A little bit of sunshine

I just read last nights post and thought it looked a little bleak, so I thought I’d quickly post this picture from last week.

It was the start of a wonderful sunny day with the sun taking temperatures just above freezing. The house heated up to 23c\73f without having to light the fire, the water warmed up to 45c\113f from the solar water panels and I ventured outside to chop up a bit more wood to make sure we can deal with another cold month.

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From the terrace on the East side, sorry about the drain pipe.

Roll on spring!

Drip, drip drop, little April STORMS!

As the temperatures stretch into the mid twenties and beyond the site has become a time lapse photographers dream; people come and go in their vehicles loaded with materials, friends and observers pop in to help and say ‘Hi’ and the landscape around us and in the distance is transformed into neat rows of hope.

Drains in, partitions built, quotes accepted, tiles ordered, samples viewed, late night discussions, decisions made and changed. Seeds selected, weeds tamed, rows hoed and staples planted on mass, the promise of freshly picked salads draws closer.

The clatter of thunder marks the end of the day and I hurry to get things under cover, and whilst the arcing circuit sparks to the sky are no sure sign of rain, if it does then it comes down as if it’s the last chance it will ever get. The road to civilisation can become impassable by anything other than welly clad foot as it becomes river and I am reminded that I must put in some road drainage, one day! The van is moved to higher and more solid ground.

With hardly time to think to count between the crack and the flash the storm is upon us. Dogs return from adventures to seek shelter and the increased throttle of a tractor can be heard in the distance as the final row of potatoes is sown, just in time. The darkening sky sends the omnipresent dandelions to sleep, and even the birds leave the trees to hiding places unknown as the first scouting raindrops hit the tin roof of the house with a hollow flat note, soon becoming a hurried drum roll punctuated by a dripping gutter. I must fix that!

As the wind races around the house a clear and sunlit patch of ground can be spotted to the south east and I know is heading this way, and no sooner have I finished my cup of tea then a birdsong melody replaces the drum solo and the clouds settle over the next valley finding a new home on higher ground. Now as a distant observer I look on in awe as the electrical show continues and my slow quiet counting confirms that the storm is visiting lands further afield, but the rumble can still be heard for an hour or so after, a last word reminder that it will be back again tomorrow.

 

Now where did that tree go?

A bit of a hurried post I’m afraid, babies and building are top of my list of things to do at the moment, although I did stop to take a few shots and take a closer look at my beech sapling, my ‘tree following’ subject.

Unfortunately it looks like the damage from the deer or possibly hare have taken their toll and it doesn’t appear that much growth is going on above the damage. However on closer inspection the little sapling is trying it’s hardest to cling on and new growth has appeared in an abundance near the base of the trunk. Fingers crossed it will make it through the summer and if it does I’ll reward it with some protection for the hungry gap.

Until next time, hopefully with some better pictures, happy tree following.

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‘C’mon Jack’

From the house I walk down towards the barn, only 250m or so on a slight decline, but on the way back up it can be a challenge; especially after a long day or on the third trip to retrieve something you have forgotten from the barn! I can’t help but notice all the sprouting trunks of the saplings of willow and silver birch coming up after the cull to prepare for the run of the electricity cable last year; amazing resilience.

Jackie runs ahead as ever, checking for danger, things to find, things to chase, things to bark at. She has many different barks, much the same as a baby has specific cries to indicate various needs. On this occasion she goes into the throaty bark that tells me someone or something is on our land and I will be needed to give assistance or guidance as to what she should do next. As it happens it’s an overhead gaggle of geese honking their arrival; Jackie has a specific dislike for overhead threats to the point that she will chase Para-gliders and occasional low flying planes. I assure her that everything is ok and we walk on.

Past the barn and various patches of freshly turned and composted land for this years harvest; the every expanding strawberry beds, raised beds for salads and the like, another patch ready and rotovated for the tomatoes and chillies, a second ready for beans and peas, occasional perennials are dotted around the place as are black currents, red currents, gooseberries, raspberries and after a three year wait goji berries and Russian honeysuckle. I also notice that the rhubarb has decided to come out to play and is spreading well beyond its brick and stone boundary which was set around last years growth to protect it from the dreaded strimmer.

The relatively mild winter has left us with many herbs already in full growth, chives, borage, parsley, oregano, sage, and even coriander amongst the other surprise survivor, some spinach. This works well for me as I have a pre-made curry back at the house and I immediately decide on a sag aloo accompaniment, so handfuls of spinach and coriander are stuffed in my pockets.

Walking through the orchard I can’t help but notice the wild plumb tree in bloom already and it is the play ground for a mass of pollinators, bumble bees aplenty and the noise would be enough to drown out a phone call, I make a mental note to check on the date of last years flowering for comparison.

Everything seems to be doing well, although we have had to say goodbye to one of the old plum trees after three years of waiting for it to recover from a covering of the wild vine that dominated most of the orchard when we first bought the land. It also seemed to have a disease of some sort so we decide it was best cleared, to create more light for the surrounding trees and provide us with some nice wood for smoking in the future. I pass by the vivid coloured stump that remains, maybe I can find someone with a lath and skill to make something from the wood, it has a real beauty about it.

I take a detour into the neighbours’ field to investigate what they were cutting down with the chainsaw last week; nothing much, just some overgrown blackthorn, nothing that will impact too much on my sloe harvest later in the year.

Beyond the wooded area and into a clearing bordered by some agricultural land; it’s a small family plot surrounded by a crude but functional wires mesh fence, protection against wild boar and deer, but not Jackie as she finds a gap and tears across the forbidden field.

I cut back into a second wooded area and notice the recent logging that has taken place, felled beech and birch litter the ground with piles of brush piled neatly around the earth border of the land. I worry about the way the trees are felled in the area sometimes, a small valley on my right was recently cleared of many large trees and I fear that the structure of the soil will suffer and the valley walls collapse and then expand, with the loss of roots to bind things together. We walk on.

Out of the woods and into the open fields long since used for crops, either the farmers are too old or the land not productive enough to reap a harvest, although they will be rewarded by the EU in the form of a grant for giving the land up to nature, not much, but enough for it to be an option. It’s hard to make money farming around here as the land is poor as are the people, so a grant to stop you breaking your back for a pittance is a good option.

I often reflect upon the life that we are now leading, dog walking provides you with the time to do so, and I have to say the thoughts are mostly positive. I certainly don’t miss my old way of life, it may well have had more privileges, but it’s problems and stresses were bigger and without true reward, now I am rewarded every day by the simplest of things if only because I have the time to appreciate them. Of course we still have plenty to do and our future survival in the modern world is very much based on the throw away comment that ‘everything will be alright’, but I do firmly believe that if you think that then it will be. Hardly a convincing business plan, but then I hope we never have to borrow any money 🙂

Jackie finds the scent of a cat; nose to the ground with little use of her sight to provide direction, she is driven by smell alone. Left, right and the occasional look up to see if her prey is near; a spring into the air, spinning 180 degrees as she does so as she tries to spot her victim which must be close by. Another jump, then another, her ears remaining in the air a split second longer than her body giving the impression of flapping wings, the cat bolts deciding it’s a good time to visit the old oak tree only twenty meters away. As cats go this one is fast, although true to form Jackie never quite catches it, where’s the fun in that? Much better to chase than to catch, after all cats have claws and dogs have paws, natures pure design 🙂

‘C’mon Jack, back home’

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No time like the present

OK, you may have guessed that there is no way that I’m going to catch up unless I come up with a radical solution and so, for one week only, I’m heading into a new format to enable me to provide an overview of progress over the last three weeks without having to rely on my memory too much.

The Garden: I thought I better give a mention to the much neglected garden, all the work on the house has meant that many a plant has fallen by the wayside, or taken over the way side as they grow out of control. Of course we have had a steady supply of fresh veg and they are part of our daily intake, be in peas, beans, tomatoes, onions or courgettes; you will always find at least one on your plate, but as I look upon the tangled mass of beans and peas I can’t help but think we could have looked after them better, if only by translating the packets and planting the runners with stakes and the dwarf in rows; something that I only half heartedly addressed as I realised our mistake. Still the older beans will be left to dry on the stalks, a fantastic winter staple and any new growth will continue to be eaten. The same for the peas, old stock will be dried for next years seed and anything fresh popped on the plate or in the freezer.

The humanure tomato experiment continues, although we spotted blight in a few of the main crop plants last week so it’s only a matter of time before the experiment has to come to a premature end. However I can report, without the picture I forgot to take, that both plants are bearing fruit on three trusses and look far healthier than their unfertilised counterparts.

The potatoes have taken a hammering from the beetles and much of the foliage was lost in the last few weeks, but we have dug a few up and they are tasting good, so I’m still confidant of a reasonable crop; we’re just waiting for the harvester to turn up along with the neighbours 🙂 the tradition here is to leave them in the ground for as long as possible to prepare them better for winter storage.

The oats are doing well, although we ploughed back about a third of the crop on the top boundary of the field as growth was slow; hopefully this will help as a green manure.

The House:  As you would expect this remains the main focus for us as we try and get as much done as possible whilst we have the weather on our side. Having the help of the volunteers Paul, Alexandra and Iulia was a massive help, the internal window surrounds were remodelled, the entire ground floor received its first clay slip coat, the timber for the terrace was planed, sanded and painted, along with the basement exterior walls to match the rest of the house.

Not to mention our friend Slawek who fired on with the task of getting the terrace ready for the roof; this final task was completed last week and we have since taken delivery of the tin roof to be fitted by the experts as and when they can fit us into their schedule, fingers crossed in the next few weeks. Meanwhile I have started to fit the terrace decking board which we have all had a part in plaining. If anybody is interested we are selling luxury rabbit bedding 🙂

We also had the assistance of our ever helpful friends Steve and Dorota who came over with the tractor and front loader to do a bit of landscaping; saving my back from carting hundreds of barrows of earth; as ever a big thanks for all and everyone’s help.

As the saying goes a picture can tell a thousand word so I’ll save myself a bit a typing

Nature: As ever I seem to forget to appreciate the things that go on around us, but once in a while something happens that I have never seen before and I become focused and appreciative again. I have mentioned the resident buzzard family on a few occasions, in fact I was a little worried that the recent felling of trees by a neighbour had left them homeless and this was the reason why they hadn’t been there usual vocal self, that was until the recent sighting of the first flight training lessons administered by the two adults to their single chick. We have witnessed this ritual for the last three years and it’s always entrancing, but then out of the blue one of the buzzards pulled back it’s wings and went into a dive, more falcon like than buzzard; or maybe not? I certainly haven’t seen them do it before and it was great to watch; as it never caught anything I’m guessing it was just another subject of the training curriculum.

The young hares seem to be ever present, unfortunately for them Zara has a fare turn of speed, and whilst I feel sorry for them if she catches one I’m also reassured by the large numbers that I have spotted in the area; we don’t seem to be suffering from the decline that is news worthy in other areas of Poland.

The young deer are coming closer and closer to the house, thankfully curiosity did not kill the fawn and they easily outrun Zara and Jackie who have so far kept them away from the veg without putting meat on the menu.

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Volunteers: I know that I have mentioned Iulia,  Alexandra and Paul on a few occasions, but I’d just like to say thank you again for all your help, great workers and great company who made a big difference in the few weeks that they joined us. Paul is heading back again in September, gluten for punishment, or maybe just gluten as he loved the food most of all 🙂 We also have two other ‘possibles’ coming to join us late in August so things are looking good and finishing the plaster inside before the winter may be an achievable target.

We did take a farewell trip to Krakow to visit the town of Oświęcim which is more often referred to and better know by it’s German given name of Auschwitz; it’s my second visit, but it was no less sobering for it.  We went for the guided tour, which takes three and a half hours, but I think Paul summed it up well when he said he would had liked the time to just sit and reflect for a while rather than dealing with the information overload as the guide talked through the expansive and industrialised extermination camps. A worthwhile trip and highly recommended to everyone, but if you get a chance take time to reflect, then do, especially when you see Birkenau.

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Up to date :  Well pretty much so, of course we have had a few parties, BBQs and visitors, but that’s just part of life in Poland, especially when the weather is as good as it is. We are back in Rzemien for the usual Sunday lunch that couldn’t be beat and another week is only a good nights sleep away from us, so until next week (maybe) na zdrowie.

Teraz terrace

I’m looking out of the window, just back from walking the dogs, happy that I made it before the storm that is now upon us. After a week of temperatures close to and exceeding 30 C it’s almost a relief to hear the crack of lightening and catch the cooling breeze through the open window; the crops will certainly benefit from the rain and if the forecast is to be believed then we should have a cooler week ahead to look forward to.

It’s been a hectic week or so as our friend Slawek came over to help out with the building of the terrace, working to the suns schedule we put in some serious time and have achieved a great deal, but it has made us realise that when your building a house you have little time for anything else. So we finally made the decision that keeping livestock this year is no longer an option, I think we knew this already and as time has gone by the inevitable conclusion had to be drawn; after all we have struggled to look after the garden this week and forgetting to water  your pigs is a little more serious than neglecting to the water the tomatoes; there’s always next year 🙂

Monday 17th June:

After a trip to the iron mongers to stock up on nails, nuts and bolts we started building the terrace.

Tuesday 18th June:

Building the terrace

Wednesday 19th June:

Building the terrace

Thursday 20th June:

Building the terrace. Emptied the composting toilet! And for those of you eagle eyed and interested people out there who noticed that it has lasted a long time then I can assure you that I have emptied it on two previous occasions, I just forgot to add the date to the Composting Toilet Diary; shame on me.

Friday 21st June:

Building the terrace

Saturday 22nd June:

Building the terrace

Of course it was all a little bit more involved than that and Slaweks woodworking experience shows as he has notched joists and created large scale mortise joints for the supporting posts; no metal angle brackets on this build. Meanwhile Gosia has got to grips with the plainer that we have borrowed from a family friend and the piles of wood shavings are testament to the many cubic meters of wood that have made it past the spinning blades; very sharp blades as the cuts on the back of my fingers prove after slipping when installing new blades. Mind you when you consider the lack of guards and the exposed mechanics of the home made machine then a couple of nicks are needed to earn respect and avoid more serious injury.

Respect
Hard to believe that this plainer thicknesser was hand built during the communist era; if you wanted something back then you built it! And it works a treat.

You may guess that this is a big job and we were happy to have achieved the lower level and get the joists down ready for the decking next week; unfortunately the modrzew (larch) that we are using for the planks is very hard on the blades, as whilst the pine that we have used for the framing gave up it’s outer layers without too much fuss the boards require a little more attention, consequently we have had to order a new set of hardened steel blades. Lets hope they arrive in good time next week.

As I mentioned in my last post the horseflies are having a feeding frenzy and you have to be quick if you want to avoid making a blood donation to the insect world, thankfully we had the help of the yellowhammer. For some odd reason, possibly just because we are there, the horseflies are attracted to the white walls of the building and fly into them kamikaze style; dazed and confused by the sudden interruption in their flight they then fall to the floor and this is the point that our little yellow friends step in and are quick to take advantage of an immobilised lunch. I’m not sure if it’s learned behaviour, but a pair of birds have remained with us all week and they are happy to come within a few meters of us as we worked and of course we are happy with a reduction in the blood sucking insect population.

Bug hunter
Our little yellow friends

It’s easy to take all the wildlife for granted as you get used to seeing the newts, lizards, slow worms and toads, all good food for the visiting stalks and our resident buzzard who has happily started to announce his presence once again after a worrying mute period. Sadly none of these wondrous creatures eat the potato beetle and as the lave that missed our inspection start to grow the potato’s are starting loose a bit of foliage; lets hope this wont affect the crop too much and that our efforts of hand picking pay off. It’s a little disheartening as you see the farmer next door spray his crop, eradicating the pest almost over night; such an easy solution, or is it?

Spuds
Our potato patch

One final note, as I took a quick photo before we left of Saturday, the tomato experiment is starting to show results; the plant on the left seems to be developing a little faster than that on the right, contrary to the result I was hoping for as the plant on the right is the one grown in the humanure mix. Still it’s early days and it’s quite likely that I used two different plant varieties such was my attention to detail when I set up this highly scientific experiment. I only remember which one is which by remembering what right rhymes with!

Humanure challenge
Humanure challenge tomato plants

Scaffold for rent

13th of May: It was mid afternoon before we retuned to the ranch, after a couple of stops to drop things off and pick things up, amongst them a sofa bed to add to our growing collection; I’m guessing you would call them a nest of sofa beds?:)  We now have three with a fourth promised and due to be collected this weekend or next, all good stuff if you have people coming to stay, which we have due to a great response to our call for volunteers; more than a dozen respondents so far from as far afield as Korea, Romania, Lithuania, France and the UK; the last couple of weeks of June could see as many as six visitors so we are trying our best to make them comfy.

Once we arrived back home we quickly decided that the house would remain off limits and the garden would get some attention, so our first batch of tomatoes went in along with half a dozen chilli plants, more butternut squash, courgettes and some spinach. The extended dry spell that we are having means that the watering can is well used and our water collection tanks are running low; I wont be praying for rain, but I secretly wouldn’t mind some…maybe overnight 🙂

Lots of weeding as ever, now that the beans and peas are coming through I can risk using the hoe, as long as I wear my glasses!

The fruit trees seem to be doing well and it looks like we will have an abundance of cherries, plums, pears and quinces; although it has to be said the apples don’t look too good at the moment, maybe it’s too early to tell.

First tomatoes and chillis
First tomatoes and chillis, horse radish flowering in the background
Field of Beans
Field of beans and quite a few peas
Cherry tree
Bumper crop of cherries, we just have to wait!

14th of May: Ok, back to the house, we must get something done! And we did, conscious that we will not have the opportunity to lime wash the house again once the scaffolding is down, a job we are to start soon, we decided to circumnavigate the house once more; 10 hours later we finished!

15th, 16th and 17th of May: The big event begins; operation ‘Reveal’ the dismantling of our hand built scaffold. As the weather is still hot with temperatures in the high 20’s I opted to start on the shady side of the house, following the sun and Gosia who was cleaning the window frames whilst she still could; it soon become apparent that she was working faster than me and she took up the job of removing stubborn nails and screws from the wood that I discardied from the top level of our construction. Every component removed seemed to weaken the structure and I was glad to have finished the top tier by the end of the first day, bringing me a couple of meters closer to earth.

And that set the pace for the next two days, one level a day with an ever growing pile of planks, a rapidly filling bucket of old screws and nails and a every wobblier walkway for me to work on. The forty-four supporting posts were the last item to come down and as the last one crashed to the ground on Friday evening we let out a cheer for a job well done with only minor injuries and a new found appreciation for the scale of the house. We had a couple of sticky moments as we discovered that a few of the posts still had tarpaulin line strung between them, but a penknife strapped to a four meter batten soon solved that. And of course as I was wearing steel toecap boots with reinforced soles to stop and nails going through my feet I walked backwards into a nail which found my calf muscle; Gosia wasn’t so lucky as her sandals offered no protection as a nail found the soft flesh of her foot; you only do it once and soon stop wearing flip flops on a building site.

Scaffold almost down
The shadows reveal the texture of the walls
Special tool No.2
How to cut a piece of string 6 meters high

Walking the dogs first and last thing provides a great opportunity to explore the surrounding area especially as I try and expand the territory that we cover; Zara is picking up Jackie’s hunting habits and pheasants, deer and cats are all flushed out as we do the rounds; no harm ever comes to the fleeing wildlife, it’s just a game to the dogs, although if I had a shotgun I would be tempted to have a go at the pheasants. I’m hoping their behaviour will deter the wildlife from coming two close to our vegetables, although we have agreed that the electric fence should go up next week as we are tempting fate with our open plan style of agriculture. Once the potatoes start to mature then the wild bore come out of hiding, I know it’s a while off yet, but it’s best to be prepared; I might even keep hold of afore mentioned knife on a stick!

Deer01
I wonder if thats a dog?
Deer02
Yes, it’s a dog!

18th of May: Eager to avoid and further injuries we spent most of the day tidying the site, we intend to use the planks of the scaffolding as the downstairs ceiling, once they have gone through a plainer; so it’s a job worth taking time over. We are also expecting a JCB at some stage next week to help with some landscaping and trench digging, so having the area clear around the house is essential. This should then lead onto the building of the terrace in early June, hopefully transforming the house once again as it looks a bit odd at the moment.

Naked house
The sugar cube revealed, cant wait for the terrace to be built 🙂
Scafflold for rent
Scafflold for rent

After all this excitement it’s hard to believe that things could get any better, but then in the space of a couple of bottles of beer, the bottle tops revealed that I had won two free bottles; it doesn’t get much better than that, a great end to the week:)

My lucky day
My lucky day, two winning bottle tops from Harnas beer 🙂

Early May

Ok, I’m trying out my new idea for the format of my posts to see if it works; it will also give me an opportunity to catch up on events, if not for you then for me. And if you are wondering how I have found the time to type this then it’s down to the weather and administration; the weather has turned wet and Gosia is in town ticking boxes for those nice people at the EU donations office. I don’t have long, so I better work quick!

A couple of things from April first, things that need to be recorded; the wild plumb tree came into flower on the 26th of April, the sweet cherry, sloe berry and plumb not far behind on the 29th. Apple, pear and quince just starting; looking over the valley you can spot all the fruit trees in flower indicating a house, occupied or indeed derelict. One worrying thing seems to be the lack of bees, I have only spotted bumbles so far; Gosia recalls a lot more buzzing last year, I guess the proof will be in the crop as it is highly dependant on pollination, although I not sure if this is exclusively from bees though?

The swallows are here at last, although they don’t seem to have taken up residence in the barn, not to worry; I know they must be nesting nearby as they are taking mud from the pit on the building site.

The coppiced trees seem to be doing very well, I’m getting about a 50% success rate with the silver birch and almost 100% with the willow. We have also had unintentional good luck with the elder which I cut two years ago to get rid of them; they have all coppiced and we now have an abundance of greenery soon to become flowers and berries!

Wild plumSweet cherry treeBlossom across the valley

5th, 6th of May: Looking at the 10 day weather forecast we convinced ourselves that we should be frost free from now on so we headed for the garden and top field; I think we also needed a bit of a break from the house. 45 or so pumpkins in along with maybe 20 butternut squash. These were joined by about 20 courgette and 20 sweet corn on the 10th. I will check for damage later today when we return, I think we are tempting fate by not putting up the electric fence.

As the dandelions are up I had a quick wiz round with the mower before they set seed; a job that will have to be repeated more often than I have my hair cut 🙂

I heard the first cuckoo of the year and the oats that we cast are starting to sprout, giving the top field a new look of dappled green. Also noticed the Lilac tree flowering and the odd sight of horse radish in flower, which I had never noticed before. We have lots growing around the land and we are careful to avoid them when strimming as they are a key ingredient in many pickles and preserves.

LilacHorse radish in flower

7th of May: Good news, bad news; the electricity was finally connected without drama or tripping fuses, I’m all set to tackle the rest of the house now. Bad news, the plaster around the windows is cracking. A combination of vibration from the opening and closing of the windows and our poor attempt at getting lime render to try and stick to wood and expanding foam; the fiberglass mesh we used to help the process has failed to perform as we had hoped. The rest of the day was spent chipping off any loose render so that we could have another try. I guess we were lucky that we hadn’t started to take down the scaffold!

8th of May: We have been thinking about getting another dog and Gosia has looked at quite a few dog rescue websites to find a suitable playmate for Jackie (not quite true as Jackie doesn’t like other dogs) but you never know. Gosia finally found what can only be described as a Springer, Setter cross’; Zara. We headed off  first thing in the morning and she was part of the family by noon.

Zara

We think we have a solution for the window surrounds; the render that is used for the polystyrene insulation is quite flexible, so we have decided to give it a go. First coat completed by the end of the day, ready for a second tomorrow.

9th and 10th of May: Whilst the new render solution isn’t ideal in that it’s not a natural product, it does seem to be doing the job. second and third coats applied as required, then sanded down to blend in with the lime surround.

New render around windows
New render around windows

Jackie fell off the top level of scaffolding! All I heard was the thud as she landed on the bottom level, about 4 meters below and Gosia shouting for me to get there asap. I ran round the building shouting to try and find Jackie’s location, heart beating fast and a sense of dread; but of course I couldn’t find the black lifeless shape of a dog anywhere, she had already dusted herself off and was heading back up the scaffold! A heart stopping moment and a ban on dogs on scaffold has now been imposed.

Spider dog

And just in case you are worried about an overflow, I emptied the composting toilet, although this was in no way related to the events of Jackie falling off the scaffold:)

11th of May: Final sanding down of render and painting with a primer so that the lime wash will take, a good tidy up, a weed around the various plots of land and eviction notices left for the few mice that seem to think that our house is available for occupation. Chicken soup tomorrow and I’m looking forward to it.

Monday 13th of May: Catching up with the blog 🙂 Hope to read a few before we head off later today.

Dam busters and builders

One of the first things I did on my return to Poland was take Jackie for a walk and check out the beavers, or should I say the beaver evidence; having never seen one yet.

Beaver Avenue, as I like to think of it, has been cleared by man and chainsaw and little of the autumns industry remains; just lots of flattened stumps.

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Further afield, where I first reported on the beaver activity last year, only a few sticks remain to suggest these large rodents had worked so hard last year; Man 2 Beavers 0.

But then today, taking a different approach to the most prolific tree felling area that I have come across yet, I started to see the evidence of a building project. First of all I noticed that one of the irrigation ditches had started to dry up, whilst those around seemed to have a good level of water, so following the ditch  for another five hundred meters I discovered the blockage; a well formed damn and close by, the possible remains of a lodge.

From what I have read most beaver activity goes on in the autumn in preparation for winter; the summer months are spent roving, so I’m wondering is this is a new or old structure? I had never noticed it before even though I have walked this path a few times.

As you can see the water is backing up nicely and if the dam was any higher then the surrounding fields would be water logged; clever beaver engineering or just coincidence that the height is set as it is?

A little bit of bread but no cheese

It has to be one of the sounds that defines spring for me, but whilst it’s good to finally hear the Yellowhammer perched on the roof of the old derelict house, I know that by the late summer the melody will have worn a little thin! Mind you, you have respect to a bird that inspired the beginning of Beethovens 5th symphony.

So here we are again, back in the land of the potatoes (Pyrowki). Our normal approach was still blocked by snow when we arrived last Wednesday, so we headed down the valley road to our neighbours to park up and climb the hill. Not so bad, unless you have a car full of supplies to relocate, and after the first assent by foot it was decided to test the Nivas four wheel drive credentials. Lots of wheel spinning, mud flying and random steering to keep us on a relatively straight path; we managed to get within about 100 meters of our barn and stable, good enough for me.

Home sweet home
Home sweet home

Our little stable has faired quite well over the winter and after a quick sweep up and dust down it just need a little bit of heat to make it our home from home. So after a quick sweep of the chimney, i.e.  dismantle the chimney into sections take them outside and poke them with a stick whilst shaking them violently, the fire was stoked up and the temperature began to rise.

Get that fire buring
Get that fire buring

The weather was surprisingly good so after a quick inspection of the house we decided to crack on with a few outside jobs; we had started to clear the patch of land beyond the orchard in the Autumn so it seemed like a good idea to continue with the task before spring sent up a new set of brambles. Work is hard going after such an extended break without much physical activity and after three or four hours we headed back to the stable, breaking ourselves in gently so to speak.

Clearing the brambles
Clearing the brambles

That was until we noticed  the small river winding it’s way down our track, it had sprung up during the day as the snow started to melt and was taking the easiest route to the valley; but not only was it taking this route it was also taking our road, depositing it further down flied! And on top of that the recently filled trench that hid our electricity supply cable had collapsed creating a small canyon, the cleared earth finding its way into the well water. Anyone who says that washing your hair in well water turns it green would be mistaken on this occasion as it would definitely be a dirty orange if you used ours. Mind you it tasted ok 🙂 (Joke!)

So armed with a spade I tried to find the source of the rapidly evolving rapid  and quickly dug a trench to divert the flow a couple of hundred meters further up the hill; a job that carried on the next day as we also discovered a small swimming pool in the basement of the new house! The digging of a swale in the top field and drainage around the foundations have made their way up the list of things to do, although I hope this was a bit of a freak event as many hectares of half meter snow melted over a three day period; that’s a hell of a lot of water and not likely to occur again until next year, is it?

Land clearing, wood chopping, house cleaning and visiting friends filled the last four days quickly and a few beers and vodkas snuck in as we were welcomed back; we have been well fed and watered as we did the rounds. The proliferation of eggs, as everyone’s chickens have started to lay again, is apparent in the food that everyone cooks for you; Friday saw a breakfast of scrambled (4 eggs) a lunch of egg mayo sandwiches (2 eggs) a later lunch of a cheese omelette (4, maybe 5 eggs) and finally a supper with an accompanying dish of  stuffed eggs; I only managed 1 🙂

But it’s not all eggs, oh no, we did finally fire up the bread oven on Saturday and along with a Dahl inspired by Food and Forage Hebrides I made some Naan breads. Whilst Gosia was kind and told me how good they tasted I think I need a little more practice with the oven and experiment more with the distribution of fire; although from the results of the weekend I know that I will be able to make a top notch pizza that should cook in under 5 minutes; with the high temperature that is generated on the brick base.

It’s good to be back 🙂

Do you want owt fromt’ shops

The village of Hawes nestles in the valley below us, about a mile and half away across fields on a flagstone path (a trod) that was put down a couple of hundred years ago or more; maybe even dating back to medieval times. The Pennine way meanders through the area and I have walked many of the fells on previous visits and in my childhood, the moor above the house has an ancient Roman road which is testament to their engineering skills as it survives over two thousand years after its construction so it’s a popular area for walkers, hikers and farmers and you are as likely to meet someone on the way as you are to pass a car if you take the easy way and drive to shops for provisions.

With my general lack of exertion other than that in the kitchen, with a spot of gardening on the side when the sun manages to break through, I prefer to take the route of my forefathers and head out; wrapped up warm in my North Face and topped off with my hand crocheted hat (thanks Gosia 🙂 ) with my rucksack strapped to my back. ‘Owt fromt’ shops’ is my usual cry before I set off and I keep my fingers crossed that the list doesn’t include too many heavy liquids; beer is fine, but milk!

I was treated to snow this morning, but the wind has died down so it was a very pleasant walk and for once I remembered to put the camera in my pocket, so I’m subjecting you to yet another gallery.

I didn’t take any photos of Hawes as it’s well documented on the web already, with professional photographs and meaningful descriptions, but if you ever venture there on your travels then try the butchers homemade Wensleydale sausages and for a wider range of provisions then ask someone where The Good Life is as they stock the best variety of fruit and veg, free range eggs, along with the more unusual items from black cardamoms to egg tagliatelle.

Weighed down with supplies the walk back up to the village of Burtersett is harder work, but it gets the heart pumping and the lungs working and when you know that there is a warm fire and a cup of tea at the end of your journey the time passes by in a flash, especially with the magnificent views all around.

Luckily my work in the garden and the recent snow allowed me to take this last photo without causing too much embarrassment to my sister, I’m just hoping that the bulbs that I planted come through and add bit of colour before I leave.

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But now I must crack on, unfortunately for me my home made pita breads are liked by all and I have to get another batch on the go for tonight’s feast  🙂

A change of view

As you may have noted in my last post I was due to catch a plane last Monday, which I managed to reach on time; the weather in Poland remained subdued and I was more worried about the snow at my destination. Thankfully the snow in Manchester had pretty much disappeared on my arrival and although the air steward said I might have trouble crossing the border to Gods own County, the trip with my nephew was safe and without incident; arriving around midnight to a warm wood fuelled living room and a glass of red wine; fantastic !

Now I know I might have pushed up my carbon footprint for the year, but when I saw a return flight for £62 I just had to take it; I’ll offset the damage done with my composting toilet in the summer 🙂

It’s just about a year since I was last here visiting my sisters and nephews and it’s great to be back, there is also a good chance of finding a little bit of work to fund my visit and maybe even put a little bit a side; with the added bonus of the glorious Yorkshire countryside. Unfortunately the baggage restrictions have left me without my camera, but I managed to get a quick snap of my new backyard on Wednesday morning with my sisters happy snapper before the battery went flat. I plan to take more once I get out and about a bit more.

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Oddly enough it feels colder here than in Poland, I’m guessing because of the damp in the air; where Poland is a very dry cold, does that make sense? I checked in with friends back in Poland and they said they had a meter of snow on Thursday, so maybe I’m better off here.

As I said it’s great to be back seeing family, but with all the catching up I have suddenly found myself not having the time to blog as often, I’m sure that will change soon; I can feel the urge 🙂

The Big Thaw

Well that was what I thought last Sunday when all the snow disappeared in Rzemien, just the odd bit hanging about where the wind had gathered the dusty flakes into a drift; that and the slush left at the side of the road by the snow ploughs was the only evidence left of the last three or four weeks of brilliant white.

So with the temperature rising and set to stay around the zero mark I thought I would take a trip out to the house and check on things, just to make sure that the big bad wolf hadn’t blown the house down.

The drive there was perfect, tarmac all the way, but as I got closer I couldn’t help but notice the snow topped hills and sure enough as I ascended to the 400m plateau the snow line became apparent. I’d guess at about 300m the road still had traces of ice and the surrounding fields were only partially green. I started to wonder what it would be like as I got closer.

But rather than trying to explain, I thought I’d take some photos 🙂

So as the road disappeared I thought it wise to park up at our neighbours farm and walk the rest of the way. Of course this been Poland I was greeted with the offer of a ‘drink’ which I gracefully declined as I had to drive later in the day (explained with the usual two arms outstretched holding the imaginary steering wheel moving from side to side) Still I was invited to take a tour of the out buildings to be shown the generator that they had recently purchased or possibly even constructed, as it resembled an old diesel truck engine mounted on a welded steel frame and some electrical circuitry protected by a series of porcelain fuses. It was even turned over and run for a few minutes just to show me how it worked, which I gave my approval of with the three or four complimentary words that I have in my extensive polish vocabulary, repeated several times in varying order. All very happy with this I was then told about the borehole they had just had dug (we started a trend in the area) and how the old pump they had was not powerful enough to pump the water beyond 30m and they may have to (god forbid) buy a new one; although thinking about the generator, I’d imagine a new pump could be fashioned from an old tractor and a couple of bits of bailing twine! I have to admire the reluctance of people to throw things away here and always coming up with a solution with what is available.

Heading off on foot it soon became apparent that the snow up here was here to stay, the ice had set into the snow and for most of the walk I was on top of it, only occasionally breaking through the crust; very slippery going for me and the dogs. But we soon made it over the hill and the house came into sight, non the worse for the recent cold weather.

Heading down to the barn and stable there was clear evidence of deer and some worryingly large paw prints, but then I remembered that Kazek had been keeping an eye on the place and the prints belonged to him and his mountain dog; phew! Mind you the deer had had a good feed on our young apple apple trees and another mental note was made to make sure I protect the fresh trees we plant this year. Its odd they don’t eat the quince trees, just as well as they make a good fruit for one of the many liqueurs that we made in the autumn. I also noted that the snow and ice had taken its toll on the weaker of the silver birch, bending and even snapping some of them, so natural selection has selected them for felling when the weather warms up. By the way, for all you avid humanure folowers of the composting toilet diary; I took a quick picture of the pile 🙂 The snow on top probably indicates that the anorobic process has stopped for the winter, although with no recent deposits to feed the pile I’m it’s probably to be expected.

Once I’d checked on everything, started a fire, talked to Gosia on Skype, walked the dogs and had some lunch, it started to snow again, so I decided to hedge my bets and head back home; I had a flight to catch on Monday so I didn’t want to get snowed in in Pyrowki 🙂

A funny old day

As you know my days are filled with dog walking, blogging (reading more than writing) and more recently trying to watch the film recommendations of Beetleypete. The list that I was working to expanded today with another list from Curnblog, who’s blog was recommended by Pete, getting more work is not an option: i don’t have the time! I won’t for a minute proclaim to understand what these two film buffs are talking about, their opinions and critique are far beyond my simple thinking; but they do make a very compelling argument and reasoning for why I should want to watch a particular film’; so thank you both, I’ll let you know how I get on.

After my morning walk with the dogs I know that Gosia will be awake from her Dutch slumber and we chat almost every day whilst we drink our respective morning cups of coffee and tea; although it’s quite likely that this is my third cuppa of the day. Skype is a wonderful thing and I just hope that it remains free in the future, I will refrain from being a cynic at this point just in case I upset the karma.

I have mentioned leaf and twig once before as he (I’m guessing) provides me with a daily smile, and today’s post was no exception. A picture of a tree that has at some stage in its life tried to avoid something, you will have to follow the link to know what I mean. On seeing todays post I was compelled to send a quick comment as I had also seen such a tree in the local forest.

Determined to try and find this tree again today, so I could take a picture, I headed out on a two hour walk with the dogs, and could I find it? No, and I felt certain I knew where it was! But as I had the camera with me I thought I would take a few photos, if not for you (the reader) then for Gosia (the reader) who I’m sure will be happy to see the dogs having fun and also to appreciate that it is still cold in Poland; never mind the –7 in Holland 🙂

So homeward bound and after my walk I followed my little routine of feeding the dogs, popping to the local shop for a beer or two, or three (if I haven’t purchased in bulk earlier in the week) and then settling down to an evening in to watch a few films.

But no, as I entered the kitchen I was confronted with an almost panicked mother in-law and as I was only able to understand one word in five I failed to grasp what was going on; had I done something wrong to offend my hostess? After ‘hiding in the kitchen for 10 minutes, taking the time to feed the dogs and then pop to the closest shop; which was closed, I pondered what could possibly be happening. I had worked out that someone was visiting, but had no idea why this had sparked the reaction that it had.

Of course everything has a simple explanation and once the guests had left I was able to work out, through various mimes and gestures with the occasional pidgin Polish word thrown in for good measure , that the local priest had just popped in to bless the house. It was probably just easier to keep me hidden away than to try and get me involved, which I’m grateful for.

Conscious that I was still beerless (I know it’s not a word) I thought I would head out again and further afield to one of the other three shops available to me within half a mile. I’m not sure why my normal shop was closed but its quite possible the priest was running to a schedule and the shop was only a couple down on his list, so I had to think ahead and headed for Zombecks’. This may well be the wrong spelling, or even the wrong name, but that’s how I remember it. I do know that the son of the owner worked in Jersey (Channel Islands) for a while so there was a possibility that someone might speak English, however upon arrival it soon became apparent that the vodka was the native language and a slight recognition from the owner of the shop resulted in several Na zdrowies and shots of vodka, This may well be the reason why I’m posting now and making grammatical errors, spelling mistakes and rapid changes in direction of topic. Maybe not!

Thankfully I enjoyed a feast of sour cabbage soup (I will remember what it’s called tomorrow) followed by goulash with barley, accompanied by pickled gherkins; so my constitution should be good, especially if I only drink one of the beers that I bought.

But now to settle down to ‘Le Reine Margor’ or possibly ‘Gods and Generals’, most likely the second option whilst my vision is struggling with subtitles.

Dobranoc!

Ambitious beavers

I know, it’s another post about the beavers, I’m sorry, but other than telling you about what time I got up, went to bed or carried out the usual bodily functions (although I admit to discussing the latter in the past) very little is happening. The snow seems to keep coming and the temperatures remain low; although Gosia checked in from Holland yesterday to tell me it was –8°c, whilst Poland was experiencing the dizzy heights of -2°c; at least she has her work to keep her warm!

All this free time provides me with the opportunity to explore the area further as I try and add some variation to my treks with my four legged friends and in doing so I keep coming across more evidence of the industrious beavers.

Of course this isn’t the only wildlife on the area and once I leave the beaten track I often come across evidence of deer, foxes; which the dogs love to chase, and on a good day if I’m particularly lucky I will spook a buzzard and watch in awe as it slowly flaps its wings and glides out of range. A very magnificent bird, much bigger than you would expect; I hope to have the happy coincidence of having my camera with me when we meet one day in the future. I should probably add that I also need to have a memory card, a fully charged battery, the correct lens the lens cap removed, the correct setting on the camera and the reaction speed that allows me to get a good shot; not too much to ask:)

It was whilst checking my walks on Google Earth that I noticed a build up of water in one on the drainage ditches that crisscross the flat land outside the village, I walk past the area quite often and had noticed a few felled trees so thought that it was worth a closer look.

Tree felling

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I counted over two hundred felled trees, the stumps all neatly gnawed to a point as if by a giant pencil sharpener; although the snow does a good job of hiding this fact. On further inspection it was clear that some of this damage may have occurred in the past and the beavers damn long since dismantled, remembering that the Google photo dates back to 2010 this made sense. But some of the damage was clearly recent so there may be a new project in the making, either that or the beavers have won a logging contract for a local wood yard!

Walking further afield than normal I became even more impressed with the beavers ability to take down trees, rather than the normal ten to fifteen year old birch which seem to be the material of choice for damn building, they had moved onto some seriously large lumber.

Don’t worry that’s the last of the beaver tales for now, I will try and come up with something else to blog about; having just read about the discovery of horse meat in beef burgers sold in Tescos, I feel that an opportunity to malign one of my pet hates, supermarkets, should not be missed; watch this space.

And then there were five

I keep mentioning the dogs as I seem to spend so much time with them, at least two hours a day walking them, if not more, especially now I have lots of free time!

I think I’ve also mentioned in the past that I am in a minority in the village, not because I’m English; although that does count, but because I take the dogs for a walk. I’m sure I’m still a novelty to some of the villagers who come outside to greet me and ‘chat with the English guy’ as I walk past their property; of course the chat is a simple ‘dzien dobry’ (hello) and possibly a comment on how cold it is ‘zimno’. occasionally I may find myself at the end of a incomprehensible question, but I’m getting good at reading the expression on the persons face and answering with the expected tak or nie (yes or no) with a smile  and as long as I get a smile back I know I have given the right reply.

Unfortunately when I do take the hounds for a walk they insist on sharing their excitement with everybody and there barking and baying  can be heard for miles around, which has started to attract a certain element of free spirited dogs, and by the time I reach the first field I’m joined by one if not two additional pets who have decided to join in the pack as we head off towards the forest.

Not that I mind really, it’s quite entertaining, watching them play and having fun; there is the occasional fall out, but the pecking order seems to have settled down and they all pee in succession to show there place on the ladder, never varying in the order. Of course Jackie remains the boss and ignores them all, only interested in finding pheasants and beating the world speed record for a spaniel following a scent; occasionally she is followed and sometimes joined in the chase once she has flushed a bird from cover, but by enlarge the rest of the clan keep themselves entertained play fighting with each other.

Thankfully I have only one real road to cross, directly outside of the house, and then it’s a short walk to open fields leading into woodland as I go further; with a network of tracks and paths providing me with some variation in scenery and distance as I search for the latest evidence of the battle of the beavers.

In checking the routes I take on Google Earth I surprised myself with the distance I’m covering and a four mile walk is not unusual, sometimes reaching six or seven depending on my mood..and the weather.  It’s almost like having a full time job, if only I could trace the owners of the stray dogs, I could charge them for dog walking 🙂

Walking the dogs

That was the week that was

I have now settled at my winter weight of around 85Kg, helped by generous portions of delicious food and copious amounts of alcohol; well maybe not copious; but more than enough! I no longer need to wear a belt when wearing several pairs of trousers (not all at once) and when I do it looks like the next option is a new belt or a hole punch:)

Mind, it doesn’t surprise me as the only exercise I’ve had lately is walking the dogs down to the forest to keep an eye of the latest beaver activity.  The beavers are having a great battle with the locals, after there first dam was broken up they decided to fell a tree across the track; I have an image of the beaver resistance fighters ready to take the last chunk out of the tree as the vehicle approaches 🙂 This happened about 10 days ago and I’ve followed the progress, as the farmer has moved the tree and cut it into manageable lengths; no doubt to pick up and use as firewood in the future; the beavers had an other idea and dragged the new, handy sized, pieces to use on the rebuilding of the dam; stripping the bark for food in the process.

We did manage a couple of days back at the ranch, checking everything was ok and clearing a patch of land of brambles; warm work even with the temperature close to zero. But yet again as the night time temperature inched towards -8°c it became uncomfortable to stay for two long and we retreated back to heating central.

And if you happen to be wondering how the humanure pile is handling the cold weather; well it seems to be ok, despite not making any deposits for quite a while the pile has reduced in size, with a noticeable indent in the middle, so I’m confidant that the little microbes are still working hard to break down those nasty pathogens; either that or rats have moved in and are eating their way through it!

One of our biggest problems is water whilst we wait for the new borehole pump to be fitted. Our 1000 Litre tanks that capture water from various roofs are either frozen solid or empty to prevent them from freezing solid. We did have a contingency plan of four 25 litre containers, but these soon froze solid, even in the stable, and it amazes me how long it takes for them to thaw out, even when we have the wood burner going. I can now understand how the old ice houses used to work with a big block of ice, it’s a very slow melt.

We do have the old well, but this has all but dried up in the worst drought since records began and we are lucky to get a couple of litres in the bucket as a time, good for a brew, not for a bath!

So back to the cake capital of Poland (Rzemien) more food, more drink, more visiting friends back for the season after working away across Europe; all of us calendar watching for the return to work, some on a tighter schedule than others.

It’s an easy life whilst you have some money saved, but we have started to consider looking for work as the cold prevents us from doing much on the house; it would be a better way to spend our time, rather than watching money trickle away as we laze about. Holland looks good at this time of year, lots of plants need propagating and potting  for the garden centres back in the UK.

But that’s enough talk about having to work for a living, we’ve much more important jobs to do, like baking a beetroot chocolate cake, recipe to follow 🙂

The camera never lies

I may have mentioned that the cold air and snow is now here to stay in Poland, certainly beyond the 10-day forecast that I check almost every day, yesterday we woke to -16ºc (outside) so the prospect of walking the dogs didn’t fill me with the usual joy! Mind you by the time I’d had two cups of tea (big half litre (pint) cups), donned my hat, coat, jacket, gloves and boots; I felt ready to tackle a good long walk. The temperature had warmed up a couple of degrees as the sun decided to make it to work on time and there was no wind to speak of, so I headed off down the road with three exited dogs running off ahead of me announcing to the entire neighbourhood that they were out and free to run around. I think the village thinks I’m a little strange as dog walking is not a big thing in Poland, especially when the weather is like it is; the fact that I’m normally walking on virgin snow is testament to this.

Unfortunately dogs in Poland are still often kept on chains outside, with the sole purpose of acting as an early warning doorbell system or intruder alarm, as well as a waste disposal unit. There is a national movement to try and change the law, but it is a deep rooted cultural thing and I fear it will take quite some time, probably a generation, before dogs are held in the same regard as they are in the UK. Don’t get me wrong, the dogs are not necessarily treated badly, just differently. I have to think like this otherwise I would have to become an animal rights vigilante and free all the chained dogs in the village, and I don’t think that would go down too well and you would simply end up with marauding packs of dogs 🙂

As so many blogs that I read have observed, the snow and ice bring a new beauty to the countryside and I vowed to myself to bring by camera on my afternoon walk to try and capture some of the sights. I would have brought it this morning, but considering that my watering eyes were freezing on my cheeks I doubt I would have being able to use the camera once I’d taken my gloves off!

Thankfully for my afternoon walk the temperature had reached -8ºc, so I quickly picked up the camera, checking the battery level (24%) and headed out with the dogs once again; a second thinner pair of gloves under my chunky ski gloves, so that I could turn the dial and press the button on the camera.

First of all I had to capture the second bloom that the reeds and grasses are displaying as the ice crystals cling to the bare stems and spent seed heads; much more spectacular first thing in the morning with the fresh frozen dew and rising sunlight, but still a good photo. Next up the dogs, I’m writing a page for them to appear soon, so a few more pictures as they play in the snow will be good for the gallery. Jackie collecting snow on the fur of her back legs much like a bee does pollen, Scooby dipping his head into the snow on the move to catch a bit of snow to eat, Bruder rolling around on his back in the snow with what can only be described as a smile on his face; all great pics for the post. And then as the sun turned a blood red and began its decent over the far horizon a thin grey cloud cut across it splitting the sphere into two blobs reminiscent of the oil separating in a lava lamp; click, click, another couple of memories stored.

Now if you have a car that was built in the last twenty years or so, there is a good chance that it has some kind of warning when you get out of the car forgetting to turn your lights off? It’s especially useful in Poland as you must have your lights on at all times. So why in the age of digital photography and advanced technology in general can’t they do the same for cameras that don’t have the memory card installed because you left it in the card reader after downloading your last set of photos! Why does the camera happily click away despite the fact that it has no recoding medium on-board? Why does the lens whirr and focus when it has nothing to leave an imprint on?

Why don’t I start to check the camera for a memory card every time I take it out with me! 🙂

Watch out, beavers about!

That’s beavers, not beadles 🙂 (sorry this only works for UK readers over a certain age).

After the reintroduction of beavers to the forest near Rzemien, local land owners; especially those growing trees, have had to deal with a new problem. Unauthorised and premature felling of trees!

Even though they were introduced in the middle of a 15 square km forest  with a lake and lots of trees, they have decided life is better on the edge and someones future firewood tastes that much better. Man controlling nature, it rarely works 🙂