Archive for the 'Homey Touches' Category

Shade that is made

Friday, May 22nd, 2009


It’s not all gloom and doom at Roundrock these days. Libby and I managed to find things to enjoy down there on our last visit. Like this unlikely bit of sun dappled open space in the middle of the forest overlooking the lake. It may look slightly familiar to some of you, in some way you can’t quite explain.

Well, maybe the addition in the picture below will help you place it:


That’s right. Despite my plans for raising a small cabin on this spot, we invested far fewer dollars in a new tarp and some rope so we could create our shade shelter instead. Doesn’t it look crisp?

This is the third incarnation of the shelter at Roundrock. We’re getting pretty good at putting these up now. It only took us an hour this time. Of course we had the benefit of the ridge line already being in place and fence posts at the four corners already pounded into the unyielding Ozark hardpan. We knew our knots. The only hard part was throwing the tarp over the taut ridge line. The tarp is longer than it is wide, and we found that our first placement of it over the line was the wrong way, so we had to pull at the corners to drag the tarp over the line to set it right. Then it was simply a matter of  tying it off and snugging up the lines at the four corners, and we had ourselves a shady shelter, ready for our use in the sweltering, blistering, incinerating hot days of the coming summer.

I really had been planning to put a small, one-room cabin here. I had the money saved up for it. But at the back of my mind I knew we had work to do on the dam spillway and on the road through our land. Then, of course, we had the unexpected erosion problem on the dam itself. So most of that cabin-allotted money will be redirected to more urgent needs. Thus the cabin plans will have to wait until some money falls magically from the sky. Just my luck, it will fall in the form of rain. But that’s gloom and doom talk.

The shelter was incomplete, as you might imagine. It was shady beneath it, but nobody wants to sit on the ground. Thus once we had the shelter duly set up, we installed the most required component: new comfy chairs!


Don’t they look welcoming? After all of our hard work (fretting about the dam being a big part of it) we decided to test the chairs. In terms of providing a comfy, stupor-inducing state, they deliver quality!

I was worried that the red might look wrong in the middle of the forest, but it doesn’t. Not to my eye (and it is my forest — I mean as much as a person can really own a piece of land). The red is more muted than, say, Prolechariot, and will probably perform its best in the fall.

So some things are set right again at Roundrock. And now I’ll count my small pleasures for a while rather than counting my dollars.

Missouri calendar:

  • Green sunfish and bluegill begin nesting.
  • Antlers begin to grow on white-tailed deer bucks.

Fallen, not yet replaced

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

I mentioned in Monday’s post about “another little matter” that I could have used the post driver for had I brought it on our recent trip to Roundrock. You see it above.

The former tree that we have tethered the front of our shelter tarp to for years finally abandoned its relationship with the ground. Sometime since our last visit, the ersatz post had snapped at the base, dragging down the front of the tarp with it.

The tree had been alive when we first tied the tarp to it years ago. We’d removed some lower branches, but it had a green crown that had found a bit of sunlight above and was doing fine. Then we arrived one day to find the top of the tree had snapped off and had fallen on the tarp. (I think I made a post about that then.) We cleaned all of that up and reattached the tarp; the trunk of this small tree was still solid, and it had stayed that way for years. Now the rot at its base has finished its work, and I suppose a strong wind making the tarp flap a bit was enuf to bring down the small tree.

This front tether is important because it keeps the tarp taut so that water (and snow and leaves) won’t pool in the otherwise slouching fabric. I’ll need to sink a steel post in front of the shelter so I can tie the tether to it in place of the small tree. Had I brought the post driver, I would have done it on our recent visit since I did have a spare steel post. Unlike the good soil in the pine plantation, the ground here is unyielding hardpan. I could not have pounded in a post using a brick (as I had among the pines).

So that will be on the agenda for our next visit (after firearm deer season is over in less than a week). I’ll have to remember the post driver, of course. And I imagine that about the time I get this fixed properly, the tarp itself will need replacing. It’s tattered in places where there is some tension on the fabric, and I won’t be surprised to find it has ripped beyond salvage.

Missouri calendar:

  • Scan leafless trees for gray nests of bald-faced hornets.

Today in Missouri history:

  • The University of Kansas Jayhawks defeated the #1 ranked University of Missouri Tigers in Columbia, Missouri by a score of 17-0 on this date in 1960, giving the Tigers a 10-1 season. But the Jayhawks were on probation and couldn’t play in the bowl game the win had earned them. Then it turned out that Jayhawk running back Bert Coan had been ineligible to play, so the Tigers won by forfeit the game (and the title) they had lost.

Two chairs

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

On an average day, we have six comfy chairs in our forest at Roundrock. (If we know we’re going to have guests, we might bring along a few more chairs, but let’s say we have an average of six.) There are two under the shady tarp; there are two at the new campsite deep in the woods; and then there are these two on Libby’s Island.

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t use these two chairs much because they’d be on an island, an island surrounded by water, and we wouldn’t want to get our toes wet wading to the island just to sit in some chairs. Unfortunately, the world (or the dam) isn’t perfect (in case you haven’t noticed for yourself), and we can nearly always get to this island without getting our feet wet. Regardless, we don’t use these two chairs much. We just never seem to take ourselves over to the island for a sit down. I don’t know why, but that’s the way it is.

You may be able to discern in this photo a small tree growing up through the arms of the chairs. There is also grass growing up through the seat. That can tell you how long it had been since we had visited the island. Normally we lean these chairs against a tree so that the seats don’t accumulate a lot of debris, but some capricious wind must have blown them upright in the past months, and since we hadn’t been by, we hadn’t noticed.

When we finally did visit, we were able to determine that the chairs continue to work as well as when we put them there. We had gone to the island to scatter some coneflower seeds, but it took me a long time to do that since I spent so much time testing the chairs.

Missouri calendar:

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

Today in Missouri history:

  • Frankie and Johnny were lovers, so the song goes, but the real-life couple who inspired the tune lived in St. Louis where they loved and quarrelled. That came to an end when Frankie Baker stabbed Johnny (his name was actually Allen Britt) on this date in 1899.

Firewood at hand

Thursday, June 5th, 2008


One of our tasks when we were out at Roundrock last weekend was to get our firewood off of the ground. Over the years we’ve made dozens of piles of firewood directly on the ground. With the exception of the cedar, all of this wood quickly rots into a pulpy lump that’s no good in the fire. (Nor is cedar very desirable in our fires since it pops and snaps and sends embers into the leaves beyond the fire ring.)

Seth had taken down a tree in our campsite area a month or so before, and he had cut it into nice lengths that we then stacked on the ground. Meanwhile, back at home in the basement we had this old wood rack sitting idle and unloved. In one of those mysterious moments that visit me too infrequently, I thought that perhaps we could take the rack out to the forest and use it to store our firewood off of the ground. Two purposes would be served. We’d get the wood off of the ground, of course, but we’d also get another piece of stuff out of our frighteningly packed basement.

You can see that the rack is no longer in its prime. The bottom struts are cracked, giving the ring an egg shape, which is actually kind of pleasing to look at.

I need to bring the sledge and wedge out to the woods so I can split some of those thicker logs. I ought to do it soon so the wood can age better. But then I think about the heat and humidity of the coming summer and how unpleasant that work will be. So instead I just sit in the comfy chair and look at the wood in the rack, thinking in abstractions about the work that needs to be done.

Missouri calendar:

  • Catfish fry leave nests.
  • Eastern kingbirds nest and defent territories fiercely.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Samuel Hawken arrived in St. Louis on this date in 1822. Soon after, he and his brother began manufacturing the Hawken rifle, a sturdy, reliable, and powerful instrument suited to the settling of the west.
  • The American Bullfrog became the official state amphibian on this date in 2005.

Saturday Matinee – 3.29.2008

Saturday, March 29th, 2008

When I said last Saturday that I didn’t have any video for you, I misspoke. I found this interesting tidbit in my archive, way back behind the hundreds of photos of deer I have from the game cameras.

Spring seemed to be in a hurry to get to my part of the Ozarks on this day and was rushing through the trees. Apparently it thought better of the idea and yielded to winter a couple of times since then. Still, I was able to get this video of our shelter tarp. We’ve since snugged up the lines so the tarp will behave more respectfully.

Missouri calendar:

  • Double-crested cormorants arrive at wetland areas late this month.

Today in Missouri history:

  • The cornerstone for the first Catholic cathedral west of the Mississippi was laid on this date in 1818. Though the mostly wooden building lasted only 17 years, its successor stands on the riverfront in St. Louis to this day.

Seeking shelter

Saturday, January 5th, 2008


Sorry I don’t have a matinee for you today as I have on recent Saturdays. It seems that my camera takes movies in a format that makes them large files. Some of these have been too large to upload to the Yahoo video service (or the YouTube one). I do, however, have a bit of software on order that will smoothly compress my zaftig videos and make them more manageable.

The shot above is of the shelter tarp as seen from the vantage of one of the comfy chairs beneath it. The dark band running north/south is a seam in the fabric. The line running east/west is the ridge line on which the tarp rests. The last time I rebuilt the tarp shelter, I made sure that I could tighten the ridge line more easily, thus allowing me to snug up the arrangement to keep the tarp taut and so better able to withstand the weather. Given all of the snow and ice that has fallen from the sky in recent weeks, I hope my plan has worked. (It’s been more than a month since I was last at Roundrock!)

Three of our four children (two with spouses) have scattered with the winds. Our daughter and her excellent husband are back in their cozy home in Oregon. Our youngest son and his lovely wife are in their cozy apartment on the wind swept plains of western Kansas. His twin brother is returning today from Florida where he attended the Orange Bowl (it’s some sort of sporting event). Only #1 Son is still with us, and that’s fine. The turmoil in Kenya seems to have grown worse rather than better, so his return there has been put off again.

We have shelter here for as long as he needs it.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

Today is Missouri History:

  • In 1917, Sarah Jane Mayfield is born in St. Joseph, Missouri. She is later known by the name of Jane Wyman.

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.

Fire flower

Monday, October 22nd, 2007
fire life.JPG

This solitary sprout greeted us when we got to our new camp at Roundrock several weeks ago. You see that it is growing up through the grill, having found purchase in the soot and ash of the camp fire station.

I have no doubt that many plants prefer the type of soil found in a fire ring, but there are strips in our forest when trees don’t grow that I have attributed to them having been the site of burn piles. I’ve always thought that a “scorched earth” plan was intended to make land non-arable.

Before we built our fire, I raked all of the fallen leaves away within a ten-foot diameter. Safety first, and all that. Also, I do not park my truck that close to the fire. The “road” to our campsite is tight and twisty, and I have to jockey the truck back and forth to turn it around and slip into its dedicated parking space. At the time I took the photo above, I had simply not yet done the jockeying work.

Missouri calendar:

  • Don’t miss the fall colors of cypress and tupelo gum trees at a swamp in the Bootheel.

4.29.2007 – Part Three

Saturday, May 5th, 2007


With a morning of tree planting behind us and an afternoon of it ahead of us, we knew we couldn’t linger under the tarp forever. But the view of the lake was alluring, and the chairs didn’t want to let go, so it was with a bit of effort that rose from our post-lunch stupor and got ourselves back in the spirit of doing chores.

Our first task was to restring the tarp so that it would hold itself together a little longer. (It would be nice if it lasted through the summer to shelter us from the sun.) The old rope we had used was little more than twine, and it wasn’t staying in place on the posts, so the tarp didn’t stay under tension. It flapped in the breeze, and one corner had come loose altogether, whipping itself into a tattered state, as you can see here.

tattered tarp.JPG

We had a wide selection of ropes and prices at the big box hardware store, and we opted for a nylon rope, which you see in the top photo and which was too dazzling to photograph in full sunlight, so I shaded it with my body to take the picture. That’s supposed to be a taut line hitch I tied, but I think it may be a bit modified. I changed the knot after I tied it the first time so that it would keep more straight line tension on the rope. Works for me anyway.

Once we had the tarp snugged up sufficiently, we turned our enthusiasm toward planting the remaining shortleaf pines in the ground.

You will recall that the center of the pecan plantation has been a graveyard for pecan trees. It doesn’t get enuf water, and the soil is mostly gravel. But I understand that pines can thrive in these conditions, so we took ourselves and our bundle of remaining pines down to the pecan plantation and got to work.

This area is planted in a grid, and it was easy to find where a pecan tree should have been growing (but wasn’t). And it was in some of these spots that we put in the pines. When I looked up from our work after a short while, I realized that we had planted eight pines in the middle of the pecan plantation. They are in parallel lines, so some day we may have an alley of pines down there. Anyway, it will be educational to watch how the pines do in this harsher habitat. (None of the pecans have leafed out yet. It looks grim down there right now, but maybe in a few weeks . . .)

Whilst down there, we wandered over to the outlet for the overflow drain. It was still pushing water against the rocks I had thrown in there a couple of weeks before, but the pressure was not as strong, and perhaps by now the flow has stopped altogether.

About this time, Libby mentioned that she had never seen the Old Man of the Forest. So we thought we would make that our last hike of the day, planting pines as we went.

The Old Man is not on any of the trails we have made (yet), and it is in a remote part of our forest. We only had maybe ten trees left to plant, but we were both justly tired, and the heat was gathering for its afternoon assault. So in my mind’s eye, I tried to figure how we could get to it as much as possible in the truck, leaving the actual footwork to a minimum. And it turned out that if we parked at the entrance to our woods and simply hiked down the creekbed that begins there, this would be the shortest distance.

And so we did. The creek does not travel in a straight line here, and in much of the distance it strays onto our neighbor’s property, so we found ourselves going up and down and over and around. But soon the creek sorts out all of the topography and even flattens out some to allow hiking along it. On most of our hikes along here the creekbed is dry, but on this warming Sunday, there was water in it, both flowing and standing. We saw a number of flowering plants and even one understory tree that was just full of clusters of white flowers. I’d never seen this kind of tree in my forest before, and I took some pictures of it that I’ll share with you.

Planting opportunities were not good along the creek, as you might imagine. The ground there is mostly rock. But when we left the creekbed to climb the hill to the Old Man of the Forest, actual soil made an appearance.

Libby was duly impressed with the Old Man. We found a nearby log and sat to admire it, enjoying a couple of bottles of water and the birdsong all around us. We speculated about why this cedar is so much larger and older than the other cedars in our forest, and the only conclusion we reached is that by being perched near the top of a steep slope, it was too much trouble to be cleared by the ranch hands back in the day.

But there was still some work to do, so we pushed ourselves upright and began poking around, looking for the right combination of open canopy and decent soil. We managed to plant all but three of the pines on this north-facing slope, which will give me another different environment to watch the trees grow in. It was time to turn our steps back to the truck though, and down in the creekbed, which begins to widen a bit at this point, we found some deep, rich-looking soil between the rocks for the remainder of the trees.

Thus we managed to put fifty pine trees in the ground that Sunday. I should start thinking about what to order next year, but I think I’ll contemplate swimming in my full lake instead.

Missouri calendar:

  • Hawthorns are blooming in open areas.
  • Raccoons bear young.


Thursday, February 1st, 2007


Unlike yesterday’s post, the title of this post is a literary reference. Those of you who have immersed yourself in Ozark regional literature will, of course, get my reference. For the rest of you, however, here you go:

Half-gods is the title of an unjustly obscure novel by Murray Sheehan, published in 1927 and long-since out of print (even out of copyright). It is a fantasy tale set in the Ozarks of southwestern Missouri (though clearly it is actually set in Fayetteville, Arkansas). In this well-written tale, a centaur is born to a horse on an Ozark hill farm. After some astonishment by the locals, the centaur eventually becomes an accepted part of the community. The centaur begins by speaking ancient Greek but eventually “progresses” to Ozark hill speech, and the story ends with the centaur becoming a good old boy and hanging out with the other loafs in front of the town store.

The theme of the story, I think, is that culture and refinement are wasted on the rural bumpkins of the Ozarks. (Nor is the local university spared; the chancellor there is far more interested in securing donors than in advancing knowledge.) Ozarkers have bristled at this kind of characterization ever since it began. (Another novel, The Woods Colt by Thames Williamson, which is considered the most accurate novel to depict the typical Ozark dialect, is a tale of lust and betrayal and gun play and murder and sloth — and it is what many people thought of when they imagined life in the rural Ozarks. A great hue and cry was raised over this novel when it came out, with locals saying they were being unfairly and inaccurately depicted as a bunch of inbred hillbillies. The book became famous as a result.)

But much of what Sheehan describes in Half-gods is accurate. He has one passage in which he describes the typical decline of a piece of Ozark property, noting the accumulation of trash and other junk in the yard and the rundown condition of the house and out buildings. (This is, no doubt, true for other parts of the country.) Here is a thematic passage:

“He reminds me,” he added finally, tucking the two appendages into the opening of his coat, and loosing his chin gently, “of a bit of our own fertile ground roundabouts here in the Ozarks. It is capable of putting forth the fairest of flowers and fruits and shrubs. And yet, look at what all of the people between here and Roosevelt have made of it . . . including (you must pardon me) your own family. Their front yards are an abomination in the sight of the Lord, hideous, barren, stark, and utterly devoid of all beauty and wonder. Generally they are graced with the wreck of an ancient Ford. When one thinks what they would have been in their original state of nature, sometimes one doubts his fellow-creatures.”

I don’t say all of this as a way to be haughty or judgmental. Rather, I confess to a degree of this guilt myself. When I came upon our shelter during my most recent visit to Roundrock, Sheehan’s words sprang into my mind. Now, aside from interlopers, no one is going to see my contribution to Ozark squalor, but I felt pretty shabby about my unmet responsibilities. Yes, it is easier to walk the woods and look for the pretty things rather than clean up the messes I’ve made.

I untied the last remaining line from the corner of the tarp. My intention was to fold it and stow it somewhere until I could come back and fix the tarp properly, but the thing was still covered with a few hundred pounds of snow, so I did not. (In fairness to myself, I had already thought that I shouldn’t spend any more time in the woods than I had to at this point since the weather was beginning to turn.)

Ozarkers are no different from people everywhere. There are hard-working folk and there are lazy slobs. There are those who are careful with their investments and those who buy lottery tickets. There are people of integrity and there are thieves. There are Democrats and Republicans.

As with most things, it is the most visible that we take as typical. Thus if one sees vivid squalor in one part of the Ozarks, one can imagine this is how all of the Ozarks is. So I need to be more careful about my little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks.

Missouri calendar:

  • Cedar waxwings flock to feed on cedar berries and other fruit.
  • Groundhogs breed through March.