Archive for March, 2009

Snowman says mud season is here!

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Well, despite my intentions, my desires, my hopes and dreams, my goals, my wishes, and my best-laid plans, we did not go down to Roundrock on Sunday (to Libby’s great relief). I had expected all of the dire predictions about heavy snowfall accumulations to be no more than the usual weather porn they generally are. This time they came true, and I found myself shoveling my driveway on Saturday night at 9:30. Libby found the time to make this snowman.

Not that I give it much credence, but the weather forecast for this week promises mild spring warmth — enuf to melt all of that snow and turn the roads at Roundrock into muddy sluices. I’m free this coming Saturday!

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A scene from the yard in suburbia:

Missouri calendar:

  • Average day of last frost in southern Missouri.

Saying goodbye (but only half meaning it)

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Our recent flurry of activity at Fallen Timbers (that other little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks we own) has been to the purpose you see above. We have put that 40 acres up for sale.

The repair work that needs doing on the dam and the road at Roundrock called for a fair amount of cash (though far less than we expected it turned out). Because we hardly ever visited Fallen Timbers any longer, we thought that we could possibly part with it without rending our hearts too much. All of our other financial assets have taken the same dip affecting the rest of the world, but it seems that rural land still is holding its value, and this piece of rural land has performed quite well (as a financial asset). When we approached a realtor about selling it, hoping we could at least get back what we put into it, he quickly named a price that was well above what we’d paid a decade ago. By my (admittedly sketchy) calculations, his asking price represented a 62% increase in the value of the acreage.

We thought that if we could get that unlikely number, we’d be pleased, and we calculated our bottom line for the inevitable haggling. If we couldn’t get that much, we didn’t have to sell the land. In any case, we figured it would be months before we had a nibble.

To our surprise, the realtor called us about two weeks after he put up the sign to tell us we had a willing buyer at our asking price. The only catch was that the man wanted only half of the 40 acres. (Actually, he wanted all of it, but he could only get a loan for half of it. He owns an adjoining piece of land, so he’s expanding his holding there.) After about two minutes of wondering whether we should keep the parcel intact or not, we agreed. The closing was last Thursday.

So now we only have 20 acres of Fallen Timbers left to us. Fortunately, it’s the part that has road access and the fire ring area on the open ridgetop. I don’t see us visiting that for nostalgic reasons anytime soon, and the realtor has said he’s been showing it to interested parties.

I need to contact the man I met who will do the repair work out at Roundrock now. We’ve had a wet spring so far, but I don’t have to let the spillway and overflow drain give me nightmares any longer. Libby tells me the money is already spent in normal expenses (like taxes and insurance payments), so some of the other spending dreams I have for Roundrock will have to wait until the other half of Fallen Timbers sells.

Missouri calendar:

  • Redbuds begin blooming.
  • Phoebes return this week.

Sunday stories

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Despite the wild weather of the last couple of days, my intent is to be out at Roundrock today. We had snow in Kansas City yesterday. It’s not unprecedented this time of the year, but it sure is unwelcome. We’ll see if one affects the other.

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The moss you see above is growing on the wetter, north-facing slope at Roundrock. I don’t know what kind it is, but I’m not the only one.

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Little Queequeg had a little mishap the other day. He’s very active. He runs everywhere and jumps for everything. He was jumping for a toy Libby was holding for him and must have come down wrong on his leg because he immediately started yelping and limping. I feared that he had broken his leg, which is supposed to be the most common mishap for Pomeranians with their little matchstick bones. A trip to the vet the next morning (and two X-rays — my dog gets better health care than most people in the world!) showed that he had torn a tendon. He should be as good as new in about two weeks, but we were told to restrict his movements. Try telling that to a four-month-old puppy.

Meanwhile, that video of Max and Queequeg playing that I have on my Yahoo site seems to have topped out at 88,000 hits. I can’t account for its apparent popularity; it’s not even a good video. It and my other videos are available here.

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Tomorrow is the deadline for submissions to the next edition of the Festival of the Trees, making its first appearance at The Marvelous in Nature. This is edition 34, which makes the Festival of Trees one of the venerable blog carnivals out there. If you’d like to make a submission to this edition, send an email to Seabrooke at sanderling [at] symbiotic [dot] ca with “Festival of the Trees” in the subject line. You can also use the handy, dandy online submission form. Expect to see the newest Festival up on April Fools Day.

Seabrooke is the subject of an interview over at Nature Blog Network. If you’re not familiar with that site, be sure to click the link then do a little exploring.

And remember, we’re always looking for people to host an edition of the Festival of the Trees. June is open. So is August and beyond. If you’re interested, you can head over the the Festival coordinating site and link to the many hosts in the past to get an idea of how you might do it. Dave and I will give you all the help you need.

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The Roundrock email box has been visited lately by many automated missives telling me how I can buy a given product that will help me quit smoking. As both long-time readers know, aside from a ceegar once or twice a year, I don’t smoke. My conclusion (and something many of you probably already knew): the many tags I had put on that Maria Mancini ceegar post must have lured the spambots. I guess I should be more judicious about the tags I give posts. Hmmm. Makes me wonder just what kind of spam I should try to cultivate.

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What’s Pablo reading now? I saw a reference to a book about writing called The Half-Known World over at Sharp Sand, one of my regular haunts. It’s mostly a musing by the author of his own writing process, which is something I always find interesting.

Missouri calendar:

  • Double-crested cormorants arrive at wetland areas late this month.

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Poor Prolechariot!

Pile o’bricks

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

This pile of bricks and stuff has been sitting in this same spot since the first weeks after the lake was built. I don’t suppose that is a long time for a brick, but for our tenure on the land it is.

I got this fine collection from my friend Todd when he was cleaning out before his move to some place he calls Nevada. (He still maintains that such a place exists and even sends me emails from there, but I haven’t yet visited to verify that such an unlikely sounding place truly exists.) At the time I was avidly building fish structures in the dry lake bed, and these bricks seemed ideal for the job. They also seemed ideal for other jobs (though I never specified to myself just what jobs), and I tended to not use the bricks because there always seemed to be some better use about to come to mind.

And so they’ve sat, waiting for their purpose to reveal itself. That wooden thing on the right is a bat house that we are going to hang on a nearby tree. I need to get around to that chore some day. The steel fence post is the first of the many I’ve slammed into the ground that I’ve removed for some reason. It may be joined soon by the various posts we used to gussy up the shelter tarp. Those wooden posts came from somewhere, but I don’t recall.

I visit this pile occasionally to grab a few bricks for this or that. I used some of these to build the supports for the cooking grill at our fire ring at the new campsite. We took all of the broken bricks and threw them into the hole that the overflow drain exit is digging into the base of the dam. (The rush of water then threw them out of the hole.) I’ve seen some wildlife in the pile. The elusive Blue-tailed skink has been spotted here. So has the Northern fence lizard. I even saw a scorpion here once. It was black with bright yellow stripes, which didn’t match up with any identification sites I found for Missouri scorpions. (Since then I’ve been hesitant about grabbing bricks.)

I consider this brick pile to be a sort of meter for judging if we have vandals or thieves in our woods when we are away. The pile sits in the open, just off the road near the dam. Anyone venturing that far into our woods would see it — and not be seen by anyone else. If they wanted to take the bricks, they certainly could. And while I don’t suppose a brick has much street value, that fence post is getting more and more valuable as the price of steel has been increasing. The fact that nothing has been taken or even disturbed suggests to me that our interlopers are not a malicious bunch.

Or maybe my guardian scorpions are doing a fine job of protecting the pile.

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And see the black dot on the far shoreline of the lake? I don’t know what that is. There should be nothing there. Perhaps I have captured an image of the Ozark Howler.

Missouri calendar:

  • Wild plums begin blooming along woods and fence rows.

Scene of the crime

Friday, March 27th, 2009

I came upon this little vignette on my latest trip to Roundrock. Many years ago I cut down two cedars that were growing atop the dam of the pond. I left the stumps standing about four feet tall for some reason, and now I know why. Someone sits on top of one of these stumps to have its dinner, and the menu recently included a crawdad.

Now I know that there is vigorous debate about just what to call these little inland lobsters. Crawdads, crayfish, crawfish, mudbugs. No doubt others. The Missouri Department of Conservation, which I suppose is as authoritative an arbiter of these things as anyone, calls them crayfish. (Where does the “fish” part come in though?)

Looking at their webpage for these critters, I think my little victim here is either a prairie crayfish or a devil crayfish. The pincer looks more like the former, but the coloring is more suited to the latter. Both are iffy in terms of their range in relation to Roundrock, but I’ll give them credit for expanding their range.

I didn’t realize how many species there were of these critters in Missouri. Some appear to exist only at certain springs and nowhere else.

Sorry about the poor focus on this second photo. The camera picked the top of the stump between the pincers. My intent was to show the blue coloring on the pincer

Missouri calendar:

  • Serviceberry begins to bloom in woods.
  • Badgers bear young through early April.
  • Ohio buckeyes begin leafing.

Curious cedar

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

I came upon a curiously growing cedar on a recent Roundrock ramble. This one rises on the edge of the forest, just above a grassy slope near the western end of the lake. I noticed it right away because the needles are growing in clusters directly from spots all along the branches (rather than at the ends of the branches as I’ve seen with other cedars).

I want to say this is some kind of deformity, but I don’t know enuf about dendrology (enuf? I don’t know anything!) to make that kind of assertion. I can say that it is growing in a way that is different from every other cedar in my woods. The cedar is similar in shape, and the branching pattern seems normal, but these blisters of needles coming directly from the branches is odd.

The closed shape of the needles says they are new growth. Older needles are more forked and sharp. Perhaps this tree suffered some kind of trauma that nearly killed it, and it is just now trying to come back.

Missouri calendar:

  • Newly emerged zebra swallowtail butterflies fly in woodlands.
  • Gooseberries begin blooming.
  • Swallows return.

New favorite spot

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

I’ve mentioned here a few times that I have a new favorite spot in my forest. It’s actually been my favorite spot for a few years, so I guess I can’t really call it new, but whatever.

The photo above doesn’t give it much justice, but I think you can get a sense of what I like about it. This area, south of the pond and east of our new campsite, has an open understory. You can see that pretty well in the photo, and there’s about an acre of the forest like this in the area. I think there is something in the genome that likes long lines of sight — something to do with being able to see predators approaching. Whatever the reason, I like this part of the forest best of all.

I’m not sure why the understory has stayed so open. It’s not that it is shaded by stands of large trees, as you can see above. We have come across a few cut stumps that are very old. Back in the cattle ranch days it looks as though someone had worked hard to keep this area open, but that was thirty years ago at least. It seems to me that the understory would have established itself since then. My guess is that the soil here is not very good. If all those leaves weren’t on the ground, you could see that there isn’t a lot of soil. Brush away the leaves and you find gravel. Even the grasses haven’t tried to reconquer this part of the land though a lot of sunlight manages to reach the ground here.

Every time that Libby and I are tromping through the forest and reach this part, we always do something to make the area more open. Usually in involves cutting away the lower branches of cedar trees (or liberating whole small cedar trees from their earthly toil altogether). It will take a couple of lifetimes to get this area in perfect shape. Fortunately, we have those.

Missouri calendar:

  • Horned larks flock in fields.

What’s missing? Anyone?

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Take a good look at the photo above. Can you tell what’s missing?

How about a different angle?

Notice anything wrong? I did right away. I’ll give you one hint: the lake was not at full pool.

Still not figured it out? Okay, I’ll tell you. The piece of yellow slag glass that I had affixed atop the stump out in the middle of the lake is no longer there.* At this water level, the chunk of glass and the top of the stump should have been visible. ’twasn’t. I’m not sure how to account for this.

The stump is part of a brush pile on the lake bed that I hope is serving as great fish habitat. I put the slag on top of it to mark the spot, thinking that much of the time it would be visible above the surface and at full pool just below the surface of the water. It would mark a good place to cast a line. I have seen the lake full enuf to completely cover the chunk of glass, but the lake wasn’t that high on this visit. My conclusion is that the chunk of glass has fallen from its perch and now rests on the bottom of the lake.

Three possible reasons come to mind. The chunk was not very firmly placed in the stump. I had gouged out a hole for it in the stump and wedged it in there some years ago. It may be that a comparatively large bird had landed on the chunk of glass, and this action, or the bird’s subsequent take off, dislodged the glass chunk and sent it to the bottom. A second possible explanation is that the big rains we’d had earlier in the week had created such an inflow of water that the glass was simply knocked off the stump by the current. I don’t think this is very likely though since the “channel” where the water comes into the lake is not near the stump, and anyway, the inlet is so far away that any force the flow had there would be dissipated by the time it reached the stump.

The third explanation may be the most likely. The stump itself and its root wad were resting on a pile of mud and gravel. It was not rooted in the ground but merely part of the pile like all the rest of the stuff there. Back in the days when I could still walk around this part of the lake bed, I noticed that the ground underneath the stump was slowing getting washed away. It may be that enuf of the ground beneath it had shifted in that last big water event, allowing the stump and its glass crown to tumble to the bottom.

If the water gods continue to favor me, the lake will stay full and I’ll never get the chance to return to this spot. If I do get that chance, though, I’m going to collect that chunk of glass and find another use for it at Roundrock.

*(The following, while perfectly true, would not have been accepted as answers to my question: blue sky, waterfowl, skinny dippers, green leaves, Peregrine, and kayakers. Other clever guesses not named here would probably be disallowed too.)

Missouri calendar:

  • Look for pussy willows’ fuzzy blooms.

Ravine ramble

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

When Libby and I made our hike down the pond ravine in search of the congestion of cedars that seemed to be somewhere along there according to the satellite photo of Roundrock, I managed to take some pix that show a bit of the character of the area. I’ve not had much success with photographing the ravines. In part they are so clogged with scrubby growth that you get no sense of their depth and range. The photos in this series don’t try to be that ambitious. They’re all from the top end of the ravine below the pond, but they do give you a sense of their character.

Although mostly an oak/hickory forest, Roundrock does have a little diversity. There’s the lake, of course, and the grassy, good soil at the northwestern corner when my pines are flourishing. The north-facing slope of the Central Valley is wetter than the south-facing slope, so the plant communities are a bit different. The almost constantly wet acre below the dam is different from everywhere else. The ravines, however, are a group unto themselves.

In the photo above you see just about the top of the ravine below the pond. Those specks of light you see through the trees on the right and left are the sky over my neighbor’s hundred acre field to the north. The drainage coming from our pond is to the left of that tree with the hole in its trunk. I think you can make out the fold in the land to the right of that tree where water also drains down from the north. They converge just below that tree and begin the true ravine itself.

Until the rains of a few days before, this ravine was carpeted with fallen leaves. They make walking along there treacherous because they hide the large, ankle-twisting rocks. The recent flow of water, mostly overflow from the pond, has scoured the ravine a bit and shown the watercourse more clearly.

The ravines tend to have larger collections of fantastic trees. The one above rises from the rocky soil just a bit down from he photo at the top. I don’t suppose the soil here is very good, but I guess the more consistent supply of water allows trees along here to grow larger than up the hillside. This one seems to have been a training station for the pileated woodpeckers I occasionally see and generally hear in my forest. Despite all of this hard work, the tree appeared to be thriving, and being down in the ravine, perhaps it will be protected from the winds that have blown down other well-used trees like it elsewhere in the forest.

Many ravine are misshapen, in part by the force of the water and the constant barrage of large rocks that are washed against them, but also in their quest for light. The tree immediately above appears to have crawled along the ground in its hunt for life-giving sunlight. I especially like that stout branch rising from the left side. If I ever need a T shaped piece of wood, I’ll know where to go to find it.

Fallen snags like this one are common in the ravines. Sometimes they drop low enuf to block the flow and small pools form above them. The waterway here is narrow enuf that I can easily step across it, but if it weren’t, I don’t think I’d trust myself by crossing on that log. As a child, I used to dash across pipe above a creek near my home that was much wider and deeper that the little streamlet you see above. The pipe couldn’t have been any thicker around than this snag, yet I was fearless in my darting from one side to another. I think I must have been more fearless and nimble in those days.

Missouri calendar:

  • Walk a trail to enjoy the sounds of spring.

Sunday sprinkles

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

Sometimes when we stop at our local bagelry to grab some breakfast on the early mornings of our trips to Roundrock, Libby sneaks a couple of treats into the bag she brings out to the car. That’s always fun because by the time lunch rolls around, I’ve forgotten that she put a little extra bag on the back seat.

What’s interesting to me about this photo is not the festive cookie in the foreground but the lay of the land in the background. That looks like a far-off ridge on the right and a hill on the left. Those are both tricks of the eye. That “ridge” is merely the tops of trees downhill from where we are sitting. The open area of the pecan plantation makes them appear at all, and so they look like they’re far away. As for the slope going up on the left, I think that may just be the branch of a cedar tree.

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You still have eight days to get your submissions in for the next Festival of the Trees to be hosted at The Marvelous in Nature. Send your links by March 30 to sanderling [at] symbiotic [dot] ca and be sure to put Festival of the Trees in your subject line. Or you can use the ever handy online submission form.

Although a number of folks have lined up to host future Festivals, we have an opening on June 1, and it would be an ideal time for you to give it a turn. Just send me or Dave an email. We’ll give you all the help you need.

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One year ago I left a feather in a stump (and no one left a comment).

Two years ago I was writing about very real blue-tailed skinks.

Three years ago I was chatting about woodpeckers and peckerwoods.

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What’s Pablo reading now? Nothing, oddly. I finished Night Train to Lisbon last week and liked it a lot, but I have a book on request at the library, and I don’t want to be in the middle of something else when it becomes available. I am listening to the new collection of Tobias Wolff short stories on my iPod, but for some reason I don’t consider that reading.

Missouri calendar:

  • Female red-winged blackbirds arrive this week.
  • Bats are leaving hibernation caves.