Archive for the ‘Roundrock’ category

meanwhile, at Roundrock

March 28, 2018

It hasn’t been all writing fun and games for me. I have also been visiting my Ozark acres and little cabin in the woods. I was there two weekends ago for an overnight that involved having a large fire to burn more junk as well as to do battle with the blackberries and chores around the cabin.

I’ve told my wife that when we retire, I no longer want to have a yard to care for or gutters to clean or all of that suburban nonsense that we endured in order to have a nice place to raise our children. (And now that we have two dogs, we’re pretty much still raising children.) I can see myself in some two-bedroom urban condo, a floor or two above the street, maybe with a nice view of the downtown and no lawn to mow or neighbors to “keep up with.” (I’ve never been a joiner or one to want to fit in especially, but I also recognize that if you live in a community — even vanilla suburbia — you live with a community and there are certain minimum appearances — like a mostly green lawn — that must be maintained for the good of civilization.)

And all of that is a way to say that though I may yet realize this ambition, having 80 acres of Ozark forest with a small cabin and a lake that leaks is pretty much taking my suburban woes and multiplying them. My yard is 80 acres! And each visit to Roundrock* means chores and chores and chores to be done!

On this most recent visit my main chore (after doing battle with the blackberries among my pine trees) was to set up a new place to stack the firewood I cut. Several “problems” aligned in this latest project, and it was mostly the delivery of the load of gravel (recounted here) plus overcoming inertia that allowed me to address them.

I’ve been maintaining and expanding the graveled area around my cabin not merely to have a tick-and-chigger-free space there to move around in but also to keep a buffer between the wooden cabin and any ground fire that may sweep through the forest. (Ground fires are not uncommon in the Ozarks, though there has been only one during my tenure and it didn’t get close to the cabin, and they’re mostly considered benign as long as they stay on the ground and don’t get into the tree tops.) By having an area that is not combustible, I feel that I am performing my due diligence (so that the insurance man won’t reject my claim should I need to rebuild the cabin).

A fact of life about any forest is that leaves will fall from the trees. And then they accumulate, often just where you don’t want them. (One of those places is the north side of my cabin, and raking leaves from there is a year-round chore for me.) The past structure I had for my firewood was too low to the ground. It allowed leaves to pile up against it. Not only was this a potential fire hazard, but it provided haven for all sorts of vermin I might not want too close to the cabin, and it allowed any rain that fell on the firewood to keep the wood damp since the leaves prevented normal evaporation. (Same three points regarding the leaves against the cabin.) So my hope was to create a new place to stack the firewood that would be raised sufficiently to allow the wood to stay mostly dry and to allow any blowing leaves to pass under on their way elsewhere.

Another chore of mine through the years has been to build a retaining wall in front of my cabin. I did this originally because I worried that the cabin was perched on a hill too steep for the good of the concrete floor/foundation. So I got several pallets of cottage blocks over the years and built my wall to shore up the cabin. (I backfilled the wall with very good soil so that I could have a garden of red flowers in front of the cabin to attract hummingbirds. Nature had other plans!) But this wall has continued to the east, toward the area where the fire ring and its attending wood pile is. Part of this extension was not only to satisfy my human need to impose order on chaos but also to ensure that not all of the gravel I (and others) laid down would wash down the hill.

This wall extension needed to be higher than the current level of the gravel since I intended to lay more until it and the gravel bed were level, thus allowing blowing leaves to keep moving and not collect. And then I got the gravel delivery two days before Christmas last year, and my excellent son-in-law shifted about a third of the delivery to its new location against the wall, but the woodpile area remained untouched.

And so this story finally comes round to my visit two weekends ago. I had my wall of cottage blocks. I had my pile of gravel. I had weather that was just slightly chilly, which is ideal for running and manual labor. I had a full day before me. And I had that rarest of things in my life: actual motivation!

The first task was to move the too-low-to-the-ground current wood pile and disassemble the existing “rack” I had built for it. Much of the wood, it turned out, literally crumbled in my (gloved) hands because it was so rotten (from being constantly moist). The former rack consisted of several bricks with an old hickory wheel barrow handle and a thick cedar plank stretched across them. Once I had those out of the way I could begin my real work.

First I raked the area clean of the collected bits of bark and forest debris and whatever might be living in it. This all went over the side of the wall (being only two blocks high). Then I began moving fresh gravel into place. I estimate that I shifted twenty wheel barrow loads of gravel into an area maybe fifteen feet long. It’s not hard work while you’re doing it, but you remember doing it the next day. Then I needed to level the twenty piles of gravel, grading them to the top of the wall. Easy enuf work as well. So the prep work was done.

Many years ago, a friend was making an addition to his house and had many paving blocks and bricks he wanted to get rid of. He offered them to me and I hurried to his house with my eldest boy to stack them all in the bed of my truck. I don’t know how long I drove around town with that weight in my truck before I got to visit my woods, but as I remember, it was a couple of weeks. When I did get down there, I unloaded the blocks and bricks and stacked them beside a tree where they would be handy when I finally found a use for them. They turned out to be a fine place for two forest creatures to call home: black widow spiders and scorpions. (Yes, I saw the scorpions with my own eyes. Black things with yellow chevrons. I’ve never found their match in any critter guidebooks.)

Eventually the blocks became my original fire ring. They served there well for many years until I got my latest load of cottage blocks and built a new fire ring. So the old paver blocks were stacked neatly near the new wall, waiting their next role in life. It happened that I had eighteen of them. I thought that if I stacked them three high and stretched steel bars across them, they would be high enuf to allow blowing leaves to pass through and strong enuf to hold firewood. The trouble was finding steel bars that were long enuf to do the job. (The steel fence posts I have all over the place are only about six feet tall.)

When we had bought the land (how long ago? I would have to look it up to know), the realtor said that our particular 80 acres had been leased to the Have to Hunt Club. (There was even some signage left of their tenure.) In addition to the lake that we added, there is a small pond on the property, and this is a game magnet, especially favorable to deer hunters. Near the pond was an old blind up in a tree. (It would be a tree fort if you were a child.) The tree was dying. The blind was rotting, and the whole thing was going to fall soon, possibly across my road in. But one solid piece of the blind was the ladder leading up to it. When the blind finally fell after a strong storm (not across my road in) I collected the planks and parts as well as the ladder, which I just knew I would have a use for someday. Many of the rotten planks and parts went into the fire, and now they exist as the ash that is rising there. Some of the planks I use to weigh down a tarp I spread over parts of my graveled area to kill the upstart weeds. But the ladder just rested against a tree for years, awaiting its new life.

And because I could not find the steel bars I wanted, I realized one day that the ladder (made of good quality, treated lumber it seems) would serve just as well. I carried the ladder to the area I had added the latest gravel to so I had sense of how long my new wood rack would be. Then I spaced the old blocks along it to make six stacks of three blocks apiece; the eighteen blocks divided so nicely it seemed meant to be. After a bit of leveling, the old ladder rested evenly on the blocks, and you can see the result here:

There are a number of things to say about this photo. First, the lighter colored gravel is the new stuff I laid down. (Farther up in the photo is the gravel my excellent son-in-law laid down in December.) To the right along the edge of the photo is the older gravel. It’s darker for several reason: it likely came for a different part of the quarry and it’s been in the weather for a decade at least. In fact, after the oak trees release their pollen, everything has an orange tint, including this white gravel. It’s hard to tell from this photo, but the lighter gravel is higher than the darker gravel. I need to spread more gravel there to even out the two, the darker gravel being on ground that rises up the slight hill on the right.

You can also see some of the retaining wall at the top of the photo. That’s the old part. The cabin is to the right of this old part. It happens that the new part aligns exactly with the left side of the old ladder; it’s there, just under it.

You can also glimpse the lake through the trees on the right. When we visited, we were delighted to see it as full as it was. (About four feet below full pool.) I watch the weather in the area, and I hadn’t thought there had been enuf rain to fill the lake this much, especially as dry as the forest has been in recent months. Much of this will leak out under the dam, but spring rains will also fill it. (The night we spent there, nine Canada geese circled the lake a few times then splashed onto the water. They spent the night. Keep in mind these were not golf course geese accustomed to humans. These were truly wild ones, and it warmed my black and shriveled heart to think my attempt at stewardship was working.)

I don’t think I’ll ever cut enuf firewood to fill this rack. I’m not sure I’d ever want to have a need for that much. But I have capacity now, and I hope it works as intended to prevent leaves from accumulating.

I still have most of the pile of gravel; I don’t think my son-in-law and I have moved half of it yet. But as I said, there are areas I need to bring to even grade, and it would be nice to have an actual level area near the fire ring so we could put a table there that doesn’t cant down hill and let dinner slide off.

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*Roundrock is the name I’ve given to my property because of the obvious reason that it is filled with round rocks. I realize naming property is a bit pretentious, but I tired of referring to it as “the land” since that was vague.

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post road post

February 21, 2018

I made it down to my Ozark woods over the weekend (though my plan for an overnight was thwarted by an AWOL sun and insufficient temperatures plus the threat of rain and my heightened ability to feel misery whenever cold or wet or both). I was eager to get down there this time because I had chatted with a neighboring land owner earlier in the week, and he told me that the old road that ran (runs?) along my quarter-mile western boundary was once an old post road leading to a rural community about ten miles south of my woods.

I had always known this old road was here. Some parts of it are quite evident, as you can see in the photo above, while other parts are overgrown. But the piles of rocks beside the road and the clearly depressed bed show that this was once a well used road. I had always assumed it was built by the cattle ranchers who held the hundreds of acres of hill and valley, forest and field that were later broken up and sold to Kansas Citians for their weekend getaways. (I’m one of the smaller landowners with only 80 acres.) But my neighbor (immediately to the right in the photo) is going to raise a cattle fence along here and looked into the past easements to make sure there weren’t any surprises. This is when he learned about the old postal road.

I’ve had the land for nearly 15 years, but I am always conscious of the past users, going back to the cattle ranch days (barbed wire in odd places, random cattle bones) and the settlement period (an old horseshoe) and even before that. I found a stone tool once, and I’m always on the look out for arrowheads. So learning this bit of history about my land gives me that much more depth of appreciation for it.

And then, of course, are the round rocks, which take things back hundreds of millions of years.

Roundrock reckoning

January 25, 2018

I keep a calendar on the wall of my little cabin and mark on it each time I make a visit. Then, in January, I switch it for the new calendar and take the old one home to do a reckoning of my visits. Here is how 2017 went down:

January – I started the new year off right by going down to the cabin on the first and staying the night, so that counted as two days of visits. But then I managed to go down on the twenty-first and stay the night again. Four days of visiting. Pretty good.

February – Sadly, I only made it down there one time, a Saturday, for a day visit. Not sure what was going on that month, though wicked weather seems the most likely explanation.

March – I managed a visit on Saturday, the fourth, and then went again on the 18th, staying the night. So I’m calling that three days of visits.

April – Two visits in April, but on successive Saturdays. (Not sure “successive Saturdays” is logically correct. Only one of them could be successive, right? Sequential, maybe?)

May – I made a day trip on Sunday, the seventh and then an overnight on Sunday and Monday, the 28th and 29th (Memorial Day).

June – One overnight visit, on the 10th and 11th, so two days of visiting. Seems like I should have gotten down there more.

July – This month gave me two visits. One on Saturday the eighth (a full moon, though I didn’t stay the night) and on the last Sunday of the month.

August – Just one trip, on Saturday the nineteenth. Miserably hot that month no doubt.

September – I had an overnight early in the month and then returned for a day trip near the end of the month. Fall is my favorite season in the woods.

October – Another two-visit month, first on the fourteenth and then on the 29th. Not sure why I didn’t manage an overnight.

November – Sadly, I didn’t make a trip at all this month. I remember I spent a long weekend in Kentucky then, and a week long trip to Seattle for Thanksgiving, so I guess I couldn’t find any chance to get to my woods.

December – The first weekend was an overnight trip (where I’m sure I burned something or other) and the second was on a Wednesday, which I recounted in this post.

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So I think I told you that among my other afflictions, I have a mild case of synesthesia. I know what color each letter of the alphabet is, and I know the shape of most sounds. (Imagine seeing the music of a symphony!) My older brother has it too, but when we were comparing notes one day we realized that not everyone is like us.

Anyway, I colored the names of each month based on the colors they are in my mind (mostly based on the first letter). October is actually a white word, but that wouldn’t show up against the white background so I left it black. Curiously, I had also done this last year when I made my reckoning, and the colors turned out pretty consistent. Paul is a blue word, and Lamb is a white word, though that letter “m” in it makes it want to be red.

As afflictions go, it’s not so bad.

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The photo above is of a round rock sitting in the negative space of another, larger round rock that I had pried from the ground. The smaller rock is about the size of a baseball, which makes the larger rock about the size of a basketball. I have it around here somewhere.

 

 

sonder, out yonder

January 17, 2018

I once found a stubbed-out cigarette on one of the blocks of the retaining wall behind my cabin.

My first reaction was alarm. The back of the cabin is where dried out fallen leaves collect against the wooden wall. Cigarettes require a flame and themselves burn. But it seemed that the smoker was fastidious about his habit (I assume it was a “he” though I have no reason to think that) and snuffed it safely, though packing out his trash was apparently beyond the range of his perceived responsibilities.

But after my initial alarm, I began to imagine my interloper and his visit. Had he arrived by car or had he walked the considerable distance from anywhere to reach my end-of-the-road little cabin? Did he come down my road or hike cross country? Did he walk around the cabin and appreciate the setting? Or did he sit on the retaining wall as he enjoyed his cigarette? If so, why at the back of the cabin and not on the porch where he could look down on the glinting lake? Though perhaps he started there and merely sauntered. Did he try the door to see if it was open? Peer in the windows? Did he sit in one of the chairs? On the porch or around the fire ring? Did he heft the round rocks all around? Did he come with intent, to see the cabin in its place? Had he heard of it? Or was he just wandering the woods that day and come upon it? How long did he stay? And what did he think while he was there? Did he imagine for the time that the place was his own? Imagine throwing a line in the water? Throwing a steak on the grill? Telling stories around a fire? Or did he scoff at its humble setting? What was his name? Was he tired when he arrived and rested when he left? Was he alone? Did he meet someone there? Has he ever been back? Does this happen often?

I sometimes find the spoor of interlopers in my woods: beer cans, candy wrappers, footprints, emptied shotgun shells. Once, a horse shoe.

I have no illusions about the concept of private property, especially in isolated places infrequently visited. I also think it’s presumptuous in a way to think of “owning” a piece of land, at least on the time scale of land. I sometimes think of myself as more of a tenant of the 80 acres than an owner. A caretaker, maybe. A steward. Transitory. I can point to my influences, the changes I’ve made, both successful and not, and speak of the emotional connection I have to the place. But in a century, my connection won’t really be known to the next tenant in the woods. It seems unlikely that anyone will ponder who I was in my time and tenancy.

Maybe that’s why I write stories. To live beyond myself.

a day in the woods, with a three-year-old

December 22, 2017

This story begins at the place where I work. We recently merged with another company and among the many upheavals was a change to our vacation policy. Now, instead of accumulating vacation time based on the number of years you’ve worked there, you are given no specific time off and simply ask for what you want. Your manager then approves or disapproves (likely based on the number of years you’ve worked there). Never mind that this has apparently been shown at other companies to cause employees to take fewer vacation days than in the past. But the most immediate consequence of the new policy is that we can no longer carry over any unused vacation days into the new year. We have to use ’em or lose ’em. And so I did, taking Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of this week off.

Since I had a free day in the middle of the week, I decided to try getting something done at my cabin that I’d been wanting to do for several months (since I had finished the retaining wall near the fire ring area). I wanted to get a new load of gravel to spread around there, to level the ground a bit and perhaps get ahead of the grasses and other green things asserting themselves in the currently sparse gravel. To do this, I understood, I needed to be present to accept the delivery from the nearby quarry, and since my little cabin is very remote, I needed to lead the delivery truck to it as well. And this had to be done during the work week when the quarry was open. So I had called the quarry the week before and talked it through. The volume of gravel I thought I needed was actually too small for them to deliver, being only five tons! So arrangements had to be made with a local, independent hauler who could meet me at the quarry and then follow me in to my remote cabin. The plans were laid and I looked forward to a solo day in my woods. Even the weather looked cooperative for mid-December in the Ozarks.

But as you know from recent posts on this humble blog, I have family in town, including my three-year-old grandson, Kenneth. And somehow it became part of my plan that Kenneth and his dad would join me on my trip to Roundrock. This was fine. Kenneth, likely for lack of discernment, seems to like me and wants to do activities with me. A trip to my little cabin would be a great adventure for him.

And so the plan was executed. I picked up Kenneth and his dad, Travis, early that morning, earlier than necessary to be at the quarry at 9:00 as I’d arranged, but intended according to Travis to allow Kenneth to sleep most of the two-hours of travel time to get to the woods. No one had told Kenneth that, however, and he was awake and chattering the whole drive down, which was endearing to my black and shriveled heart.

We arrived at the cabin a hour before we needed to be at the quarry, so we knocked around a little, Kenneth leading us on a hike. Kenneth is a New York city boy. He is, apparently, used to pavement under his feet and did not much like the uneven surface of the forest floor, with rocks hidden by the generous fall of leaves. So his hike soon took us to the road leading to the cabin. We walked up the hill a ways, Travis and I comparing the lack of signals on our phones, until Kenneth said he was too tired to go on. That was fine because it was nearing the time for us to depart for the quarry. So Travis carried Kenneth back to the cabin; we got ourselves organized, and then hopped in the truck and drove to the quarry.

I had hoped that we could go into the part of the quarry where the rock is dynamited from the hillside to show Kenneth, but the man there told us we could not (as I fully expected), though we could drive around the piles of gravel and see some of the (idle) big machines. The man there also wanted me to select the kind of gravel I wanted, cleaner or with fines (powdered rock and dirt). Since my goal was partly to prevent grasses from growing around my fire ring, I didn’t want the fines. So we drove around the quarry until we came to the pile of gravel I wanted. I pocketed a handful to show the man and then returned to the “office” to wait for local hauler. And wait we did. Fortunately, I had some donut holes to keep Kenneth occupied. We had told him that it was too dangerous for him to be outside of my little truck, but he’s a clever boy and pointed out that he could stand in the bed of my truck and watch the activity of the quarry from there. (He’s only three years old!) So we did that. Later he had to push all of the buttons on my dashboard because he was flying us through space, pausing occasionally for a bite of donut hole. And finally, the local hauler arrived. His truck was weighed empty, then he drove to the pile of gravel I had selected, it was loaded and then the truck was weighed again. Some money exchanged hands and off we went.

My cabin is about five miles from the quarry, and since rock is cheap compared to its delivery cost, this is fortunate. When we finally got to the cabin — the man driving the big truck had crept along at places, which I guess is a consequence of hauling five tons of gravel on steep and twisting Ozark roads — the driver marveled at how remote the place was. (This is a common statement made by visitors.) I showed him where I wanted the pile, and he deftly turned his truck around and backed it into place. Once that was done, we allowed Kenneth to get out of my truck so he could watch the dumping operation. It was over in about thirty seconds, five tons being, it seems, a paltry amount of rock.

Kenneth’s first response to seeing the pile of gravel was the climb to the top of it. And then slide down it. And then climb it again. And so forth. Which was perfect in my mind. I wanted him to have a fun time in my woods in whatever way made sense to him. We emptied his shoes a number of times and helped him up and down as needed.

Just for show, I wanted to spread a little of the gravel behind the retaining wall. Kenneth was not too interested in this, but Travis was. I had raked away the accumulated leaves at the wall and wrestled the wheel barrow out of the cabin. Travis quickly filled it and pushed it to the cleared area, dumping the first load of gravel into place. Kenneth watched, “helping” with his little hand shovel to load the gravel but soon just “spreading” the gravel near the pile until that bored him and he returned to summiting the pile and generally getting in his dad’s way. Travis has a deluxe camera, and he took some time to set it up on the roof of my truck. It turns out he had made something like a video of his work with the gravel (a photo taken every ten seconds), and he got to work, moving nearly a third of the new pile of gravel behind the retaining wall. (The video wasn’t available at press time, but if I can arrange it, I’ll post it here.) As I said, I just wanted to shift some of the gravel as show for Kenneth, but Travis is a doer and he kept working until we began to discuss pain relievers.

Since Travis and Kenneth had evening plans with his family, and since we had some other plans at the cabin, we stopped the gravel work. Kenneth, of course, had to stomp on the piles of gravel behind the retaining wall to level them for us. Such a fine boy!

Since there had been rain in the forest recently — it’s been a dry December — I wanted to have a small fire in the ring for Kenneth to marvel at. And Travis kept reminding Kenneth that a good woodsman — hint, wink — could light a fire with only one match. (He was throwing down a challenge to me, one I was determined to meet!) So Kenneth and I collected the wood for our small fire. Mostly I collected, but he was interested.

I built the fire as I normally would though I’ll confess that I put in more tinder than I might have typically since I didn’t want to fail in front of my son-in-law and grandson. Kenneth stayed near, “helping” Grandpa with the sticks and watching closely. When it came time for me to light the fire with one match, Travis got in close too, with his camera in hand.

Needless to say, I got it roaring with only one match and Kenneth began learning about fire safety as well as how smoke can get in your eyes. He wanted to burn leaves but we told him they could fly out of the fire and burn down the forest. I think that concept was too grand for him to understand though.

Kenneth then wanted the chairs to be arranged around the fire so we could sit before it and stay warm. (I don’t know where he picks these things up.) He also assigned our seats and then later re-assigned them. He could certainly feel the heat but there was too much smoke for his little eyes.

I had deliberately used dried out, partly rotten wood for the fuel so that it would burn quickly because I didn’t want to be stuck at the cabin waiting for too many coals to wink out. (As it was, I eventually quenched the fire with two gallon jugs of water, explaining it all to Kenneth as I did so. He also “helped” me stir the ashes with the shovel.)

Time was passing, and we had a two-hour drive home. Kenneth would then need a bath (to remove the evidence of the Oreos and chocolate Kisses) to prepare for his evening hay ride with his other grandparents.

But he did say he wanted to return to Grandpa’s cabin, bringing his brother, Everett, next time. Everett is five months old, and he’s a twin to his sister Evie. But Kenneth insisted Evie could not join us. It was only for boys!

 

a matter of perspective

December 11, 2017

In my old blog, Roundrock Journal, I had kept a lexicon of words and phrases I used regularly that I thought readers might appreciate understanding a bit more deeply. “Tawny tussocks” for example was not an exotic dancer but a reference to little bluestem grass. “Loathsome goo” was the muck and mire at the bottom of the pond, in which I had once sunk to my thighs when I had dared to venture in there, nearly losing my shoes as I tried to extract myself.

I had also defined the distinction between “critters” and “varmints.” “Critters” were any kind of naturally occurring wildlife, looked on benignly by me. “Varmints” were critters that had gone bad, making some affront to my presumed mastery over the place. The mice that had found their way into the cabin recently were varmints.

On our trip to the woods two weekends ago, we saw more evidence of varmints. Above is the only survivor of ten shortleaf pine trees I had planted on one of the islands in the lake. (That it is rarely an island because the lake is generally too low is beside the point; the definition stands!). I had raised a chicken-wire fence around the trees — about four feet tall — and visited them regularly to do what I could to nurture them (not much). Because they had to rely on the rain to be watered and whatever nutrients might be in the rocky soil of the island, their chances had never been good, and that one of them survived at all and even thrived was a kind of validation to me.

But you see it above. It’s been vandalized. Some buck deer needed to rub the velvet off his antlers, and rather than use any of the thousands of cedar trees nearby, he apparently jumped the fence into the smallish enclosure and ravaged my pine. Those green things you see on the ground are its lower branches. Varmint!

The bark has been stripped away but this, apparently, is not a threat to the tree. Several of the pines in the plantation suffered this similar abuse and have grown into tall trees.

We repaired the fence as much as we could and continued on our hike.

And I suppose the forest could consider me a varmint. See the evidence here:

There are many trees in my forest like this. I have wedged a round rock or two into their clefts and left them there. Sometimes I find the rocks dislodged, presumably from windy days that make the trunks sway and separate. But there are others where the rocks remain, and one of them now has three rocks wedge into it, the first being nearly completely swallowed by the growing tree.

one-match fire

December 8, 2017

Once again, I didn’t intend for so much time to pass between posts, but life happens, I guess. I am sad to say that for the entire month of November, I did not make a single visit to my little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks. And looking at the calendar for December (with family coming and holidays and obligations and such), I saw few weekends when I could visit then. So when the first weekend of December opened, I took the chance and we went to the cabin for an overnight.

The Saturday started with us driving west forty miles to my son’s house to watch little Emmett while his mom and dad strung Christmas lights on their house. He’s a sweet and busy boy and he kept us busy while they were busy. But that ended mid-morning and we returned home to pack the truck for our trip one hundred miles southeast to Roundrock. The dogs are always eager to jump in the truck, and most of the time they are going someplace nice: the park or the cabin or just a drive. Sometimes, though, they are going to “camp” where we leave them for days at a time. They’d recently gone to camp when we went to Seattle for Thanksgiving, but they seemed to have forgotten that trauma when it came time to jump in for Roundrock.

And so off we went. Arriving later in the day, and with sunset maddeningly early, my only agenda item was to burn the wooden parts of an old compost bin that had been rotting in our backyard for decades. You can see some of it in the photo above, at the top, to the left of the flames.

So once we were unpacked and the cabin was thoroughly checked for mice (none found, nor any sign), I began work on my one-match fire and soon, successfully, had it going. We were running out of daylight quickly, and we still had burgers to cook, so instead of throwing the bin bits on the fire, I put on some oak I had cut and split during the summer. I’d hoped it had seasoned enuf to burn fast and make coals. The white oak did better than the blackjack oak, but once we had some glowing embers (and the falling sun), we moved them under the grill and dropped the burgers on. I spent a lot of time fanning these embers to keep them hot, even rousing a flame now and then. (The constant heat of coals is better than the variable heat of flames for cooking.) Longer than perhaps necessary, we finally called the burgers cooked, and Libby slipped them onto waiting buns, prepared with Swiss cheese, pickles, and hot mustard. We devoured those, with the help of the dogs, and then it was time to burn the bin.

I had four panels to burn, and each was a larger dimension than the fire ring. So I simply laid the first atop the fire, letting it overlap the blocks until it burned enuf for me to push it all in.

The bin had been made by my neighbor and used in his yard for years. (In fact, a walnut tree had sprouted in it one year, thriving in the rich soil, and I dug it up — with permission — and planted it in my pine plantation. It’s thriving there now.) My neighbor did not do things half way. This bin was solid, and though I was able to separate the four walls, I did not want to break them down any farther. Hence my overlapping plan.

The first panel took its time getting ignited, but once it did, it burned bright, hot, and quick. The flames were taller than I am, and I began to wonder how recently it had rained in my little forest. The fire was contained in the ring, and I had been careful to rake away all of the leaves within a dozen feet of it, but even so, I worried that this big thing could somehow get out of control. That didn’t stop me from putting on a second panel a little while later. It did the same, burning slowly then quickly. I did decide after two, however, that that would be all for the evening. I could probably have burned the other two, but with the darkness having fallen, and me being exhausted anyway, I didn’t think it was prudent. So they wait for my next visit.

In retrospect, I probably should not have burned these panels. The wood had been treated to prevent rot — and that worked for a long time — so burning them likely released all kinds of toxins into the atmosphere. That’s also why we didn’t use their coals for cooking our food.

We did other things in our woods last weekend, including a hike and the usual general upkeep needed for a neglected cabin, but maybe I’ll tell you about that in another post.