Beer in the time of plague

Still not back to normal, but getting there. You have to wear a mask to get in, but once you are at the table, you can drink your beer in peace. Hard to drink with the mask.  

We are at the original branch of Caboose brewery, on the W&OD bike trail. I have stopped here a few times when biking, as many of the customers do. Surroundings are pleasant.

Social isolation walk

Chrissy & I did our socially isolated walking today. There are lots of people out walking in the parks and trials of northern Virginia. People keep their distance, but smile as they walk withing six feet of each other.

It makes me think about the future of dense cities. We have a lot of space available in our urbanized suburb. People who live densely packed in high rises really do not have the going out options. Will this affect people’s choices about where they choose to live? Will suburbs and rural areas be the new destinations of choice?

One thing we have more than enough of is deer. We see dozens every time we walk around. I never see so many when I go down to the farms. Suburbs are wonderful habitats for deer, squirrels, doves, some sorts of hawks, rabbits, geese and foxes – too wonderful.


Chrissy & I went to Smithsonian for a program “Sicily: Eternal Crossroads of the Mediterranean.” It was a disappointing program. I thought it would be something like what the title suggested. In fact, it was more a semi-technical art history discussion with some (not all) of the art and architecture happened to be in Sicily. The lecturer was well expert on the art, but her talks were more like watching slides from her vacation than an integrated program about cultural crossroads.

One thing I found interesting about the talk was about the talk itself. There was a big crowd there and many people seemed to like the program a lot. Chrissy and I talked about it. It might be that it was a lot like being a tourist. She took you through the buildings like a tour guide. I wanted the connections, not the tourist sites. That is the great thing about pluralism. We do not all need to like the same things.

No matter. It got us out and down in Washington on a nice day. They provided what they called a Sicilian lunch. We got a prosciutto ham sandwich, olive salad & some cannoli. I do not think these things are especially Sicilian (Prosciutto comes from Parma, not in Sicily) but it was good.

We went to Spain last year and were very favorably surprised by the wonders there. Sicily is another of those crossroads. It was an intellectual and cultural hotbed for a few centuries. I think that is the next place outside the USA for us to visit.

First picture is Smithsonian castle looking good in spring. Next is me at the mall. Lighting is not the best. Last is from the lecture itself.

Oak, shortleaf & snow

Snow. The weather man said that the moisture came all the way from the Sea of Cortez, like a river in the atmosphere and then some sort of kink in the jet stream. I did not understand exactly what they meant, but I think it is really interesting if my snow is from Sea of Cortez water.

We don’t get that much snow in Virginia, but it snowed today on my forests. The ground was still soft but the snow made my planting a different experience. the snow fell in big flakes and it made a pleasant sound as it fell through the trees. But it was also wet and chilly. As a Wisconsin native, I should be adapted to cold, but I was not dressed warmly enough.

I got 300 shortleaf, 50 white oak and 50 swamp white oak. They are all bare root, so I have to use my different tool, seen in the picture. I didn’t get much done. It was not teh snow; it was the rock. I had planned to plant in a rocky area. Unfortunately, it was too rocky. There were few places I could sink the dibble stick, but I had to pound on the ground with it to find them. I ended up planting only 50 oaks before I knocked off early because of the snow.
Anyway, I was tired. I drove about 6 hours to get here, since I had to go to Augusta to pick up the trees and then drive down to the farms. It was not a hard drive but just driving that far is draining.

Pictures show the conditions. The Russians have a word for the season before winter freezes the ground and then before spring dries it out. They call it “rasputitsa.” Dirt roads at that time are impassible. It really was rasputitsa and not the famous Russian winter that defeated the Nazis. They got mired in the mud. Virginia is luckier. We just have a couple days like that, not whole seasons.

My first picture is me and the bare root trees. Next is the bare root dibble stick, followed by my muddy road. Last two pictures show snowing in my woods. It is very light and will melt off by tomorrow. Good, I have more work to do.

— Still a few more trees to plant.  I am getting 300 shortleaf pine, 50 white oak and 50 swamp white oak on Tuesday.

Gee, I got rocks
I picked out a good place for the oaks, a rocky place I found when trying to plant longleaf. I finally gave up when I determined that I could not get the density I needed, since I could not find enough places in rows where I could sink the dibble stick.
I think it will work wonderfully for the oaks. They will be planted irregularly, in the places I can dig. I think it will be aesthetically pleasing. The rocks will limit competition and mitigate the fires I will need to set. Oaks can survive fire and even thrive, but they are not as fire resistant as longleaf.

Oak pine savanna
I visited an oak-pitch pine savanna in Pennsylvania. It was rocky with shallow soils. I think I can make something like that but with the shortleaf and the few longleaf I managed before I gave up. Another pattern may be those oak openings near Baraboo, Wisconsin, a landscape I also love. Of course, I figure it will be a long time coming and – to use my concept – I will be compost before the trees are mature.

The site is a gentle slope facing northwest and leading into the stream management zone.

The Rodney Dangerfield of southern pines
Shortleaf pine usually grow mixed in hardwood forests, and so do not behave like other southern pine. This also makes them less obvious. Even though they are the most geographically widespread southern pine, they do not enjoy the following of the iconic longleaf or the wonderfully productive loblolly.  They get no respect, and have been declining.  We can bring back a few.

There is a shortleaf initiative. Webpage is linked.

Planting more trees and my new ATV

Chrissy told me not to get any more trees, but someone cancelled a longleaf order and I got two more boxes, 668 trees, native Virginians from Garland Grey. There was no other choice.

So back to work filling in places we missed.

I have improved mobility now. You can see my new Yamaha Kodiak 450. I can get a disc harrow and middle buster to pull behind. They make them for four-wheelers like mine. I would like to plant wild flowers more successfully, especially on the landing areas. It makes me sad & frustrated that dirt gets so compressed at these places that it makes it hard for plants to grow. The buster and the discs can help.

Of course, it is fun to ride around on the new machine. It can go almost anywhere. I tested it. You rarely even need to engage the 4 wheel drive.
My challenge is to do actual work and not just ride around “inspecting”.
My first picture is my new tool. Next is me getting ready to plant the next tranche of longleaf. Last is my 4 wheeler at work. It does make the job a lot easier. It is hard to carry boxes of trees and I can just get there fastest with the mostest.

We get about an hour more daylight than we did in December. That helped get the trees in the ground. I got about 500 longleaf planted today, and it was still light when I finished. Professionals can plant more than 1000 trees in a day. I am good for less than half that number and that is hard for me.

My planting method is different, however. The professionals use hoedads I have never mastered that. I also like to do each by hand, as you can see in my first photo today. Planting trees is not just a task. I will not say it is a joy while I am doing it under time pressure, but it is a great experience to recall, being in the woods and putting up the next tree generation. Next photo is the last of my trees planted. I put it into a place where our recent fire had burned hot. I wonder if the biochar will help it grow. Picture #3 are rocks on the farm. There was maybe a half acre of rock. I could not plant, but I figure that nature will plant some for me. The penultimate picture is Shell Gas station in Petersburg. The Exxon in the background did not show on the picture, but it was only $1.99, breaking the $2 barrier for the first time in a long time. Last is my unfortunate tan line. I wear a hat when I am out on the farms, so I get tan on my face, but not the top of my head. I noticed as I walked by the mirror. Just another bald guy problem.

Are you proud of your ethnic heritage? My Story Worth.

Odd question and I had to think about it for a little while, but no – I am not proud of my ethnic heritage. Let me explain.

My mother’s family thought they were German. I say “thought” because my DNA indicates that they were not very German at all. Roughly ¾ of my DNA ancestry is Polish and I am more Scandinavian than German, according to the DNA. Since only half my ancestry could have come from my father, my mother’s DNA has a lot of ‘splaining to do. (If it was my father’s DNA difference, it might cause more of a scandal, ex-post-facto) Of course, DNA is not closely related to real nationality. My great grandparents on my mother’s side came from Germany, spoke German, drank beer like Germans and ate sausages like Germans, so that is my heritage on that side.

America is a very much a German influenced place. Germans around 1900 were like Hispanics today, only a greater percentage of the population. When Teddy Roosevelt complained about “hyphenated Americans,” he was talking about Germans. The 2000 census counted 58 million German Americans. Hispanics are assimilating like Germans did, BTW. States and local governments made rules against the use of the German language and native Americans feared Germans would take over the country. German immigrants and their children were majorities in many places (see the map). America absorbed all of that, and in the process lots of German things were modified to become American – apple pie, kindergarten, hamburgers, hot dogs, research universities, beer gardens …

How many Poles…?
My father’s family thought they were Polish, and the DNA confirms a lot of that. My grandfather was born in the Russian Empire and people ignorant of history might think he was Russian, but the empire thing explains his “true” nationality, just as a Indian living in the British Empire was not English. Similarly, my grandmother’s family was from Galicia in the Austrian Empire. She was not Austrian. They were Polish speakers and Polish ethnics living respectively in two of the three countries that held Poland in a colonial relationship in the 123 years from 1795 when Poland ceased to exist until 1918 when Poland was reborn.

Ethnicity is bunk
Ethnicity is complicated and ephemeral. We think about it reaching way into the past, but this is inaccurate. Whatever you think your ancestors were, you are wrong. Cultures have echoes but they must be recreated with each generation. There is an illusion of continuity. It really does not matter what you were, or thought you were. The past is a foreign country for ALL of us and it all is the common heritage of humanity It would be hard to find a contemporary American more different from me today than my great grandfather would have been.

That is why I am not proud of my ethnicity. I didn’t do anything to build it and it affects me only in kind of a sentimental way.

My own culture was cobbled together from disparate strands.

The Upper Midwest was like Mitteleuropa
I think basically that I am “ethnically” Wisconsin, but not Wisconsin of today, the one I grew up with. It was an amalgam of immigrants and old Yankees. We talked a lot about dairy in Wisconsin. That came from immigrants from Central Europe and Scandinavia, but also from immigrants from New England and New York state. They gave us our cheddar, but we invented Colby, which is better. Wisconsin had superb sausages. Our beer sucked when I was young, but that we before the craft brewing renaissance. I learned to love the rolling hills of the glaciated land, all the little lakes and the big one, Lake Michigan. And I learned to love the Green Bay Packers. These things are still “home.” Should I be proud of this? It is part of me, but that is what it is. This ethnicity is much stronger than anything my genetic ancestors were in centuries past.

Greeks and Latins
A part of my heritage that I am somewhat proud about is my classical education. This is a completely artificial addition to my “culture,” which is precisely why I can take some pride in it. If I could trace my ancestry back to AD 1, my ancestors would be those barbarians that the civilized folks fought, feared, conquered and enslaved. But the civilized folks wrote literature and developed philosophy and I claim them as my forebearers as my common heritage of humanity.

America swallows ethnicity
The biggest part of my heritage is American, just American. None of my ancestors were here for the first part of the American experiment. I suppose I can claim kinship with Kosciusko, Pulaski and Von Steuben, who helped America win its independence, but that is a reach. But I absorbed the experience of the Founding Fathers, the westward expansion, the Civil War and the industrial expansion. My folks got here in time to work in the factories that gave us modern America and fight in the World Wars that kept us free. My German family members fought with equal enthusiasm against their erstwhile German relatives.
The great thing about being American is that we can forget or recall our ethnicity at our option. I like lots of the thing Germans and Poles contributed to America, but most of the things I like are from some other sources. I like bratwurst, but generally prefer pizza and I know both those things are American.

I love cultural appropriation
In fact, most things I like are mixed and matched. Americans pick what they like best from around the world. You don’t have to be from a place or of a people to take what you think best. All good cultures are glad to share and all great cultures are promiscuous “borrowers.”

So, am I proud of my ethnic heritage? I am proud to be an American and grateful that my ancestors made the choice to come and join America.

My Polish cousin
I met one of my cousins when I was in Poland. His name was Henrick Matel. His father was my grandfather’s brother. His father went to France to dig coal, while my grandfather came to America, where he worked in a junkyard. Neither had an auspicious start. I think Henrick kinda looked like me, but lots of people in Poland look like me. All that DNA gives you a distinctive look. Our families had diverged only one generation ago in his case, and two in mine, yet we were not similar besides in having blue eyes and not much hair. He was maybe twenty years older than I was, i.e. he was a little younger than I am now. But he was old and infirm. Living in communist Poland did that to people. And I was American. He commented that I was so upbeat and optimistic, that I smiled easily. He said, a bit ruefully, that I had a lot more to be happy about, and he was right. My grandfather chose to be American. He never was materially successful in his new country. He worked all his life in crappy jobs, but he was a free man.

A heritage of freedom
Freedom is my ethnic heritage because I am American. I am proud of my country. I am not proud of my ethnicity that I did nothing to earn, but I am profoundly grateful that grandpa made the right move.

My first picture is my mix of heritage. Espen bought me the German style hat and the Christmas tree is a German tradition. We got the creche in Poland. On the other hand, I have my cowboy style belt buckle and in the background are posters from Chicago and from our American National Parks. The map shows how widespread Germans were/are. They are the light blue.

Burning day 1

We took the opportunity to burn a section of the farm this afternoon, only about eight acres, so Adam Smith and I did it ourselves, although the bulldozer was nearby freshening up lines, so could have been easily available.

This section is unusually easy to burn correctly, since it is bordered by steams and a fairly wide dirt road. I also had laid out and cut paths, so we got it all done except for the mop up in just over an hour.

The wind whipped up a little, creating spectacular but short-lived bursts of flame. I tried to take pictures, but since I was also starting the fires and managing them, it was not that easy. I did get a few. Also took pictures of the pre-burn.

We will burn the rest tomorrow. Espen will help.

Planting after a hot fire

Looking at the bright side, I have some great markers to plant my baby longleaf and to find them later on. Those benefits, unfortunately, result from dead trees falling down. Our May 2018 fire got a little hot in one section. I held out the hope that some of them would recover, so I treated my longleaf planting as an under planting.
Now that the bark has come off most of the trees and several have blown down, I think I can be reasonably sure that I should replant denser, assume it is an clearing.
I regret the loss of my trees, but I see it as an opportunity. What I have is a restoration project after a hot fire. I can imagine my little longleaf coming in under and among the burned out logs. I am also going to take advantage of natural regeneration of oak and shortleaf pine. I think this will become an interesting learning experience and I look forward to interacting with the changing land.
Given that I am treating this as an opening, I think I will need about 1000 trees and it will take me a couple days to get think in the ground. I am not as fast as the professionals, but I like the idea of doing it myself.
My first picture is me decked out in orange. It is hunting season, so good idea not to blend in with the bushes. Next three pictures show the future longleaf grove. Last is the panorama of loblolly. We planted them in 2016, so they are only four years old. Most are 6-8 feet tall. Good result. The reason I took the picture, however, was the beauty of the hardwoods in the background, showing their vibrant fall colors.
The most beautiful time to look at fall colors, IMO, is just before dusk. The colors show up better than in full light. I did not take a picture of that. No picture would do it justice.                                            

Brush cutting

Chrissy jokes that I talk so much about my brush cutter that I like it better than I like her. Of course, that sure is not true. You can see all the pictures of Chrissy that I proudly post on Facebook. However … the cutter is looking good and I did take it down to the farms, bought it several drinks, gas not beer, as you see in the first two pictures.  

I spent the day cutting paths and cutting around the longleaf that I could find on Brodnax. There are lots of them on the slopes facing north and east, likely because the dirt there did not dry out as much, but there are not many in some sections. Besides the drier conditions, I think that the bramble over topped some.   As I wrote elsewhere, I learned a few things from this experience and will apply them on Freeman. On the other hand, I cannot go back in time, so I have to adapt from now. I plan to fill in with loblolly and oak.   As I wrote, first two pictures are cutter related. Next is the 2016 loblolly at end of the day, followed by the scene of the longleaf field. I took both from the ten foot tower that the hunt club put there. Last is some of the places were there are lots of longleaf. If only it was like that more generally.

Burning the turpentine beetles

Our goal was to burn out the area with the turpentine beetles and that we accomplished. The secondary goal of cleaning up brush up to the creek, not so much.

The ground was wet. I thought this was good, since I didn’t want to bake the roots and kill trees. Unfortunately, the vegetation did not carry the fire well. We just gave up burning one of the points we had planned. It was covered in ferns and hog peanuts that just would not cooperate.

Just as well. We plan to do burn the larger area in November or December. If the fire gets into the area we tried to burn, that will be okay. It will back down to the stream. If it does not, that is okay too.

It was interesting to watch the fire behavior. We got a patchy burn, with some places not burned at all. The most interesting visual for me was watching the fire go up the side of a tree following a poison ivy vine. I didn’t think there was much chance that it would get into the tree and that was correct. Poison ivy vines are hairy. That was what was burning. It petered out and the vine fell off.

First picture is me at the fire line. Adam Smith took it. Next is DoF starting fire in the woods. Picture #3 shows my longleaf. I just think they look really good. Next is the bald cypress. I was using my cutter around them, so that we can protect them from fire. Last shows some of the devil’s walking stick, one of my new favored plants.