Archive for the ‘Roundrock’ category

under the pines

March 2, 2023

Most of our trips to Roundrock are for fun and games and foolishness, but sometimes we have grimmer tasks.

On Monday my wife and I buried her dog, Queequeg, under the pines in our forest. Queequeg was nearly 15 years old, which put him in his golden years but wasn’t exceedingly old for a small dog. Queequeg was a Pomeranian. He’d been getting slower and would breathe heavily after he climbed the stairs and such, but he didn’t show any overt signs of infirmity. On the night he died, he had been chasing his ball and accepting treats and wagging his tail only an hour before. And then he laid down and went to sleep and didn’t wake. It seemed to be a painless death.

I’ve buried two other dogs (and a rabbit) out in my forest. The dirt under the pines is good, with no rocks, so that’s where we put Queequeg. I stopped at the hardware store in town and got a Beware of Dog sign that I placed over his head after I put him in the hole I dug. I can’t throw dirt on my dogs’ faces. We also put his two favorite toys and a dog biscuit with him. After that I partially filled the hole and then placed a large stone in it. My hope is that this will thwart any scavengers. Then I finished filling the hole and placed a flat sandstone rock atop it. I intend to return to etch his initial in the stone. My wife dug up some daffodils from our dog Max’s grave and planted them beside the new one.

Queequeg was named not for the tattooed harpooner in Moby-Dick but another Pomeranian that appeared in an episode of The X Files years ago. Although Flike is four times his size, Queequeg was always the alpha between them.

In the early mornings we had a routine. I would go downstairs to fetch my tea, and Queequeg would greet me. I would let him outside, and when he came in, he got a treat. He tried to modify this by skipping the going outside part, and sometimes he got his way. It’s odd going downstairs now in the early morning and not seeing him asleep by the door.

a day trip to Roundrock

February 7, 2023

The weather was mild on Sunday for early February in my part of the world, so my wife and I made a trip to our Ozark forest. Because we were at my son’s house the day before, we suggested that grand Emmett join us, which meant spending Saturday night at our house before we embarked for the woods on Sunday morning.

I had notions of using my chainsaw to cut back some of the encroaching trees along our road in — this is the best time of the year for that since there are no leaves to add weight and there are no insects to burrow into my skin and leave me itching for a week. However, having young Emmett along changed those plans.

So did the appearance of my latest pile of gravel. Through the decade-plus that my cabin has stood in the forest, I have worked with a number of local contractors, trying to get things done. This has not always worked out. Some would appear and do a little work then never appear again. Others would promise to do some work and not show. Other would simply ignore my voice mails and texts. Getting my spillway repaired was a multi-year project with several contractors, each of whom said the guy before “did it all wrong.” I suspect that the jobs I had for these men were simply too small for them.

It happened that the man who built my cabin had become a friend on social media. He had taken a job as an over-the-road trucker but then announced that he was doing excavation and hauling work locally (due to his wish to be closer to his family). When I saw his new career, and remembering the excellent work he did on my cabin, I contacted him about getting some gravel delivered. And since he seemed eager for the work, I showed him a muddy area along my road as well as what may have been the true cause of my spillway washing out: all of the water racing down the quarter mile of road leading to the cabin. He laid a pipe under the road in the muddy area and then spread gravel over it. And he dug three trenches into the woods to bleed water from the roadside ditch that was sending torrents to wash out my spillway. Plus he delivered a three-ton pile of gravel.

In the months that followed, I spread those three tons around the cabin (to maintain a firebreak and to keep the scrub from growing there). I used a shovel and wheelbarrow (also a reluctant back). And so I asked him for a new load of gravel. Then the weather turned bitterly cold and the holidays came and whatever else, and the gravel pile didn’t appear.

Last week, though, an invoice came for the gravel. It was twice the price I had paid for the last load, but since I was dependent on his machines, and since the local quarry closed so getting rock meant going farther, and since fuel prices have been fluctuating, I resigned myself to the seemingly higher cost.

But when we got to the cabin on Sunday, you see the pile of gravel that was waiting for us. (Boy for scale). That was much bigger than any pile I’ve had delivered in the past. (My reluctant back is already mumbling complaints.) Emmett had a wonderful day climbing up the mountain and then sliding down it. Playing with his cars, burying them and unearthing them. He was covered with a gray dust by the end of the day. I thought about shifting some of that gravel into the area where I want to expand the firebreak, but somehow sitting in a comfy chair in the sunlight won the day.

The warm day in the woods came to an end, and the only work done on the gravel pile was what Emmett and his cars did. I wrote to the man who delivered it, asking him how much he brought in. It turns out he’d dropped 15 tons of gravel this time. If my math is correct, the price doubled but the volume went up by a factor of five.

Now I need to begin spreading the gravel. I want to expand the firebreak around the back of the cabin (the direction where a potential ground fire would likely come). The area that I could cover is about equal to the area already covered on the other side of the cabin (and the first layer of that was spread by heavy machines). I’m going to focus my initial effort on the gravel that has engulfed the tree. I don’t know if that is bad for the tree, but if you look at it closely you can see what looks like space between the gravel and the trunk. (Click to embiggen.) That is because we wrapped the tree in chickenwire, so the gravel is “held back” from the trunk. Libby says that this has made it easier for the beavers to chew on the tree above the chickenwire, so it’s my priority to shift that part of the pile.

Lots of work, but that’s why I go to the woods.

(not) a day in the woods

November 25, 2022

Today is the big shopping day, for those so minded. For me it had always been a day to go to the cabin. I pretty much refuse to be part of the frenzied buying ethos, not wanting to count myself as a “consumer culture casualty.”

And it would have been a pretty good day to go to the cabin too. The forecast called for temps in the 50s, with plenty of sun. And then there would be two days of rain, so Friday would have been ideal for a one-match fire in the ring too.

But I did not go. Instead, I am in Seattle, seeing my two granddaughters as well as my visiting three grands from NYC. (Also, their respective parents.) We’re seeing some of the sights, though doing anything with five children is always intentional and conditional.

The photo above was one that I had proposed for the cover of One-Match Fire (note all of the space above the cabin for the title). The editor preferred the photo we used.

Roundrock in the sun

November 7, 2022

My wife and I dashed out to our little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks yesterday. The weather looked favorable, and our day was free, so off we went.

There had been rain in the area, but I guess the ground has been so dry that all of the rainwater soaked in and little to none flowed into the lake, which is down about six feet. (That still leaves plenty of water for the fish to survive, but I’d like more to help them get through the winter. I hear it’s coming.)

I had three chores on my agenda that day, barring any utter disaster like the road being washed out or a fire burning the dry forest. I wanted to blow the leaves away from the cabin. I wanted to build a one-match fire just for ambiance. And I wanted to lay more gravel down in the parking area.

When we got there, it was clear that the beavers had been busy. They’d taken down a half dozen trees (mostly saplings) in one area and a larger tree in another. No doubt they’d been busy elsewhere along the lakeshore, but I didn’t hike it to find out. One of the larger trees they took down, didn’t come all the way down. It fell into the embrace of another tree, so the edible tips of the branches that the beavers are stockpiling for the winter (I hear it’s coming) are out of their reach. That’s the trunk of the tree in the photo above.

Here’s the same trunk from a different angle:

Castor canadensis is building us a new view of the lake from our porch. I’m hoping that since the cabin is not a living tree, the beavers will leave it alone. (They’re not taking down any dead trees.)

Since there is really nothing I can do to prevent the beavers from doing their beaverish things, I am resigned to accepting it and feeling myself a good steward of the forest.

Having surveyed the work they did, I returned to the cabin and fired up the leaf blower. There was a big pile of leaves against the back of the cabin, and it turned out they were still wet from the rain earlier in the week. Blowing them was like cutting hair. I took a little off the top. And then a little more. And so on until I was down to gravel. I had to move the huge wet mass of leaves quite a ways to get it off the gravel that includes the fire ring, so I kept taking a little off the top for a while. But the whole time I told myself that it was far, far better than trying to do the same job with a rake and swear words.

That accomplished, I set about building a fire. As I said, there had been rain recently, so the forest was safely wet. Plus I contain my fires in a ring of blocks, and I clear all combustibles around it for ten feet or more. And the fires I make are generally not that big. The only purpose of this fire was to create ash. In One-Match Fire there is frequent mention of the depth of the ash in the fire ring, which indicates the hundreds of times the men and boys (and sometimes moms) have had fires. It suggests longevity in this bit of family lore. And so, I simply wanted to create more ash, burning up some very punk wood I had on the rack to do it.

My wife sat by the fire to oversee it so that I could get busy with my third chore: slinging more gravel on the parking area. It’s an area I had covered with a tarp for a couple of months recently to kill the grass growing lushly there. I think I mostly did that, but then I buried any lingering plants under four inches of limestone gravel, which I’m told is sufficient to prevent regrowth. In the weeks I’ve been doing this project, some of that formerly covered grass had started to green up, so I went to the local hardware store and got a roll of landscaping fabric to put down first. Then I would bury it with the gravel. I’ve done a few rows of this, and I think one more ought to finish the job. I’m leaving that for my next visit.

Somewhere in there we had lunch, and I sat in the November sun for a while. The temperature reached 75 degrees, which isn’t too bad for November in my part of the country, especially since we had some snow only two days before.

We had a good day at Roundrock, and before we left, I wanted to blow away the leaves that had fallen since my earlier effort. I realize that hardly makes a difference given that I might not be back for a couple of weeks, so all of the remaining leaves in the forest will probably collect behind my cabin in that time. Still, I had the tools and the talent (though not a proton pack), so I started doing it. But then my wife waved me down and pointed to the lake. Something was swimming across it, coming in our direction. I shut off the leaf blower and watched with her. It was a beaver. I’m not sure if it didn’t realize we were up the hill or if it didn’t care, but it got within about twenty feet of the shore and then dove under the water. We waited for it to climb onto the land, perhaps to continue taking down our oaks, but it didn’t appear to have done that.

But then my wife pointed to a different part of the lake where the beaver had climbed onto a submerged log (not so submerged with the water being low). It sat for maybe five minutes, grooming itself. We used our (low-powered) binoculars to look at it, and it looked like a big ball of brown fur that didn’t seem interested in waving. I think it wanted us to know that it was now in charge of the trees along the lake shore. After a while it plopped into the water and swam to its den on the far side of the lake. We watched it walk in (again, because the water is so low; the entrance would be underwater at full pool).

That was a nice way to end our day. This is only the second time we’ve seen the beavers that occupy our lake. I’m not sure when I’ll be back. I have travel plans later this month. so who knows?

bits and pieces ~ Make Today Awesome

October 4, 2022

Small Paul at play on his front porch. He got his very first haircut recently, but they wanted to keep some of his curls. I think it looks good.


I’ve spoken of my reading pace being slowed for reasons. Those reasons are the work I’ve been doing on One-Match Fire in the run up to publication. I think I’ve read closely through the entire manuscript a half dozen times in the back and forth with the editors and designer.

Here are the books I managed to find time to read in September:

Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey – I learned about this novel from one of the podcasts I listen to on my treadmill. This is many things. It’s a love story. A fantasy. It’s a story of longing. It’s about imperialism. There are Ugly Americans. There are disabilities. Of course, there’s a hurricane. I really enjoyed reading this, especially reaching the ending that wasn’t altogether happy but that was inevitable. (By the way, this mermaid is most definitely a woman of color!)

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok – I’d first read this in high school, and it must have been an eye-opener for the provincial little kid I was then. Its theme is universal though the story is specific. It’s about an artistically talented Hasidic boy in New York who struggles with the demands of his art and those of his faith. This is another novel that doesn’t have an altogether happy ending, but it is inevitable. I think this is considered Potok’s best work.

Savage Tongues by Azareen van der Vliet Oloomi – Another podcast find and, happily, also found on the shelf of my local library. In this story a woman and her friend travel to Spain where the protagonist had spent a fateful teenage summer in an out-of-balance sexual relationship with a man who both loved her and used her. She has been haunted by that all of her life, and her return was an attempt to bury the ghost. I think she did.

So that’s two novels by women to one by a man. I’m not actively trying to favor women writers, but it’s nice to see what the randomness of my finds provided.


Meanwhile at Roundrock, the beavers are expanding their range. My wife and I ventured across the dam to the other side of the lake on our last visit to inspect what appeared to be a second den in the soft earth there. Not only did we confirm that they’ve established a second den, but there was a third under construction and what looked like the diggings for a fourth as well.

The lake is low, and it will likely remain that way for a while since there’s no rain in the forecast. I don’t think this affects the beavers, and the fish in the lake have been through much shallower times, but a solid rain or two would be nice now and then. The deepest part of the lake is still more than 12 feet down, but the more water there is, the better the fish will overwinter.


I speak of listening to podcasts a lot here, so let me give you a rundown of the ones I like. I’m always on the lookout for new ones, so if you have a suggestion, let me know.

I’m a Writer, But – Two writer friends in Chicago host this, and it’s mostly an interview session with up-and-coming authors. Usually there’s short reading. It’s hip and fun, and they often dip into the particular demands of being a writer with small children. It’s about an hour long, which makes it pretty good for my current treadmill abilities (which is to say, it allows for gasping breaks now and then). Also, probably the best theme music.

This Podcast Will Change Your Life – Another Chicagoland podcast, brought to the world by Ben Tanzer, who blurbed One-Match Fire, folks. A lot of give and take betwixt the host and the guest, who are mostly writers or people in the industry. Very informal, which allows it to be wide ranging. Episodes are generally at least an hour long.

Otherppl – Truly a top-notch podcast hosted by Brad Listi. You’ll hear deep and interesting conversations with deep and interesting people. Often the discussion will take a long tangent onto some subject the host and guest share an interest in that is not really about the book being promoted. It’s never disappointing, and being about an hour and a half long, it’s just about perfect for the drives to my cabin.

The Writer Files – Half-hour-ish episodes with writers and others in the industry. The focus here swings toward craft though I’ve discovered several new writers I have chosen to read. Most episodes feature writers, including at least one Nobel laureate, but neuroscientists have also been on to talk about the science of creativity. The host, Kelton Reid, undoubtedly has the smoothest voice in the industry.

Writers on Writing – Interviews with authors, including Pulitzer prize winners, about upcoming works. It’s hosted on alternate episodes by two different hosts. I generally tune in to the ones hosted by Marrie Stone. Episode length varies, though you can usually count on at least an hour of interesting conversation.

I’ve sampled other podcasts but not stuck with them.

What do you recommend?

bits and pieces

September 20, 2022

I may have shown you this photo before. That’s a particularly nice round rock, about the size of a grapefruit, with the tannish color that distinguishes it from most of the others I have in my forest, which are generally whiter. The location is where my cabin now stands, so this is a very old photo.


I am now on LinkedIn. I’m not sure why. But if you want to “connect” or “follow” or “stalk” or whatever is done there, look me up.


I’ve also updated the About Me section on this blog. You can get to it by clicking on the link in the sidebar on the right (on larger screens) or by clicking here. I’m still the same old me though.


The reprint of my story “Travel Light” in Made of Rust and Glass will be delayed until the end of October because the publisher (and his whole family) contracted Covid. In our mostly vaccinated civilization, the virus tends to manifest as a very bad cold (that’s how it affected me last April), and that seems to be what happened to the publisher et al. Best wishes for a speedy recovery.


Cross your fingers, gang. It looks as though that massive cypress tree in my back yard will not have a harvest of “cones” this year for my dogs to bring in the house. I have found a few in the yard (a little early in the season, too), but when I look up in the tree I don’t see the hundreds of them at the tips of the branches I saw last year. The dogs will still bring in the feathery leaves from the cypress, but they don’t puncture the skin on the soles of your feet when you step on them in the night. The squirrels, on the other hand, have built a second big nest in the cypress, and they regularly visit the bird feeder to empty it.

Beneath the cypress tree, in a raised bed built especially for them, my impatiens have lost their fight with the heat and drought of this summer. Last year we had removed two ash trees on our western fence line (that sounds so grandiose). They had kept this flower bed shaded from the afternoon sun. This year the impatiens received the full force of that sun, with atypical heat, in a worse-than-normal drought. Though we were vigilant about keeping them watered — and I had added peat to the soil before planting and mulch on the soil after planting — the impatiens couldn’t thrive and barely survive. They’re an understory plant not suited to too much direct sunlight. So now they’re spindly, losing leaves, sending up few flowers. I keep hoping for a second act when the milder fall temps come. (And I calculate what different flowering plant might do better in that bed next year. Maybe wax-leaf begonias?)

return to Roundrock

September 12, 2022

Libby and I went down to Roundrock on Sunday, mostly because there was a break in the hot weather. We had no agenda for the day, which often results in the best visits.

When I arrived on the cabin porch, I saw this dragonfly resting on the door. I was surprised that it didn’t fly away at my approach, but then I saw that it was caught in a spider’s web. I pulled away a couple of strands of the webbing, and the dragonfly flew away, through the trees toward the lake. So I got a few human decency points for the day.

I did have a vague notion that I might spread some of the gravel from the recently delivered pile onto the parking area. I had covered a big part of it with a tarp a month or two ago to kill the grass growing there. And I’ve heard that if you spread the gravel thick enuf (at least four inches), the grass and scrub won’t grow back (except for this one type of plant that seems to thrive in limestone gravel). But I was doing my best to talk myself out of doing the work because it was, well, work!

I was dithering in the cabin when Libby called me out and said there was some mammal swimming in our lake. It happened that we’d heard a tree crash to the ground moments before, so it was easy to identify the mammal. It was one of our elusive beavers! We had finally seen one in the flesh. It swam for a little while then dove under the water, popping up in a different part of the lake. It did this twice. I suspect it was judging the threat level of the two bipeds up the hill. After that we didn’t see the beaver again, though we did try to convince ourselves that a large sunning turtle was a beaver. Still, it was great to see one live. They’re mostly nocturnal so we were lucky to see one during the day. But it had been nearly a month since I had been out, so I guess the beavers thought they had the place to themselves.

I eventually talked myself into spreading some gravel. I didn’t want to leave the area open to the sun as it was once I removed the tarp. I figured the mostly dead grass would just green up again and laugh at me. So I pulled out what dry stuff I could and then got busy transferring the gravel from the big pile to the exposed parking area. One wheelbarrow load at a time. I dumped 15 loads in the area, and Libby spread them with a steel-toothed rake. Then we had lunch. After lunch I returned to drop and spread four more loads. I estimate that I covered about half of the parking area, and that’s how it’s going to stay for a while because I moved the tarp to the other half of the area. This method of thwarting growth works best during the active growing season, and I’m hoping that I still have some of that. But I think in a couple of months I’ll just remove the tarp from that area and spread the gravel there too. That will pretty much use up my pile, so I’ll need to have more delivered. You see how having an 80-acre forest with a cabin and a lake is just like having a yard in suburbia. There’s always maintenance.

We didn’t have a fire this visit (one-match or otherwise), mostly because those take tending, which restricts what we can do, but also because it had rained heavily overnight. Though the roads were dry, there were robust puddles everywhere. Even so, the lake is down about four feet from full pool. We could use more rain, but there’s nothing in the forecast. Warmer dry weather stretches out as far as my weather app can see.

one-match fire Friday

August 19, 2022

A day-trip to the cabin yesterday, and I built a one-match fire to cook our burgers over. It’s all in the preparation!

even if you can’t see it, you know it’s there

August 16, 2022

Back in 2014, as I was walking through my little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks, I saw a bird rise from the ground and flop around as though wounded. I wasn’t fooled. It was a whippoorwill, trying to draw me away from her ground nest. I walked carefully to where I had seen her rise, and I found these two chicks.

I had never heard a whippoorwill until I went to Scout camp as a boy. And then the things seemed to sing their three-note song incessantly through the night. Something about that fixated in me, and to this day, I love the call of the whippoorwill.

Most people will never see one. They are night birds that hunt by flying with their mouths open to catch any insects in their path. But you can still know that they’re there because you will hear their night call in the spring and early summer. Here’s a link if you want to hear one yourself.

In one of my stories, whippoorwills play an important role, not only for their natural existence but because they stand as a metaphor for knowing something exists even if you don’t have direct evidence of it. Someday maybe I can share that story with you.

throwback Thursday ~ a little cabin in the woods

July 28, 2022

Here’s a view of my little cabin in the woods from November of 2009. I’d taken it in extreme zoom from across the lake. This was very soon after it was built. There is no double retaining wall in front of it yet (constructed by yours truly), which was something I did slowly over succeeding seasons to shore up the foundation. You can’t really see it from this shot, but the cabin is perched on the hillside, and I was certain at the time that it would slide into the lake if I didn’t act.

Aside from the lack of a retaining wall, this is still mostly how it looks today. I’ve taken out one or two trees, and the beaver have taken out many others, though they’re mostly on the shoreline.