# An Exercise In Futility?

Are you ready for a simple math exercise?  If not, just scan the pictures below – you’ll probably get the drift.

According to Arkansas Birds – Their Distribution and Abundance (James & Neal, pg 41, Table 3-5), there are, on average, 272 trees per acre in NW Arkansas upland forested areas.  The same reference indicates that of these 272 trees, over 65% are a species of oak, so for the purposes of this exercise only, and for the sake of simplicity, let’s assume that they are all oak trees.

Now, we have 330 total acres here.  Aerial photography shows that of the 330 acres, approximately 50%, or 165 acres are wooded.  Multiply 165 wooded acres by 272 trees per acre, and you arrive at a grand total of 44,880 trees.  That’s a lot of trees!

According to this response from Google Answers, there are approximately 200,000 leaves per oak tree (Google – the ultimate authority on everything).  By multiplying 200,000 leaves times the previously derived 44,880 trees, we find that each and every year, approximately 8,976,000,000 leaves are produced on our land.  Based upon the casual accuracy of these calculations, let’s just say around 9 billion leaves per year!

Now, if you’ve followed this blog recently, you will know that I have been ecstatic with joy over the beautiful fall colors we have been experiencing this year.  Witness the following posts to appear in the recent past:

The Fall Colors Keep Getting Better

Oh, Those Precious Fall Colors

Nearly At It’s Peak

People will sometimes ask me, “Hal, even though the colors are great, there must be something about autumn that you don’t like.  What’s the worst thing about the Fall season, in your opinion?”

To which I reply “The thing I dislike about Fall the most is just that – the FALL, as in the leaves falling from the trees” (O.K. – nobody really asks me that, but you knew that all along).

Who is going to rake up those 9 billion leaves each year?  Fortunately, all of those leaves don’t need to be raked each season, just a small percentage of them.  Why do I bother to rake any of them at all?  For two reasons: neatness, and fire containment.

The Neatness Angle

The neatness aspect pertains to the fact that we have two large dogs that are, for all intents and purposes, an integral part of our family.  They come and go, in and out of the house, just as we humans do.  But in a messier fashion.  Our first year here, I attempted to rake the leaves around the yard, so that the dogs would stop tracking them into the house.

I used a wide leaf rake made out of plastic, that I had purchased in the garden department of my nearest super-duper discount center.  The idea was to rake up the leaves as they fell, and to transport them a distance from the house.  But the sheer quantity of leaves around the house quickly made it apparent that I could not perform this task manually.

My natural inclination, being a technophile, is to turn to technology as a solution to my problems, and here was a situation where equipment was readily available to help.  I figured what I needed was a good “leaf vacuum cleaner” to neaten the lawn.

Here is a machine that I purchased to vacuum and shred the leaves that fall around the house.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, but experience with the machine soon proved me wrong.  First of all, I thought I would save some money by buying a NON self-propelled model.  Big mistake!  By the time the collection bag was half-full, the machine weighed so much that you could not push it.  When the bag needed to be emptied (frequently), the engine had to be stopped, the bag removed (with much difficulty), the bag of shredded leaves had to toted to a preselected spot and dumped, returned to the location of the shredding machine, and re-installed onto the machine (not a simple procedure).  The engine would then have to be restarted with a rope starter.  By the time I had finished around one tree, I was exhausted for the balance of the day!  I soon abandoned any fantasy that I had about using this machine to solve my leaf removal problem.

This machine has a feature which allows it to suck up leaves with an attached hose, as shown above.  Although the machine failed to meet my expectations for all my leaf cleanup needs, at least I can still use it around planters and flower beds using the hose feature, so it has not been a total waste of money, but I certainly would not have parted with the cash for this minor task that I put it through.  Oh well, that’s how you learn.

The following season was a complete disaster, as far as the mess situation was concerned.  I decided to affix mulching blades to my lawnmower, and simply shred the leaves in place, allowing nature to take care of decomposing the leaves over time.  Nature will decompose the shredded leaves over a period of time, but not over one winter, as I soon learned.  The shredded leaves accumulated on the ground where they fell, and the cold rains of fall, followed by the blankets of snow in the winter quickly matted the leaf litter into a muddy, leafy mess where my lawn has once existed.  So now, the dogs tracked in not only leaves, but mud as well!  Good going, Hal!

The following season I tried a slightly different strategy.  Instead of merely mulching the leaf litter, I bought a leaf collection system for the lawnmower, as shown above.  Now, the leaf litter would be removed from the lawn completely, thus allowing a healthy carpet of grass to exist as ground cover all year long, and the dogs would be free to come and go without tracking in a huge mess.

Not only has this procedure been successful in minimizing the amount of leaf litter and mud that comes into the house, it has been a blessing for my physical well-being also.  You can see in the photograph above how the collection container empties.  The mower does not have to be shut down, and I do not even have to get off the machine.  All I have to do is drive the mower to my predetermined dumping spot, slow down, and then pull a release cord affixed to the container.  The container flips up, thereby allowing the shredded leaf litter to fall to the ground using the force of gravity.

Whereas with the leaf vacuum machine, I could clean up around one tree per day before running out of energy, with the method I’m using now, I can clean up the entire yard in less than one morning, and have energy to spare for the rest of the day.  Quite an improvement, indeed.

Eventually, I end up with a huge pile of leaves in my designated dumping spot, which we can compost for the garden or use as mulch over the winter.  In any event, the leaf litter does not get tracked into the house very much anymore.

The system works well, and I am happy once again.

The Fire Containment Angle

Regular readers of this blog may recall that up until his arrest, we had been plagued by several fires on our property started by an arsonist.

The first time I ran across fire on the property, I found the fire burning through leaf litter on the forest floor, as seen in the photograph above.  Quickly returning to the house to phone the authorities, I then grabbed the black leaf rake (that was previously pictured), and returned to the scene of the fire.  With the flames rapidly spreading through the dried leaves, a rake is an important tool used to contain a fire in an emergency.  But as I soon learned, a plastic rake just doesn’t fit the job at hand.  Within minutes, the rake, being made of plastic, had melted, rendering it useless in my hands.

Always trying to learn from my mistakes, I armed myself with a proper steel-tined leaf rake (as pictured above), in preparation for any fire that might come in the future.  Little did I know at the time, that day would come all too soon.  And the steel-tined rake stood up to the heat of the fire this time.  The only downside to the type of rake I had was it’s size.  While it’s large size was beneficial in raking up leaves on the fire line, it was difficult to lug into the woods, where the fire was burning.  It would get snagged in the briers and underbrush of the woods, impeding access to the fire area at times.

Recently, I found these adjustable steel-tined rakes at the local farm store.  They seem to be tailor-made for raking leaves ahead of an advancing fire, although I have not had the opportunity (thankfully) to test them yet.  As you can see, with the simple flick of a lever, they go from the fully closed position to the fanned out working position.  They are built entirely from metal parts, so the heat of the flames should not cause these rakes to melt or burn.  Now that the neighborhood arsonist has been apprehended, I hope to not have to use these rakes, but time will tell.

# Gettin’ Goin’ While The Goin’s Good

We have been treated to the sights and sounds of migrating geese for the past couple of days.  Apparently, we are directly beneath one of the many flyways that the migrating geese use in their annual fall journey down to warmer southern climates.  One of the great benefits of living in such a remote, rural area is the relative quiet that comes from residing a respectable distant from civilization.  In the case of the geese, this allows us to hear their approach long before we can catch sight of the flocks flying accross the sky.

# Nearly At It’s Peak

Are you getting tired of my fall color change photographs?  I’m not.  I just wish that I had the skill and equipment to capture the beauty that my eyes behold, but alas, that is not the case.  In any event, here are two more pictures that I have taken today.

Yesterday’s post contained a panoramic photograph overlooking our property.  I took that photograph from the balcony of a neighbor’s log home, which overlooks our property.  The photograph above is that neighbor’s log home, as seen from down here.  The colors just keep getting better each day.

A few days ago, I posted a picture that contained a tree which I believe is a autumn purple ash.  In this photograph, you can see that the ash tree has continued to turn from green to purple.  The trees on the hillside also continue to adopt their autumn hues.  Tojo, the Missouri Foxtrotter in the picture, really seems to enjoy the view from his pasture when he takes a moment out of his busy grazing schedule to look up.

# Oh, Those Precious Fall Colors

As you can see from the photograph above, the fall color change continues to evolve, bringing with it the varied red, gold, and orange hues that glimmer so brightly in the mid-day sun.  The colors become more vivid with each passing day, and I think we are still a few days away from this year’s peak coloration.

You may recall from a previous post entitled Is That You I’m Seeing Over There?, I like to take panoramic photographs.  The link below will take you to a large panoramic photograph which overlooks our property, and which shows what the countryside is looking like right now.  It is a large file and may take a minute to load, but it is well worth the short wait (even for the impatient amongst you readers).

As you may have figured out by now, I’ll keep posting about fall colors as long as they last.  As I already mentioned, I suspect that we are about at the peak of this year’s colors, although the forecast is for continuing weather conditions conducive to a beautiful show.

# The Fall Colors Keep Getting Better

We have been having good cooperation among the weather deities, as rainfall, day time, and night time temperatures have been nearly ideal for the production of vivid fall leaf coloration in this area.  The photograph below shows the progress that has occurred since my last post on the subject of fall colors.

You may recall from a previous post entitled Landscaping My Way – Installment #1 that I have taken pains to preserve patches of dwarf sumac in some of the clearings on the ranch.  The photograph above shows why I save the sumacs – they are the beautiful bright red plants that you see at the base of the hills above, and I revel in their vivid splendor this time of the year.

I will continue to post periodic updates on the fall colors out here, as long as they continue to improve.  A bright, sunny day is forecast for Saturday, so maybe I will have the opportunity to take some nice pictures.

# An Unexpected Visitor

Not too long ago, Retta and I began hearing an unusual noise emanating from the air conditioning duct work.  I went down into the basement utility room to investigate the source of the noise.  It soon became apparent that the noise was coming from the 5 ton air handling unit (pictured below) that is a part of the heat pump system that cools and heats our home.  Inside the housing (on the left side of the picture) there is a large blower unit, which utilizes a fan assembly that looks much like a giant hamster exercise wheel.  The sound seemed to be originating from inside this blower, so I decided to call the company that installed this HVAC system for us a few years ago.  Last week, the company sent a repair technician, who pulled the blower assembly apart and determined that a broken fan unit was causing the noise.

Today the repair technician returned with the new parts, and after installing the new blower assembly, we were pleased to find that the offending noise had disappeared.  The technician then decided to test the unit under load, so we switched on the heat pump so that he could check the voltage and amperage draw.  He found that one of the two sets of auxiliary heating coils was drawing current, but that the other remaining set was not (both sets should have drawn the same amperage).

The technician proceeded to disassemble the unit again, this time to inspect the auxiliary heating coils, which are located at the rear of the air handler cabinet, above the blower unit.  He said something to me, which I could barely hear, because his head and shoulders were buried inside the air handler cabinet.  He said “there’s something I didn’t expect to find in here.”

And this is what he pulled off of one of the auxiliary heater coils –

It just goes to show – when you live out in the country, there are frequently critters showing up where you least expect them, so keep you eyes peeled and be on the lookout at all times!

# Fall Colors Are Slowly Appearing

As you can see in the photograph above, the trees around this part of the Ozarks are just beginning to undergo the color transformation that makes this such a pleasant time of year to be outdoors enjoying the scenery.

The pin oaks, such as this one, are among the first trees to exhibit a reddening of their leaves.  As such, they stand out in stark contrast to the surrounding greenery.

The pin oak leaves change from dark green to red, after which they will turn rusty brown before leaping off the tree, in a final act of suicidal defiance in the face of the seasonal changes that are taking place.

This specimen of sugar maple begins it’s color change from the top down, and will undergo several variations of shading prior to the leaves falling from the tree.

I haven’t identified this tree yet (hint, hint), but the outer layer of leaves regularly turn a brilliant purplish shade as the fall change progresses.

There is an excellent website that publishes the Ozark Mountains Fall Foliage Report, where you can learn all about the causes of the color change, as well as obtain up-to-date color reports and forecasts, and get directions for scenic local fall drives throughout the Ozarks region.

I will be posting the changes that occur at this location periodically over the next couple of weeks.  So far the weather has been favorable for a spectacular fall show.  If the cool, sunny days continue, along with cold (but not freezing) nights, we should be in for a real treat this year.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed!