Archive for December, 2008

How to do it with suet

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

This little suet cage hangs from a horseshoe nailed to a tree near the shelter tarp overlooking the lake in our woods at Roundrock. When I remember, I buy a cake of suet to slip into the cage on our visits. Sometimes when I return, the cake is all gone. On other visits, most of it is still there. I’ve never been able to figure why.

Of course in the summer I could expect the cake to melt and drip through the cage, and I have sense enuf not to bring the suet then. (The birds have plenty to eat at that time of the year anyway.)

When we first got the game cameras, I moved this cage to a tree beside the pine plantation. We’d seen woodpeckers of all sorts there, including a pileated that favored a snag just across the property line. I hoped that the suet cage (with a cake of suet in it, of course) would attract these entertaining birds and the game camera pointed at it would collect lots of nice pix of them for your entertainment.

All I got was a picture of a squirrel, mostly frustrated by the cage containing the tasty treat. So the cage made its way back to the lake area, and I sometimes remember to bring along a cake or two to offer the winged critters. I may get out to Roundrock on Sunday, and I’ll try to remember to bring a treat.


The family is scattered again. Rachel and Travis and Crusher left for Oregon on Tuesday. Adam left for Minnesota on Monday. In the time between med school semesters, he wanted to go on a road trip with the guys. (Road trips tend to seem like a better idea than they actually become, at least in my experience.) Seth will leave us tomorrow, but he’ll have a chance to see Aaron and Amber tonight when they get in from Indiana for a day. They leave on the first for western Kansas where the new school semester awaits. There was one day when we had all of them together. Wish I had thought to take a picture.

Missouri calendar:

  • New Year’s Eve
  • Hang up next year’s Natural Events Calendar.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Missouri Governor Alexander McNair signed the bill designating the site for the City of Jefferson on this date in 1821.
  • “Little Mack” Joseph McCullagh was born on this date in 1896. As a newspaper man in St. Louis he pioneered the use of the interview for news coverage, foresaw the importance of illustrations, and set the stage for modern political convention coverage.

Another view of the forked tree

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

You’ll recall that I recently made a post about a forked-tree I found in the forest at Roundrock. I told myself that the next time I was in the woods, I would look at the back of that tree to see if there had been some trauma that could explain why it grew that way.

I’m always telling myself that the next time I’m down at Roundrock I should revisit this or that. I generally forget, but this time I did remember. So you see above the back of the forked tree. Clearly something did happen to this tree long ago. I’d say that the trunk was split and maybe even broken away from the base. So the roots sent up new replacement trunks, and rather than one surviving, three did. You’re welcome to correct my wild speculations, of course.

And since we’re talking about three-tined forks, let me draw your attention to the iconic painting American Gothic. The farmer in that famous painting holds a three-tined pitchfork. If you look closely, you’ll see that the bib of his overalls also has three rows of stitching. Similarly the arched window behind the two repeats the three lines, and some even assert that the three lines are echoed in the farmer’s long face.

The editors at Roundrock Journal are always striving to give you a wide range of factoids for your daily use.

Missouri calendar:

  • Squirrels gather in nests to conserve energy.

Today in Missouri history:

  • On this date in 1826 the Missouri legislature outlawed the whipping post and pillory for punishing those convicted of certain crimes.


Monday, December 29th, 2008

This small, unassuming bit of stream bed is where the Central Valley at Roundrock exits my property. It’s hardly a challenge to step across it, and if the leak under the dam didn’t keep water flowing across it regularly, I think it might be covered with soil and grass.

In fact, in the early days this exit was something of a mystery for us. The Central Valley cuts a widening swath from west to east across our land. Before we had the lake put in, there were generally two separate stream beds on each side of the valley. A lot of water moved through there, but by the time it reached the eastern property line, all evidence of a stream bed was gone. Only a small run of gravel like you see above — but smaller in width — showed that any water moved through the area at all. We couldn’t figure out where the water went given how much evidence there was for it upstream and so little down.

The flowing water is intermittent. Without significant rainfall, the stream doesn’t flow at all. And much of the water that does flow into the bed sinks into the gravel below it, presumably to enter the water table. Of course when there is a significant rainfall and the torrents come pouring down the Central Valley, the water doesn’t confine itself to this little bit of gravel. It rises above this and flows across the grass nearby. The mystery wasn’t why we didn’t see a bigger stream bed but why we saw one at all.

Missouri calendar:

  • Tonight Mercury passes close to Jupiter; the crescent moon lies above the pair while dazzling Venus looks on.

Today in Missouri history:

  • The Missouri Bar Association is formed on this date in 1880.

Sunday soothing sounds

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

Okay, I’m willing to admit that my long and discursive post about finding a fruiting cherry tree at Roundrock was based on a mistaken assumption. It appears the fruits are from a hackberry tree, which I do have plenty of at Roundrock. I need to go back and examine the bark; it sure looked like cherry bark. Maybe I’ll find that I examined the wrong trunk. Anyway, thanks for pointing out my mistake. (Also, I’m glad I didn’t try eating that fruit!)


So it turned out that Amber and Aaron arrived a day earlier than we had expected. That was no problem. We had the empty beds, and it gave us an extra day with them. They are now in some placed called Indiana, visiting her family until the 31st. Then we get to see them for another day before they go back to western Kansas and the new semester. Libby’s niece and two children were not able to come. It turns out they were all sick with colds. That happens a lot this time of year. My younger brother arrived at 1:30 a.m. on December 26 and was able to stay a couple of days. My older brother and family arrived on December 26 in the evening and will head back tomorrow.

Crusher, by the way, has been spending time with us and with his other grandparents. Crusher is one-quarter Boston terrier and three-quarters chihuahua. You don’t want to mess with him.


Today is the last day for submitting to the January 1 edition of the Festival of the Trees. The next edition will be be up at Rock Paper Lizard to welcome in the new year. Send your email to talba [at] shaw [dot] ca or use the handy online submission form. In the meantime, you should visit the current edition over at A Neotropical Savanna.

We’re always looking for hosts for the Festival. Several people have graciously hosted more than once, and you’re always welcome to establish your own legacy, so send me a note if you’d like to have a turn.


The columns in the photo above are not from the front porch of Casa de Pablo. Rather, they belong to a bed and breakfast in Springfield, Missouri where Libby and I stayed a few years ago.


What’s Pablo reading now? I was given a book entitled The Cabin: Away from it All by Charles Gusewelle for the holidays. His is a name I’ve mentioned in this blog once or twice. Not only is he a beautiful stylist and a prolific writer, but the cabin he writes about is on a piece of property on the other side of the county where Roundrock sits. In fact, I contacted Charles Gusewelle when I was ready to build my lake because he had just had one completed in his forest. (After finishing Nuns and Soldiers, I took up a book of literary theory called Madame Bovary’s Ovaries. It looks for depictions of social Darwinism in literature. It made a good case, but that’s only one way of looking at fiction.)

Missouri calendar:

  • During deep snowfall, bobcats stay in shelters.

Today in Missouri history:

  • John Dougherty, compassionate Indian agent, wide-traveled trapper, and Missouri politician died on this date in 1860.

Behold, Crusher!

Saturday, December 27th, 2008

Behold Crusher! @ Yahoo! Video

Yes, that’s Crusher, my daughter’s dog, come to us all the way from Oregon for the holidays. Right now he’s the closest I have to a grandchild, and he’s wearing me out!

I’m not sure that you can tell, but Crusher is wearing his “Recycle” jersey. He actually has quite a wardrobe, but he’s an only child, so that makes sense.

And yes, that’s a “terrorist fist bump” he will do for a treat.

(The barking you hear in the background is from Max, the dog who doesn’t know he’s a dog. He’s not certain what to make of this intruder in his domain.)

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for this date.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Albert Ross Hill is named president of the University of Missouri system on this date in 1907. The fourteen years of his tenure were a turbulent time but also a period of rapid growth for the statewide system. Hill eventually resigned in bitterness, disappointed with the failure of some of his ambitions for the schools as well as his opinion that they wasted too much time on elementary subjects.

Unsweetened, of course

Friday, December 26th, 2008

A slight mishap in the forest. My lunch bottle of iced tea (unsweetened, of course) fell from the arm of the comfy chair where I was sitting. This happens all of the time because the chairs are rarely set on level ground and the arms tilt from side to side or down toward the front. Fortunately, when not imbibing, I keep the little flap on the top firmly shut.

Not a drop was lost.


Tomorrow: Crusher!


Missouri calendar:

  • Kwanzaa (7 days)

Today in Missouri history:

  • Father Sebastian Meurin was born on this date in 1707. He founded the first church in St. Louis and performed the first marriages in what would one day be Missouri.

Season’s Greetings

Thursday, December 25th, 2008

It is true that the earth’s axis is the reason for the season, but only in the most literal sense, of course.

This is a time of the year that is holy or special to people all around the world, and it is worthwhile to recognize that. Given the pageant of human cultures, it would be a shame to limit ourselves to acknowledging only one holiday. Here are a few that I know about:

Xmas, Boxing Day, Bridging Day, Chanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Las Posadas, Ramadan, Solstice, Saturnalia, New Year, Feast of Sacrifice, Santa Lucia’s Day, St. Nicholas’ Day, St. Stephan’s Day, St. Etienne’s Day, Rizal, Quema del Diablo, La Purisma, Dingaan’s Day/Day of Reconciliation, Day of Goodwill, Emperor’s Birthday, Newtonmas, Hari Raya Haji, Feast of the Sacrifice, and Johnkanus.

Happy Holidays, however you choose to observe them!

Pablo and Libby

Missouri calendar:

  • Christmas

Today in Missouri history:

  • Colonel Alexander Doniphan and his men from northwest Missouri, skirmished with the Mexican army near El Paso in the Battle of Bazito on this date in 1846. He and his men called it a “Christmas frolic.” No word on what the Mexican troops called the battle.


Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

This is a white oak tree standing proudly in Roundrock. I love the spread of the branches, their gnarly shapes, all of the fullness about them. It looks more like a tree I’d find over at our other patch of woods: Fallen Timbers. My forest at Roundrock is relatively young since most of it has only come up in the decades since the cattle ranchers moved out. This oak, however, is an old timer, but I wasn’t sure where it was when I first saw the photo.

I often face this confusion with my pix. I’ve taken the picture of a rock or a stump or a leaf, and there is no identifying detail to tell me where in the 80+ acres of Roundrock the item was.

When that happens (embarrassingly too often) I go to the photo bucket and have a look at the pictures I took immediately before and after it. Since I have them displayed in chronological sequence, I can retrace my steps as I took them. Based on that, I figured out where this tree is. It rises majestically along the northern property line at the point where the road turns from the fence and into the trees, leading eventually to the dam. In fact, we turned the road into the woods at this point specifically because this tree would have to have come down if the road went any farther. We couldn’t let that happen!

Actually, the lack of any trees immediately behind this one should have been my clue. That open area is a spur of my neighbor’s 100 acre field. There really isn’t any spot in Roundrock (aside from the lake, the pecan acre, and the pine plantation) where there is that much open space.

I wish I had lots more trees like this one in my woods, but I expect that I still have 50 years ahead of me, so maybe I’ll get the benefit of seeing it come to pass.

Missouri calendar:

  • Look for woodpeckers at suet feeders: downy, hairy, pileated and red-bellied.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Kit Carson was born on this date in 1809. During his youth in Independence, Missouri, wanderlust struck him and lead him to become one of the most renown legends of the West.

Cheery Cherry Cheer

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

Here I go again, hazarding a guess as to what plant I found in the woods on a recent ramble.

I think I can say without being chary that these are cherries. They look like cherries, the bark of the tree they were attached to looked like cherry tree bark. And according to no lessor source that the Missouri Department of Conservation, black cherry trees can be found in every county in the state.

I actually have far more cherry trees in my forest that I would expect to find. This one is growing on a comparatively dry ridge top, which isn’t the preferred habitat. I’ve found them in all of the “zones” of Roundrock, but the biggest one I’ve identified thus far — maybe a foot diameter trunk — grows beside the road at the western end of the property; this is where the soil is deep and rock free (mostly). This tree is also leaning over the road, and I always expect to find it fallen on the road when we visit the woods. Should that ever happen, I will cut the longest length of it I can and present it to my good friend Duff for his wood shop. He carves, he makes furniture, and he otherwise is in good with the wood gods to have all of his skill (also, lotsa tools).

The reason I wouldn’t expect to find many cherry trees in my forest is because the land was once part of a cattle ranch. The twigs, leaves, and bark of this tree contain prussic acid, and if they are consumed by cattle, the poor beasts can bloat and die. I imagine that the ranchers would have cut down any cherry trees they found to protect their livestock, and this may account for the occasional stump we find that was from a tree clearly too small to have been selected for timber. The cattle ranch stopped operation, at least in my part of the forest, thirty years ago, and this may account for why nearly all of the cherry trees I have come across are comparatively young and small. They are mostly saplings that beaver could feed on if we had any of those. Perhaps they are upstart trees in the years since the ranchers let the forest go fallow. (I also wonder if the presence of the poisonous cherry trees could account for the cattle bones we sometimes come across in our wandering about the forest.)

Now, it is possible that I have misidentified the fruit above. Maybe those aren’t cherries. Even if they aren’t, though, my rambling speculations about cherry trees in the woods at Roundrock still seem valid, so go easy on my if I am wrong.

Missouri calendar:

  • Beavers feed on sapling reserves.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Cardinal John Glennon, the first Catholic Cardinal west of the Mississippi, was appointed to the office on this date in 1945.

A view from above

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

I haven’t published this map of Roundrock in a while. Nothing much has changed in my woods, but there may be one or two new readers who come here on occasion who haven’t seen it before.

Let’s see, which way is up? Up is north, as is the convention for maps in my hemisphere. The darker lines indicate fencing, and you can see that about two thirds of my property line is marked by a fence. That’s handy, though no one is maintaining the fence any longer and it’s starting to show. The dotted lines on the left and bottom (that’s west and south) show the unfenced property line. The unmarked western line is actually defined by a mostly gone barbed wire fence, but the unmarked southern line is the one that we spent considerable time last year attempting to define with compass and line of sight stomping about.

The RED lines show the road that we had cut into the woods. We can drive the TOYOTA, aka Prolechariot, on that road. You can see how the road more or less defines our western property line and much of the northern one as well. That’s also handy, but those two didn’t really need the help. Where the road leaves the northern line, it turns into the woods and descends the slope to terminate at the dam. There’s also a spur that leads to the acre below the dam where I have planted pecans and scattered plenty of wildflower seeds. Virtually all that you see, with the exception of the acre below the dam, is forested. I’m slowing opening some grassy areas here and there, but that’s a long project barely begun.

The BLUE areas are, of course, the lake and pond. Many readers confuse the two. When I write of the pond, they think I’m writing of the lake. But there are two bodies of water in my forest. The pond existed in the days when the land was part of a cattle ranch. As a consequence, it’s bottom is filled with a loathsome goo that will grab hold of your legs and suck you down. Just don’t go in there, okay? The lake comes and goes, as long-time readers of this humble blog know. The last time we were out there, the leaking below the dam had stopped. It always reaches that point after enuf water has drained from the lake, but the encouraging thing is that every winter when it does this, the level of the lake has been higher. I think it is sealing itself.

The two GREEN shapes in the lake are the islands: Libby’s Island and Isla de Peligro. Because of the fluctuating lake levels, they haven’t been much as islands go, but hope fills my heart even if water doesn’t always fill the lake.

Maybe you can spot the YELLOW “campfires” that mark where we’ve created some homey touches. Starting from the left (west) we have our original camp. It’s a good spot for camping, level and surrounded by firewood, but it is too close to our road, and when interlopers come awhoopin’ through, we could be seen there, which would invite the inevitable visiting and invitations — we were actually invited to the neighbor’s cabin down in the valley for a bachelor party once! — and all sorts of socializing that would interfere with the solitude we seek when we go to the woods. So we moved our campsite deeper in the woods to our cleverly named “New Camp.” We’re mostly protected from prying eyes there, though someone on our road who knew where to look could spot us back there, especially now that I have my TOYOTA. Overlooking the lake on the north side you can see where we have our shelter tarp. It is there that we sit in the comfy chairs and fall into our post-lunch stupors.

A few other points: The Old Man of the Forest is a giant cedar tree growing on the edge of a steep slope near our unmarked southern line. It is much bigger and older than the other cedars in our forest, and I have a large degree of respect for it even though I’m doing everything I can to eradicate the rest of the cedars in my woods (which isn’t much). The Hinterland in the southeast corner is so named because we hardly ever venture in there. Maybe some surprises await. You see the area marked Pines in the northwest corner. This is where we’ve planted a stand of shortleaf pines. Many are doing really well. We used the call this area Blackberry Corner because of the house-sized snarl of blackberry plants that grew there.

And that’s pretty much Roundrock from above. Next time you come by, you’ll know your way around.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

Today in Missouri history:

  • John Smith Phelps was born on this date in 1814. In his years of public service in Missouri he was credited with inventing the postage stamp, served as a Brigadier General in the Union Army, and went on to become governor of the state.