Summertime in Alaska is SHORT. When it's summer, all I want to do is enjoy the outdoors. Unfortunately, I have obligations, chores, and a never-ending “To Do” list that ranges from the day-to-day stuff - like making breakfast and changing Isabella, to the “ginormous” - like getting the driveway re-paved, rebuilding the deck in the back yard, building an arctic entrance, and painting the house and storage shed. Oh, I forgot. I also have to install gutters.
We were supposed to plant seeds early this year for our garden starts, but life happened and we were too busy, and then forgot. Now it’s May and, because we still want a garden this year, we have to buy our starters, which I think is lame. Before we can even plant the starters though, I need to turn the soil—with a shovel.
While I’m talking about the garden, I need to build a three-stage compost bin, since now we only have a compost pile which is highly inefficient. But before I build a compost bin, I need to move the rhubarb plants to where the compost pile is now. I need to move them out of the garden where they are now, because they get so much sun and nutrients that they grow HUGE and overshadow the smaller vegetables like the onions and rutabagas.
Another ongoing backyard project is the procurement and preparing of firewood for the winter. I usually “procure” my firewood from the Municipality of Anchorage’s woodlot. It’s a great place for a guy like me (with a trusty pickup truck and nothing but time on my hands), to wait for homeowners to drop off their unwanted logs. The woodlot opens mid May, and usually closes sometime in September. A great time to get wood is a day or two after a big windstorm. The nice thing about getting firewood there is that it’s free. You can also get mulch for landscaping at no charge as well. However, if you need to discard organic material at the woodlot, there is a small fee.
I already have ½ to ¾ of a full cord of wood (4’x8’x4’), and I’ve already split and stacked the wood that I’ve already cut into fireplace size logs. My Husqvarna chainsaw needs some chain and bar maintenance before I can saw any more logs. Once I get the logs cut to length, it’s time to throw down the maul and split them into fire-size portions. After splitting the logs, I also prepare a large quantity of kindling to help get the logs burning.
The middle birch tree in our back yard needs to be cut down. It has developed a solid fracture that resulted from the last big wind storm a couple of weeks ago. The fracture separates the live wood from the rotten wood that developed from the lack of proper care from a previous owner after a de-limbing. The trimmed limb should have been sealed with an arborist’s tree wound dressing/pruning sealer, but wasn’t and is now rotten. Unfortunately, birch trees seem to suffer from this condition anyway. I’m still hesitant about cutting this tree because it provides so much shade, we hang our hammock on it, and most importantly, a pair of woodpeckers have had their eyes on it as a suitable nesting tree.
I also need to address the hay bales making up my backyard archery target, which won’t really take long at all. I just need to keep the kids from tearing down the hay bales.
The raspberry plants that David hacked down last year aren’t budding, so I’ll have to have to re-colonize them, which shouldn’t be too difficult as there are many healthy runners to choose from.
With all the projects I have to do, there doesn’t seem like there’s time for the kids, however… as a stay-at-home dad I get to work with my kids to accomplish those projects and see them through. At times, having your children with you all the time while trying to accomplish anything can be more exasperating that anything, but with the right attitude, working on projects can be such a valuable experience for me as a father, and to my children. There are so many ways for the boys to help and get their hands dirty, and have “Daddy time”. There are so many “teachable moments”.
In our backyard, they learn about hard work and have a sense of satisfaction in working with their hands.
They learn a sense of order, as they help stack wood, pooper-scoop doggie-doo, transplant vegetable starts, turn compost, and try to heed the words of their Daddy to, “take pride in what they have, and in what they do”.
The kids get hands-on experience and learn about how their environment works. They learn where their food comes from, and that worms aren’t just good for fishing, but that they’re good for healthy soil, which makes healthy plants, which keep us healthy. Everything is connected, and that one thing cannot be changed (for better or worse) without having an effect on other things as well.
Some things the kids help with are just work, and aren’t fun, but they still need to be done. The back yard is a good place to for children to learn that lesson, and I would rather they learn it from me than have to learn it the hard way—after they leave home and go off on their own.
But, even though we have a highly scaled down “operation” in our backyard, I really believe that it is an excellent environment for teaching my children to be better men, and learn to take care themselves, each other, their family, and the earth.
Now, to get going on those projects…