Posted tagged ‘Roundrock’

something new under the Roundrock sun

March 1, 2021

I’ve been stomping about my little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks for twenty years. In that time I’ve seen a lot of things and made a few discoveries (including, possibly, a bear sighting a couple of months ago). I like to think I keep myself open the the possibility of surprise — I’m still hoping to find an arrowhead before I shuffle off this mortal coil — and I like to think I’m a pretty good steward of the earth in my 80 acres.

Since the climate in Missouri decided to change from -13 degrees two weeks ago to 60+ degrees last weekend, I made a dash down to Roundrock, the second-to-last day of the month and the first time in February. I had a few things on my agenda, including a hike to a particularly nice spot about in the center of my 80-acre rectangle. Here it is:

This stream feeds my lake, and it’s a wet-weather stream, so often when I visit this spot (it’s a bit of a hike) I’m standing on the bedrock below the water you see. But what you see in the photo is what I saw on Saturday. I think most of this water is snowmelt, which was still on the ground a few days before. In fact, the lake still had some skim ice on it when I visited. Anyway, this is a nice spot, and Flike and I made our way to it as a way to enjoy the nice day after our first chore of the morning. You don’t see any round rocks in this picture because they’re shy.

And our first chore of the day was do some work in the pines. They are in the tall grass, which is more or less impassible most of the year because of the bugs. (Ozark chiggers are the worst!) So it is in the winter months that I can dare to venture in there. It seems that my pines are favorites of the deer who need to thrash the velvet off their antlers. A couple of years ago, when I last planted pines there, I decided to save some money and not buy steel fence posts to use for the caging about the baby pines. Instead, I cut down cedar trees, trimmed them, and pounded them into the ground beside the pines. I then wrapped chickenwire around them and had a pretty good defense system. For a year.

The cedar posts rotted quickly in the ground here. The pine plantation is about the only spot in my entire forest that has actual soil, and it’s just down hill from my neighbor’s pond, so this soil is often wet. Pretty good growing conditions for pines, but not so good for rotting wood. As the cedar posts weakened, the deer, I guess, saw their chance and used the pines to thrash off their velvet. The poor pines got pretty battered — some were lost altogether — and I knew I had to get more serious about protecting them. To this end I’ve been collecting fence posts from around Roundrock. Some were from trees long gone but some were from the older pines now fifty feet tall and no longer needing protection. All I needed was a reasonably warm winter day to replace the cedar posts with the steel ones, spruce up the chicken wire all fallen and full of weeds, then pat myself on the back for a job well done. Which is pretty much how it went down. Flike was not much help, and he decided if I wasn’t going to throw a stick for him full time, he was just going to chill in the truck.

I managed to rescue four of the battered pines, but the rest in that area are hardly worth saving and I think it’s time I ordered more from the Conservation Department and start again. (It is good soil, and the setting gets sun and water. I ought to do it. I really should.) As I worked in the pines I saw that many of the mature ones had lost their leaders or large branches to the ice storm last month. They’ll recover, but I did spend a little time collecting these fallen limbs where I could. (Some were deep in the blackberries!) I also found a deer antler as I poked around, so that was nice.

And then it was time to go back to the cabin for lunch. Normally, I sit on the porch for my meals. I can look down at the lake and watch for water birds or turtles (none of the former and still a little early for the latter). But as I gazed across the lake I saw a downed tree on the far shore. Another casualty of the ice storm (I thought). The exposed core of the tree was white in the February gray, so it was easy to see even at that distance. Well, I have a lot of trees, and I can’t fight the weather, so I decided to be at peace with nature.

But then I saw another white spot nearby. And what looked like white flakes underneath it. Keep in mind this is probably 300 feet away. So I decided that when Flike and I took our walk to that nice spot (above), we’d first detour to the spot across the lake to have a look at the fallen tree.

And this is what I found:

This was something new under the sun. I have beavers in my lake! I feel like a good steward of the land if it’s attracting new tenants. All of this work was relatively fresh. The chips on the ground were still white and clean, and the weather had only turned tolerable in the last week. (My neighbor lost four calves to the bitter cold just two weeks before.) I wonder if the beavers would have been busy with their work had I not arrived with a barking dog that morning. Actually, I understand they’re mostly nocturnal, so I guess my presence wasn’t a factor on Saturday.

The beaver don’t need to build a dam to create a pool of water for their den since I’ve done that already, so I think they’re bringing down the trees (about a half dozen) in order to get at the tips that they will eat until more palatable food becomes available. A couple of the downed trees were stripped of their branches, which were not around, so I suspect the beavers carried them to their den, which is probably in the muddy little “cliff” just below these trees. (In the very top photo, this area is just out of sight to the left across the lake.) I think their den entrance is usually under the water, but with the fluctuating levels of my lake, it may be exposed later.

My lake has been around nearly as long as I have been stomping around my woods, but it was only this year that the beaver moved in. My assumption had been that my elevation was too high for them to venture that far from the nearby river. Plus, there is a massive Corps of Engineers lake only a few miles from my woods. Seems like there is plenty of beaver homesteading opportunity there. But I’ve read that beaver were nearly completely extirpated in Missouri in the early part of the last century and that restoration efforts have thoroughly turned that around, so maybe the beaver in my lake are part of that rebounding population effort. If so, I’m glad to play a part.

This looked like a Golden Retriever to me. Wearing a Covid mask, of course.

bits and pieces

January 25, 2021

I recently watched the movie “The Swimmer” based on the short story of that name by John Cheever. I had read the collected stories of Cheever *mumble* decades ago, and watching that film made me want to read his stuff again. So I found a used copy online (through ABE Books, which I understand is now owned by Amazon). It was listed as hardcover, with the dust jacket, and in like-new condition. And all for $5.00. So I ordered it.

When it came last week, I got a battered, sun-faded, paperback copy of it. Readable, yes, but not what I had ordered. So, with no hope of any response or satisfaction, I wrote to the bookseller explaining my disappointment. I was surprised two days later when I received a contrite email from the bookseller saying they did not have the hardcover copy I wanted and so they were refunding my purchase. Small victories.


Small Paul says “Jambo,” y’all!


The brain is a wild place, and I’m writing a story about going down one of its freakier paths right now.


It took me more than two weeks into the new year to get out to my cabin. It was nothing more than a relaxation visit in the middle of the work week, and the weather was just nice enuf for sitting in the sun. We saw no deer or bears or turkeys, and only a couple of squirrels. But the birds had found the filled feeder and had emptied it in the time we were away, so we refilled it, and they soon returned. Mostly tufted titmice, but some chickadees as well. There had been an ice storm down there (as there had been at home), and many trees had come down. At least one of the pines I’ve been cultivating was leaning drastically, but it is so deep in the brambles, that I can’t get to it to try righting it.


I’ve actually written a couple of stories in recent weeks, but they’re only in first draft form, and I need to let them gestate for a while. I am still waiting for my next great subject to reveal itself, and I think I got spoiled with Obelus and how quickly and easily it all came to me from start to finish. I have to keep reminding myself that writing is hard, painstaking, and generally slow work.


Right now I’m reading Huck Out West by Robert Coover. So far, it’s not happening for me. I’m really hoping that he’ll do something astonishing with the character that is a worthy follow up to the original, but I fear it’s just going to end up being a fan fiction.

several visits to Roundrock

December 29, 2020

The weather has been mostly unseasonable lately, and with the surfeit of days off of work I’ve been able to visit my little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks often. I think I’ve made two or three visits since I last wrote about it.

Most notable has been the wildlife we’ve seen (or nearly seen). Specifically, two critters.

One was a bald eagle that was hanging out in a tree across the lake. In my fifteen-or-so years coming to my woods, I’d seen a bald eagle there only twice before. One time I saw the bird circling in the air far above. The second time, last year, I saw it only briefly as it rose from the shore and flew away. Perhaps it was feasting on a dead fish there. But on a recent visit, the eagle flew into the tree across the lake, hung out for ten or fifteen minutes, then flew off. Back in my journalism days, I wrote an article about efforts to bring back nesting eagles to Missouri, so I was always eager to see them in my own bit of woods. They are getting to be a fairly common sight now during the winter, and I doubt my tiny lake has enuf to offer to draw a nesting pair (given that the massive Corps of Engineers lake is only a few miles away, as the eagle flies). Still, it warmed my black and shriveled heart to see one for a little while.

The second critter is more mysterious. On the same day that we saw the eagle, as we were driving in, we saw something on the road ahead of us that was running away as quickly as it could. We never got a good view of it, but what we saw was black, the size of a large dog, and had a shambolic gait as it ran. Now, a sensible conclusion would be that what we saw was a large black dog with a limp. But there have been reports of black bear sightings in the area, and last year I did find some droppings that matched bear droppings I’d seen online. My woods are pretty far north in the state for the known range of black bears, but their numbers are growing. I’m thinking of investing in a game camera (one that will interface with my Macbook Air, which is sometimes problematic) that might provide better evidence of what we may have seen. I had a pair of low-end game cameras in the past, and they provided grainy photos of mostly deer and squirrels. They stopped working after a while and I discarded them. But maybe it’s time to try again.

Having a black bear in my woods presents its own set of problems, of course. Powerful and fearless and potentially destructive. A threat to my dogs. Elusive, so it wouldn’t even offer majestic viewings of itself occasionally. And just as with a nesting bald eagle, if I reported a black bear, the state Conservation Department might get involved with rules and proscriptions. But I’m probably worried about nothing.

When we were down to the cabin last weekend, we had no wildlife sightings. The lake was frozen, which is hard to tell in the photo above. The ice was thin, and as the temperature crept into the 60s, it was thawing slowly. (It is also oddly greenish, meaning it’s had an algae bloom. When my neighbor to the north was farming his 100-acre field and fertilizing it, these blooms were common since part of that field is in my lake’s watershed. But I have a new neighbor now, and he’s preparing the field to graze cattle. He’s put up some nice barbed-wire fencing, set back from the property line. He’d also called me to tell me his plans and see if I had any concerns. Nice.)

Something we’ve done on recent visits that we don’t normally do is have a fire to cook our lunch burgers. Usually, I’ll only have a fire in the evening on visits where we’re staying the night. That way I can monitor the coals and be sure they’re fully out when we leave the next day. But these last two visits had fires that I quenched with water I keep at the cabin for that specific purpose. And the forest hasn’t burned down. (It helped my worried conscience that in both cases, there was rain/snow in the forecast in the days soon following.) Cooked burgers beside a campfire on a warm winter day is one of the small pleasures of life I enjoy. (Though does the smell of cooked meat attract black bears?)

There are many chores we can’t/don’t engage in there until the winter months. A critter that is plentiful in our woods is the chigger, and we don’t want to be afflicted with them, so we save wading into the tall grass and scrub until after the first couple of frosts. Which was the case on our most recent visit. One failed effort of mine was an attempt to grow a stand of short-leaf pines on one of the islands in the lake. Several years ago I had planted fifteen of them on the island and then slammed about that many steel fence posts in a square around them, wrapping the whole thing in two levels of chicken wire. I hoped that would be enuf to thwart the vandal deer (who seem to like small pines for thrashing the velvet off their antlers). The pines did not flourish. After a couple of years, only two remained, and they were being overtaken by the scrub growing in their enclosure, which I couldn’t get to to cut down without some fence undoing. On recent visits we’d found our fencing pushed to the ground and the scrub within matted to the ground, a pretty sure sign that deer were spending the night within the enclosure, ironically. And so, our winter chore for this visit was to begin disassembling the fencing on the island — accessible since the lake is down, which is typical for this time of the year — and transferring it to the other pine plantation near the possible black bear sighting. We have some young pines there that have been sorely used by the deer, and we’d never had sufficient fencing and posts to protect them. Thus failure in one part of the forest might provide opportunity in another.

Doing this, however, meant pushing ourselves out of the comfy chairs around the fire ring, quenching the fire sufficiently, gathering the tools, and hiking across rocky Ozark terrain to the island. Which we did. The posts proved mostly easy to wrest from the ground, though we only grabbed five of them since we had to carry them back to the cabin and the bed of my truck. We’ll save the rest, and the chicken wire fending, which I think is salvageable, for our next mild-winter-day visit. Then we’ll need to use the chigger-free weather to shore up the defenses in the pine plantation, which is also growing a nice crop of grasses and scrub. And there’s some work I need to do down among the pecans in the grass and scrub below the dam. And more cedars that need clearing so I can grow more grass and scrub.

back to Roundrock

October 7, 2020

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I went down to my cabin over the weekend for a day trip. My wife is off in St. Louis, coddling our newest grand, Paul. I had no firm agenda for my woodsy visit, and the overcast skies and occasional drizzle seemed intent on keeping me on the cabin porch. I had thought the temperature was in the 50s, but when I checked the porch thermometer, it was actually in the low 40s. I was not dressed for the weather.

After nearly two hours of porch sitting and this or that minor chore, I saw the sun begin to appear through the clouds, which caused the wind to pick up. My one thought driving down to the cabin was that I could have a fire in the ring and get rid of a lot of junk wood I’d been collecting. But the windy day nixed that.

Our neighbor in faraway suburbia had given us a grocery bag full of purple coneflower seed heads, and I thought the growing sunlight suggested it was time to go scatter them. There is a grassy hillside not too far from the cabin, which I’ve been trying to expand by cutting away scrub and trees, that I thought was perfect for the native wildflowers, so I turned my feet in that direction.

In the summer, we tend to avoid venturing too far from the cabin since the ticks and chiggers can really ruin the days following a visit. But with the cool temperatures lately, I thought that fear was diminished. The result of this absence was that familiar sections of my forest looked unfamiliar to me. I knew the direction to go, but along the way I didn’t see the usual landmarks — this tree, that rock — I expected. But I reached my destination and scattered the seeds, hoping for a rain or two to help them find the soil. (Nothing in the forecast for now.)

Then, since I felt free to push through the scrub, I took a look at a few other places in this part of the forest. Since the lake was down, I could walk to one of the two islands we have (calling them “islands” is more hope than actuality). A decade ago I had planted a dozen shortleaf pines on the island, and I schlepped many steel fence posts and chicken wire to fence them in against the marauding deer. On my visit over the weekend, not only were there no pines left, but the fence was pushed down and half the fence posts were askew. So, probably beginning on my next visit, I will begin disassembling the fencing and save what I can. The fence posts, and maybe some of that fencing, may find future use in the pine plantation.

I also took the chance to poke around at the top end of the lake. While there was no standing water, there were pools, and much of the ground was soft or muddy. There were deer tracks everywhere, which is fine since I want to be a steward to the wild. The other island (which may have qualified as such only a half dozen times in the last decade) was overgrown. I can remember when it was a pile of gravel that I didn’t think could ever support life. The channel beside it was filled three feet deep with gravel washed down from the hillsides in the watershed. Trees were growing in it.

Among those trees was a nice sycamore. We had no sycamore trees when we first came to this forest. But when we had a few acres cleared and the dam built, sycamores began appearing. Most are twenty or more feet tall now. I managed to find one with smooth bark low enuf to the ground for me to carve my initials. Of course I didn’t have a pocket knife with me and had to use a key, but it’s a start.

I made my way back to the cabin, seeing all of those landmarks I’d missed on my first passage, and did a few things there (though I didn’t shovel gravel or split logs), but then it was getting time to go back home.

The sky, by this time was an unbroken vault of blue, and the temperature was in the 60s. It might have been nice to stay, but I had two dogs at home who were probably crossing their legs, so I decided to be a good dad.

woodland battles

August 24, 2020

Not sure why I’ve let a few weeks pass without a fresh post to this humble blog. Nothing compelling to say, I suppose. I’ll try talking about my most recent visit to the cabin in my little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks.

Although it’s been dry for a couple of weeks here in faraway suburbia, Roundrock apparently got some rain shortly before our visit two weekends ago. Various kinds of mushrooms were popping up in the forest and in the gravel around the cabin.

Our agenda for this visit should have been to cut more encroaching limbs from the road leading to the cabin. But the will wasn’t there, and instead we sat in the comfy chairs on the shady porch overlooking the sparkling lake and just enjoyed the solitude.

I did manage to push myself up from that comfy chair eventually, long enuf to shovel several wheelbarrow loads of gravel to another area around the cabin. I had laid the old tarp over the area a couple of months ago to kill the grass and weeds that had been growing there. I removed the tarp last visit (and moved it to another green spot that needs to be gray). I raked the dead plant matter from the uncovered spot and then laid down landscaping fabric (as a weed barrier — not sure how well this actually works). After that I began shoveling gravel into the wheelbarrow to pour it on the landscaping fabric. It took seven loads to cover the area about two inches deep, which I think is probably the minimum needed to thwart seeds from finding the soil and sprouting. (I have something living in the drain pipe I have buried in the gravel behind the cabin, and this beastie chews through the plastic pipe and then pushes aside the gravel above it to make entry/exit holes. I’ve tried a few things to dissuade the beastie, but I suppose my presence a couple of times a month mean little to a full-time resident. Still, when it comes time to spread gravel over these holes, I may have problems with the underground tenants.)

After getting this task done and the tools put away, I returned to the comfy chair to reflect on my work. I watched the hummingbirds at the feeder (a recent and nice addition to our weekends there). I watched the turtles in the lake. The turkey vultures in the sky above. The little gray birds flitting in the trees. And the wasps trying to reconquer the cabin porch. (So far I’m ahead in that battle, having added chemistry to my arsenal, but, again, they’re full-time residents and I am not.)

There are other battles as well.

I found this debris on the rug inside the cabin. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but those bits are metallic. It took me only a few seconds to turn my eyes from the floor to the ceiling, where I saw this:

What you see is the apex of the ceiling above the litter on the floor. The metallic material is an insulating sheathing that the builder wrapped the cabin in before putting on the metal roof and the “log” siding. Something has chewed a hole in the sheathing for whatever buggy purpose it has. My guess is that the insect was trying to get into the cabin from above. The metal roof is ridged every foot or so, I think to add strength to the structure of it as well as ventilation. But the ridges are open to the world at the eaves, and tiny critters can easily enter there to build nests or winter over. (A dark green, metal roof is not a bad solar collector in the winter.) And that’s what I think has happened. Something matured in that ridged area and then for whatever reason chose to tunnel out rather than follow the ridge to the light.

Even standing on a chair, I could not reach the apex of the ceiling, so on my next visit I intend to bring a ladder to get my old self up there. I’ll apply chemistry to the hole and then cover it with a metallic tape. Then we will see.

But there’s another battle being waged outside the cabin too.

You may recall that these marbles stand in for my grands until they can come visit the cabin. (Grand #8 is still in production in St. Louis, but in a couple of weeks that should change.) On recent visits we’ve often found one or two of these marbles missing. Just gone. Not moved a few inches away but vanished. These marbles are easily two inches in diameter, so impossible for a bird and not necessarily easy for a critter to carry off. On our last visit, one was missing again. (The pale one near the top left.) I was mystified. But I think I’ve figured it out. I had walked over to the huge old log down the hill from the cabin to set peanuts on it for the birds and the wood rat who lives in it. As I was walking back to the cabin I saw the pale marble in the leaf litter. This would be about thirty feet from where it had been placed in the gravel. Then I understood. Wood rats are also known as pack rats. In the spring, when the wood rat would clean out its nest, we’d find hundreds of peanut shells outside the back entrance. Among this is often bits of aluminum foil that we sometimes use to cook with over the fire. The wood rat clearly likes shiny things, and the fact that the missing marble was nine-tenths of the way to the wood rat’s lair suggests to me that it is the culprit. And my wife speculated that the lair is probably packed with other, smaller marbles harvested from the gravel. (Except how can the rat appreciate the shiny things in the dark of the log?)

It was a satisfying visit. A little bit of relaxing. A little bit of working. A little bit of puzzle solving. I’m hoping to get back there this coming weekend (if the hurricanes don’t send too much water to the Midwest as they’re forecasted to) because the contractor I’ve hired to repair the spillway has told me this time he’ll really get it done.

a contratemps

July 14, 2020

What you see above is a wasp nest (hive?) in the top corner of the door frame of my little cabin. The wasps obviously favor this because it is generally protected on three sides (when the door is closed) and it’s under the porch roof, so it is out of the weather as well.

I first noticed the wasps building here in the spring, once it was warm enuf for them to emerge. I removed their unfilled nest at the time, but the next visit showed that they had built and expanded on the original blueprint.

Wasps tend to be benign, and they’re beneficial, so I decided we could coexist, and for a long time that plan worked. But last weekend, again there to cut branches along our road through the trees so that large equipment can move along it (and someday, someday repair my spillway), matters took a turn.

It was hot, dirty work as I wielded my recently refurbished pole saw to cut as high as I could. This was our third weekend in a row doing this work, and we’re beginning to see a difference, though the more we do, the more I see needs doing.

When we felt we had done a day’s work and retreated to the cabin, we had our lunch and then I waded into the lake to rinse off a little. The lake was muddy that day, and I came out with a fine layer of silt clinging to me, but I seemed to have washed off the ticks and chiggers anyway.

We were packing up to leave and had gotten everything put away. I pulled the cabin door closed behind me, which may have shaken one of the wasps loose. Or maybe I angered it with the slam. Either way, I felt a wasp flailing about in my long quarantine hair and swatted at it. I guess it clung to my finger then because I felt the sting instantly. It was on the little finger of my left hand, and the tip began to swell immediately as I felt a jolt go halfway up my arm.

I’m better now, though I sometimes have trouble typing A, Q, and Z.

a good use for gravel

May 18, 2020

I think I mentioned that I finally got a load of gravel delivered at my little cabin on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks. I’ve been nagging the man I’d contracted with (a year and a half ago) to bring it, but there was always some excuse. But my neighbor mentioned a name and gave me a number. I called the man one Saturday morning (on my way to the cabin actually) to see about him delivering me a load. He said he couldn’t get to it that day but possibly on Monday. After waiting a year and a half, a couple of days was fine with me.

The next weekend when I went down, there was the load of gravel, just what I wanted, just where I wanted. It was a beautiful thing.

I am spreading gravel around the cabin to keep back the scrub incursion. I’m using gardening fabric under the layer of gravel to help keep thing already in the ground from coming up. We’ll see how that works out. I also spread the gravel as a sort of critter barrier. I’m told that burrowing animals like mice don’t like to run across open areas since they’re more visible to predators that way, so if I have gravel all around my cabin, I have less chance of mice moving in or something else burrowing under the slab. (Like skunks.)

The cabin is built on a hillside overlooking the sparkling lake. The back is at ground level, but the front porch rises a couple of feet above the natural grade. Long ago, I built a retaining wall out of garden blocks in front of the cabin and then filled behind it with expensive hardware store dirt. My primary goal was to keep the cabin from sliding down the hill, and while that may sound ridiculous, I also have no gutters on the edge of the roof. Any rainwater that falls on the roof in the front drains directly onto the slope before the slab, slowly eroding it. The retaining wall and the backfill were intended to prevent that erosion.

(A third reason I built that wall with the expensive backfill was to have a sort of flower bed in front of the cabin. We filled it with red impatiens and red salvia and whatever red things we could find in order to attract hummingbirds in season. The deer had other plans for our plants.)

As you can see in the photo above, I had built a second retaining wall closer to the porch and filled it with gravel, and the point of this second, higher bed was to catch and disperse the eroding water that washes off the roof.

This second bed has always been a problem. In part, it works too well. The gravel within it had washed out in some places. Also, the wall itself is resting on bricks, and while that’s okay for the intended purpose, it is not sufficient for the yahoo that steps on the wall to get from here to there. I’ve had blocks fall into the lower bed when someone steps on them. (The gravel behind the block then flows right after it.)

So with the new load of gravel, and a little determination (and some ibuprofen), I rebuilt the upper retaining wall, adding a second level of blocks to it, and then backfilling the space with the new gravel. The photo above shows the fruits of my labors.

And the photo below shows the new gravel bed has worked perfectly.

The brownish line you see there is actually oak pollen that has washed off the roof from recent rains. It identifies clearly the drip line from the roof and how it falls into the gravel, which blunts the force of the falling water to prevent erosion. The blocks still will likely tumble if an adult steps on them, so when you visit, don’t step on them!

Also, the leaves you see along the left side of the lower photo are what remains of our hapless flower bed. There’s a green Mayapple growing there — a volunteer that we’re actually a little proud of. Also, you can see the black gorilla mask on a tree just beyond the cabin.

The weather doesn’t look favorable for a visit this weekend, but going to the cabin is a pretty good cure for quarantine cabin fever, so I’ll watch the forecast.

return to Roundrock

April 20, 2020

Our trips to Roundrock are as much governed by opportunity as by desire or need to go. I watch the weather forecast to see when a weekend day might be tolerable or even blissful and then try to make it happen. With all of the social isolation, I find I have far fewer obligations for my weekends, so dashes to the woods are more feasible.

And so it was on Saturday. A reprieve from the chill and a day before the rain. You found us on the road mid-morning with no real agenda for our visit. (I did inspect the work on the spillway: no change. And the state of the overflow drain: still clear. And I did add two blocks to the wall retaining all of the gravel I’ve spread around the cabin. And I did schlepp two steel fence posts to the NE corner where the cattle got in, in preparation for a more permanent answer to the issue. But aside from those trivialities, I just took it easy.)

You see above that the phoebe now considers her nest on the side of my cabin fully rebuilt and ready for occupancy. She came and went as we visited, and it’s possible that she will add to her current clutch of three eggs. It’s equally possible that these three will be hatched by our next visit and little babies will be cheeping in the nest.

We also set out the hummingbird feeder. On our prior visit — two weeks before — a hummer visited us, though there seemed precious little to feed on then. We had made up our sugar-water brew at home and took it with us. The glass feeder stays at the cabin to reduce the chance of breaking it by taking it back and forth. This means, though that we must have sufficient clean water with us to rinse out the feeder since we don’t want to leave sugar water residue in the cabin, and the marauding raccoons have shown us that we can’t leave a feeder out when we’re not there.

As far as we could tell, we had no hummingbirds visit, but they are quick and small, and we are lumbering in general, so we may have missed it. Our plan is to bring the sugar-water each visit.

On my old blog, there was a controversy over whether the creature depicted above is real or not. This may have arisen from the possibility that as photo of a rubber blue-tailed skink may have appeared on that blog. Or maybe not. It’s hard to know, and that was so long ago.

In this case, I had gotten on my hands and knees before the wall before the cabin to take a different picture, and this little fellow made a sudden appearance. He lingered long enuf for me to get this pretty-good photo of him.

The photo I was originally after is this one:

This is a not-quite-open flower of a Mayapple. There is a “grove” of these carpeting the good soil in the pine plantation, but the one in the photo above is growing in the (former) flower bed behind the retaining wall before the cabin. Since we amended the soil there prodigiously, it’s good soil too, which Mayapples favor.

The fruit of the Mayapple is poisonous, except when it isn’t. And when it isn’t, it still can be. I don’t try to decipher it. Like Sue Hubbell, I’ll just live the question.

We did little more than sit in the comfy chairs, though we moved them to the sunny side of the cabin because the day was still cool. We did not have a fire, though that had been my intent, I suppose I didn’t because it would have meant more bending and tending. And though we keep water in the cabin specifically for putting out the fire, and though rain was in the forecast, I am always uneasy about having a fire and then leaving it, no matter how well quenched it was.

more social distancing in an Ozark forest

April 1, 2020

Last fall I had pressure washed the cabin and then put fresh stain on it. I was pleased with the result, but I knew it meant I had to remove the phoebe nest that had been on the outside wall under the porch roof for years. My hope was that phoebe would return and rebuild her nest, and on Saturday’s visit I saw that she was doing just that.

This is only the beginning of her new nest, but it’s in the same spot as the one she had before. As we sat in the comfy chairs on the shady porch overlooking the sparkling lake, phoebe darted in the trees before us, chastising us for being in what she must have considered her private space. With the rain of the night before, I imagine there was a great deal of mud currently available to her, and I guess she wanted to get busy with building the rest of the nest.

Along with sitting in the comfy chair and adding a layer of blocks to the fire ring, I had also marched down to the dam with the pitchfork to clean the debris off the overflow drain. This is the primary solution to the full lake. There is a basin set in the side of the dam with a screen atop it, and when the water gets to the rim of this basin (set a foot or so lower than the spillway level) the water drains into it and then comes out a large pipe out in the pecan plantation. The pipe is a foot in diameter, and the lake’s watershed is 100+ acres, so in a big storm, the lake can fill faster than this pipe can drain it away. That’s when the spillways work their magic. But the rest of the time, this overflow drain does a decent job of bleeding off the excess. However, it also collects the sticks and leaves that wash into the lake and then are sucked onto the screen. When this happens, the draining capacity is severely diminished. Thus my work with the pitchfork.

It’s not easy. Not only is this drain on the slope of the dam, and so I must find a way to place my feet as I wield the pitchfork, but the debris sits on top of a screen, meaning I have to angle the pitchfork so that its tines don’t go into the screen, thus making it impossible to lift off the debris. And then I must throw the debris I’ve forked over the dam (rather than back into the lake for it to accumulate again). And I must do this will standing above the drain and reaching down and out, while trying not to fall into the lake. They don’t tell you these things when you’re having your dam dreams.

Here is a photo (from years ago) of the drain showing the screen:

And here is a photo (also from long ago) of the drain needing a little housekeeping:

social distancing in an Ozark forest

March 31, 2020

The weather always makes visiting Roundrock tricky. In the winter it’s often just too cold to want to hang out in a forest and fight to stay warm. In the summer, it’s the opposite (though the evenings around the campfire are nice). Fall tends to be easier to manage, especially after the first frost and the bug presence diminishes. Spring it always the tough time though. Even when the average temperature is warmer than winter, it’s often too wet, and wet cold has a misery all its own. Plus, when it’s wet, the road into the cabin in spongy, and we can do real damage to it when we drive across it.

But when the conditions are right, even some but not all, we tend to take advantage of a free weekend and dash out to the cabin. And that’s what we did on Saturday.

The area had a brief but monstrous storm on Friday, and apparently a lot of water fell. The Corps of Engineers lake we must cross (three times) to get to our cabin was clearly much fuller (though not like last spring — not yet). In the old days, I always took encouragement from these signs as we drove the hundred miles to the cabin. It suggested that our own little lake would be fuller too. And it generally is when this happens. Now, though, it gives me anxiety because the spillway is still not repaired, and a full lake can mean a lake that is overflowing in the spillway. It’s eroded enuf that any more water passing over it will erode it further. And if that keeps up, the dam will be breached and the lake will wash away (possibly drowning some of my neighbor’s cattle).

When we drive down the hill in our forest to the cabin, we always watch through the trees to see if we can spot water in the lake or whether it will be mud. On Saturday’s visit, we saw . . . both. The lake was still there, and at full capacity, but the storm had washed in so much mud and plant matter that the turbidity made it look like brown mud from a distance. (This is a natural occurrence in a forest lake, and the mud does help a little with the leaking under the dam. At least this is what I keep telling myself.)

The spillway erosion had continued further. It is getting serious now, and I’ve contacted the man who promised (a year and a half ago!) to fix it, expressing my urgency. He told me it would happen this week. (We’ll see.)

But on to happier things.

My chore for this visit was to add another line of blocks to the fire ring. It has been my sentimental goal to have the ash build up deeply in the fire ring as a sign of history and use and even mystery, and we seem to be doing that since the ash was getting close to the top of the second tier of blocks. Within that ash is a lot of metal that was part of what has been burned: nails and screws mostly, but also brackets and hinges and the spiral rings of notebooks from my college years. You can see this ash level in the photo above.

I had ordered a hundred blocks from the local hardware store and paid their reasonable price, which included free delivery and even orderly stacking right beside the cabin.

They even left me the pallet, which will eventually go in the fire, along with the nails and screws holding it together.

I had learned a lesson when I built the first fire ring with these kinds of blocks. If you’re familiar with them you know that they have a lip on the bottom at the back so that when they are stacked they are offset, leaning into whatever is within the wall. If you’re building a retaining wall, you definitely want the wall to lean into the hillside, both to better retain the dirt but also to resist the push of the earth when it is frozen and expands.

In the case of a fire ring, there is no hillside-like pressure from the ash. But there is another issue, a lesson I learned the hard way. The levels of blocks in my kind of arrangement are concentric circles. However, the lip that pulls the upper levels in by a quarter inch each time means the upper levels have smaller diameters. They are smaller circles on top of larger circles. And the problem lies in the width of the blocks (which are one foot at their widest point). They determine the outside diameter of the circle on each level. So there are 18 blocks forming each level, but each level going up is a smaller circle of 18 blocks. And those 18 blocks each have their standard widths. So the lower level must be made larger (in diameter) than it normally would be if the blocks abutted.

I didn’t know this when I first laid the second level. I had butted the first level tightly and then found that the blocks on the second level wouldn’t align because I tried to use the same number of blocks, with their same standard widths, in a smaller space. I managed to make it work at the time through a combination of kicking, misalignment, and colorful language. But if you looked closely — and I always did — you could see how some of the blocks were cock-eyed and force fit. That always bugged me. Eventually, when it was clear I was going to need to put a third level of blocks in place soon, I disassembled the original ring and pulled the first level blocks outward by about an inch. This made the lowest diameter larger, which allowed the second, smaller diameter of blocks to fit in an esthetically pleasing way. And I hoped that it would be enuf to do the same for the eventual third level of blocks.

And that was my chore last weekend: add the third level and make it look like I knew what I was doing. And by the point you see in the photo at top, I began to think I wasn’t going to succeed. It’s hard to tell in the photo, but the blocks were creeping past the midpoint of blocks below them. If this continued for the rest of the ring, I would eventually have a block sitting directly atop the one below it, which would not be aesthetically pleasing.

Nevertheless, I persisted. And through some combination of kicking, colorful language, and the beneficence of the universe, the last block fit neatly into place with barely any misalignment.

You see the grill replaced and ready for burgers. Also, Flike because he was all over the place as I was working. And you can see the tarp with the pieces of wood on it, which is my chemical-free method of weed control since I’m uphill from the lake. If I had that pile of gravel I’ve been waiting on (also for a year and a half), I could move the tarp, put down the landscaping fabric, and then spread a nice layer of gravel over it.

The temperature reached 70+ degrees while we were there, and the sun came out in a clear blue sky just as we were packing up to leave.

I had intended to pack up about ten of those blocks to take home for shoring up one low spot under my new fence, but I forgot them. Looks like I’ll have to make a trip out there again this coming weekend.