In this issue:
- Cadie(15) Writes about a sledding
- Titi(18) Writes about driving
- Rundy(22) Writes about grafting
(Note: This actually happened sometime in January, but I was having trouble finishing the article.)
"It’s really good for sledding!" Evan kept saying. It was a beautiful day out, with the sun shining and the icicles dripping, and Evan and Owen had just come in from sledding. Owen was excitedly recounting his exploits to me, and Evan exclaimed, "I almost broke my neck going up the snow mound!"
We had not gone sledding very many times so far this winter; it seemed like the snow just didn’t want to cooperate. Evan, Owen, and I went once early on in December when the snow was melting–perfect for sledding. But after that the snow always seemed to be dry, fluffy, useless snow that you couldn’t pack to save your life. If you tried to sled in it, the sled would sink into it and plow it like a snowplow, as we found out when we tried it a couple of days earlier. It had been a gloomy, gray day out, and I was sick and tired of being stuck in the house, so I had convinced the skeptical little kids to come sledding with me. I had stubbornly plowed along through the snow in the sled, trying to make a trail. Once I had become convinced of the uselessness of that endeavor, I had gone over to help the little kids with what they were doing. Evan had grandly announced that he was going to make a snow statue! That wound up just being a pile of snow. But we had managed to find a way to make it pack–we had all knelt down and paddled the snow behind us like dogs, with me stopping to pack it down every once in a while. It had been somehow very satisfying to dig into the snow and watch it disappear behind you, causing our little snow mound to pile up into a big snow drift. But once we had tired of doing that, we had a big snow mound that we didn’t know what do with.
But now, the boys insisted, it was better. I got out there as quick as I could to try it out. The first time I tried it out, I was almost surprised by how quickly the sled started up; it had been so long since I went sledding, I’d almost forgotten what it was like! The sled slipped this way and that, out of control. I went down with Evan and Owen next, and we nearly crashed into the snow mound we had built the day before. It was right where our sled was headed, like a big roadblock! "Yikes!" we all said. We managed to squeak past it in a frantic rush of paddling and went on down the path, laughing. But Owen had fallen out of the sled! "Are you all right, Owen?" I called up to him. "Yeah, I just got lawn-mowed somehow on my head by the sled!" he retorted, in his usual animated style of talking. We all looked at each other and laughed, and then ran up to try it again.
Collin came up a little while later. It was his first time sledding this year; usually only Owen and Evan went sledding together–being two energetic boys, they do a lot of things together–and sometimes Justin and I. Collin usually likes to stay inside and read books. He watched me as I went down, and then he went up to try it. I saw him laughing as the sled did its usual antics of swerving this way and that on the slicked-down bump area. Amazingly, he managed to avoid the snow mound, sledding swiftly around it, but then he came to a sharp standstill lower down in the valley, where I was. "Somebody really has to make this track," Collin said. "Yeah, I know, I’ve been trying to by just sledding down it, but if you want to, go ahead!" I said. He was sure he knew how to make it better, but in the end he had to give it up, too.
The snow was odd: it was dry, fluffy snow that does not pack well, but the top layer of it was melting, so that it could get slicked down easily. The sled would glide along it easily, but it wouldn’t pack well enough to make any walls to keep it on the right track. You were subjected to the will of the sled to go wherever it led you. I remember tracks Arlie had made in previous years that were really fast–the sled would go roaring along, and then flying off the jump, and the walls kept it going where it was supposed to. But this snow refused to be made into any sort of a track, and it wouldn’t go very fast, either. We sledded down it again and again, trying to make a track, but it insisted on going down a different way each time. And then when we went down, it kept changing its mind about which track it wanted to be on! It went back and forth from one person’s sled trail to another person’s. It was a sloppy ride, but very funny to ride down on because of the sled’s antics. First the sled is soaring down the hill, just like it’s supposed to; then it switches to a "slow lane" and slows down, then it runs along hardened footsteps and you’re jostled and jolted, and then it suddenly comes to a violent stop. You feel quite discombobulated by the time you get out of the sled! The whole area around the bump, where our hill drops down, was all slicked over, also, and this was one of the sled’s favorite spots to go awry.
I had fun watching other people go down on the sleds. Evan zoomed down into the pond on the saucer sled. "That was perfect!" he said, beaming at me as he came to a stop next to me. "Except that it slowed down just now." The track seemed almost really good, as if you went down just one more time it would go right.
It was the most fun for me to go down with other people. This time, the black sled, which can hold a lot of people, actually worked pretty good. Usually the round saucer sled and the snowboards work the best–the black sled is designed very poorly. For it to work well, you need to have a lot of people in it to weigh it down and keep it going. It’s a very wayward sled, never staying on the track properly. But for this kind of sledding, that’s okay! When I went down with Evan and Owen, Owen exclaimed, "That was like a rocket!"
After walking up the hill and sledding down many times, the hill gets covered with footprints, and the lighting made it look especially dramatic. One time when Justin and I were about to walk up the hill and sled down, I stopped and said, "Look at all the footprints on the hill, Justin! Thousands and thousands of them, like a sea of them."
"Yeah, and they’re all yellow!" he said. The pattern of the footprints were all jaggedy and bumpy, and the sun made them glow yellow in some spots and blue in the shadowed places.
I took turns going down in the black sled with the boys for a while, and then I grabbed the round sled to go down on that. "Can I come with you?" Justin asked. "Oh, sure!" We tried going down it once, but it didn’t work very well. "Does anyone else really bad want to go down on the round sled, or can I go down with Justin again?" I asked. Collin, Evan, and Owen were in a heap at the bottom of the hill. "You can have it!" Evan called to me. "The way Cassandra did it," Justin said to me, referring to one of my friends, "is she sat with her legs crossed, and then had me sit on her with my legs crossed, facing her!"
"Okay, let’s try it Cassandra’s way!" I said, and we ran up the hill again. But the sled still did not want to cooperate. We tried to sit on the sled the way Justin had said, but once we were weighing it down it did not want to start up. "Okay, fine, just do it however yo
u fancy!" I finally exclaimed jokingly. "I fancy this!" Justin cried goofily, and plopped onto my lap. The sled took off and was going great; it was soaring down smoothly and fast, and we were having a great time. But suddenly Evan was shouting, "Hey!! Stop! You’re going the wrong way!"
"What?–oh, we are!" I cried. Instead of going on over the bump like we intended, the sled had swerved to the right, cornerwise, straight toward the wall Evan was making. Evan put out his hands and stopped us before we could ruin his wall, and we came to a screeching halt.
"C’mon, Justy, let’s try it again!" I said, laughing. That sled seemed to have a mind of its own. It always insisted on going exactly where you did not want it to go, and it never wanted to go over the bump and down the hill. It was always pushing to the right with all its might, trying to veer off the path, and you had to use all your force to get it to go over the bump like it was supposed to. Most of the times, however, you failed, and the sled went roaring down to the snow mound and smacked you into it with satisfaction. It seemed to enjoy doing that! Another one of its favorite tricks was to play along with you, pretending to go on the path you wanted to go, until at the last minute it would veer to the right, using all the momentum you’d built up to crash you into the snow mound especially hard. But, if you steered especially cleverly (like Collin claimed he always did), you could outwit it by scraping around the right edge of the mound and soaring on down the bumpy hill until you hit the scraggly bush at the edge of the pond.
While Justin and I were stopping to build up the wall some more, Evan came up and said, "Hey Justy! Want to go down with me?", holding out the round sled. They plopped into the round sled together, and I could hear the sound of Justin’s giggling as it soared down the hill, and Evan’s giggle as it slammed into the snow mound. Justin usually laughs while going down; Evan laughs once it crashes!
This time, when Justin and I went up to try it again, I noticed that Collin and Owen were still in the black sled further up on the hill. "C’mon, Justin, let’s get going, we’re holding them up," I said. "They’ve been waiting for us all this time."
"No they’re not!" Evan called out gleefully. "They’re paddling!"
"Oh…Yikes!" I said, as I saw the flurry of hands that meant they were "paddling" with their arms, coming behind us. "Paddle, paddle, Justin!" I urged him. But they were gaining on us too quickly–they were going to crash into us! I bailed out of the sled and gave Justin a shove to push him down the rest of the way by himself. But to my surprise and perplexion, Evan stopped him with his hands. "Hey! Why are you doing that?!" I exclaimed. He gave me a sneaky glance and then hopped into the sled. He stopped only to make a face at us and exclaim "HA, HA!" in a comical voice, before he was off, soaring down the hill and giggling. He had hijacked the sled! I yelled after him with mock indignation, "Hey!! The stinker!", but just then something hard bumped into me. "Sorry," came a voice behind me. I turned around, and Collin’s face was in my ear, laughing–he and Owen had run into me on their sled, I was so busy paying attention to Evan. I started laughing, too, and watched as they continued down, chasing Evan. But now Justin was saying, "No! That’s the wrong way!" There was a flurry of movement as the sled swerved this way and that, the sled desiring to go down and crash into the mound, and Justin obstinately pushing it back towards the bump. Then Collin and Owen sailed over the bump after Evan, and Justin and I were left alone up there. It felt good to lay on the snow and watch the figures down at the pond. They all seemed to be huddling around something at the pond wall, and Evan wasn’t bringing up the sled. I went down to see what they were doing. When I asked Collin, he said, "Ohhh…just playing a game," and Owen echoed, "A really fun game!" They were breaking up the ice on the pond.
* * *
Pretty soon Collin, Evan, and Owen got tired of it, and they called up to us from the pond that they were going down. Evan had decided it wasn’t so fun after all. I was surprised; it seemed we’d just got started, and then they were going in. Collin explained, "Yeah, well…if we had a track, it’d be different…but we don’t even have a track, and my feet feel like ice!" I looked at Justin.
"Do you want to go down to the house?" I asked.
"I’m not cold in the slightest, are you?"
"No!" he exclaimed indignantly. (Big surprise, coming from Justin–he always goes around the house in short-sleeved shirts while the rest of us are wearing sweaters!)
So we went sledding without them for a while. We talked as we walked up the hill, about the sleds, and how the black one actually worked better today. "The black sled’s usually too heavy," I said. "Yeah, one half of the black sled goes over the jump, but the other half’s still not over it yet!" Justin said, and we both laughed about that. We used to have a green sled that worked really well, but it’s busted now. "We kept duct-taping that one up forever!" Justin said. Every time it got another crack in it, we just duct-taped it, never wanting to admit it was broken. "Until one time we went sledding down and–" Justin pantomined a noise of something crumbling apart–"we looked back and all the pieces of the sled were laying behind us!"
The last time we went sledding, we went all the way up to the top. "Don’t your legs just ache you while you walk up?" I asked Justin. "Yeah…" he groaned, and a little bit later he flopped down onto the ground as I walked on by. "Oh, you wimp!" I teased him. "My legs are aching me really bad, too, but I’m still going!"
You always want to go down sledding just one more time–and one more, and one more. But we finally decided we’d go sledding two more times and then go in. It was funny how Justin and I always agreed with each other.
"I have to go the bathroom, anyway," I said.
But after that I said, "Well…actually, Justy, how about we go sledding down one more time?"
"I don’t have to go the bathroom anymore, anyway."
"I don’t, either!"
So we went down one last time.
Comments, questions? Write to Cadie at firstname.lastname@example.org
Here I am, driving a tan Geo Prism down the road I live on, a smile on my face. Guess why I’m smiling? Is it because I like driving? WRONG!! I am smiling because, currently, I know where I am, I know where I’m going, I haven’t had an accident, and the car hasn’t betrayed me with malfunction. I am smiling out of sheer relief that nothing has gone wrong yet.
I HATE driving.
Unfortunately, driving in this day in age is pretty much one of the necessities of life. That doesn’t make me like it anymore, but it did make me learn how to drive, take Driver Ed., and get my license. Previously, I have avoided being out on the road, alone and unguided. I’d either go out shopping with my Mom, so that she could ride shotgun and make sure I didn’t take any wrong exits. Or I would hitch a ride with a friend who wanted to shop at the same places. Occasionally I’d drive myself, but t
hen it wouldn’t be over a 12 mile drive. People would always tell me "You’re never going to get used to driving till you have to do it by yourself." Yes, but, as long as I didn’t have to do it by myself, I wasn’t going to.
So, technically, it was probably very good for me to volunteer to help my Grandmother do Spring cleaning. There was absolutely no reason for anyone else to be driving me, and it was going to take several trips. Now, to anyone who is experienced in driving or likes driving, or doesn’t hate driving with ever fiber of their being, driving to Grandma’s is easy. It’s a straight shot, with very little merging, and very little room for making mistakes. It is, though, highway driving (city driving is worse), include this one place where the speed limit is (gasp!) 65 mph. And there’s all these other cars on the road! And trucks! And cops, who might pull you over, and you’re haven’t finished the probation that is automatically tacked on for the first year of your license!!!!
The first time I went out, yes, I did make it alive, whole, and without major disasters. I was incredibly tense the whole time long, from my face to the soles of my feet, but I did do it. It’s about 30 or 40 minute drive, depending on who’s driving and when. Apparently I still managed to do it in less time then my Grandpa.
"You’re here early–were you speeding?"
"I had to, Grandpa, otherwise I would have been run over! I only went 5 mph over the speed limit, and people were still passing me left and right!"
When I took Driver Ed, my instructor was in a really tight spot. See, there were three students in the car that he had to teach. One was this perfect driver who never did wrong. The next was me, super cautious, super paranoid, and not by any means beyond stupid mistakes. The third was a teen-aged boy who already had his license (an an accident), a grade-A reckless speed demon. When the Speed Demon was behind the wheel, it was all the instructor could do to keep him driving reasonably. In the end, he laid down a ultimatum: You drive above the speed limit, you get out from behind the wheel. And then I get behind the wheel, and it’s all the instructor can do to keep me driving reasonably, as I’d much rather be going slower than the speed limit. One time, when I was dutifully driving 55 mph, he finally broke down and, with the Speed Demon in the backseat, told me that I really ought to be going faster because all the cars were going so much faster that it really wasn’t safe for me to be going the speed limit.
Which Grandpa concedes.
"Just don’t get caught, because it’s awful expensive!" As if I didn’t already have enough things to be worried about when I was driving.
I made it home alive, too. I considered all of this to be a major accomplishment. Next time I went out housecleaning, though, I also had to do some shopping. Can somebody please start playing the ominous music now? I really, really did not the trip to be any more complicated then I already felt it was, but I had no choice. It was the only way to get my precious sewing machine out of the repair shop. So I bravely (or not so bravely) embarked on that trip too.
I got to my first shopping stop okay, but I was running late. Then the fun and games began. I got lost, thoroughly lost. I was supposed to be done with my shopping and at my Grandparent’s by lunch, and it was already quite apparent that wasn’t going to happen. I took wrong turns, went miles out of my way, pulled over and looked at maps, and was incredibly grateful to the guy in the pick up truck who saw me realize that I was in the wrong lane (turn only when I wanted to go straight, or something), and graciously stopped and let me move in front of him. (I would just like to say, to all drivers out there, I am always incredibly relieved when you can see I’m being an idiot and you’re nice to me anyway. I’m not trying to be an idiot, it just comes naturally. Next time you see someone cutting you off at the last minute, or changing lanes every few minutes, or going way too slow, have pity. They might just be totally clueless–it might even be me!)
I finally did get myself straightened out, and to my Grandparent’s house. I was totally flustered, upset, aggravated, and not in the least bit looking forward to the drive home, especially since now I had to stop on the way back to pick up my sewing machine. But, seeing as I hadn’t felt any wings sprout out of my back, thus enabling myself to fly home instead of drive, I undertook that task as well. (Though not with daisies and rainbows dancing over my head.)
It wasn’t any better, and in fact might have been worse. I got lost, lost, lost, lost. By the time I got home, I was pretty darn good at pulling over and looking at maps, reading road signs, and getting lost anyway.
When I finally got home and confessed to my disasters, Rundy grinned and said "Yep, Baptism by Fire! The only way you learn is when it gets burned into you!"
Yea, verily. But I wasn’t so cheerful about it.
Comments, questions? Write to Titi at email@example.com
Note: This peice was originally published in Letters From A Silverware Thief. You can find other writing by Rundy at this website.
When we moved into this place there were three original apple trees of undetermined origin, a pear tree of also undetermined stock, and a concord grape vine. The three apple trees continue to plug along, producing fruit, or attempting to produce, every year. Harvest from the grape vine has been erratic as well, again due mostly to late frosts in spring and early frosts in fall. Most recently the grape vine was afflicted with black rot. I used this as an excuse to move the grape vine out of its old location, which wasn’t very good in my opinion. In the process of moving the grape vine I managed to get five plantable sections . . . I could have planted more sections, but five was enough to fill up the length where I was planting.
Then there is the pear tree. Of all the original stock on this property the pear tree has been the ultimate problem child. I don’t know what variety it is. Perhaps part of the problem is that the previous owner planted a pear type that isn’t meant to grow in this climate. In any case, this pear tree was small and rather uninspiring to begin with and in the many years that we’ve lived here it produced fruit only once . . . three pears if I remember right. Sometime shortly after that point it contracted either an infestation of some time of bug or else a disease because most of the tree promptly died. But, oddly enough, not all of it. One, and only one, branch of the pear tree remained alive. As a source of amusement, and an object lesson in hope I suppose, I left this sawed-down-one-branch-stump-of-a-pear-tree supported with wire to grow or die as it would.
The pear tree continued to live. Since it was very small I was content to let it struggle away–until now. The pear tree was planted smack up against the concord grape vine, right under the shadow of one of the apple trees (what the previous owners were thinking planting those three so close together I’ve no idea). Now that the concord grape vine was moved, the pear tree was the only thing left in this space I wanted opened up for something more useful. As the pear tree has never really produced a harvest and in its diminished state likely never would there wasn’t any good reason to keep the tree hogging space.
I could have just cut the tree down. But as I considered the idea a thought formed in my mind. Last year the big willow tree fell down and smashed several limbs on one of the apple trees. This past winter rabbits chewed all the bark off the twigs on the lowest limb. This pretty well
completely trashed the limb and I had resigned myself to cutting the limb off. Then the idea came to me: why not trim back all the ravaged twigs and graft various small portions of the good pear limb onto the apple tree?
For those of you who are not educated on this sort of thing, grafting pear onto apple is actually possible. You can actually cross graft several different types of fruit trees, but I don’t remember all of them. What inspired this idea in me is an article I read about someone who actually did graft a whole bunch of different fruits onto an apple tree. One limb produced one type of fruit and another limb produced another type, and so on.
I’ve never grafted before. The entire repertoire of my knowledge on this subject consists in what I’ve read and my skill . . . well, my skill is yet to be proved. In theory, and I suppose, in practice (at least once you’ve got the hang of it), the traditional basic fruit tree grafting is pretty easy. It’s done all the time. It’s what the fruit industry is built upon. All the fruit trees that grow the same type of apple are grafted scions. The general ease of this procedure being acknowledged, I think grafting onto a full grown tree is slightly harder, at least because working with a branch that is still attached to a tree is more awkward than working with a small bit of root stock.
No one has ever showed me how to graft and I’ve no real idea of how successful a first attempt generally is. However, I was game to try. The pear tree had to go, and the apple limb would end up sawed off if it wasn’t put to use, so I didn’t have much to lose.
You can buy special knives for grafting and special tape to cover up the graft joint. Then you can also buy stuff to put on the graft joint to help retain the moisture. They say any sharp knife should work and you can use electrician’s tape, so that is what I decided to do.
The first thing I did was sharpen my knife. Once I figured it was sharp enough I took all of my equipment outside to begin work.
It quickly became apparent that what looks pretty easy in the book isn’t quite so easy in reality. Being acquainted with Murphy’s Law I wasn’t surprised but it was still frustrating. There are several different methods you can use to graft but I was sticking to the easiest. In this method you cut both the root stock and the graft material at an angle and then place them together and bind them tight.
I learned a few things pretty quickly. First off, cutting two matching angles isn’t as easy as you might hope. Second, there is a reason you’re told not to use mature wood. Third, there is a right and a wrong way to use a knife when grafting. Take these three all together and yes, one of the first things I did was cut myself.
It happened while I was working on my first graft. I had chosen stock that was too thick and I was having difficulty cutting it and was attempting to correct the angle of my cut. I was holding the knife improperly due to my frustration in trying to get a correct angle to the cut. In the back of my mind I knew it was a very bad idea, but the more impatient part of my mind said I had everything under control and I would be careful and it would be only this once and–oops.
One thing that can be said is, the sharper a knife is the less it hurts when it cuts you. Ever notice that when you hit your finger with a hammer it hurts like all get out but if you accidentally cut yourself with a sharp piece of glass you can give yourself a really bad cut and scarcely notice? In the same manner I wasn’t initially sure if I had cut myself. I felt the blade make fast contact with the back of my finger and my instinctive thought was that, being a sharp blade, I had just cut myself. But it didn’t hurt, and on initial examination it looked as if I had just scraped the surface.
Something didn’t seem quite right so I took a closer look. Further examination showed that I was indeed cut. How badly was the next question. Could I just keep working or had I better go get something to put over the wound? Experience has taught me that for cuts that don’t hit a major artery you can often have a few seconds grace . . . somehow the blood sometimes doesn’t start leaking out right away, especially if it is a very clean cut. With this in mind I looked at the cut on my finger and saw that blood was just starting to come out. I decided it would not just be a few drops and I’d better get a band-aid to stem the flow.
I was down to the front door by the time my finger started bleeding in earnest. In the bathroom I washed off the initial blood, then wiped off more blood with a towel as I dried my finger. Soon as I had my finger dry I slapped on a band-aid. Then I went back out to work.
After cutting myself I recalled to mind the proper method for holding a knife when grafting. You have to hold the blade against your thumb. This gives you much better control and if it ever does slip you don’t end up cutting yourself. It is a little strange, but feels quite natural once you get the hang of it. I didn’t cut myself again, but I continued to bleed as I worked. The blood leaked out from around the band-aid and onto the adjoining finger and onto the tape I was using as well. Eventually it stopped.
The rest of the grafting went without mishap. How successful my efforts were only a few months time will tell. I suspect my chances are something like that of winning the lottery. After all, it was my first attempt. I got the hang of the cutting procedure a little bit but taping the two halves together never felt like it went right. For a successful graft you need the two pieces lined up precisely, and I always found that whenever I did this I ended up having my fingers exactly where I needed to put tape. So, things ended up slipping and I’d try to readjust. I’d tape and then wonder if things were still aligned right under the tape and generally think that I probably ought to laugh at myself.
The material I’ve read said it was good to apply wax to the cut to help retain moisture. After I had everything throughly taped up with electricians tape I wasn’t sure how wax was really going to help retain any more moisture. For a bit I considered just skipping that step, but then I decided to be a good little boy and do everything. Not having a chunk of wax I could melt I decided to make do with the supplies I had on hand. I got the stub of a candle used when the power was out and used that to drip wax onto the taped joints. Sad to say, it ended up looking rather pathetic and I don’t think the dripped wax added anything. Looking at my efforts, I can’t help but think that if a professional grafter came along he would have his laugh of the month looking at what I’ve done.
Most likely my attempt will end in abysmal failure. But it was worth the learning experience if nothing else. And, until the pear grafts shrivel up I can entertain the fantasy that it will actually work and I will have pear wood growing on an apple tree. That would really tickle me.
Yeah, dream on, Rundy.
Comments, questions? Write to Rundy at firstname.lastname@example.org