Stumping Capaha Park

Capaha Park stumps 08-15-2014On a recent visit to Capaha Park, I noticed a fresh stump at the top of Cherry Hill. It was obvious from the hollow and rotted area that the tree must have been in bad shape, so I could understand why it was removed, but it’s still sad to see the demise of something that had been part of the park probably even before it was called The Fairgrounds.

A close neighbor reduced to stump

Capaha Park stumps 08-15-2014A close neighbor was also reduced to stump and sawdust. I sure hope the new plantings grow like crazy before all the old trees are gone.

Ice got this one

Cape ice storm 02-21-2013_2555The one above might have been the tree brought down by the ice storm of 2013. That’s the Rose Garden in the background.

You can click on the photos to make them larger.

How to Cut Down a Tree

Woodpile at 1618 Kingway Drive Nov 1961Like most males of a certain age, I have an aversion to reading directions. HAD I picked up the Manual of Manual Labor before I started cutting firewood, I probably would have seen Rule One: Avoid it.

See, I mentioned before that I can usually pull out my Medicare Card when I’m with Brother Mark or Sons Matt and Adam to get out of work, but I suspect that when your mother is 91 and counting, her card is senior to mine.

Master of the chain saw

Ken Steinhoff Hurricane Frances clean-ip 09-12-2004So, to back up: we had a windstorm blow through Cape that took down some big branches off a maple tree on the west side of the house. I bought an electric chain saw (I get along with gas saws just about as well as I coexist with plumbing) and made short work of cutting it up into lengths we could put in the fireplace. [This was me doing damage to the trees and limbs we had blow down in our yard in West Palm Beach during Hurricane Frances in 2004. I look much the same today. Trees tremble around me.]

“Just in case”

Cape ice storm 02-21-2013_2555When the ice storm was predicted, we decided (Mother decided, waving her Medicare Card), that we should bring in extra firewood and kindling “just in case.”

This year’s wood must have been dryer than usual because there was very little left on the pile after filling the garden cart and two storage bins in the basement. We decided (Mother decided, waving her Medicare Card) to harvest whatever dead wood there was in the yard “just in case.”

I had been eying a dead snag on the east side of the yard for some time. It looked big enough to provide a lot of wood, but small enough that I could handle it with my 16″saw.

Boy Scouts used “squaw wood”

Boy Scout pre-camporee involving Boy Scout Troop 8 in 1963 In my Boy Scout days, we didn’t get to cut down many trees at camp. Like NO trees at camp. We were told to gather “squaw wood,” defined in the Scout Handbook as “the kind Indian women used to collect by simply breaking it off.” You probably won’t find that phrase used in today’s Handbook.  Anyway, after I took off to college, Dad came up with a great money-making scheme for my brothers’ Order of the Arrow Chapter: he had woods that needed to be cleared for roads; he had trucks; he had chainsaws and he had parents of boys 14 to 18-years-old who didn’t see anything wrong with putting that combination together to cut firewood.

So far as I know, Dad always came home with the same number of boys he started with; the boys got to do a “man’s work” with dangerous tools, and people needing firewood got a great deal. Of course, that’s in the days when chainsaws were considered tools, not killing machines wielded by hockey-mask-wearing crazy guys in slasher movies.

I’m an experienced tree trimmer

Tree trimming in West Palm Beach back yard 09-14-2009

Despite my lack of Boy Scout experience, I HAVE managed to down a tree or two. Here’s an account of one of those adventures.

OK, I’ll confess, that’s my tree, but that’s not me IN my tree. I could have done that if I had wanted to, though.

I accounted for old fence wire

Tree with fence in it 02-23-2013I sized up the tree, decided I wanted it to fall to the southwest into the back yard where I could cut it up with a minimum of hauling. The trees on two sides of our yard had been used as fence posts going back probably 70 years or more. The ones on the east side were pretty much rusted away by the time we moved in 57 years ago. Still, I knew I’d have to watch out for nails and fence wire. I started my notch cut about four feet above the ground, above the visible wire.

All went well for about 23 seconds, then the saw bucked a few times and I watched sparks fly out of my cut. Not ALL of the wire was visible. I changed my angle, cut about 17 seconds, with the same result. The notch wasn’t as big as I would like, but it’ll do, I thought.

Nails must have been cheap

Tree with fence in it 02-23-2013I made the top angle cut, pretending not to notice the sparks, then switched to the back of the tree to make the hinge cut. MORE sparks. If the fence wire I could SEE was 70 years old, then there must have been another fence hanging off that tree 90 years ago, because it was at least 1-1/2 inches under the surface.

I had other stuff to cut, so I didn’t want to kill the saw blade. “I’ll drive wedges into the hinge cut,” I thought. Shouldn’t take much to get the tree to decide gravity should take over. Three big wedges and a 6-pound sledge earned me a slight cracking sound. From the way the tree hadn’t changed position, I surmised the cracking sound was coming from my back.

Earlier in the procedure, I worked a rope up the tree as high as I could, figuring that I could “encourage” the tree to fall in that direction if I got it rocking. Unfortunately, the tree was leaning against a dead branch from another tree about 30 feet in the air. It had been there long enough that it had cut a deep groove in the branch. It wouldn’t rock.

Saw blade slick as dental floss

Tree with fence in it 02-23-2013Finally, I decided that I had had enough. I didn’t care if I made the saw blade as slick as a piece of dental floss: I was tired of swinging that sledge. Ignoring the fireworks show going on, I cut all the way through the hinge to the notch. I could see light through it. The tree was ignoring the law of gravity.

Where are the pictures of all this? Well, Mother was standing by keeping a close eye on the proceedings. She had a whip in one hand to encourage me to keep working, and a cell phone in the other so she could dial 9-1-1. Her camera was in her pocket. She hadn’t planned to pull it out unless there was blood, at which point she would take a picture and faint dead away. When she woke up, THEN she would dial 9-1-1.

Use a longer rope

I pulled on the rope. With a loud crack, the tree starting falling in my direction. Hint: if your tree is 30 feet tall, use at least a 40-foot rope, not a 25-foot one. “I never knew you could run so fast,” Mother observed, having dropped the whip and picked up the camera.

Amazing what you can do with the right encouragement.

Well, the story isn’t over. While taking down the tree, I noticed a dead one that had fallen just down the slope. Since I already had the saw and the electric cord down there, I elected to cut it up, too. That involved cutting a piece of wood, throwing up the slope as far as I could, then picking up it and throwing it the rest of the way to the yard. Keep track of those steps. It’ll become important later.

Was farmer keeping out bats?

Tree with fence in it 02-23-2013Now it was time to cut up the primary tree. I started at the top, slender, end. It cut about as well as you would expect a piece of dental floss to cut. It didn’t cut so much as worry the wood to death.

Then, about four feet from the butt end, which would have been about eight feet above the ground, I hit fence wire again. I don’t know what the farmer was trying to keep in or keep out, but it had to have been bats or giraffes. Mother had gone to get her hair done, so I took this opportunity to throw the four-foot snag waaaay down the hill where I hoped she wouldn’t notice it.

THIS is the cart

Mary Steinhoff 2004 Birthday SeasonOur back yard has two levels. I pulled the garden cart down to pick up the wood from down the hill. That’s the wood that I had already picked up at least twice. I put it into the cart, then pulled the cart up a 40% grade to the main yard, where I put in the big stuff from the primary tree. Some other large branches had fallen on the east side of the yard, so I cut them up, loaded the cart and headed toward the basement. The only problem was that I couldn’t steer the cart: a nut on the bolt that attached the steering handle to the cart had evidently worked loose. The only solution was to unload the cart so I could replace the bolt and nut.

I’ve touched it five-plus times

Steinhoff wood and fireplace 02-21-2013That meant that I had to touch those pieces a fourth time. After I got the cart fixed, it dawned on me that it wouldn’t make much sense to haul an empty cart inside, so I loaded it back up. We’re now up to a minimum of five touches per piece of wood. Much of the wood went into bins on the left and right side of the fireplace. That brings us to six or seven touches.

I’m tempted to NAME the firewood

Steinhoff wood and fireplace 02-21-2013Throwing it into the fireplace will be the eighth time (minimum) I’ve moved it. The final step will be carrying out the ashes. I’ve seen each piece of wood so many times I’m tempted to name it.

Cape Hit With Ice Storm

Cape ice storm 02-21-2013_2448What we got wasn’t quite as bad as what had been predicted, but it was enough to be interesting. Mother and I stocked up the fridge Tuesday (it’s not like Florida where you have to worry about things melting if the power goes off) and hauled in a bunch of firewood. The latest delivery must be dry wood because we’ve gone through almost a whole season’s worth and it’s not yet March.

To be on the safe side, we decided to cut some trees that had fallen. When my back started hurting from bending over, I started looking up at the sky and thinking, “Any time now, any time. I could use an excuse to quit.”

NOW, you start

Cape ice storm 02-21-2013_2490Well, wouldn’t you know it, just as I made my last cut, I felt something hit my sleeve. “NOW, you start,” I thought.

It started peppering down and turned the ground white pretty quickly. I was supposed to meet two friends at Wib’s for lunch. One bailed, but the other said he’d show if I did. I figured the roads had been treated enough that I-55 and Hwy 61 should be clear. What I didn’t count on was that the freezing rain had put a solid 1/4″ coating of ice over every exposed inch of my van. Even with deicer and the defroster running, it took a good 15 minutes to make big enough holes in the ice to see out.

Northbound on I-55, I fell in about a quarter mile behind a salt truck. The road was wet, but didn’t have any slush buildup yet. About halfway to Jackson, I came upon two wrecks in the median.

Snow PLOWS, not just salt trucks

Cape ice storm 02-21-2013_2471While we were eating, it looked like the sleet had turned to some pretty heavy rain. As I pulled out of Wib’s, though, a snow plow passed with his plow down. That’s not a good sign, I thought.

The southbound ramp at the Fruitland intersection has a little grade to it. There was just enough standing slush to make me start to spin a couple of times. The road was now getting covered enough that you wanted to drive in the tracks of the vehicle in front of you. When I started up Kingsway Drive, I had to watch my foot on the accelerator to keep from spinning out. It was definitely getting slicker and I could see icy buildup on the power lines.

Whiskers of icicles

Cape ice storm 02-21-2013_2527When I got to the driveway, bushes and trees in our yard were sporting whiskers of icicles. I shot a few pictures, but didn’t really want to get cold and wet. Retired, you know.

I went downstairs to get some work done and stayed there until after dark. The police scanner was busy with reports of fender-benders, trees and powerlines down and generally nastiness. That’s when I looked across the street and saw an ice-covered tree sparkling like a diamond-covered dowager at a Palm Beach ball. I couldn’t resist. I had to get in the car and cruise around. I did that with some trepidation, because I remember what happened on one of those excursions in my 1959 Buick LaSabre station wagon.

Giving thanks

Cape ice storm 02-21-2013_2555As I pulled out of the driveway, I thought to myself, I owe some thanks to some folks. First, to Dad, for teaching me to be careful, but not afraid. To Mother (who uncharacteristically declined my offer of a ride-along) for teaching me to respect weather, but not to cower from it until that last minute before you have to run to the basement. That curiosity has led me to chase hurricanes and tornadoes and to convince Lila that it’s perfectly safe to stand next to the tallest thing around during a lightning storm so you can get a good photo..

And, to Sons Matt and Adam for giving me an early birthday present: a new 55-200mm Nikon lens. All but one of the photos here today were taken with that lens. It’s a honey. The only bad thing is that now I’m going to have to look for a second camera body because I hate switching lenses, particularly when it’s precipitating outside.

I’m glad I went out when I did. The way water was running in the streets, I think the temperatures are going to go above freezing and the ice may be gone before I drag myself out of bed.

Photo tips for shooting ice storms at night

Cape ice storm 02-21-2013_2704

  • Safety first. Don’t get so busy looking for a photo that you drive into a tree or limb or power line across the road.
  • Don’t count on your meter to automatically set your exposure because you’re going to be dealing with areas that have lots of blacks or lots of highlights in them. If the scene was mostly dark, I would tell the camera to underexpose by as much as two to three stops (four in a couple of cases). If the picture has a lot of lights or highlights, your meter is going to tell the camera to stop down because it wants to render those highlights as a neutral gray. You have to tell it, “Hey, I WANT those highlights to go hot: open up two to three stops more than the meter says.”
  • A tripod or monopod is your friend. Some of these photos aren’t as sharp as I would like because they are all hand-held. It was just too chilly for me to muck around with a cold metal tripod for what you guys pay me. I lost several good shots because it’s hard to hold a camera steady at 1/4 or 1/2 second when you’re shivering.
  • The only concession I made was to boost my base ISO to 400 instead of the usual 200, and to tell it to make the camera go to a higher ISO anytime the exposure time went under 1/60 of a second (I usually have it set for 1/30).
  • I DID mention, be careful, right?

Don’t fight the light

Cape ice storm 02-21-2013_2678You won’t realize how many different shades of light there are until you look at your photos. It’s not worth trying to correct for them in the camera, and it’s probably not worth trying to clean up the colors in post-production, either. Just appreciate them for what they’re worth and throw away the ones you can’t stand.

Gallery of ice photos

Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the image to move through the gallery.

Where’s the Ice Storm?

Cape ice storm 02-21-2013_2713Wife Lila said she was having problems getting her photo gallery to work on her gardening blog. I told her I’d take a look at it because it was probably something simple. I checked all the normal stuff and sent her a message saying that I had 40 ice storm photos to edit for MY blog and I’d check it again later.

At 4 in the A of M, I finished my post and did a preview. MY gallery wasn’t working, either. Looks like The Kid did an upgrade to the blog platform that hosed up that feature. If he gets it fixed, you’ll get to see the ice storm photos. If he doesn’t, you may get to see the ice storm photos this summer.

I’m going to bed.

Copyright © Ken Steinhoff. All rights reserved.