Blue-Birding gives way to Blue-Shaling


We are up early with the sun, and hear the Ruffed Grouse make his whumping ramp-in of booming thumps quickening to a whirr; his mate lives in the yard and she flew onto a perch in the willow trees yesterday with a big thwack. This is the second year she has been with us, but the first time we have heard the male. We also were entertained by a yard battle between Bullock Oriels, a yellow juvenile male and a mature orange Oriel. The first we’ve ever seen them here. The mature orange would drive upstart yellow into the stream and hold him in the water on his back, and when not crashing him to the water, he would trounce him in the willow brush pile. Their flying display and chatter went on all afternoon. This image is part way up to the highlands, just below where our blue bird houses begin. We aren’t here for blue birding, but another blue.


Blue Shale is the blue we are after. A Killdeer is nesting nearby and runs about faking a broken wing, or fully lying on the ground making her best death throes; no one buys it. I have two big red feed buckets that blew into the valley last fall, and an old steel one as well. I will fill these with stone that I snap from their fault lines with a pickaxe. This will be my drainage fill for the runoff zones down at the house.


In the late 1970’s the county got permission from my dad to dig here for road surfacing on our county road. It seemed like a great idea, but once broken down to a pumice after years of traffic the shale becomes the slickest & gooiest surface ever imagined. The old seam snaps easily enough with persistent pops from the pick, and all three buckets are full in about 40 minutes. 


E and Nora find this nursery tree of woodpeckers and bluebirds.


Low range 4 wheel takes us slowly down the fields and back to the house. I dig a trench out into the yard to disperse the roof runoff, away from the bricks I laid in last night.


Bucket number one ready to drop.


Bucket number two, twice the volume of bucket #1, is slid into position. 


The holes are filling up.


Should have dumped this one first, as it has the big clean shale shards. I toss them in to bring down the weight before dumping the rest.


Some backfill dirt and the sod is replaced over the dispersal drainage.


Rain is in the forecast, so we’ll see how well this works!


I use the dirt to backfill an ever-dropping zone where the outhouse had been (one of two locations for the outhouse- back before indoor plumbing and a septic field- which is directly under the wagon…)


The grade rolls down against the house- aarg. Even the concrete under the storm door grades steeply toward the house. I’ll have to dig out the entire area and regrade it.


Nora offers that the lilac bush needs to be completely removed at the root. I begin cutting it back to a large rootball with my sharp spade shovel.


In the far back yard, across the stream I find the headless remains of our nesting yard grouse.


A few steps away I find her head. Just a half hour earlier I thought I’d heard her bang onto her perch in the willows and laughed to Elizabeth. Her murder is more likely what I heard.


We asked our local lady falconer what would have knocked her head off and left her, and she thought it was most likely our yard weasel. They are like cats, kill switch always on.


I buried her in the yard, and when I put the sod over her it pressed out her last warbling chirp from under the ground. This gave Memorial Day an added sorrow. 


A tough old rootball goes after another tough old rootball. 


Swinging a pick axe next to a fragile old house takes some doing.


The old tough old rootball is finally bested by the younger tough old rootball, just before the sun takes away my shadow. The wire mesh is an old triage for a packrat entrance. That will get fixed with concrete on our next trip.


My shadow is long gone, but the work kept going- so hot to finish all the digging, but I found the shadow again.


Dug out beside the house, and a long trench drops into the yard. Now I just have to grade the whole area by the house.


The sod roll at the end of the trench- chocolate lime sweet roll. In the shade of the willows, beyond Lyle rock, is a growing mountain of soil.


Trip #2 to the shale seam for 40 minutes of pickaxe for me: accompanied by the vaudevillian theater of the Killdeer. Meanwhile E has found another seam on top of the shale, a seam of limestone rocks all neatly breaking into similar fist size shards. She collects these and piles them into the truck bed.


The trench is deepened, cleaned, and the grade set from the house and the storm door and the yard. Then lined with roofing tar paper- found in the old garage.


The entire load of shale is gobbled up by the huge void. I toss E’s limestone into the trench, even though they are so pretty, they lay a perfect bed.


Trip #3 to the shale seam. Nora is using her management skills (see shadow to R) to ensure a maximum of 40 minutes of pickaxe & shovel for me, with limestone rock collecting for E (I promise not to throw them into the hole this time).


Blue Shale drainage grade.


E’s limestone is at the foot of the storm door. I try out a big sandstone rock that tapers nicely with the grade.


8pm. at it since 6am. done for the day…


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