Archive for November, 2007

Black smoke

Friday, November 30th, 2007

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Here is another of those found photos I mentioned yesterday. This is of a burn pile that it fulfilling its destiny.

The lake bed was cleared and the dam was constructed at about this time of the year, so even though the trees were not in leaf, they were “green” in terms of their burn potential.

In Missouri (and perhaps in other places though I’ve never checked), if you burn green wood, you tend to get white smoke. (This invariably blows in your eyes and they sting for a while, but you get over it because you’re an adult and have another beer.) The trees that were in this burn pile were “green.” Yet the smoke they yielded is not white. Why is that?

Well, another problem with green wood is that it is hard to get started burning. You really need something that burns very hot in order to get the green wood going. If you’re a resourceful builder, you might find things just sitting about the county that would work. And if you’re really resourceful, you might avoid troublesome considerations about whether such resources may be burned legally or not. I’m not saying that the man who built my dam used any contraband in these burn piles to get them going, of course. I was never around when he started them (though they often smoldered for days without ever really catching fire).

There were many burn piles in the lake bed and future pecan plantation. Only one didn’t fully burn to ash before the dam was finished. It now sits in the lake bed, awaiting its glory when the lake remains full and the fish find a wonderful habitat awaiting them.

Missouri calendar:

  • Milkweed pods open.

Notch

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

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I knew that somewhere around the house there was an envelope of photos I had taken of the dam being built. These were in the (my) pre-digital age, but I knew they could be scanned and presented for your entertainment and edification. If only I could find them. I looked in all of the usual places, but they eluded me.

It so happened that when Rachel was here a few weeks ago, she and Libby started “scrapbooking” and brought up boxes of “scrap” from the basement. Then one morning I found an envelope beside my computer. Within it were the photos of the dam construction.

Memory is a funny thing. In my memory I had taken impressive pix showing in instructive detail all of the important stages of the dam construction. Perhaps I should have continued to live in my memory.

Not only are there fewer of these pix than I remembered, but they are all pretty miserable as photos. Take that down a generation or two as they go from print to scan to pdf to jpeg to here and you get a sad reduction in quality.

Still, this photo will give you some sense of the construction of the dam. I took this shot standing in what would become the pecan plantation. I’m looking to the west, and what you see is the notch in the dam before it was filled in. This notch was a route the dozer man used to go in and out of the lake bed. It is also where he laid the drain pipe so that it would be at the lowest part of the lake bed before he buried it with the rest of the dam atop it. Curiously, this part of the dam is water tight. I would have expected it to leak, but I suppose the part of the dam built here is no different from the other parts of the dam (well, expect for the parts that do leak).

You can see one of the burn piles to the right. That’s all gone; I have a photo of it I will share with you that merits a little discussion.

Missouri calendar:

  • Voles and mice feed on grass and seeds under the snow.

Green frond

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

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There’s so much to see in the forest that I’m never sure if I haven’t already seen some things or if I’m seeing them for the first time.

Take the plant in the photo above. It grows at Fallen Timbers. When the rest of the forest was giving up its green, this low plant was still a vibrant, deep green, and perhaps it still is.

I don’t know what kind of plant this in. Is it a fern? Is it something else? Have I seen it before? I don’t know the answer to any of these question.

I like the fact that there are still plenty of new things to discover (or rediscover) in forests I have stomped over for years and years. I’d like to revisit this plant in a month or so (after the cold of winter has settled in) but I only have the vaguest sense of where it is growing at Fallen Timbers. I suppose I could devote a day to scouring the north-facing slope there and see if I can find it.

I can’t think of a better way to spend a day.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is mute again today.

Touchous Tuesday

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

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Could this be old goldenrod? It doesn’t seem likely since at the time I took this photo, there was still a little lingering yellow goldenrod on the forest fringe. Whatever it is, I like it because it is a sort of guidepost for the season. The beauty and abundance of the growing months are over. Now a leaner, more stark beauty will take hold for a while.

We did not make it down to Roundrock for our semi-traditional day-after-Thanksgiving visit and campfire. Other interests among the majority lead us in a different direction last Friday. The next chance for a visit will be this coming weekend, which will mean that the entire month of November has passed without a trip to the woods. I grit my teeth and face this gruesome reality, but it is nearly unbearable. You should all feel great pity for me.

As you know if you read Sunday’s post, I’m currently re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird. I love the narrative voice along with all of the other qualities of the book. Anyway, I came upon the word “touchous” on one of the pages (as I’m sure I had the three other times I’d read the book) and marveled at it. In context it meant “touchy” and I was glad to add it to my personal lexicon. It seems to be a regional word more commonly found in the Carolinas, eastern Tennessee and Kentucky (my idyllic boyhood summers were in western Kentucky), and West Virginia. These are all places that I have verified really do exist despite their unlikely sounding names. Curiously, I had come across the word “tetchy” in several of the Iris Murdoch novels I have read, and in context it has meant “touchous.” I love this kind of word migration.

Anyway, I feel a bit touchous since I haven’t been to the woods in so long.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank yet again, and that leaves me feeling tetchy.

The trouble with straight lines

Monday, November 26th, 2007

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We’re trying to avoid straight lines as much as possible at Roundrock. Primarily this relates to the routing and building of paths through the forest. The point is to leave room for surprises and discoveries. If a path runs straight, then you can see far ahead, and there is nothing left to come upon, at least in theory. So the plan is to put turns and curves and bends into our paths so that what’s ahead is obscured and awaits rather than seen from a distance and no longer surprising. (I also tend to think of straight lines as soullessly efficient; that is, their primary purpose is to be quick or most direct or most resourceful or other values that engineers tend to favor.)

This hasn’t been a completely successful campaign though. When we first blazed the trail from our entrance to the old pond, we more or less went in a straight line. There were two reasons for this: the first was that we were new to the forest and were unfamiliar with the landmarks, so we wanted to create the route of least confusion. The second was that we were passing through those “mysterious” grassy clearings in the western end of our forest. These tend to run north and south, which is also the general direction of the path we were cutting. It made sense, then, to use one of these clearings as part of our path since it saved us a hundred or more feet of trailblazing.

When the time came to cut the road through the trees leading to the lake, we had to follow the topography, which left us little option. Also, we were paying the dozer man by the hour, so it wasn’t cost efficient to wind and weave our way through the woods. Yet both the road and the path have a few turns and curves, which you will see when you come out to Roundrock for a visit.

As I said, though, we’re trying to avoid straight lines in whatever changes or contributions we make to our forest. But then I come upon things like what is shown in the photo above.

This is a (former) fountain in a fish pond in a park in a town in Missouri not too far from Roundrock. In the park there is a mineral spring that I wrote about in this post. Some ambitious and creative fellow had created this small grotto fish pond/fountain thing years ago to adorn the park. (There were goldfish in the pond on our last visit.) He also created a full-sized bandstand in the same style. Round rocks, a geological oddity of the area, were put to use in building a structure. It makes a kind of sense, and I know there is an aesthetic that encourages building with native stone.

So it passed through my mind once or twice that when the time comes to build our house at Roundrock, we should use the hundreds of round rocks we have as construction materials or at least adornments.

But then I think of this fish pond.

And I cringe.

I don’t have the adjectives to give voice to my distaste for this. I respect the man’s creativity and hard work. I respect his desire to add something visually significant and whimsical to his community. I can even let myself think of it as a sort of historic treasure. But I hate it. I’m not sure why except that it is so obvious. There is no subtlety to it, no artful use of the round rocks. They are merely used as bricks, and so many of them gathered in one place rob them of what is unique about them.

Thus when I see something like this, all thought of using the native round rocks for building our house in the woods get banished.

Fortunately, there is other native stone at Roundrock. Not too far under the forest floor in the high places of our woods lies a lovely pinkish sandstone that cleaves nicely. It is abundant enuf to allow it to be quarried for building stone, and I’ve long envisioned using it as a facing for whatever it is we build the exterior walls of the house with. In its current conception, our house will be built into the slope of the hill overlooking the diminished lake. Thus it will look as though it is emerging from the ground, which means that it must be made of native stone.

And this takes us back to the trouble with straight lines. Building with round rocks would allow me to avoid the cold, soulless efficiency of having a house with straight lines. Except that it would look hideous. Building with nicely cloven sandstone will add straight lines to the face of the house, but it will allow me to avoid an overwhelming mass of round rocks (which I think I would subconsciously be afraid was going to roll over me as I sat before it drinking my iced tea — unsweetened, of course).

The straight lines called for by the sandstone can be mitigated, of course. Staggering the stones in the walls is the most obvious solution, and this can be done in a pleasing way (to my eye). Also, I’m thinking that the house front may not be a straight line itself. Perhaps it will curve so that the face of the house is concave. Thus the house itself will help me avoid those pesky straight lines.

Well, all of that is still down the road, and that road has enuf twists and turns to keep surprising and challenging me.

Missouri calendar:

  • Red admiral butterflies search for overwintering sites.

Sunday soothings

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

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I made my order of trees from the Missouri Department of Conservation nursery. I didn’t go too ambitious this year. I ordered twenty-five more shortleaf pines. I’ll replace the ones that have been destroyed in my plantation, and the remainder I’ll plant here and there in the forest just to see what comes up.

I’ve also ordered twenty-five buttonbush plants. They need moist soil, so I will probably try to establish a grove of them in the wet area below the dam. There is also a muddy area below the pond dam, so I could stick a few there. They have adorable flower clusters, the flowers are noted for attracting honey-making insects, and their seeds persist into winter, giving foraging birds a meal. I’m almost certain I’ve seen buttonbush flowers at Roundrock, but in recent years when I’ve looked, I’ve not spotted them.

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M and C have figured out exactly the right thing to complete their baby’s new nursery. Go have a look!

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Shortly after our daughter, Rachel, returned to Oregon last week, a package from there came in the mail. It contained several grocery bags from a certain health food store up thataway. These bags are supposed to degrade within a couple of weeks in the outdoors. So I will add one to my experiment at Roundrock and let you know how it all progresses (if I can use that word for a sort of process of decay).

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There are still a few days to contribute to the next Festival of the Trees, hosted by Hannibal’s own Larry Ayers over at Riverside Rambles. His deadline for emailed submissions is November 29 — that’s this coming Thursday! If you have a post or have seen one in your web surfing that you think would be good, just send the link to larry (dot) ayers (at) gmail (dot) com, or use the handy submission form.

(I won’t even chide you about becoming a host yourself.)

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What is Pablo reading now? I finished Mr. Dixon Disappears, and while it was equal parts hilarity and exasperation, I didn’t think it was much of a mystery. Still, I’ll likely read other books by Ian Sansom in the future.

Now I’m in a race. I’ve picked up To Kill a Mockingbird again. I’ve read it at least twice, and it’s more likely that I’ve read it thrice. Certainly it’s a novel that merits many readings. The race is because one of the reading groups I’m in (the social justice group) will be discussing Black Robe by Brian Moore on December 14. I’ll have to dash through Mockingbird so I have enuf time to complete Black Robe in time for the discussion. Will I make it?

Read any good books lately?

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Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

An aimless post

Saturday, November 24th, 2007

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I feel bad in a way that I don’t have a video to share with you today as the next Saturday Matinee. I just don’t have the footage. I had hoped to get out to Roundrock before this, but the hunting season and family obligations have conspired against me.

I have found it odd that the few posts that I have put up on my Yahoo! Video page have drawn more views than the posts to this blog that featured them. Can’t explain that. I plan to load the other, past videos that I had posted on YouTube so that all of my video glory can be appreciated in one place.

Tonight is the big KU versus MU game in Kansas City. It’s hard to believe that a local college rivalry could have found a place on the cover of Sports Illustrated. My nephew from MU arrived today to go to the game and sleep at our house. He’s a good kid, of course, and he insists I’m his favorite uncle, so there’s that too. I don’t have much interest in the game, though #2 Son, Adam, is attending KU Medical School, but they consider themselves apart from the “other” KU.

The photo above is just a random shot. It was part of my series of attempts to capture the blueness of the October sky, but this one looks more gray than blue. The shot was taken down in the pecan plantation, looking north. You can just distinguish the road leading out of the plantation on the lower left. It’s not the most exciting photo I’ve put here, but it makes me nostalgic nonetheless. And I know of one woodpecker who likes pix of hardwood trees.

Missouri calendar:

  • Even the Missouri Natural Events Calendar has nothing to say today!

The day after Thanksgiving

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

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Seasonable, and so reasonable, cold has settled in over Missouri. It’s not really all that cold. It’s not life threatening or such. Certainly it won’t stop the shoppers from descending upon the stores in the wee hours of the morning. I’d read a pundit who once said that our economy is not based on buying. It’s based on frenzied buying. So let me take this chance to remind you that it is National Buy Nothing Day. You culture jammers out there know what I’m talking about. If you’d like to read about someone who has had remarkable success at consuming less, go on over to Kate’s blog and read about her 90 Percent Project. Kate assures me that she is living comfortably, enjoying a full life. It makes me wonder what I could do without.

Perhaps our traditional family jaunt to Roundrock occurred today. Perhaps as you’re reading this, we are out in our woods, making ‘smores over a fire, walking the trails, admiring the diminished lake. Perhaps this has happened, but I’ll be the last to know if it does. I am subject to the whims and swiftly changing plans of a house nearly full again of family. Whatever we do, I know I’ll enjoy the time together.

The photo above is of sumac berries in our woods at Fallen Timbers. We have sumac growing robustly there, and this ridgetop stand is always a reliable provender for the wild birds who will feast on the berries through the winter.

Hope you had a happy holiday.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

Thankful Thursday

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

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Looking Up

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007
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Some months ago I stuck my camera into a tree cavity and shot down into the opening. At the bottom, a very nervous red squirrel crouched. I was so pleased with this daring bit of photography that I decided to jam my camera into every tree opening of sufficient size and see what might be revealed.

Not much, it turns out, but that has more to do with the nervousness of the photographer than any secrets within the tree.

The shot above shows the inside of the tree growing in the Central Valley. It is actually looking up, so pretend you’re lying on your back, okay? The base of the tree has a large hole in it, probably the result of a ground fire years ago. Outside the hole there was all sorts of dirt and wood chips that had been thrown out of the cavity. It looked likely that some critter had a den within, and I thought I might just get a good shot of whatever it was.

Except that I was too timid to shove my arm in far enuf. Some critter that didn’t appreciate my quizzical motives might be within, ready to give me a bite. I took the shot above, saw that it wasn’t very good, and then took the shot below:

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You can see that this one is no better. Keep in mind that I was on the ground, crawling about under a cedar tree that was determined to drop its sharp needles down the back of my shirt. If something within came after me, I would not have been able to beat a hasty retreat.

Enuf of the excuses though. There are plenty of other hollow trees at Roundrock with better approaches and easier escapes. So Pablo will keep trying.

Missouri calendar:

  • Mammals seek winter shelter.