Archive for the 'General' Category

those thrilling days of yesteryear

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

recent round rock

 

This humble blog has had 11,790+ comments in its many years of existence. (I say “+” since more have likely happened since I wrote this post.) Those are spread over 2,395+ posts. (I say “+” since I don’t know if this post is counted in that number.) And my spam blocker has done its job on 2,975,951+ spam comments. (I say “+” yadda yadda yadda.)

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My blue tailed skink post continues to get comments, now at 99 of them. The consensus is that the skink in the photo at the post is a fake.

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It’s wistful and fun to go back and read the comments left by kind people from years ago. So many people have come and gone, some of whom are still in touch and others who have vanished.

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Nine years ago on this humble blog I was pondering the benefits of lake swimming, and in a nice little bit at the end I find a recent fulfillment (not of the lake but of something else).

Eight years ago I wrote of a pine planting experiment I tried. I can’t tell you the fate of those pines, though I doubt they met with success, but once again I find a recent fulfillment in what I said then.

Seven years ago I wrote a rambling post, much like this one.

Six years ago I gave an account of a recent visit Libby and I had made to Roundrock. It seems we did a lot of swimming that day.

Five years ago I made the acquaintance of a ground skink (I think). Curiously, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one again.

Four years ago I had begun my Great Hiatus and didn’t have a post.

Three years ago I was still on the Great Hiatus. Sorry about that.

Two years ago I had returned, but I wasn’t making the daily posts, and I have nothing for this corresponding day then.

One year ago I was musing about the good life on the shady porch. An inadvertent stewardship.

thriving pecan

Monday, September 1st, 2014

pecan

I wish I could have done something about the flooding backlight at the top of this photo, but when you’re shooting toward the sky, you take when you can get I suppose.

What you see in the foreground is one of the dozen or so pecan trees I had planted in the acre below the dam about a dozen or so years ago. I’d actually planted more than a hundred pecans. The first year we put in 50, and most of those died. So the second year we put in another 50. Most of those died. I think we did it again the third year. (I even tried putting some shortleaf pine in here, but they never took.)

So what I have left is this dozen or so around the edge of the acre. But the survivors are now the thrivers. This pecan is more than twice as tall as I am. It’s one of the best of the bunch, but all of them that are still around are doing well.

From what I’ve read about them, and the conditions they find themselves in, these trees could take up to a dozen years to begin producing nuts. I’ve certainly never seen any nuts on any of them, though I suppose the critters could get to them before I did. Still, they’re surrounded on three sides by an oak/hickory forest, and to the north is my biggest collection of walnut trees. Seems like the critters might overlook some pecans. But I suppose they’re just not old enuf to begin producing.

Compare the tree above to the little guy in this old post. It might even be the same tree.

eggshell vignette

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

eggshell

I came upon this little scene in the middle of the road near the cabin the last time I was at Roundrock. Some critter had evidently feasted on this egg recently.

I cannot tell you what kind of bird this egg came from; it was the size and color of a chicken egg, but any chickens would be quite a ways away at the neighbor’s ranch. Unless one of the hens got loose and left some eggs in my woods, it seems unlikely that a critter would have carried a chicken egg from the ranch to my road. I’m guessing it was the egg of some wild native bird, though I couldn’t say what.

And it may be that the critter didn’t transport the egg here at all. In fact, it might have been merely an eggshell by the time it got to the road. I know that many birds will take the eggshells from their hatched chicks far from the nest. Supposedly this is better than just tossing them over the side of the nest since an accumulation of shells can tell a predator where a nest is. When we had stumbled upon the two whippoorwill chicks on the forest floor last spring, we just happened to direct our steps farther in the forest and came upon a half of an egg shell a hundred feet away. I can’t say whether it was one of the eggs the chicks had recently hatched from or not, but it was on its own out there in the wild.

Head for the Cure 2014 recap

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

HftC 2014

Remember when I said that I wasn’t going to be running any more 5Ks and then found that I had four on my calendar? This was number 3.

I had run Head for the Cure back in 2012 and wrote a truly fascinating account of it in this old post. That was the third 5K I’d ever run, and it’s fun to look back on my experience and the lessons I took from it. Also fascinating (to me, anyway) is having a look at my kit from that ancient time. It’s hard to believe I have come so far. Those cotton shorts that must weigh five times what my Nike shorts do. Those battered shoes I got at a department store. That blue shirt that is now, believe it or not, too big for me. (Makes me wonder what I’ll think two years from now as I look back on this kit.)

The 2014 Head for the Cure was at the same location as the one I ran two years before. It was literally down the street from my house, about three quarters of a mile. The way I saw it, that would give me a decent warm-up run for the actual race. What was different about this year, however, was that I was captain for my company’s team. So not only is running an astonishing recent development in my life, but the thought that I am a captain of anything, most of all of an athletic team, just takes the astonishment up to 11. I chose to be team captain for purely selfish reasons. It got me a free entry to this race. The seven other members on our team also got the company to pay their fees, so there is some altruism involved, but it was apparent that no one else was going to step up for the position, and there would not have been a company team at all, so I took it on. Mostly the duties involved getting everyone registered and sending out some emails. (I’ll probably step up as captain for our company’s team next spring at the Trolley Run too.)

We’ve been having typical late August weather here lately, and that’s the polite way of saying it’s been hot and humid. By 8:00 gun time, the temperature was a mild 75 degrees, but the humidity as at 74 percent, which is a bit soupy for running in. We’d been in a nearly constant heat advisory all week. In other words: time to get my sweat on! (You can read this paragraph as my attempt to provide excuses for my run.)

Since I was team captain, and since the site was just down the street from my house, I got there an hour early and tried to look obvious so my coworkers could see me and we could get our team photo. I am apparently the only one I work with who likes to get anywhere early. I wandered among the crowds, checked out the various vendor booths, hung around the packet pickup tent, and generally tried to stay visible, but I didn’t see anyone for a long time. I knew a few of my team by sight, but most of them were little more than email addresses to me. I wouldn’t have recognized them except that most were wearing our company’s new tech shirt intended for these kinds of activities. (Note: I do not have one of these shirts. It has too much logo and wording on it. I don’t object to that, but the plastic lettering doesn’t allow sweat to wick away, and they stick to my skin in those places. Ugh.)

About twenty minutes before gun time, I happened upon two women who were wearing the company shirt; that’s the only way I knew them. I introduced myself and we suddenly became best friends. Then the three of us wandered around looking for the rest of the team. We never found any, though one of the women did spot some coworkers who had signed up separately from the team. The announcer suggested we all make our way to the starting chute, and I wished my team members a good run then pushed my way toward the front of the crowd near the starting mats. When I had run this two years before, I remember being behind many walkers that I had to dart around. This time I figured if I started far enuf ahead, I would be the slow guy everyone had to run around.

My plan worked. My watch caught some satellites about thirty seconds before the start, and I turned it on as I crossed the mats. And then hundreds and hundreds of people began to surge past me. I was fine with that. My plan was merely to be ahead of the walkers, not to set a blistering pace. I had done a speedy five mile run the morning before — though I had tried to throttle back and not tax myself — so I wasn’t expecting to set a personal record on this 5K. And there was that humidity. Most of this course had been freshly paved with asphalt earlier in the week, so it added to the heat. (And the excuse list.)

Within the first half mile we faced a small hill. It wasn’t too bad but I was already feeling drained and knew I had a long way still to go. But the nice thing about going up the hill was going down the other side of the hill and then entering the long, flat stretch beyond it. I was still being passed by people, but by the time I reached the water station at mile 1, most people had settled into their paces. The water station happened to be just across the boulevard from the starting arch, and I looked over there to see hundreds and hundreds of walkers just getting underway. I was glad to be ahead of that throng.

And onward. Not too long after this we faced the only real hill on the course. It wasn’t steep (only about 40 feet of elevation gain), and it wasn’t much more than an eighth of a mile long, but a lot of people were walking up it. Somewhere in my running life I had decided that I had to run up all of the hills I faced (if I could not avoid them, of course), so I kept plodding. I had surprised myself two years before when I had made it to the top of this hill, and I knew I had to do at least as well this time. So I did. I passed a good number of people, which always feels good, but this seemed to be the stretch where young fathers pushing buggies were scheduled to pass me. I console myself by saying those dads are young enuf to be my sons and that they are encouraging a healthy lifestyle for their own sons and daughters. And then I just keep doing the best that I can.

The last half of the course is flat, and though it twists and turns to get to the 3.1 miles of distance, it’s not at all challenging. A woman asked how far we had gone, and the course monitor said she didn’t know. But I knew since I had my running watch on, so I told her (1.88 miles). She thanked me and then asked me to run with her. This turned out to be her first 5K and she wasn’t feeling very confident at that point. She was doing fine, certainly fine by my pace standards, but I knew the value of distraction, so I chatted with her as we trotted along. I hope it helped. With less than a mile left, she said she was going to have to walk because her knee was acting up, so I wished her well and kept going.

There is one final turn on this course before the last stretch on the main road in the office park, and it was after this turn that I dug deep and began to push my pace. I could feel the heat and the exhaustion, but I’ve learned that I seem to have a well of motivation or energy or pride or something that I can call on in these last distances to finish well. And I think I did. I looked at the stats my watch reported later and found that I had continued picking up the pace in this last half mile, crossing the mats at a very good pace for my ability and experience.

When the official times were posted online later in the day, I learned several things. I did not capture last in my age group this time. In fact, I was in the top half of the 50+ runners in my age group. (A closer examination of the stats suggested that nearly a third of the men in my age group had walked the 5K, but even discounting them, I did pretty well for my experience and background.) I also found that I had beaten my time from two years before by more than 10 minutes! That’s a big gain. I missed setting a personal record by only a minute (my best 5K is the Great Balls of Fire 5K I had done a month before), and I do blame the heat and humidity for this as well as not intending to set a record anyway.

So I finished well and grabbed a bottle of warm water then walked around to let my legs and lungs settle. Being team captain, I figured I should be over near the finish chute should any of my team be running in then to shout my encouragement. And so I found a shady spot and waited. And again I looked across the boulevard to see hundreds and hundreds of walkers just passing the first mile mark and the water station there. I was finished and they were barely underway and I was glad I wasn’t behind them. But good for them to be out there at all!

After about ten minutes I did see the two women on the team I had met before the race. I shouted and waved. They looked happy and pleased, and then they pressed on to the finish arch. Not long after that they joined me in my shady spot and blissed out about how wonderful it all was. When was the company sponsoring the next run? How could they get on the team? Could they be team captains? They needed to do more of this kind of thing! And so on. I had very little to do with introducing them to this mania, but it felt good to hear how good they felt. Soon after that they wandered off to the vendor booths where there was ice cream and donuts and bagels and fresh fruit and nachos (ugh) and water and Gatorade and smoothies and free massages and so on. I stayed in my shady spot and managed to see two more of my team members coming in. I shouted and waved to the first, but she had headphones in, and I don’t know if she registered me. Plus she looked intense and about done in and focused on that arch a few hundred feet ahead. Not long after, I saw another team member, but I only knew this because she was wearing the company shirt. I shouted and waved again, but she didn’t acknowledge it, which was fine. I knew what it was like on this stretch, with the finish arch in view and the endorphins going mad.

There was only one other person on my team that I thought was still out on the course. I suspected she was a walker, which meant it might be another half hour before she passed. Or she might have already passed. I could have stuck around longer on the chance that I would see her, but I didn’t.

I mentioned above that I had run to this event since it was so close to my home. And it might have been time to run home (as I had done after Great Balls of Fire). But I didn’t.

The very nice hike/bike trail that runs for something like forty miles through my community was only a hundred feet away, and I had promised myself that I needed to get more miles. So I hopped on it and headed east with my destination being the great state of Missouri about 7 miles away.

I won’t give you the gruesome details of this run. The heat had conquered the morning by then. I was more weary than I knew. And the trail seemed endless. But I reached my destination, which had two friendly faces as well as a cool salad and iced tea (unsweetened, of course). Then I got home and got showered and got recovered. I spent the rest of the day drinking water. I suspect I shed 5 pounds in sweat after the day’s effort.

So my next organized run is in three weeks. It’s a 10K, and when I ran it last year I had such a great performance that I vowed to run it every year. Plus, maybe the weather will break before then.

beleaguered buckeye

Monday, August 25th, 2014

buckeye leaves

What you see above is a top-down view of the buckeye plants I have growing beside the front of the cabin. What I want to show you are the orange-brown leaves that are down on the ground. These buckeyes (there are three of them) are inside a fence. I fear the marauding deer would browse them into nubs, so I’m protecting them until they are big enuf to withstand the deer. (There is a second set of three buckeye on the other side of the cabin.)

These poor understory plants don’t seem to withstand the Ozark heat and drought of summer very well. They drop their leaves. Or maybe this is their way of withstanding it — by going into retreat. The first summer after I had planted them, I saw this same thing happen, and I worried that the poor things had died from the drought and heat. But they bounced back the next spring and continued to grow. Then summer came and the same coping mechanism occurred. And they bounced back. I think we’ve repeated this three times now.

The original three now have what I would call woody stems. I think they’re established. They’ve brought out flowers in the spring, which was their original purpose — to attract hummingbirds. The buckeye I see along the running trails in faraway suburbia are doing much better. They look at little exhausted, but they have not dropped their leaves like this. I think the difference is that the ones in faraway suburbia are native to the region — and white flowering. Mine at the cabin are also Missouri natives but a bit far out of their normal range, plus they have red flowers, which I’d like to see again.

Now if I could just find a way to spend more spring weekends at my little cabin at the end of the road. (Too much running in the spring. Did I tell you I’ve signed up for a series of half marathons in spring 2015? Three in five weeks! I’m insane.)

 

and what of the opossum?

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

opossum bone

The overflow drum in the dam seems to be a perilous place. I noted a few weeks ago that when we had last visited (in June!), there was a opossum down in the drum. Whether it was sleeping the day away or slowly perishing, we couldn’t tell. It barely looked up at us as we peered in. We once found a dead raccoon in the drum some years before. The problem seems to be that the critters can get it and then can’t get out. They venture up the big drain pipe, jump down into the drum, and then either can’t jump back up to the pipe or don’t know enuf to do so.

You can pretty much guess from the photo above what became of the opossum. You’re looking down through the grating, about three feet into the drum. (It’s slowly getting shallower as it accumulates debris that washes in and doesn’t wash out. (Before that happened, you could see the boot print the dam builder had left in the concrete floor of the drum. I like those little touches.)

The bones are picked clean, as you can see, but there is no apparent gnawing on them. My guess is the beetles and other scavenger insects got to work on the opossum, which is the natural order of these things. Should the rain gods ever smile upon me again and fill the lake, and there is enuf water to pour into this overflow drum, much of this accumulation will be washed away, to end up in the pecan plantation.

Too bad about the opossum, but that’s settled now. What’s not settled, and what will give me anxiety until I can return to Roundrock, is the fate of the newest resident of the drum:

copperheadThis copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) had two ways to enter the drum: up through the drain pipe as the opossum had come or through the grate on the top. In either case, I fear that it will face the same sad end. It clearly cannot reach the grate again, but I don’t think it can reach as high as the drain pipe either. I suspect on my next visit that I will see the sad end of this fine looking creature too. It is a big copperhead, an inch in diameter and at least two feet long. I think that’s big for a copperhead.

If I could get in the drum (by removing the grate, which would require removing the retaining wall atop half of it and then removing the vines that are growing through it, and then being able to re-seat it properly) I would add some sort of permanent ladder or climbing pole up to the drain pipe. Opossums, I learned, cannot jump. And certainly snakes cannot either. But this seems like a wretched way to die, and it’s at least in part my doing. I don’t know if I’ll ever get the opportunity, but as the astute FC once said, I’m always fretting about something.

 

and what of the phoebe and her nest?

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

nest

I’ll begin by apologizing for the quality of this photo. Those white blurs you see at the center are not ghostly phoebe eggs. They are specks of dirt or lint inside the lens. Sorry about that.

But what you see above is what we found when we’d returned to Roundrock two weekends ago. The phoebe nest was empty. Not an addled egg. Not an abandoned chick. Not even phoebe herself flitting about in the trees before the cabin porch. Nope. I think the phoebe finally completed her reproductive business, fledged her offspring, and went on her way.

I chronicled her efforts over the summer in this post and in the many I’ve linked to there. We tried to be considerate toward the phoebe in our visits, limiting our comings and goings through the cabin door and our time on the porch. Our month and a half away (I’m still astonished by this) was what probably helped the most.

I don’t know if the phoebe pulled off two (or more) clutches this summer; they are reported to do that. It may be that she only managed one and just took a long time before she began actually brooding her eggs. In any case, I do feel like a good steward for her.

And then I destroyed her nest.

It was clearly abandoned. The thing was about to fall off the side of the cabin. I removed the Welcome to Roundrock sign she had used as her base and carried the nest over the scrub beyond the porch. Then it gently knocked it free and bushed the dried mud off of the sign. Soon after I took a broom to the wall of the cabin to brush away as much of the dried mud still clinging to it as I could. I’ll need to return with a stiff bristled brush to finish that job.

I noted long ago that a phoebe had tried to build a nest in this same spot a year or two before. That nest never got very far. But that seems like an indication that the setting is favorable, so it may be that I’ll have this issue again next summer. More of my troubles, right?

what of the mouse?

Monday, August 18th, 2014

mouse

I think this photo pretty much answers the question about the mouse we had to leave in the cabin after our prior trip to Roundrock. I didn’t wish malice toward the mouse, and I think we did our best to capture it and release it (as we had its mate). But I wasn’t going to leave it a supply of bird seed and a bowl of drinking water. As it was, when we did finally return to the cabin — after a month and a half away — I had brought along some mouse traps. I didn’t expect to use them for this mouse, but if this conundrum ever presents itself to us again, we’ll have a more expedient solution.

As I said, the mouse had no food or water. I think it might have begun eating that rug it’s resting on since it’s made of wool. I don’t know if that would have nourished the little beast, but without water for so long, that wouldn’t have been much help anyway.

My biggest fear was that the mouse would have gnawed its way through the siding of the cabin (not all that thick really) and given itself a passage to food and water then a retreat to spacious safety from predators. Worse, it might have brought back its mate. And in a month and a half, I suppose they could have set up family housekeeping in one of the mattresses on the bed.

None of that happened. The poor mouse died of dehydration and starvation. Not a pleasant way to go, but there was nothing I could do about it.

Curiously, when we had arrived at the cabin, we found the porch area right at the base of the cabin wall littered with mouse droppings. Libby wonders if the mate she had managed to capture and release had returned and pined away, trying to reach the mouse in the cabin night after night after night. Not a pleasant thing to think of either.

We are being more vigilant about keeping the cabin door closed when we’re inside or outside. If the mice that got in the cabin really had been evicted from their under-the-tarp nest when we’d moved it that last time, then we need to be vigilant since the newest location for the tarp is much closer to the cabin than before. Such are my troubles, right?

and the answer is . . .

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

rox

Many questions were answered by our most recent visit to Roundrock. The list of questions includes,

  • what of the mouse that we couldn’t get out of the cabin?
  • what of the phoebe nest on the front of the cabin with its endless supply of eggs?
  • what of the opossum that appeared trapped in the overflow drain on the dam?

and the newest question,

  • what of the lake?

Well, come back next week and I’ll give you some answers.

your firewood for the evening

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

firewood

Months and months ago, our neighbor in faraway suburbia had received a delivery of something or other on this pallet. Having no need for the pallet, she put it at the end of her driveway for the weekly trash pickup. However, it apparently was not on the list of acceptable rejectables, and it was left behind after the trash truck had come through.

Well, Paul and Libby have this little cabin in the woods where they sometimes have campfires, and couldn’t they take the pallet with them and burn it in their fire ring? Of course they could. So the pallet was moved to our back yard patio where it would await our next trip to Roundrock.

That next trip came and went, and we forgot to take the pallet with us. In fact, another trip came and went and we’d still forgotten it. Then, as you know, a month and a half passed without a single trip to our woods. So the pallet became a sort of long-term guest, getting moved around our yard as necessary. It even spent a few weeks in the bed of my truck when it looked like we were going to get to go to the woods (but didn’t).

But last weekend the stars finally aligned and we were able to go to Roundrock, remembering to load the pallet in the back of the truck along with all of our gear. And away we went.

I’ve busted up a few pallets in the past, and I expected to reduce this one to kindling and splinters with little difficulty. I was mistaken about that. This pallet was made of oak, and the sledge hammer bounced off the slats, sending ringing convulsions up my arms. When I was able to break the wood — after repeated bashings with the hammer — I found that in some places it was put together with long staples rather than nails, so separating the pieces from the framing was equally as difficult. But I persisted, and I slowly added the oak chunks to the now-smoldering fire.

firewood 2

With a little encouragement (dried leaves, mostly) I was able to urge flames again. Then the pallet was able to fulfill its destiny.

firewood 3

The oak slats made for great coals, over which we cooked our burgers. And then came time for long musing.

firewood 4

It was all certainly worth waiting for.