Tuesday, May 13, 2014

It's not only about the trees

I just returned from a trip.; a tree planting trip to the farm in north-western Wisconsin. I had ordered 1000 pine tree transplants last fall from the DNR Nursery and they arrived at the county seat last Wednesday. The weather forecast was cold and rain/snow all week but when the trees come in they must be planted.
Not-so-perfect tree planting weather

Over the past 20 years we have planted well over 100,000 trees on that 80 acre farm. Most of this was very fertile corn and alfalfa land that provided a livelihood for my parents while they raised seven children. When my father finally stopped farming - in his early 90's - my parents rented the land to a neighbor. This barely paid the taxes and when my older brother and I proposed putting it into trees nobody objected. Government programs would virtually eliminate the taxes and we would be investing in the future; banking both equity and carbon.

But, as I said, I have returned from a tree-planting trip. The 1000 Pines are in the ground along with 600 White Oak seedlings from my own nursery.  But this isn't about planting trees. They get in the ground one way or another. We've learned how to do this over the past 20 years. This is about people. And this is about change.

The first thing I did on this trip was to stop in at my neighbor's farm and visit with a friend who grew up on that farm at nearly the same time I grew up at the farm just down the road (the farm I currently own). His wife died a couple months ago and I wasn't able to come up for the memorial because we were on a cruise, somewhere in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, at the time. This is the first time I've been "home" since then and we had a long talk about the terror and loneliness that he has endured - and is enduring. And about the kindness and caring of friends, relatives, and even strangers at these times. And about the peace that comes from our Faith (yes, that's capitalized intentionally).

"It gets a little better with time." He says; "At least I'm,getting to where I can talk about it without crying." So he did talk about it. I was thankful for this. He thinks I'm worth putting himself through the experience again by re-telling it to me. He didn't cry.

I have tried to stop in and visit these good folks at least once each time I'm in the area. I have grown accustomed to a warm welcome.

"Leave your shoes on - this is a farm house."
"Come in and sit down. "
"Will you have some coffee and cookies?"

His wife always had a plate of cookies and the coffee pot was either on or; "It will only take a minute." One time she was out of cookies and it became a running joke on Facebook. I think she had some store-bought cookies for us but, of course, they weren't as good as hers. So on this visit - after the offer of coffee - he pulled a tupperware out of the freezer and put a few of her home-made cookies on a plate. He assured me that he too could bake cookies but he still shared some precious examples from the master.

After you've planted 100,000 trees you might think there would be no room for more. Much of the farm is now thriving forest and the job now is to prune and thin for optimal growth and quality timber. But there are areas where there are not enough trees.
Look closely to see transplanted Pine
One area is about 3 acres of a former wind break that was broken by the wind. The majority of the plot was destroyed by a straight-line wind a few years ago. I have been working on cleaning up the mess, This blow-down wasn't large enough to sell and the market for lumber was so depressed by the extent of this storm that the only alternative was to get the windfall as close to the ground as possible so it would rot and recycle it's nutrients into the soil. While this was happening many invasive trees and shrubs took hold the end result - with the downed logs - was a thicket that only a squirrel could get through. So for the past three years I have been clearing brush and controlling scrub trees to a point where, with the natural disintegration of the logs, I can get in here well enough to re-plant some of the trees. I planted 500 of the pine into about 1/2 of this plot. The remaining half is still too much of a mess.

My brother is going through some rough times and is unable to get to the woods nearly as often as he'd like. He can no longer drive and he lives an hour from the farm (and his own woodlands nearby). So he has to depend on his family to bring him when they can.
250 Red Pine, 250 White Pine, & 615 White Oak
I was hoping - when I ordered these trees - to get him to help plant them. This is something he has done an awful lot of in his life and something he enjoys doing. I took the whole week off work in case I needed to drive down and pick him up for a day of planting trees and catching up. But the weather didn't cooperate - it rained and snowed for the first half of the week and by the time I could get into the fields I was afraid to take the time to drive down and pick him up. I was hoping - and it was looking like it would happen - that his family would get him up to help either Saturday or Sunday. At the pace I was going, I would need this help. And it seemed like it would all work out fine. My Son was going to stop on his way home from Minneapolis in case I needed his help as well. He has been busy with school and with his job the past few plantings and unable to help so I was looking forward to having him 'catch up' on what I've been doing at the farm.

But then a friend arrived from Madison on Friday to help. So with his help the trees were all in the ground by noon on Saturday. This was good and bad. Good: I had the trees planted. And Good: I have a good friend who will drop everything and come to my 'rescue'. And bad: there were no trees left for my brother - or my son. You see, it's not all about the trees.

Pruning - 2012 in foreground - 2013 in background.
But my Son came to the farm with me on Sunday and I gave him a tour. I showed him how well the trees were doing - he helped plant most of them - and what progress I was making in their continued management and care (mostly replanting, pruning, and thinning).

[[ If you look closely at this picture you can see a row of walnut trees growing between the two pine rows. Before pruning, the stand was so dense that you wouldn't have known they had survived (or anything else for that matter.)]]

We then drove to River Falls to visit with my Brother and some of his family.  We then 'chased' each other back to Madison. All in all, a great trip.

Friday, May 9, 2014

New Band

I started a new band called The Alzheimers. We just play the same song over and over again until closing. People don't mind too much because it's a really good song - and we play it very well.