Skywatch Friday ~ sky on the run (and a birthday)

January 23rd, 2015


I took this photo on Sunday in the middle of my long run. I was thinking very hard about quitting about then. I’d gone 5 painful miles on tired legs and still had more than three to go. So I took a break to assess my condition and resolve.

These are sycamore trees. The path I was running on goes through all sorts of terrain, mostly following a stream that flows more strongly the farther you go as feeder streams enter it. At this point I was in a forest of sycamores with a vault of blue sky overhead. I was also overdressed. I had headed out just after daylight and the day grew unseasonably warm for the middle of January in the lower Midwest. (Peaking at 60+ degrees!)

I did finish the 8.4 miles, but it wasn’t pretty, and I was sore for days after.

Also, Happy Birthday, Raymond!

signs and more signs

January 21st, 2015


I guess no one has stomped around the 80 acres of Roundrock as much as I have. I suspect even back when the land was part of a cattle ranch, none of the ranch hands tread it as much as I have in the last dozen years. I still look for signs of past use. Some long breaks in the trees might be former roads. I found a horse shoe once. Some twisted wire. Some cattle bones. Bits of trash too heavy to have blown in.

Mostly when I’m abroad in my woods I see signs that I have passed that way before. When Libby and I were out for a ramble with the dogs on our last visit, we came down the north-facing slope and crossed the dry creek at the bottom. And then I spotted what you see above. Some time in the not-too-distant past, I had wedged that round rock into the cleft of that double-trunked tree. (I’ve done this before.) I don’t remember having done this, but it surely looks like my handiwork.

Of course I couldn’t leave it like that. I wedged a larger round rock above it in the cleft.

By their nature, these split trunks will waver in the wind. I may go back to this spot one day and find one or both of the rocks have fallen free. If so, I’ll put them back. I’m just like that.

Also, this:

bath time

Little Ken had just had a bath, and his hair was impossible!

a different view

January 20th, 2015


I go to Google Maps frequently to have a look at this or that. (Sometimes I ponder routes to run this way and then go to Map My Run to calculate their distance and elevations.) What you see above is the 80+ acres of Roundrock, which I snagged from Google Maps.  (On the ground the dimensions of what you see are a half mile by a quarter mile.) You can make out some of the features: the diminished lake, the pecan plantation below it (to the right), the pond (in the upper left), the Central Valley (coming in from the lower left and forming the lake). Most of it is forested, though that may be hard to tell since the hardwoods have all dropped their leaves in this photo. I don’t know of any way to determine the date of the latest satellite images, though that’s not really important for my needs. I can guess that this one is fairly recent since the trees are defoliated, the lake is about what I’ve seen in recent visits, and the pines are tall.

Here is a close up of the pine plantation:


I realize it’s hard to make out, but the pines are the regularly spaced darker things. (I think the “darker” bit is actually their shadows rather than the green of the pines themselves.) That is my road cutting from lower left to upper right. And just to the right of this is the pond but I didn’t include it in this capture since I wanted to get as close to the pines as I could. In the top left corner is my northwest property corner. We used to call this area Blackberry Corner because of the blackberry stands (the size of a house) that filled it. Now we call it the pine plantation (and they are doing well), but the blackberries are bitter about that and are doing their best to retake the area.

After a hard day of chores at Roundrock (and sometimes before), I sit in the comfy chair on the shady porch overlooking the sparking lake. Here is the cabin as seen from space:

cabin close up

A cozy-looking setting, isn’t it? The roof of the cabin is green metal, and though that looks like a chimney on the right side, it ain’t. (There should be a nice area of white gravel to the right of the cabin. It’s where we park the Prolechariot and where the fire ring is. The gravel seems to be covered with fallen leaves, which is another general indicator of when the satellite took the photo.) That’s the lake at the bottom, and you can perhaps see how far it has receded; all of those white rocks along the shore would be under water at full pool. The space between the cabin and the lake is open (for the view, of course), and you can make out the path we take from the cabin to the lake when we go for a swim. Keeping that path open is one of the regular chores. The northern edge of the dam is in the lower right corner, and that’s my road leading to it.

Below is a capture from about the center of the top image of the whole of Roundrock:

centerThis shows most of the features of my forest. The hardwoods are the things that look like black sticks. You can easily see the green cedars. Also shown is one of the open areas. These appear seemingly randomly in my woods. I think some of them at the western end are the sites of burn piles from the days when the area was a cattle ranch. The ranchers had killed the trees, knocked them down, piled them high, then set them aflame. I suspect the heat and ash from such conflagrations would alter the soil chemistry significantly and perhaps make it unwelcoming to trees. (This is all speculation.) The open area you see in this image is actually on the side of one of the ravines leading to the lake. (The slope goes from the upper left down to the lower right.) I don’t think that would have been the site of a burn pile, so I cast about for some other explanation. Prairie grasses are pretty good at resisting colonization by trees, and since this was a slope, it may not have been grazed by the cattle back in the day, so the native prairie grass may have survived. Sounds good, but that’s also speculation.

The photo below is not something you find at Roundrock. Not yet, anyway:

sleepy time


shoring up the spillway

January 19th, 2015


So much to see in this bad photo. This is a shot of a portion of the south spillway below the dam at Roundrock. It is a mess, due mostly to the one or two times that the lake was full enuf to pour water down the spillways. And pour it did from the evidence left behind. It must have been a fearsome torrent, strong enuf to move rocks the size of basketballs down the spillway and into a pile fanned out at the bottom. Strong enuf to gouge deep (two feet) ruts in the soft soil of the spillway. Certainly strong enuf to overcome any piddling attempts by a man and a shovel to fix it or at least undo what’s been done.

The green band of grass you see above is the top of the berm that edges the spillway. Behind me when I took this photo is the north-facing slope. The path of the spillway (about ten feet wide) runs between the slope and the berm, and its purpose is to lead the rushing water in such a way that it doesn’t erode the dam itself. (There is a similar spillway on the north side of the dam.)

It works obviously since it’s been so eroded itself; better there than on the dam. But the erosion is eating away at the berm a little farther down, and another high water event of sufficient volume and force will likely breach the berm and send water into the pecan plantation far above where it’s intended. That won’t really be so bad since it will still be well away from the dam and no threat to it.

Still, I don’t like it. I’ve been trying to fix the eroded area a little bit each visit, but my contributions are trivial compared to how easily they can be undone by the water. I’ve dropped straw bales in the two deepest eroded areas (the thinking being that they will catch any silt and small rocks that flow against them and thus help fill the holes), and I’m constantly throwing larger rocks in (though the good ones are at the bottom of the spillway). Another technique I use is to put liberated cedar trees in the eroded areas (their tops pointing uphill) and then put rocks on them. This will trap silt as well. Some of the spillway runs over limestone bedrock, exposed during the construction (exposed for the first time in perhaps millions of years, which is staggering when you stop and think about it). As it has weathered, slabs of it have cleaved free. If they are manageable sized, I muscle them against the berm wall (as you can perhaps make out above). The brownish one on the right is my latest addition. My hope is that they will help prevent the rushing water from eroding the berm. I suspect the water will easily get behind the rocks, push them down the spillway, and then eat at the berm nonetheless. But I try.

The mess you see here is one of the straw bales:


In a perfect spillway world, the grade would be level from side to side, and it would all be good soil on which a healthy stand of fescue grew. Not so in this case, of course. The dozer man did not make the grade level; in fact, it slopes down toward the berm, thus creating the conditions that created my problem. Plus, much of the top of the spillway is over exposed bedrock with its own fissures, so there is no “directing” of the water other than where the bedrock intends. And though I’ve tried, you can’t grow grass on bedrock.

The north spillway is not much better, though it seems to have several inches of elevation at its top over the south spillway. It doesn’t get as much use as the southern one and is only called on when the lake is very full. I guess that’s a good thing; it serves as a back up. (And before either of these is used, the overflow drain is supposed to bleed off high water. I know it gets used because it is often clogged with sticks and leaves in the spring.) The northern spillway surface is nearly all gravel with a small amount of exposed bedrock. There is one gouged spot, but it’s near the bottom where it isn’t a problem. The gravel is equally hostile to growing grass, and I think its position on the dry-er south-facing slope also prevents me from getting a decent stand growing there.

So I persevere, doing what I can to prevent erosion, lamenting my inability to do more, and resigning myself to the reality that it’s mostly beyond my control. The coming spring rains will probably bring all sorts of spillway surprises.

because I can, that’s why

January 15th, 2015


Here is Ken only three days old, but today he turned a full week old.


They grow up so fast!


January 14th, 2015


My father-in-law once had a Jaguar automobile. The conventional wisdom about them goes like this: “Buy a Jag, buy a leak.” I don’t know if that was the case with his (I never even rode in it, much less drove it).

As long as I’ve had a dam and lake at Roundrock, I have had a leak. The valley we dammed was filled with several millennia of Ozark gravel, and its base is porous enuf to let water pass under the dam and emerge in the pecan plantation. I’ve written several times of my attempts to plug the leaks with Bentonite, and maybe that’s done some good. (It’s certainly cost some money.)

The leak intensifies when the lake is fuller, and I think that’s due to the head pressure over the leaky spots (assuming there are “spots” that are leaky rather than the entire bottom of the lake being a sieve). At a sadly low level, the leak actually stops, but then the lake is hardly deep enuf to swim in, and it would be especially crowded with fish all congested in that small pool.

I was standing on the dam when I took this shot, looking into the pecan plantation. You can clearly see the path of the leaking water. That pool on the right is about ten feet in diameter. It’s close to where the outlet is for the drain pipe and valve, and it is a common enuf phenomenon of this kind of plumbing that water travels along the outside of the pipe (since it is smooth and direct). There are baffles and such that can help slow this, but it’s pretty much just a fact of life. (Plus, I’d have to tear apart the dam to install them.)

The water draining from the left side of the photo springs from several points along the base of the dam and collects to form this little rivulet. Notice that the water (or rather, the mud under the water) here is orange. Sometimes it is even stinky. My suspicion is that the dozer man had buried some large trees in that part of the dam as a way to build up volume. I guess the trees are slowly rotting (though there can’t be a lot of air inside the dam for this to happen) and the orange mud is a consequence of this. Sound good?

I’ve heard different opinions about using trees in dams. Some say that it’s perfectly fine, such as my dozer man. Others insist that they provide an avenue for leaks. I’m leaning toward the latter view, but I’m not going to dig up my dam to find out.

of spoons and forks

January 13th, 2015


Do you remember my spoon experiment? Or the more recent modified spoon experiment? (And bonus points if you’ve been around long enuf to remember my bag experiment!)

The bag experiment is long over (and inconclusive). The spoon experiment fell victim to loss of the spoon. The modified spoon experiment is still underway, but as you can see from the photo above, is not showing any signs of change or decay.

I noted in that 2012 post I linked to above about the modified spoon experiment that I thought the spoon and fork have been under that paving stone for about three years at that time. It is now two years later, so the spoon and fork have been in the dark for about five years. Still no sign of decay.

I took this photo on my most recent visit to Roundrock (back when we had temperatures that were not — literally — life threatening). I replaced the paving stone, and since I foresee no need for it in the immediate future, I suppose the experiment can continue.

the big news

January 12th, 2015


The big event took place. My grandson was born on Thursday, January 8th, in New York. Kenneth Gunner Johnson weighed 7 pounds and 8 ounces, and by all accounts he is healthy and perfect in every way.

Apparently the labor was about normal, though there was a hasty and harrowing cab ride to the hospital that arrived just in time.

Kenneth was the name of one of his great grandfathers on his daddy’s side (and a great uncle on my side). And Gunner is the middle name of his daddy, his grandfather, and his other great grandfather.

I’ve seen quite a few photos of him and even a real-time video of him sucking on his mother’s finger. I’ll get to meet him in person the first week of February. So far he hasn’t said his first word or started crawling, but I expect that to come right on time.

ham bone

January 7th, 2015

flike hambone

I mentioned recently that my brother bought a cow at a local FFA fair in his town. We finally got around to thawing the large, shrink-warpped thing he had given us, and it turned out to be a spiral-cut ham. A big one. (So he must have bought a pig too?) We ate the ham over the holidays and picked the bone clean for scraps to add to soups or omelets or to give to the dogs. But that left us with the bone, specifically a hip joint (I think).

Should dogs have bones? There is actually some debate about this. I think the fear is that a bone could splinter when being gnawed on and choke the dog, and I guess that’s possible, but I have never seen that happen with any of my dogs or know of anyone whose dogs suffered such a fate.

So on our next trip to Roundrock, we brought the bone along and decided to give it to Flike and Queequeg to see what they would do with it. I may have mentioned that little Queequeg is the alpha male of the two. If he doesn’t want Flike to have or do something, he makes sure he gets his way. (And big Flike is thoroughly intimidated.) I wondered what would happen when we threw them a bone.

Fortunately, Libby realized that with a little effort, she could separate what were actually the two bones of the hip socket, and that solved our wealth distribution problem.

Queequeg hamboneAt first they didn’t know what to make of this smelly thing we presented to them. They both worked it out pretty quickly, though, and carried their prizes to separate parts of the graveled area beside the cabin. (Better out there than on the porch.)

Flike gave his a lot of work, crunching the bone in his jaws and generally picking it clean. He even went back to it later in the day to see what more might be gained. Queequeg was obsessed. He carried his bone farther from us, and if we approached, he snatched it up and ran away. He clearly did not intend to give up this bounty.

Eventually it came time for us to go home. We left the bones on the gravel, and perhaps the next time we come, the dogs will find them again and relive the glory. It’s possible that some other critter will find them before that; there are plenty of farm dogs in the area that pass through, and I know we have coyotes. Lesser beasts might make an appearance. The bones might no longer be there when we return. But we had done the same thing with the bones from our beef steaks on an earlier visit, and those bones are still in the gravel and still earn a casual sniff by our pups when they arrive.


the reckoning ~ 2014

January 6th, 2015


Every year around this time I tally my visits to Roundrock for the previous year. I had begun after Libby had accused me of visiting nearly “every weekend” (though that seems more like praise than an accusation). Now that I’ve become a runner, she could probably say that about races, though I try to limit myself to only once a month for those. Either way, here is the reckoning for 2014.

January – I only made one visit in January, on the 19th. What was I doing the other weekends? I can’t recall. Perhaps the weather was too cold. Or it was warm enuf that I was outside running. (I seem to recall a lot of time on the treadmill then, so the roads and sidewalks were probably packed with drifts of snow, which would have made trips to Roundrock more difficult too.)

February – Again I made only one visit to my woods, on the 15th. Again I can give no account for why or why not. In any case, clearly not “every weekend” as was once claimed.

March – I stepped up my game a little here. Not only did I visit two weekends in a row, but the second visit involved an overnight (which likely included a campfire and more extensive chores). Perhaps I was planting my pines then.

April – Another one-visit-only month. Spring racing season would have been in earnest then, and likely at least two weekends would have been given over to preparation, running, or recovery. Still, spring is a nice time to be in the forest too.

May – Only one visit, but an overnight, and curiously, a Friday/Saturday overnight. I don’t recall whether I took a day off of work or just left Friday afternoon for the cabin. This may have been one of my solo overnights where I sit and brood and sometimes even get some chores done.

June – Two visits. One on the 8th and the second on the 21st. Nice time of the year (though apparently not warm enuf for a swim). I also had gone for a long-ish trip to Portland in June (half marathon), which would have devoured a weekend.

July – I didn’t record a single visit to Roundrock on the cabin calendar for July. I suspect that’s merely an oversight on my part; I can’t imagine not going to the cabin for that long, but maybe I did.

August – One visit, but again an overnight. It was also a full moon visit, so I’m sure I sat beside the campfire, my eyes red and stinging from the wood smoke as I gazed up at the moon and thought about making a visit there.

September – Two trips! Two overnights! The first trip was a Monday/Tuesday visit. That would have been Labor Day, so I must have taken off the Tuesday from work. I wonder why I chose to do it that way. (About this time I begin to see how much vacation time I have accumulated that I must take by the end of the year or forfeit, so I do take off the odd day here and there.) My second visit this month was two weeks later. The stars must have aligned and offered a perfect fall weekend.

October – Only one visit, on the 19th, but I suspect I was hobbling as I rambled my woods. October 5th was when I “ran” my first full marathon (again in Portland), so I was probably sore and weary for a while.

November – Two visits including one overnight at the end of the month (our traditional anti-Black Friday escape from the consumer culture). I know I was sore and weary on these because I had run my fifth half marathon on November 2, and my right leg still aches from doing that so close to the full in October. (At least that’s what I think is causing the leg pain.) The milder weather and the more open woods allow for more chores in the forest, so I’m sure I devoted some of that overnight to hauling or cutting or clearing or stone stacking or hiking or camp firing or the like.

December – Two visits but no overnights. I know these involved a lot of shoveling and moving of gravel to fix the pot hole in the road by the dam and to begin the extensive dig out of the ditch beside the road along our northern property line (so the water will drain better and the road won’t be so soggy.

And so, that was my (recorded) visit schedule at Roundrock. I can’t say I’m pleased or disappointed. Sure, I’d like to spend more time there, but I’m also pursuing other interests. A boy’s gotta have his hobbies, right? (Also, oddly, I did not record any swims in the lake. I know we dipped in a few times, but I guess I didn’t feel like noting them on the calendar.)

The round rock you see in the photo above is the flip side of this round rock.