Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Eastern Woodland Lean-to

Over the summer I had the privilege of working on the reconstruction of a traditional Eastern Woodland Native American lean-to. Fort Ouiatenon park in Tippecanoe County Indiana is home to a reconstruction of an 18th century blockhouse which I featured earlier but, it is also home to a reconstructed Native Village which comes to life every fall at the Feast of the Hunters' Moon. Lean-to's provided protection from the sun, wind, and rain. In these sheltered spaces, women would weave mats from rushes and cattails, and make and decorate clothing and baskets. Lean-to's were also used to store extra food, wood, and clothing.
Over the winter the old lean-to collapsed and the members of the tribe reached out for volunteers who would be willing to help them rebuild the lean-to in time for the feast. Since I volunteer as a docent in the blockhouse it was no problem for me to lend a hand. As you can see the basic frame is built of poles that have been cut green and stripped of their bark. We were allowed to harvest trees from another county park property down the road from Ouiatenon. This assured the tribe that they would be using local, authentic materials. We cut down several Maple trees with an average butt diameter of about six inches. Fifteen of these were cut into lengths between nine and twelve feet. We buried the butt ends three feet deep to create the posts that would hold the roof.
Inside the lean-to are two fire pits which are used during the feast to boil large kettles of water for cooking and cleaning. These stones where also harvested from the riverbank just a few yards from the village. In this photo you can see that we incorporated a couple of live trees in the design. See the root base in the upper right hand corner. Cross pieces were loosely tied to these living trees so that they can be re-adjusted as the tree grows.
The cross pieces are made of the tops of the maples we harvested and stripped. Tied together and lashed to the uprights they make a very sturdy framework. The lean-to has a pitch of about two feet from front to back. The posts at the front are nine feet high, in the middle seven, and at the back six. This is done to prevent rain from collecting on the roof.
Here you can see the finished lean-to at the begining of this year's feast. The top and back sides have been covered with canvas which was used traditionally once trade had been established between Natives and Europeans. In more ancient times the covering would have been made of trees bark or woven mats made of cat-tail reeds.If you look closely you can see the kettles boiling over the fire-pits. The village has about six wigwams like the one you can see next to the lean-to.
During the feast the public is invited into the Native Village to learn more about how Eastern Woodland Native Americans lived in their traditional homeland.




Thursday, August 30, 2012

Bulldog Mine

In the last post to this blog I shared the great news that Bald Eagles are once again nesting and raising young on the Salt Fork of the Vermilion River in East Central Illinois. I know this because I live on the river and spotted them three times near the cabin in the early spring. After my sightings I read the Salt Fork Friends blog that confirmed a nest just a few miles downstream from the cabin.

Two weeks later I canoed a seven mile stretch of the river hoping to spot the eagles myself and sure enough I saw one juvenile and two adults!
I have learned over the years not to take a good camera canoeing with a big dog. I apologize for the poor quality of the photo.
The first eagle spotted was a juvenile who got spooked and left his lunch in the river. I saw him fly off and then twice later perched in trees downstream from the fish he was eating.
For those of you who don't know, juvenile Bald Eagles do not have white heads and can easily be mistaken for Turkey Vultures or even Red Tailed Hawks from a distance. Both juvenile and adult eagles are great at fishing but they are also scavengers and do eat carrion of all sorts. So the next time you see a "buzzard" eating road kill slow down and make sure it's not an eagle. If it is, honk your horn or shout at it to scare it away. Eagles should learn to be afraid of roads, not think of them as snack bars.

So what does any of this have to do with the "Bulldog Mine"?


It has come to my attention that a company called Sunrise Coal has been secretively buying the mineral rights to nearly 20,000 acres of land within fifteen miles of the cabin. The plan is to build a room and pillar coal mine 300 feet beneath the surface of these 20,000 acres. Four hundred acres have been purchased for the processing facility.

Coal mining is a water use intense process. After the coal has been mined it is washed to remove the "dirt". The "dirt" contains heavy metals and salts that can destroy habitat and human health. The runoff from the washing process is toxic. The "dirt" that is washed off the coal is also toxic.

In order to process the coal and contain this toxic waste 400 acres have been purchased and another 200 acres may be needed to build sludge ponds where the waste will be "contained". The only protection between the ground water and the sludge ponds will be a four foot thick layer of soft clay. Not all the water used in the process will fit in the sludge ponds. Most of it will be diverted into the Vermilion River by way of the Salt Fork through the Olive Branch Creek, or another tributary called the Little Vermilion.

According to Sunrise Coal all of this is perfectly safe. Below I will outline the Pros and Cons of the Bulldog mine as I see it.

Pro: The mine will bring three to four hundred new jobs to the area. This would imply stable employment which could lead to new home ownership. New home sales would increase the tax-base and that would improve the quality of local schools, infrastructure, and grow local businesses, not to mention create new spin-off and start-up companies that would further improve the economic picture.

Con: Modern mining techniques do not require long-term mining. What used to take several thousand miners several decades to accomplish can be achieved by a few hundred well trained employees in as little as possibly four or five years. This modern form of mining can not be done cost effectively by hiring unskilled labor. The workers at the mine will most likely be experienced existing employees of Sunrise Coal, temporarily located at the Bulldog site until the job is finished. Itinerant employees rarely buy homes where they work. More often they rent and if you've ever lived in a college town you know how well itinerant residents maintain their rental properties. These kinds of workers send most of their wages back home and do not invest much in the local economy. Once the community understands that their new neighbors will only be in town for a few years it is unlikely that anyone will invest in start-up or spin-off businesses other than taverns and or liquor stores.

Pro: The mineral rights money paid to the land owners will improve their quality of life and that could trickle down into the local economy. According to Sunrise Coal the farmers will be able to continue to farm around the six hundred acre processing plant and sludge ponds and no permanent damage will be done to their farmland. Once the coal has been extracted the coal company plans to back-fill the mine. The water released into the river will be tested regularly.

Con: A room and pillar mine is like a checker board. The black spaces are left in tack to support the crust of the earth while the white spaces are hollowed out to extract the coal. This leaves enormous hollows under ground. These hollows will most likely sink to a degree over time despite the pillars and or back fill. This sinking is called subsidence. When this happens the network of drainage tiles that make the land arable for farming crack and the land becomes uneven with poor drainage. Repairing nearly 20,000 acres of drain tiles would wipe-out any profit the farmers made from the sale of their mineral rights. The immediate loss of the 600 acre processing site and sludge ponds, some of the world’s finest agricultural soil, would be irreversible.

The money received by the farmers for their mineral rights is subject to taxation at nearly the same rate as if they had sold the land in it's entirety but because it is not a real estate sale, simply a mineral rights sale, only the farmer is responsible for future property tax. This means that even though the land is now producing revenues from both farming and coal production the coal production value is not figured into the property tax rate so the local school district does not benefit from the increased revenue.

The back fill will be a mix of waste that Sunrise Coal will be paid to dispose of. It could include sludge from municipal waste water treatment plants (human waste) and any other form of waste that can be found in a landfill (garbage). The mine is so deep it could also qualify as a disposal site for various forms of toxic waste, including sludge from other Sunrise Coal operations.

While the mine is in operation the piles of coal awaiting shipment by train or truck will be subject to wind erosion. Similar piles have been observed to spread coal dust up to 1/4 of a mile from the site during high winds. Refined coal dust is far more hazardous to human, wildlife, and livestock respiration than the typical dust kicked up in a wind storm.

The increased truck and train traffic will do anything but improve the quality of life in the area. It will destroy wildlife, disturb the peace, and make the roads more dangerous. Many people who live in rural America do it specifically to avoid the things the mine will bring to their lives.

The farmers will most likely wind up with pieces of property that are so undesirable they will never be able to sell, farm, or even live on them comfortably after the sludge ponds and back fill begin to seep into the ground water. The income from the sale of the mineral rights will be absorbed over the years by paying property tax on an essentially useless piece of property.

Pro: The water required to process the coal will require new infrastructure to carry that volume of water to the site. This new infrastructure will be paid for by Sunrise Coal. The new more efficient infrastructure has the potential to lower the water bill for residents in the town of Homer Illinois. This infrastructure will be left behind after the mine is closed.

Con: The amount of water necessary to process coal is most likely not available in the area without drilling new wells into the groundwater and tapping into the Salt Fork of the Vermilion River. The volume of water necessary will almost certainly kill the river's ecosystem and periodically dry up all the surrounding wells. Residents will have to learn to live with water shortages and eventually drink and cook with expensive bottled water after the sludge seepage has contaminated the groundwater.

Once the mine is closed and the water level in the river returns it might recover in a generation of two, at least above the discharge point on the Olive Branch or above the mouth of the Little Vermilion but, this rebirth will be short lived as the seepage from the sludge and back fill contaminated ground water eventually reaches the river from multiple entry points. The Mussels, Crayfish, Bass, Bald Eagles and all other flora and fauna will have little to no chance of a full recovery.

The residents of Homer who enjoy temporarily lower water bills will become dependent on the over-sized infrastructure left behind by the mine. Eventually it will require maintenance and they will be responsible for its upkeep. Given the normal rate of inflation, the few dollars they save while the mine is in operation will not be enough to maintain the infrastructure left behind. In the long run their water bill will be higher than it would have been if they had not installed the over-sized infrastructure.

Additionally the residents of the area will be indefinitely stuck with an abandoned railroad spur which will become a source of frustration for any future ideas about farming or development of the ground where the spur is located. Someone will eventually have to pay to remove it.

Pro: Locally harvested coal helps the country reduce its energy dependence on foreign sources and provides a cheaper domestic product for consumption in the U.S.

Con: Sunrise Coal trades domestically and internationally. No sales tax is collected domestically on its international sales. It is as likely that the coal will be used to power cities in China, India, or Mexico as is that the coal will be used in the U.S. What is most likely is that the coal will be sold to the highest bidder who may not be a U.S. energy company.

Obviously I have painted a bleak picture but the fact is that if even one or two of my predictions come to pass there will be little if anything anyone can do to turn the clock back. Right now in Northern Illinois a coal mine has been cited 621 times for violations of various environmental statuettes. Their total liability if prosecuted could amount to 30 million dollars in fines. Unfortunately lack of enforcement is the norm, the State's Attorney General is only seeking 500 thousand in damages and nothing is being proposed to repair the damage the mine has caused.

In my opinion it is better to prevent this kind of potential disaster than it is to cross fingers and hope for the best.

In closing I would like to say that the issuance of permits does not guarantee no harm will be done. Research and data are at best only educated guesses. No one can say with certainty what will happen until the deed is done. I sincerely hope I will not find myself in a position to say “I told you so”. If you feel the same way please sigh this petition. If you're even more fired up you can email the Village of Homer Board of Trustees to encourage them not to sell water to Sunrise Coal and contact these State and Federal legislators directly to let them know that you stand with me against the Bulldog Mine. 


For more information visit: Stand Up To Coal

Update! Another petition is being circulated to help stop the Bulldog Mine! Sign the new petiton here: http://signon.org/sign/stop-sunrise-coal-from?source=c.url&r_by

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Eagle Has Landed

On three separate occasions this spring I spotted what I believed to be a Bald Eagle by the cabin. Each time the bird was too high or too fast for me to photograph and confirm my suspicion. The size, appearance, and behavior of the bird made me 99.9% sure that I was seeing a Bald Eagle.

Illinois is one of the best states in the lower 48 for Eagle watching. In the winter thousands of them hunt the Mississippi and Illinois River. These birds come down from Wisconsin and Minnesota to enjoy the milder climate over the winter.
Here on the eastern edge of Central Illinois the Bald Eagle is much more rare. In fact by 1890 it had pretty much been completely driven out of the Wabash River watershed. The Salt Fork of the Vermillion River, where the cabin is located, is part of the Wabash River watershed.

In 1985 the Indiana Department of natural Resources began a program to reintroduce Bald Eagles to Indiana. By 2002 there were 26 successful nests with 45 young fledged. Ten years later these Hoosier Eagles are crossing over into Illinois!

This blog http://saltforkfriends.blogspot.com/2012/06/bald-eagles-and-nest-sighted-on-salt.html confirms a nest 3 miles from the House of Fallen Timbers!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Three Sisters

Last November I gleaned some corn from the field at Prophet's Town near the Tippecanoe Battlefield. It is an ancient variety known as Miami White. This corn was widely known for it's easy grinding quality. This spring I planted a traditional "Three Sisters Garden" using Miami White corn, Kentucky Wonder pole beans and Sweet Pie pumpkins.The little troll is my watchdog.
From what I understand the Iroquois are credited with devising this method of planting and from them it spread to most of the Eastern Woodland Native people of North America. There is a very cool Mohawk legend about the three sisters which I included in my latest book "Pickawillany."

According to the instructions I found you make small hills about twelve inches in diameter, the centers of which are about twenty four inches apart. In the center of each mound you plant four or five corn kernels about six inches deep. Let those germinate and grow for about ten days and then plant the beans and squash in a ring around the sprouting corn about six inches out from the center. I made nine holes an inch deep in a circle around each corn plant and dropped two beans in every other hole then put one pumpkin seed in each of the remaining holes.

When the beans come up they will climb the corn stalks to produce beans. In return the bean plants put nitrogen in the soil which the corn needs to grow well. When the squash comes up its broad leaves will help keep the ground shady and moist and its spiny vines will help deter animals that might try to eat the beans and corn.

The three sisters help each other while they grow and when harvested they provide a well balanced diet of protein, starch, and vitamins for the gardener. The three sisters have a very symbiotic relationship on many levels and were the staples of most Eastern Woodland Native American villages right up into the nineteenth century.
 Two weeks after planting beans and squash.
Pumpkins are blooming.
Eight weeks after planting corn.
By August the corn reached six feet tall. Beans and pumpkins in bloom. Sixteen ears in silk and some beans formed by the 12th. Only disappointment has been the pumpkins. Despite a  load of blooms ... no fruit. Hard to know if I did something wrong or just didn't have enough bees to get the job done.

Monday, April 16, 2012

TINY HOMES Simple Shelter

I recently read a copy of "TINY HOMES Simple Shelter" by Lloyd Kahn. I was proud to see so many familiar names. If you've been reading this blog for a while you'll recognize several of the featured Artists/builders/geniuses featured in Mr. Kahn's beautifully illustrated book.
Reading interviews with Margy from Powell River, Deek from Relaxshacks, and Keith in "The Flying Tortoise" I realized how lucky I have been to connect with these folks here at the House of Fallen Timbers. I knew you guys were cool but I had no idea you were such celebrities! Great book, congrats!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Hewn-Timber Cabins

Last week I went to Vincennes Indiana. One of my goals was to get a photo of this Hewn-Timber Visitor's center.
I've been meaning to add this two story dovetailed beauty to my collection for years. To my surprise I found another one on the way to Vincennes.
Quietly placed in the center of Marshall Illinois is this sweet little Hewn-Timber visitor's center. Unfortunatly it was locked up when I passed through so I have no idea who built it or when, but ain't it a peach!


Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Blook Fever Jumps the Pond

If you've been reading along here for a while you'll remember that my cabin won third place in the 2011 International Shed of the Year competition featured on the blog of readersheds.co.uk

As it turns out the author of readershed (aka Uncle Wilco) has been dreaming of putting together his own blook based on all the wonderful sheds and sheddies he has featured, but he seems to be procrastinating.  

After I uploaded my blook to LULU, I posted links to the storefront on some of the blogs that had featured my cabin -- my version of a book release party. 

Anyway, Uncle Wilco saw the comment, asked me to send him some more info and has graciously shared my blook with his readers!

"I procrastinate about doing a shedbook then two Amercian sheddies come along and have a go."

I for one would love to see a blook version of readershed. Thanks for the spotlight Uncle Wilco!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

House of Fallen Timbers - The Blook

Inspired by Derek I finally took the time to do some editing and uploading. House of Fallen Timbers is now available in blook form! A blook is a book based on a blog. It retails for $12.65
I went through the first six months of posts and chose what I consider to be the most relevant entries and images and created a blook. It is organized into six chapters, one for each month from May to October of 2010, and includes 15 color images from the blog, anyway ... here's the preview!

If you know someone who for whatever reason can't access the blog online I hope this will help you share the story.