Archive for January, 2008

1.27.2008 – Part Three

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

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There is an open area near our campsite that I thought might be a good place to set up the game camera. I wanted a clearing where I had at least twenty feet of open space, without a lot of scrub to wave in the wind and set off the camera or to obscure the critters that might come by to say hi. And I wanted to avoid pointing the camera to the south and west since the back lighting from those directions might obscure the images in the foreground. The spot I chose did have the open space I sought, but there weren’t a lot of trees situated right for positioning the camera, so I had to poke around until I found one that worked (see above).

In the end I had the camera pointing to the northeast, and there is a backdrop of big cedar trees beyond to block any back lighting. (I guess those cedars are good for something after all.) The spot is along the trail Libby and I made to our pond, and we’ve seen some deer tracks on it in the past. Unfortunately, the December ice storm brought down a big cedar across our path at the far end of the clearing. I hope that doesn’t affect the critter traffic patterns.

In order to ensure that we would get a good set of visitors (at least on the first couple of days), we put these offerings on the ground before the camera (about ten feet out):

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That’s corn, of course, and if you look at the top you will see some peanuts as well. This picture is not one taken by the game camera. I used my hand-held for it. I’m not sure the game camera is pointed such that it would see much of the ground here. My hope is that it will focus on the critters a few feet above the ground level rather than on their actual feet at ground level. Make sense?

I checked all of the settings and made sure I turned the camera on, then we left the scene with the hope that we would return in two weeks to find the two gigabyte memory card filled with all sorts of wonderful pix of Roundrock critters. I don’t think I’ll get an Ozark Howler, but you never know.

After setting the camera (and remember, the other camera was still down at the dam, possibly capturing the crows grabbing goobers again), we decided to have lunch. There was one more chore for our day, and then it would be time to go back to suburbia.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank again today.

Today in Missouri history:

  • The first train robbery by the James Gang took place at Gads Hill on this date in 1874.

1.27.2008 – Part Two

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

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The big job of the day was to put better fencing around the pines. With this in mind earlier in the week, Libby and I had stopped at the local big box hardware store back in suburbia and bought ten steel fence posts and another roll of the chicken wire fabric. We duly stowed these in the bed of the truck and waited for our visit to arrive. The fact that we had #1 Son with us as well was a nice bonus.

We’ve not had a repeat of the mysterious pine-slashing incident of last year, but the boy deers have been using the fencing around the pines for rubbing velvet off of their antlers. (Actually, that’s pure speculation. I’ve never seen it happening.) Whatever is happening, we often come to the pines and find the fencing smashed or bent, nearly to the ground. The pine within is sometimes in the same condition. Slowly we have been fortifying the fencing around the pines, putting two posts beside each and stretching the fencing in a bigger perimeter circle. And so it was our mission on the recent visit to do more of the same.

We’ve planted fifty pines here (and replanted that many over the years). Fewer than half of those are what I would call survivors. Some are still alive but have not grown an inch in the years they have been in the ground. Some apparently died, getting lost in the scrub that overtook them. Some, the best ones, were slashed by some unknown agent of evil. The rest seem to be doing okay, putting down roots, I hope, as they consider the prospect of their location before investing too much in vigorous growth.

These last pines were the ones we focused our attention on. Some already had one steel post and we simply added another, pulling the existing fence fabric to it and using a binder tie to hold it there. Others never had a steel post but were relying on their original, rotting wooden post and little curl of fence fabric to protect them. Those got the works: two new posts and a generous surround of fencing. While Libby and I were busing messing with fence and ties, Seth was off pounding posts into the (barely frozen) ground beside trees I directed him to.

The work went quickly. In less than an hour we were all surprised to find that we didn’t have any more fence posts to put in the ground. Libby and I make post planting a two-person job. I use the driver to pound them into the ground. Libby squats beside me and holds the fence post upright so that it is more or less vertical when the job is done. Seth uses the one-man method, and if some of his posts stuck up from the ground at odd angles, I’ll take enthusiasm over verticality any day.

Pleased that we got this big chore completed so quickly, we decided to move on to our next, which was to put the other game camera in its new location, but I’ll tell you about that tomorrow.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Also blank.

1.27.2008 – Part One

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

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The forecast, anyway, called for a mild day. We were on the road before dawn, and as I began to see an orange, glowing ball of gas on the southeastern horizon, a bank of thick clouds started crowding in the from the southwest. A growing mist suggested an alternative plan for the weather had been organized at the last minute. As we covered the miles, the mist grew into fog, and the warming sun became more of a fable than a friend.

But we pushed on.

#1 Son, Seth, (still with us) said he would concentrate his mental powers on causing the weather to change, but our chores for the day didn’t really require sunshine, so if he was unsuccessful, we would be okay.

Much of the snow that had been lingering on the ground for a couple of weeks was gone, thanks in part to a Saturday that had fulfilled its forecasted warmth and sunshine, but there were still pockets of snow in protected areas on this Sunday, and when we came to the overflow from a neighbor’s lake down in the valley (after we left the paved road), we broke through ice that had reformed after an even earlier visitor had crossed it.

Roundrock was there waiting for us, just like it always is, and it even seemed as though the fog was lifting. I attributed this sense to the mild euphoria I feel whenever I’m in the woods. There was still nothing that could be called sunshine to be seen, but we had arrived, and that alone was reason to celebrate.

We had two big chores and a few small ones for the day. The first was to set up the game cameras. Putting two cameras in three locations was going to be challenging, but I had a plan.

The first spot was back at the log where we had put peanuts and finally learned that it is crows that have been eating them. I set the camera a little higher on the tree, hoping that I might get better shots of the visitors (especially if another barely glimpsed hawk came again). Then we salted the log with unsalted peanuts, turned on the camera, and drove away. The crows had cleaned up all of the peanuts on our earlier visit in about twenty minutes, so we hoped to get a repeat of that performance on this visit. In this way, I could then take down the camera later that afternoon, upload the photos into my laptop (brought along), and then remount the camera elsewhere with a different mission. (See, I had a plan.)

Our next assignment for the day was to cut away a fallen tree top that hung over the road and caused us to divert into the grass to get around it. I hoped we could simply cut the whole mess right at the break (it was still hanging on by fibers), but that proved to be too high to use hand saws effectively. So we did the next best thing; we began cutting the branches we could reach. I cut and Seth dragged the freed branches into the forest. Then he cut and I dragged. Libby supervised. As we removed more branches, we found we had a harder time reaching the branches where we wanted to cut them. It seems that once the top of the tree was lightened by the removal of many of the branches, it was springing back up. It will never recover, of course. Too much was snapped, and I think that eventually what little is left will rot, and then the remaining mess will fall into the road and await my convenience to drag it away.

But we cleared the road sufficiently, and it was on to the pine plantation, where our next chore awaited.

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That photo above, by the way, is the maximum reach of our poor lake on the day we visited. It was fuller than our last visit, which was fuller than the visit before that. I don’t expect the lake to get much recharge in the winter, but I was happy for what I could get (even if it was leaking a bit more strongly down in the pecans).

Missouri calendar:

  • Last quarter; sunlight falls on the moon’s left site.
  • Eastern moles are active in tunnels deep underground.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Nothing for you today. Sorry.

Right tool for the job

Monday, January 28th, 2008

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What you see here is an exploded rake, of course.

When we have a campfire at Roundrock, we always make sure to rake away the fallen leaves in a ring as much as ten feet in diameter around the fire. (New leaves always seem to replace them by the time we return!) A couple of trips back, #1 Son, Seth, was raking the leaves away when I heard him stop suddenly. The business end of the rake had fallen apart. It simply came loose from the handle and scattered parts of itself among the leaf litter.

Seth, having a degree in aerospace engineering, looked at the various pieces here and there and thought that he might be able to reassemble it. Some of the tines might not be found in the leaves, but enuf could be collected and placed so that a serviceable rake could be fashioned.

Fortunately, good sense prevailed and he abandoned that idea.

The tines (the ones we could find) and the clip assembly went into the trash bag (along with the many, many shattered milk jugs that still can be found in our woods — but that’s another story). The pole we now keep at our campsite as a multipurpose tool including a fire poker, and weary hiker leaning aide, and a reacher for high or faraway things.

On subsequent visits we have found more of the tines, so that’s like a bonus.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

Today in Missouri history:

  • So is my Missouri history calendar. Sorry about that.

Sunday sing-along

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

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Temps in the 50s today strongly suggest that Pablo has ventured down to Roundrock. If so, you’ll probably get a report in a few days.

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In response to a couple of comments I received yesterday about the video quality, I can tell you that it is definitely something to do with the uploading to Yahoo. (The same thing happened when I was using YouTube.) The videos in my picture file locally play perfectly fine; they look crisp and have lots of detail. I’ve seen good video on the Yahoo site, so I’m pretty sure I need to do something there (like buy a membership?). I’ll look into that if I ever break through the inertia that grips my life here in the winter.

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One year ago I was trying to make a point.

Two years ago I was babbling about my bottom.

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Today is the deadline for your submission to the Festival of the Trees, hosted this month by Kelly at Ginkgo Dreams. Send your link to kelly (at) ginkgodreams (dot) com.

We’ve had many gracious bloggers host the Festival. For a complete list, you can visit the Festival of the Trees coordinating site. Maybe you’ll even want to find your own blog on that list.

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What is Pablo reading now? I finished Stoner in time for tomorrow night’s inaugural discussion of a new book group meeting at the Kansas City Public Library. Now I’m reading Melville: His World and Work by Andrew Delbanco. I find it fascinating, but I think there are times when the author makes some big leaps to tie biography and history with fiction.

Missouri calendar:

  • Watch for chickadees feeding on insects in bark crevices.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Sorry, still nothing to report. (Check back, though.)

Saturday Matinee – 1.26.2008

Saturday, January 26th, 2008

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Here, finally, is the “big one.” I’ve sufficiently mastered the compression software to put a video clip this big onto the Yahoo site.

What you get to watch today is the drive into Roundrock. We start out in the middle of my neighbor’s meadow. When we enter the trees, we enter Roundrock.

  • Don’t worry if you missed the Private Property signs on the left and right at 23 seconds: everyone else seems to miss them too.
  • That’s a birdhouse on the tree on the right at about 35 seconds.
  • At about 1:35 we pass the pine plantation on the left. You can just see a couple of the fence posts near the road.
  • The small pond is off to the right about 1:45 though you can only glimpse it at about 1:50. Following this is nearly an entire minute along what I call the Greenway. We’re heading east here, and though it’s less than a quarter mile, it sure seems longer on foot.
  • At 2:40 we make our turn back into the woods. We’re going downhill on this stretch, but it doesn’t look like it in the video.
  • At about 3:35 you see that the road forks. The way to the left takes you down into the pecan plantation below the dam, but we take the other way.

It seems like I’m driving recklessly fast in this video, but I was not. Our hand-held-camera operator would not have let me.

You can hear my keys jingling here and there, and at some point I sniffle. I can’t account for the sound of the wind. We were inside the cab of the truck with the windows up.

The forest looks scruffy in this video, but I shot this before the big December ice storm decided to redecorate for me. The whole place looks a little scruffier now.

I’m still eager to hear any advice on how I can upload these videos so they don’t look as washed out and fuzzy. Enlightenment, anyone?

Missouri calendar:

  • Snowy owls seen in Missouri when food is scarce in the Arctic.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Surely something important happened on this date, but the history books don’t seem to have recorded it.

Fish castle – another view

Friday, January 25th, 2008

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The generally diminished state of the lake has allowed me to practice and refine my stewardship skills with a frequency I would not have expected when we first closed the valve and embarked on our hopeful endeavor. That is to say, I’ve been piling a lot of rocks in the dry lake bed.

In my early days, I began accumulating old tires to pile up to make structures for the fish to live in (shelter in, breed in). I checked this ambition early on, reading that the tires may leach undesirable chemicals into the water. I had only placed three tires in the water before I changed my plans. The lake then graciously lowered itself so that I could retrieve these tires and take them to the service station in town that professes to dispose of them properly.

But all along I have been piling rocks. Or stacking them might be the better way to put it. What you see above is a sort of structure I have been assembling along the northern shore of the lake. It’s just down the hill from our shelter, and it is one of a string of boulders and other such piles that I hope will make the fishing here productive. The white pipe is supposed to be quite alluring to catfish, and it was a cast off from the hardware store I sometimes visit, so into the mix it went. (There are actually two pipes there. Can you see the other one?)

Lately, the lake level seems to be creeping up. It stays fuller by the time the leaking stops, and it even seems as though it is not leaking away as fast as it used to. As a consequence, the part of the lake bed where this bit of fish castle sits is often muddy and sometimes even in the water, as you see above.

The December ice storm recharged the lake, about doubling what was in there at Thanksgiving (though still leaving the whole lake bed only about one third filled). But it did put the fish castle under water, as you can see in this other view:

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Yes, I boosted the color in this image to bring out the contrast. Otherwise, the pipe was just a vague smudge in a field of brown.

I don’t suppose the wild fish have moved into this castle yet. At this time of the year, they are supposed to be down in the deepest part of the water where it is warmer.

I don’t know what I will find when I next get out to Roundrock, but I’m hoping for a wet spring and a tight bottom.

Missouri calendar:

  • Squirrels bear spring litters through March.

Today in Missouri history:

  • All quiet on the frontier.

Ancient artifact

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

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The Ozarks, as everyone knows, and especially the Missouri section of the Ozarks (which really makes up the bulk of them), represents the pinnacle of human art and endeavor. The flower of civilization never bloomed more abundantly, the light of civilization never shone more brightly, and the words of praise never flowed more outrageously than when referring to the Ozarks.

But you already knew that.

Figurative sculpture in the Ozarks peaked many centuries ago in what scholars now call the Golden Age. Sadly, very few works have survived from that time. Fragments of sculptures and tantalizing references in the literature suggest that the human form was never so well represented as by the sculptors of the Ozark Golden Age.

So imagine my delight when we came upon a fragment of such work on one of our walks along the fence some weeks ago. You see it above. A human head, in classical form and dimension. Note the oval shape of the face and the delicate neck. Typical features. Some authorities have noted that the distinctive hairline was later echoed in a more debased form on Greek and Roman statuary. Other scholars suggest that it is not a hairline at all but is meant to represent a knit cap, such as those still worn today by men during deer season.

Facial details are, of course, absent. This is typical. It is thought that the sculptors believed that even at their high attainment of the art, they could not represent the true beauty, the sublime majesty, the inner mystery, the intellectual audacity, and the verbal sophistry of the Ozark character. Thus faces are never represented for they would be but mere vulgar approximations. It is a tradition I honor on this humble blog, as you may have noticed.

Such a significant find deserves preservation and proper display. And so it has received:

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When you are next out to Roundrock, I will be sure to bring you to this gallery.

Missouri calendar:

  • Watercress, a wild edible, is green around springs.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Today was a quiet day in the history books.

Wedged

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

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What do you suppose happens in the forest when no one is watching? On an intellectual level I know that the forest simply goes on as it has for ages: living, dying, rotting, growing, birth, and death. The wind blows. The deer browse. The squirrels scamper. The turkeys forage. The leaves fall.

But on a more imaginative level, I wonder if it is different. Take the round rock wedged in the tree in the photo above. When I came upon it recently, the rock was on the ground at the base of the tree, but I know I had shoved it into the space between the trunks a year or so ago. I pushed it down hard to make sure it would stay in place. Yet it had gotten loose and made a run (roll?) for it. Now, I know that the wind probably set the trunks swaying and at some point there was enuf give between them to let the rock slip loose and fall to the ground. But maybe that isn’t what happened. Maybe the deer came along in a moment of mischief and nudged the stone loose. Maybe the raccoons or opposums tugged it out.

I wonder if the animals sit in our comfy chairs under the shady tarp overlooking the empty lake and visit. Swap stories. Give each other updates on where there is food to be had. Offer critical analysis of the stewardship of the man who thinks he owns the land.

I thought that the new game camera might be able to help answer these questions, but I figure the animals are too clever for that and will act like animals before it.

Do the rocks in the creek even continue to exist when I’m not around? Does the whole place just dissolve into mist and only reassemble as I approach? In a way it’s just hard to believe that the forest has any existence apart from my experience of it. I know that’s not true, but I sometimes wonder.

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I think FC has a birthday today. Why don’t you go over to his blog and wish him well. (He’s still older than I, and by my calculations, always will be!)

Missouri calendar:

  • Bobcats breed through June.

Today in Missouri history:

  • The next seven days seem to have nothing remarkable connected to them in Missouri history.

My game camera

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

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Several people have asked what kind of game camera I have. Well, I have two. They’re both the same. In fact, they were a bundled deal. I received them as a gift, and they’re low end so that we can practice with them. Then, depending on our success, we might upgrade to a more powerful or better featured model.

The brand is called Wildview. They run on “C” batteries, and I don’t know how many flashes you can get out of them, but I’m sure I can leave the camera out in the woods for two weeks (the general amount of time I am away) and expect reasonable performance. They take a conventional memory card, which didn’t come with the cameras. I bought a pair of 2 gigabyte cards to use — they happened to be what was available at the store in the post-holiday carnage — and that ought to be enuf capacity to give me all the pix I need for an occasional post or to learn secrets of the woods.

Curiously, the instruction manual that came with the cameras noted that they are not compatible with Macs. We are, of course, a civilized household and use Macs, so this presented a potential problem. I concluded, however, that my personal camera does interface with my MacBook, and the memory cards from the game cameras could be slipped into my personal camera, so that could be the means for getting the pix from there to here. And that worked. (The game cameras came with a USB cable for direct interface, and I suspect that is where the noncompatibility would surface.) So we have a workable system.

Unfortunately, that means we must pull the memory cards from the camera and bring them home to the MacBook each trip, leaving two (or more) weeks when the cameras are not in use. #1 Son, however, suggested that we simply take the MacBook to Roundrock with us and do the transfer of pix there. Sounds like a plan to me.

I can fiddle with various settings on these cameras, including having the flash off, on, or on auto; setting the number of shots taken at one time (I have it set on three); and setting the amount of time that passes before another three shots are taken (one minute, five, ten, or twenty). I had suspected that the peanut snatching business happened quickly, so I fixed the settings to take three quick shots at a time and to take them as frequently (one minute) as possible. I might set it differently if it were in a heavily trafficked area and I didn’t need to be so quick to capture an “event.” This might especially be true if I use the flash at night and scare away the critters. Seems like it would make sense to let twenty minutes pass before I flashed the poor critters with light so they would come back.

We did get some night shots of deer, but they were too close and I got ghostly silhouettes of heads or noses. I also got a long series of shots of darkness.

Libby has suggested that I mount one of the cameras near the pines to see if we can capture who has been slashing them. I’m convinced that won’t work. First, if it is a human agent, they person will likely see the camera and make some mischief on it as well. Second, that slashing seems to have been a one-time incident. We haven’t had any repeats since then. Still, it might be fun to get some shots of the deer eating the pines or roughing up the fencing we have put around them.

If anyone has suggestions about the best ways to set up these cameras, I’d love to hear them. I’m thinking that I’m going to go to one of the many clearings we have at Roundrock and salt the area with peanuts and corn. I’m hoping that will get me some interesting shots. What do you think?

Missouri calendar:

  • Full moon: the side facing us is lit by the sun.
  • Peak numbers of bald eagles gather this month near open water and big rivers.

Today in Missouri history:

  • The Missouri State Library was established by law on this date in 1829.