Posted tagged ‘Ozarks’

chagrin and humility

June 6, 2019

Sure, we can all laugh about it now. But at the time it was a peak moment of embarrassment for me.

Winston Churchill was credited with saying, upon hearing that some political adversary was a modest man, that “he has much to be modest about.” I try to live by that maxim.

On our recent trip to Roundrock, I went to the hardware store in town to see about a few things, and I thought I could get a new chain for my chainsaw and just be done with the inexpertly sharpened old chains (sharpened at the hardware store in faraway suburbia) that had let me down. The hardware store had an entire corner devoted to Stihl chainsaws and equipment. Those are fine tools, but my chainsaw is a Husqvarna. I described the saw to the man (“a chainsaw whiz” he was described) and said I had a 16-inch bar that I needed a new chain for. I also told him about my misadventures with the sharpened chains.

He must have been able to read me easily, because he said he was reluctant to sell me a chain if he wasn’t sure it would fit. Well, it happened that I had my chainsaw in my truck, so I said I would bring it in and he could see for himself what kind of chain I needed.

I pulled the dirty saw from its case and set it on the counter before the whiz, and then I had one of the most humbling moments of my life.

“Did you know you have the chain on backward?”

Never, until that very moment, did I have any idea that you could install a chain backward on a saw. It never entered my simple mind as a possibility. I had changed the chain on my saw dozens of times over the years, and it seems that those dozens of times I had just happened to put it on correctly. Only this last time had I happened to put it on backward.

The man showed me the direction the teeth needed to face as the chain whirled around the bar, and then he kindly offered to put the chain on properly, at no charge.

The last time I had tried to use the saw, my daughter-in-law was at the cabin and I was going to give her the “treat” of cutting down a tree. But instead of sawdust we were only producing smoke — because the chain had been on backward! Sooner or later I’m going to need to confess this to her.

When we were at the cabin last week, after I had climbed down from the roof from doing my repairs, I thought briefly about firing up the chainsaw and finally removing that tree that was blocking some of my view of the sparking lake, but lethargy had me in its thrall by then and I decided to save that chore for a later visit.

another dry day in a wet wood

June 5, 2019

Copious rain is a double-edged sword, one that cuts both ways, a mixed blessing, a two-way street, a pis aller. It fills my lake and makes it hospitable for fish and humans that venture in, but it threatens the dam and washes out the spillway. It reduces the threat of a fire in the forest, but reduces the ability to make a fire in the ring too. It brings the green but also the humidity.

And, apparently, it leaks through the roof of the cabin.

What you see in the photo above is the ceiling of the shady porch (overlooking the sparkling lake). The black and white business is, to my best guess, a water stain, and it’s an old one since I’ve been watching it get bigger for a couple of years. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have let it go on so long, but at first I didn’t realize what it was. (I’m not sure what I thought it was, but since the roof had never leaked inside the cabin, I suppose I thought it couldn’t be water.)

Once I resigned myself to the idea that it was a leak, I decided that on my next trip I would bring a ladder so that I could have a look at the roof over the porch and see if my untrained and uniformed eye might see something so glaringly obvious that I could a) fix it, or b) get someone out to the cabin to fix it.

The ladder I brought, a six-foot folding step ladder, was sufficient to let me peek over the roofline and have a look-see.

The roof of the cabin meets the roof of the porch with a joint that has an overlapping metal piece. And beneath that, screwed into place, is a foam gasket of sorts to fill the gaps created by the ridges and valleys of the metal roof material. What I saw was this:

What you see bulging from that overlap is the foam gasket. And you see it after I had used a stick to attempt to poke it back into place. It was bulging out much farther. (To the right and left of it the gasket sits beneath the overlap properly.) My guess is that water running down the roof (from the top right) and across the overlap could not then continue down the porch roof (to the lower left) with the gasket bulging, so it collected there and eventually backed up under the overlap. And then into the ceiling of the shady porch. And so the sword cut the wrong way.

The step ladder I had brought was not tall enuf to let me climb onto the roof without great peril to life and limb. (Plus my wife wouldn’t let me.) (Plus, I was too scared.) So my desperation solution was to try to poke the gasket further under the overlap and then walk away and not think about it. I did that, poking it so far that it disappeared altogether, and I had no idea if that was better or worse.

Since the morning was young and the sky was blue and all things still seemed possible (not really), I thought I could take myself into the nearby town where there was a hardware store (where I’ve spent thousands of dollars) and perhaps an informed solution. And so that’s what I did.

The town is on the banks of the great Corps of Engineers lake, and while we were there, we took the chance to see how close the water had come. Turns out it was VERY close. Many of the streets, that I have driven upon, were underwater. The new playground ,that seemed far beyond the reach of the lake, was underwater. The walking bridge, that connected the bisected town, was underwater. I don’t think the good people of the town were traumatized by this. It seemed to be treated as an inconvenience, and the town square was bustling with cars and foot traffic. (Remember, this was a Friday.)

At the hardware store, I showed the man there some photos I had the presence of mind to take of my cabin roof, and he knew exactly what I needed. And he even had the part (another gasket) in stock. He explained to me how to install it, which I was grateful for since I never would have thought it through if he hadn’t. It cost me all of a dollar and a half, and I bought some chain oil for my saw, and I thought about buying a new chain, but I’ll leave that story for another day.

While I was there, I figured I would also need to rent a ladder tall enuf to let me climb onto the roof of the cabin. But before I did that, I called a neighbor down there (who runs cattle, has a shop big enuf to fit my house in, and is an all around nice guy) to see if he had a ladder I could borrow. He did, and he told me he would have it waiting at my cabin by the time I returned from town. Nice guy!

So with our goods in hand, we returned to the cabin to find a nice tall ladder waiting against the roof of the shady porch. All I needed was a small socket on the end of a screw driver handle, and I could get right to work.

Getting on the roof was a challenge, not due to the physical requirements, but due to the mental challenge of it. I can’t recall the last time I was on any roof, much less on a metal one, in the sun, with large rocks on the ground all around it, about twenty miles from the nearest hospital.

But up I went, and I got to work removing the screws that held the overlap in place. They were also holding the gasket in place, which was nice to see. I had to take out a half dozen in order to get enuf play in the overlap to get the bad gasket (about three feet long) out and the new gasket in. Kneeling on the metal roof was the hardest part of the job, but the view was nice, once I grew confident enuf that I wasn’t going to roll off the more-or-less gently sloping porch roof.

As evidence of my heroic time on the roof, I provide this photo:

That’s the lake well below. (And my booted right foot.)

I got the new gasket installed, and I think it was even properly installed, and then I took my timid self over to the ladder and began my effort to get on it so I could climb down. It was actually easy to do, and I wondered why I had any fear at all.

The rest of the day was anti-climactic after that. (I leave it to you wordsmiths to tell me if that sentence can be taken literally or not.) I remember sitting in the comfy chair on the shady porch overlooking the sparkling lake and contemplating attacking that oak tree that has bested me twice before. But I decided against it and realized that if I got home soon enuf, I could get on my bike and put ten miles of the trail behind me before a few craft beers in front of me washed away the dust of the trail.

We had lunch. We cleaned up around the cabin. We packed the truck, And then we drove over the mostly solid gravel roads out of our forest. Along the way, we met my neighbor who lent us the ladder, and I thanked him again. Then we reached the county road and took our detour to get around the flooded area. Soon enuf we were on the highway home, another nice weekend at Roundrock in the books.

random photo Thursday

May 23, 2019

This is a gall growing on the side of an oak tree at the piece of Ozark woodland that we owned before we owned Roundrock. I can’t give you exact dimensions, but I could not span the width of it with my arms outstretched. And it is nearly as deep as it is wide. I remember thinking it was the size of a Volkswagen, though that may have been a slight exaggeration.

When we were preparing to sell this piece of property, I contacted a friend of mine who is a woodcarver to see if he wanted to have the gall to carve a giant cauldron or something from it. He explained part of the process for “curing” it, which included some kind of kiln and all kinds of chemicals. And that was assuming that the gall wasn’t filled with insects (which is generally the reason for a gall to begin with). And the task of cutting down the tree so that the gall was not damaged, and then getting it out of the roadless valley where the tree stood would have been too costly for a future cauldron that wouldn’t have fit in any crafter’s stall at the fair.

But that was long ago. For all I know, the thing might be a hunting cabin now.

Roundrock overnight

April 8, 2019

Flike and I made an overnight trip to Roundrock last weekend. The weather forecast showed a window between rainstorms that included Friday evening through Saturday afternoon, so we talked about it and agreed to hurry out there to get in a campfire and some hiking and some chores. The weather was about perfect, as forecasted. It’s not as though I can’t go to my cabin in the rain, but the roads are soft then and more easily damaged (yes, I need a thousand dollars worth of gravel spread over some parts and the drainage ditch dug out), and there are three wet-weather streams I must cross to get to my woods. I have seen two of them in deep torrents that I didn’t want to take my truck through,* and that was in the days when I had the bigger truck that could go anywhere. So we look for dry-ish windows.

I keep a calendar on the wall of the cabin and mark the dates of my visits, and it turned out an entire month had passed since I was last out. Part of that can be blamed on unfavorable weather, and some on grandfatherly duties. Still, I’d like to visit at least twice a month so the cabin doesn’t feel neglected. Plus, it’s always good for my mental health.

Speaking of mental health, I once again had the unfocused anxiety about going to the cabin that I mentioned last time. I don’t know what that’s about, and it wasn’t as strong this time, but still! Flike didn’t seem to share this and only wanted me to throw a stick for him to chase. And if I didn’t, he foraged in the woods and came back with what he thought was a suitable throwing stick. (I’ve cut a dozen or so throwing sticks for him, and they’re in the cabin, but he tends to lose them, and then they weather and rot. So if I don’t immediately fetch one for him to fetch, he finds his own.)

We arrived early enuf on Friday to have several hours of good daylight to use before campfire time, so I donned the day pack of tools and such I usually carry, put on my blaze orange cap (to convince any trespassing hunters that I’m not a deer or a bear or a Bigfoot), and grabbed the long-handled loppers that I always take with me on hikes (to liberate cedars from their earthly toil). Then we headed west from the cabin.

The lake was once again (or maybe still?) nearly full (and I still haven’t figured out how to convert the video I took to a format that WordPress will accept without me upgrading to the professional version of the blogging software), so I wanted to go to the uppermost part of the lake to see if it had water in it. (I speak of it as though the lake is some grand body of water, but it’s really only about 2.5 acres, and by Ozark standards, that’s a pond, not a lake, but indulge me, okay?) I knew what I would see when I got there: gravel. That part of the lakebed has long since been filled with gravel washed down from the hillsides in the lake’s watershed. (As soon as I get another spare thousand dollars I’m going to hire a backhoe guy to dig all of that out, but for now, meh.)

From there we continued west, up the Central Valley that feeds the lake. Back on my old blog, Roundrock Journal, I wrote of an interesting phenomenon about the stream that runs through this valley. As I headed west, I was crunching through the rocks of the dry stream bed, just as I have many times. But then I came upon pools of water farther upstream, and soon flowing water even farther upstream. Yet just downstream, the bed was dry. What happens is that the water goes underground at some point betwixt the upper stream and the lake. This is not unheard of, and it’s called stream piracy. It’s only when there is a deluge that the volume of water coming down from the hills can exceed the piracy capacity and continue on to the lake. Obviously, with a full lake, this had happened a lot recently. (And I wonder where the pirated water goes. Into the water table? Into a cavern under my woods? Some neighbor’s bubbling spring?)

We followed the stream to the west to the point where it crosses my property line and then we turned north. We were close to the entrance to our property, and I’ve found that since we built the cabin, we tend to visit the “farther” reaches of the 80+ acres less frequently than we used to. So I wanted to knock around there for a while just to see what there was to see. Because nothing much has come out in leaf yet (except for the red buckeye plants beside the cabin!), I was able to pass through these acres without much concern about ticks and chiggers, but give it another month and such a hike will be more perilous.

I visited some familiar places and tried but failed to find some others. And then Flike seemed to think that he was done with the woods and took himself to our road (where the going is easier, but why?). I could see his black and white shape through the trees, but he refused to come to me when I called him. I considered going to him, but I wanted to visit our pond, which was not far ahead. The road he was on would pass close to the pond, so I figured we would connect. And if not, he knew the way back to the cabin (though I was not comfortable with this idea). As it happened, he joined me at the pond, which was very full. I know there are some fish in this small pond, so seeing it recharged warmed my black and shriveled heart. But the light was just beginning to fade then, and I didn’t want to try building a fire in the dark, so I followed Flike’s plan and hiked down the road the rest of the way back to the cabin.

My packing for this trip was more spontaneous than comprehensive and it turned out that I had not brought sufficient water (we had enuf to drink but nothing more for washing dishes), nor had I brought anything to supplement the turkey sausages I bought to serve as our shared dinner. I slowly discovered this as the evening progressed.

I did create a one-match fire, as you see above, but I kept it a small affair since I didn’t want to be up all night tending it as it burned its way to ashes. And I don’t like putting out fires only to leave large-ish unburnt wood in the fire ring. So a small fire that I could nurture with modest feeding for a few hours was my plan. And that pretty much was what we did. I burnt the turkey sausage sufficiently enuf to shove down our gullets, and I washed it down with a few adult beverages, and I waited, as I always do this time of year, to hear a whippoorwill. Alas, I was disappointed this evening. Though I heard a barred owl a number of times, and the frogs at the very full lake were making merry as well, I guess the whippoorwill hadn’t returned to my woods yet this season.

Bedtime coincided with a cloudless black sky full of stars. Since it was a new moon, they were especially bright, and as I happened to arise several times in the night, I took a quick look at the stars and listened to the frogs that were going about their “business” nonstop through the night. I slept until I woke, which was four hours later than my normal time! (I’m pretty sure I don’t get enuf sleep.) Then it was time for breakfast.

Two things coincided then to make me especially stupid, I guess. One was that I had not packed any iced tea to drink in the morning. (See paragraph above about insufficient packing.) The second was that my phone’s battery was at one percent. I have no electricity (or plumbing) at the cabin, so the only way to recharge my phone was to plug it into the truck. And since I didn’t have any iced tea, I thought the best solution was to drive to the nearest town with a McDonald’s (their tea is acceptable), recharging my phone on the way. And that’s what Flike and I did, which was really pretty dumb since the nearest McDonald’s was something like 25 miles away! I didn’t want to go through the morning without a useable phone (in case of an accident, though I get no signal at the cabin), but I had a propane stove as well as some water and plenty of loose tea leaves; I could have provided for myself.

But I didn’t. About halfway to the McDonald’s (in the next county!) I realized how foolish I was being, but then I was already halfway there, so I just kept on. The tea I got was glorious, and Flike had no objection to the Egg McMuffin we shared as we drove back to the cabin. So with that out of my system, it was time to consider what chore to devote my morning to.

I had the chainsaw with me, and there are a few small trees around the cabin I’ve wanted to take down for a while, but I’m always leery about using the chainsaw deep in the woods when I am alone (Flike doesn’t count in cases like this). Instead, I decided to sling some gravel.

There is a pile of gravel near the cabin (supplemented twice) that is as old as the cabin, and I’ve been slowing spreading it around the area, both to keep the area passable and to maintain a firebreak. This was a less hazardous chore, so I decided that was what I was going to do. And I did.

I think I moved five wheelbarrow loads of gravel to places around the cabin. When I am done (!) I intend to scatter colored glass and marbles on the gravel. I had seen this done at a Christmas Tree Farm in Seattle several years ago and really liked the look. (They used red and green shards of glass there. And since only a fool would walk across gravel barefoot, there is no concern about getting sliced up. Also, the interaction with the gravel will removed the sharp edges from the glass shards.) When anyone asks me what I want for a birthday or Christmas gift, I tell them I want a bag of marbles. (I’ve even used this in one of my stories.)

I’ve only just started scattering the marbles and dragon’s tears because I haven’t built up the gravel bed around the cabin sufficiently yet, but here is what it looks like in one small area:

Between slinging gravel and throwing a stick for Flike, I managed to use up a few hours of the morning. I thought it was time to begin packing up for the return home. But while insufficiently preparing for this visit meant I would travel light, packing up to go home proved incongruously more involved.

I don’t like to leave a mess when I go, so I generally will sweep out some of the cabin and/or sweep the braided rug on the floor. Plus I always sweep the porch (and the return of the phoebe to her mud nest on the cabin wall meant more mud on the porch), plus I tidy up around the fire ring (someone had left empty beer cans there overnight!). But I also decided this trip that the sheets on the bed I sleep in ought to be changed, so that involved more time and effort. Then there is the putting away of whatever tools or fixtures I used (the chair I sit in beside the fire has often been found blown down the road on return visits, so I nest it with the other chairs then turn them on their side so they are less of a target for the vandal winds).

Anyway, all of this took time and I think it was after twelve o’clock when Flike and I were on the road, pointed toward home. We stopped at the McDonald’s again for more tea (unsweetened, of course) and ate up the miles under gathering clouds until we reached my driveway.


*So we left the truck and walked through the torrents and hiked in the half mile or so to our property. Then we walked through them again on the way out and later threw away our leather boots that were literally growing things. See below:

a dash to Roundrock

March 20, 2019

I made an abbreviated trip to my woods last Saturday. My wife was out of town (in NYC, seeing the grands and catching every virus they had, apparently), and I had obligations in town that morning. But when those were discharged, I threw some things in my truck, including the two dogs, and turned it toward my cabin.

The plan had been to have a fire in the evening as the sun went down, burn some hot dogs and maybe enjoy a few adult beverages, then crawl into bed in the cabin and sleep till I woke on Sunday.

It didn’t happen that way. I felt oddly anxious the whole time, like I should have stayed at home, and that seemed to put a pall on the visit. The lake, I’m happy to report, was at full pool (and the partly repaired spillway wasn’t washed away). The spring peepers were enjoying all of the water leaking under the dam in the acre below it. The temps were moderate — into 50+ degrees under a blue, blue sky. I had groceries to carry me through the weekend and enuf chores that did not involve starting the chainsaw (something I don’t like to do when I’m out there alone) to keep me busy the whole time.

But it wasn’t pulling together for me. All I could think about was that I should have stayed home. That I had forgotten something important to do there. That I needed to get back. It didn’t help that our small dog, Queequeg, was being willful and wouldn’t stay inside the cabin. I look at him as coyote bait when he’s out there, so he needs constant watching. When he could escape — the clever beast would wait inside the door and slip out as I stepped in — he would dash for my truck and sit under it, presumably where a bird of prey could not reach him, but also where I could not reach him. I fooled him once with a treat and managed to get him back in the cabin. But he didn’t fall for it the second time.

I had collected the makings for a one-match fire, but with the recent time change, the sun wasn’t going to set for hours, and like dogs that are coyote bait, fires in a forest need constant watching. So I didn’t want to start the fire hours before dinner or darkness and then have to be tied to it for those hours. (I was already tied to a dog.)

Somehow I managed to get both dogs in the cabin at the same time and threw myself on my bed, thinking I could luxuriate with an actual nap. But sleep wouldn’t come. As I lay (?) there I realized that I didn’t really want to spend the night, only to wake to just-above-freezing temps that would linger all morning. And that made building a fire superfluous since it would take me well into the night before I could leave it, and who wants to drive home at highway speeds through deer country in the dark? So in a moment of uncharacteristic behavior, I decided just to give in to whatever demon was deviling me and go back home. (Never mind that I spent less time at my cabin than it took me to drive to and from it.) The dogs, as they always are, were fully in favor of this idea when I proposed it to them. So I put them in the truck and then packed up what little I had brought down (that I didn’t intend to leave, including several hundred marbles, but that’s for a different post). Then I turned my truck toward home.

I did make a few observations while I was in my woods though. You may remember this mineral block I had put near the cabin:

My goal at the time was to see if it would be favored by the gnawing critters rather than the cabin’s doorjamb that they’ve been chewing to bits. The doorjamb showed plenty of fresh chew marks, but the mineral block looked like this:

You can see that the corners have been nibbled a little, but I’ve seen these reduced to slivers, and it had sat there for more than a month (since my last visit) with little attention. So this doesn’t seem to be my solution to the gnawing of the doorjamb.

I had also hung this bird feeder — one big mass of seed — on a tree in front of the cabin on my prior visit:

Note how the lake looked pretty full then.

Here is what I found when I returned last weekend:

So I think it was a big hit, though I don’t suppose it did anything to prevent the gnawing of the doorjamb either. It’s not easy to tell, but the lake in the second photo is actually much fuller. If I can figure out how to post an actual video here, you’ll get to see what I saw over the weekend.

I’m not sure when I’ll be back down again. Winter seems to have gotten the message and has retreated — at least in this part of the Midwest and for right now — so that should mean more opportunities to visit.

a day in the woods

October 30, 2018

My plan to have an overnight at my little cabin on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks last weekend was upset by last-minute grandparenting duties on Friday afternoon, so we hauled ourselves out there on Saturday morning and made a full day of it.

My goal had been to have a fire Friday evening, burning up a lot of junk that had been accumulating, and sitting around it musing about the universe as the darkness gathered. Since there had been rain in the forest recently, I felt more comfortable about having a fire; the fire ring is well contained and circled by plenty of open gravel. Still, I worry, so a wet forest lessened my concern. Thus when we went down on Saturday morning instead, I decided we could still have the fire and more or less tend it all day.

Before that, though, we hiked up to our northeast property line to survey the clearing that our new neighbor is doing along the fence. He’s cleared what I guess will be a wide road there, but I didn’t see anything different about it since my last survey, though later in the day we did hear some heavy machinery up that way.

After that we poked around the cabin — the ripening buckeye in the photo above was a happy find — and looked at the much-diminished lake. The recent rain hadn’t recharged it and I always worry — I fret a lot, don’t I? — that the water won’t be deep enuf for the fish in it to overwinter. But that’s never been a problem in all of the years, so I should stop worrying, shouldn’t I?

Our feet had steered us into the acre below the dam where years ago I had planted 50 pecan trees in more or less straight rows. Most of them died so I planted 50 more. Of those 100 hopefuls, about a dozen survive and  though they haven’t begun bearing nuts, they are nearly all taller (much taller) than I am. In one I found what you see in the photo below. Is this a mockery of my pecan plantation ambitions or just some festooning for Hallowe’en?

Years ago, in fact I think before the cabin was even built, I had cut down a hickory tree and delivered the logs from the trunk to my friend Todd. He uses the wood for his barbecues (though my palate is not sensitive enuf to appreciate whatever distinctiveness this gives the cooked food). In that time, Todd had moved from Kansas City to some place called Reno, Nevada. And then he moved back to St. Joseph, Missouri. In all of his travels, he had carried these logs with him, cutting off whatever he needed for his barbecues. He told me recently that he was down to his last bits of hickory from my forest. He didn’t say outright that it was time for me to supply him with more, but that’s the message I took. Anyway, as we were walking back to the cabin from our pecan peregrination, I saw a shagbark hickory tree that I thought was the right size for cutting down and cutting up to deliver for Todd. And someday, I thought, I might even do that!

So, a wet forest meant that the kindling I could collect would be wet as well. And experience has taught me that wet kindling can mean that a one-match fire might not happen. I think this is why I dithered about getting a fire started, that I might not do it with only a single match this time. I don’t know why this is important to me (other than that One-Match Fire is the title of my novel and a “challenge” among the characters in it). But I had a lot of tinder (mostly paper bags from my many visits to the bagelry) and I figured that enuf of that would make the difference.

It only just did (with the application of two matches, sadly). I burned up all of the tinder I had and resulted in only a few tiny flames high in the teepee of kindling sticks I had so carefully built. (Normally, you want the flames to be at the bottom, working their way up.) So I frantically dashed through the forest, looking for more kindling to add to them, hoping I could keep the flame alive long enuf for it to dry the rest of the wood and catch properly.

Perseverance paid and I did get a real fire going, adding thicker kindling and eventually adding a few pieces of larger wood, also wet-ish but when it started snapping I knew the fire had caught properly. Here is a look at the fire, supplemented with one of those packets of razzle dazzle to enhance the flames.

I didn’t burn much of the trash lumber I have been accumulating. It’s mostly rotten fence pickets and braces, and they were more wet than the wood I found in the forest. I did burn one old bird house that had fallen from its nail in a tree. And I’d brought some fallen branches from home that went into the fire. But once we had enuf flame and coals to cook our lunch (pork chops we’d gotten somewhere), I stopped stoking the fire since I didn’t want to have some monstrosity I would need to tend into the evening as it burned out enuf to leave it (or quench it with the water I had at hand).

The weather was about as perfect as it could have been. We arrived in the 40s, but by lunch time (approved of and shared with the dogs), the temps were somewhere in the 70s. It was easy to sit in the comfy chairs and eat our late lunch (supplemented in my case with iced tea, unsweetened, of course) and watch the fire. And we did this for a long time. We talked vaguely about power washing the cabin exterior and re-staining it. About maybe getting more gravel spread on our road through the trees when the men (finally) come to repair the washed out spillways (an unasked-for but appreciated benefit of the lake being low is that I don’t have to worry about the spillways being fully breached by a big water event). About upcoming travel plans. About everything and nothing.

The fire sputtered and mostly died. I quenched the sizzling coals with water and spread them around the ring. It was time to pack the truck and head home.

And then I experienced something I never have before in my forest, but that’s another tale for another day.

back to the woods for me

July 26, 2018

I had grandparenting duties on Saturday, and because there was a chance my son and daughter-in-law would be coming to Kansas City the following weekend, I took the chance to sneak out to my cabin on Sunday. (Actually, I wasn’t sneaking; my wife and the two dogs came along.)

I had no great agenda other than to survey any damage from yet another wicked storm that had moved through the area the week before. There were some downed limbs here and there but nothing serious. And since I remembered to bring the gasoline, I decided I would clear the scrubby growth around the overflow drain in the dam.

The overflow drain is the first line of defense when the lake exceeds full pool. It bleeds off the excess water and drains it out of a pipe at the base of the dam. It is built into the dam, near the top, and it’s basically a screen-covered catchment with a big drain pipe leading from it. But since it’s built into the side of the dam, plants grow up to and against it, and sometimes over it, covering the screen atop the catchment, thus hampering its ability to bleed off the excess water. (Are you following any of this?)

So now that I have that fancy weed whipper with the steel blade on the end, I felt equipped to take on the weeds around the drain. So I marched myself down there and began creeping down the steep side of the dam to get close enuf to the weeds that needed eviction. I whipped and whipped, then stopped periodically to collect what I had cut and (attempt to) throw it over the top of the dam so it wouldn’t wash onto the screen when the water was high again and block the drainage. The blade attachment on this whipper only works at the base of plants. If I tried cutting a stalk of tall grass from the top, the blade would just slap the grass out of the way. The blade needs the resisting force of roots to cut through the stalk. So my work on the steep slope around the drain involved poking the whipper into the denseness, trying not to hit too many stones or the concrete structure of the catchment.

I spent about a half hour at this, clearing an area large enuf to keep any falling or leaning plants away from the drain, but it’s the kind of work I need to do every few weeks all summer long, and the reason I’d made this my first chore of the day was because it wasn’t as hot then as it was going to get later, being a summer day and all.

Once finished with that, I walked back across the top of the dam, whipping this or that plant but hardly making a discernible difference to the lush growth. And then I worked on the open area below the cabin where I had whipped on an earlier visit but left parts unfinished. (I whip until I’ve used up one tank of gas. That’s about all of the nerve damage my hands can recover from.)

So that was done and that left the rest of the day.

I have limestone gravel around the cabin, in part to keep the area walkable but also to have a firebreak. But in the gravel grows a lot of unwanted plants. Because the cabin is close to the lake, I don’t want to use herbicides on this growth, and there are just too many little weeds to even imagine pulling them all out by hand. One method I use that I think I’ve mentioned before is to spread a tarp over the gravel, starving the plants of sunlight. In the growing season this achieves its effect in just a few weeks; I pull away the tarp and then rake away the dead weeds. It only lasts a year, and the tarp is in constant movement around the gravel.

But a fried who recently spread some gravel at her rural place had told me that one benign herbicide I could try is straight vinegar. (She also said a layer of gravel at least two inches thick is usually sufficient, so when I get mastery over the weeds, I’ll spread more gravel.) I was eager to try the vinegar method since it did seem harmless. So I brought along the remains of a jar of vinegar from our home in faraway suburbia and poured it into a spray bottle. Then I sprayed several areas around the cabin that were discrete enuf for me to remember the next time I visited. I could see if the idea worked. I don’t know how long it will take or how permanent its effect will be, but I do know that the cabin site smelled like pickles.

I was debating then whether to go for a swim or to do more serious work. It was certainly warm enuf for a swim, and the water was beckoning, but there is a project I’ve been wanting to get done with the fire ring for a long time, and somehow actual motivation overcame me and I did it.

I built the fire ring out of cottage blocks, and they’re designed so that when you stack a second layer, it is offset and set back a half inch or so. This is great for building a wall since the wall “leans” into the ground it is retaining. But it’s not so great for building a ring.

I had built the base with the blocks fitting nicely, just as they’re designed to do. When I put the second layer of blocks on the ring, however, I faced a problem. I was using the same number of blocks to build a ring with a smaller circumference. Everything seemed fine until the two ends of the ring met. The blocks didn’t fit. I had to misalign them to complete the circle, and while that doesn’t seem horrible on the scale of problems, if I ever wanted to add a third layer of blocks (because the ash from so many fires had grown that deep), it really wouldn’t work.

So my plan was to remove the top layer and then pull out the blocks on the base by a half inch or so, making their circumference larger than before so that the layer above it could have a better fit in its smaller circumference.

Here you see how I had removed the top layer. The next step was pulling out the lower blocks slightly and then returning the upper ring. My efforts paid off because the blocks on the upper ring fit perfectly. (And yes, I realize that if I ever add that third layer, I’ll have to do this all over again.)

So it was a productive stolen trip to the woods.