Archive for November, 2007


Tuesday, November 20th, 2007


Yep, it’s a vine growing in the trees at Roundrock. This one is actually growing quite close to our campsite, but I had not seen it before the most recent trip we’d made. (The most recent trip where we’d spent the night that is.)

I was hoping the give a sense of the lushness of the forest: the thick vine with the moss draped from it and the green of the forest behind it. I don’t think it worked. As I’ve noted before, Roundrock is mostly on a ridgetop, and because of that meteor impact several hundred million years ago, rain clouds tend to steer around our woods. So lush is one of the last words that one could use to describe our forest.

I’m going to guess that this is a grape vine (rather than poison ivy, which I understand can grow to this robustness). The grapes would be high above in the tree canopy where the squirrels and birds can enjoy them, but Pablo won’t get any.

I was once backpacking with a friend in southern Missouri and we came across some grapes growing within easy reach of the trail. My friend devoured them happily, encouraging me to do the same. They were sweet, he told me. Good energy for the trail. But we were on the outward bound leg of the long weekend, and I feared the possible intestinal consequences of such unwashed food.

Apparently I needn’t have worried. My friend didn’t suffer at all.

Still, if I did come across some wild grapes at Roundrock, or gooseberries since we have those as well, (or hickory nuts, and I know we have lots of them) I don’t know if I’d let myself eat them. I know I should, but I think I’ve spent too much time in suburbia.

Missouri calendar:

  • Collect pecans as they drop from trees.


Monday, November 19th, 2007

red head.JPG

We came upon this fellow on our last trip to Roundrock. H was in a sunny part of the forest just up from the supposed high water mark of the lake. What caught my attention was the bright red mottling on this boy’s head. I might otherwise have overlooked him in the leaf litter.

We see turtles often at Roundrock. I’d like to think that this indicates that we’re being good stewards and helping keep the habitat favorable to their needs. Of course, as I’ve said before, our stewardship consists mostly of benign neglect. Curiously, we tend to find them in the central part of our 80+ acres. I’m not sure why that would be except that perhaps this is where we tend to do our most hiking and so would have the greatest chance of seeing them.

I didn’t pick up this fellow, nor did he seem to be disturbed by our big, stomping presence. We looked at him and he looked at us, and then we were both on our ways. I understand that by counting the rings on the plates of a turtle’s plastron you can get a good estimate of how old it is. My looking at the roughness of the skirting part of its shell, though, I’d say this old boy has been around.

Missouri calendar:

  • Scan leafless trees for gray nests of bald-faced hornets.

Sunday runes

Sunday, November 18th, 2007

Some small mammal surrendered these bones on the north-facing slope at Fallen Timbers. There was no skull, so I can’t really say what kind of animal it was — whether predator or prey — though it was large enuf to be a fox or a raccoon. We find these little bone collections here and there in the woods, and sometimes when we poke around a bit, we can find more of the bones in the set scattered nearby.

I wish I could read the message in these bones. What critter was it? How did it die? What animals may have found a meal from it?


The wacky group over at Whorled Leaves have selected their next book to read and discuss online. (Everyone is welcome to join in the discussion through the comments mechanism.) The book they selected is one most readers here are familiar with: Slow Road Home – a Blue Ridge Book of Days. It is a memoir by Fred First who keeps the inimitable Fragments from Floyd blog, which is over in my sidebar. Slow Road Home is on my bookshelf, and I made a post about it way back here.

Consider reading Fred’s fine book and joining the discussion over at Whorled Leaves.


The next edition of the Festival of the Trees will be hosted by Larry of Hannibal’s Riverside Ramblings. (His recent posts about Tucker, the escape dog, have been delightful, by the way.) You can send links to your own posts or to other tree-related topics across the internet to Larry by November 29. Just send an email with “Festival of the Trees” in the subject line to Larry (dot) Ayers (at) gmail (dot) com. Or you can use the handy submission form.

The Festival has been growing, gaining popularity and world-wide recognition. Isn’t it about time that you played host?


Change of plans. We’re not going to Colby, Kansas to see the darlings for Thanksgiving. They are coming to see us. Is there a trip to the woods in the offing? I wish I knew.

What’s Pablo reading now? I finished The Pesthouse, and I have to say that while I thought it was well written, i didn’t think it was well imagined. Of course, the novel may have been a musing about lamentable immigration policy or about Western excess or about capitalism or about gun control. I found, though, that the characters were too thinly drawn. What they lacked in personality they also lacked in credibility.

Now I’ve taken up a completely different genre: mystery comedy. I’m reading a book called Mr. Dixon Disappears by Ian Sansom. The main character is a London Jew names Israel Armstrong who operates a bookmobile in “the middle of the middle of nowhere in the north of the north of Northern Ireland.” He’s a true fish out of water, and the first novel he appeared in is titled The Case of the Missing Books, which I’ve also read, and which is aptly titled for a book with a librarian as the central protagonist.

So what are you reading now?


Missouri calendar:

  • Birds begin gathering at feeders.

Saturday Matinee

Saturday, November 17th, 2007

Picture 1.png

Another vignette for you from the woods of Roundrock. This one is a bit longer, and there’s a nice moment where a bluejay gives a screech. The scene, of course, is of the mostly empty lakebed.

Won’t it be nice in the spring when I can return and give you a little moviette of the full lake?

This may be the last Saturday Matinee for you all for a while. I don’t have any new footage, and I’m not sure when I’ll get out to the woods again.

Missouri calendar:

  • Hellbender eggs begin hatching.
  • Leonid meteor shower peaks. An outburst of up to 200 per house hour is predicted around midnight.

Where am I?

Friday, November 16th, 2007


Does anyone know where this is? I sure don’t. The image came from my camera, and I assume it is in the woods at Roundrock, but I don’t remember taking the shot or where it might be.

I’m guessing that I wanted to capture the fate of the poor sapling on the left that has been held down by the fallen tree on the right.

Sometimes there are photos in my collection that I don’t immediately recognize, but I look at the shots immediately before and after them (they load into the program in sequence), and I am able to place the stray. Not so with this one. The shot before it was taken near our campsite, but the shot after it is of a fallen snag, and their are hundreds of those at Roundrock.

Well, the shot is a lot like this post, I guess. Pointless, aimless, meaningless.

Missouri calendar:

  • Canvasback, redhead, scaup, merganser and ringneck duck populations at peak.

The best season

Thursday, November 15th, 2007


I believe I have mentioned here once or twice that fall is my favorite season. It always makes me reflective. For some reason I begin to think about all of the things I meant to do, and I plot and plan how I might get them done sooner or later or not at all.

I suppose the shorter days and the falling leaves remind me that winter is coming — a time when many things are more difficult and better left for the warmer months. But there is savor to fall as well. I think I appreciate the sounds and smells and textures of the forest more. Perhaps that is because I am no longer overwhelmed by the heat or the insects, so I am free to experience the more subtle parts of the forest. Or it may be that I am more aware that the opportunity doesn’t last forever. Certainly the winter forest has its allures, but I think the forest as it is beginning to fall asleep is the most alluring.

It’s a bittersweet time. I wish I had found more chances to swim in the lake. I wish we had camped more. I wish I had devoted more effort to identifying the trees and plants. I wish I had had more patience to wait for the critters to cross my path.

Fall always intensifies my feelings about being in the forest. I’m grateful for that.

The order form for trees from the Conservation Department nursery is supposed to come online today. I intend to order another twenty-five shortleaf pines for replanting (hopeful, ever hopeful), but I’m eager to see what new interesting plants might be available. More nannyberries, anyone?

Missouri calendar:

  • Most leaves have fallen; forest floor blanketed.

Danger stump

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

danger stump.JPG

When we first started coming to the woods, this stump was freshly cut. There was still bark on the trunk and plenty of spring in the bent wood. It was a dangerous stump indeed.

This stump is at Fallen Timbers, along the north property line. It was left by the loggers who had foraged the forest looking for trees they could sell as lumber. The prior owner had hired them to make what money he could from the forest before he sold it to us, I guess.

The loggers cut down many trees that they left behind. Most were hollow, which I guess is something you can’t reliably determine before you cut into a tree. This tree, on the other hand, was not hollow, but they left it behind too. I suppose it was too thin to become a good lumber tree, but that should have been evident before they cut it.

The trouble with this stump is that it is still attached to the tree, and the join is under tension. If one were to begin cutting at the bent join, the tree could snap back at the cutter with a great deal of force. Today the term “stump jumping” is used to describe a kind of mountain biking, but in pioneer days it referred to the sometimes unpredictably way a tree could fall or jump from its stump when cut. Lumberjacks could be killed when this would happen.

I don’t think that would happen with this tree. As dry as it is now, and with as much rot as it has gone through in the last decade, I don’t think there is much tension left in it. I think I could safely cut it free, but why? Nothing would be gained by dropping the tree to the ground. I suppose it would rot away sooner, but so what?

I think I’d rather visit this tree periodically and see how it is progressing on getting the job done by itself. Someday I may come to the woods and find it has broken free and fallen to the forest floor itself.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

Nobody Home

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

nobody home.JPG

This little scene is from our ridgetop campsite at Fallen Timbers. The bluebird house is an old timer that the kids made at one of the many, many nature workshops we took them to when we had some control over their little lives. I imagine someone like Hal of Ranch Ramblins cut a few dozen from a template, sanded the edges, pre-drilled all of the holes, then assumed a grandfatherly air as a roomful of little darlings started hammering on the pieces of wood, transforming them magically into birdhouses and instilling in themselves a lifelong sense of stewardship. I like to think that’s how it worked anyway.

The bluebird house hung for many years on a fencepost in our back yard in suburbia, and though it never hosted any bluebirds, the sparrows made frequent use of it. When we acquired the 40 acres of Fallen Timbers, this house was one of the first things we carried with us. Adam, a teenager by then (and now in medical school), hung it on a likely tree near the fire ring. On every visit, we opened the front door to see if anyone was interested.

I think all of the natural cavities and other nesting options made this development unnecessary because we never found a nest within. Sometimes there would be a bunch of grass, and once we found it partly filled with acorns. But our visits to Fallen Timbers became less frequent and we started hanging birdhouses at Roundrock instead. I had thought that the placement of the house right in the middle of our parking, cooking, and camping area might have deterred guests, but even when we stopped visiting so frequently, the house didn’t show any sign of tenants.

Nor do they get any mail. We put the mailbox on that tree stump about the same time. Within are a bowl for dog food/water and a roll of essential paper in a sturdy plastic bag. We’ve also left a notepad and pencil, thinking that someone would leave us a message sometime. That’s never happened. I suppose anyone who would leave a note would be an interloper and so not be eager to leave a sign of their presence. No one has left a note for the birds either.

The stump has rotted away. Only the part protected by the mailbox is still there, and I won’t be surprised when we find the box on the ground beside a spongy stump.

Missouri calendar:

  • Look for “frost flowers” with first hard frost.


Libby and I did see frost flowers at Fallen Timbers on one of our early visits. I wish I had taken some pix of them then to share with you now.

Update on the bag experiment

Monday, November 12th, 2007

bag experiment.JPG

Science takes patience. I made sure to check on the progress of the decline of the two plastic bags when we were last at Roundrock, but I hoped for something more dramatic to report.

If you recall my first post on this subject, you know that I have set two common plastic grocery bags in an exposed area in the forest so that I can check on their decay from natural forces. One of them (in the lower right of the photo above) is a regular grocery store bag that you can find blowing about the countryside or choking sea turtles just about everywhere. The second (upper left) is one I got from a local natural foods store that is suppose to biodegrade over time (the bag, not the store). I think the common grocery bag can be expected to last forever. (I had hoped to score another bag — one that would decay in only a few weeks — from a certain visitor from Oregon, but she seemed to have forgotten to pack a sample when she came.) My thought was that I could compare the decay of the bags and then draw profound conclusions from the observation.

There’s not much to report thus far, though. All that I noticed was that the printing on the bags has become a bit faded. It’s a start down the long road of decline, and I really do intend to keep you well informed about this thrilling experiment in the months and years to come.

Missouri calendar:

  • Canada goose population at waterfowl areas is at its peak.

Sunday sampling

Sunday, November 11th, 2007


Some sort of mushroom, I think. We saw this baseball-sized fungus growing on the ridgetop at Fallen Timbers on our last visit. It bloomed from the recent rains, I suppose. On first glancing at it, I really thought it was a baseball that had found its way to the middle of the forest somehow.


Deer hunting season began in Missouri yesterday and continues for ten days. Actually, it is high-powered firearm deer hunting season that began yesterday. There are all sorts of other hunting seasons through the fall and winter for taking deer: archery, muzzleloading, special local hunts, seasons for disabled hunters. The high-powered firearm season is the time when I stay out of the forest though.

Sometimes I imagine that hunting season is merely a conspiracy by the deer to keep me out of the woods so I don’t see them having parties and doing all sorts of anthropomorphic things like sitting in my comfy chair under the shady tarp overlooking the empty lake. I’m too afraid of going out to the woods to check on my suspicions, though.


The next Festival of the Trees returns to Missouri when Larry Aryers of Hannibal’s Riverside Reflections hosts. This is the second time around for Larry. Send your links to Larry at larry (dot) ayers (at) gmail (dot) com by November 29 with “Festival of the Trees” in the subject line. Or you can use the handy online submission form at Blog Carnival. Remember, your submission does not have to be a post you have made on your own blog. If you come across any kind of link that speaks of trees, you can submit it if you think it is worthy.

The Festival has been growing for more than a year now, just as anything to do with trees should. Most of the credit goes to Dave of Via Negativa, who came up with the idea and hosted the very first edition of the festival, and to the many hosts who have offered their blogs for one day. You should consider being host. Just send me or Dave an email and we’ll help you along.


Occasionally, an older post starts to have a flurry of comments. The original Blue-tailed skink post gets a few now and then. The Ozark Howler posts draws some interest. Lately, it has been my post about coming across a scented candle in our woods that is getting some fresh comments. Of course, if you look at those comments you can see that they are being left by people who work for the companies that make these game-attracting scented candles, but the fact that it is deer hunting season around here — when these candles might be employed — probably has something to do with the increased interest.


One year ago I was writing about the duckweed on the pond being in retreat. Two years ago I was musing about a perennial subject: interlopers.


What’s Pablo reading now? Well, I finished The Shadow-Line, but I’ll have to do some cogitating and maybe a little research to match it up to the Roth novel where it was repeatedly referenced. Now I’m reading The Pesthouse by Jim Crace. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland of North America, and I gave it to my daughter (who likes these kinds of stories) when she made her trip to Italy last summer. Now she’s letting me read it. I’m about a third of the way through it and I really like it. The writing is excellent, and the story is realistic for a future devoid of technology or what we would call science. No zombies or space aliens (but there’s more of the novel to read). I’d read another Crace novel years ago called Being Dead, and the two main characters in that one were, um, dead. Certainly not popular fiction.

Missouri calendar:

  • Veterans Day