Monday, January 25, 2010

First Cut

I took a day Sunday to visit my woodlot. This was my first long visit alone as owner and I was excited to have a chance to do some work. My first goal was to continue the work started just after Thanksgiving when my wife and son helped me try to locate and mark the back boundary line. (See previous post.) At that time the compass bearing we were following from one property corner stake to another along the 565-foot back property line did not hit the stake we were aiming for. I thought that perhaps limitations in my equipment, or maybe incorrect bearing information - such as a change in magnetic declination since 1981 when a larger parcel was subdivided into smaller lots - might be leading me astray. Well, I had a couple of months to dwell on this as I waited for my next opportunity to visit Bliss Hill. I have a plot plan for the whole subdivision and it tells me that the back line of my next-door neighbor to the south is on the same bearing as mine. His back line is only 297 feet long through flat fairly open woods. (Thanks to recent logging by our neighbor to the west.) I thought that if I could locate his other property corner I might be able to see from there back to our common corner and take a compass bearing and use that to project the line to my far corner. Thanks to old red paint blazes along my neighbors property line I was able to get a pretty good idea where his far corner was, but there was over a foot of snow on the ground so I figured my chances of finding the small aluminum stake that marked the corner - if it was even still there after all these years - was pretty slim. I was thrilled to find old ax blazes on a tree right about where I thought the corner should be (Photo), so I felt like I was on the right track. It's fun to stumble on these old artifacts in the woods, and I found myself wishing I had a few more on my own property to help in my quest.

One thing I could do was turn a two-dimensional search in deep snow into something like a one-dimensional one by measuring the 297 feet from my corner, and using a 100-foot tape, and that's what I did. As soon as I finished taping the distance, I couldn't believe my luck and I felt a certain warm fondness for Mr. William P. House the surveyor who placed the aluminum corner stake nearly 30 years ago because it was right there! (Photo) Then, just as I had hoped, with a little trimming of hemlock branches, I could see from one corner 297 feet to the other. (In the top photo, in the distance behind the ax-blazed tree an old red paint blaze and my bright orange target stick 300' away are visible.) Sighting carefully with my Silva Ranger compass, I was able to confirm that the compass bearing on the original plot plan was valid and the bearing I had been using before should be about right - within the precision of my compass. I set my compass carefully and then double-checked my flagging along my property line and confirmed that it seemed about as accurate as I could hope to get it. My line still missed the far corner stake, but I'm beginning to suspect it may have been moved. That stake is the middle of a powerline right-of-way and perhaps it had somehow been disturbed by powerline-clearing activities, or maybe one of the other property owners moved it for some reason. (Idle speculation is a favorite pastime.)

I suppose my next step should be to measure the 855-foot property line that runs along the power line to get another estimate of where the corner should be. This issue is not a big deal just now because the line I am working with is conservative: If the current corner stake location turns out to be correct, my property will be a little bigger than I now think it is and as long as I keep my activities inside the line I've marked I can be pretty sure I'm not trespassing.

What with the deep snow to trudge around in, all this took a couple of hours and it was time to break for lunch. I brushed the snow off some rocks in a segment of old stone wall that is on the property, poured some tea from my old Thermos bottle and pulled out my PBJ on home-machine-made whole wheat bread; my standard field lunch. It was fun to sit there in the quiet solitude, look around and dream about things I wanted to do on the property some day. Near the top of my list was to find a couple of favorite lunch spots. I suspect this will happen after a few more visits and I've had a chance to locate or create good spots to sit as I look out over an area I've cleared of excessive undergrowth and removed some firewood. There's something about the look of a well-tended forest that I find very satisfying.

Enough quietude. It was time to make some noise! From the minute I first saw this place, I'd been itching to cut some trees. This forest has been growing wild and untouched for about 30 years after the disturbance of a major logging operation. There are a lot of poorly formed trees and many trees of low-value (in an economic sense) species. Timber stand improvement is a lot like gardening. You select the plants you want to grow and remove the weeds and thin the rows. I made a preliminary estimate of the species composition and tree size distribution when I was deciding whether to buy the place and I have a general idea of the direction my management is likely to take, but I don't want to do too much cutting before I do a more detailed inventory to document my starting point and develop a more detailed plan, but - hey - I'm a guy and I love power tools.

This region was hit by a very nasty ice storm on December 12, 2008. Many areas were devastated and many residents were without power for weeks. In my woodlot there is an area of a few dozen young birch trees that were bent nearly to the ground by (I assume) the ice. (Photo) These trees will not be righting themselves and, in fact, may be dying. I looked around the area and identified healthy-looking trees that were not bent over and marked them with green flagging. I then started felling bent-over ones with my little Stihl chainsaw, being careful to do this in a way that would allow individual trees fall without making an already-tangled mess worse.

In the time I had left, I could cut only a few trees, but already I could get a sense of what the stand will look like after I've cleaned it up. Wishful thinking was telling me these were the more desirable paper birch trees (Betula papyrifera), but further reflection and the help of my old Harlow's Fruit and Twig Key tell me they are mostly the less desireable short-lived gray birch (Betula populifolia). No matter. There won't be many left when I'm done and the straight young ones are pretty little trees; splashes of white in a dark gray and green world.

It was time for the two-hour ride home. I packed my tools and loaded a token amount of birch firewood into the car. The trip home was an easy one filled with daydreams of happy days to come on Bliss Hill.