Archive for the ‘Roundrock’ category

break in!

April 4, 2017

Our little cabin in the Ozarks was broken into!

By squirrels.

The last time we were down to Roundrock — more than two weekends ago — we arrived to find the door to the cabin wide open and a squirrel scrabbling at one of the windows to get out. I stepped away from the door and the frantic squirrel must have decided the time was right to exit there, and did so. Then I stepped into the cabin, half expecting other varmints to be inside, perhaps ready to leap onto my head and claw at my eyes.

There weren’t any, but there apparently had been many; they left their evidence behind. From what we could discern, the door to the cabin had been open for several days given the accumulation of “evidence” in many places. And more precisely, the cabin had been open for several nights because that’s when all of the birds in the forest would have been in there roosting.

I had a fifty-pound bag of black-oil sunflower seeds for the bird feeder sitting on a table inside the cabin. It is too big to fit in any of the metal containers I normally use for edibles we keep there, but in all of our years, we’ve never had critters get into the cabin. So I wasn’t worried about it sitting out. My plan was to use the sunflower seeds in the feeder until the bag was diminished enuf that it would fit in the old metal popcorn tin I had. Our furred and feathered invaders decided to help me with that ambition. We found the bag torn open and seed scattered all over the cabin, behind the furniture, on the window sills, and even cached in the pocket of a small backpack hanging from a nail. (Fortunately, the varmints didn’t molest the beds/sheets/mattresses/pillows!) The bag of seed now fits in the tin, by the way.

So, much of the furniture and fixtures got moved out of the cabin and the broom was brought into service, poking into corners it hadn’t visited in a long, long time. Wet rags were then employed to remove other manifestations of our visitors. And we consoled ourselves with the observation that it could have been a lot worse (had raccoons or coyotes moved in, for example).

The odd thing about it was that the door was locked. The lock is in the handle, and although the door was hanging open, the handle was firm; its lock was applied and the handle wouldn’t turn.

My guess is that when we last left, I had locked the door and pulled it shut behind me but the bolt didn’t seat itself in the frame. There were windstorms in the area in the preceding week, and it seems possible that the door could have been blown open since it wasn’t actually latched (I’m further guessing).

Once we got all of that work behind us, we proceed with our intended agenda for the weekend, which included cutting more wood with the chainsaw and then splitting that wood with the sledge and wedge. A campfire ensued, and some beer was consumed. Much needed rain came the next morning, and a text from my son had found its way to us (despite the spotty cell reception on our side of the ridge) asking for our help with his effort to complete his master’s degree (our help being watching the baby while he went to the library), so we cut our weekend short and headed for home. And, of course, as I left, I tripled checked the door to ensure that it was closed, locked, and latched.

before and after

February 22, 2017


Yes, another post about my woods called Roundrock. I’m currently suffering a creativity drought and don’t have anything writer-ish to tell you about.

What you see above is a small structure that sat at the bottom of my lake, which I built with some scrap bricks . (This was after the dam was raised but before much water had accumulated.) This structure was intended to give the small fish something to hide within as they grew to be big fish. I’m not sure how well that would have worked since it eventually sat in about twelve feet of water, and I don’t think the little fish venture that low. I learned later that catfish had somehow found their way into the lake, so perhaps baby catfish used it.

Or abused it.

The lake leaks. The builder said he couldn’t promise me that it would be water tight. It’s built in a natural valley, one that’s had a million years to accumulate gravel, one with limestone ledges that likely have long, deep cracks in them. The lake fills in the spring with all of the rain, and then it generally spends the summer and fall leaking out, watering the pecans I’ve planted in the acre below the dam (as well as the upstart willows and sycamores). Then sometime in the winter it seems to have dropped below the leak point because it generally remains a large pool, about five feet deep at the deepest. (I’m told that it could eventually fill with enuf silt to plug the leaks. Alternatively, I have tried spreading Bentonite — a type of clay — to plug the leaks. It’s too big to use a liner, at least one that I could afford. I think the only real solution is to line the bottom with twenty-dollar bills.)

And that five-foot-deep pool is the state it’s in right now. Which means my fish structure is currently exposed. So this is what it looks like now:


I don’t know how to explain its current broken-down state. I can’t imagine that the fish did this. When we have heavy rains, a lot of water can come pouring into the lake from the hundred-acre watershed that feeds it. (We’ve seen clots of grass and sticks at shoulder height in the trees upstream. Some of those flows must be terrifying!) It seems possible that a strong flow could do this, but the structure is not in the main channel, and it is in a broad part of the lake bed, so any flow would be dispersed at this point.

Still, it happened.

If the water gets any lower — if the ground around the little structure gets dry enuf to walk on — I’ll rebuild it. If not, well, the bricks could have been this way for years, so if it remained, it would be no different.

I’ve been stomping around my woods for more than a decade, and it still delivers me little discoveries like this.

regarding thongs

February 20, 2017


Before we owned the 80 acres that we call Roundrock, we had 40 acres in an adjoining county that we called Fallen Timbers. And while it was also an upland Ozark forest, it did not have any round rocks. It did, however, have what may have been burial mounds and thong trees.

I got a lot of scoffing on Roundrock Journal when I wrote about the thong trees in my forest. The name alone evokes mirth and doubt, but the seeming unlikelihood of a human-modified tree surviving since pre-settlement times raised most of the doubt.

Thong trees are ones that were strapped down with leather thongs when they were saplings so that they would grow into a distorted shape. Generally these were set in place to mark some important feature of the land, such as a spring, so that those traveling through the (otherwise) trackless forest would know what was around them.

While the trees at Roundrock are not old enuf to have been around in pre-settlement times, there were many at Fallen Timbers that likely could have been. And many were deformed into what might have been actual thong trees. The one in the photo above is beside a street in the nearby community of Lakeview Heights, Missouri and it shows many of the classic marks: not only the bent shape but the knobs at the end of the upright turn. (These were supposedly formed by cutting the bark of the sapling and then inserting coals from the fire for the tree to grow around.)

Yes, natural forces could create these trees. A fallen tree pressing a nearby sapling to the ground could do it. The fallen tree would eventually rot away, and the sapling would be permanently deformed. Yet there is documentation of deliberate human work to create these as well. One of the most elaborately deformed trees at Fallen Timbers (that I cannot find a photo of) pointed uphill to a small spring.

Still, the doubt and ridicule remain. Do thong trees exist? Yes, I have no doubt. Did I have any in my forest at Fallen Timbers? I think it was likely.

But I leave you with this photo of a tree I came across on a country road near Muscatine, Iowa several years ago. You can decide for yourself.


a tree falls in the forest

January 25, 2017

Santa (or Krampus — not sure which in my progressive household) got my old chainsaw repaired, which meant on my next trip to Roundrock, I could do some serious damage to the trees there. It happens that one of my One-Match Fire stories is called “At Tree Falls in the Forest” and involves a father introducing his son to their chainsaw and carefully helping him cut down his first tree. Because my own chain saw was in disrepair and my sloth was not, I had not used it in perhaps five years. So it was with a little bit of audacity that I dared to write about using one in a story.

Thus when I got to use mine once again over the weekend, during an unseasonably warm winter day in the Ozarks, I had the chance to check my memory against reality.

The saw requires both chain oil and a fuel additive to run properly. When we got to the cabin on Saturday morning (after a 5.75 mile run and bagels, by the way) I found that I didn’t have any chain oil. Since my intent was to cut up a Blackjack Oak — a tenaciously hard wood that eats up chains — I certainly didn’t want to run it without. So after we got all of our gear settled in the cabin, we made a trip into town about ten miles away to visit the hardware store that has parted me from much of my money in the years that I’ve owned my woods. I found the chain oil without much trouble and grabbed some fuel additive while I was there. And then it was back to the cabin.

I was eager to cut up the tree. It was a double-trunked beast, and one trunk had already fallen to the ground. I had already cut it as much as my arm muscles could with a hand saw, and then the remainder of the trunk just lay on the ground, taunting me with each visit. That would change this time, and I intended to bring its companion trunk — still standing — to the ground and eventually into my campfire.

All I had to do was add the chain oil in its proper spot and then fuel up the saw, tug on the cord until it started, and begin the mayhem.

Simple as that.

I opened the screw-top cap to add the chain oil and began pouring it in, surprised at how thirsty the saw was, but it had been five years since I’d given it any attention, so what did I know? Having topped off the chain oil using nearly the entire bottle, I then turned to the fuel to put it in. And that was when I realized the mistake I had made. I had filled the fuel tank with the chain oil. Which is a kind way of saying I am an idiot. I don’t know how much Santa/Krampus paid to have my chainsaw repaired, but in my foolish act I had pretty much just undone all of it.

And so I stood there pondering what it was I had done and what I could do about it. The obvious answer was the only answer. I had to pour the chain oil out of the fuel tank and into the bottle from whence it came then somehow clean the fuel tank before adding actual gasoline. (Also actually putting the chain oil in the proper reservoir.) And so I did. It was easy enuf to pour the thick oil back into the bottle, but cleaning the tank was more of a challenge. I carried the chainsaw into the woods (across the road and thus not in the lake’s watershed) and then tilted it so whatever gunk remained in the fuel tank could drip out. I suspect I was violating if not actual laws then prudent environmental good sense by adding this hydrocarbon ooze to the forest floor, but it wasn’t too much. I then wrapped a paper towel around my finger and poked into the fuel tank to swab out whatever gunk I could touch. After that I returned to the cabin and filled the tank with gasoline, like any otherwise capable woodsman would have done originally.

So, all was in readiness, and all I had to do was start the saw. I pulled on the cord. And pulled. And pulled. And the saw would not start. Only then did I remember that there is an on/off switch by the handle that is nicely placed so you can thumb the machine off easily in an emergency. And it was set for “off.” Having remedied this, I tugged on the cord again. After a few tugs, the machined roared into life.

And then sputtered into silence.

So I tugged again. The same thing happened. And it happened several more times as I realized that the engine needed to clear the gunk that was in it from my earlier mishap. After a few minutes of tugging and fuzzy hopefulness, I did get the chainsaw running in a sustained way. It was still a little fussy, and I had to restart it several times, but I was able to cut up the fallen Blackjack Oak as well as its standing companion. Here you can see some of my handiwork:


(That’s the much-dimished lake in the background. No swimming this visit.)

Later in the afternoon I schelpped the saw down into the dry part of the lake bed (don’t ask, I’ll just whimper) and cut up some willow trees that are growing there. It’s a defiant act of mine since there are far more willows than an afternoon and a tank full of gas can address, but it’s a start.

So the trip to the woods was a success despite my mishap. We cooked our food over a (one-match) fire (abetted by some oil-soaked rags) with wood I had cut, mused before the flames and embers, and then eventually crawled into our beds in the cabin for a sleep well earned.

I woke in the middle of the night to rain hammering on the metal roof of the cabin. It was not unexpected, and the poor, diminished lake certainly needed a recharge, but it continued through the night and into the wan light of dawn. Our plan had been to ravage the forest more with the chainsaw on Sunday, but the rain, and the falling temps, had conspired against us. So we packed our gear into the truck and steered ourselves toward home. When we could get a cell signal (our cabin is on the wrong side of the ridge for that), we learned that seriously bad weather was coming to the area, with possible tornados. So I guess it was just as well we left any tree felling that day to the wind.


from better to bitter

January 9, 2017

It’s not all shivering and shoveling around here. In fact, before the recent weather turned from better to bitter, I was actually able to go out to my Ozark cabin on New Year’s Day and stay the night. Thus I brought 2017 in properly. (Sadly, I was unable to make it out to Roundrock even one time for the whole of December. I don’t think that’s unprecedented, but I can’t recall the last time that’s ever happened in the nearly fifteen years I’ve been stomping around those woods.)

Back when Roundrock Journal was still alive, I would make a post each January tallying my visits for the prior year. I keep a calendar on the wall of my little cabin, and I would put a star on the dates I visited, sometimes leaving cryptic one- or two-letter notes on a date that would mean nothing to me at the end of the year.  And so, gentle reader, I’m going to make my 2016 tally here this year.

January – I was able to visit twice, on the 2nd and on the 30th. Likely the cold of winter prevented other visits, and certainly prevented overnight visits, though I think there was a trip to New York around this time too.

February – An overnight! I went down on Saturday, the 20th, and returned on Sunday. We must have had unseasonably warm weather then for me to spend the night in an unheated cabin in the Missouri Ozarks in February. But such weekends sometimes happen around here, and I even feature such unlikely weather in my One-Match Fire story “Boys are like Puppies” when the characters make a warm day trip to the family cabin in a fictitious February.

March – Another overnight, Saturday and Sunday, the 5th and 6th. Again, the weather must have been favorable. And then I returned on the 26th, making a solo trip, as I felt the need to note on the calendar. “Solo” likely included my dog, Flike, but he doesn’t make notes on the calendar, so I can’t be sure.

April – Both an overnight and a solo one at that. But that comprised my total visits to the cabin for the month. No cryptic notes to indicate what I was about then, though there was likely a campfire and perhaps some beer. Maybe even a cigar. Can’t be sure, again.

May – Another mid-month overnight trip — getting some use out of the old bunk beds in the cabin — but not one marked as a solo, so my wife must have been along, as well has her dog and mine. We had also made a trip to Kentucky over the Mother’s Day weekend to see my mother, so my opportunities to visit the cabin were limited.

June – Once again, an overnight, early in the month. No notes about the nature of the visit, but it likely included sawing logs and hiking about. No swimming in the lake is reported either.

July – A late-in-the-month overnight visit, just in time to give the month a tally on the calendar. Again, no swimming in the lake.

August – Not only another overnight weekend early in the month but a single-day visit the very next weekend. I wish I could tell you what I did either visit, other than confirm I did not swim, but the case is closed, I’m afraid.

September – An overnight during the Labor Day weekend, though I did not stay through the Monday holiday. Although I have recorded in past years swimming in the lake as late as October, I did not swim this September.

October – Just one visit, Sunday the 16th. Perhaps I was devoting my weekends to (insufficiently) training for a big run I had coming up the next month. I did run the Kansas City Half Marathon in October, which would have consumed a weekend itself.

November – Only one visit, but it was my traditional Black Friday venture, when I turn my back on the crass consumer culture and enjoy the mild fall days in the woods, soon to be gone. (The mild days, not the woods.) I had ventured to New York earlier in the month for a week for this little run I did then, so two weekends were devoured by that (and I was hobbling around for the week or so afterward).

December – Not a single visit. All of my children and grandchildren were coming for the holidays then, so much of my time was devoted to getting the household ready for them. I recall at least one Saturday when I thought I could have darted down to the cabin for a solo trip, but the guilt was apparently too much.

My wife used to accuse me of going to the cabin “every weekend” (and saying it in such a tone as to imply that was a bad thing). The evidence in recent years contradicts that. I don’t quite feel bitter about this, though I do wish I had more time for visits.

As to the lack of swimming, I remember reading something about a certain algae bloom in the region that was eating people’s brains, and I think that was the deterrent during the few opportunities across the summer when I might have dipped a toe in the lake.


Have you ever heard of synesthesia? It is a conflation of senses that some of us are “afflicted” with. The most common manifestation is the “knowledge” that letters (and words) have an inherent color. I have always known this about letters, and I can recall having a conversation with my older brother about it when we were both children. (I also know the shapes of most sounds.) Some say that this “ability” is how metaphor originally rose in human creativity. The colors I’ve given to the months above are my attempt (with the limited color palette in WordPress) to let you see what color each month’s name is. “October” is a white word, and that wouldn’t have worked on the screen had I painted it that color.

a distinction

December 12, 2016


Deer have antlers, not horns. Is this important to know as general knowledge? Or is it just a burdensome detail pertinent to specialists alone? (I’m using a small conversation about this in a story. Can random knowledge be burdensome? Useless?)

Your thoughts?

my anti-Black Friday action

November 28, 2016


Long-time readers (both of you) know how I resist our crass consumer culture that culminates in Black Friday. I go out to my little cabin at Roundrock, on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks, and defiantly not buy stuff! I’ve been doing this every Black Friday for at least the last ten years, and this year I kept up my tradition of defiance.

It was just the four of us: me, Libby, Flike, and Queequeg. We had no real agenda, and the weather would dictate our actions more than our intentions would, but this time of the year I always need to rake the leaves that have collected against the back of the cabin. I do this for three reasons. One, they are a fire hazard for the wooden cabin. Two, they provide cover for gnawing and burrowing critters, which I don’t want to foster that close to the cabin. And, three, they can retain water after a rain, creating a microclimate of damp against the wooden siding, allowing mold to grow. (It’s hard to tell from the photo above, but the bottom two “logs” of the siding are discolored from mold. Flike is there for scale and because he brought me a stick to throw, which is his pastime at the cabin. Note the stick in the foreground.)

So after poking around the place, filling the bird feeder, and setting some unsalted peanuts on the old log for the wood rat who lives within it, I took the rake to the back of the cabin and began my work. It’s not a big job, not like raking my yard back in faraway suburbia, but I still moan about it, telling Libby that I have an 80-acre yard to keep up now. (In some ways that’s true. I don’t have to maintain the road in suburbia. Nor do I have to keep any fence lines clear. Or walk my perimeter at least once a year just to see what’s up. I don’t have to cut fire wood in suburbia. I don’t have dam spillways that wash out annually. And I don’t have police patrolling my road at the cabin at least once a day to keep things safe. So there’s a lot a fellow has to worry about at his little cabin in the woods.)

I generally alternate which direction I’ll rake the leaves each time — and this time of the year, I must rake them each time I visit — but this time I raked them both directions. I did that because of a tarp on the ground on the east side of the cabin that I wanted to move to the west side of the cabin. Makes perfect sense, right?

The tarp was version 1.0 of the cabin. Before we had the cabin built, we hung a tarp between the trees overlooking the lake so we could retreat from the sun or the rain and sit in comfy chairs to have our lunch or just relax. We went through three tarps in this way. After the cabin was raised, the last tarp was folded and stashed under a bed in the cabin. (Yes, we have two beds, with mattresses and sheets, in the cabin!). In subsequent years, green things would grow in the gravel around the cabin, and I knew that if I didn’t keep ahead of it, the open gravel would soon give way to grasses and then scrub and then small trees, and the little bit of control I had hoped to wrest from the forest would be lost.

And so the tarp got a second life. I laid it over patches of the gravel where the green things were sprouting most vigorously and left it there for a month or two (in the growing season) to kill them. Then the tarp would get moved to a new area to do the same thing. My efforts would last for about a year, and the tarp has returned to areas where it had once been before. It’s a benign sort of malice, all the more beneficial since the cabin is uphill from the lake, and I don’t really want to use any herbicides within its watershed, at least not that close.

So the tarp was doing its service on the east side of the cabin, and I wanted to move it to the west side of the cabin. Thus I raked half of the leaves to the west first to get them beyond the place where the tarp would go. Once that was done, I moved the tarp to the west, which meant the east side of the cabin was now clear for raking leaves across. And so I did that with the remainder of the leaves.

And the result you see below. (This is looking east.)


Neat and clean and probably already filled with oak leaves by now. But I strive nonetheless.

Below you see the new location for the tarp. This is the west side of the cabin. You can see a large pile of leaves beyond it; those are the leaves I raked from (half of) the back of the cabin. And below that you can see the (diminished) lake. The boards resting on the tarp were salvaged from a blind that some hunter had raised in a tree on my land (prior to my tenure). It was abandoned soon after I acquired the property (though I would not have objected had he or she wanted to continue using it) and fell to the ground after a spring storm. I collected as much of the wood as was worth having, burning some of the rest, and saved it for some future use. I never imagined that holding a tarp in place would be the lumber’s future use, but it certainly does a good job.


The area I’ve covered had a nice stand of feathery grass growing. (I wish I could do as well on my lawn in faraway suburbia.) In the winter this would turn brown and serve as perfect tinder for any ground fire that approached the cabin. So it had to go. Winter is not, of course, the growing season for grasses, and the tarp will probably stay there until the spring because it will take that long for it to have its effect. In past efforts, when I would remove the tarp I would sometimes see the nests of little forest critters under it. I imagine the tarp suits them just as it suited us before the cabin: it provides shelter from the elements and collects solar heat during the winter months. I won’t be surprised if I find a nest or two under it when I remove it next spring.

With the chores completed, we turned our feet to the west for a hike, crossing the familiar rises and falls of the land. There is an open, grassy area not too far from the cabin that I’m trying to expand. With each visit, should my feet happen to carry me there, I will cut down a cedar or two, cut back overhanging branches here and there, or cut away some scrubby growth to give the native grasses more sunlight to thrive and expand. I don’t know why I do this other than to feel that I have some “control” in my forest. Still, everyone needs a hobby.

We hiked more after that, but the sun never made its expected appearance and we were both cold. (The dogs reported no complaints.) So sooner than we normally would, we packed the Prolechariot (my name for my red truck) and drove the two hours back to suburban Kansas City. As you might have guessed, the sun emerged from the clouds about half way home, and the day soon turned warm enuf for me to rake leaves in my back yard at home.

But aside from a tank full of gas ($1.74 per gallon — Thanks, Obama!) I didn’t purchase a damned thing!