unseasonably Roundrock

When early February in Missouri hands you a weekend forecasted to be in the 60s, you’d best cancel any other plans and hie out to your 80 acres on the edge of the Ozarks to set your priorities in order.

My wife and I (and the dogs) had an unexpected overnight at the little cabin and did some work that couldn’t be done in the summer. Mostly this involved wading into the tall grass, which would be foolish to do in the spring/summer/fall since the ticks and chiggers would be legion then. But not so after a so-called Polar Vortex had passed through.

On my agenda was to work among the pines I have planted and nurtured through the years. I posted this photo recently that gives you an idea of how some of the big ones are doing (after a little more than a decade):

These weren’t even a foot tall when I planted them. I’m going to say the tallest ones are close to 40 feet tall. But to get there, they had to get past this common insult:

The darling buck deer have to rub the velvet off of their antlers and will use any reasonably straight and stout tree to do it. They also rub off much of the bark or branches of whatever plant they afflict. (The one in the photo above is inside a 10-foot square fence, on an island in my lake, and yet some damned deer got there, jumped the fence, and then thrashed the sole surviving pine of the fifteen or so I planted there some years ago. Then jumped out and got off the island. Sweet little thing!)

So my care and feeding of the pines have involved considerable investment in steel fence posts and lots of chicken wire fencing. It has worked for the most part, except when it doesn’t. Sometimes the deer use the fencing itself to rub off their velvet, and in doing so, will often knock over the cage, taking the pine down with it. (Cages with less expensive posts made of nearby cedar trees limbed and cut and then pounded into the ground.)

So my plan was to venture into the tall grass where the not-so-dandy pines are and repair or restore the fencing around them, adding new posts (scavenged from elsewhere in my woods), and generally making it look like I actually cared (which I do). Take as an example this odd little solution I came up with for a pine that was leaning. I didn’t want the rope pulling it upright to bind against the bark, so I sacrificed my glove as padding.

I’m actually surprised that some critter hasn’t eaten that old leather glove in all the years it’s been there. It’s earned its place in the pine forest.

But there was other work to be done. I know I’ve mentioned before that something is eating my cabin. (No, it’s not made of gingerbread.) Behold:

My guess is that male coyotes come along (when we’re not around) and “mark their territory.” Then other critters follow and gnaw the wood, seeking the minerals in the urine. (This is an older photo. It looks worse than this now.) I can’t really get rid of the coyotes or smaller critters — it’s pretty much their forest and I’m the trespasser — but I thought I might do something about the mineral deficiency. So with the little money I had left on a gift card to a sporting goods store, I bought a mineral block and decided to set it near the cabin. Maybe the critters could get their minerals from this rather than from my cabin.

The brick colored block is the mineral block; it’s about a foot square and weighs about the same as a brick would at that size. I set it on those pavers since I didn’t want the minerals to leach into the gravel, which I figured the critters would then tear apart in search of the goods. I’ll see how much this has diminished on my next visit (though I suppose I’ll lose some to rain and snow). Maybe it will make a difference. Either that or it will attract more critters to eat my cabin.

After we had a day of hard work — you try wielding a post driver for a few hours! — and stomping about, the evening was given over to a nice campfire, some burgers, and some beers. This fire was started with one match, which is my personal challenge (though I don’t always achieve it).

That’s Flike in the background, resting in the road after chasing the stick I would throw, and throw, and throw for him.

As tinder — always use lots of tinder — I used the pages from an old notebook I found in a box in the back of my closet. It was one my wife had used when she took some continuing education courses at her work, years before she had met me. When I found the notebook, I gave it to her thinking she might want it, but after she flipped through the pages, she said she didn’t, so it went the natural course of such things:

Note that I also used one of those packets in the fire that makes colorful flames. I think there must be a technique to these packets because I’ve never been very satisfied with their performance. (I think they’re intended to indoor fires, in a fireplace, where the flames are more contained and visible.)

When I was stoking the fire, I gathered some logs from the stack nearby, and I think I disturbed one beetle’s long winter’s nap.

When I returned later, it was gone, and the weather is supposed to be “mild” until mid-week, so I hope it found some refuge.

The coyotes woke us several times in the night with their yipping and howling from what sounded very close to the cabin. Curiously, the dogs did not stir. I wonder if the coyotes were excited about the mineral block. (They weren’t that close to the cabin.)

In the morning, after a breakfast of hot oatmeal and some fruit, we were back in the pine plantation, shoring up the fencing (more nerve damage from the post driver) and doing general tidying. Once we felt we’d done all that we could, we returned to the cabin and I started wielding a pick axe instead, digging a hole where I hope to plant a red-flowering dogwood in the spring. (Digging any hole in the Ozarks requires a pick axe first.) Such a tree is an iffy idea. I can get forty pines from the Conservation Department for a few bucks, but a flowering dogwood — especially a red one — won’t be as cheap, and so I don’t want to leave it to its own pluck and resources to survive and thrive. It needs soil amending and plenty of water. But if my summer time visits are as infrequent as every few weeks, I may lose my investment. But that’s in the future.

Oh, and that photo at the very top? That iridescent puddle is some of the watering escaping under the dam of my leak lake. The fact that it’s taken on this sheen suggests to me that there is a lot of organic matter within the dam, likely knocked down trees that the builder used as fill and form. And it makes me wish I could grow leeks there because then I could say I grow leeks in the leaks of my lake. And who wouldn’t want to say that, right?

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2 Comments on “unseasonably Roundrock”

  1. markparis Says:

    I know you have said you planted some kind of short-leaf pine, but those have longer needles than the short-leaf pines around here. I think ours may be Virginia pines, but I’m not sure. They grow like weeds around here.


  2. I always love reading about your times at Roundrock. Lots of work, lots of joyous pleasures.


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