More Trees, Please!

Last year when I identified all the trees in our woods, I was most excited to find an elm tree in the southwest corner of our property, close to the road. As it turns out, I overlooked another bigger elm tree on the southeast corner of our property, so we have at least two.

Now we have at least six because I was able to get my hands on some large elm saplings and plant them in our yard.

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One of my favorite things: trees!

Continue reading “More Trees, Please!”

Good Day, Sunshine!

I was able to borrow a friend’s Solar Pathfinder so that I could get a better sense of our property’s sun exposure. The center of the Pathfinder shows the path of the sun throughout the day for different months of the year, while the bubble-top device has a reflective surface that shows the location of any shading. It’s a slick device, and I was thrilled that it was so easy to use.

The Solar Pathfinders main use is to assess areas for solar energy production, and one reason that I wanted to use it was to see whether our yard might have enough light for solar panels. But I also wanted to check out how sun moves across all parts of our yard so that I have a better sense of where I should plant trees and shrubs,

Come back for my next post, where I’ll tell you what I planted!

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That shiny spot in the middle shows that this part of our yard has direct sun from about 9 am to 3 pm all year long.

Find Your Own Christmas Tree

With Thanksgiving over, it’s bound to be a mad dash through the rest of the holiday season. For many families, going outside to find ad cut this year’s Christmas tree is beloved tradition. In some places, there are Christmas tree farms that allow you to go out and select your own professionally-grown and manicured tree. But there aren’t any cut-your-own tree farms nearby, and you can have more fun finding a wild-grown local tree. Plus, it’s great excuse to get outside after eating so much at Thanksgiving!

Where To Go

There are trees everywhere around here, making it really easy to find a suitable Christmas tree. At the same time, some places are better than others for finding Christmas trees. It’s not necessary to go into the middle of the forest—trees that are able to grow in the open, such as in old fields or along roads and trails often have fuller foliage because more the trees are exposed to more sun.

If you don’t have your own land, it’s important not to trespass. Locally, The Ottawa National Forest offers permits to cut Christmas trees on the national forest lands. Permits are permits are $5 and available at Ranger District offices like Kenton and Ontonagon. It’s recommended that you call ahead to make sure that staff will available to provide the permit. In other places, you can call your nearest National Forest or state natural resources agency and ask to see if you can get permits for cutting trees on public lands.

The Trees

Around here, the two best options for Christmas trees are white spruce and balsam fir because they have that bushy, cone-shaped appearance that typically comes to mind for Christmas trees. That’s not to say that you can’t have a cedar, hemlock, or pine Christmas tree—those species are just likely to look a lot more sparse like that one from the Charlie Brown special (BTW: If you want to recreate Charlie’s tree, go with a white or red pine.)

 So if you’re out in the woods and see a cone-shaped tree, what is it?

White spruce leaves, or needles, are typically about a half-inch long, stiff, and slightly sharp on the ends. The needles are roundish and can be rolled between your fingers. When the needles are crushed, they give off an unpleasant odor.

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White spruce needles
 Balsam fir needles are about the same length, but are flatter and are round on the ends. If grown in shade, the needles will tend to flatten out into two rows, one on each side of the stem. Most importantly, when the needles are crushed, they smell wonderful and fragrant and just like Christmas.
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Balsam fir needles

The Supplies

Once you’ve found the tree (and it can take a while to find the perfect one), it’s pretty easy to cut it down.

 Necessary supplies—
  • A saw: You will want a small handsaw to cut down the tree, and it doesn’t need to be anything particularly fancy or special.

Recommended supplies—

  • A tape measure: Trees can look smaller than they really are because there’s just so much more room outside. Use the tape measure to make sure the tree is actually going to fit it it’s place.
  • Rope or tie-downs: In addition to securing the tree to the vehicle for the ride home, rope or straps can also be helpful for dragging the tree out of the woods.
  • Pruning shears: Shears can be helpful for cutting lower branches of the tree stem. Or, grab a few extra branches for making a wreath.

That’s it! Once your get your tree home, care for it by setting it up in a location away from major heat sources (vents, woodstoves, etc.) and making sure that the base is always submersed in water.

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So many trees to pick from!

Project Get Out: Week 3

Project Get Out is my personal challenge to spend at least a half hour a day outside for the fall. Because even though I work in natural resources and write about the outdoors, I don’t get out nearly enough.

Things have been a touch busier this week, so it’s just a quick shot of outdoor activity from the past week:

Monday: Gorgeous fall day. I couldn’t help myself, and I went for a five-mile run around “the block.”

Tuesday: I’m not sure what happened, but I just didn’t manage to get myself outside after a long day at work and making dinner. The short days are really starting to catch up with me on days like this. I’ll need to find an activity that I can safely do outside in complete darkness… and, eventually, snow. Hmm… maybe star-gazing?

Wednesday: Cyclocross practice. I am sooooo slow! But I love it anyway.

Thursday: Another gorgeous fall day, so it was easy to make outside time. After getting home, I took a walk to the lake and back. And since I had also lifted big, heavy weights that afternoon, I could really feel it when I was walking up the hill on my way home.

Friday: I may have squeaked out a half hour of outside time, but just barely. If so, it was just the walk to/from my car in the morning (which has been particularly gorgeous all week) and evening and the walk to/from going to get lunch with friends.

Saturday: I probably spent to much time inside in the morning, but I did get out and spend lots of time in the garden. We had our second light frost (I love our location because neighbors have had heavy frosts since mid-September), which meant that it was time to call it quits on the green beans and zucchini. I put things away for the year, turned the compost, and got some beds set up for next year. In the evening, we had an impromptu gathering of our neighbors and built a fire in our front lawn.

Sunday: I started the day with a walk to the lake, but decided that the 2.5-mile walk wasn’t enough and kept walking around the neighborhood until I went about 5 miles. It was gorgeous. Fall light is completely different from any other time of year—low and bright, it’s particularly golden from bouncing off the maple leaves. And the maples are great, but I’ve been particularly interested in seeing how the light really brings out the features of other trees too—the dark green of hemlock and other conifers, the bark of yellow birch and paper birch. In the afternoon, I went for a bike ride with friends and got to see more countryside, including the Covered Road. Even a bit past peak color, it was a great day to be out there.

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Gorgeous day on the Covered Road.

Blueberry Mini-Adventure (and Muffins!)

We all hated jack pine in college. In forestry school, we spent an entire fall semester alternating our time between cool, moist hardwood forests and the hot, dusty jack pine plains. The hardwoods were comfortable to work in and a lot less likely to harbor nests of vicious hornets. It took me a long time to come around and enjoy being in jack pine.

One reason to like jack pine: blueberries!

Recently we went put to pick blueberries and run the dogs, and this is what it looked like:

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Walking through the j-pine. Watch out for ground-nesting hornets!

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My Trek to Find a Forest Island

When I visit cities, I like to walk. I will walk until my feet hurt and I get blisters, but I rarely get sick of walking someplace new if there’s ample time and my feet are up for it. 

Washington DC is a great place to walk. It’s clean, it’s pretty, there’s plenty to see, and public transportation is usually nearby  if a trip needs to be cut short. I feel like I’ve walked over enormous swaths of metro DC in past visits there. On this most recent visit, I really wanted to walk someplace I hadn’t managed to visit yet: Theodore Roosevelt Island

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Teddy Roosevelt Island is in the middle of the Potomac River. The island is on the right, Virginia on the left, and Georgetown is across the bridge.

Continue reading “My Trek to Find a Forest Island”

5 Free Apps for Exploring the Outdoors

A few months ago I finally caved in and got myself a smartphone. I’d been putting it off for as long as possible, happy to be called a Luddite by my techier friends while I kept my cheapie flip phone for occasional calls and texts. But I upgraded phones* for my bike tour, and was grateful for being able to take photos and find my way Google Maps.

Smart phones are amazing! We are so fortunate to have these sophisticated, pocket-sized computers that can tell us just about anything we could possibly want to know in about 4.2 seconds (or faster, since your phone is probably better than mine). Of course, the challenge is to make sure that smartphones enrich life, and don’t become an avenue to wasting away hours on Facebook and computer games.  Luckily there are tons of apps that provide awesome information about our local environment. Continue reading “5 Free Apps for Exploring the Outdoors”