fish and wood chips

April is all about the running here–

Running noses, running 26.2 miles, and amorous fish running upriver.

Hark the humble herring heroically heralding spring-


Plimoth Grist Mill’s second annual Herring Run Festival kicks off this Friday evening, April 24th. Witness the drama of about 100,000 water-ascending Lotharios looking to get lucky in the private nooks of Billington Sea. There’ll be food, music, and you can even help to collect important scientific data on this mass migration.

Then, even as the exhausted fish lie contented blowing smoke rings from some dimly-lit riverbed, May follows with more Plymouth CRAFT offerings:

From building an earthen oven to drop-spinning to a class on the art of splitting logs into workable project material with Peter Follansbee and me–


This little non-profit is busting out quality workshops like so many herring pushing upstream.

See you there?


Get your hands on some thermal mass-

It’s exfoliating and tasty–

You can almost smell the warm bread just peeled out of this earthen, hand-made wood-fired oven…


You’ve often thought, how cool would that be to have one of those ovens in my own backyard!  Could I build one myself? And also, why am I thinking in italics?

Well, here’s your chance.

Plymouth Craft is offering a 2-day workshop on May 2nd and 3rd on building an earthen oven. This is not some esoteric, beard-pulling musing privy only to a select few who happened to read about it on the back pages of Hipster Digest. Nor is it simply a brief introduction to the topic. This will be a comprehensive, sleeves up, hands-on weekend of utter wonderful taught by real people for real people using real materials to make real food.

You can do this.


And to boot, it’s being taught by the very special and talented Paula Marcoux. You know Paula–she wrote the book on Cooking with Fire. But a special love of hers are earthen ovens and their many forms. Around her home, I have personally seen at least 4 ovens she and Pret have built themselves. Legend has it that Paula once even dug out an oven into the side of a dirt road nearby. Hi neighbor–care for some bread? 

Get ready for some next-level instruction.


This is a very cool opportunity. For real. The workshop is reasonably priced, the materials are readily available, and you will find no better teacher and guide than Paula.

You can do this.

Build an Earthen Oven

A two-day oven-building workshop with Paula Marcoux

offered by Plymouth CRAFT




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Sometimes a little bit of drunk is better than a little bit of murder…

…said once a wise friend.

Some picked up pieces, dear reader-

Nobody told me it was National Bury the Screw Head Week:


My bit isn’t long enough…

Photographer/mason/outfielder Bill Powell is making some of our work at The Hatch Mill look like objet d’art:


photo by Bill Powell

Good friend Andy Hyde remains in contact with us after our trip to the UK this summer.

…given the look of the weather in the blog-photos, I thought an extra scarf might come in handy! said Andy


From a barn west of Essex. Andy’s wit remains as dry as the oak pictured-

Speaking of oak:

Lamb’s Tongue–tell me that’s not a great 16th-century metal band name…


The Stop Chamfers are the opening act!

Plymouth Colony Archaeology continues to impress with their scholarship and intriguing write-ups:


Possible slave quarters in downtown Plymouth. We hope to work on saving this important piece of  local history.

In the valley between the saw mill and the box mill…


Shingles: The original post-it notes-


Don’t judge this man…


How many of you have a hatchet amid your vehicle detritus?

The other day, I spied 20-something Evan working what I assumed were his texting fingers during job-time-


I was wrong-


Hope for the future. I am on my cell way more than he is because…fantasy baseball.

At MLB Restorations, we believe in saving as much as the original build as possible.

This includes even trenails-


If the wood is good, pound it!

Some re-use of fasteners, however, just end up making you feel meh-


Wonderful human and renowned sculptor George Greenamyer is being honored locally this weekend for his Courage of Conscience


Well-deserved, George.

And finally-

A Love Supreme-

While fastening down a tarp at the mill the other day, Justin discovered his inner-Jimmy Garrison:



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round here we say FRAP, not shake


We took a side job this past Saturday, returning to ye old stomping grounds for a day–



The earth-fast (without foundation) house was suffering from the onset of chimney lean.

This is to be expected as the oak posts and studs decay at differing rates in the ground.


 We’d done a similar fix before. 


 This time, the chimney was out of plumb about 2 feet.


 Some 400 year old friends came to wish us well-


You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a Jacobean religious dissenter say “aluminum”.


We punched holes in clapboards and daub (a clay mortar) and ran a strap from the outside of the chimney down to the opposing tie beam.


Then we opened up the thatch and poles between the house’s two rooms to allow half of the roof system to move.


By design, there isn’t a lot of lateral support in the roof frame. These cottages were meant to represent the quick and dirty build of the colony’s first settlers who needed shelter, not manor houses.

Rafters leaned in concert with the chimney–


We used a pipe shore beneath the chimney lintel to carry the load while digging out beneath the posts.


Matteo and Dan did yeoman’s work with us all day. It was a pleasure to work alongside them.

 To bring the chimney back to plumb, we needed to cut 7.5 inches off of their bottoms.


Once the posts were footed with flat stones, we eased off the strain above and below and slowly cranked the roof system towards plumb.


There is a pleasant FRAP sound as all the elements of the frame move together.


After a morning’s prep, it only took a few minutes to bring the chimney and roof frame back to plumb.



As a bonus, nary a chink of clay mortar fell out during the process.



And the loft floor above, which had been been affected by the chimney lean, also came back to level.


As the day wound down, Justin and Michael gathered up spars and sways (wooden fastenings) to put back the thatch.






Mister Burrey truly enjoys going back to his roots. The work–like the houses–is elemental and, dare I say, good for the soul.


And the view–not to mention the indefatigable spirits of the good people on the front lines of this institution–is one thing which refuses to be dampened by listing chimneys or otherwise.



For a pilgrim’s take on the process, check out this blog post:

Rock on with your bad selves–



photo (and thatch repair) by Michael Burrey





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 7:15 am and I think I hear howling.



I wasn’t going to complain. I really wasn’t. Another 5 inches overnight. NBD. Brush, shovel, scrape-repeat. It’s what you do this winter.

But this morning, the truck’s tires are frozen-literally frozen to the driveway. What new devilry is this? How does this even happen?

I mince back to the house to look for kitty litter-you know, for traction. We all mince here because, as everyone in this region knows, unless you’re being chased by tundra wolves, it is against the law in the Commonwealth to run in the outdoors during the month of February. You are only allowed dedicated and little mincing steps. Shuffles are also acceptable. I mouth Bruno Mars lyrics as I mince over crusty snow and ice back to my house-

This hit-that ice cold Michelle Pfeiffer that white gold…

The handle on my screen door, finicky on even the best of June days, plays its part in this little drama and refuses to turn even though it had only mere seconds ago. Somehow, my cursing actually works this time–God I love science! And with a little effort I am able to briefly wrest the door handle from winter’s grip without breaking it. Let that be a lesson to you, kids walking to the bus stop–swearing is good!

Inside there is, predictably, no virgin litter to be found. But hey, like the Viagra commercial, I’ve reached the age where giving up isn’t who I am. The clock ticking, and February being a short month anyway, I make a bold and powerful executive decision to draw litter from our cat’s (her name is Cat) own gently used box. I scoop out the less-traveled regions with empty yogurt and putty containers. Cat looks on, concerned, as if to say, Human- are you sure that is going to be enough for you? 

No time to explain. Go play with catnip.


In Plymouth we have two restaurants-one named Berts and the other Ernies. I can tell you how to get there, but I don’t think Berts is open for business..

Back outside at the “go” wheel of my truck, it feels as though the temperature has climbed a little, above 0 degrees anyway (that’s minus 228 Celsius, for you metric types). I sprinkle the precious contents of Cat’s box around the tire. This is repeated 3 more times until I’m certain all of the wheels will get traction.

They don’t.

You know when you drive a stick and you’re wearing your big-ass winter boots and between those and the slippery melting ice on the clutch pedal it’s almost as if you have forgotten how to drive? I only stalled it a couple of times. Then I notice Donna, our elderly but very independent neighbor across the street, waiting patiently for me to pull out. Her driveway is clear down to the asphalt. It’s spotless, really. It always is. If you type in her address on Google Earth, hers is the beautiful oasis of black rectangle in an otherwise white wasteland. I have witnessed her shoveling during the very teeth of a howling nor’easter, while I am inside curled up fetally. Driveway care is one of Donna’s passions.

On the few occasions in the past when I have begun to shovel her out, she inevitably waves me off saying, I’ve got this, Rick, but thanks anyway. We both know that her driveway clearing would kick my ass.

As she waits in her Buick, I waive her on, motioning towards my house as if I’ve forgotten something back inside. Like more cat shit, I’m thinking. I glance back at Donna as I stand before my again-frozen screen door and watch as her own benevolent driveway tenderly guides her out onto the road and into great wide open.  Say a prayer for me at St. Bonnies, my capable neighbor.

Church…Lent…ASHES! That’s the ticket. Nice organic free-range ashes from the wood stove. That will surely free the wheels. I’ve reached the age where giving up is mostly not an option…

We’ve made a lot of ashes this winter, from all the scrapwood I finally got around to burning. Long ago, before THE TIME OF THE SNOW, there was opportunity to cut and split firewood on bare ground! One such scrap is pictured below: These are ye olde stockes from Plimoth Plantation. For years they sat at the crossroads of  that re-created living historie colonie from ye tyme of ye pilgrims, right in front of ye Governor’s house, a stern reminder to all who would transgress ye civil authority. Since their retirement, the stocks have been a garden ornament at my place, more a refuge for clematis than a punishment for oath-swearers. But as all worldly things are want to do, the oak posts began to decay. This seemed as good a year as any to finally free myself from its bondage and convert ye New England stocks into British Thermal Units-


Countless thousands of tourists had their pictures taken while “stocked” in this arrangement.

Back out in the tundra,  I happily sprinkle ashes around all 4 tires, and much of the driveway to boot. I probably should have stopped the first time I heard something clink on the ice. But I didn’t.

Nails. Wood screws. And some random pieces of what appeared to be 19th-century hardware begin to reveal themselves when the ash dust has settled. Is that a Roman coin? They are all of them sprinkled around my tires now. They are all of them sprinkled up and down the driveway, because the only thing more fun than a frozen tire is a frozen flat tire.

It’s 8:05. Donna’s dipping her fingers in holy water by now and I’m using mine to sort through kitty litter and impure ashes to pick out nails and screws. Ash Wednesday why must you mock me? Still, I refuse to be bound to your antiquated concept of on-time.

Oh look, bonus GRK fastening units in the mix!

Once the hardware was reclaimed, the truck found its footing and I lurched forward a few feet into the road. I would have continued directly to the job site but I needed to yield to the herd of musk-oxen migrating further south. Good day to you.


The Atlantic’s spawn-

Plow-glaciers: Is that a thing? Because it should be. Living on a dead-end road has it perks–street hockey, pissing with reckless abandon in the woods, etc. But all of the precipitation which has fallen on lovely route 3-A–from Neponset to Manomet–is now sitting at the end of my road, partially blocking my driveway ni skating rink. Have you ever shoveled plow-glaciers?


Even our dog Bogey, who usually loves and frolics in the snow, pauses at the door lately. He looks at me–looks outside–and looks back up at me–WTF, man?


Think of it this way: 100 inches of snow (our running total this winter) is like a dozen under-inflated footballs placed one on top of the other; it’s 14.28 Dunkin’s large coffee cups stacked top to bottom; it’s about 133 seed catalogs full of heirloom tomatoes and sexy lettuces laid flat one on top of the other.

So it’s not all snotty beards and white death.

Look what a friend did with all of his snow:


This snowhouse even has a VESTIBULE!

And miscreants can carve a phallus into the snows of Cole’s Hill, under the very nose of Mr. Bradford and his puritanical aspect-


It was those Billington boys, I just know it-

Two words: Snow Beard.


Power mincing, as Pret calls it.

Sometimes the weather and circumstances lead to things which ya just don’t see everyday:


Hello operator, do you have the number for 911?

And some things that just maybe you shouldn’t have seen-


Justice may be blind, but Justin isn’t.

My brother-in-law plays hard on the snowy slopes of Colorado:


He’s way up there on a snowmobile. Own it, Bean.

The other day while clearing snow,  we saw two hawks getting their 50 Shades on at the very top of a power pole-


He said power pole…

And today a fox light-footed it through a hollow near the mill-


Other reasons to enjoy this winter:

Cardinals are singing. Their song makes a musical counterpoint to all the skid-steers beeping during snow removal.

You can hone your mogul skills on all the frost heaved roads.

A fun game is to guess how long it will take for that 10 inches of snow to fly off the roof of the car in front of you.

Clearing low-pitched roofs has become a cottage industry and puts food on the table for many.

Relive your childhood by using plastic Nissen Bread bags for boot liners!


Remember, they go on the INSIDE.

After coffee break, dudes can practice cursive on the snow banks!

Late February teases us–the rake of light, the birdsong, and pitchers and catchers playing somewhere far away on real grass-

-it’s all so damned close…


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Justin sent this pic from work on Nantucket the other day. Is there a photo-contest for bleakest subject?

-we mince and plod on, freeing stuck cars, moving piles of snow, and going about our work.

I wasn’t gonna be one of those people who rant about snow piles and meteorologists. There are exceptional people who embrace this weather. I can suck it up and keep it to myself. But who am I kidding–I’m just as fed up as most of the rest of us.

I’ve reached the age where giving up is a just a frozen door handle away…

 I hit my personal winter breaking point today–around 8:20 am.


Soon we won’t have to mince anymore if we don’t want to. We will cast off our stocks and our bread bags and we will run willy-nilly through open fields and gentle breezes…



I’d write more but I need to shovel again.

And there’s the smallest hint of ice in Donna’s driveway.


Plymouth CRAFT

Here are some other things for you to consider and act upon while shedding your bread bags:

Have you seen the latest workshop offerings from Plymouth CRAFT?


An amazing variety of workshops await you at the tip of your index finger. Some of this region’s most talented and nice people are teaching their skills to folks just like you. You can be an absolute beginner-all ranges of skill and interest are welcome. Carve wooden spoons with Peter Follansbee. Go half-hog with author Paula Marcoux. There is a craft brewing workshop and Ukrainian Egg decorating, just in time for Easter. Want to learn to knit? Plymouth CRAFT has you covered.

And blacksmith Mark Atchison will lead a day-long workshop on the fundamentals of blacksmithing. Here’s a link to Mark’s process of researching and re-creating an historic axe:

Plymouth CRAFT has quietly begun to do some really special things. Spots are going fast though. Get in on it!


RIP Dr. Karin Goldstein-scholar, mentor, and great human.


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Tarpe Diem

Snowgate was imminent.

Which means this morning

it was time

to batten-




The Hatch!



BLUE OAK would like to thank J.Keegan & ML Burrey for the “joke”. 

Don’t quit your day jobs, gentlemen. 


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What are you gonna do?

Old buildings make way for new ones everyday.

Or in this case, a building which is still highly functional and aesthetically beautiful is utterly gutted to make way for luxury condos.


Is it just me? Things that shout LUXURY do not appeal to me.

Hey, it’s a free country–a public building falling into private ownership can basically be turned into a husk of its former self.

Who needs quarter-sawn panels, expert plaster work, or marble floors and casings?


Codes, architects, the tastes and whims of a new owner–not to mention the perceived desires of well-heeled buyers–may all lead to an erosion of history.


And of place-


To be fair, it had been a while since a testator’s assets had been disposed the old Registy of Probate building (c. 1904) in downtown Plymouth.


A few of the sashes were sketchy, though contemporary artists were happy to brighten up the place-


You ARE something, eggplant. Remain firm in your resolve!

The new owners, generously, offered to donate some of the building’s historic features back to the town for preservation and possible re-use.

So, as is our want, we went to work salvaging a few things to save for America’s Hometown.

We started with the stained glass windows which jewled the front-


Carefully and one by one…


They came free.


The detail was exceptional:


Then we tackled some doors and a few jambs and lugged them down the stairs.


The inimitable Marie Pelletier taking shots at Administration.

Along the way, we took in features which we hoped would be saved by the new owners.




And Michael, who has an incredible eye for such things, found a hint of the main hall’s former glory beneath some more recent paint. 30 years ago someone probably thought the room was too dark so they just painted over it, he said, carefully scraping off a section of paint to reveal the old color and fleur de lis of the original wall.


A keen eye and a sure hand often lead to discovery.

Perception is a funny thing. What we think would draw potential clients to this once-charming relic of Plymouth’s history may have nothing to do with someone else’s reality.

It comes down to the little things people do which can add to–or subtract from–a community.


So, one ogee moulding at a time, some people go to battle against the forces of newer is always better


Because that aint always the case.





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World’s smallest turkey

Amid the hurly burly,

In spite of the economy,

In the face of abject whatnot and who-do…

Good things can be accomplished-



Jones River Boathouse

Merry Everything and Happy New Year from BLUE OAK!


And for those of you wanting 11th-hour gift inspiration-


check out Plymouth CRAFT’s listing of upcoming workshops:


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Cranberry sauce comes from a can-

And is served as 3/4 inch segments.

Happy Thanksgiving

Score one for Bandit


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Thatch Pilgrims 2010062


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Mortise and Tenon make a porno

A rehab in pictures…

The old sawmill had seen better days…


A larger box mill was added to original sawmill. Both had been stabilized until work resumed.

Its restoration would include as much of the original timber and sheathing as possible-


There’s a lot of assessing when determining which of the old timbers can be reused.

Joinery notes or a martini recipe? You decide-


Wanted: Oak and pine timber with an early 19th-century aspect:


Plans worked out and timbers hewn, it was time to cut.


We are not adverse to machines-


Though certain joints are cut in the old style:


A pin will crash this party between mortise and tenon-


Cutting is relatively easy, relative to layout that is…


The beefy top of a jowled post.

The slow dance of trial fitting…


Here, Pret replaces the forlorn end of an old tie beam.

New life for old ties-


The beam in context with its new post:


A sweet little brace with perfectly swept grain is still perfectly functional-


Now that the majority of the sawmill’s frame was cut, the North Bennet Street School Preservation Carpentry Program helped us to raise it.

First the long walls–


Then the tie beams-


Hatch Mill volunteer and photographer Bill Powell captures the action-



And good men who had been steadfast in their vision and support of this old up-and-down sawmill took a moment to enjoy the progress at day’s end-


Dean and Roy, two of several people who refuse to let Hatch Mill die.

 Time to cover the new (old) frame-


 The roof sheathing was also a mix of old and new:


September’s fair weather allowed us to make hay-


 The NBSS students returned to get their shingling technique on-


There was good progress after a couple of days-


Preservation student Emily made a great video of the NBSS contributions:

MLB Restorations returned after a week of dreary October weather to finish roofing and start on sidewalls-


 And with the help of many, what once was…


Continued a return to its former–if humble–glory.




For more information on the restoration of The Hatch Mill, please visit: 

or The Hatchmill Facebook page:


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