60 mph wind gust, with air laden with the despair of a 90k acre forest fire just to the south  (pm2.5 at 220), dropped her.


E uses interpretive stance to coax the tree upright again. no go


The heavy rope tied from the tree, high into the pergola supporting the trumpet vine to the left of frame, ensured that the tree fell away from the fence and into a clear section of yard.


Exploratory surgery sometimes reveals the patient’s true prognosis.


This area had an anchor root below, and the big root heading off to the R, but you can see how much infestation I had stopped short of removing, as that would have just cut her down.


The plank kept her from collapse, but not from being taken down in a strong wind. I considered welding up a tripod to keep her upright in any weather, but she didn’t want to become a limb-dropping killer zombie and had signed a do-not-resuscitate form.


Her branches were spindly and dry, sunburn had peeled away bark from her upper limbs, and grubs had made their way far up her trunk.


Forgoing the chainsaw, as the sawzall with a pruning blade is all she needs.


The upper root comes off easy. Next I’ll dig out her taproot and all the remaining living and dead root system. Then I backfill the hole with dirt from my yarding dirt pile and mix it with compost and gypsum and water it thoroughly.


All excavated and refilled, ready for a new tree next spring.


I’ve put in a few new flower beds, and improved about 10,000#s of soil with 1,200#s of my mix of compost and gypsum.


This is a great hybrid from J&J nursery.


One of many new flowers in the back yard.


Out front I enriched this last section of what used to be lawn, and put in 5 Echinacea of various colors, and some ground cover with matching blooms.


I moved this flowering bush a year after I put in the purple iris, and it has finally taken off.


Orange Echinacea.


Crimson Echinacea.


With this section of lawn turned over to xeriscape, and finally filled in, it was time to cross the walkway.


Even re-sodding couldn’t keep the Utah sun from destroying this corner, so I converted it to a Xeriscape flower bed to match the other side of the walk.


The plants all have to be short here at the corner, as there is a sprinkler head in the bushes that waters the grass (and now this bed as well).


Ready for next summer, even though it is still 90 degrees and more.


Two little retaining walls of treated lumber keep the long horizontal portion of tree tidy and clear of overthrusting garden. The area around the tree was cleared of grass and old mulch, the soil was turned with compost and gypsum, the vines were cut back to the fence line, and a new curve of rubberized berm wall was set.


This morning I went back to removing the bore-holed wood mass-infested with grubs (wasps arrived to eat them again!); the adz is the recurved tool, along with large scoop & mallet. Over the weekend I also treated the tree with five medicine dispensers left over from the ranch treatment of the yard’s pine trees. The root at the bottom R drank two doses. I’ll give it awhile before I remove any more, as I’ve taken away a huge portion.


A lot of rigid dead weight has come free of the living tree, and she got a bit woozy. The big hydraulic jack lifted her back up, the same jack that lifted the side of the ranch house this summer- then she just needed some support.


The 4×6 support beam has a bevel cut to match the tree, and is pinned in place with 3.5″ deck screws. The beam rests on a pair of concrete bricks and is toed in with three green steel fence posts and a long run of smooth rebar. A concrete landscape brick supports her down low.


With help from the jack, I slid this fat landscaping block under her hips.


This footing should remain stable, but this evening when the bees go to sleep I’ll run a rope from her shoulders and sling it through the air to the trumpet vine’s pergola, and tie it off at the ground to the largest vine root (thick as my ankle). This way if she comes down in a windstorm, she’ll yaw into the yard rather than taking out the fence and the neighbor’s garage.


Xander has been watching me work with the Plum tree from his vantage in the sunroom, and creates a sculptural interpretation with Elizabeth.


1. Cut away old tree trunk smothering tree.    2. Dig out old roots and contaminated soil.   3. Mix amendments with soil from elsewhere in yard, and refill.

Our old Purple-Leaf Plum tree has struggled since before we lived here. It marks the old fence line from the 1940’s, before the City granted an easement on an old access road expanding the yard in the 1970’s or 80’s. The tree had grown under or too near the fence and was cut away by the City, but regrew out from under its dead self when the fence line expanded. It ramps up at a hard angle, then rises straight enough. It has struggled with leaf blight of the shotgun variety for the 9 years I’ve been her care-taker. I’ve done the spring emergent spraying for years, cleared the ground of any surface contaminants, pruning back, food spikes, watering deep with a plunge rod; and every year she diminishes a little bit more.

Over the holiday weekend we had an employee of a local garden shop offer to come over and have a look at her. He recommended immediate surgery to remove the entire tumor of the old dead tree trunk, warning that it could reveal unrecoverable issues- in which case we would need to bring her down and plant anew.



This is my only before image of the tree, from a few years back when Stanley was still with us.  The ivy was all the way up into the branches when we moved in, and here has grown up again over the dead stump that the tree grows out from under- with a dead low branch flying Frylock the Dragon skull to the right. I’ve also pruned her.


Last fall I cut back the old stump about 20″, revealing a choked collar of living tree under the high end of the stump. Now I removed about 4 feet of remaining stump. Surgical Tools: Chainsaw, Sawzall, Hatchet, Pickaxe, Adz, and large woodcarving scoop blade to remove 90% of the strangling stump. I’ll get the last 10% when my arms / hands recover from all the impact work.


The white trunk is a medicinal/antifungal/insect repellant/sunblock I added this spring- it marks the newly revealed massive choke point where the old dead trunk had been. (Last fall’s same job went about 20″ up the white tree to the first knot at the shadow line, this area is squeezed a bit flat, and collapses inward on the other side.) I’ve opened a large triage area around the tree, removing dead old roots encrusted with white fungal infected bark. All of that root mass and soil was wheelbarrowed away.


This is a living root that spanned over the old dead trunk and taproot, all removed. I have backfilled the hole about three feet at this point. To the upper right of the living root is more dead trunk that I have been carving out with a large woodcarving scoop (from back in the days when I sculpted in large wood). It is a mess of boring larvae. My arms get splattered with their goo as I carve away their nest. Wasps have been swarming in to eat the exposed larvae.


I watered this area a few times since cutting away the trunk, so the concrete/clay “soil” would be soft enough to move without a pickaxe. This allowed me to shovel around and find the living vs the dead roots, and plunge down three or more feet. I mixed up 4 gallons of root-growth-promoter & water, and poured it in as I added the new soil. The new soil is created by blending many bags of  Oakdell Egg Farms Organic Compost (25lbs) with Basin’s Best Organic Soil Enhancer: Gypsum / Compost / Humates (8lbs) and mix this 50/50 with native soil from elsewhere in the yard. The land here is all the old lake bottom of Lake Bonneville, and is a sterile sodium and clay and mineral dead zone. The gypsum bonds the sodium and allows moisture to be absorbed by the roots; even when the ground is wet, moisture is bound in the clay by the sodium and not available to the roots. This soil amendment permanently changes the hardpan soil to a rich aerated moisture retaining humus. Plus I added in Dr. Earth Fertilizer and liquified worm castings.

I’ve done the same soil triage for 11 new plants and a few more established plants, making entire areas of new deep bedding, nearly going through 300# of compost and 100# of Enhancer. E and I continued on up to Layton after the grand opening of the Farmington Nature Center to J&J Tree Nursery (we had been there for the Labor Day sale, for the first time- great place!) for another round of 300# of compost and 100# of enhancer, and their after Labor Day 70% off sale made Dr. Earth fertilizer and worm castings affordable. Soil amendment will go to all the established plants around the yard, creating a new top layer as well as using a post hole digger to drop deep wells of soil, which should alleviate most of the hardships in the garden.


Still more triage to go, but the day has heated into the 90’s with 5% humidity (that’s about 105-110 in full sun), so I water down the new soil that fully covers the living roots.


The Great Horned Owl and Bald Eagle oversee the ribbon cutting ceremony.

All the stakeholders for the new nature center spoke eloquently with themes on the importance of establishing a relationship with the natural world through experience and education, and the optimism of an inspired pubic that acts as stewards and guardians through conservation. (click the website of the Eccles Nature Center)


The eagle performs an air show to mark the occasion.


Elizabeth dresses up the reflection.


He walked right over to see me.


Even though the eagle has his hood on, the Ibis is still wary.


Once she made friends with the Ibis, an idea of a possible future sparked (see next image).


Here she is again in the future, with one of her avian friends ( a young Western Screech Owl)


Great Horned Owl.  Lots of wonderful critters from the Hogle Zoo and Hawkwatch, and plenty more flying around in the wild world of marshlands at the Nature Center.


The new clay oven, powered by a small resurrected ceramic space heater/blower donated by E’s cold feet at the office.

I built a new oven for plastecine clay. I have hundreds of pounds of medium red (mixed with some hard red) that needs to be warm to be pliable, then cools and firms up. Warming it up with hand friction was how I worked the clay for years, then a friend in engineering gave me a unit he had thrown together to melt hard clay that I used ever since to warm my medium clay (shown at the end of the post). I often forgo using the old problematic heater, and my hands can’t take the abuse of creating friction to warm the clay, so I needed to get creative with a custom design. This oven is a great improvement over my old unit, as it will evenly heat the clay and hold it at a workable temperature, and with a 24 x 24 inch shelf I can load in a lot of clay.


The drawer gets loaded up with clay and slid closed, the heater sits below out of the way of the drawer. The drawer has an underside gap on each end, so the blower will circulate the air back out the front and not overheat. 


The steel drawer slides on the narrow wooden rails, and rests on the side rails. The clay will be heavy, so the rails extend out beyond the box and over the footing for the heater. The rest of the wooden structure is inside the box, with feet and rails outside the bottom of the box.


The foam wall is held in place by a welded steel frame. I have since skinned the expanded steel in a finer mesh of aluminum, and added a a foam bumper to the rear to keep clay from rolling off the back when pulling the drawer out.


The new and old clay oven. The old oven was thrown together by an engineering student at the U to melt hard clay for building an aerodynamic bicycle shell- he gave me his clay and the box back in 2000. I added the wood frame around it and a “window” to see if the heat lamp was on or off. 


This has warmed up hundreds and hundreds of lbs of clay, and helped warm students’ clay for my figure sculpture classes up at the U. 


The heat lamp ensures that the clay is either cold or molten, sometimes both; the top of the clay goes to an untouchable blistering sweat while the bottom of the same piece is still hard and cold. This meant a lot of babysitting the clay, and occasional fully liquified trays of clay.  


Tankless water heater not to blame for bad pipe venting.

I’ve been heading downstairs in the morning after E leaves for work to take care of our cat, Voices, who is in kitty prison for marking around the house. I’d noticed a bit of an exhaust smell a few times, and logged it in the wtf area of my brain under Tankless Water Heater (of course, Carbon Monoxide is odorless). Yesterday morning was particularly bad, and we ran the dishwasher in the evening and had to open the basement windows so the whole-house-fan could dissipate the gasses (none of our CO sensors beeped, but whatever).  After clearing the water filtration drop-valve (the only diy warranty maintenance on the tankless system), I googled for venting and found the solution. A plumber on you-tube shows exactly how bad installations lead to exhaust blowing back into the house; and how to fix it with Aluminum tape- assuming that everything else is done right. Ours is not done right, but AL tape triage (after cutting a bit more of the drywall ceiling away to reach around the tubing) is the fix it gets for now.


This galvanized tube needed Aluminum heat tape. It should be stainless steel tube with sealed fittings, and the top run should slope downward by a degree or so to the outside to keep condensation from running back into the vent tubing and possibly ruining the tankless system. It is at a straight 90 degree bend snugged up against the floor above, and there was some condensation damage to the tubing.


The system had huge gaps where the pipes sleeved into one another (which is beyond stupid construction work from the original installation), and water staining and pinholes from condensation rolling back into the house. I could feel (and smell) the exhaust blowing down into the room when running hot water. It must always have had some exhaust blowing back in, and the whole house fan probably backdrafts the system. Maybe when the heater fan turns off and the system is cycling, then the whole house fan pulls all the latent gasses into the house. something like that anyway.


In June I replaced the big brass fitting on the R- it is the water pressure gauge, and had begun to drip, then spray a fine mist. This gauge should be placed after the piping for outside water, but no, we regulate the pressure for the yard. So that needs resolved. Turns out we also filter the water for the yard as well, which is the blue unit. It had no filter in it, so I picked one up and installed it. This unit is supposed to be placed in line with the tankless water heater as a pre-filter just for the heater.


Still not right plumbing wise, but at least not trying to kill us any more.


My next project demands that I safeguard these two residents of the house; our friendly garter snakes (introduced a few blogs prior). I’m gonna wreck their little haven to save the house.


The snake is slithering along the concrete footer added sometime mid 20th century. He just emerged from under the thick plank that runs the entire length of the house, forming his residence of a large gap between the concrete footer and the house. I think the concrete was put in as an idea of support for the old field stone foundation from the push of ground water rolling down the valley. Let’s say it is a good idea, and it just needs some upgrade. 


Upgrade number one: remove the long run of board. It only traps moisture into the seam, and gathers any and all rain that runs down the face of the house, and any spillage from the (now repaired) gutter and drain (and repaired soffits that were acting as drains as well).


I sawzall this section to protect the high speed internet cable brought underground to the house. As incongruous as Google Fiber equivalent sounds up here, that really is true. I don’t think we’ll ever connect, but there it is.


Fat barn nails hold the rail in place, and I have to take care not to shatter the thin cladding of the house.


E helps me spot the nails that won’t relent, and so keeps me from maiming the house.


Looking down the gap we see a metal flange that has pulled away from the house, making two troubling gaps.


Our housemates note that the front door of their house is missing.


He checks to see if went up here…


He falls back into the safe gap to contemplate this questionable remodel.


He pops out where Walt and I cut out a trial section, at the worst of the gutter runoff damage, backfilled with foam and impassible for snakes.


He didn’t like the noise and disturbance at all, and tells me he will be touch with our HOA about all of these changes that he certainly didn’t vote for.


He heads off to his favorite corner restaurant to gather his nerves.


I use the industrial shop-vac blower to clear the debris out of the gap while he is at dinner. I wind up tossing a few of his discarded skins out on the street. Here he returns from his evening on the town, and wonders whether he’ll be able to recover any of his belongings; he complains that he wasn’t given any notice prior to his eviction. 


He’s never felt so low.


Using roofing screws, I seal the metal seam against the house while E keeps an eye on the snake. 


With the tenants out and the gap cleaned and tightened up, I lay in many cans of expanding foam. This white foam is a special high density foam- I wish I’d gotten more of that type. 


Earlier in the day I’d repaired ‘ol Shotgun, who needed a new section of roof and a new entrance-hole faceplate. As the foam cures in the gap, E and I drive the birdhouse back to the top of Kibbey Ridge while the sun sets into a blood red wall of wildfire smoke (CA plus a Missoula blaze). I set him on a new sturdy pole on the other side of the road, as his ancient pole had finally snapped. 


If a snake even touched this gunk while it was wet it would probably kill him. It had skinned over, but was gooey on the inside, when the snake emerged from under the porch to try to return to his lair. No harm, well, no physical harm. The emotional turmoil was obvious. 


The next evening I use my vibration tool to slice the foam, forming a clean cap.


I use the caulk gun to squeeze 4 tubes of roofing tar and E spreads it like stinky black frosting to capture and seal the entire gap, capping the foam. 


I run through all the tar, and end with exterior silicon caulk, in black and that runs out, so in white as well. Ranch fix, cuz Home Depot is an 80 mile round trip.


I let the tar cure for 24 hours, then head in with my paint grinding wheel to zip-clean the weather-beaten old siding that had languished behind the do-worse-than-nothing plank. 


I grind out many other problem areas, then head in for a first of two coats of linseed oil white paint.


Can you hear the house soaking in the paint?


“Take care of Grandmother’s roses” says Ghost Dad, the roses persist here because the runoff of two pitches of roof overshoots the gutter and gives them just enough water.


The roses, and the shattered concrete from the gutter overshoot, and down in the cellar- well, lets not look at that again until after a year with these fixes in place.


2,000 pounds of dirt from the cellar rebuilt this drooping corner of the yard where the stream bends. E and I put the last three viable RR ties in the truck, displacing two big garter snakes from one tie (that I thought we’d scared away, but had scared into their hidey space in the tie, and they both wound up in the back of the truck and quickly slithered out in a panic), and disrupting a big ant colony in another tie. I had three rebar stakes and four giant fencing screws to set the ties in place and to each other, then a remnant of ground cover from SLC made an interior skirt along the ties and pegged to the ground, with enough remaining to cover the dirty pile of cellar dirt.


Lyle rock oversees the new retaining wall down at the far end. 


Here is June’s retaining wall, with the grass seed filling over the dirt nicely, Lyle rock in the midground, and the new retaining wall down at the bottom.


Just down from Lyle Rock I added in this little section of waterfall, made from the thin layers of shattered fieldstone that had once been the corner support at the porch fix. It may get swept away by spring runoff…


Nora just got a drink at the expanded falls here at the old footbridge as well.


It was a bobcat job years ago to create one level of falls here, and with a few freeze-shocked sections of the porch-fix field stone, the falls becomes three tiers. Now the voice of the stream is multifaceted as it rolls through the tree canopied back yard, and the open windows of the bedroom gather in it’s reverberations from the box-canyon wall of the house, altering it’s course just enough to flow to the inside of dreams.