It’s a trio for violin, horn and piano, and is extremely difficult. Virtuosic parts for all, in fact. The composer worked with us the other day and will do so again for our final rehearsal tomorrow afternoon; then we perform the concert a few hours later.

Between practice-sessions, I am listening to a MIDI file of the piece while following the score, and am writing down cues in my horn part so hopefully I won’t get lost!

We are staying inside the trailer today because the air is very smoky, even thirty miles away from the scene of the mountain fires.

For the past ten days, James has been suffering acutely from a sinus infection, brought on by allergies to cottonwood and other things blooming around here. He’s been so ill that he spends most of the time lying down. He was starting to feel better yesterday but then the smoke aggravated his sinus condition. He finally went to the clinic today and has begun taking antibiotics.

It always distresses me when James is sick — it doesn’t happen very often but really zaps him when it does.

Last year at this time, I was the one who was sick (with bronchitis) which lasted for over two months.

Our global environment seems less and less hospitable than it used to be.

Here is a video of bringing the Airstream down from The Woods to the Nevada County Fairgrounds last Wednesday. In all the excitement, I forgot to take footage of our actual arrival at the campground, so I’ll take pictures of our current location next time.

Rupert rode with me in the Scion and was pretty good, although he vocalized his usual displeasure of traveling in the car.

Since June 3rd, I have been immersed in the eight-shows-a-week routine with my former employer, the national touring company of “The Phantom of the Opera”, currently playing in Sacramento. I am playing as a horn sub to fill in for the final half of the run, sixteen shows in a row without a day off.

The last time I played the show was sixteen months ago, in February 2007 — in Des Moines, Iowa.

I was assured by my pit orchestra colleagues that it was like riding a bicycle. I joked that I hoped I didn’t fall off.

Well, they turned out to be right; after ten shows here I feel like I’ve never left! It took four performances to feel completely at ease, but now the show is wearing like a comfortable old shoe.

It is interesting on a number of levels to be back with the company, even if briefly.

Although the road life is hard and the show schedule is demanding, there are lots of worse music gigs.

It is nice to have a regular routine with very few unexpected musical curve-balls. It is reassuring in its predictability — now that I’m not burned out.

The gig pays well and people LOVE the show.

It is nice to be able to wear “pit black” clothes — cotton pants and polo shirt — rather than donning a confining tuxedo or white tie and tails while being exposed under the hot, bright lights onstage as I am for symphonic concerts.

In the pit, unseen by the audience, it’s great to be able to read a book between passages; the horns do have minutes at a time during the show when we’re not playing. I got a LOT of reading done over those ten years!

Most people in the company — musicians, actors and stage technicians — are very happy to see me, and vice-versa. My presence was appreciated while I was on tour, but I had forgotten just how welcoming these people are. It is indeed a family.

I am glad to see that everybody is doing well. I admire them for sticking with the road routine, which is a very challenging life. But for me after ten years on tour, I decided to give notice because I was getting a bit frayed around the edges from the relentless schedule.

I wouldn’t want to gallivant all over the country and be away from home for months at a stretch, but I am interested in being an occasional sub, playing a few weeks a year. The two horn players on staff would be able to take more vacations if they can depend upon me as the first-call sub. So it’s a win-win for everybody.

I am already slated to play the three-week run in Spokane during the month of October. James and I will drive our little Scion up there, and will stay in a corporate apartment or at a B&B. At this point, we probably won’t take the trailer. Gas has gotten so expensive that it’s no longer cost-effective to use the big truck on long trips.

I had a brief window of free time late Sunday and the early part of Monday, so James picked me up from the theatre after the matinee and we drove back up to The Woods, which is an hour and forty-minute trip.

It was wonderful to be home again and stay overnight, even though it was for less than twenty-four hours. I had to be back in Sacramento to play the show on Monday night.

The aspect of being in The Woods which never fails to surprise me is how QUIET it is up there.

In the gathering dusk of Sunday evening, James and I sipped cocktails and sat on the back patio gazing out at the meadow, full of brilliant bluish-purple bachelor buttons. We breathed in the peace and quiet and thanked our lucky stars that we have the wonderful opportunity to tend this land.

The next morning, we walked along our paths in The Woods and I took some pictures of the new flowers which have popped up.

There are clumps of safflowers growing everywhere. They are not native to the region, but originated from bird-seed. Our nearest neighbors apparently fed a lot of birds in the past.

I wouldn’t have known that if our dear friend L. hadn’t told us on her recent visit. She and long-time partner D. came up from Nevada City to see the new crop of wildflowers a few weeks ago.

There is a larger variety of lupine which we’ve always called “forest lupine”. It has been gradually coming up over the past few weeks, but is now at its peak:

Here’s more, but in a darker purple variety in a separate clump, growing a bit further away from the shelter of the trees:

We wended our way down the “scenic route” path to the river (documented in a previous video). I may take another video because the path looks completely different this month, with much more leafy undergrowth.

For now, however, let us be content with a shot of a stand of ferns, where the largest bed of trilliums used to be.

One of the most fascinating aspects of watching these mountain wildflowers is how they come and go. Last month, the meadow was covered with a smaller version of lupine. This month, they are all gone and have been replaced with bachelor buttons. These brilliant little flowers are covering an even wider area:

Here’s a shot which includes the barn in the background. It is slightly to the right of the previous picture (to the south).

On our way back towards the barn, we stopped to take a picture of an ancient rose-bush which may have been placed there by the owners, long ago. The term “tea rose” comes to my mind but this may be incorrect. If anyone can enlighten me further, I welcome the feedback.

California poppies are quite common along the roadsides and fields further southeast towards Nevada City, but they’re not so prevalent in The Woods. So it is a treat to have several small stands of them growing right near our patio:

Lastly, here’s a video of several things: the Yuba River at the height of its flow on May 31st, contrasting with more recent footage taken last Monday in approximately the same spot. Then, you will see how extensive the field of bachelor buttons is in the meadow (please forgive the somewhat jerky panning; I was being attacked by a mosquito!) The final segment is of an industrious bumblebee visiting the tea roses.

I have six more performances of Phantom through Saturday. Immediately following the last show, James will pick me up from the theatre, kitty Rupert and our possessions in tow, and we’ll head on back up to The Woods late Saturday night.

The next evening, Sunday, I immediately jump into playing the local summer orchestra festival “Music in the Mountains” in nearby Grass Valley (which I participated in each June from 1985-2001) and will be busy with that through July 3rd. The horn will have been on my face constantly for about six weeks, so I’m looking forward to a break later this summer!

Summer weather arrived a month early, as though a switch suddenly flicked on. This happened a couple days ago and the high temperatures are expected to continue through the weekend.

It is not often that the West Coast has the highest temperatures in the country; Arizona, Texas, Florida and parts of the Midwest usually have us beat.

A ridge of high pressure hangs over the Pacific coast, creating unusual heat for this time of year. As a rule, we do not experience this kind of weather until late June or July.

It reached 91˚ In The Woods yesterday. We were tempted to jump in the river, except that the water is still very cold this early in the season. James joked that we should buy wet-suits!

Our bodies are trying to adjust to this abrupt turn of events. We’re used to sleeping with lots of blankets, which are now way too heavy at night. I suggested that we pack away the flannel sheets we’ve used since last Fall, but James thinks it will cool off again. He’s probably right.

He reminded me that when we first arrived here last June, it SNOWED on the upper highway, and there was sleet in our little valley. So this heat-wave is probably a false summer, and we hope that it is temporary.

James brought out his sarong and retired his sweats. He put away his heavy clogs, took off his socks and donned flip-flops. He took off his shirt.

I quickly followed suit. Although I was rather awkward wearing a sarong last summer, my reservations seem to have disappeared this year. It truly is more comfortable, and the best way to deal with the heat — especially since we don’t have air-conditioning.

I may even come to feel at ease wearing a sarong around people when they visit us, but I am NOT quite ready to parade in a skirt on the streets of “Big Town”!

If someone were to come along this way and see us in this get-up, they would probably think that we belong to some sort of far-out religious order. Perhaps that assessment is accurate — James and I are sort of in an “monastery of two”.

We could probably walk around naked on this land if we wanted to (and have, briefly, on occasion), but we don’t want to scare the summer people. Much.

So a sarong feels perfect here.

We used them as window coverings all winter. Now that we’ve taken them down to wear, the early morning light filters into the Music Room and urges us out of bed.

This is a very good thing, because the early morning is the coolest and most pleasant time to be awake and productive in the summer.

We got up shortly after six today (early for us former “theatre people”!) and James suggested that I bring the video camera out to an area of the Woods which he calls “The Secret Garden”. A great variety of spring flowers are popping up, almost overnight.

I don’t know that much about flowers, but could identify buttercups, mountain daisies, several kinds of lupine (lots of that!) two varieties of Indian paintbrush, star tulips (very rare here) and bluebells.

When the large and small kinds of Indian paintbrush arrived a few days ago, I took the following pictures:

Mountain flowers have a subtle, economical beauty; they’re often tiny. The visual impact doesn’t hit you over the head like a field of tulips would; you have to look closely to appreciate the mountain flowers’ charms. They are here for a fleeting moment, then soon disappear and are replaced by new varieties.

The blankets of lupine in the meadow are a bit more dramatic. You’ll see them towards the end of the video. We think they’re gorgeous.

I’ve been wanting to shoot a video of our daily walk “over the river and through the woods” for quite some time now. (We left Little Red Riding Hood at home.)

The first day of May was gorgeous here; sunny and mild, not a cloud in the sky.

In the late afternoon we took our walk, and I shot continuous footage during the twenty minutes it took to meander down the path near the barn, then through a protected area where the bleeding heart flowers are in full bloom. The trilliums are still hanging in there, too.

Further along the path, the piles of large rocks are a legacy from the Chinese workers who cleared them from the dredging areas blasted by water, the miners seeking gold. The coolie laborers organized them into neat piles. James is convinced that they did this in a conscious, artistic manner, in spite of what must have been extreme hardship.

The faint echoes of the Chinese blood, sweat and tears still whisper through these woods, but as L. commented recently, “But it’s not as strong as when I first saw this land forty years ago”.

In any case, the huge piles of boulders inspire awe. It feels like a sacred place.

Then on to the river, and up the path leading to L.’s cabin, and back through the meadow to the barn.

I edited the video to about three-quarters of its original length, which is still fourteen minutes long. Since YouTube’s video limit is ten minutes, I split the Woods walk footage into two parts.

Part I:


Part II:


L.’s lilac bush is in bloom in the side-yard north of the Bunkhouse. Shortly after this picture was taken, James cut several sprays of the fragrant purple blooms and brought them down to L.’s house in Nevada City. So now she gets a whiff of The Woods whenever she enters her kitchen.

A week ago, at least a dozen pine trees were cut down in our yard. D. and M. left the debris scattered all over the meadow, for James and me to clean up later.

Since the burn season officially ends on May 1st — after which it is necessary to get a permit — we decided to burn the many branches scattered throughout the meadow last Saturday, before conditions became too dry.

I played with the Modesto Symphony Wednesday through Friday, while James completed his interior painting project at the family house in Sacramento. We stayed there for three days, then I had two days free before having to perform the final kiddie concert in Modesto.

So we decided to come home on Friday afternoon, were able to spend all day Saturday and then return to the valley on Sunday. It was a lot of driving, but we really wanted to be HOME — even for such a brief time.

Shortly after noon on Saturday, James went out to the meadow with loppers and began trimming the branches off the usable tree trunks for kindling and small starter firewood.

Pine is good for this, because it’s soft and fast-burning in the Franklin stove. Later, oak or other hard wood is added after the fire is well established.

I joined James with another pair of loppers and our work began in earnest.

There were four large piles of debris to deal with in the side-meadow. We soon amassed enough branches to haul off to the burn pile, so James drove the pickup truck into the meadow and loaded it while I continued to lop off branches from the next tangled heap of limbs.

Most of the locals would not save any of these branches and might laugh if they knew that we were doing this, but we feel strongly that it’s our obligation to save as much of the tree as possible, after cutting their lives short.

We placed the burn pile near the well, so that we would be as close to the water source as we could get. When the fire was roaring and crackling with the green pine branches, it became my job to tend it while James continued to load the stacks of greenery from the meadow into the truck.

Hauling. Chopping. Tossing branches onto the fire. Adjusting the branches on the burn pile. More hauling, chopping, tossing etc. The non-stop cycle continued for hours. It turned into a meditation, and time floated by in billows of fragrant smoke.

At last, the sun was about to set and we were down to chopping up the last pile of branches. Whew. We put in a seven-hour day.

We sat in our folding chairs near the burn-pile and contemplated the mountain of coals, which looked like a miniature city on fire.

James joked that we were indulging in a redneck activity, settin’ ’round the burn-pile faahr watching sh** burn. Wellsuh, guilty as charged I guess.

My muscles ached from the unaccustomed labor. James is in a bit better shape because he does more physical work on the land, but said that he ached too. My thighs and lower back growled a protest from all that bending and lifting.

But it felt really good to work outside on that lovely sunny mild afternoon in early Spring. It was beneficial for both body and soul, and we’d like to think that we made the best of the tree-cutting situation.

Here’s a video of the crackling fire. If you listen closely, you might hear James sighing a time or two. We worked hard that day!

Now there are piles of the larger trunks still residing in the meadow, that need to be cut up with the chain-saw and then stacked in the barn to dry out over the next six months. Only one pile of green branches remain to burn. I don’t know if we’ll make the May 1st deadline; we’ll probably have to get a permit to burn the rest, or wait until Fall.

In the following picture, branches from a dead willow tree are in the foreground. James plans to use these to create a lattice-work effect in combination with mesh screen for our proposed Summer Kitchen. We will remove the outside wall and replace it with support-beams and a screen. The wall is practically falling down anyway!

We invited our dear friends L. & D. to come up from Nevada City to visit us on the land today. D. promised to bring along not only his chainsaw, but also a close friend who also has an even better chainsaw and truly enjoys doing forest-work and is apparently an expert at it.

This was too good an offer to pass up.

As James and I checked out the news online this morning, he suddenly let out a guffaw while he was reading the NY Times. I asked what was so funny and he said, “Did you realize that we’ve invited these guys to help us cut down trees on Earth Day?”

Uh
-oh.

Actually, we hug our share of trees and cherish them, yet…there is a need for occasional thinning of the ranks, which are so numerous on this particular piece of land that we’d never live long enough to cut them all down, should we be so inclined — which we’re not. The trees are truly a blessing on this land, and we are awed whenever we walk amongst them. But as most people who are intimately connected with forestry know that some of them need to be thinned.

We don’t want to be excessive about it, but we DO wish to preserve this meadow in all its open glory and magnificence. Quite a few pine trees have sprouted up over the past dozen years, some growing too close to our electrical wires, and others which obstruct the view down towards the river. Many of these fifteen-to-twenty-foot tall trees are not healthy, showing many branches of brown pine needles, which can happen when they grow too close to their neighbors.

And we sure can use the firewood! Never again will we need to PAY for firewood as we did last Fall, when it was too late to gather a winter supply. Now we have the time, and there are certainly enough felled trees to keep our trusty-rusty Franklin stove burning for years to come.

Note: Many of the downed trees all around this land are harder wood (oak, cedar) which burn best in the stove. But it is nice to be able to start fires with faster-burning, softer wood such as pine. Rest assured, we will keep a close watch on the chimneys to make sure that creosote doesn’t build up too much.

L. & D. and D’s friend M. drove up from Nevada City shortly after 10 this morning. The skies were overcast and the breeze was cool. Rain was imminent, so we needed to get started cutting as soon as possible before it got wet.

M. was a marvel at cutting the trees. His chainsaw was indeed powerful, and he prides himself on keeping its blades sharp. As you can see in the following video, he wasted no time felling the trees.

When it came time for a break, James served a wonderful lunch of hot butternut squash soup, salad and garlic bread on a folding table overlooking the meadow in the quickening cool breeze. Then the guys went to another part of the meadow to thin out more dying trees before they left — just moments before the rain blew over the mountains.

Many thanks to these visitors for their company and for their valuable help with cutting down a few small trees. The meadow looks fantastic! (Pics soon.)

So that was our Chainsaw Massacre on Earth Day. We bless the trees, again.

We trust that the Spirits of the Pine understand.

I was just starting to tune my harp this morning when James called out to me:

“Would you please come out here to watch me while I use the chainsaw for the first time?”

Ever since we moved out to The Woods last summer, we’ve discussed cutting down some of the small pine trees which surround the barn and outbuildings.

We bought a chainsaw awhile back but hadn’t used it until today. I think that both of us were hesitant to operate it because of the danger factor.

We donned our work gloves, and our special hard orange hats with protective screens for the eyes and headphones for the ears.

James read all the directions carefully and fired ‘er up. The first cut was a branch growing at a weird angle from the base of our liquid amber tree out front (which you may recall from last Fall’s photos).

After several pulls of the starter rope, the chainsaw came to life. I had expected something louder and more dramatic, but the gas-powered machine was not quite as scary as I’d imagined.

However, both James and I have a healthy respect for the chainsaw’s power, and we need to be extremely careful and mindful while operating it at all times.

James approached the liquid amber tree. Zing! The saw cut through the large branch “like buttah”.

“Let’s go out back and try it on a couple small pines!” James exclaimed, so we walked out back to the meadow.

He cut down a twenty-foot tall tree which was probably ten years old, and trimmed off a few branches before letting me cut off the rest. Then I cut the trunk into eighteen-inch sections for firewood.

I was relieved to find that I could manage the chainsaw with ease, but I refuse to be lulled into false complacency or confidence. We absolutely have to be careful. I think the real danger will come after using it a while, when the tendency to relax may creep in.

James suggested that we always operate the chainsaw together, which is a good idea.

Although it is sad to cut short a tree’s life — a new experience for both of us — as long as we do this in a conscious way and give thanks for the firewood, we will feel all right about it.

I know that might sound strange, especially to our local friends who cut down trees on a regular basis. But we wish to live as lightly and consciously on this land as possible.

James expressed it in his usual eloquent way in an email to a friend today, which he has agreed to let me include here in part:

“we fired up the chain saw today and “killed” a couple of trees. i felt totally butch. however, i could almost hear the tree’s tears falling to the ground. we saved as much of the tree for firewood as possible and very neatly trimmed and cleaned up the area where they stood. we probably were more particular doing that than most of our neighbors would be, but that is just how we have to do it. i have thanked the trees’ spirits for the warmth they will provide next winter.”

After cutting down another tree and stacking the wood in the barn, I went back into the Music Room to finish tuning my harp.

I was amused at the juxtaposition between harps and chainsaws; how diametrically opposed those two objects are!

That’s a big part of the fun of living here — the extremes.

We’re finding them everywhere on this property! The above picture was taken near the river. Not far from the metal ladder leading down to the private beach, are several small streams which provide perfect growing conditions for these rare, fragile plants. The following photographs show this area from various angles:

I took the following picture last week,

…then James happened to take a picture with nearly the same angle, several days later!

…along with this shot:

Another few from my earlier session, from close-in to further away:

A few days later, James was exploring the area of the property southeast of the barn, which is a good quarter-mile uphill from the river. He discovered many more trilliums growing in the woods.

He came across a particularly nice grouping of plants which almost looks like a bouquet, and called me over one late afternoon to take pictures: