Fall chores as the winter winds return

We seldom get a weekend in November like this last one: Friday was dark, cool, rainy, and depressing (normal for this time of year), but Saturday dawned bright and clear. What a spirit-lifting thing to see the sun and big breaks in the clouds.

And the winds began to pick up.

Mid-morning, we had a nice, bracing 15-knot breeze, and the promise of a mostly clear day, so I went to work on trimming a couple of the 20-year-old ornamental hardwoods. The branches were going to be big ones, all from the lower layer of the crown, at the top of the bole.

Plus it gave me a great excuse to run the tractor. The Kubota hadn’t been started for two months, so it was time I, ahem, gave it a little work to do.

I knew that the cars would be safe enough in the driveway from falling branches, but there wasn’t a really good place to park the tractor where I knew it’d be out of the way, so it stayed in the barn for now. I fetched my Sawzall and an extension cord from the cabinet and got set up. I use the Sawzall instead of a chainsaw for two safety-related reasons: First, my hands don’t close well. Second is that when you take your finger off the trigger of a Sawzall, it stops NOW.

Let’s make a photograph, to show ‘before’.

“Before”, complete with head-basher-level low limbs

My pruning targets are the two characters in the foreground: the Crimson King maple and the Mountain Ash. Both have finally grown to the point where I can remove the lower branches. And each is a real headache-hazard when mowing. I have run painfully into that lower limb on the Crimson King on several occasions. The other low branches are interfering with the yard light to the extent that they bang into it during windstorms. The ash is just as annoying, when mowing and doing other work. There’s a branch kind of facing the camera (it appears just to the right of the trunk) that has turned into a leader. In other words, it’s gotten taller than the top of the crown – a prime candidate for getting sheared off during our cold winter winds.

There’s some safety which has to be minded during operations like this. First is to make a cut on the bottom side of the branch, outboard of where the cut down from the top (the severing cut) will be. These first two cuts are what will sever the limb. The limb will break and fall, hinging downward on the cut on the bottom side. That bottom side cut prevents the limb from splitting all the way back to the trunk. (After the limb is down, you come back and make a cut next to the bundle, but without touching the bundle itself.) There’s also a lot of power in that falling weight, and you have to be certain that you’re out of the way when it starts to move. The other thing is that you have to be comfortable enough to make both cuts one right after the other. If that means getting a ladder, that’s what you do. You want the stability of a ladder to lean on, not some simple step-stool.

The ash was the one I was most worried about. Last summer when I determined I’d be doing this heavier shaping, I saw that one branch that had turned into a leader, and that thing was easily as big around as my arm. Plus it was 20 feet tall, all out there on a fulcrum of only about eight feet. There was a lot of potential power in that thing, so I made my first cut (the undercut) cautiously, listening for any cracking sounds. Then I positioned myself with the trunk between my body and that limb, and got a firm grip on another limb so I could swing myself out of the way if things went south – because if it did, it would happen quick – and I needed to be ready. I got fortunate in that the branch cut and fell in the classical way, with no drama. Thank God. Literally. And yes, I did. But boy did it make a THUMP when it hit the ground.

After a break, I headed out to the barn. After checking the tractor over, including all fluid levels, the radiator screen for obstructions, and eyeballing the tires, I pulled the chain down off the wall, and laid it out across the three-point hitch so it wouldn’t fall off.

My favorite part:
Up and onto the tractor, key on…
fuel pump check valve noise as the fuel pump hits full pressure…
over to the sprung stop for glow plug preheat and count to six…
then the rest of the way to START.
The tractor shudders with the engine rolling over and the starter going CHOW-CHOW-CHOW… the tractor shudders again with the force of the engine starting, and there’s that little black puff of diesel exhaust as the 3-cylinder grumbles to life.

When I roll out to the front meadow, there’s always this kind of “Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work we go…” feeling about the tractor, something subtle like a drowsy horse shaking off sleep and getting ready to go to work.

While the tractor warmed up, I gathered the branches into groups of two and three as well as I could (that great big ash branch had to go by itself) and hooked the chain to the drawbar of the tractor. I made the other end into a choker and dragged those branches up to where the burn pile is.

I thought to make a photograph as I came back from the last trip.

Looks a lot cleaner!

So if you compare these two, you can see how things just look a lot nicer and more ‘manicured’. Step One in making the house look better, with the aid of the Kubota.

There was no rain all night. With the winds blowing between 10 – 15 knots, the meadows had dried out nicely and I had one last mow for the year.

The days are really short up here in the mountains. Our sunrise comes later, due to the mountain to the East. Then when the sun goes down, it REALLY goes down quick. As I was mowing the front and back meadows, I was again thankful for the 5-foot mower deck; it helps to get the job done so much more quickly. This and also this Kubota which rides so much better than my old John Deere, contributed to me getting the whole job done comfortably in three and a half hours instead of the old five hours.

I sat down for my evening’s devotions outside and made sure to thank God for good tools.


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