a good Friday at Roundrock

Friday afternoon, given a shortened work day, my wife and I and the two dogs hauled ourselves down to our little cabin on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks to revel in the wonderful weather. And while Friday’s weather forecast was good, Saturday’s was even better, so the plan was for an overnight. That much worked out as planned.

When we arrived at the cabin I quickly learned that the phoebe, whose mud nest is affixed to the side of the cabin under the porch roof, had moved in again. She was in her nest when I crept around the corner to spy on the porch, but she took off soon after that as our comings and goings scared her away.

She had been busy in the two weeks since I had been to the cabin, as you can see here:

My wife took this picture with her phone, and while it’s not the best image ever captured, the conditions were not good (holding her phone over the nest and snapping blindly), and it is certainly far better than anything I managed to capture with my phone.

It is our custom when we arrive to sit on our front porch and gaze down at the lake below (above) and muse and converse and more or less attune ourselves to time again in the forest. Doing this, however, meant that the phoebe would not be sitting on her eggs, and that made me feel like a bad steward of the forest. This is at least the fifth year that the phoebe has had a nest on the cabin porch wall, and most of those years have been in this same nest, which is nicely protected from the weather. (One summer we counted three broods that she had hatched and fledged.)

I took myself to the comfy chairs around the fire ring, but my wife insisted on sitting on the porch. The day was warm enuf that I don’t think the eggs were in any immediate peril without their momma, but as the afternoon cooled, my wife joined me by the fire ring where there was still some sunlight, and later, an actual fire for warmth.

It was not as though I spent the afternoon sitting around, musing or otherwise. I think we are just days away from serious tick and chigger season, so doing any work where they are in control means getting latched onto and driven insane with itching. So my plan was to cut down some trees that offended me while I still could. Such as this one:

This spot is just down the hill from the cabin, and I’ve cut away all of the trees (but one my wife won’t let me remove) so that we have a clear view of the lake below (above) and a nice view of the cabin when we’re in (or across) the lake. (In the top photo, there is a large tree on the right. This scene is just behind it, up the hill a little bit.) The tree of offense is the one on the right. It’s on the edge of the passage I’ve cut, and its upper branches are reaching into the open space to grab the sunlight. That’s what trees do, of course, but I want my view! So my plan was to cut down this tree then buck the trunk into manageable sections and drag the branchy top to the nearby brush pile. That was the plan anyway.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not comfortable using the chainsaw when I am alone at the cabin, and while I have never had a mishap with it, the conventional wisdom is that you should stop using a chainsaw as soon as you are no longer afraid of it. So with my wife present (and to a far lesser extent, the dogs), I wanted to cut down this tree while the ticks and chiggers were not yet in full deployment and my wife could drag my bleeding self to the truck and haul me (the 20 miles) to the hospital. Depending on the success of this, there were two other trees closer to the cabin that I wanted to remove as well.

But like the best laid plans o’ mice and men, this one gang aft agley.* The tree is a white oak, perhaps my most favorite species in the forest, but it was in the wrong place, and it was still small enuf to make it mostly easy to remove. I dutifully added chain oil to the saw then filled the gas tank. I managed to get it started with only a few attempts and then turned it to the base of the oak. First I cut a small wedge on the side I wanted it to fall toward (though this was hardly necessary given the slope of the hillside and the preponderance of branches, and thus weight, on the “fall” side). Then I began the back cut, which I expected to have done in a minute of effort.

The cutting went slowly. I got through the bark quickly enuf, but when I bit into the wood of the tree, everything slowed down. The blade was not sinking into the tree the way I expected. After several minutes of mostly frustration, I shut down the saw and may have uttered some Anglo-Saxon expressions. Then I fired up the saw again and leaned in. The same thing. I was cutting into the tree, but only slowly. I would have made faster progress with a handsaw, without the scream of a gasoline motor in my ear. I repeated this one more time before I admitted to myself that the teeth on the chain were no longer sharp. As with knives, the more dull they are, the more dangerous they are.

It happened that I had another chain in the carrying case, though I knew nothing about it: how old it was, how sharp it was, if it would even fit. But it was the only option I had at the time, and I could hear the ticks and chiggers planning an assault, so I carried the saw up the hill to a tree where I have a long nail protruding from it. Then I hung the saw by its handle from the nail and walked away. I had to let the machine cool before I began taking it apart to put the other chain on the bar and attempt to cut the tree again.

I hadn’t paid any attention to the phoebe all this time, but she wasn’t on her nest when I marched up to the cabin. My wife (and the dogs) were over by the fire ring, so it’s possible that the phoebe did return to her eggs and only skittered away when I lurched up the hill. As I let the saw cool, I explained the situation to my wife. In my garage in faraway suburbia I have perhaps a half dozen chains for this saw, and as far as I know, none is sharp. (It’s easier to just buy a new chain than to get it sharpened. Don’t judge me!) We discussed getting all of them sharpened and then keeping them in some better place, such as the cabin where they would actually be used. So that’s on my list of chores this week.

Once the saw was sufficiently cooled, I switch out the chain (it’s really pretty easy) and marched down the hill to the oak to give it another try. But the second chain was no sharper than the original, and I made no real progress through the tree. So I could see that the gods were conspiring against me (or just my lack of taking proper care of my tools), and I decided to give up the job for this visit. The tree seemed to be in fine shape despite the minor damage I did to its base. I fully expect it to be standing and leafed out when I return.

My hands were oily and gritty from disassembling and reassembling the saw, so I washed them with the copious cooler of water I had the good sense to bring this trip. (I hadn’t two weekend before when it was just Flike and I, and I regretted that since I had to be parsimonious with his drinking water.) Then it was time to begin the evening’s fire for cooking and musing. Being April in central Missouri, any warmth of the day was soon to disappear as the sun fell lower in the sky then dropped behind the ridge to the west. I managed to build what I’m certain would have been a one-match fire, but I used two matches just because. (Don’t judge me!)

We cooked our bratwurst (meh) and shared them with the dogs, then we sat in the comfy chairs and stared into the flames, moving more or less ceaselessly since the inconstant breezes seemed to always blow the smoke into our faces.

The barred owls hooted across the lake, and some owl gave a cackling rendition, but the real interest was when the coyotes raised a chorus not that far to the west of us. Only once of twice have I actually seen coyotes in our forest, but I know they are there by their voices.

And though I suspected it was too early in the season, I did hear a whippoorwill call from just down the hill. I loved hearing this sound as a boy, and it was one of the reasons I originally bought myself a piece of Ozark forest. It also figures importantly in my One-Match Fire stories.

With the triumphs and frustrations of the day behind us, we decided it was time to retreat to the (more-or-less) comfy beds in the cabin for the night to sleep beneath a full moon and rise on Saturday to see what that would bring.


*Not really exactly correct usage of the Scottish here, but I think you get my point.

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