I’m spending a lot of time in my forest. And it’s pretty awesome.

We’re in the process of applying for what’s called “The Managed Forest Tax Incentive Plan.” (MFTIP)

It’s a program in my province of Ontario which reduces your property tax, a bit, if you agree to manage your forest. We got a bit of discount on our property tax when we were generating enough farm income, but that ended last fall, with the drought.

I took a workshop about the MFTIP several years back and never got around to doing it. But now I’m back at it and part of the plan involves an inventory of trees in your forest. Sounds easy enough, if there’s an ‘app’ for it or something, which I don’t believe there is. But basically, it involves getting out and counting trees. You take sample plots and record the species, diameter of the tree at breast height (DBH) and height.

I suppose this could sound like work, if you weren’t doing it in your forest. Because forests are pretty awesome places. The challenge with work, and earning an income, and growing some of your own food, (you could include Netflix but I would never admit to that publicly in a sort of earthy, back to the land, homesteading blog) is that you often are too tired, or lazy, or stupid, to get out and enjoy your property.

Michelle and I used to say, “we own 150 acres.” I think now we try and suggest ‘we’re temporary custodians’ of 150 acres. Not that the trees and forests need any help. They’ve been doing a pretty good job of looking after themselves before we got here.

My daughter is an archeologist and has left some books around hoping I might pick one up. Turns out there’s some pretty cool stuff in those books. I think the thing that boggles my mind the most is that about 12,000 years ago, where I live, was under ice. The glaciers from the last ice age were retreating and somehow, once they were gone, all these lakes and trees appeared. The wonders never cease!

I remember a National Film Board movie they showed us in public school in the 1960s that showed a guy canoeing the Great Lakes, and it kept jumping around eons. So, one minute he would be sitting in a canoe on top of a glacier, then the next shot it would jump forward 100,000 years and the ice disappeared and he fell 500 feet into the St. Lawrence River. Is it bad that this is one of my few memories from public school?

So, as I walk the property I picture the ice retreating, the big piles of sand and gravel (drumlins?) they left behind, then the forests encroaching on the exposed soil … or in our case sand created from the grinding rocks. I spend a lot of time trying to improve my soil here.

The thing I’m loving about this whole process is how much I’m learning. I started thinking about it as work, and now I really look forward to going out and doing some inventory work regularly. It’s forcing me to pay attention to stuff in a different way.

When we first arrived 20 years ago as I walked the property I was looking for dead oak to cut. There had been a gypsy moth infestation a few years before whereby the oaks were attacked shortly after putting out their leaves. Once the leaves got chewed off they weren’t able to photosynthesize and they just got weak. The ones that survived I think are stronger.

It took a good decade of cutting before they were mostly used up, so then I switched to looking for any tree that wasn’t healthy to thin for firewood. And now I’m looking for easily accessible poplar to remove, to give the hardwoods more energy to grow.

Which brings me to an inextricable part of just about every one of my mindless blogs, 1970s popular music (that’s popular like “POP” music, as opposed to ‘poplar,’ like the trees I’m cutting.)

The rock group RUSH had this song called “Trees” and the lyrics by their drummer Neil Peart were quite brilliant, although I never had the same appreciation when I was a suburban-dwelling teen.

“The trouble with the Maples, and they’re quite convinced they’re right, is that the Oaks are just too lofty, and they grab up all the light, but the Oaks can’t help their feelings, if they like the way they’re made, and they wonder why the Maples can’t be happy in their shade.”

As I’m measuring and looking up at and admiring and touching, but never “hugging” these trees I often sing this song. Luckily the Oaks and Maples seem to slug it out fairly evenly here. There is indeed no “Oak oppression,” just survival of the fittest. It seems to pretty much be a draw over most of the property.

When I cut down these towering wonders of carbon sequestration, I am most grateful for the warmth they will provide next winter. And that is the main goal we have in our forest management plan. We use it for recreation and we love it that it gives animals a place to live. And the trees just seem to keep growing faster than we could ever cut them for heat. As I recall from the workshop years ago you need about 15 acres of woodlot to heat a home. I’m sure this depends on how efficient your home is, how warm you like it, species of trees, i.e. hardwood vs softwood, but I’m often asked this in our workshops and it’s a good target if you’re looking for property.

And you know who is absolutely “over the moon” about my forest inventory? You’re right, Jasper the Wonder Dog! Oh, how he loves the time in the woods. Do you know how many smells there are to investigate on our sojourns? Hundreds. Our terrain is hilly and there are often low areas that are full of water right now with the spring run-off. And Jasper the Wonder Dog has never met a body of water he didn’t love to play in. Or stand in and drink from. Or chase bubbles in. If I didn’t know better I’d guess he had used his Jedi Mind Tricks … that thing he does when you talk to him and he tilts his head inquisitively, to get us back doing the MFTIP. He knew it would mean endless hours of playtime in the woods.

I beat myself up that it takes a monetary incentive, like saving some tax money, to get me into the bush. This time it will be different. I’m going to be a better Forest Steward. I’m going to be a better person. More time in the woods! Jasper insists!