Groundbreaking…and snakes!

August is here, and with the end of July came the beginning of the yurts. A week ago, I went out to the yurt site with a roll of mason line, string level, square, tape measure and an axe. Some time in the nearby woods yielded nine strong sections of tree branch I shaped into posts, and then it began — the laying out of the grid. It was no quick task, but after some time we had a 24′ by 24′ square, the platform to be.

The grid beside the old chimney.

The grid beside the old chimney.

A couple of days later, the shoveling began. The final week of the month went out in a hot-and-humid fashion. Excavation for the post holes went about as well as it could have. Seven of the nine, after getting through the first foot of sod and stone, were nothing but sand below. The other two argued some: Stones the size of soccer balls, possibly from the old boy scout camp foundation, filled the first. Out came the axe for the other as root after root got in the shovels way.

Bethany, meanwhile, spent the summer hours nearby collecting pint after pint of blueberries and raspberries. The two are peaking right now, and though blackberries are still two weeks out, we now have a freezer full of wild Adirondack fruit. After the final shovel full of sand came out, we reconvened and celebrated the groundbreaking over a handful of sweet berries.


The blueberries are in their prime — not a bitter one to be found.

Berries are in full swing as August begins.

Berries are in full swing as August begins.

On Thursday, we returned with some scrap plywood to cover up the holes before the coming rain. Bethany made her way back to the berry patches with a container in hand that wouldn’t be empty much longer while I hauled the wood over. I got to the first hole and looked down.

Garter snake.

I chuckled at the little fella’s misfortune, reached in and hauled the creature out. It took off as soon as it hit the grass. I got back to work, and two holes later, another legless find. Only this time, it was a kind I had never seen before. Smaller than the garter snake, this one was dark gray with a bright orange belly and an orange ring around the neck. Skeptical about handling a mystery snake, I paused for a moment. Definitely not a rattler, but I grabbed my phone and did some quick investigating.

The mystery reptile was a Diadophis punctatus, or ringneck snake. Venomous, but hardly, and considered safe to handle by humans. After getting it out of the hole, I released it beside some nearby stones. It lingered there while I finished the task and called for Bethany to see the snake. By the time she arrived, it had disappeared. I looked back at one of the now plywood covered-holes, had an ‘ah-ha’ moment, and uncovered it. Sure enough, there it was, only this time it was joined by the same garter snake I had pulled from a different hole.

It’s no wonder that pit traps are one of humans’ earliest known methods of capturing prey.


Our inadvertent snake trap.

The second time I took the snakes out, I brought them some distance away to a pile of old wood. Good cover and maybe far enough from the holes that I didn’t have to worry about checking them every day for creatures that found the holes to be without an exit.

Another handful of berries and we packed up. Soon the holes will be filled with something else: The posts bearing a platform and yurt.



Our back yard

The meadow is full of life.

Butterflies and bees flit among the milkweed blossoms. I remember my first summer at Paul Smith’s and biking along the sandy trails and roadsides. Milkweed grew rampantly and I was intoxicated by the sweet smell. It’s beautiful how a fragrance can transport you through time.

There is much beauty and potential in our plot of land. We have many wild edibles and plants with medicinal properties.

Here are five great plants in our backyard:

Mullein herb: Part of the snapdragon family. Dried stalk can be used for a hand drill in starting fires.

Milkweed: The shoots are edible in early spring and the blossom buds are delicious in salads or stir fry’s before they blossom. Be careful consuming milkweed, because not all parts of the plant are edible. It’s great for attracting monarch butterflies. The plant is fibrous, and in the fall can be used to make cordage (natural rope).

Saint John’s wort: Medicinal Plant with anti-depressant properties.

And plenty of blueberries and raspberries.