Posted tagged ‘social distancing’

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.

social distancing

March 17, 2020

Like much of the civilized world, my household is now practicing self isolation. I am making arrangements to do my work from home, something I vowed I would never do, so you can see how seriously I’m taking this. We stocked up on nonperishable groceries over the weekend. I’m not visiting used bookstores. (Fortunately, we have shelves and shelves of unread books, just as a house in the civilized world would. Alas, the library is closed for a month.) I have no friends, so the lack of socializing is not a problem. When cabin fever eventually strikes, however, I can strike out for my cabin as a cure. I can drive to my actual cabin in the middle of an 80-acre forest and be even more isolated there than I am making myself in faraway suburbia.

The plan is to do this for two weeks and reassess the state of the world. I am not too worried about catching the virus myself, and if I do, I am not too worried about not surviving it, but that’s not the point of social distancing. I don’t want to transmit it to vulnerable people (or any people). If by hiding away, I do not acquire the virus, I won’t transmit it. Or if by hiding away, I do not encounter any vulnerable people, I can’t transmit it even if I do acquire it.

That latter is problematic though. My wife is categorized as a member of the vulnerable population. This is why I have taken the unprecedented (and loathsome) step of working from home.

Honestly, I suspect that she and I have already been exposed. Not only were we out and about among actual humans in the days and weeks before this, but we’ve been caring for two of our grands several days a week, and you know what little virus vectors babies who also spend time in day care can be. Neither of us shows any symptoms, though I understand the virus can appear latent for weeks before it flares.

My daughter in New York has pretty much raised our alert level to DEFCON3. She and her family of five are planning to remain snug in their house for two weeks at least. She’s been talking to everyone who will listen about the urgent need to squelch the transmission of the virus by voluntary isolation. I know that some church services have been cancelled as a result of her urgings, for example. My son is a doctor in Seattle, pretty much the epicenter of this crisis. He has only grave words to share with me, and he reports being run ragged by the demands and cautions and preparations his hospital is going through. (His successful guilting is another reason I’m working from home.)

The ironic thing about social distancing is that if it works, everyone will say it was an overreaction. If the disease doesn’t spread, fools will say it was never really a problem, but that may have been the case because intelligent people chose to hole up.