A Season of Variables
After a drab March “look up, look down, listen” season is here. It’s exciting and frustrating. Always something to see and hear and things we miss, too.
What is look up, look down, listen? Well, when we walk in woods and prairies, we’re always attuned to nature’s beauty and curiosities. In the Northern Hemisphere April and May force challenges and delights, as the earth turns toward the sun. Its warmth stimulates new life while welcoming arrivals from down south.
Here in Iowa, like much of the United States, bird migration rises through April and peaks in early May. Woods, wetlands, and prairies are filled with bird species we haven’t seen since last year.
“Look up,” Marion remarked on one April walk last year. She spotted the first Rose Breasted Grosbeak of the season. He was perched on a thin branch high in a sycamore tree. As we walked along, we kept looking up to spot other new arrivals. They added color and song to those of cardinals, chickadees, and woodpeckers who are our neighbors all year.
A catbird drinks by a pool.
The brown creeper blends in with tree trunks.
After admiring the Grosbeak and moving on, I said, “look down.” We had been paying so much attention to birds up in the trees that we almost trampled a Dutchman’s Breeches, a delicate white wildflower with petals shaped like old-time Dutch pants. Looking down revealed spring beauties, Mayapples, hepatica, and anemones. Some were not quite in bloom and a few had gone by, but most were in their spring glory.
Early spring flowers
Reaching for the sun
Passing a low wetland, we both paused to hear the songs of the chorus frogs and peepers that greet listeners each spring between the vernal equinox and Easter.
So, what do we do on a spring walk? Look up or down or listen? All of these. It is the best time of year to enjoy beauty clinging to the soil, singing from treetops, and chorusing from ephemeral pools.
Make Nature ID easier with Apps
Spotting birds hiding invisibly in tangles of branches and vines is challenging. What’s in that thicket singing? Thanks to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, we turn on our Merlin app, point the phone where the songs originate, and learn who’s singing. Merlin is easy to download from the app store. Sometimes we are lucky and watch migratory birds close at hand.
Some people even lure birds in with treats that are eagerly consumed by arriving birds.
Wildflowers cannot hide but can be confusing. We sometimes use an app called SEEK to identify ones that are mysterious to us. SEEK is also easy to download from the app store and can also help identify trees, weeds, and other living things.
Look up, look down, listen! season may be the very best time to be outside. We love it.
Are battery-powered chainsaws worth the money?
We decided to find out. *
Gas chainsaws have been around for decades. Rich wondered if newer electric battery-powered chainsaws would be as functional and easier to use. So, he acquired a Milwaukee saw with a 16-inch bar and put it to the test alongside his trusty Stihl gas model.
Back in the mid-1970s Rich worked in Idaho felling Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine trees. He used a heavy noisy gas fueled chainsaw that was amazingly powerful as it chewed through thick trunks. Years later he bought a Stihl gas-powered saw used to cut the four or five cords of wood we burn each winter for heat. It’s a well-built powerful saw.
A few days after the new battery saw arrived, we heard a crack/boom as a huge oak crashed down across one of our backyard trails. Rich guided the new saw as it sliced through the log, and emerged smiling. “It’s amazing,” he said.
After further use he developed this chart of the pros and cons of the battery vs the gas saw:
Gas: Pro – Plenty of Power, No need to recharge batteries, Longer bar
Gas: Con Noisy and heavy, Must mix/carry/store gas, Must replace gas & air filters, Engine stalls, Pull cord start hard on the shoulder.
Battery: Pro – Plenty of Power, Relatively quiet, Less maintenance, Fairly lightweight, Trigger start, No need to idle, Easy start
Battery: Con – Need a nearby electric outlet to recharge the battery, Shorter bar than a gas saw
Bottom Line. Which One to Buy
Rich has both a gas and electric battery saw. Both are well-made by reliable companies. So, if he didn’t own a saw and needed to cut up trees fallen in the yard which type would he buy?
“I’d buy a quality battery saw. They are easy to use, cut fast, and there’s no need to buy, mix, and store gas. They are also quiet, but I still use hearing protection when using one. There are major advantages of battery over gas. One is
eliminating the need to pull a cord to start it. You just pull the trigger. The second is especially helpful when cutting a fallen tree with branches. Often this requires cutting, then putting the saw aside to clear away the cut branches, then using the saw to cut more. Gas saws don’t idle well and often stall, requiring another pull on the starter cord. Also, when idling gas saws burn fuel and spew emissions. Battery saws excel when there’s a need to cut and then move wood.”
Battery-powered chainsaws use lots of electricity. He was able to cut 13 15-inch diameter black oak logs on one charge with a 12-amp hour battery. The saw will function well on batteries with lower amp hour ratings, but they will run down sooner. He suggests having two 12-amp hour batteries and notes that being close to a power source for recharging is useful. It is likely that the cost of recharging a battery is lower than the comparable amount of energy in gasoline but it’s difficult to make a comparison.
Operating any chainsaw must be done with safety in mind. Here is Rich’s list of safety precautions to keep in mind:
- Get saw training. In-person training is best but YouTube videos help.
- Always wear protective equipment that includes saw chaps, leather gloves, hearing, ear, head and eye protection, and sturdy leather boots.
- Saw with a partner nearby and carry a cell phone in case of emergency.
- Keep the chain sharp. YouTube videos show how to sharpen.
- Rest before you get tired.
- Be alert. Save the cold beer for after you are done.
Gas and battery saws with protective equipment.
Rich in protective equipment.
Quality gas and electric saws.
Rich has years of experience using many power tools and shares these thoughts:
Quality pays. “I buy quality tools, even if I have to wait until I save up enough money. Most of my tools are Milwaukee brand. The same batteries that power my chainsaw also power my drills, fans, vacuum cleaner, lights, inflater, hedge trimmer and other saw types. Many quality brands are on the market. They have their own specific type of battery that won’t work with other brands. So, I consistently buy the same brand for convenience.
Yard Tool’s Future
At Winding Pathways, we have replaced our gas lawn mower, snowblower, and now chainsaw with battery-powered equivalents. They are excellent and come with benefits over gas models. We see gas yard tools moving toward obsolescence and battery-powered ones becoming ever more versatile.
Rich has purchased, at retail cost, most of his power tools. Milwaukee has provided others for testing.
Several people have sourly said, “Good riddance to 2022.” This day, swaddled in dense fog that muffles sound and limits sight, I’m reflecting on 2022. As we noted in the Gratitude jar on the shelf, the year before, “Good things DID happen (in 2021).” Below are some generalizations of Gratitudes gleaned from the scraps of notes stuffed in the pickle jar on the counter.
Any number of times I noted “sublime day.” Perhaps the air and sun were in perfect balance. We completed errands smoothly. Or our energy simply flowed easily. Sitting on the deck with the bunny stretched out we were at ease.
Our few camping experiences gave respite to the “busyness” of the days. Quiet. No cell phones. Close to nature. Tall tulips in PA on our way to Falling Water. Weird geological formations in Nebraska’s Toadstool. The hoot of an owl in Iowa’s Yellow River.
Getaways and Friends
Other getaways offered contrasts. Floating the Niobrara River on a calm, mild spring day followed by driving through a blinding snowstorm the next day. The renovated, upscale Belvoir Winery & Inn in Missouri is surrounded by decrepit buildings of the long-abandoned Odd Fellows rest home. Reliving a dusty Kansas cattle drive in old Abilene at 109 degrees and stepping into the modern coolness of the Eisenhower and Truman Presidential Museums.
A balmy day followed by snow!
The former Odd Fellows Rest Home.
The cowboy on duty.
Interactions with friends and family. Reflecting on neighbor interactions, to book clubs, to yoga, to Firepit Friday gatherings, to coffee in the cabin and coffee shops, to the Veriditas and The Labyrinth Society colleagues. And, the bunny, Oreo, who was a wonderful Pandemic friend. She is still with us in memories and evidence of chewed cords and door frames. She was a character and a good friend.
Family connections over the miles on Facetime, ZOOM, in person, calls, photos, emails, and letters/cards. A way to be engaged with each other.
Engaging activities keep us active, healthy, and connected: Hoover Hatchery monthly blogs and Facebook Lives, writing for magazines and The Gazette, our Winding Pathways blogs, guiding labyrinth walks in person and virtually with Veriditas, walking and bicycling – on trails and (walking) inside as needed, playtime and projects with neighbor kids, monitoring students’ online course progress through Kirkwood Community College, watching Great Courses, helping with Faith Formation at church. And, appreciating the creative spirit and functionality of the Director of Faith Formation. The centering and balancing work with cancer patients and staff at the Nassif Community Cancer Center.
Reflecting on Deferred Gratification
Reflecting on the benefits of “deferred gratification” by having been careful with resources over the years and repairing/nurturing the land. Thanking the derecho trees for providing heat in the winter’s woodstove. Planting, tending and harvesting garden produce. Appreciating the chickens and giving them treats and a warm, safe place to live.
Thinking ahead: checking the air conditioner in April before the hot weather. Similarly, servicing the furnace and hot water heater in August. Maintaining the vehicles for optimal mileage and comfort – Rotate tires, change oil, fill windshield cleaner, change the blades, wash the outside, and detail the inside of the vehicles. Knowing steps to be prepared for outages, to stay home in inclement weather, and simply be at ease with what is.
Supporting educational to non-profit organizations locally and across the country.
Releasing memories to the ethers.
Although we can be sour about the downs of 2022, and there were a number of them, we can also appreciate the positives. That slight shift in reflecting helps ease the path for ourselves and others as we journey into 2023. Now, with gratitude for reflecting on 2022, I respectfully add these gratitudes to the woodstove that keeps us warm. The memory of these reflections keeps my heart warm.
Sunflower seed, cracked corn, milo.
Feeding backyard birds is fun, but it’s become expensive. The price of black oil sunflower seed has doubled in just a couple of years.
To keep our birds well-fed and our budget under control we use Fourth Story Feeders. What are they? Well, the first story is the ground. The second is a picnic table or other platform a few feet off the ground, and the third is a metal shepherd’s hook shoved into the ground that gets feeders up four or five feet. We use all these and increasingly have taken the feed up the elevator to the fourth floor.
Raccoons, deer, opossums, and even bears love a nocturnal snack of expensive bird seed. Squirrels and wild turkeys gobble it up during the day. These animals easily access seeds on the first, second, and third floor – but not the fourth. Except for bears who can create complete havoc with feeders left out overnight.
Here’s how we created a feeding station that’s easy for birds to reach but inaccessible to deer, turkeys, raccoons, and opossums:
- Bought the tallest shepherd’s hook we could find.
- Pulled our homemade picnic table to a spot easy to see through our windows.
- Drilled two holes in the wooden table exactly the size of the “feet” of the shepherd’s hook. Used a hammer to lightly tap the “feet” into the holes.
- Suspended silo and suet feeders from the hooks that are now eight or nine feet above the ground and out of reach of deer and nearly impossible for raccoons and opossums to climb.
A few tools around the home help construct Fourth Floor Feeders
A pole with a hook makes lifting feeder high easy.
The birds love eating from the fourth story but there’s a problem. How to fill feeders so high up? Well, again, here’s how we solved the problem:
We scrounged a four-foot-long stick from a nearby lake that a beaver had cut and chewed off the bark. We bought an “S” hook from a hardware store and drilled a hole in the end of the stick. We pressed one side of the “S” hook into the wooden stick and had a handy tool.
With the hook on the stick, we can easily lift a feeder and hang it on the fourth story. A broomstick works as well as a beaver stick and the telescoping metal poles used to attach to paint rollers also can work. Most already have a hook built into the pole.
Squirrels can climb the steel shaft of the shepherd’s hook, but we foil them by coating its surface with a light spray of grease. Baffles are better at keeping these smart, pesky mammals at bay.
Shepherd’s Hook feeder holder
Pole for lifting feeder
“S” hookTube of spray grease
Drill and bit the same size as the shepherd’s hook’s diameter
Although we still offer birdseed on the first, second, and third floors, now we present most of the seeds on the fourth floor. Saves seeds. Saves money. Frustrates deer, raccoons, turkeys, opossums, and squirrels.
Hummingbird and platform feeders with baffle.
Squirrels quickly figure out how to access feeders
Nearly everyone remembers a brief, often scary time. Usually, it comes within months of high school graduation. It’s time to leave the familiarity of home and venture out on new endeavors. Change is often exciting but it requires venturing out into the unknown – often alone.
Rich remembers moving from New Jersey to a state he’d never been to, Idaho, to start college. Within days he was sworn into the Army as a student soldier. Lots of change.
Marion ventured forth in the same year but not quite so far. Her launching took her to Plymouth State University a ways north of her home.
Wildlife babies face many of the same huge life changes and uncertainties that we did, but they do it at a much younger age. When we walk along early summer trails, we often see baby cottontail bunnies. Some are no bigger than our hands, but they are on their own in a world full of bunny hazards. They must learn how to find food, water, and shelter while all sorts of predators try to make them food.
In June we watched several broods of house wrens fledge from boxes we put up near our kitchen window and in the garden. Earlier we’d seen mom and dad bring in sticks to make a nest. Then we didn’t see them often for a couple of weeks as they incubated their tiny reddish eggs.
Wrens lay several small, reddish eggs.
Wrens peek out of the box.
Wren adults are busy feeding the young.
On a miraculous day, those eggs become hungry but helpless babies. Mom and dad worked endlessly catching and delivering juicy caterpillars and adult insects to feed the youngsters a high-protein diet. They grow quickly, and a couple of weeks after hatching we see beaks poking out the birdhouse entrance.
It must be scary venturing forth, but mom and dad encourage them to fledge. Out they go. But life is not easy. They need to learn how to fly, where to find food, and how to be safe. Parents help for a while but soon they are on their own while mom and dad make a new nest and raise a second brood.
Launching…. fledging……is a tough transition time for people, bunnies, birds, and just about any other young animal.