Archive for the ‘Roundrock’ category

meanwhile, back at the cabin*

October 16, 2017

We made a day trip down to Roundrock on Saturday, doing nothing special until is was time to leave. Then we got our big surprise.

I’m sure I could count on one hand (yes, I can count that high!) the number of months over the last decade when I hadn’t made at least one visit to the cabin, but with this October shaping up as it is, I was worried that it would become one of those unvisited months. Thus our trip.

We had nothing much on our agenda, and since I forgot to bring the gasoline for the chainsaws, even the vague idea to clean up here and there, was dismissed. Upon entering the cabin, though, I found that both of the mousetraps I had set on my last visit had fulfilled their destiny. There were two dead (and mostly desiccated) mice in the traps. While this was good, it was also disconcerting. How are the mice getting into the cabin after nearly a decade of not being able to? (Or not having done so?) Libby suggested that we couldn’t reuse the traps since they now had the “smell of death” on them, but I’m not sure mice have that level of existential thought, though I do think they are attracted to smells. (I had baited the traps with a piece of extra sharp Swiss cheese and a bit of a chewy dog treat, and topped them both with a dab of spicy mustard.) Either way, I threw the traps onto the ash in the fire ring, to be consumed in the next fire (and to add their metal mechanisms — sprung — to the ash).

We poked around. I swept some corners of the cabin. I screwed an attachment in a wall stud so I could hang the wheelbarrow and thus regain some floor space. I liberated some cedars from their earthly toil. I raked leaves away from the back of the cabin. I took a “nap” which mostly consisted of closed eyes and slow breaths as I imagined a scene from a story I’m working on. (This resulted in a page of notes I wrote soon after.) We ate our lunch an hour early. I pulled weeds out of the gravel near the fire ring. I loaded the wheelbarrow into the bed of my truck to take home in faraway suburbia for some much-needed yard work. That kind of thing, for about five hours. (It’s a two-hour drive each way for a cabin trip, so we strive to spend more time actually there than it takes to get to and fro.) And then it was time to begin packing to head home.

We were nearly gone — the dogs were already in the car — when Libby opened the drawer of the metal cabinet to get a tissue and made her discovery.

There was a mouse in the drawer. Not only a mouse, but a momma mouse with three babies hanging from her. (Apparently they’re called pups.) She had made a nest of the oven mitt we’d kept there. When Libby spotted the mouse, she quickly disappeared, leaving one pup behind. We slowly began emptying the drawer (and throwing out many foul-smelling things), but we could not find the mother mouse. Then we moved to the cabinet below the drawer. In here we have kept the extra sheets for the beds, towels, blankets, and all sorts of things we’d put away exactly because they would make nice mouse bedding. Slowly we began removing these, and on the fleece blanket Libby uses to keep warm on cold nights, we saw a chewed hole in it. Still, we could not find the mother mouse. But as I was holding the blanket, I saw it move and I knew the mouse was within the folds. Just has Libby had done with the one pup we’d retrieved from the drawer, I took the blanket far from the cabin and then opened it. There was momma mouse, looking bright eyed and plump, with clean, thick fur. (Another mystery is how these mice are feeding themselves in the cabin since we’ve put away all of the edibles. The conclusion is that they’re coming and going through some means mysterious.) Also with momma mouse were two pups. I shook them off the blanket and wished them well there in the woods, then I opened the blanket fully and shook it again.

We brought home all of the washables from the cabinet (and put a new oven mitt on the list of things we need for the cabin). They’ve all been laundered and are ready to be returned on our next visit.

I should say that we had purchased this metal cabinet specifically because we thought it was mouse proof. Even with it emptied (and Windexed clean), we could not find an entrance. It will get a more thorough examination on our next trip.

I’ll get more mouse traps, and I think I’ll get some of that nasty poison to stick behind the cabinet in the corner. We’ve always been reluctant to use poison because of the small dog, though there are places he can’t reach that mice can.

I intend to bring a ladder on my next visit and examine closely the eaves outside of the cabin and their corresponding parts inside. There has to be an entrance somewhere.

You may remember that we’d had a break in last spring. By squirrels, but still! Libby’s idea is that once the forest learned that there were edibles in the cabin — in that case birdseed — the word got around and now the mice, who’d never shown an interest in the cabin before, are determined to move in. That makes the most sense right now.

In my One-Match Fire story “where late the sweet birds sang” the narrator laments that his father had never been able to make their cabin mouse proof, and I was always a little smug that mine was. I am chastized.

Also, this is not a mouse:



*A paraphrase, as I’m sure you recognized, of the phrase “meanwhile, back at the ranch” which has a long and storied history.


spherical stones

October 4, 2017

so, round rocks.

Roundrock, interrupted

August 21, 2017

I made an abbreviated trip to my little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks over the weekend. The plan was for my wife and I, and the two dogs, to have an overnight at the cabin, with no real agenda before us but relaxing and maybe doing some chores if by some means mysterious we found the gumption. The weekend did not go as planned.

But first, a photo:

These are the stone steps leading to the cabin porch. There is a third one below these two. When the cabin was built on the sloping hillside, a good bit of gravel was pushed into place to create a level bed for the slab foundation. Once the work was done, the approach to the porch (from the east side, which is the view above) was a steep, irregular climb of a couple of feet. This arrangement persisted for many months, and my top priority during that time was to build a retaining wall in front of the cabin so that there would be no erosion (from the runoff of the roof), possibly weakening the support for the slab foundation. I got the retaining wall work done soon enuf, and future archeologists may, possibly, find wine and beer bottles in the backfill behind the wall.

Then came the eastern approach. I asked a man who has done some work for me out there if he could lay stone steps to the porch. I even showed him some large blocks of sandstone up the hill from the cabin that I thought would work well. He dismissed those and said he could provide stones much better, which he did. And now I have some rustic stone steps leading to the shady porch.

But it’s the topmost stone that is the point of all of this blather:

This is looking down on the top step and the second step, just where they overlap. (Would the lower step underlap?) What you can’t really tell from this photo is that the top stone step is actually polished from use. Many feet have tread on this step, many more than the two of us and our occasional guests could have provided in the time since the step has been there.

My idea is that this more regularly shaped slab of sandstone had graced the dooryard of some earlier Ozark home, perhaps going back to settlement days. But that’s the hopeless romantic in me thinking that. Still, it’s clearly seen use prior to coming to my little cabin. I wish I knew its story.

As for the weekend at the cabin, here is what happened. August is the peak time for horseflies in the Ozarks. Some years are worse than others, and this year has not been particularly bad with them, but you can’t tell that to my dog, Flike. He is terrified of horseflies. Never mind that he is 75 pounds of muscle and energy with a thick coat of fur and has nothing to worry about from a horsefly. If one buzzes across the porch while he is out there, he will quickly dart into the cabin and do his best to squeeze himself under one of the beds. Or into the tightest corner behind the mouse-proof cabinet. Or in my face as I’m attempting to relax on my pillow on the bed. He spent our entire time there in the cabin, panting heavily. He was terrified and traumatized.

When we saw that he wasn’t going to get any better, we decided to do him a kindness and just go back home where we could all sleep in our regular beds with no horseflies buzzing around us.

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.