Archive for January, 2009

Trunk show

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Consider this post to be a companion to yesterday’s post. What you see above is the base of the trunk of the tree I wrote about then.

If you look again at that photo from yesterday, you can see a hump at the bast of the trunk, on the side opposite to the direction the tree is leaning. I suspect that some time in the past this was a double-trunked tree and through some catastrophe the trunk on the west side was snapped off near the base. The part of the tree that was lost has long since turned back into soil.

What you see above then is where the tree has grown over the scare, resulting in this fantastic, knotty hump. I’m not sure how comfortable it would be to sit on, but it should allow scampering children a head start up the tree to the fort that will be awaiting them above.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

Hideout tree

Friday, January 30th, 2009

I’m not sure which will come first: me winning the lottery or me having grandchildren. Should the latter ever happen, though, I’m going to build a fort in the branches of the tree you see above.

As long as I’ve been rambling about Roundrock, I had never seen this tree until my recent solo trip there a couple of weeks ago. When #1 Son Seth was a little guy, Libby pointed out a weeping willow tree to him, and he said it would make a great “hideout tree.” I’ve been on the look out for a good tree house tree ever since, but most of my forest is under 30 years old, and none of those trees are big enuf yet. There are many old timers, but their branches are usually far too high off the ground. Or, like many of the big black oaks on the north-facing slope, they’re of an age when it’s time for the winter weather to start bringing them down. (And it has.)

This tree, though, is ideal. It branches nicely about ten feet off the ground (though it is a little hard to tell in this photo), and with a little creative architecture, I think I can put together a respectable tree fort. Even the lean of the trunk will allow for easy climbing into the tree.

During one of those idyllic boyhood summers I spent in rural Kentucky, my grandfather built a tree fort, and if I remember correctly, my older brother and I actually spent a whole night in it. It sure would be nice to give some children a few idyllic summers spent in rural Missouri some day.

The is a white oak (I think), and it is on the north-facing slope not too far up the hill from the dam. You can see a bit of blue lake there at about 9:00. It would be just far enuf away from the house to give a sense of adventure.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

Swirl

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

This is another little gem that has been washed out by the erosion on the spillway. I found this on the same visit as I found the round rock within a round rock.

The fossil is about three inches in diameter, which makes it good sized for what I commonly find in my woods.

The notion that this critter lived its full measure of years on the earth (before anyone was around who could even call it the earth), begat its own offspring, pondered its own philosophy, then contributed the harder structures of its body to build up the bedrock that one would one day be called Roundrock fills me with a kind of interspecies awe.

I suspect there are all sorts of wonders hidden in the ground at Roundrock. I may have to become a burrowing animal if I want to find them though.

Missouri calendar:

  • Eastern moles are active in tunnels deep underground.

Contained

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

#1 Son Seth is away at graduate school building an “ozone containment unit.” He’s studying indoor air pollution, but whatever he’s making sounds like something out of the movie Ghostbusters. (Or maybe Star Wars. Didn’t Luke have to build his own light sabre to graduate from Jedi college?)

But I have my own containment unit, as you see above. This round rock remnant was washed out by the unfortunate erosion of the overflow spillway below the dam. I found it several trips back and tossed it between the multiple trunks of a nearby scrubby tree so I could retrieve when I returned.

And I did return, finding that the scrubby tree was the kind full of thorns. Funny how I had overlooked that when I chose my keeping place. But I’m willing to suffer many hardships to bring the quality photos and scintillating commentary you’ve come to expect here at Roundrock Journal. I extracted the round rock and then proceeded to take a bunch of really bad pix because I had the settings on my camera wrong. Once I had that figured out, I managed to get the photo I’ve shared with you today.

What you see (I think) is a round rock that formed over a round rock. My round rocks are concretions, which are not something out of Star Wars or Ghostbusters but natural rock formations. In my case, the concretions formed in the mineral-rich stew that was created when a meteor slammed into this part of Missouri several hundred million years ago when the area was covered by a saltwater sea. Most commonly, the concretions form around a blue shale nucleus, but in this case it looks as though one formed around another round rock.

I think another thing you’ve come to expect from Roundrock Journal is a lot of speculation on my part. Speculation within speculation, you might say.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

Native stone

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

There is an architectural conceit that says proper buildings should be made from locally available materials. (Frank Lloyd Wright took that a step further by saying a proper homeowner should participate actively in the construction not only of the home but of its components.)

I respect the practice of architecture, and in many cases I think it can be a form of art, but the practicalities of means, motive, and opportunity are generally far more influential in building. Can you afford it? Do you care? And if you did, would you have the chance to do it?

Nonetheless, after I win the lottery and begin to design and build my home at Roundrock, to which I’ll retire to keep bees or something similarly bucolic, I think I’ll have the opportunity to use some local materials in the raising of my manse.

I’ve mentioned here before that the geology of Roundrock is capped by a layer of sandstone, in some place just inches below the soil surface and in some cases emerging from it. (The round rocks are in a layer below the sandstone.) It will be easy to collect plenty of this sandstone, and I have a notion of trying to create a sort of quarry where I can extract it in high quantity. (Don’t worry, I won’t be strip mining.) I’ll have to split and shape the pieces so they will serve as facing material, but that will allow me to participate more in the creation of the components of the house building.

My ultimate plan is to use the sandstone to face the exterior walls of the house, though I intend to have lots of south-facing glass. (The sandstone wouldn’t be structural but merely facial.) And with that in mind, I cracked the above piece of sandstone in two some years back and set it out where it could experience all of the extremes of weather. I wanted to see just what such sandstone would look like on the face of the house after years of exposure. Most of the “wild” sandstone we find in our woods is weathered into a dull brown color; it’s the innards that still flash their color, and that’s the part I want showing on the house. Thus I opened this stone to see how long the vibrant color would hold up.

It’s too bad that the photo is a bit washed out, but I think you can see the multiple colors that are in the stone. You can see red and orange and brown there. The yellowish streaks are new (to my recollection). I like the idea that the facing could evolve over time. Some of the sandstone I’ve found “in the wild” at Roundrock is more pink than brown. With that in mind, I intend to collect my sandstone from all around Roundrock so that I can get the variety of colors. I think I could make quite a patchwork of stone. And then I’d get to look at it each day.

Missouri calendar:

  • Watch for chickadees feedding on insects in bark crevices.

Adam’s mark

Monday, January 26th, 2009

#2 Son Adam likes to see his name mentioned in this humble blog from time to time. He might see it more frequently if he came to see us more frequently than when his laundry needs doing or on more than his once-a-year visits to Roundrock with us, but he’s in med school now, and he tells me he has to “study” all the time.

A couple of months ago Adam did make a trip to Roundrock with us and hiked part of the perimeter, cutting mightily as he went. You may recall me mentioning in my account of that trip that he had cut a mark into a locust tree along the fenceline and that he professed his intention to bring his own son to see it in the years to come.

Of course, having a son of his own would be among the first things he’d need to take care of to realize that plan, and since I despair of ever having grandchildren, I’ve decided to document the mark he left in the tree so that future generations — if any — will be able to know what once was.

I figure if I visit the tree each season and take a picture, I should evolve an interesting document of the changes over time.

(Also, it may please you to know that Adam has already said that he doesn’t intend to be a surgeon.)

Update May 15, 2011: For subsequent posts on this subject, go here and here.

Missouri calendar:

  • New moon: the moon is between the earth and sun; the side away from us is lit by the sun.
  • Snowy owls seen in Missouri when food is scarce in the Arctic.

Sunday snow storm

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

Well, not really a snow storm, but we are forecasted to get some snow tonight and over the next few days. (We even got a little last night.) Last week had some gorgeous days: Thursday got into the 60s! Not bad for Kansas City in January. But this weekend — when I had both days free — it’s dropped back down into the 20s for the highs. If the good weather had held, it would have been an obligatory Roundrock trip weekend, but it didn’t happen.

The photo above is not from my forest but from my back yard in suburbia several weeks ago.

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There are at least two places in Missouri called Monkey Mountain. One is near St. Joseph and is a Missouri Department of Conservation area. The place was so named by early settlers because the bluffs there were said to be too steep even for monkeys to climb. Maybe so, but apparently the area is favored by Bigfoot. The second is a park and preserve just east of Kansas City. When the kids were little we took them there one Saturday and got terribly lost (on a simple, three-mile loop trail). This area earned its name, supposedly, from a troop of circus monkeys that had escaped and lived a short while on the mountain. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that there’s at least one Monkey Mountain in your state too.

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The deadline for the next Festival of the Trees is this coming Friday, January 30. Send your links to Ash at mail (at) treeblog (dot) co (dot) uk. Be sure to put Festival of the Trees or FOTT in the subject line. Or you can use the handy online submission form.

We’re always looking for hosts. It’s a great way to find new blogs and attract more traffic to your own blog. Just let me or Dave know when you think you might like to have a go. We’ll give you all the help you need.

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Have you ever gone to a friend’s place for a party, expecting lively conversation and getting caught up on the details of everyone’s life and interests, only to find that the party is actually a sales pitch for some product? It’s like when you go to a website, but first you’re given an ad you have to watch before you can get to the content. Yeah, I hate that too.

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Queequeg continues to turn our home life routines upside down, but he’s actually about as ideal as you could expect from a puppy. He’s catching on to paper training quickly, he now comes when he’s called (mostly), and he’s grown quite adept at untying my shoelaces. Little darling!

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What’s Pablo reading now? I’ve picked up a slim volume of George Orwell’s essays called Why I Write. The title piece is, I believe, a discussion of Orwell’s own motivation to write. Later pieces discuss the ways political language is used to make lies sound truthful. I finally finished Modern Chivalry, and I have to say I didn’t enjoy it much, despite it being a lost classic of American literature.

Missouri calendar:

  • Squirrels bear spring litters through March.

Saturday Matinee – 1.24.2009

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

After last week’s (quite popular) double feature, I’m almost reluctant to put up a simple video of Roundrock for your viewing pleasure.


@ Yahoo! Video

That pine is taller than I am now. It’s one of the little twigs I planted three springs ago. It and another outside the frame are doing the best, but the tall grass is hiding plenty of other pines that are doing well. The white shape you can just see to the right of the center of the frame is a plastic chair. We put it and another there in the naive attempt to “scare away” the deer so they didn’t molest our pines.

This is a view looking north-ish across the pine plantation. I was mostly trying to catch the little bluestem swaying in the breeze. Its the kind of scene of solitude that I like. Makes me wish I was there right now.

Note: Some people run their dogs through little bluestem.

Missouri calendar:

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

First things first

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

Something important happened this week, and it’s equally important that we take note of it, even on a humble blog such as this one. A great man has done a great thing, and I truly think the world is a better place because of him.

I’m talking, of course, about the Florida Cracker, whose birthday it is today. So why don’t you hurry over to Pure Florida and wish the old boy well. He’s not a pup anymore, and he’s not getting any younger.

Missouri calendar:

  • Bobcats breed through June.

1.18.2009 – Part Three

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

When I had driven down to Roundrock on the morning of this visit, the truck stop temperature sign said it was already 38ºF. That’s not too cold for a swim, is it? My wishes were thwarted, however, by the presence of a sheet of ice across the top of the lake. Had I brought an axe with me I might have hacked a hole in it to have a swim, but all I had were a pair of loppers and a hand saw, so I continued up to the shelter after leaving the southern property line to have my lunch.

I saw right away that I wasn’t the only one who had had lunch. The crows had been by and had already cleaned out the half bag of peanuts I had left on the snag earlier that morning. I expected they would, and I left them the rest of the bag before sitting down to my own lunch.

A tasty lunch in the cozy chair under the shady tarp overlooking the frozen lake is one of my favorite ways to spend time. I wish I could have sat there for hours. I had restocked the suet feeder, and as I sat quietly contemplating the universe, several small slate-eyed juncos arrived. They didn’t cling to the suet cage, though, but scavenged the ground below it for little bits that had fallen there. They’d clearly done this before since they flew in and got right to it. They were only a few meters away from me, but I feared that if I moved to pull my camera from my pocket, I’d scare them away. So I merely contented myself with watching them for the several minutes they could keep their interest on the feeding. When they flew away, I decided it was time for me to move on as well, but it wouldn’t be my only happy bird sighting of the day.

The TOYOTA, you’ll remember, was at the other end of Roundrock. That was only a half mile away, but for a day dreamer whose attention is easily diverted, that was also several hours away. So I cleaned up the empty bags from my lunch (which included four of Libby’s homade chocolate chip cookies), packed my pack, collected my tools, and turned my feet to the west for a ramble up the Central Valley and back to the Prolechariot.

At the west end of the lake there are a number of exposed small trees that I’ve wanted to chop down since I first saw their offensive branches rising above the water. Because the lake was down a few feet, I could get to several of them, and with the help of the loppers, I chopped them at ground level. I don’t know if this will make a difference in their return this spring, but it felt better than doing nothing.

Back in the early days of our tenure at Roundrock, when the creek that forms the Central Valley was our primary avenue for getting in and out of our 80+ acres of wilderness, there was a pretty good path we could follow. The deer used it as well, and between us, we managed to keep it clear. But then we built that road and could drive all the way in. And those ice storms of last winter brought down all kinds of trees and branches. And these days, whatever trail we once had there is mostly gone. In some places the grass grows so thick that we dare not enter it three seasons of the year (chiggers, of course), and in other places, the tangle of downed limbs calls for looping diversions.

But what is a wilderness ramble without a little rambling, right? Just like the path we’re trying to cut along the property line, a little work on the missing trail in the Central Valley each time we use it will have it open in no time. And if not in no time, then eventually. And if not eventually, then what the heck; it’s still fun doing it.

So I poked along, doing more work liberating cedars from their earthly toil than clearing the path, but the sun was shining and the air was clear and I was where I wanted to be. A bird flitting in the trees over my head caught my eye, and though I never did see what kind of bird it was, my eye drifted to the great blue dome above, and I saw another bird. I thought it was a turkey vulture at first, but the wings didn’t look right. Then I realized I was seeing a large brown bird with a white head and a white tail. I was watching a bald eagle gliding in the skies over Roundrock. Now I don’t want to get all weepy and sentimental, but this was an emotional moment for me. This was the first time I had seen an actual bald eagle at Roundrock. Sure, they probably visit frequently and I just don’t see them because I’m not around enuf. And sure, the nearby Corps of Engineers lake probably attracts bald eagles by the score. And sure, this time of the year sees plenty of visiting bald eagles from the frozen lands of the north. But all of that wasn’t important to me. What was important was seeing one of the most impressive symbols of the American wilderness soaring in the skies above my woods. I was down in the valley, so I was hemmed in by hills rising on either side. But in the whole minute or so the eagle took to transit this airspace, it never flapped its wings once. I didn’t move, and maybe didn’t even breath, until the eagle flew out of sight.

When I finally returned to myself again, I steered my feet back up the valley and closer to the truck waiting ahead. But I had one more, more mundane wild encounter ahead of me. You may remember from my earlier post that when I was following the posts along the southern line, I came to the post planted in the middle of the creek where we estimate the line runs. It wasn’t long after my eagle encounter that I came to this post again. It was time to leave the creekbed and follow the familiar line back to the road where I had left the truck. The ground slopes abruptly here, and I was able to reach the flatter land just above it without being seen in my approach. What I saw not ten meters ahead of me there was a solitary opossum poking through the leaf litter, looking for lunch. The wind was blowing, and when it rattled the branches of the trees, I made my steps in the leaves, covering the sound of my approach with the natural noise of the forest. The scrub trees are dense in this part of the forest, so I never got a good angle for a photograph, but I got to watch the critter for five minutes, uninhibited in its patient foraging. I realize that for some people, this kind of encounter is commonplace and not special, but for me, it’s exactly the kind of thing I go to the forest for.

Not too far after this, I was able to see the glowing red of the Prolechariot through the trees. It was time to pack up and head back to suburbia, and that’s what I got about doing. Driving out, I stopped at our accustomed spot on the lip of the hill over my neighbor’s valley. This is the last place where our phones get a signal when we are going in and the first place when we are going out. Libby was certain that on my solo visit this time, I would break my leg and be stuck in the wild, far from help and far from a phone signal. So I stopped the truck there and called home, assuring her that I was all right and on my way.

Missouri calendar:

  • Peak numbers of bald eagles gather this month near open water and big rivers.