Turkey Hen and Chicks

A turkey hen and her chicks visited today.

The Tom is somewhere down in the east meadow gobbling away.

turkeyhen2

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Death to Manzanita!

Back in 1989, a forest fire swept through the area and pretty much burned everything on our 75 acres. Following the usual Sierra foothill succession, first came the grasses and herbaceous plants, then the manzanita, and then more manzanita, and more manzanita, and then the softwood conifers, and then the oaks.

By the time we bought the place in 2005, it was almost totally covered in manzanita, some reaching as much as 12 or 14 feet high. This made it very hard to move around on the property, and for the first couple of years we were confined to roaming around a couple of old logging skid roads on the place and a large meadow on the eastern side.

Over a couple years, using hand tools, we blazed a trail up the hill upon which the cabin now stands, and slowly started clearing a space at the top. One day, I carried up a 12 foot tall step ladder and set it up in the small clearing and climbed it for the first glimpse of our totally awesome view.

byhandWe continued using hand tools to cut the manzanita and drag it off to be burned until one day in March in 2008.

I was up with Eldest Daughter, cutting a huge monster down with a hand saw and just sat back and decided, “Fuck it, I am too old to do this any more.” and called a local good ol’ boy with a bulldozer, who cleared about 6 acres of manzanita, pushed it into several huge piles and burned it over a couple days. (House size piles of burning manzanita are terrifying and impossible to get closer to than about 50 feet…)

I have since discovered that bulldozers, specifically their ground tearing treads, are perfect manzanita berry planting machines, and am waging an ongoing war against the young manzanitas which have started popping up thickly in the last few years.

At first, I was using heavy duty long handled branch loping shears to cut them off at the base, but this is time consuming and you have to bend down to get to each young manzanita and after a few dozen of them you’re tired, your back hurts, and you want to just go drink beer.

In the last year, though, I have discovered the perfect small manzanita removal device.

adzBehold, my very new best friend, the adz.

A sort of flat shovel headed hoe with a sharp blade, you raise it above your head and whack it down at the base of the manzanita and chop it off at ground level.

It still requires quite a bit of physical effort, but I am able to cut a hundred or so little manzanitas before needing to take a break.

This baby is good for cutting everything from little sprouts to bushes a couple feet high.

You want to use heavy duty leather gloves to help cushion the impact on your hands. Even so, I find it best to take a break of a day or two in between uses to give my hands time to rest and the swelling to go down.

The first time I used it, I spent several happy hours destroying little manzanitas, but my hands got swollen and my palms felt like they’d been beaten with boards.

 

dewaltAnother favorite tool I’ve been using on the large manzanita is the 18 volt battery powered DeWalt demolition saw.

“But wait,” you say, “Why not a chainsaw?”

Several reasons: chainsaws are heavy, and you have to get low and often crawl under the manzanita to get at the base, and manzanita wood is really hard, and sharpening chainsaw blades is time consuming.

What I love about the demo saw is at the end of the day, I just replace the blade, they are under $1 each. Pictured above, one of my beloved saws and part of my dull, used, demo saw blade collection.

The one thing I don’t like about the DeWalt 18 volt batteries is they have a hard wired chip based circuit breaker which flips and kills the battery, forever, if it heats up past a certain point. Since batteries are about $49 each and it gets hot up here in the summer I went through a few batteries before finding out what the dealio was on the web.

DeWalt really needs to fix that “feature”.

Over the last few years, since the 18 volt battery powered DeWalt has been out, we’ve made a lot of progress in clearing out the large manzanita which was not bulldozed on the steep south side of our hill and in the pine and oak groves. We’ve also been laddering the low branches on the trees, so when the next fire sweeps through (and the next fire will sweep through), it will be confined to a grass fire and not get into the trees.

The Non-Denominational Dell

The Non-Denominational Dell is the first of many place specific art installations on our property.

This area of the property has been set aside as a quiet, contemplative place, home to gods and heroes, the four elements, and the thoughts and memories for those who have passed.

dell2In addition to several sculptures and figures, a tree rises from a central place of honor, upon which are strung the beaded, belled and crystal twinkling prayers and sendoffs for the departed and the blessings and well wishes for those who have just been born. Behind the tree resides a monument to the Maiden and the Unicorn, and greeting the visitor to the Dell is a timeless Green Man, smiling from the dawn of pre-history.

dell4

Visitors are asked to bring contributions to the Dell: figures for placement among the trees, chimes to ring sweetly in the wind, and crystals to turn the pure sunlight into the many colors.

dell3

In which we review the Bloomsky weather station and camera

I’ve been looking into getting a web cam and weather station set up for the cabin on a hill for a little while. It’d be nice to be able to check up on the weather and get a local snapshot on the situation up there when away.

Nothing’s really stood out until a friend sent word about a new Kickstarter launched weather station and web cam unit being sold by a startup called Bloomsky.

After looking into it more, I knew I had to get one.

bloomsky2And so it was, on this latest trip up to the cabin, the new Bloomsky weather station and camera was unpacked and prepped for installation.

You can order your own on the Bloomsky website or on Amazon. Check both, the Bloomsky site might be running a special dealio.

I ordered the solar powered option. It was delivered as a single large box containing three smaller boxes.  The three boxes contained the solar panels, weather station/cam unit, and mounting bracket.

Fans of good design will take some notice of this product. The packaging is attractive and in good taste, minimal and utilitarian.

As I unpacked the separate components, I was able to easily breakdown the cardboard boxes and inserts, there was hardly any foam or plastic or other hard-to-recycle elements.

bloomsky1

The basic kit features the semi-spherical Bloomsky unit in which are housed the weather cam, the sensors and the cpu and wifi.

The round Bloomsky unit is the meat of the package. Every five minutes, the onboard sensors transmit the temperature, humidity, barometric pressure and ultraviolet intensity, along with a big old fish-eye view of the sky, back to Bloomsky where it is made available on the web and through the Bloomsky mobile app.

All the sensors for light, UV, pressure, humidity and rain are embedded in the main Bloomsky unit, below the visor which houses the fish eye web cam. The camera can be positioned to a narrow band of view, from straight ahead with the horizon filling the bottom of the view to straight overhead, with the view pointing up into the sky. An image from the camera, along with the sensor telemetry, is uploaded once every five minutes to the Bloomky servers. At the end of the day, defined as when the sun goes down and it is dark, the imagery is automatically stitched together as a time-lapse on the servers and made available for general viewing over the web or via the mobile app.

The time-lapses are particularly awesome.

The overall excellent design sensibility is not confined to the packaging.  The various pieces of the kit are well thought out and designed to meet the majority of deployment scenarios using the basic components right out of the box.

bracket

The Bloomsky unit screws onto the top of the two-piece stake. From there, one could, for example, stick it in a window box without the separate steel bracket and plug it into a receptacle inside and feed the cord out the window and plug it into the unit and boom, instant weather cam. Or stake it into the ground and power it with the solar panel add-on screwed into the solar panel bracket or clamp it to a fence rail on the porch with the solar panel or screwed to the eve or the side of a pole or building  using the screw bracket and so on.

Unfortunately, our deployment was one of the minority cases where the unit was attached to an east facing roof eve which means the solar bracket would be oriented to the east,  and what I needed to do was orient the solar panel to either the south or west.  So it required a trip to the garage to look at what I had in the way of wood or brackets or screws to mount and orient the solar panel correctly as well as secure it in such a way that the occasional high winds wouldn’t cause it to fly away.

Tah dah!

improv

Okay, that was sort of a pain.

Setup of the unit via the app was really easy.  Bring up the Bloomsky app on your mobile which is  connected to the local wifi router. Go to the settings menu, press the Add a New Device button and follow the instructions. Done. Go drink a refreshing beverage and wait for the first image to upload.

There are plenty of nits to pick if one were a nit picker. This is not necessarily a good unit to use where there are high winds. The stake stays seated in the bracket by the slight weight of the unit. It isn’t screwed or clamped to the bracket, so one can anticipate a certain degree of mobility in windy environments. It isn’t clear at this stage how well the unit will stand up to extremes of hot and cold. There are also certain elements missing from the app, such as the permalink to the unit for web viewing. On the other hand, one can get notifications pushed to one’s mobile if, for instance, the device detects rain, which is neat if you are a weather nerd.

One big plus for techies is that the Bloomsky web cloud provides a REST API with which you can write custom programs to access your devices. You can check out the documentation here.

This is a new product with a strong surge right out the gate. Given the already impressive level of design and thought which has gone into the physical product as well as the web dashboard and mobile app, it is clear that it will iterate and improve quickly.

3.5 stars heading for 5.

You can check out the view from our weather cam here:

https://map.bloomsky.com/weather-stations/eaB1rJytnZSmm6el

MLE 2016 Announced!

mlesign

All right. It’s March 1 so that means the invites for MLE 2016 have gone out and boy is there a lot of work to do before the party.

First, there is a huge amount of cut branches and manzanita to burn, especially down around the Non Denominational Dell and the lower camp ground. (More about the Dell later.)

Second, there is a lot of work to be delivered on the “flat” part of the promise of flat and shady tent spots, especially up on the hill where the over-50 crowd will be hanging out.

So, pyro out for a few days, and spend a few days digging, moving and leveling several tons of dirt. This can be done.

I recently spent a lot of time with my dad before he died, and, it sort of being a running family joke about the physical exertions we were willing to undertake, way beyond the point of stupid, I made the quip that I spent my vacation time doing what other people called prison chain gang labor. He nodded knowingly.

I remember when he had a place up near Placerville, a big 2 story house, and he built a deck off the back of this big house, and then he started on the railing around the deck.

The deck was large. It was probably 80 or more feet in length wrapping around the back of the house, and he wanted to build a rail with fancy bevelled 2×4 running along the bottom, fancy bevelled 2×4 running along the top, and lathed rounded upright posts between the two set every 3 inches apart from the center.

That meant that he had to cut and lathe around 320 separate posts to build this otherwise merely utilitarian rail around the deck. He did, and it took forever.

So, my dad and I had a communication in that moment, and I hope you enjoy your nice flat shady camping area.