Archive for November, 2005


Wednesday, November 30th, 2005

I took the afternoon off, having spent the morning re-grouting the tile wall in our shower, and decided to make this post about another sort of remodeling.

This is a former birdhouse that we had hung on a tree in the forest at Fallen Timbers. I think it was originally intended for bluebirds, though there is no evidence that any bluebirds ever used it. When Libby and I visited Fallen Timbers recently, we wandered over to the area where we had hung this house. We found it resting on the ground, full of some sort of mush. We also found the bluebird-sized opening considerably enhanced, to about squirrel size.

Fallen Timbers does not have as much standing dead timber as Roundrock. The trees at Fallen Timbers tend to be older and larger (those that weren’t harvested by past owners), and while they may have den holes in them, there probably aren’t as many as at Roundrock. Thus it is not unlikely that a squirrel might have found this ready-made cavity handy and put a little effort into widening the opening.

My guess is that this was home to more than one squirrel and their combined weight snapped the rusty nail that was holding the box to the tree. That must have been an exciting moment for them. And inconvenient. If it happened during the winter, the evicted residents would have had to find a new den. If it happened with a predator nearby, they may have found themselves a meal.

When we came upon this house we didn’t have any nails with us (or a hammer). But I think I’ll re-hang it next chance I get and give the squirrels another chance at moving in and getting cozy.


Tuesday, November 29th, 2005

This is one of those posts about posting. I hope you’ll forgive my bit of self indulgence today.

As I write this, I currently have nine already-drafted posts waiting their turns in the queue to be published. So I’ve written this more than a week ago, based on when you are reading it. I have another two drafts that are not yet ready. And I have another two photos to be uploaded for drafts yet to be started. I lie awake at night thinking of posts I should make. I prowl Roundrock looking for photos that will make nice entries. I worry constantly about not having a fresh post waiting for you to read each morning. I fear that soon I will run out of things to say about Roundrock. Or worse, that I’ll start repeating myself and not even realize it. This blog has become a primary feature of my mental journey each day. Should I seek help?

Because I write posts for so far into the future, it is sometimes hard to be timely. Oftimes I find myself bumping a post to a date farther into the future so I can use its former date for a new posting that seems more suited to that date for whatever reason. (Birthdays. Holidays. Anniversaries.) Therefore, the number assigned by WordPress to each post can get oddly out of sequence.

I’m not sure, but I think I have recently passed 200 posts to Roundrock Journal. (Wait for cheering to subside.) I could go back and manually count the posts, but I’ll rely on WordPress to assure me I’ve reached this milestone. Even if I haven’t, I’m close enuf. In any case, let me say that I am once again astonished to have reached this far. When I started down this road, I didn’t expect to make daily postings. I thought I would do as many other bloggers do and make a new post every few days. That would be sufficient. But the gates of my delirium opened and the words have poured out. (I leave it to you to decide whether the words are any good.) And here I find myself with this daily obligation. It’s an obligation as much to myself as to you, gentle reader.

For those of us who scribble as a hobby, a blog can be a wonderful thing, and for me it mostly has been. For one thing, it allows me to do the “warm-up” writing that I find is essential. (My children lament to me when they have to write a five-page paper for one of their college classes. Five pages is just warming up. Give me a ten-page paper if you want good writing, and then I’ll edit it down to five pages so it is even better). If I should rise at an unholy hour on a Saturday morning with the specific intent of writing productively, I’m glad to have Roundrock Journal and my self-imposed obligation. I can crack open the blog and draft one or two posts for some future date. That greases the mental wheels, and I can then drift into my other writing with momentum. (“Drift” and “momentum” used together like that probably confuse the metaphor.) The nice thing about writing posts for so far in the future is that I have ample time to revisit each piece and fine tune it. Writing is rewriting; so saith the old saying. Once again, I’ll leave it to you to decide how well I’ve done.

Blogging also gives me something other writing rarely provides: immediate feedback. When you leave your gracious and generous comments to my posts, I have the chance to see if I’ve made my point. Or if I’ve made some point I didn’t realize. Or if I had no point. I get to see if my phrasing was clear. If my facts were presented well. If my tone did the job I envisioned. If you say something that gets the facts altogether wrong (well, not you, but other commentors) — and it has happened — then this is my fault for not stressing the facts properly. I can then re-read what I have written to see how it has gone astray. This is an uncommon opportunity for a writer (editors, in general, not knowing what they are talking about!).

I must confess that it still bugs me a bit to find that my off-topic posts tend to get more responses than the Roundrock-specific entries. Although I do see this blog as an account of a particular man’s adventures in a little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks, and thus some of my personality and ambition deserves to creep in, it really seems that posts about my life in suburbia and my hometown are out of place. Yet y’all like them. And so I have concluded that I shall, reluctantly, spread a few more such posts into Roundrock Journal from time to time. (If nothing else, it will help me meet my daily obligation.)

And so I find that Roundrock has delivered yet another treasure to me. Along with the countless hours of wandering in an ever-changing woods, the discoveries and surprises, the scheming and dreaming, the slow and halting education I am receiving, the satisfaction of physical labor, the break from the routine and mundane of daily living, and the unmatched time with my bride in a nurturing setting we both love, Roundrock has given me another way to enjoy it. Blogging has become part of the adventure.

Shelter, Shot

Monday, November 28th, 2005

Alas, the shelter is shot. We have tarp troubles. A roof goof. A spent tent. A hurt yurt. Protection defection. (I could go on forever.)

When Libby and I were last out at Roundrock, we found that this had befallen our shelter. The tree in the SE corner to which we had tied the tarp was snapped off, apparently during a recent storm. (The shelter was fine two weeks prior to this visit.)

You can see the stump of the tree in the lower right of the photo. Beyond it is the top of the tree, lying on the ground with the rope still tied to it. The shelter tarp sags as a result.

The tree had died the year after we tied the tarp to it, but I don’t think our action caused it to die. It may have just been unfortunate coincidence. Or perhaps the forest gods are goading me once again. Regardless, I didn’t think the tree would snap as it did. I wonder now if the tarp was under significant wind stress and it pulled the tree to the breaking point. I don’t suppose I’ll ever know.

Libby, as resourceful as ever, untied the rope and tried to tie it onto the remaining stump. The rope wasn’t long enuf to reach with enuf left for knotting, but her effort did suggest a solution to me.

Next time we are out, I will bring along a steel fence post and drive it into the ground just where it is needed to anchor the corner of the tarp. I can then tie the rope to this, and we’ll be back in business. I’ll let you know how this works out.

(Home again, home again, jiggety jig.)

Pan Panned

Sunday, November 27th, 2005

Every now and then, someone sends me one of those email lists of general factoids, most of which turn out to be wrong. One of them I paused on was the origin of the word “panic.” Now, I don’t intend for this to be an etymology post, especially since I am suspicious of the purported origin of this word, but come along with me.

As the factoid list (and many dictionaries) has it, the word “panic” has its origins in the name of the Greek god Pan. Supposedly, rude, simple-minded Greeks would pass through dark forests and be startled by some sound or movement and run terrified for their little lives. They attributed the unseen evil to the mischief of Pan as they quakingly told the tale of their narrow escape to credulous family members around the security of the hearth fire.


In my experience with rural people, not a one is afraid of anything out in the dark forest. There is no sound or sudden movement in the shadows that can’t be easily explained or comfortably dismissed. Rural folk know their environment, they know what is in the woods and fields, and they’re not simpletons — at least not the ones I know. When I was in the Scouts, one of our greatest ambitions was to rise in the middle of the night (after the adults were snoring in their tents) and go rambling off into the dark forest for hours of nothing much at all. One thing we were not was afraid. In fact, there really is nothing that could threaten an adult human in the Ozark forest. (Okay, I’ll concede that black bears, which are slowly returning to Missouri, could pose a problem. And maybe the mountain lions that the Conservation Department has only reluctantly admitted might still be in Missouri. And various rabid mammals. But I think my general point still stands.)

There are plenty of night sounds in a healthy forest, and as someone once told me, the time to be afraid is when you don’t hear sounds in the forest. (Presumably, the predator is very near then.)

And thus I think that the tying of the word “panic” to the god Pan seems too facile. Pan, in fact, was sometimes written about (by E.M. Forster, for example) as a device for liberating stuffy Englishmen from their conventional ways, and at least one short story of his ends with a picnic site dotted with deer-like hoof prints after the stuffy protagonist reached some sort of liberating epiphany. (Pan having the legs and cloven hooves of a goat — which says something about the god’s sexual appetite and the poor wood nymphs he pestered relentlessly.)

However, Pablo will make one concession to this dubious etymological contention. Perhaps the panic that features so strongly in this word history was not in the humans — even rustic Greek shepherds must have known their woods and fields as well as any modern Ozarker — but in their flocks. If sheep are as dumb as I am told, then I suppose their flock minds could be easily induced to a panicked stampede. And since, in some accounts, Pan is a god of shepherds, then I guess I could see the connection.

The woods at Roundrock are lovely, dark, and deep, but tripping over a log is about the only night-time peril anyone will encounter there.

(Alas, our last full day in Oregon!)

Twisted Tree

Saturday, November 26th, 2005

Long time readers understand that I don’t know what I’m talking about here, and this post will do nothing to change that fact.

Look closely at the above photo. This is a fallen snag out at Roundrock — one that is especially handy to sit upon and ponder the complexities of the universe. Notice how the tree had twisted in a spiral when it grew. This is not the same as the spiral scar a lightning bolt can leave. Rather, this is the growth pattern of the tree. I’d read somewhere that this is called a basal twist, but I’ve not been able to learn much about that.

What causes a tree to grow in this spiral pattern? Is it genetic? Soil or nutrient conditions? Is it something that happened to the seedling — something Freudian that left it with a twisted psyche? Could the weather have caused this? Crowded growing conditions?

When I’ve looked for other trees — living or dead — with a basal twist, I have generally been able to find them here and there in our woods. I’m not sure if this is common to certain species or whether the affliction is universal in its tastes. I’m not even sure if this is an affliction at all or if the spiral makes the tree stand more strongly. This fallen snag certainly looks as though it had a long and full life.

I like to walk through the forest and read the tales in the trees. What tale does this tree tell? Perhaps someday soon I can sit on this log and ponder that complexity.

(We’re still in Oregon . . . I hope.)

We just call it The Pond

Friday, November 25th, 2005

This was our ultimate destination when we first started coming to Roundrock. Our own body of water! When we first had a road built to get into our woods, it ended pretty much just inside the property line. If we wanted to go anywhere after that, it had to be afoot.

Our first task, then, was the carve a footpath to the pond, which I’ve mentioned once or twice before in this crazy blog of mine. And then during subsequent visits we always hiked to the pond, sat in chairs under the spreading white oak tree, and waited for the wildlife to arrive and put on a show for us.

Mostly the wildlife didn’t, though we did schedule our visits during the middle of the day when much of the wildlife was hiding away. The blackbirds were generally there though. They would fly in and out of the cattails growing in the water by the dam, giving their characteristic calls and looking resplendent with their red-banded wings. We had frogs, of course. Once we saw a raccoon family here. And one time, as we were sitting in the chairs, a pair of ducks came whistling through the air to land on our pond. Unfortunately, we were sitting in an exposed area, and when the ducks saw us, they turned tail and flew away. Had we been farther in the shadows beneath the oak, they might not have seen us and actually “landed” on the water.

As you can see from the photo, the pond gets completely overgrown with duckweed or watermeal (I’m not sure which). This, in turn, starves the underwater plants of sunlight, at least in theory. The few times I have “walked” in the pond (that is, sunk to my thighs in the loathsome, stinking goo that lines the bottom), I’ve pushed through something long and stringy growing from the goo.

One day, Libby and I spent a little time casting a line with a small jig at the end into the pond. We each pulled forth a small sunfish about the size of a silver dollar. Such stunted fish could mean that the pond is too full of fish for any one to grow to substantial size. Or it could mean that there aren’t enuf nutrients. Or it could mean that we happened to catch the only fish that were dumb enuf to fall for a lure.

Poor Max, a suburban house dog through and through, had never seen a green-covered pond before, and one day he bolted onto it thinking it was an especially level and open bit of grassland. He showed us he could swim that day.

I took this photo in September (I think) when the duckweed was still in full-force mode. By now it is fading, and by the middle of winter, all trace of it will be gone. The water will be clear, and we’ll be able to see all the way to the leaf-covered bottom along the shoreline. The cattails will have gone brown and sere, and the blackbirds will seem to have abandoned it. But they haven’t. In the spring, this is among the first areas to show the return of life. Even the duckweed will find a way back from wherever it was hiding, and by mid-June, the surface will be a uniform green again.

(Pablo and Libby are enjoying their first full day in Oregon as you read this. But, sigh, this would have been the day in years past when we would have brought the whole family to Roundrock for a campfire, hiking, and the taking of the family photograph to go with our holiday greetings. No more of that, alas.)

Turkey Feathers

Thursday, November 24th, 2005

Often we find a turkey feather on the road or in the woods. Sometimes we find the remains of a bobcat’s dinner beside a log. If the feathers are at all clean, we collect them, and Libby now has quite a few in a mug on her desk. I think if we can only find a few more, we can assemble a whole turkey for ourselves.

There are regular flocks of turkeys in our woods. Often we see them when we are driving along the road beside the neighbor’s farm field to our north. The turkeys are on the other side of the fence, out in the field gleaning grain from the ground, but when we approach they dash for the cover of our forest. This means that they run from the field, across our road, and into our trees. Essentially, they run toward us to get away from us.

I’ve heard and read lots of accounts of how stupid turkeys are, but that doesn’t seem right. Turkeys have been successful in Missouri for a long time, despite unmanaged hunting until relatively recent decades. Missouri even exported turkeys to neighboring states for many years. The Conservation Department reports how hard it is to lure turkeys into trap nets so that they can be banded and released. Turkey hunters I know spend hours perfecting their calls in order to attract birds on the hunt. This seems like a canny prey to me.

Furthermore, turkeys are ground nesters — they actually make no more of a nest than scraping away a few leaves — so they can be victim to the greatest predation pressures. Yet their numbers flourish, so they must have evolved successfully into their niche in the forest order.

I understand that wild turkey meat is very stringy, though I can’t recall ever having any myself. Most of the recipes I have seen for it involve some kind of marinade lasting several months or years. Libby’s sister told us of how she and her daughters had visited a commercial turkey farm to pick out their Thanksgiving dinner. As they drove up, the entire flock of turkeys ran toward their car as though to greet them. She said it was tough picking one out after that since the birds seemed so pleased to see them. Maybe it’s the turkey city cousins who are the dumb ones.

Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

As you read this. we should be somewhere in the air over the Pacific Northwest, with the ultimate destination of Eugene, Oregon where we will spend the weekend with our daughter, Rachel, and her wonderful husband, Travis.)

Just a Little Color

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2005

This is an example of how nature always wins.

This scrappy little oak — I think it is a white oak though the leaves are not quite right, nor is the red — is trying to grow in the area above our dam where we turn our truck around on each visit. The area has stayed mostly open since the builder cleared it, and our periodic visits with the 4WD truck have helped keep it open. But this little oak hasn’t gotten the message. It has sprouted from whatever roots were left behind after the dozer swept through. I’m pretty sure that I’ve applied the loppers to this as well once or twice.

But oaks are persistent, and this one keeps trying. It isn’t directly in the path of our twisting and turning when we get the truck pointed up the hill, so maybe I’ll leave it be and see what it does with itself. At the very least, it can serve as a reminder about the value of perseverance (rising over a lake that will need a lot of perseverance if I am ever to get it to hold water).

Fire Casualty

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2005

Not a very good picture, I realize. This tree had been thriving on the western border of our land, not too far from our entrance. This also happens to be where my neighbor’s grass fire got out of control and reached into our forest last spring. It’s a goner now. That’s part of the reason the ground below it is so green. Sunlight is getting down there.

Part of me wants to take this tree down and cut it into firewood — to finish the job the grass fire began. But it will serve a better purpose as a standing snag. Perhaps woodpeckers will open holes in the tree for nest cavities. Then fungus will get inside and continue the excavation work. Eventually the branches will all break off and rejoin the soil. The snag may remain standing for decades, or it may come down suddenly in a storm. Either way, it’s part of the natural cycle at Roundrock (and elsewhere, they tell me).

Next spring, I plan to have another 25 short-leaf pine trees delivered. Some I will use in the existing pine plantation to replace the four that have died. A few I will plant here and there in the forest, more or less as experiments. And I wouldn’t mind having a stand of them here at the entrance. They could reach up and fill the open space that this tree has left behind. I just hope no ground fires come again very soon.

Round Rox

Monday, November 21st, 2005

Not all of the round rocks at Roundrock are round rocks.

The round rocks formed over millions of years in a mineral-rich soup of rock and water from strata deep within the earth. They subsequently eroded free from the soft stone around them and collected in my forest. (Okay, not only in my forest.)

As has been asked, though, why are they round? Or put another way, why aren’t they not round? Wouldn’t gravity have played some part in their shape?

The fact of the matter is that we do find many oddly shaped rocks in our woods. I’ve included photos of them on occasion, and today’s photo is a curious example of a non-round, round rock. (I suspect this one might be a fusion of two round rocks that were forming near each other in the mineral soup.) We have many that are elongated or flattened. Some are teardrop shaped. Some are ovoid. Some even look like fat hot dogs. Most of these irregulars are broken, and we can only guess at what shape they had taken when whole.

According to the geologist who told me all about the meteor impact and the ensuing 350 million years of history, these rocks formed around a nucleus of blue-green shale. When we examine some of the broken round rocks, we often do see the shard of shale at the center (though sometimes there doesn’t seem to be any core substance). I suppose that depending on the size and shape of the shard, the rock that accretes around it might follow that general direction and not be perfectly spherical by the time Pablo finds it in the current era.

Did gravity play a part in their shape? I suspect not. When I say that the stones were suspended in the mineral-rich soup, I may be giving the wrong impression. This was not liquid. From what I understand, this “soup” was more like a very loose, crumbly limestone, so the round rocks would be “liberated” from the distorting force of gravity as they pirated minerals and transformed the stone around them into their own substance. If you know how hail forms, or a pearl, you can get an idea of how these round rocks grew.

So not all of the round rocks at Roundrock are round rocks. But our eyes are drawn to the ones with the more pleasing shape, and as the Dread Pirate Roberts observed, they call out for being collected. Thus it is the round, round rocks that get all of the attention.