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Archive for May, 2007

5.27.2007 – Gloomy Part Two

Thursday, May 31st, 2007
bent tree.JPG

(Being a continuation of yesterday’s wallow in self pity)

Since we were on the shore of the lake, we decided to take ourselves for a counterclockwise walk around it. We’ve begun the job of clearing a path along the shore of the lake (now that we know where the shore is going to be), but like so many of our hikes, this one was impromptu, and we had no tools with us. Nor were we walking on the actual shoreline. The receding waters had left about a three-foot margin of open gravel where there had once been lake, and it was along here that we pointed our feet.

The forest has grown rampant. There is a period during the summers at Roundrock when I realize that all of my efforts in the woods — clearing trails, keeping the road open, planting trees I want — are going to be swallowed whole by the forest, and it will be as though I had never been there. I seem to remember that this period had come later in the season in past years, but nonetheless, all of my ambitions seem temporary and fruitless for a while as I watch the forest go crazy with growth and spread. Then the heat of August comes and the wild, frenzied greening doesn’t seem like such a good idea. The forest is checked and I begin again to think that maybe I can leave a mark. But this is supposed to be an account of gloom and despair, not one of hope, so forget that idea.

We detoured to Libby’s Island, which is now high and dry again, as expected. For several years we have been casting native wildflower seeds here, but so far we haven’t seen any effect. There was one coreopsis blooming amidst all of the tall grass. And on the south side of this island, a dozen mullein were growing as though to laugh at my idea of controlling it and growing what we would rather. If I’d only had my shovel . . .

The south shore of the lake near the two islands is far too steep to walk along, so we diverted uphill and hiked above the lakebed. We have some familiar routes through the woods here and we stayed uphill almost the entire way to the dam. This was fine since it was a bit of a different hike for us, but I wish now that I had gone down to check on how that maple transplant of mine was doing. I expect it is fine since the other two maples I have planted are flourishing.

The air remained cool since the sky remained overcast, but it was very humid and the breeze didn’t blow with much enthusiasm. We pushed through the grass across the top of the dam and decided it was time to head over to our proposed campsite to have lunch and begin set up for our night in the woods. It was about then that the day’s real problems began to beset us.

The last time we had camped at Roundrock, our neighbor over the ridge and down the valley hosted a bachelor party that involved some trespassing and a lot of explosions. Libby feared that since this was a holiday weekend, the same thing might be repeated. (You may remember reading about it here.) We had just set up the table and began fixing our lunch when the first cracks of gunfire reached us. Now, of course, gunfire is a fact of life in the country, and a man might build himself a country retreat so that he has a place to safely blast away to his heart’s content. But once the shooting began it picked up its pace and was soon a rapid-fire staccato of cracks, punctuated by an occasional boom. The sound was nearly constant, and I wonder if he’s poisoning his hillside by filling it with so much lead. But that’s his business. We had other things to think about.

The “road” in to our campsite is a twisty way through the trees that requires a bit of maneuvering to get the big truck through it. This is across bare ground, rather than gravel, and we like it that way since it seems to keep this road camouflaged from random interlopers. We’ve never seen evidence that anyone but us has penetrated this part of our forest. Driving in and out is a challenge, but the real work is turning the truck around once we’ve reached the campsite. There is just enuf space between the trees to accomplish this — with a lot of backing and turning — but not when your truck decides to break while you’re doing it.

In some amazing coincidence or moment of bad karma come back to torment me, the power steering abruptly quit working as I was trying to turn the truck around between the trees. I thought that perhaps I was moving too slowly or backing over a hump of dirt, but I could barely turn the wheel enuf to swing the front end around. I kept at it, but it was not improving. When I finally managed to get the big green thing pointed in the right direction, we decided I should drive it back to the gravelled road and leave it there. If the power steering had really given out, I wouldn’t want to be driving the truck on the twisty dirt road the next day if it rained in the night. As it was, every turn back to the gravel was a fight — and recall that yesterday I had noted that the truck was fully packed with our gear — and I started thinking about the 100+ mile trip home I faced with a broken truck.

When I had hiked the short distance back to the campsite, we had our lunch and a brief period of post-lunch stupor. The truck was broken, the sky threatened rain, our neighbor was filling the air with the sound of unremitting gunfire, the ticks were as thick as ever, and it was too cool to swim. When I proposed that we abandon the idea of spending the night, Libby readily agreed.

It was still early afternoon, however, and even if I did have to fight the truck the whole way home, I thought we had plenty of time left to squeeze at least some enjoyment out of our day at Roundrock. So we set off for a hike about the western woods. This part of our forest is unlike the rest, though I can’t say exactly why. The undergrowth is less dense. I suspect the types of trees here are different, though I’ve never made any kind of survey of them. The soil is better and there is a bit more rise and fall to the land (rather than mostly slope at the other end of our land). And since we put the lake in, we don’t visit this part of our forest as much, so it’s something like unexplored land to us.

We spent about an hour hiking in a large circle, coming back finally to our campsite. We packed the gear we had left behind and managed to get it all into the truck with only two trips back and forth. Then we embarked on our drive home. The drive wasn’t as bad as I feared, mostly because we were driving down straight highway that didn’t require a lot of turning. But once we were back in suburbia, my upper body muscles were called into service, and I wrenched and pulled at the steering wheel just to get the beast into my driveway. The truck is in the shop now, and I’m hoping it won’t take too many mortgage payments to get it driveable again. I still want to take it to over 200,000 miles, and I’m too close to give up on that ambition.

Missouri calendar:

  • A blue moon (the second full moon this month).

5.27.07 – Gloomy Part One

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

red squirrel.JPG
Libby and I had a vaguely frustrating trip to Roundrock today (today being last Sunday). Nothing much worked out as we had hoped.

The plan was to camp at Roundrock Sunday night. We would do some chores (or not) and dive into our (slightly diminished) lake and fix a tasty meal over a campfire and then let the whippoorwills serendade us to sleep. In the morning we would wake when we felt like it and take another dip in the lake before packing up and heading home.

Not one of those goals was achieved. Sigh.

Believing that we would be camping — and thus spending two days in the woods — I wasn’t in any great hurry to be on the road Sunday morning. Thus I took my time packing the truck. Back in the day (when I was a youth) we would go backpacking for some extended treks and carry everything we needed on our backs for miles to our campsites. I thought about that a lot as I went back and forth into the house, the garage, the basement to get all of the gear we seemed to need for a single night in the forest. By the time we were finished, the truck was pretty much fully loaded (which is important later in this account).

But we were only about an hour later on the road than our normal starting time and, after all, what did that matter since we had two days at beloved Roundrock, right? The drive down was fine. The sky was overcast, and rain spritzed us here and there, but there was no deluge, so getting in to our 80+ acres didn’t look like it would be a problem. Plus I set the cruise control at 65 mph, hoping that I might squeeze a little more mileage out of the gas, as Linda has recommended. I suppose that added maybe fifteen minutes to our travel time, but, after all, what did that matter since we had two days at beloved Roundrock, right?

As it turned out, it didn’t look as though the area around our woods received any rain in recent days. That was fine since it meant that we could weave the truck through the trees to our preferred campsite without fear of it getting bogged down in the soft soil. Of course, a bit of recharge for the incredible shrinking lake would have been nice.

Okay, so we made it to Roundrock without any mishaps, though the sky remained mostly overcast and the possibility of a rainy evening without a campfire was a bit disheartening. But we pressed on.

We drove ourselves directly to the lake, and as I expected, the level was down about a foot since our last visit. Some of the leaks seemed to have dried up, but there was still a strong flow across the pecan plantation.

It seems that the algal bloom has arrived in our lake. Great forests of some brownish-green stuff floated (?) just below the surface of the water. This is to be expected and it is generally the sign of a nutrient-rich lake. The problem with them, as I understand it, comes when the algae dies. Its decomposition sucks much of the oxygen from the water, killing the fish in great numbers. This will be something to watch for.

When we arrived, it was only about 75 degrees (so said the sign at the truck stop nearby), and it certainly didn’t feel warm enuf to swim. With the overcast sky, I doubted that the day would warm up at all, and it looked likely that we wouldn’t get our hoped-for swim. But, after all, what did that matter since we had two days in the forest, right?

We crossed the dam, as we invariably do, wading through knee-high grass and brushing ticks from our clothes, then we wandered down to the pecan plantation to see how things were.

Things are pretty crumby down there, let me tell you. You may recall that we had a late frost. Pecans are among the last to bring out leaves, but I guess my pecans wanted to be achievers this year because most of them had managed to have some green on them in time for the killing frost. They’re coming out again, but the new leaves are at the base of the stems, and it just seems as though every year this project has to start at the beginning again. (Okay, there are a few that are growing robustly, but the dream of a stately grove of pecans is not working out.)

The eight pines we had planted down there (in place of failed pecans) seem to be doing fine, but don’t let me sound optimistic. Most of the pines we have planted elsewhere at Roundrock this year have already died. I don’t know what that is about, but you may recall that the Conservation Department was about a month late with the delivery of the trees, so there may have been some tragedy at the nursery. If so, they’re not talking.

We wandered about the acre below the dam, looking at the various wildflowers coming up and generally making our way back up the road to the shelter. The chairs were calling to us, and we gave ourselves a half hour to sit and flick the dozens of ticks from our clothes. (Why couldn’t that late frost have reduced their numbers, eh?) And we kept our eyes on the lake, hoping that our pet turtle would make an appearance out on the water.

I thought I saw it two times, but Libby didn’t see it, and she remains skeptical that it will come back. In past years, the turtle would come to the surface for a short while and then drop below the water for about twenty minutes. Libby was eager to see what I thought I had seen, so we walked down to the water’s edge and kept a watch. Alas, no turtle made an appearance while we waited, and I began to wonder if I’d merely seen a fish at the surface rather than the turtle I wanted to see.

Well, this account seems to be unrelenting gloom and negativity, so I’m going to give my fingers a rest and see if I can bring a bit more cheer to tomorrow’s post. Stop by if you can.

_______________

That photo above is the first of possible a series of pix I plan to take of tree cavities. If you look closely into the darkness at the bottom you may be able to spot the red squirrel that was sitting down there. I had watched it crawl into the hole (about shoulder high), and I wondered if there was a nest within. I couldn’t see down there, so I stuck my camera in the hole and took a shot. When I got home, I was able to see the squirrel. I’m not sure what it thought when I dropped a handful of peanuts into the cavity. I probably pelted it once or twice.

Missouri calendar:

  • Bird song at daybreak is at its peak.

Nestbox news

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

nestbos.jpg

Adam took this picture for me. This is one of the nestboxes my woodworking friend Duff made for me when I first started going out to Roundrock. (Duff is one of those folk who make gifts rather than buy them. He’s a woodcarver as well as a man who has a nice woodworking shop in his basement. Oh, and he’s talented!) He gave me a set of three nestboxes when we first started coming to Roundrock, and I hung them in prominent places. This one is on a tree beside the lake. (That’s a bit of the lake you can see on the left.)

He made the boxes so that we could open and clean them, but I’d have to take them down and take them apart to do so. I’ve also wondered about cleaning nestboxes. In the wild, in a tree cavity nest, does the bird mother clean out the nesting material from prior years? I don’t know, but I’d guess not. Yet I know that pests can breed in such long-standing nests and make early life iffy for hatchlings, so maybe my good stewardship intentions oblige me to clean them.

We have six such boxes altogether scattered about Roundrock. I suspect that flying squirrels use them since the few times I’ve peered into them, there is a fluffy sort of material in them in no way looking like a cup nest I would expect of a bird.

As I think I’ve said before, with all of the snags we have about Roundrock, I really don’t need to supplement the cavity nesting opportunities for the birds. Yet I like to see these well-made boxes here and there, and it is clear that some forest critter is using them, so they will remain.

Update: On our last visit to Roundrock, as Libby and I were standing about ten feet from this box, a pair of bluebirds were up in this tree, scolding us. Perhaps they are the tenants.

Missouri calendar:

  • Young bald eagles begin fledging.

Vanquished

Monday, May 28th, 2007

enemy.jpg

This is the enemy. I’ve had dealings with it before. You might have read about them here. Or here. This is the flower stalk of a mullein — a non-native invasive that I have vowed to eradicate at Roundrock. (A man needs a hobby.)

This unfortunate plant had chosen a spot in the dry lakebed to take root and bring forth its flowers. Actually, I guess it wasn’t so unfortunate since it grew its two alloted years and set seed, so it was a success. No doubt the seeds have been scattered throughout Roundrock, and scores of mullein will begin popping up.

With luck, though, some of those scores will have been in the lakebed. And I know from observation that mullein do not like to be immersed, as you can tell from this photo:

DSC02356.jpg

This one had been growing in the channel around Libby’s Island, and for a few weeks, I think, the channel was full of water. I haven’t been back to check, but I don’t think this mullein is going to recover.

Of course there are hundreds of others here and there in the open, gravelly areas of Roundrock. Each one mocks me. My current method of eradication is to kick at the based of the plants with the toe of my boot. I can usually separate the plant from its root. Whether this breaks the cycle or not, I don’t know.

I think I’ll wear out several pairs of boots before I eradicate all of the mullein that are coming up. But I will persevere.

Missouri calendar:

  • Memorial Day (observed)
  • Young woodchucks (groundhogs) leave dens.

Sunday spin

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

swirl.jpg

That’s a photo of the pond at Roundrock. If you look closely you can see the duckweed as it continues its conquest of the surface. You may even be able to see the spin there in the center. The flow of incoming water would probably cause this, and if not, I’ll give credit to the wind. Sometimes the brighter green of the younger plants will swirl around the darker green older plants and I’ll have a yin-yang effect on the water.

_______________

Those Mountain Stewards are at it again. Periodically, they visit one of my earlier posts and leave a comment about the progress of their work identifying and mapping the many thong trees scattered throughout the eastern half of the country (those that have survived, that is). At their site they have lots of material about these trees, including maps of their locations showing discernible patterns. They also have a blog. You might give them a look.

By the way, that old post of mine holds the record for the most comments received (so far, that is).

_______________

With any luck, I’ll be at Roundrock while you’re reading things. And with just a little bit more luck, I might even be swimming in the lake. The chores will be done (or be ignored), the day will be warm (and so will the water), the turtle will make an appearance, and all will be right with a certain 80+ acres of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks.

_______________

If you like reading the Edifice Rex blog, then you’ll probably like M & C Build a House, which I originally linked to from Recycled Thoughts. So if you want to know the plumber’s secret about Wonder Bread, head on over.

_______________

You have only two days to get your posts to Jade for the next Festival of the Trees. The deadline is May 29. Send your link to a tree-ish post to jadeblackwater [at] brainripples [dot] com.

And then consider being a host yourself. If you’re interested, let me know.

_______________

My spam blocker has held off more than 88,000 attempts at comment spam. This is since the counter had reset itself after blocking more than 160,000 bits of comment spam. I don’t know what I’ve done to earn this attention. It seems that for me, comment spam is like sunspots. It’s cyclical. Right now I seem to be in a period of high spamming activity. Does someone actually make money from doing this?

_______________

Raise your hand if you’ve read this post.

_______________

Missouri calendar:

  • Coyote pups begin emerging from dens.

blue lake

Saturday, May 26th, 2007

blue lake.jpg

Yes, another view of the lake from the dam. This is such an uncommon state of affairs for us, however, that I like to document it so I can look back on these posts wistfully when the lake has departed again.

I especially like how the blue of the sky is reflected on the surface of the lake here. It makes me want to jump right in, though I suspect only the first few inches of the water are warm and the rest of it is still cold as ice. I know that if Minnesota ever grew as warm as it was in Missouri on the day I took this photo, they’d all be swimming for hours. And if Florida were the same, they’d all be in parkas. Not too warm. Not too hot. Missouri is just right. (Come back in August and see what Pablo thinks of the heat then.)

That’s a bit of driftwood you see on the surface of the water. In past years we have had a turtle of some sort living in the lake. It could be relied on to come to the surface for a minute or so then disappear below the waters for up to half an hour. Libby considers it a sort of pet, and so far this year it hasn’t made its appearance. I’m confident that we’ll see the pet turtle again. I think May is still just a little early for this hibernating creature to make an appearance.

I’ll keep watching the water for you.

Missouri calendar:

  • The large yellow flowers of Missouri primrose bloom on Ozark glades.

Blackberry blatherings

Friday, May 25th, 2007

blackberry.jpg

This, you may be able to discern, is a blackberry blossom. I have no objection to blackberries at Roundrock. They’re good for the critters, after all, because they provide food. I’m told that quail especially like them.

There were blackberries growing in Blackberry Corner (hence the name), but we had them cleared so we could plant the pines there. Now when a blackberry plant raises a cane there to make an attempt at reconquering the Corner, we chop it down.

This blackberry plant may prove to be an inconvenience as well. You may be able to tell that it is growing in the water of the lake. In past years, when the water level was dismally low, this blackberry plant began its life high on the hillside. But as the water rose, the plant found itself rooted under the water. And it seems likely that Pablo may swim to this spot on the shore and haul himself out here since it is just down hill from the shelter. And if he steps on or wades through the prickles of this blackberry plant, he won’t be happy.

I suspect that its innundated state will be enuf to bring an end to the blackberry plant, but that will only be the case if the lake stays at full pool, which we all know isn’t going to happen. So Pablo may be out with the loppers soon to liberate this thorny plant from its earthly toil.

Missouri calendar:

  • Coneflowers and tickseed coreopsis blooming on prairies and roadsides.

Peregrine travels again

Thursday, May 24th, 2007

peregrine.jpg

Long-time readers may remember this log, which goes by the name of Peregrine (as suggested by the Queen of All Blogs, Rurality). Peregrine has been sitting on dry land for many months as the lake water had receded far from it. But the recent full pool allowed Peregrine to continue its peregrinations about the lake.

When this log first washed ashore, it came to rest on the grassless scar of clay on the south side of the lake. In the months of completely unenthusiastic rain, much of this clay washed down the scar and collected itself beneath the log.

And so it was that although Peregrine was in water deep enuf to float it free, it was held in place by the clay mud that had collected under it. So, of course, I had to try to free it with the long-handled shovel that is my regular companion on my hikes about Roundrock. (There are so many uses a shovel can be put to in the woods.) I managed to free it, but it needed nudging to get it away from shore. The length of the shovel could get it some of the way, but even this didn’t really get it adrift. I couldn’t walk any closer to it because the mud was thick and threatened to take me down. I despaired of succeeding in liberating Peregrine and hoped that another big rainstorm would come and wash it free.

But I was hiking with a competitive person. Adam saw that I hadn’t succeeded and decided he would succeed just to best me. (Fathers provide all kinds of functions for their sons.) Unfortunately for him, he was wearing sneakers, which the mud would suck from his feet with great delight. But he had a plan.

Adam threw a smaller log onto the muddy area and then stepped onto it, thus giving himself the range to push Peregrine into the deeper water and set it adrift.

And so Peregrine travels again. Someday I suppose it will grow waterlogged enuf to sink to the bottom, but until then I’ll always be eager to walk around the lake with an eye out for Peregrine.

Missouri calendar:

  • Listen for the gray treefrog chorus.

Pictured in pink

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

pink.JPG

I must not be very observant. It seems like everytime I go to Roundrock, I find something there I had never seen before. What’s really embarrassing to me is when this new thing — whatever it is — stands in plain sight, in some highly traveled or frequently visited area.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a pink fossil before. These shells in this conglomerate of fossils look even more pink to the eye than the camera managed to capture. There are more pink fossil shells a few inches out of this image, but they didn’t photograph as well, so these will stand in representation for them.

I came across these on the open bit of hillside just above the lake and just below the shelter. This places them below the strata containing all of the round rocks, and well below the cap of sandstone just under the ground in the higher areas. I like to think of this limestone as my bedrock, but I’m sure there are other geological gradations the deeper one would go into the ground, culminating in a hot little party at the center of the earth.

But the point is that I’ve visited this hillside below the shelter many times. I’ve whipped grass here, cut out small trees, photographed flowers, cut away blackberries, ate lunch, sat in stupors, soaked in sun, skipped some stones, and generally tromped about over the better part of a decade. Yet I only noticed these pink fossils recently. Of course, they’ve been waiting around for hundreds of millions of years, so my tardiness in noticing them is dismissible in the grand scheme of things. I need to keep thinking in the long term.

Missouri calendar:

  • Young beavers emerge from lodges.

Toad eggs

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

eggs.jpg

These are, I think, the eggs of a Woodhouse’s toad. This critter seems to go by several names, and there are at least three kind with overlapping ranges, but at least one makes my part of Missouri its home.

We came across these eggs during our counterclockwise walk around the lake the last time we were there. They were floating near the shore on the south side of the lake. Coincidentally, or maybe not, we rarely see fish in the shallows on this side of the lake. I’m sure the water on the other side of the lake is warmer since it gets nearly constant sun, so the little fishies would, possibly, more likely congregate over there. And that means that this side of the lake might be more egg friendly.

The throngs of tadpoles we had seen before were mostly gone. We still saw many, but they weren’t all jostling for space as they had been. Perhaps this succession of egg laying and hatching reduces the competition for food for the new tadpoles. It seems just as likely to me, though, that these late-hatching tadpoles might just become convenient meals for the tadpoles that hatched out weeks before.

You can go here to click on a link (scroll down) and listen to the call of these toads. I can’t say that I can recall hearing this call when I’ve been at Roundrock, but the toads are mostly nocturnal, and I haven’t been there at night when the lake has been full, so maybe I’ll be hearing a new sound in the woods this year.

Missouri calendar:

  • Green sunfish and bluegill begin nesting.
  • Antlers begin to grow on white-tailed deer bucks.

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