Our three Miss Kim lilac trees, planted last spring, now in full bloom. Our big lilac bushes in the back yard were fading out by the time we returned home from MT (two weeks ago).
They smell amaazing!
The most symmetrical of the three.
The blooms are tiny and delicate, with a wonderfully sweet lilac scent.
This Columbine hybrid didn’t bloom last year, as it was newly planted. Wow!
Our Japanese Kwanzan Flowering Cherry is past bloom, and had just created a carpet of dropped blooms on our arrival home.
It hasn’t rained in Utah yet this spring. The driest on record (137 years)- April is Utah’s rainiest month, we should have 2-3 inches and a few year’s back we even saw 5 inches in one April storm. This is out of an annual average of 12-14 inches, which means devastation as we head into the hottest year on record. We returned too late to save our three year old tree out front. It was doing so well, and I’d finally brought water to the parking strip because of it. The City has assessed it, and will remove it and then at some point, replace it. So now we are years behind for any shade out there…
The tree out front is an example of why I’ve slowly converted everything to Xeriscape.
Step carefully or you may get a bee up the pantleg.
The yellow Iris bloom before the other colors of Iris.
They are taking over, slowly outcompeting the colorful hybrid Iris.
One of many Columbine hybrids in full bloom.
Another Columbine hybrid variety.
Last year I put in these steps, and all the grasses and 3 Hugel planter areas.
More Iris!
The big veg Hugel planter, with lettuce and Chard self-starting from last year.
The Trumpet Vine pergola awaits this year’s explosion.
Upper pond, with last year’s grass splitting into 25 tufts softening the hill above.
The goldfish are all happy to have us home, and the Lilly pads are beginning to surface.
The sunroom has given up its plants to the deck for the summer.
Out front the Purple Ohio Iris are beginning to bloom. Note the uncut tuft of hedge at center?
That tuft of hedge holds multiple nests of Praying Mantis!
Velvety purple Iris smell a bit like grape Bubble-Yum.
Blooming ground-cover at the entry path.
Lillies of the Valley in the shade of the porch.
I was welding up a set of these metal planter boxes for a neighbor with a welding business, and headed over to his shop to help him lift a heavy steel project. I stepped out of his shop (a shipping container) and turned my ankle. It is likely a #2 sprain on a scale of 3. An eventual realization of torn ligaments, swelling, bloody bruises, following an initial shock with nausea and cold sweat and spinnies while laying on the grass spitting expletives, followed by the hopeful denial of trying to walk it off and realizing that it really was as bad as it seemed and retreating inside for ice-packs and elevation. This was more than a week ago. I am just now able to get around and do some light-duty gardening. I washed E’s Montana-Muddy car last night, but will have to wait on the Montana-Muddy truck- as I’m sore again today. Most of the mud is already gone, as the cars were jet-washed by intense rain and sleet over the mountain passes on the way home.

Montana Covid Quarantine: Day 36

Nora measured out a 12′ flower bed for the Iris, then got me started on her plan. The wagon is filled with sod, cut away for the bed. The border is thick old corral lumber salvage.
Some of the treasures that resurfaced.
Danger grubs for Iris bulbs. This is one of many “extra” beds from years ago when I split the SLC Iris beds, and brought up 400-plus bulbs. About 400 went into the stepped beds created on the hillside by the corral- about 95% were eaten from below by varmits in the first year, and a few more every year since.
These little beds predated the railroad tie & stone retaining wall near the creek. These iris grow tall leaves, but it is too shady here for them to bloom.
This spot will produce about 30 bulbs. The other side of the creek had around 40. There is another spot as well…
The new bed holds 30 Iris bulbs.
I also split an overgrown corner of the purple iris bed at the Ice-House, this filled out the right side of the porch bed.
A Robin overlooks the big Iris bed. Last year the ground cover was laid down, as the weeds- The WEEDS!. The lowest scrum of dirt is the creek bed (the Lillies are coming in along the lowest RR tie). The creek is now dry as the snow has melted away and the springs aren’t flowing hard yet.
40 Iris went to the higher layer of ground cover- I cut holes in the cover and set the bulbs. The remainder of today’s six old temporary beds went into the lowest level. The bigger Iris are all that remain from the original planting years ago- and the top two layers, which are short due to weed competition. I should just give up and plant Daffodils here- varmits won’t eat them.
The rhubarb patch is weeded out.
This is another treasure the yard just gave up (along with a massive oil filter). It was hiding in the creek bed, just down from where, years ago with the help of a bobcat, I pulled a literal ton of metal from the creek.
The upper yard creek bed, cleared of organic debris, and finally cleared of all mechanical debris.

Montana Covid Quarantine: Day 32

After a day of rain, evening squalls blow up from the Northern plain. In the past few days the lawn has been hand raked for sticks and matted leaves, then mulched with a mower with spring hooks (the yard ate 4 hooks), then all the dead grass & detritus vacuumed up with a bagging mower. The front hedgerow was thinned and trimmed, and the Iris bed at the front porch was split and moved into its expanded bed (more Iris splits and beds on the to-do list, the largest area needing split was still locked in a frost layer and has to wait).
This bit was under a snowbank, so it has only been raked. See how it is laid down and swept toward the corral by the snow…
Minutes later the storm has swept overhead and is driving up the valley to the South.
Our resident pair of Redtail hawks fly down-valley from the high forests, as the twilight thunderstorms are on the way.
They drift around the front yard and over the forest, then on down.
Anvil thunderheads amass to the South and West. As twilight falls the lighting courses behind the high ridges flashing among the clouds and booming and reverberating the valley. E and I stand in the yard as it begins, Nora stays in the house with an anxiety pill as she tries to crawl under the bed with uncontrollable shaking.

Montana Covid Quarantine: Day 28

A dusting of overnight snow softens the morning. The sun rises on the high meadow.
The deep valley hides the rising sun for a long while.
The frosted forest is washed with light.
Our Redtail hawk flies directly overhead, from a forest glen on the East side of the valley, to a glen on the West- finding the sun.
Light spreading to the hills surrounding the house.
The dawn chorus is led by the Robins.

Montana Covid Quarantine: Day 25

 Two nights ago the storm arrived around 4am, and Nora got me up to let her out. She immediately disappeared into the black-out blizzard, similar to her first summer here years ago when she bolted into a night-time lightning storm. I wandered around in my PJ’s calling her a bit in the pitch black sideways snow, then went back to the kitchen and pulled on a jean jacket and a hat and grabbed a flashlight. I followed her tracks out of the back yard, they loped toward the corral, then switched around and faded out in a long running line up the valley to nowhere. I hadn’t been out long before she came bolting into the beam of the flashlight. She was really glad to have found me, and crowded my legs all the way home.
Not enough snow for the skis, but enough to need snow boots. Nora and I head up the valley.
A coyote’s tracks come down out of these trees, and from out of the forest behind. We had followed the tracks up out of the valley.
There are no tracks of anything up here, as the forested valleys give out and the wind and snow reign alone.
One of Nora’s favorite views.
A lone male Bluebird flits by us…
Back to civilization.

Montana Covid Quarantine: Day 23

Welcome to The Ice-House.

When brought low by news of Covid, or arctic blasts of snow blow out a tenuous Montana spring with sub-zero nights and days of ice and white and grey; hand crafting wood for a hand crafted stove, and purposing that wood to the stove is a connection to a seemingly lost world of interconnections.

Here at The Ice-House, we are happy to offer suggestions and advice for your own Covid Quarantine Woodcraft & Stovecraft solutions. We are limiting our Stave production to existing membership clients, or those with strong references from existing members.

Sustainably sourced beetle kill pine (the “blue” outer ring ). From our own forests or from our trusted arborist who thinned our forests from the 1970’s. Central is my great-grandfather’s single-sided hewing hatchet, for joinery. This formed the ends of the log horse barn (no longer standing), and the Ice-House (discussed below). It is not used for the staving process described herein.
After harvest via chainsaw, raw logs are de-limbed and cut to length. The larger log portions are split once mechanically, allowing an even cure, before further hand-work.
Whole log and sections are tightly stacked floor to ceiling, and retained in a period log ice-house, circa 1890. The ice-house stored harvested river ice, stacked in layers with hay as a divider; this provided refrigeration throughout the year. Final aging of the media within a historic log structure is comparable to finishing Scotch Whiskey in an oak barrel.
Two variants of finished media are layered here as staves. The golden top layer is sourced from the wood as described so far. The lower section is sourced from barbed-wire fencing-posts, some older than 100 years, after they fall when the foot rots away in the ground, or elk herds snap them off in the fall and winter, or a snowfield’s slow movement down the mountainside topples them. They are then hand-harvested, cleared of staples, and stacked in the raw elements. Their cure is long completed prior to their final harvest, and requires no finishing in the ice-house. A cedar variety is stacked within a clap-board shed, it is rare and of a character such that it is treated as a fine wine in a deep cellar- more an investment than a consumable.
A copper tub ensures the stave’s character is not impinged upon by the hard touch of steel, as the wood’s memory of cutting has faded, and its temperament remains harmonious if packed tight in a bundled group in a non-ferrous container.
Woodcraft was passed down to me from my father, and from his father before him. Woodcraft is all he used to heat his Montana 1800’s homestead house, where he was born and raised and refined his process til the day he passed. I have taken what I learned and brought new ideas to harvesting, forming, and Stovecraft as well.
The “Chopper One” is my tool of choice for halving and quartering log sections. This was an innovation my Colorado stepfather introduced to my process, and though I brought it to Montana, it never found a place in my father’s milieu. His was always the two-headed axe. Steel wedges and a 13lb sledgehammer were what I used in the field, when cracking asunder trees I’d freshly felled by chainsaw on Colorado’s Continental Divide as foreman of a summer work crew.
A quick split that drives the halves apart is the key to the “Chopper One”. The drop force translates to push the halves apart- the wood will actually fly apart. This cracks the wood with a minimal trauma, usually effected with a singular blow. No base log is needed to split, as the downforce is minimized / optimized. The wood will emanate a sweetness so heady that wasps will emerge from their winter hiding to investigate.
Today we are crafting our Montana Spring Blizzard Small-Batch. Our time tested process consistently ensures its distinctive clarity, known for piercing notes of melting ice coupled with a hint of orange to green lichen.
Organic, Vegan, and Gluten-Free, our batches rely on purity of process to unravel complexity. Our staves are, as always, free of any surfactants, accelerants, or artificial rubbings.
Reducing the quartered and halved sections to an optimal Stave required for high-end Stovecraft requires special handling. The most recent hand-splitting tool I have adopted is invented and sourced from New Zealand: The Kindling Cracker. Also pictured is a 4lb maul with a Hickory handle deployed to split a half-section. Near the wall is the more refined 2lb maul with rubberized neck guard. Protecting the hands from shock are Cestus TrembleX gloves.
Pine is reduced to an optimal size with an ideal amount of force. This “Ideal Force” is best wrought by a person of no more than 5.5 feet in height, with the particular physical acumen of an ability to direct force to a singular spot, as in this instance, through a long background in ballet. This grounding in a physical art form translates to the wood, finding the natural breaking point of the fiber.
Another reason a background in ballet is desired; the unyielding physical requirement also asks for mental presence in alignment to all the moving dynamics. I have already removed more than half of the refined wood stave to the stack, and she is nearly through the larger forms.
The maul-strikes flatten the stave to the left, while the pushing bite of the Chopper One is imprinted upon the stave to the right. Both staves are seated within the maw of the J-Stove, an aspect of my application of Woodcraft to inventive Stovecraft.
The golden form on the left is the J-stove, with secondary connection to a Mass Heater; I created this Stovecraft in the past year. It is a near zero-emission stove, allows no CO2 into the house (or smoke), and is 80% more efficient than a traditional wood stove. The Mass-Heater will gain a stone facade when summer arrives. The stone atop the stainless steel drum keeps the ceiling from overheating, while the old bread toaster from my grandmother’s wood-fired kitchen stove acts as a safety grate over the stove maw. This Stovecraft replaced my father’s cast-iron & steel wood-burning stove that had served for 40 years.
Out the bedroom window at the bird feeder it is a full 70 degrees colder for the Black Eyed Junco’s, of Oregon and Pink-Sided variety.

Montana Covid Quarantine: Day 21

Find your sunglasses, time to ski out before the day gets away from us.
Don’t worry about traffic.
Let’s ski up the road!
Climbing up the big hill.
A red tailed hawk and a pair of bluebirds are out and about up here in the wind and snow.
Snow report: Drifty powder to blown bald.
The fields are rippled with North wind snow-waves.
Following the lee side of the drifts is the sweet spot for gliding.
Nora stops chewing the snow from her paws for a sporty shot with her lady.
The Easter Egg of perfection: an open empty place for skiing.
The high hayfield is the snowbound hill on the horizon. If the wind weren’t so biting…
50mm lens and everything frames in, even though the mountains come out small- like taking a picture of the moon- everything shrinks.
I try to capture the openness of the country with a sideways panorama , and the building afternoon snow-squall storm gains imperative, while the land flattens down to an areal view. This is the last picture, as the cold up top squeezes the life out of the camera’s freshly charged battery. By the time we arrive back to the house the snow is whomping off the metal roof, and our outgoing tracks are lines of mud in the road. So much warmer down at the house at a balmy 25 degrees. Happy Easter everyone!