Have you seen "Hanna?"

Posted on October 28, 2011 by camhannan

Sara is leaving tomorrow. She has been here two weeks and arrived just as we started planting. Before that we were “maintaining” which involved the infamous TLGing and Vaporgaurding and pruning and checking irrigation… endlessly. And we were drilling holes and pinning laterals… endlessly. So when Sara came we actually started to PLANT! Yep, we began to put the little saplings into the ground. And now when we look back at those first plantings… well, we can’t really see them they are so far away! That’s a lot of plants for only a few weeks.

Now a lot of things happened while Sara was here. We had a storm, lots of wind, and for a while it seemed that everything was going to be alright. But then it happened: the power cut. In the middle of dinner, we were sitting talking, laughing, thinking, and WHAM! Well actually it was completely silent, no WHAM at all, just ______, and then darkness. We groped around until we found a headlamp, but the switch did nothing. Rob fumbled in the pitch blackness to open the battery compartment and rotate one of the cells, and then snapped it back together and it still didn’t work. OK, so we found a lighter and then the aromatic candles and lit them all up.
“It’ll be on shortly” they all told each other confidently.
Two days later in the middle of the night, some lineman somewhere soldered up the last joint and flipped a switch and the juice flowed again. But that was after several seriously chilly nights and a couple of very wet days. No power and cold rain. Mm hm, a perfect combination.

She taught us to say “tree” in Swedish – “Träd” is the word. And “planting” is “plantira.”
“That sounds like Spanish,” Sandra and Rob both said at once. And Sara explained that Swedish people learn Spanish more easily than most, so there must be a connection.

Sandra asked Sina how you say “tree” in German. Sandra said “bum.” “Bum?” Rob asked. “NO!” Sina scolded, “It’s Baum!, Der Baum.”

Sara reminded Rob to blog about the autobahn. We have a new track through the forest. Sandra wanted it to only be a walking track. But nobody walks anymore. We ride the ATV everywhere. So we made the track a bit wider so we can ride the ATV through the woods. Otherwise we’d never see them. Why? We’re on Type A schedules here folks. We gotta get over to the planting site and break yesterday’s record. Why not? Hey, we’re planting trees, right? That’s all that matters in the end. So we cut a track that let’s us get to work on time. It’s a nice commute.

“What’s the most interesting thing you learned while you were here, Sara?” Rob asked.
“Have I been here?” she asked.
Rob nodded.
“Really? Who are you?”
“Brad Pitt. Who are you?”
“Really?” she asked while everyone laughed.
“Why are you laughing?” Rob asked.
Everyone just laughed even harder.
“Seriously, the greatest thing is that I learned to plant a tree. And I know I will use it some time in my life and tell other people.”

Several days ago we watched the director’s cut of Bladerunner. Sina noticed that Pete the Digger Driver looked like Harrison Ford. We all agreed. And then Sandra decided we should tell Pete himself. First she told Rob he should tell Pete. But Rob knows how the Kiwi bloke mind works and he knew that if he told Mikey he looked like Harrison Ford (which he doesn’t because he looks like he is about 12) Mikey would say “Gay.” Yes that’s how Mikey’s mind works. So Rob was not about to tell Pete he looked like Harrison Ford.
So we were out planting and Sandra said to Rob. “Rob, do you want to tell Pete the good news and the bad?” If looks could kill…
So Sandra had to tell Pete herself. The good news was that Pete looked like Harrison Ford when he was far younger.
“What’s the bad news?” Pete asked.
“You look like Harrison Ford,” Sandra answered.
Later she said, “No, the bad news is that Rob thought that he looked like Harrison Ford.”

Sara asked Rob how many times he had seen the movies in the library. He said a couple. She said she should watch movies more than once and then she might remember them better. Sina said but then you wouldn’t remember … something. What was it? What was I saying? What is my name? Where am I? … Have you seen “Hannah?” Don’t worry, It’s an inside joke. Go to bed…

Blog out.


Farewell Marian

Posted on September 30, 2011 by camhannan

Marian’s last day. We finished vapor-guarding (finally) last year’s trees and lay an absurd amount of lateral for this year’s planting. We’ve managed to come into our roles so the digging and laying goes by faster ever day. Sandra shovels divots, clearing grass and making the most perfectly random foundation for Rob’s job, which is drilling the holes. Marian follows along, filling in the holes and laying the lateral for the irrigation. Needless to say, Marian is not upset to never have to fill in another drilled hole ever again in her life.

To “celebrate” Marian’s departure, she baked the team Snickerdoodles. For those of you not in the know, Snickerdoodles are cookies baked with love and sunshine and unicorn smiles. Basically, it’s a sugar cookie, rolled in cinnamon sugar and baked until four people consume 15 in less than an hour. You get the picture.

As a sort of farewell post, Marian has compiled a list of things she’s learned during her two and half weeks at Camhannan and her first time as a WWOOFer:

1. Even if the temperature says it’s winter, the New Zealand sun is hotter than any summer in the States.

2. At a loss for where to store those pins/bamboo stakes/gloves/rubbish? The side of your gumboot is the perfect extra pocket with even easier access.

3.You need abs of steels (this doesn’t mean they’re visible – ahem) to be able to a) balance as a third passenger on an ATV, b) TLG plants on a very steep hill and c) walk long distances while wearing a fertilizer spray backpack.

4. It’s worth it to shell out cash for a pair of well-fitting work gloves. And on the subject of gloves, take them off occasionally to avoid the little-known “glove tan.” Imagine looking like Michael Jackson with his little silver number… except all the time.

5. Just because you’ve been working outside all day doesn’t mean you shouldn’t then take a breather by hiking or running outside afterwards. It does the soul good.

6. Cute little bunny rabbits are, in fact, evil. Who knew?

7. Screw organic. Full-strength DEET is where it’s at when it comes to deterring the dreaded sandfly. Trust me on this one.

And last, but not least….

8. “It’s not how many trees you plant. It’s how many survive.”

Thanks Marian. You will be missed, as well as your dahl and your Snickerdoodles, and of course your mad skills of blogging, filling holes and pinning laterals… Fare thee well, our friend. You will always be welcome here.


The Glove Tan (A Day Off)

Posted on September 28, 2011 by camhannan

“So how was your day off, Marian?”
“Ah It was good, relaxing, I slept for three hours in the middle of the day. I wrote and got a lot of writing done. And… let’s see… I worked on my glove tan.”
“Your ‘glove tan’?”
“Yes, my hands are white and my arms are tan because I wear gloves while working. So I sat in the beanbags, the doors wide open, working on my glove tan.”
“Whatever dude.”

“So how was your day off Sandra.”
“It started with a sleep-in which was well deserved… I think. The Camhannan Hole stuck around for a long time. I was headed for bikini and gumboots, sleeves and pants were getting shorter and shorter, but then the Hole closed up and it was time to get moving. So I took a walk along Camhannan Burn and through a grove of trees with very interestingly shaped fluffy flowers that the bumble bees, Bellbirds and Tuis loved.”
“How did you like the Rees River?”
“I walked along it and found what could be a great swimming hole in summer, but then I found out it was glacially cold. So I’ll just take the new woofers there and tell them it’s wonderful and they should just jump right in.”

“How was your day off Eve?”
“What day off?”

“Anything to add Marian?”
“Oh my Gawd!!!! I can’t be interesting all the time. I just slept all day, okay??? I know I look like I’m always interesting but come on. I’m just a human. You know, one of those pests you blogged about.”
“Whatever dude…”

Sandra: “Movie time.”
Marian: “I’m down with that.”
Rob: “Whatever dude…”


The Truth about Planting and Why Kill the Hares?

Posted on September 27, 2011 by camhannan

(Post needs to be edited)

What is a weed? Simply put, it is an unwanted plant. In a garden it is the grass that creeps in from the edges or the thistle that seeds near the tomatoes. These intruders steal water and nutrients from the desirable plants. If left unattended, weeds can grow so thick and tall that they not only block out the sunshine, but crowd out everything else and take over.

In a forest restoration project, any plant that is not endemic or native is considered a weed. The various weeds are often categorized into more or less pernicious degrees. The worst are those that strive to colonize the rest and form a monoculture of their own. There are the conifers–pinus radiata or Monterey Pine, Douglas Fir, Hawthorne, Sycamore, Gorse, Broom, etc. There are weeds that happily mind their own business however, and so are often allowed to coexist with the native species.

Weeds also come with legs, and these are usually called pests. Of all the pests, humans are the worst as they, for the most part, purposefully introduced all the other pests (more on this later), and they also burned and destroyed the forests, wetlands, riverbeds, lakes, seashores, grasslands, and scrublands in the first place, all so that they could raise sheep and cattle and plant crops so that more humans could come.

The problem now is that even if the humans all left, they have introduced so many other weeds and pests that things would never go back to the way they were before people came. All humans can really do is to eliminate the weeds and pests they brought in, and then try to live more in balance with the biodiversity that naturally arises.

Of all the introduced pests, the most damaging to the small native plants of a forest restoration project are the hares that will eat them right down to the ground and dig out the fertilizer around their roots, deer and goats that eat the tops out and can pull the whole plant right out of the ground, possums to some degree although these largely stay in the older trees if available, and pigs, which trample and root out anything fresh.

Because hares are quite active this time of year when the new grass starts to appear, there is a focus on eliminating them now before the multiply into a hoard that is quite literally out of control.

We at Camhannan follow a regimen of pest control precisely prescribed by a program specifically designed for this property by DOC (the New Zealand Department of Conservation) which involves trapping and poisoning possums, rats, feral cats, stoats, ferrets, rabbits, and mercilessly hunting them all down to the very last one. It is thorough, comprehensive, and radically effective.

Back in the Beginning, New Zealand was a “birds-only” community. Actually there was a mammal, but only one: the bat, in two species, long and short tailed. Humans came and were hungry, so they killed the large meaty birds, the mighty moa and the huge native eagle. But far worse, they brought with them either by design or accident, a blight upon the land, indeed, a curse upon life itself. The incorrigible rat came ashore and began beating the bushes for something to eat.

Now there were a number of birds that, given no four legged predators were running around on the ground, had given up certain normal birdlike things like flying and nesting in trees. Why waste your energy doing such aerial acrobatics when it’s far easier and a hell of a lot safer to just stay on the ground? The problem occurs when the four leggeds find you, and with the arrival of the rat the worst of the worst was suddenly among them. Now a rat is a veritable Weapon of Mass Destruction when it comes to defencelessflightless birds with a vulnerable nest full of tasty little eggs.

So of all the introduced species, the rat is the worst. Kill all the rats and you’re 75% there in terms of saving the primordial presence of New Zealand’s glory days. We spend a lot of time and effort fighting rats. Note that you’ll never see a rat on Camhannan. Not only do we keep their numbers close to zero, but even if we were overrun, you still wouldn’t see them. They are experts at hiding and avoiding. That’s why at the end of the day, poison is really the only way to really eradicate them. We use a second generation anti-coagulant that is essentially non-toxic to humans.

The invasive humans didn’t stop with just introducing the rat. No, they have this little impediment called a frontal cortex, a pesky piece of hardware that is probably first and foremost responsible for most of the world’s environmental problems. It almost achieves reason, but retains a myopic twist that seems to destine it to inevitably soil its own nest, to selfishly focus on satisfying its own needs at the expense of all the rest.

Why, whywhyWHY would they come to this incredibly pristine and untouched environ and instead of just marveling at its unsurpassed uniqueness, its absolutely astounding variety of unusual birdlife, its staggeringly beautiful and diverse array of flora… instead of just walking around in open-mouthed gratitude for the opportunity to have set foot on such a divinely preserved place, instead they tried to make it like home. So they released hares and rabbits like they had back on the farm in the old country. God help them, the Fools. This wasn’t England. It was New Zealand, and everything grows faster and better here.

Within a year or two they were overrun. The hares ate them out of house and home. The grass they tried to plant for their sheep and cows disappeared in a cloud of churning rabbits and hares. Gone.

So what did they do? No. They didn’t, you say. Yes, they actually used their frontal cortex again, unfortunately, and decided, because they were such poor shots they couldn’t kill them all, to bring in the stoats.  Now back in whatever godforsaken country they came from, stoats would fly down the rabbit holes and kill as many as it could capture, so they thought it would work here. Unfortunately they forgot that the little helpless birds were far easier prey since they were squatting on top of the ground instead of down a dark smelly hole. So now there was another deadly predator of the beautiful New Zealand avians.

Next the wilding two leggeds needed something to keep them warm in the winter, so they brought in possums to kill for their furs. And these horrid pests really loved it here, becoming essentially a defoliation machine, devastating an entire forest if left uncontrolled.


The Breath of Life and “You guys are geeks”

Posted on September 26, 2011 by camhannan

“We didn’t kill any hares so we had to eat chicken (free range) instead. Possum tomorrow,” Sandra said. “How do we fit this in” asked Marian. There is a rule up this valley. What comes up the Wakatipu does not go back down it. This is sort of like our blog. What has once gone in cannot come out. Ever. So how does this little statement that slipped in fit with anything else. Who knows? If you figure it out, please let us know.

Crazy In Their Brains

We delivered TLG to the plants today. Is that TLC, you ask? Sort of. Triabon, Lime, and Gypsum is more or less related to Tender Loving Care. Triabon is a fertilizer with proper concentrations of Nitrogen, Potasium, and Phosphorous. Bored yet? Lime makes acidic soil more alkaline. Soil becomes acidic when you water it with irrigation, because the water is a bit acidic here (or anywhere really). You’ve gotta be bored now. No? Okay. Gypsum helps the plants breathe because the little calcium carbonate particles – like chalk dust – cohere to the roots and open a tiny air-hole next to them, hence the breath of life.

Sandra and Marian have become TLG masters. No, that doesn’t mean they’re old fogies, but true dyed-in-the-wool “masters.” But what does that mean, to master TLG? For each plant, it’s not just about fertilizing it. You have to unpin a desiccated weed-mat, somehow wrap it around the tree, deposit triabon 5 cms from the trunk, construct a perfect circle of lime and gypsum, then repin the tattered remains of the mat with a rusted dissolving piece of thin wire, all while struggling to follow a maze of black alkathane irrigation pipe that has become overgown, buried, and rat chewed for a year in the wild. So TLG is a process that one must master. And you do it for not one, not ten, not a hundred, but thousands – hundreds of thousands – of trees which “makes one a little bit crazy in their brains.”

Then we sprayed. Marian was nervous about catching the plants with the backpack sprayer or slipping and avalanching all the trees. It’s called TLGing them to death.

Marian is developing favorites of the plant family. She likes coprosma ragosa, broadleaves, and morning star hebes, long walks on the beach, and brunches on Sunday afternoon. Takers anyone?

“Sandra, what are your favorites?” Marian asked. “Cabbage Trees, Lancewoods, and Marbleleaves, roasted (free range) chicken, sautéed veges, and dead hares, all over a nice glass of Marlborough Carbernet!” (But all we had was Savignon Blanc from Australia.)

The Evening Runs (some people run at least)

After the day’s work is done, Rob, Sandra, Eve and Marian will head out into the beautiful landscape that surrounds Camhannan. Tonight, we ventured out onto the world famous Great Walk of the Routeburn. “Awesome!” quote Marian. “I almost made it to the epic waterfall,” she moaned. “I could hear it just around the corner. But Rob had put the fear of god into us about turning around at forty-five minutes. So, being the good Wwoofer that I am, I turned, and will probably regret it the rest of my life…” Call in the whambulance boys!

Marian called us geeks, Sandra and Rob. But it’s like the pot calling the kettle black. “Rob pulled out his hat and it’s full of leaves to identify. And Sandra took pictures, but only of plants for God’s sake. You guys are GEEKS!!!” Right. Dream on Marian…


The Legend of Wiley

Posted on September 25, 2011 by camhannan

Marian asked about the history of hare hunting on the Hill. Rob leaned back, pulled back his hat, propped his pointed shit-kickers up on the handlebars of the bike, took a long draft of creek water, and headed straight into a yarn…

Hares. More hares. Hares were everywhere. Sons or cousins of the original Wiley. (Actually they were probably great-great-great-grandcousins, given the hare reproductive proclivity.)

Who was Wiley, you ask? He was the original… er, what did Steven Jay Gould call it? The original extraption, a punctuated leap in the otherwise glacial movement of evolution. Yes, Wiley was born with a very special adaptation – he RAN. When he heard a quad bike or a boot on the track, he RAN and didn’t stop, didn’t look back, didn’t pause, just RAN and RAN and RAN like a bat out of hell.

Now a stationary hare at a hundred meters is no easy shot for the best of us, but a hare on the run is damn near impossible. Parenthetically, this is totally dependent on motivation. For instance, if Rob is out for a joy ride, drinking Kiwi beer and shooting up the forest, he couldn’t hit the brood side of a barn. But if some damn hare has been nibbling his trees, then God help it, whether it’s still or weaving or in a fricking rocket ship, it can run but it can’t hide. Rob has been known to nail the buggers on a full on run at 500 paces, much to Jamie’s – our neighborhood DOC ranger, our champion and friend – amazement.

Back to Wiley. He RAN, and so he drew fire from all angles. They tried for weeks to get him, but he was so quick, so … er, wiley, as they say, they couldn’t even draw a bead on him on a full run. He was a marvel, no doubt.

It was Jamie that came up with the idea. Bring out the big guns. Literally. He brought what looked like an elephant gun. A freaking bazooka. We went out on the bike and there, a thousand paces over the hills and dales, was Wiley himself. Jamie stopped the bike, shouldered the bazooka, and KABLAMMMM! No more Wiley.

We buried what was left of him in the middle of a beautiful pod of exotic trees over a hundred years old and planted by Charlie, the original homesteader – last name, Haines, himself back in the day. Jamie called the group to order, asked for a moment of silence in memory of the first extraption, Wiley One. But alas, Wiley had managed to father others before his demise, and so the mutation was passed on.

And now we have hares that only RUN and never stop.


Bikinis and Gumboots

Posted on September 24, 2011 by camhannan

We started off the morning with what looked like another day off for the WWOOFers. Ominous gray skies, steady, heavy rain and not a break in the clouds in site.

A text from Jamie suggested a “shit storm” of bad weather, but luckily (or unluckily for some) it appears Camp Hill is in a sweet spot – an anomalous geography where the winds blowing down the two canyons that converge on Camp Hill have nowhere else to go but up, so they often punch through the cloud layer exposing, you’ve got it, clear blue sky! The rain let up within thirty minutes and it turned into one of the most beautiful, warm days we’ve seen. Jamie must have had images of WWOOFers in bikinis and gumboots playing through his mind while he sat in torrential rain. Poor lad.

So we ended up back on the new planting site, digging holes, laying irrigation, all in preparation for the epic number of plantings to come in the next month.

We’re making some serious progress on the lateral, with 400-odd holes dug in the past two days. The new WWOOFers are getting into a rhythm – shovel, drill, cover, lay, pin, repeat. It turned into a dance this afternoon, and with the beautiful weather, the process couldn’t have gone any smoother. But when we say “dance” we’d like to avoid any and all images playing in your mind to hippies dancing through the trees. Any association to a commune is entirely on you, the reader (and of course, Mikey – the local builder and Commune Master Extraordinaire).

The day wasn’t without adventure though. Hares are everywhere this time of year and apparently they think they can get past us. With three people riding the ATV around the property, that makes six highly trained eyeballs, all highly capable of spotting the buggers from a range of angles. We saw two this morning, both within murdering distance. Of course, Rob didn’t have his gun. Eve kindly braved the mud and steep incline of the new planting site to bring said gun, but, as is Murphy’s Law, once we were prepared for HareAssassination, none graced us with their presence.

Sandra also had her own personal wildlife experience at 2am this morning. After being awoken from sleep with what sounded like heavy footsteps, she turned on her porch light to find a possum playing with her shoes.

“I had a visit from my lover last night” she told us this morning, “but he only loves me for my Crocs.” Poor girl, it seems her nightly possum visits are entirely one-sided and with distressing undertones. “He comes and then he leaves after having a play with my shoes” she told us sadly, “he never stays for a chat after he’s finished.” Too bad she didn’t have Rob’s gun.


"It's hard to be random" and "Creation is chaos"

Posted on September 22, 2011 by camhannan

Quick Summary of WWDT

We worked out front today, preparing the holes and pipe for this year’s planting – 3,500 trees slated. The god’s tower over us – mountains named after each deity of the Pantheon. They oversee our efforts, white caps pulled down low this time of year.

“It’s hard to be random” said Marian. Rob didn’t understand at first, and then remembered that in digging holes for a future forest they were trying to be random. Duh! But Rob had an excuse – he breathed in too much G360 (weed killer) yesterday and was toxic, but nothing an hour run wouldn’t cure.


The rabbit. Actually it was a, ready for this?  A “hare.” It’s like a horse. Kangaroo maybe. “Not quite a horse,” interjected Sandra. 

We sure did some chasing today. There were sheep in the paddock. One very pregnant ewe rammed the fence but just could not kneel down low enough to get under. All her companions had made it through, leaving her all alone, facing a terrifying quad bike, a dude and two screaming chicks. I’d be freaked out too. The cacophony chased the poor mother out the gate and all was well. But running later, Sandra, Eve, and Rob were sure they saw the same mother still running along the road trying to find a friendly paddock in which to relax.

Back to the rabbit. Rob got off one shot – missed. Then the gun jammed. But these rabbits, the ones that are left, run. They just run and run and run. The ones that would run and stop all were killed, so in this micro-evolutionary step, only the ones that run have survived.

Back to Planting

Speaking of evolution, the process of planting has evolved over the last five years into what it is today. And now it takes another step – put a bamboo stick in the hole once its filled back in. Then theres on guesswork about the hole’s location. We used to lose a few holes every year. No more, thanks to Sandra and Marian.

Bald patch on the hill: A section of five-year-old trees with nothing growing. We went wild. The patch had bothered Rob for years and years. Actually, it was Rob who went wild – no divots, no scraping away grass – he just drilled the hell out of it. Fifty holes later and hair plugs are ready. AWESOME!

In conversation, Sandra learned there’s an evergreen oak, which is really a semi-deciduous tree, replacing its leaves ever year without ever becoming completely bare. This, of course, is exactly like our own southern beeches of the nothofagus genus–”not fagus” or “not the northern hemisphere variety of beech tree” to be exact. (And Fagus is also the god of beech trees at whose altar we worship daily!)

Back to Eating

For lunch, Sandra picked watercress from the creek. Watercress tastes good. Yes, our creek is filled with wonderful fresh watercress. And Marian wants you all to know we had it as part of a proper, country-club lunch. She cut off her crusts but we ate ours.

So Much For Letting a Ten-Year-Old Drive…

Rob had to stop work to take a delivery. Over dinner he told us this story:

“Jesse delivered six massive culvert pipes today (these bad boys deliver water under our tracks). He had 15mm African rings in each earlobe and a pierced nostril with a large copper hoop dangling down over his upper lip. How was he able to eat without ingesting an edge of it? Or at least get copper poisoning…? Whatever that is.

“He looked a little shy of ten when he stepped out of the driver’s seat, and you might wonder how he got the job as delivery boy for the plumbing supply company, but mainly how he was able to drive at all.

“That out of the way, I piloted for Jesse, driving my quad bike up the track to the Hollows. He parked and unloaded the heavy pipes and then he tried to back up the truck. He was on ground sloping no steeper than 2 degrees downhill, and by some horrible stroke of Murphy’s luck his wheels spun on the first try. Again and again he struggled, spinning the grass into a muddy slush and only succeeding in moving farther downhill, away from where he was intending to go. He finally stopped, exited the cab and looked around. Spotting a pile of derelict timber, he started tossing 8x1s over to his rear wheels. Each one he placed carefully on the ground behind the tires, but every one was riddled with nails, all pointing upward. As long as he didn’t turn he’d be okay, but if his wheels nudged a degree to the left or right, we would’ve had a bigger problem than just being stuck. 

“His truck hadn’t been able to move an inch backward, so how it would have a chance in hell of getting up on the first board, let alone leap across the lot? And as expected, his next attempt was yet another display of spinning and churning, more mud and less grass, again…

“I backed up the quad bike to Jesse’s bumper and he started wrapping the strop around his toe bar. He had no idea how to secure it, but a quick reversal of the loop he’d finished with did the trick, and then a clove hitch on the quad’s bar and she was out and uphill. All ended well and he was on his way, smiling like a kid after an ice cream cone, and we had our culverts for the new track through the woods, and he had his job well done.”


A Work Against Nature

Posted on September 21, 2011 by camhannan

Quick Summary of WWDT (what we did today)

Rob and the WWOOFers spent the day maintenance spraying (a vaporguard cocktail spray frost protection, metabolism improvement, fertilizer) while Pete, the Digger-Man, did some digging. What is he digging, you ask? The foundation for the new barn and beautifying the terrain for the coming parkland, all under the vigilant eye of his chocolate lab, Chopper. 

The Originals, a Rhododendron Cave and… Voila!

While spraying, Marian discovered the tunnel through the rhododendrons. “Wow! Awesome! It was epic, another world…” It resembles a hobbit hut, a secret garden, a living cabin. Go through the hole across a wonky bridge, following the winding track along the redwood saplings, past the watercress patch, over a rocky ford, beyond the giant sequoia off the main road. It was the biggest mound of Rhododendrons Sandra had ever seen…. But how many Rhododendron Caves have you really seen?

Sandra also discovered one has to let off the hand brake when driving the quad bike, and also not to pull on the lateral too hard or it will snap. Voila! As it did today. 

And during spraying, Sandra pulled weeds out of the tree protector by kneeling down with the spray pack on, and then, “oh goodness, I can’t get up now.” Those things are heavy.

We all learned not to ask Rob what time it is. He is in a different time and space anyway.

Back at the Commons, Rob couldn’t remember the name of the new large mountain beech tree that stands out front. Marian recommended we call it “Karl” but Sandra told us over dinner her mechanic, also named Karl, had not yet procured the parts for her car, promised days, maybe weeks ago, and now it was time to just get her money back. Megan’s dad had dealt with the same guy and had the same experience and same intent of a refund, though it never happened. We decided not to call our tree “Karl.”

Megan’s one of The Originals (with a nod to Vampire Diaries – no, not really). She’s the botanist who helped identify many of trees on the property and was here in 2008 planting that run of natives.

Counting the Dead

Sandra and Marian walked the laterals, black snakes winding under and over the grass, counting the dead trees to be ordered and replaced. Counting involves waking back and forth, looking down at your feet, staring at a dark line on the ground that is at best only partially visible. Try it. In a matter of minutes, you lose all track of where you are, the day, the hour, even your own name. Sandra did. She needed to go to the kettle, which was north and walked with complete confidence south. No, it wasn’t there, not if she had walked all the way to the fence, to the paddock beyond, to the mountains on the horizon, even to China. Sandra and Marian will dream of the dark snakes tonight and of north for south and maybe a few weed mats and pins. “Which I did last night!!” Marian told us. “I was pinning and walking and then woke in a cold sweat – ‘My god, I’ve missed a weed mat!'”

Sad-Eyed Chopper

Chopper got in trouble today. (Chopper picture here – he’s a chocolate lab, not a chocolate slab – “Darn” Sandra said.) Pete the Digger-Man left the door of his ute’s cab open for a minute and Chopper jumped in with dirty feet. Mud all over both brand new cloth upholstered seats. Pete turned into Eve when we don’t follow the “Crock Protocol,” created by German woofers from the turn of the century. Two white bins, one with Crocs and one with gumboots. Take off your boots and put them in the latter and put on Crocs from the former, before you walk on the clean gravel, and for God’s sake before you trudge onto the deck! Dirty socks on the clean polyurethaned floor will incur the wrath of Eve, mirroring Pete’s flame at poor little sad-eyed Chopper.

In Which We Work Against Nature

We spoke today of what we are doing as a work against nature, but it’s not really, it just starts out that way. You see, we’re planting native plants where they usually don’t grow -out in the open. They like it in light wells or right under the drip line at the edge of the forest. Out in the open they’re hit by the frosts, nailing their new growth. But if they survive, they form a new forest and far far far outrun the natural expansion, which would be one meter per decade. We’re talking here 500 meters in that time. So in the end it dovetails with nature’s intent, and becomes a work with nature, not against. 

The alchemists called what they were doing a work against nature as well, an “opus contra naturam.” But theirs was also, in the end, a work ultimately synergistic with nature, for though many thought they were only trying to produce gold from lead, this, scholars are now convinced, was simply a cover for a much deeper work involving the evolution of human consciousness, a means of integrating the imagination with the intellect. More on that later. 

“There are more entries to come” Marian said. “Stop blogging and make the coffee,” Sandra chided. Okay, enough for tonight.

Boring List of What We Did Today

We finished the vaporguard cocktail spray of the one-year-old trees, all the redwood zones, weed spraying zone 5, and partial weed spray of the redwoods. Pete moved the toolshed container, worked on the barn platform, lowered the unnecessary ridges of dirt (called “bunds”) in the yard, buried the bore tank supply, finished the new culvert in the entrance, lowered the bank blocking the waterfall view, and buried the big tree trunk in the entrance.

Weather: Big frost 3rd night in a row. Sunny and warm – t-shirts – in the mid-morning and then a bit breezy in the afternoon.