Monday, May 18, 2009

I Left My Heart in Colorado Bend

Last weekend we took our annual anniversary camping trip. I'm not usually one to return to the same place over and over, but Colorado Bend is such a great park that we returned for the third (maybe fourth?) time. What makes it so great? It's relatively close to Austin (about an hour and a half drive), it's on the water, the primitive, hike-in camping is only about a mile from the parking lot, and it's pretty.We weren't able to camp in our favorite spot (which I'm not revealing with any more detail) on Saturday night, but we moved to that spot on Sunday night and had the whole place to ourselves.

On Sunday, we hiked along the Colorado to Gorman Falls. It used to be that you could only visit the falls on a guided tour, but since our last visit, the park has opened up the falls to all.And I kind of wish the falls were still protected. Despite signs saying that the falls were off limits and a sensitive ecosystem, and chains in front of them, several people were climbing all over them. There was the father leading his kids up the falls while the mother stepped over the "Do not enter" sign as she lit a cigarette and took pictures with her cell phone. Then there was the couple of their two large dogs who climbed all over the rocks and falls, dislodging moss and other plant growth.
I tried to explain to my dog why she wasn't allowed to do the same, but I ended up just telling her we'd take her swimming elsewhere.This pool wasn't exactly what I had in mind when I told Pear she could go swimming, but boy was I glad she found it. We were all getting pretty hot on the endless hike back to our campsite. The one thing that Colorado Bend does not do well is signage. The trails are very poorly marked.

(If you want well-marked and well-maintained trails, visit Government Canyon State Natural Area. That place is so well marked that even my father could navigate his way. I guess that statement would be funnier if you knew my father but trust me, it's hilarious.)

On the hike back, I began having flashbacks to a hike we took years ago in Slovenia that was supposed to take two hours. Twelve hours later we stumbled into an outdoor bar with the only Slovenian bartender who was a Spurs fan.

I digress.

Our hike in Colorado Bend didn't last quite as long, but I was worried. We decided to hike a different way back, which is really how all troubles begin. I think my husband got worried when I decided to take a lesson from the dog and lie down in the shade of a cedar tree. Finally, we bushwhacked our way and luckily stumbled upon our campsite. The trail markers we were following were some sort of rogue trails.
I was so hot by that point that I didn't bother changing into a bathing suit. I just stripped down to my sports bra and underwear before jumping in the river. The park ranger had said we would be all alone on Sunday so I wasn't worried about anyone seeing me.

And then the park ranger came around. Oh well.

I wish I had brought some of bug collecting supplies. There were lots of cuties on the wildflowers.I like how this one is color coordinated with the Indian blanket.

I'm not exactly sure what this plant is, but the whole pack of them was quite graceful.

Our dog loves, loves, loves to go camping. She gets to sleep in a tent with us, she gets to eat some people food, and she gets to hike, swim, and "fish."
We love camping for many of those same reasons, and one additional one: our normally extremely active dog actually wears herself out.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Beast

After my last post's diversion into useful gardening information, I am back to my "don't do as I do" didactic method. Four months, two chainsaws, two axes, two loppers, one root jack, and 3,500 brown refuse bags later, I have cleared out the world's (or at least the northern hemisphere's) ugliest hedge, which I affectionately dubbed the Beast.

This hedge, about 40 feet long by six feet wide by eight feet high, dominated our yard. It was large and ugly, and probably some variety of invasive ligustrum. I was never able to get an accurate identification. Over time, it didn't matter. Every time single I turned into our driveway, I muttered, "I hate that hedge." Now that I've got a teeny tiny bit of gardening knowledge under my belt, growing and alive are no longer prized-enough qualities for a plant to remain in my yard.
The hedge's only slightly redeeming quality was the privacy it offered between us and the neighbors. Almost two years ago during a rash of daytime burglaries in our neighborhood, it hid me as I checked on a suspicious person in my neighbors' yard. When I saw that person kick in their front door, the Beast hid me as I slowly and quietly retreated into my house to call 911.

(Unfortunately, the hedge was of no help to the police dispatcher who gave the motorcycle cop my address as the one being burgled. He tried to sneak up on the burglary in process but ended up at my back door drawing his gun on me.)

But I digress. I didn't hold the hedge responsible, but I also didn't like it any better.

So finally, after years of hating it, I decided to remove the hedge.

I started by trimming it with loppers. That would have taken the rest of my life. Next I used our chainsaw. Piece of crap. MSS of Zanthan Gardens loaned me hers. Much better chainsaw but it still struggled with the Beast.

The wood (or whatever the branches were made of, I think perhaps titanium) dulled the chain quickly. I sharpened it many times, replaced it, and then still wore out the new chain. When I returned the saw to MSS, I included another new chain.
A friend recommend a root jack, which was moderately successful. It might have worked better if the stems weren't so close together and if there weren't 5,000 of them. See that brown bag in the photo below? You know how tall those are, right? Notice how the pile of branches is taller than the bag?
Once I'd cut down all those branches, I still needed to dig up the roots. My first ax, with the improbable slogan "quality digging tool" lasted only ten minutes, before it bent at 90 degrees. (My second ax, purchased at Callahan's, survived the entire demolition.)
I think it had something to do with the size of the roots. Notice the Pabst Blue Ribbon bottle next to the roots? I use it not to just to show how enormous the roots are but to show how long this hedge has dominated the yard. I'm not entirely sure, but this bottle looks like the ones my father used to drink from when I was a kid. The bottle is just one of the many things the Beast swallowed. The photo at the top of the post shows some of the other goodies tucked under the Beast. My favorite, however, has to be this almost complete plate,with a cute floral pattern.
Then I found a fork, and everything began to make sense. Years ago the neighbors were dining al fresco in their driveway, someone drank too much Pabst Blue Ribbon and tried to stab his or her dining companion with a fork.
The attackee tried to defend his- or herself with the plate, and oh, forget it.

So clearly tackling the Beast was challenging my mental as well as physical health. (I must apologize here to MSS for tweeting about cutting my leg while working on the Beast. For a moment she was afraid that I had cut myself with her chainsaw and not my loppers.)

I took a brief break to recuperate and look what happened: this evil &*^%$ grew back. I had cut those suckers down to within an inch of their lives, and they did not care.So finally, (I know what you're thinking, finally, really, finish already) with some help from my husband, we finished removing the Beast this weekend.
Because this project took way longer than expected, I wasn't able to plant the new area. I did transplant some underperforming bamboo muhly into the area, as well the world's tiniest mountain laurel.
I plan to add some more plants in the fall. Until then I covered the area with weed barrier and mulch. I hope that the the evil hedge doesn't grow back.
As you can see, I'm still a few bags of mulch shy of a full load, but then again you already knew that, didn't you?
I also have the rest of the hedge to remove. That's right, all this time, blood, sweat, and tears has been for only half of the 40 feet. I've still got another 20 feet to remove!

We've left it temporarily until we build some sort of privacy screen or at least build window screens for that side of the house.

A couple of years ago I got a bid to remove the hedge and install a walkway. I found the several thousand dollar bid too high. Now I think the bid was too low, just to remove the hedge.

So, please use my experience as a cautionary tale. If you ever get a crazy notion to remove 960 cubic feet of hedge by yourself, stop and reread this post.

You and your loved ones will thank me.