Archive for the ‘Roundrock’ category

fun and games (as in, not all)

June 14, 2017

It’s not all fun and games at my cabin. For example, take my overnight trip last weekend that almost didn’t happen and maybe shouldn’t have.

I had taken off work on Thursday because my wife needed to be at the airport in the middle of the day to catch her flight to Portland to visit baby Ela. The drive each way takes the better part of an hour, and I couldn’t see fitting it in to my lunch hour in part because I only get a half hour and in part because I never leave my desk — I just eat my apple and keep working. So a day off. And then it seemed awkward to come back to work on a Friday, so I took that day off too. My plan was to dart out to the cabin with the dogs on Friday morning, just as soon as the trash trucks came and I could put the bins back in my garage before leaving. (See this post for more about the bins.) My wife, who is usually home on Friday mornings, told me that they trash is collected in plenty of time for her to leave for work at around 9:00. Thus I could get the truck loaded, get the dogs excited, and get going early enuf to get to the cabin well before lunch time.

The trash truck was apparently running late last Friday. I dithered. I looked out the window too many times. I decided to take the dogs to the park for a walk, to mow the lawn. And as each minute passed, I was growing more discouraged about leaving. By the time the truck came, it was 2:30 in the afternoon. I could have left then and gotten to the cabin in time to begin building the one-match fire to cook my dinner, but my plans of getting all kinds of chores done were shot, so I gave it up.

Instead, I would go out Saturday morning (after a visit to the bagelry) and return on Sunday. (I had hoped to have Sunday to knock around the house as my last day before returning to work, but the trash truck had decided otherwise.) So I worked my new plan, getting to my cabin mid-morning on Saturday, only to find this:

You’ll recall the phoebe nest built on the front of the cabin under the porch roof. Well, two of the eggs had hatched, apparently that very morning. My coming and going on the porch sent mama phoebe flying, leaving her hatchlings unprotected and unfed. Normally I would sit in a chair on the porch and gaze at the (still full) lake below, thinking deep thoughts, but I didn’t dare do that and keep the phoebe away from her nest. So I had two choices. I could sit inside the cabin with the door closed (but the windows open) and do my brooding there, or I could occupy myself somewhere outside of the cabin, not within view of the porch so the phoebe would return. It was already a hot day, and I didn’t think the newly emerged chicks needed to be kept warm, but one time when I passed the nest, I saw a handful of flies buzzing over it. If mama were there that wouldn’t have happened.

So after brooding as long as I could stand it, I exited the cabin quickly and went over to where I am slowly extending a retaining wall beside the gravelly area where the fire ring is. The phoebe could still see me, but she apparently had other things to do. A third egg had hatched, and the babies were chirping to be fed. (I suppose by now the fourth has as well.) So she was flitting to and fro, apparently with insects for her babies.

My work on the wall was unenthused. I added a few blocks to the base and then their corresponding blocks above them, and I backfilled with gravel from my shrinking pile as well as from what seemed like a basement full of rocks and sea shells my kids had collected and forgotten. I did about as much work as I could stand and then sat in the chair before the fire ring and brooded some more. Eventually I began collecting the wood for my dinner fire/campfire, and I realized that for all of the work I had done on Saturday, I could have come down on Friday afternoon and been as productive. Sunset was still hours away, it was too soon to eat my dinner, the dogs needed out of the cabin. And that presented a new problem.

The ticks are thick this year. Apparently the conditions through the fall and winter were ideal for them. My larger dog, Flike, (in the top photo) is heedless of such things and dives into the deep brush. His black fur hides any ticks on him, and I only really know about them at around 2:00 in the morning when he is scratching incessantly, beside me in bed. The other dog, Queequeg, is a Pomeranian who thinks he is big, but his preferred activity is to hide under my truck, in the grass growing thickly there. His brown fur is more revealing of ticks, but his fur is dense, so it’s still harder to find them and even harder to extract them. So my wife had extracted a promise from me that I not let the dogs get covered with ticks. That meant limiting their outside time and restricting it as much as possible to the gravel. Not much fun if you’re a dog in a forest. This meant any long hikes were out of the question, and even the trimming I did with the grass whip here and there, exposed the dogs. So soon they were back in the cabin.

I did take a short hike down one of the washed-out spillways (the man who said he would repair it still hasn’t) and came upon the Prickly Pear in bloom:

We’ve known about a few patches of Prickly Pear in our woods, but in all of the years we have been coming here, we’ve never seen it in bloom. This time I did, but I paid a price for it. Not only did I nearly fall into the great gouge that was once my spillway when the gravel beneath my feet crumbled, but my route back to the cabin, up an old, unused and overgrown road, left my legs covered with ticks that I duly brushed and picked off (though I didn’t find all of them — nuff sed).

Eventually, I started my evening fire (one match!) and let the coals grow so I could cook my Salisbury steak. I drank a few beers, brooded more, and waited for the call of the whippoorwill, which still haunts me. I was rewarded. At first I heard them far away, across the ridge. But their calls grew closer, and eventually I heard one in a tree not thirty feet away. The owls were not as vocal on this night, and I didn’t hear any coyotes howling or yipping, but I got my campfire experience, and I retired to bed.

On Sunday morning I rose when the dogs woke me and we ventured outside into the cool air. I knew Sunday would be a repeat of Saturday only with no food aside from some nectarines, so I decided to pack up and head home, leaving the phoebe uninterrupted time in her home.

trip to the cabin

June 5, 2017

I had said in my last post that the chest cold I’d developed (which I still have a tiny bit) prevented me from going to my cabin two weekends ago, but I wrote that before the long weekend had transpired, and it turned out to be a misstatement. My wife and I (and the dogs) did make it out there Sunday for an overnight into Memorial Day Monday. (And I don’t feel bad that I did not go to Kentucky to see my ailing mother as I had originally planned since I didn’t need to give her my cold, so the cabin trip was an acceptable fallback.)

We didn’t do a whole lot while there. I never fired up the chainsaw, for example, though there are some smallish trees around the cabin I’d like to remove. We only went for one short hike, and we penned the dogs inside the cabin while we did since the ticks seem to be bad this year. I didn’t add to the retaining wall I’m slowing extending from the cabin to the road.

But that doesn’t mean that the permanent residents in my little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks weren’t busy. A phoebe has built her nest on the side of the cabin under the porch roof again this year. She had taken literally what the sign below says.

My son and daughter-in-law (the doctors) had given me that sign several years ago, and I duly hung it beside the door to the cabin. I thought the bear on the right looked a little odd — what is it doing in that pose? — so if you look closely you can see the football I put in its hands because that makes so much more sense. Anyway, on an earlier trip to the cabin I had noticed that the phoebe was adding mud pellets to several places on the front of the cabin, and I figured on a later visit I would learn which one she’d settled on for her nest. You can she where she did.

The female phoebe builds her nest alone; imagine how much work that must be without hands. She must collect enuf mud pellets to make the clinging base, and then she must get the softer nesting material to add to the top to complete it. (Which made my slacking visit more clear to me.) I had worried that the phoebe would not return this year because I hadn’t seen her nest work earlier in the spring as I usually did, but then I recalled what a drought we’d had, so perhaps mud was hard to come by.

Anyway, she finished her nest and promptly filled it:

One summer several years ago the phoebe — I don’t know that it’s the same one actually — raised three clutches, but she’s getting a late start this year. Still, it’s heartening to see this.

Unfortunately, we come and go a lot on the porch, and we have two comfy chairs there that we sit in to gaze down at the lake (still full!) for countless hours. And this is problematic for the phoebe since she is not habituated to humans and so will not remain on her nest when we are on the porch. Instead she will fly to a nearby tree branch and scold us. Given the temperature the thermometer on the porch was reporting that day, I don’t think her absence from her eggs was a problem for their development, but I tried to keep myself busy away from the porch as much as possible so she could return to her nest.

On my next trip to the cabin it may be that I’ll find chirping hatchlings in the nest.

As to the top photo, that fallen tree rests not too far from the cabin. You can see that it’s slowly yielding all of the solar energy it collected over decades to the earth. This is the log I put peanuts (unsalted, of course) on for the wood rat who lives within it as well as for the birds who come and take a whole one to a nearby branch to peck it open and get the good stuff inside. You can see some peanuts in the lower right of the photo.

Feeding wild animals is, technically, not a good thing since they can get dependent on their human source, but given my sporadic visits and thus sporadic feedings, I consider them to be a supplement rather than a meal replacement, so to speak.


a day in the woods

May 15, 2017

One of the reasons I upgraded the operating system on my Mac (see last post for oblique reference to this) was to allow me to download photos from my phone. Somewhere along the journey I had lost that ability. Apparently my phone upgrades are pushed while my Mac upgrades have to be approved/sought by me. (Two other reasons for the upgrade: The “Critical” software updates notices I would get could no longer be loaded because my operating system was too old. Also, I wasn’t backing up to my Time Capsule any longer and Apple kept telling me to upgrade.)

But all of that is mostly beside the point. Trapped on my phone were photos of my recent trip to Roundrock, and I wanted to share them with the both of you who happen to read this humble blog.

We were out to the cabin two weekends ago, and we were greeted by the lovely sight of the lake at full pool. This is a rare state. The lake was formed by damming the Central Valley that runs through my rectangular 80+ acres. It has a hundred-acre watershed, and can fill with a couple of good rains. (The builder reported that the entire 2+ acres of area filled overnight shortly after he built it when a huge rain storm blew through the area.) The trouble is that the Central Valley is underlaid with gravel that has been washing down the hillsides for millennia. Gravel is leaky. It’s hard to plug. And so over the dry summer, fall, and winter most of the water in the lake leaks out under the dam, leaving me with a puddle barely deep enuf to overwinter the fish.

Compare the photo above to the view from the cabin porch on January 1 of this year:

That muddy plain you see should have water that is over your head in it. And it did on our recent visit.

Of course it is busy leaking out this very moment. The spring rains will keep it full-ish, but the farthest area from the dam is already exposed lake bed, and the waterline will continue to creep toward the east. Still, it will give the fish and turtles and frogs and snakes and water bugs and microbes a decent place to live through the summer.

Here is a view of the lake from the west, looking east toward the dam:

That brown grass in the foreground is bluestem (I think) on the shore. Those willows emerging from the water are enemies of mine that exploited the exposed ground when the lake was low and grew haughtily. You can see some dark dots on the water that are the stumps of some willows I cut out when I could walk out there with my chainsaw. The willows you see on the extreme right side of the photo are on the tip of an island we had raised in the lake bed (when the lake was in retreat one year). It has rarely been a true island (surrounded by water) because the lake has been low and the lake bed around it has been slowly filling with gravel washed down from the Ozark hillsides. Once I win the lottery I intend to hire the dozer man to come out and scrap this part of the lake bed clean again so the water can flood into this area.

So it was a pleasing trip to the cabin. We hiked around our full lake, through the trees and the tall grass with the dogs ahead of and behind us. And we just enjoyed seeing the lake in its full state. Last week there were further storms in the area, serious enuf to have breathless cautions reported on the television news as far away as Kansas City. So it’s likely that the lake is still full, and it’s now warm enuf that we might dare to dip in a toe or two. (The air temperature is warm, but the water is likely much colder.) I probably won’t get down there for another two weeks, but now that my phone is talking to my laptop, I’ll have more to share with you if I do.

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.