Archive for April, 2007

Rock: wet and dry

Monday, April 30th, 2007

wet rock.JPG

This is a point just a few feet from the westernmost reach of Lake Marguerite. The water you see here was flowing into it at a pleasing rate, and it must have been flowing at a much more forceful rate earlier since all of the rocks you see here (the whole rocky channel they are in) were recently exposed.

My eye, of course, fell on this round rock in the deep, and I had to have it. So I convinced my sweet bride to reach into the icy water and tug it out for me. (If you look closely, you can see a pink and blue reflection on the water, mostly to the left of the round rock. That’s Libby.) She did pull it out, but the rock turned out to be only half of a round rock.

dry rock.JPG

Here you see its innards. Those who doubt the current theory that the round rocks formed by accumulation from a smaller nucleus (rather than by erosion from a larger stone) should note the concentric rings that I sometimes have the chance to photograph and display here.

This part of the lakebed is regularly recharged with rocks after a strong rain. (The lake may never stay filled with water, but I know that some day it will be filled with rocks.) Several years ago we devoted a few trips to collecting the larger rocks that are washed into this area and placing them on the western side of Libby’s Island. My theory was that when a really big flow comes down the Central Valley and into the lakebed, it’s going to strike Libby’s Island first. I didn’t want the island to be washed away, so we set up the boulder-wall as a buffer. It seems to have worked since there are no signs of erosion on the side of the island.

It’s not uncommon for us to find a fresh flow of rocks and gravel into this part of the lakebed, and amidst all of that will be round rocks. Usually they are scarred or pitted, like this one, but sometimes we find a keeper or two. And you might too if you ever come by.

Missouri calendar:

  • The calendar has a blank box for today.

Sunday mash up

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

rumination.JPG

This is the current view from rumination rock. I’d first wrote about it way back here. With the lake being full (for the time being), there is a lot more to ruminate about as I sit on this rock. That’s a stump you see silhouetted in the foreground on the left. I had #1 Son cut down the cedar that it was, and the tree now serves as fish habitat in the water directly below. There’s a round rock in the forground on the right. It’s actually part of a group of them sitting on a bit of ledge. As we wandered about the dry lakebed we would pick up round rocks and then climb the slope to place them here. Now, of course, they now sit at the water line, and we’d have to swim up with any rocks we collected to add to the bunch (or just come down the hill from above).

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The shortleaf pine trees arrived on a rainy Wednesday. Where do you suppose I am on this sunny Sunday?

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Go here to see the hole a woodpecker made in a wooden porch pillar. That photo is from the Livejournal blog of Cathy Johnson, whose books I’ve mentioned here once or twice.

Alternatively, you can go here to see a Civil War cannon ball embedded in the stone pillar of the Lexington, Missouri county courthouse (top left of the home page).

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Today is the deadline for this edition of the Festival of the Trees. Send Xris your post about urban trees by the end of the day at festival [dot] trees [at] gmail [dot] com. It should be an especially interesting Festival, (until you host it, that is). So be sure to surf over to the Flatbush Gardener once the month turns to see the new Festival.

If you’ve had a post appear in the Festival before, consider making a link to the home page on your sidebar or in a post our two. Also, if you visit the Festival home page, you’ll see a reconfigured blogroll. Blogs appearing there are now categorized a bit, and if you know of worthy blogs, pass along a mention.

We’re always looking for hosts, too. Don’t be shy.

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Click to help the Hunger Site. Or the Breast Cancer Site. Or the Child Health Site. Or the Literacy Site. Or the Rainforest Site. Or the Animal Rescue Site.

Are these things legit? They look more like sites to sell accessories.

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One year ago I was writing about how Libby and I were finding our way into Fallen Timbers. Did I tell you that my neighbor at Fallen Timbers continues to provide this service to us (just as Good Neighbor Brian does at Roundrock)?

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I still get occasional, legitmate comments to older posts, but I’m also being innundated by spam comments that get past my filter. If it weren’t for those occasional, legitimate comments, I would turn off the comment ability on posts more than a year old (which is what the spammers currently favor).

Missouri calendar:

  • Indigo buntings and dickcissels are arriving.
  • May apples begin blooming.

Scorched

Saturday, April 28th, 2007

scorched.JPG

Unlike today, when I first started going to my forest at Roundrock, I didn’t know everything. When Libby and I would first come upon scenes like the one above, we’d comment to each other how it sure looked like the old snag had been burned. But then we’d look about the area, and nothing else would looked scorched, and we’d decide that we were mistaken.

So we wondered if what we were seeing was some sort of black fungus that was growing lustily on the dead wood of the snag.

Now, of course, we are so much wiser, and we see the world so much more clearly. You can find scorched snags like these just about everywhere in our forest. This one happens to be on the north-facing slope, but on the other side of the lake (where we seem to spend most of our Roundrock time) there are plenty of these. (We even have them at Fallen Timbers — that other little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks we have.)

During our tenure, only one ground fire has come into our woods, and that was the result of a prescribed burn my neighbor lost control of. It cleared out some scrub and leaf litter and pretty much enriched the soil but otherwise had no great effect on the ongoing world of Roundrock. As I’ve said before, ground fires are a fact of life in the Ozarks, and especially at this time of the year when the winter winds have dried the remnant prairire grasses to tinder, we could go out to our woods and would not be surprised to find some area freshly burned (though we haven’t).

I have several long open areas in the western part of my forest. The trees have not reconquered these parallel patches and grasses weakly cover them. My latest surmise is that these places record where massive burn piles had been. Years ago, that part of the forest had been cleared to make more grazing area for cattle. My guess is that the large trees that were taken down were placed in long piles and then burned. And they burned with such intense heat that they scorched the ground sufficiently to prevent it from supporting plant life for decades.

I always wonder when I come across a burned snag like this one why it wasn’t wholly consumed. Were the flames just not feeling enthusiastic at the time? Or did a sudden shower come along and quench them? Did the quitting bell ring?

That’s the kind of thing that keeps bringing me back to the forest.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Big Dipper has tipped and spilled into the Little Dipper.
  • June bugs begin appearing.

Libby’s Island

Friday, April 27th, 2007

Libbys Island.JPG

When the builder and I were discussing creating a lake so many years ago, he asked if I wanted any islands. I didn’t. I wanted a continuous expanse of limpid blue water. But then he said that an island is a relatively safe place for geese to have a nest and hatch a clutch of eggs, and my strident position softened. And so Wildflower Island was born.

Of course, it soon became Libby’s Island — aka Barataria — (and I’m still waiting for all of the wildflowers whose seeds I scattered on the island to make an appearance). Except that it never was an island. At least we had never seen it that way. Once or twice we managed to get out to Roundrock after the big rains and see the lake creeping toward the island. In one case, the lake water just touched the tip of the “island.” But in all the years, it was an island in name only. In reality it was a pile of gravel amidst a sea of gravel. Still we put a pair of chairs on it to give ourselves a nice place to rest on hikes, and they were always easily accessible. (Now, not so much.)

That changed, of course, in recent days when the full pool showed that our gravel pile really was an island in waiting (just as the builder told us it wa).

The water level, even at full pool, is hardly deep here. You could wade across to it and not get your knobby knees wet. And I don’t think there is anything about it that would stop a hungry coyote or fox from venturing over for a meal of goose eggs either. But then, we have that second island, Isla de Peligro (Danger Island) for the nesting job. Even so, a coyote or fox could swim to Isla de Peligro (Gefarinsel) if it thought a good meal awaited, but maybe the trouble of crossing the water might deter the canine from exploring there to find out. (I’m not as canny as a fox, however, so I can’t say.)

The water looks almost orange in the photo above. That’s actually all of the leaves and twigs from the forest floor that the heavy rains have washed into the lake.

I realize that on our next trip to Roundrock (when?), the island may not be an island any longer. But just to see it once like this was satisfying. And someday we will again.

Missouri calendar:

  • National Arbor Day
  • Ozark darters spawn in rocky riffles.
  • Egrets begin nesting in heronries.

Green Paths

Thursday, April 26th, 2007

green paths.JPG

Here is a part of the north-facing slope we don’t visit often. I can’t imagine why since it is magical.

The area is far above (west of, not higher than) the lake and it is filled with mature cedar trees that keep the slope in a perpetual shade. It’s a cool place to be on a hot day, and for some months now I’ve thought that I should carve a sort of path through here, perpendicular to the slope. I don’t know where it would lead. Just from there to here, but if you consider that sometimes the journey is more important than the destination, then journeying through here would be a worthy use of time.

We are slowing making paths in our forest. In part we do this simply by walking in the same old game paths we always use since they are less scrubby. But we’ve also been known to cut low branches and even push aside rocks and logs where we want a trail to run. Now that we know where the full pool shoreline is (just where the builder said it would be when he made his survey years ago and left little red flags in the woods to identify it!) we are clearing a way along it to allow fishermen and women to get around the lake. But since just about every part of our forest holds a wonder for us, we don’t really have destinations we want to get to in a straight line. Rather, we want to wend and wander and see what there is to see on our way to wherever we are going. (Journey, not only destination.)

Notice how clear the ground is in this area. The soil seems good too. I think the shelter of the cedars has kept the soil from washing down the hill. So along with cutting a peaceful path along here, I could try planting some shade-loving wildflowers and ferns and enhance the journey even more.

Ah, it makes me wistful.

Missouri calendar:

  • Crappie are spawning.
  • Mink kits are born through early May.

Spring Cleaning

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

flotsam.JPG

The big rains that filled Lake Marguerite in recent weeks also scoured the ravines, pushing all of the fallen leaves and bits of forest detritus downstream. What you see in the photo above is one of the many floating mats of flotsam in the lake. There were bands of flotsam that spread from shore to shore across the lake on our last visit. Between the bands were areas of open water, and the only way I can account for these accumulations is the scrub that was growing in the lakebed before it was innundated by the flood waters. I expect that enuf of this scrub is still standing here and there to trap the floating flotsam and accumulate it in spots.

Most of this forest litter — what doesn’t get cast on the shore or settle to the bottom — winds up in the southeast corner of the lake, by the spillway. The nearly constant winds across the lake blow it there, and while it is harmless stuff, we tend to avoid that area when we swim in the lake. I try to fish out some of the bigger pieces, like logs, but by and large my management plan of benign neglect remains in effect.

What you see in the photo above are not a pair of floating round rocks but actually a pair of acorns. The turkeys and deer missed these two, but I didn’t.

Missouri calendar:

  • Ruby-throated hummingbirds begin arriving.
  • Hickories bloom.

Cheery Cherry

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007
cherry.JPG

Not the finest photo I’ve foisted upon you, gentle reader, but I like it nonetheless. What you are intended to see is a young cherry tree filling the foreground. (Disregard the cedar tree behind, which does, however, provide a bit of color contrast.)

Libby and I were indulging in our momentous first walk around our full lake when we came to this point. This point is the uppermost reach of Lake Marguerite, and in the lower left you can see water flowing. A few feet further and it drops into the lakebed. But I digress.

Back to the cherry tree. We have many cherries in our woods at Roundrock, but I easily overlook them since they are mostly understory and they tend to merge with the visual noise of the scrub clutter. It is only when I come face to face with the lovely, leathery, elliptical leaves that I pause and consider what I have stumbled across. This particular tree is a youngster. I know this not only from its size but from its placement. This spot was scraped clean by the bulldozer when we had Lake Marguerite built some years ago. So this is a recent sprout. I’d like to think that it is in a favorable setting since it is growing so well, but it isn’t. This is a gravelly part of the Central Valley, and cherries tend to prefer the deep, rich soils instead. Still, I’m glad it’s here, and as with the walnuts, I expect there are more cherry trees around than I realize.

I wonder if these cherries are making a comeback from decades of persecution. I’ve read that the twigs, leaves, and bark of a black cherry tree (Prunus serotina) contain a prussic aside that can actually kill cattle that eat them. And given that Roundrock was once part of a large cattle ranch (in days of yore), it seems likely that any that were found would have been chopped down readily. Yet along with this and other youngsters there are plenty of mature cherry trees, which I can identify by their bark. Conversely, the fruits, which mature in late summer to blue-black balls of bitterness provide additional food for the quail and turkeys that roam our forest.

My wood-carving friend Duff has told me that he’ll gladly accept any lengths of cherrywood trunks I can deliver him. I have a mature tree that is leaning precariously over our road through the trees, and I expect that on some future visit to Roundrock, I’ll find it has fallen and blocks my way. Then I’ll cut it into lengths and make a gift of it.

This tree, and presumably most of the other cherries in our forest, was blooming when I visited. The flowers are minute, and I couldn’t get a good photo of them, but I intend to visit this energetic and ambitious young cherry again to see how the fruits are coming along. I understand they are bitter, but maybe I’ll try one or two.

Missouri calendar:

  • Cedar-apple rust appears.
  • Coyotes bear young through May.

Chuck the Duck

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

dam grass.JPG

When we are at Roundrock, Libby watches for her pet turtle to rise from the bottom of the lake every twenty minutes or so to get some air and sun and then disappear below the waters. (Does this qualify as a pet?) On most of our summer visits, we can count on seeing the little turtle head poking out of the water here and there on the lake surface. It’s a reassuring sign of our stewardship and goodwill toward the wild things. But on our last visit we didn’t see the turtle. I think the season is not advanced enuf for the turtle to have pulled itself from its hibernation in the mud at the bottom of the cold lake.

But we did see a creature rising from the depths!

Early on the day of our visit, before we had made our walk about the full lake, we were on the north shore near the dam when I suddenly saw something fairly large disappear from the surface of the lake. (You know those moments when you don’t realize you’ve seen something until it suddenly disappears?) It dove under the water quickly, and at first I thought it was the turtle. If so, however, it wasn’t going to be coming back to the surface for twenty minutes. Nonetheless, I pointed to the spot where the thing disappeared.

And, mirabile dictu, the thing popped back to the surface as we gazed. And it certainly was too large to be a turtle head. But what was it? (Keep in mind that we were on the far shore, and the distance was greater than we were accustomed to since the lake was full and thus the surface area was much greater.)

We both thought at first that it might be an otter that had taken up residence in our lake. This seemed unlikely, of course, since we are so far up the watershed that an otter can find much better pantries elsewhere with greater ease.

But only a few seconds after we saw whatever it was surface, it dove again. That didn’t leave us enuf time to figure out what it was before it was gone. But it was pleasant gazing across the broad waters, and the day was still young, so we continued to stare at the spot.

And the thing popped up again.

It stayed on the surface for about five seconds, then with a little swirl, the creature disappeared again. For twenty seconds it was gone, and then there it was on the surface again. The pattern repeated itself for as long as we watched. And while we could see whatever it was, I’m certain it could see us as well because the beastie stayed on the far side of the lake.

After a few observations like this I was beginning to discern its shape, and I realized that what I saw was a diving duck. I was delighted, especially if you recall my lament of a few days ago. The duck was solitary, unless, of course, its mate was on a nest somewhere in the forest. And for the entire time that we watched, this duck would spend its five or so seconds on the surface to take a breath or two, then pop below the waters for twenty seconds or so. This was in the deepest part of the lake, so I don’t think it was diving for plants or snails to eat. I think it was going after the wild fish that were collected where the water was the warmest. I was happy to provide the duck with a meal, and Libby named him Chuck the Duck.

Well, there was a full lake with all of its marvels to wander around, so we turned our feet from the duck doings and ambled about. My thought was that we would return from the other side of the lake, and from that distant shore we might get a better look at our duck friend. And so after an hour or more of delight in the woods around the waters we found ourselves on the opposite shore, close to where we had seen Chuck the Duck diving and surfacing. As you might guess, Chuck the Duck was now on the other side of the lake, near where we had stood when we had first seen him (him?).

But then I had a brilliant plan. Rather than hike across the dam, exposing ourselves so obviously to the canny duck, we would hike down the spillway and then creep up the face of the dam, poking our own heads above the top in a way that would allow us to see without being seen.

Have I described the face of the dam before? The slope grows more steep near the top. You can’t simply walk up the face of it. You reach a point where you more or less must crawl, especially if you are trying to be stealthy. And have I told you that in Missouri we have these things called chiggers? They hang about the low plants and wait for some imprudent warm blooded creatures to come along. Then they attach themselves to your flesh and give you weeks of itching torment.

But the prospect of seeing (and possibly identifying) Chuck the Duck up close outweighed the perils, so soon we found ourselves lying flat on our stomachs (notice I didn’t say “lying on our flat stomachs”) on the grassy top of the dam. And this is where the photo at the top of this post comes from.

Chuck the Duck was on the far side of the lake.

We stayed for a long day at Roundrock (how could we not?), and the entire time Chuck the Duck was there, diving and surfacing. It kept as much distance as it could from us, but it didn’t fly away despite our comings and goings at the waterline, so I think it understood that it could ignore us. At lunch Libby fetched the pint-sized binoculars we keep in the truck, but even with those, we couldn’t get enuf details to offer an identification. Thus Chuck the Duck, if it decides to stick around Lake Marguerite, will be a subject for much scrutiny and speculation. (And had we not loaned the better set of bins to our future daughter-in-law for an ornithology class she is in this semeter, we would bring those along as well.)

So perhaps I’ll have future Chuck the Duck tales to relate.

Missouri calendar:

  • Turtles crossing roads; watch out!
  • Chimney swifts return.

Sunday brew

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007

two chairs.JPG

Seating for two? Lakeside view? Lunch will be served shortly. Would you care for a little birdsong or sunlight glinting on the waters while you wait?

Short of jumping in the frigid waters, we tried to experience the full lake as much as possible on our last visit. This patch of open ground near the water’s edge is mostly rock, and the slope is steeper than it appears in the photo. It will make a nice place for casting a line some future spring, and it did a good job of providing ideal seating for a ruminative lunch when we were there.

Our lunches have grown more minimalist in recent months (“grown more minimalist” — there’s a contradiction in there somewhere), but mine always includes iced tea (unsweetened, of course).

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I was looking at some statistics for this humble blog and was astonished (astonished!) to learn that I have written more than 700 posts. Seven hundred posts! Granted maybe a third of those are worthwhile, but even so, I’m really surprised with myself. If you say the average post is 250 words, that comes to . . . just a sec . . . 175,000 words. A big, fat novel. I realize I’m only a neophyte compared to many bloggers (like Fragments from Floyd – I think Fred invented the internet, didn’t he?), but I’m no less pleased.

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The Bioblitz has begun!

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Hal over at Ranch Ramblins has made a discovery. He’s found that when you leave a comment on Blogger sites, if you leave your own address as “http://www.roundrockjournal.com” rather than simply “www.roundrockjournal.com”, Blogger will make your name at the end of your comment a clickable link. This is unimportant to those of you who have Blogger IDs, but to the rest of us, it’s a helpful discovery (though I’m certain it is a plan by Google to get everyone in the world to create a Blooger ID so it can complete its world domination).

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The Festival of the Trees is still looking for submissions for the next edition. If you have a tree-ish post, or if you know of one, consider submitting it to Xris over at Flatbush Gardener. Use the email address festival [dot] trees [at] gmail [dot] com.

Consider being a future host of the Fesitval as well. If I can do it, you certainly can!

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Thanks to one and all for the kind words about the now full Lake Marguerite. It’s been a week to the day since we were there, and I’m sure it has diminished a bit, but there are strong thunderstorms forecasted for the rest of the week, so maybe the gods are finished toying with me and will let me have my lake. What’s next, a weekend cabin?

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#1 Son Seth (who, you’ll remember, is over in Kenya with the Peace Corps) has next month off, and he’s going to spend some of the time exploring Tanzania as well as Zanzibar (where he intends to go scuba diving!). The life of the selfless volunteer, eh? Actually, his tour is up in December — he’ll have completed more than two years in country — but he’s hoping to extend it for another year. It seems that some of his students will be taking important qualifying exams the year after he leaves, and if he leaves, they won’t have a math/physics teacher at all. So he feels it is right to stay with these students and help them prepare for the test. Sure, his mother misses him, but I get warm fuzzies when I see my children growing into decent human beings. (There is also the future doctor, the future teacher, and the perpetual graduate student artist and web mogul.)

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I left this somewhere, intending to pick it up the next time I was by, and now it’s sitting in at least ten feet of water.

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Some weeks ago I hosted a nature book swap over at Swap-Bot. The book I received is The Lost Woods, by Edwin Way Teale. I’ve not read any of his books before, but I’m looking forward to starting. (A couple of other books in the queue ahead of it though.)

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Still no shortleaf pine trees, but I remain hopeful.

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I finished The Power and the Glory in time for the book discussion with the social justice types (mentioned here at the bottom), but the meeting was cancelled the night before because too many regulars had to cancel. On to something else.

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Missouri calendar:

  • Earth Day
  • Oaks bloom.

4.15.2007 – Part Four

Saturday, April 21st, 2007

outlet.JPG

I thought that since I had lingered so long at the overflow inlet in yesterday’s post, I should give equal time to the outlet. The mighty blast of water you see in the photo above is what continued to issue from the overflow pipe the entire day that we were at Roundrock.

This was another thing we had never seen before. There is a long, deep gouge in the ground below this pipe that gives testimony to past outpourings, but the most we had ever seen come from the end of this black pipe was an occasional trickle that shouldn’t have been there. (The lake was nowhere near high enuf to be tipping into the overflow drain on these occasions, which is how this pipe is supposed to be fed. My guess is that water passing through the dam at the time had found its way into the joint where the two sections of this black pipe were connected.)

The water that was issuing from the pipe on our Sunday visit was icy cold and had enuf force to brush my hand aside as though it were a feather. You can imagine the force, the constant, unrelenting force that this moving water was applying to the ground below it. On recent visits, Libby and I had begun filling the trench below the pipe with large rocks and broken bricks with the idea of blunting the force of the water should it ever burst from the pipe again. All of those rocks and bricks, we found, were washed down the trench by the bursting water.

So we wandered about the face of the dam, looking for more rocks to throw into the flow. I have been meaning to clear some of the larger rocks off the dam anyway since burrowing animals seem to want to begin their excavations at the base of these rocks, but I intended to have a bag of prairie grass seed with me to throw on the exposed earth left by the rocks we remove. (Maybe next visit.)

So back and forth we went on the sloping ground with the wet grass, carrying rocks to throw in the flow. The water seemed to disregard them altogether. Some of the rocks would fall into the white water and then come spitting out down the trench. As we continued our search, I eventually reached the point where I was hefting rocks that I had passed over before, considering them too large to be carried safely. But as the supply dwindled, my thoughts changed.

I managed to schlepp one particularly large rock over to the flow and dropped it directly in the center. This turned out to be a big mistake. Unlike the smaller rocks that were pushed aside, this big one held its place, and the water that dashed against it was now spraying all over the area, no longer confined to the trench. There was still enuf force in the spray to erode the ground where it struck, so I had essentially written the prescription for a wider trench.

outlet too.JPG

The solution, I figured, was more rocks. I thought that if I could drop some weighty rocks onto the one in the wrong place, it might get dislodged and pushed downstream a little further, allowing the torrent to fall into the trench and more or less stay there.

This, also, was a big mistake. Soon I had the water spraying over an even wider area (including the legs of my pants). And so I had to resort to the only thing I could think of to address the problem. I got down on my hands and knees by the roaring water and reach into its cold coldness to try to push the offending rocks by main strength.

This worked a little bit. The largest rock, the one that started the problem, was too heavy and too well situated to be moveable from my angle of attack. But I was able to shift some of the other rocks to make a kind of wall on either side of the trench to contain the spray. More or less.

Libby offered encouraging words from her dry spot a little ways away.

All of this water is not my lake leaking away. (That was elsewhere in the area.) This is overflow, designed to be drained off the lake in a controlled manner. The system was working (despite my attempts to improve it), and I was pleased. At the other end of the lake, this much water was flowing down from the ravines and adding itself to the lake, so the trade off was about even.

That white thing you see in the top right of the top photo is the cover for the valve I can use to drain more water from the lake. I’ve opened it once or twice just to see what it’s like, and the builder used it to drain away the remnants of the water when he did repair work on the dam several years ago. But I’ve mostly left it closed. The drum that the valve sits in has been misshapen by the weight of the earthen dam it is supposed to be holding back, so getting the lid back on it when once removed is a challenge.

The rock you see in the top right of the second photo is the size of a large chair. We sit on it when we want to admire our pecan plantation. Those are two round rocks resting on it.

By the end of the day, when we were ready to leave, we returned to the overflow inlet to have a last look. The water was still pouring into it, but it was evident that the lake level had already dropped some since the morning. There may have been some rain in the area since then, but with the leaks back in business, it is likely that the next time we visit Roundrock, the overflow mechanism won’t be in use. At least we got to see it once.

Missouri calendar:

  • Giant Canada goose goslings begin hatching.
  • Columbines bloom.