before and after

Posted February 22, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Roundrock

Tags: ,


Yes, another post about my woods called Roundrock. I’m currently suffering a creativity drought and don’t have anything writer-ish to tell you about.

What you see above is a small structure that sat at the bottom of my lake, which I built with some scrap bricks . (This was after the dam was raised but before much water had accumulated.) This structure was intended to give the small fish something to hide within as they grew to be big fish. I’m not sure how well that would have worked since it eventually sat in about twelve feet of water, and I don’t think the little fish venture that low. I learned later that catfish had somehow found their way into the lake, so perhaps baby catfish used it.

Or abused it.

The lake leaks. The builder said he couldn’t promise me that it would be water tight. It’s built in a natural valley, one that’s had a million years to accumulate gravel, one with limestone ledges that likely have long, deep cracks in them. The lake fills in the spring with all of the rain, and then it generally spends the summer and fall leaking out, watering the pecans I’ve planted in the acre below the dam (as well as the upstart willows and sycamores). Then sometime in the winter it seems to have dropped below the leak point because it generally remains a large pool, about five feet deep at the deepest. (I’m told that it could eventually fill with enuf silt to plug the leaks. Alternatively, I have tried spreading Bentonite — a type of clay — to plug the leaks. It’s too big to use a liner, at least one that I could afford. I think the only real solution is to line the bottom with twenty-dollar bills.)

And that five-foot-deep pool is the state it’s in right now. Which means my fish structure is currently exposed. So this is what it looks like now:


I don’t know how to explain its current broken-down state. I can’t imagine that the fish did this. When we have heavy rains, a lot of water can come pouring into the lake from the hundred-acre watershed that feeds it. (We’ve seen clots of grass and sticks at shoulder height in the trees upstream. Some of those flows must be terrifying!) It seems possible that a strong flow could do this, but the structure is not in the main channel, and it is in a broad part of the lake bed, so any flow would be dispersed at this point.

Still, it happened.

If the water gets any lower — if the ground around the little structure gets dry enuf to walk on — I’ll rebuild it. If not, well, the bricks could have been this way for years, so if it remained, it would be no different.

I’ve been stomping around my woods for more than a decade, and it still delivers me little discoveries like this.

regarding thongs

Posted February 20, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Roundrock



Before we owned the 80 acres that we call Roundrock, we had 40 acres in an adjoining county that we called Fallen Timbers. And while it was also an upland Ozark forest, it did not have any round rocks. It did, however, have what may have been burial mounds and thong trees.

I got a lot of scoffing on Roundrock Journal when I wrote about the thong trees in my forest. The name alone evokes mirth and doubt, but the seeming unlikelihood of a human-modified tree surviving since pre-settlement times raised most of the doubt.

Thong trees are ones that were strapped down with leather thongs when they were saplings so that they would grow into a distorted shape. Generally these were set in place to mark some important feature of the land, such as a spring, so that those traveling through the (otherwise) trackless forest would know what was around them.

While the trees at Roundrock are not old enuf to have been around in pre-settlement times, there were many at Fallen Timbers that likely could have been. And many were deformed into what might have been actual thong trees. The one in the photo above is beside a street in the nearby community of Lakeview Heights, Missouri and it shows many of the classic marks: not only the bent shape but the knobs at the end of the upright turn. (These were supposedly formed by cutting the bark of the sapling and then inserting coals from the fire for the tree to grow around.)

Yes, natural forces could create these trees. A fallen tree pressing a nearby sapling to the ground could do it. The fallen tree would eventually rot away, and the sapling would be permanently deformed. Yet there is documentation of deliberate human work to create these as well. One of the most elaborately deformed trees at Fallen Timbers (that I cannot find a photo of) pointed uphill to a small spring.

Still, the doubt and ridicule remain. Do thong trees exist? Yes, I have no doubt. Did I have any in my forest at Fallen Timbers? I think it was likely.

But I leave you with this photo of a tree I came across on a country road near Muscatine, Iowa several years ago. You can decide for yourself.


still here

Posted February 16, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

I’m sorry I haven’t had a post in a while. Nothing much to report, I guess. I’m still around, still attempting to write, and run, and live as well as I can in each case.

in other news

Posted February 2, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

So far this year I’ve run 131+ miles. All but about fifteen of that has been on treadmills, which is tedious, but it does call for a continuous level of effort unlike capricious hills and turns when running outside. My goal is to run 1,000 miles this year, and you can see I’m ahead of schedule. I’ve done a thousand for several years (though I skipped last year and only got somewhere in the 700s). The second year that I did a thousand miles was paced out so that I would turn the odometer during the first half marathon I ever ran, and I did. I reached it at mile 11, which was pretty much my plan so that a) I would definitely run at least that far in the half, and b) I would have run that far, so I might as well finish the remaining two miles. I don’t know what races I’ll have lined up for the fall, though if I stay on task I could wrap up my thousand miles in October at the Kansas City Half Marathon (which I’ve run twice, and the full marathon once). We’ll see.


I have registered for the Kansas City Trolley Run on April 30. It’s a four-mile, mostly downhill course from the Waldo neighborhood to the Country Club Plaza (our swanky shopping/dining district). I’ve run this at least three times (I’ve lost count) but I didn’t last year because I was “recovering” from the St. Louis Marathon (which is utter B.S. — I could’ve/should’ve run it).


I currently have five of my stories out in circulation, looking hopefully for berths:

  • “Old School”
  • “A Tree Falls in the Forest”
  • “Twice Blest”
  • “Fire Sermon”
  • “Moving Day”

Only “Old School” is not in the One-Match Fire universe, and “Fire Sermon” is not part of the novel itself.


I’m currently reading White Jacket*, by Herman Melville. It’s a 500-page novel, and I’m only about fifty pages into it, so it’s obviously too early to judge, but I suspect it’s a story that can be taken at face value rather than plumbed forever for deeper meaning like Moby-Dick, Billy Budd, The Confidence Man, or Bartleby. A friend, whose book discussion groups I’ve been involved in off and on for 25 years, wants to take up The Confidence Man, in light of recent events. His group covered Moby-Dick in monthly sessions lasting three years. It was glorious!



The three grandkids: Kenneth, Emmet, Elaheh. (More on this subject when I’m allowed to talk about it.)



*I’ve seen it punctuated as White-Jacket, with a hyphen just as the novel Moby-Dick is, as opposed to the whale Moby Dick (sans hyphen). And since the narrator calls himself White Jacket in the novel, I suppose that usage would be hyphenless too.


Posted February 1, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, Finnegans, Lost, Rants and ruminations

I don’t have much going on right now to report, gentle reader.

I’m between major projects. One-Match Fire is, I think, complete (though I am flirting with adding another story). I am poking at writing a query letter to begin sending it out, but I choke up because it is so important to get it right, and that will never happen.

I have an idea for a new novel blossoming in my head. It’s pretty much taking up all of my attention. Unlike One-Match Fire, which is not always happy but at least resolves warmly in the end, this novel would be grim and harrowing. It would be completely unlike anything I’ve ever written, and yet it is forcing itself into my mind, will I or nill I.

I’m not sure what to do about that. It’s too early to begin writing it (though I have worked out a couple of passages already), so I can let it gestate and continue to present itself to me. But I’m actually afraid of it. It’s not a nice story, and I don’t want to go where I would have to go (research) to be able to flesh out parts of the story.

So I thought I should go back to one of my Finnegans novels — the murderless cozy mysteries I want to write a series of, and for which I first began this humble blog. (This one deals with running a half marathon, too.) While fun, with intricate plots, they are not fraught with emotion and generational intrigue like One-Match Fire is. And they are a polar opposite to this new idea I have. So my thought is that if I devoted my efforts to one of those novels, I could either dissipate the urge to write that monster, or I could let it evolve sufficiently so that I could begin working on it properly once the Finnegans novel is in the can. (A large part of me wants the former to happen.)

I’ve said here before that it sometimes seems as though the stories exist “out there” and we writers are given glimpses of them so that we can put them down. If that’s truly the case, then I must have sinned grievously in a past life to be punished with this newest story idea.

a tree falls in the forest

Posted January 25, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, Roundrock

Tags: ,

Santa (or Krampus — not sure which in my progressive household) got my old chainsaw repaired, which meant on my next trip to Roundrock, I could do some serious damage to the trees there. It happens that one of my One-Match Fire stories is called “At Tree Falls in the Forest” and involves a father introducing his son to their chainsaw and carefully helping him cut down his first tree. Because my own chain saw was in disrepair and my sloth was not, I had not used it in perhaps five years. So it was with a little bit of audacity that I dared to write about using one in a story.

Thus when I got to use mine once again over the weekend, during an unseasonably warm winter day in the Ozarks, I had the chance to check my memory against reality.

The saw requires both chain oil and a fuel additive to run properly. When we got to the cabin on Saturday morning (after a 5.75 mile run and bagels, by the way) I found that I didn’t have any chain oil. Since my intent was to cut up a Blackjack Oak — a tenaciously hard wood that eats up chains — I certainly didn’t want to run it without. So after we got all of our gear settled in the cabin, we made a trip into town about ten miles away to visit the hardware store that has parted me from much of my money in the years that I’ve owned my woods. I found the chain oil without much trouble and grabbed some fuel additive while I was there. And then it was back to the cabin.

I was eager to cut up the tree. It was a double-trunked beast, and one trunk had already fallen to the ground. I had already cut it as much as my arm muscles could with a hand saw, and then the remainder of the trunk just lay on the ground, taunting me with each visit. That would change this time, and I intended to bring its companion trunk — still standing — to the ground and eventually into my campfire.

All I had to do was add the chain oil in its proper spot and then fuel up the saw, tug on the cord until it started, and begin the mayhem.

Simple as that.

I opened the screw-top cap to add the chain oil and began pouring it in, surprised at how thirsty the saw was, but it had been five years since I’d given it any attention, so what did I know? Having topped off the chain oil using nearly the entire bottle, I then turned to the fuel to put it in. And that was when I realized the mistake I had made. I had filled the fuel tank with the chain oil. Which is a kind way of saying I am an idiot. I don’t know how much Santa/Krampus paid to have my chainsaw repaired, but in my foolish act I had pretty much just undone all of it.

And so I stood there pondering what it was I had done and what I could do about it. The obvious answer was the only answer. I had to pour the chain oil out of the fuel tank and into the bottle from whence it came then somehow clean the fuel tank before adding actual gasoline. (Also actually putting the chain oil in the proper reservoir.) And so I did. It was easy enuf to pour the thick oil back into the bottle, but cleaning the tank was more of a challenge. I carried the chainsaw into the woods (across the road and thus not in the lake’s watershed) and then tilted it so whatever gunk remained in the fuel tank could drip out. I suspect I was violating if not actual laws then prudent environmental good sense by adding this hydrocarbon ooze to the forest floor, but it wasn’t too much. I then wrapped a paper towel around my finger and poked into the fuel tank to swab out whatever gunk I could touch. After that I returned to the cabin and filled the tank with gasoline, like any otherwise capable woodsman would have done originally.

So, all was in readiness, and all I had to do was start the saw. I pulled on the cord. And pulled. And pulled. And the saw would not start. Only then did I remember that there is an on/off switch by the handle that is nicely placed so you can thumb the machine off easily in an emergency. And it was set for “off.” Having remedied this, I tugged on the cord again. After a few tugs, the machined roared into life.

And then sputtered into silence.

So I tugged again. The same thing happened. And it happened several more times as I realized that the engine needed to clear the gunk that was in it from my earlier mishap. After a few minutes of tugging and fuzzy hopefulness, I did get the chainsaw running in a sustained way. It was still a little fussy, and I had to restart it several times, but I was able to cut up the fallen Blackjack Oak as well as its standing companion. Here you can see some of my handiwork:


(That’s the much-dimished lake in the background. No swimming this visit.)

Later in the afternoon I schelpped the saw down into the dry part of the lake bed (don’t ask, I’ll just whimper) and cut up some willow trees that are growing there. It’s a defiant act of mine since there are far more willows than an afternoon and a tank full of gas can address, but it’s a start.

So the trip to the woods was a success despite my mishap. We cooked our food over a (one-match) fire (abetted by some oil-soaked rags) with wood I had cut, mused before the flames and embers, and then eventually crawled into our beds in the cabin for a sleep well earned.

I woke in the middle of the night to rain hammering on the metal roof of the cabin. It was not unexpected, and the poor, diminished lake certainly needed a recharge, but it continued through the night and into the wan light of dawn. Our plan had been to ravage the forest more with the chainsaw on Sunday, but the rain, and the falling temps, had conspired against us. So we packed our gear into the truck and steered ourselves toward home. When we could get a cell signal (our cabin is on the wrong side of the ridge for that), we learned that seriously bad weather was coming to the area, with possible tornados. So I guess it was just as well we left any tree felling that day to the wind.


unburdened (a tiny bit)

Posted January 23, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic



So the point of the original fire sermon is that we are burning with desire for our sensory lives and that if we can unburden ourselves of these appetites, we can better achieve nirvana. At least according to my understanding of the Buddha’s teachings. (Thank you, Wikipedia! But isn’t desiring to achieve nirvana a, well, desire?)

In my story of the same name one of the characters is unburdening himself of many old and no-longer-needed possessions, literally burning them in a fire. (One of them just happens to be an old peach crate. He probably kept vinyl records in it at one time.) The other character unburdens himself of some gripes about his life while sitting around that fire. (He also unburdens himself of a lot of beer.) The inability to listen, to heed one of the senses, also plays into the story. You can see I am conflicted about this whole freeing yourself of your senses business.

And all of that.

I have a rolling file cart in my little office at home where I keep “important papers,” but lately I’ve thought I need to unburden myself of a lot of them too. Over the weekend I grabbed one of the folders at random from the cart. It was a collection of rejection letters I had received years ago. The most recent one was literally 21 years old. Most were for feature articles I was pitching, but there were a few early fiction rejections as well. And these were actual paper letters. Some of them even handwritten. (Who sends handwritten letters anymore?) Old school stuff. I spent about three minutes leafing through them and reminiscing wistfully (is there any other way to reminisce?), then I closed the folder and carried the entire thing down to the recycling tub in the garage. Unburdened.

That leaves dozens of other folders in the cart (and who knows what in the file cabinet at the back of the closet or the box of “important papers” on top of it) still to be culled. I suspect it will get easier as I go along.