Skywatch Friday ~ blue sky over brown cabin

December 19th, 2014

sky over cabin

I’ve shown photos from this angle before, but I never tire of them. This was a late November morning at my woods in the Missouri Ozarks. I like how even the reflection of the sky in the cabin window shows the blue.

On a subsequent visit to our woods, the clouds reached from horizon to horizon and the sun never made an appearance. Unbroken gray does not make for memorable photos, but I did have this little view from the earlier visit to share.

a dam little work, or, a little dam work

December 18th, 2014

dam work

I mentioned two weeks ago that I was using the (two wheelbarrow loads of) dirt I dug out of the (filled in) roadside ditch to raise a sunken area on the pond dam. This photo is not very good for illustrating that, but it’s what I have. (You can see a bit of water at about two o’clock.)

You can clearly see the two loads because of the difference in the color of the dirt. I’m not sure how to account for that. The first load, the farther one shown here, is darker, richer dirt. It was dug from closer to the culvert and is more likely to be actual runoff of good topsoil from my neighbor’s field to the north since it is a natural depression in the undulation of the land (hence the placement of the culvert). The second load is full of orange clay (which didn’t make the tree roots any more reluctant to grow into it). I can’t say why the soil that filled in there would not be as rich as the other; where else would it be coming from? Regardless, that’s what I dug.

The sunken area pretty much fills the area shown in the photo. I’ve estimated that I’ll need about twenty wheelbarrow loads of this dirt to correct the sink and make the top of the dam level all the way across.

I certainly have the soil in that long, long distance of the ditch that needs digging out, and then some. If I did a couple of loads each time I visited Roundrock, I’d probably have the top of the pond dam repaired by late spring, when I could expect the fescue (“the grass that ate the county” as one conservation agent told me) to colonize it. Then all would be right with the dam. (But, c’mon! Can’t a guy relax?)

That would certainly leave a lot more of the ditch to be dug out, but I can still use all of the dirt I would get from it. The area directly behind the overflow drain on the lake dam has washed out. The retaining wall I’ve built above it is falling in and needs some love — soon. (I suspect that when there is a high-water event and the overflow drain is pressed into use, water escapes from the drum and drains around the exit pipe as well as through it. There is no gasket or caulking here. And there is no humanly possible way to fix that short of disassembling the drum.) So I can fill my wheelbarrow with the dirt and then push it all the way to the lake dam (at least it’s downhill) where I can pour it into service.

Beyond that, I can just dump dirt over the side of the dam, especially at the south end where the top of the dam is narrowest. I will need truckloads of dirt to improve that, and, as I’ve so humbly said, I’m just one man and a shovel. And if I’m really ambitious, I can carry the wheelbarrow loads of dirt even farther to the low spots in the spillways to attempt to correct that. The timing has to be perfect for that to work though. I would have to get the soil (a lot of it) sufficiently in place for the fescue to grow and mature before a high-water event sends water down the spillway and otherwise washes the dirt down into the pecan plantation. (The pecans would probably benefit, but that’s not my plan, dagnabit!)

So I work at it all, one shovelful at a time.

late November pond

December 17th, 2014

November pond

Long time readers (both of you) will remember that there are two bodies of water at Roundrock: the come-and-go lake and the pond. The photo above is of the pond, taken from the dam when Libby and I were last there working on this and that.

This pond was around in the days of the cattle ranch (of which my 80+ acres were once a small part). Apparently the cattle used this pond because it is silted in. (This can occur naturally too.) The muck and mire at the bottom is the “loathsome goo” I’ve sometimes referred to in this humble blog. The (two) times I have ventured into the pond afoot, I have sunk in the goo to my thighs. And the stuff is foul smelling. Once I win the lottery, I’m going to hire someone to dredge this and restore it to a better state.

We’ve tried fishing here a few times and pulled out some sunfish, but they were tiny, and I suspect they are stunted because of either overpopulation or insufficient resources to thrive in. Or both. Plus predation.

On the day we were working on the dam, there was a skim of ice on the pond. As the wind blew, the thin ice would undulate. I had never seen that before I had come to Roundrock all those years ago, but now it is a common enuf phenomenon. Still, I’m always pleased when I see it anew in the late fall and early spring.

submerged

December 16th, 2014

boulder

Well, what is it? If you guessed the reflection of a cloud on the lake at Roundrock, you would have made an excellent guess. You would have been wrong, but it would have been an excellent guess nonetheless.

What you see here is a boulder barely submerged in the lake but catching some sunlight. This is a companion to the boulder the two turtles were on in yesterday’s post. It’s about twenty feet away, and it is a smaller rock since it was still underwater (in the shallower part of the diminished lake) than the exposed, turtle-serving boulder. And like that other boulder, this one should be deep under the water, so deep that your toes would not touch it if you were floating directly above it at full pool.

I’m told that structures like these in the lake make good fish habitat, and I’m all for that certainly. I’ve added fish to the ones that nature provided, and I want to do all that I can to give them a good place to live and thrive. Thus the boulders, even if I do sometimes bark my shins against them when swimming in low water summer months.

two turtles

December 15th, 2014

turtles

I have a bright orange ball cap that I keep at the cabin, and I wear it nearly all of the time when I’m at Roundrock (unless I’m wearing the bright orange knit cap instead). I want to make sure I’m not mistaken for a deer (or perhaps a bear, or maybe Bigfoot). I leave it at the cabin since I would probably be run out of faraway suburbia if I dared to wear it among those genteel folk. Sometimes, though, I forget that I have it on, and I drive most of the way home from the woods only to scratch my head and realize I still have the cap there when I should have left it hanging on the nail in the cabin.

I didn’t get very far from the cabin the last time this happened. In fact, we had driven away, headed home eventually, and stopped near our entrance in order to hike among the trees there (which we don’t do often enuf) when I realized I still had the cap on. Since we were still in our forest, Libby suggested I could easily drive back to the cabin and doff the cap. And that I did.

When I stepped onto the shady porch (overlooking the sparkling lake), I saw what you see in the photo above. These two turtles (no idea what kind they are) were grabbing some late November sun on the boulder emerging from the lake water. They hadn’t been there ten minutes before when we had originally left the cabin. I suppose they are skittish enuf that even our presence on the porch (with iced tea and a good book) is too much of a threat for them to emerge from the water. How they knew we were gone, even for that short while, is a puzzlement to me.

The boulder they are on should be under water (but I’ve sang that lament to you many, many times). It provided a good and safe perch for them to collect some solar energy before their long winter hibernation at the bottom of the lake. But the ascent could not have been easy for them. Although there is a slope to the top of the boulder, that ends before the water line and there is a vertical climb to get to the slope. Normally I see such turtles on a log that has emerged gradually and smoothly from the water. Not so with this pair, and they won my admiration for having climbed their way to the boulder’s peak.

I stuck my cap on the nail, took a last look around the cabin, then closed the door and returned to the Prolechariot. The turtles did not leap from the boulder during my brief visit, and I hope they enjoyed the sunny afternoon with no humans around. Maybe I’ll see them again in the spring.

a matched fire

December 11th, 2014

fire 1

I did put a match to the fire I had built. In fact, I put two matches two it. I didn’t need the second match — a particular pride in campcraft is to build a fire so well that you only need one match to light it — but the light was fading and I didn’t want to wait around for the gentle flames on one side of the tinder to creep all the way through, so I struck the second match and touched it to the tinder on the other side.

fire 2

A good campfire is all about preparation. Libby and I had spent about a half hour collecting deadfall from around the cabin for our fire. We then broke it into sizes for the progression of the fire. Twigs (and also napkins, paper bags, and coffee cups from our bagel breakfast) for the tinder. Sticks the diameter of pencils for the kindling. And then larger sticks broken over my knees for the fuel. (I’m nervous about using my knees thusly since I need them for, you know, running these days.)

fire 3

Our fire well on the way for making coals over which to cook our dinner and then for later musing in the gathering dark.

fire 4My brother bought a cow. Apparently in the small town where he lives and doctors, it is customary for the better fixed in the town to buy animals from the FFA fairs. You don’t buy the animal so much as the meat from it. Sometimes this meat is then donated to food pantries and shelters and such. Other times it is kept by the buyer, who then spreads the bounty among any of his family members who are within easy giving distance. #1 Son, Seth, had visited my brother shortly after he had purchased the cow and came home with several large steaks (as well as some kind of roast that is taking up a lot of real estate in my freezer back in faraway suburbia).

We took the steaks to Roundrock to cook over the fire because 1) why not, and 2) they looked fatty and would be a mess in the kitchen but not so much over a fire. (You also see foil packs of taters and vegetables plus part of an onion that Libby tossed on the grill for some reason.)

The steak tasted particularly good because we had cooked it over a fire at our cabin in the woods, but I’m not much of a meat eater, and that took care of my beef cravings for a month or so.

Wordless Wednesday ~ an unmatched fire

December 10th, 2014

unmatched

not a (bird) nest

December 9th, 2014

web worm

Now that most of the leaves on the trees at Roundrock have dropped (except for most of the oaks, which will hang on to theirs until spring), it’s easier to see where birds had secreted their nests during the spring and summer. I’ve sometimes been quite surprised to find a nest had been used within a few feet of wherever I might have regularly passed, but I never knew it was there at the time. During one of our treks across the dam on our last visit, I looked down into the pecan plantation and saw the remains of nests in two trees. And that warmed my black and shriveled heart.

When we later ventured into the pecan plantation, I took a closer look at these “nests” and discovered they were not the artifacts of birds but of fall web worms. I get occasional infestations of web worms on the pecan trees. Rarely are they a significant problem, though one year they did completely strip two of the trees of their leaves. The trees bounced back. When I can, I “introduce” the worms to the fish in the lake, but the fish have never shown much interest in them. (Chickens, I imagine, would relish them.)

From what I’ve read, their pupae spend the winter on the ground at the base of these trees, in the leaf litter and below the scrub. I suppose there is some pesticide I could use to treat the ground, or I could try mowing heavily under the trees. But since they haven’t been a serious problem, and since I don’t like using chemicals if I don’t have to, and since renting that big mower in town is expensive and more trouble than it is generally worth, I haven’t done any of those things.

The pecans don’t seem to suffer.

Tunnel Trot 12K 2014 recap

December 8th, 2014


Tunnel Trot kitI’d never run a 12K before. I’d never even heard of a 12K race before I stumbled upon one online while searching for a December race to run.

This race was unique for me for several reasons. Not only is the distance new (and why 12K? That comes out to about 7.5 miles.), but it was run on the KATY Trail in central Missouri. The KATY Trail is a rails-to-trails conversion — supposedly the longest in the country — that is popular with cyclists and walkers, but I never knew if runners used it much. I had been eager to try it ever since I took up running, and this race was a chance for me to do so.

The Tunnel Trot was the fourth in a series of races the Missouri Department of Parks had hosted this fall, but I hadn’t heard of the other three until they were over. (Just as well since at least one involved biking and kayaking and trail running, which I wouldn’t have attempted.)

MSPRacingSerieslogo

The Tunnel Trot race start (and finish) was in tiny Rocheport, Missouri (population 239). Rocheport is one of those towns that time has forgotten. It’s cute and quaint and picturesque with 19th Century homes and was mostly dying until the KATY Trail was established and brought thousands of people to it throughout the year. Now it has a half dozen B&Bs (we stayed in one several years ago), some artist’s studios (we’ve spent some money in them), antique shops (ditto), a couple a restaurants (ditto ditto), and the residents who live their lives and count the tourists’ dollars.

The race was small; only about 125 runners were registered, and I think fewer than that actually showed up on the cold, overcast Saturday afternoon. (I’ve run in smaller races and bigger weather.) But the volunteers and organizers were as diligent and upbeat as any I’ve seen at all of the races I’ve run. When I picked up my packet that morning, they were delighted that someone had come all the way from Kansas City to run. They had hot chocolate and coffee as well as fruit and granola bars for everyone at the start. They had a start/finish arch and chip timing (as well as a nice giveaway shirt and a water bottle). What they didn’t have were finisher medals, which is certainly not a requirement of mine to do a run, but they’re always nice.

I was dressed in the kit you see above, though I had added an extra shirt and my racing jacket. Notable above are my new shoes. I had bought them only 6 days before, and they had only 6 miles on them at the start of this race. They are Altra Paradigms. They have a wide toe box (for more natural foot action supposedly), are zero drop (meaning my heel is at the same distance from the ground as my toes, which is new for me and will require my legs to adapt), and thick cushioning (because!). I also wore my running mittens, which convert into gloves and have nicely absorbent material on the back (for runners’ runny noses). Nonetheless, as I stood around waiting for the race to start, I was chilled though it was above freezing. If the sun had been out, I think the weather would have been about perfect for a run.

I was actually a little concerned about the trail conditions since it had rained in the area for the prior two days. The KATY Trail is paved with compacted pea gravel, and I was afraid that there might be muddy spots or actual puddles along the way. I can run with that, of course, but my expensive shoes were brand new, and I didn’t really want to trash them this soon. One of the organizers had told me he had driven the route that morning (a perk given to State Park employees since motorized vehicles are not allowed on the trail), and he assured me that the trail was dry and mud free. (I had brought a back-up pair of shoes just in case.) Prior to the start, the race organizer chatted us up, telling us where the water stations would be, where the turnaround points were (there was a 5K as well as the 12K I was running), and the usual stuff about courtesy and safety. Then the countdown to the start began. I switched on my watch and hoped it would grab some satellites in the two minutes before the gun (actually, no gun but a vigorously shouted GO). It did, and I was as ready as I was going to be.

And we were off. As these things go, we were a thick pack at the start as everyone sorted out their paces and places. One little boy, who had to be about four years old, took off like a rocket, and his poor momma was chasing after him. I urged him to set an ambitious pace, but his momma assured me she would soon be carrying him. Other runners were passing me, and I’ve gotten used to that. I tried to settle in and find a pace I could sustain for a while. I had a long trek ahead of me, and I wanted to do passably well. (I’d been nursing a sore hamstring muscle for a couple of weeks, so I hadn’t done much running at all.) We were soon out of the metropolitan area of Rocheport and found ourselves before the most interesting feature along the entire KATY Trail.

6407303085_cccbfe5fe0_z

Along the full 260+ miles of the trail, this is supposed to be the only stone tunnel it passes through. (If there are other tunnels, what are they made of?) The day was not warm, but it was not especially windy there along the Missouri River. Except around this tunnel. The tunnel, and the cut-in area before it, channeled the wind, which then lacerated the skin on my face, or at least did its best to. (The picture you see above is from the west side of the tunnel. On the outward half of the run, we came at it from the east side.) Both the 5K and 12K runners passed through this tunnel. Of course my watch lost contact with the satellites while I passed through, so it registered my pace as zero for this distance, but whatever.

The KATY Trail is a former railroad bed, so it is flat and mostly straight. Flat is good (if not challenging) for running, but the straight part can really be dispiriting. You can look at the long, long distance ahead of you and feel the fatigue grow in your heart. As I usually do in situations like this, I kept my head down and concentrated on the three feet before my two feet.

What I saw was the packed gravel of the trail bed. Except it wasn’t always well packed. There was a lot of loose gravel on the surface, which made the running a bit more tiresome since it gave a different action beneath each footfall. (And remember I was running in new, unfamiliar shoes.) I am used to running on streets, sidewalks, and paved trails. I tried running in places where the gravel was better packed, including the higher center of the trail and in the tire tracks of the organizer’s earlier drive. But I couldn’t always do this because the good parts would start and end abruptly. Plus there were runners who wanted to get around me and other runners I wanted to get around myself. So I did my best and pushed on.

The first water station was at mile 1.5. It was also the turnaround point for the 5K runners. I think I was at about mile 1 when I saw the first of the 5K runners already coming back my direction. These were the speedy folk, and they had looks of determination on their faces. I slapped hands with the first runner who came my way (and who would win the overall winner medal), but I just kept to running my own race after that.

I should say that most of the runners that afternoon were ahead of me. I had started near the back of the pack, and I hadn’t passed many other runners by this point, so I was among the last third of the group on the trail. I have no ego problem with this. After a while it’s all about me against myself anyway (and usually after a while, it’s just me for a quarter mile in each direction too). But the closer I got to the water station, the more runners I saw coming my direction. I suspect two-thirds of the runners that afternoon were doing the 5K. Good for them. Anyone out there on that cold, overcast day got my respect. But when I passed through the water station and didn’t turn around (because I had the 12K distance to run) I was very suddenly alone. Nearly all of the runners who were close to me before this were doing the 5K and so had turned around at that water station. I was on my own.

Which seems to be my preferred state anyway.

Somehow I had calculated that a 12K was equal to about 8 miles. Thus I was expecting my own turnaround point to be at mile 4. I try so hard not to look at my watch when I’m running. It just disappoints me to find out how little distance I have covered or how slow I am going. But I didn’t need to since I knew that I had just passed mile 1.5 and had 2.5 miles to go to my halfway point. I wasn’t even halfway to halfway and I was already really tired. (I attribute this to my lack of running lately because of the sore leg and to my new shoes and to my pathetic willpower.) Somewhere along this middle distance I began to feel my right hip hurting. It wasn’t a crippling pain, but it was part of what had been bugging me for the last month. I had taken some ibupropen prior to the race in anticipation of this, and maybe it was working, but the pain was coming through. In the tiny back pocket of my skimpy running shorts I was carrying four low-dose, chewable aspirin. I wondered if it was time to take them and stave off anything worse in my hip. I didn’t. I decided to hold off until I was closer to my turnaround point where there would be a water station. Chewing the pills and then chasing them with water would, I imagined, hasten their effect on my poor hip (actually, I think, on my poor muscles running from my hip).

So, onward.

I ran, and I was passing other runners. A group of young women had been trading places with me up to this point. They would walk for a while then run for a while then walk. And so on. I was doing the same, and so we were keeping more or less together. But in the long trek to the turnaround, I finally passed them and left them behind. (In runner talk, this is called a “kill.” And since there were four women in this group, I had scored four kills. Of course, I had been killed by scores of people prior to this.)

Far ahead, I could see the water station that marked the turnaround point. I had to run across a spongy wooden bridge and pass under a highway bridge and then eat up what seemed like a thousand miles of straightaway to get there. But I did. And I ate three of my four aspirin in anticipation. (The fourth had fallen from my hand onto the trail.) The water station was set up just before the turnaround point, which was marked by a yellow painted stripe in the gravel. I was given my cup of water and told to cross the yellow stripe before turning around. And as an obedient runner, I did as I was told. And then I fell to a walking pace as I pulled a packet of GU from inside my shorts (pinned to my waistband) and devoured it. (Root beer flavored — not bad, actually.) I was on the return run now, and I learned from my watch that the halfway point was at mile 3.65. At this point, most of my brain was concentrating on throwing one foot in front of the other, but I did manage to find some band width for calculating the distance 1K was. I came up with six point two-tenths of a mile, which meant the full 12K would be about 7.4 miles, or thereabouts. So the turnaround point had come sooner than I expected but apparently exactly where it needed to be. Once I had this resolved in my head, I returned to what had puzzled me before. Why 12K? Why not a simple 10K? The course was an out-and-back. They could have had us turn around at any point along the trail, and where they did turn us around there was no road access or other apparent reason for it being there. But all of this was beyond my mental ability at this point, so onward I plodded.

I was on familiar ground now, and since I was going back the way I had come, I had the chance to see how many runners were still behind me. I didn’t do an actual count, but it seemed that about 20 people — including the four young women I had “killed” — were behind me. As long as I didn’t let any of them (all of them) pass me, I would have a respectable finish and not be in last place (a position I had defended for much of my first year as a runner). It looked like this was going to be possible. I was well ahead of the 20, expect for one women in bright yellow who was not too far behind me. Each time I slowed to a walk and took the chance to turn around, she was closer than before. I was not competing with her. Of course I was not. It didn’t matter at all that she was closing in on me and would “kill” me if I didn’t hustle. Didn’t mean a thing to me. Not at all.

And I’m sure this had nothing to do with my push to finish the race as well as I could. I concentrated on the three feet before my two feet. I tried to shorten my walking breaks as much as I could. I kept going. And there, far ahead down that relentlessly straight trail, I could see the last water station. This was at the 5K turnaround point, so it meant that I had only 1.5 miles to finish — once I got to that station. And I did not at all attempt to calculate whether the woman in yellow behind me would gain on my sufficiently to pass me in the 1.5 miles remaining. Nope. Never occurred to me.

I grabbed for a cup of water at the station and missed. So I tried again and got it, even though I didn’t think I was thirsty. But I’ve learned that this can be — and usually is — deceiving. Of course I asked if they had Bud Light, and the people at this station seemed actually perplexed by my question, as though they may have overlooked that detail or something. But I didn’t linger to joke with them about it. I had a mile and a half to go (and no regard whatsoever for the woman in yellow still closing the distance behind me).

I ran. I walked. I ran. I puzzled why I was having so much trouble with a simple 8-mile-now-7.4-mile run. I was alone on the gravel. My new shoes were filling with gravel. My head felt like it was full of gravel. The gravel crunched beneath my feet. And then, up ahead after I made one of the few slight turns on this trail, I saw the tunnel I had passed through before. Once I passed through it again, I would have only a quarter mile to the finish arch and an end to this odd, odd run on the gravel beside the river in the cold under the overcast sky. I confess I walked about fifty feet before the tunnel. And then I began running again, though I knew my watch would lose the satellites again and plummet my pace. But through the tunnel I roared (or trotted, I can’t be sure). On the other side was a course monitor whose purpose was to keep me on the trail and say encouraging things. Remember, 80+ runner had already passed her, so her encouragement felt a little diluted. Plus, why was she there? How was it possible I could go astray at that point? I could nearly see the finish arch ahead. (I couldn’t, but I knew where I was and where I needed to go.) I nodded and may have grunted some thanks to her, but I pushed on, determined to finish as well as my aching hip and tired legs would allow.

The packed parking lot ahead of me was mostly empty now. The runners who had finished were gone. Even so, a few people were along the side of the trail, saying encouraging things. I was passing the metropolitan area of Rocheport again, and soon I could see the magnificent finish arch ahead of me. The timing clock was flashing out the elapsed time, but since I had never run a 12K before, I had no idea if my total time was good or bad. (Given all of the walking breaks I had taken, I didn’t expect any “good” to come of it.) I pushed, but I didn’t seem to have any kick in me. I looked around for Libby — my support crew — but didn’t see her. I did see the course photographer, though, and sucked it up to try to look decent as I crossed the finish mats. Which I did. I ran out my “speed” and turned off my watch and gathered my “thoughts” and tried to think of what to do next. A woman approached me and told me she needed to remove the chip from my shoe. (Why do I always forget about this?) I saw a man with a handful of medals, but I knew they weren’t giving out finisher medals, so I realized they were for the talented folk who placed in their age groups. I looked around again for Libby but didn’t see her. Assuming that the 12K was equivalent to 8 miles, I had given her an incorrect estimate of my finish time. I suspected she was in the antique shops a few blocks away, buying holiday gifts. So I tried calling her but never connected.

In the meantime, the man tallying the official finish times had grabbed the microphone and was calling out the age group winners. I thought it polite to stick around for this (given that so many of the runners had already left). As I waited, for a long time it seemed, the woman in yellow who had been chasing me had finally crossed the finish line. Apparently I had nothing to worry about. She never did manage to close the distance between us. Not that I cared, of course.

I assumed Libby was in the shops in town, so, after a little business was concluded at the finish, I hurried over that direction. My clothes were wet with sweat by then, and the sun had never come out. I was cold, and I was eager to get in the warm car. It was about thirty feet from the finish arch, but I had no key. So I hustled across the few blocks to the main street where I hoped to find Libby, or at the very least, a warm shop I could harbor in until we connected.

I finally did manage to reach her on the phone, and we found we were one block apart. I hurried over to her and then directed us to the storefront where they served ice cream. I had a single-dip cone (mint chip) as I sat in the warmth and Libby showed me the many things she had bought while I was pounding on the gravel. I gave her a recount of the run, and then we decided it was time to head the two hours to home. We stopped in one more shop (more warmth) before she offered to go fetch the car and pick me up. I had no argument with that. As I waited, several women in the shop noticed the bib pinned to my shirt and asked if there had been a bicycle race on the trail that day. I told them it was a running race and they seemed both surprised and pleased by this news. Soon after, Libby arrived with the warm car. I hopped in and turned up the heat as we made our way to the interstate and turned to the west and home. I tried to sleep as she drove, but I didn’t have much luck.

So I ran the Tunnel Trot. And I satisfied my curiosity about the KATY Trail. I didn’t care for it. The gravel was unfamiliar beneath my feet. My shoes were full of it. The long, straight stretches were dispiriting. But I had tried it. I have no organized runs for the rest of December, but I should try to get out and do more training miles. Of course, I should also contrive occasions to go out to Roundrock. I’m sure I’ll tell you if I do.

tunnel trot bling

I said they didn’t give out finisher medals, and they didn’t. But they did give out age group winner medals. I’ve always said that I would only get third in my age group if there were only two runners in my age group. But I didn’t get third.

filling a hole

December 3rd, 2014

gravel 1

As long as there has been a road at Roundrock (about a decade) there has been a pothole in it just as it passes the pond near the pine plantation. I’m usually pretty good about steering around it as we drive in/out, but sometimes I’m not paying attention (probably looking for ducks on the pond) and hit it full on, lurching the truck to the side and reminding myself to pay better attention.

The hole is probably the result of a tree that had stood there but was pushed out by the bulldozer when the road was made. The road was graded and graveled and otherwise made passable, but this one spot had to be different. My guess is that the roots of the tree remained in the ground, or enuf of them did, to provide a sufficient sag in the ground when they rotted. (You see this on hiking trails a lot.) Whatever the reason, the pothole was there, and I kept telling myself that I ought to do something about it.

The only solution I could think of was to fill the hole. I know, obvious. But I’m just one man with one shovel and one or two weekends a month to visit and get all of the chores done. Even so, it’s a little embarrassing that it took me this long to take action. After the cabin was built and the area around it cleaned up and graveled, I had an extra load of pea gravel dumped in the area that I could use for various projects (mostly for redressing the gravel around the cabin). All I needed, I calculated, was about two wheelbarrow loads of this gravel to fill the hole by the pond. The trouble was that the pile of gravel was at the cabin and the hole was at the pond, with about an eighth of a mile, an uphill eighth of a mile, betwixt them.

But the weather was nice and the day was long and blah-blah-blah cross training, and so why not? Libby would mind the dogs while I pushed the wheelbarrow full of gravel up the hill and on to the hole. This is what we did. The dogs darted in an out of the forest on either side of the road, and Libby stopped to inspect this or that as she went, and so I got to the pond before they did, which surprised me since it ain’t no picnic pushing that gravel up a hill when you’re not used to doing it.

There wasn’t a lot of subtlety to this job. I simply had to pour the gravel into the dip and then smooth it. So that’s what I did.

gravel 2

Doesn’t look like much, does it? That’s because it isn’t much. Or isn’t enuf. I didn’t think one load would do it, and I proved that to myself when I dropped the first load. (The road runs left/right in this photo; I’m standing in the middle of the road for this shot.) This meant that I would need to push another load of gravel from the cabin to the pond, and you know what? I didn’t want to. Not at that moment.

So I embarked on another project that’s needed doing since the road was built. The ditch on the north side of the road running along the northern property line has slowly filled in with dirt over the years. The reason is because just north of this is my neighbor’s 100-acre field, and some of her topsoil washes into my ditch. Add the leaves that have accumulated there over the years and you have a ditch that is not very functional. Not coincidentally, this stretch of the road sometimes has standing water on it and/or is soft to drive across. So cleaning the ditch to help it move water better needed doing. Again, I’m only one man with one shovel. But there I was, with my shovel and a powerful desire not to go back to the cabin. So dig it I would. Only about 500 feet needed to be dug out, one shovelful at a time, so you can imagine how motivated I felt.

But there was a third chore that has needed doing since we first came to this piece of land. The dam holding back the little pond has a low spot in the middle. It’s been there at least as long as we have been there. My guess is that some burrowing animal (perhaps a muskrat) had a den under there that eventually collapsed. It must have been a big den since the low area is about five feet by five feet. I don’t think this low spot is much of a threat to the dam since it is as well grassed as the actual spillway nearby, so if high water did drain over the dam here, it probably would not wash it away. But it bugged me, and I kept reminding myself every time I walked on the dam that I needed to do something about it.

And there I was with a lot of good dirt nearby and a wheelbarrow at hand to transport it and me and my shovel and more cross training and so forth.

So I started digging out the ditch, throwing wet shovelfuls of mud into the wheelbarrow. It turned out that the forest liked the dirt in the ditch because it was filled with roots that made the digging more complicated. But I kept at it until I had a full-ish wheelbarrow (and was tired of scraping the wet mud from the shovel), so I pushed it over to the pond dam where Libby and the dogs were hard at work clearing scrub. Getting the loaded wheelbarrow across the little spillway and then up onto the dam called for a running start and a clear path. I could provide the first, and the dogs could thwart the second, which they did with tails a’wagging. Libby had to call them away so I could make my move.

The low spot on the dam looked much bigger when I got there with my puny load of dirt. I dumped it in place and saw the negligible difference it made and calculated that I only needed about twenty more loads to do the job right. This was about as bad as pushing another load of gravel up the hill. But it was too soon to give up, so I turned around and headed back to the ditch to dig out more of it.

It seemed as though the dirt in the ditch grew wetter the farther up I dug. (I had started at the nearest culvert and was working my way from it.) This meant that more dirt clung to the shovel as I tried to throw it in the wheelbarrow, making the shovel heavy to handle. But I kept at it, chopping away at the opportunistic roots and scooping out more mud and leaves. When I filled the wheelbarrow the second time I again pushed it to the dam and humped it into place. And poured my contents beside the first load. Such a small difference it seemed to make. But it was different this time because I decided that I’d made a good start and that it was no longer too soon to give up (for the day). I said this to Libby and she voiced no objection, and so we turned our feet in the direction of the cabin and began a weary trudge. Even the dogs seemed tired.

As we passed the culvert, I wanted to show Libby the work I had done (in part to be told how wonderful I am and in part to give her a clearer understanding of what I was trying to do). When we got there, though, my dig-out achievement also seemed negligible. If I hadn’t done the work myself, I might not have even noticed that any work was done. But Libby was suitably appreciative, and we had a campfire to get started to cook our dinner on, so we didn’t linger.

We ate. We rested in the comfy chairs. We slept in the cabin. We rose in the morning and had our fruit and oatmeal for breakfast. And then we did it all again.

I pushed a second load of gravel up the hill to pour into the hole by the pond. It seemed to make a difference.

gravel 3

I smoothed it and stomped on it and hoped the pea gravel would more or less hold its shape as the weight of the truck passed over it. And then I got back to ditch digging and dam dressing. I brought another two loads of dirt onto the dam to add to what I had delivered the day before. And I told myself it was a good start. I’m not sure it was, but rationalizing is one of my super powers.

We did other things while at Roundrock for our overnight visit. It wasn’t all the fun of pushing heavy inert things from one place to another. And when it came time for us to leave, I drove the truck carefully past the pond, intending to hit the (former) pothole. And I found it.

And the truck lurched.

Apparently two loads of gravel weren’t enuf. Hidden in the grass growing in the road is a much more expansive pothole than I realized. And so, the work is not finished.