February 21, 2006

This three day weekend contained bewildering amounts of activity. We planned to have special friends visit for the almond bloom, and woke early Saturday morning to get started on some good farm cooking. Still, our last shipment of trees was waiting for planting, so we went outside to prepare the trees and start a few other chores. Next thing I know, we were descended upon by an entire work crew, courtesy of our nearby farmer friend, to cut down sick, old trees. They sawed, they stacked, they felled. In five minutes entire hundred year old trees were gone. Tidy piles formed here and there. It was like watching a symbiotic unit go to work. Then as the day went on, the large backhoe came. An absolute heavy equipment artist sat at the controls, working the big shovel as though it were an extension of the human hand, dredging rotten roots and stumps from the ground as though it were child’s play. By the end of the day, everything looked completely clean and a monumental pile of debris stood ready for disposal. We still can’t believe what happened. Every problem we had out there is simply GONE. We have clean, tidy orchard space and now we can plant even more fruit and nut trees next year.

Our friends arrived, and among other things we had a glorious bonfire. It took a team effort, but we ignited that pile and all stood around enjoying the heat before dinner. The pile will burn for days. We had s’mores for breakfast the next day. And fresh squeezed orange juice from an entire sack of oranges off the tree, and a huge pan of scrambled eggs from the hens.

We collectively planted and painted all the new trees while enjoying two wonderful, sunny days. And best of all, our back field needed work still. A Caterpillar D-6 with ripper blades attached had been parked there, and with some encouragement and lessons from the owner, most of us spent some time on the machine. It’s hard to explain the sheer power of heavy equipment, or how much fun it is to grind along in low gear, unstoppable. Of course, it’s also sort of intimidating when you realize that you are sitting on someone else’s machine, and that it’s worth half your annual salary. I hope as time goes on we learn to use more and more farm equipment and machinery. We can at a minimum give our labor to the work happening on our property, especially when so much generosity has been shown to us. Of course, the downside to operating heavy equipment comes after those first few thrilling hours. Then the long lines of the field seem endless, the vibration rattles through your body, and even with hearing protection all you hear is the roar of the engine. And the whiff of diesel exhaust. But, it beats the hell out of digging up those stumps with a shovel!

And, on the heavy equipment note, I found an amazing website called HowItWorks.com, in which I spent hours learning about hydraulics, diesel engines, loader-backhoes, and even two stroke engines (don’t want the chainsaw to feel left out). I really liked this way to learn because there was no gobbledygook, just lots of good illustrations and clear explanations. Even though I use machinery, I’ve never been able to visualize the "hows" of the different parts. I feel this has given me a real insight into the proverbial Big Picture of how tractor attachments function. Okay, enough about that.

It has been really cold the past several nights. Flowers are blooming, and so far nothing has become irreversibly damaged. I am having to hand water a lot of plants, because it’s too dry from over 2 weeks without rain. It is supposed to warm up to ridiculous temperatures again toward the weekend.

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