Monthly Archives: September 2009

Goldilocks and the three bears

Compared to previous years, it has so far been a summer free of bears here in the valley. Friends visiting have been disappointed to see none on the hour long drive from the foot of the hill down the valley to our community, and I’ve heard of no home or chicken shed invasions since late spring. One theory is that this summer’s forest fires have spooked them all back up the side valleys; if that’s the case, maybe we should organize for a controlled burn every spring!

Not that there haven’t been close encounters. My own was in July, when my dog was more than usually vocal one night. Usually she’ll bark off an intruder once or twice a night, while I lie in bed judging the size of the attacker by the distance Tui moves away from the house towards the perimeter fences. If I hear her echoing against the forest in the distance, it’s a fox, while if she stays close to the front porch and whines, it’s a cougar.

This night it was an in-between barking distance so I knew it was a bear, whose size I didn’t know until dawn when I went out to free the turkeys, laying chickens and meat birds from their respective barns. The stucco wire fence and gate adjoining two of them had been broken down, probably with one swipe of a massive paw, dragging a rail along with a six inch nail away from a wall (see photo).

Fence rail smashed down beside meat bird run.

He or she (I suspect it was a she as each year I meet a mama grizzly in our yard with her cubs at some point) was probably excited by the smell or sound of our turkey flock, several of whom perch on the open window sill behind stucco wire, to take advantage of some cooler night breezes. If the bear had been insistent (as we had seen on other properties) our plywood walls would not still have been standing, but they were. I walked thirty meters along the fence line to the forest edge, the bear’s normal trail and entry point into our property, and sure enough, there was the flattened trail in the same place as previous years.

Fence smashed beside turkey barn.

I began taking my windfall apples and dumping them there as peace offering, but they haven’t been touched in three weeks. This hot summer has meant a good year for wild berries, and now the creeks are full of writhing salmon, so we may be spared any bear predations this fall.

Bear path into my yard where I leave apples for her.

Nevertheless, it would be foolish to give myself or you the impression that the bears aren’t around. My friend Clarence told me just the other day that his daughter, who lives across the highway from his place ‘on our side’ (as he put it ominously) stepped out from her back door last week midmorning to confront a grizzly only meters away. And when I went to pick blackberries in Clarence’s patch last week in the last of our heat, I was un-nerved to come across a maze of flattened vines and grasses. I suddenly felt I was in the middle of a vast alfresco restaurant, with various intimate nooks where bears had lain in the shadows and feasted on the berries hanging off the ‘walls’ in all directions. It was strange to think that a giant paw may have recently brushed over the very berries I was now tenderly plucking. Clarence confirmed the fact by complaining that there is a mama black bear and cub that have been frolicking in the blackberry patch “flattening it and making a mess”.

While picking I was always on the lookout for the mama ‘just in case’. My theoretical ‘bum-per’ sticker says ‘I brake for bears.’

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Filed under Animal issues, Bears, Politicking with predators, Politics of Food

What’s behind door number two

My new home made barn door!

My new home made barn door!

My red barn which we built five years ago was to have three sliding doors for its three openings, all hanging from the same rail. However, so cute was the final product and so perfect its lines that we felt a rail would spoil the façade; besides, it’s nice to look across from the house and see the hay bales inside the middle opening.

The right hand side was soon filled by a door fortuitously found at the local dump, to contain the goats at night when I decided, after confronting as cougar on our driveway, that they should perhaps have a dormitory for the danger hours, at least.

The third, left hand space served as a garden tool shed until we decided this spring to try goat milking. I ordered a machine, and we built a stanchion inside that room. All it lacked was a door, and now as the chance to have what I had always desired: a barn door made of planks with a ‘z’ support.

Mechanism for hanging the door.

Mechanism for hanging the door.

The project was the more fun because my friend Dave agreed to teach me how to do it properly, just as soon as we were finished clearing the front forty. So it was that as the first of our summer’s heat waves subsided and the last goat fence post was planted and nailed up, that we decamped to the front lawn and awaited Dave, his wife Judy, his home-milled cedar planks, and his tools.

Dave is an exemplary tool-man. Not only does he have one for every job (and I mean every job: he has eight skill-saws, each with different blades and angles, so that he never has to alter one of them), but he also maintains his tools in perfect condition, whiling away the hours after his 15 hour days labouring, with cleaning their motors and sharpening their blades. So he literally “set up shop” for this operation, with power cords and extension leads festooning the ground. He had carefully (and lovingly) selected the best, driest cedar from his drying room for this job. He had thought to use hinges, but when I produced the remaining two meter length of barn door steel railing (left over from my brainwave utilization of the majority of the rail on the new turkey barn), he was delighted. Now he could make the door a respectable width, rather than the cramped door opening of our red barn.

I'm tightening the bolts on the barn door.

I'm tightening the bolts from underneath on the barn door.

As always, Dave was an excellent teacher. When I asked why he didn’t find my requests to learn these ‘manly’ jobs odd, he replied that his parents had raised him and his eight siblings totally alike, “All of us peeled carrots and chopped and stacked wood.” Jobs were there to be done, and a son or daughter should both be equal to the task.

We spend almost a day planing those boards smooth, using various sanders and progressively finer papers. You have to be careful with cedar that you don’t start tearing the fibers away, so sanding with the grain is a must. To make sure the planks didn’t shift or warp, Dave taught me to use his router to make grooves along the edge of each plank to accept a one inch plywood cookie which would dovetail into the next plank’s groove. We glued all this together for extra strength and snugness, then bolted on the beloved ‘Z’ reinforcing frame.

The rail and pulleys took some adjusting until the door was the right distance from the concrete and from the barn wall, and even Dave learnt something when he decided to grind off the ends of the bolts after we had sanded the door—which left an iron filing grey cloud around each bolt, staining the wood. More sanding and a cedar stain covered everything up. Now we have an easily opening barn door, just right for maneuvering a recalcitrant milking goat from pen to stanchion!

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Filed under Developing Community, Educational, How to...