Archive for February, 2007

Pecan Plat Plan

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

Behold the pecan plantation (if you could somehow hover above, most of the details of the universe were painted white, and the condition of the trees could be color coded). I made this rather unsophisticated image in Photoshop Elements, which has proven to be a lot of fun (when it isn’t frustrating and confusing).

So anyway, what’s this all about? Well, as I said, this is a depiction of the pecan plantation below the dam at Roundrock. This is a sort of management tool that I create for myself each fall so I will know about my planting obligations the following spring. (I’ve mostly dispensed with the obligations part, and for the time being I have even dispensed with the planting part, too, but on with the post.)

We’ve replanted pecans twice since the original fifty trees were put in the ground the spring after the dam was built. But pecans, as with all nut trees I know about, are among the last to bring forth leaf in the spring. When we would receive our new pecan trees in the spring from the Conservation Department, it was usually before the planted pecans had come out. Thus we had a hard time knowing which leafless twig poking up from the rocky ground was alive and which was in that other state (no, not Florida). So we hit upon the idea of taking a census of our pecans in the late summer while they still bore leaves. We could then see which were alive and which were dead, and if Pablo mapped these findings on a grid, he could rely on that map in the spring to guide his replanting efforts.

And that’s what you see here. (Nota bene: The top of the image is east.) The brown leaves* represent dead pecans at the time of the census. The green are live pecans. And the pale blue are live pecans around which Pablo (and his crew) have erected a post and fence — to keep those lusty bucks from rubbing off their velvet on the little trees.

There are a number of things I can tell you from looking at this census map. First, notice the dominant grouping of the dead (brown) pecans. You can see that this is in the center of the plantation. (I realize “plantation” is a grand word for an acre of gravelly hardpan with a fluctuating count of twigs that may some day be pecans, but, heck, I’m a visionary!) The center of the plantation receives the least amount of water. Beyond the left side of the image, a grassy south-facing slope rises. Water and some good topsoil drain down from here, helping the pecans on the left survive and even flourish. At the bottom of the image the soil is not very good, but the leaky dam keeps the trees fairly well watered. That grouping of blue leaves at the bottom give you a general idea of where the leak waters flow. (This, not coincidentally, is where the tickseed coreopsis grows in the summer, as you can see here.) And beyond the right side of the image is an intermittent pond at the base of the slope that rises there. The soil here is a little better, and the pond keeps the area wetter as well. All of the drainage from the leaks also collects itself and flows along this right side of the plantation.

I can also reliably assume that the green leaves represent lackluster pecans. With limited time resources, I’ve only been able to fence some of the pecans so far. I chose the ones that looked like they had grown best and left the skimpy ones to fend for themselves, hoping the scrub would hide them from the deer (and, unfortunately, from the life-giving sunlight as well). I’ve calculated roughly that fencing each pecan costs me about $7.00, which isn’t a whole lot of money for the eventual payback, but when you consider there are fifty trees down here, you make your choices.

Nonetheless, I can now look at this map at my leisure and count how many fence posts I need to buy and haul down to Roundrock. I can even estimate how much fencing I’ll need. (We can generally get five trees fenced from one roll, though we are making more spacious cages than we had originally.)

We’ve taken this census three times now, and from the consistent pattern of brown we see in the center each year, we’ve concluded we won’t be replanting in that area for a while. Our surmise is that these trees don’t get sufficient water from rainfall to survive, so unless we can visit them regularly with our milk jugs of water to wet their parched roots, there is no point in putting any more in. The plan is that once we move to Roundrock, we’ll give those pecans another try. (Though I am tempted to put shortleaf pine in those places just to see how they do. These pines are supposed to love rocky, dry soil, which is not what the pine plantation has. Ironically, I have put pines where pecans would do well and pecans where pines would do well. Anyway, I have fifty pines arriving this month, so maybe I will.)

The tapering of the plantings on the right side — the shorter rows, I mean — are the result of the lay of the land. At the top of the image there are some large trees that shade the area and I thought there was no point in planting there (though some sycamore are coming up nicely on their own). At the bottom of the image the ground is pretty much pure gravel. While the rest of the acre has grown a luxurious pelt of grass, this part has remained open and forbidding.

So these are some of the lessons I have learned about my pecan planting ambitions. I hope to draw a similar grid for the pines, though I’ve only had two years of experience with those, so my profound insights may not be so plentiful.

*I spent some time casting about in the image library in Photoshop trying to find the right one. I wanted to use a tree, and there were several that looked pecan-ish, but I feared that at the size I would need to use, they wouldn’t look like trees, and, honestly, the size my actual pecans are don’t make them look like trees either. So I settled on this spear-shaped leaf since it does look a bit like a pecan leaflet.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar comes up blank for this day. I wish you could see the photo that was used for February. You may be familiar with those Escher drawings of black and white birds merging in the sky. Multiply that by a thousand and you would have an idea of the February photo. Take a look at this photo by the same photographer and understand that is it merely a slice, a tenth, of the photo on the calendar

Lichen and conundrum

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007


I’ve always liked this image, but it’s been a lingering conundrum in my photo collection. I don’t really know what to tell you about it because I don’t know much about it myself.

This is just the corner of a large rock — bigger than a breadbox — but what I wanted to shoot at the time was the lichen growing on it. I don’t know much about lichen (though I think Zane over at Lichenology probably does), so I can’t start rambling along with interesting facts about lichen for your edification and pleasure.

I just liked the look of the roundish, pale green lichen against the gray angularity of the stone. Plus those brown leaves give a nice contrast and punch up the image a bit. This stone sits in a ravine near my New Favorite Spot, and I find myself going back there frequently.

At this time of the year, the ravine is filled with leaves, but a few scouring spring rains will move those along and I’ll get to see this rock again, along with its dozens of companions that tripped me as I tried hiking up the ravine. I seem to remember that there were many large rocks spotted with lichen here, and I’m eager to get back to see if that is correct.

I really like this part of the forest, and I don’t see myself disturbing it to collect building stone or cut firewood. So the lichen rock will probably lie in quiet peace there in the forest.

Maybe a bench nearby would be nice.

Missouri calendar:

  • Boxelder bugs are seen on warm days until April.
  • Watch for the flap and glide of mourning doves’ courtship flights.

Icy Pond

Monday, February 26th, 2007

icy pond.JPG

I’m certain the pond does not look like this right now. I took this photo some weeks ago, and this was at the end of my day when I was making a mad dash (as much as I can mad dash, that is) back to my truck before the road out got too icy.

But I took a moment to snap this photo of the pond as I crossed the dam and sought the shelter of the trees there on the left. (The day was cold and getting colder, and the wind was whipping across my neighbor’s open field, pulling the warmth out of my body.)

I wish my lake held water as well as this pond has. Even in the driest seasons, the pond has done no more than drop a few inches. In the summer the water is covered with green water meal or duckweed. (I never know which it is — and maybe it’s both!) Many years ago Libby and I spent a little time casting a line into this water to see what might be lurking down there. We each pulled forth a tiny green fish, perhaps a sunfish variety. I was hoping there would be a lunker bass waiting for me, but if so, it remained elusive that day.

We’re now in shirtsleeve weather here in Kansas City, and Roundrock, being 100 miles to the south, generally sees temperatures five to ten degrees higher. Thus I’m sure the pond is no longer covered with ice as you see in this photo.

Still, it is a nice image. It makes me want to be there.

Missouri calendar:

  • Opossum young are born and climb into the female’s pouch.
  • river otter litters are born now through late March.

Sunday grab bag

Sunday, February 25th, 2007


Two weeks have passed since I was last at Roundrock, and if my normal routine had held, I would be out there today. That didn’t happen though. (Or did it?) Family and homeground obligations got in the way of a dash to the woods. (Or did they?)

I suppose this may still be a bit early, but I’d love to see what signs of spring are coming forth in the forest. Perhaps next weekend.

For now, I’ll just contemplate it.


Kerredelune over at Beyond the Fields We Know had a small woodpecker alight on her hat and hang around as she hiked along. She wondered if she might be evolving into a tree, and then she began to speculate on what kind of tree she might become.

I liked this notion so much that I’ve been thinking a lot since then about what kind of tree I would be. I think I’ve concluded I would be a red bud. The tree is satisfied being in the understory. It can grow eccentrically and has dense wood. It also brings forth a brief period of flashiness when it flowers and then settles in to be a provider of food for the forest animals. I think I could get in line with that. (Second class, eccentric, dense, and flashy. That’s me.)


I have set up a nature book swap over at Swap-bot. I’m giving it a try, anyway. The goal is to give away a book about natural history that you have your shelf and receive a different one from someone else somewhere in the world. All it costs is postage.

If this sounds interesting to you, head over to Swap-bot and sign up. You have until March 15 to sign up, and then you will get the address of the person to whom you will send your book. Soon after that you will receive a book from someone else, too.


You still have two days to make your submission to the next Festival of the Trees, hosted this time by Hannibal’s own Larry Ayers at Riverside Rambles. If you have a post about trees on your blog, or if you’ve found one elsewhere that you think is worthy, send Larry (or me) an email.


Ranch Ramblins has been on my blogroll since forever, but Hal hadn’t made a post since last December. I was worried that there was bad news looming, but I’m happy to report that all is well in this place called Arkansas where he lives and writes. His internet satellite dish was down while he had a new roof installed, and he made some of trips to foreign lands (“California” and “Texas”), so his posting has suffered. But he hopes to be back at it soon and maybe there’s a post up already!

I know it is presumptuous of me, but whenever a favorite blogger doesn’t post on the normal schedule for a while I start to worry and imagine all sorts of bad things that might be keeping him or her away from the blog. It sure is an odd sort of community we’ve become, isn’t it?


Is it just me, or does Blogger really, really hate me? It appears that when I leave a comment on Blogger sites now, my name is no longer a clickable link to my own (non-Blogger) blog. Is it a great conspiracy to get everyone in the world to get a Blogger ID? Or am I doing something wrong?


Q quotient: 765/1050

Missouri calendar:

  • Listen for western chorus frogs: sound is like a thumbnail run along a comb.
  • Killdeer begin arriving.

Tawny tussocks

Saturday, February 24th, 2007


(After writing the title of this post, I wondered if it sounded like my subject matter was going to be an exotic dancer.)

I love the color in this photo. I’m pretty sure this is little bluestem grass. If so, it’s a native from the days when this part of Missouri was more prairie than forest. I’m seeing more and more of this in the open areas, and I hope it is re-establishing itself. That will be an indication that my benign-neglect approach to stewardship is working.

I took this picture down in the pecan plantation the last time we were out to Roundrock. When we had the dam built, this area below it had been scraped clean, down to the gravel. Nothing grew here for a few seasons (and the pecans are still deciding if they want to bother growing here). Now the acre is a wild jumble of all sorts of plants: grasses, flowering forbs, trees where I don’t want them, rushes, sedges. I tell myself that the life and death and eventual decay of all of this plant matter will help build soil down here and the pecans will be better for it. But it may be that some other plants will overtake the pecans and establish dominion instead.

This little bluestem is also coming up in the pine plantation at the other end of roundrock. The soil there is very deep, with hardly any rock at all. I’ve not seeded this grass, so it’s coming up on its own intiative. There are several pocket preserves of native prairie grasses in the areas around Rouncrock (including my neighbor’s meadow directly to the west), so it isn’t surprising that these grasses would come up without my help.

I understand these types of bunch grasses are good for wildlife, especially quail, since they provide some cover as well as avenues of open space between the bunches. Someone please tell the quail that their accommodations are ready for them.


Thunder and lightning in the wee hours here in Kansas City and, according to the weather maps, a hundred miles south at Roundrock. With luck, plenty of water is pouring into the lake and charging it up for my summer swimming pleasure. Maybe I’ll have a report for you shortly.

Missouri calendar:

  • Flying squirrels begin breeding.
  • Skunks breed through late March.

Late winter bouquet

Friday, February 23rd, 2007


I picked the photo bouquet for you. Just for you!

I have no idea what kind of plant this was in the glory days of last summer and fall. I probably looked at it dozens of times as I passed through the pecan plantation, going about this or that chore. But I like its look now. I like the texture and the monochrome quality. It has a warmth the denies the winter cold of the recent day I passed by.

As I said earlier, I’m trying to pay more attention to finer details at Roundrock, and so far my efforts have been amply rewarded. The more I look, the more I see. I can’t complain about that.

This bouquet would make a pleasing addition to my winter breakfast table. But I won’t put it there because, well, I picked this one for you!

Missouri calendar:

  • Spotted salamanders move to breeding ponds this week.

Leak Peek

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

leak peak.JPG

Yes, the lighting was bad, and I was zooming in for this shot. So what do you see here? Well, it’s that bane of Pablo’s Roundrock ambitions, that’s what it is. This is an image of water leaking under the dam. But the shot merits a little explaining.

I was standing atop the dam when I took this picture. The bright splash of white on the right there is actually sunlight reflecting off of a smallish pool of water. That alone is not all uncommon, at least when the water level behind the dam is high. This pool area had been gouged out of the rocky ground by water coursing from the overflow pipe after a series of days when high water pressed the overflow system into use. (Apparently. I wasn’t there to see it happen, dagnabit!) So there stands a rift in the earth ready to hold water, however it might get there. It might be rainfall or it might be leakage. In any case, the small pool had been dry since the summer because there just hadn’t been enuf rainfall to cause it to be filled by any means.

But then enter the recent heavy snows in the Roundrock neighborhood. More than a foot of snow. Perhaps twice. (Again with the dagnabit; I wasn’t there to see it happen!) This helped fill the lake to a level higher than it had been all last summer (when we used to swim in it — ah, bliss!). This, in turn, increased the water pressure on the dam, and some of the water found its way through the leaky areas and filled this little downstream-side pool.

Well, finding water in this little pool was not surprising, nor was it alarming. Below many of the dams I’ve seen in the county there have been such pools of standing water, so I can live with that. But now (finally!) to the point of this post.

You can see the round rock sitting on that larger boulder there on the left, correct? Above it a bit you may be able to make out a small, whitish patch that curves slightly. That, my friends, is running water. From atop the dam where we stood, we could see the twinkle of sunlight on this spot as the rippling water danced over the rocky ground. Leaking water. Leaking, flowing water!

Somehow, as I gazed the other direction on the frozen water in the lake, I thought that the water wouldn’t leak out. I know that doesn’t make sense after a moment’s reflection, but you know how Pablo is blessed with wishful thinking. For some reason, though, I thought that maybe during the bitter winter months (they haven’t been that bitter for the most part actually) the dam and I might have a little truce and there wouldn’t be any actual leaking.

Yet there is was, tumbling over the rocks as pleasantly as you please. But, of course, the water under the lake ice was kept above the freezing mark, so it was free to flow out anyway it could find. A shocking revelation for poor Pablo, but not a fatal one.

If this were all the leakage the lake could produce throughout the summer, maybe I could live with it. Assuming regular rainfall (a big assumption in recent years), the lake could be recharged sufficiently to compensate for the leaking. So maybe progress could be had.

As it was, this was the only leaky area below the dam. That was encouraging. We could have expected more at the north end of the dam, but there was none there. So maybe the tide is turning?
And thus ends this rather strange and rambling post.

Missouri calendar:

  • Washington’s birthday.
  • Chipmunks come out of hibernation.

I get questions

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

earth two.jpg

Boy, do I get questions. They come pouring in through my email as though I am some sort of expert on everything. I tend to avoid giving personal advice, such as about dating since I’m not very well informed about carbon decay, but I thought maybe I’d give a go at some of the more common queries I get.

Are you ever going to move out to Roundrock?

If these people finally decide to cooperate, I will.

Mac or PC?

“If you have to ask, you’ll never know.” (Mac)

Those round rocks look fake!

First of all, this isn’t even a question. If I tell you that I am consistently inept at any sort of crafty endeavor, and so could not possibly create such lovely round stones myself (even as the god of my own solipsistic universe), would that suffice as an explanation? I can assure you that I have carried enuf of these dense, heavy spheres around in my forest to be certain to my own satisfaction that they are real. And I’ve given away a few to friends as gifts, so they might have an opinion as well, and giving away my beloved round rocks has proven to be emotionally wrenching and a source of real pain, so I’m pretty sure the stones must be real for them to be missed so much. But if that doesn’t satisfy you, next time you’re at Roundrock, let me drop one on your foot!

What is your favorite thought experiment?

I get this one a lot. I suppose everyone has a favorite. Mine is John Rawls’ famous challenge about devising a social system. You have been tasked with the job of creating a society in which all classes of people will be present. Resources and opportunities may be limited in some cases. There will be rich and there will be poor. You will be a part of this society, and you cannot know in advance what position you will have. How would you go about creating your society? (And how different would your society be if you knew in advance that you would be wealthy? Or if you knew you would be the poorest of the poor?) It’s all about fairness and how that could be achieved by setting up a veil of ignorance, which is not a bad thing though it sounds like one.

Does the plane of our solar system run parallel to the plane of the Milky Way galaxy? Or in other words, which way is up?

This is a good question, the best kind really, because it has no answer. Up is relative, as Einstein might say. Strictly speaking, up is the direction away from the center of the Earth, no? But if you lived in Missouri, you could say that you’re going up to Iowa. Yet that would only be true in terms of the way maps are drawn, peculiar to the ethnocentricity of northern hemisphere map makers. Really, there is no reason to think of the North Pole as the top of the world because the Earth is not oriented to any universal directional. We only think this because we are so used to seeing it depicted that way (and no other). There is no up or down in space (he stated assertively), and an alien spaceship approaching our blue planet could just as likely find North America appearing “below” the equator as above simply because of its approach. Those aliens haven’t been habituated to our maps and globes, so they don’t consider themselves to be flying upside down. (And no, the plane of our solar system is not parallel to the plane of the Milky Way. We are tilted about 60 degrees from the galactic plane. So get over yourself.)

Did you draw that image of the earth? And are you really such an iconoclast that you felt the need to turn it upside down?

Second question first. The short answer is yes! But for you to ask this question, you must not have read (or at least understood) the profound answer to the immediately preceding question.

As to the image, I acquired it through my tax dollars, specifically at work among the good people at NASA and their bountiful image gallery. It was my twisted mind that inverted the image, however. Yet I stand by my assertion that this view is just as “valid” as the conventional one. It’s an interesting challenge to wrap your mind around, isn’t it? (And if this view bothers you, perhaps it says something about your own insecurities, eh?)

And that blue-tailed skink looks fake too!

Again, not a question.


Missouri calendar:

  • Ash Wednesday
  • Walleye move onto shoals for spawning through April.

Easily Overlooked

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007


What can I tell you about this image? Not much. Not nearly as much as I would like, certainly. (And yet, I will blather away.)

What you see here is, perhaps, the grain of the wood as it grew to form a White Oak tree. The tree is now a snag, though it stands no more than a half-dozen feet tall any longer. I used Libby’s camera and the close-up setting to snap this picture. (I’ve vowed to give more attention to the smaller details at Roundrock, and here is an attempt.)

The bark has long since fallen from this bleached and blasted trunk, and the pattern of the grain is exposed, showing an interesting and appealing series of waves going up the tree. How it came to grow this way I cannot say. Was it some environmental influence? Perhaps a disease? Or maybe even something genetic about this particular tree? I wonder if it would have made a nice grain if the wood had been sawn. I’ve never seen a pattern like this in any of the other snags in my forest, but as I said above, I’ve vowed to pay better attention to these kinds of things, so maybe it is commonplace and I’ve simply overlooked it.

waves 2.JPG

Almost as rare as two postings in a single day on this blog is a single post with two photos in it. So today is special in that way.

This is a different spot on the same snag. You can see a hole left, most probably, by a woodpecker. This part of the snag, which was low to the ground, is covered with such holes. My guess is that the tree, soon after it died (and possibly before) played host to many boring insects that in turn attracted the woodpecker who feasted on them.

The snag, what’s left of it, is a substantial bit of forest flotsam, and I don’t see any immediate reason for it to fall to the ground. Yet I don’t think it is substantial enuf to be hosting any critters in dens.

But it is worthy of another visit. The setting is nice and the hiking here is level. There is a comfy log to sit on nearby. Large hunks of sandstone break the surface of the ground and invite speculation. The beginnings of a ravine cleave the forest floor here. So much wealth in a twenty-foot diameter circle.

Missouri calendar:

  • Coyotes breed through March; listen for howling.

(Does anyone else read any double meaning into some of the Natural Events Calendar items? I have to wonder if the writer had a little fun with entries like these that have their mild, double meanings.)

Shell shocked

Monday, February 19th, 2007


We find these bleached, empty turtle shells in the woods at Roundrock fairly regularly. I once calculated that Roundrock could support 800 turtles, given their habitat preferences and what I’ve read about their population density. I don’t suppose we really have that many turtles, but we certainly do see live ones poking about here and there, most commonly in the spring and fall.

When we do find these shells, we tend to carry them with us back to our camp, where we are amassing a fine collection of them around the fire ring. Notably, all of the shells are intact. (Most often we only find the carapace, but sometimes the plastron is still attached or nearby.) We’d never seen a shell that had been gnawed upon the way antlers and bones usually are in our woods, and Libby even commented to that fact on the day we took this photo.

So it was odd to come upon this shell in its state. I don’t think, however, that this shell has been gnawed into this shape. I’m pretty sure it was broken somehow. Note that not only the front quarter is missing, but the bottom edge is gone as well. Aside from my own big feet, I don’t know of what force in the forest might break a turtle shell in this way.

I know that foxes and coyotes will toss live turtles around in an effort to crack the shell open to get at the edible inside. Maybe that’s what happened to this turtle. Part of me feels a little sad about thinking of the grisly end the turtle had met, but I realize it’s all a big, continuous circle, and some animal was able to live as a result.

Missouri calendar:

  • Presidents’ Day (observed)
  • Turkey vultures begin arriving.