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If the predictions are correct, by the time you’re reading this we will have gone from ice cleats to snowshoes to get around in the woods.

I’ve started with my yearly crazy work, going into the woods for several hours and either cutting down trees, sawing them up and pulling them on a sled out to the road, or doing the same with previously cut wood.

It beats going to the gym. It’s a good chance to check out the new animal tracks. And, it keeps me occupied.

This activity went faster when I had a big ox, or a team, pulling the sled. Oxen can pull substantially more than I can, as you can imagine.

Of course I can resort to using a tractor, but that would be too easy, and too noisy.

I do use a tractor now and then, because my stone-age methods are not always fast enough to keep up with my quota. If it is a whole log to be pulled out, I have no choice but a tractor.

But they don’t call me Forrest Hardway around here for nothing.

I guess in Hadley I have over 50 acres of woods to prospect through in search of firewood or lumber if I need it. The winter is the perfect time, because the summer is growing season and other activities become paramount.

And winter is a great time to clean up areas by keeping a fire going while you are working. It can be almost blissful out there when the chainsaw isn’t going.

I gather wood for my next sled pull, or I clean up dead wood and branches to throw on the fire or on a new brush pile. I bring the loppers out with me to clear eye-level branches and snags in the area I’m working, and on the winter paths I use to go in and out.

The deer and other animals readily take to these paths once they are established, and they are happy to nibble on the browse of fresh limbs and twigs.

I have brush piles here and there in the woods. If I see a rabbit has started using one, I’ll leave it alone. If the deer are attracted to it, I’ll leave it.

But over the course of the winter, most of my brush piles will be the start of a campfire and will serve as my base of operations for the hours I’m out. I lightly spread the ashes on my gardens in the spring after spreading my compost.

The crops seem to respond very well to this treatment. Decades of work have proven its effectiveness, not only at feeding the plants but by improving the soil.

I have never needed to buy fertilizer, although I have at times added various pulverized types of stone to the mix. The stone usually goes directly into the compost pile. That way I have only two spreading operations — one with the manure spreader and one either putting the ashes on top of the load being spread or spreading the ash separately onto the land.

All of that’s a few months away. For now, I will continue prospecting the woods atop my snowshoes.

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Forrest Hartley lives in Hadley. You can leave him a message at new_americangothic@yahoo.com.

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