Passing Judgment on Squirrels

As I had hoped, my office in the new house is a great place to watch birds visit our feeders. We have enjoyed watching the comings and goings of over a dozen species. Last week we had four different woodpeckers (red-bellied, pileated, hairy and downy) at our feeders at the same time! But with the birds come the squirrels. No doubt, squirrels can be entertaining, but do they have to eat so much? Are they making it harder for the birds get enough food?

We have both grey squirrels and red squirrels raiding our feeders.  The grey squirrels, which may be really hybridized fox squirrels, are at least twice the size of the red squirrels. But the size difference does not seem to bother the aggressive red squirrels. They attack whenever a grey squirrel comes near my feeders. They chase up and down, spiraling around tree trunks, making death-defying leaps. The action rivals the best chase scenes from Hollywood.

From what I can tell, the birding (or bird-feeding) community online spends a lot of time discussing ways to keep squirrels out of feeders. Bird feeder makers tout the latest innovations in “squirrel-proof” feeders. I found at least one site on-line that stated the squirrels can keep birds from feeding effectively. But the biggest complaint and reason for controlling squirrels appears to be just how much expensive birdseed squirrels consume.

Because most bird-feeding enthusiasts like all kinds of wildlife, their typical solution is to provide alternative feed for the squirrels away from the bird feeders. This can include corn cobs and peanuts. This strategy sounds good in theory, but does it really work? I would think squirrels habituated to bird feeders and the goodies contained therein are not going to go out of their way to feed on something else.

I find myself getting outsmarted no matter what I do to keep the squirrels away from my feeders.The expensive “squirrel-proof” feeder I bought includes a wire grid that surrounds the feeding tube. But the dimensions of the grid are just large enough to permit a red squirrel to squeeze through. Following on-line instructions I built a platform feeder 10 feet from the nearest tree and five feet above ground. I found out that squirrels, at least our well-fed brood, can leap vertically over five feet.

I bought a small live trap, thinking I could remove the squirrels humanely and relocate them to a nearby state forest, or at least somebody else’s woods. But the squirrels have ignored it so far. Something too small to trip the gate, probably mice, has raided the trap and stolen the bait a few times.  So much for being a nice guy.

Sometimes I can convince our dogs to go out and chase the squirrels away from the feeders, but the squirrels make fools of the dogs every time they begin the chase. Evidently, Mabel, our cockapoo, and Buddy, our springer spaniel, have not figured out that the squirrels are up a tree and out of sight before they take three steps out the door. Lately, the looks the dogs give me at the door suggest they are realizing the futility in giving chase.

My dad shows no mercy when it comes to squirrels at his feeders. Dad grew up in farm country where varmints like skunks and coyotes were routinely dispatched. To Dad, a squirrel raiding his feeders is a varmint. Dad has no compunction about treating his squirrel problem with “a little lead behind the ear”. Of course, he does this legally in accordance with Minnesota’s small game regulations. Dad is pretty proud of the sharpshooting skills he has developed defending his feeders over the years. But he admits the squirrels keep showing up year after year.

I tried using an old BB gun still around from when my kids were little. I was not trying to hit the squirrels, just scare them, which is just as well because the gun’s accuracy was questionable. But the BB gun quit working and now I am considering getting a pellet gun. With a Crosman Nitro Venom .177 Caliber complete with scope, I could act as judge, jury and executioner. But do I really want to shoot them? I have a firm belief in eating what you kill. When it comes to squirrels I’m not that hungry, especially with fresh venison in the freezer. I would feel guilty chucking a freshly killed squirrel into the brush.

My wife does not buy my lofty moral stance. She claims I really like engaging the squirrels in this contest of wits, even if I am losing. As she says, “if you got rid of the squirrels what would you do all winter?” As I write this, a huge grey squirrel is gorging himself at one of my feeders. Wait…did he just wink at me?

 

Advertisements

After the Storm

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The scene that greeted us the morning of July 21st.

Wednesday, July 20th of this year was another uneventful summer day. At the end of the day, as is my habit, I checked the weather on my iPhone before going to bed. We were in a severe thunderstorm watch, but the radar showed nothing in our immediate vicinity.

At about 1 am that night we were awakened by the storm. Through the strobe-like flashes of lightning we could see trees waving wildly in the wind. We went back to sleep thinking we may have branches and leaves to clean up in the morning.  What we did not know was the storm hitting us was massive and had formed a bow echo on radar, which is an indicator for damaging straight-line winds.

The next morning I took a look around the south (lake-facing) side of the house to see if we’d lost any trees. Other than an accumulation of branches and leaves on and around the patio, there did not appear to be much damage. I finished my coffee, showered and got ready to go to work. (I am working again this summer as an Aquatic Invasive Species inspector.)

When I went out to start loading my truck I went around the northeast corner of the house and could not believe my eyes. A gigantic clump of basswood trees had been blown over, clipping a corner of our new garage and landing on both our vehicles.

I went back inside to let Mel know I would not be going to work that day.

After recovering from the initial shock, I started making calls to insurance companies. Although our brand new house was damaged, we were not upset. Insurance would cover the repairs, which we would have our current contractor (who is still on the hook for a few other punch list items) complete.

We called on friend and neighbor Mike H. for help with getting the tree off our vehicles. He and wife Gail spent most of the day with us cutting and hauling away branches. Mike is a retired tree-trimmer, so his expertise was invaluable. Our daughter Emily’s fiancee Joe J. also was a big help, coming up with a plan to jack the huge tree trunks up so we could back the vehicles out.

We were quite surprised to find that the damage to our vehicles was not as bad as it first appeared. The pickup  (with minimal insurance coverage) got a few more dents and scratches, which blended in with all the other dents and scratches. Although the Outback did not look bad, the body shop estimate still came at over $6000!

But that’s why we carry insurance – no big deal.

The storm’s real damage was down the hill at our cabin.  There we lost nearly all the mature balsam fir trees that provided us shade in the summer and a windbreak in the winter. We also lost a number of other trees between us and the neighbors and even more in the woods behind the cabin. Straight-line winds normally break the tops off trees, which is bad enough. But we had recently had over 12″ of rain, softening the ground so the trees went over, roots and all.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IMG_1412

IMG_1406

The remaining three balsam firs on the left had to be taken down, as they were partially uprooted and leaning toward the cabin.

Our cabin is currently empty, now that we are in our new home. We hope to use it as a guest house or possibly as a vacation rental property.  We were fortunate that none of the trees came down on the cabin and the damage to our personal property was minor. This stuff is easily replaced.

What can not be replaced are the beautiful mature trees that framed the property and provided its  unique character. The cabin no longer peaks out from under the fir boughs – it sits naked in plain sight now.  These trees were planted and nurtured by the original owners of the property starting back in the 1950s. They had sheltered innumerable family gatherings, graced the property with their fragrant boughs, and took the bite out of the prevailing northwesterly winds that scream across the frozen lake in winter.

We will replant, of course, and try to reestablish some shade with fast-growing aspen and poplar. But we will not see the likes of these beautiful trees on the property again, at least not in our lifetimes.

 

 

 

 

Almost a House

IMG_1265

We’re almost there – just waiting for the concrete guy to come back to polish the floors one last time, and for the tile guy to seal the grout in the showers. A year ago we started with high hopes – our custom design was perfect and we had the best contractor in the area, who told us we would be in by the fall – of last year.  After months of waiting for subcontractors to show up, worrying over details (“the wood stains don’t match!”) and lamenting  the lack of communication with our general contractor, we have moved beyond frustrated to complete mental exhaustion. But we are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. We have been incredibly blessed and fortunate.  Soon, we’ll be moving in to our new house.

We should be really excited about this. But we’re approaching the move-in with not a little anxiety. What if our design is seriously flawed? Will we stay warm enough in the winter and cool enough in the summer? Will we still like our cupboards/windows/floor/whatever in 10 years or 20? Should we have made this room bigger? Should have put in more windows? People say you should build two houses, the second one to fix all the mistakes you made the first time.

But our uneasiness may have deeper sources.  It is too easy to fall into the habit of thinking the new house will fix all our foibles – we’ll be better organized, we’ll clean up after ourselves, we’ll exercise more and eat and drink less.  The new house will bring out our creative selves, make us better gardeners, better cooks, better hosts. I’ll write more. We’ll make a strong effort to be the people we ought to be, but the reality is we will no longer have the lack of storage space or sunlight or outlets or counter space as excuses for being lazy slobs.

We have a mountain and several foothills of stuff in our pole shed and more in off-site storage. We know it won’t all fit. We are reluctant to get started – not the least because the job will be more like an excavation than an orderly move. As the year went on, stuff got heaped on stuff, stuff was pulled out early, from the bottom of piles, causing avalanches of stuff.  We started packing over a year ago, before Emmaville was sold. We knew just where everything would go and had a brilliant plan to keep it all organized. Now we can’t remember what we have where. Just as the building process had peaks and valleys, we anticipate the moving process will have moments of joy (“Oh, I forgot we had this! This will look perfect.”) and moments of exasperation (“Why did we keep this. What the hell are we going to do with it?”).

Hopefully in another year, we’ll find ourselves relaxing on our patio after a great day spent tending the garden or creating something beautiful and will realize we are content. Even if there is a sink full of two-day old dishes, a basket of unmatched socks on the couch and boxes in every room still waiting to be unpacked.

 

 

 

 

 

Zhingwaak Revisited

IMG_0203We are fortunate to have a number of mature Eastern white pines (Pinus strobus), the tree the Ojibwe call zhingwaak, on our land. For me, the white pine symbolizes my love for this place called Minnesota. Tracing the silhouettes of pines at sunset on Island Lake as young boy, I first knew the joy of observing nature.  I’ve wanted to live among the pines ever since.

The white pine, along with its cousin the Norway or red pine (Pinus resinosa) attracted the first logging companies to Minnesota Territory back in the mid-1800s. Pine boards built thousands of homes, barns, storefronts, churches and schoolhouses throughout the Midwest.

Pine was in such demand during the settlement era that logging companies took every tree they could find, leaving barren landscapes wherever they went.  The greed of the timber barons provided impetus for the allotment acts that broke up the White Earth and Leech Lake reservations and allowed the taking of most of the land originally reserved for the Ojibwe by treaty.

Today, only remnants of these once-great pine forests can be found in scattered locations in northern Minnesota. Perhaps the most notable of these pine islands is the Lost Forty, located northwest of Grand Rapids.  A surveying mistake in 1882 resulted in the preservation of a small piece of Minnesota’s pre-settlement forest. (You can get a glimpse of the Lost Forty in this YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lSBTlJGCitE)

The white pines on our land are probably “second-growth” trees that got established after the logging boom, which makes them at least 100 years old. They form a crown atop the knob we are building on, visible from across the lake and from the river outlet along Crown Point Road (I like to think the road is named after our little hill).

We reluctantly took down one of these majestic trees to make room for our house. We want to remember and honor this tree so we are incorporating as much of it as we can into our new home. After my friend Mike the DNR Forester felled the tree for us back in April, I hauled several of the logs to a local sawmill to have them sawn into 2.5-inch slabs which were then kiln-dried and planed. Last September, I picked up the sawn pieces from the mill and began making what will become “floating” shelves throughout the house.

IMG_0912

We are also having the top for our kitchen island made from these slabs. Athough it may not be practical to leave the bark on the island top, we’ll retain the natural shape of the edges.  Our fireplace will feature the slab on the far right of the above photo, bark and all, as the mantel.

Meanwhile, as I poked around the woods this fall, I began to locate white pine seedlings coming up around our building site.

IMG_0952

To keep the deer from eating the terminal buds on these trees this winter, I erected little fences around each tree.

white pine

I’ll remove the fences in the spring to avoid inhibiting their growth.  Although Mel and I will be long gone when these trees become mature and add to the beauty of Crown Point, we hope our descendants and others will enjoy them for years to come.

The Traveling Barn Door Finds a Home

Growing up on the Spry farmstead before the age of electronic entertainment, my siblings and I played a lot of ball in the yard. There was (and still is) a glacial erratic in the middle of the yard the top of which was exposed through the grass. This patch of rock made a perfect, permanent home plate. First base was a Norway pine sapling we planted when we first moved to the farm. Mom’s long-suffering snowball bush (a high-bush cranberry) served as second base, as well as a sideline marker for football games. Third base was usually a flattened cardboard box.

Our makeshift field was the setting for acting out our baseball fantasies, imagining we were in a major league park. We even had our own version of the Green Monster, the south side of the old barn, which officially measured 217 ft from home plate in left center. I painted that number on the barn in white paint, with large numbers and a smaller “ft”, just like the outfield fences in Met Stadium.

The barn hadn’t been used for its original purpose, milking cows, for decades. Inside, a few rusted stanchions hung from the beams. In the hay loft, several rotting horse collars were perched in the crooks of the rafters. For the first few years after we moved to the farm, Dad raised feeder pigs in the barn. My after-school chores included “slopping the hogs”. After the pigs were gone, the barn sat empty again.

When my siblings and I returned to the farm on annual summer visits as young adults, we noticed the old barn was nearing its end. Each year, the sides of the ground floor leaned further north, as the classic barn roof with its aluminum cupola, still stately but sagging a bit in the middle, slowly sank to the earth.

On one summer visit some 20 years ago, Mel and I learned the Callaway Volunteer Fire Department was scheduled to use the barn for practice. We salvaged two doors from the barn, the main door from the front and a side door near the silo. We were visiting from our home in Montana at the time and hauled the doors all the way back on the roof of our Jeep Cherokee. We had no idea what we were going to do with them, but we thought they were cool and reminded us of home.

The larger door. The nicks and gouges in the middle are from the steel fencepost we used to prop the door shut on the barn.

The larger door. The nicks and gouges in the middle are from the steel fencepost we used to prop the door shut on the barn.

From Montana, the doors moved with us to Idaho, from there to New Mexico, and finally back to Minnesota when we bought our cabin on 5th Crow Wing Lake. We used the smaller door as a headboard for a while and the larger one to display antique fishing lures but mostly they stayed in the garage and collected dust. Although we spent thousands of dollars renovating and redecorating every house we owned, we never permanently installed the doors in any house. We knew we’d be moving on at some point and didn’t want to leave them behind.

When we started designing our house last winter, we spent a lot of time looking at the Houzz website (or what we call house porn), for ideas. We learned about the latest decorating craze: barn doors. These are doors that slide along a track and look old, for which you can find hardware on at least a dozen sites on-line. You can even order doors made from reclaimed wood. Designers have learned what we have known for years: old barn doors are cool.

Finally, we had a perfect opportunity to incorporate the doors into our “forever” home. There was one problem: neither door was large enough to cover a standard opening for an interior door. So I bought some pine boards and built a frame that incorporates the large door and is big enough to cover the door opening. The barn door was lop-sided, missing parts and no longer square but I made no attempt to fix any of that. I took the old door apart and inserted some old galvanized steel Mel had salvaged from her grandpa’s farm.

The completed project.

The completed project.

The back side of the frame.

The back side of the frame.

Hardware installed.

Hardware installed.

The finished project awaits installation between my office and the master bedroom after interior work is completed on the new house. We’re still not sure how to use the other barn door, which is smaller yet. It will stay in the garage, collecting dust until inspiration strikes again.

Our Mysterious New Neighbors

Below our homesite, the lake is quite shallow (2 to 3 ft deep) and full of lily pads, which essentially precludes docking a boat or pontoon. That is fine with Mel and me; we would like to keep the shoreline undeveloped. However, I thought it would be nice to have a footpath from the house down to the shoreline. All this path required was moving a deadfall or two and trimming a few low-hanging branches.

One day in June, while working on this project, I came across a strange scene. In an area about the size of a dining room table adjacent to the waterline, all the grass had been flattened. My first thought was that a bear had been lounging around, maybe gnawing on a dead fish. As I looked closer I found scat, but it didn’t look like something that came out of the backside of a bear. The stools were smaller than standard bear poop and were full of bits of shell and fish scales.image

image

Ok, maybe not a bear, but a racoon, I thought. But why would racoons flatten all this grass? As I pondered this I glanced up the slope and noticed more grass flattened and what looked like an anthill that had been leveled. Again, it could have been a bear searching for some 6-legged appetizers. But there were no claw marks indicating digging.  Instead, the dirt looked smoothed out, like something had been sliding on it. That’s when I got excited – this could be river otter sign.

image

Otters are my favorite animal. If I had to choose an animal form for the next life, it would be the otter. My kids know I have a thing for otters; Emily even sculpted one out of soapstone for me.

The first time I saw otters in the wild I was deer hunting with my dad, about 20 years ago. I was standing on the edge of a clear cut, waiting for Dad to work his way across. The sun had set, so it was nearing the end of the hunting day. While watching Dad pick his way across the stumps and brush, I heard splashing behind me. There, in a pond about 75 yards away, were two otters playing. They were silhouetted in the orange dusk. Dad and I watched them for several minutes until it finally grew too dark to see them and then we headed back to camp. This is a favorite memory for me.

We have seen muskrats and beavers swimming along our shoreline, and even had a tree cut down in our yard by a beaver, but we had never seen otters. How cool would it be to have otters living next door? Having a bear in the neighborhood would be less cool.  If they are otters, we would be lucky to actually see them. Although they are playful and seem gregarious, they are quite shy.

Maybe one of my thoughtful children will get me one of those trail cameras for Christmas…

The Best Laid Plans….

Mel and I have long agreed that one of the “must haves” in our new house was a screen porch. We saw the porch as the best way to enjoy summer evenings in the woods: watching the sun set over the lake, listening to the loons and enjoying friends and family all without having to swat mosquitoes.

When we began designing the house our emphasis on a passive solar design required that the porch be located on the end of the house to maximize the number of south-facing windows. Having the porch on the southwest end made the most sense, since it was closest to the lake and would have the best view. We anticipated that we would be cutting into the ridge on the west side of the house to create a level surface for building. We thought this would mean the porch would have a 3- or 4-ft berm against it, but believed there would still be room for a view.

By the time excavation was completed and the foundation was in place, it was clear that we had underestimated the depth of the cut on the west end of the house. What we thought would be a 4-ft cut became a 7-ft cut. To get any kind of view out the porch would require excavating out the south toe of the ridge, which lies within the 100-ft shoreline buffer zone. After obtaining a variance, our excavation contractor had already taken some of this material out, which created a nice level space for a patio in front of the living and dining rooms. But to get the view we wanted from the porch would have required taking out a lot more material, doubling the size of the disturbance in the buffer zone.

image

The screen porch was to go in this corner. (Buddy included for scale)

Meanwhile, Mel was lamenting the size of her sewing room and spare bedroom. As an unintended result of making revisions to the plans previously, this room became less than 11 ft wide. This worked against our original intention of having a spacious, handicapped-accessible spare room. After contemplating these issues while staring at the ceiling one sleepless night, I came up with a solution to both problems. We would eliminate the screen porch, move the TV room (which doesn’t need a lot of windows) into that space and expand the sewing room and spare bedroom. We ran the idea by Bernie, our contractor, who had also been scratching his head about the porch. He thinks the change makes sense.

Giving up the screen porch is hard. We’ll have to put up with the bugs if we want to sit outside in the evenings. More than that, it means giving up a fun, comfortable space in which to entertain and relax. But the space would only have been used 3 or 4 months out of the year, which doesn’t sit well with our practical mindset. We’re at peace with this change; we get a little more space where we need it and we won’t have to break more ground. Someday maybe we’ll build a screen gazebo. Meanwhile, we’ll just use more bug spray.

A Giant Sandbox

The excavators began work on our home site the week before last. I happened to be at the cabin working on some projects when they rolled in with a huge excavator on a flatbed trailer. Ron Gertz, the excavating contractor, introduced himself and immediately started asking about how the house would be laid out. He told me he needed to develop his own mental picture of what the final grade on the site should look like. We spent a lot of time putting stakes in, measuring and laying out the corners to guide the initial excavating.

The big sandbox

 Ron was concerned that the approach I cleared did not provide the right angle for approaching and entering the garage. He quickly came up with the idea for a circular driveway that would provide the right alignment for the approach as well as improve traffic flow. He even jumped in his skidsteer and quickly brushed out the outline for the driveway. After spending some time with him on-site, it became clear to me that Ron had plenty of experience at this and was quite meticulous. He may come off as a humble farm boy, but he has an engineer’s eye.

The circular driveway in progress

 I went to the site a couple of days ago to check on progress. It was early evening and Ron’s crew had gone home. The circular driveway looked mostly complete, perhaps requiring another course or two of pit-run gravel. The crew had been working on digging the frost footings. Because of the slope, the excavation was over 12 ft deep on the southwest corner.

I found the exposed profile of the excavated hill fascinating; my training in soil science, which I hadn’t used in about 20 years, suddenly became relevant again. The ‘A’ and ‘B’ horizons (topsoil and subsoil) are almost 2 ft thick in places and look extraordinarily rich to someone who is used to working with the thinner soils of the western US. The underlying layer or “parent material” on which the topsoil developed, consists of sand and gravel and ranges from 3 to 6 ft thick. This layer contained a lot of rocks, from grapefruit-sized to over 2 ft in diameter. These were rounded smooth, which is typical of glaciated materials found throughout this area. The excavating crew is separating and stockpiling the rocks for our future use, as we requested. No need to buy expensive rocks for landscaping here!

Footings excavation. Note the whitish layer at the bottom in the background.

 But the really interesting feature of the excavation is the nearly white sand at the bottom. Ever since we bought this place 8 years ago, I have wondered how our little knob was created. The shoreline along the rest of the south side of 5th Crow Wing is relatively flat, but our hill rises up abruptly about 25 feet above the lake’s high water mark. It is generally round in shape at the base, with a curving crest shaped like a whale’s back. According to Wikipedia, this feature may be considered a “kame”, which is formed when material that has accumulated in a crevasse or hole in a glacier drops out the bottom as the glacier recedes. But a kame is usually made of unsorted material, which would not explain the clearly defined sand layer beneath the unsorted gravel.

spodic

Calcium deposits along root channels found in sand layer.

Perhaps the underlying geology of our home site was an ancient sand dune that was later covered by till deposits. This sand dune could have formed along the edge of a lake during an earlier glacial period. Similar sand dune formations can be found, for example on the north side of Height of Land Lake in Becker County. Unfortunately, there is no geologic map publicly available for Hubbard County that would shed any light on what the glaciers were up to in our immediate area. The geology is important to consider when siting our septic system and well. The layers of topsoil, gravel and sand should work well as a filter to keep our sewage from affecting our drinking water and the lake.

The sand itself is beautiful stuff – clean and bright. It is what is known as “sugar sand”, a highly desirable material for rebuilding beaches. I joked to Mel that maybe instead of building a house we should open a sand mine. She didn’t think that was funny.

Right now our home site looks like a giant sandbox. I suggested that Emily haul some of that beautiful sand to the other sandbox for the kids.

I am not a logger.

Having never owned land before and having never built a house, I decided that I wanted to clear our building site myself as the first chapter of the whole experience.  Our site is somewhat open, but still has a number of trees that need to go to make room for the house. (WARNING: somewhat technical botanical terms ahead) Most of the overstory is composed of basswood, or linden, which grows in large clumps.  We also have a few burr oaks.  Beneath these grow ironwood, or “hop hornbeam” trees.  Towering above all are several second-growth white pines, one of my favorite trees.

The basswoods, with umbrella-like canopies and leaves as sometimes as big as dinner plates, provide most of the shade. It will be important to keep several clumps intact on the north side of the building site for those hot summer days when the sun edges north. We will also leave most of the trees on the south side, theorizing that with leaves off they will allow sufficient solar gain in the winter.

After slogging1everal days of work, the building site looks like a battlefield. I’ve learned a lot about felling trees and fixing chainsaws. So far, I’ve only had one near-miss in the category of getting clobbered by a falling tree, and that was one that got hung up in another tree.  I’ve learned that happens a lot with basswoods and their large canopies.

I’ve also gained a new appreciation for my temperamental old Allis-Chalmers tractor. The old gal came in handy for knocking and pulling down hung-up trees and for dragging the larger logs out of the way. Allis and I have had a love-hate relationship since I bought the tractor from a neighbor three years ago. Although I drove tractors on my Grandpa’s farm, I wasn’t the one who fixed them when they broke down. I am proud to say I’ve made progress on the antique tractor maintenance learning curve. Early on I spent a lot of time with Allis trying to figure out why she wouldn’t run, which is why Mel refers to the tractor as “the other woman.”

FullSizeRenderFinally, I have learned that I am not a logger.  In the land where Paul Bunyan was born, Minnesota’s rich logging history is often romanticized. Although I’ve gotten somewhat proficient at the job, I have found no romance in the work.  I don’t think I would have fit in among the men in the logging camps of yore. Call me a tree hugger, but I don’t like cutting down living trees. I think about the tons of carbon dioxide all that foliage processes. I could try to figure out the carbon footprint of our home, and determine whether the energy-efficient design offsets the biological impact. Or I could, and probably will, plant more trees to replace those I cut down.

The environmental cost, however, is not what is bothering me. I find there is something spiritually jarring about taking down a live tree.  It’s different than taking an animal during a hunt; I can find harmony in recognizing the animal will provide me sustenance.  But I don’t need to cut down these trees to live; they are simply in the way. My actions are justified in western culture; after all, it is my land. But this rationale does not quiet whatever is nagging me from my subconscious.

Maybe that little voice I can’t quite hear is one of my Ojibwe ancestors. Basswood was and is an important resource to Ojibwe people. Its inner bark can be twisted into a kind of rope and parts of the tree are edible. My understanding is that traditional Ojibwe believe most things in their surroundings, including trees, are animated by a spirit. But the Ojibwe made use of nearly everything in their surroundings, including cutting down saplings to construct shelters. According to what I’ve read, many traditional Ojibwe honor the sacrifice made by the animal or plant by making an offering of tobacco.

I could write couple of thousand words here about the question of cultural identity, but this post is about cutting down trees. Maybe I’ll give the tobacco offering a try…