After a break from the buckthorn project during the gun deer season, and with unseasonably warm weather at the beginning of December, we returned to buckthorn cutting. We have some really big piles of cut buckthorn now and hope to have decent snow cover at some point so that we can light them on fire to dispose of them and return their nutrients to the ground. The early December weekend that we returned to cutting buckthorn, Saturday was a little challenging because the Roundup stored in the barn was a little on the slushy side to begin with the temperature hovering at the freezing point, the Roundup was well on its way to being solid and my sponge paintbrush was freezing up and getting stiff by late in the afternoon. Sunday morning promised to be warmer, so we figured we’d get back to it and really make some progress.
When we woke up on Sunday morning I was thinking about pouring our coffee into our mugs from Mulberry Pottery, but D. said, “Weren’t we going to go for a walk?” I had less than great enthusiasm for our previously agreed upon plan, but chose to keep up my end of the deal and instead poured it into the travel mugs and got dressed to go outside. We walked out along the trail and took the spur down closest to the stream and past the coyote den before rejoining the main trail to the back. We didn’t hear much and the sunrise wasn’t spectacular, but we did scare about four or five deer out of the thicket at the bottom of the valley. I didn’t get a really good look at any of them because my view was obscured by trees until they were well up the hill in the neighbor’s field, but D. swore he heard antlers crashing against something before they cleared the woods. Maybe. We definitely heard a deer snort, so I’ll bet that big buck is still out there somewhere. We cut down to the bottom of the valley and I noticed a tree that was kind of hollow at the bottom with lots of evidence of traffic around its base. Sure enough there was a raccoon in there doing its best to sleep. It startled me a little and I just stepped away and around the other side of the tree. Much as raccoons are not welcome in or near our buildings, they are part of the ecosystem and if they’re willing to live in trees, I’m willing to leave them alone. We made our way back up the hill and I started studying one of the oak trees. I saw a huge lump on one branch that perfectly matched the color of the bark, but it was so round, I just couldn’t believe it was part of the tree. Our first thought was “raccoon” since we have such an abundance of those, but no ringed tail and no little bandit face. Also not right for an opossum. Porcupine, yes. Porcupine. Everything I’ve been able to read suggests we’re too far south to be in the range of porcupines, but I’d say this picture suggests we are not. Another interesting animal and one with which I do not intend to tangle. I also hope that somewhere down the road I never have to pull porcupine quills out of a dog either.
We walked back and cooked breakfast and then stopped through the barn to get our tools and head back to the buckthorn. Porcupine still lying on the branch and completely nonplussed by us, by the hawk that flew over and screamed, or the murder of crows making a racket as they flew south toward a different patch of woods, possibly intent on harassing an owl that was only trying to get some sleep. We spent a good part of the day cutting and stacking even more buckthorn. It was considerably warmer and I had no trouble with freezing of herbicide or paint brush. It was actually warm enough not to want the jacket I would have preferred for this task. I also learned that D. is willing to walk a mile to bring me a tweezers. Well I suppose that is the easy way out if the other possibility is to fireman carry me out half that distance. But I do appreciate it. I guess I’ve also learned that I should always take my Swiss Army knife out there. One never knows when a tweezers or scissors will come in handy…
While we didn’t quite make it to either the north or east property lines, we did finish off this particular stand of buckthorn and for the first time, I really think we can win the buckthorn war. It’s early though and while we think we have this area cut and poisoned and we’ve scattered some prairie seeds, it’s too early to say that our work is done. I suspect it may still take years of maintenance. It’s already looking more like the oak opening it’s supposed to be.