Archive for January, 2009

1.18.2009 – Part Two

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

There are stretches along the property line I was hiking that will require more tools and enthusiasm for clearing than I had brought along with me on the trek that day. Mostly this is due to the whole trees that have come down from the ice storms of last winter. They make an impassable tangle right in the way, and I must hike around them for a bit before returning to the property line. By and large, though, my hike was unchallenging. Each time we walk the perimeter, we do a little more clearing work, and it is beginning to be apparent. There’s lots of work to do, but it’s evident that a lot has been done too.

Half of our southern property line runs through the trackless forest, but the other half is well defined by my neighbor’s fence. (I assume it’s his fence. Maybe it’s mine. I don’t know, actually.) The stretch we marked with the fence posts is in the first half. I’ve gotten to know it pretty well, and as I marched from post to post, I had a good sense of where I was and how much farther it would be to the beginning of the fence. I would pause here or there for this or that, but I wanted to cover a lot of ground while at Roundrock that day, so I didn’t linger very long in any one spot. I did get to visit the Old Man of the Forest, which was sitting just a short diversion from the line. All along I was tying fresh survey tape to the posts. As I said in yesterday’s post, I don’t claim my markings to be the true line, but anyone wandering the woods will not be able to miss them and know that I’m paying attention.

After crossing the creek at the point where it finally re-enters our property, I started up the hill that is the north-facing slope. Crossing the creek was always the point where we got disoriented when we were defining the line originally. As I went up, I could no longer see any posts or fluttering tape. I was pretty much looking in the wrong place. When I crossed the creek, I got disoriented again, and after a moment of reflection (without the rambling part) I looked more to the south and spotted the line of posts again. From here is was a short, relatively open walk to the fence line. There were a couple of spots where I had to divert from the line, but I made my own improvements along the way, and, barring more ice storms that will bring down whole trees, we should have a clear, open trail along here in a couple of years.

Once at the fence, my way was obvious, as you can see in the photo above. (In that shot, I’m looking back from the way I came. Roundrock is on the right, and that open area is the access my neighbor has maintained since before I was in the neighborhood. That’s a little bit of lingering snow you see there at about 10:00.) I continued cutting to clear a path on my side of the fence, but as I went along, I noticed that my neighbor had been doing the same thing on his side of the fence. Scrub trees and even long branches from my trees that reached into his access lane had recently been cut and cleared. When my neighbor to the north did this some years back, he threw a lot of the cut wood onto my land, which is no big deal but which seems a little discourteous. For this south-side cut, though, I couldn’t find a single twig of cut wood on my side of the fence. Whatever he had cut he had hauled away or threw into his own forest.

All this, of course, leaves me paranoid. Why is he doing this work? Is he planning something? Is he going to build a subdivision of McMansions or establish a hog farm? A hunting club? What?

He’d done this same thing about five years ago, and nothing came of it. Or rather, he kept his access road clear and that was all he must have intended to do. There was no sign of any other activity on his side of the fence. Even the tire tracks his truck must have left in the grass were long gone. As I hiked along the fence, I could see the point where his own enthusiasm had stopped. The trimming work ended abruptly at one point and didn’t start up again for the rest of the portion of the fence I hiked. I felt a kindred spirit with the man.

I guesstimated that I had reached the point that Libby, Adam, and I had reached on our earlier hike from the other direction, so I left the property line and headed north into my woods. (I consider my perimeter hiking duties finished for the year now.) Somewhere ahead, down the hill, was the dam, and past that was the shelter tarp overlooking the frozen lake. It was there that I would enjoy my lunch and a nice break, and it was from there that I would begin my hike back to the truck, going up the Central Valley along the dry creek bed.

Missouri calendar:

  • Adult winter stoneflies may be seen along streams.

1.18.2009 – Part One

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

With a new baby in the house, Libby didn’t think she could take a whole day off to go to the woods. I, on the other hand, saw a day forecasted to get into the 40s in the middle of January in the Midwest and didn’t think I couldn’t take a whole day off to go to the woods. Thus I made one of my infrequent but not unprecedented solo trips to Roundrock for a bit of reflective rambling.

Knowing that my breakfast bagelry was actually open far earlier than I had formerly thought didn’t make much difference in my get-go time. I was only about a half hour ahead of our routine schedule. I began driving in the dark, but the sun was swift to rise, and by the halfway-there point, the great orange ball was just at that point in the middle of my windshield where I couldn’t do much but squint at it. By the time I passed the truckstop not far from Roundrock, the temperature reported on the great sign out front was 38º (which would be 3.3º in the celsius system we all ought to get comfortable using). While it wasn’t Florida balmy, I knew that if I stayed out of the wind, the day would be pleasant and allow for plenty of that reflective rambling I had in mind.

Staying out of the wind was my plan too. Some weeks back, Libby, Adam, Max, and I had hiked about half of our property line. You may recall that we like to hike our complete perimeter at least once a year just to see what’s going on with the neighbors. Nearly always, nothing is going on, but vigilance is important, and it’s important to let the neighbors know you’re paying attention too. We didn’t finish our hike that day, so I thought that I could finish it on my solo trip, starting at the other end of the trail and working my way to where we had left off. Along the way I could improve our line markers, open the trail a little more, liberate plenty of young cedar trees from their earthly toil, and generally see what there was to see.

Hiking the perimeter by definition leaves the interior unexamined, so before I began my hike, I drove all the way in to our woods, down to the dam and then down into the pecan acre below the dam. Had I come upon anything untoward in the middle of our woods, I could change my plans and address it (or fret about it was more likely). But nothing was amiss, and I stopped only briefly at the shelter tarp to fill the roots of the fallen snag with half a bag of peanuts (unsalted, of course) for the critters. I heard the crows calling while I was there, and I have little doubt any longer that they know when the fellow with the red truck arrives, the peanuts will too. (So have I made them dependent upon my every-other-weekend bounty as I originally feared?)

I then drove back to the entrance to our woods and parked in an obvious spot just off the road. It would allow interlopers to drive past, but it would also let them know without a doubt that the lord of the manor was somewhere about, perhaps watching them as they were skulking. Loading my pack with a few tools, my lunch, and a bottle of iced tea (unsweetened, of course), I walked to our southwest corner and then started my hike along the southern line.

Topographically speaking, this is a confusing stretch. The tiny creek that eventually grows into our Central Valley and the lake, starts at our corner and then weaves in and out of our property. The ground rises on either side, in some cases abruptly, and malevolent Blackjack oak branches snatch at your flesh. What happens (at least in my brain) is that any sense of where an imaginary straight line actually runs through this jumbled terrain gets all discombobulated.

Fortunately, through great effort, Libby, Seth, and I have managed to set a string of steel fence posts along what we estimate (in good faith if not in total accuracy) is the southern property line. My intent, therefore, was to march from post to post, refreshing the brightly colored survey tape fluttering from each, and clearing more low-hanging branches around them to improve the line of sight from each to each.

A phenomenon we have observed about this work of ours is that the branch clearing is quite well done at the start of these hikes, but as the journey continues, the enthusiasm wanes. So at the outset, it’s easy to see where the line runs, but the deeper into the forest you go, the more dense the branches are found to remain. Knowing this, I decided to temper my branch-cutting enthusiasm and save the energy for farther along my hike.

Missouri calendar:

  • Pileated woodpeckers drum to establish territories.

Ring of fire

Monday, January 19th, 2009

Doesn’t look like much, does it? This is the fire ring near the shady tarp overlooking the frozen lake. As you can tell, we haven’t used it for a long time. At our original site, we built a fire ring (still there) that is about ten feet in diameter. That was dumb. First of all, what was I thinking I needed that much space for, a signal fire? Second, when I spread the ashes after the first couple of fires, I realized that I had made a great circle of soot that I had to step through to tend any fire I had burning.

The ring you see above is our second attempt. It’s smaller, and it’s made with those formed blocks that my good friend Todd gave me when he cleaned out his garden shed prior to moving to some place he calls Nevada. (Really, what’s with these wacky-sounding place names? It’s not like anyone believes they actually exist!) I had high hopes for this fire ring. I was inspired by a ring I saw at a Scout camp several years ago. The wall around the fire was more than three feet tall. It had been built up over the decades as the ash accumulated. I loved the idea of the continuity, of the perhaps thousands of fires the people gathered around for fellowship and warmth.

The trouble is that the ground around this site slopes too much. You can’t put a table on it and expect anything to stay in place. Even chairs will tip you out of them if they’re not positioned exactly right. The ground is also uneven, with rocks and holes lurking in the leaves to twist your ankle.

The fire spot we have at our new camp is much smaller. In fact, it is small enuf to allow a steel cooking grate to span the fire. I find this much more manageable — a cooking fire doesn’t have to be all that big, and we’re so rarely at our woods after dark that we don’t have much need for a campfire site.

So this fire ring sits idle. The scrub is reconquering the area, and I expect we’ll never use it again. That’s fine though. Fire in the forest scares me too much for me to enjoy it.


There is a poll and a conversation going on about using your blog to earn money over at Nature Blog Network. I have a strong opinion about the matter, which you can read about if you go over there. Consider leaving your own thoughts too. They have to be more coherent than mine.

Missouri calendar:

  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day (observed)
  • Watch for mourning cloak and comma butterflies on warm days.

Sunday swoosh

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

The word buzzing through the blogosphere is that tomorrow’s interview at Nature Blog Network is with a popular and colorful but tantalizingly elusive character from one of the southern United States.


Roundrock Journal presents you with only a small slice of the Ozarks, which span Missouri and Arkansas. (And some allege the Ozarks reach into Kansas, Oklahoma, and even Tennessee, but we won’t quibble about that.) If you’d like to visit another nifty blog about this region of the country, be sure to go to Nature in the Ozarks.


After a few days this week when we were lucky to see double digits in the outdoor temps, this weekend has been comparatively balmy, reaching into the 40s as it has. Perfect day for a righteous Roundrock ramble, don’t you think?


For years (years!) we kept ourselves unintentionally misinformed about the hour that our nearby bagelry opened each morning. We thought (for years!) that it didn’t open until 7:00 a.m., and we postponed our departures for Roundrock until then so we could stop there on the way to pick up some bagels for our on-the-road breakfasts. It happened on one visit that I looked at the hours of operation painted so clearly on the front window of the place and learned to my delight (and chagrin) that it opens at 5:00 a.m. Of course at this time of the year we’re not eager to get to the woods before the sun does, but in the warmer months we will want to in order to enjoy some of the cool of the morning.

The cookie you see above is one of the accessories that Libby sometimes adorns our bagels with when she goes in to buy them. We save the cookies for lunch, and sometimes we forget we have them until our drive home. They’re tasty any time! (I took this photo shortly after I’d taken the photo that appeared on last Sunday’s post.)


You still have about two weeks to make your submissions to the next Festival of the Trees. Ash at the UK-based treeblog has set a deadline of January 30. Send your links by email to mail [at] treeblog [dot] co [dot] uk, but be sure to put “Festival of the Trees” in your subject line. You can also use the handy online submission form.

And while you’re waiting for the next edition, be sure to check out the latest edition over at Rock Paper Lizard. Hugh did a fine job, but be sure to poke about his blog and see the other things in the world that interest him.


Several of you kind souls have left comments on recent posts about young Queequeg and how unsuited he is to a trek in the woods at Roundrock. Right you are. I don’t think Queequeg will ever go to our woods. Even full grown we expect he’ll be a tiny thing, and with all of his fur, he would be a mess after only ten minutes in the leaf litter. In fact, we probably have ticks in the Ozarks that are bigger than he is.

In answer to Beau’s question yesterday, our intent has been to call him by his full name, but I’ve already heard Libby speaking to him as “Quee.” (For what it’s worth, Max’s full name is Maxwell MacGuyver, but we never call him that.)


What’s Pablo reading now? I’m still working my way through Modern Chivalry. I do have a couple of tasty items waiting on my to-be-read shelf.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

Saturday Matinee – 1.17.2009

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

Today you get a special double feature Saturday Matinee here at Roundrock Journal. Libby shot this video of Queequeg, our new puppy, and he’s so adorable that I thought I would share it with you.


Queequeg playing @ Yahoo! Video

For your second feature enjoy this video, which includes some bonus footage of Max (the dog who doesn’t know he’s a dog and who really has no use for this new puppy in his house). That’s no dust bunny under our couch; that’s Queequeg! Also, Max often takes his food onto that red rug you see at the end of the video. That explains why Queequeg is more interested in the rug than in his star performance.

Queequeg the Pomeranian @ Yahoo! Video

Missouri calendar:

  • Last quarter: sunlight falls on the moon’s left side.
  • Raccoons breed through March.

Mystery hole

Friday, January 16th, 2009

Seth came upon this hole in the hillside just a little bit above the pecan plantation on our last visit to Roundrock. I’m not sure if this is a den opening or just some naturally formed cavity in the ground.

First of all, I didn’t think there was enuf contiguous dirt on this hillside to allow for the digging of something as big as a den. This area is part of the broken ledge that makes appearances here and there on the sides of the Central Valley. I had thought about putting the pines in this grassy area originally, but every time I stuck the shovel in the ground, I hit rock.

The opening is large — I could have put my boot in it — but it is also exposed. Most den holes I have seen have been beside logs or large rocks. There is nothing like that around this area for twenty feet or more. We could see a passage running to the left and right when we peered in, and it wasn’t very deep, which meant we had to lean in to see lest we fall through to the chamber underneath.

If this were a den opening, I think we could have expected to see some scattered dirt on the ground outside it. There was nothing like that either. If a coyote (three syllables?) had dug out the den to get the critter within, there should have been some sign of scattered dirt as well, right?

I thought that this might have just been a breach of a naturally formed cavity. The rains had been heavy in the week before, and it seemed possible that some water flowing down the hillside might have gotten into a mole burrow and greatly expanded it. The ledge that underlies this hillside might have played a part in directing the water as well. That seems plausible, so that’s the story I’m going with.


Tomorrow, a Saturday Matinee Double Feature!

Missouri calendar:

  • Ozark witch hazel begins blooming after a few days of warm weather.

End of the road

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

On a recent ramble through our wood at Roundrock, we emerged from the trees onto our road down to the lake. The road is a handy way to get from here to there in our forest; not nearly as many vines or blackberry canes or rocks hidden in the leaf litter.

As we were hiking down the road after our emergence from the trees, the sight above met our eyes. It reminded me of my misspent youth. As a Scout I would go on monthly hikes with my troop. These could be anywhere from ten miles to as many as thirty miles in a single day. We were young and relatively fit and fed well enuf, yet despite our youthful vigor, the last third of these hikes was always a miserable slog, mustering the will to throw one foot in front of the other until it was all over. We were suffering. We were dying.

But then a call would go up. Someone at the front of our bedraggled pack spotted the dads’ cars parked at the end of the trail. As a group we began sprinting toward the cars and the end of our torment.

Ah, youth!


Doesn’t that road look well worn for only being driven on every other weekend?

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

Brian’s Pond

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

This is the old, defunct pond on my Good Neighbor Brian’s land. The shot is to the north. My pine plantation is just to the right of the photo. Back in the ranching days, I suppose, this was built to water the livestock. It’s at the top of the land, yet a nice straight dam was thrown together to stop the water that must have been flowing. Beyond the dam, passing through my pine plantation, is a small, water-formed fold in the land that leads to my own pond. Even in the driest days, my pond stays full, and it makes me think that Brian’s pond might be fed by a spring or seep.

I’ve heard from some cattle ranchers that because the cattle will walk into the water to cool themselves, the bottom of these ponds stays churned enuf to allow the silt to build up. As cattails ring the shoreline, the pond will eventually fill in altogether if nothing is done about it.

That was the state of Brian’s pond when we first came to know it. It was completely ringed by a dense cattail forest, and at the center was a small mud puddle. Various dens were dug into the soft soil of the dam. The whole thing was nearly defunct. Brian told us that he intends to dig it out some day, and he probably will because he has all of the cool equipment.

Most of what you see here isn’t even knee deep (though I expect there’s some loathsome goo at the bottom that would suck your legs down to the hips). What’s good to know is that there will likely be plenty of water for when he does finally restore his pond.

Missouri calendar:

  • Snow fleas are visible on snow in sunny wooded areas.

No guessing necessary

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

So consider this post a bookend to my earlier post about the mystery item we found under some mighty oaks at Roundrock. The general, and mostly professional, consensus was that that item was, indeed, and owl pellet.

The items in the photo above are coyote scat, or some canid scat anyway. We came upon these in the same place where we almost always find them: in the middle of the road. I’d read somewhere (I wish I could get back to “somewhere” — I’ve read so many things there!) that coyotes will tend to leave their droppings in obvious places as a way to mark their territory. I mentioned that factoid here once before and was quickly doubted by one person (who ought to know).

It may be that coyote scat is found all over the forest and we simply see it in the places where it is obvious, like open roadways. When the lake drained to a dismal level some years ago, and the large boulders in it were exposed, we found some scat atop one of the boulders. I suppose at the time, that would have been a prominent, obvious place, and it would have been easy for an agile coyote to get up there.

Did you know that there is a sometimes impassioned debate about how to pronounce the word “coyote” properly? I was at a conference where this came up. Some insist it is a two-syllable word with a silent “e” at the end. Others say that by pronouncing the “e” the word more closely matches the Aztec original for the word.

Roundrock Journal is not about making declarations or taking sides (well, except in the recent election), so please continue to pronounce that word however you’d like.

Missouri calendar:

  • Observe red-tailed hawks perched along highways.

It’s a boy!

Monday, January 12th, 2009

Those secret plans for the weekend that I mentioned in yesterday’s post did all come together, though not exactly as I had planned.

I’ve been telling Libby for months that we didn’t need any more pets in the house. Our current census includes one geriatric dog, a loud cockatiel that sheds dander everywhere and chews on the spines of my books, an unfriendly bunny that spends some time in our basement and some time in our kitchen, and a goldfish named Jeff. That was enuf for any household I told her.

I was being untruthful, of course.

Libby has been saying for years that she’s wanted a Pomeranian as a sort of companion. (Fluffier than I am I guess.) I resisted for a long time, but I knew secretly that resistance was futile. I began to think in earnest last fall that it was time to bring another member into the household. I thought, though, that such a companion-type dog would be in high demand in the weeks approaching the various holidays and thus be highly priced, so I decided I would postpone my surrender until after the holidays. (You may remember that we had my daughter’s dog, Crusher, with us over the holidays, and the house was in an uproar then.)

On Saturday morning, after suitable grumbling about how we didn’t need any more pets, I told Libby that one of my blogging friends in rural Missouri had invited us for a visit in exchange for some round rocks. She wasn’t too keen on that, and my grumblings about the pets had put her in a sad mood. (I didn’t realize how effective I’d been.) She insisted on knowing just which blogger friend it was — as though that would make a difference — and I told her it was the keeper of Fox Haven Journal. (Thanks for the smokescreen, Beau!)

So we loaded some spare round rocks in the bed of the TOYOTA and drove about an hour into rural Missouri. All along, Libby thought that we were going to see my blogger friend. When we found the house, we were invited in, and it wasn’t until Libby saw the tumbling pile of puppies on the kitchen floor that she realized what was going on.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get a puppy.

None of the five pups matched what she had in mind for her ideal Pom. The colors were wrong. The faces weren’t right. They were too large for their age (she wants a lap dog). The parent dogs were larger, and they looked like they might have been mixes. (I have no problem with mutts, but Libby wanted an actual Pomeranian.)

So we left there with a pair of heavy hearts.

When we got home, we got online to see if there were any other prospects. We found a likely adoptee in Buffalo, Missouri, but that’s a three-hour drive in each direction (zipping past Roundrock on the way). So we made plans for going there on Sunday, hoping that the puppy whose picture we saw online would be suitable.

Libby asked me to keep searching, and I found a very unlikely ad on some online site I’d never heard of before. The thumbnail photo was microscopic and wouldn’t embiggen. There was no phone number but only some obscure email mechanism for contacting the advertiser. The price was alarmingly low. But the location was just across town. Still, I had no hope that this option would work either. But I sent in my blind email query and kept looking for other pups.

Then — surprise — I very quickly got an email back. The woman behind the ad said that we were welcome to come by her house, confirming that the unlikely puppy was still available. He was eight weeks old two days before, he was weaned, and he was looking for a good home. Best of all, he was tiny for his age. (The pups we had looked at in rural Missouri were only six weeks old and were already larger than this unlikely pup.)

So once again we jumped in the car, stopping at the cash machine to get the alarmingly low amount of cash that was required, and drove across town. The pup was waiting for us in a laundry basket in the woman’s front room. I could tell it was love at first sight for Libby. The pup met all of her requirements: it looks like a little bear, it is small for its age, the coloring is right, it jumped lovingly into her outstretched hands.

We were actually lucky to get this pup. The woman said that she’d had dozens of offers to buy the pup earlier in the week, but the poor thing had gotten into the cat food and had loose bowels as a result. She didn’t think she could sell the dog until that was cleared up, so she turned away those many callers. She’d only put the ad up again on the very day we found it.

So now we have a new puppy in the house. So far he’s mostly just stayed on Libby’s lap, which is exactly what she wanted in a companion.

Anyway, behold Queequeg:

Missouri calendar:

  • Look for signs of wildlife feeding on saplings: deer, a ragged cut; rabbits a nice 45-degree slice.