Archive for September, 2007

Sunday blathering

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

iced tea1.JPG

This image is from a week ago, when I was in Colby, Kansas. The iced tea (unsweetened, of course) was good there, in case you were wondering. Today also marks the two week passage since I was last at Roundrock. Yet unless plans changed at the last moment, I was not there today at my usual sequence. We all must make sacrifices.


The structure I showed in my Wednesday post and quizzed you all about is . . .

A picnic shelter!

There are concrete picnic tables within, but the inside is pretty dark. You can go up on the breezy patio atop and see forever. Those who picture all of Kansas as flatter than a pancake should make a visit here. It was just a short bit out of our way on the drive home from Colby, so we diverted. As you can learn from the link below, the castle and nearby pit latrine, fireplace, and other structures were a WPA project during the Great Depression.

But it is also sort of a cool conquistador castle in Kansas. This structure is atop Coronado Heights Park near Lindsborg, Kansas. This is believed to be the farthest north that Francisco Coronado’s party of exploration reached in 1541 before they gave up their futile quest for gold and returned to Mexico. Some artifacts found in the area nearly a century ago, including Spanish chain mail, seem to confirm the old stories.

Several fine readers seemed to know that correct answer but were kind enuf not to spill the beans.


Submissions for the next Festival of the Trees are now closed, but the festival may already be up over at trees, if you please. Be sure to surf over there and enjoy all of the links to tree-ish things.


My Tuesday post has, I’ve learned, been found to be mistaken. I had thought the flower I’d found was a Hoary puccoon, but Jim left a comment doubting that, and Doug subsequently identified it as false foxglove. Thank you, gentlemen, for straightening me out on this. (It seems, though, that many plants go by the name of false foxglove, as my post of one year ago shows.)

Fortunately for all, the flowering season is about over, so I won’t be making these kinds of mis-identifications for a while.


Two years ago I was pondering an Old Road.


I think Blogger hates me again. For several days last week I was unable to leave comments on any Bloggers sites. The comments window would open, but it would never fully load. Anyone else have this problem?


Missouri calendar:

  • Black gum, bittersweet and dogwood show fall color.

Walking with confidence

Saturday, September 29th, 2007
critter tracks.JPG

When I was but a lad, I could identify every tree in the forest, every rock on the ground, and every track in the mud. I strode through the natural world with the kind of confidence only youth dare carry.

I’m wiser now, knowing how little I know. I couldn’t name every tree in the forest then (just as I can’t now). In truth, I could probably only name a handful, and some of those might be identified by a generic name like “hickory.” Anything outside my ken I simply ignored. I may have been a little better with rocks, but not by much. Maybe it was with critter tracks that I had some little bit of knowledge. More likely, it was that I could be positive about knowing certain tracks, but that would still leave dozens of other common prints in the unknown column. Fortunately, I was among others who probably knew even less than I and were willing to accept all of my spurious identifications.

I might have said with confidence once that I knew what critters left the tracks in the photo above. I suppose those are turkey tracks, though I’ve wondered if they might be heron tracks. This bit of mud was beside the (nearly dried up) intermittent pond below the dam. A turkey may have come here for a drink, but a heron might have come here for an easy meal in the diminished water.

Similarly, I think those might be opposum tracks. I think raccoon tracks show more of a hand-print shape to them. But could this be from an armadillo? Skunk? Or some other critter?

The animals who left these tracks walked with confidence to the watering hole, certain in their identity and purpose. When it looked in the water it saw itself it didn’t have to pause to think about its identity. Ah, the curse of reflection!

Missouri calendar:

  • Pawpaw fruits ripen.
  • Katydids sing in the trees at night.

Red in the riot

Friday, September 28th, 2007

red flower.JPG

Amidst the riot of yellow flowers growing in the acre below the dam, I came across this low-lying red flowering plant near the dam. I’ve had no luck identifying what it is (but I’m sure it’s not Hoary puccoon).

The flower itself is probably not an inch across. There were dozens of them, blooming in a bunch in a wet part of the ground.

red flower 2.JPG

You can see that whatever it is, it seemed to be happy growing where it was.

Missouri calendar:

  • Snakes begin winter dormancy.
  • Bittersweet starts to ripen.

Bumble bee

Thursday, September 27th, 2007
flower bug.JPG

This bumble bee was angry. It was having a hard time hanging on to the flower, and it kept buzzing its wings to help gain a better grip. That made me wary of approaching it too closely, but it was also busy, so I thought maybe I could get a good shot of it.

As you can see, I didn’t. And this makes me marvel at the kinds of insect shots that Wayne and Bev manage to get. I imagine that not only does Bev get a signed model release from each bug she shoots, but she has a discussion with them in advance to go over what is hoped to be achieved. It might go like this:

“Thanks for agreeing to do this. These photos of you may wind up in textbooks or on websites and provide valuable education for countless people. Because of this, I’d like to do a series of illustrative shots defining your body shape and various appendages. We’ll try various backgrounds. Also, your coloring is magnificent and I’d like to highlight that in some of the photos. But before we get to all of that, why don’t we do some fun shots as well? Something unexpected for a bumble bee. A few candid shots of you smiling and laughing. And maybe a few more racy shots. Boudoir shots. You’re a temptress! You’re a vamp! All of the boy bees want you. C’mon, baby. Pout for me!”

Missouri calendar:

  • White pelicans congregate at Sqauw Creek and Swan Lake National Wildlife refuges through mid-October.

A Quick Quiz

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

Today’s quiz will be multiple choice. What is the structure seen in the photo above?

  1. #3 Son’s apartment in Colby, Kansas.
  2. #2 Son’s apartment in Kansas City, Kansas.
  3. #1 Son’s house in Khayega, Kenya.
  4. Our kickin’ weekend place at Roundrock.
  5. A picnic shelter.
  6. A cool conquistador castle in Kansas.

You may offer your answers in the comments below. I’ll post the true answer(s) on Sunday. (Hint: More than one answer may be correct or close to correct. Or none of them may be correct.)

Missouri calendar:

  • Acorns begin to fall.
  • Squirrels bury acorns and nuts for winter food.
  • Hickory nuts ripen and begin to fall.

Hoary puccoon (not)

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

puccoon flower.JPG

It must grow tedious for you, gentle reader, to hear Pablo prattle on about how he has come upon yet another new flower in his forest and how he is surprised that he has never seen it before in all of his wanderings about Roundrock.

I came upon the flower above on my latest trip to Roundrock and it’s a new one to my memory, which is surprising given all of my wanderings about Roundrock. I suppose I have seen it before, or it may be that I simply did not happen past it when it was in bloom. This one is growing right beside the road in the trees leading down to the lake. I’ve passed the spot dozens of times, but I’ve not seen it before.

If my identification of this plant it correct, it is Hoary puccoon (Lithospermum canescens) and it is supposed to be common throughout the eastern half of the U.S., including the great state of Missouri. If that truly is what the plant is, then it is a couple of months late in its flowering. Or it may be that my identification is faulty.

puccoon plant.JPG

There are at least three different leaf types in this photo. Don’t let those confuse you.

Missouri calendar:

  • Fawns have lost their spots.
  • Persimmons start to ripen.

Blazing Star

Monday, September 24th, 2007

liatris aspera.JPG

When Libby and I were prowling about the pecan plantation, before we (we?) mowed it, a blaze of purple off to the side caught my eye. At this time of the year, the most dominant color among the wildflowers is yellow, so this purplish stalk stood out. I could see it from across the acre, so we wended our way to it.

You may recall me saying in an earlier post that the sky was overcast on this visit, and while I thought that would help with my photography efforts, the lower light did reduce the color in my objects. Above is one of those photos that are iffy and don’t do justice to the real subject.

I’m pretty sure this is Liatris aspera, which is a Missouri native that blooms this time of the year. I can’t recall ever seeing this particular flower in all of our stompings about Roundrock. As I’ve noted before, timing has a lot to do with what I see and don’t see in the woods and fields, and it may be that I didn’t happen to be out at Roundrock before when this was in bloom or that I didn’t wander down to this end of the property when I was there at the right time. This was a vigorous-looking plant. The flower stalk was a good five feet tall (though leaning a bit), so I think it has probably been growing here for years and merely escaped my attention.

This flower wasn’t in the actual pecan acre. I think that might prove to be a little too wet for it (except for the center). It was growing a bit up the hillside that rises on the north side of the acre. I’ll let it propagate itself rather than try to cultivate it.

liatris waiting.JPG

Here are some flowers farther down the stalk that haven’t opened yet. I especially like all of the neat packaging within and the leaves below each little head that splay with some baroque excess.

Missouri calendar:

  • Tiger salamanders move to ponds in the rain.
  • Hickory nuts ripen and begin to fall.

Sunday mumblings

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

friendly frog.JPG

Look at this froggy fellow. I wonder if it is the same one we saw on our prior Roundrock visit and that I documented in this post. We were sitting in the same place. This frog swam up to us and sat in the water, just looking at us (or so it seemed). Was it unafraid of us, or was it simply excessively near-sighted? We couldn’t drive it away. Libby used a long-stem of dried scrub to tickle the back of the frog. And its stomach. She even hooked its leg. But the frog did not leave. Once or twice it appeared to attack the stick, but it stuck around. Libby wondered if she should kiss it. Next thing you know, we’ll be naming the frog.


The next Festival of the Trees will be over at trees, if you please. You still have until Friday to send Karen a link to one of your posts or one you’ve come across. Send your link to festival (dot) trees (at) gmail (dot) com.

We have some future hosts lined up, but we’re always looking for new ones. With more than a year of Festivals now, you can get a look at the various ways people have hosted. Maybe you have an even better idea. Consider being a host of an upcoming edition.


There is a chance that as you read this, I am in far-western Kansas, specifically in Colby, visiting #3 Son and his new wife. We have a tentative Thanksgiving visit planned, but the winter weather is capricious out that way, and we can’t be sure we’ll have the chance then.


Still no new laptop for Pablo. Colby doesn’t have an Apple Store, so there was no chance to get one whilst there (if I was there, that is).


Missouri calendar:

  • First day of fall/autumnal equinox: day and night are equal in length.

9.16.2007 – Part Three

Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

pines pruned.JPG

So it turns out that the brush cutter was a three speed. When the man at the hardware store showed me how to use it, he said I should simply throw the lever all the way to the right to go forward. That’s what I had done for the entire time I was chasing the thing around in the pecan plantation.
When we were done there, we still had more than an hour left on the rental clock, and Libby suggested that we (we?) mow around the pine trees as well. We go in there periodically with the grass whips and chop away around the pines so they don’t get starved of sunlight. And there was no doubt that the brush cutter would make quick work of the grasses among the pines, but poor Pablo was pooped, and the idea of more trotting behind that machine was not appealing.

Libby has a way, however, of convincing me to do what she wants, and soon we had driven the brush cutter in the back of the truck up to the pine plantation, which some of you will recall we once had named Blackberry Corner for the house-sized tangle of blackberries that were there. The brush cutter would address the slowly returning blackberries that were looking to press their claim for that corner of our land too.

As I was unloading the mower from the back of the truck, I noticed a 1 – 2 – 3 in big characters on a cross bar near the lever in question. I instantly knew what this meant, and so when I started the mower on the road beside the pines, I did so in second gear.

Why, it was a walk in the park!

I could stroll behind the brush cutter as a man of leisure, taking the time to swat an errant insect from my face or properly align the machine to miss a pine. It was an altogether different experience.

Oddly, this patch, with just grasses and some tiny bits of scrub, was harder to mow, even with the machine under better control. The reason, I think, is because the pines are planted much closer together than the pecans. This meant less maneuvering room for man and machine. What I found was that I wasn’t getting close to the cages around the pines. I would mow a few passes and see that there was still plenty of grass close about the pines. So I would make sharp turns and mow at right angles to what I had been doing so that I could give the pines closer passes. I ended up doing a lot of single-destination runs where I crossed areas already mowed in order to get to a patch here or there that I had missed. It was inefficient, but she-who-must-be-obeyed was pleased with the outcome.

We really were racing the clock by this time. The man at the hardware store had cautioned us that he was eager to get home that evening and that he might even close early. Thus I stopped mowing before I was truly finished. It appears that I had been far more ambitious in planting these pines than I remembered, for when I would make a sweeping pass with the mower around the perimeter, I would often see a row of pines beyond it in the scrub. So I would mow that area and hope I didn’t see a row of pines beyond those.

I managed to clear out the central area, as you can see in the photo above, but there was a lot of perimeter work I could have done to make the whole patch look more neat. Time, however, was running out. And so was gas. Next time we (we?) do this, I’ll be sure to have a couple of gallons of extra gas for refueling so we (we?) can keep working longer.

It was time to stop mowing, and we loaded the brush cutter into the back of the truck then returned it to the hardware store in town. As we pulled up, the man hustled out the door to help us unload. He really was eager to get home. Inside, as we waited for the refund of our deposit, I noticed the sign on the door showing the hours it was open. And it turns out the store was open at 8:00 that morning! We didn’t have to wait until noon to get the machine. We didn’t have to wait until we had full stomachs to fight the machine and the fatigue. We could have started working in the cool of the morning and done more thorough work.

And maybe next time we will.

I had wanted to mow the pecan acre below the dam in order to get the plant matter from the scrub shredded and on the ground. This will, I hope, hasten the build up of decent soil down there. Later in the fall, I intend to scatter some wildflower seeds down there with the hope that some will germinate in the years to come and make the acre a colorful place. Up among the pines I was glad to mow because it is the most effective way for us to keep the blackberries under control. (It also looks more orderly, which I hope will give interlopers the idea that the landowner cares what happens to the property.)

In both areas I did not get as much area cleared as I could have. Time and fatigue (and gasoline) were to blame, and the whole time I was running behind the mower down in the pecans, I kept thinking of #1 Son over in Africa. He played football in high school. He was on the wrasslin team. He could muscle that machine around . . . and I could supervise. Maybe next year.


Beau over at Fox Haven Journal has been mowing over at his Missouri property. Have a look here and here.

Missouri calendar:

  • Yom Kippur
  • Early wintering sparrows arrive.

9.16.2007 – Part Two

Friday, September 21st, 2007

As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.

Henry David Thoreau

We needed to kill time on this Roundrock visit until the hardware store over in the county seat opened at noon. The plan was to rent a walk-behind brush cutter and see what mayhem we could wreak on the top of the dam and maybe down among the pecans.

The grass atop the dam grows thick and tall, and wading through it can be a buggy adventure, leaving our shoelaces and socks water soaked and full of burrs. Since the dam is a north/south passage that we use regularly, we thought we could make the route more open. Of course September is late in the season and much of that tall grass has fallen on its side, leaving the way mostly clear, but we wanted to play with machinery nonetheless.

We still had more than an hour before noon, so we jumped in the truck and drove down the highway about ten miles to a crossroads community that is known for its cluster of well-regarded restaurants. The highway is being expanded here from two lanes to four, and some years back there was a great hue and cry about how this was going to destroy the little community because most of its businesses — including its restaurants — are collected right on the road. They would have to be bulldozed to make way for the wide highway that must march through. Progress was halted for several years as the unmovable object of the community met the irresistible force of the highway department. In the end, the community won and the highway is now being built in a small curve around the town.

We chose a cute restaurant that suggested in its name that there would be berries on the menu (there weren’t). There was also a sign on the door that said we were not allowed to wear spurs in the restaurant. This was right next to the sign that said they only took cash and local checks. That sent us back to the truck to dig in the upholstery for all of the change we could find since the wallet was lean. The place was clean and modern and busy with the Sunday after-church crowd. In the booth next to us sat a writer of some note from Kansas City. He has some property on the other side of the county from Roundrock, and our paths have crossed once or twice. (He recommended the man who built our road and dam.) Libby and I had burgers and fries, and I had a gallon of iced tea (unsweetened, of course). We lingered over our food, chatted with the waitress, and generally had a fine time in what was clearly the heart of the community. I think we’ll probably return here in the future (but we’ll bring plenty of cash).

Having injured eternity sufficiently, we drove back up the highway to the county seat (which does not have any open restaurants on Sunday) and to the hardware store. Inside sat a beautiful walk-behind brush cutter. It looked freshly minted and just waiting for Pablo’s grip on its handles as he steered it into the shoulder-high scrub among the pecans. First, of course, we had to get it into the back of the truck, which involved renting some de-luxe folding ramps along with the cutter. But once that was done, we were off to Roundrock and eager to do some slashing.

The operation of the brush cutter was simple. It had an on/off switch, a pull starter just as on a lawn mower, and a lever for forward, neutral, and reverse. Levers on the handles: left hand engaged the blade, right hand engaged the drive for the wheels. I was given a twenty-second lesson on these subtleties then sent on my way. What could be easier?

Our first stop was at the dam. There is nothing more than grass growing there, so I thought that I could do my shakedown there. Lever to the right for forward. Switch on. Cord tugged. And tugged. And tugged. Being its first start of the day, the motor was a bit reluctant, but once I had it going I was able to restart it with ease the rest of the afternoon.

So I stood behind the machine. I gripped the left handle and heard the blade under its cowling engage. Then I gripped the right handle to start the wheels turning.

The brush cutter nearly leaped out of my hands! It pulled me forward with a surprising jolt, and I found myself trotting behind it to keep up as I steered it across the top of the dam. (Had I let go, the wheels and the blade would have stopped turning.) I was off, and soon I was on the other side of the dam, wrestling with the machine to turn it around to make my return pass over the grass.

Libby was watching from the safety and comfort of the shade on the opposite side of the dam, but I was hustling in her direction quickly. When I reached her, I had cut two swaths, which allowed plenty of space for walking. I shut off the engine to pause and catch my breath.

“Aren’t you going to do any more?” she asked as she surveyed my work. “Make it wider,” she suggested. So I wrestled with the machine, trying to turn it around, until I realized I could set the lever in neutral and turn it with ease. So I did. Then I pushed the lever to the right, turned on the switch, tugged at the cord, grabbed the handles, and trotted off behind the machine for two more passes over the dam. (As I did so, I glanced at the acre of scrub in the pecans below the dam. That was going to be much tougher work, and there was a lot more of it than four passes atop the dam. All at a brisk pace for the operator behind the machine.)

I felt that I had mastered the operation of the machine by then and that it was time for me to head into the scrub among the pecans. Fortunately, I could disengage the blade and “drive” the cutter along our road down there. All this involved was me trotting behind first up a hill then down one. And I emerged among the scrub.

Aside from several dozen staked and fenced pecan trees, the only obstacles hidden in the scrub that I anticipated were the occasional rock or log. I had cleared most of these in past years, thinking that a mowing day would come, so I hurried boldly forward behind the mower. The tall scrub fell before me. Every winged insect in that acre rose before me. Many chose to land on my face or in my ears. Sweat began to pour as the heat of the day combined with the hustle of the mowing man, trotting along behind his noisy machine. And then I came to my first turn.

I quickly learned that this beast is not like a conventional lawn mower. The wheels on this thing continue to turn even as you think to pause and consider the route you should take. I foolishly figured out how to muscle my way through these turns (only late in the afternoon discovering that a wide turn was much more manageable than a right-angle turn). I tried to mow with some sort of order so that I could focus on continuous cutting rather than dashing back and forth across the acre to clean up patches I missed. Being a thinking man, I naturally made left turns, and after about fifteen minutes of running about and wrenching the machine through its turns, I was beginning to see some progress. I had managed to avoid cutting down any of the pecans, though I did yank out the fence around one of them and only missed one hidden in the brush because I failed to force my turn sufficiently. I also only spewed forth one large rock, and only two hidden logs were turned into wood chips.

Somewhere along the way, after I had cleared a large enuf patch, Libby drove the truck down into the pecan acre and held out a bottle of water as I approached. I should say that I took many breaks during this work. Mostly it was to catch my breath and let my heart stop racing, but occasionally it was to gulp down some water and contemplate the universe. Then I would grab the handles of the mower and have it lurch ahead of me so I could cut another swath.

This was intended to be our practice session, to see if the brush cutter was suited to our needs and if we were suited to its demands. Thus I only mowed about half of the pecan plantation. I stayed out of the chronically wet areas closer to the dam (although we had trooped through them earlier and confirmed that they were merely muddy but not wet). Plus we were racing the clock. We had to get the brush cutter back to the hardware store before it closed at 5:00 p.m. (We actually had plenty of time, I’m just rationalizing.) We talked about me driving the mower along our road atop the ridge where the grass is growing thickly upon it, but the thought of hustling along behind it as it went up the road through the trees to get to the road on the ridge was disheartening.

Here is a picture of some of the acre among the pecans that I managed to mow:


That tall plant on the extreme left is big bluestem grass that I didn’t have the heart to take down. There’s an even bigger one off camera to the right. The yellow-flowered scrub at the back of the photo marks the area of the intermittent pond, and it held some water, so I stayed away from there. Still, I managed to cut a pretty good piece of real estate before I stopped.

But Pablo wasn’t finished with the brush cutter, so come back tomorrow to hear more of this wacky adventure.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.