Archive for May, 2008

Mishap

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

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I’m not sure what brought down this oak branch. It may have suffered from the ice storm last December, but I think I would have come across it before now. Or it might have come down in some of the heavy winds we’ve had this spring.

The branches block our path up from the lake to our shelter. By the time we’ve hiked this far around the lake, we’re simply too ready to sit in the comfy chairs, so we never pause with the hand saws to cut the branches and clear our path. One of these days, we should hike around the lake going the other direction so we can come to this fresh and ready to saw.

When the branch fell, it only grazed the birdhouse you see there. I don’t think any bird lives in it, though it is filled with some soft fibers. I think a flying squirrel may use it as a temporary headquarters or something.

I pushed the branch clear of the house so it will hang properly. Maybe next time I’ll really cut the branch. Maybe.

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I apologize if you were disappointed not to find a Saturday Matinee here today. I didn’t shoot any video when I was last out at Roundrock. Maybe next time. Maybe.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Senator Thomas Hart Benton’s daughter, Jessie, was born on this date in 1824. At 17, and to her father’s stern objection, she married John Fremont, who would gain renown as an explorer of the West.
  • The Missouri mule is designated as the official state animal in 1995.
  • The square dance was adopted as Missouri’s official American folk dance in 1995.

Short opportunity

Friday, May 30th, 2008

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I photographed these little guys a month ago. This was at the extreme western end of the lake where the water was shallow and thus warm (and mostly predator free, I guess).

I knew at the time that these tadpoles had only a very short opportunity to get to the next stage of their lives because the water there wasn’t going to last long at all.

When we were at Roundrock last weekend we visited this part of the lake, and the gravel in this same spot was bone dry. In fact, both islands were connected to the rest of the forest by squishy land bridges and the water was retreating further from the area. (The dam still leaks, but I really think it is leaking less forcefully than in years past.)

I don’t know what became of these tadpoles. There were thousands of them even in the couple of small pool we looked at a month ago. I suppose many of them could have migrated with the retreating water and made it to the lake proper. But many more, I fear, were trapped in isolated small pools that grew smaller as the days went by.

This is the natural order of things, of course. It’s kind of hard, though, being a creature who can pretty much know in advance a helpless creature’s doom.

Missouri calendar:

  • Bird song at daybreak is at its peak.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Missourian Frederick Dent Grant was born on this date in 1850. He served as a diplomat, general, and military governor, but he never stepped out from the shadow of his father, Ulysses S. Grant.
  • President Franklin Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, allowing the notion of “popular sovereignty” in determining if a territory would be a slave state or a free state. This act set the stage for the violent Kansas-Missouri border wars where the Missouri “Border Ruffians” and the Kansas “Jayhawkers” transformed a frontier quarrel over slavery’s borders into a national issue.
  • Margaret B. Kelly became the first woman to hold statewide office in Missouri when she was appointed to the job of State Auditor in 1984.

5.25.2008 – Part Three

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

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When we set out for the distant bit of southern boundary, we first had to cross the lake dam. The grass was as tall as our hips, and it was obvious that no deer or other critters had moved through it ahead of us. Normally, this would mean we would be covered with ticks by the time we came out at the other end, but that wasn’t the case.

I’m not sure why the grass on the top of the dam is tick free (relatively). It could be that because we mow it twice a year, the ticks don’t find it favorable habitat. Or it could be that because so few other critters seem to cross it, the tick that have posted themselves there have not flourished.

Whatever the reason, we emerged from the tall grass on the other side with only a couple of ticks each on our pants. These we dispatched quickly. And then it was time to climb the north-facing slope. We simply had to continue up this slope until we came to the fence that marked half of our southern property line. Then we would turn right and follow the fence to where it ended. At this point we would begin using the posts we were carrying to mark the unmarked line.

Our trouble was with Seth, who carried five poles on his shoulder. (I carried two like walking sticks, and Libby carried the loppers.) There are plenty of low branches to slip under or around in this part of the forest, and Seth continued to get hung up in these. His normal, even tempered nature was getting tested, and he was frustrated, both with the hang ups and our slow pace. He was also sneezing more frequently. Eventually he just walked past us and blazed his own trail through the trees.

He got to the end of the fence before us and waited. When we caught up, he seemed more irritable than ever. He was also sneezing more than ever. Obviously, something was in bloom and Seth was allergic to it. I suspect it was something oakish.

We had a finite number of posts but an indeterminate space of forest to spread them across. We could start slamming them into the ground every twenty feet only to find we didn’t have enuf to finish the whole stretch. Instead we placed them as far apart as we could while still being able to see the last one we placed. (The trees have leafed out since we were last by tying survey tape to the trees.) When we reached the point where we could see the last of the posts we had placed on our earlier mission from the west, we still had three posts left. So we did what anyone else would have done on such a hot and humid Ozark day. We found a big log and sat down, pulling water bottles from the daypack and slurping away.

A little rest and a little water make a big difference. Even Seth, who was still sneezing, had calmed down. Unfortunately, his left eye was about swollen shut.

It became our plan, at that point, to finish our work, wolf down our lunch, then skedaddle back to suburbia where he would get some relief. (We had thought about swimming in the lake, but we feared the water was still cold below the surface.) It really was too hot for any more work. What we did, then, was find three spots between the posts we had set to set the remaining posts. The soil here is comparatively good, so driving the posts was easy. I think we spent more time trimming the branches of the trees around the posts — to make them more visible to someone wandering the woods — than we did driving them.

When we were finished, we still had about a half mile hike back to where we left the truck. Most of it was in the woods, so Seth didn’t get any respite, but when we came to the part of the lake that had become dry, he changed quickly. I’d guess that just as much oak pollen (or whatever it was) would be in the air in the lake bed as in the forest, but that didn’t seem to be so.

We did wolf our lunch, though I took time to savor my iced tea (unsweetened, of course) while Seth climbed into the truck and turned on the air conditioning, hoping to get some relief.

On the drive home we stopped at the big truck stop and I got him some antihistamine. It worked, and it had the added benefit of putting him to sleep. He’s all better now, and I guess there are going to be some times of the year when he can’t be out at the woods with us.

Missouri calendar:

  • Young bald eagles begin fledging.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Trusten Polk was born on this date in 1811. His inauguration ceremony as Missouri governor was the longest on record (no one could find a Bible to swear on), and his tenure as governor was the shortest – only eight days – because he was selected by the state congress to fill a vacant senate seat.

5.25.2008 – Part Two

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

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Our first stop was the pond and our usual game camera station there. We had not left the camera in the woods since our last visit, so we had no photos to collect. Instead, we were setting it out afresh, with a different kind of bait, hoping for a different kind of quarry.

You see it above. That crafty Oklahoman Fred crafty Virginian, Fred First, suggested trying catnip as bait for the camera. With a little luck, we might attract a bobcat. With even more luck, we might attract a mountain lion, which everyone says aren’t in Missouri despite the growing evidence that they are. And with ridiculous luck, we might even attract an Ozark Howler. Probably we’ll just get some pix of feral house cats. Well, we’re eager to see what we manage to attract. The corn is from a bag of it that has been sitting around in my garage in suburbia for a month or so. I don’t really need any more shots of deer, but maybe I’ll get a shot of a mountain lion pouncing on a hapless deer. It could happen.

We had to wade through the tall grass on the pond dam in order to get to this point, so we were already picking ticks off our our pants by the dozen. We would be doing this all day long and during much of the drive home. It’s not a real hardship though. The price of freedom from ticks is eternal vigilance.

About this time, Seth began sneezing occasionally. None of us made much of it, and we climbed back into the truck to drive on to the lake where our chore materials awaited us.

We have been stockpiling steel fence posts at the dam over the last few visits. When I say "stockpiling" you may think we had many dozens of them. We didn’t. We only had seven, but I calculated it was enuf to finish marking our southern property line (unofficially, of course). We had started this task a couple of months before, coming in from the west and marking about half of the unmarked line. On this day the plan was to finish marking that line coming from the east. All we had to do was carry the seven posts, the lead-weighted post driver, a pair of loppers for use if we came upon any cedars that needed to be liberated from their earthly toil, and a backpack full of other tools and water through the Ozark heat and humidity.

Nothing could be easier. Right?

Missouri calendar:

  • Young woodchucks (groundhogs) leave dens.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Governor B. Gratz Brown was born on this date in 1826. He was a prominent national leader of the Liberal Republican Party, which he saw die during his life.

5.25.2008 – Part One

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

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We left Kansas City under dark and threatening clouds. The forecast called for high temperatures and high humidity. There was even a chance of thundershowers. But we went anyway.

The forecasted high for the day was only 89 degrees. When we passed the big truck stop not too far from Roundrock, the visible-for-miles sign told us it was already 94 degrees. Mind you, this was 8:30 in the morning!

I had a day’s worth of hard labor on the agenda (yes, #1 Son Seth was with us), but it became clear as soon as I rolled down the window on the truck that we were going to have to modify our plans. (In all but the bitterest cold, we roll down the windows and get accustomed to the weather of the day as soon as we turn off the paved road — still two miles from our forest.) Even this prudence didn’t prepare us for what we were going to face though.

We met with a bit of a surprise after we passed through the valley and reached to top of the ridge beyond. A Toyota Prius was parked at the corner of Good Neighbor Brian’s property. It was parked in the tall grass beside the road. Parked right next to it — and thus in the middle of the road — was someone’s Volvo sedan, pointing the other direction. The road appeared blocked. No one was around.

Because of all of the rain in recent weeks. the grass in the meadow on the ridgetop was as tall as the windows on my truck. There was plenty of grass on the other side of the two cars, and I might creep past them there, but somewhere in there was an old, wooden food trough left over from the cattle ranch days. Not only is it a sort of relic that we all have a respect and fondness for, but if I ran over it accidentally, it might have some substantial nails in it to make the acquaintance of my truck tires.

But creep I did. I managed to spot the old trough, and I only had inches of space between it, my truck, and the Volvo. When we turned the corner it appeared that someone had recently mowed the verge of the road, and as we came upon our easement road, we saw what you see in the photo above. That is our road across the meadow, and somewhere under there is a pretty good base of gravel.

This is why we call him Good Neighbor Brian!

Oddly, when we passed into the trees of Roundrock, we saw that though the mowing had continued in there, only one side of our road through the trees had been cut. We soon found out why.

As we drove toward the pine plantation, we saw Good Neighbor Brian approaching us on his big red tractor with the brush hog attachment hard at work on the back. He had mowed all the way to the dam, turned around, and came back, finishing the side of the road still to be cut.

We had a nice visit with Brian. We’ve gotten to know each other’s families a bit, and we shared gossip about our other neighbors. (Brian had found that the tank-riding interlopers had not only plowed down some of his trees as well but had continued onto another neighbor’s property. Still, no one knows who was responsible.) Brian mows for us a couple of times during the growing season, and every time we offer to pay him for his trouble and his fuel. Every time he refuses. He says the only way we can repay him is to be his friend. Neighbors like him are to be cherished.

Brian identified the Prius at the corner of the property as his own car. (#1 Son Seth has just bought himself a Prius, but I had assured him he could never ever even remotely get such a dainty car down the rocky hill, across the wet valley, and up the opposite rocky hill. We all had a good chuckle about that.) Brian didn’t know who owned the Volvo, but he was headed that way on his tractor, so he said he might be able to find out. I don’t suppose it really matters whose it is, but I suspect it is owned by an outsider who doesn’t understand courteous woodland etiquette.

After we visited with Good Neighbor Brian, we each departed in opposite directions: he to his other mowing destinations; we deeper into Roundrock

Missouri calendar:

  • Coyote pups begin emerging from dens.

Today in Missouri history:

  • A massive tornado ripped through St. Louis on this date in 1896.
  • Actor Vincent Price is born in St. Louis on this date in 1911.

Point of view

Monday, May 26th, 2008

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"It’s a pretty scruffy view," I said.

"But it’s our view," she said.

And that made all the difference!

Missouri calendar:

  • Memorial Day (observed)
  • The large yellow flowers of Missouri primrose bloom on Ozark glades.

Today in Missouri history:

  • The Spanish at St. Louis repulse a combined British and Indian attack in 1780. This was the western-most battle of the Revolutionary War.

Sunday siftings

Sunday, May 25th, 2008

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We’re supposed to get a break from the rain today, though it should then get steamy hot. The plan is for me to be out at the woods today, and with luck and a good tail wind, I am there as you read this. I intend to be on the lookout for coneflowers and tickseed coreopsis.

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All of the buttonbush and most of the nannyberry bushes we visited when last out to Roundrock were bringing out vigorous-looking leaves. I’m hoping this wet, cool spring will give them a good start and they will get themselves well established to thrive. We planted the buttonbush just this year, but the nannyberries are survivors from last spring’s plantings. I seem to be having better luck diversifying my forest with shrubbery than with trees, so I may stick to that for a while.

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The news from #2 Son Adam in Italy continues to be good. Apparently he is having a wonderful time and packing every waking hour with some new and enriching activity. We’ve seen a few photos and had a couple of online chats. This is one of those cases where youth is not wasted on the young.

His twin, #3 Son Aaron, is enjoying his first weekend of summer vacation after his first year of teaching high school history. I can still vividly recall the immensity of the early days of summer vacation as a student, and I imagine teachers feel something similar.

#1 Daughter Rachel just got herself a puppy. It’s a Boston Terrier and Chihuahua mix, and the thing apparently fits in the palm of her hand. She’s learning all about crying babies and continuous responsibility for a living thing. (I’m not-so-secretly hoping that this is all a prelude to something else.)

#1 Son Seth has received his official discharge from the Peace Corps and is now embarked on the task of finding a career-type job. He’s been working nights loading trucks for one of the big delivery companies. The pay is not great, but he says he gets paid to work out for eight hours, so that’s a good thing.

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You still have a few days left to submit your links to the next edition of the Festival of the Trees, hosted by Wren of Wrenaissance Reflections . Her deadline in May 29 . Send your link in an email — with "Festival of the Trees" in the subject line — to her at jlblum [at] Wrenaissance [dot] com . Or you can use the handy submission form . Either way, she’ll love to receive your link, and you’ll love to receive all of the new friends your blog will get.

Upcoming hosts include a mix of several new sites as well as some familiar names. Your blog could be among them. Visit the coordinating blog if you’re interested in learning more.

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What’s Pablo reading now? For the first time in several weeks, I am free to read something of my own choosing (rather than one of the usually excellent novels for the various book discussion groups I am in). Right now I’m in the middle of Ask for Me Tomorrow by Margaret Millar. It’s a crime/suspense novel — not something I normally take up — but I’d read that her novels will have a twist at the very end — sometimes in the last sentence — that changes everything about the narrative. That could be very interesting or very annoying.

Missouri calendar:

  • Coneflowers and tickseed coreopsis blooming on prairies and roadsides.

Today in Missouri history:

  • The first passengers ride the Iron Mountain Railroad on this date in 1858, from St. Louis all the way to Pilot Knob, Missouri.

Satuday Matinee – 5.24.2008

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

I spotted this little water ballet along the shore of our lake on a recent visit. In the early years of our lake, we would have thousands of these water bugs on the surface in giant mats of activity.

Recently we haven’t seen them as much, and I attribute that to the growth of the wild fish in the waters beneath them. They grow bigger so they can eat the bugs, or they eat the bugs so they can grow bigger. I’m not sure which.

Missouri calendar:

  • Listen for the gray treefrog chorus.

Today in Missouri history:

  • In 1815 Indians attack Rangers in the Battle of the Sink Hole near the Cuivre River.

Peregrine update

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

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I had feared that Peregrine, our traveling log, may have made an escape from the lake. A month or so ago when we were at Roundrock, Peregrine was up on the spillway, and I think a good rainstorm would have flushed enuf water across it to push the log down the spillway and into the grandly named pecan plantation (such as it is).

Seth and I wrestled the log into the water, and using the long-handled shovel, I nudged it out into the deeper water. When last we saw Peregrine, it was drifting slowly toward the center of the lake.

When we next returned to Roundrock, I couldn’t find Peregrine anywhere. We’d certainly had some heavy rains in the interim, and I feared that the log had finally gone over the spillway.

On our last visit to the woods, however, I found Peregrine perched in the muddy area across the lake, almost in the very same spot it had sat for several years during the lake’s drier periods. I don’t know why it has come ashore there twice now. Maybe there is something in the wind or the currents in the water that tend it that direction.

It’s almost swimming weather, and I intend to fetch Peregrine and nudge it all the way across the lake to the area below our shelter. The slope of land there is a bit steeper, so Peregrine may not get left on land as the water recedes. I’ll be sure to let you know.

Missouri calendar:

  • Young beavers emerge from lodges.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Missouri farm boy, Zack Wheat, the best outfielder the Brooklyn Dodgers ever had, was born on this date in 1888.
  • The paddlefish became Missouri’s official aquatic animal in 1997.
  • The channel catfish is officially designated the Missouri state fish in 1997.

Backbone

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

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I’m not sure whose bones these are. They are obviously the backbone of some critter, about the size of an opossum. Could this be from an armadillo? We came upon these along the lake shore, not far from a den hole that had been freshly dug out last fall.

If they were from a dillo, though, I’d expect to see some of the plating too. Could it be some space alien?

I’m taking suggestions, so don’t be shy.

Missouri calendar:

  • Green sunfish and bluegill begin nesting.
  • Antlers begin to grow on white-tailed deer bucks.

Today in Missouri history:

  • “The Great Emigration,” a party of more than 120 wagons, leaves Elm Grove in western Missouri in 1843 for Oregon.
  • “The Joplin Ghost” Horton Smith was born on this date in 1908. A pioneer of the professional golf circuit, he was the first to win the Masters tournament and went on to win most major awards in the sport.
  • Kansas City “Boss” Tom Pendergast was sentenced to fifteen months in federal penitentiary for income tax evasion in 1939.

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