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Groups of Mountain Bluebirds were scoping out birdhouses along this ridge.

E & I had planned a ski trip to the ranch in February, but Montana’s -20F arctic air and feet of snow had kept us homebound 530 miles due south in balmy Salt Lake City. Last weekend would be the last weekend for snow, so we drove out in a bit of a snowstorm that spanned nearly the entire trip, but only spat out a few white-out 4×4-only sections. We saw a huge herd of hundreds of Elk in the Madison River valley outside Yellowstone Park, as well as a Bald Eagle flying up the river. At Three Forks we saw Blue Heron’s and Buffle Heads (ducks), near where we spotted a Moose and her calf in fall. We made it over King’s Hill pass before the storm settled in, and I jumped back over the snow-blasted pass the next morning for powder skiing at Showdown before it closed for the season.  The rest of the week was spent sledding, taking Nora up Belt Creek canyon for a Nordic ski along a snowbound mountain creek, skiing the snowbound Kibbey Ridge road section of our bluebird houses, stomping about the hills in snow-boots, and keeping the wood-stove fed. As we diddled around on the snow, the Mountain Bluebirds began arriving in threes and pairs- or multiple singles.

Our overwintering Nuthatches had kept watch over the house and greeted us with enthusiastic antics. Mountain Chickadees had joined them and the ranch yard was a jungle gym of little birds catching bugs from the air. On a clear starry night standing out in the frozen silence, a sonar note repeated mechanically from midway up a hillside. It was emanating from a rotating platform, fading and growing more precise as it pointed in my direction, then past me and down the valley rotating around up the valley and down again. I hadn’t known we got submarines up this high, that, or it was a Saw-Whet Owl (it took two bird books to rule out the submarine). Coyotes sang at night and chirped from the hills during the day. The arrival of the Robins and the thawing of the yard creek signaled the slushing of the snow and the mushing of the mud, and we headed home a few days early in a truck more mud-ball than metal.

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Nora discovers what nothing smells like.

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E along the Kibbey Ridge road, our southernmost Bluebird line.

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E & Nora think this might be the last day for skiing, as Danger cleans a bbird house.

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View from the bbird house, down to the Highwood Mountains and Square Butte.

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Highland hayfield with the snowy pyramid of Iron Mountain.

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zoomed view…

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E & I while away the evenings with this 1,000 piece songbird puzzle in the shape of Western Bluebirds, while out in the hills the Mountain Bluebirds are arriving.

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Yesterday these ladies walked up here in a whiteout snowsquall while I was downhill skiing at Showdown ski area.

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Wishing we’d pulled the sled up here.

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Nora gives her lady a smooch.

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The north slope forest behind the house has gathered its snow. The barn is at the lower left.

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Wind and wan sun have already scoured yesterday’s snow from the hills.

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The yard is a thick drifted snowbank locking fast the gate.

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No squirrels to hassle the pretty new bird-feeder. None of the wild birds knew what to make of it.

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E completed this needlepoint over the winter, adding buttons (red berries and a white button sash) from her grandma Holder’s button tin. “A proper vest for a proper Rooster. Every Rooster greets the day dressed in his Sunday best, that’s what proper Roosters do.”, says E. with a giggle, adding, “No, I’m serious.” as we hang him in the ranch living room. 

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We were surprised to see groups of Mountain Bluebirds pinwheeling about, yet it was the day after the Spring equinox. Robins arrived a few days later.

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Living room art installation?

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Last summer I took out a florescent tube apparatus from the 1950’s, quite a contraption, and put in a ceiling fan. I forgot the ceiling paint then, so now it becomes a project.

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Plaster and sand, this is layer 1 of 2+ of tinted Killz paint to cover the tobacco brown spot of the old fixture.

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Smoothing out summer triage from a mouse nest that burst through the kitchen ceiling.

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Dave also put in a new trough in the horse pasture.

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E & Nora stand upon an old wall of a long forgotten building that served a long ago Gerhart.

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This Spruce tree was planted by my Grandfather in the 1960’s. It got a root down to the stream in the late 1980’s and hit a growth spurt. It perfectly obscured the machine shed from the house. One million acres of Montana burned this summer; standing dead forests of beetle kill exacerbated by flash-drought conditions of Global Weirding. This one tree in the yard represents hundreds of millions of trees now gone from the biosphere, probably never to return.

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Bark Beetles have infested it, so I grab an axe and 1,

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2

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3 (tree fell perfectly backwards…lets review the why/how)

When cutting down a tree I’ve learned 3 key tricks to making sure it falls where you want it to. (1) Wedge-cut to 1/3 of tree and at the correct angles to the ground (or @ 80 degree angle to 1/4 of tree is even better); (2) a sly slip-in bore-cut starting a bit higher than the wedge cut and stopping at least an inch from the clean singular line of the wedge cut and; (3) The Tag/Triggerleaving a skein of wood to the outside/back to anchor the tree (steps 1 & 2 create a tripod of sorts that keep the tree standing securely till the Tag is released, and alignments of the slip-in to the wedge-cut keeps the falling tree from kicking back, rolling, or the dreaded barberchair). Stop at each point and check yourself before going on to the next. If at the last step everything is in place, i.e. no pets (in the house is best) and no people on the fall line, pop the Tag with an axe blow or the saw. A good indicator that you have screwed up is if the tree moves mid sly slip-in back-cut and traps the chainsaw. You probably didn’t pre-check for tree lean or counterweight branches, which should always be step (0). You probably didn’t stop after the wedge cut and make sure the line met clean, or remember to start the second & inward cut from near-to-far to ensure a clean line and just came in from the face like a newbie. You probably didn’t align the bore-cut just above the wedge cut, or leave a perfect inch-thick line of uncut tree between the two cuts because you didn’t back-cut first, then move forward to establish the inch-thick line and the saw jumped too far forward. While you were at it, you likely took too much from the back of the slip-in leaving mostly bark to keep the tree in place, and you certainly didn’t use a logging wedge to assist the Tag from spin or back-pressure. You probably didn’t review your process that you keep in writing with your chainsaw gear (including unused chainsaw wedges), as you don’t fell trees much at all any more and need to keep the engineering aspects certain. Doing any 1 of the 3 correctly can make a pretty decent fell, screwing them all up (while hilarious) requires knowing where to run. The chainsaw bar is stuck fast mid tree and may be bent, the tree is nearly cut clean through (and all “caddywhompus” as my stepdad would have pointed out), with a sturdy Tag being just a bit of bark-covered wood holding it from toppling.  One way forward at this point to free the saw and topple the tree, is one clean hit to the Tag with the axe; the recommended method at this point of “caddywhompus” would be to drive in a few felling wedges first for a mitigated safeguard. We can assume no wedges were employed… and E yells “RUN”. When standing right next to a falling tree you can’t really tell where it is going, just that it is going- if your spotter yells run then something has gone wrong and you dash for safety. The part before cutting with a saw, more important than parts 1-3,  a part I’m pretty fussy about, is clearing low branches and making clear paths for escape. And having a good spotter that stands well clear and can yell RUN in a such a way that you just wind up running to safety- like stealing a base in baseball. E was in charge of RUN command without even knowing it was her job, and I got the running to base part right.

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Then its just A

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B

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C (with E hauling the branches far afield)

 

 

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Just a bit off the top.

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The logs are moved to the ice-house.

First thing this morning, after arriving back in Utah last night, was ordering two 24 packs of Mauget Tree Injectors to treat the 3 remaining Spruce trees for bark beetle, each massive tree is 30′ and higher- each tree like a giant sequoia version of the little runt that bested me. There is one behind me here, towering over the tool shed and obscuring perspective as I am far in the foreground.

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I stack them in plastic wrapping inside the ice house to contain the beetles.

 

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Leaf blowing with help from high winds.

A usual late November storm would bring a few feet of snow and daytime high temps in the single digits with night time lows dipping toward -20 or even -40. In Thankgiving of 2005 I had to wait a few days for the county snowplow to arrive before I could head back to the Utah day-job. This year Global Weirding brings 60 degree day / 50 degree night temps (that is 80-100 degrees higher than is healthy for the forests), and 60 mph winds with 80mph gusts. It won’t matter how much snow falls if it all directly evaporates into the wind…

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Nora gets a hint of what summertime is like here.

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A few days ago this was snow and deer beds atop a dense layer of fallen leaves.

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The stream through the yard thaws completely by nightfall.

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Last summer’s tree triage is all holding true.

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This little nuthatch was our exotic yard bird, acrobatically catching resurrected flies.

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This spring bog had an old failed springbox; replaced this fall by our lesee.

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We hope things can now dry out a bit.

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The climb up the narrow valley was choked with snow over slick mud, and E turned back.

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Climbing out of the valley onto the high grasslands.

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The wind drives the snow up the hill, pushing the grasses over in an uphill direction. It is that windy right now, but I’m in a T-shirt.

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60 degrees with 60mph wind.

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This far north, this is about as high as the sun gets.

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Shadows sprawl out in a perpetual Evening.

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Xander dreams away the snowscape.

E & I took ourselves and the pets up to the Montana ranch for a week long Thanksgiving. When we arrived I could just open the yard gate through the snow, and put the truck in 4-wheel to back along the drive. Then record high temperatures set in day and night with howling winds and the snow evaporated away.

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Representatives of our residential herd from the kitchen window.

The deer had weathered the prior snowstorm in the yard, creating around 20 circular deer beds of green lawn surrounded by snow and drifts. They returned as the snow cleared off to graze the green shoots.

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Doe and fawn from the living room.

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The wind removed all the snow.

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The wind shrunk E’s head- no photoshop. (vestigial head of panorama mode)

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Nora assertively & vocally led us away from Rodney & George’s October elk kilz.

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Cape of cow elk.

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Skull and foreleg, moved about by more than just coyotes according to Nora.

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Turn-of-the-Century abandoned haying rig in a high hayfield.

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E’s head is back to normal, with the hay rig adrift in the field below.

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Steep roll up & out of the hayfield to the top.

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E pulls these from a bog and carries them back to the house as souvenirs.

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The clouds are made of evaporated snow.

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Walking up the East side, looking to the South West and over the distant hayfield.

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The lower end of the hayfield and up off the right is the new bbird house trek re the prev post. 

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Rounding the upper draw of forested coulee, we’ll head across and drop down another coulee.

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The pine forest is capped and bordered with Aspen groves.

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The high southern boundary of Aspen guards the spring deep in the forest.

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So many favorite places to visit!

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Spot Belt mountain in the next pic.

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Karen, Forest, Belt Mountain, Aspen; under sky of smoke and cloud and blue.

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Significance of Alone all ’round.

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These three trees have been as this for as long as I can remember.

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rounding the double tree drops into the bear’s back yard

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Bear sign. Grubbing stumps.

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Hillside subsidence inundates a water trough. Invasive weeds surround in their own disaster.

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Karen heads out after we take a day to drive to Billings and visit our cousin who is a partner in the ranch. I stay on to bike the canyon from Monarch to Neihart, but the day is hazy with smoke and I finish up chores.

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The evening begins to clear. The next day is clear enough and perfect for cycling. The ride is my first since E broke her thumb crossing a curved RR track on a June ride in SLC followed by triple digit heat that settled in months early and weeks long. A cool tail wind up the canyon ensures the distance, as Belt Creek tumbles brightly beside the road. The next day I head out and at the base of King’s Hill a Golden Eagle dives directly in front of the truck and lifts a rabbit roadkill in a perfect continuous display of speed and skill, then I roll on through 500 miles of smoke retracing our new best scenic route along the Madison river toward Yellowstone’s West Gate.   

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Southern highlands sunset phone signal sojourn.

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The heifers all line up to use the new phone; are bummed that we still can’t check messages.

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Looking North into the ranch.

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Smoke on 360 degrees of the horizon.

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Moon is back to white, from the blood-orange of a few nights ago.

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Up at the high meadows above the hayfield along the Blue Bird trek.

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This steep is a snowbank in winter, and stays green even in our Flash Drought year. 

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Surprise! Karen has jumped up from CA to visit for a few days at the ranch.

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One of the highland’s magical spots.

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Bluebird overlook from their front porch. Four hatchlings from a week ago are now fledged.

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A quiet evening and Karen joins E & I in putting up the new series of Bluebird houses.

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E watches a herd of deer watching us.

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Setting a whole new leg of Bluebird-House trekking.

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The deer are moving out as the sunset begins to move in.

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A last group of deer run the to the ridgeline.

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A fawn leaps to catch up with her group.

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Smoke down from Canada tinges the light.

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cool air rushes through the warm grasses and summer lifts from the earth

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Setting the last of the new houses.

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E can see the wooden bird house the bear opened like a lunchbox way over on the road. 

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More of a thermos than a lunchbox, E thinks the bear may just ignore the new models.

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the stillness of twilight sweeps beyond the mind’s eye

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infinite sky over unending undulations of coulees and mountain

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The moon is a dusky primrose from on top, but later rises again at the house… 

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Deep layers of atmospheric smoke tint the moonrise from the yard. Same night, different moon.

 

 

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Ranch house and fence back in the 19th century with my great grandparents.

Kaye and Walt flew back to Kansas City (once the Great Falls airport had held them nearly overnight) and E & I got on to a day-long Feller project of replacing 80 feet of wooden rail fence around the front of the house. Fence that is essential to keeping livestock out of the yard during cattle drives as well as bovine fence crawlers ambling up and down the road all season long.

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1998 painted fence with Alpine Meadows Angus sign I created in 1996. (I also trimmed the lilacs and hedge throughout the 1990’s, so they still looked spiffy and bloomed amazingly.)

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June 2012.

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2014 Walt and I put in new gate.

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Gate is finished and matches L side built out in 2008 by my father and sister & I. The R side will get long split rail to match in anther year or so. Then split rail becomes a rarity.

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Literally held together with string and wire, these old runs of hand-hewn timber were pulled from our forest nearly a century ago.

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Panel fence is the quick solution to keeping livestock on the road and out of the yard- it all goes.

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E & I salvaged 16′ runs of our old corral fence when the local supplier of split rail was out for the third year running.

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This post leaned far out, so I dug out behind it, soaked it, and levered it back with a rock bar- still leaning out.

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Webbing and a come-along fixed to the truck pull it into place.

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Sawzall takes off a split end and fits to the run of posts.

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Squeeze clamp puts hundreds of pounds of third-hand pressure while I set the board with heavy lag.

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Staggering the top boards for the uphill climb.

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Top rail is set all the way around, so on to the mid rail.

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The yard’s Mountain Bluebird keeps an eye on my work. 

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 Bluebird again.

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New salvage fence wraps around the lilacs I’ve saved for the Cedar Waxwings.

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5 new 16′ sections of salvage fence, with the last two sections retaining lower runs of hand-hewn lodgepole pine.

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2008 Split rail; to 2014 gate of split rail; to 2015 section of split rail following the gate; to 2017 new salvage. The dorky bit by the gate is a No Hunting sign on a wood panel- should reconsider that placement now…