Archive for February, 2009

Toad Suck

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

Welcome to Toad Suck. I’ve never been there. This is a sort of convenience story, general supply mercantile, and restaurant on one of the tiny, very scenic roads not too far from Roundrock. It’s really out of our way to pass by here, and the place isn’t even open most of the year. Still, I’ve been eager to visit it and see what’s inside and maybe have one of their “famous” burgers barbecue sandwiches.

This place is part of perhaps a dozen structures that make up a small community that would have normally been lost to time if it weren’t for an accident of location. This little community sits right outside the gates of a huge Boy Scout camp, and in the summer months, there could be nearly a thousand boys sleeping in tents nearby. If they behave, they get to walk into “town” and blow their pocket money on ice cream and soda pop and trinkets to help them get through the 10 days away from home they must endure. (I know about this. My boys all went to this camp.)

Some day I’ll visit Toad Suck, and when I do, perhaps I’ll have a story to share with you.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

More from Kansas

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Another scene from Kansas, albeit from several miles up in the sky. This is an area just east of Colby (where #3 Son Aaron and lovely daughter-in-law Amber live). What you see are crop fields, and I wouldn’t be suprised if those smaller circles were a quarter mile in diameter.

In an arid area like western Kansas, many crops will only grow with reliable water, so the farmers water their fields with a gigantic delivery arrangements, called lateral move systems, that creep across the ground on wheels, pivoting from a center point where the water is pumped from. The result are the lush, circular fields you see above.

It’s almost impossible to appreciate these shapes from ground level, though the long watering mechanism is unmistakable as it stretches across a section of land.

Missouri calendar:

  • Boxelder bugs are seen on warm days until April.
  • Watch for the flap and glide of mourning doves’ courtship flights.

Weird wounds

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

This is a healed wound. Many years ago, one of the oaks on the ridgetop at Fallen Timbers lost a limb. It wasn’t a clean break. In fact, I suspect that much of the limb remained connected to the trunk, but it was dead. The bark, however, continued to grow, and it grew around the remains of the branch.

As I understand it, this is how trees can seal wounds. Unfortunately for the tree, this is a slow process involving many years (at least for a project this size). In that time, fungus can get into the heart of the tree and begin the premature decay.

There are lots of oddities like this on the ridgetop trees at Fallen Timbers. We have some gnarly trees there. I guess being elevated as they are on top of the hill makes them easy targets for the weather.

Missouri calendar:

  • Opossum young are born and climb into the female’s pouch.
  • River otter litters are born now through late March.

Wordless Wednesday

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Missouri calendar:

  • Ash Wednesday
  • Listen for western chorus frogs; sound is like a thumbnail run along a comb.
  • Killdeer begin arriving.

Cold and hot

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

It sure doesn’t feel like February in Missouri, or Kansas either. The temps have been consistently above the norm for weeks. At least it seems that way. There are even wide variations within the region. While we were in shirtsleeves in western Kansas over the weekend, the temps at Roundrock were lucky to get above freezing.

For the short term, I don’t mind the comparative warmth. It makes everyday life easier and trips to the woods more enjoyable. For the long term, though, I wonder. Conventional wisdom holds that long, bitterly cold winters will reduce the tick and chigger population the following summer. Consequently, a mild winter might allow these infernal pests to survive in greater numbers and seek me in the summer.

I don’t know how much of this is true. While it makes a kind of folk wisdom sense, do winter temperatures really have any effect on tick and chigger survival? It would seem to me that the ones that could survive would be the ones that subsequently reproduced, passing their survival gene down through the generations, creating more little pests that would survive to seek me in the summer.

The poor, back-lighted photo you see above is from Fallen Timbers. I’ve featured it here before, slowly getting absorbed by the tree over the years. I remember the day I took that photo. We started the hike a few degrees above freezing, and found ourselves back at the ridgetop fire ring a few hours later where the temperature had risen nearly ten degrees. Best of all there were no ticks or chiggers.

Missouri calendar:

  • Flying squirrels begin breeding.
  • Skunks breed through late March.

Yes, this is Kansas

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

Yes, this is Kansas. Even more amazing, this is in western Kansas where the horizon can be flat and unbroken for miles and miles. As I noted in yesterday’s post, Libby and I (and Queequeg) journeyed to Colby, Kansas over the weekend to see #3 Son Aaron and his lovely wife Amber — at their invitation even!

These are the Monument Rocks in Gove County. If you go to that link you can learn all sorts of interesting things about these formations as well as get a photo that gives you the scale of the window in the rock above.

We had stopped here on our way home from our Colby visit. We left the highway and drove 15 miles on nice, two-lane road to the town of Oakley (of Annie Oakley fame) and then another 15 miles on more two-lane road. Then a sign pointed down a pretty good gravel road for another 7 miles. We were way out there, and there was nothing, absolutely nothing to see for those last 7 miles. No houses. No structures. No passing cars. Lots of yucca plants. An occasional hawk. And then we came around a turn and there about a mile ahead were the Monument Rocks rising from the prairie.

The temperature was in the low 40s, and the wind was blowing across the trackless prairie. We were able to drive up to the to the formations and park. We were the only ones there, and we wondered if we could leave Queequeg off the leash. (He hasn’t been very cooperative with our “come” commands yet.) I assumed that the only predator that would be a threat to a three-and-a-half pound pup was a rattlesnake, and I figured they were all in their winter dens in February. Still, we put Queequeg on his leash and headed into the hoodoos.

These structures are truly weird for this part of the world. Where “flatter than a pancake” is literally true about western Kansas, these rocks rise alarmingly from the surrounding land.

We walked around the formations, which are pitted and warped, with lots of grottoes and slopes, and as I came around one point, I stirred a great horned owl from its nest cavity. It was far above us, and it flew over the top of the formations and out of sight. I was instantly glad that we had chosen to put our three-and-a-half pound puppy on his leash, for if he had run ahead of us, he might have been snatched by this efficient predator.

Our diversion from the highway ended up adding an extra hour to our normaly six-hour trek, and with frequent stops for puppy purposes, we wound up taking eight hours to get home. Still, we’d wanted to see these for years, and we were glad we took the opportunity.

Missouri calendar:

  • Spotted salamanders move to breeding ponds this week.

Sunday slams

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

I passed on the chance to go down to Roundrock last weekend because I intended to be there this weekend, and that was the plan until Thursday night when #3 Son Aaron called and invited us out to western Kansas. As you read this, I am probably driving east across Kansas toward home. So I didn’t make it to the woods yesterday or today either. You needn’t worry, though. I’ll cope with my Roundrock withdrawal pains.


What you see above is a bit of acorn shell. I’d read an account of people who ate acorns (it involves a lot of soaking to get the acids out of them) who had to sort them to find the ones without holes in them. The holes, it seems, are made by worms that penetrate the acorn and eat it from within. Presumably, you don’t want to eat that worm, though if you’re reduced to eating acorns . . .


The next Festival of the Trees will be hosted by the blog local ecologist. Deadline for submissions is this coming Friday, February 27. You can send your submissions to Georgia at info [at] localecology [dot] org; just be sure to put “Festival of the Trees” in the subject line. Or you can use the handy online submission form. The Festival has been roaring for nearly three years. Visit the coordinating blog to see all of the past hosts and link to their editions. There’s plenty of good stuff there. And look for local ecologist to have a fine addition to the tradition around March 1.



What’s Pablo reading now? I haven’t started it yet, but the next novel on my list is Night Train to Lisbon, by Pascal Mercier. The title grabbed my attention because I had taken a night train to Kisumu when I was on my too-brief sojourn to Kenya a couple of years ago. The cover blurb sounds interesting, so I’m going to give it a go. I’m also slowly working my way through Faulkner’s novel Go Down, Moses for that discussion group I’m in that tackled Moby Dick for the last couple of years.


Missouri calendar:

  • Washington’s Birthday
  • Chipmunks come out of hibernation.

Lovely blue

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

Even in the bleakest winter, I always enjoy the tawny color of little bluestem grass. It glows with its own light, or at least it seems that way.

There is a healthy stand of little bluestem growing among the pines in Blackberry Corner. (You can see a bit of the pine caging there on the right of the photo.) When the blackberries were all bulldozed out of the corner some years ago, we scattered fescue seed on the exposed soil, thinking we had to get something growing there quickly lest all of the good soil wash away, or walk away, clinging to our boots.

You can’t find any fescue growing in this corner of our property now. The native little bluestem moved in and soon became dominant. (This part of Missouri was mostly prairie in pre-settlement days — I suspect that my forest is the anomaly.) In most cases, the bluestem is taller than the pines mixed in it, but that’s already changing. Some of those pines are now taller than I am, and in another decade I expect they’ll be shading the bluestem into submission.

I intend to be there to watch.

Missouri calendar:

  • Walleye move onto shoals for spawning through April.

Mute signs

Friday, February 20th, 2009

This is one of the trees that flank the entrance to Roundrock. Some years ago, I had put a Private Property sign on the tree, but the heads on the nails I used were not big enuf and the sign worked its way free of them to fall into the road and taunt me. (Just what would cause a static sign to work free of nails, even if the nail heads could have been bigger?)

You see what’s left behind. How shall we account for that? At first I thought that the sign had protected the bark of the tree from the western sun, keeping it from fading the way the rest of the trunk has. But on reflection, that seemed silly. The tree’s been there for decades. It can’t have faded so noticeably in the couple of years the sign had hung there. In fact, it’s a white oak, so the bark is supposed to be that gray color.

That leaves the dark brown part as needing the explanation. Why did that area grow darker behind the sign? My first guess is that it was protected from cleansing rains that wash the accumulated debris from the rest of the trunk. It’s also possible that there is something about the sign that reacted with the bark to change its color. That doesn’t seem likely though. The sign is some rust-free metal that ought to be inert (oughtn’t it?). Could the sign have protected some natural restorative function of the tree for its bark? Anybody?

Since I pass this tree every time I visit Roundrock, I’ll get the chance to study the brown square and see if it changes color over time.

I had propped the fallen sign against the fencing I have around the maple I planted just inside the entrance. When I returned on a subsequent visit, someone had worked the sign in between the place where the layers of fence overlap, so now the sign is about five feet high, just inside the entrance to the woods. Nicely visible. I had assumed that Good Neighbor Brian had done it, but when I quizzed him later, he claimed he knew nothing about it. Makes me wonder who the rural dogooder was, but no one is talking.

Missouri calendar:

  • Coyotes breed through March; listen for howling.

Forlorn stick in the water

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

I was amused when I saw this little vignette in the shallow end of the lake in my woods recently. This stick had the fool notion of growing into a tree in the middle of my lake bed. I suspect it got this notion a couple of years ago when that part of the lake had remained dry for at least a couple of years. The wet year we had last year, plus the slowly sealing dam (knock wood) have meant that this part of the lake has remained filled with water. I think that did in the tree. (I wish it would do the same with the willows growing nearby!)

So what I think I see here is the wave action of the surface of the water having stripped the bark from the tree right at what was the water line. The constant wet kept the bark soft, and the constant rippling of the tiny waves did the mechanical work of knocking the bark off of the trunk. At least that’s the story I’m going with. What do you think?

Missouri calendar:

  • Turkey vultures begin arriving.