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“If You Go Down In The Woods Today…

RS Into the woods1

You’d better go in disguise.” *

Here is mine. I can play and shout and nobody bugs me.

RS Ready for work

Winter woods work is for me what gardening is for others. We planted over eight thousand trees on a nine acre area next to our house in 1996 and whenever there’s a chance I continue the unending process of pruning and thinning, especially the conifers.

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Getting out and into them is a good aerobic undertaking because of the deep snow, at times waist deep. Once the path has been trudged over it gets easier. The deer have found it useful, too.

RS Deer on the path

But, why winter time to do the work and not fall? The deer ticks that carry Lyme Disease.

Deer Tick

Their population is forbidding and I can only work among the trees free of concern in this season.

The Red and White Pines were the first to be pruned simply because of their branching patterns and easy access to the trunk area to stand in. Not so the Spruce and Firs.

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In their case the strategy is to cut away most of the limbs with a Stihl Power Pruning saw.

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Then peace and quiet can return as the hand saws get to work.

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The pole pruning saw cuts low and high

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and carves openings in the dense branching patterns that spiral like a corkscrew up and around, making it difficult for the bowsaw

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which can power through and do a safe job next to the tree collar. The direction of cut can be influenced by using fingers to bend the tilt of the blade.

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All the downed branches are a feast for the deer.

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You see their snow dens and scat throughout, and signs of browsing.

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Several years ago my son Henry and I focused on one area of Spruce and Firs.

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We removed over half of the very crowded trees and harvested Black Locust that sold for fence posts.


The remaining trees have been “released” and stand a good chance of providing quality wood for musical instruments and furniture rather than just framing studs and pulp. There are many examples nearby of these species reaching eighty feet in height.

All the branches get spread over the ground and run over with a brush hog. It all rots down quickly and gets covered with soft needles: a beautiful floor.

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Lacking the wherewithal to physically remove the hundreds more trees that have to be taken out, I resort to “girdling” which kills them by sawing a shallow ring around the circumference through the cambium. In this picture about a third of the Red Pines in the foreground and the Black Locusts are standing dead.

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It’s interesting to examine what happens when they get blown over. Unlike a clean felling notch, the wood fibers in this case are yanked longitudinally away.

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There’s no easier place to snap off kindling than from a pine lying on its side.

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I wish my teeth were in such good working order!

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* Henry Hall The Teddy Bears Picnic

8 comments to “If You Go Down In The Woods Today…

  • Jane

    HI Tico, This is a very nice blog. The long timeline for trees has such a calming effect. and even if you weren’t able to get into your woods and do improvements the improvement, just having planted it to trees is more than enough. Just the carbon sequestration alone, and then you add the improved habitat is reason for a big party!! Yeahhhh Happy winter!

  • tico

    Thanks Jane! I think of you quite often working out there and can’t wait for your next visit!

  • Excellent post Tico!

    So the deer are a pest to you too, I didn’t realise the ticks were so small. Deer graze in the coppice I work (or more like undo the work I’ve done) I too am only there in Winter, no tick bites so far.

    It’s great to have that long view, when most of modern life is so short term.

    Keep those teeth serviced!

  • David Cockey

    Do you use snowshoes when the snow is deep?

  • tico

    I used the traditional wooden snowshoes years ago but was pretty clumsy with them. Most of the time I spent trying not to have one land on the other! Working around the base of trees with all the branches is easier for me without them, but the new aluminum snowshoes with small frames, which I’ve rented for going on park trails, are great and I should pick up a pair. They’d at least be good for getting to the work area.

  • tico

    Hi Richard,

    I don’t regard them as pests but recognize that steps have to be taken if you want to grow trees in their habitat. For valuable hardwood seedlings I’ve used Gro-Tubes, plastic cylinders attached to stakes, about 4′ high. Even with all the branches down in the nearby woods and in the landscape generally they still come and browse on the shrubs by our house, like the junipers. But they don’t kill the plants, just trim them back. Maybe saving me some effort?

    My wife Courtney walks through the woods all the time and has seen several generations of the deer. Our old dog got so used to them that he stopped chasing them. It would be a good thing, though, if we had some top predators. The deer herd is too large.

  • Alan Van Reed


    I have such admiration for the planting and pruning and harvesting that you have accomplished so far …… mega work and really a love for the your land …… i know that down the line this will pay out big time in so many ways …….. I wish that i could come out and play with you in your forest …. it is so impressive to me to see the extraordinary development of your “man Made forest” Can I come over to help ??

    Boston MA

  • tico

    Of course you can! I’ll start stocking up our pantry.

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