Bonfires at the pond

Bonfire beside the pond

The sun is going down. The air is warm. Frogs and birds are chirping. The water of the pond ripples as bugs, fish and beavers paddle around. Within a circle of stones, the flames of the bonfire dance in the gentle breeze.

This is the idyllic night by the pond that I have imagined since we moved here. And it has finally happened.

For many years, I have proclaimed that clearing the pond shore is my one and only outside project for the summer. And for many years, I have failed to fulfill my dream.

Overgrown brush on the shore of the pond

You might recall that earlier this year I burned the shore. This cleared all of last year’s brush and grass. In a couple of weeks, the grass had started to regrow, but it was small and and soft and green—very mowable.

Controlled burn beside the pond

Matt’s Dad went through with his heavy duty loppers and chainsaw. He did battle with saplings, suckers and the beaver lodge (not dismantling it, just climbing around on it). It was brutal for him, but more brutal for the brush.

Burning all of it took two more big fires.

I mowed, our nephew mowed, my cousin mowed. Ellie and I added benches and moved rocks to make the firepit.

Soon, Ellie and I were making daily visits to the beavers and then friends came for a (social distancing) bonfire. It was as wonderful as I imagined.

Last weekend, Matt’s Dad, his oldest brother and our two nephews waged another battle. This time with the stumps. Once we started mowing, we discovered a few stumps sticking up high enough to catch on the mower. With axes, pry bars and shovels, they dug them all out—another brutal job, but one I appreciate so, so much.

Digging out stumps by the pond

We celebrated on Saturday night by gathering for a bonfire. It was the first time we’ve all been together since Matt’s birthday in March. At the start of April, I wrote, “maybe, maybe in a few months the shore will be green, quarantine will be over, and we’ll be able to walk down and sit by the water.”

Though restrictions are lifting across Ontario, we are still being cautious. But the shore is green and we’re able to spend time together.

I often sit by the pond for a few minutes in the afternoons when Ellie naps or in the evenings after she goes to bed. We still visit the beavers at least once every day. And bonfires have become weekly events.

Evening at the pond

All of this gives me joy and peace, even more than I imagined.

Burning the pond shore

On Saturday afternoon, I fulfilled a long-held dream. I lit the pond shore on fire.

Controlled burn beside the pond

No, quarantine is not making me crazy. Yes, we have interesting ways of passing the time here at the farm.

To recap:

  1. The pond is my absolute favourite place on this property.
  2. By mid-summer, we can’t get to the pond because the grass and brush is so overgrown.
  3. Every year I have plans to clear the pond shore.
  4. Every year I make very little progress.

That is the story of the pond that I have shared publicly.

Secretly I’ve been thinking for years about clearing the shore with fire.

There are the practical concerns, like not lighting the whole farm on fire. But nothing is as fast as fire for making a clean slate.

Controlled burn beside the pond

This burn took about an hour–one toddler naptime. And I did in fact manage to not light the whole farm on fire.

There’s still more to do. Saplings to clip. Rocks to pick. Firepit to finish. Dock to build… someday.

Firepit by the pond

But I should be able to mow a decent area once the grass starts to grow again. And maybe, maybe in a few months the shore will be green, quarantine will be over, and we’ll be able to walk down and sit by the water.

I hope that you are all doing well and are keeping busy and staying safe. Take care.

First fire at the pond

I still find it hard to describe the feeling of being at the farm. It’s peace, happiness, pride, calm and so much more.

My favourite place at my favourite place is the pond.

Since we moved here I’ve envisioned walking along the edge of the water, a bench on the shore, maybe a little dock out into the water and a firepit.

On the weekend, one part of that came true–or started to–with our very first fire at the pond.

Fire on the shore of the pond

All of our efforts over the past few months with our new rotary cutter, the chainsaw, the nephew and the husband have gotten us much closer to my vision.

This fire was less of a campfire and more about cleaning up all of the brush that’s accumulated from our work.

Trimming brush

The pond shore was my main outdoor goal for this whole year. Then by June I’d given up on this plan after we ran into hiccups with a broken arm, broken chainsaw and other projects. That changed with the arrival of our mower and all of Matt’s and our nephew’s work.

Overgrown brush on the shore of the pond

Brush at the edge of the pond

Fire on the shore of the pond

My fall to-do list included mowing the meadow and the shore one more time, but I’m letting that one go now.

Hopefully, we can resume in the spring and push on towards my vision for my favourite place.

We’ll be closer than we have ever been before.

Sawing through the honey-do list

Since moving to the farm, I’ve discovered a few new favourite tools. One of these is the chainsaw. However, in our house the chainsaw is Matt’s and he’s the one who wields it. Due first to Matt’s broken arm and then to a hole in the oil tank on the saw, we’ve been chainsaw-less so far this year.

Matt’s arm is healed and almost back to full strength. He and his Dad fibreglassed the oil tank back together. And over the weekend he finally fired up the saw.

Low hanging branches, small trees that sprouted up in unwanted spots, dead wood have all been trimmed. Best of all, Matt went through the meadow and down to the pond.

 

Matt cutting suckers from an old stump

My view to the pond is continuing to clear. It seems like as soon as I abandoned hope of clearing the pond shore this year, that’s when we finally started this project.

Baxter looking down through the meadow to the pond

The pond

A few hours of work netted us the biggest burn/brush pile I think we’ve ever had. A tractor-size one. We also left a bunch of brush down at the pond to burn there.

Matt on the tractor in front of our burn pile

Collecting the brush was Mr. B’s favourite part. Or the trailer ride to get the brush was.

Baxter and I having a trailer ride

How was your weekend?

Finding our waterfront

Remember how clearing the pond shore was my one and only outdoor home goal for this year? And how at the mid-year report I said it wasn’t going to happen?

It’s happening, people.

Our keen 17-year-old nephew who loves being at the farm had a day off from his summer job, and he wanted to learn how to drive the tractor. If you’re driving the tractor, you might as well learn how to use the front end loader, the new rotary cutter and tow the trailer.

So I went through the basics of a hydrostatic transmission and what levers did what. We hooked on the rotary cutter and I pointed him at the pond.

Here’s how things were looking after last weekend’s mowing of the meadow. I swear there’s water on the other side of all of that grass and brush.

Overgrown brush on the shore of the pond

I was super impressed with our nephew. He was calm and confident and careful.

Mowing the overgrown grass around the pond

Mowing the overgrown grass around the pond

Loading firewood with the front end loader

A morning of work cleared about half the shore on the east side. The remaining thickets are hiding all kinds of logs and stumps. So we have more work to do, and I need to set Matt loose with his chainsaw, but the progress is awesome.

This vantage point still doesn’t show you much of the water, but I swear it’s there.

Clearing overgrown brush on the shore of the pond

Clearing overgrown brush on the shore of the pond

This deep in the summer, the pond is a little mucky, but it’s still my favourite part on the property.

Pond in the summer

Pond in the summer

Our nephew totally made my summer.

A walk by the creek

Creek flowing over rocks

Care to join me on an evening walk along the creek?

We’ll start at the front of the property where water from farms to the north of us drains onto our land. It flows along the border of the front field, cuts under the driveway and then picks up another stream. From here it snakes along the perimeter of the corner field following the edge of our pine forest.

Creek

Partway along, we come to an old bridge that once connected the field to the forest. I discovered this bridge on one of my first rambles in the early months of owning the farm. I remember how excited I was, although I have yet to attempt to cross the bridge.

Dilapidated bridge

Some day, we may repair the bridge and establish some pathways through the forest.

Dilapidated bridge

As we near the mouth of the pond, the creek drops, swirling under trees, around boulders and over rocks.

Creek flowing over rocks

Unusual weather for January in Canada–five degrees and day after day of rain this week–has the water high and flowing fast, yet ice still coats the grass along the shore.

 

Fast flowing water in the creek

We end our ramble at the pond where the ice is melting in this January thaw.

Pond during a January thaw

Just one small problem, we’re on the wrong side of the creek and the bridge is out. Be careful getting home. 🙂

Have a great weekend everyone. May I suggest you go for a ramble?

On thin ice

I think this hole in the ice is a sign that someone had a bad day.

Breaking through the ice

But someone else didn’t take the warning.

“What do you mean the ice isn’t safe?”

Dog on thin ice

“My foot’s cold… and wet.”

At the edge of the pond

(And just in case you’re worried, the pond is pretty shallow here, so when Bax did actually break through, he was able to climb out without any trouble. Although he was a little miffed that the ground cracked and he ended up wet. I also had him on his long lead so he couldn’t wander too far.)

Waiting for ice to arrive

We’re two weeks away from New Year’s Day. Every year that we’ve been at the farm, I’ve been able to go skating on the pond on New Year’s.

Unless we get a serious cold snap for Christmas, I don’t think skating’s going to be on the activity list.

The surface of the pond is more about reflections these days than it is about ice.

Pond on a foggy fall afternoon

The water is trickling in the creek.

Creek running over mossy stones

The deer paths around the shore are very, very squishy–not even close to frozen–mud.

Muddy deer trail

The reeds are still green.

Green reeds in the pond

A thirsty puppy even has a place to get a drink.

Baxter drinking from the creek

2016 is coming no matter what. Skating? I’m not so sure.

What’s the weather like where you are? How are you planning to celebrate New Year’s? Do you have any traditions you’re looking forward to?

An evening walk along the pond trail

The nature of farm living is that it’s tough work. Last night, after a day full of hard labour, my skin was stinging from scrapes, thorn pricks and a pretty decent sunburn.

My muscles and grip strength were gone. At one point, Matt had said, “Pull!” as we were stringing the fence in the garden. And at my response–“I’ve got nothing left!”–he just laughed.

It was after 5 o’clock, and the dog still needed his afternoon walk–a daunting prospect.

But the nature of farm living is that there’s also an incredible setting, right in our backyard, so Baxter and I headed for the pond trail.

Matt cut this trail for us last year. Some of our hard work earlier earlier in the day had been  sharpening the mower blades (with help from my parents), attaching the deck to the tractor and mowing the grass.

Sharpening lawn mower blads

Attaching the mower deck to the tractor

In addition to doing the lawn, Matt did a pass over the trail, so Bax and I had a lovely space to hike.

We walked alongside the lilac hedge that leads from the house down to the water.

Lilac hedge

Purple lilac

We turned left and followed the trail along the shore towards one of our old apple trees. This tree is a showstopper this year. Absolutely covered in blossoms.

Apple tree in blossom

Apple blossoms

From there, the trail heads into the small pasture behind the barn, following the fence at the edge of the marsh.

Baxter walking along the pond trail

Baxter walking along the pond trail

It loops around past the manure pile and then up to my favourite tree.

My favourite maple tree

We took a detour by the garden to check out the new fence.

Chain link fenc stapled to a wood fence

And as I headed to house, Baxter decided he was going to stay out for awhile yet. He laid down beside the garden and gazed back down the trail and across the farm.

Baxter laying in the grass

The view is fields and forest and trees and marsh, and it’s worth any scrapes, pricks, burns, aches, hard work and exhaustion.

The payoff–this farm–is exactly where I want to be.