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Archive for October, 2006

10.29.2006

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

oak color.JPG

Fine weather and another trip to the woods. The forecast called for temps in the 70s, which is delightful for late October in Missouri, and we even considered taking along our swimming gear (though if we hadn’t and we chose to swim, other “arrangements” could have been made). I had watched the weather maps all of last week, and on Thursday a large storm cell had spent much of the day lingering over our county, so we had hopes of seeing more water in our lake.

But first, we diverted to Fallen Timbers, that other bit of Ozark woods we have about an hour away from Roundrock. We don’t get over there as much now that we’ve found we can spend all of our money at Roundrock instead, so I was glad to take the opportunity to visit.

I may have reported that my Good Neighbor Max continues to keep our ridgetop nicely mowed for us. So it was when we visited on Sunday; he’s straightened up the place for winter. Such a fine neighbor! I need to send him a note of thanks. We made a hike to a remote corner of our woods here on a specific errand that I’ll post about soon, but the trek there and back was an adventure enuf. The trip out from the ridgetop was downhill. Perhaps a decade ago — before we had purchased this land — a prior owner had harvested much of the timber. In the time since, the scrub has taken advantage of all of the sunlight reaching the forest floor and has sprouted a healthy, thick stand. We had to fight and chop our way through it just to go downhill.

There was plenty of color in the woods. The leaves were mostly reds and yellows and oranges, though there was still a little green left in the forest. In another week or so, it will all be a dull brown, so I’m glad we made it to the woods on the right weekend. Attending to our chore in the corner, we then made the hike back up the hill to the ridgetop, pushing and clawing and cutting for every foot of gain. Libby had the notion that she was cutting us a permanent path into our forest, but I think the scrub has other ideas. She was able to liberate a dozen or so cedar trees (they’re actually junipers) from their earthly toil. (So far, Fallen Timbers is remarkably cedar free, so we’re trying to give the hardwoods as much chance as we can.)

Then it was time to get back in the truck and drive the hour or so over to Roundrock. The drive was gorgeous. While the Ozarks can’t boast the brilliant reds of a New England Autumn, I think our oaks and hickories can do a fine job with their oranges and yellows. Much of our way was through a Corps of Engineers impoundment area, so the roads were well manicured, and many vistas showed rolling hillsides of color.

As I said, we were hopeful that the rains of the week had made a noticeable difference at Roundrock, and the puddles in the entrance road were hopeful signs. But enuf of that. On to the lake.

When we arrived there we could see that the water level in Lake Marguerite was up. It had risen two or three inches since our last visit! (That exclamation point is utter sarcasm by the way.) So much for a storm cell lingering over my woods for a day. I suppose the ground soaked up the water, which is good, of course. And maybe that means that the rains that are supposed to come later this week will not sink into the ground but slide across it and collect in my pathetic lakebed.

As we walked down the road to the dam, we could see scores of insects flying about in the sunlight. Soon they were landing on us. They were ladybugs, and there were dozens on each of us. We could brush them off our clothes easily enuf, but when they started flying into our eyes and trying to crawl in our ears, the novelty of the moment disappeared. And these little things must have been hungry for they were biting wherever they reached our skin. Back to the trees we were free of these little beasties, but when we later crossed the dam, they remembered us.

Our day was mostly aimless at Roundrock. After our detour to Fallen Timbers we arrived at Roundrock at lunch time, and since we planned to do a lot of vigorous work clearing scrub off the dam, we figured we needed to get our nourishment. This meant sitting in the comfy chairs under the shady tarp overlooking the empty lake. And once we are seated, it’s hard to get motivated about anything. Lunch was PBJs*, and I washed down each dry bite with a great gulp of iced tea (unsweetened, of course).

Eventually, somehow, we managed to push ourselves out of the chairs and think about working. We collected the grass whips from the back of the truck and started across the dam. I wanted to have a second look at the deer remains we had found on our last visit to see if there might be a hunter’s arrow among the bones. Firearm season hasn’t started yet, so if this was a hunter-killed deer, the chance of an arrow was possible. But we found no arrow. We did find that a month-old deer carcass can still give a powerful stink when you turn it over with sticks.

I had vowed to eat the fruit of a tomatilla if I came across one, but that didn’t happen. We didn’t really venture into the area where they grow best, and I wasn’t getting much support in this idea from the good wife. Instead we hiked over to some of the exposed ridge above the pecan plantation. Here we sat for a while, thinking about going down to the dam to swing the grasswhips. But these thoughts didn’t hold much appeal, so we sat and chatted about everything and nothing instead.

Eventually we pushed ourselves up from here as well and made our way across the pecan plantation. I suppose if i were industrious, I would get myself a dozen bales of straw and mulch around these trees. But that will have to be for a later trip.

When we arrived at the base of the dam, the idea of giving the grass whips a few swings was unavoidable. But the enthusiasm wasn’t there. I suppose I cleared an entire square meter of dam face (utter sarcasm again), and Libby may have done the same. But we have something called buck brush coming up there. It is a woody scrub that puts an unpleasant recoil in the swing of the whips. Enuf of that! Soon we were back to the truck.

I wandered about a bit more. Libby tells me she returned to the dam with the loppers to make more progress. And then it was time to go home. Which we did. And here I am. Wishing I were there.

*Peanut butter and jelly

Missouri calendar:

  • Halloween.

Tip to toe

Monday, October 30th, 2006

tip.JPG

One day when Libby and I were hiking along the north-facing slope above the lake, we came upon these jaw bones in the grass.

About a half dozen feet away we saw this:

toe.JPG

From tip to toe. This was in an area where we had piled some branches from a tree #1 Son had cut down more than a year ago (shortly before leaving for Africa — I’ve spoken to him on the phone a number of times, and I can report that he’s acquiring a British accent.)

This is also the area where a hornet’s nest had come down. That was at the same time, and the hornets are long gone, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they could take down a deer.

I’m pretty sure this deer died naturally — at least not at human hands — since the whole skeleton was still there, as you can see:

middle.JPG

Had this been taken by a hunter (out of season, by the way) I don’t think he or she would have left the corpse. The deer had fallen in a location that would have been easy enuf for carrying out of the forest, but it wasn’t.

Instead, the forest carnivores have been busy cleaning up the remains. There isn’t much meat left, but on a recent visit, as Libby and I were down on the side of the dam clearing brush, several vultures were circling low over the area where this deer had fallen. I suspect that if we hadn’t been so near, they might have alighted and picked over the remains.

As it should be.

Missouri calendar:

  • Bullfrogs begin hibernation.

Vague Unease

Sunday, October 29th, 2006

shell.JPG

I found this bit of litter in the pine plantation at Roundrock on a recent visit. Obviously, someone has been hunting on my land, and since all of October is turkey season in Missouri, I suppose that’s what this shell was used for. No indication whether or not a turkey was bagged.

This is hardly a serious trash problem. I’ve noted before that while there is some sign of visitors at Roundrock while we’re not there, there has never been more than occasional trash left behind. I’ve also stated that I’m not opposed to hunting as a sport. I can’t even lay claim to the idea that the wild critters that roam Roundrock are my wild critters — they’re just passing through when you think about it.

And yet, I feel a vague unease knowing that some individual has invited himself into my woods, clearly doing so with impunity — knowing that I won’t catch him — to help himself to whatever he may find there.

I realize that for many people (rural and urban) the idea of holding legal title to a piece of land is a fluid notion that is more meaningful in the abstract than under practical application. An untenanted piece of forest whose property owner lives far away is considered by some to be available for free consumption. Such a notion is not new, and it’s certainly not limited to my 80+ acres of forest.

No one is stealing my timber or slashing my planted trees. No one is dumping old couches in my ravines. No one is setting up hunting camps or beer festivals or wild debauches. No one is setting fires. There are no outward signs of abuse or violation.

And yet, I still come back to the fact that something is being violated. It’s curious that while nothing has happened in my woods that wouldn’t be perfectly fine if the users had simply asked permission first, the fact that they didn’t makes me upset though they have done the very same thing.

There is a small hunting station that someone sets up regularly in our woods at Fallen Timbers. It’s harmless, at least in terms of any physical damage done, but it is another sign that folks will help themselves to whatever they can get away with.

One of the reasons we first came to the woods was to get away from the demands and unreasonableness of other people. In a way, we want to isolate and insulate ourselves so that we can live as we wish. Such little signs as interloping hunters show how tentative our notion is.

So who’s complaining? Not me. Not really. I’m just musing as hunting season gears up.

_______________

Fred First has a similar lament over at his blog, Fragments from Floyd. Have a look.

_______________

Missouri calendar:

  • Daylight-saving time ends.
  • Average day of first frost in southern Missouri.

Wall O’Water

Saturday, October 28th, 2006

water wall.JPG

My Good Neighbor Brian has commented more than once that I “sure have a lot of water jugs” in my forest. Libby has noted lately that maybe we should begin using some of the jugs of water before we take anymore out there.

Okay, I’ve put them to use! This is a wall of water, and I used it on the downwind side of the fire where an errant wind could have blown some embers out of the ring and threaten to burn down the forest at Roundrock. This is an early shot. As the weekend progressed I managed to find and add more jugs of water to the wall. Thus some of the jug-litter around Roundrock has been localized deep in the forest where it won’t offend the eye of anyone who passes through. (But who would that be, really?)

Fires and I have a nervous relationship, at least as far as Roundrock is concerned. I can remember camping with the Scouts and building fires so that they would burn unattended all night long, giving hot embers in the morning so bleary-eyed adults could kindle a new fire and stand around it in the cold and get nothing done. I can’t imagine that kind of thing in my woods. (Not the “get nothing done” part but the “all night long” part.)

I can’t get past the point of thinking that every fire at Roundrock is a serious threat to the forest. The problem is twofold. The first is obvious. I have 80+ acres of fuel, and that’s just my property. A fire could burn all the way to the Mississippi River (that’s a couple hundred miles to the east, folks) before it ran out of forest. The second problem is that I must rely on a local volunteer fire department, and while I have no doubt that they are well-trained, intelligent, and committed professionals, their resources are limited and their response time is necessarily slow given the size of their territory. Further, I couldn’t call them from Roundrock. I’d have to drive (if my truck survived the initial blaze) to the ridgetop of my neighbor’s land where I could pick up enuf signal to make my panicked call.

Given all of this and the fact that there have been two ground fires in my forest in the past, I have the fewest number of fires possible and tend them closely when I do. And that is another problem. A fire is a two-hour commitment. Building and cooking take enuf time on their own, but then there is the savoring time around the crackling flames, when you sit back in your chair and consider how good life is. But eventually you have to put out the fire (and the embers) sufficiently to be able to walk away from it without worry. So all of that time is devoted to coddling the enemy when I could be stomping around the woods. It’s a trade off I make only grudgingly.

By the way, the green jug is not filled with limeade. Rather, it is water that has nurtured some sort of growth that seems to have chlorophyll as part of its essense.

Missouri calendar:

  • Snow goose population at wetland areas is at its peak.

Underwater Cavern

Friday, October 27th, 2006

cavern.JPG

I wish I could pretend that this is an example of my underwater photography, but who would be fooled by that? Still, this should be underwater. This is the underside of the largest boulder in the lakebed. It’s the one with my initials carved into it.

This is a perfect bit of catfish hiding place not too far from the shore. With a full lake, this spot would be more than ten feet underwater, and I think that might be a little too deep for fish habitat, but given the lake’s current inability to maintain any depth, it might serve as good habitat for a while (once the lake fills some, that is).

This cavity is actually big enuf for Pablo to crawl in and curl up for a snug little nap. But who wants to nap on the mud, with spiders crawling around above? The space is actually bigger now than a year ago. You can see that there is a back door, but that wasn’t there when the rock was originally heaved into place. The dirt behind the rock filled this, but in the ensuing rain and rise/fall of the lake, this mud has washed down to fill in the hapless lakebed. (I’m hoping that this will help seal the leaks, but it may be doing no more than shrinking my lake depth.) I’ll leave this hidey hole to the fish to have someday and whatever critter happens to use it in its dry state.

You can tell that in some ancient age water flowed past this stone and carved those interesting shapes in it. This might have been an underground stream, a cleft in the bedrock that allowed water to flow through it. And so maybe this is an example of a similar sort of arrangement currently beneath Lake Marguerite that allows it to drain away. Who knows? Not Pablo.

Missouri calendar:

  • The calendar fails me today. There is no entry. So in place of what might have been there I’ll say “Take an autumn walk in the woods.”

Thwarted

Thursday, October 26th, 2006

nest rox.JPG

Okay, so I’m a nice guy sometimes. On a recent trip to Roundrock, I had intended to try out my new chisels on these slabs of sandstone. These are large slabs — I’d guess the standing one is nearly three feet tall above the forest floor — and I had an idea that I could cleave off maybe three sheets of sandstone from each slab, creating something like pavers for the backyard patio in suburbia. (The backyard patio in suburbia is a 12 x 12 foot former children’s sandbox — both former children and former sandbox — bounded by sidewalk on two sides and retaining wall on the other two.)

If I was unsuccessful at that, then at least I’d get some practice with sandstone work and draw whatever lessons I might from that experience.

Except that I was thwarted by some mystery forest critter. When Libby and I hiked to this spot in the forest — not too far off the road that I couldn’t two-wheel the pavers through the trees and to the bed of the truck nearby — we found that someone had made a home of them before I could use them for my own home.

I’ve seen this kind of thing before, and I suspect some little forest mammal has put a lot of work into fortifying its shelter for the coming winter. Not being totally heartless (apparently) and trying to be a good steward, I knew that my cleaving plans were trumped. I couldn’t very well destroy this critter’s hard work and winter shelter simply to turn a bunch of stone into dust.

And thus: dilemma. When can I start to work on these slabs? Surely not in the dead of winter when the critter needs its den most of all. Nor in the spring when the vagaries of the weather might mean a bitterly cold night when the critter suddenly still needs its shelter or when it might have offspring to protect. In the summer? Maybe, though the heat and the insects will make it unpleasant work. And if the critter is still using the den, then perhaps it will make an appearance and let me know its concerns. (And not knowing what kind of critter it is, this could offer certain undesirable outcomes.) And then comes the fall — a time much like right now — and by then the critter will likely be renewing its shelter for the coming winter, when other housing options are diminishing and the guarantee of a sure thing is important.

So what is Pablo to do?

I left some peanuts nearby.

Missouri calendar:

  • Striped skunks are fattening up for winter.

Study in Contrasts

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006
entwine.JPG

I liked this bit of forest contrast when I came upon it whilst hiking in Roundrock. I love the twining, unexpected directions the grapevine was taking compared to the straight lines of the gray dogwood growing behind it.

You would think, with all of the blathering I do on this blog, that I could come up with some profound life lesson from such an image, but the old metaphor mechanism is failing me right now.

This little tableau is on the wetter, north-facing slope of our woods, and the grapevines grow more thickly — both thicker vines and more of them — there than elsewhere at Roundrock. The gray dogwood is a thicket plant that does seem to prefer the wetter areas. The long-straight wood makes excellent weenie sticks. We can usually get a year or two of use out of them before they become so dry that they tend to burn off when held over the fire.

As you may have surmised, this photo is a bit old. There is still abundant green in the forest in this shot, but the browns and oranges of the Ozark fall are now reigning here.

Missouri calendar:

  • Peak fall color ends.

Mystery Bones

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

bunchabones.JPG

It is inevitable, of course, that I should find bones on my rambles about Roundrock. Not inevitable that I should find them; rather, that there should be bones. We have an ever-growing collection of turtle carapaces, I know of two sets of old cow bones, and we recently found an entire deer skeleton.

And what are these? My fairly certain guess is that these are the remains of a snapping turtle. I found these in the dry lakebed, in an area recently exposed by the receding waters. I collected most of the oddly shaped bones that were emerging from the gravel and arranged them on one of the boulders that are going to be fish structure one day. The white of the limestone contrasts nicely with the dark bones.

Way back when, we had the dozer man come out and try to heal the leaky dam by packing more clay against it. To do this we had to drain away the little bit of water that was left behind the dam. Whatever may have been living in that microhabitat was going to suffer.

His dozer scraped across the low end of the lakebed — back and forth, pushing dirt and shaping the new bottom of the future lake. When I was out for a visit and walked across the raw ground, I saw a snapping turtle that obviously wasn’t quick enuf to escape the path of the dozer.

At the time I thought that I would have been worried had I known that such a beastie was living in the lake I intended to swim in, but part of me was also delighted to think that something as big as this snapping turtle had found its way to a brand new lake deep in the woods. I felt stewardly about that, but these warm fuzzies were almost instantly gone when I realized that my lake had lured the turtle to a gruesome end.

The lake filled and drained away a couple of times after that, and I never really thought about that snapper again. But now the lake is at an all-time low, and I’m prowling an area I haven’t seen in years. I found these bones in the same area as where I recall that snapping turtle had met its end years ago. And so that is why I think these bones are from such a beast.

Any idea what those splayed bones are?

Missouri calendar:

  • Juncos arrive from Canada.

High and Low

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

low water.JPG

Okay, here is an attempt to capture the turn of the leaves along the “lake shore” at Roundrock. Not much of a lake, is it? This photo is looking more or less to the west from atop the dam.

Now compare it to this picture from a couple of years ago.

high water.JPG

This shot is looking to the north. That’s part of the dam you see there on the right.

How can this happen to Pablo? A big, beautiful blue lake in the winter sun, and a pathetic brown puddle just a couple of years later.

Well, I know how it happened. It leaked and evaporated away. And it hasn’t refilled to see whether it might do so again or stick around and make Pablo happy.

I’m hopeful. I have to assume that the lake will hold until I know otherwise. And until more rain falls from the sky, I can’t know otherwise.

And so it goes.

Missouri calendar:

  • Green-winged teal migration is at its peak.

Tomatilla

Sunday, October 22nd, 2006

tomatilla.JPG

I have these tomatillas growing in the dry areas of the lakebed where they get plenty of sunshine. I was certain that something so exotic looking (to my eyes) could not be a native, but upon research, I learned that it actually is. (Another big reason I go to the forest.)

This might be Physalis longifolia, also known as longleaf groundcherry, which is common throughout Missouri, though there seems to be some dispute about the variations of this species and whether they are any longer valid. That’s stuff I know nothing about.

This little plant (or its fruit) is edible, though it must be cooked. The seeds are within that papery husk, which is considered the plant’s fruit, but that husk looked like such a fine achievement that I didn’t have the heart to tear it open. The groundcherry has a yellow, bell-shaped flower, and I’m sure I took some out-of-focus shots of one when it was in bloom, but I must have discarded them.

Some consider this a weed, an invasive one at that, but mine seem to have confined themselves to a few spots around the empty lakebed and haven’t appeared aggressive to me yet. When the lake fills (!), most of these will be eradicated (as will most of the mullein I contend with), and then it will be a rare plant at Roundrock.

Update: I’m sad to say that I never did eat one of these beauties. The convergence of chance and courage never happened, I guess. But if I ever get the chance (and courage) again, I will.

Missouri calendar:

  • Don’t miss the fall colors of cypress and tupelo gum trees at a swamp in the Bootheel.

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