Archive for the ‘Roundrock’ category

rumors of progress at Roundrock

May 13, 2022

The dogs and I had gone down to my little cabin on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks on Wednesday, more or less spontaneously, because I had this notion that we could spend the night and I could hear the whippoorwills. (It was too hot for that and we later retreated to suburbia where there is air conditioning and running water.) But as I was sitting in the comfy chair on the shady porch overlooking the sparkling lake I could hear a vehicle coming down the road toward the cabin. Good Neighbor Craig sometimes does this when he has news (since I get no cell signal at the cabin) or just to visit. And there have been times when I’ve heard vehicles approaching only to hear them stop and reverse once they get within sight of the cabin (or, more likely, within sight of my red truck parked by the cabin). I suspect they are folks who are just exploring or maybe want to throw a line in the lake, but they see the landowner is present and decide to retreat.

This time was different. The sound continued, but it did not continue down the road. At first I thought it was my new neighbor to the north, doing something on his land, except that I noticed new growth coming up in that field as I passed it that morning, and it seemed unlikely that he’d be taking something mechanized there to smash it. So I rose from the comfy chair and steered my feet toward the sound. Far ahead through the trees I could see a big red machine moving into the forest beside my road, and as I grew closer I could see that it was digging up the ground in there.

I was alone (except for Flike, who’s a big baby, and Queequeg, who I’d sequestered in the cabin), but if this was an interloper with timber trespass plans, I was going to have to confront him. When I got close enuf, though, I recognized the man in the cab of the big red machine as the man I had spoken with a couple of months ago about repairing my road and spillway. So what was he doing digging up the ground in the trees?

I don’t know how soon he spotted me watching him, but he finished what he was doing before he jumped down from the machine to say howdy.

It turned out that he had just dug the first of three trenches off of the main ditch coming down beside the road. The point was to bleed off some of the water that comes down the road so it doesn’t continue down to the dam and erode the spillway. The north spillway has been a problem since it was first built fifteen years ago. I’ve had it “repaired” several times, but we were apparently fixing the wrong problem. It was never the water from the lake that was eroding the spillway but rather the water racing down the road that hit the spillway from the side and chewed into the dam itself. So the fix had to begin with diverting the water coming down the road, and the three trenches he dug were intended to help with this by diverting the water before it got to the spillway.

Now, I’ve been waiting for three years to get this problem addressed. I’d hired three people to do it in that time, and each time they did a little initial work and then disappeared, not returning my calls or texts. This fourth man is the one who built my cabin, and he seemed pleased to be invited back. Even so, the weather was not always cooperative, and I suppose he had competing work around the county, but I began to fear that he would be a no-show again. And yet there he was, doing some initial work.

He and I spoke at some length about what still needed to be done (a culvert put in at a muddy spot farther up the road; some gravel for other parts of the road; repair to the spillway itself, which involved hauling large rock about as far into my forest as you could; and maybe another water diversion feature up by the cabin). It was all ambitious, and he spoke of some family issues that might intervene as well as the storms predicted for later in the week. I was just glad that work was finally begun.

He dug the three trenches (and a fourth farther up the road at that muddy spot that I didn’t see until I left), but then he had to get home (those family issues). I returned to the cabin and the comfy chair, noting how high the sun was still in the sky and how long it would be until the whippoorwill sang and how miserably hot it was. (The thermometer on the shady porch had been fixed at 90 degrees all day; it was worse in the sun.) So Flike and I had a conversation about maybe just going home instead of spending the night. He favored this, so I began packing our gear.

We drove out, past the three new ditches and then the fourth one I hadn’t known about way up the hill, and then on home. I called the day a good start on a long-needed project and thought I would stay in touch with the man as much as I dared to nudge him along for the other bits that needed doing.

Except that he sent me a text the next evening saying all of the work was done! Three years of waiting and frustration seemed to have been addressed in a day and a half of work.

I was tempted to jump in the truck and hustle down there to examine it, but Friday morning began with strong thunderstorms in Kansas City that were moving in the direction of Roundrock. More rain is forecast for Saturday. On Sunday, my wife returns from a long stay in St. Louis (to care for Small Paul). So the soonest I can get out to my cabin and all of the road work is Monday of next week, which is fine since the temperatures will have moderated some by then. And before, I might have added a few days to that delay since I would not want to drive on my poor road so soon after a rain. But if the fix is in, that won’t be an issue any more.

So I’ll occupy myself by pulling weeds from my garden in suburbia until I can return again.

__________

Here is a pretty good picture of the beaver lodge across the lake from my cabin. Thought I’ve seen plenty of signs of the beavers, I have yet to see the little beasts themselves.

The dark spot to the left of the pile of sticks in the above-water entrance to their den. I suspect they have an underwater entrance as well.

Roundrock rumblings

April 4, 2022

I’ve been visiting my little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks frequently in recent weeks, but I haven’t posted about it here much. It’s a retreat, so I don’t want to feel obligated to give an account of it all of the time. (Still, I was gifted a special rechargeable battery that can power my laptop specifically so I can do some writing out there. I’ll probably report on that sometime in the future.)

I was out to my cabin last weekend because I had an appointment to see a man about fixing my road. There are some soft spots where the water doesn’t drain and I churn them into mud when I pass over them in my trusty truck. (Which my son named the Prolechariot.) I also have the ongoing problem of the spillway on the side of the dam threatening to wash out and drain my little lake.

I’ve been trying to get people out to address these problems for years. Literally years. I had one man come out three and a half years ago to discuss the work. He finally did some work two years later. Then I had another man come out to deliver some rock to temporarily fix the spillway, but after that he never returned my calls. And most recently I had a third man out to do it all right, and he agreed to do so. But he delivered two loads of rock and then I never heard from him again (despite calls and text messages). My neighbors who also need similar work done report being unable to find anyone locally willing to do it.

This fourth person is the man who built my cabin eleven years ago. He did fine work then, but his interests and employment drifted toward long-haul trucking. Then a new baby joined his household and he decided he needed to be home instead, so he’s resumed his more local jack-of-all-trades work.

I met with him near the paved road so I could lead him back the two miles to my cabin. (When he had first come to the site eleven years ago, he asked if he was in Arkansas.) He confessed that he wasn’t sure he knew the way there after a decade. We drove in and stopped at a couple of places where the road was at its worst to discuss options. Then we reached the cabin. (It’s three-quarters of a mile into my woods, which is a trick since the long sides of the property are only a half mile long. The road is not in a straight line however.) The first thing he did was congratulate me for taking such good care of the cabin he had built. Apparently most of the work he’s done has not been maintained by the owners, growing faded and moldy. It happens that my cabin was on the faded and moldy road itself, but I had pressure washed and stained it just two years ago, so I got credit for being meticulous.

In any case, his pleasure at the state of the cabin seemed to set the right tone for the rest of his inspection. I showed him where the road down the hill turns (and where the water coming down the road doesn’t) as well as the washing-out spillway. We talked about likely solutions. He seemed to see things my way (at least in terms of solutions). And he ballparked a price that I thought was reasonable. And he said that he thought he could begin the work in a couple of weeks, weather permitting. (Spring rains will slow things down, but this is the closest to movement that I’ve seen in a long time.)

So maybe it will happen.

Here is a picture of the lakeshore just below the cabin. Obviously the beavers are being industrious:

And this is an odd picture:

I have conducted some “experiments” in my forest related to biodegradability. One used plastic bags (the kind you get at grocery stores). I set them out on a south-facing rock where they would get the full force of the sun and any weather. Then I tracked them as they degraded. Mostly they didn’t. They shredded, but that wasn’t really decomposing, and it would result in microparticles in the soil. The one bag that did do what I think was true decomposing was one I picked up at a market in Oregon. It was touted as being made of organic materials that would break down into benign materials. Even so, that wasn’t happening fast. I eventually collected the bags and sent them to the landfill. The northern spillway runs where the bags had rested for a couple of years.

What you see above is a spoon I got from a yogurt store that was also touted as environmentally friendly, made of natural materials that would decompose. I had screwed it to the trunk of a tree and left it there for a couple of years. The orange color faded, but the substance of the spoon did not. Then someone suggested I put it in the ground. That’s where you see it. A paving block has sat atop it.

The spoon doesn’t seem to be decomposing. It’s sat there nearly as long as the cabin has sat just up the hill from it. Maybe in a few thousand years it will begin to breakdown.

Or maybe I misunderstood what was supposed to happen. After nearly a decade the spoon is still here, but the yogurt shop closed long ago. Did I have it backward?

Roundrock at year end

January 1, 2022

The last day of December in 2021 offered a favorable forecast for my little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks, so Flike and I took ourselves to the cabin for the day. We had no specific agenda, which often makes for the best visits. (Actually, I had no specific agenda. I think Flike intended to play with a stick the whole time.)

Because today, New Year’s Day, is forecasted to be bitterly cold with snow and ice falling from the sky, one thing I did want to do was fill the bird feeder and set out peanuts for the forest animals. I did that, and I hope it makes some difference in their survival, though nature has managed to continue without my intervention for a long time.

I also checked on further beaver depredations along the shoreline below the cabin. I didn’t see any new downed trees, but I did see this:

This was a tree they took down before. They evidently returned to it to strip it of its bark. I understand they can eat and digest the inner layer of the bark, so I guess they were fattening up for the coming bad weather as well.

Of the dozen trees they’ve taken down, this is the only one on the cabin side of the lake that they’ve stripped. Most of the other downed trees are less accessible to them. One or two got caught up in other trees as they fell, so the beaver can’t easily get to the bark. The one above is a white oak, and perhaps they favor that flavor because they’ve left untouched other (downed) trees that aren’t white oak. (I haven’t marched myself across the lake to observe their toothsome handiwork there because I don’t want to disturb them in and around their den. (Still, it would be cool to have a closer look!)

In addition to scattering marbles in the gravel around the cabin, I have intended for a long time to affix bits of glass (commonly called dragon’s tears) to the trunks of trees to carry the whimsy to another level. That’s what you see in the top photo. I have attempted this before, but finding the right glue to work on porous tree bark has been a challenge. I may have gotten past that obstacle now, and today’s bitter cold and wet will be the real test. If this latest glue works then I must give some thought to just how I want to decorate the trees. The other side of the tree above has a scar running from its base to far above what I can reach. I imagine filling that with dragon’s tears, perhaps in a rainbow of colors or with specific colors marking certain points, like every foot (to measure the growth of the grands, of course). I don’t suppose I’ll do this on any trees closer to the lake since I don’t think the beaver will appreciate the effort, but I can see myself hiking deep into my forest to adorn some tree in some random place.

Just before getting to the cabin, I met up with my neighbors to the west. They are running a small cattle operation, and sometimes we have to coordinate where their cattle will be when I arrive so I can get past closed gates and curious cows to reach my forest. But on this day they had something else to show me. My neighbor has been building an ultralight airplane and it is now finished. He was eager to show it to me. So before continuing to my cabin, he and I drove past his airstrip (yes, he had an airstrip built on his ridge top pasture) to his hangar (yes, he built a large metal building specifically for housing his airplane).

Because it is an ultralight, there is very little to it. Most of the body is welded steel, and the wings are fabric stretched across wood framing. The engine looks not much bigger than what I have in my lawnmower, and the seat (the whole “cockpit”) looks steampunk (though he does have digital instrumentation). Honestly I think my bike is more sturdily built.

I’ve told him I want to be present for his maiden flight, but he has demurred. He said maybe he’d let me know when he has his second flight. (He doesn’t want to be featured in some Youtube disaster video, he says.) But most likely, he said, his decision to fly will be spontaneous (courage, foolhardiness), so me being 100 miles away when his mood strikes will inhibit my chances of being present.

Peregrine Too

November 22, 2021

The watershed for my lake at Roundrock is a little more than 100 acres. Most of that is forest, and while most of that forest is not very old (less than 50 years), it’s had a varied past. My little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks was once part of a large cattle ranch. For some reason, my 80 acres was fenced off from the rest of the ranch and the trees were allowed to grow. Thus the 50-year-old forest, but within that were some much older trees that must have dotted the pasture land it all once was. And as is sometimes the way in such land, ground fires had swept through. We still find the charred stumps of ancient trees here and there in our woods.

One of the things within the watershed that washed into the lake was a burnt remnant of a tree. This blackened log floated in the lake for a long time, and it was our little task to find where it had drifted to each time we visited. We named it Peregrine (at the suggestion of another blogger because it traveled around so much). When we would swim in the lake, I would sometimes push Peregrine from near the spillway to the other side of the lake so it wouldn’t wash over the top. As the months and years passed, Peregrine rode lower in the water. I guess it was getting waterlogged. One long-ago time as I was swimming it across the lake, I gave it a push and it slowly sank out of sight. I suppose it is now somewhere on the bottom.

When the beavers took down a trio of large shoreside trees below the cabin this year, I cut up what I could (because it spoiled the view of the lake from the shady porch), but the heat of the summer (and the sloping, rocky hillside I had to stand on) always seemed to rob me of my motivation to finish the job. Also, the trunk was resting on the rocks in such a way that cutting it would pinch the chainsaw, so I had to do some muscling of the thing to change the physics.

But last weekend I did (mostly) finish the job. At least the bit that was visible from the cabin porch. I cut the fallen tree into liftable sections and then carried those sections into the forest. I managed to get about half of those logs moved, but the rest will have to wait for a return visit. (They were heavy!)

I cut one part of the trunk (the tree forked and there were two long, thickish section) into a longer piece and rolled it down the slope to the water. I intended this to be the new Peregrine, and I’ve named it Peregrine Too.

I want to say that I intended all of the artistry in this image: the reflection of the sun on the water, the scattering of water plants, the swirl of the mud where the log had rolled. But it was really just taking a shot before the log drifted away. (That green dot is an artifact of the process, I suspect, because of the sun in the photo; there was no green object in the water.)

So now when we return we can look for Peregrine Too somewhere in the lake and marvel as it drifts around.

dapple

November 1, 2021

As I’m sure you know, Dapple was the name of Sancho Panza’s donkey. (Panza also roughly translates as belly, which Sancho was said to have a generous amount of.)

I got a report about mid-week that there had been another cattle incursion across my Ozark woods. Apparently, the cattle got through my eastern fence, crossed a good bit of my land, and then detoured into my neighbor’s bean field to have a snack. (And apparently this lasted for three days. I get this information from another neighbor who is down there a lot and knows everyone.) By Saturday, when I could get down there, the cattle — 29 to 30 of them — had been rounded up and restored to their own pasture, but I had to find how they got through my fence and then decide what to do about it. The neighbor whose beans got eaten was the one to herd them back home, and he said they found their way to a “weak spot” in my eastern fence below my dam. (It’s actually my eastern neighbor’s fence, though I have done a little maintenance on it after past incursions.) So on Saturday, after I unpacked the truck, and threw a backpack on my shoulders and put a pair of loppers in my hand I hiked down below my dam. That’s what you see in the photo above. (Looking west, so the fence is behind me.) From there I pushed through the tall grass, following the very evident path the homeward-bound cattle had taken, and got to the fence. I didn’t see any breaks in it or even any weak spots. I’m not sure how my neighbor persuaded the cattle to get themselves through it.

Nonetheless, I was pretty sure they did not enter my property there. My guess was that they came in at my northeast corner where there is an old drop gate that has been falling to pieces for years. It’s a temporary gate that is easy to open and close, but it’s made of only barbed wire and posts that are not in the ground. Basically, tension holds it in place, and the gate has not been feeling tense for a long time.

So I hiked up that direction and saw unmistakable signs that the cattle had come down the hill I was going up. There were hoof prints in the mud going toward my dam. When I got to the corner, my hypothesis was confirmed. There was a gap in the old gate wide enuf for cattle to push through, which they had. Thus I confirmed that the cattle who ate my neighbor’s beans had gotten to them because of a weakness in my fence. (Or my eastern neighbor’s fence, though he is not apparently too concerned about it.)

I had slammed a couple of posts into the ground here the last time this happened in an attempt to fortify the gate, but it hadn’t been enuf, so I had to decide what I would do about it. I wandered back to my cabin and sat for a while to ponder it. (I do a lot of pondering at my cabin.)

I did feel responsible for my neighbor’s bean loss*, especially since I had known about this weakness before and confirmed it on this visit. Plus, the cattle have done this at least twice now, so they’ve learned how to get themselves a snack. My thought was that I would have to rebuild that drop gate somehow, so I jumped in my truck and drove into town to ask advice at the hardware store. They sent me to the feed store. It was there that I bought a (difficult to photograph) stock fence panel:

The dappled sunlight makes it hard to see, but this beast is about four feet by fifteen feet (much too wide for the gap), and I needed to get it about a quarter of a mile into the trackless forest by myself. After getting it out of the back of my truck, shown here:

I tried carrying it upright beside me, slipping my arm through the wire and grabbing it lower. That didn’t work very well since its weight was resting on my shoulder, and it was dragging and digging into the ground behind me. I figured the quarter mile hike was going to be a long one, but then I dropped the panel flat and gripped it behind me, dragging it across the ground where it snagged on every fallen branch and protruding rock. But I made much better progress and soon had it to the incursion site.

Then it was a “simple” matter of sliding the thing into place betwixt the existing wooden posts (possibly older than I am) and the steel posts I had slammed in the area recently. This involved a lot of tugging and pulling and colorful language, but I managed to get it in place. And it wasn’t too wide for the gap. In fact, it was just wide enuf.

Here is another dappled photo, this time showing the panel in place:

I need to return soon to put more posts in place and wire the panel to them. I don’t think the cattle can get through this as it stands, but I don’t want to find out, and I want to show that I’m doing all I can about the problem. (February is my preferred time to walk my entire perimeter to look for problems like this.)

My wife was in Seattle as this was happening, and I had left the dogs at home this trip because they’re mostly a nuisance at the cabin, so I was eager to get back home to let them out (and to clean at least a little of the house before my wife returned on Sunday).

__________

*He had left his gate open though.

return to Roundrock

October 12, 2021

The beavers have been busy at my little cabin in the woods. In the time since our last visit (three weeks), they’ve taken down two more trees on the cabin side of the lake, and as you can see in the photo above, they’re moving up the hill closer to the cabin.

They take down trees like these to get to the slender branches and tips, which are edible. They’re stocking their larder for the coming winter, which is fine, especially since I’m pretty sure they don’t think the cabin itself is edible. Years ago, when I planted the buckeyes beside the cabin, I had fenced them with chicken wire to keep the deer from trashing their velvety antlers on them. I hadn’t considered at the time that I might have beavers to deal with too.

The other tree they brought down got hung up in some cedars, so the beaver won’t get to harvest any branches from it, which suggests they’ll just bring down some other tree. I suppose when I return next time, I’ll see which one they’ve chosen.

On this visit I fixed up the weed eater with its blade attachment and attacked the scrubby growth at the waterline below the cabin. I’ve worked hard to keep an open avenue from the front porch down to the lake, and the scrub at the waterline was too thick (woody plants rather than grass) for the whip. Thus the blade. It was easy enuf work once I got going, but when I started I was ready to stop. The ground slopes here, and the sun was out. The blade is good with scrub, but it’s not so good with grass, and there was a mix of both in the waterline area. But I stuck with it, and pretty soon, about a half hour of effort, I had it nicely cleared. Then my wife asked me to cut a path across the dam, which hadn’t been part of my plan, but I try to use up all of the gas in the tank so I don’t leave any in there to foul the engine later. So off to the dam I went, and I managed to get about two-thirds of the way across before the tank went dry. Then I spent some time pulling out vines and sticks from the overflow drain. The lake was down about three feet when we were there, but if it got as much rain yesterday as we did up in suburbia, the drain might have gotten some use. Anyway, it’s always best to clean it when there is an opportunity.

After that we went back to the cabin and got a nice one-match fire going to cook our burgers. The weather was about perfect, though gray clouds were massing and the sun went away. That didn’t affect the taste of the burgers, though. And it was easy to sit in the comfy chairs and listen to the wind in the trees as we ate.

But all of that is more footnote than substance about this visit. Before we got to the cabin, we stopped in the nearby town and visited the hardware store. There I bought myself an entry-level leaf blower. This is the time of the year when crackly dry oak and hickory leaves begin to pile up against the outside of my wooden cabin. This is bad for three reasons: one, they are a fire hazard; two, they can increase mold growth on the siding when they get wet and stay wet; and three, they can provide cover for burrowing animals that might think a den under my cabin is ideal. So in the past I would rake the leaves away and then across the great gravel expanse to the trees beyond. It’s work the must be done, but it’s a chore.

Not so with a leaf blower. I managed to turn a half-hour’s chore into a five-minute frolic. It was so much fun that I did it all a second time before we left that afternoon!

I’d actually gotten the leaf blower for two reasons. My neighbor Craig likes to do controlled burns on parts of his land, and he uses leaf blowers to get the combustibles out of his work zone so his fires don’t spread. He’s visited my cabin a few times and strongly encouraged me to get one since my setting is a potential fire hazard. (Also, probably, I could help him with his work.) The second reason is because the two cypress trees in my suburban backyard are ready to drop hundreds of spherical cones this year. (They’d skipped cone production the last two years.) The hope (my wife’s hope) is that the leaf blower will help us herd these cones so we can collect them easily. The problem is that when they dry and crack apart, the shards are sharp and get into the pads of the dogs feet, causing them to limp and wince. I suspect that the leaf blower isn’t going to make a difference since spheres seem to be the best shape to resist outside forces. The leaf blower didn’t do a thing to the marbles in the gravel around the cabin. I suspect the same will be the case with the cypress spheres, but we shall see.

We made it home to suburbia a few hours before the heavy rains arrived, dropping more than two inches of water. We needed it, but it’s going to be a rainy week and I fear the trail is going to be too muddy — even under water in some places — this weekend for a ride.

Saturday at Roundrock

September 13, 2021

The dogs and I made a dash down to Roundrock over the weekend. It had seemed like a long time since my last visit, and when I checked my journal there it had been nearly a month. This is my least favorite time of the year to go since the heat hasn’t lessened, nor have the chiggers, but everything looks wilted and defeated. Still, I had a window of opportunity, and I took it. (My wife is in St. Louis for a couple of weeks with Small Paul and his family.)

It’s a little hard to tell from the photo above, but the beavers have finished their work on one of the two remaining large trees at the shoreline below the cabin. (The third tree is on the right, but it’s mostly dead, so I don’t think the beavers will be interested in bringing it down.) You can see the gnawed trunk on the left and the rest of the tree fallen into the lake (just what I had hoped would not happen).

Here is what that same tree looked like earlier this summer:

You can also see that the lake is down about a foot. That’s actually not so bad. In past years, by August the lake would be nearly all gone with just a waist-deep puddle collected at the deepest part. We haven’t had that much rain in recent weeks, so I attribute the decent water level to the dam finally sealing all of its leaks. (The builder told me that would probably happen, but I seem to remember him saying it would happen sooner than twenty-ish years.)

So the tree has fallen into the lake. I think the beavers will probably harvest the tender tips and small branches for their den building and to eat in the winter, but that still leaves a whole lotta tree in the water. In terms of wildlife, that’s a good thing. Any structure in a lake provides shelter for the fish. But in terms of fishing (which I haven’t done in years) and swimming (which I may not do again since I’ve read some nasty things about swimming in water that beavers use as their toilet), the tree in the water is a bit of a hazard. But I’m not going to tie it to my truck and haul it out of there. Nor do I hope the water level drops enuf to allow me to cut up some of it with my trusty chainsaw. So there it is, and there it may remain. It’s possible when the lake level rises (when?) that the tree will float away from there (though there’s nowhere else for it that would be any better), but I expect it to get water logged instead and remain there for the rest of my tenure. So there you go.

Aside from examining the beaver depredations, I had no agenda for the visit, and the dogs had even less use for our time there. Flike poked around the cabin a little but mostly just wanted treats. Queequeg attempted to hide under my truck, which is his usual place, but my truck is currently in St. Louis, and he found my wife’s low-slung Honda to be more of a challenge. Instead I opened the car doors and windows, and they jumped in there to spend their time.

What you see above are nascent buckeyes. You may recall that I’ve planted red buckeyes in front of the cabin. They’ve always flowered nicely (sometimes even when we happen to be there), but I’ve missed their fruiting most years. On this visit I counted nine buckeyes, which I think is a record. I don’t know when the husks open and the buckeyes themselves drop, but I’d like to collect a few and maybe try planting them to raise more of the red-flowering understory trees to place around the cabin.

I didn’t stay as long as I might have on a normal visit. The dogs were having none of it. I had no chores I wanted to undertake alone. (I don’t like using the power tools when I don’t have someone to identify my body.) After I ate my banana and apple and rye bread, washed down with iced tea (unsweetened, of course), I packed up and steered the little Honda back on the road to suburbia. I hope to get back down there before another month passes, and I hope some rain falls soon. I might have had a fire if the forest hadn’t been so dry.

bee business

August 16, 2021

I hung this bee nest under the porch roof at my cabin last spring. (Yes, that’s a tiger mask you see on the tree to the right.) I received it as a gift, and not only did I feel virtuous providing a place for solitary bees to lay eggs but I hoped it would help keep the carpenter bees from drilling holes in the side of my wooden cabin to do the same.

Nothing happened for months. Each visit I would check the nest, and each visit would show me nothing. I began to suspect that these nests were made more for the human consumer than the insect.

When I visited the cabin last week, however, I saw this:

Clearly the word has gotten out that the rent-free condos are available. I’m not sure what to make of the bits of grass coming out of the cavities, though I suspect it’s to hinder any hungry predator for getting the larvae in there. The nesting work should be done by October, and then the hatch will begin in the spring.

Apparently, such manufactured bee nests help and hurt bee populations. They do provide nesting sites, but their proximity to each other has been found to foster the spread of parasitic mites and molds. So from what I’ve read, such nests need to be replaced each year. We’ll see how this one works out.

And I guess the carpenter bees don’t want a pre-made hole. They seem to need to make one of their own. I found this fresh violation on the side of the cabin on my last visit.

the NYC grands at Roundrock

July 26, 2021

The NYC grands have been here for the entire month of July, but their social calendars are so busy that we had to find a time in their schedule to go to my cabin. This ended being last Wednesday, so I took off of work and we traveled down there with the promise of a fire, S’mores, and maybe chopping down a tree.

My daughter took the photo above, which is a panoramic of the lake, so it’s a bit distorted and looks larger than it is. (Click to embiggen.) In the foreground on the left you see some of the branches of a fallen tree. This was one of the few trees right up at the lake’s edge that the builder had left (actually a cluster of three trees) when he pushed everything else down to make the basin. It was a nice tree, but it was slowly dying, and I feared that it would fall into the lake, which would make it a lot harder to deal with. But it turns out I didn’t have to deal with that outcome because another builder brought it down on the land instead.

Here is some other, nearby handiwork* of that builder;

The beavers have moved their operations to the cabin side of the lake now. Not sure why since there are plenty of waterside trees near their den. (See the embiggened panoramic above.) And the mostly gnawed-through tree you see here will likely fall into the lake, which won’t be a problem for the beavers, but will make swimming and fishing there more challenging. (I’ve read some recommendations that you don’t really want to swim in a lake beavers use.)

So that was this trip’s surprise, but the grands loved it and the fact that wild animals did the work. We visited and talked about it a couple of times that day. The oldest one, Kenneth, who is six and a half, had been to the cabin once before, but that was more than three years ago. He claimed to still have some memories. The twins, Rett and Evie, had not been before but had been regaled by Kenneth, so they were excited by everything.

The first task of the day, once we unpacked and completed our inspection of the beaver doings, was to build a fire. The grands helped, though Evie didn’t understand why I was tearing pages out of a notebook and crumbling them. Until she did, and then she did so as well. I topped the crumbled pages with an egg carton (thank you for this suggestion, Ellen!) and then began adding sticks on top of that. When I had sufficient kindling in place, it was time to bring out the one match. Kenneth wanted to be the one to light the fire, and he did successfully strike the match, but holding it to the paper was a bit beyond him since he was afraid of getting burned. So I did that part, but he get’s the credit for lighting the day’s one-match fire.

As the fire burned to cooking coals, I got the grands busy with scattering marbles in the gravel around the cabin. I’d been hoarding marbles for a long time in anticipation of this, and when I poured them out with instructions, the grands got to it.

Here you see Evie selecting all of the blue marbles, which I told them I wanted scattered on the west side of the cabin. There is also a gravel bed in front of the cabin that is for only red, yellow, black, and white marbles. These are the colors of the Kenyan flag, and Small Paul, who is half Kenyan, gave me those marbles as a gift. Once the visiting grands understood this, they supplemented that bed with the proper colored marbles too. It was fun and exciting work for them. (Good thing, too, since I expected the gravel pile to really interest them, as it does Emmett, but they took no notice of it.)

When the fire had burned sufficiently, we got started on cooking our burgers and later S’mores. An innovation my daughter introduced was to use Double-Stuffed Oreos in place of Graham crackers for the S’Mores. That’s much too sweet for me, but the reports I received gave them an official thumbs up.

Then it was time to cut down the tree, as I pretty much promised Kenneth we would do. There was one in the place where I park that I wanted to take down and so double the parking area. It was less that a foot in diameter and should have been easy work except for two things. One is that it was leaning toward the cabin, with enuf heavy branches on the cabin side to make it want to fall that direction naturally, regardless of how I cut it. The second problem was that it was a Black Jack oak, which pretty much dulls a sharpened chain maliciously.

Part of the solution was to tie a rope to the tree as high as I could reach and then take that around another nearby tree. Thus my helpers (son-in-law, mostly, though the grands wanted to participate) could pull the rope from around the “corner” of the second tree and help direct its fall while being out of its way.

The other part of the solution was a careful cutting of the wedge and the back cut to help direct the fall. Unfortunately, the tree wasn’t interested in cooperating. I think I should probably have started with a new chain, freshly sharpened, but I didn’t have one. I managed to make my cuts, but the back cut was on the cabin side, and when that was done, the tree began leaning toward the cabin. The back cut wasn’t far enuf through the meet the wedge cut, but the leaning was a problem, even with the gang pulling on the rope. The solution was to put a wedge in the back cut. And I happened to have a nice steel wedge in the cabin that I use for splitting wood. We worked that into the back cut and then took turns slamming it with the sledge hammer to persuade the tree not to fall on the cabin. With a little more very careful cutting with the dull chainsaw and some serious effort with rope pulling, the tree began to fall in the proper direction. And immediately got caught in the branches of another tree. So it was off the stump but still standing (more or less). This was, of course, a dangerous situation, especially with three grands (and three dogs) underfoot. But the whole tree cutting operation was out of order, so why not?

I grabbed the rope and moved into the road so I could pull it more directly in the direction we needed. My SIL pushed on the trunk, and together we managed to drag the base a few feet across the gravel while the top of the tree remained in the embrace of its kindred. But we kept at it, and when we got a rocking motion going, we could see progress.

The tree eventually fell on the gravel pile with a mighty crash, which was about ten feet from its intended destination, but that was still well away from the cabin. Then we gave the grands each a handsaw and they got to work removing branches, that we carried into the woods. The trunk of the tree lay across the parking area (we had moved our cars up the road before this), but the chainsaw had decided it had had enuf. We could start it but couldn’t keep it running. So my SIL and I grabbed the end of the shorn tree and carried it to the side of the parking area as it pivoted on its base.

Then it was time to go home. We packed up, which took more time than normally since so many things were brought out to entertain the grands. We made sure to splash through the stream we have to cross to get to the main road (Kenneth loved this), and by the time we got to the paved road (only two miles from the cabin), the twins were already asleep from their big day. Kenneth followed soon after.

I’m having all five (!) of the chains I have sharpened, and the next time I visit my woods, I’ll cut up the remains of that fallen tree beside the parking area. (Unless the beavers do it for me?)

Here is a recent picture of Small Paul, just because:

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*I’m not sure what the equivalent for “handiwork” would be for tooth work.

nothing special

June 28, 2021

Just a couple of round rocks on the retaining wall behind my cabin. When my daughter-in-law first visited here, she saw the random piles of round rocks I had collected and placed some of them atop the retaining wall. Now, of course, they must stay there. Except I generally find at least one that has fallen off the wall. I’m not sure how that can happen. Surely the wind isn’t strong enuf to do that. Critters, maybe? But why?

The New York grands will be here for the entire month of July and I expect we’ll be making a trip to the cabin to burn some burgers and make s’Mores (S’mores?), so there will likely be a lot of rock rearranging and marble scattering then.