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an afternoon in the forest

anyone who’s been to our house will know that about 60% of our lot is trees. a fairly thick forest, with a lot of scrub, underbrush, and deadfall – the result of a long period of absolutely no forestry management or maintenance. plus, a lot of the downed trees and limbs are due to the ice storm back in ’08. that season, i took 8 truckloads of brush to the transfer station to be chopped/shredded/bio-fueled (thanks, FEMA!) but yet, there’s much more.

one of my ongoing projects is to clear out the deadfall (and other trip-hazards) and thin the organic forest bed to cut down on critters, insects, and fungus. to make a place where the kids can play and not twist ankles or get swarmed.

we have the start of several clearings into the woods, one which formed naturally because it’s basically a retention pond for runoff, marked as a low point bounded by rotting deadfall. i would like to clear this of organics, fill it with soil and extend the yard into the woods a bit. that was my task today.

i will tell this story from three perspectives: first, my wife. second, a neighbor (though keep in mind none of our neighbors actually has the perspective to see all the goings-on, please give me some artistic license) and finally, third, i will fill in the gaps as myself.


“why did Mike just run into the house, grab a lighter, and run back out?”


“Garage door opening at the Susz’s, wonder what kind of havoc will be wreaked today…

“here comes Mike with a… sawzall, a hatchet, an axe, and a wheelbarrow. good god, it’s fantasy lumberjack day (again).

“wow, he’s hauling out 2-3′ chunks of pretty thick logs. that’s quite a pile he has going.

“Mike just ran back into the garage, and ran out with a gallon jug of … poison? uh-oh.

“he put back the insecticide, now he’s coming out the woods with a wheelbarrow full of… there’s 1/2 of a big log straddled across it and he’s handing it awful gingerly.

“okay now he’s running out of the garage with the gas can. i feel like dialing 9-1, just in case i have to dial 1 again.

“he put the log on the ground, and now he’s … dumping whatever else in the wheelbarrow around it… did i see something moving? and here comes the gas can. and … fire!

“at least he’s got the garden hose over there, soaking down everything around the fire. wonder what the heck he’s burning. but he looks like he has it under control.

“stripping his clothes off and shaking them, uh-oh. maybe i WILL dial 1 again.

“okay, half naked lumberjack idiot put the fire out. i’m going to go hang the phone up and wish i never witnessed this.”


just another day of chunking up deadfall, chopping down scrub growth and clearing the woods. loaded up the axe, the hatchet, the reciprocating saw with 12″ brush blade, and the shovel. everything going smoothly; chunking up big pieces of downed trees, dragging them out, and stacking them. except for that one particular piece of log…

about 6 feet long, half buried in the dirt / organic mix of forest floor compost. i should dig it up first before cutting it and hauling it. so, i dig in. get one end out, and start to tip it on end to get it out of the hole and cut it. it … falls in half lengthwise as i lift, and out pour…

ants. carpenter ants.  how many of them? ALL of them. hundreds. thousands. the full 6′ of log split down the middle, and both sides are teeming with carpenter ants. and my gloves are … teeming with carpenter ants. and my boots are … you get the picture.

so instinct – ants. kill ants. kill them before they find a new home. i run into the garage and get the big jug of insect killer. or at least, what i think was the insecticide. turns out my first trip i grabbed the weed killer – the one with the sprayer nozzle that doesn’t work. run into the garage again, and get the insecticide. get out the woods to start hosing them down, and realize that this isn’t really going to work. i have to remove the log.

so i pick up the 6 foot chunk and lay it across the wheelbarrow. my gloves are teeming with ants. i start digging out the other 1/2 of the log which at this point is mostly decomposed and held together by moss, but i manage to separate it all from the ground and start towards the wheelbarrow with a large chunk of it hanging from the shovel. when i get to the wheelbarrow, there’s about 1/2″ deep … puddle? of ants in the bottom of it.

i get the rest of the ‘log’ loaded and get it out of the woods – haul it over to the distant point of our property, where i’m loosely stacking all this wood in a clearing. and then i think – this isn’t going to stop them from relocating to the house. i don’t want them to relocate anywhere. i have to kill thousands of ants all at once. what’s the best way to do that?

kill it with fire.

i run into the house, grab a lighter, have a very very brief (and probably confusing) conversation with Carrie, and run back down to the garage. retrieving the pre-mix gas can, and then out to the woodpile. do i want to burn my wheelbarrow? no. i gingerly move the 1/2 log to the ground. my gloves are teeming with ants. i dump the mulch/moss/ant mixture from the barrow around the log.

i have a ‘moment of clarity’ that i just might want a water source on hand in case this gets … out of hand. i run back, turn on the hose bib and drag the garden hose to the scene of the immolation-to-be.

i douse the log & pile with a combination of gasoline & 2-stroke motor oil. did i use enough? did i use too much? we’ll find out. i choose a part of the pile that’s away from most of the gasoline, light up some newspaper and bury it in the pile.

WHOOSH. fire. log on fire. ants on fire. FIRE! do i want the wood pile to be on fire? no. hose it down. hose down the grass. hose down the truck (about 12′ away). hose down everything except the beautiful, beautiful, ant-killing fire.

once i’m confident the fire is fully engulfing the log but not about to jump to any surrounding material, i start to think how i’ve been standing in, picking up, and moving around surfaces that have been teeming with ants. off comes the sweatshirt, the hat, the t-shirt. shake shake shake, swat swat swat. alright.

once i’m confident that all the ANTS ARE DEAD, i douse the log and piles of burning what-not with water. bubbling up from the recesses of the log are larvae, the future carpenter ant population. now dead, thanks to me and OPEC (and Zippo).

gather up my clothes, my tools, put everything away. once in the garage, the boots/socks/jeans get shaken (yes, i spared my poor neighbors that grievous scene outside).

so that was my afternoon. a shower and a beer and i feel almost normal again.


9 responses to “an afternoon in the forest”

Frank says:

This *must* be a weekly series. In the future, please include pictures and/or video.

posted on September 5, 2010

mom says:

I think the neighbor has all the pictures Frank…Now I understand the repeated mention of fire this afternoon, when I called…….

posted on September 5, 2010

mike says:

wait until you see what i’m going to do about the gophers.

posted on September 5, 2010

Frank says:

…but if you kill all the golfers…

I’m thinking the name of the series (as a subtle nod to “Will it blend”) could be “Can you kill it with fire?”

ants, golfers, krispy kreme donuts, the cast of jersey shore…

posted on September 5, 2010

Joel says:

Mike’s been hanging out on the internet too much. First thing that comes to his mind, of course – “KILL IT WITH FIRE”. Ha


The Kettle (to the Pot)

posted on September 6, 2010

Brian says:

If your woods are nearly as dry as our woods down here, I would have been more than a little concerned about starting a forest fire. No?

posted on September 6, 2010

mike says:

i didn’t start it IN the woods, i was probably 20 feet away from trees. the flames never got more than a foot or so high and i was standing by with the hose.

posted on September 7, 2010

mom says:

i keep checking for the gopher story!

posted on September 9, 2010

mike says:

it was a Caddyshack reference, mom. 🙂

posted on September 9, 2010