Little Helper’s Holiday Project (Part 3)

I think the not-so-little helper has done a fantastic job telling the latest stage of the horse float restoration…  

The horse float restoration on the rock farm is rolling again, with some nice and cool, but still smoky days. The mornings start clear, so for a brief part of the day, we can continue working.

But almost straight away we hit a problem. It’s something Dad was thinking for a while and he came to us with his problem. The horse floats frame is made of 1-inch steel. This may seem pretty solid, but with half of it rusted, and hopefully future horses riding in it, it wouldn’t be safe. Not at all.

So, we went back to stage 1, designing.

We have found around the rock farm that Dad doesn’t have any good, solid box trailers. Or at least any 9 feet long with tandem axles. So, somehow Dad persuaded us to turn a totally terrible horse float into an okay box trailer, and his idea is kind of working.

A few days ago, the trailer was just the chassis. We stripped the trailer a day before a total fire ban, smoky and hot day, so we had to go on another small break.

Then we made a frame from 2×1 inch steel. It’s around 450 mm high and it’s really tough. Dad decided to leave us to paint it with the paint primer. Bad idea Dad, really bad idea.

It ended up even worse than I could imagine because the paint primer was bright red, and two brothers, each with paint brushes and bright red paint, does not end well.

I am still part painted red, so, yeah, fun.

Today we attempted to rivet some of the sheets onto the frame of the trailer. We haven’t even finished one sheet. ( out of the 8 we need to do. ). Out of all the things we needed to do on the trailer, putting in rivets was the one I expected least to be taxing. But I was wrong. Very wrong.

After the first 10 holes were drilled, and the rivets were shoved in, I was sweating a river and my arms had died. After that, I don’t need to explain, I think you can just imagine.

But the holidays are soon closing, and the ex-horse float will have a break. It’s going to be fun to go back to school, chill with friends, forget about study, but I will miss the days of using the grinder, or scrubbing away with a wire brush. Or at least until the next holidays.

Summer on the Rock Farm

With the continuing hot and dry conditions, coupled with ongoing hazardous air quality, we made the decision to stop work on the horse float restoration. Whilst disappointing, it was an easy decision to make.  As I write, our nearest air quality station is reading 999 – its maximum reading, and we have just sweltered through another day of howling westerly winds and temperatures over 40 degrees.

We are extremely fortunate to have not yet been directly affected by the ongoing bushfire crisis that is the south east coast, other than the lingering smoke haze.  That said, we have been on high alert.

Our local fire captain has a challenging role, juggling the requests to support strike teams  in other areas, whilst maintaining the ability to respond to local incidents.   I have been part of the team that is on standby for local incidents.  Other than a few nervous moments caused by a dusty willy willy, we have been ok – for now.

That said, we have been using our time to check in on neighbours and prepare the house.  The falcon has been positioned next to our hillbilly pool – giving around 15000 litres of firefighting water if the bladder doesn’t burst!  The roof sprinklers have been tested and are working.  Mum and the boys are the critical element in our fire plan, because it is highly likely that in the event of a fire, I will be fighting it elsewhere on a big red truck – or at work.

Our large dam is nearly empty with an average depth remaining of less than 30cm.  Our pump inlet that supplies the water troughs is sucking little more than mud.  All the other dams are dry.  We have isolated all the water troughs and hopefully fixed any leaks to try to conserve every drop.  There is always more that can be done – but for now we are in a relatively good place.

In the meantime, the cattle are hungry.  We are feeding hay twice a week, and are supplementing their feed with willow branches.  They have learnt to love the sound of the tractor starting up.  Obviously Pavlov never fed cattle during a drought, or he may have made is conclusions regarding conditioning much earlier!

We have taken refuge in the house where we all, dog included, are going a little stir crazy.  The boys have re-discovered their Lego, have devoured some books, done some music practice and we have enjoyed some board games.  We have also purchased a couple more games for the Xbox, and have allowed a little more time each day on their devices.

When the air has been a little clearer, we have taken a turn at woodworking.  The boys are making some pens and spinning tops.  I was lucky we had a stash of P2 dust masks in the shed because every shop is sold out for miles around.

It has been an usual summer with many temperature records broken.  I fear we are entering a new era, where extreme weather events become much more the norm.  I have found this book fascinating, and confronting.

David Wallace Wells has collated all the science regarding climate change and tried to make sense of what it means for us.  The difficulty is trying to understand what will happen because there are so many feedback loops.  This piece is worthy of its own article, and when I get a chance, I will try to write a proper review.

For now, please stay safe and check in on your family, friends and neighbours.  We have a couple of months before the fire season will even begin to abate.  I have a feeling that there are still plenty more nervous days ahead of us.

The Little Helper’s Holiday Project (Part 2)

It has been a hot couple of weeks on the Rock Farm.  We have been busy watering trees, feeding cattle and trying to stay cool.  The bush-fires have been an ever present threat.  This instalment comes from the (not so) Little Fisherman. 

Due to the weather, we have not been able to work much on the float since the other Little Helper did his last blog (The Little Helper’s Holiday Project (Part 1)).  The last couple of days have been total fire bans with one of the days even being a catastrophic fire danger day.  But the next day brought some relief.  The temperature was set to be a maximum of 28 degrees Celsius, and the fire ban had been lifted!

We decided to use the break in the weather to replace some of the rusted frames in the float.  Our replacement bar for one of the more rusted floor sections, was slightly to small and did not have the strength needed of it (Dad will take more care to purchase steel of the correct dimensions next time).  Despite this, we still managed to replace some of the other frames on the side of the float.

This turned out to also be the perfect time for me to hone my grinding skills…  Although it took a while, I managed to successfully remove one of the old bars and clean up the cuts, before cutting a new piece (A tad to long).  I also asked dad if I could weld the bar in place, but after watching him struggle to weld the thin steel we decided that I would do more harm than good.  Instead, I took my new-found grinding skills to finish making my mother’s Christmas present.

After the horizontal struts were in place, we realised that we needed to replace one of the vertical supports.  This meant that dad had to cut up some of his pre-existing welds to put the new piece in place.  Let’s just say, I don’t think that he was to happy with having to re-weld the weak steel.

Meanwhile, the little helper was cleaning up the tailgate with a wire brush and a lot of elbow grease.  After he had finished polishing off the tailgate, he proceeded to rust-proof all the exposed metal he could lay eyes on with some ‘Rust Converter’ (phosphoric acid).

A couple of days later, the weather cooled down again.  We took this opportunity to remove the fibreglass section of the roof.  This proved somewhat difficult as many of the rivets where rusted in place.  We ended up drilling out the rivets.  After some effort we got the roof down, where it now lies, waiting to be sanded, patched and painted.

All in all, we have made many very important structural repairs and have begun looking at the roof.  Hopefully the next blog will be about reattaching the roof and possibly finishing our structural repairs.  We are looking forward to being able to start re-assembling the body of the horse float soon.

The Little Helper’s Holiday Project (Part 1)

For something different, the (not so) little helpers have a school holiday project that they will work on over summer.  Not only that, they have agreed to update their progress online.       They have a tight budget to work on, but we hope to turn this old float into some pocket money.  The main priority is to make the float completely solid and safe, not just to drive on the road, but also to carry precious horses in.  Turning a profit would also be nice – and should be achievable when you’re used to earning $10 per hour….  But enough from me – over to the Little Helper for his take on the holiday project.  

 

The school days are over, and on the Rock Farm the holidays have started. It’s great to lie back, throwing a ball for a very energetic dog, whilst enjoying a smoothie that would break the world record for the most sugar consumed at once. And it’s awesome the sleep in and not wake up at six o’clock to catch the school bus. Holidays are fantastic.

They are also good to look back on the year and see what we achieved, what happened, what went wrong, and what we can do next time.  Something that I noticed about this year, is that my brother and I achieved almost nothing together. Sure, there were the days where we made catapults, swords, and things to whack each other with, but there was nothing where we did something to learn new skills. (comment from Dad – I would disagree – I love the things they have done where the didn’t even realise they were learning!).

So, these holidays we asked Dad for help, and we started a new project – horse float restoration.

There has been an old horse float down near the stables. It hasn’t been undercover and it has just sat there, rotting itself apart. With the help of Dad, the ute, and the air compressor, we got the old float up to the shed for some pretty major repairs.

We started by taking the wheels off, and after years of rust, the nuts holding the wheels on weren’t feeling like moving. Even after I stood on the tyre lever trying to make the bolts spin, the nuts stayed attached. Only Dad could undo those bolts.

After the wheels were sent rolling, we started taking out the floor. This was more challenging than we had hoped because the bolts had rusted so much there was basically nothing left of them.  The old nuts had seized to the metal frame. So, we called in Dad with the grinder. After an hour of grinding, levering, and swearing (comment from Dad – speak for yourselves!), we pulled the hardwood beams from the frame.

This was all that we could achieve at the time, because the following few days were forecast to be above 40 degrees with total fire bans in place. Sadly, taking apart the horse float involves a lot of sparks.

But there was still one thing we could do: paint scraping.

To be honest, I am so over using the wire brush and chisel. After scraping every single piece of paint off, every side, every corner, we could finally put down the brush and smile. But that’s only the start. We still need to put the rust preventer on that Dad got us, and then paint, replace the rusted beams, put the floor back in, redo the wiring, replace the springs, check it all works, and make it look nice.

We have some more to do, but due to the heat we can’t progress at the moment. So for the time being, we can go back to our smoothies, and relax.

 

Making rain… of sorts, or how to build a cheap house sprinkler system

With the new (second hand) carport meeting our 80% completion rule, the strong hot dry winds brought another project into sharp focus.  With much of the state affected by catastrophic bush fires, and with no rain on the medium term forecast, we critically looked at our bush-fire plan, and decided to make a few changes.

We upgraded the water pump on our mighty AU falcon ‘fire truck’.  We had previously stored the tank on a trailer, but the falcon struggled to tow the trailer having no weight over its back wheels.  A new larger capacity Honda fire pump with a 6 metre suction hose also allows us to fill the tank from a dam or the creek.  As a bonus, I can hold the hose in my right hand and water our new trees from the driver’s seat, making that job a lot easier too.

The falcon fire pump upgrade was an easy fix, however the next part of the project was much more complex.

We wanted to install a sprinkler system on the roof of the house.  The first step was to come up with a plan.  Using our CAD (cardboard aided design) template, we came up with a plan for a series of sprinklers that would maximise coverage.  Noting that our worst fire weather comes from the west, we biased the sprinkler sites to the west of the house to allow for drift.

Initially I wanted to install a galvanised steel system, however with a roll of 1 inch rural pipe hanging on the shed wall, I decided to use resources to hand.  What I forgot to factor in was the cost of the compression fittings.  I spent a few minutes at Bunnings laying out the fittings in order to make sure I had all the bits I needed.

A couple of early mornings work, and I had the fittings in place and all the pipe laid out.  The 1 inch pipe was a bit difficult to work, but I soon had it tamed and looking reasonably neat.  The one advantage of a flat roof is that you can’t see much of my work from the ground!

The water comes from our house water tank, which uses a petrol pump to transfer water to our shed tanks, which supply the house.  I simply traced the pipe and installed a T piece and a couple of valves to allow water to be diverted onto the roof of the house when required.  I was a little nervous when I started up the pump for the first time, but I was more than happy with the results.

The pump is the same model Honda as is on the back of the mighty AU falcon.  The Honda small engines are unbelievably reliable, and easy to start.  The whole family are able to start the pumps – which make me far more comfortable this time of year.

One important element of our fire plan acknowledges that if there is a fire nearby, there is a very good chance I won’t be around to do much about it.  Lending a hand last weekend with our local brigade reminded me how many volunteers give thousands of hours protecting the property of strangers.  And how many volunteers also provide logistic support – it might have been late when we took a break in at Braidwood, but we left with full bellies.

Unfortunately I can’t make it rain – but what I can do is hopefully lessen the impact of one of the consequences of ongoing drought – bush-fire.

When it feels like Summer

The chance of decent rainfall before the grass becomes dormant over summer has all but passed on the Rock Farm.  Dry westerly winds have persistently blowed over the past fortnight, removing any residual moisture from the ground.  These same winds have fanned bush-fires that are causing so much devastation in the north of NSW. As I write, over one million hectares of NSW has been burnt – and we aren’t even half way through November yet.  These fires are unprecedented in their intensity this early in the bush fire season.  But they were not un-predicted.  The biggest question is can we shape our environment to protect us from future fire events like this.

We are starting to understand that the Australian landscape has been carefully managed for tens of thousands of years by the Aboriginal people.  Small low intensity ‘cool’ fires created a woodland landscape that was recorded in journals and art of the early European explorers. These woodlands prevented the large scale devastation wreaked by huge fire storms.  There is plenty of evidence to suggest that our bushland National Parks have more trees now than at any time since human habitation of Australia, some 30000 years or more ago.

Our aim is to create a woodland like setting on the Rock Farm, working with trees that are already established here, and planting new trees.  We want to create a sustainable agricultural enterprise that creates an income and a food source whilst improving the health of the soil.   This doesn’t mean returning the landscape to native bush-land, or what it looked like before European settlement, but something we can use towards the future.

Our plan on the Rock Farm, as most of you know, begins with trees.

With 1.3% of the state not in drought or drought affected (https://edis.dpi.nsw.gov.au/), it is a hard time to get trees established.  Our ground has very little subsoil moisture and our stock are getting hungry.  We had a few oak seedlings (quercus lobata and dentata) still in pots, we knew we had to get them in the ground if we are to have any success at all with them.

The tractor is an extremely useful tool to prepare the soil for tree planing.  I ripped a line beside the driveway to create an avenue of oaks.  Unfortunately I worked out too late that the tractor requires a little less air and a little more diesel in the fuel tank.  After refilling the tank, I couldn’t get the tractor to start.  After much troubleshooting following the fuel lines, I determined that I had a blockage in the line from the tank itself.  45 years of crud and muck had blocked the tank outlet.  A few good pumps from a bike pump back up the line seemed to clear the blockage, and after bleeding the lines again, we were back in business. Monty the horse found the whole exercise most entertaining!

On the other side of the drive we planted a stack of native shrubs.  Native Callistemon, leptospermum and melaleuca were planted to provide flowing shrub food source for bees.  This soil looked particularly bare and windswept.  We hope the shrubs are able to get established.

We planted a couple of the remaining oaks in the paddocks.  It was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon with the family.  Although you don’t want to be the one who forgets his hat… If you do, you get to wear the bright green Mario Cart Hat!  We will water the plants every fortnight over summer with the IBC tank towed behind the go-anywhere-a-4wd-can falcon.

With the water tank on and helpers available, we also gave a drink to the other trees we have planted around the place.  Last time (Update on trees and rip lines.) you may recall I was cursing hares, who had snapped off our yellow box (eucalyptus melliodora) seedlings.  I had placed some tree guards around the snapped off bases and gave them a water.  I was extremely pleased to see that new shoots were coming from the base,

And why bother planting trees, especially during one of the most widespread droughts ever recorded?  Well, a walk through our small paddocks shows the results of the vision of the former owners.  In the shade from large deciduous trees is grass.  Green growing grass…. can’t get any more reason than that.

 

Update on trees and rip lines.

Walking around the Rock Farm this week, I have been struck by how similar to January the weather is.  Dry grass crackles underfoot, and in many areas the earth is dry and hard.  Hot dry days have us monitoring the Fires Near Me app, with a guard zone set 50km around the property.  We have been watering newly planted fruit trees in the garden in a desperate struggle to keep them alive, but I also knew I needed to check on some of the trees we had planted in the paddock.

We planted some Hakea and Yellow Box trees along some rip lines in early August.  The rip lines hold some extra moisture and we thought would be a good place to pant the trees.

After planting the seedlings, we watered them a few times to get them going.  It was good pre-season maintenance for our portable water tank, even if it looked a bit like a moonscape at the time.  A small shower of rain a couple of weeks ago had turned the grass in the rip lines green, and encouraged the weeds to grow.  Sadly it wasn’t all good news.

With occasional watering, the Hakea or Needle bush have responded well.  They are optimised for Australian conditions, and are naturally unappealing to grazing stock such as cattle or kangaroos.  When they grow, they provide habitat for many of the native birds that have shifted into living in the weed Sweet Briar.  Once we get these Hakea established, we will re-double our efforts to remove the Sweet Briar.

Unfortunately the Yellow Box has not fared so well.  It would seem a hare has taken to all the plants not in guards, and chopped them off a few inches above the ground.  A couple of the plants had clean cuts, with some buds below the cut, so we installed a guard and gave them a good water.  Time will tell if we have saved these trees.  The trees in guards were alive – but only just, and we hope a couple of good soaks will pull them through.

The rip lines have broadly been a success.  I had spent a fair amount of time in autumn and winter dragging an old ripper along contours:  (See https://rockfarming.com/2019/03/20/ripping-lines-for-soil-health/ ).  It was an experiment to see if the lines would allow water to penetrate the subsoil, and to aerate the soil.

The change on the rocky slopes is in a word remarkable.

The rip lines are clearly visible by their lines of green growing grass.  Between the rip lines, the grass is struggling to stay alive and the clover has all but turned up its toes.  With rain forecast for tomorrow, I hope that every drop that falls makes its way into the ground.  This is especially the case for short sharp summer thunderstorm cloud bursts that see a large amount of water fall quickly and run off before it soaks into the ground.  This might not be ideal for our dam that is getting lower and lower, but the grass is what the cattle and sheep need to eat.

It is great to see the boys and girls are in good health and condition.  Our calves and lambs continue to grow and are all nice and quiet.  The lambs are responding well to living near the house and are starting to come up to me when I appear with a bucket.

It might already feel like summer, but we are really pleased with some of the progress we have made in keeping the grass growing for a little longer on the Rock Farm.

Every blade of grass counts.

The past week had seen the end of spring. Hot days above 30 degrees and some wild winds have dried out the grass. Many people in the district nervous for the bushfire season and our local RFS training is ramping up.

On the RockFarm, our lambs have been eating out their small holding paddocks. This is a good thing as the paddocks are close to the house, and the less grass here the better coming into summer.

Between the two paddocks is a channel for water. Water hasn’t flowed down here for months, but it naturally holds a bit of extra moisture and therefore grass.

There isn’t enough grass to make it worth fencing properly, but it was worth spending an hour to rig up a little race for the lambs to have access to the lane. This allows them to come and go as they please, with water in their paddock.

The old gates were around the hay shed. When we replaced them with the old roofing iron from the house, we kept the gates handy. I can now understand why farmers never seem to throw anything out!

The lambs love it, quickly disappearing in the long grass. The only problem is they will be through this in about a week.

I hope to move the lambs soon to our large flat paddock. It is fenced with hinge joint stock mesh. It is mostly sheep proof, but wombats also hang out here – and they have no respect for fences!

It is a constant job patching holes. Old star pickets, short rolls of old netting and logs or branches hopefully create a barrier that works

I will have to check the fence again before we move the sheep into this paddock – but hopefully it won’t take too much extra work to keep them in.

And then as the sun sets it is nice to sit back and relax feeling great about living in paradise.

School Holidays – You’d think it would be easy to get away!

Despite one good fall of rain nearly a month ago, and a follow up 8mm a fortnight later, we are really starting to dry out on the Rock Farm.   My last update was a bit chaotic as we took some ewes to the sale yards, and kept a close eye on Daisy.

The reason for the mad rush was that we were trying to get everything in hand for us to take a break away from the Rock Farm for the school holidays….

And just when you think you have it all sorted, you find the youngest and last calf in a paddock three fences from Mum.  I was reluctant to interfere, so left him overnight to see if he could find his own way home.  When he was still in the wrong paddock the following day, I knew we needed to take action.

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The hound distracted him long enough for me to grab and sit on him.  Then the boys brought down the old falcon ute and we gently picked him up and put him in the back of the ute.  Somehow he managed to get one good kick in, just to remind me that he didn’t appreciate the undignified mode of transport. He got me good and proper – but I knew that I would get my revenge a few weeks later at marking time…

And then, to top it all off, the lambs were spotted in the neighbours place.  After herding them back to our side of the fence and onwards to the yards, I requested a huge favour and asked friends if we could agist our lambs on their place for the duration of our holiday….

It was just what I needed to be doing after a night shift, catching lambs and putting them in the horse float for a quick dash down the road.  But it was done.  We held our breath and counted to ten… twice.

The following morning we left at the crack of dawn with fingers crossed…. and phones turned off!

Our destination was Tasmania via the Spirit of Tasmania.  We enjoyed a wonderful break.  The main activity was the 48km hike along the recently developed Three Capes Track in Tasmania.  In a word it was spectacular.  The scenery is staggeringly beautiful, with the rugged dolerite cliffs falling away to the ocean in places nearly 300 metres below.  The quality of the track, the huts and the Rangers was an absolute credit to the people of  Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service.

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What was really wonderful, apart from the scenery was the time connecting with our family.  Free from the other distractions and tasks that keep us busy, it took a few days for us to hit our groove, but it was so important to share this time.

But all too soon it was time to return home and retrieve our sheep, mark the last of our calves and get ready for returning to school.  The cattle were happy to see me, and more than happy to follow me to a new paddock.

The lambs were corralled into the horse float.  A hilarious exercise considering our friends had no yards.  We parked carefully alongside a fence line, and with the aid of a couple of old farm gates as wings, we gently pushed the mob to the float.  One ewe lamb kept trying to lead the rest of the mob around – but after breaking free once, we closed the net and loaded them up.  A few minutes later they were unloaded at home in a secure paddock near the house.  A huge thank you to Mark and Mel for answering our crisis call!

It has been a good experience for the lambs.  This little paddock is close to the house, and the lambs have become very quiet.  Now they have eaten most of the grass in it, we have started feeding them, and they are learning to follow a bucket.  I am a huge fan of ‘bucket mustering’.

As it stands, we marked 12 calves, with a bonus calf born in December taking us to 13 out of 15 maiden heifers.  We also have 13 lambs….  It is a good time on the Rock Farm….

We just need to get some chickens… but we are working on that too!  More on the chook house redevelopment soon!

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The hint of rain

The past few weeks have been a little hectic on the Rock Farm.  Calving and lambing has continued.  Life has also continued, with some big weeks at work and school keeping us all away from the farm for longer than we would like.

First an update on Daisy.  Daisy and Mum have rejoined the herd and have settled in well.  Daisy has put on weight and enjoys her fellow bovine’s company more than humans now.  This is not a bad thing – although I miss our cuddles.  She might never do particularly well, but we are really happy that both Daisy and mum are now in good health.

With the long-term forecast for spring rainfall looking grim, we elected to sell off our older ewes and ram.  With such a small herd of 13 to take to the sale-yards, it was hardly worth organising a truck.  With a bit of time, I soon had the sheep loaded in the horse-float and passed the lambs out the tailgate back into the yards.  The irony was on the day I took the sheep to the sale yards, we received our first decent rainfall in months, a delightful 22mm.  It was a rare and unusual problem to be loading the sheep in the rain!

Selling the ewes solved a couple of problems.  It reduced the immediate pressure on the feed, and also stopped me having to retrieve them from the neighbour’s on a regular frequency.  I must admit I felt a little dwarfed by all the trucks and semi-trailers unloading stock at the yards, but the stock agent showed good humour and helped me pen the sheep.

The lambs are now enjoying some time near the house, where we are supplementing their feed.  They are becoming much quieter, hopefully making them easy to handle as they grow.

The little bit of rain was welcome.  It settled the dust, but more importantly it turned the grass green.  We are still feeding, whilst we wait for the grass to grow.

If you do want to find water though – I would highly recommend hiring a Kanga.  Jimmy and his marvellous machine have an amazing ability to find water pipes.  After successfully digging holes for our carport foundation, we decided to make the most of his visit with a couple of extra post holes for gate posts….  it was the last hole (it always is) when the auger came up with water pouring out of the hole…

Needless to say I am becoming pretty handy at repairing poly pipe.  Thankfully we were able to quickly isolate the water, which was non-potable water from dam.  Around the house it is used for flushing the loo and around the garden.  This water also supplies all the stock troughs – so I needed to get it repaired relatively quickly.  It has highlighted the need to install a valve so I can isolate the garden water quickly in case of future mishaps!

After repairing the pipe, it was time to head back with the girls.

I have moved them onto the flat country.  Whilst there isn’t much feed here yet, I am just rotating them through the smaller paddocks.  I hope they will keep on-top of the Barley grass, but it all seems to be going to seed early as it struggles with the dry season.

Time will tell what the season holds.  In the meantime, we have developed a plan for the cattle which we will start to implement in a few weeks.  For now though,  it is lovely to see a little water flowing in the creek again.