Archive for June, 2006

6.25.2006 Part 4

Friday, June 30th, 2006

lake mound.JPG

With an entire afternoon ahead of us, a plunge in the lake was inevitable. After a morning of working in the sun, it was desirable as well.

We enjoyed our lunch and the regular stupor afterward, but the sirens called, and soon we were packing the cooler and changing into our swimming gear. The surface of the lake had been collecting solar energy for many weeks now, and I was confident that the water would be warm and welcoming. When I stumbled down the rocky hillside to the water’s edge, I thought about simply diving directly into the lake, and I might have had I not been wearing a ball cap, which would have been knocked from my head. Then it might end up on the bottom of the lake, never to grace my head again. Such things must be considered.

So I waded in, and I could feel the warmth of the water wrapping around my legs as I moved deeper into the tea-colored water. Soon I was up to my shoulders, and then the ground dropped away from my feet and I was swimming. The water was soothingly warm, and only my strongest kicks brought up any cold water from the deep.

My swimming priorities are all wrong when I first enter the water. I can see Roundrock from a new angle when my head is at water level, and so I want to look around. Unfortunately, having left my glasses in the truck so they didn’t end up on the bottom of the lake, never to grace my head again, I had to contain my examinations to those things relatively near.

I paddled over to the stretch of broken ledge on the south side of the lake. Normally I am standing on this crumbling rock, looking down upon it. Or it is covered in water so I don’t see it at all. But this afternoon it was just at head height and so I could float along beside it and see what there was to see. What I saw were a million fragmented bits of ledge all wedged together, and each crack looked like a potential leak site. This is a realistic concern, and the fact that the new sustained water level has consistently been just below this ledge suggests that the concern may be valid. So this may be the focus of future Bentonite work. Hmmm.

Then I thought I would take the opportunity to examine the carving of our initials I had made in one of the boulders that sit in ten feet of water when the lake is full. In a similar way, I am either standing on this boulder when I want to see the initials, or they are underwater. But on this afternoon, I could again float beside them and study them to my heart’s content. Which I did, though there wasn’t so much to study. The carved initials were still there, of course. Time underwater had given them a bit more contrast than when I had first gouged them out of the white limestone, and after I had splashed a little water on them just because, I floated back out to the center of the lake where Libby waited.

There wasn’t much else to examine. The face of the dam was growing over with scubby green things, which wasn’t bad since it would help prevent erosion until the water rose to that level again. I found that silt is lining the bottom of the lake, making all of the sharp rocks that were originally there a little easier to tread upon. (And, I hope the silt is helping to seal the leaks. I’m told that it can, though not as well as Bentonite, but I don’t have to pay for the silt, nor do I have to apply it, and it seems to be going down more evenly and more universally than the Bentonite I manage to cast from the shore.) When my feet could touch the bottom, I tried to make a mental map of the lakebed, but I’m not sure how well I did or how well I needed to do.

But, you see, I was busy with the wrong priorities. I was still trying to manage my woodsy wilderness, and that’s not the best use of the lake. Libby, of course, was far ahead of me. She was floating about, swimming occasionally, feeling the sun on her face, floating a bit more. And it wasn’t until I finally abandoned myself to the warm, weightless, watery womb that I began to use the lake properly.

Lake Marguerite provides its greatest service when it allows us to wash away our cares and concerns and simply exist in mindless drifting. No agendas. No projects. No schedules. Simply floating. Better than leaving my watch at home, the floating hours can pass without heed and the mind can restore itself. We might track the sun across the sky and make a guess at the hour, but mostly we don’t care. We just swim about, suspended in the warm water, until we are finished swimming about. And then one or the other of us recollects that we are actually land animals and that the world of responsibility awaits our return. With some reluctance we paddle back to the shore where we left our towels and begin to grow familiar again with gravity and the weight of the world.


During our float, we could hear a heavy machine coursing back and forth beyond our trees a mile or so away. We assumed it was Good Neighbor Brian, busy mowing his meadow, and that we would soon see him and Debbie coming down our hill to join us in the water. But they never appeared, and as we drove out at the end of the day, we paused by his land and peered across the tall grass, but we saw no sign of him.


The green mound you see in the photo above is the new island (Gefarinsel) we had pushed into place when we had the dam repair work done several years ago. Lake Marguerite should, it its prime, reach all of the way around this island and beyond to surround the even larger island you cannot see from this shot. I have seen Gefarinsel (Isla de Peligro) surrounded by water a couple of times, but I have yet to see the entire lakebed covered with water.

Missouri calendar:

  • Bats bear young this month.

(P.S. I don’t think any bats are bearing young in my house this month. We’ve gone two days now without a sighting.)

6.25.2006 Part 3

Thursday, June 29th, 2006


Soon after we had planted the pine trees in the former Blackberry Corner, we threw grass seed on the bare ground around them. My intent was to hold the soil in place and perhaps provide a bit of food or cover for the wild things. Since we were starting with new grass here, we thought that we could probably keep it mowed using our own backyard mower sitting so unsuspectingly in our garage.

The grass made a slow start, and plenty of other green things took the opportunity to colonize the exposed ground. (The soil is deep here. There are no rocks to speak of. If I were to raise a garden, this would be the place to do it — unlike the virtual hardpan of just about everywhere else at Roundrock.) Libby and I, and occasionally one of the offspring, would march through this area, swinging the grass whip lustily, hoping to knock down the emerging forbs so that the tiny pines would have some chance at sunlight. (Also, note that it is quite satisfying to chop through the blackberries that are still trying to press their old claim to this bit of earth.)

Bringing the mower from suburbia to the wilds of Roundrock, however, was something we never managed to do. I think we simply forgot our ambition of mowing the still-manageable grass and nascent scrub until we arrived at the pine plantation and smacked our collective foreheads, only then remembering our ambition. But on this last visit, Pablo had remembered. I think it had something to do with all of the fence work we have been doing around the pines as well as their endearing compliance with my wishes that they actually grow.

And this was the muscle work that I spoke of before. In suburbia, mowing a lawn is little more than walking behind a machine. At Roundrock, mowing a meadow with a barely adequate machine is real work. Our plan was to mow until the gas tank ran dry, and since we could generally get about two sessions of suburban lawn mowing out of one tank of gas (a comparable space of ground), we thought we could easily clear the entire pine plantation with fuel to spare. (You know where this is going, right?)

I set the wheels on the mower to their highest setting (that is, to raise the mower as high as I could over the ground), gave the cord a quick pull, and set off to tame the wilderness. I think, somewhere at the back of my mind, I understood that some of the growth in the pine plantation was too dense or too tall for our prissy suburban lawnmower to handle, but I got started in one of the sparser areas, and I sailed ahead swiftly, feeling all sorts of satisfaction and industriousness. After I had made a few passes, Libby commented that it sure seemed as though I was cutting the grass low, even though I had adjusted the wheels and such. But she is more discerning than I, so I stopped the mower and fiddled with the wheels again and found that while I had set the front wheels properly, I had set the rear wheels as low as they could go rather than what I had intended. Okay, that was an easy fix, and Pablo was off again, skimming over the scrub and grass, skirting the caged pines, bumping over roots and branches that had been hidden in the grass, and sometimes — sometimes — killing the engine when he pushed into the taller stuff on the perimeter.

It soon became clear even to the sun-addled brain I was using at the time, that I ought to devote my efforts to the areas more sparsely grown, but I wanted to mow a perimeter to define what work needed to be done. I guess part of me wanted to beat back the wilderness and say something like “This much is mine!” I dunno.

Libby and I took turns at the mower, and when we weren’t pushing it, we were making sure the various chairs (seen in photo above) still worked properly, generally also assessing the quality of the shade and the taste of the iced tea (unsweetened, of course).

Even though the area of the plantation is comparable to the area of our yard in suburbia, we ran out of gas long before we ran out of mowing to be done. I think a lot of torque was needed to chop at the dense grass and stalks of plants and this sucked the gasoline more greedily. Well, I always appreciate when an outside force tells me it’s time to quit working. I think we managed to mow about three-quarters of the pine plantation, and while what is left to do is the mostly difficult stuff, I’ll probably bring the mower on my next visit and try to clean that up as well. (There is no thought of taking that suburban lawnmower into the pecan plantation below the dam, however. That will take a much more intrepid machine, which I can rent from the hardware store in town. And I may.)

We had brought another roll of chicken wire fencing to finish protecting the baby pines. There were still a half dozen “virgins” as Libby called them, and we kept wrapping them until we ran out of fencing. That left about a half dozen virgins still to be defended, but my hope is that there is plenty of other food now available for the deer to nibble on, and so they might not go for our pines before we can protect them on our next visit.

Because we don’t wear watches when we are at Roundrock, we didn’t have a clear idea of what time it was when all of this work was finished. Our stomachs, however, suggested it was lunch time, so we packed our gear and drove back to our new shelter. And now you can see why we chose to pursue our chores in the order we had. A cool shelter was waiting for us after a morning of tough mowing in the sun. Had we ordered the tasks the other way, I don’t know that we would have had the patience or energy to erect and fuss with a shelter tarp.

And so we fell into the comfy chairs under the shady tarp above the empty lake and tucked in to our tasty lunch. But there was still one more thing to be done that day.

Missouri calendar:

  • Eastern bluebirds begin third (last) nesting.

6.25.2006 Part 2

Wednesday, June 28th, 2006

new shelter.JPG
Roundrock now has a renewed shelter! Libby and I had all along intended to replace the old wind-torn tarp (the “hurt yurt” that Thingfish found so painfully phrased), but we had trouble finding a tarp of sufficient size that wasn’t a screaming FEMA blue. We didn’t want such a garish color in the middle of our woods (though it sits on house rooftops for months on end in some places). We would have settled for dark green, but our preference was for the chocolate brown since it is more of an all-season color for the Ozarks.

And so it was that on Saturday evening before our trip out to Roundrock, Libby and I were at one of the big box hardware stores asking about such a tarp. The clerk who helped us had lead us to the outdoor department and pointed to the bright blue tarps, none of which were large enuf even if they had been the right color. We were about to despair again when a second clerk suggested we might find what we sought in the paint department. This seemed just counter-intuitive enuf to make a kind of sense. These tarps are much more heavy duty than I would think a painter would choose for a drop cloth, but the paint department was on the way to the check out lanes, so it was worth a try. And, voila! There they were. Brown tarps in all the shapes and sizes Pablo could ask for, including one identical to what we had used before (which would mean that the existing posts and trees and general rope arrangements of the past could be repeated). And best of all, the one we selected was one-fourth the cost of the tarp we were replacing. If it lasted only half as long, it would still be a savings (which means more money for Bentonite, I guess).

This was the brainwork I mentioned in yesterday’s post. Given the opportunity to rebuild our shelter, Pablo thought he might try to re-engineer it a bit to correct its past major deficiency: the sagging ridgeline. If I was successful, it would require a bit of adjustment for all of the corner lines, and thus brainwork was to be called upon. This was not the primary reason for staging this task when we did, but certainly we could not have resorted to brainwork during our post-lunch stupor.

The main problem with the sagging ridgeline has been due to Pablo’s love of tying taut line hitches. This is a knot that allows you to snug up the rope to make it more taut, which is handy when tents and tarps are a-saggin. I had tied one at each end of the ridgeline (which was strung between two trees), thinking (stupidly, it turned out) that I had two chances to snug up the ridge line. What this really meant was that there were two chances for the ridge line to loosen itself, and when it came time to snug the hitches, I had to stand on a chair on the uneven ground just to reach them.

But Pablo’s mind is ever at work, and I had re-imagined the ridgeline in the intervening months since the failure. The two problems were that I had too many weak points and that I didn’t have good access to them. The solution was to reduce the weakness to only one point, and to position it in a much more workable place.

So what I did was snug the taut line hitch against the trunk of the tree on the right. This is not the proper knot for this kind of thing, but I wasn’t not going to untie something I had tied years ago and that had been in wind and rain and cold and heat ever since. In any case, with the knot against the trunk, it was not going to move at all, which was my real goal.

Instead of tying a knot at the other tree (on the left), I instead simply passed the rope around the tree, careful to go over a small branch so the rope wouldn’t slide down the tree. I then lead the rope down to the ground at the back of the tarp where I had sunk a steel fence post many years ago. It was here that I tied the taut line hitch. It is still a relatively weak knot under the circumstances (given the acreage the tarp has and the resulting wind and snow-load stresses it endures), but it is one that I can snug anew each time we visit the tarp since it is low to the ground and I can bring more force to bear on it.

The plan seems to have worked. The new ridge line stayed high over our heads the whole time we were under the tarp. (In the past we had to stoop when we walked under the tarp.) We still need to adjust the corner ropes to flatten the tarp more. I think I need to turn the whole tarp a few degrees clockwise so it straddles the ridge line a little better, and in the coming months, Libby and I will work on that.

The tarp itself is a bit of a wonder as well. The top, as you can see, is chocolate brown. But the underside is silver. (Not very discernable in the photo, I’m afraid.) At first I thought this was done as a winter survival device. Someone trapped in a snowbound camp might sit on the silver side of the tarp (on the ground, of course) and get some solar gain from the reflected heat. Okay. I didn’t anticipate a need for that, but it was good to file in the back of my mind. But it was something unexpected that turned out to be the real silver lining of the silver lining.

The area under the tarp is much more bright as a result. The tarp gives us sufficient shade from the sun, but the resulting light beneath it allows us to see each other and the food we are eating and so forth. I was surprised at what a difference it was, and the old tarp now seems cavelike compared to our new situation. And I suppose if I were under the shelter at night with a lantern burning on the table top, I would benefit from the silver ceiling even more significantly.

It’s a little hard to tell from the photo, but there are three chairs under the tarp. Two are for Libby and me, but the third one, well, that’s for you!

So my brain benefited from my brain work. What lay ahead for Libby and me was some muscle work, but I’ll tell you about that tomorrow.

Festival of the Trees – If you have blogged about a tree you love, or if you know of a blogger who has made a treeish post, there is still time to submit it for the first ever Festival of Trees.
Missouri calendar:

  • Dog-day cicadas begin to sing.

6.25.2006 Part 1

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

blue sky.JPG

Too long since we’d been out to the woods together, but a promise of a long swim in the lake was enuf to snatch a free Sunday and make the trip. The weekend had brought a break in the heat, but the afternoon was forecasted to reach into the 80s, so a morning of work and an afternoon plunge sounded like just the plan for us.

We managed to get on the road a little earlier than normal, which meant our favorite bagelry where we regularly got breakfast was not yet opened. Rather than wait the half hour or so to indulge in some on-the-road bagels, we pushed on and settled for a fast-food-franchise breakfast an hour later.

As we approached Roundrock, all of the signs of recent rains were good. While the massive Corps of Engineers impoundment looked no fuller (and how much rain would it take to cause a rise across those thousands of acres of flat water?), it looked no less full. Many of the smaller lakes we passed were brimming with water, and when we got to our turn off, the rough gravel road held large puddles of water. Thus we hoped (as we always do) that Lake Marguerite might be fuller and holding its water.

Good Neighbor Brian — he who mows our road for fun — had thought he and his wife, Debbie, might be out to their woods on Sunday as well, so there was the prospect that we might get together, which meant that we needed to get about our chores right away. The pleasant diversion with neighbors could come at any time.

Our first task, however, was to visit the lake and see what there was to see. As we drove down through the trees toward the dam, our eyes peered through the trunks that obscured our view — abetted now by leaves on the scrub.

Alas, Lake Marguerite was no fuller either, and, in fact, it looked less full. It appeared to have dropped nearly a foot since I’d last seen it. Still, it was a sufficient puddle for a good swim later, so we were buoyed a bit.

When the USDA man had toured Roundrock with us so long ago, he had said that given the setting and the prevailing winds coming down our Central Valley, we could expect to lose up to two inches of water each day through evaporation. Since the lake was only down by perhaps twelve inches, and since the weather had been consistently dry and hot, I think we were fortunate to have the water we did. (We will have a fine lake here some day!)

Part of our visit to the lake has become a brief tour of the pecan plantation to see how the leaks below the dam are flowing. As I’ve said before, the pool that remains once all of the leaking is done has grown larger over the years, which suggests to me that the leaks are slowly being fixed. On this day the pool — though down a bit — was larger than the early days. In fact, I can judge where our sustainable high-water level is based on the grasses growing in the lakebed. Where the grasses grow thickly I know that no water has been standing for any extended time. But where bare ground is exposed, in a wide rim at the west end of the existing pool, I conclude the lake has covered that area long enuf to kill the vegetation. The fact that it is dry now can be accounted for through evaporation rather than leakage. (Or unbridled wishful thinking.) And in our stomp through the pecans (well, can I call them that?) we found dry gravel with no flowing or standing water and no sign of there having been any recently. Even the eternal pool that has formed just below the overflow drain was much diminished, suggesting it wasn’t being recharged by leakage.

We had three tasks on our agenda for the day. One, of course, was the swimming, but the other two were a bit less soothing and indulgent, though no less satisfying. One involved brain work, and the other called for muscle work. We opted to pursue them in that order for reasons that I will make clear, but I’ll tell you about them tomorrow. Or maybe the day after.

Missouri calendar:

  • Cricket frog breeding is at its peak.

Post Oak Pest Post

Monday, June 26th, 2006

Post Oaks. It’s a wonder these poor plants persist given all of the pernicious pests that pummel and plague them. When I made my past Post Oak post, prize reader and occasional pontificator Kim pondered and posed whether the pleasing trees had any pests. Pablo paused portentiously. Possibly and probably, he ponderously postulated. And so Pablo pursued this plethora of pesky pestilence.

Post Oaks, it seems, are victims of a three-pronged attack that most other oaks suffer from: insects, diseases, and pollution.

The insects can assault the leaves, the acorns, and even the wood. Among the list of insects that aren’t friendly to Post Oaks are weevils, leafrollers, tent caterpillars, Gypsy moths, sawflies, leaf miners, aphids, lace bugs, gall wasps, mites, and a particularly scary-sounding one called a skeletonizer. Twigs, trunk, and root are the specialty of carpenter worms, borers, beetles, twig pruners, white grubs, and cicadas. But the horrors don’t end there.

Various fungi like to set up housekeeping in Post Oak trees. Curiously, one of the biggest threats to Post Oak is Chestnut blight fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica), but then, chestnust are sort of honorary oaks anyway. Oak wilt is another threat, though that bedevils the Red Oaks more, and various powdery mildews will harm younger trees. There are also fungi that live in the ground and go after the oak’s roots.

Another odd little assaulter of Post Oaks is mistletoe, which is a type of parasite that grows on other plants and sucks nutrients and water from them. Mistletoe rarely kills a tree outright, but it can kill individual branches and cause deformities. I’ve never seen mistletoe at Roundrock, and I’m not likely to. It tends to prefer lowland trees (and Roundrock is ridgetop land), and it isn’t reported to venture as far north into Missouri as my woods.

I hope that Roundrock is remote enuf from pollution sources like cities to spare my trees from this insult. Pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, flouride, and ammonia have been fingered as possible oak killers. Fortunately, dihydrous dihydrogen monoxide is not dangerous to Post Oaks because they are exposed to this compound frequently.

Missouri calendar:

  • Watch for northern water snakes basking near water.

Nature Boy

Sunday, June 25th, 2006

bat inside.JPG

With all of the recent posts in the blogosphere of folks having birds nesting in their homes or having raccoons passing through their kitchens, I was feeling a little too suburban and antiseptic.

But no more. Last Saturday morning (yesterday) I rose (at 3:30 like I generally do on a Saturday) to find four bats (so far) flitting about my house. I managed to capture them by throwing towels over them and then gingerly carrying them outside, where they managed to flit away.

bat outside 2.JPG

It is ironic that for years we had a bat house outside but could never attract the little dears, and now they seem to have found a way into our real house. Amber (the son’s fiance) thinks they may be coming in through the bathroom vents, which is a bother since we aren’t going to close those.

Update: A fifth bat made an appearance on Saturday night after Libby and I had gone to bed. A shreik was involved in the sudden discovery. Aaron and Amber, feeling they were trapped in the basement by the menacing bat in the stairwell, used his cell phone to call our house phone to wake up Libby and me to rescue them. Although I don’t doubt the claim, no further bat sightings were made in the night.

Second Update: Bat #5 was caught on Sunday evening, and moments later bat #6 was also caught. I’m not sure what to make of this number. One or two I could see getting in by accident, but this many suggests that they consider our house a roost. I’ll keep you posted.

Missouri calendar:

  • Smoketrees bloom on southwestern Missouri glades.


Saturday, June 24th, 2006


What was this? As you may know, we collect our milk jugs at home in suburbia and take them to Roundrock with us in order to have a handy supply of water for the trees we have planted. Some of the jugs have sat on the forest floor for an entire year before they are pressed into service. As a result, they suffer all of the extremes of weather, and it is not uncommon to find one or two of these drained because they somehow cracked open while we were away.

But they are never like this. These two jugs (and a few others beside them) were more than just cracked. These had been crushed, as though they had been stomped by a boot. They had been torn open. Setting aside the possibility of malicious interlopers, how might this have happened? This seems a bit too thorough for raccoons or opposums or deer or turkey. Might an armadillo have done this? Or a groundhog? The Conservation people assure me that there are no bears in this part of the state, nor are there any mountain lions. They don’t even bring up the matter of Ozark Howlers.

Nor can I think of why some critter would do this? My neighbor’s pond is near where these jugs were sitting. My own pond is just a bit farther in the other direction. If drinking water was what the critter was after, there was plenty of it nearby that was far more accessible.

I suppose the jugs still contained some scent of the milk or orange juice they had originally held, and this exotic perfume may have been enuf to turn a mild-mannered forest critter into a mayhem-producing, frenzied . . . animal!

‘Tis a puzzlement, but it gives me the satisfaction of indulging in speculation. I may never know how this happened (it hasn’t happened before or since), but I can ponder it, which is nearly as good.

Missouri calendar:

  • Spiny softshell turtles lay eggs on sandbars and gravelbars.

Mightiest Tree in the Forest

Friday, June 23rd, 2006

white oak leaf.JPG

The White Oak. My personal favorite, though I’m not sure why I’ve developed such an affection for this tree. It is not the most common tree at Roundrock. It’s outnumbered by the Blackjack Oaks and Post Oaks and the Pignut Hickories, and certainly by the cedars. Nor were there any in the yard where I grew up. (Pin oaks, as I recall, with their drooping lower limbs that once poked me directly in the eye!) I recall a massive stand of White Oaks at a nature reserve near St. Louis that I visited all the time as a youngster. A cathedral stand, I called it. Only later, when I returned to the site on an abbreviated visit many years later, did I learn they were actually Red Oaks. White Oaks rise in every county in Missouri, and they are considered common in most of the eastern United States.

I don’t suppose it was the first tree I learned to identify. I can’t say that I ever ever climbed one (though there is one at Roundrock that keeps calling my name). At my grandfather’s Kentucky farm we had a treehouse, but that was in some pine trees. I’m not sure I could identify the wood of this tree in a lumber yard or in a piece of furniture. I don’t think I’ve ever cut one down or chopped a fallen one into firewood. I may not have even whittled a White Oak branch into a toothpick. And yet it seems like the most important tree in my woods.

I know the location of specific White Oak trees in my forest. I could take you directly to several mighty ones that call attention to themselves by the size of their trunks and the spread of their canopies. As big as they are, though, I don’t think their real old timers. I’d guess my largest aren’t yet 100 years old, which means that, barring catastrophe, they could continue to be around as long as I am around (and far longer — some White Oaks have been found that are more than 600 years old). I’ve tried to nurture these beauties in the few ways that I can. I’ve removed any dead branches I can reach so the bark can grow over the wound and eventually seal it. I’ve removed some competition trees from around them so they can get more of the soil nutrients and the sky sunshine. And I send them all of the happy thoughts I can muster.

The bark on the trunks of more mature White Oaks often take on a characteristic pattern, which you see illustrated here.

white oak bark.JPG

It is as though some of the bark has been rubbed away, and I first wondered if deer might do this when they are trying to clean the velvet from their antlers, but apparently this is not the case. Nor, I must concede, is this the result of bears scratching their backs on the trees. The bark of the White Oak tree is favored as an herbal medicinal (as well as an ingredient for witches’ potions, I understand), and I began to wonder if perhaps someone was wandering my woods, harvesting bark to sell at health food stores. Only later did I learn that this patchiness is the result of an otherwise harmless fungus that grows on the bark. Regardless, it does make a White Oak trunk easy to identify.

The White Oaks tend to do best in the deepest soil, and as a result, the mightiest specimens I have are in the western part of Roundrock where the good prairie soil has not yet washed down the ravines to fill in my lakebed. Two of the largest rise across from each other beside our pond. Another healthy representative stands nearby. There are several good White Oaks beside the pine plantation, and there are a few hidden amongst the younger trees near our campsite. I’m sure I haven’t found all of the big White Oaks at Roundrock, so this gives me another reason to go hike the woods.

White Oak lumber is favored for furniture and barrel staves. Something about the graining allows the oak to remain water tight. And the forest critters appreciate the tree for its abundant branches suitable for nesting as well as its cavities for denning. White Oaks produce acorns, of course, but the amount of energy required to do this can mean that they may take a half dozen years before they can produce a heavy crop, and in some years they may not produce any acorns at all. Of the ones produced, those not eaten by the deer or the turkeys or the raccoons or the opposums or the other wild things can fall victim to worms. It has been said that it takes 10,000 acrons to produce a single White Oak tree. You can understand, then, why I try to nurture the ones I have.

Missouri calendar:

  • Female coyotes wean pups.


Thursday, June 22nd, 2006


“O’ wad some powr the Giftie gie us,
to see oursels as ithers see us.”

from “To a Louse” by Robert Burns

It’s no secret that I love Roundrock. Being among its trees. Smelling the tang of the oak leaves. Contesting with the cantakerous lake. Cutting branches to make paths and firewood. Seeing the critters and finding new plants. Pouring water and affection on the planted trees. The round rocks. The campfires. The floating hours. The fallen snags. The green leaves. The cracking ice.

There is no finer place on earth, of course, and while not much has been done with it, the potential to make it a forest garden only awaits my hand.

When my truck passes into the trees that mark our boundary, my eyes are drawn deep into the familiar shadows. I want to see it all. I love to see it all. And though I see what is there, I suspect my vision is colored by my affection.

I often tell myself that the next time I visit Roundrock, I need to look at it as though it is the very first time I am seeing it. And furthermore, I should try to look at it as someone without a vast amount of emotional (and financial) investment in it. I want to see what Roundrock would look like to a complete stranger.

Well, not a complete stranger. I specifically wonder what you would think the first time you came to Roundrock. I wonder if your expecations — based on what you glean from my feverish writing and the selective photos I post on this blog — would come close to what you actually find upon seeing my little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks.

I can never put myself in that frame of mind because as soon as I arrive I fall into my reverie. So I have to rely on two things: the comments actual visitors have made about Roundrock and my febrile imagination of how you would see it upon your first visit.

I don’t think I’ve met all of the people who have been to my woods. As I’ve discussed several times before, there has been evidence of interlopers. None of these folk has stopped to chat and tell me what they think of my woods, but others have. When I had the USDA man out to look at my cantankerous lake, he commented on what a very nice setting I had for a lake. That was nice. And my good neighbor who has taken it upon himself to mow my road once confessed that he and his wife sometimes drive down to our dam and sit by our lake in the early evenings because it is so pretty. That unbidden compliment was also especially nice.

But that’s all I have in terms of testimonials. And so I must fall back on my imagination. My imagination of your first impression. Of course, you are a kind person, and you would only say nice things to me. But beneath your cordial and gracious veneer, just what exactly are you thinking? I think I can sum it up in one word.


Roundrock looks scruffy.

First of all, it’s hardly a forest. These young pole trees barely constitute a forest. Sure, they’re dense, but they’re not much more than scrub. Admit it. And all those low, dead branches. They block the view into the deep trees. And what’s all this clutter on the ground? Branches and blackberry canes and assorted shrubbery and fallen snags. And what is it with all of these snags? It looks like something terrible must have happened here once.

As for these plantations, well, they’re pretty pathetic. Those pecans are hardly worth discussing. The few that seem alive are mostly lost in the scrub that is growing around them and overtaking them. This ground beneath my feet crunches when I walk. How can you expect to grow pecan trees in gravel? And you call this a pine plantation. First of all, it’s too small. And second, most of these things you call trees could be crushed by a passing bunny. You shouldn’t use the word “plantation” to describe this mess for a another decade or so. Okay?

And what’s with this road? Is there supposed to be grass growing in a road? How do you even know where you’re going if you can’t see the road? Don’t you think you should cut back some of these branches that scrape your truck every time you drive by? And what about all of these trees growing so close to your road. Aren’t you afraid one of them is going to fall across your road some day? And while we’re at it, don’t you think all these piles of fallen trees pushed into the forest beside the road are just a little bit, um, ugly? You know, a ground fire might just be a good thing for cleaning this place up a bit.

And I know you’ve talked about cutting some paths, but I haven’t seen them. I was expecting an obvious trail, lined with stones maybe, and covered with wood chips to cushion my feet. I don’t think pushing your way through waist-high grass constitutes walking on a trail. And all these low branches. I may as well be in the deep woods.

As for your lake. C’mon! Get real! This thing is depressing. The muddy puddle that has collected at the base of the dam is no more than a pond (and don’t think I’d ever go swimming in it!). As for the rest of your lakebed — it’s covered with grass for heaven’s sake. You may as well plant trees here instead of in that gravel bed. Do you really think that you can throw enuf Bentonite into this sad bowl of land in one human lifetime to seal all of the leaks and make a water tight lake? Give it up, man!

And you tell me you have another 40 acres over in the next county? Don’t you think you ought to concentrate on one instead of spreading your time and effort like you do? C’mon, man. Think!

That is a nice white oak tree there, though. Big old thing. Too bad you don’t have more of these. That would be a real forest! Let’s just sit here in these chairs under this canopy of leaves for a while so you can recover from your disappointment. Well, this chair is comfortable, and the breeze is pleasant enuf. Nice how you can see the sunlight glinting off the water through these trees. And look, there’s that turtle in the water, coming up for air again. That’s cute.

And look at all of these nifty round rocks you have collected. There must be hundreds of them in your forest. Maybe thousands even. That would be pretty cool, to spend a lifetime finding them and giving them away as gifts, when you can bear to part with them. And that sandstone there has a nice color. I see what you mean about wanting to build your house with it.

And I suppose with a little judicious cutting you could make this forest a bit more appealing to the eye, couldn’t you? I mean, if you take out those three trees right there, that whole area would be improved. Wow, 80 acres, though. That would be a lot of work to improve your timber stand. I guess you’d never be bored here, would you?

And you say you have three campfire rings here? You could roast a lot of weenies here over the years. And you’d never run out of firewood, would you? Hey, was that a blue tailed skink I just saw run under that log? I thought you made them up. Look at those turkey vultures circling overhead. Do you suppose they’re considering making a meal of us?

It’s too bad you can only get down here for a few hours once or twice a month. I’ll bet you’re missing a lot of great observations. And chances to straighten things up a bit. And enjoy these comfy chairs and this breeze and the piping of those frogs and the call of the hawks and the gobble of the turkeys and how delicious plain water must taste after a long, hot hike.

You know, these rose-colored glasses aren’t so bad.

Signature and date

Missouri calendar:

  • Prickly pear cactus blooms.
  • Canada goose molt is at its peak.


Wednesday, June 21st, 2006


This, as most folk in the eastern half of the United States know, is sassafras. We have it growing in abundance at Fallen Timbers, but I’ve not come across any of it at Roundrock.

Sassafras is an interesting tree. It is most distinguished by its leaves, which can have one, two, or three lobes. In the photo above you see options one and three, but it is the two-lobed leaf that most people know since it looks so remarkably like a green mitten. In springtime, sassafras leaves have the intense green you see above. Later in summer their green will generally darken, but in the fall, the little trees sport fire engine red leaves that light up the forest.

At Fallen Timbers we have great thickets of these understory trees, all with trunks an inch in diameter, all competing for the light and creating a dense canopy of leaves overhead. These thickets can be so thick that we don’t even try penetrating them when we are hiking. We simply skirt them and find our direction once we’re beyond them. These thickets have sprouted during our tenure, I suspect in response to all of the sunlight that is now reaching the forest floor because of the timber harvesting of past landowners.

When I was in Springfield, Missouri last year at the Forestry Conference, we all embarked on a nature hike, and our guide pointed out some very tall trees with unfamiliar bark on their trunks nearly two feet across at the base. What were these trees? asked our guide. No one could make a guess because no one had ever seen these trees grow this large. They were, of course, sassafras, and under the right conditions, they can grow to be the dominant tree in the forest. This is uncommon though, and I don’t think I have any at Fallen Timbers — not yet anyway. Because they rarely attain this height, they are not a common lumber tree, but I’ve read that their wood is favored for fence posts, which seems to be the gold standard for judging a wood’s value.

I can recall reading in my old Scouting handbook about how to make a root beer-flavored tea from the roots of the sassafras tree. Though I had never done this, I can remember grubbing out some roots and smelling them and finding that they do, indeed, have a root beer smell. And, of course, it makes sense that the beverage called “root beer” would be made from roots. (Or would have been made since I’m sure all of the flavoring these days is produced artificially.) Sadly, the compound that gives the root beer flavor — safrole — has since been classified as a carcinogen, and I suppose the sassafras tree is now being edited out of cookbooks of forest edibles. In the past, had you come to visit me at Fallen Timbers, I might have brewed you sassafras tea — the original root beer. Nowadays, I guess we’ll just stick with real beer.

I’ve also read that sassafras does not transplant well, but I may get ambitious some time and give a try at moving some of my bounty at Fallen Timbers over to Roundrock. I already have two tree plantations I’m trying to nurture, however, and I don’t know if I want a third to split my jugs of water among. You can be sure, though, that if I do undertake such an ambition, I’ll use it for days and days of posts here.

The photo below is the name of the restaurant at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, where I traveled during a mad weekend recently. I thought I would include it for fun. Hope you don’t mind.


Missouri calendar:

  • First day of summer/solstice: longest day of the year.