Archive for June, 2008

A spineless post

Monday, June 30th, 2008

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You can add the photo above to the collection of evidence showing my lack of decent observation skills. In fact, if you want you can add it to the "almost-crushed-by-your-big-clumsy-boots" category. Fortunately the young eyes of #1 Son Seth were along and managed to see what I missed (and nearly crushed).

On the hot and sultry day when we were marching through the forest toward the split cedar tree that is partly in the lake, we were stumbling down the rocky hillside with all of our gear when Seth called my attention to the ground I had just passed over. There was this coiled beauty.

I think I can safely say that this is the backbone of a snake that once slithered in the forest of Roundrock. You have only the leaves to give you a sense of scale, but I’d say the snake had been between one and two feet long in life. We poked through the leaves, trying to find the head or tail, thinking that might help us to identify it, but we had no luck.

Had we not been on a mission carrying heavy equipment, I would have collected the vertebrae and added them to the accumulation of things we have found in our forest. I thought then that I could always return to the spot and get them later, but I generally don’t have much success when I try that. Either the spot is unfindable or the item is gone when I do go back.

Missouri calendar:

  • Bats bear young this month.

Today in Missouri history:

  • The “Missouri Waltz” became the Missouri state song in 1949. It barely mentions Missouri and has puzzled scholars as to why it could ever have been chosen.

Sunday sundries

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

Black bears are sighted fairly often in southern Missouri where the Ozarks are the roughest. There is some question whether Missouri has a breeding population, and many suggest that these bears are probably visitors from nearby Arkansas (a place I’ve confirmed really exists despite its unlikely name). There was big news this week, though, when black bear tracks were found in northern Missouri. The tracks were verified by a Conservation Agent. It makes me wonder what I will find on the game camera at Roundrock next?

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Maybe a black panther? One (it was actually a leopard) was spotted in southern Missouri some weeks ago and, unfortunately, killed when it attacked a sheriff’s deputy. Since the panther was declawed, it was clearly someone’s pet, but no one has claimed a missing panther in the area.

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The next Festival of the Trees will be hosted by Tai Haku of Earth, Wind & Water ("blogging in a tropical paradise so you don’t have to") on July 1. The deadline for submissions was June 27, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you could still sneak one in today. If you’d like to try, send your links to p.taihaku at gmail dot com.

We’re always looking for new hosts for the Festival. Let me or Dave know when you think your time has come.

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Years from now, when you have all of the grandchildren gathered at your knees (or other low joints) and they ask how you served in the culture wars, what will you be able to tell them? Perhaps you’ll be able to say that you helped spread enlightenment and knowledge by donating books to a poor rural high school in Florida. Read "Help Build a Library" in the sidebar at this guy’s blog.

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Have you noticed a few new names over in the links sidebar? Give them a visit and say hello.

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I’m beginning to think that I should try throwing a line in the water of the lake at Roundrock. Fish are snatching insects off the surface of the lake regularly, and some of the splashing that results suggests the fish are no longer little fingerlings. I’ve not stocked the lake, so whatever is in there found its way on its own. I’m eager to see what might be there.

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#2 Son Adam is due back from his medical mission work in Mumbai, India tonight. I expect to hear many great stories, some of which may find their way here.

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What’s Pablo reading now? I’m still making my way through The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard. Since I’m not racing to meet a discussion group deadline, I am taking my time and enjoying the novel. I thought I had the "mystery" of the novel figured out, but a subsequent chapter shot down my ideas, so I’m eager to see how it all resolves itself.

Missouri calendar:

  • Eastern bluebirds begin third (last) nesting.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Robert Stuart left Astoria, Oregon on this date in 1812, bound for St. Louis. On his journey his discovered the South Pass that would make the future Oregon Trail a reality.

Thwarted

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

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You may remember this post , in which I documented the emergence of a willow tree (I think) from the deep waters of the lake. Compare that photo from then with the photo above from now. This is the same tree!

I have a few willows coming up here and there in the lake. There are some by the dam that we almost got under control last year, but there always seemed like there would be enuf time to cut the remainder out before the lake filled again. I can see I’m going to have to be more vicious about my attempts to clear these out of the dry lake bed. Probably the best course of action would be to take a bulldozer down in the dry lake bed and scour the bottom. Plenty of gravel has filled in the channel around Libby’s Island, and that needs to be deepened. There are plenty of trees growing there that could go too. I’m not sure when I’ll have the chance to do that though.

Sorry I don’t have a matinee for you today. I didn’t happen to capture anything on my last visit. Maybe next week though.

Missouri calendar:

  • Dog-day cicadas begin to sing.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Anna White Baxter of Carthage, Missouri died on this date in 1944. More than half a century earlier, and thirty years before women were acknowledged the right to vote in Missouri, Anna Baxter was the first popularly elected woman in the state. Her opponent attempted to challenge her election, but when it was found that he wasn’t even a citizen of the United States, his challenge failed.

Mr. (or Mrs.) Toad

Friday, June 27th, 2008

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In all of my ramblings about Roundrock, I don’t think I have ever seen a toad. This little fellow was the first one I’ve ever encountered there.

They abound, of course. I’m pretty sure I captured a photo of toad eggs in this post. But my lamented powers of observation have allowed me to overlook the progenitor until my last visit. This little fellow would probably have escaped my notice as well if it hadn’t been so busy trying to escape my boots. I was actually looking for something else (interloping cattle) when I made this discovery. (And the discovery of the second prickly pear.) (And the discovery of the walnut tree.) I should look for stray cattle more often.

Let’s say this is a Woodhouse’s toad. It has the "light vertebral stripe" characteristic of their kind. And at least one variety has a range that includes what we call Missouri.

Missouri calendar:

Today in Missouri history:

  • The Democratic national convention began in St. Louis on this date in 1876, eventually nominating Samuel Tilden for president. He soundly won the popular vote, but the electoral vote swayed the other way, putting Rutherford Hayes in the White House.

Prickly pear plus

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

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Much like my mistaken lament about not having a lot of walnut trees at Roundrock, I am on record lamenting that I only have one prickly pear plant. As you might expect, I was wrong in this lament too. I now know that I have two of them.

It is hard to tell from this photo, but what you see above is a health clump of prickly pear; it grows just a dozen feet from my previously only known specimen of it. What I said about my powers of observation being on low regarding tall trees seems to be the case with lower plants as well.

There is an open, rocky band of land on the north-facing slope above the pecans. The ledge is more exposed here, so I don’t think trees have found much success getting started. Grass covers much of the open area, hiding the crumbled rock and fallen limbs. That makes walking through this area a challenge. Maybe that’s why I never happened upon this second prickly pear until recently.

You can see that it was just about ready to flower when I took this shot. I fear it has since added that to its list of accomplishments. I probably won’t get back to Roundrock in time to see it in bloom, but there is always next year.

Missouri calendar:

  • Watch for northern water snakes basking near water.

Today in Missouri history:

  • The Voyage of Discovery makes camp at the site of present-day Kansas City on this day in 1804. They liked the area so much they stayed for two more days.
  • Thomas Hennings was born on this date in 1903. He would rise to Missouri Senator on a platform of rigorously defending civil liberties. During his time in the Senate he worked to bring down McCarthyism.

Everywhere I look

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

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Remember the early days of this humble blog when I anguished about the lack of walnut trees in my woods at Roundrock? There was a point where any time I happened upon a walnut tree, it gave it a post of its own, keeping a count. I even tried plotting their location on a map once.

Okay, I’m older now, and I don’t have to be so stupid. It seems like just about everywhere I look though, I see the distinctive leaves of a walnut tree over my head. (Well, not really everywhere.) When Seth and I were stumbling about the north-facing slope on our last visit, tracking the interloping cattle, I happened to look up and see this walnut tree you see above. It obviously has been growing there for years, far longer than my tenure at Roundrock, yet this was the first time I had seen it.

So let’s say that my powers of observation are set pretty low. And let’s say that I probably have three times as many walnut trees in my woods as I have seen. That means I have a pretty good population of walnuts in the 80+ acres of Roundrock. I can say that I’ve seen them in nearly every part of my woods, so I think it is safe to say they are throughout.

What I haven’t seen is an actual walnut. I’m not sure why that is. Are my walnut trees not fertile? That doesn’t seem likely. They got here on their own, so it is probably that they are as vigorous and complete as any walnut tree anywhere. Are the squirrels getting all of the nuts before I can even glimpse them? Perhaps, but while we have seen squirrels in our woods, we haven’t see a lot of them. Surely one or two nuts have escape their notice long enuf for me to notice them. Or are my powers of observation set on low? Are there walnuts in the trees and I’m just not seeing them? Let’s say that.

Missouri calendar:

  • Smoketrees bloom on southwestern Missouri glades.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Rose O’Neill was born on this date in 1874. From her home near Springfield, Missouri she created Kewpie dolls in illustrations and figurines. In the Roaring Twenties these sweet elvish creatures became an international craze.

A thousand flowers

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

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I came upon this lovely bunching of little white flowers when Seth and I were taking a break from trying (without much success) to cut the fallen cedar out of the lake.

If my mad skills (non-existent) at identifying plants are correct, this is Achillea millefolium millefolium, a type of yarrow that is native to the great state of Missouri and perhaps specific to it. The Missouri subspecies can have rose-colored or even pink blooms, and if you look closely at some of the petals in the center of the image, you can see that they have streaks of color in them.

Achilles was said to use this plant to stop bleeding among his soldiers, thus giving the plant part of its name. If my mad skills in Latin serve me (only a little better than my plant skills) the millefolium part translates as "thousand flowers."

There is something in me that is partial to tiny flowers. Perhaps it is that they reward the little bit of effort you must expend to examine them. A big, goofy hibiscus flower is easy to see and appreciate, but tiny flowers like these ask for a bit more from you.

This specimen was growing on the south-facing slope, just up from the shore of the lake. The habitat is about perfect for it, so maybe I’ll see more.

Missouri calendar:

  • Spiny softshell turtles lay eggs on sandbars and gravelbars.

Today in Missouri history:

  • John Cummins Edwards was born on this date in 1806. He rose to be Missouri’s youngest governor up to his time, but his political fired burned out fast and he moved to California at the age of 42 to prospect for gold.

Burned

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

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In my tenure as steward at Roundrock (has it been more than seven years?) we have only had one ground fire in the woods (aside from the countless campfires we have had). It happened when my neighbor lost control of his prescribed burn in his meadow. It raced across Good Neighbor Brian’s meadow and entered our woods.

The neighbor called to apologize, and he took responsibility, but the fire hardly mattered. The forest floor needed a good cleaning, and fire is the natural way to do it. Fortunately (or unfortunately) it stopped where we had cut our road through the trees. (The road was new then, so it wasn’t overgrown or littered with fallen branches that might have allowed the fire to cross it and keep going in the forest.) In the end, only a couple of our acres were burned. Thus the rest of the 80+ acres of Roundrock have continued to build up their leaf litter and other combustibles, waiting for the inevitable fire to come.

When we walk our woods, there is plenty of evidence of earlier fires. Many of the snags, those standing and those since fallen to the ground, show burn marks. As this wood has aged, it seems to have hardened. It is tough to saw through, and it seems like it can resist burning much better than more freshly fallen wood in the forest.

It’s hard to guesstimate the ecological history of Roundrock based on the evidence available. The land was once part of a cattle ranch (which the interloping cattle of last week seemed intent on restoring), so much of it was apparently grazed heavily. Then for some reason, my woods was fence off from the rest of the ranch and allowed to grow munch free. I think this was about thirty years ago, given the age of the oldest trees that aren’t obvious patriarchs.

Of course there can be a lot of deadfall in thirty years, but aside from cedars, there hadn’t been a lot of this accumulated at Roundrock (until last winter’s ice storm). Can I conclude from the (former) relative lack of deadfall that fires had come through (comparatively) recently and cleaned it all out?

There are parts of Roundrock where the ground is scoured of leaf litter. Nothing but the usual jumble of sharp rock and moss cover the ground. In other places we have to hike around thickets of woody plants that would likely burn in a fire. It would be interesting to see what kind of paths a fire would take in our woods.

If we did have a ground fire in our woods, I wouldn’t lose much. The tarp is about the only non-natural thing out there. (Well, the comfy chairs, too.) It would be a shame to see the pines, pecans, buttonbush, and nannyberries get devoured given how much time and trouble I have given them, but I understood that risk from the start.

I’ve been told that I can conduct controlled burns in my forest, but that idea scares me. I’ll just let nature do the job.

Missouri calendar:

  • Female coyotes wean pups.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Don Faurot was born on this date in 1932. Now a legend among Missouri college football fans, he lead the Mizzou Tigers for decades.
  • Legislation passed on this date in 1937 created programs for old age assistance, aid to dependent children, general relief, and child welfare.

Sunday stories

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

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I wish I could be out at Roundrock every weekend, but, alas, life intrudes. I wonder how the lake is doing. I wonder if the stray cattle found their way home. I wonder if the game camera snapped a shot of a bobcat. Or if the crows found all of the peanuts I left for them. Or if the woodpeckers found the suet block.

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I have two game cameras. Libby got them as a package deal, and we often set up both of them in the woods, although we never get anything more than more deer (maybe the same ones moving from baited station to station) and invisible critters. I haven’t set out the second camera for more than a month because of #2 Son Adam. On the night before he was to leave for Italy — as prelude to his month in India — he announced that he needed a larger memory card for his camera. He didn’t know how much access he would have to the internet, so he wanted to have a large memory card in case he had to store all of his pix until his return. It turns out there were internet cafes all over the place in Italy (and France and Monaco), but he reports that the same is not the case in Mumbai, at least not the part of it he is working in. So I guess I can spare him the card. (If he comes back with a bunch of photos of deer though . . . )

He called me the other day just to check in and reported that he was on the train going to his apartment for the night. It turned out he got off work at the clinic about 9:00 p.m. local time. Apparently in true student doctor fashion, he is working long, exhausting hours.

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The deadline for submissions to the next Festival of the Trees is fast approaching. Tai Haku of Earth, Wind & Water would like your submissions by June 27 . That’s this Friday! You can send them by email to p.taihaku [at] googlemail [dot] com or use the handy submission form . Don’t be shy now.

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I’m intending to walk the fence line in my northeast corner to see if I can find the breach where the cattle got through. (I have a neighbor in that direction who does keep cattle.) The barbed wire is old and has snapped here and there, but usually there are three other strands left when one snaps. It may be, though, that the ground has grown soggy enuf for the cattle to push down the fence posts and saunter through. (I give credit to Dana at The Cabin Chronicles for this idea. I just hope she didn’t give the idea to the cattle first.)

If I find a breach I’m not sure what I’ll do next. I can reset posts, but I’ve never strung barbed wire. I don’t think survey tape will work as well.

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What’s Pablo reading now? How does The Virgin of Small Plains sound to you? It is written by Kansas City writer Nancy Pickard, and it got great reviews as well as a number of awards. It’s a sort of murder mystery. I’ve read some of her work before. Tomorrow night is the discussion of the three young adult novels I’ve been reading the last few weeks. Then I think I am free from book discussion groups until September, so I can read whatever I want!

Missouri calendar:

  • Prickly pear cactus blooms.
  • Canado goose molt is at its peak.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Pierre Antoine Tabeau made the first entry into his journal about life on the Missouri River on this date in 1804. His writings and his good offices with the Natives along the river helped ensure the success of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Saturday Matinee – 6.21.2008

Saturday, June 21st, 2008

This isn’t one of my typical trickling stream videos. Today I am documenting the flow of death.

I recorded this video last Sunday when we were at Roundrock, but the subject matter has been there for more than a month.

To the right is my neighbor’s field. This year he has corn coming up. I think some time earlier in the spring he had sprayed some kind of pre-emergent herbicide on the field. The heavy rains we have had since then appear to have washed much of those chemicals onto my land, across the road, and down the hillside out of sight.

Whatever happened, most of the grass in this swath was killed. You can see that it has since bounced back, but the area doesn’t compare to the green and lush sides of the road in the distance.

I don’t suppose there is much I can do about this, and it doesn’t really bug me. My neighbor to the north has a working farm, and I must tolerate the consequences of that. This doesn’t seem like such a terrible consequence either. The lake is still a long way down the hill, and I think any poisons would have been effectively diluted or dispersed before they got there.

What does bother me a bit is how this washed across the road. I need to improve (improve? maybe install) the ditch on the right side of the road here so that water won’t flow across the road. The ground is still much too soggy to bring in big equipment (including some loads of gravel), and I don’t relish the idea of improving the ditch by using a human-powered shovel.

The interloping cattle had wandered through here too. You can see how they left tracks in the mud of the field. You may also notice how the corn stalks in this area are shorter than farther north. That’s because the cattle ate them.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

Today in Missouri history:

  • The Ste. Genevieve Academy was incorporated for the first time on this date in 1808. Though it failed in a series of incarnations, its forward-looking provisions included a prohibition of religious discrimination, the free education of Native Americans and poor children, and the education of women. The original structure still stands today in Ste Genevieve, Missouri, which boasts some of the only colonial French structures still standing in the U.S.