Covid Quarantine

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 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 straw 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!

Montana Covid Quarantine: Day 21

Happy Easter everyone. Dionysus waits with Persephone under the icy veil of Dis.
Saturday. All day. Snow & Blow.
Elizabeth opened the bedroom curtains this morning to scout for the Easter Bunny, and saw this drift nearly as tall as the window.
The drift-arc comes all the way around to the back door.
Sly bunny didn’t even leave any tracks.
Two days and 50 degrees ago.
The ice house forms rippled drifts.
This rippled ice from days ago was at the creek as it passed the ice house.
Here comes the sun. Time for the Easter Egg hunt! I expect Easter-dresses for the gals and knickers for the lads.
A few Redwing Blackbirds arrived to this, and are now realizing they may have jumped the gun a bit.
This is the song of the Redwing Blackbird.
Dawn birdsong of our winged spring arrivals juxtaposes on the stunned cold.
We drove down to Raynesford to get the mail before the snow, and came back up the back way over the big hill. A Peregrine Falcon flew alongside us, then perched along the fenceline for us to catch up, then would fly along with us again.
Glad I’m not out helping the herd calving, but also, wish it was like it was and there was a herd and my father, and I was out all night with the ladies calving.
Kitchen window view of the sun breaking into the valley, back in the kindly old ranch house.

Montana Covid Quarantine: Day 17

Hollow Ice. The top of the creek froze, while the meltwater flow stopped overnight- leaving a thin membrane of ice.
It can withstand just a few minutes of sunlight before collapse.
This honeycomb was built on the front porch near the bees who live inside the wall, like decorative signage it faced out from under the eve. It is formed with white cellulose spray-insulation that I used around the porch & hive as it is “non-toxic” compared to the yellow stuff.
It is two sided perfection.
This is a humming bird nest from last season, in our hedgerow near the stump of the pine tree lost to beetle kill a few years back.

Montana Covid Quarantine: Day 15

Nora scents Deja-Vous.
Our own little Milk River: Lewis & Clark went for some rough Raw Milk.
High runoff starts after 5pm, it runs clear til then.
Daytime high was 34 degrees higher than three days ago (54), and breezy; snow is evaporating and melting, but the mud is restricting walkies to the lawn.

Montana Covid Quarantine: Day 14

Bluebirding trek into the hills.
This was the only Bluebird house on this section that didn’t need help. Two others were boinked by our Elk herd ripping out the hayfield fence and snapping off posts, one needed cleaning out from a late nesting last summer, and two Tree Swallow boxes still needed cleaning from last summer where an agitated Angus bull pushed us away. Two pairs of Bluebirds were in and out of houses, and flying all about us.
This is our household deity of the Bluebird houses, he sings a lilting tone into “The Hum” when we need to get out and check the houses.
E and Nora watch a mated pair of Rough-Legged Hawks sweep across the valley and along the far ridges. They are arctic birds that can winter here. This is our first time seeing them!
Nora represents. #1 in the hood yo…
Happy ladies.
Dappled ground and sky.
The infinity field.
View from snowline looking down the valley to the Northern plain.
The moon is just captured at the top. At full dark the moon sat in the center of a vast glowing ring of silver, and the hoots of the Great Horned Owl echoed within it.

Montana Covid Quarantine: Day 11

Single digits last night, but the springtime sun shone all day. By 3pm it was 20, and time for E to take a telecommute break. Coyote tracks lead the way.
Frosty forest.
Shoulda brought the sled!
Wind sculpted pine at ridge-line.
Icicle-capades. Snow has been whomping and crashing up there all day.
One summer I unburied the old stone footpath from an overgrowth of lawn, it passes directly under these icicles, a scenario that inspired my dad’s infamous comment: “Your little improvements are gonna get someone killed.”