Flood cleanup
OR
Ants!

carpenter ant nest

carpenter ant nest

Three weeks ago we had some major flooding in Spencer. Hundreds of people in town were forced to evacuate their homes, and some might have to rebuild completely. Fortunately, we were not affected quite as much, since we are not so close to the White River, and Dave and Ellen made the prudent choice of building on higher ground. Nevertheless, our creek did flood a lot, and there is still a lot of cleanup to be done in the yard. (I posted pictures of the flood and aftermath in our albums).

Carpenter ant carrying something

Carpenter ant carrying something (not sure what). Note that whatever it is carrying is about as big as the ant.

Today I finally got around to cutting up the tree that had fallen during the flood, and a couple other ones that fell yesterday during another storm. I briefly contemplated putting the wood onto the wood rack, but then decided not to, since I knew it was not very good wood. (I’m not sure what kind, but I am guessing either willow, sycamore, or tulip poplar). Instead, I decided to stack the wood up near the bonfire pit, and use it for bonfires. I am very glad I made this decision, since as I started stacking it, I realized that carpenter ants were thoroughly enjoying the wood. I decided to snap a few pictures while I could. I have to say that I found them pretty fascinating to watch.

To be honest, I first thought that they were termites, but after a little investigation on Wikipedia, I quickly determined that they are carpenter ants. I also learned that carpenter ants like moist wood, and since this tree was partially in the creek, I am sure they liked it very much. I am a little curious whether they will stay there now that I have stacked it up, and it won’t be so wet.

Real men use reel mowers

Our reel mower

Our reel mower (thanks Sean!)

We have 3 mowers — a small riding mower, a powered push mower, and a reel mower. I use a combination of all three. Last summer I used the reel mower quite a bit, but time has passed, I have started using the riding mower more, mostly because it is faster, and I have realized that my time might be better spent cutting wood rather than cutting grass. However, the reel mower is much more pleasant to use. Last week I was looking for a little exercise after getting home from work, so I used the reel mower some. I will list all the advantages:

  1. It doesn’t pollute at all (except maybe for some odor coming from my armpits)
  2. It doesn’t use any gas
  3. It is fairly inexpensive
  4. It is quiet
  5. It actually cuts the grass, unlike rotary mowers (Golf courses use reel mowers too, though they are big ones that are pulled by tractors)
  6. It gives me a good workout using it
  7. It scatters the cut grass uniformly around the lawn, instead of leaving clumps
  8. It is not as dangerous as powered mowers

I also want to say that the reel mower is much better than I had thought it would be. I had never used one prior to last year, but my friend Sean had one lying around that he gave to me. I had always heard about how hard they were to use, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that it wasn’t that hard to push. I had also heard that they can’t handle very tall or thick grass. The tall part is true, but I feel that it handles fairly thick grass and weeds just fine. It does help to have sharp blades. My dad gave me a handy little mower sharpening tool. If I spend 3-5 minutes using it before I mow, it works much better. I also recommend mowing in overlapping lines. Sometimes the mower does not get all the grass in one direction; instead of cutting it, it just pushes it down. Going back over half of the previous row will get most of this grass that was pushed over before.

If you haven’t tried one, I would highly recommend it, especially if you have a small lawn. You can buy a decent one for $100-$200, and even if you only use it every other time you mow, you will still be helping to reduce carbon emissions and noise pollution, and will be giving yourself a good workout.

p.s. I am not in any way implying that women are not real, or that women (or children) who use reel mowers will become or already are fictional. I am merely playing off a cliché

The levee broke
OR
The land is the authority

I fight authority, authority always wins
— John Mellencamp

creek shoring project 1

My creek shoring project as of April 5th, 2008
creek shoring project 2

My creek shoring project as of April 5th, 2008 (you can kind of see the 1-2 foot drop in this picture)

We had some big storms yesterday and last night, and it was storming when I woke up at 7:00 this morning. As I was eating breakfast around 7:30, I looked out the window and saw large puddles of water forming in the backyard, but was comforted by the fact that the water was not flowing. That is, the creek had not risen over its banks, like it has on about 5 occasions since we moved here last June. At some point last fall or so, I discovered where the creek was flooding most. One part of the bank a little past the grape arbor had been consistently eroding every time it flooded, and had lost several feet of its bank. I thought that if I could shore up the bank here, that it would be less likely to flood. So in the spring I started the project, first putting some broken cinder-blocks, large rocks, and bricks in there, to provide some stability. Then I added in leaves, washed up branches (from previous floods), and mud, dirt, and sand (also from previous floods).

Empty cement pond

The cement pond after I had removed most of the mud and water. I tried to catch most of the incoming water in the bucket while I was working.
Clogged drain in cement pond

Clogged drain in cement pond.

I got most of the sand and mud from the small cement pond which had been completely filled in. This seemed like a win-win situation. I could clean out the cement pond and restore it to its former glory, and use all the sand and dirt for my creek shoring project. I worked on this over several months at various points when I found the time. The last week or so I became determined to finish it, and on Saturday, I spent most of the afternoon digging out the rest of the cement pond and emptying the water that was in it bucket by bucket into the creek. Dave did a very good job of designing the pond. It is fed by the spring in the hill (via an underground pipe, which must be at least 100 feet long). And it has a drain in the bottom of the pond which drains into the creek. The spring flows year round. This design solves many problems. It strategically directs the water from the spring instead of having it just make the hillside all wet, and it creates a pond which is not stagnant water, but is constantly being recycled. By sticking a pipe in the drain hole, one can set the desired height of the pond (similar to how a traditional toilet tank works). Unfortunately though, the drain had become clogged, and I could not find it under all the mud and water until it was pretty much completely empty. I figured that cleaning it out with my fingers or a stick would easily free it up. No such luck. So then I tried using a snake. Still no luck. I even tried using a snake from the other end, and that didn’t work either. So I finally gave up. My friend Sean hypothesizes that the drain pipe collapsed sometime in the last 15 or 20 years, which seems very plausible. So I guess I might have some more digging in my future.

flooding 1

flooding 1
flooding 2

flooding 2
flooding 3

flooding 3
flooding 4

flooding 4
flooding 5

flooding 5
flooding 6

flooding 6

Anyways, back to the creek. At 7:30 this morning, I was pleased that my efforts were paying off. After I finished breakfast around 8:00 and looked out the window again, my heart sank. The backyard was filled with water. The levee broke, and so did my spirit.

I went upstairs and got to work on my normal stuff, and around 10:00, decided to look out the window again. The flooding had stopped. I was quite surprised by this. In fact, the backyard didn’t even look that wet, so I went out to investigate. It turns out that my levee had indeed broke, but it was not completely washed out, and as you might be able to tell from the picture, the flooding would have been much worse had I not tried to shore up the bank. You also notice that there is next to no grass on the levee. I had been meaning to plant grass there very soon, since the grass roots will help prevent erosion. I guess this weekend I will have to make that my priority.

The other good part of the story is that we wisely moved the garden from the backyard (where it was last year) over to the side of the garage, where it does not tend to flood, and this was the case today. So I am still disappointed, but it could have been much worse.

Cement pond refilled

The cement pond has been completely refilled again from this flood. Until I get the drain working again, I do have stagnant water.
Debris washed up from the flood

Debris washed up from the flood
The bridge still stands

The bridge has not washed out yet.
Partially broken levee

Had I not done any shoring up, this bank would still be overflowing.
Close-up of levee

A close-up of where the levee broke.

Spring has sprung

Since we are getting pretty close to summer, I figured that we should finally post some pictures of spring. We started this post over a month ago, but have been pretty busy traveling, moving Clare to Colorado, and partying.
So here are a few pictures from the property when things were blooming.