Thursday, October 15, 2009


One of our most difficult chores of the year is firewood. Since we heat AND cook with wood we need to have at least four cords to be ready for the winter. The task gets harder each year as we age and the wood seems to get heavier.

We have a pretty decent system of firewood collection and try to get started in May with the goal to done by the end of August. It never works out that way but that’s the plan. We hitch our small Kubota tractor to a 4’ by 6’ wagon and head to the woods. We cut trees that are either already down on the ground or standing dead ones that aren’t home to cavity nesting birds. Don blocks up the trees and I load the wagon with the blocks. Most of our firewood cutting is done on our property but we do occasionally cut wood on an adjoining neighbor’ property. He gets his property cleaned up and we get wood.

Once home with our load, Don splits it and I stack it in the woodshed. Don used to split all our wood by hand but reality finally took hold last year and we bought a gas-powered log splitter. Wow, why didn’t we do that a long time ago?

It takes about four wagon loads to make a cord of wood. Our plan is to cut a wagon load each week from May through August; sixteen weeks will yield four cords. This year we found ourselves in September and with only about half of the wood we needed. We made a concerted effort to cut twice per week and in a fit of desperation we ordered some wood from a local woodsman. There is nothing worse than going into winter without a full woodshed.

Now, as I look out, the woodshed is full and there is even a big stack outside covered with a tarp.

Our main firewood is aspen. We like aspen because it burns clean without crudding up the chimney as quickly as the pine does. As it is we clean the chimney once during the winter and then at the end of the season. Because we use a wood cookstove as our heat and cooking source, cleaning is a bit of a chore. There are numerous baffles and other nooks where fly ash and creosote like to hide. Cleaning the chimney and stove is a two hour process from start to finish. And of course the stove has to be cool when we clean it so we usually do it first thing in the morning.

Each year we also cut a cord or so of oak to supplement the aspen. Oak is by far the best firewood and we use it for overnight or on baking day. It produces a long, steady heat that is perfect when you need to control the oven temperature closely. In Colorado, the only source of oak is our native Gambel oak. More of a large, shrubby bush than a tree, none the less, it makes great firewood and rarely needs splitting (a plus).

We have used a wood cookstove as our sole source of cooking for more than sixteen years. It actually didn’t take long to figure out how best to use it and we can now handle about any cooking chore. In fact Don bakes all our breads using a sourdough starter he created more than a decade ago. More about that in another blog issue.

As the wood goes through the cookstove it produces a lot of ash. We keep two metal covered cans for ash collection. We use the ash in the gardens, on the pastures and spread it in the forest to recycle the nutrients back to the earth.

It’s mid-October and I think we are now ready.

From Fleur Creek Farm

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Remembering My Dad

My father would have been 95 this coming Tuesday but sadly I lost him more than 12 years ago. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think of him and how I came to this life and this place because of him.

His Morse family ancestors arrived in America from England in 1635. They settled in the New England area and many remain there to this day. My grandfather loved rural settings and moved his family to a farm where his children were involved in the everyday chores of the place. I’m not sure my father was all that fond of farm life in general but there is no question that he loved the outdoors and spent much of his time hunting, fishing and exploring. Of the five sons, he was probably the one most connected to the natural world.

I am always amazed at the accomplishments of my father and his four brothers considering their rather simple upbringing. Though suffering through a case of tuberculosis while he was in high school, he went on to earn is PhD in microbiology and spent his professional career studying the disease that plagued him as a child. His older brother became a chemical engineer and worked on the Manhattan Project; another brother became a bio-geneticist and part of a Nobel prize winning team; another brother became a pharmacist; and the youngest brother became a science teacher.

My father entered the military and fought in World War II. Because of his medical specialty, in 1953 he was assigned to the Army medical research center in Denver. He couldn’t have been more pleased knowing that the wonders of Colorado were awaiting him. After many years away from the woods and the streams he began to hunt and fish again and when I was old enough, he included me in his outdoor trips.

In the mid-60s my family bought a little piece of land on the Blue River in Summit County and built a small cabin. It became our vacation retreat and hunting camp long before Colorado became the vacation spot and retirement location for millions.

I could tell that my dad was happy when we purchased our first rural property in 1978. I think his favorite part of the place was the chicken coop – he remembered the turkeys that his family had raised so long ago. At our second place he helped us build the livestock sheds. His health was failing when we arrived at our third place (and our first in the Valley). He was only able to visit a couple of times but I could sense that he felt we had achieved something he had always wanted – a permanent home in the high country.

He passed away in 1997 while living in Colorado Springs. We spread his ashes on Pikes Peak where my mom could view the Peak through her living room window. Today, I see Pikes Peak from our meadow and I can often feel his presence looking down on our home – our fourth rural home. He never saw this place in person, or at least I don’t think he did.

Our little place on South Brush Creek was homesteaded in 1880 by Jacob Miller. In researching our property’s past I learned that Jacob died on the exact day my father was born. Maybe my father had been here before.

From Fleur Creek Farm

Friday, October 2, 2009

Forest Symphony

This time of year brings an amazing symphony of sounds in the forest. Often it is the bull elk with their high pitched bugles that end in a strange series of rough coughs or it is the hen turkeys calling to their maturing flock or the little chickory squirrels scolding me for disturbing their morning. The forest is peaceful but definitely not quiet.

Five days a week I begin my day with an hour’s walk in the woods just as the sun is being to lighten the eastern sky. It is my special time to relax and to prepare for the coming challenges of the day. I always grab my walking stick by the front door just in case I need a little help crossing a creek or have to run off a trespassing hunter.

As I walked along this morning I discovered that a mature bull was paralleling me no more than 100 feet to the south. He was so intent on his task of calling out the other bulls that he never heard or noticed me. We both headed west for about a mile until I came to a neighbor’s fence. I waited to see if he would continue on but instead he came out of the woods and passed by me about fifty feet away. He was still oblivious to my presence, still bugling. Sometimes another bull to the north would answer but many of his challenges went answered. Finally he drifted off to the southwest and I headed home.

The sun was just breaking over the Wet Mountains on my return and I thought about just how lucky I am to start my day like this. Most of my friends and family are fighting the commuter traffic to work while I am listening to the forest symphony.