Archive for October, 2008

10.26.2008 – Part Two

Friday, October 31st, 2008

I didn’t really expect to see the road changed. But it was.

It was worse!

We’ve thought we should visit the county courthouse some day when it was open to get the names and addresses of the other landowners along this road. Then we could send out letters suggesting a group effort to fund a bit of road improvement. We’ve done that at the other woods with success, and the road there isn’t nearly as bad as this one.

Now I’m beginning to think that no one wants the road improved. Unless it’s wet, the road is passable as long as you go carefully. Perhaps they think this will keep out interlopers. As it was, we saw absolutely no sign of any visitors to our forty acres in the time since we’d been there, so maybe the bad road really does keep them away.

I’ve mentioned before that if you put me down blindfolded in either one of my two bits of forest (Roundrock or Fallen Timbers), I could instantly tell you where I was because of the smell. Fallen Timbers has a tangy, oaky smell, and when we pulled into our little track through the trees and rolled down our windows, I could smell that we were there! The scent was laden with memories of our hikes around Fallen Timbers, and I was eager to park the TOYOTA and see that there was to see. But first we had to stop and clear away what had convinced me that we hadn’t had any interlopers lately. Several large tree branches had fallen on the road. (Not the ones in the photo above.) Libby volunteered to move them while I idled the truck, and in a moment she had them out of the way and we continued the few hundred feet to our ridgetop fire ring and sometime campsite. I parked and we leapt out.

My Good Neighbor Max had kept this mowed for us in the past, but he hadn’t been through at least as long as the branches had been across the road, and a bit of scrub had popped up here and there. We spent a little time clearing some fallen branches from this area as well. (This is so that should Good Neighbor Max return to mow, he’ll be able to cover most of the area.)

What I really wanted to do, though, a hike away, so we got ourselves organized and struck out for the old logging road that lead to the eastern side of our woods.

The owner before me (he said it was the owner before him, but I don’t think that’s true) had logged most of the marketable timber from the land before he sold it to me. The big machines had carved temporary roads to various points in the forest, and since this was nearly a dozen years ago, nature has been busy reclaiming the open land. We had a hard time finding the old logging road, and it was when we were standing in a thicket of sumac that towered over our heads that I realized we were on the road, we were on a road that we had driven on only a few years before. The thicket is on the top of the ridge where it gets a lot of sunlight, and I guess that accounts for its luxuriant growth. Once we moved down hill a bit from there and were back in the shade of the big oaks, the old road became more evident. It was still open enuf to hike along, though driving it would be a challenge. Had we stuck with our original plan of moving to this bit of forest, we would have kept this road open because it passes the building site we intended to use. Now we’re just letting nature reclaim it.

This road leads more or less east all the way to the edge of our property and onto our neighbor’s land. One thing we’ve leared about local loggers is that they aren’t always that certain where property lines really run. It was along this bit of old logging road that we came to the impasse you see above. There’s road leading up to it and road beyond it, but that tangle of fallen limbs was more than we intended to attack on that visit, so we diverted around it, and that lead to a surprising and pleasant discovery.

We had to stomp and push through the trees and grapevines on the side of the old road to get past the tangle of fallen branches, and I happened to look down as I was extracting myself from the malevolent branches to see a small hawthorn tree growing at my feet.

Now, really long-time readers will know that before we had planted any nannyberries or button bush at Roundrock, before we had created our pine plantation, even before we had plugged our first pecan into the gravel below the dam, we had planted fifty hawthorn trees along the western property line at Fallen Timbers. That has to have been nearly a decade ago now. Regardless, that’s clear on the other side of our land. The hawthorn tree I had nearly stepped on was almost at the eastern property line, a quarter mile away. Aside from the trees we had planted, we had never seen any hawthorns in this forest. I think the one we found is a native.

I called Libby over to see what I had found, and as she pushed through the branches and vines, she came across a couple more hawthorns. It seems that we had stumbled upon a small grove of these things that had found their way into our forest on their own.

Of course they were barely two feet tall, and they were deep in the understory, shaded from the light and competing for the soil resources. But I took it all as a positive sign of the increasing diversity of our forest.

That was just a happy diversion though. My real goal of the morning was to go to the suspected Indian burial mounds and sweep them with the metal detector I had brought along, but I’ll tell you about that in my next post since this one has gotten much too long.

Missouri calendar:

  • Halloween

Today in Missouri history:

  • The first issue of the Anzeiger des Westens, Missouri’s first German-language newspaper, appears in St. Louis in 1835.
  • The last session of the Confederate legislature of Missouri ended on this date with the articles of secession being signed by Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson.

10.26.2008 – Part One

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

If you’ve been paying close attention, you might think based on the title of this post that Libby and I have now gone down to Roundrock two weekends in a row. You would, of course, be mistaken in that assumption. We did not go to Roundrock last weekend.

Instead we went to Fallen Timbers, that other little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks we have. This trek was one of those rare times when we didn’t leave for the woods before the sun rose. In fact, we lingered around suburbia long enuf to take #2 Son Adam out to breakfast at one of those wildly popular breakfast joints, and not at the moment it opened either. (We did manage to get in ahead of the church crowd though.)

So we were on the road more than two hours later than usual, and given that the road to Fallen Timbers is a full two hour drive, and given that I had managed to drink a pitcher of iced tea with my breakfast which meant we had to stop a couple of times, we got down to the woods much later in the morning than normally. And we didn’t know what to expect when we got there.

I’d say it has been almost a year since we visited Fallen Timbers. I’m not sure why that is, though maybe now that swimming weather is over, we might choose it over the lake-festooned Roundrock more often. Our concern, however, was whether or not we could even get in. I assume that the same windstorm that had brought down so many trees at Roundrock in the last year had done its work at Fallen Timbers as well. The forest there is more mature, with many century oaks towering into the sky, and if even one of those had fallen across our road, we would face hours of cutting merely to get in.

And then there’s the common road that leads the two miles back to our forty acres there. This thing is a rutted, axle-snapping mess. It is washing out in many places, and there are two low areas with seemingly permanent mud holes that you pretty much have to burst into if you want to have any hope to get to the other side. This would be the first time we would take the TOYOTA across this challenge course, and I hoped that being smaller it would be more nimble and do well.

I held a fanciful notion that in the time since we had been there, the other land owners on the road might have gotten together (I never get invited to parties) and pooled some funds to do a little road improvement. Between them they could have put together a thousand dollars to have some gravel hauled in and some grading work done. Of course, as I said, this was a fanciful notion, and I really didn’t expect to arrive down there to see the road changed. But it was!

Missouri calendar:

  • Bullfrogs begin hibernation.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Spain returned the Louisiana Territory to France in 1800.
  • Mormons are massacred at Haun’s Mill in 1838.
  • Missouri’s third constitution was adopted in 1875.
  • The American School of Osteopathy was incorporated by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still in Kirksville, Missouri in 1894.

Missouri blue

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

I’ll miss the peak color at Roundrock this year, so this photo is as close as I can share with you of the autumn beauty in my forest.

Even so, it’s looking like the dominant color in Missouri this fall may be blue. With that in mind, and with less than a week to the election, I decided to recycle this old post, with a little updating. I hope you find something worthwhile in it.

I remember reading some years ago an observation by a political writer that has stayed with me. People who had never before heard of hanging chads, he wrote, suddenly found that they had deep and unshakable opinions about them. In recent months many voters have found that they suddenly hold similar feelings about “community organizers.” Those points seem to crystallize much of what I think is wrong with contemporary politics.

Too many people, I think, base their principles on their politics when I think you really ought to come to your politics based on your principles. This is what I think or believe. This is what I have observed. This is what my heart tells me. Now which political approach seems best in line with what I value and understand?

Long-time readers of this blog know that I don’t make political posts here. This is a natural history and personal discovery blog, and the very few times I have made oblique political jibes or observations have been so subtle that no one has ever seemed to notice them. (Does that make me an excellent writer or a poor one?)

But today I will again make an exception. Here are some of the things I think and believe. Here are some of the things my heart tells me.

  • I believe that every time we do something that limits the rights of others, we make it that much easier for someone else to limit our own rights. Therefore, the best way to protect my own rights is for me to fight to protect the rights of others.
  • I believe that if the racial/ethnic/cultural group I happen to be a part of is some day to be a minority, then I ought to do everything I can to treat existing minorities well since my behavior might serve as an example of how I could be treated.
  • I believe that a society is ultimately judged by how it protects its weakest members.
  • I believe that we are all obligated to provide some form of voluntary, long-term service to our communities and that there are many ways that this can be done.
  • I believe that we should vigorously exercise each of our rights, even to voting in the most obscure local elections, so that no one can take away our rights by asserting that we never used them anyway.
  • I believe that while all of us are entitled to the rights and privileges we enjoy as citizens, very few of us have actually earned them and that we only have them by the good luck of having been born here. Therefore, those who suffer and struggle and fight to share in the benefits of our society may be more deserving of them than I am.
  • I believe that we should read banned books.
  • I believe that paying taxes is a responsibility to be fulfilled and not a hardship to be dodged.
  • I will support those who seek to expand the rights we all enjoy and not those who find it necessary to restrict our rights. I do not believe that we must destroy the Constitution in order to save it.

These are some of the things I believe, and I have made my political choices based on them.

Missouri calendar:

  • Average day of first frost in southern Missouri.

Today in Missouri history:

  • St. Louisan Henry Armstrong, the only man to hold three boxing championships simultaneously, won the featherweight title on this date in 1937.

A few facts about persimmons

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

When Libby and I were wandering about Roundrock on our last visit, we came upon this young persimmon tree that suffered a little damage. I think a deer may have used it to rub the velvet off his antlers. Anyway, it seems that persimmons will ooze this black, tarry sap as a way to heal a wound. I hadn’t known that but Libby remembered it from some past reference.

I didn’t touch it to see if it was sticky, but I wonder if it would be handy as a sort of glue in the wilderness.

There are several varieties of persimmons, and the one that grows native in Missouri is Diospyros virginiana, which translates as the “fruit of Zeus.”

Though not used for construction or furniture, the wood of the persimmon is sought for things like old-school golf clubs and billiard cues. In recent years, people who craft long bows have been using persimmon wood too.

The fruit is important for wildlife, though as most people know, you don’t want to eat a persimmon before it is fully ripe (generally after the first frost). The astrigent chemical in the unripe fruit will “draw a man’s mouth awrie with much torment” as Captain John Smith wrote of his Virginia encounter with the berry (it’s actually a berry).

Also, eating unripe persimmon fruits can cause beazoars, which most Harry Potter fans know all about.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

Today in Missouri history:

  • George Park, survivor of a massacre during the Texas war with Mexico, abolitionist publisher, state senator, and founder of both Park College and Parkville, Missouri, was born on this date in 1811.
  • Missouri’s “Rebel Legislature” adopted an Act of Secession in 1861.
  • The last section of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis was put in place on this date in 1965.

A different kind of tick

Monday, October 27th, 2008

What you see above are the laces on my boot after Libby and I had crossed the dam on our last trip to Roundrock. We had to pass through some spent tickseed coreopsis scrub there, and the old flower heads filled our clothes with these burrs, which is why the plant has the name “tickseed.”

Here’s another photo of the little monsters:

That’s just from one small seed head.

Libby and I spent part of our post-lunch stupor time picking these things off of our clothes. Eventually, I removed my boots altogether and cleaned the burrs off the laces. I worried briefly about dropping the seeds on the ground under the tarp where we were sitting, fearing that we would have a forest of the plants growing there, but I’m pretty sure the ground is too dry, and the tarp keeps the area from getting much sun.

About half of the acre below the dam gets filled with this plant in the late summer. It favors moist ground, and with the leaks in the dam, the plant will flourish down there is places. What surprised me was finding it growing atop the dam, which ought to be comparatively high ground, at least in terms of soil moisture. We didn’t have this plant growing there in years past, and I think the plentiful rains this year that have kept the lake full more often has created conditions that allow this water-loving plant to grow well there.

I can always mow the top of the dam to keep down the scrub if that’s what it would mean to have a full lake.

Missouri calendar:

  • Snow goose population at wetland areas is at its peak.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Governor Lilburn Boggs issued the “Extermination Order” against Mormons living in Missouri, demanding that members of the Mormon church leave the state in 1838.
  • In 1864 bushwhacker leader Bloody Bill Anderson is killed in the Battle of Albany in Ray County, Missouri.

Sunday spherical stones

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

The photo above is of a round rock that was part of the wash I showed you in yesterday’s video clip. You can see the toe of my book for a size reference. If you’d like to have this rock, you can carry it out yourself.

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Libby and I did vote last week. We got to the polling station at about 4:00 p.m. on the first day it was available and the line was several hundred people long. It happened that a friend of ours was working there and he said it had been like that the whole day, that they’d even opened a half hour early because of the crowd that was waiting. I hear early voting has been brisk all over the country. I hope that means that everyone gets the chance to vote and doesn’t turn away because of the crowd.

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Bev at Burning Silo has been making a lot of posts at her new travel-focused blog journey to the center. Have a look.

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The next Festival of the Trees will be hosted by the tireless Dave of Via Negativa who has been in my blogroll since forever.. Dave was the original host for the Festival and is the brains behind the operation. Send your links (to posts you’ve made or found) to Dave (at) bontasaurus (dot) com by October 29. Be sure to put “FOTT” or “Festival of the Trees” in the subject line so your email doesn’t get lost. You can also send them via the handy online submission form or through the contact form at Via Negativa.

There is an opening for hosting the December 1 edition of the Festival — that will be the 30th in a long and proud string. Maybe this is the time you can step up and be a host. Just let me or Dave know, okay?

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What’s Pablo reading now? I’m having fun with a comic novel called Harry, Revised by Mark Sarvas. I first heard about it on his blog The Elegant Variation, which is about books and writers.

And let me express once again the gratitude I hold for Bob Priddy, the author of the two Across Our Wide Missouri volumes from which I glean most of my daily Missouri history facts.

Missouri calendar:

  • Striped skunks are fattening up for winter.

Today in Missouri history:

  • The short-live Pony Express ends its service on this date in 1861, two days after completion of the transcontinental telegraph.
  • Margaret Tobin Brown died on this date in 1936. Born in Hannibal, Missouri, she earned the name “Unsinkable Molly Brown” after surviving the sinking of the Titanic.

Saturday Matinee – 10.25.2008

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

Gravel was into the lake bed @ Yahoo! Video

This is the extreme upper end of the lake bed. What I’m trying to show in this video is the wash of gravel that has come into the lake bed from the heavy rains this year. Essentially all of the gravel you see here is recently deposited. It’s most noticeable at the end of the clip where you can see the transition.

When the lake was new and the island was right in harm’s way, Seth and I collected large rocks from this same area to make a sort of rip-rap buffer at the west end of the island (where the incoming water would strike it). We did such a good job that we pretty much ran out of large rocks to use. Now, of course, that has changed.

Short of renting a small bulldozer, I don’t know what can be done about this influx of gravel. I’m sure the natural course of things is for the entire lake bed to be filled in a century or so. I don’t suppose I’ll have to worry about that, but I’d sure like to put up a good fight for a while.

I also don’t know what happened to the audio. I think the forest may just have been especially quiet that afternoon.

Missouri calendar:

  • Peak fall color ends.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther was born on this date in 1811. He came to Missouri as a young minister and was instrumental in founding the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church.

A sequence

Friday, October 24th, 2008

Amble

Ramble

Bramble

Bumble

Stumble

Tumble

Crumble

Grumble

Mumble

Humble

But the view was nice from there on the ground.

Missouri calendar:

  • Juncos arrive from Canada.

Today in Missouri history:

  • The last holdings of the Kickapoo Indians in Missouri, and thus the only remaining land for all tribes that had been in Missouri, were signed over to the U.S. government on this date in 1832.
  • Actor Kevin Kline was born in St. Louis on this date in 1947.

10.18.2008 – Part Four

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

After eating our lunch, we stayed in the chairs and reflected on what we had just eaten. We reflected a long time. The frogs sang their songs. Hawks whistled. Crows called. The wind blew. The post-lunch stupor began.

When we drove down that morning, the sign at the truck stop said it was only 45° but several hours had passed since then, the sun had felt warm on our skin, and the temps may have climbed as much as fifteen degrees. We talked about maybe trying to get a last swim in before winter came, but, darn the luck, we had left our swimming gear back at home. Not even a towel to dry ourselves with. With that plan out of the question, we chose instead to take a walk toward the upper end of the lake just to see what there was to see. Once again we took no tools with us, aside from the camera and our usual wonder. (This was a good day for the young cedar trees I guess.)

The lake is down, despite the recent rains, so much of the lake bed is exposed now that had been covered through the summer. Peregrine is now resting on dry-ish ground, and some of the evil willows that dared to grow up in the middle of the lake are now within sawing reach. I’ve vowed to remove them from the lake bed — though I’m assured my achievement will only be temporary — but for some reason I had brought along no tools when I went to this part of the lake. Why was that, do you suppose?

Once again we found the sun warm on our skin as we walked through the open lake bed. Earlier in the morning when I had looked this direction from the dam, the sun’s angle was such that the lone sumac growing just south of Libby’s Island was bright red, as though on fire. I wanted to take a picture of it then, but we were too far away. Later, when we were in that part of the forest, the sun wasn’t striking it directly as it had been earlier, so the picture never happened.

We poked about. I kept my eyes open for any arrowheads, though I think it is unlikely that I’ll find any in the lake bed itself, given that it is not a natural lake and is only recently arrived. There were a number of large, nicely shaped round rocks in the gravel recently washed into the lake bed, but since I didn’t have the backpack on, I didn’t try to collect them to carry back.

While we were wandering around in the dry part of the lake bed, the kingfisher paid us a visit. It flew from its perch at the other end of the lake then flew low over us — much like the airplane had earlier that day — before circling back toward its perch by the water. I suppose it wanted a good look at these interlopers who proved they could move around in its domain.

We eventually made our way back to the shelter where we had left our lunch left overs. It was about time to leave for the day, but there was one pleasant surprise still waiting for us.

When we drove in that morning, we slowed as we passed the pond to see if any waterfowl were visiting. This is something we nearly always do, and we’re nearly always disappointed. But not on that morning. There were two small ducks on the pond, in the shallow end far from the dam. We could really only see them in silhouette, but there was no mistaking the hooded head of a male wood duck. Long-time readers know that I’ve long wanted to have wood ducks in my pond, and here was actual evidence.

Our hope was that they would still be there as we drove out that afternoon. I know that at this time of the year they are busy traveling south and that any stop on our pond would be only temporary. But if they liked the pond enuf to stick around all day, maybe they’d return to it in the spring to raise a family. Thus we were peering intently through the trees at the pond as we crawled Prolechariot past.

And they were still there!

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I think someone named Mark turns 29 today.

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Missouri calendar:

  • Green-winged teal migration is at its peak.

Today in Missouri history:

  • The three-day Battle of Westport (in present-day Kansas City), called the “Gettysburg of the West,” ends in 1864 on this date, also ending Confederate efforts to carry on their campaign in Missouri.

10.18.2008 – Part Three

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

We went down the hill from the shelter to collect our tools that we’d left by the lake. Of course we had to stand in the grassy opening there and gaze across the water, wondering what was causing those wakes. Then we heard the sound of an airplane nearby.

We often see single-engine planes. There are a number of airfields in the county, including a grassy meadow near the county seat that is called a “memorial airport.” Generally the planes we see are high in the sky, but this one sounded much lower. It was coming from the south, and as we stood there, a small plane came just over the tree tops on the north-facing slope and flew nearly directly over us. I waved to the pilot, and he tipped his wings, which I understand is a wave back, and then they buzzed away to the north.

Here’s what I think happened. Deer hunting season opens in a couple of weeks. I think the pilot and his passenger were scouting possible hunting sites from the air. I think the pilot said that he knew of a secluded lake way back in the forest that might be good for undisturbed hunting. I think he intended to show his passenger the spot and was surprised to see two people already there. If I’m right, I don’t know what that might mean for their hunting ideas. Were they spooked away by seeing the land owner on the property they intended to hunt without permission? If I’m wrong, then it was nice to see the pilot tip the wings to us as he passed.

So we collected our tools and returned them to the truck. I slipped some water bottles in the backpack, and without taking any tools with us (loppers for liberating the cedars from their earthly toil) we struck out for the northeast quarter. As I said in the earlier post, we don’t take ourselves into this part of our forest much. It is the one area where we don’t find round rocks, but it is also the area where the sandstone breaks through the surface of the ground in large slabs.

The ground here generally slopes to the south, but it is cut by a couple of broad ravines that make hiking interesting. There is less scrub in this part of the forest too, and I usually expect to see that where there are mature trees whose canopy shades the forest floor, but that’s not the case here. There are a few old trees, but most of them are less than fifty years old and probably younger than that. I suspect this was grazing land back in the cattle ranch days a few decades ago.

We wandered about, mostly aimlessly through the forest. Perhaps because the scrub is less dense here, I was able to spot several types of trees we don’t see growing much in other parts of our woods. Among them was a twisted cherry tree (that I posted a photo of two days ago). The photo today is a close up of the bark on that tree. We also spotted a tree I do see here and there in the woods but I’ve not been able to identify. I think it might be a hawthorn. The bark is right. It has thorns. And the leaves might work. It will probably be a post of its own in the days to come.

Eventually, without really meaning to, we came out of the trees just above the pecan plantation. The day was cool, and stepping into the sun was pleasant, but it only lasted until we had crossed this open acre below the dam and began climbing the north-facing slope where the grass is green and the scrub is thick. I wanted to check on the two prickly pear plants I’d found growing there. They’re gone for the season, but I’ll be watching for them next spring.

We made our way to the dam and pushed through the scrub that had grown up there — mostly tickseed coreposis. In the spring I doubted that anything would grow on the dam after the interloping cattle had passed back and forth over it. I didn’t both to rent the mower in town to keep it open because I doubted the growth would be a problem this year. Now even the deer don’t seem to use it.

Once we survived our trek across the dam, I declared that it was lunch time. We don’t wear watches when we’re at Roundrock, but Libby was carrying her cell phone. Though we don’t get a signal on our side of the ridge, the phone still gives the time, and it turned out to be 12:30, so everything was in its proper order.

Soon we found ourselves in the comfy chairs under the shady tarp overlooking the glinting lake, enjoying our lunch and contemplating what adventures might await us in the afternoon.

Missouri calendar:

  • Don’t miss the fall colors of cypress and tupelo gum trees at a swamp in the Bootheel.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Millerites await the end of the world at Hannibal in 1844.
  • George MacManus of St. Louis died on this date in 1954. As a cartoonist he had created a number of comic characters including the series Bringing Up Father.