Archive for August, 2006

8.27.2006 – Part Two

Thursday, August 31st, 2006

turtle rock.JPG

Though the shade and cool of the shelter was alluring, we knew we had work to do, so we pushed ourselves out of the comfy chairs and piled back into the truck. The first stop was to check on our experiment, which is in the woods not too far from the nice boulder you see above.

This boulder rises from the forest floor close to our southwest corner. Somewhere behind it, probably within this view, runs our southern property line. (It would go from left to right — or right to left if you prefer — in this photo.) This was a prime visit site when we first started coming to the woods. Mostly it was a unique bit of something in the otherwise repeating pattern of trees in the forest. I never noticed until I uploaded this photo, but the rock does look at bit like a turtle. So I’ve named it Turtle Rock. (Coincidentally — or maybe not — we saw a large turtle near this rock on our recent visit.)

From here we trekked over to our experiment, and there is enuf info about that to merit its own post, so I shall make one soon. It will be a preliminary report, but all signs point to a positive outcome.

So it was on back to the pine plantation. We still had some fencing left, and about a half dozen of the pines are crowding their fences, so we decided to put new, larger diameter fences around as many as we could before we ran out of the fabric. This turned out to be two. It makes sense, of course, that as the diameter of the roll of chicken wire shrinks, the amount of fabric I pay out with each turn is less. So although we thought we had plenty of fencing fabric, it turned out only to be enuf for two trees. Which was fine since we didn’t really want to do too much work. I swung the grass whip around a bit, trying to knock down more of the scrub, but it wasn’t long before we were back in the truck and then back to the shelter.

For lunch. We enjoyed deli sandwiches, chips, and fruit. I gulped down my iced tea (unsweetened, of course) while Adam and Libby settled for mere water. And then we settled in for a nice reflective period in the chairs. Adam considered that it was a nice thing to spend time in the woods. I don’t think he’d been out here since around Xmas. (And he may not come back any time soon since he is now scratching at chigger bites. I think Libby and I have developed a tolerance to the itch mechanism the chiggers trigger, though Adam was always a tick magnet.)

After a suitable time of sitting and pondering, we decided to take a walk across the lakebed to the exposed clay area that is slowing eroding and washing into the lake. (Is it filling in the bowl or helping seal the leaks or both?) I’ve thought that if I’m ever going to find an arrowhead, it might be here where a few layers of soil are exposed and regularly washed. But though we poked around and saw a few interesting things (yes, another post) I didn’t find an arrowhead. Sigh!

Adam had evening plans, so we decided it was time to pack all of our gear and steer the truck toward home. This was our first visit of the summer in which we did not swim, and that felt a little odd, but it may be that swimming weather is now behind us. Still, September is often plenty warm in Missouri.

Our day’s adventure was not quite over, however. As we neared Kansas City, I could see large, dark storm clouds on the horizon. Soon we were beneath them and they unloaded in great, lashing gushes. Cars were pulling to the side of the road to wait out the storm, and visibility really was bad. By the time we reached home, the television news was all about the great storm and the flash flooding that was affecting all parts of the city. I checked the weather maps online, and sure enuf, Roundrock was high and dry.

Missouri calendar:

  • Sorry to disappoint, but once again the calendar is bare.

8.27.2006 – Part One

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

deer on stump.JPG

With rain having fallen in the vicinity of Roundrock the night before, Libby and I headed down to the woods on Sunday, with Number Two Son, Adam, along as well. The rain had just passed through, and the trees were still dripping when we arrived. The ground was pleasantly wet (after all of those dry, dry visits) and even the drought-stressed trees were looking happier.

We had a few things on our agenda, but swimming wasn’t going to be one of them. Good Neighbor Brian had been down the weekend before and detoured to our woods to see how poor Lake Marguerite was doing. His report was not good. Based on his observation, the deepest part of the lake would only come up to our waists, so we didn’t bother packing our swimming gear. (I doubted that the recent rain would have made much of a difference given how dry I figured the ground to be. I didn’t think there would be much run off to drain into the lakebed.)

Our first stop was at the pine plantation. Adam was eager to try his hand with a grass whip, so we stepped back and let him fly. He had a curious, two-handed grip on the handle, much like he was swinging a golf club, but the grass and scrub withered before his exuberant assault, and though I was working twenty feet away, chopped grass was raining down upon me.

Many of the pines here are growing robustly, and they are pushing against the fencing we had put around them. Also, the wooden stakes we used for attaching the fencing have begun to rot in this moister soil. So the plan was to replace the chicken wire fencing around one of these crowded pines with a larger diameter fence, held in place by a new steel fence post. I’ll write more of that in an upcoming post.

My hidden agenda you may have already worked out. I wanted Adam to experience the relative ease of sinking a steel post into this good soil so that he would appreciate the effort that goes into pounding them into the gravel of the pecan plantation. And that was our next stop.

We fenced five more pecans down below the dam. I left the pounding and fencing work to Libby and Adam while I kept busy cutting more lengths of the chicken wire and stomping through the scrub to look for likely pecans to protect. The trees down here are spaced enuf to allow me to drive the truck among them. This meant we didn’t have to haul the posts (and the weighty driver) across the plantation. And it allowed me to drive over the scrub and knock it down a bit too.

Once the fencing work was finished (that is, once we ran out of posts), Libby and Adam retired to the shady shelter and the comfy chairs while I marched again across the plantation and took my final census of the season. I am recording which pecans are still alive as well as which have good (steel) posts and which have been fenced. I’ll write more about this effort in a future post as well.

Eventually, my feet lead me to the shelter as well, and I joined them in a reflective interlude. A nice breeze caressed us, and the temperature had moderated to only about 80 degrees, so we were quite comfortable. Occasionally, a patter of drops would strike the tarp over our heads as the water blew from the branches above.

What to do? Well, we still had some fencing left. There there were a few more pines that could use some elbow room. Plus we had an old cache of wooden posts left over from the original pecan planting that might serve for the pines, at least for one more season. And there was that experiment to check on. But I’ll tell you about all of that tomorrow.

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Several people have asked what a thirteen-lined ground squirrel looks like. Well, take a look here.

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Missouri calendar:

  • Once again, the calendar comes up blank.

Ozarkberries

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

persimmon.JPG

Okay, so there’s no such thing as Ozarkberries. (I have seen a combination of common berries baked in a pie referred to as Ozark Berry Pie though.)

What you see here is, of course, a green persimmon. I was a bit surprised to find these given the continuing drought in my part of Missouri. This one is about half the size of what I’ve commonly seen. Also, now that I know better how to identify these trees, I am seeing persimmons more frequently at Roundrock. (Did I mention I’d found yet another mature walnut in my woods?)

Anyway, I’ve tasted some of the ripe persimmons at Roundrock, and even those are much too astringent for my mouth to handle. I gave an account of one such experience here.

This tree will probably come down some day as I begin the work of clearing out the northern fence line in anticipation of bringing in power lines. That could be another five years away (anyone figured out yet how to become independently wealthy without much trouble?), but if I clear a tree or two at a time, I may be finished by then. Perhaps I’ll leave the persimmon for last so the raccoons will still like me.

Missouri calendar:

  • Thirteen-lined ground squirrels begin to gorge.

Pecan work

Monday, August 28th, 2006

pecan work.JPG

We go below the dam again, which you can see on the left in this not-very-good photo. What I am trying to show you here is all of the post and fencing work we have done around the pecans during recent visits.

What you’re supposed to see is the marching grid of chickenwire tied to steel posts. I think you can make out four of them, maybe five if you look really hard. I blame the poor photo on that relentless August sun that has bleached every living thing with so much light that there is no contrast left in the world. Sounds good, anyway.

As I’ve stated countless times before, the pecans have done better than I had thought. And since I am trying to be a good steward of my land, at least of the land as I’m trying to transform it, I’ve decided to give the pecans more help at surviving than I had in the past. Thus the fencing. And none too soon, either. As you will see when you read the Natural Events Calendar for today, that protection will be needed in the coming weeks.

When we first planted the pecans in the rocky soil below the dam, we used a line of rope with a knot tied into it at (I think it was) thirty feet. Libby would hold the end of the rope and I would pay it out, following a more-or-less straight line with a compass. When I reached the knot, we would plant another tree. Once we had a row established, we measured in a right angle to set the distance to the next row. As a system, it worked perfectly well. (And it was certainly more reasonable than the other idea I had: making a grid of red survey tape on the ground and then digging at the intersections. Oh, the wasted tape that would have been!)

Unfortunately, the rocky Ozark soil didn’t always cooperate, and where my rope told me to dig was not always where I was able to sink the shovel. When this happened, I would move the shovel to the side a few inches and try again. Sometimes this worked, and sometimes I had to move a few inches more.

At the end of the day, when Libby and I stood atop the dam to examine the grid of tiny trees we had so lovingly set in the ground, it looked like a drunk man had drawn the lines. I consoled myself by asserting that when the pecans towered over my head, their relative misplacement would not be noticeable. In the two subsequent years when we replanted pecans, I tried to straighten my lines a bit, but I didn’t have much success for the same reason I didn’t the first time.

So when you come to Roundrock and stand on the dam, and I steer your eyes east to the pecans so you won’t see the depressing lack of water to the west, go ahead and make whatever observations you want about the pecans. I’ve heard it all from myself already.

Missouri calendar:

  • Male white-tailed deer rub velvet off antlers; watch for their “rubs” on small trees.

Sumac berries

Sunday, August 27th, 2006

sumac berries.JPG

I’ve been watching the progression of these sumac berries each time we visit Roundrock. I grew up calling it winged sumac, and that seems to match the plant with that name I find in my online researching. (Note the “wings” growing on the stem between the leaflets.) This sumac has come up on its own in a space beside the road where several downed trees had been piled. The trees were knocked down to make the road, so more sunlight has reached the forest floor here. Perhaps the protection of the fallen trees allowed the plant to come to maturity without being browsed to oblivion by the deer.

Or I could be mistaken. I don’t know how long it takes this variety of sumac to reach reproductive maturity (producing berries), and the road is only three or four years old. (I really ought to nail that down, oughtn’t I?) So it may be that this plant is far older than I imagine and I simply never noticed it until this year. (And just to fortify that idea, let me note that I found yet another mature walnut tree on my last trip to Roundrock. It is growing happily on the drier, south-facing slope where I wouldn’t have expected to find one. So I will probably stop making assertions that things don’t exist until I see them. Isn’t that a kind of solipsism?)

Winged sumac will grow in areas that favor Blackjack Oaks, Eastern Red Cedars, and Post Oaks, and we all know that I have plenty of these. This sumac clones by underground runners, and I’ve read that the root of these will often make a right angle turn just below ground level, which has lead them to be used by carvers for canes. I may have to investigate them some day.
Maybe on my next trip to the woods, I can get an even better photo of the berries if they’ve grown bright red, as they are apt to do.

Missouri calendar:

  • Elderberries begin ripening.

Aimless Post

Saturday, August 26th, 2006

yellow flower.JPG

Nothing really special to say in the post today. The flower above is growing nicely in the pecan plantation. Until the grass is established and crowds out flowers like these, I don’t mind having them around.

It’s a Helianthus, I’m pretty sure. It might be hirsutus or strumosis, which I’ve read are commonly mistaken for each other. But I’m no botanist. A good identification could be made by keying a specimen, but I don’t even know what that means, much less how it would be done.

So, instead, I wander through the pecan field and just enjoy the flowers as they are.

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One year ago today I was posting about another wild, unknown flower. Several kind commentors, who are more knowledgeable than I, suggested that one might be ironweed.

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My Akismet comment spam blocker has now successfully held off the assault of nearly 150,000 bits o’junk. The pace had dropped off to only a few hundred a day, so I’m hoping the spammers (or their bots) are losing interest in me.

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You still have a few days left to make a submission to the third edition of the Festival of the Trees. This time around, Bev at Burning Silo will be the host. Surf on over there and have a look at her most excellent blog, then send her a submission.

Also, don’t by shy. If you’d like to host an upcoming edition of the Festival, there is a place for you. Just let me know.

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I’ve been having a good time reading the blog Roundtop Ruminations, coming from some place called Pennsylvania. You might enjoy it to, especially if you like reading about dogs, nature, solo cabin living, dogs, long walks in the woods, dogs, and ruminations in general.

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Looks like a big storm got lost and traveled over Roundrock through the night. I suppose it will get chastized by its storm friends for going into the forbidden zone, but I don’t mind since maybe it will put a little more water into Lake Marguerite for the fish.

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Missouri calendar:

  • Watch for unusual birds; most common in late summer or early fall.

Worse than it looks

Friday, August 25th, 2006

path.JPG

This is an odd little image from the woods at Roundrock. What you see here is the path leading from our shelter (the one with the comfy chairs and the post-lunch stupors) to the road where we drive in. (No doubt you’ve spotted my truck there beyond the trees.)

What looks like a reasonable and passable path in this photo is actually an ankle-turning stumble across Ozark hardpan. The way here is not even or smooth. The rocks jut up and the space between them looms down. You have to watch where you put your feet as you traverse this hundred or so feet, and this can be nearly impossible when you are carrying a large, heavy cooler full of lunch and plenty of cold water.

Unlike most of the “paths” we have made at Roundrock, we didn’t have to clear this one so much as simply keep using the same opening through the trees that was already there. The location for this path was governed, in part, by a large pile of trees that the dozer man had placed out beside the road. If that pile were still there, you would not be able to see the truck from this vantage. But the pile has slowly rotted and contributed itself generously to many campfires (the fire ring being just in front of where the truck is parked). Now we could make a more direct path from the fire ring to the shelter (which we couldn’t before because of the pile of trees), but we haven’t. It isn’t that much of a detour, so we let inertia rule.

By mid summer, I begin to despair of ever doing anything lasting at Roundrock. The plants are all growing so robustly and overtaking my meager efforts at “stewardship” that I figure I should just stop trying. Things like paths through the trees seem pointless when they are overrun with new growth. But then the heat of August arrives and the plants begin to show their own weariness. The idea that I can clear some paths or plant some trees or have a lake comes back to me as a possibility. That’s about where this path is now. It just may be sustainable.

Oddly, in a few months, after the leaf fall, this path will be obscured with a blanket of crunchy brown oak leaves that can be a foot deep. Once again this path becomes perilous because the devious rocks lay hidden. And I begin to despair that all of my work is just a silly waste of effort. Yet by January, the winter winds have blown this path clear and all seems right with the Roundrock world.

Missouri calendar:

  • “Turkey feet” seed heads of big bluestem grass mature.

Light filter

Thursday, August 24th, 2006

web worms.JPG

The season, I suppose. I understand that a healthy forest doesn’t really have much to fear from the annual marauding of tent caterpillars. We saw a few of these webs on our last trip to Roundrock, but they seemed to be contained and not a spreading threat.

Someone once told me that back on the farm they liked to find these masses because they would then cut the branch and toss it into the chickenyard. The chickens made short work of the caterpillars and got a nutritious meal as well.

I don’t have chickens to feed, so I didn’t give that method a try. I do wonder what a lake full of fish might do with something like this.

While I don’t think I have anything to worry about from tent caterpillars, have a look at this photo essay about a town overrun with them. Scroll down; some of the pix are disturbing. (Thanx to Biomes for the link.)

I deliberately made my photo above by shooting into the sky. I had a hunch that the web would act as a sufficient light filter and allow me to avoid that bleaching effect I usually get when I have any bit of sky in my photos.

Missouri calendar:

  • Cave-dwelling bats begin mathing through October.

He’s been at it again!

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

initials.JPG

I’m not sure what it is about me that wants to leave a sign that I passed this way, but here is another example. (I suppose it has something to do with immortality and my apparent lack of it, but when you consider the matter, I don’t have any evidence that I am not immortal.)

When we were last out to Roundrock, after our post-lunch stupor, I took myself on a short walk over to where I imagine our house will some day rise. There is a small mound of rock and soil here that makes a convenient (if not altogether comfortable) seat, and I can sit here and let my imagination go off in whatever direction it likes.

On this visit, however, I chose to do a little scratching. Above you see a piece of sandstone. It’s about the size of a dinner plate. As I sat on the mound on the ground, I held the sandstone in one hand and considered carving my initials in it. I needed a tool made of steel, but the only thing I had like that at the time was my car keys, and that didn’t seem very prudent. So I looked about for a rock that might work, and the light brown thing you see in the photo caught my eye. It looked almost like granite, but that would be an unlikely stone to find at Roundrock.

I expected the stone — whatever it was — to crumble as soon as I applied it to the sandstone. And yet, it held up. In fact, throughout the whole fifteen minutes or so of scratching and scraping, the little stone did not change at all. It remained sharp, and I can use it again to deepen my carving. I really did seem like a piece of granite.

In a book by a former state geologist, there is the assertion that Missouri is actually one continuous granite mountain that has been covered over with millions of years of sediment. The peak of this great granite mountain is a place called Taum Sauk Mountain — the highest point in the state — over in southeast Missouri. In my part of Missouri, however, the granite runs deep, so the little carving stone I used could not possibly be from that source.

So let’s conclude that the small stone is not actually granite. I’m not sure what it is, and I can’t say that I’ve seen another stone like it around there. Obviously, I need to return to my mound on the ground and look around for what might be found. Perhaps there are more like it, and then I can puzzle my way to some sort of explanation for this seemingly different stone amongst my chert and sandstone and limestone.

The carving is not very deep. Most of what you see here is just surface dust. I’ll need to cut my initials in much deeper if I am going to achieve immortality. So back to the woods for me.

Missouri calendar:

  • Dabbling ducks return from the north.

Tools and fools

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006

snips.JPG

When I was but a lad and establishing my first household, I quickly learned that accumulating the day-to-day tools everyone needs had to become a priority. When I would invite my father over to help me change a light switch or such, I would caution him that any tools he saw in my toolbox that happened to look identical to tools he remembered from his own toolbox were the result of mere coincidence. Friends and family soon understood that tools were always a welcome gift for our young household. And I quickly learned, after making a few tentative tool purchases myself, that the right tool, and the best-made tool, was the correct choice to make.

But I’ve never really lost my inclination for the old five-fingered discount when it comes to tool acquisition. And so, on with today’s post.

Our tree work involves (as I’m sure I’ve bored you with enuf) fencing them with chickenwire. This chickenwire comes in long rolls, and Pablo and Libby must cut off sections of it for each tree. We’ve tried various tools to do this including pliers with wire-cutting blades built in. The black-handled set you see above was our most promising. Not only was it new (and presumably sharp), but the handle was spring loaded so that after clamping down on the chickenwire, it would open on its own, thus saving our hands one extra step (which can accumulate over a morning of snipping).

But the new tools were disappointing. We managed to get all of our daily cutting done, but job seemed to require more effort than it should. Each time, as we turned to the task, we recalled that back at home, in some dusty pile of otherwise forgotten tools was an old red tin snips that might work better. And we’d recall this old tool just as soon as we were already down at Roundrock and unrolling the chickenwire.

Well, through some cosmic influence, one of us remembered to pack the old red tin snips before our latest trip to the woods, and when we unrolled the chickenwire, Libby took the snips in hand and began cutting. And she flew through the fabric of the chickenwire! So, once again, the right tool for the job made all the difference. (Libby used this better tool not out of some gentlemanly courtesy of mine but because the old red tin snips had been “liberated” from her father’s toolbox many years ago.)

I’d say we’ve fenced about half of all of the plantings we have made, so there is still more chickenwire work to be done. I wish we had made this tool discovery sooner, but I’m glad we managed to make it at all.

Missouri calendar:

  • Young gray squirrels search for home territories.