Archive for August, 2009

The never-ending fence repair

Monday, August 31st, 2009

emerging 1

We did not go down to Roundrock last weekend. We had obligations that kept us in town, including more of the ongoing repair work of the picket fence that surrounds our back yard and kept the kids in when they were little. It now keeps Queequeg in since he is naughty and won’t come when called.

Sometimes I think my fence is a lot like Theseus’ boat. Over the years as his boat aged, Theseus had repairs made to it. Eventually, every plank was replaced, and none of the original material remained. Was it still Theseus’ boat? It’s a classic conundrum in philosophical debate, but in the mean time, my fence is falling down and needs repair.

So Libby and I spent part of Sunday doing that. The fence has been surrounding our back yard for more than twenty years, and in that time, I’d say I’ve replaced three quarters of the pickets and a third of the cross braces. I’ve even replaced four of the posts and two gates.

When we learned that Queequeg was not going to be a good boy and come when called, we knew we had to step up the repair work on the fence since he could slip between some of the rotten pickets and through other breaches. We called back the company that had built the fence for us two decades before to see about repair. The man, the father of the young man who had built the fence for us originally, told us that he didn’t want to repair it but that he would happily replace it. For about half the cost of a new car. When I told him that wasn’t going to happen, he changed his policy about repair work and quoted a priced for the repairs he identified, which more or less came to replacing the fence anyway. That might have been the end of it, but the fellow had to insult me before he left.

We stained our fence dark green soon after it was built. Both of us have always hated the ugly gray that cedar turns to over the decades. It just looks uncared for, and the dark green fence tended to blend with the grass and shrubbery, arresting the eyes less.  Through the years, it became the chore of the children as they grew to stain it every few summers. Well, the fence man said he had never seen a stained fence before. Certainly not one that was stained green. He thought we must be the only people in the whole city who would ever think to stain a fence dark green. He marveled at our oddness, and scratching his head, he drove away.

emerging 2

Soon after that, Libby and I made it our mission to keep our eyes open for stained fences throughout the city. We saw plenty. Most commonly, folks stained them white. We also saw a lot of redwood stain. And we saw dark green fences here and there.

When we were busy working on the fence, we came upon this late-emerging cicada. I consider it evidence that we really did give attention to the fence and weren’t goofing off as some have accused.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

Sunday ruminations

Sunday, August 30th, 2009


The delicate pink flower you see above is, I think, Desmodium laevigatum, going by the more common name of smooth tick trefoil. I found it blooming just above the lake on the south-facing slope and it reminded me of a vow I made many years ago. You see, the seeds/fruits of this low plant are the triangular burrs that infest my socks and pants later in the season. Once I connected the lovely pink flower with the tenacious burrs, I vowed to yank up this plant every time it identified itself by bringing forth these blooms. Thus I could save myself countless hours and hours devoted to picking the burrs off my clothes. I have failed repeatedly to honor my vow.


The post I wrote so very long ago, introducing everyone to blue-tailed skinks, continues to attract attention. One kind soul has even borrowed the photo (after first asking permission and how the attribution should be made) for her website intended to bring “ecologists, doctors, and veterinarians together to work on issues of global health and environmental sustainability.” I’m flattered to be part of such an august body of people. (I hope the photo is still there.) Nice use of the serial comma, too.


The deadline for the next edition of the Festival of the Trees has passed. Now all we can do is wait for it to come up over at Arboreality. This will be Jade’s fourth turn as host. So be sure to click on that link on Tuesday morning and see what she has collected for us this time.

If you’ve been thinking about being a host, now’s a good time to give it a try. The November 1 edition is available, and Dave and I will give you all the help you need.


It may be that I misidentified the butterfly in my Pipevine swallowtail post. Granted, it is a poor shot for identification, and granted, I have no mad skillz with the critters. My identification was tentative, and I always welcome the voice of authority. Two people wrote to say that it looks like it might be a red-spotted purple. And it may be.


It seems that the email address to this humble blog has been dead, perhaps for weeks. I notified my crack technical team, and I should have it fixed soon. Maybe it’s already fixed.


Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

Mushroom forest

Saturday, August 29th, 2009


The temps have been mild in the last week, but a lot of rain has come down, bringing a fresh crop of mushrooms throughout the forest. I’ve seen all sorts of varieties, some of which I don’t think I’ve seen before and none of which I could identify for you.

This little beauty was growing among the many others on the south-facing slope. Every few feet I could find another like it or a patch of some other kind. The south-facing slope tends to be drier because it gets sun all day long, and by August the forest is usually like tinder, but not this year. Maybe I should take a hike along the north-facing slope on my next visit and see what other fungal wonders await me there.

Missouri calendar:

  • Thirteen-lined ground squirrels begin to gorge.

Skywatch Friday ~ Reflections

Thursday, August 27th, 2009


The sky was beautiful in the late summer over my woods in the Missouri Ozarks. Everywhere I looked.

The sky was a clear, blue vault overhead all day, and I wasn’t sure I’d get an interesting photo to share. At the end of the day, as we were preparing to leave, I walked down to the lake for a last look and spotted this image.

Skywatch Friday

Missouri calendar:

  • Male white-tailed deer rub velvet off antlers; watch for their “rubs” on small trees.

The button progresses

Thursday, August 27th, 2009


It’s the season for buttonbush blooming here in the lower Midwest. Two springs ago I had planted a couple dozen buttonbush that I got from the Missouri Department of Conservation. I thought it would be too early (by several years) to expect my little plants to be blooming, but the last time I was out to Roundrock, I made a point to check a couple of them.

Here you see one growing next to the pond. It gets to have wet feet, and it gets morning sun then is protected from the harsher afternoon sun by a towering oak nearby. It more or less has ideal growing conditions.

And it’s made fine use of it.

This is an August photo, and most of the plants in the forest are looking a little weary, with leaves tattered and torn, including this buttonbush. Even so, I was delighted to find how well this one was doing. The branches are spreading, but this plant is taller than three feet now, and I know it can grow well over my head.

So I’m pleased with my inventory. The buttonbush are thriving (at least the two I was able to visit). The beautyberries came back from the brink. The plums have shown a nice start. The shortleaf pines are towering over my head. Even the redbuds I planted years and years ago are showing they have spirit. (Okay, the dogwoods never stood a chance, but it seems to be my only failure.)

Missouri calendar:

  • Elderberries begin ripening.

Tearing down the road

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009


After we had finished the work of cutting back trees and branches along our road, we retired to the comfy chairs under the shady tarp overlooking the sparkling lake (which was up a couple of feet since our last visit) and contemplated our next move. It was still too cold that morning to consider jumping in the lake, and it was still too early (but only just) to think about having lunch, so we just poked around the shelter area, cutting this, clearing that, inspecting the peanuts we set out for the critters, confirming that the comfy chairs were still in working order. That kind of thing.

But then we heard the sound of an engine coming down our road through the trees. Actually, it was two engines. Good Neighbor Brian and his wife, Debbie, were tearing down our road on their bright yellow ATVs. They stopped by the shelter and we had a nice chat. He caught us up on all of the local gossip, and we thanked him for getting the work done on the road we all share. We mentioned how I intended to write all of the landowners and see about pooling some money to get more gravel put on the road, and Good Neighbor Brian noted that one of the other landowners was also going to do that. (Remind me I need to call him.)

Then Libby asked them if they would like to have lunch with us. We didn’t bring any lunch. We intended to go into that little town where they have the restaurant that doesn’t allow you to wear your spurs inside. We insisted it would be our treat. (They treated the last time we broke bread together, and they do so much for us when we’re not around.) They agreed readily, so we thought that in about a half hour or so, we would drive over to their place and pick them up, then crank up the air conditioning and drive the ten miles or so to the little town to have a nice meal together.

And that’s just what we did.

When we got back, we dropped off Good Neighbor Brian and Debbie at their place then drove on to ours. Once again we were in the comfy chairs, contemplating a swim in the lake (it was still a little cool) when we heard the sound of an engine coming down our road through the trees. Once again it was Good Neighbor Brian, but he wasn’t on his ATV. He was on his tractor, pulling his brush hog. He was mowing our road once again. We only waved as he passed, and farther down the hill it sounded as though he was having trouble turning around to go back up. Eventually he worked it all out and passed us again, going the other direction.

We never did have that swim in the lake, but when I walked down there one last time before we left, I saw the Good Neighbor Brian had backed his tractor and brush hog half way across the dam to mow it for us! What a great guy!

Missouri calendar:

  • Watch for unusual birds; most common in late summer or early fall.

Turkey feet

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009


One of the first native plants to colonize the raw dirt after the dam was built all those years ago was a bunch of big bluestem grass. It clings to the sloping side of the dam, just below the top, so it is spared from the (infrequent) mowings we (or others) do. Thus is grows freely. This species under ideal circumstances can grow as much as ten feet tall, and accounts of settlers include the observation that men on horses could grab the tops of the grasses on either side of their horse and tie them in knots across the top of the saddle.

My bunch here hasn’t grown that tall, but it is at least six feet by this time of the year. Not bad.

Big bluestem gets its common name “turkey foot” from the (generally) three seed heads that separate at the terminal of the stalk, looking a bit like turkey feet. It can bloom like this into the fall.

Missouri calendar:

  • “Turkey feet” seed heads of big bluestem grass mature.

Before and after

Monday, August 24th, 2009


We finally got ourselves motivated to work a little more on the trees encroaching the road. It’s a chore we’ve been promising ourselves we would do and then quickly finding reasons not to do it (or not finding reasons but not doing it anyway).

The oaks droop their branches into the open, sunny area of the road. Areas we’ve cleared in the past are congested once again, this time with branches from higher up the tree. They brush the Prolechariot as we race past, sometimes even making a jab at one of us if we have the windows open. These branches are easy to target, and not so much trouble to remove, but there are so many of them. And we can’t let them just lie across the road, so we drag them into the forest, often tripping over the branches we had dragged in there last year.

The real problems, though, are the cedar trees that grow broad at the base. That’s one you see above, and that’s the “road” in the lower left corner. (Good Neighbor Brian came by a few hours after I took this photo to mow the road.) The road sways around it at that point, not in any big way, but the tree keeps growing and the road sways a little more each season.

So we decided our first chore of the day would be to remove the bottom branches of this cedar. Anyone who has cut cedars knows how hateful the work can be. The needles always find their way down the back of my shirt, the dead branches hidden within the dense tree make the chainsaw bounce back (only a little), and they are difficult to get deep into in order to make substantial cuts.

But Pablo persevered.


There’s still plenty of work to be done, but this was our first major psychological victory in the battle. Onward!

Missouri calendar:

  • Cave-dwelling bats begin mating through October.

Sunday hallucinations

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

modern technology

That’s Queequeg and my newest nephew, Nick, seemingly fascinated by a little video display. Actually, Queequeg was fascinated by whatever Nick was holding (probably food), and Nick moves too fast to stay fascinated by anything very long. The two met up at Grandma’s house last weekend.


Rain, rain, and more rain. The man who is going to fix my dam, the man I spoke to back in March about fixing my dam, said he would probably have to wait until August when the ground was dry before he could take his heavy equipment into the acre below the dam to get to work. All it’s done in the past week is rain on Roundrock. We’ve had a few monster storms in the Kansas City area, and when I look at the weather maps, they always seem to have an arm stretching down toward the Ozarks. Sigh.


You still have time to make a submission for the next Festival of the Trees, being hosted for the fourth time by Jade of Arboreality. Jade is especially interested in posts about how trees and forests can serve as escape for people. You can read more about it at her post here.

The deadline for submissions is August 28th. You can send your links to trees (at) brainripples (dot) com or by using the handy contact form. The Festival will appear on September 1.

We’re always interested in finding new (and return) hosts for the Festival. If you think that might be for you, visit our Volunteer to Host page (or drop me an email).


International Rock Flipping Day is coming up on September 2nd.

Missouri calendar:

  • Dabbling ducks return from the north.

Pipevine swallowtail

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009


At least that’s what I’m calling it until someone gently corrects me. This blue-black beauty was flitting about the forest where Libby and I were working on our last trip to Roundrock, never getting very far away from us though not letting me get especially close either. This was the best shot I could get, and I’m afraid it doesn’t give a lot of indentifying detail.

A pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor) is supposed to be common enuf in Missouri, and as I think about it, I have seen them here and there in my forest. The iridescent blue is hard to miss and easy to like.

When we saw it, it was showing a lot of interest in this aromatic sumac you see. Curiously, its bitter enemy (well, predator) is the bald-faced hornet, and it was in this same part of the forest that I hustled away from a bald-faced hornet that I saw emerging from the ground on an earlier trip.

For a picture of the larva of this butterfly, give this link a click.

Missouri calendar:

  • Ramadan (30 days)
  • Young gray squirrels search for home territories.