Posted tagged ‘Roundrock’

staining the cabin

October 17, 2019

My wife and I, plus our two canine helpers, spent the weekend at our little cabin on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks with the goal of beginning to stain the freshly pressure-washed exterior.

I mentioned here before that when the man who built it handed me the key to the door (ten years ago next month!) he said I should stain it every three years. And so a decade passed without me doing this big chore. Fortunately, the pressure washing mostly restored the wood (or washed away the dirt and stripped the original stain so at least it looked restored).

They photo above, with one of many large walking sticks we found on the cabin — this one was about four inches long without its front legs extended — shows the “logs” under the porch roof. These were the least dirty and best retained the original stain, but after mastering the mad skillz of deploying a pressure washer, you see how I got down to basics. I loved the look of the wood, and I half wished I didn’t have to stain it, but I needed to protect it, and I organized a three-day weekend at the cabin to get started.

We brought along three gallons of the stain that Craig and his father-in-law recommended. I had calculated the square footage I needed to cover (about 750 square feet of logs and soffits and ceiling), read the greatly varying coverage reported on the cans (anywhere from 200 to 400 square feet), and figured that we could make a good start of the job, and then I could determine how much more stain we would need.

I had brought a ladder from home to reach the high spots, and my wife would work on the window frames then the lower logs. We had our brushes, our masking tape, and our drop cloths, plus we had just about perfect weather, with an unbroken vault of blue sky above us. (You could set a novel in a place like this!)

And so, we began. The wood was thirsty. My biggest worry was overlapping brush work. I really didn’t want the stain to be marbled with darker and lighter spots due to double application. I needn’t have worried. The cedar logs took the stain evenly despite the number of passes my brush made over it. (The only place where there was even the slightest bit of obvious overlapping was on the finer grained tongue-and-groove soffits and porch ceiling, but even then it was only noticeable because I was looking for it.)

With this worry out of the way, I was able to work more quickly, and in less than an hour I had all of the ladder work done (except for the entirety of the porch). My wife had moved at a similar pace, finishing the window frames and staining the lower log siding swiftly and smoothly. Having made much faster progress than I expected, we broke for lunch (sandwiches and cold, refreshing beverages).

After lunch we returned to the work. Each of us had a separate gallon to work from, and it seemed to me that we were actually going to have enuf stain in the three gallons to finish the entire cabin.

I think we spent 4.5 to 5 hours working that Saturday, and in that time we stained three sides of the cabin. We still had about a half gallon of stain left besides the whole unopened gallon. All that was left for us was the porch, which was actually the hardest part because of the ceiling and the extra soffit and the support posts and the desire not to get any stain on the concrete floor there.

But we’d done enuf for our first day, so we cleaned up as well as we could and put our gear away. Then it was time to build a one-match fire to cook our burgers over. It happened that only two days before the area had received nearly three inches of rain. I feared that the tinder would be too wet to catch, but that wasn’t the case. I soon had a fire roaring, and we added logs as well as the last of the scrap lumber I had brought from home to get enuf coals to shovel under the grill for our (and the dogs’) burgers. All of this happened in daylight (since my wife hates to cook in the dark for some reason), and after we’d finished eating our food and drinking our cold beverages, we continued to stoke the fire as the sun set.

A barred owl hooted occasionally, and far-off farm dogs barked, plus what sounded like fireworks came from well to the southwest, but it was too late in the season to hear a whippoorwill. Still, the fire burned and crackled, and the crickets chirped, and the full moon rose through the trees to the east. There is a point with a campfire when you have to decide whether to add more wood and stay with it longer as it burns or stop stoking it and let what’s there burn to ash. We reached that point and decided to stop stoking. We still had work to do the next day. I eventually quenched the few remaining coals with a gallon of water, and we retreated to the cabin.

Of course it smelled like wood stain inside the cabin, and despite repeated washings with soap and water, I’m sure my hands were part of the reason. But rest came easily after a day of work, and even the dogs let me have most of my bed this time.

I woke as I habitually do sometime after 3:00 a.m. and stepped outside. The forest was quiet, which is something I rarely experience except in winter visits. But then I crawled back into my warm bed, the approximately 44 degrees outside on the porch was not so wonderful to someone with barely anything on. Somehow I managed to fall back to sleep for another two hours, but the sun was preparing to peek over the trees to the east, and there was breakfast to be had as we waited for the temperature to rise enuf to apply more stain to more wood.

Breakfast consisted of instant oatmeal (pretty much a staple at the cabin) prepared on a propane stove. There was also fruit, and my wife made herself some instant coffee that she declared acceptable. I had my iced tea (unsweetened, of course). The dogs disdained their kibble and would only eat their soft treats (and any of our food they could cadge).

Then came the second day of work. Once again, I did the ladder work, which involved the eaves and the entire ceiling plus the first three logs from the top. My wife did the rest. By careful maneuvering of the drop cloths, and some additional taping, we managed to make our way across the porch, staining as we went, and barely getting any drops on the floor. Because the ground slopes away from the front of the cabin more steeply than elsewhere, some of the ladder placement was sketchy and challenging. But by then I had been up and down the ladder dozens of times, and I was so near the end that I didn’t let myself worry about things like falling to my death.

By lunch time, reader, we had finished. I had taken Monday off at work so we would have a three-day weekend to do as much work as we could, and we managed to do all of it in less than two days. (Yes, I found that I could have been more thorough about pressure washing some parts of the porch, but it’s all so much better than it was.) Plus we still had about a third of a gallon of stain left. And here is the result of our labors:

It’s actually a little darker than I had hoped, but it may lighten as it dries. Even if it doesn’t, it’s fine. It looks good, and I feel that the wood in protected (for another three-to-ten years). Next up is repainting the door and frame. The critters have chewed up much of the lower door frame, and I doubt they’ll respect a fresh coat of paint, but it will look good.

So on Sunday afternoon we packed up and headed home, leaving ourselves an entire Monday free to do with what we would. (And what we did was tend a barfy three-year-old as his mother coped with her own stomach cold and her infant daughter.)


My cabin sits about a hundred feet uphill from my lake. Much of the cabin is surrounded by gravel, and it’s been a ten-year job to keep the weeds from overtaking the gravel. Part of the solution is to have four inches of gravel on the ground, but even that’s not enuf sometimes. I also have begun experimenting with landscaping fabric under the gravel, to prevent weeds from finding light. I don’t want to use herbicides on the weeds since I’m so close to the lake, so I also use the old tarp you see above, moving it to various gravely places to sit for weeks or months to starve the weeds of sunlight. The best time to do this is during the growing season, and the move I made last weekend (just to the east of the fire ring) will probably remain there all winter.

This old tarp was our original shelter in the days before we had the cabin. It did a pretty good job, trussed in various ways to stay taut and shed water and snow. Where the cabin now sits there was once this:

an overnight at the cabin

September 4, 2019

After walking miles on Saturday morning at the zoo with my three-year-old grandson (and his parents and his infant baby sister), and then coming home and generally cooling off for a couple of hours, my wife, the dogs, and I decided to go to the cabin at Roundrock for an overnight. We didn’t leave until 4:00 in the afternoon, which, I think, is unprecedented for the lateness of our departure.

It was not our most productive visit to the cabin.

First of all, I know you’re thinking that you’ve already seen the photo above, and it’s true because you have. But in the month since my last visit (!) the wasps have been busy. Behold:

I think the work is done; there were no wasps working on this while we were there. Part of me wants to scrape all of that off of the cabin, but I’ve left a phoebe’s mud nest on the cabin (also under the porch roof) for years, and wasps are our friends. Still, I’m trying to arrange a power washer to clean the exterior of the cabin prior to re-staining it, and if I do, both of those mud structures will be gone.

My hope was to have a fire on Saturday evening to sit before and contemplate the universe and my sorry place in it, but when we turned off the paved road to bump along the two miles of gravel road to the cabin, we splashed through a bunch of puddles; rain had apparently fallen that very morning. If so, the kindling on the forest floor would be wet and might not catch no matter how much tinder I used. I had a copy of the local newspaper to use as my tinder, and since that resource is in good supply (and free), I wanted to see how well it worked.

I have built fires in twilight, but I wasn’t eager to do that this time, so once we got the truck unloaded, I began collecting kindling and crumpling the newspaper to serve as tinder. The kindling was wet, so I gave myself permission to use more than one match to get the evening fire going. I needn’t have bothered. The newspaper sheets burned quickly and were soon gone, and the smallest bit of kindling had the smallest orange flames licking on it as a result. They didn’t last long. The tinder was gone. The kindling was wet. My mood was dampened. So I didn’t try lighting the fire again. (Note to self: Brown paper bags make better tinder. They burn hotter and longer than newsprint.)

With no fire to sit around, and with far more than 12 hours already on my consciousness clock for the day, and with the sun setting behind the western ridge earlier than official sunset, we decided to retreat to the cabin for the evening. We had a new LED lantern we wanted to use (and promptly broke the older LED lantern). I sat at the table and made notes in my visit journal, and some notes for a story that was blossoming in my head all afternoon, and then retired early. Flike had gotten into my bed before me though and claimed pretty much the center of the space. Since there are still horseflies buzzing around, he’d had a bad afternoon, so I tried to ease into bed around him. His rapid panting soon subsided to gentle breathing, so I was glad of that.

I managed to sleep for nearly twelve hours. It’s a little indulgence I allow myself at the cabin (and it helps balance the rest of the time when I wake freakishly early). Then it was time to rise and see what might be done with the day. Outside the remains of my attempt at fire (above) reproached me. The air was cool — in the 60s — so a dip in the lake wasn’t going to happen. I thought about maybe cutting down a tree beside where I park the Prolechariot, but that never happened.

About all we did was make and eat breakfast (oatmeal, various fruits, coffee for my wife, tea for me, both iced and hot, both unsweetened) and sit around. She read while I continued making notes for that story. I would rise occasionally to throw a stick for Flike to chase and to make sure Queequeg hadn’t been carried off by a bobcat. But actual chores, like spreading more gravel or pulling weeds, or even wandering down to the dam to see how much worse the spillway had become, didn’t happen.

I think we only stayed long enuf for lunch because we had lunch to eat in the cooler. But once that was dispatched, we began the hour-long process of packing up and cleaning up so we could head back to faraway suburbia where there was indoor plumbing and hot showers.

random photo Monday

August 12, 2019

Another photo from the archive. This is not only one of the round rocks from my little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks, but it is my favorite round rock. I keep it on the bookshelf beside my desk at home so I can see it constantly.

It’s not perfectly spherical, but it is among the smoothest surfaces I have unearthed. These rocks “grew” in the chemical stew that was created when a meteor slammed into the shallow, salt-water sea that once covered what we now call Missouri. The mix of pulverized minerals and the salt water (called breccia) caused substances to adhere to shards of stone (mostly shale) and grow into the round rocks that dot parts of my forest.

I am returning today from my long weekend in Paducah, Kentucky. I got to see my mother and aunt and sister as well as my daughter and her husband and my three sweet grands who travelled there from New York, some of whom are coming to Kansas City tomorrow for a two-week stay!

return to Roundrock

July 30, 2019

What with babies being born and travel coming and such stuff, my weekends have not really lent themselves to overnight trips to the cabin. So when a window opened this last weekend, I took it despite conditions not being perfect (meaning: hot and dry and buggy). We left on Friday afternoon, and when we reached our woods, Good Neighbor Craig was on his tractor pulling his brush hog, mowing our road in because why not? (He sometimes grazes his cattle across our easement through his prairie, and he’s certain we’re greatly inconvenienced by this, so I think he is trying to buy our good graces by mowing our road. And I don’t object because why not?)

The bug most prominent on the buggy weekend was a black wasp that was busy building the nest above. This is on the ceiling of the porch where we spent most of our time. Nest building is apparently a noisy business for wasps. The wasp would return to the nest with a daub of mud and then go into the newest chamber and buzz ferociously. This was repeated throughout the afternoon and the next morning (once they day warmed enuf).

We sat on the porch for several hours, just getting attuned to cabin time. There hadn’t been much rain in the area lately, though one storm did pass through earlier in the week. The surprising result is that the lake is still holding at nearly a full pool. For this late in the summer, that’s a real win (for my ego and for the fish that will have to winter over in whatever water remains).

It wasn’t all indolence though. After sitting around, I slung more gravel and pulled some weeds encroaching on the cabin. Then I got busy building another successful one-match fire:

We cooked some (really awful) Salisbury steaks on this fire and otherwise sat around it well into the darkness. And though I didn’t expect to hear one this late in the summer, a nearby whippoorwill serenaded us a few times. Distant owls hooted. And my wife said she’d heard coyotes yipping after I was asleep. Also, a neighbor was busy in a field to the east apparently, tilling or harvesting or mowing well after nightfall. It was barely audible, so it didn’t intrude on our campfire musings, but it was constant, and odd.

On Saturday morning I finally did what I’ve been meaning to do for months: I cut down that oak tree that had thwarted me for so long. (Actually, it was my inept understanding of my chainsaw, but I’ll blame the tree.)

Not the best picture, but you can see the base where I cut the tree on the left and the fallen tree behind my chainsaw. I cut the trunk into two-foot sections and took off the limbs. The logs I carried up the hill to the wood rack by the fire ring, and the limbs I dragged through the trees to a brush pile I’ve had for longer than I’ve had the cabin. And since I had the chainsaw warmed up, I took out some other branches that were reaching into the open space betwixt the cabin and the lake as well as a cedar tree that was doing the same (though not the one you see in the photo above). Later, when I sat in the comfy chair on the shady porch overlooking the sparkling lake and gazed down the gentle hill, I saw new trees and branches that would now have to go too. (Though not on this day.)

This was hot and dirty work. I’d forgotten how much sawdust a working chainsaw can throw on a person. And even though I had tackled this job early in the morning before the sun would scorch that bit of earth, I was sweating. So I did what any sensible person would do in 75-degree weather in the Ozarks; I went swimming.

This was only the second time this summer I had gotten into the lake. I’m not sure why, though fear of flesh-eating bacteria and brain-eating amoebas may have something to do with it. Happily, I don’t have the rafts of blue-green algae floating in the lake this year. So I donned my suit (and cap and sunglasses and shirt to ward off sunburn) and stumbled down the hill and into the water because why not? The water was much warmer than the air, and as usually happens in these cases, I was soon deliciously warm and buoyant. My wife soon followed me in, and we paddled around the water for easily an hour, just taking it all in. A pair of curious turkey vultures circled overhead, and the dragonflies patrolled the water’s surface. I did gaze up toward the cabin once, just to see how open the open area looked from that perspective, and I agreed with myself that more work needed to be done.

Eventually we had to reacquaint ourselves with gravity and stumbled up the hill to the cabin to dry ourselves and do more power relaxing. But there were no more chores that were going to be done that day, and we slowly began packing up and sweeping the cabin and porch, putting away this and that, cleaning, and straightening. The dogs would have none of it and chose to do their own relaxing in the truck, which was fine with me. Flike, the bigger dog, is terrified of horseflies, of which there were many that day. And Queequeg, the smaller dog, is coyote bait. So better for them both to be in the car (with the windows down).

We packed up slowly, which is always the best way because we tend to overlook and/or forget fewer things by doing so. Eventually we were all set to go and locked up then pulled out.

I’m not sure when I’ll be getting back to my cabin. I’m driving to Kentucky soon for a long weekend, and then my daughter and three grands will be coming to Kansas City for two weeks. I think she’d like to expose her kids to cabin life (that is, building fires!), but August is miserably hot, and who wants to have three toddlers with bug bites driving them crazy on their long drive back to New York? So it may be the end of August before I get back.

back to Roundrock, again

June 24, 2019

With so much rain lately, my visits to Roundrock are governed by whether or not the roads to it are passable. A decent couple of days, weatherwise, last weekend suggested I could have an overnight at my little cabin on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks. And so I snuck out of work a little early on Friday, threw some things in the Prolechariot, and took off for the woods.

My neighbor down there, with whom I maintain a texting friendship, reported that although the county road was no longer underwater, the weather was horrible, with hail and lightning and a sky that was green! I had seen the weather forecast, though, and told him I was still on my way and that I would bring some sunshine along with me.

The rain had stopped before I arrived, but the forest was still dripping when I left the paved road and drove the two graveled miles to my cabin. It was still standing, and the lake was still there (not washed away by a breach of the dam from all of the rain and high water). Branches were down here and there, but otherwise the forest and cabin endured.

When I’d last visited, two weekends before, the phoebe nest on the side of the cabin, under the protective porch roof, held four eggs. On this visit, I saw what you see below:

I count at least two chicks in the nest, and while momma phoebe perched on a branch nearby as I passed in and out of the cabin, scolding me the whole time, she grew a bit more comfortable with my presence in her realm and didn’t always fly off the nest when I appeared or even moved as I sat in the comfy chair overlooking the sparkling lake.

I had fully intended to swim in the lake this visit. The forecast called for 92 degrees, and I had even brought my swimming gear this time. But the storm had left behind cooler temperatures after it passed, and it never rose above 70 degrees that afternoon. I suppose swimming was still possible — the water temperature was likely warm enuf — but I chose not to.

I had also brought the chainsaw — with the chain on it properly this time — but I’m always reluctant to use it when I’m alone in the forest, on the wrong side of the ridge where we don’t get a cell signal. There was still that oak that defeated me before, and there are two closer to the cabin that I want to remove to have more parking space (for when you come to visit, natch!), but I didn’t fire up the machine.

The only chore I did undertake when I visited was to do something about the spillway that continues to wash out. I’ve mentioned here before that I have hired a man to fix it and even pave the top part of it to prevent further erosion, but the rain has kept him busy in other parts of the county, and he got himself elected mayor of the nearby town, so he has myriad responsibilities now, and a small job like mine probably isn’t high on his list.

The high water that rushes into the spillway has now cut a six-foot drop. It still carries the excess water away, but every high-water event erodes a little more of the spillway, and if that six-foot drop reaches the lake itself (at least fifteen more feet of linear distance) then the lake will begin pouring out. Short of carrying buckets of washed-out rock a hundred feet up from below the dam to the drop — hundreds of buckets — about the only other thing I figured I could do was cut a bunch of smallish cedars and throw them in the hole then throw some heavy rocks on top of them. And this is what I did.

My thought is that the presence of the cedars in the hole will blunt the force of any water pouring into it, thus preventing the hole from getting any deeper. Also, the fine needles and branching pattern of the cedars might collect some of the silt from the overflow, filling in the hole at least a little.

As I was doing this, standing in the bottom of the hole, I could see at head height some old cedars protruding from the ground. They were from my last attempt at slowing the erosion, and now they were above my head.

The boulder you see in the photo at the top of this post is the size of my truck. It sits farther down the spillway, and in a perfect world it would be under a few feet of soil, lush with grass that would prevent erosion.

Nature always wins. (That’s actually the title I would use for any sequel I write to One-Match Fire.) My little efforts will make not much difference at all, but sitting on the porch, wringing my hands, will make even less. Also, it’s something I can continue to do as I wait for the contractor to come and finish the job. (I texted him over the weekend and made things sound dire. He promised to get a crew out there this week. That would be dandy, but I don’t think there are any heavy rainstorms coming soon, and the lake level is slowing lowering anyway, so maybe the crisis will be over for this year.)

After doing what I could down in the spillway hole, I retreated to the cabin and began thinking about building a fire. It was the solstice, so the sun wasn’t going to set for several hours. I’m fussy about fires in my forest. Once I have them going, I feel that I should tend them carefully, keeping them safely within the ring of blocks and not rampaging through the forest. Thus I did not want to start the fire too soon and then be stuck before it for hours of daylight, waiting for darkness to fall (and the whippoorwills to sing).

The forest was wet from the recent rain, and my fears were not very substantive, but even so, I didn’t want to set match to tinder too soon. So I returned to the cabin (at momma phoebe’s dissatisfaction) and wrote in my visit journal and made notes for the stories I write that seem to come to me in waves when I’m at the cabin. (I am grateful for this.)

The hours passed. I watched as a fawn walked along the shoreline across the lake. Later, I saw a raccoon wading the shallows there, hunting, I suppose, for frogs or tadpoles or insects. I had seen four quail as I drove in from the paved road earlier, which is something I’ve wanted to see ever since my feet first touched the ground there. I think I’ve mentioned before the idyllic summers I had spent at my grandparent’s farm in Kentucky as a boy. That was when I had first heard the call of the bobwhite quail, and I had hoped that my own time in the woods and fields would deliver that call to me again. Not yet, but just seeing the quail was encouraging.

At around 7:00 p.m., an hour and a half before official sunset, I walked to the fire ring and began assembling my evening fire. I’d been collecting tinder for a long time. I prefer paper bags. They light easily and they seem to burn hot but not fast, giving the kindling a chance to ignite in its turn. (Also, going to the bagel store often results in a paper bag.)

My concern was that the kindling itself was wet from the rain. I don’t cover my wood pile, and the kindling I collect is from the forest floor nearby, so it faces all of the weather that comes. I have built fires with wet kindling that sputtered out, and I allowed myself more than one match to get this one going.

I built the fire, adding more than my normal amount of paper-bag tinder (also gas receipts, empty instant-oatmeal packets, and such) then mounted the kindling over it. When I judged that I had enuf, I drew a single match from the box and struck it, lighting the exposed paper bags where I could then dropping the match into the kindling when it had burned down too far to hold any longer.

My tinder burned robustly, but the kindling seemed reluctant. Once all of the paper was ash, I had only a few small flames licking in the top of the pyramid of kindling, which isn’t how the plan was supposed to go. (Normally, you want your fire to start at the bottom and consume the fuel above it.) But I fed those flames with small sticks and kind words and somehow, I managed to get a real fire going on that first match.

As this was happening, I was preparing the larger sticks as fuel for the long haul. I carefully added them to the fire — along with some scrap lumber I had brought from home as well as yet another picket from the rotting fence that surrounds my back yard — and watched as they joined the effort.

I had succeeded in building a one-match fire despite having wet kindling and fuel, and if it wasn’t the same as a Jack London story, it was still satisfying to me.

The fire carried me past sunset and into the night. I was not cooking my dinner over these flames, so all I really had to do was enjoy them. And I did.

Not the best photo, but here is the “mature” fire, filled with hot coals and warm flames, ready to accept and consume whatever else I would add to it.

I lingered before my fire well past my usual bedtime because I was waiting, as I always do, to hear a whippoorwill. Simple pleasures, right? I did hear some calling farther in the forest, but the randy frogs down the hill in the lake were croaking so lustily that it was hard to hear anything above their chorus. (I did hear a whippoorwill through the open cabin windows sometime in the night.)

In the morning I rose and thought once again about jumping in the lake to rinse off the grime of my chores and fire building and general sweating in the Ozark humidity. But I did not. My son and his wife had arrived in Kansas City the night before, and I felt obliged to return home sooner rather than later to spend time with them (and see if they had any news, which they didn’t). I slept two hours later than my normal time, and I didn’t rush as I prepared to leave. I straightened around the cabin site, putting fresh (bug-free) sheets on the bed I had slept in, taking extra time (at the phoebe’s consternation) to sweep the porch thoroughly, and pretty much satisfying myself that I had set thing aright as much as I could.

I’m entering the season when I feel daunted by my feeble attempts to maintain a small cabin in a small forest. The plants are growing so vigorously now that any idea of imposing human order in that space seems futile. But it’s only temporary. By August, when the heat of the summer asserts itself fully, all of the febrile growth begins to question itself. The plants begin to wither and fall back, and once again I feel that I can establish my presence in the forest.

And already, I’m looking at this coming weekend for another visit.

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.