Archive for January, 2007

North and South

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007


(And, no, that post title is not meant as a reference to the mid-Victorian novel by Elizabeth Gaskell.)

I snapped the photo above whilst standing in the (temporarily!) dry part of the lakebed. (Actually, it was a bit damp there, and the pool had increased from all of the snowmelt.) This shot is looking to the south, so that is the north-facing slope you see. The forest is more diverse and luxuriant there, mostly because the sun doesn’t strike the ground here at such a strong angle and so the soil stays more moist. And, yes, that is snow on the ground there. (Note also the blue sky in the photo. It didn’t last!)

Now compare that image with this one, taken moments later.


This is an image of the south-facing slope, the one that faces south and so gets more direct sunlight. As I noted, this photo was taken from the same vantage, on the same day, at virtually the same time, in the same little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks. (Also, more blue sky. And, yes, that is water you see creeping up the Central Valley there on the lower right.)

This north/south phenomenon is evident in the growing season as well though not as clearly from the middle of the lake. It manifests itself in the type of plants that grow and in the general green-ness of of the two slopes. It is better appreciated afoot on the slopes themselves, so if you’re considering a summertime visit to Roundrock to to study the phenomenon, keep this in mind.

If I were a polymath (like that Wayne person!!!), I would have thought to take a string of images, progressing from one side of the lake to the other. Then I would have stitched them together so that you would get a panoramic view of the whole scene. Then you could be fascinated by something in this blog.

But that will have to wait. (For those of you who asked, the lake was not considerably fuller, but it did have more water than before and certainly more water than last summer when we swam in it. I will have a post about the lake level on Saturday if you’re still reading this blog then.)
Missouri calendar:

  • The calendar is empty today.


Tuesday, January 30th, 2007


On my hike out of the woods on Saturday, I didn’t pause much since the wind was rising and the temps were falling. But I did stop long enuf to take this picture, which is a subject I’ve wanted to post for a while.

My oak/hickory forest — so typical of the Missouri Ozarks — is also punctuated with many cedar trees. This is, in turn, typical of grazing land that has reverted to forest, and I’m coming to a sort of peaceful coexistence attitude toward them.

The cedars (which are actually not cedars at all but junipers) have led dramatic lives at Roundrock. The Old Man of the Forest is a cedar. There are dense patches of cedars that are too thick to push through. There are plenty of young, upstart cedars. And there are some old, deceased cedars, such as the one in the photo above.

Many years ago, I hiked through my woods accompanied by a man from the USDA. The purpose was for him to discuss a potential lake, but along the way, he noted this or that bit of natural history for Pablo’s education and edification.

Among the things we discussed were the many cedar skeletons we came upon during our hike. I asked him how it was that a cedar could suddenly die. (Most of these skeletons are standing, unlike this fallen one.) He gave me a one-word answer: “fire!” Presumably a ground fire had come along and licked into the branches of these cedars, the oil-filled needles most ready for the flames. This is a natural part of forest ecology, and I don’t mind losing a few cedars, but the danger is that these torches can transfer a relatively benign ground fire into the tree canopy and turn it into a bad fire.

It happens that the skeleton in the photo above was in an area full of such skeletons. All of them were on their sides, and it leaves me to speculate why this might be the case. Obviously, there was a ground fire in the area, killing many cedars. But why did they fall when there are standing dead cedars in other parts of my forest? It could be that these have been dead much longer than the others, and their roots have simply rotted sufficiently. That’s plausible.

But this is on the ridgetop of the south-facing slope. Across the valley, on the ridgetop of the north-facing slope there is an area where all of the mature oaks had been knocked down (maybe a decade before) and the upstart scrub is filling in. I’ve often wondered if this spot was subject to a micro-burst — a kind of mini, momentary tornado. If so, then perhaps that is what happened to the cedars as well.

Or it could be that the soil here is so very thin that the cedars were never deeply rooted to begin with. That could make sense since this is not far from the area where the sandstone breaks the surface of the forest floor and pokes out here and there. Thus if these cedars hadn’t sunk deep roots, and then died from a fire, it would make sense that they wouldn’t remain standing as long as their dead comrades. Also, this area hasn’t really filled in with scrub, which might suggest shallow soil.

There is another possible explanation. It could be that someone came along and deliberately pushed down these trees. That would seem odd and random except for a couple of points. This area is very close to my northern property line. My neighbor thataway farms his land, and thus folk are close to this area all of the time. An incursion is more likely here than elsewhere. (As evidence for the incursion theory, I offer this post, which is of a nearby tree.)

When we first came to our woods, we found a ring of these fallen cedar skeletons placed around a large white oak near our pond. My guess is that someone had done this as a way to create a hunting blind since this was near the pond where deer would come for drink and conversation. So it may be that there is benefit to pushing down dead cedars in other parts of the forest.

So Pablo speculates, and you have been kind enuf to read all the way to the end of this post.

*Those of you who have already been through your “Thomas Hardy phase” as I have will appreciate this reference.

Missouri calendar:

  • The calendar is empty today.


Monday, January 29th, 2007


Despite the cold and ice, I decided to venture down to Roundrock on Saturday to see my woods with a blanket of snow. I didn’t spend as much time there as I had intended — I had originally intended to camp there for the weekend — but I managed to have a nice hike in a snowy forest.

The image above is the topo map of Roundrock that I’ve been messing around with in Photoshop Element, and today’s image is intended to show you where I hiked. Note the crudely drawn green arrows! (I think next time I’ll try laying in some clip art arrows and see how that works. Advice welcome.)

Before I could hike in the woods of Roundrock, however, I had to hike to the woods of Roundrock. As I may have mentioned, my forest is more than two miles from the paved road. The gravel road leading to my entrance is “maintained” by all of the landowners in the area, and it travels down a steep hill, across a wet valley, and then up an even steeper hill before it reaches my woods.

The snow that had fallen last week had had the opportunity to melt and refreeze, so much of the road in was icy. I drove in as far as I dared, but I didn’t attempt driving up the steeper hill. Instead I threw a few things into my pack, shouldered it, and started hiking the rest of the way.

Did I ever mention that we have rocks in the Ozarks? These rocks come in many shapes and sizes (some are round, for example), and the most interesting are the large ones that nonetheless manage to hide themselves in the tall grass. I was having a hard enuf time hiking on the slippery ice, but stumbling over rocks (and sometimes tripping on the tall grass) made for one dandy adventure.

But I made it to my woods! My primary goal for the day was to photograph all of the snowmelt that was coursing down the ravings and pouring into Lake Marguerite, helping fill it so the fishies have a larger playground and Libby and I can swim in the summer. Before that, though, I had a couple of chores.

If I had any power pellets (and I’m not saying I did) I might have placed them beside the road just inside my entrance, still nurturing the thus far-thwarted hope that I might have Black-eyed Susans growing there some day. I definitely did have some peanuts with me, and I intended to leave some here and there so the little forest critters will like me.

But all of this took very little time, and soon my feet were steered past the new camp and down into the ravines that merge and make the Central Valley where Lake Marguerite waits in potentiality.

The temperature was about 34 degrees, so I hoped for a fine melt to add water to the ravines. But the sun was being coy and only made occasional appearances from behind the clouds. The bottom line: the snow was not melting.

There was plenty of evidence that some of the snow had melted in days past, but Pablo was going to be thwarted on this visit. Thus I have no pix of tumbling mini waterfalls for you. Sorry.

I kept hiking down the ravines and into the Central Valley, hoping I might come upon some flow, but it didn’t happen. Still, it was nice to see that the creek had been flowing, and I was hopeful the Lake Marguerite would be at least a little fuller.

You’ll see on the map that I hiked in the lakebed. Obviously, I can’t walk on water, so understand that where I walked when I crossed it is about the perimeter of where the water was. (Actually, in some of the tall grass growing in the lakebed, the water was up to my ankles, so that was nice too. My Goretex boots kept my feet dry! Unexpected, but not unwelcome.)

I crossed the dam and hiked up to the sad shelter site. (Sad because it has been ravaged by the snow that had rested upon it.) Not wearing my watch, I decided that it was lunch time, and, coincidentally, the sun decided to favor me with its presence as I sat in the comfy chair and ate. On the menu for this day were a PBJ, a banana, an orange, some cheese, and iced tea (unsweetened, of course).

Yet I was troubled. There was only a small break in the clouds, and the wind was picking up. I was worried that in the time it would take me to get back to where I had left the truck (in the wet valley), the road I had driven on successfully might become more icy and I might not be able to get back up the hill. I was soaking up the sun’s rays, but the old ray powers were weak in this latitude (unlike, say, in Florida), and I thought I should turn my feet toward the truck for the remainder of my hike. Thus after lunch, it was time to hike out.

As you may know, the long-term plan is to build a retirement cottage overlooking the (full) lake, and one of the significant expenses will be bringing in electricity. So I thought I would hike over to the future home site and then hike out in the area where I think the power line could be brought in. Whether this will be on poles (more likely) or underground (less likely) I can’t say. But I thought that I would probably make an avenue in the trees that could double as a sort of wildlife highway, especially for the quail if I plant the opening properly.

Thus I hiked north-ish from the shelter toward the road, scouting potential power pole placements points, all the while stomping on snow that could be crunchy or slippery without notice.

When I reached our road (the red line on the map) the wind whipping across my neighbor’s field make for some brisk hiking. When I reached the pond, I decided to divert into the woods where we have a trail to the original campsite. This got me out of the wind and on familiar ground. Having built this trail, I know every rock and dip.

Soon I was back at my entrance and then on the common road for the mile hike back to my truck. The temps continued to fall as I stumbled along, so I think my early departure was prudent.

Missouri calendar:

  • Eastern moles are active in tunnels deep underground.

Roundrock Fantasia

Sunday, January 28th, 2007

rock on mound.JPG

fantasia – a thing that is composed of a mixture of different forms and styles.

You know it must be a Sunday when Pablo does one of these eclectic posts.


A frequent commentor here is Kim, formerly of Kimnet as well as Kalamazoo, but that blog seems to have become a casualty (though the city survives). Fear not, good reader, because Kim has now taken up residence in Las Vegas and has embarked on a new blog called fluff. You might want to surf over there and give him a shout.

Someone in St. Louis (where I grew up) who goes by the name Stirs the Stars has linked to me. Her blog is called The Language of Grass, and it is a bit outdoorsy with an ethical slant.

Raising Frolic is another blog I’ve come across recently that I really like. Many of you may already be familiar with it. It is based in some frozen land by the name of Minnesota, which doesn’t sound plausible, but maybe it is so. In any case, anyone who makes a pilgrimage to Walden Pond gets bonus points in my book.


A year ago I was writing about a tree in my forest with a huge gall growing on it. I’ve since submitted that photo to the Second Annual Hunt for Strange & Extraordinary Trees contest sponsored by the Missouri Forestkeepers. I won’t know if my photo has been selected to enter the winners’ circle until the end of next month, but my fingers are crossed.


The photo above was snapped along my southern property line. That’s the Mighty Pole Forest behind it. Based on some comments left on a recent post, I get the idea that I don’t post enuf pix of my round rocks here. I’ll try to remedy that.


Q quotient: 520/1050

Missouri calendar:

  • My Natural Events Calendar is silent for this date.

Pointed, but not sharp

Saturday, January 27th, 2007


Like so many of my posts, this rock starts out with a point, but it gets bloated the farther it goes.

You see the point on the left, near Pablo’s thumb. And you see the teardrop shape the stone takes. And, most interesting to me, you see the perfect, round divot in the stone. I came upon this specimen at the round rock nursery I told you about recently. Its general shape made me think instanter of an arrowhead, but it is too large for that. Then I thought it might be an axe head, but the edges don’t really show any evidence of knapping, so I don’t suppose it was shaped this way intentionally. I think it is just a curiously shaped rock, and I have so many of those in my woods that it hardly merits its own photo.

Except for that divot. I can’t really come up with an explanation for that, though I’m sure it is natural enuf. Perhaps there was a flaw or foreign object in the mix when the stone was being formed, and some right application of force caused the rock to cleave this way. Sounds plausible.

This is not a very good photo. It is not very well focused. I thought that I might be able to sharpen it up a bit with Photoshop, but I had no luck.

So the rock remains pointed, but not sharp.

Missouri calendar:

  • Watch for chickadees feeding on insects in bark crevices.

Frozen in time

Friday, January 26th, 2007

frozen lake.JPG

This is what I’d like to think Lake Marguerite looks like right now. The photo is from two years ago. The pool was high then (obviously!), but I remember the water was leaking out nonetheless, and in some places, the ice was suspended over air, not floating or resting on water. You can get an idea of this from the photo below.

frozen water.JPG

Can you see how the ice is sagging there in the middle? This second photo is looking east, toward the dam, and it is looking down the south side of Isla de Peligro (there on the left). Compare this view to yesterday’s photo.

I often think about what Roundrock is like while I’m not there, and if that’s an odd thing to think about, well, there you go. I realize that Roundrock is pretty much the same place when I’m not there as when I am. And I know an observer changes what is being observed, but I don’t have the brain power to pursue that line of thinking.

So I like these images of Roundrock frozen in time. I have the chance to see what Roundrock is like when I’m not there, even if it is only in my imagination.

Missouri calendar:

  • Snowy owls seen in Missouri when food is scarce in the Arctic.


Thursday, January 25th, 2007


This is not a current photo. Lake Marguerite doesn’t look that good right now. (At least I don’t think it does. I haven’t been there in more than two weeks!)

This photo must be about two years old. It shows our new island Isla de Peligro, also named Gefarhinsel. This island was added after the dam was finished and the lake filled and drained away the first few times. I can tell that the island was new at the time of this photo because it is not covered with grass (as it is now).

I had a photo of this island from the other direction in this post. (You can also get an explanation for the island’s double naming there.) Clearly that photo was taken later than this one since there is some grass on the island in the other post.

Anyway, we had the island scraped together from the soil and rock in the area. This area had been extremely shallow and always was the first to go dry when the water level dropped. So, when we had the lake drained so the dozer man could do more work on the dam, we asked him to scrape that area down a bit and use the material for a new island. Thus Gefahrinsel.

You can see the top of the dam in the distance. Given the condition of the trees, I doubt that we were swimming on the day I took this picture, but the lake has been high enuf once or twice when we’ve been swimming to allow us to dog paddle to this island.

Once the leaky lake is resolved, we’re hoping that this island will be chosen by geese as a nesting place. I may stick a bunch of pines on it this spring. Some wildflower seeds are resting atop the island, and I’m hoping this spring they will show themselves. Lots of plans for the island.
Missouri calendar:

  • First quarter: sunlight falls on the moon’s right side.
  • Squirrels bear spring litters through March.

Hot leaves

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

leaf and ice.JPG

Look closely, especially at the leaves, and then let me tell you what I think is going on in this photo. I took this image last winter (though I haven’t been to Roundrock in a couple of weeks, and things may be icy there now).

The leaves are falling into leaf-shaped holes in the ice. Why is that? Here is my guess: the dark color of the leaf allows it to absorb more heat from the weak winter sunlight, making it warmer than the ice. Thus the heat of the leaf can melt the ice, but only in its most immediate vicinity. And so, a leaf-shaped hole in the ice.

I’ve seen this plenty of times on icy lakes and ponds. I like the symmetry, and even if my explanation isn’t correct, at least it is plausible.

I’ve found that if I pay attention, even the bleak winter landscape at Roundrock can be filled with interesting little lessons. On winter days when the sun is doing its best to shine, I’ve found that a layer of warm air rests on the surface of the rocky ground. I suppose this is from the rocks giving back some of the heat of the sun. But I can literally feel a temperature increase if I put my bare hand close to the ground in sunny areas. Oddly (though perhaps not), many of these heat-radiating rocks are frozen to the ground beneath them and I have to break them free of the grip of frost that underlies them. In a matter of inches a simple stone can go from radiating heat to being frozen in place.

These little microclimates are temporary, but they warm my heart nonetheless. That’s worth a walk in the woods any day.

Missouri calendar:

  • Watercress, a wild edible, is green around springs.

A Look at Roundrock

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007


Even though the holidays more or less didn’t happen at our house this year, my darling offspring did manage to give me a fine gift: Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0.

I’m no good at teaching myself anything, especially software, but I have been fooling around with it some, and I managed to put a few things on the topographic map of my woods to give you dear readers some sense of where things are when I babble about it on this blog.

So what do we see here? Well, north is up. The red, squiggly line is pretty much where our road through the trees goes. You see that it enters our property at our southwest corner. The road ends at the dam, though there is a small spur that leads down into the pecan plantation. Driving down there is the easiest way to turn the truck around, so I generally do it each time I visit.

The little orange splotches are supposed to be fires, and they represent the various fire rings we have built at Roundrock. We haven’t used the ring at our original camp in years, but we use the other two more frequently (when we have a fire, that is).

You see my ambitious and hopeful rendering of Lake Marguerite as well as the presence of the pond on the upper left. The pond stays full, but Lake Marguerite, well, it is still in a state of becoming.

My recent discovery of the Old Man of the Forest is noted here, and the great forested expanse known as The Hinterland is marked as well.

My thinking is that I will post this image again when I’ve made visits to Roundrock. Perhaps I can draw a dotted line to show the hikes I’ve taken or I can note the location of important or interesting finds. (Maybe I could tabulate all of the walnut trees I have found — and continue to find — in my forest!)

So I expect to have a lot of fun with this. I hope I don’t bore you.

Missouri calendar:

  • Bobcats breed through June.


Monday, January 22nd, 2007

Well, my plans for sneaking out to Roundrock yesterday were thwarted by the snows that passed through in the night and early morning.

Kansas City (at least my part of it) received about four inches of snow, but areas down south (where Roundrock awaits) got both more snow and some freezing rain. The trek is long, and much of the distance is isolated, so any breakdowns or road hazards along the way could mean a long, cold period of coping as I awaited the cavalry.

And that’s just the paved roads. The last two miles to my property line are up and down some crumbling gravel roads, clutching themselves to some steep hillsides. I could more likely end up in trouble along here than on the highway.

I thought about hiking in the last two miles, but the depth of the snow would make that more of a chore than I want. And then would come tramping about my own woods for a couple of miles, only to have a two mile hike back out to my truck.

The few times I’ve been to Roundrock where there was any kind of snow on the ground, it was remnant snow: the snow on the north-facing slope that hadn’t received enuf sunlight to melt it. I’ve never seen my woods painted white with snow, and I thought I might yesterday. I would have kept my eyes open for animal tracks to see who visits when I’m not around, following them to see where they go and what they do. And I’d see if any talking mammals left any tracks as well. I might get a better idea of who visits when I’m not around, following them to see where they go and what they do.

As strong as my desire is to see Roundrock with a blanket of snow on it, you can see that my powers of rationalization are far stronger. So I stayed home and plotted my next visit. This coming weekend is open, and I’m thinking maybe I should give winter camping a try.

Update: I just learned that four inches of snow had fallen at Roundrock. That’s good news for the slow recharge of the lake, but it is probably more bad news for the shelter.

Missouri calendar:

  • Peak numbers of bald eagles gather this month near open water and big rivers.