Archive for the ‘Roundrock’ category

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.


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:


*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.

overnight at Roundrock

June 7, 2021

The dogs and I made a dash down to Roundrock on Friday afternoon. My wife had driven to St. Louis the day before to help care for Small Paul, leaving me unsupervised. My work day ended early, so I packed a few things, got the dogs into the truck (harder than it should be), and drove to my little cabin with plenty of daylight to spare. (Also, it was neighborhood garage sale weekend where I live, so I was happy to get away.)

I had no firm agenda for the trip, in large part because the dogs need to be managed. The little one, who is willful and disobedient, is coyote and bobcat bait, so I either have to keep my eyes on him all the time or shut him in the cabin. The big one can protect himself from any likely predators but not from his own insecurities. He is terrified of distant gunshots and nearby buzzing flies. Either will send him into the corner of the cabin where he’ll pant and drool. And if he’s not kept stimulated (that is, me throwing a stick for him), then he will pace through the trees in the same circle. He probably needs a therapist.

So getting anything done was going to be spotty. I had an idea of weed whipping the grassy area in front of the cabin, but when I saw it I realized it could wait till a later visit; it wasn’t very tall yet. I also thought about spreading more gravel around the cabin, but that would have involved pulling up a lot of grass and weeds first (see the background in the photo above), plus the gravel pile is diminishing, and I want to have some left for when my NYC grands come for a visit next month. I expect playing in that to be the biggest hit of their visit.

But I did have some unfinished business from my two most recent trips. I had cut down a tree earlier with a specific intention two trips ago. On my last trip I did a little refining of the stump, but the screws I had brought to finish the work were the wrong size (their heads were too small), so that left getting the job done for a later visit, this last weekend’s visit.

Well, I had better screws this time, so I got to finish what I had started. Behold:

That weather vane had perched on the peak of my garage roof for many years until we had a ridge vent put in. (We later had the ridge vent removed. Too leaky.) For at least a decade the weather vane collected dust in my basement, but when the four offspring were here for Mothers Day, they took some time to paw through their things in the basement, and this resurfaced with their efforts. So out to the cabin it went, and after three visits, I managed to get it installed, more or less vertically, and showing the cardinal points as accurately as I can without knowing the angle of declination for my bit of the world. (Basically, your compass doesn’t point to true north.)

And so the job was done. Sunset was going to be around 8:30 that evening, and campfires are at their best after dark, but building a successful one-match fire takes sufficient preparation, and I wanted the wood to burn down to mostly glowing coals by dark (so I didn’t have to worry about controlling a loose fire in the dark — I’ve never had a fire get out of control, and maybe it’s because I worry about it so much that I can say that).

My only other desire for this visit was to hear a whippoorwill call, and that generally happens after dark, so staying up tending a campfire seemed like a good way to be in the right place at the right time.

Seemed like, anyway. I did not hear the bird even once. That was disappointing. I think this is the prime season of the year for hearing them too. I’ve read that they are diminishing in their range, but surely my forest can support a few.

I eventually retired to the cabin for the night and slept in until the shameful hour of 5:30! I had been ambitious to make myself a hot breakfast (oatmeal and tea) and give the dogs a can of store-bought food, but when I rose, I lost enthusiasm and instead fed the dogs more treats and had a piece of cheese and some iced tea for my breakfast. The day was wide open for other chores or just knocking around, but it’s bug season, and the dogs still needed their management, so when I suggested we just go home, they rushed to the truck and stood by eagerly for me to open the door so they could get it.

With them corralled, I got about shutting down the place. Mostly this involves putting things away and cleaning up. I always make sure to close all of the windows (having forgotten only once). I swept the braided run in the cabin (how does it get so dirty when no one is there to walk on it?), made the bed the dogs and I slept in, swept the front porch, and locked the door. (Twice we’ve come to the cabin to find the door open! Not sure how that happened, but I’m guessing I didn’t latch it properly when I left before.) Then we drove out. I made a couple of detours to the small towns I pass along the way just to see how things are going, but I was home with most of Saturday still before me. Laundry. A hot shower. Fresh clothes. All of the usual comforts of a weekend.

another tree falls in the forest

April 21, 2021

But first, this nice photo of some native phlox that was blooming downhill from the cabin. It’s getting to be spring flowering season in my Ozark woods, and while I used to try to identify each type I found, I gave that up and just enjoy them as they come.

So it looked as though we were going to get a break in the weather on Sunday, and since we’re occupied this coming weekend, we decided to make a dash out to the cabin when we could. Despite the weather not cooperating fully, we did have a productive time in the woods.

Arrival at the cabin involves a few routine chores. I will fill the bird feeder with safflower seed, and in the coming weeks, I’ll replace that with a hummingbird feeder. I always set (unsalted) peanuts on the old log near the cabin for the wood rat who lives in it, but I think the birds take most of them. I’ll rake the leaves away from the wooden cabin if there are any (not this trip). I’ll light some balsam incense in the small burner on my table so the cabin won’t smell (too much) like gym socks when the summer heat comes. I’ll inspect the water level in the lake (full pool this trip). I’ll think in the abstract about a hike to some far corner or working in the pines or the pecans. We set the comfy chairs on the shady deck overlooking the sparkling lake, and there we will have our lunch when the time is right.

On this trip I had not intended to cut down another large tree, and instead I began my chores with shoveling nine wheelbarrow loads of gravel to the west side of the cabin to clean and level the area (and to bury part of a drain pipe that the critters have moved into). I considered that a day’s worth of work: shoveling the gravel into the wheelbarrow, pushing it across un-level ground, spreading it evenly, then going back to do it eight more times. There is a good possibility that most of my grands will be visiting the cabin this summer, and I’d like them to spread marbles in the gravel, so I need to get it laid down while I can. (I’ll also need to get another load of gravel delivered so I can cover the area properly.) I was just finishing this work when the rain that was not in the forecast began. It was really a drizzle, but it was a good time for me to retreat.

When that was done, we sat down to lunch (cheese sandwiches on pretzel buns, fruit, and for me, iced tea, unsweetened, of course). Some geese visited the lake, and we watched for an appearance by the beavers. They’ve been busy in our absence, cutting down more trees across the lake (and trimming some cedars on the cabin side of the lake), and they’ve built a large pile of sticks against the mud bank to protect their den. So far, though, no appearances.

As we sat and mused, something like sunshine began penetrating the clouds overhead, and I got the notion that I could cut down a cedar tree beside the road down to the dam. We have an old weather vane that once caused leaks in the roof of our garage, and I thought I could mount it on a stump, if not for actual weather prognostications then for whimsy. I had been planning to put a mailbox on the stump (if I ever cut down the tree) but the weather vane took top position when that idea struck me.

So with the rain stopped and a weak sunlight reaching the ground, I decided to fire up the old chainsaw and bring down the tree. Once I got started, it was quick work. For some reason, the wood was easy to rip through. I did the wedge cut and then the back cut (a little too low, but I wasn’t killed, so that’s a win). The tree landed in the road just as I intended when I cut the wedge where I did. Behold:

There’s the stump on the right. My trusty chainsaw in the foreground. The fallen cedar tree. The bright green strip you see beyond the tree is the top of the dam. (It’s farther away than it appears.) And through the trees on the right you can see part of the lake. The water was muddy because of the recent rains. I don’t think the fish mind. When it rains, all kinds of good things to eat wash into the lake.

You can see I had begun trimming the branches from the fallen tree. My wife and I dragged them into the forest here and there, and then I began cutting the trunk of the fallen tree into manageable lengths for carrying into the forest as well. Cedar is aromatic when it burns, but it pops a lot and throws embers out of the fire ring.

I’d say we were about a third finished with this project when the rain began again. It was more than a drizzle this time, and we had to retreat to the cabin porch and wait it out. We could have just packed to go home then, but I didn’t like the idea of leaving a tree in the road like this, so I paced and looked to the sky and fumed a little. And it seemed to have worked, for the rain let up and we could finish the job. The rest of the trimming and cutting went quickly, and soon we had the tree parts dispatched in the nearby forest.

Here is the top of the stump in raw form:

It won’t retain that rich red color, which is a shame. I need to trim this into two angles down, both to shed water so it doesn’t rot too soon, and to accept the bracket that the weather vane is mounted on. But that will be a chore for another visit since the rain decided we were getting too much work done and resumed its falling.

So with gravel shoveling and tree felling, I decided I had gotten enuf work done too, and we began packing up to head home. It was then that I discovered that during the two downpours, the windows of the truck and been left down. No serious flooding though since the slope of the ground where it was parked meant the truck was tilted away from the rain. Still, I seem to need this kind of lesson a few times each year.

Here is what fresh cedar sawdust looks like:

another day at Roundrock

April 6, 2021

I could regale you with the unremitting string of rejection letters I’ve received this year, or I could tell you about my trip to the woods last weekend, which is what I’ll do.

My wife and I (and the dogs) made use of the good weather on Saturday and went to our little cabin for the day. I had no agenda for the visit, though I did think in the abstract about maybe taking down another tree to expand the parking area and maybe throw a little gravel around. Neither of those things happened.

Instead, we sat in the sun and listened to the birds. The turkey vultures have returned to soar over the ridge across the lake, but several of them were making low swoops over the water, which I’d never seen before. I suspect it’s a courtship behavior. Occasionally one would pass low over the cabin. We could see its shadow racing across the ground before we saw the bird. I guess it was checking us out since we sat still and lethargic and may have looked like a meal.

Green is just beginning to return to the forest. The tips of the cherry trees are beginning to leaf out, and it won’t be long before the rest of the trees follow, though the hickories will be the last to bring out leaves, just as they are the first to lose them in the fall. The photo above shows one of my red buckeyes near the cabin. It’s leafing out, and many branch tips have nascent flower buds. I think I’m going to get a good display this year.

Sometime during the morning, I broke myself out of my languor and went for a hike. Flike decided to join me, though my wife and Queequeg stayed back at the cabin. We walked across the dam and then down the south spillway. this one passes over bedrock, so it’s not eroded the way the north spillway is (and always has, despite repeated efforts to fix it). From there we diverted up onto the south-facing slop and toward the southeast corner, which is a part of my woods I don’t visit too often. We didn’t go to the corner, but we did visit a spot with a bit of exposed ledge that I thought might make a good spot for a small fire ring. We continued toward the eastern fence just to see what there was to see. Not much, it turned out. My neighbor had maintained a broad open area just beyond my fence that he could drive on, but now it’s growing out with small trees.

I did see this:

That cedar post is suspended there deliberately, though not by me. My guess is that it is a deterrent to the cattle that sometimes graze in this meadow (and sometimes get through the fence and onto my land). The fence is missing its lowest strand here, and certainly a calf could stroll right under while a cow could probably muscle through pretty easily as well. My guess is that by having this substantial object in their line of sight, the cattle turn away from this weak part of the fence, thinking it more than it is. If it works that way, it’s pretty ingenious.

Flike and I continued our walk along the eastern fence and then turned west because I wanted to check on a brush pile I had created with a bunch of willows I had cut out of the pecan grove. (Note, beavers are said to favor willows, and they are welcome to take down as many of mine as they want.) The brush pile was less impressive than I remember, and Flike wasn’t interested anyway, so we dipped into the pecan grove where I cut some locust that shouldn’t be there. It was then that Flike saw my wife and Queequeg up on the dam and took off to visit them. I continued to poke around as I wove my way back to the cabin. Along the way I found this:

I’m pretty sure it’s from the shell of a large turtle, The piece was translucent and as large as my hand, and that would have been maybe only a sixth of the shell covering, so it must have been a big turtle.

When I got back to the cabin, my wife and the dogs were not there. Nor could I see them across the lake. I waited a while, thinking they’d find their way back, but my wife has gotten lost on our 80 acres before, so I began to worry. I decided to head west from the cabin in the direction I thought most likely to find her. I didn’t get far, though, because I heard them coming, and when Flike saw me, he bounded through the scrub to say hello.

The thermometer on the porch said the day had reach 70 degrees, which is nice for early April in my part of the world. But there were things to do back home, and we were soon packing the truck to head there.