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. 


Nora wants to show you a twilight view.


This is the first of a panorama set, looking North to the great plain of the Missouri down to the Highwood Mountains. We are on the high west side at the top of the old hayfield, at a spot too steep to hay, checking our highest bluebird fence line.


Looking across the valley to the opposite ridge gives a sense of the drop and rise of our high valley. We are at the same height as the summit of the far ridge. Alpine wildflowers mix in with wild grasses, sage, and hay grass. An environment unique to this high latitude. 


The climb out of the lower section of grazed hayfield is a steep one, and the cows never bother. This waist high verdant green belt runs the length of this side of the ranch. It is a snowfield in winter.


We head into the South as the dusk settles, checking 10 bluebird / swallow houses- the new white cylinder tubes (cylons) are only housing swallows, but all are used. I think they are just a little too small for the bluebirds. E and I check the remaining 5 “cylons” another evening, and only swallows for them as well.


About 1/4 mile distant we will head through a bit of our big hayfield on the way down (4 bluebird houses as well). There, the hay is taller than the hood, still standing three weeks past it’s due date as Dave has had some breakdowns and delayed repairs down below on his fields. I spend quite awhile the next morning clearing seed from the truck’s radiator, air system, and undercarriage (it attracts mice, and will overheat the truck too). Next bluebird tour I’ll drive an alternate route that takes us on the other side of the fence, out of the steep and deep grasses.


Watching the morning air show at the front porch hummingbird feeder. A mated pair of Calliope hummers are nesting in the lilacs, and a male interloper dogfights the mated male. We have a feeder set in back as well, to lower the competition, but they run berserk over the morning sun on the porch feeder.


Shirt-hats are deployed as the sun heats up the audience, but the show still needs watching.


One of at least 5 hummers that have claimed the ranch. Our nearest neighbor three miles down the valley has told us they have never had humming birds, and were surprised that we did. I think the alpine wildflowers at our elevation bring them in.


Kaye listens to the hummers spatting over the feeder at the log ice house right behind her, and spinning over her head.


Danger takes a break from fixing stuff and sets some targets of impossibility for he and Walt to plink at with Walt’s 45 Pistol; the Ruger Vaquero. This is an amazing modern redesign of the classic pistol.


Although Walt has owned this pistol for a few years, it is the kind of monster you just never quite find a way break the ice with. This is the first time it has been fired; can’t really think of a better place to break in a pistol named “Cowboy” in Spanish.


Between the 2 of us, one target is hit. Definitely not the easy marksmanship offered by a 9mm auto. And at nearly 1$ per shot, the force is pretty spectacular. The wooden horse is our reload station.  I take the big box that held all the targets and affix it to the wire, and it serves as our target. Walt peppers it with holes.


The water from two planes of the roof run off of the porch here. In June I created a drainage system. After seeing the non-function of the concrete footing that wraps the original field stone & mortar foundation, I remove the concrete. The concrete has retained moisture against the mortar and destroyed it, so I have to remove and rebuild this entire corner.


The field stones are removed and in the foreground, below them was a tangle of roots from the nearby pine trees, all driving into the drainage area. I dig & sawzall them out, and drop the footing another foot.


The red bucket is full of dug out shale that I had just put in back in June. The yellow wagon is filling up with multiple trips of dirt from lowering the footing. A chunk of the problematic concrete is at the bottom left. The big field stones I will eventually refit.


This deck footing (at the top of my shadow) with a treated 4×4 will be the new corner support, capturing both big beams running under the house that meet at the corner. The big jack by the red bucket will lift the corner while I set the support.


I cut away two outer cedar panels and glued and clamped them back together to reattach later. The pine board behind them was rotten, and I cut it out and scavenged a replacement length from my reclaimed wood pile in the garage. The remaining panel was only partly compromised, and I dug out the worst of it and wire brushed it; later I will paint a few layers of exterior grade wood glue on it, which penetrates and seals the surface better than anything.


80 pounds of gravel are covered with 120 pounds of sand, all compacted to ensure the corner doesn’t settle. With layer one of wood glue still wet on the board.


A section of patio brick / concrete left over from making the new footing for the wood stove will further stabilize the deck footing.


I lay field stone flat and level. This area will support the jack stand.


The corner has been jacked up and the deck footing put in place. Cedar wedges stabilize the underside of the 4×4, and a fat cedar wedge sits atop this side of the 4×4 gathering up a gap between the big support planks that meet at the corner.


The angle of the wooden beam captures both beams under the corner. The drainage area of shale is separated by an 8″ belt of steel reinforced rubber, matched under the footing side with gravel and sand.


At dusk I can no longer tolerate the amount of stress on the beam running alongside the deck, and decide to mortar-set stone in place now rather than in the morning.


The house feels a lot better now.


I jam stone into all the gaps to keep any big critters from gaining entry and call it a day.


The next morning I remove the critter stones and begin dry-fitting stone for mortar.


The morning’s work of mortar and stone is completed. When the area is in afternoon shade I return and continue to dig out the drainage area from June. Here I am laying in heavy rubber pond liner and trenching around the outside of the new corner.


I add in this perforated drainage pipe, and zip tied aluminum mesh screening to each end. The mouth opens upward near the deck under the shale placed on end, and runs out and into the yard.


All buried back under the shale.


The roof drainage has splashed onto this support beam for the deck since time began, and I cut into the beam to see how far back the wood is compromised.


It has less than an inch of viable wood to the inside of the deck.


The new jack comes in handy again, supporting the deck while I refit the beam.


The building inspector arrives; the pole is right at the bee hive, so we agree that this the correct spot to make any assessments.


The original support poles are rough-sawn lumber from the 1800’s, original to the house, so I will just make an L bracket footing of old to new wood joined with fat bolts.


Like so.


The end of the deck board is rotting out from the front and under the foot of the beam.


New platform to cap the big beam below.


Over the new wooden support I place this 6×6″ synthetic deck panel. I will add a 5×5″ square to that and tack it all in place with galvanized finish nails.


Testing the new footing by dropping pressure off the jack. Needs the 5×5 section for good pressure.


The top and bottom are secured by pre-drilling pilot holes at steep angles, then driving in large oiled barn nails.


All boards at the corner are replaced and painted, the support is painted and caulked, and E and I head back up to the shale pit for another big red bucket of limestone to dress out the drainage.


In the drainage field, in line with the refurbished post is a blue area of shale, stood on end and sandwiched over the drain. The limestone in this area hit by roof runoff is also set sideways, and many ends are triangular. This will help diffuse splashing, containing it to the drainage.