Archive for August, 2005

Anachronistic Post

Sunday, August 21st, 2005

I don’t think our part of Missouri has yet turned the corner into the milder fall temperatures, which is to say I’m pretty sure it will be as hot as blazes for at least a few more visits to Roundrock.

So I offer this photo of Lake Marguerite from last winter, when it was frozen over. L and I will venture down to Roundrock in the winter when there is at least the possibility that the daytime temperatures will reach into the thirties. That’s actually pretty good working and hiking and exploring weather, and if we get some sunshine as well, it can be pleasant.

Thus it was on the day I took this photo. This shot is looking to the SE, so at my feet was the NW shore of the lake. The ice was melting here, and the beginning of a watery ring around the entire ice pack was forming.

Before that happened, though, we had the chance to experience some lake sounds we had never heard before. The ice was cracking, and because of the nature of the dam the gods have blessed us with, we were provided with an interesting concert.

Here is what I think was happening: The ice had formed on the top of the water. The dam continued to leak water, so the ice became “suspended” over the falling water. Under its own weight the ice began to crack. The sound of the cracking reverberated in the hollow space below the ice and carried across the valley.

The booms were drawn out and would last several seconds. Every few minutes another boom came. They sounded like thunder or a loud jet passing overhead. The cracking began as the sun, low on the horizon in winter, first struck the ice, and it continued for about an hour — an hour L and I spent sticking close to the lake area so we could enjoy this novel experience. By then I guess all of the significant cracking was finished because it was less frequent and prolonged.

I’m not sure if all lakes boom like this when the ice cracks or if it is a phenomenon isolated to lakes with leaky dams. But I add it to my column of Roundrock adventures, and I hope I get the chance to experience it again.

Century Club

Saturday, August 20th, 2005

I hope you will excuse this self-indulgent entry today. This marks my 100th post to Roundrock Journal. When I started down this road, I never thought that I would have enuf to say to reach half this far. Yet here I am, and I think I still have a few more adventures and discoveries to recount.

Those who bother to go through the archives and actually count my posts will find that only 98 have appeared online. I wrote two stop-gap entries to slip in whenever I am completely befuddled about what to say. And it appears that I have only missed posting one day since Roundrock Journal came online, and that was when I was out of town at the forestry conference. I think I’ve made up for it with at least two days when I made more than one post.

I realize that 100 posts hardly makes this blog an oldtimer, but from what I’ve seen in the cyber universe, that pushes Roundrock Journal far ahead of most blogs that are ever started.

So to all of the folks who read this blog (both of you) I say thank you for coming along, and I’ll try to keep telling you about my great adventure at Roundrock, a little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks.

And if you’ve read this far, here is a picture of Pablo to reward your patience (or endurance):

Bring on the Winter!

Friday, August 19th, 2005

As odd as it sounds, I’m looking forward to the first hard frost at Roundrock. That is when I get to sow the wildflower seeds I recently purchased at the Botanical Garden in St. Louis. (Whenever I am traveling, I try to visit the local botanical gardens if I have the time. I’ve been to many, and so far, the best is still the one I grew up with — the one in St. Louis, of course!)

L and I have an ambition to cover the original island in Lake Marguerite with wildflowers, and we made a pretty good start at it one year. We found one of those canisters of wildflower seeds at one of the big-box stores that sells everything. We had them around the house for a long time before it dawned on one or the other of us that we could cast them about the island and see what happened.

I don’t know what seeds were in there, but some pretty little things have come up on the island the last few years, and they may be the result of our random casting. Unfortunately, I don’t know if the plants are Missouri natives or not, and this is a concern given my land ethic for Roundrock. (I don’t want to jeopardize my standing in the Sparkleberry Springs Local Stewardship Project.)

But the seeds I purchased while in St. Louis are specifically native to Missouri.

I also picked up some seeds at Powell Gardens not too far from Kansas City to supplement my choices above.

These seeds are provided by the Missouri Wildflowers Nursery, and the display rack at the gift shop had several dozen varieties. I picked those that did not require any special treatment before sowing. I’m not sure if you can read the varieties in the photo, so here you go: Purple Poppy Mallow (callirhoe involucrata), Sweet Coneflower (rudbeckia subtomentosa), Bush’s Poppy Mallow (callirhoe bushii), Joe-Pye Weed (eupatorium purpureum), Purple Prairie Clover (dalea purpurea), White Wild Indigo (baptisia alba), New England Aster (aster novae-angliae), and Southern Prairie Aster (aster pludosus).

By happy coincidence, I managed to make a selection that will mean there should be a continuous parade of flowers on the island from June through October in my zone. So bring on the killing frosts!

Coneflower

Thursday, August 18th, 2005

This beauty is growing on the road leading down to our dam. It’s a solitary specimen, and I didn’t have the heart to take it down when I was applying the grass whip to the growth on the top of the dam.

From what I can tell from my Peterson guide, this is gray-headed coneflower (raltibida pinnata), though only the smallest flower here betrays the flower’s namesake.

Our woods are filled with wildflowers, and it is our misfortune not to be out there when this or that variety is in bloom.

We were out at Roundrock when these were in bloom:

My Peterson guide leads me to think that this is tickseed-sunflower (bidens aristosa), which favors “wet meadows, swampy spots.” This photo is from down in the pecan plantation — the swampy part of the pecan plantation. You can see the top of the dam in the background, and if you look to the lower left, you can see some of the standing water that the leaky dam so generously provides. In fact, we can stand on the dam and look down at the plantation, knowing where the wet spots are based on the type of plants we see growing there. A hundred feet away, I have pecans dying from lack of water. But at least I have a vibrant display of these tickseed.

Whose Woods These Were . . .

Wednesday, August 17th, 2005

. . . I wish I knew.

As I’ve said once or twice before, evidence of the past uses of the 80+ acres that comprise Roundrock is hard to come by. There are the two cow skeletons and the deeply rutted paths to confirm that this was once a ranch. And there is the remnant of the sign the Have to Hunt club hung when they used the land. But beyond that, I don’t ever find much.

Of course, L and I have left some large footprints on the land — more than just our shoe sizes. The gravel road. The two fire rings. The dam. The lake. The planted groves.

So I always like to stop and ponder when I come across some other sign of human influence in the forest. Such as this:

I wonder what the point of all this effort was. If you look closely, you can see that this tree was taken down neatly with a saw. The stump itself is about two feet in diameter, so it was no easy task to cut it. The job was deliberate, but why was it done?

It could be that a rancher cut it down to allow more grass to grow. This stump is certainly much larger than any trees now growing in the area. Or maybe a forester wanted to harvest the timber, only to find the tree hollow inside. That would explain why the trunk is still there on the ground. Perhaps it was a walnut, but its lumber value was diminished when its hollow core was revealed. (This is in the same area as the walnut L and I found recently.)

In all of our walks through Roundrock, we have found only two other stumps that have been deliberately sawed by human hands. Neither makes much sense in its context — they were small trees at the time they were taken down.

Early in the spring, when I first came upon the trunk above, the cavity in the base was lined with leaves that had been pressed into a bowl shape. A turkey might have nested here, though that much work seems excessive for the type of nests turkeys create.

Well, it is just another puzzle that brings me back to the woods.

Here, not There

Tuesday, August 16th, 2005

What you see here are two things.

The intended picture is the cypress tree inside the cage. (Can you distinguish it?) This is not the cypress by the pond that is doing so well, but one of the two cypress trees L and I planted beside the lake. These have not done as well as the pond cypress, mostly because the lake has never sustained a full pool, so these trees are as high and dry as the rest of the nearby forest. They are surviving, though.

What you also see are native Blackeyed Susan plants, growing nicely unbrowsed in the security of the cage.

When we first came to Roundrock, L and I tried repeatedly to get Blackeyed Susans growing along the road just inside our entrance. The area beside the road here is open and gets good sunlight, and we thought that driving along a road skirted by two long, dense beds of the happy yellow flowers would be an excellent welcome. Yet despite several generous seedings and even transplantings from our suburban backyard, the plants never established themselves. So we’ve put that plan on hold.

Yet as though the gods were mocking us, just about everywhere else we look at Roundrock, we see Blackeyed Susan plants. Not deep, continuous beds, but certainly healthy and happy looking individual plants. These are natives, adapted to living in the particular conditions that present themselves at Roundrock. The seeds and plants we tried to start were a different variety, accustomed to being coddled.

One of our undone chores now is to note where these cheery plants are growing so that we can return later to harvest the seed heads. Then we will scatter them along the road by our entrance, and perhaps these natives will survive and eventually thrive.

I suspect that chore will have to wait until next year though. Most of the Susans have dropped their bright petals, so they won’t be easy to find, and the birds have been working on the seed heads, so there may not be much to harvest.

Still, it sounds like a good idea.

Fool Me Once

Monday, August 15th, 2005

During our last two trips to Roundrock, L and I have been dutiful about watering the planted trees since the rains have been sparse. However, our efforts in the pecan plantation have proven disheartening.

Only about a third of the pecans are still alive. They are the usual ones: those that get reliable water (from the leaky dam) and those in the better soil. The great mass of treelings in the center of the acre are, by and large, burnt to a crisp. This has been the pattern for the last two years.

A little harder to understand are the four (of fifty) dead pine trees we have found. (I should say that I don’t consider this to be a significant loss at all.) All fifty seem to be in the same circumstance. The soil is the same for each, and our watering efforts have been consistent for each of them. They all get the same amount of sunlight. I can’t puzzle out why these four have died, but more than that, I don’t understand why some of the pines have tripled in size while others have not grown an inch since planting.

I think I do understand why the pecans are failing, which leads to the reluctant conclusion that I should not keep fighting so hard. I don’t think we will replace the dead pecans this coming spring.

L pointed out that we can’t expect universal success if we are not around to water the trees every day. We make one or two visits a month. The dry time between is probably more than long enuf to kill a small tree.

Instead, she wisely suggested, we should cultivate the wild trees that are managing to come up in the pecan plantation. While much of the setting may not be ideal for pecans, other trees are finding a footing. Among the volunteers I’ve seen are sycamore and cottonwood (trees we haven’t seen anywhere else at Roundrock) and some kind of oak I haven’t identified yet (probably a chinkapin). There are also some hickory trees coming up.

Later, she suggests, when we have made the move to Roundrock, we can reconsider the pecans and other trees (like dogwoods) that need more tending.

The odds favor nature, and we have always known we were taking a gamble when we planted our trees.

So the adventure continues.

(This does leave a dilemma though. What to do with the three pecans I have been nurturing in the large pot of enriched soil on my deck? Should I move them to Roundrock this fall? Would that mean certain death? Would they stand a chance? Would the transition shock be too great? I can’t leave them in the pot much longer, so I’ll have to make some decision soon. I may just take them to some favorable looking spots on the north-facing slope where they might stand a better chance than they would in the pecan plantation. Stay tuned.)

Mighty Pole Forest

Sunday, August 14th, 2005

This is part of the forest at Roundrock.

This is not typical forest at Roundrock.

This is the Mighty Pole Forest at Roundrock.

I took this shot when L and I were exploring the SE corner of our land, the area we don’t visit often enuf. These trees fall into the “pole” classification. None has a diameter greater than six inches at the base, and most are much smaller than that. We were not very far from the southern line of our property, and beyond the fence there, the neighbor has kept open a wide avenue of grass so he can get his equipment in.

I mentioned earlier that when I looked at a satellite photo of the area from more than 10 years ago, parts of what would one day be Roundrock were more open — and probably more grassy — than they are today. The Mighty Pole Forest was one of those areas. These trees look to be less than 15 years old, based on my little experience with aging trees (mostly in my back yard), and it is likely these are not growing under ideal conditions: they are crowded; the soil is probably not that deep; they suffer drought. We didn’t explore the entire extent of the Mighty Pole Forest, but I guess there are at least three acres that look about like this.

I’m not sure why this area didn’t grow as fast as the rest of Roundrock once the 80 acres were abandoned by the ranchers. Farther down the slope from here, there are several giant oaks that must be at least 100 years old, but in this area, there are no dominating trees that would have stolen all of the sunlight. Yet look how shady the area is. This photo, looking SW, was taken at about mid-day, but the forest floor is shaded by the competing pole trees.

I think a lot of good work could be devoted to this area. I could thin these trees easily while they are small, allowing selected trees to remain and thrive without all of the competition. This would also allow the re-emergence of the grasses that I suspect are dormant below the soil. And then maybe the bobwhite quail might find it all favorable.

Roundrock Hinterland

Saturday, August 13th, 2005

For convenience sake, and for a little whimsey, L and I have started giving names to areas at Roundrock. There is Blackberry Corner, which is really a pine plantation. There is the pecan plantation, which is not much of a plantation. There is Lake Marguerite, which is not often a lake. And Wildflower Island, which has never been an island. There is the Greenway, which is actually a road. There is the Council Ring, which we haven’t circled around in years. And there is the Central Valley, which pretty much is what it says.

I’ve thought that perhaps we should call the SE corner our Hinterland. In the years before we had the road cut in, the SE corner was the most remote and least visited corner of our land. When we hiked there on an August day, we knew we had traveled. Now with the road leading to the dam and the dam leading to the SE corner, we still don’t visit the area very much. Thus a Hinterland. The photo above is from our Hinterland. Surely it is home to some forest critter, though maybe fairies or elves live there.

The world is full of hinterlands. I’m sure they can be found in Florida, Washington, Alabama, Illinois, Georgia, Ontario, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and plenty of other places. There’s even one here.

The tree cavity certainly looks frequently visited. Too bad. L and I have been looking for a tree where we might fashion a little doorway into the tree — just for the whimsey.

One day, L and I found ourselves at a wonderful bed and breakfast not too far from Port Townsend, Washington. That’s where we got the idea for the doorway in the tree. Certainly fairies and elves could live here.

Fellow Swimmers

Friday, August 12th, 2005

When L and I have been swimming in the lake, we’ve had plenty of company. There are the newly discovered fish, many frogs, our turtle friend, snails, the occasional duck, and thousands of these little guys:

As best I can tell, our flotilla of guests are water boatmen. (No, I did not take that picture. Colin Milkins did.)

On all of our recent visits, we have had a mass of silvery insects swirling about on the surface of the lake, always near the north shore. They don’t stand still long enuf to be counted, but there are easily thousands of them. From what I’ve read about water boatmen, these seem to match. They are like silvery bubbles on the water, and water boatmen capture air in the hairs around their bodies, giving them a silver sheen.

As I’ve watched them, they will gather in a tight mass, and then for some reason that I can’t discern, they will suddenly separate and spread like oil across water. On our last visit, as we sat under the shelter tarp enjoying our post-lunch stupor, we could see them all swimming in a line toward the center of the lake. What would motivate this kind of behavior?

I suppose they favor Lake Marguerite right now because there are no predators to devour them. If the little fishies that are in the lake manage to survive the winter and continue to grow next spring, they may find a handy food supply waiting for them.