Saturday morning, after working the bugs out on the Peoplenomics server (new security update, CHMOD issue) it was time to get on to the first Make project of the weekend.  “Purdying up the yard.”

The first thing you do is touch off the pile that’s been accumulating for a few weeks.  The idea is you light off one side of it using what we call a “cactus burner” and then push the unburnt side into it.  That way, you’ve got great control of your fire.

This doesn’t seem like a big deal if you live inside a city and the fire department will be there in less than five minutes.  But, out here in the Outback, one respects the volunteer fire department, pays the annual membership dues promptly, and then watches all outdoor fires like a hawk.  Even so, we have had two fires near us already where I was one of the people on tractor-back making sure the fire stayed contained.  A drought’s on the horizon, and we expect the Texas Forest Service will be busy this year.

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People sometimes don’t appreciate how much damn work can be done with a small to medium sized tractor.  Let me show you a “before and after” of a stand of yaupon at the base of a keeper tree.  The first picture is from the tractor looking at the victim plant.

This second picture is a pass down and back later.

Less than 90 seconds.  Gone, mulched, done, and off into the deep woods.

There is some debate locally about what to do with yaupon.  Oilman2’s son, who’s been known to tractorfy a bit here ’round, is allergic to the stuff.

I’m none too fond of it, either.  On the other hand, since NPR has a story over here on the interesting past of the yaupon, maybe a hashtag (like #saveyaupon) will pop up with us at the center of a Trump-sized hate movement.  There’s just no telling, these days.

Still, American holly or just a damn nuisance, some of it near the house had to go.  So did a number of small trees that were blocking some of the young pine stands coming up.  You use the tractor bucket like a gigantic weed puller and then get the offending tree on the bucket and head for the fire.

When you get there, you drive into it as you dare.

This is one of those “judgement” things city slickers don’t think about.

OK, you need the tractor because it’s the main line of fire defense should the weather have been drier and the wind up.  But, in order to keep the fire heaped up (and thus burning clean, not spread out and smoky) you like to dump fuel into the middle of the fire.  But the tires will burn, so you are quick in, quick out.

Once the small stuff has been piled on, you go looking for big dead-fall.  Trees that have fallen down on their own.

You can see how far this downed tree hangs off the bucket on the right.  It dangled just as far off the left.  So, getting to the fire is a series of Z-turns through the woods; first the right side goes by a close tree, then a hard turn right to get it past the next tree on the left, and so on.  A diesel ballet.

Eventually, something always goes wrong when you are tractoring.  No, not if you’re a gentleman farmer on a manicured property. Nothing goes wrong there since you have unlimited funding.  But here?  Uh….

Out here in the Outback, it’s a constant battle to keep Ma Nature bound and tressed-up just so.  She, in turn, responds by getting the tractor stuck in soft ground at a low spot.

I’d taken on a LARGE defiant tree, maybe 20 feet long and fatter than me.   There was no alternative but to do an end-push to get it to open ground where it could be more easily moved.  The only way to get there was through a shallow drainage ravine.  Four-wheel drive or not, that’s where I got stuck.

The old farmer has lots of options, so that getting stuck is not the end of the world.  In fact, it can be an excuse to stop work for coffee.  One way to get out of such a predicament is to push the bucket down and using the power-tilt of the bucket, digging the teeth in – thus creating a great-big lever on the front-end.

That’s an easy one sometimes because you don’t even turn off the machine.  Just lock up the 4-wheels and let ‘er rip.

Except this time, it just dug in further.  The second option was to see what was holding me in position.

Answer: the brush hog.

Solution:  Lift the front off with the bucket to take the strain off the top link of the three-point. Unhook the top link, and  then pull like hell.  That worked.  Dragged the brush hog on the lower links.

After fighting a bit more with the big defiant log – this time armed with a hundred feet of 5/8ths line (Texans call it “rope” but remember, we lived on a sailboat and a 11-years of sailing sailing the salty seas hasn’t rinsed off even 15-years on).  Finally, I said to hell with it. Articles to write, beer to drink, and so on.  The ham gear needs to be used, too.

Besides, the rain had picked up – it was 11:30 AM now.  Another axiom of “working your land” is don’t do heavy work when the ground is really wet.

Soil around this part of the property has lots of clay in it and this means if you compact it down, too much, it is a bugger to get much of anything to grow in it.  Think planting in concrete. So, the tree gets to sit in a new place for a while longer.  A chainsaw will be applied at the right moment in the future.

With the rain was coming down, and now semi-soaked, it was nice to visit one of the dead cedar trees which we have left untouched so our wildlife has good homes.  The hawks and the owls like it.  Pretty tree, too.  It may be standing longer’n us:

Who said making landscape improvements can’t be gnarly?

purist on the topic of Making things might argue that landscape work is not “making” per se.  I’d suggest, any time you sculpt anything – metal, wood, and today even the forest, it’s all part of the continuum of making that distinguishes us from the Apes.

Even the ones who don’t look up from their phones.

Write when you get rich (or done),

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