This Month On The Homestead: Trail Building 101 And A Second Birthday Party
If you’re just tuning in, this is a recurring series in which I document each month of our lives out here on our 66-acre Vermont homestead. After leaving urban Cambridge, MA in May 2016 to chart this wholly different life, we’re experiencing a constant learning curve of exploration (and plenty of stupid novice moments). Check out last month’s installment here and enjoy the best and worst (ok, mostly the worst) moments of our first year on the homestead here.
Snow fell for the first time this month, reminding us of the winter season’s edge we’re teetering upon. A powdered sugar dusting coated our world for a few days in early November, before it melted off in deference to the true harbingers of this season: dead and dried leaves.
Stick season set in once again after nature did a test run of snow and we returned to that ambiguous state of bare trees and muddy ground that could be spring or could be fall, with no indication of which is correct other than the calendar. This is ideal hiking weather as it’s not too cold and not too hot and the brush has largely died back.
November was a month of festivities as we celebrated both Thanksgiving and Babywoods’ second birthday! Both were done in our trademark simplified, frugalized fashion and centered, of course, around the food. I shared our full Thanksgiving menu last month, abbreviated though it was since we didn’t host anyone this year and instead had a quiet, cozy holiday with our little family of 3.5… Plus Frugal Hound, of course, who was most aggrieved that we didn’t cook a turkey this year, being as she is a certified turkey freak and a dog who sees no point in foods that are not meat.
While I love our usual tradition of hosting Mr. Frugalwoods’ family for Thanksgiving, we enjoyed the opportunity to simplify this year, a welcome change, as I feel our to-do lists are endless right now, what with our second baby on the horizon and the publication of my book looming. Both take a great deal of my time and energy these days. All my spare moments are dedicated to the physical work of organizing and cleaning out our home (my nesting instinct works in reverse and I’m compelled–seriously required–to declutter), plus setting up a nursery, and the mental work of writing.
Babywoods’ Second Birthday!
Babywoods turned two at the end of November (!!!!!) and I know the cliche is that “time moves so quickly” when your children are young, but I actually feel it is quite the opposite. In many ways, time moves slowly and deliberately, our days populated by a thousand different activities, conversations, outfits, meals, hikes, outings, art projects (“art” would be a strong word for it… ), and, naturally, tantrums. The minutiae of child-rearing is slow and sometimes painful. But I accept it and embrace it. I’m sure I’ll look back when Babywoods is older and feel that the time flew, but my experience in the present is that it does not. It’s a mindful, plodding pace that forces me to focus on each and every present moment. Perhaps it’s that the days are long but the years are short?
For Babywoods’ second birthday, we celebrated with a low-key, no stress, no expense party for just the three of us. We went to our favorite free playgroup (hosted in the gym at the elementary school) that morning where Babywoods gallivanted around with her toddler crew. Next up was her two-year-old doctor appointment (she’s doing great!) followed by a pancake lunch Mr. FW cooked up using this divine recipe, along with blackberries Babywoods and I picked in our yard this summer. She spent most of the meal picking the blackberries out of the pancakes, so maybe next year we’ll just give her a pile of blackberries ;). We wore the same party hats we’ve been using for every birthday for at least five years now and I put two candles atop her little stack of pancakes.
We’ve been reading her books about birthdays, so she totally got the concept, except for the part about how you blow the candles out… Babywoods opted to snuff them with her bare hands. Undaunted, she devoured her little pancakes and then we Facetimed with both sets of grandparents. Her grandparents very kindly sent her a few birthday presents and she gamely opened them while they watched over the internet (sidenote: Facetime is the most wonderful thing in the world for long distance grandparents!).
Since we’re not fans of too many presents at a time, Mr. FW and I opted not to buy her any gifts–she was very excited with the presents from her grandparents and I don’t want to set an expectation of tons of gifts for every birthday or holiday. This was the perfect level of stimulation for our wee toddler and she took an excellent afternoon nap after all these festivities. I’m in favor of calibrating celebrations to a child’s age and developmental level and see no need for a huge party or big cake or pile of presents for a kid this young. She’d end up over-sugared, overwhelmed, over-exhausted, and very likely in tears. This was an ideal, laid-back party for her and we all had a lovely time.
My friend, who has an older son, recently told me that her philosophy is not to have a birthday party until the kid asks for it on their own, which sounds like a great idea to me. When Babywoods requests a party with her “buddies” (what she calls her friends), I will happily oblige (with a homemade cake, of course). But until that time, I think we’ll keep it simple and expense-free. For more on my birthday party philosophy and frugalization tips, check out: Our Thrifty And Simple Baby’s First Birthday Party.
The Frugalwoods Hiking Trail System
My main outdoor activity this month was hiking with Babywoods every single day. I have a ‘get outside’ philosophy that extends into the winter and the only days we stay in are when heavy rain or snow is actively falling. November was pretty temperate and so we were out there on the trail. But let’s be clear here, I am super pregnant and pushing a toddler in a jogging stroller, so these are not exactly epic, long, or arduous hikes.
All of my hiking inspired Mr. FW to… build more hiking trails!! That’s kind of how it works for us these days–I use stuff and he fixes/repairs/creates it. A worthy trade-off since I’m pregnant and toting a two-year-old ;).
Mr. FW’s trail building skills transcended a new level this month and I am beyond impressed with the work he did. He’s a person who decides to do something, teaches himself how to do it, and then just DOES IT. I love that about him. There’s very little hesitation or waffling or procrastination. It just gets done. Trying to be better about this myself…
At any rate, trails! I mentioned this trail building pursuit on Instagram a few weeks ago and a number of folks asked me how exactly one goes about building a trail and so, allow me to tell you. I mean, I was probably going to tell you anyway because that’s what we did this month, but hey! I’m always even more excited when people actually want to know the stuff I’m writing about.
Trail Building 101 with Mr. Frugalwoods (as written by Mrs. FW)
“When building a trail, think like a deer and go for the path of least resistance.” -Mr. FW
No reason to make it any more difficult than it needs to be! Since we’re not, like, trying to actually get anywhere with these trails and are merely looking for paths to hike in loops through our property, Mr. FW seeks out long-abandoned existing clearings through our woods that he can groom into hiking trails. Primarily, these trails were once logging paths utilized by loggers to bring trees out of the forest. When you want to bring commercial timber out of a forest (a process called skidding), you have to do it all in one piece–in other words, a whole tree at a time, as opposed to how Mr. FW brings in trees for firewood in bucked rounds (a fancy way of saying “cut up into pieces”).
In order to bring a whole tree out of a forest, you have to drive a rather large skidder (a heavy logging vehicle) into the woods to retrieve it. This action leaves a number of marks on a landscape, which are apparent to the trained (or in this case, amateur-but-persistent) eye. I will note that there’s been a resurgence in lower-impact horse logging recently as this causes much less disruption and destruction to a forest (the downsides being that it’s slower and involves a real live horse–a pro or a con depending on your perspective on horses 😉 ).
Several decades ago, our forest was logged and so there are old logging roads bisecting our woods. Naturally, nature has enjoyed a resurgence in the intervening decades, rendering these roads nearly imperceptible. But they are there! The advantages of utilizing them for a trail system are that they’re much more cleared than the regular old untrammeled woods and, in many cases, they bisect and intersect, creating lovely loops.
“Read the book Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England, by Tom Wessels.” -Mr. FW
Mr. FW cites this book as the single most influential resource in helping him figure out our forest. Having also read this book I can attest that it provides an excellent education in forestry, trees, and how to understand the age and dynamics of a forest. So, if you too want to understand a forest near you, check out this book!
The relevant element of this book for trail building purposes involves the identification of the logging roads I just mentioned. It’s not like these ‘roads’ have signs proclaiming, “Hey! This Is An Old Logging Road!” Rather, they’re almost completely overgrown and indicated by very nuanced signals. These signals include: basel bump scars on trees (a fancy word for “scars on the lower parts of trees”), which indicate log skidding, certain types of lower vegetation that typically grow in disturbed soils (aka soils that a skidder once drove over), and the age of tree blowdowns (fancy word for “a tree that has fallen over”) as logging road tree blowdowns are of a younger vintage than regular forest blowdowns.
These are all indicators of an old logging road. And let me tell you, it’s often not obvious that these were ever roads at all as a forest is quite adept at re-populating itself. Once Mr. FW locates what he posits is an old logging road, he then hikes it several times in both directions to figure out if there is in fact the skeleton of a road present. An absence of old growth trees and a roughly cleared pathway can often be found and will provide the foundation for a hiking trail.
“Time to get out your chainsaw.” -Mr. FW
After he identifies and walks a trail several times, Mr. FW then gets out his chainsaw (and chainsaw safety gear, I must add!!) and gets to work on the largest trees lying across the path. Since these roads were cleared just a few decades ago (which is not a long time in tree years), there aren’t any large trees actually growing in the path, but there are most certainly trees that have fallen over into the path (how rude). The best–and really only–was to clear these is via chainsaw as they’re much too massive to drag or roll or pull out of the way.
He cuts the fallen tree at either end of the trail, bucks the log, and then rolls those log rounds into the woods. Unfortunately, these trees are too old and rotten to serve as firewood, but they contribute to the regeneration of the forest’s ecosystem by decaying in the woods. He also utilizes his chainsaw to cut down any new growth trees that’ve sprung up in the middle of the hiking trail.
The chainsaw portion of trail clearing is by far the most labor intensive and skilled element of the process, but it’s also the most necessary. When we first moved here, we climbed over or around the fallen trees across our trails, but this gets old fast, especially when you’re hiking with a kid either in a jogging stroller or strapped to your back. Plus, some of these fallen trees are so monstrous (and multiple) that it’s not possible to climb over them and so you’re stuck circumventing the trail through the woods, which really defeats the purpose of the trail in the first place. Often, a single tree will fall and bring down several other trees along with it, creating a massive pile-up of tree debris taller than me! It’s often not as simple as cutting away a solitary fallen log–it’s more like a tinker toy pile-up of intersecting trees and their respective branches. In Babywoods’ words, “a big mess!”
We live on 66 acres in rural central Vermont and the vast majority of our land is forested (save for a few cleared acres around our house and barn and then another few cleared acres in our upper field). There are hundreds of thousands of trees (at least) on our property and I love them all, but sometimes they’re in the way of a good trail.
“A trimmer with a good blade is a requirement.” -Mr. FW
Next up it’s the trimmer’s turn. Mr. FW wields his bladed trimmer up and down the trail to remove all undergrowth, small trees, and other vegetation choking the path. Anything too small for the chainsaw but too large to step over gets chopped.
“Buy some paint and blaze away.” -Mr. FW
We have yet to perform this final, finishing touch on our trail system, but hope to do so in the spring. A blaze is a small painted stripe on trees every 100 feet or so to inform a hiker that they’re still on the trail and still going in the correct direction. If you’ve ever hiked in a state or national park, you will note that all trails are blazed with different colors to aid you along your journey. It’s a simple, cheap, low-tech, low-impact way of denoting trail systems and ensuring that hikers don’t get lost.
We’ll select different colors for each trail and blaze them accordingly. In the longterm, I want to draw maps and put little wooden signs at the start of each trailhead so that our friends and visitors can hike our woods without our guidance. It’s one of my goals to share our land more broadly and enable friends and neighbors to hike, snowshoe, and cross country ski our property anytime they’d like.
“And then you must maintain.” -Mr. FW
The final step, which is ongoing and constant, is the maintenance of these trails. A great deal of Mr. FW’s work this month was focused on maintaining and improving the trail he built last year, which is our longest trail by far–a loop around our property’s perimeter.
Our land now proudly sports approximately five different trail systems, some of which intersect and loop. I imagine we’ll likely double this number in the coming years, but for now, this gives us ample options for traversing our woods.
Having the ability to hike our land regularly–usually every day–is a prime reason for living out here. While it’s labor intensive, building and maintaining these trails is the realization of a major life goal for us: hiking right outside our front door!
Want More Fotos?!
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Onward to December, frugal comrades!
P.P.S. We’re taking my Uber Frugal Month Challenge as a group during the month of January 2018! To save more money than you ever thought possible and transform your relationship with your finances, sign-up to join us. Also note that the Uber Frugal Month will go on hiatus after January, so now’s your chance!
How was November on your own personal homestead?
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