Archive for March, 2006

Midden Pile

Friday, March 31st, 2006

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Does this look tidy to you? If you look closely you’ll see empty peanut and acorn shells. While Pablo has been known to eat peanuts on occasion, he certainly doesn’t eat acorns. So what’s up? Why are all these husks thrown together like so many empty beer cans by the side of the road?

Perhaps if you look at this from another angle you can puzzle through it:
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You’ll, of course, remember when I posted about a little mystery I’d found on the grassy south-facing slope. That’s the same den opening you see in this lower photo. It appears that someone has been doing some spring cleaning.

Pablo has been known to leave roasted (but unsalted) peanuts here and there in the forest, and the bit of ledge just below this den opening is one of the “here” places. When I’ve done this, the nuts have always been gone by my next visit, with nary a shell left behind. I’d assumed that whatever critter was eating them was taking them somewhere first. Now it looks as though the peanuts I’ve been leaving “here” were taken into that den through the winter.

Am I a bad steward for leaving peanuts for the wild things? Some schools of thought would say yes. Perhaps it makes me an enabler of a sort. But enuf of that negative self talk! I like to think that what little bit of nurturing I do has such an insignificant impact on my forest that it doesn’t even register on the ethical scale. Except for whatever lives in that little mystery den. I’m pretty sure it is not insignificant for that critter.

Persistence

Thursday, March 30th, 2006

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This oddity was another discovery on our walk through the northeast corner a few weeks ago. See how this tree had been brought down by some cataclysm (what? I wonder) but how one branch of the tree has managed to find the sunlight and get a substantial growth going?

I don’t know how much hope there is for this tree. Its base is tattered and rotting. It will always be weak and highly susceptible to insect infestation. I suspect that the point where this branch joins the “trunk” will be more prone to stress because of its odd angle.

A part of me wants to nurture this unlikely tree. I could prune back the rotted parts, perhaps even open the canopy around it so it gets more sunlight, and otherwise treat it nicely so it feels loved. Maybe even throw a little fertilizer on the ground around it. The tree could continue to grow in this interesting way and be an example of persistence in the face of adversity.

Another part of me wants to cut off the oddly shaped branch and whittle a cane out of it.

 

Aside: The number of spam comments that have been successfully blocked is quickly approaching the total number of visits this humble blog has had in the last year. I clean out the spam bucket several times a day. Each time it contains hundreds of comments. I could review these to rescue the occasional legitimate comment, but with hundreds to sift through, I generally don’t. Thus I apologize to any of you who may have left a comment that has not appeared. It was possibly deleted unintentionally.

More Broken Ledge

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

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This is a bit of the exposed ledge on the opposite side of the lake from what you saw in yesterday’s post. As you can see, I’ve supplemented the ledge with a bit of dry stone construction in order to make fish habitat. This is all supposed to be underwater you see.

If I recall the setting correctly (this photo was taken some time ago), these rocks would be under five or more feet of water if the lake were full. This ledge (behind the pile rocks) is more solid than the broken ledge across the lake, but I suppose it could still be as much of a source for leaks regardless. Once again, when the water gets high enuf to cover this, I will probably only then cast Bentonite over the area with the intent to plug any leak it might have.

Our rock construction here has been innundated at least twice since Aaron (#3 Son) and I built it one afternoon years ago. I’m not sure why, but I had fully expected the structure to be all tumbled down after being covered by water. (Which means it’s supposed to look like it does in the photo.) Other stone structures we have built here and there in the lakebed have been knocked about, but they have been in the path of the incoming water, and I know that in a strong spring storm, the water can surge in with a great deal of force.

Looking at the photo now brings back memories of the time I spent with Aaron stacking these stones. Yet another reason for going to the woods.

Broken Ledge

Tuesday, March 28th, 2006

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I’ve mentioned several times about the broken ledge that comprises some of the bed for my woeful Lake Marguerite. The photo above is an example of one bit of it. This is, by far, the worst-looking patch, at least in terms of solidity. I suppose much of this cracking and splintering is only surface deep, but it wouldn’t take too many breaks like these deeper within to drain a lake.

This ledge business is a fact of life at Roundrock. I’m either going to make the lakebed hold water or I’m not given the physical setting. This ledge, and a similar but more exposed one across the lake, make up the “sides” of the lakebed. The earthen dam interrupts the run of the ledge, but it reappears on the dry side of the dam. In the spring, after we’ve had some serious rains and the lake is briefly at full pool, these exposed ledges on the dry side of the dam do not have flows or trickles of water coming from them. I take that as a sign that I’m not getting leakage from the broken ledge that is temporarily underwater upstream.

Nonetheless, when we were last out there, we put some effort into covering this bit of ledge with Bentonite, as you can see in the photo below. (These two shots look at the same thing from opposite angles.)

It is possible that in a heavy rain, the Bentonite below will be washed into the lake rather than into the cracks where it is resting. While that wouldn’t be bad for sealing leaks farther below, it wouldn’t do anything for the leaks that may be in the ledge. However, these ledges are close to what would be the shoreline at full pool, so they would be within hand-casting distance if I choose to stumble along the shore with a bucket of Bentonite. That may be the best time to try to fix a crack leak since the water flowing into it would possibly pull the Bentonite along with it into the crack.

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Found Around

Monday, March 27th, 2006

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These darlings are resting atop Isla de Peligro. On our last trip to the woods, Libby and I had used her new grass whip to clear away some of the dead growth that had wintered over on the island. (There are wildflower seeds resting in the earth here, waiting for sun and warmth and water to bring them to life.)

As we coursed over the top of the island, we stumbled over these round rocks, buried here and there in the thick grass. We had been tossing them up onto the island for years. The dry gravel lakebed surrounding Gefahrinsel (Isla de Peligro) usually yields a round rock or two as we hike along it. Since they might be buried in the shifting gravel by our next visit, we generally pry them loose from the ground when we find them and then toss them atop the island for safe keeping.

Since I hadn’t expected the grass to take on the island, I originally had no worry about these found stones becoming lost again. Yet the grass was enshrouding them like long, green fingers sent up from the earth to reclaim what had been taken from it. So as one of us wielded the grass whip, the other stomped upon tufts of grass to see if they might be hiding a round rock or two. As they were rediscovered, they were tossed into the pile here.

I think we found most of the rocks. There may be one or two about in the grass that escaped our stomps. A couple of these are real beauties that will probably find their way back to the shelter area for contemplation and admiration. The only plan I have for Gefarhinsel is for geese or ducks to nest on it, so I don’t think any round rocks I leave behind will pose a problem for that. (Lacking a lake does pose a problem for that plan however.)

Programming Note: Spam comment blockage now up to 5,600 entries. Do they ever tire of a target?

Muscatine Music

Sunday, March 26th, 2006

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Here we are, on our last day of a lovely weekend in lovely Muscatine, Iowa, and I’ve heard something I’d long forgotten about.

But first a little digression. Muscatine is known as the Pearl Button Capital of the World. It sits beside the Mighty Mississippi (though not so mighty as the Mississippi I knew as a pup farther down the river in St. Louis), as it happens at a bend that was favorable to the thriving of freshwater mussels.

In the late 19th Century, and well into the 20th Century, the good people of Muscatine harvested mussels from the river and used the shells to create pearl buttons by the millions. These were exported all over the world and provided a livelihood (though never a fortune) for generations of Muscatiners. There is a museum in this delightful river town devoted to this unlikely bit of history, and to this day, people find button blanks and drilled shells throughout the town when they turn their gardens and such. Libby found a blank when we first arrived three days ago just resting on the ground beneath a tree.

The button industry changed, primarily by the advent of cheaper and more durable plastic buttons. Our modern age has not been favorable to the mussels either. Shifting uses of the river (dredging, channeling, building of levees), pollution, and most notably, the invasion of zebra mussels have made native mussels much less common. Many varieties are now extinct.

Still, Muscatine continues to thrive. It is home to many large industries, it is capitalizing on its pearl button past with the tourist trade, and it is revitalizing its riverfront in ways that Kansas City can’t even begin to dream of. (Why is that?)

And now I’ll end my digression (though it may not seem like it at first).

When Libby and I and our brood first moved to Kansas City from St. Louis, one of the first things in the natural world I noticed was that the birds were stupid. It was the cardinals, specifically. They didn’t know how to sing properly. The male cardinals did not sing their familiar song in the same way as I had heard it for so many years in St. Louis. They all sang it in the same Kansas City way, but it wasn’t the right way.

Now, as you may know, in my callow youth, St. Louis was home to two major sports teams known as the Cardinals. Ergo, if any cardinals knew the correct way to sing, it was the ones in St. Louis.

After a little time to reflect, I hit upon the idea that perhaps birds can sing in dialects just as humans can speak in dialects. I can imagine someone in Alabama may speak the same words in a different way from someone in Vermont, who would be different from someone in Florida, who would be different from someone in Washington, who would be different from someone in Australia. They would all be variations — dialects — from the correct way to speak (which is, of course, the way people from Missouri speak), but with a little effort I could understand them.

And so it is, I thought, with birds. Perhaps little cardinals in their own callow youth learned to sing in the way they heard around them, and regional variation was possible. Thus a new song pattern was reinforced through generations. It didn’t seem impossible. And while most birds sing, the cardinals of my youth had the most recognizable song pattern, so it was the one I could use for comparison.

And it turns out, there are people who actually do study bird dialects. I’ll leave the science to them and just piggyback on their legitimacy to validate my humble observations.

Which brings me back to Muscatine, Iowa. In the pre-dawn, as I sat in the dining room of the delightful bed and breakfast where we are staying, I heard the morning bird symphony begin, and among the songs was one I recognized from my long-ago St. Louis days. It was a cardinal singing in the way I’d first heard it so many years ago. It was a true St. Louis cardinal.

This makes sense. Muscatine is along the mighty Mississippi River. St. Louis is along the mighty Mississippi River. It doesn’t seem unreasonable that cardinals might more likely travel up and down the river than across the state to Kansas City. So if a given cardinal dialect were to be propagated across a region, Muscatine and St. Louis might share that song.

As for Roundrock . . . well, the cardinals there didn’t seem to get the proper upbringing. They sing in the Kansas City dialect, and while that is pleasing enuf, it think it justifies a few more trips to bed and breakfast inns to listen for birdsong.

Still Life with Skulls

Saturday, March 25th, 2006

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For a far finer discussion of this subject, you should visit Karl over at A Pile of O’Melays. (Not only does he know more about this subject than I do, but he’s actually built a big bunch of these bulky beasts. Be sure to poke around his fine Missouri blog.) The photo above — yes, I realize I was shooting into the sun yet again — is an example of how the Ozarks’ most common resource — rocks — can be put to productive use.

I had never seen these rock rings before we began visiting our woods in the Ozarks. I don’t suppose they are found only in west-central Missouri, but they certainly are found here in abundance.

Rock rings like these are commonly used to anchor a fence line. Generally they are used at high stress points like corners and gate posts. Creating them is simple. You wrap the woven metal fencing into a cylinder, place it upright on flat ground, and begin filling it with rocks. According to what Karl told me, you should put the larger rocks on the outside and use the smaller rocks for fill in the center. These become massive, weighty structures that will stay in place despite strong and constant tension. Their bulk is their best feature. Some folk try to build leaner cages, hoping for a better look, but they tend to topple from becoming top heavy. Over by our woods called Fallen Timbers a neighbor tried to build a short wall in this way, running two lengths of woven metal fabric parallel, about a foot apart. He then filled this with rocks, but something didn’t hold properly and the wall “leaks” rocks from one end.

If you are like my Roundrock neighbor, you can also choose to festoon them with cattle and deer skulls. (Also note the round rocks within.) My neighbor operates an archery range here, and this rock cage (one of a pair) marks the entrance to his property. On past visits we had seen broken arrows stuck in the top of the two cages, but lately they have been missing.

I admire this kind of ingenuity and resourcefulness, but I don’t see myself building these at Roundrock. I’m still planning on quarrying my lovely sandstone and building with that. (In fact, I find myself studying rock walls these days! Not a bad pastime.) But if that doesn’t work out, I certainly have plenty of other rocks underfoot.

Strange and Extraordinary

Friday, March 24th, 2006

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Well, I had considered entering the Missouri Forestkeepers Strange and Extraordinary Trees photo contest. But I didn’t think my meager photography skills would make me competitive at all.

Now that I see the winning photos, I think that my shots here and here might have been contenders.

But you be the judge. Visit the Forestkeepers site and see for yourself. (I hope they have a contest next year! I’ll certainly be prowling my forest for likely shots now.)

The tiger mask you see above is glazed ceramic, and it has been hanging in the woods for a decade. It first hung in a tree over the fire ring at Fallen Timbers, and now it oversees the pine plantation at Roundrock. (Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be scaring away the deer that are chewing on the little pines.) When we first set the mask out in the weather, we had no hope that it would last for long. The wet, the cold, and the heat would surely splinter the thing, we thought, and we’d return one day to find it in pieces on the ground. But it has defied our expectations. Now I imagine it becoming the nesting site for a small forest bird. Should that become the case, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Completely Off Topic: Libby and I are spending a delightful weekend in Muscatine, Iowa. We are doing our favored bed-and-breakfast thing. I’m sitting here in the quiet house, with snow gently falling outside, a glass of iced tea beside me, a strong wireless connection, and a day of small-town adventure ahead.

Meteor Showers

Thursday, March 23rd, 2006

When I grew up in St. Louis, we always claimed that we were spared all of the really bad weather because the Gateway Arch acted as a kind of meteorological anti-magnet that parted the evil clouds around the city. I don’t suppose that is true, and in any case, it certainly didn’t do anything about all of the humidity in that river city.

As spring swells here in the Midwest, I turn my eyes to the weather maps, eager to see giant storm cells linger over my woods at Roundrock. I want to get my lake refilled, so I watch the storms gather over the plains of Kansas and roll to the east where my Missouri woods lie.

And it seems that, more often than not, the storms part when they get close to my county, sending all of the wet weather to the north or south but bypassing Roundrock or merely giving it a token bit of rainfall. Storm cells that might swirl for whole days over lands to the west will hustle lickety-split over Roundrock, as though in a hurry to get to St. Louis or something.

And now I think I’ve puzzled out why.

It’s the meteor.

As long-time readers know, Roundrock sits within the impact structure of a meteor that struck the earth 350 million years ago. (This is not the same as being in the actual crater, however.) And though the geologist who first identified the puzzling “crypto-explosive event” of the area as an actual meteor impact has told me that the meteor was vaporized on impact, I have a suspicion that something has lingered. Something lies buried there in the earth that affects the weather. And since it sits to the southwest of my woods, it stands to twisted and convenient reason that it could steer the rain clouds around my watershed as they pass to the east and thus thwart my dreams of a filled lakebed.

Long-time readers will also know that Lake Marguerite, all two-and-a-half acres of it, and seventeen feet deep by the dam, filled overnight during one massive and wonderful storm the first spring after the dam was built. That would seem to disprove my theory, but perhaps it is the exception that proves the rule. This fact that it happened once taunts me now because it won’t happen again.
Now we embark on another spring, and I’m willing to burn a candle or hire dancers to make it rain. But if that damned meteor isn’t going to cooperate, what’s the point?

Who’s with me on this?

Peckerwood Cafe

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006

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There really was a restaurant east of Kansas City in an old river town named Lexington that was called the Peckerwood Cafe. It was originally a watering hole along the Santa Fe Trail, though if you are from Kansas City it is an article of faith that the Santa Fe Trail (and the California Trail and the Oregon Trail) began in Kansas City. (And don’t even get a true Kansas Citian started about how St. Louis stole the title of “Gateway to the West.” Pah!) So a watering hole on the Trail that is east of Kansas City is a bit of a conundrum. (And by watering hole I mean watering hole literally. A spring rises from the base of the cliff beside the cafe.)

The inconvenient fact is that the Santa Fe Trail began in a Missouri River town called Franklin, about a hundred miles east of what would eventually become Kansas City. Much of the traffic along the trail did pass through Kansas City, but there were so many branches off the trail that parks and historic sites all over the city display wagon ruts from trail trekkers. Sigh.

The Peckerwood Cafe was never much more than a greasy spoon, at least to hear the talk about it. By the time I could convince Libby to go to a place with a name like that, it was closed. The restaurant had been in a certain family for decades, and the two spinster sisters who were nearly the end of the family line kept it open for as long as they could. As a way to ensure its survival, they made a contingency in their will that their nephew would not inherit their fortune unless he kept the place open. Apparently the phrasing was such that he could open it one day a year to satisfy the terms of the will. So he has a big party once a year, but I’ve never been invited.

Which is a long way from the point of this post, which is the tree in the photo above. As you can see, this tree has also been a cafe of sorts for the woodpeckers at Roundrock. It sits beside the road where we usually park, and when I came upon it I was surprised that I hadn’t noticed the holes before. They are not fresh holes but have been through at least one winter.

Holes like this tell me that the tree is or was full of insects. This, in turn, tells me that the tree may not be upright much longer. This could be a problem since it could fall across the road. It’s not so mighty a tree yet that I couldn’t cut it up with my trusty Husky (or even the bow saw I always bring along) if that did happen, but it would be an inconvenience.

I am glad, though, that the forest is in tune so that the woodpeckers can thrive. It makes me think that my benign neglect is part of my stewardship.


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