Archive for August, 2007

Old Man’s backside

Friday, August 31st, 2007

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You’ve been reading this blog long enuf to know that such a “provocative” title as today’s isn’t going to provide you with a titillating post. But it is going to deliver what it promises.

This is a close-up picture of the bark near the base of the Old Man of the Forest, the very old cedar tree growing on the north-facing slope at Roundrock.

I took the photo some weeks ago using Libby’s camera because it has a macro feature. I didn’t yet have my new camera, and I haven’t been back to this part of the forest since I got the camera. I’ve vowed to pay more attention to the smaller details in my woods. My problem is that I don’t see the forest that way. I don’t stop to think about taking an artistic photo of the joint of a plant or the shadow on a rock or the texture of mud or a collection of pebbles (though all of those sound interesting). I stumble through the forest looking for obvious shots, dramatic shots, or story-telling shots. Those are all fine in their way, but I’m trying to see more. Which brings us back to this photo.

It’s a bit out of focus, though that may not be obvious from the size of the photo. I’d like to return with my new camera and give this shot another try. Maybe on my next visit I will.

The Old Man seems to be doing just fine. There are a few other old cedars at Roundrock, but none that match this gent for age and size. I wish I could hear the stories it might tell.

Missouri calendar:

  • Nature takes the day off. The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank. Check back tomorrow.

In which I reflect on trees

Thursday, August 30th, 2007
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Many of you know that in addition to the 80+ acres we call Roundrock, we have a second bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks that we call Fallen Timbers. It’s over in the next county, and it’s half the size of Roundrock, but it has a storied past.

The western property line at Fallen Timbers was not well marked and my neighbor had his own ideas of where it ran when he decided to cut the marketable timber on his land. He ended up cutting down nearly 100 of our oldest and finest oaks before we could prove where the line actually ran. (So let that be a lesson for you. Make sure your lines are marked!)

I was thinking about that bit of ancient history recently when I was reflecting on the pine trees that (it seems) someone deliberately cut down in our plantation at Roundrock. The property lines near the pines are well marked, and I still wonder what the point of the vandalism was.

And then my thoughts drift toward the pecan plantation we are trying to get going below the dam at Roundrock. We planted 49 trees there, and replanted about that many more over the years. A good third of the pecans have utterly failed. Another third are hanging on. Most of the rest are putting some actual effort into growing. And a few look like the one in the photo above.

It’s a beauty. It’s nearly as tall as I am (this being my current measuring stick). It has thrived in the rocky soil below the dam. It has risen above the scrub to get plenty of sunlight. And it seems to have survived (so far) the browsing of the deer.

So when I get glum about my mixed success with the tree-planting ambitions at Roundrock (oh, did I mention that we put 50 hawthorn trees in the ground at Fallen Timbers? — some have done well, some have not), I think about the success stories that are sprinkled among the disappointments.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

Worms and webs

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

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The forests around Roundrock are full of this stuff right now. Last year (or perhaps the year before) I made the mistake of calling this the work of tent caterpillars, and I was gently corrected by one of my gracious commentors.

This is more correctly the work of fall webworms. I can’t tell you the distinction other than that one appears more in the spring and the other appears in late summer and early fall.

They’re numbers seem especially high this year. I’ve never taken any kind of systematic survey, but based on impressions after going to the woods for a decade, I’d say this is a big year for them. I don’t know why that is, but I suspect the conditions favor them in some complex combination of heat and rain and drought and maybe moon phases. (Perhaps this also explains the apparent rise in the numbers and malevolence of the horseflies this year.)

The worms build their webs around the ends of branches so that they can reside within, happily munching on the tender leaves without being disturbed by predators. It seems to be an effective system but I wonder what the physiological cost of producing all of that webbing is.

I understand that these worms generally will not kill a tree that is hosting them unless that tree is in a weakened state. A good many trees were hurt by the late frost last spring. That came after they had already brought out leaves, so for many of them, they had to bring out a second generation of leaves. That had to have had a physiological cost as well. Then came the torrents of rain in June. Then came the drought and intense heat of July and August. So I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of my thousands and thousands of trees at Roundrock meet their ends this year.

That’s only natural, of course, and a dead tree can host an entirely different set of guests, so the circle turns.

Missouri calendar:

  • Thirteen-lined ground squirrels begin to gorge.

Today’s bonus photo:

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This picture was taken on the back deck of my home in suburbia (through two panes of glass, btw). This ground squirrel (I didn’t stop to count the lines on its back) had long ago discovered our caged bird feeder. We keep it filled with safflower seeds since starlings tend not to like that seed and don’t come in great flocks to clean it out. Ground squirrels, however, do like safflower seeds, and this little guy spends a good part of the day inside the feeder, stuffing his cheeks with them. He then works his swollen face through the cage and scurries off to bury the seeds here and there in the yard.

We might get upset about this if he weren’t so cute.

Empty Husk

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

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When I was but a lad, I lived in St. Louis. But I had come from Kansas City, so the carload of us would make frequent holiday trips back to Missouri’s great western city to visit family and friends.

I’m sketchy on the details, but my mother told me we would take Highway 40 on the earliest of these trips, zipping along at the breakneck speed of 50 miles per hour (in a ’57 Chevy, no less — though that car pre-dates me). It was wonderful, she told me. Two lanes — one in each direction! — and smooth. The weightless feeling you would momentarily get as you sailed over the top of the limitless hills was always an important part of the trip. Now, of course, you can travel the same route on Interstate 70 in half the time. In some places there are four lanes in each direction, and the road is flat and straight enuf that it is actually considered safe for a jumbo jet to land on in an emergency.

But back to the photo above. This is a photo for Kim. Somehow, it was fashionable a couple of weeks ago for bloggers to post photos of these empty husks and say the photo was for Kim. As usual, I’m late to the party. This was one of the first photos I took with my new camera. It was late in the day and the light was already fading, so I didn’t do so well with the close up. (Kim has admonished me never to use digital macro, but I’m not sure why.)

The memory of those old family road trips and this empty husk photo converged in the crowded spaces of my mind, and that’s why I’ve written this somewhat self-indulgent post. Scattered along the route between Kansas City and St. Louis are old, mostly abandoned roadside motels — I think they were originally called cabin camps in their earliest incarnations. Some of these have found new lives as antique shops, and one is even a tres upscale winery. If you look closely you can sometimes still see a few faded, old billboards advertising these defunct motels, which were touted as destinations themselves rather than merely overnight stopping places on the long trek between the two great cities.

But most of the old motels were simply abandoned, and most of those have been bulldozed into rubble. I remember one, though: the Daniel Boone Motel. It was not that far outside of St. Louis. Today you would barely have made it up to cruising speed before you passed the site of this motel, but in its day, that must have been a long distance to have traveled if the prospect of lodging was already available. This was in the county where Nathan Boone, Daniel Boone’s son, had built his family home, so marketing that bit of heritage made sense.

But even in my day, the Daniel Boone Motel was abandoned. It’s windows were broken out. The parking lot soon became a dumping ground for people’s trash. The sign showing a coonskin-capped Boone fading more each time we sailed past. Even my young mind could see the world changing and leaving this roadside motel behind. I thought then that it was like the empty husk of a bug shell.

And so today, whenever I see these bug husks, I still think of that long-gone motel, sitting forlorn beside a road that has grown too fast and straight for it.

Missouri calendar:

  • Male white-tailed der rub velvet off antlers; watch for their “rubs” on small trees.
  • Total lunar eclipse around 5:30 a.m.

An enemy on the dam

Monday, August 27th, 2007

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This may be my sworn enemy, Sericia lespedeza*. It is growing on the dam. Unfortunately, I’m not enuf of a botanist to be able to identify it with any confidence.

This is an invasive plant that is not native to North America. My land ethic for Roundrock calls on me to remove non-native plants. It’s a hopless task, of course, but everyone needs a hobby. I’m trying to remove all of the mullein I find, but its seeds can last for 100 years or longer, so that stuff may win in the end. And this Sericia lespedeza is another non-native that is causing big problems in the western reaches of the Heartland.

Like so many invasive plants, this one was introduced with the best intentions. The hope was that it would provide seed for quail and other game birds to eat. And they do eat the seeds. Unfortunately, they’d don’t digest them. Instead they “deposit” them elsewhere and help spread the plant. This invasive is considered a moderately good forage for cattle, and deer will eat it, but it can spread and crowd out other plants. Eradicating it requires several years of intense poisoning, which isn’t good for anyone, and this may explain why whole farms in western Kansas have been abandoned to the stuff.

A couple of trips back, Libby and I were prowling the face of the dam and I noted that somehow a couple of nice specimens of rosemary were growing there. I hadn’t considered at the time what they really were, but once I was back in the air-conditioned comfort of suburbia, I realized what I had seen. So I vowed that on my next trip out to Roundrock, I would attempt to pull these offenders from the ground or at least cut them down with the grass whip before they could set seed. (I’m generally uncomfortable with using herbicides, especially on the side of the dam where it might get into the lake water.)
The horseflies interfered with that intention, and about now I’m sure the plants are full of seeds.

*I’ve also seen this spelled Serecia lespedeza.

Missouri calendar:

  • Elderberries begin to ripen.

Sunday musings

Sunday, August 26th, 2007

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This little fellow found a way to be on the wrong side of the fence. I saw him browsing the grass beside the road when I was making my hasty retreat from the horsefly saturated Roundrock a week ago.

I thought briefly about trying to get this little guy inside the gate with the rest of the herd, but I don’t have any experience with cattle, and I’d probably have let more loose than get one back in.

The gate was snugly fastened there, and I couldn’t see any breaks in the fence, so I suspect the young bull got out somewhere else and just kept with the herd as it made the rounds of the pasture. (This makes me think of the Queen of All Blogs, who has had some trouble with wandering cattle in the past.)

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It’s not often that you can be part of something big at the very start. But here’s a chance.

September 2 of this year will be the very first International Rock-Flipping Day. On or around that day, bloggers everywhere will flip over rocks and photograph, sketch, or otherwise describe what they find underneath. Actually, I’m not clear whether you’re supposed to flip the rocks on the 2nd or have already done so before then so you can make your post on the 2nd. Either way, the mastermind behind this brilliant cultural meme is Dave Bonta, so you know it will thrive and grow through the decades to come.

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I was talking with the hunting friend of mine at the office the other day and he remarked on how terrible the horseflies seem to be this year. I had thought that maybe I had simply gone to the woods on their peak day, but so far the whole of August seems to be their peak.

I thought, though, that if I returned I would bring a badminton racquet with me. I could do a lot more effective swatting with that, increasing my range and lethality. I had heard a story once of some men ridding their dormitory of bats by swatting them out of the air with tennis racquets. Not very good for the bats, but nor would it be for the horseflies, and that’s the whole idea.

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One year ago today I was writing aimlessly, much like today. Two years ago I was writing about I didn’t know what, much like today.

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There are still a few days left to make your contribution to the next Festival of the Trees. Maureen of Raven’s Nest is host for this edition. Send her your suggested links to posts about trees at maureenshaughnessy (at) gmail (dot) com.

If you’re interested in hosting an upcoming Festival, let me or Dave know. With more than a year of examples now, you can see how easily it can be done. Or you can strike off on your own path of exploration and experimentation. You can increase traffic at your site, call attention to blogging that you like, make new virtual friends, and strike a blow for the greeness of our world. Please consider it.

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It will be another week at the soonest before poor Pablo can make a trip to the woods. If the weather forecast looks favorable, though, perhaps I can persuade my lovely bride to camp on Sunday night (Monday being that holiday, you see). Plus I have that new camera that needs a thorough workout. Be assured that if I do go (and don’t immediately flee from the horseflies), I’ll tell you all about it here!

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WordPress was having fits yesterday saying their servers were down and how it was all Matt’s fault and such. So if you tried to visit here yesterday and couldn’t get through, maybe that’s why. If you didn’t try to visit here yesterday, then never mind.

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Missouri calendar:

  • Watch for unusual birds; most common in late summer or early fall.

Toward the satisfaction of thirst

Saturday, August 25th, 2007

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Not wanting to be part of the problem, Libby and I have been transporting our drinking water out to Roundrock with us in containers like the ones you see above.

I make that sound more grandiose than it really is. I should say we have recently begun using these bottles. And I should say that we have been carrying some of our drinking water in bottles like these. And on my last trip, I didn’t stay long enuf to crack open even one bottle of water, though I did enjoy my iced tea, unsweetened of course. (And I should point out that there are other ways we have carried water to the woods, though not drinking water.)

But I should get a couple of points for good intentions.

We have always taken water to the woods, more so in the heat of the Ozark summer. Generally, we stop at the store the night before to get a half dozen or more off-brand bottles of water. These go in the cooler and then are snatched as needed during the chores and stupors of the day in the woods. We are scrupulous about collecting our trash, including recyclables, and bringing it back to suburbia where it can be dealt with. We have curbside recycling on our block, so doing the right thing has proven easy (though we do visit our recycling center with glass and other things that aren’t picked up at the curb — but enuf about us).

Yet with three sons who spent years in the Scouts, we’ve also accumulated a lot of camping gear in our basement. Included are perhaps a half dozen sturdy water bottles like the ones you see above. (I say “perhaps” because we are only slowly pawing through all of the detritus the kids have left behind, so there may be many more surprises awaiting us.) And it struck us that these were intended for carrying drinking water. So why should we spend good money on bottled water when we already have the bottles, and our tap water tastes every bit as good as store-bought water?

And so we embark on another form of stewardship in our journeys to Roundrock. It replenishes the body and gives warm fuzzies to the soul.

Missouri calendar:

  • “Turkey feet” seed heads of big bluestem grass mature.

Fields of amber grain

Friday, August 24th, 2007

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This is a picture of my neighbor’s field to the north. This year he had planted wheat in it. This photo was taken after the harvest of the grain. I thought he might turn all of this stubble under and get another crop in the ground, but I don’t know much about these things.

The farmer regularly varies his crop in this field. When we first came to Roundrock, this field had been left fallow and was grown thick with all sorts of grasses. The came a crop of soybeans followed by corn. One year he kept horses out here so there was no crop. This year he had wheat.

The year he turned horses into this field, he had a crew go along the fence line and repair the barbed wire fence. They put in new posts here and there and cut trees and scrub away from it. (And they threw a bunch of the trunks onto my side of the fence. What was the point of that?) They also stretched new barbed wire in places where it had broken.

This was perhaps three years ago. As you can see from the photo above, however, the repairs didn’t last very long.

What causes a barbed wire fence to break? I suppose rust will do it in eventually. Rust never sleeps. And the tension on the wire to keep it taut probably increases the occasion of it snapping. But there are no livestock kept on either side of this fence now to rub against it. Could deer snap it as they leap over it and brush it with their dainty hooves?

There is no need for the fence along here unless my neighbor to the north is going to keep livestock again. But I like the idea of the fence since it defines the property line. There’s something fastidious in me that doesn’t manifest itself in the rest of my life, but it certainly shows up in my appreciation of fences.

Missouri calendar:

  • Cave-dwelling bats begin mating through October.

Bounce back

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

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What you see here is the base of one of the shortleaf pines that were somehow cut off cleanly several weeks ago. And, happily, those are new shoots coming up from the clearly still-alive roots of the severed pine.

I’m hoping that like other trees, these shoots will sort themselves out and one of them will become the dominant growth. Once that’s determined, I’ll probably snip the other shoots. I don’t know if pines do well growing from suckers like this, but I’m willing to let it have its chance for a few years to see what it makes of itself.

Nearly all of the half dozen pines that had been mysteriously snipped at the ground have sent up new growth. That tells me the roots are vigorous, and maybe this new growth will shoot up fast and full.

It’s unfortunate that they had this setback (however it may have happened); the trees were nearly five feet tall. But in a few years maybe that won’t make a difference.

Missouri calendar:

  • Dabbling ducks return from the north.

Lovely, dark and deep

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

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These are my woods, and it was a rainy morning, but they certainly are lovely, dark and deep.* I took this photo on my way out of Roundrock last Sunday (you remember — when the clouds of horseflies bedeviled me). I took it from the comfort of the front seat of my truck (though I did put down the window briefly).

This bit of forest is at the extreme western end of my property. Immediately behind me as I took this shot is the property line.

What I was shooting, of course, was that clearing through the trees. It’s a lovely bit of open ground with very short grass growing on it. I have many clearings like this at this end of the forest. I think they were where the burn piles were when this part of the old cattle ranch was cleared. (That was thirty years ago, so I wonder if the consequences of the burns so long ago could still affect the growth here.)

The clearing would make an ideal campsite. I’d guess it’s about twenty feet across and fifty or sixty feet north to south. It is close to the road, so we wouldn’t have to haul our gear very far. The ground in there is flat, and as I said, the grass is short, so it won’t harbor a lot of ticks or chiggers.

But being close to the road is a problem as well as a benefit. We could be camping here and the interlopers or bachelor party could come driving by and decide to stop for a visit. The last time we camped, the bachelor party did come roaring past on their ATVs. Fortunately, we were farther in the forest where we couldn’t be seen or they might have stopped by.

I’ve said before that I don’t really mind that people drive back into my woods. It helps keep the road clear. I’ve never found any trash. And I’m pretty sure that anyone who does come in is from one of the other nearby pieces of property, so they are probably like minded about privacy.

Except for the Mystery of the Pines. I’m still pretty sure that was deliberate vandalism, and I don’t think I’d like to run into the people who did it. When I was out at Roundrock on the day I took this photo, I stopped by the pines and checked for further damage, but they were unmolested. Still, it happened once, and that leaves a bad taste.

But these clearings remain. I visit them periodically. (They all run north to south — or south to north if you prefer. This is what makes me believe they had a human agent as their cause.) On an overcast day, they seem to glow back there in the trees. If it hadn’t been for the horseflies, I might have lingered.

*It bugs me that I didn’t use the serial comma at the end of that sentence, but the poem doesn’t, so I didn’t.

Missouri calendar:

  • Young gray squirrels search for home territories.