Archive for the 'Indulgent Musings' Category

Shades of gray

Thursday, May 28th, 2009


I don’t believe the world is black and white. At best we have an infinite number of shades of gray.

For the longest time I wanted my lake to be full. Then I cursed the leaks in the dam. I welcomed every storm, hoping it would fill my lake.

Now I’m grateful for those leaks because they drained away sufficient water from the lake to keep the recent rainstorms from sending it over the dam again. I welcome a less full lake now, and I curse the rainstorms.

I hope we can get the dam and the spillway repaired before the next incident, which might breach the dam and empty the lake. But I’ve also come to some resignation if the dam should fail.

This would give me the chance to repair that part of the dam properly and ensure that the leaks there are ended. Maybe we could apply Bentonite more effectively to the face of the dam if we could get to it better. It would also allow a bulldozer into the lake bed itself. I see two benefits to this immediately. Such a machine could scrape away all of the many willow infestations in the middle of the water. It could also clean out all of the gravel that has been pouring into the far end of the lake. It’s a mix of challenge and opportunity, of fear and welcome.

And so this is all part of the responsibilities of property ownership. It’s never going to be easy, and there aren’t going to be simple answers. Someone once said I should write a book about building my lake, but I never thought there was any story in it. I’m beginning to think otherwise.

Missouri calendar:

  • Young woodchucks (groundhogs) leave dens.

A sequence

Friday, October 24th, 2008











But the view was nice from there on the ground.

Missouri calendar:

  • Juncos arrive from Canada.

Today in Missouri history:

  • The last holdings of the Kickapoo Indians in Missouri, and thus the only remaining land for all tribes that had been in Missouri, were signed over to the U.S. government on this date in 1832.
  • Actor Kevin Kline was born in St. Louis on this date in 1947.

Saturday Matinee – 6.7.2008

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

This little scene is at a favorite place in my forest at Roundrock. It seems to be unlike most parts of the forest, but I can’t exactly say why. There is less scrub growth here, which makes it more open. The slope of the land also doesn’t hold as many leaves, so I can see the rocky ground more easily (to better find an arrowhead!).

I’d like to find other parts of the woods that are different. There is a thick cedar forest on the north-facing slope that is a candidate. Not far from the pond is a grove of larger, older white oaks. No doubt there are others; I just need to keep alert for them as I walk the woods.

About a third of the way into this video — and only for a second or two — you can see the corner of the rock on the left that I feature in this old post . It hasn’t changed at all that I can tell, but rocks run on a much longer calendar than talking mammals.


Missouri calendar:

  • Elderberries begin blooming.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Susan Elizabeth Blow, founder of the public kindergarten movement, was born in St. Louis on this date in 1843.

Point of view

Monday, May 26th, 2008


"It’s a pretty scruffy view," I said.

"But it’s our view," she said.

And that made all the difference!

Missouri calendar:

  • Memorial Day (observed)
  • The large yellow flowers of Missouri primrose bloom on Ozark glades.

Today in Missouri history:

  • The Spanish at St. Louis repulse a combined British and Indian attack in 1780. This was the western-most battle of the Revolutionary War.


Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008


What do you suppose happens in the forest when no one is watching? On an intellectual level I know that the forest simply goes on as it has for ages: living, dying, rotting, growing, birth, and death. The wind blows. The deer browse. The squirrels scamper. The turkeys forage. The leaves fall.

But on a more imaginative level, I wonder if it is different. Take the round rock wedged in the tree in the photo above. When I came upon it recently, the rock was on the ground at the base of the tree, but I know I had shoved it into the space between the trunks a year or so ago. I pushed it down hard to make sure it would stay in place. Yet it had gotten loose and made a run (roll?) for it. Now, I know that the wind probably set the trunks swaying and at some point there was enuf give between them to let the rock slip loose and fall to the ground. But maybe that isn’t what happened. Maybe the deer came along in a moment of mischief and nudged the stone loose. Maybe the raccoons or opposums tugged it out.

I wonder if the animals sit in our comfy chairs under the shady tarp overlooking the empty lake and visit. Swap stories. Give each other updates on where there is food to be had. Offer critical analysis of the stewardship of the man who thinks he owns the land.

I thought that the new game camera might be able to help answer these questions, but I figure the animals are too clever for that and will act like animals before it.

Do the rocks in the creek even continue to exist when I’m not around? Does the whole place just dissolve into mist and only reassemble as I approach? In a way it’s just hard to believe that the forest has any existence apart from my experience of it. I know that’s not true, but I sometimes wonder.


I think FC has a birthday today. Why don’t you go over to his blog and wish him well. (He’s still older than I, and by my calculations, always will be!)

Missouri calendar:

  • Bobcats breed through June.

Today in Missouri history:

  • The next seven days seem to have nothing remarkable connected to them in Missouri history.

Last day of the year

Monday, December 31st, 2007
Maple seed.jpg

The last day of the year is often a time for taking stock and reflecting on what has passed. My mind is not orderly enuf for that kind of thinking, so I’ll just make some random comments here instead.


That picture above is of some red maple seeds growing in our woods at Fallen Timbers. This is the last of the “found” photos that I knew I had in a box somewhere. Libby scanned this for me from a print photo (remember printed photographs?). While the maples grow robustly at Fallen Timbers, I’ve only had moderate luck with them at Roundrock, but that’s old news.


I vowed to meet my pledge of planting fifty shortleaf pine trees as part of the United Nations effort to plant a billion trees worldwide. I did my part. Did everyone else? Go to the official page to see if the goal was met. A new pledge is established for 2008. Care to join?

I got to see my lake filled to its capacity, and while I also had the misfortune to watch it drain away as well, I got to see it stop draining at a fuller level than the year before.

I was able to camp a few times, though not as many as I would like.

I was able to swim a few times, though again not as many as I’d like.

I found several nifty, new-to-me blogs through the year.

I began to include recorded video on this humble blog of mine.


Maybe looking back is only half of the process. Maybe looking forward is equally important. What, for example, will the new year hold for Roundrock Journal? Tomorrow may tell.

Missouri calendar:

  • New Year’s Eve
  • Hang up next year’s Natural Events Calendar.

The trouble with straight lines

Monday, November 26th, 2007

fish pond.JPG

We’re trying to avoid straight lines as much as possible at Roundrock. Primarily this relates to the routing and building of paths through the forest. The point is to leave room for surprises and discoveries. If a path runs straight, then you can see far ahead, and there is nothing left to come upon, at least in theory. So the plan is to put turns and curves and bends into our paths so that what’s ahead is obscured and awaits rather than seen from a distance and no longer surprising. (I also tend to think of straight lines as soullessly efficient; that is, their primary purpose is to be quick or most direct or most resourceful or other values that engineers tend to favor.)

This hasn’t been a completely successful campaign though. When we first blazed the trail from our entrance to the old pond, we more or less went in a straight line. There were two reasons for this: the first was that we were new to the forest and were unfamiliar with the landmarks, so we wanted to create the route of least confusion. The second was that we were passing through those “mysterious” grassy clearings in the western end of our forest. These tend to run north and south, which is also the general direction of the path we were cutting. It made sense, then, to use one of these clearings as part of our path since it saved us a hundred or more feet of trailblazing.

When the time came to cut the road through the trees leading to the lake, we had to follow the topography, which left us little option. Also, we were paying the dozer man by the hour, so it wasn’t cost efficient to wind and weave our way through the woods. Yet both the road and the path have a few turns and curves, which you will see when you come out to Roundrock for a visit.

As I said, though, we’re trying to avoid straight lines in whatever changes or contributions we make to our forest. But then I come upon things like what is shown in the photo above.

This is a (former) fountain in a fish pond in a park in a town in Missouri not too far from Roundrock. In the park there is a mineral spring that I wrote about in this post. Some ambitious and creative fellow had created this small grotto fish pond/fountain thing years ago to adorn the park. (There were goldfish in the pond on our last visit.) He also created a full-sized bandstand in the same style. Round rocks, a geological oddity of the area, were put to use in building a structure. It makes a kind of sense, and I know there is an aesthetic that encourages building with native stone.

So it passed through my mind once or twice that when the time comes to build our house at Roundrock, we should use the hundreds of round rocks we have as construction materials or at least adornments.

But then I think of this fish pond.

And I cringe.

I don’t have the adjectives to give voice to my distaste for this. I respect the man’s creativity and hard work. I respect his desire to add something visually significant and whimsical to his community. I can even let myself think of it as a sort of historic treasure. But I hate it. I’m not sure why except that it is so obvious. There is no subtlety to it, no artful use of the round rocks. They are merely used as bricks, and so many of them gathered in one place rob them of what is unique about them.

Thus when I see something like this, all thought of using the native round rocks for building our house in the woods get banished.

Fortunately, there is other native stone at Roundrock. Not too far under the forest floor in the high places of our woods lies a lovely pinkish sandstone that cleaves nicely. It is abundant enuf to allow it to be quarried for building stone, and I’ve long envisioned using it as a facing for whatever it is we build the exterior walls of the house with. In its current conception, our house will be built into the slope of the hill overlooking the diminished lake. Thus it will look as though it is emerging from the ground, which means that it must be made of native stone.

And this takes us back to the trouble with straight lines. Building with round rocks would allow me to avoid the cold, soulless efficiency of having a house with straight lines. Except that it would look hideous. Building with nicely cloven sandstone will add straight lines to the face of the house, but it will allow me to avoid an overwhelming mass of round rocks (which I think I would subconsciously be afraid was going to roll over me as I sat before it drinking my iced tea — unsweetened, of course).

The straight lines called for by the sandstone can be mitigated, of course. Staggering the stones in the walls is the most obvious solution, and this can be done in a pleasing way (to my eye). Also, I’m thinking that the house front may not be a straight line itself. Perhaps it will curve so that the face of the house is concave. Thus the house itself will help me avoid those pesky straight lines.

Well, all of that is still down the road, and that road has enuf twists and turns to keep surprising and challenging me.

Missouri calendar:

  • Red admiral butterflies search for overwintering sites.

The day after Thanksgiving

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

sumac berries.JPG

Seasonable, and so reasonable, cold has settled in over Missouri. It’s not really all that cold. It’s not life threatening or such. Certainly it won’t stop the shoppers from descending upon the stores in the wee hours of the morning. I’d read a pundit who once said that our economy is not based on buying. It’s based on frenzied buying. So let me take this chance to remind you that it is National Buy Nothing Day. You culture jammers out there know what I’m talking about. If you’d like to read about someone who has had remarkable success at consuming less, go on over to Kate’s blog and read about her 90 Percent Project. Kate assures me that she is living comfortably, enjoying a full life. It makes me wonder what I could do without.

Perhaps our traditional family jaunt to Roundrock occurred today. Perhaps as you’re reading this, we are out in our woods, making ‘smores over a fire, walking the trails, admiring the diminished lake. Perhaps this has happened, but I’ll be the last to know if it does. I am subject to the whims and swiftly changing plans of a house nearly full again of family. Whatever we do, I know I’ll enjoy the time together.

The photo above is of sumac berries in our woods at Fallen Timbers. We have sumac growing robustly there, and this ridgetop stand is always a reliable provender for the wild birds who will feast on the berries through the winter.

Hope you had a happy holiday.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

The best season

Thursday, November 15th, 2007


I believe I have mentioned here once or twice that fall is my favorite season. It always makes me reflective. For some reason I begin to think about all of the things I meant to do, and I plot and plan how I might get them done sooner or later or not at all.

I suppose the shorter days and the falling leaves remind me that winter is coming — a time when many things are more difficult and better left for the warmer months. But there is savor to fall as well. I think I appreciate the sounds and smells and textures of the forest more. Perhaps that is because I am no longer overwhelmed by the heat or the insects, so I am free to experience the more subtle parts of the forest. Or it may be that I am more aware that the opportunity doesn’t last forever. Certainly the winter forest has its allures, but I think the forest as it is beginning to fall asleep is the most alluring.

It’s a bittersweet time. I wish I had found more chances to swim in the lake. I wish we had camped more. I wish I had devoted more effort to identifying the trees and plants. I wish I had had more patience to wait for the critters to cross my path.

Fall always intensifies my feelings about being in the forest. I’m grateful for that.

The order form for trees from the Conservation Department nursery is supposed to come online today. I intend to order another twenty-five shortleaf pines for replanting (hopeful, ever hopeful), but I’m eager to see what new interesting plants might be available. More nannyberries, anyone?

Missouri calendar:

  • Most leaves have fallen; forest floor blanketed.

October blue

Monday, October 15th, 2007

October blue.JPG

Have you ever heard that the skies in October are bluer than in other months? I can remember hearing that as a child. It was often used in an expression, such as “bluer than an October sky.”

I suppose it is a subjective judgment. I can’t say that I’ve made any quantitative measurement of the blueness of the sky in other months, but the idea must have some basis in fact somewhere if it’s been around for so long.

I’ve wondered what might make people think this way. The best idea I’ve come up with is that the leaves on trees turn and the blueness of the sky is a stronger contrast than in other months. It sounds plausible.

I’ve wondered if maybe the tilt of the earth or the thinness of the air might somehow make the scattering of blue light in the atmosphere bluer. Or if the rapid departure of color from the rest of the natural world in autumn made people crave what color they could find and hold it even more precious.

I’d read somewhere that the reason there aren’t more blue flowers is because they can’t attract pollinating insects to the color. I don’t know if that reasoning is valid, but blue is the most common color in nature, at least in volume.

Missouri calendar:

  • New England asters bloom — provide nectar for late-migrating monarchs.