Ecology, Hill Farming, Humour, lifestyle

Hearts of Oak

‘The measure of a man’s importance is the size and number of his woodpiles’.

I was told this fact many years ago in rural France — it made a great impression — so contradictory was it to the progressive philosophies of my young French friends that I found it oddly reassuring — and still do!

We have woodpiles — burning wood when you have lots of trees is great but trees need cutting down and they don’t go quietly, they have a lot of stored energy and can lash out ferociously.  They need logging and drying and wood burns amazingly quickly so you need loads and plenty of room for storage.  We have an old barn, thirty feet by twenty feet already full of timber.

Last back end (as they say in Lancashire) we culled a Leylandii hedge, grown 40 feet high in a blink of Mother Nature’s eye. We cut off the branches and burned the brush-wood —

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— but when the exalting roar of the chain saw had stalled for the last time we were left with a daunting amount of timber — a mountain where our new workshop was waiting to be built.

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There it lay until last week when we were taken in hand!

Not by the Forestry Commission or the satellite snooperage of Rural Affairs, Wales (it was nothing to do with illicit romance in the hills) — it wasn’t even our very grown-up children who, though they never tidied their rooms, now worry about the state of their decrepit parents.   No, it was a  young neighbour (well relatively young) who knew that all we needed was a tiny push, a little encouragement.

‘I’ll come and help you on Tuesday — I’ve nothing much on this time of the year — I’ll be with you at midday.’

We refused, we protested, we were tempted, we said he’d have to have lunch (would there be meat? — Yes), he accepted, we capitulated, it was arranged and, in the intervening few days, we got on with what we should have been doing for months!

By the time Tuesday came we had started two new woodpiles and that day something strange happened — tree trunks scudded over the ground, whizzed through the air, crashed into trailers, flattened the saw trestle and just about spifflicated two pensioners temporarily under vigorous new management.

Chainsaws started willingly and logs marched to the music of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice jumping happily onto the new woodpiles.

By evening, by some miracle of effort and teamwork, well mainly one man’s effort (we helped as hard as we could and tried not to get in the way) we had uncovered the bare earth where our new workshop is to be sited.

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Temporarily repaired trestle on the almost cleared site — Digger just watched and didn’t help at all.

 

It’s a miracle.  Just another of the miracles of living here — Thank you David!

One of new woodpile waiting to be sheeted.

New Woodpile

 

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Hill Farming, lifestyle

Squirrelling Days

The day length is now critical and our harvesting and squirrelling hormones are at an all-time annual high as we prepare for a long wet winter.  This, according to Islwyn who remembers many summers, has been the best ever, so we know that when the rain returns it will punish us!

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The ewe-lambs have gone — up the hill to Deryn, who bought our lambs at market last year and was pleased to buy them privately this year. She and her husband cross their ewes with a commercial meaty ram to produce fat-lambs for market but need our hardy type to replace their breeding stock.

On the day we take them up, three of their number escape onto the lane, Deryn and I give chase — both ladies of a certain age — as they pass the gate to one of her fields her own lambs stampede down to the gate to see her, led by a tame (bottle fed) lamb — she flings open the gate and lets them all out onto the road where they mill around and sniff at our reticent three who stop in astonishment — as does the middle aged man in the BMW, who had been giving it a burst along the lane.  Deryn turns and walks confidently back to the yard and all the lambs follow without question including the three escapees.  I think lady shepherds often do things very differently from their male counterparts and I am very happy that our ewe-lambs are going to be talked to (they know a little Welsh) and are not going to have to deal with shouting and sticks and snapping dogs in their new home.

The ram-lambs are big and vigorous this year and nearly ready for market.  They have horns this year which has reminded me why we always got a hornless ram to serve our ewes in the past —

Prize Ram-Lamb

Prize Ram-Lamb

— wrestling these little buggers in the hot weather in shorts and a vest (me, that is) to trim them and worm them and insert their ear tags has left me black and blue with strange linear bruises and abrasions on my chest where I clutch their heads to my bosom (linear lesions equated to ‘abuse’ in my previous life).  Catching them is not easy —

Fast Forward

Fast Forward

— the last seven or eight are proving almost impossible and we are reduced to picking them off one-by-one in a makeshift trap.   We are  eating our lunch by the back-door basking in the winter sunshine, with the cats and dog reclining around us.

Guilty cats.

Guilty cats.

We  hear the sound of  horn against  galvanized trough — we stop eating and jump up, me and the galvanized husband, and we rush the 400 yards to tippy-toe the last few steps under cover of the hedge to slam shut the gate, trapping one,two or three ram lambs. After worming them and tagging them we release them into the field with the done-ones and return to our empty plates — the cats are nowhere to be seen and the dog wags his tail at our return.

When left alone for a moment Alan prepares to cut down another tree.  He has declared war on Leylandii and is muttering ‘biomass’ — some of ours are 15 meters high and still growing and we have to fell them before they get too big to handle which, in truth,  they have already!

Biomass!

Biomass!

We rope them and cut them at 4M high — they’ll soon green up with ivy and honeysuckle.  This is as high as a man who is probably not as stable as he was, can reach on a wobbly ladder with an anxious wife clutching its base, a chain saw that frequently won’t start and, when it does, cuts out at altitude.  There is cursing and intermittent roaring of the saw, punctuated by fretting of the wife.  But all is rewarded by that sound of cracking wood and breaking branches, the exhilaration as we run for our lives, and that mighty thud…  ‘Where’s the dog!’

It’s okay, he’s here!’

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Then the work really starts as we haul the cut trees to our woodland area to strip the trunks for firewood and burn the brushwood — a reassuring smoke signal to our neighbours that we have survived another day.

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The midges have gone so at dusk I can abandon my kitchen with its bubbling cauldron of blackberries, its steeping elderberries and glugging wine jars to  pick damsons to the rhythm of a pecking bird, harvesting nuts from a nearby hazel tree where there is  the rustle  of a squirrel filling its pouch then hitting the ground running, undulating along under the hedge then shooting up another tree.  They are even busier than we are.

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