Archive for February, 2006

Heart of the Matter – Part 2

Tuesday, February 28th, 2006


You’ve seen this fellow before. I account for its odd shape by suggesting that two round rocks were forming near each other and eventually merged. But notice the large hole (how could you miss it?). This hole goes all the way through the stone and emerges on the other side.

platypus 2.JPG

As I said yesterday, my guess is that the round rock had not completely formed around its core stone before it was exposed to weathering. The hole would thus be where the bit of core was still exposed. I’ve been stupid enuf to stick my finger in this hole (no spider bites had resulted), and within I could feel a loose stone rattling about. I don’t know if this is the original blue-green shale core stone (unlikely since it would have long-since been eroded away) or some random Ozark rock that found its way in there and is shaped so that it won’t come out unless positioned exactly right.

Here is an example of what I think is a young round rock. I define young by the relation of the round rock to the size of its former core. If the core is proportionally large, the round rock did not have as much time to grow as its elders. (That’s my hypothesis anyway.)
lizard within.JPG

Yes, that is a small lizard showing its head, though it is not the blue-tailed skink that caused so much hullabaloo some months back. This cavity matches the shape of the stone that surrounds it, and it is smooth on the inside and the outside, suggesting that it has been weathering for a long time.

What I don’t have to show you are photos of the many shattered round rocks that have no apparent core stone to them at all. In our rambles about the woods, we have come across some round rocks that have been cracked open to expose their innards, but they seem to be hard chert all the way to the center. I wish I had some photos of these to share because many of them show concentric rings in shades of orange, suggesting chemical changes in the breccia at the time they were forming. They have the look of rings in a cut tree trunk. I’ll be on the look out for these when I’m next in the field with my camera.

And yet, I’m not sure how to account for what will appear in the next installment of this series.

How Flat is Kansas?

Monday, February 27th, 2006

flint 1.JPG

Rather than return to Roundrock again yesterday, we turned the truck to the west and drove to Manhattan, Kansas (they call themselves the Little Apple) to see our twin sons in their college environment.

A fine day was had by all, and a goodly sum of money was spent, and then came the time to return home.

As we dashed back east on I-70 we passed through a quite scenic area called the Flint Hills. This is actually a huge area that takes up a great portion of eastern Kansas, and our many trips to see our three sons at Kansas colleges always took us through the Flint Hills.

Winter is ending, and soon much of this land will be put to flame, sometimes intentionally and sometimes naturally. The fires are awe-inspiring. This is part of the tallgrass prairie of the Midwest. Men on horseback could tie the stalks of grass across their saddles. Pioneers often got lost in the stuff. Buffalo and antelope roamed. What saved the prairie from cultivation was the rocky soil just below the surface of the ground. Fortunately, it was not good farmland so the web of roots that make up true prairie was not broken. This is cattle country now, as it has been for more than 150 years.

As a rural mail carrier, Linda is familiar with much of this part of the country. (She’s also a fan of my sons’ university.) William Least Heat-Moon wrote an engaging and exhaustive account of Chase County, Kansas, at the center of the Flint Hills, in his book PrairyErth.

flint 2.JPG

These photos don’t do justice to the hilliness of this region. I suppose the horizon line is what your eye is first drawn to, and so the mistaken belief that all of Kansas is flat is fortified.

Today a great deal is being done to protect the remnant prairie and ecosystem of the Flint Hills. In addition, there are many guests ranches that cater to families that want to go on actual wagon train excursions and companies that want unique meeting centers.

It’s always nice to drive through the Flint Hills, but once the boys graduate, we will have less occasion to do so.


Sunday, February 26th, 2006


Libby, Max, and I made a trip to Roundrock today — long overdue in my opinion. The weather was cooperative, rising from 32 degrees when we arrived to 43 degrees by the time we left.

This was a working visit for the most part. When we grew close to our turn off from the four-lane, divided highway, we detoured into town and stopped at the local feed store to pick up some Bentonite. We figured that if we really have to spread 11 tons of the stuff in the lakebed to sufficiently plug the leak, we ought to get going on that task. Today we began modestly by only getting 200 pounds, but we spread it judiciously.

At Roundrock the first thing we did was stop at the pine plantation and water the few pines that have survived the deer assaults. I’m pretty sure some snow fell in the Ozarks last week (take at look at Karl’s posts), but I don’t know if it came as far north as our part of the state. The ground seemed dry, so we gave the surviving trees a good drink. Next month I pick up our new shortleaf pines to plant. I plan to replace a good number of those that died, and I intend to try planting some here and there in the forest. (From what I have read, I’ve learned that they prefer dry, rocky soil. My pine plantation is deep, rich, and moderately moist soil. I think I’ve mentioned before that I probably should have planted the pecans where the pines are the vice versa.)

From here it was on to the “lake.” If any snow fell in the area, it didn’t drain into the lakebed when it melted. The level was unchanged, which isn’t so bad really. It has now stablized at a level higher than it had in past years. Maybe all of that Bentonite tossing we’ve been doing has had some effect.

As you know, Lake Marguerite is formed by damming the central valley that runs through our 80+ acres. As a result, its two sides closest to the dam have some exposed ledge that is mostly shattered. It is possible that water is leaking out of the lake through this ledge, so our task of the day to was to spread the Bentonite on and around the shattered ledge. This was actually well above the water level, but I don’t think that’s a problem. When the rain comes, the Bentonite clay, which looks like the salt on a pretzel (the big, chewy kind that are so good when they are warm!), will either wash into the cracks in the ledge stone or will wash down into the lake. In either case, it will be applied where it needs to be. I hope to have photos of our work in some future post.

Our second task of the day was the fault of our compost bin at home. We inherited a very nice bin from our neighbor. It is perhaps three feet wide by four feet deep by five feet tall. Yard waste and (non-animal) kitchen scraps go in here. By spring we usually have all of the rich, composted soil we can use. In our zeal, we made sure to bag all of the leaves we’d raked in our yard, and Libby even managed to confiscate several bags from our neighbors. Alas, the dry winter we have had has meant that the composting has not been as vigorous as we normally experience. As a result, we had a half dozen bags of leaves to add to the bin and it didn’t look like they were going to get there. So we’ve been taking them to Roundrock. Now if you haven’t been to an oak forest you won’t appreciate the irony of having a half dozen bags of leaves sitting on the thick leaf litter of the forest floor. The plan, however, was to spread these leaves in several low areas in the pecan plantation where the water leaking from the dam pools in the spring and summer. Our hope is that these suburban leaves will compost here and enrich the soil for the lusty pecans in years to come. Whatever. We drove the leaves down into the plantation and dumped them in several likely spots, so they will merit a few return visits in the coming months to see how things are progressing.

Our next adventure came on an impulse. The northeast quarter of our woods (well, not really a quarter — more like an eighth, but that means more than 10 acres) is a spot we walk around, but we’ve never really hiked through it. I think we’ve passed through only once or twice, always on our way somewhere else, but we’ve never taken the time to hike the rises and falls to see what there might be to see. The assumption has always been that there isn’t anything to see. But you know where this is going, eh?

Leaving the truck in the pecan plantation, we simply steered our feet north up the hill and wandered around. Aside from being a deer graveyard, the site of several oddly shaped trees, one strangely cut tree, and a potential sandstone quarry — all of which I hope to bring up in future posts — we had a wonderful time just taking time in a part of our forest that we’d really never seen before. Our feet took us in a large circle, leading us back to the truck after about an hour, and we decided it was time for a sit down in the comfy chairs under our shady tarp.

You see in the photo above what greeted us at the shelter. We now have a skylight in our tarp. The tarp itself is old, and more than once we’ve had to repair or reset it after the abuses of the wind and accumulated snow have done their thing.

Well, the sun felt warm, so we didn’t mind too much, though we did discuss what we ought to do about the situation. The shelter has been a great refuge for us, so I’m pretty sure we’ll replace the tarp, though one that size doesn’t come cheap. this will give us the chance to redo the ropes that hold it up and down, so in the end, it will be an even better arrangement.

There is little color in our forest right now, but this is the season when Ozark witchhazel is in bloom. It’s goofy, stringy yellow flowers are among the first to come out in the winter. So I had the notion that we should hike our woods looking for anything yellow, hoping we had some witchhazel. This was a stupid idea. First of all, we hadn’t eaten and we were still outward bound when we began to feel shaky and weak. (Fortunately we keep two comfy chairs on Libby’s Island, and a short respite there recharged the batteries a bit.) Second, it turns out that Ozark witchhazel doesn’t grow naturally in our part of the state. (I only learned this after getting home this evening.) It was a fool’s errand I’d set us on, but we had the chance to see more of our woods (mostly east of the Mighty Pole Forest) that we don’t often visit.

Well, the plan then was to skedaddle to town again and get something to eat. (We did not bring our lunch, which is uncommon but not unprecedented.) We managed to return to the truck alive after a big round hike (cutting across the dry part of the lakebed to shorten the distance) and threw ourselves into it. But we just couldn’t quit.

As we drove out we stopped at the pond and convinced ourselves that a few minutes clearing some low branches would make the area more lovely, so we hopped out of the truck with saws in hand and spent more time in our stewardship roles. I’m pleased with the work we did, and my hope is that the brushpile we’ve been accumulating there will be beneficial for the quail that I’m certain will return to this part of the Ozarks some day.

We, too, intend to return to this part of the Ozarks some day, and I hope it is soon.

Heart of the Matter – Part 1

Saturday, February 25th, 2006

odd inside.JPG

Several people have asked me if the round rocks we have at Roundrock are geodes, and the basic answer is no, but I’ve found that the answer isn’t as straightforward as that when I examine the heart of the matter.

A geode is a hollow, mostly spherical stone. Often geodes will have crystals that have formed on the inside walls of the hollow sphere. Geodes form in a way that is different from the way my round rocks formed. Basically, my round rocks accreted around a center stone — generally blue-green shale fragments — so by definition they could not be hollow since they must have a center to grow around.

That said, note the hollow center of one of my round rocks pictured above. The explanation for this (and I know you’re waiting to see how I wiggle out of this apparent contradiction) is that this round rock had been cracked open (not by me) and the blue-green shale center within has eroded away, leaving a gap where it once sat. Shale is a much softer stone and will erode easily — if it is exposed. A whole round rock does not yield its soft center to the elements, so its shale would not be eroded. Hence a whole round rock would not likely be hollow.

fossil inside.JPG

This open round rock presumably offers the same lesson, though a closer examination, which I am sorry to say is not possible with this photo, suggests a more interesting history. The orangeish inside you see has shapes upon it that suggest shell fossils. This may just be a coincidence of shapes, and I am certainly no authority of fossils. It may be that the orangeish stone is some sort of clay that entered the round rock long after it had been broken and exposed. Thus the apparent patterns in the clay may have some more mundane explanation. Or it is possible that the round rock formed around a stone fragment that had originally contained fossils. (I’m speculating on all eight cylinders now.) One of the ways the meteor impact (which eventually caused the growth of these round rocks) has been dated is by noting the age of the rocks that were churned up by the impact. Rocks from deeper in the strata are older, and they can sometimes by identified by fossils they contain. So fossil fragments were added to the soupy mix in which the round rocks eventually grew, and possibly they provided core material. I may be wildly wrong about this though.

large inside.JPG

Here you can see how large the core stone must have been (in relation to the size of the round rock that formed around it). What can I surmise from this? Could it suggest that this was a young round rock since it didn’t have as much time to form in relation to the size of its core? (By the way, all of the round rocks in these photos are about the size of a large grapefruit.)

wet inside.JPG

From this one could surmise that the round rock formed around an avocado core.

big inside.JPG

And here you can see an example of what I think explains why so many of the round rocks (though not all) have a small hole or navel in them. Recall this example. My guess is that such rocks did not have sufficient time to completely engulf their core stone before whatever the geological cataclysm was that moved them out of the soupy breccia they formed within and set them loose in the world. Thus their soft centers were exposed and eventually eroded away, leaving a nice cavity for spiders to live in. Still, these would not be geodes since they have an opening, nor would crystals be able to form within since the constant state of chemisty that is required for growing crystals could not be maintained.

Stump Water

Friday, February 24th, 2006


I think it is in Tom Sawyer where Tom and Huck are in search of an old tree stump full of water when they happen upon the murder that sets the tale in motion. If I remember correctly, they intended to use the water in the stump to make some warts go away.

This stump was nearly full of water when we happened upon it whilst hiking the woods one pleasant day. Fortunately, we had no warts to medicate, so I didn’t have to reach into the darkness.

This stump is at Fallen Timbers, and it was part of the logging that predated our ownership. This cut was different from most that the loggers had used. Of course I wasn’t there to see the work done, so I must rely on my old friend speculation.

This tree was cut straight across in a single slice, so it is flat on top. (As a log it was useless since it was hollow.) Most of the stumps in the area from that long-ago harvest bear two cuts, each at a different angle so that they would have made a flattened X shape. I don’t know why this would have been done. It seems to me that the tree would have then twisted off it its stump in an uncontrollable way. However, it may be that the tree was being gripped by a mechanical arm that would lift it free from its stump once the cuts were completed. I’ve seen such extreme logging machines before (though not in action).

Anyway, I don’t know why this one got a straight cut, but it stood on a hillside that is now changing over to scrubby growth since the canopy is gone and more sunlight is reaching the forest floor.

Hollow Tree House

Thursday, February 23rd, 2006

fallen tree.JPG

True story: When we first acquired the “40 acres square” we call Fallen Timbers, our (later disputed) western property line was marked by pink and white survey tape hanging in the tree limbs. A spring ground fire had consumed much of this tape, but the fire hadn’t reached all of the western boundary. Yet all of the survey tape was gone. I puzzled about this for a while, but it didn’t dominate my thoughts for long.

Years passed. The inevitable storms of spring and summer came, and several of the mature oaks in our woods were toppled by the winds. (Libby and I were in the woods on a windy day once when we heard a tree beyond the ridge creak and then crash to the forest floor. Quite an impressive sound! I’m glad we weren’t under it.)

Most of the trees that come down are hollow on the inside, which is a common fate for Ozark oaks. Often I will visit these fallen trees and attempt to cut the major branches so that the limbs will rest on the forest floor. They will decay sooner that way and enrich the soil.

I approached one such fallen oak and found that it had indeed been hollow. Within the hollow part of the stump that was still standing, I saw the gathered leaves of what was obviously a den, probably for a raccoon. Amidst all of the leaves in this stump were hundreds of bits of pink and white survey tape.


Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006


My presumed humbler, thwarter, and nemesis. I have a crack problem.

This is a photo of the side of one of the boulders sitting in the lakebed, the boulders I have called “floaters,” which will one day be ideal spots for seeking fish. And that little seam you see may be what keeps draining Lake Marguerite right from under my sneaker-clad feet.

Well, of course, not that seam exactly, but one (or dozens) very much like it somewhere in the bedrock where my lake is supposed to be. The seam in the photo above would probably allow a pencil tip to enter. That makes for a small opening, but if it is continuous, it can lead to a strong leak.

The north and south sides of the lakebed close to the dam have bits of exposed, broken ledge in them. It is possible that when the lake fills, water finds similar fissures in these bits of ledge and work their way around the dam or otherwise out of the lake and into the great cavern that I’m beginning to suspect underlies my lakebed. Presumably, Bentonite will fix these kinds of leaks, but not knowing where they are (if they are) means I don’t know just where to apply it and so I must continue my scattershot approach and hope enuf application fixes the problem.

Old Wood Pile

Tuesday, February 21st, 2006

wood pile.JPG

Libby and I came upon this old wood pile when we were hiking the perimeter of Fallen Timbers some weeks back. I’d forgotten it was there. This is in the area my neighbor had logged, not knowing where the true property line ran. He only stopped after he’d taken two acres of our trees, but that’s a different matter.

Soon after that incident, Seth and I made an effort to clearly distinguish the surveyed line. We set a few posts and hung a few signs, but we also attempted to cut up some of the slash left behind by the loggers.

Slash is the tree top that the loggers can’t use after they take the trunk of the tree. Take a look at the largest oak tree you can find. You’ll possibly see ten to fifteen feet of clear, straight trunk. This is what the loggers are interested in. But atop that are wide-spreading branches that form the crown of the tree. Now, picture this wide-spreading crown lying on the ground. (Picture more than 80 of them spread over two acres.) Even though the branches of the crown could make good fire wood, the loggers aren’t interested in such a labor-intensive product and leave the slash behind. While all of this cover and rotting wood is beneficial for wildlife, it also presents a fire hazard since so much hot-burning fuel is now accessible to the inevitable ground fires that tend to come in the spring.

These thickets of slash make it almost impossible for hikers to walk their boundary lines. And so Seth and I got busy with the chainsaw one long-ago day to begin slicing a path through the slash. Much of what we cut we simply let fall to the ground where it could eventually enrich the soil. But we also stacked some of it, not with the intention of retrieving it later for a campfire — the site was too remote — but simply to show anyone passing near the property line that we had been by and were paying attention. There are several such woodpiles along the western property line including one that is sizeable.

Now, as you can see, the woodpile is rotting into the earth. The scrub has returned, as it has throughout the two acres where sunlight now reaches the forest floor. We never finished the job of clearing the perimeter, but much of the slash is now collapsing, and regardless, the scrub has grown so thick in some places that we have to divert around it anyway.

Still, it is nice to come upon such a site in the middle of the trackless forest and recall a day of hard work with my son.

Housekeeping Note: Roundrock Journal was moved to a new server yesterday afternoon. Some of you thousands who deign to visit here may have noticed an hour or two when it was offline. All is well now, and I hope there will be no interruptions in the future. Also, I didn’t get my site meter reset, so my total continues to run.

Further Update: I don’t know what the problem with leaving comments is, but I’ll have my webmaster look into it as soon as he can out there on the Left Coast.


Monday, February 20th, 2006

mossy log.jpg

This is an old photo that I had scanned so I could present it here. I always liked this little scene. The fern had found a place to root in the rotten knot of a small tree that had fallen across a dry stream bed.

This photo is from Fallen Timbers. The ravines there are much more dramatic and much deeper than the ones at Roundrock. That means that they are cooler and wetter and thus can support thicker growths of ferns. This isn’t a thicker growth though. This is just a cute little one-act tale of the persistence of life and the niches it manages to fill.

This photo is from five or more years ago. Oddly, I haven’t been back to this particular part of Fallen Timbers since then to see how the fern is doing. I don’t know why. I’ve been close, but I’ve never diverted my steps here again. This is in the bottom of an east/west ravine near our eastern border. It’s a lovely spot, actually, and I suppose if I made more visits, I might find more little scenes like this one to share.

Interlopers – Part 4

Sunday, February 19th, 2006

hunting log.JPG

I’ve found this little set up more than once at Fallen Timbers. I’m pretty sure it is a make shift hunting station. This chunk o’log is resting on a flat stone. You can’t tell very well from this picture, but the ground in front of the log (to the left in the photo) is scraped clear of leaves and sticks. As though someone in heavy boots might have spent a lot of time sitting on that upended log.

This is near the NW corner of our “40 acre square” and it is where the land rises sharply from the wet-season creek that cuts through the northern third of our woods. As a result, this spot gives one a good view of about twenty acres of hillside rising on the other side of the creek. By November, when the leaves are mostly off the trees, it’s a nice little vista. I imagine that might be perfect for a hunter who wanted to see a deer coming from a long way off.

This little station is not very far from our northern fence, and just beyond that is a forest road that my neighbor keeps open. And this convenient access is probably the reason my interloper hunter friend has chosen this spot, for I don’t think it is an ideal spot.

The hunter would be peering (and shooting) into the sun from this perspective. Safety issues aside, how well can one spot a deer, much less shoot it cleanly, when looking at the dawn? I don’t know about such things, but it does seem bassackwards.

Not very far to the east of this are the skeletal remains of a more permanent tree stand. Not much is left of it, but it has the appearance of once looking much like the kind of treehouse most kids dream of. Someone put a lot of time and effort into this stand several decades ago. Yet it, too, looks over the same land to the south — into the sun again.

My imagination races. Perhaps my interloping hunter friend is a descendant of the person who built the hunter treehouse. Perhaps this bit of land has been hunted by the same family for generations. Perhaps it is a family ritual to come to this part of the Ozark forest to attempt to bag a deer.

I’ve heard stories of old timers holding utter contempt for things like bills of sale and transfers of title over pieces of land. Even though some Kansas City smarty-pants may have “bought” some piece of property, ain’t nobody going to tell grandpa that he can’t hunt there. He’s hunted there every year for sixty years, and no piece of paper is going to change that. Anyone who says otherwise is likely to get himself shot.

This, of course, has not happened to me personally, but I occasionally hear tales like that. Still, it leaves me to ponder. As I’ve said several times before, I am not opposed to hunting (even though I myself don’t hunt). And while this interloper is sitting on my property, I don’t really consider the deer to be mine. I mean, if the deer is on the other side of the property line, he would effectively be my neighbor’s “property” according to such reasoning. And then when he steps across the line, he becomes mine?

So once again, Pablo is tied up into non-action by his moral musings. The first time I came upon this single-log hunting station, I gave the log a nudge, and it rolled in a very satisfactory fashion down the steep hill and crashed into the dry creekbed below. I thought I was sending the interloper a good message. Ha! It was eleven months before the fellow would be back, and I guess it would be reasonable to think such a log wouldn’t necessarily remain standing on its own in that time anyway. Nor would the hunter understand that it is the landowner’s displeasure he is receiving. Any other interloper might have kicked over that log. (Even interloping loggers and interloping neighbors who don’t know where the true property line runs.)

I thought that when I know I am going to visit Fallen Timbers again, and I know I am going to hike to the NW corner again, I would write a friendly note explaining that this was private property and perhaps the interloper didn’t know he had crossed into it. I’d tell him that he is welcome to use my woods as long as he asks permission first. I’d wish him good luck. Then I would seal the note in a plastic bag and put the note on top of the log, with a stone resting atop it to keep it in place until the next deer season.

As congenial and non-threatening as I imagine this message would be, I suspect the interloper would find some other use for the piece of paper out in the woods.

Update: Leap forward to Interlopers – Part 7 for the latest installment of this saga.

Further Update: Have a look at 10.28.2007 – Part Three for the latest installment of this saga.