Archive for May, 2006

Alien Invaders

Wednesday, May 31st, 2006

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It wasn’t so long ago that there were very few trees in the land I now call Roundrock. Cattle grazed on the abundant grass and sought shade under the occasional tree much as bison must have on the prairie that was here in pre-settlement times. But the cattle, like the bison, are gone now, and the trees have claimed the land.

The forest at Roundrock is mostly oak, and the most impressive of these are the Whites. The White Oaks prefer the best soil and water conditions. Where the Whites find this they tend to take it all for themselves, crowding out competitors and growing a dense canopy to shade out any upstarts. There is some diversity in my forest, of course, mostly comprised of different varieties of oaks, sprinkled with various nut trees that the oaks have allowed to share the land with them. The nuts are a minority and will never take over. They seem to know their place and are satisfied with it — the thinner soil, the drier conditions, the steeper slopes — as though they recognize that Roundrock was always intended for the White Oaks and their kin.

But this balance that the oaks find so comfortable is being upset. There is an alien invasion in the land. You know what I mean. It’s those cedars!

Cedars are different from the regular trees in my forest. You can tell just by looking at them. They tend to begin in the poorest areas, but they will thrive under any conditions and have no sense of staying where they belong. They even change the nature of the soil beneath them, making it unfit for other trees for a long time. The shallow roots of cedars suck up the water and nutrient resources. They reproduce like crazy and will take over anywhere they are given a chance. They are changing my forest.

Cedars are a tinderbox. They are oily; their needles are just begging to be set afire. Packed like a wretched, huddled mass in their dense areas, they are ripe for a careless firebrand or unheeded campfire, burning intensely hot and transferring the fire to all of the trees, ruining the forest for all.

The cedars are an incursion. They are coming into Roundrock from the outside. Smuggled in as seeds by birds. Marching relentlessly across the waste land. Mixing with the scrubby growth and hoping to be overlooked. Always finding new ways into Roundrock. I don’t have much worry from my neighbors to the north. They keep their land orderly and productively tilled. Nor does my western boundary present much incursion. It is a great sea of tall grass.

I think most of the incursion is coming from my neighbor’s land to the south. Much of my southern border is fenced though there is a quarter-mile gap that is unprotected. Not that I think any fence will keep these invaders out. That frontier is porous, and these invaders are legion.

Okay, I’ll admit that cedars can be put to use, if managed correctly. They make an excellent windbreak when planted and kept in neat rows. Some people use them as Xmas trees, and I suppose they have their colorful and festive moments.

And on a cold January day at Roundrock, the cedars provide a welcome relief from the monochrome gray of the forest. Their green vibrancy stands out along the lake shore. While the rest of the trees sleep, the cedars continue to work, providing shelter for the birds and fruits for the forest animals to eat in the bitterest months. Even deer will browse it. Cedars bring in a harvest for the critters when the rest of the trees won’t. Even the oil from the blue cedar fruits is used to flavor gin.

I’m told that cedar makes very sturdy and long-lasting fence posts. You can count on cedar to take on this kind of hard job, to stand fast and do it well. And I don’t want to forget how valuable cedar wood is for chests and closets. Cedar will protect our fine things if given the chance to do the work.

Cedar chips make excellent animal bedding, and turkey farmers in the great state of Missouri prize it for their flocks. So when you sit down to enjoy that great American tradition — the Thanksgiving turkey — you can thank the cedar trees for their contribution to our culture.

Cedars are a fact of life in my forest. It would be silly of me to deny their reality and disingenuous of me to deny their contribution. Studies have shown that there is now more forest in Missouri than in pre-settlement times, and Roundrock itself was once prairie. So from that point of view, even the mighty oaks are invaders to this part of land.

I’ve come to an accomodation with my cedars. I’m learning to speak their language. After all, there really is plenty of land in my forest for all kinds of trees.

Friendly Lizard

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006

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This little fellow couldn’t get enuf of Libby when we were last camping at Roundrock. We must have disturbed its den when we were gathering wood for our fire because it skittered through the leaves before our feet and up the side of a tree. But then it kept moving through the leaves nearby. All through the evening it would venture closer to us and just seem to watch us. Then some movement or sound would startle it, and the lizard would dash for the seeming safety of the tree.

But it let Libby get very close to it, close enuf to take this photo. (Disclosure: I have turned this photo by 90 degrees. The lizard is actually on the side of a tree trunk. But I thought the photo looked better this way.)

I’m pretty sure it is a Northern Fence Lizard since the size and coloring are right, and they are reported to be curious critters who are not much intimidated by us talking mammals. I’d written about another one I encountered here.

In the morning when we were packing up there was no sign of this little critter.

Missouri calendar:

  • Bird song at daybreak is at its peak.

Color inventory

Monday, May 29th, 2006

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Orange – the case holding my trusty Husky chainsaw.

Red – the container of fuel for my trusty Husky chainsaw.

White – the canvas bag holding various things for the trusty Husky chainsaw.

Black – the trash bag holding yesterday’s chigger-infested clothes.

Blue and White – the high-top sneakers I wear into the lake and pond.

Yellow – a random trash bag to be pressed into service later.

White and Gray and Blue and Yellow – the sneakers Libby wears into the lake (she won’t go in the pond at all!).

Clear and present – the accumulation of rainwater in the bed of my truck because I had it parked ever-so-slightly downhill during the stormy night.

When I bought this truck nearly a decade ago, the bedliner was already installed. It’s a thick, durable thing that seems to do the job well. Almost immediately I began receiving advice from all quarters telling me that periodically I had to remover the bedliner to check on the condition of the steel beneath it. This sounded like conventional wisdom that many people adhere to but few have ever questioned. First of all, I didn’t think that much of anything could happen to the steel of the original bed. And if it did, I was unlikely to do anything about it anyway. Second, the liner looks to have been popped into place with a fair amount of bending and probably some heat applied here and there. If I managed to get it out without breaking it, I worried that I couldn’t get it back in again.

And then there was the observation of my good friend Duff. Why should I care if the steel of the original bed was rusting? The liner was thick and durable enuf to hold anything I cared to dump in the truck bed. I’ve relied on this bit of wisdom for nearly a decade. (I have managed to pry up the base of the liner near the tailgate on hot August days, and the steel beneath still looks good.)

The drive to the lake (actually the drive back, which is uphill) allowed this water to drain from the bed. By the time we were ready to leave that afternoon, we had a dry stowage area for all of our junk.

Missouri calendar:

  • Young bald eagles begin fledging.

Prickly Pear

Sunday, May 28th, 2006

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I was struggling up some shakey rock along the broken ledge that defines our valley at Roundrock when I came upon this lovely. It is, as most of you already know, prickly pear.

Prickly pear is native to Missouri, and while I had seen it on some of our neighbor’s land, in all of my rambles about Roundrock, I had not seen it on my land. I resigned myself to its absence and had some vague notions (again with the notions) about transplanting some just so I could have it. I doubted that would be much of a success, and I wasn’t sure just what conditions it would need to thrive, so I let the notion fade away.

And then Roundrock surprised me with another discovery. (It’s one of the reasons I like coming to the woods.) This particular plant is growing out of a crack in the ledge rock, but it is on the north-facing slope, which is wetter and which I would not have guessed was suitable for this cactus. But there it is nonetheless, and it looks happy. In fact, it looks as though it is ready to blossom. I sure hope I am at Roundrock when the bright yellow blooms come forth. That would be a treat for Pablo.

I understand this is edible by talking mammals. I remember that instructions for preparing it were in the Boy Scout manual I had as a youngster. It involved carefully peeling away the green skin of these leaves (leaves?) and then flouring the white innards before tossing them in a hot pan of sizzling oil. As I recall, this was in the section about finding emergency foods when lost in the wild, but if you have a frying pan, cooking oil, and flour, how bad off can you be?

Regardless, next time I’m at Roundrock I intend to stumble back to this overlooked corner and look it over. There may be more prickly pear waiting to delight me.

Missouri calendar:

Ring Neck

Saturday, May 27th, 2006

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This little beauty is a Prairie Ring-Necked Snake. I’ve stated here a number of times that we rarely see snakes when we visit Roundrock, but now this makes us two for two in recent visits.

We came upon this snake shortly after we had arrived that morning, and the fact that it stuck around long enuf for me to snap a few pictures of it had me worried at first. The rocks you see in the ground around it are the large chunks of gravel that comprise our road into our woods. I feared that we had just driven over the snake. After examining it a bit more closely, however, we realized it was still alive. I suppose it was sluggish because the morning was still cool. In any case, it soon slithered into the tall weeds beside the road, probably in search of some crickets or earthworms for breakfast.

Missouri calendar:

  • Coyote pups begin emerging from dens.

Gray Matter

Friday, May 26th, 2006

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I thought about making a quiz out of this photo the way my good friend the Florida Cracker does on many Fridays, but I’ll leave such high adventure to him.

Here’s what I can tell you about the stuff in the photo.

  • It rests on the ground by the lake, which has become a popular watering hole among the local animals, but . . .
  • It is not of animal origin.
  • It is not the “loathsome, stinking goo” I have written about in the past.
  • It has no odor.
  • Its color is true.
  • It’s slimey. You could squeeze this stuff between your fingers if you actually wanted to touch it.

I think you can get an idea of the size of this mass based on the leaves in the photo.

Any guesses before I make the big reveal?

Okay, here it comes . . .

It’s some of the Bentonite we have been casting on the waters to seal the leak in the lake. (Okay, we hadn’t cast this bit on the water but on the shore near the water. I hoped two things: a) that the lake would rise to this point, or b) that the rains would wash this into the lake where it could be put to use.) This stuff has been swollen by the recent rains. The particles of Bentonite I cast are about the size of grains of salt on one of those big, hot, soft pretzels. Note how big the grains can swell. Now imagine those grains lodging themselves in the leaky, gravelly areas of the lakebed and then swelling this much. In theory, they could plug the holes and give me a lake. (The problem has always been getting enuf of it into the lake and getting enuf of it into the leak.)

Using a stone, I flicked a good bunch of this wet clay into the water of the lake, but I doubt that it came to rest directly upon a leak. Still, one must persevere.

Housekeeping note: My comment spam has now exceeded 60,000. Most of it gets caught by the filter, but some is still getting through. I was already crazy enuf before dealing with this.

Missouri calendar:

  • The large yellow flowers of Missouri primrose bloom on Ozark glades.

Land of Serendib

Thursday, May 25th, 2006

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Such an erudite crowd as regular readers of this blog have shown themselves to be hardly needs an etymology lesson. But on rare occasions, new readers find their way here, and perhaps they would appreciate some relief from the arcane babblings of your humble author, Pablo.

The word “serendib” has its roots in ancient Sanskrit, and an early Persian tale entitled “Three Princes of Serendib” tells of these happy fellows who were able to enjoy unexpected and unsought solutions to all of the problems they faced. To the Persians, Serendib was the island once known as Ceylon and now known as Sri Lanka. The British philospher Horace Walpole (not quite as ancient as Sanskrit) coined the word “serendipity” from this princely tale, and this long lineage finally brings us to Roundrock and our visit of last weekend.

You may recall that on our last trip to Fallen Timbers (that other little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks that we own), our neighbor Max readily agreed to mow our overgrown road and ridgetop campsite, saying he enjoyed the fun of the work. Well, we have a similar growth problem at Roundrock, and I have sometimes called the road along our northern property line our Greenway, in part because it grows green with grass in the summer and in part because there is a reference to a similar road with a similar problem in Tolkein. The easement across our neighbor’s meadow leading into Roundrock is also lost in the prairie grass for half the year.

Libby and I have tried various lackluster means to conquer the grass and reclaim the road, but all have been piecemeal and strikingly ineffective. The grass whips are outclassed by this grass. The thick prairie grass tends to just lean over when struck rather than allow itself to be cut (the blades are all working together, I suspect). We tried once or twice to spray the roadways with a malevolent poison that will kill any green thing, but we must have blended the chemical wrong because we hardly made a difference (and I was quite reluctant to put that kind of poison on the ground at Roundrock). I once rented a walk-behind weed whipper that might have made a real difference except that it had a fatal design flaw. It used conventional plastic whip ends, which broke every five minutes or so. I spent more time replacing these than whipping any grass. (I suspect the whip ends were antiques and so brittle that they didn’t have much life left in them.)

Our only real solution was to drive on our roadways as much as possible so that we could keep a vague track open to follow. I’m told that regular driving on gravel roads (and we do have gravel at the base) tends to keep them open, but I guess passing over them once or maybe twice a month doesn’t constitute “regular driving.” In any case, there are plenty of other things to be done at Roundrock, and we were about one of them when a serendipitous event happened.

We were in the pine plantation, adding fence caging around the pines to protect them from hungry deer, when we heard a grumbling that could not have been thunder (nor our stomachs). The grumbling grew closer, and it sounded as though it was coming down our road through the trees.

Presently, a bright red tractor came around the bend in the road. Atop it was a man, and behind it was a brush hog. This was our neighbor immediately to our west (not the gentleman who accidentally burned part of our forest, who is more to the southwest, but a relatively new landowner in the area who knows about mechanical things and generosity of spirit). It seems that when we first met him some months ago, he mentioned how he had a tractor and brush hog and how much he enjoyed mowing pasture. (Again with that sentiment. Hmmm!) I told him, jokingly, that if he ever ran out of pasture on his sixty acres, he was welcome to indulge his passion on our easment and road.

And that was what he was doing for us that Saturday afternoon. He had already mowed the easement, he told us, and if we didn’t mind, he’d like to mow the rest of our road, all the way down to the dam. (At this point I was thinking of ways to divide our upcoming dinner of two steaks and six beers three ways.) No, he would not take payment for his work, but he stated that if we ever needed diesel fuel, he had a giant tank of it over at his site that we were welcome to draw from.

Aren’t good neighbors wonderful?

Brian, for that is this good man’s name, chatted with us for a while, but then he jumped back on his tractor and engaged in some more of his kind of fun. He disappeared down our road, deeper into Roundrock, and we heard the grumbling fade away for a while. We continued our work among the pines, but soon we heard him approach again. He only waved as he passed us this time, and we learned later that he had begun his day working on our roads. Only after that would he allow himself to mow his own road and pasture.

Aren’t good neighbors wonderful?

Libby and I talked of how we could thank him, keeping in mind that he refused payment, and we concluded that we could get him a gift certificate at the local cheese shop (it’s kind of a regional landmark), slipping it in a note filled with good words and warm wishes, which is what we have done.

We also talked about how we might benefit from having a tractor and brush hog of our own. Just about every rural person we know has assured us that we will, eventually, get ourselves a tractor, and add-on parts will accumulate like iron filings to a magnet. Libby wondered if I would find mowing as pleasant a pastime as others have expressed. She thought I might hop atop my tractor one morning and not return until I had trimmed the entire county. And maybe I will!

Missouri calendar:

  • Coneflowers and tickseed coreopsis blooming on prairies and roadsides.

Carnival of Anthropomorphic Trees

Wednesday, May 24th, 2006

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Let’s declare this post the first ever Carnival of Anthropomorphic Trees. Like other blog carnivals, Roundrock Journal will be the host site this month, and then another blog will host it next month. Who’s interested in being the next host? I’m sure there are plenty of trees in the blogosphere that give some sort of human appearance. In the past, I have posted about one here and a different one here.

Fort Wayne Indiana etc. has what must be the ultimate answer to logging depredations in this tree. (I don’t think it’s been photoshopped either.)

The Missouri Forestkeepers Strange and Extraordinary Trees contest came up with this cute image.

This one from Red Oak Hollow might keep you awake at night. And so might this festive one. Strange things seem to happen in Tennessee.

The lovely Rexroth’s Daughter Robin Andrea over at the wonderful New Dharma Bums blog made this post about a couple of anthropomorphic trees she encounters near her place in Washington state.

Kati at RealMud Garden has this contribution of her yoga tree.

And in the not-safe-for-work category, there are these natural features captured on Best Funny Pictures (though I have to wonder if some are not legit).

The tree in the photo above is at our woods called Fallen Timbers. When I had a forester out there to make suggestions for improving our woods, he recommended removing this very tree. His motivation was to improve the stand for producing timber (which would not hurt the wildlife benefits of the forest), so such a tree as this one would not be a keeper. I, however, could not bear to take it down (nor would I want to try to bring down a tree this large). So it remains while others around it have fallen from storms.

Update: Plans are afoot for a regular Festival of Trees, just like the many other blog carnivals and circuses. I promise to post about this when plans grow more firm.

Missouri calendar:

  • Listen for the gray treefrog chorus.

Purple Warning

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006

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This is not some unlikely geological specimen. It is, however, a warning.

The common road leading deep into the former cattle ranch that Roundrock sits in rises to the top of a ridge and comes to this pile o’rocks. At this point you would turn left or right to get to my woods (but I’m not saying which). Getting there still involves crossing the property of several of my neighbors, which legal easements and neighborly courtesy make possible. Unless you’re an interloper.

You will recall the harrowing account of the turkey hunter who invited himself onto Roundrock and then lied about having permission when he was confronted by my neighbor. My neighbor had determined that all of the other landowners east or west of this rock pile (but I’m not saying which — and it really could be north or south for that matter) had not given the hunter permission to cross their lands. Once he learned that I hadn’t either, he knew that the interloper had no legal authority to pass beyond this pile o’rocks. And thus the purple stone.

I don’t know how widespread the use of purple paint is as an indicator of No Hunting, but it is commonplace in Missouri. (It must be a norm of sorts since I know some states have passed regulations recognizing purple markings for this purpose, and at least one paint manufacturer advertises a purple outdoor paint that is intended for this purpose. When the forester we hired to assess our tree loss at Fallen Timbers several years ago reviewed each stump, he sprayed them with a blue paint — so he wouldn’t count them again — and that blue paint lasted for years. It appears to me that purple paint also has some staying power in the outdoors, though it could be chemistry rather than color. Anyone who cares to enlighten me on this is encouraged to do so.)

Strictly speaking, a purple post or sign or rock does not mean that hunting cannot take place beyond that point. I’ve known many landowners who hunt their own lands even though they have ringed them with purple. What this means, rather, is that a random hunter cannot assume that he or she (but I’m not saying which) can pass this purple point in pursuit of prey. Basically, the lord of the manor is reserving all of the game within for himself.

I am of two minds about this (no surprise there, eh?). I really don’t consider the turkeys and deer and other wild things that cross my land to be my turkeys and deer and other wild things. They are not my property, and if a luckless deer steps a hoof over the imaginary line that we talking mammals have more or less agreed is a legal border, then any hunter properly equipped and licensed is free to blast away. Nor do I object to hunting as a sport and wildlife management tool, though I don’t participate myself. (I have been known to pull a few fish out of the water though.)

At the same time, one of the reasons Libby and I first began searching for a wilderness hideaway was to get away from the great unwashed, chattering mass of humanity. We want reliable solitude and our little bit of elbow room. Maintaining our space, with a reasonable expectation that it will be respected by the uninvited, is what Roundrock is for us, in part. (It is also a classroom, a playground, a spa, a humbler, an exalter, a harsh mistress, a gentle lover, and plenty of other things.) And, of course, there is the little matter of liability should someone be hurt while in our woods.

We have posted our land as Private Property. I’ve noted before that I find these kinds of signs to be jarring in the middle of the forest, but my insurance man encourages me to put them up. Should I ever turn to purple paint to get the message across, I will probably not paint natural objects like tree trunks and rocks. Rather, I will use boards to serve as the canvas for my art and hang these along the line.

All of this does not apply to you, though. You are always welcome at Roundrock.

Missouri calendar:

  • Young beavers emerge from ledges lodges.

5.20-21.2006

Monday, May 22nd, 2006

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Along with all of the endless, adoring love and the witty conversation, a side benefit of having the twins home for the summer is that we now have someone to take care of our pet menagerie (eight at the current census) while Libby and I take off for the weekend. And so it was to Roundrock for a weekend of camping and general outdoorsy frolicking.

We had no specific agenda for our weekend other than knowing that it might be nearly a month before we could travel out to the woods again. (Various family-type obligations, dagnabit.) There was still some fencing to put around the pine trees, and there was a lake to visit. There had been some rain down thataway since our last visit, and we were hopeful we’d see a fuller lake. And after an entire winter of procrastination, there was a backyard maple tree to be transplanted at Roundrock.

Our first task, thus, was the put the maple tree in the ground since we had “liberated” it from a pot on our deck earlier that morning, and we didn’t want it to die in our care. I had picked a spot near the entrance to our woods where I was pretty sure there was good soil (not all that common at Roundrock) and where I thought it would be kept watered merely by the drainage of water across the ground.

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Here you see the maple in its new home. When you drive into Roundrock on a crisp autumn day, this tree will be flaming red and happy to greet you. We later put a fence around it to keep the deer off of it for a few years until it is established.

Our next task was to set up the tent. Though I hadn’t seen any rain in the forecast for that day, the sky was cloudy, and to the north we could hear ominous rumbling. Well, we’ve pitched our tent enuf times to be experts.

Soon we were off to the pine plantation to finish putting chicken wire fencing around them to spare them the munching of the deer. We ran out of fencing before we ran out of pines, but the great bulk of them are safe for a while. As we were doing this, a curious, serendipitous event happened, but I’ll save that for an upcoming post. Next,

The lake was higher by about a foot since our last visit. We can never be sure how high it may have been since we tend to arrive a few days after the downpours and evaporation and leakage can draw it down. Still, we were tickled to see the water creeping up and the leaks remaining relatively minor down among the pecans. There was nothing to be done but to jump into our swimming togs and then into the lake.

Okay, the water was plenty warm down to about four feet, but the sun had checked out and clouds reigned in the sky. Plus a wind was blowing down the Central Valley. We waded up to our necks, but once we’d gone out about that far, we turned around and waded back to shore and dry towels. It was nice, nonetheless, to wash off after a day of sweating.

Back at camp we fixed our fine dinner, which you can see above, and then we sat around the campfire for several hours, watching the embers and feeding the fire bits of twig and whatever we could lay our hands on without rising from the comfy chairs.

Our hope of seeing the stars was dashed by the clouds, and though we wandered over to our neighbor’s meadow for a bigger view of the sky (and where we were menaced by some unseen critter in the tall grass nearby that was hissing at us in what Libby thought sounded catlike — a Howler?)

On to bed and the serenade of a Chuck Will’s Widow (something like a whippoorwill, and just as maddening after 500 iterations of its call!!!). The rain, lightning, and crashing thunder arrived at about 1:30 in the morning and gave us quite a concert for about three hours.

We rose when we woke on Sunday morning and helped ourselves to a cold breakfast (again in the comfy chairs) and thought in the abstract about taking a hike, looking for a deep cistern supposedly in our neighbor’s woods. (He invited us to stomp about his land.) Eventually, we stirred ourselves from our chairs and did make the hike, but we didn’t find a cistern. (We did leave several piles of peanuts on various logs and stumps.)

Because we wanted the tent to dry a bit before we packed it away, we left it up and headed down to the lake again, this time with a canister of goldfish food to scatter on the water and watch as our mystery fishes gobbled it up. Unfortunately, the vagaries of the wind meant that at least half of it wound up on the shore (or on us) rather than in the water. But the food that did make it onto the lake was gobbled up by tiny fish (and apparently tadpoles).

Back at camp we finished packing up and headed home. A number of significant events happened with our family while we were away (shenanigans in Africa and Oregon) which lead to several calls on our cell phone once we were back in range to receive a signal.

Home now and exhausted. But lotsa good blog material, so I hope you come back.

Missouri calendar:

  • Green sunfish and bluegill begin nesting.
  • Antlers begin to grown on white-tailed deer bucks.