Sunday, February 24, 2013

(Feb 24) Burn, Baby, Burn

Came back with Riley and the girls today. Andrea brought a friend to spend the day with. (Lets just say that was a disaster and leave it at that! Nuf said!) We decided to fire up the new burn tub, our 4' wide round water trough. I fashioned a wire screen as a topper and we loaded it up with logs and brush. Soon after we lit it we had a roaring fire. Wow! I had about 8 - 4' logs plus loose timber packed in. We had failed to appreciate that the 1000° fire would light the leaves on the ground around the giant fire pit. I quickly raked the debris away as we realized the enormous burning power. No more chopping branches into 8" pieces so they would fit in the chiminea. We would be burning entire branches by the dozens. 50 years of neglected woods had left a lot of downed trees. Yes, we would keep much of it for heating fuel but there was lots to deal with. I'm not one of those that wants the land cleared. Hell, I don't even want to rake the leaves if I don't have to. I just want to clear the debris and fallen branches so it doesn't look like the aftermath of a storm all of the time. We reloaded the pit several times and finally let it burn down to a pile of embers about 2' deep. Realizing it would be a long time before these all burned out we decided to stop feeding it. Even after the flames had died down, you couldn't sit any closer than about 10' away. Kim brushed her shoe against the pit at one point when repositioning the screen and watched the front bumper of her shoe melt away. Eventually, when the bottom has burned out of this trough, we could use this as a burn "ring" to get rid of tree stumps that are in the way. The wife has seen plans for some of the really large ones. Hollow them out and use them as planters or use them as small cafĂ© tables in the woods. But face it, most of them have to go. Put the ring around them, build an inferno for 2-3 days (attended burn) and move on to the next. Better than paying $100 each for stump removal or putting up with them in the way for years.

We also learned several good lessons today. Embers burn a long time and should not be underestimated, and walkie-talkies are more reliable than cell phones. Kim had decided to empty out the ashes from lunch the day before in the chiminea. Problem was they were put in a paper sack and set on a pile of leaves. Yes, I know, sounds ridiculous now but that's the way it happened. It had been long enough to cook and finish hamburgers for lunch. Delicious, I must add. We decided to take a walk through to the back of the property. Sabrina was asleep so we left her lounging an a chair.  As we were returning to camp from our walk, we heard Sabrina yelling for help. As I ran closer I could see her running back and forth out to the path and waving for me to come. I see a tower of smoke near the camp table as I near. I grabbed the rake as I ran by and found a burning ring of about 12' at the edge of our camp. There had been some embers in the sack of ashes from earlier that morning.  They eventually burned through and ignited the sack and a pile of leaves spreading fairly quickly. A felled tree nearby was also burning but had acted as a stop for one side of a live tree. Sabrina had awakened to the smell of smoke and the fire already going but was unsure how to stop it. She worked at it a bit with a shovel but the soil was not very loose and she didn't have much luck. She tried calling me but my phone was in the truck charging. She tried calling Kim but we were out of cell coverage. The fire got our brand new camp table we had bought that morning, a bag of bird seed and a couple of tools. I worked for about 30 min making sure we had contained all the burning material into a central pile and putting out the log. We realized how close to disaster we had come and we worked on a plan for future ventures. (1) Don't put anything from the chiminea in a paperbag (duh!) being extra careful with ashes and such! (2) Keep a large pump spray with water available along with numerous gallon jugs. (3) Showing the kids how to deal with fires. Rakes work better that day than shovels. (4) No fires on windy days. This was pretty calm by any measure but it was a good wake up call.

Firing up the new burn trough

Saturday, February 23, 2013

(Feb 23) Mi Compadre, Jorge

My dear friend Jorge has found out that he has cancer, a very large tumor pressing outward in his abdomen. It has broken 3 of his ribs so far. He has finally made arrangements to get treatment at an out of state facility. He'll be leaving next week and I wanted him to see the property. We took him out to dinner last night and on the spur of the moment we decided that he needed to come with us to spend the day in the woods. We also brought my girls and Riley. Jorge kept making jokes about the sheer volume of supplies I was packing for a day trip, asking if we were really coming back home that night. We stopped in Terrell and bought a 160 gallon water trough to use as a burn barrel. He kept hinting that I needed to buy more Cokes but I didn't catch on until later when I found the bottle of rum that he had stashed in our supplies. I will just trust on blind faith next time he suggests it. We had taken down a wind damaged awning at the house last week. I salvaged some poles and canvas and we designed a small tent from it. We decided to take it to Point to use as an outhouse. We had packed it as well as the kids bikes. After we set up the new latrine, with no roof mind you, we settled in to relax the rest of the day with Jorge. We cooked some steaks on the chiminea and enjoyed a few rum and cokes. After that we enjoyed some rum. :) He was in a lot of pain from the near 3 hour truck ride from his house to the property so we didn't get much in exploring done. I just wanted him to have a day of his own and he said he was now in heaven. He told us over and over how special the day was and how much he enjoyed being here. We all laughed as he showed us where he would put the sign for the Merrett & Mendez Ranch. Told us that "this" would be a good spot for his nuevo casa but that we could still have a little piece of land back in a corner for a cabin. We didn't laugh anymore when he teared up and asked me if I would let him be buried here if his cancer treatment failed. That way he could be here every morning to say hello to us. One way or another, I promised him he would find a home here - either in retirement with his lovely Maria or eternally as a monument in the woods. Via con Dios mi amigo! We wait for your return.

Spending the day with Jorge for his Baptism in 2008

Jorge with Sabrina - Christmas 2010

Jorge and I spend the day at Cowboy's Stadium to watch Mexico v. Brazil in soccer.

Jorge at Andrea's Birthday party

Kim, Jorge and I in Fort Worth

Saturday, February 16, 2013

(Feb 16) Good to have some help

Stephanie (Kim's daughter), her husband Dave and Kim's grandson Riley came out on Saturday with us. Dave really got busy on clearing the drive way. We spent much of the day burning off the cuttings in the chiminea. Really need to get a bigger fire going. I just don't feel comfortable until we have some source of water. Need to put an ad in for a water trough to use as a giant burn ring. We stayed until dark and then had dinner at Don's. Was good as it was before. Hopefully we can all camp out there as the weather gets milder. Nights were still down in the 30's this week. Just a bit chilly with no option for heat. Kim and I stayed in Emory at the Best Western. Really nice room for $80/night. We got started early and stayed until 3:00 the next day and finished clearing the driveway all the way to the road down the middle of the property. Got to use the chain saw for the first time out here. We are still undecided as to where to put the 1st structure instead of the shipping containers we had originally thought. Just no way to get them back into the woods without clearing a lot of trees. Now we're considering a Tumbleweed style house on a trailer for the first. That way, we could move it as we are working on different areas of the property. Also, shouldn't be counted as permanent building and incur taxes. Need to locate a trailer to start with. Really trying to keep the initial cost around $1000. Found some goose-neck trailers that would do nicely. Just need to find something in the price range we need and a size we can transport. Really torn between this and a little cabin. Still have plenty of time to work it out.

Stephanie staying warm by the chiminea

Sunday, February 10, 2013

(Feb 10) Howling good time

Headed back to Point after a break for a couple of weeks to let Kim heal, (no pun intended :0  ) The girls were tired and wanted to sleep in and stay home today. We restocked the first aid kit and were on our way. We picked up some more stakes and decided to mark out the driveway extension. We found a pretty good path and were able to keep the opening at least 14' wide while avoiding taking out any large trees. We also brought out a couple of bird feeders. Really looking forward to Spring and the increase in wildlife. We stayed until well after dark just sitting and listening to the coyotes howl as the the moon made it's way across the clear skies.  I imagine it will be a nightly affair. In fact, I'll be sad some day if civilization encroaches enough to run them off more than it has already. Sounds like they're about a 1/2 a mile away. Close enough to be loud but not close enough to see their glowing little eyes. The coyotes settle down after about 3-4 minutes and night settles in. Sound travels really well in this still cold air. You can hear cars several miles away and every plane that comes overhead. Thankfully there are not many of either.  The moon is very bright and creates heavy black shadows that slowly move across the camp. The warm glow of the chiminea draws us closer as the temps fall into the 30s.

Moon rising at about 9:30. Very bright tonight. Not too bad a shot considering we didn't have a tripod.