Friday, April 17, 2015

Really...what more could you want?

Would you buy a t-shirt with this on the front?

We got the idea for this from a shirt I bought when we were in Boston last fall, so I'm probably violating copyright of the idea by creating this one.  It's all our own work though.  We compiled the list of places, groups, events and other Port Wing high points.  I got them all arranged using a graphics program, Leann did the drawings, I squeezed them into the design, and it looks like this. Maybe I should copyright this version!

Now comes the t-shirt decisions for possible sales this summer.  How many to order?  What sizes?  And most importantly, what color(s)?  I was once in charge of t-shirt/sweatshirt sales for a group in my past life and I had boxes of leftovers around long after anyone had any interest anymore!  In fact, we probably still have a couple around here...
And I guess an ever more important question is whether I have missed some key group or event.  Anyone see anything I should add?  I'm sure I can fit it in somewhere!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Organizing the forest

You may not recognize this but this is an apple tree gone wild.

We have about 20-30 acres of apple trees gone wild.  While we have be able to do some taming of the trees in the past couple of years, usually in the fall, this beautiful early spring weather with bare ground has given us a jump on the tree trimming before the wood ticks get too thick.  Fifty to sixty years ago when this was actually a working farm, the area we now call the meadow was a cleared grain- or corn-producing field.  Since then, birds, other creatures and the wind have worked hard to seed all manner of trees, but mostly apple trees.  And with no one watching them through the years, the apple trees grow wild!

So, last week Leann made a bench out of reused boards from the deck on the old house.  We have several benches positioned here and there up in the meadow to sit and stop to enjoy the view along our trails.  We found a nice spot for this latest new bench overlooking a clear spot with potential for wildlife viewing.  But just to the left was a grove of overgrown--messy--apple trees.  My Older Daughter always accuses us retired librarians of trying to "organize the forest" and I guess that's how we roll!

Here's the same tree from another direction.  Overgrown, dead branches, limbs crossing over other limbs, just a mess!

And here it is after an hour or so of work and three loads of branches hauled away.  There's still more to do, but we're sure what remains of the tree is breathing much easier.

Then came the bonus! Just a couple feet to the south of this little grove was a small wetland area.  We had seen some bugs skimming across the water so we knew there was some life there, but then while we were working we started hearing some sounds--sort of like chirps crossed with a croaking sound and soon we saw two little frogs.  They are someplace in the middle of those two clumps of grass poking their heads out of the water.  Where did they come from since this little puddle is not usually there the rest of the year?
What a great spring!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Where's the [Quarry] beach??

All winter on our drives down to The Lake we look across to Quarry Beach and see ridges of ice lining the shore.  That's Quarry Beach below over beyond the breakwater.

Quarry Beach is one of the hidden treasures in this area.  It was the site of an actual brownstone quarry operation back in the early days of Port Wing.  It can look different every time you go there depending on weather and wave action.  Sometimes there are large areas of stones for agate searching; other times all you can see is beautiful sand the whole length of the beach.

Since we don't know how well-maintained the road into Quarry Beach is during the winter, we patiently wait until spring to see what all of that ice has done to the beach.  And today was the day.  Boy, were we surprised!  This picture doesn't show the sudden  5 foot drop down to the level of the rocks...and sandy beach.  Really, usually there is at least 10-20 feet of sandy beach.  And it's gone!  What happened?  Is the water level so high that it reclaimed all those feet of beach?  In light of all the water problems out west, I guess I won't complain about a lake with LOTS of water in it!

So, we'll just have to watch it over time and see what happens with spring and summer weather.  If it stays like this, it will change a whole bunch of summer beach plans!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Too hot for comfort!

Last Sunday was a really warm day.  Warm and windy.  REALLY windy.  And very dry.  I was sitting on our front porch reading, watching the big pine trees "dance" in the wind, and pondering forest fires and how fast they could blow through in these dry, windy conditions.

Sometime in the afternoon I heard lots of sirens.  I briefly scanned the horizons around me but didn't see any smoke.  Then yesterday I read the Facebook post of our friend, Robin, who lives down right along the shore of Lake Superior.  Below is one of her pictures and you can see the burnt beach grass further down along the beach.  The fire came from the right across the marsh and behind from the boreal forest along Lakeview Road.

The rest of these pictures were taken today when we went down to check out the situation and find out more about what happened.   It started when a tree was blown down along Lakeview Road and took down a power line with it, creating sparks that flared up in all the pine needles and dry brush under the trees.

Some of this area is privately owned so it was the concern of our Port Wing Fire Department to extinguish it and then grade out fire breaks to keep the fire from jumping and spreading.  The boreal forest area is a state natural area so the DNR (Dept of Natural Resources) was on hand with their equipment doing the same thing.

Here is one of the roads they created into the woods to get control of the spread of the fire.  Burned area is to the right.

Here is the site some of the hottest fire and the closest to private homes.

There's a little irony here.  We've been talking about getting Port Wing designated as a "Bird City" to attract birdwatchers.  To do this we'd need some planned trails cut through the boreal forest to get closer to the birds, but since it's state-owned land, we can't just go in there and start hacking out we do on our property.  But, surprise, after the events of this weekend we now have cleared trails!  There is one existing short trail on the right side of this picture, but now there is a new one just to the right of the sign, middle of the picture.

Here's another road graded into the woods just off Big Pete Road and leading to the marsh that burned.  We haven't gone in exploring yet, but soon, I'm sure.

Finally, keep an eye on this field in the next few weeks.  I don't know the full story, but for years every spring it is full of rows and rows of narcissus (narcissuses, narcissi) in all different narcissus colors.  So, keep watching!  Yay spring!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

End of sapping season

It was a red-letter, record-breaking day today with temps heading up over the 70˚ mark--76 in Duluth, I think I heard.  So if the maple syrup season wasn't ending before, it did today.  But it's been a great season!

We began with our usual grove of maple trees.  Things were pretty slow at first, of course, until the weather got into a good pattern of warm-ish days and below freezing nights.  This grove is down in a ravine so it takes a while for the roots warm up enough for the sap to begin flowing nicely.  And snow!  Last year we couldn't get near these trees without slogging through 2+ feet of snow. maple syrup last year!

Since our first trees were going so well, Leann moved further into the trees, cleared out some brush, and put in a few more taps.  I think by the end we had buckets hanging on 24 taps.  We could see places on the trees where my Dad had tapped them probably 30 years ago.  The holes heal over but you can still see remnants of the scar.

We cooked down accumulated gallons of sap about five different times out in our "sugar shack" on this old cook stove.  The 40:1 ratio of 40 gallons of sap to 1 gallon of syrup creates lots of steam so it has to be done outside or in an out-building.  We visited my cousin Rollin up the road to see his syrup operation.  He had 84 taps in trees and cooked it all outside on a cooker fashioned from a metal barrel set on its side with a grill on the top and wood-burning space underneath.  He REALLY had a good boil going!

This was our boil after several hours of cooking.  The sap would have been nearly up to the top at first so getting it cooked down this far was progress.  We burn using lots of our apple wood from trimming trees around here, and we're still using scrap lumber pieces from building our house three years ago!

And here's the end product.  All the different colors of syrup happen from collecting at different times in the season, different sugar content, and other variables.  All the colors signify different quality grades, but since we aren't selling it, we just use it as it comes.  And it all tastes pretty good!  We did one more batch yesterday so I think we are up to about three gallons now.

While tooling around in our UTV (Cammie) in our tropical 72˚ weather today we saw this last vestige of winter hiding in the shade of the hill.  We really haven't had very much snow all winter, so this might be left from that first big storm back in November.  Why does it feel like we haven't suffered enough this winter for it to be spring already??

And finally, out on my walk today, I saw this little guy scooting along on our road.  And there was one more a little further up the road.  I thought they were only around in the fall when the width of their red stripe predicted how bad the winter was GOING to be.

Not sure if this is good sign or not!