Journal for January 2004

The first entry of the new year!  There’s still almost no snow on the ground, so we’ll have to wait to plant the rest of the seeds.  Yesterday I walked up to the Star-flower opening, and worked a little on the path to it, and opened up the west edge of it.  I cut a lot of Prickly Ash, and painted the stumps with Tordon.  I tried to block the old, steep path, and other path possibilities with Prickly  Ash slash – it would be nice to keep the deer from overrunning the prairie plants.

On the drive down yesterday we saw a Shrike hovering above something at the side of the road.  I never knew that Shrikes did that – it looked like a Kestrel, but it was definitely Shrike colored.

We did the morning walk, and admired the beaver pond next to the culvert – it’s getting larger every week.  Today there was a muskrat feeding at the edge of the pond, under a patch of overhanging Reed Canary Grass.  It would sit there and eat – all we could see of it was some moving grass leaves, and a little bit of fur – and then it would swim out briefly under the ice to gather some more food.  It looked like it might have been finding roots to eat.  Then back to it’s hideout under the clump of grass to eat.  When it was swimming we could see it under the ice, and sometimes its tail would flip out of the water – looking like a wildly waving snake.

We’ve seen two golden eagles this weekend, and no bald eagles – a record, I think.  And there was an American tree sparrow in the feeder – I think that’s the first time.

Very cold today – 0 degrees with a strong south wind.  It was a very cold morning walk, and too cold to plant.

We saw a flock of about 35 Common Redpolls today on our walk – they were feeding at the edge of the road, and periodically flying up to one of the bushes in the wetland, or one of the trees in the woods on the other side of the road.  They sound a little like Goldfinches.

I walked up on top of the ridge behind the house yesterday, and then up the ravine beyond the frog pond.  It’s very deep in places, and full of slash, so it’s hard to walk.  But not much trash – I had seen some old pieces of metal near the top, just below Volvo meadow, but it looks like there’s only a little of that – not a huge trash dump.  I saw a Northern Shrike in the tops of the small trees in Volvo Meadow.

Today I cut and painted Tordon at the top of the path to Indian Grass Prairie.  I wanted to see if clearing just below the actual prairie would work.  I cut raspberries, and sumac, and prickly ash and dogwood.  Hopefully there is enough prairie stuff under all the brush that it will come back as prairie.  Next I’ll tackle the area right on top that’s mostly honeysuckle.

Just now there was a Common Redpoll in one of the birdfeeders.

1/17, 1/18, 1/19/04
This was a cold weekend – yesterday it was –5 degrees when I got up, and today it was –10.  So we did lots of inside things – Mike finished the rocking chair, and worked on the table top.  And I worked on repairing the wicker rocker.  Nice, but I wish we had been able to go outside more.  The house stays nice and warm.  Even yesterday, when the temperature outside didn’t get above 12 degrees, with the sun shining in, it got up to 76 inside.

I put up the new heated birdbath, and the goldfinches love it.  They found it right away.  I had to move it close to the house – we were afraid the snow sliding off the roof would break it, or break the railing.  I think we’ll build a bench of feeders to go in front of the low windows, so they will be safe from falling snow.  We can use the railing feeders in the summer.  There hasn’t been much snow this winter, but when it does slide, all the feeders are covered, and the birds go away.

The coyotes were howling from close by last night – but it was a very dark night so we couldn’t see them.

A hole in the cliff has frost all around it, and I’m sure it’s the entrance to the woodchuck’s house.

The beaver pond by the driveway is nearly frozen over.  I think they’ve stopped building – it doesn’t look any higher this week.  That’s good, because taking it out when it’s frozen would be very difficult.  There’s ice all over the dam, and little bumps of ice crystals all over the ice on the pond.  You can hear and see the water running over the dam under the ice.

A nice quiet weekend.  It’s been cold – a high around 10-15 – but yesterday was cloudless and nice and warm in the sun.  We have a few inches of snow on the ground now, so I took some seeds up the hill yesterday to plant, but couldn’t figure out our system of stakes.  It was pretty complicated, and we ran out of stakes, and the deer like to rub against them and knock them down.  So by this time, it’s hard to see what’s going on.  I went back up today with the map and figured it out and planted one acre.

We spent most of the day today making a bench with built-in birdfeeders to go under the low windows in the study.  It will protect the feeders from the snow falling off the roof. It falls with a huge noise and completely buries the feeders.  A few birds have found the new feeder already.

Everything was fine until Monday afternoon.  I went up the hill to plant one more acre, and Mike was working on the table in the woodshop.  On the way down the hill I got a call from the Sheriff’s office saying that Mike had cut his finger off on the table saw.  I slithered down the hill as fast as I could, and found Mike in the living room talking on the phone to the 911 folks.  Everyone was great – the first responders arrived a few minutes later, and then the ambulance.  I packed up and then followed them to the hospital in Eau Claire.  It was snowing hard – the best snowstorm of the season – so driving was slow and scary, but I just drove, not thinking, as fast and as carefully as I could.  Everyone in Eau Claire was nice, and helpful.  Mike had surgery to close up the wound at about 8:30, and we were out of the hospital by midnight.  We spent the night in a hotel – it was still snowing, and the roads were very slippery.  That was a good decision – in the morning, when we were driving back to St. Paul, we saw lots of cars in the ditch.

Here’s Mike’s FAQ that he sent out about the accident:

why are you sending this email?

as the news has started to spread, i have decided to send out this email describing my latest woodworking exploit — in the ever so popular FAQ format.  warning, there’s a lot of stupid macabre finger humor in this note.  if that offends you, don’t read any further.

what’s the news?

last Monday, while cutting a table leg in my wood shop at the farm, i accidentally got carried away and cut off the index finger of my left hand.  if you ever have the opportunity to gamble on the outcome of a confrontation between a table saw and a finger, bet on the table saw.

how much did you cut off?

most of it.  i have a nice little stump left, but no knuckles.  one rather annoying thing is that i cut it on a diagonal and the doctor didn’t straighten it during surgery…   i suggested to Marcie that i really ought to trim it up on the bandsaw.  she’s not keen on the idea.  it kinda grossed the kids out too.

did it hurt a lot?

nope, not really.  if finger amputation is something you’re considering as an alternative to that girly-man piercing stuff, i recommend doing it with a table saw.  very quick, very clean, not too painful.  you may want to build a jig so you can control the number of fingers you take off with any given pass.  i almost got a second one, which would have been a little over the top.

why is the note all in lower case, is this due to your injury?

i have been typing in all-lower-case for years, not realizing how handy it was going to be now that i’m only able to count up to 9 on my fingers.  i’m almost back to normal typing speed and look forward to great progress once the monstro bandage comes off and the stitches come out.  i’m pretty confident that the piano playing will come back ok too, although i’m gonna have to re-think some of the base parts.  the biggest hassle looks to be the guitar, but i’m a lousy guitar player anyway so no great loss.

can’t they re-attach fingers these days?

yep, but it works better on young people.  so after a lot of conversations with fancy surgeons at the U of M, it was decided to just go for the hard core stump fashion statement.  Marcie (that lucky girl) got to go find the finger in the shop, put it on ice, etc.  we were both a little sad when it was taken off to the mortuary (yep, all human remains have to go to the mortuary).  i’m hoping there is a little tiny 6-inch long coffin and matching headstone somewhere for it.  maybe the next “beer” email will be to announce a memorial service.

how are your spirits, given this terrible tragedy that’s befallen you?

spirits (especially in the beer and wine families) are good, although they don’t mix well with the pain killers i took for the first couple days.  i’ve  been having a great time coming up with stupid things to say about the incident.  Mary Henschel, my partner at NetArts (, has already provided several thoughtful gifts — one of those huge foam-rubber “we’re number 1” hands from the U featuring a huge index finger (good for instant-replay demonstrations), and a large box of lady FINGERS (nyuck nyuck nyuck).

how long are you going to be laid up?

well, i was pretty much out of commission the day after, but that’s it.  i had to rearrange the car so i could reach the garage door opener…  i’ve been off the pain killers for the last couple days.  and the bandage is a great conversation-starter in restaurants.

so i’m fine.  really.  next time i see you, i’ll show it to you if you want.


1/31, 2/1, 2/2/04
A much easier weekend than last!  It was nice to come down and turn the house back into our get-away – not an accident scene.  Mike is doing fine with his finger – he can type and even play the piano.

There’s still lots of snow on the ground.  We had someone plow the road – I’m not sure that was necessary – I think we could have driven in – but this way we didn’t have to worry.  It started snowing again on Saturday, and it’s been snowing continuously since then.  It’s nice – a little warmer – up to 20 in the daytime – and nice gentle snow.  I planted another acre on Saturday – now there are only 3 left to go.  If all goes well I’ll get finished with the planting next weekend.

We were sitting looking out the windows with the lights out late Saturday night, and 3 deer came up very close to the house and wandered around grazing on the weeds sticking up through the snow.

The new birdfeeder is a huge success.  I can sit on the couch in front of the windows, and the birds all come to eat at the feeder.  They seem very comfortable as long as I sit still.  It’s fun to see them from so close – I can see every feather.  As soon as I move, they all fly away at once, but they come back pretty quickly.

Sunday – Lots of snow.  It’s snowing hard, and the radar has lots more coming.

We saw 2 coyotes this morning running down the hill from the east side of Center Valley, through the ditch, and up the hill on the west side.  It was difficult to see them very well because of the snow, but they looked too big for foxes, and grayer than foxes, and they ran with their tails down.

I planted one more acre today – I had to walk up the hill on snowshoes because the snow is so deep.  I think it snowed about 8 inches since yesterday, and that was on top of the 8 inches or so that was already on the ground.  And it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop.  All the snow on the roof slides off with a noise like an avalanche – the porch has about 3 feet of snow piled on it and the birdbath got completely filled with snow.