Morels are up.

May 27, 2019

The last time I walked the property I came home with three small dog ticks, so my wife suggested pointedly that I cut down on the bringing home of arachnid pets if I wished to continue to eat as well as exercise.

To that end, today I mowed a one-mile path, 5′ wide, on a route which by and large avoided overhanging pine trees. Then I walked same route, only to discover a location where I had run over an entire patch of white morels.


My first car was a $100 1960 VW Beetle with three working brakes. I very much enjoyed its challenges and I learned to drive it in all seasons without killing myself or my passengers.

The hairiest adventure with “Herbie” came when my friends and I borrowed a ski-tow rope from a fellow and set out to ski on the local frozen lake. There was a good base of frozen snow over abundant ice, so it came down to who had the nerve to try my recently-acquired boots and skis. My friend Don Goodfellow drove, John Wing rode shotgun, and I started off behind.

I had had one lesson on a ski hill so I was the expert, but turning behind a tow vehicle seemed different than snowplowing on the slope. I discovered as Don worked up to third gear — the VW’s fastest on snow — that by bracing myself against the skis I could make the rear wheels of the car skid a little bit. This was fun, so I tried swinging up by the passenger’s door, and then around to the driver’s.

Just as I was making a face at Don and trying to yank the Bug into a spin, the rope broke. I slid sideways on those steel edges for a long, long time before halting, arches crushed from the vibration.

Unsurprisingly, nobody else wanted to try the skis.

C & W Roofing have been at work for several days on the roof of the front wing of the house on our farm in Young’s Hill.  It has been a massive job arranging the ladders to gain access to the roof surfaces, let alone removing the shingles.

It turns out that the sheeting is intact under the layers of shingles, some of which were badly eroded by the concentrated exposure to the sun of a very steep, southwest-facing roof surface.  The front dormer is extremely steep, and the south side of it hides behind a chimney rebuilt in the seventies. The fireplace under the old chimney drew well, but zig-zagged its way up over forty feet to clear the roof line.  The furnace also had a flue.  There’s no way to clean one of those chimneys.  Eventually the soot erupted and after a hairy evening Dad decided it had to come down.  The replacement bricks started to deteriorate soon after the new chimney was completed, and the thing had been abandoned for years.

The crew worked their way around to the south side of the dormer yesterday morning, and Paul Peters  told me that the chimney was too dangerous to work around, so I offered to take it down with the winch.  That sounded o.k. to the crew.  Paul asked for a couple of planks to put against the back side so that the cable’s pull would be distributed over the entire height, rather than risking cutting through the chimney and having the top half fall over on the roof.

It was quite a job lifting two scaffold planks up there and standing them up against the chimney, then pulling the winch cable up, but there were lots of hands.  That makes a big difference on a project like this one.  Derek Simpson shot a video of the pull, but it’s only accessible to his Facebook friends at the moment.
Anyway, I had the tractor at idle as we tightened the cable, but the tall brick monolith didn’t move.  I speeded up the engine, another hard pull on the clutch rope, and then the whole thing let go, twisted slightly on its axis in response to the hook’s eventual placement at the southeast edge of the chimney, and plummeted like a ton of bricks. It landed precisely where I had planned, with not a brick out of place.  Most of the rotten masonry turned to dust on arrival.
Crew members gradually emerged from cover.  Everyone was truly impressed by the smash.  C&W Roofing owner Rick Warriner and superintendent Greg Cournyea drifted in the driveway just in time to see Derek’s video of the demolition.
I put the winch in gear to extract the cable from the rubble, raised the blade, and put the tractor away.  Job done.
Then Paul went to work from a 40′ ladder with hammer and chisel to cut the remaining stub of masonry down below the new roof line.  This took several hours of awkward work.  The big problem was the heavy flashing around the old chimney, which had been installed above the original steel shingles on the roof.  Two layers of shingles above the steel had ensured that no leaks occurred.
When he was ready I cut four 17 1/2″ boards, 12″ wide and 1″ thick, and he screwed them into place.  The waterproof membrane stuck down over the fresh wood, and the landmark chimney was no more.

Field mushroom season

August 27, 2018


Agaricus Campestris or meadow mushroom

These are the mushrooms both my grandmothers taught me to find and bring to their tables, so in spite of my wife’s misgivings I regularly pick and cook them. Today I learned a new rule of mycology, though: don’t hunt from a lawn mower.

I accepted that I had to remove a lot of green chaff from the caps. What threw me a bit was the quantity of sand the gills had collected from a single pass by the Kubota. I guess those brown folds work very like an air cleaner. They not only hold spores. They also do a wonderful job of trapping airborne sand.

I told myself that it was the sea salt in the omelette, but my molars were unconvinced. Great aroma, though.

A Quora questioner asked me to tell the story of the weirdest piece of driving on a public road I have ever seen.  There were a number of examples from that summer of 1970, not all of them my own creation, but this is the one I chose to recount.

It was 5:30 in the afternoon on a very hot day in August of 1970. The place was a highway overpass on the 401, the major highway through Ontario. I was working on an asphalt crew just outside Kingston, and as the sun got higher, the drivers grew sillier. The speed limit on the 401 at that time was 70 mph. We knew from experience to watch out for light green license plates from neighbouring Quebec. Ontario Place had opened that summer, so a lot of tourist traffic was making its way up and down the 401.

We had the traffic forced over into the centre lane, five or six trucks lined up ahead of the paver and the three rollers strung back at intervals over a half mile behind it on the right-hand lane.  Three flagmen and a few cones had the job of swinging the oncoming traffic into a single lane on the left.

All of the sudden a lime-green Mustang Mach-1 with a Quebec license plate appeared on the wrong side of the back roller, then slalomed around the other two rollers inside the cones before the driver realized that he was on soft asphalt and he had to get rid of some speed right then! He threw the Mustang sideways, or maybe the brakes weren’t balanced. Anyway, we weren’t quite over the driving lanes of the underpass below, so those of us who could jumped off and dove under the guard rail.  The Mustang slid sideways until it stopped against the back ledge of the paver with a thump.

Hot asphalt had sprayed everywhere. The car was pretty messy, but drivable, so they took the guy’s insurance details and got him out of there. Traffic was heavy, eh?

There was no saving 100 yards of pavement. The only thing was to bring in loaders, pick it up, and send it back to the plant for re-manufacture.

Glen Lawrence, the company owner, swore that the Division Street Bridge was jinxed. Two previous times that summer he had to pick up the asphalt on that stretch. Once it was jammed electronics on a paver, another time the mix got too cold to roll properly and the inspector rejected it, and then this yob from Quebec slid through it sideways.

I wonder what sort of story the driver told his pals to account for his new car covered with asphalt?

Tony Izatt reported this morning that yesterday he hit a large submerged deadhead while running at cruising speed between McCaskill Island and Newboro. He wrote that a whole tree was completely submerged and about 12″ below the surface. It was reportedly quite a hard impact, though the engine seemed unmarked and the hull retained its integrity overnight.

After they released me from hospital Bet took the mower and cut three trails to the woods through the long grass.  Then she made us walk them a couple of times per day.  Last week I added to the cumulative distance by mowing around another eight-acre field. The roads through the woodlot make fine walking as well at this time of year.  I look forward to the trails now, though Bet and Taffy don’t always come along.

By the time we visited the chief heart specialist at the Kingston Heart Unit last week, my numbers were all very good.  He wheeled out a new diabetes pill which protects against heart attacks and kidney failure with only the occasional amputated foot if you don’t drink enough water.

There’s a sort of all-or-nothing culture in this department and none of them seem to have met a diuretic they didn’t like.

Then came the stress test. I’d never tried a treadmill before and found the nurse’s cheerleader attitude confusing.  

For months everyone had programmed me: “We call your heart condition the widow-maker. Do nothing strenuous or you may die without warning, or at the very least tear your chest apart.”  The entire staff of Kingston General Hospital was on about this.  Family, friends and the homework reading material sang the same hymns.  

Then this young heretic wanted me to knock myself out to impress her.

There was no upper limit on her demands.

I hadn’t seen yearning like this since I told the Liberal Party I would only send them money if they did NOT call me to ask for it.  

That works, by the way.

So I left some room for improvement on the next stress test, but the lungs, legs and refurbished heart worked fine for almost six minutes, flat out, as the nurse increased the treadmill’s speed and slope.  This is a non-athelete speaking here, remember.

My offer to take any cancellation at all got the physiotherapy moved from late February to early November. I argued there isn’t much one can do around a farm tractor to prepare it for winter snow removal if one can only lift 15 pounds. 

The first session is Thursday at Hotel Dieu.

In summary, I’m far from back to normal in strength and flexibility, but I don’t need pain killers any more, the healing’s going well, and blood sugar and hemoglobin are good. 

Apart from occasional trouble dragging the appropriate noun out of memory while speaking, my brain functions reasonably well.  I heard Bet tell someone one day that my disposition is good.

The lazy nouns may not be a bad tradeoff for a 20 lb. weight loss.

It’s a relief to drive again.

And I still can’t play the piano. 

UPDATE: December 3, 2017

Yesterday I helped Les Parrott cut dead ash trees on his lot. I felled most of them with his saw while he ran the winch on my tractor to add a reasonable margin of accuracy and safety to the operation. Today, after our walk in the woods, I decided to plant walnuts. I gathered a five gallon pail of nuts from the orchard and spent a pleasant two hours interplanting the seeds among pines in the shelter belt along the north border of the property.

Both jobs were moderately strenuous and it felt great to work again.

Rehabilitation is ongoing at the Hotel Dieu Heart Clinic. This organization has my unequivocal approval. The staff are very professional (blood pressure checked five times per session, blood sugar checked before and after, medications carefully supervised, pulse rates monitored electronically throughout), but they are also immensely likeable. Bet goes shopping for the two hours after she drops me off, and she continues to remark at what a happy group — staff and patients — she encounters when she comes in at the end of a session.

It’s a four-month program with two sessions per week plus homework. The moderated floor exercises and stretches provide the discipline I couldn’t manage on my own (I’m lazy and hate to stretch) and the exercise machines enable us to train our hearts to handle heavier workloads.

I leave each session feeling lucky to have first-rate, free health care like this, especially with this group of very nice physiotherapists and nurses.