Archive for October, 2005

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Monday, October 31st, 2005

The big day is coming. This year it will be on November 15. That is the day that the Seedling Order Form comes online at the Missouri Department of Conservation website.

I’ve been ordering trees from the Department for years. The pecans, you know, have had a checkered success, and we’ve decided to stop trying to grow them in dry areas where can’t tend them sufficiently. (But some day we shall return!)

The pines have been a bigger success. Of the 50 we planted, I think 46 are surviving, and most of those are thriving. (It occurs to me now that the pecans might have actually done better in the soil at Blackberry Corner, but the pines would not have liked the wet areas below the dam.)

We’ve also ordered sumac from the Conservation Department. We planted those on the sides of the islands to shore them up, but I can’t say whether the sumac survived or not. If they are still there, they are swallowed up by the thick grass that has grown around them.

In addition, we planted 25 redbud seedlings among the trees overlooking the lakebed. In all of our hikes at Roundrock, we had never seen redbud trees growing. Not that they weren’t there, actually, but that we didn’t see them. It turned out that in some places, I was pushing existing redbud trees aside so I could plant new redbud trees. I didn’t realize it at the time because the leaves hadn’t come out, but now that the lakebed clearing has opened the forest, I’ve begun to see redbuds just about wherever I look. (Okay, that’s an overstatement.)

We also planted 25 dogwood trees. Dogwood is the official tree of the great state of Missouri, but we’d not seen any of these at Roundrock either. I’m confident that is because there really aren’t any dogwood at Roundrock. I don’t think the soil is suitable. As I understand it, dogwoods need a certain soil enzyme (or perhaps a certain soil fungus — wead Wily Wayne’s Wise, Wonderful Words bewow) on their roots in order to grow. Apparently, our county is deficient in this enzyme (or fungus). I’ve read that you should always dig a bit of soil from around an existing dogwood and throw that soil in the hole where you intend to plant a new dogwood. We didn’t do that. Now as we stumble through the woods and come across the little blue flags that mark where we had planted dogwood, we sometimes see the dessicated sticks of our past efforts. Once again, when we can be onsite more to tend to our babies, we will try again.

I’ve also planted a goodly number of hawthorn trees, though not at Roundrock. Hawthorn grows into a dense understory tree with sharp, imposing thorns. I had planted these along a disputed property line some years ago. Those planted on the ridgetop have done okay, and those in the deep soil of the valley are over my head already. The white hawthorn blossom is the official flower of the great state of Missouri, and the little apple-like fruits that grow from it make great wildlife food (and a pretty good jelly, I’m told). Unfortunately, hawthorns are highly susceptible to a type of fungus, and cedar trees in the area seem to help spread the fungus. Given that cedar is so common at Roundrock — a nearby county even has the name of Cedar — I don’t think we’re going to give hawthorns a try.

L and I have planted literally hundreds of trees from the Conservation Department, and I think our success rate with them might be a little bit above the expected average. In November, we will order more! I’d love to linger over the online catalog and dream about planting this and that, but the supplies run out quickly, and you have to act fast. Thus I’m making my plans now so that when the form comes online, I can make my order that day. Right now I’m thinking we’ll get another 25 pines so that we can replace those that died in Blackberry Corner and plant a few here and there in the forest as experiments. I think we’ll put some of these near the entrance to Roundrock too. The rest we’ll probably plant randomly throughout the forest to see what happens. The Dread Pirate Roberts had suggested that we plant a few pines in the dry areas where the pecans won’t grow below the dam. That’s worth a try.

I also plan to order more sumac for the sides of the islands. Try, try again.

There are also packages known as “quail bundles” that include plants — not trees — that are good for quail habitat and food. If I can think of where I might plant these, I’ll order a bundle of those.

A question yet to be resolved is whether we will have the seedlings delivered to our Kansas City home or whether we will make the three-hour drive to the state nursery to pick them up and then make the two-hour drive from there to Roundrock to begin planting them. The benefit to the former is that we save a lot of driving and time. The drawback is that they will arrive whenever they arrive. We need to get the seedlings into the ground as quickly as possible, and if they arrive on a Monday during a busy week at work, we may not be able to plant them until the following weekend. Whereas if we make the drive to the nursery, say on a Friday of our choosing, we can then devote the weekend to planting the tender young trees and generally reveling in the beauty at Roundrock. If I can somehow squeeze a really nice bed and breakfast stay into that weekend, I’m pretty sure I can convince L that the drive down is the better choice.

So I guess I’ll keep you informed as this little ambition of mine continues to evolve.

Winged Sumac

Sunday, October 30th, 2005

This was a happy surprise for Pablo. As far as we knew, we only had one sumac plant growing in all of Roundrock. It was a smallish, single-trunk plant growing on the north-facing hillside beside the wildflower island. But sumac seemed like a constant companion all those boyhood summers at Scout camp, and I knew the soil and climate at Roundrock should be able to support groves of the stuff.

To correct this oversight by the gods, L and I planted 25 sumacs we received (for 25 cents each) from the Missouri Department of Conservation on the north sides of the two islands. Our hope was — along with diversifying the plants, providing color, and providing seed for birds — to hold the sloping sides of the islands in place. Sumac reproduces vegetatively — it clones — by root runners that grow into separate plants. (It also reproduces by seed.) A thicket of sumac means an interwoven web of roots below the soil. You can see sumac deliberately planted on steep slopes along the highways in Missouri because of this anti-erosion growth habit.

Alas, when I last looked, not one of the sumacs we planted had survived the summer. As cheap as they are, though, we will probably try to replace them again this coming spring.

It was on one of our unexpectedly long hikes last summer that L and I came upon two sumac plants growing far up on the south-facing slope where it is dry and where they don’t get much sunlight. I didn’t think they favored these conditions, but there the plants were. So our total was up to three.

On my last solo trip I found yet another sumac growing on the south-facing slope, over the pecan plantation. It is a small plant, and I would have overlooked it had it not been blazing red in the pre-dawn light. Later that same day I found more red sumac. This was a small grove of four or five plants — all taller than I — also growing on the south-facing slope. The one in the photo atop is one of those in the small grove.

This variety is shining or winged sumac (rhus copallina). If you look closely you may be able to see the “wings” growing out of the stem between the leaflets.

I suppose what this means is that I generally overlook things like sumacs when I wander the woods doing my casual inventories of plants. It is possible that I have a good deal more sumac than I realize. The same may be the case with persimmons. I found one of those in an unexpected place recently. So much to learn!


Saturday, October 29th, 2005

I’ll tell you why this is beautiful. Because it is dry, and it has been dry for a while.

I took this photo down in the pecan plantation. Normally, we must push through tall stands of scrubby, water-loving plants as we pass through the pecans. Often, my boots can sink in four or five inches of flowing water. This water comes from poor Lake Marguerite, which leaks under the dam and floods parts of the pecan plantation.

When Lake Marguerite has drained itself to its natural pool — that from which it won’t drain any further — the flood in the pecans stops, as seen above. The natural pool is a small and pathetic thing. It is perhaps a quarter of an acre, and at most it is three feet deep in the center. But my thinking is that there is no leakage in this part of the lakebed.

Well, when I took the photo above on a recent visit to Roundrock, the leaking had obviously stopped — but the pool was much larger than in the past at this stage. The deep part was at least five feet, and the general dimension of the pool was twice the size of the prior natural pool.

Could this mean that the lakebed is beginning to seal itself? I don’t think we’ve thrown enuf Bentonite in to make much difference yet. The man who built the dam said that sometimes they can seal themselves with sufficient settling, but I think at that point he was saying what he thought I wanted to hear.

Whatever the reason, I’m pleased. In another 30 or 40 years, Lake Marguerite will be filled!

Smooth Sumac

Friday, October 28th, 2005

At least that’s what I think this is. I found this beauty after the sun had come up during my dawn solo hike some weeks ago. It was growing on the south side of the wildflower island. I was atop the island, shooting down, and that gravel you see below is where lake water is supposed to be.

I’m a beginning student of natural history, so I don’t mind not being sure of what exactly this plant is. This photo doesn’t show it, but the stems of this plant were purple at the time. According to what I’ve read about smooth sumac, the stems should be brownish. Maybe Roundrock has evolved its own variety. If not, this may be rhus glabra.

The gods may be having a laugh at me again. L and I had planted 25 sumac on the north side of both islands. As far as we can tell, none of them survived. But here is one that has come up on its own on the south side of an island. Well, I’ll take what I can get.

Just Add Water

Thursday, October 27th, 2005

Lake Marguerite’s current diminshed state has allowed us to visit past dreams, dreams that I guess are deferred rather than denied.

This, I’m sure you recognize, is the skeleton of a cedar three (which is actually a juniper, not a true cedar). It was dead and standing in the forest when the lakebed was cleared. Once the valley floor was open, the dead tree stood exposed on the future shoreline, looking a little unkempt. So #1 Son and I cut it down and dragged it into the lakebed.

It will make fine fish structure some day. It probably won’t rot in my lifetime, and certainly not in several lifetimes of the fishies in the lake. The fish will thank me by growing large and flavorful.

As you can see, we weighed it down with several substantial rocks, but at the time we didn’t anticipate the effects of buoyancy. When the lake filled after we had set this tree skeleton in place, the trunk end stayed in place, but the unweighted end rose to the surface, and the branches poked above the water in a way that offended Pablo’s aesthetic sense. (Had they been made of glass, I might not have objected.)

So the next chance we had, we returned to this tree and added more rocks to the other end of it. We also shaved off some of the longer branches that had offended the eye. Then the lake returned, and the tree tried to rise again — and did by shaking loose the smaller rocks we had added. And so it goes. Eventually, the wood will become waterlogged and it won’t float to the surface. But first I need a lake.

Dawn on the Dam

Wednesday, October 26th, 2005

This is a photo of dawn reaching into the Central Valley at Roundrock. I was standing on the dam, in the dark, when the light came over the horizon and lit up these trees to the NW. L and I, and Max, had hiked down here in the semi-dark so we could be here when dawn arrived. The sun peaked out briefly from the clouds and allowed me this shot, but for most of the morning, the clouds reigned.

Because Roundrock is mostly an oak forest, the fall colors come out as muted oranges and browns. The hickories, behind this hill, are yellow, but they tend to drop their leaves before the party has really started.

In a few more weeks, all of these leaves will have fallen and only the cedars will provide any color along the shoreline. For now, though, they paint a nice picture, and they’re even reflected nicely in the water.


Tuesday, October 25th, 2005

But we didn’t drive home to our comfy beds . . .

I don’t know if there is a blog rating service, but this post just might get me an R rating. I have consummated my relationship with Roundrock. I spent the night with my forest. I won’t say that I submitted to peer pressure since all of you — who have encouraged us to camp — are vastly superior to me and thus not my peers, but it has been an odd situation that L and I had never spent the night in our forest. Now that has changed.

We might have picked a better night to do the deed though. Shortly after we’d finished our steak dinners, the rain began to fall. It was a light rain, and under the yellow leaves of the hickories all about us, we were not getting very wet. Since it was growing cold, though, we didn’t want to get wet. We stuck around the campfire for as long as we could, but eventually we had to retreat to the shelter of our tent.

As you can see, this is not a suitable tent for winter camping. It is too tall, which allows all of the body heat of the sleepers to escape into the unused space above them. And notice that white triangle above the D-shaped door. That is mesh, and it goes all the way around the four sides of the tent. Thus any heat that the tent might have captured gets vented nicely to the night air.

We are veteran campers, though, and we were prepared. We changed into dry clothes and snuggled under the sleeping bags and blankets we had in surplus. I’m happy to say that we were not cold the entire night. Max disdained the warmth of the blankets and snuggled down on my discarded pants. All of this was a bit foreign to him. I think we’ve only taken him camping once before in his pampered life, so if he chose to sleep on something with a familiar scent, I can understand. He slept without complaint the entire night. Had the weather gotten the best of us, however, we still had the truck parked nearby. We could be reclining in the seats of the cab with blankets pulled up to our chins in no time.

We rose at 6:00 and dressed in the dark so that we could hoof our way to the dam and greet the dawn. The rain had stopped a few hours before. Above you see Max ambling ahead of us on the road to the dam. I suppose it was a half-mile walk, but we were moving so we weren’t cold. And we reached the dam in time to watch the sun come over the trees in the east and flood the valley with light.

Max must have sensed his primitive nature in the smells that kept his nose to the ground our entire time. I’ve read that coyotes will leave their droppings in the middle of roads and paths to let everyone who passes know who the big dog of the area is. Max found many of these signs. I could never hope to give an account as well written as Gnumoon has done with her Valle Crucis Horror, so I won’t even try, but suffice to say that Max found a way to add the general scent of the pack to his personal bouquet.

We devoted our morning to spreading the four bales of straw around the pecans, as one commentor advised. As L and I were tugging straw from the bales and stomping through the weeds to get to the trees, she asked who it was who said we should put down more. “It was a Pirate,” I answered, and that seemed sufficient to her.

Back at camp we had at least an hour of packing to do. The tent was wet from the rain, and we wanted it to get as dry as possible before we stuffed it in its sack for the ride home. (It now sits assembled in our garage, drying nicely.) The sun came out to warm our efforts, and it looked as though it might have been a good day to stay at Roundrock and hike about a bit. But we had things to do at home, and as we drove the 100+ miles thataway, we saw dark rain clouds converging in the west with designs on the east. I’m glad for the rain at Roundrock. Perhaps it will help the pecans and pines set themselves for a triumphant return in the spring. And maybe it will fill the lake a little too.


Monday, October 24th, 2005

And now, so late in the tale, we bring a new character onto the stage of the little drama called “Pablo’s Adventures at Roundrock.”

This fellow is Max. He’s been a member of the family for many years, and though he is a yappy, hair factory of a dog, he is sweet and, obviously, adorable. And he joined L and me on our trip to Roundrock after the Farm Tour on Saturday.

Max is a Sheltie, which is a sort of miniature Collie, and he likes to go after things that move, true to his herding lineage. We don’t take Max to Roundrock during the summer because of the insects. When he would come home from those visits, he would be scratching and biting at himself for days. And while it is relatively easy to find a tick on mostly hairless humans, Max can nourish a tick for weeks before its presence becomes known.

Thus we only take him to the forest after the cold has come and the bugs have gone.

We were on the road to Roundrock by soon after noon on Saturday, which may be the record for the latest time we have ever set out. We were determined, however, to enjoy a full day of work and fun (despite the gathering cold). The first thing we did after arriving was unload the truck. Why? Because we wanted to dash into town to buy more straw bales for mulching around the pecans, as was recommended to us.

We managed to get into town just as the feed store was closing, but the proprietor was willing to sell us the four straw bales he had left (at $4 apiece) before locking up and driving off with a huge load of fertilizer.

We’ve had rain in the area, including the Roundrock area, this past week, so we were able to engage in a comparatively rare activity whilst alone in the woods. No, not that. We had a campfire. Here it is in its early stage:

Among woodcraft folks there is a certain vanity about creating a “one-match” fire. That is, a fire that only requires one match to light successfully. As you can imagine, a successful “one-match” fire is more about preparation than about one’s deftness with a match. However, since the forest was wet from the recent rains, Pablo only managed a “two-match” fire. But it worked the same after that.

A nice campfire is good for many things, and among them is cooking bratwurst. And that was the plan except for the fact that we had done the Farm Tour that morning. One of the farms we visited was an organic cattle farm. It was a little sad because we were the only guests he had that day (so far). As a sort of courtesy, we bought two of what appear below:

I wasn’t paying attention, and the cattle farmer protested, while tallying our bill, that his wife was the accountant, but L and I later calculated that we paid $10 per pound for this meat. Well, everything tastes good when cooked over a campfire. After the appropriate time, those two pieces of meat transformed themselves into our dinner, which you can see here:

It was a fine repast, especially after a long day of work and general dashing about. And I think the only way it could have been made better was if Pablo had had the good sense to bring more than one Boulevard Wheat for each of us.

After dinner, we sat around the campfire, hoping that the clouds would part and we could see some serious starlight, but that wasn’t happening, In fact, the clouds began to drop water on us. The temperature was falling along with the rain, and our comfy beds were still two hours away.

Any Guesses?

Sunday, October 23rd, 2005

I’m not sure what to make of this bit of depredation.

When we first acquired Roundrock, L’s sister sent us two maple trees that were sired from the maples surrounding Walden Pond. This was a nice touch since our family and hers had visited the actual Walden Pond on what might have been the coldest day of the winter in Massachusetts that year.

Alas, the maples died. We couldn’t get out to water them often enuf, but because we had tried, it gave me the abiding ambition to get some maples going at Roundrock.

The two Walden maples came with nifty planting cylinders that were supposed to give them a greenhouse effect and to help them begin growing straight. So, the trees died, but the cylinders remained, and I thought that I might use them at some future time for some other trees I would plant. I left the cylinders in the ground by the pond where I could easily retrieve them later.

Except that on my most recent trip, I found this had happened to one of the cylinders. Obviously, some critter had chewed its way into (out of?) the cylinder. But why? There was nothing in there that I knew of. Some wasps had shown some interest in the cylinder before, so perhaps there was a nest there. But if so, there was no evidence of it on my visit.

Well, another mystery to add to my collection.

(The other cylinder had been knocked down — probably by rubbing deer — so ingress and egress are easy. It occurs to me now that I can use it for one of my backyard maple saplings when I move it to Roundrock on our next visit.)

Preparations are Underway . . .

Saturday, October 22nd, 2005

but first the Miami County Farm Tour. (That’s in Kansas, folks.) So stay tuned.