Archive for September, 2009

Fine find among the pines

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

pine find

Our little pine plantation foray on our last visit to Roundrock also surprised us with a discovery. This little pine was growing amidst the tall grass, apparently overlooked by us all season.

We planted (and replanted) the pines in a grid there in the good soil of the former Blackberry Corner (they’re still trying to retake the corner), so it has been easy to find where some of the pines have simply not survived because there is a gap in the grid. We found this pine in one of the gaps. This was a happy surprise since it meant that our efforts are still bearing fruit, so to speak. Forsaken in the tall weeds, we didn’t realize the good news that was busy growing there.

(Actually, I think we may have found it before and forgotten that we had. We only wandered over to this part of the tall grass because the two almost-comfy chairs were set there. In fact, they were arranged around the little pine, along with the bit of fencing, in a way that implied we were trying to protect it. So I think we may have found it once before as well.)

There are game paths pushed through the tall grass among the pines, so I know the foraging deer pass through here, but I think this pine has managed to survive the predations of the hungry deer (or whatever it is that objects to pine trees) simply by being lost in the tall grass. Nonetheless, I intend to cut a few posts of cedars and put a fence around this pine as well.

Among the many things we talked about when my many neighbors visited us was the planting of pine trees. Good Neighbor Tom told me that he and his brother had planted “hundreds” of pines on their land only to find that all of them died, were pulled up, or were eaten. I know that Good Neighbor Randy had lined the road to his father’s place with dozens of pines, none of which can be found today. #1 Son and I walked randomly through our woods one time, planting pines wherever we cold find enuf soil to plunk them down, and I have never been able to find one of them since. The pines in the plantation are different, mostly because we have taken such extensive (and expensive) efforts at protecting them. I hope in a few more years we’ll be able to free them from their cages (the big ones anyway), but there is no rush to do that.

It makes me wonder how the great cathedral stands of pines that you can find on ridgetops throughout the Midwest, built as windbreaks by WPA workers,  ever survived long enuf to get so big.

Missouri calendar:

  • Black gum, bittersweet and dogwood show fall color.

Lean and green

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

leaning

This is one of the fine pines in the pine plantation. It’s grown a little differently from the others, having lost all of its lower limbs, but it is also leaning for some reason. (Top heavy?) Most of the other pines have thick lower branches, which tend to keep them upright because they press against the chicken wire cages surrounding them.

We have the pines more or less managed: all of them are now fenced, and there is little more we can do for them. Thus we don’t venture into the tall grass among the pines too often (at least during chigger season, which is about over). Because of that, I don’t know how long this pine had been leaning.

Libby and I did venture into the tall grass on our last trip to the woods to address this pine. When we spotted this leaner among the horde, we decided to do something about it. I happened to have a bit of twine in the bed of the truck that had once held a bale of straw together, so we used that to tie to the two posts and loop around the trunk. The looping is loose enuf to allow some play, so it won’t bind the trunk, but it is taut enuf to keep it more or less upright. We’ll watch its progress through the winter to see how it grows.

Missouri calendar:

  • Pawpaw fruits ripen.
  • Katydids sing in the trees at night.

An ethical lapse

Monday, September 28th, 2009

thistle

When we were last out to Roundrock, I did something that did not meet up with the landowner ethic I set for myself: specifically, to provide good habitat for the critters.

As a consequence of the deck-removal-and-porch-replacement at the house in suburbia, one of the downspouts carrying rain off the roof, down the corner of the house, and then out into the yard lost its last bit of plastic piping (carrying the water out into the yard).

Fortunately, I happened to have a bit of this out at Roundrock, leftover from our mostly pointless effort of surrounding the trunks of the pecans with black plastic piping. I had this notion that I would use it as a sort of air source going under a spectacular fire ring I was going to build. (Several years have passed since that notion came to mind.) I simply needed to remember to bring it back with me when I was out there.

Well, it happened that I did remember that I wanted to do that the last time we were there. It was where it has always been for several years: in the tall scrub not too far from the shelter tarp. All I had to do is pick it up and put in the back of the truck.

When I did this, the black plastic pipe, about five feet long, started wobbling in my hands. Then something jumped out of it: a woodrat. It darted through the trees toward the brush pile I’ve been building over the seasons. Shortly after that, all of its nesting material rained out of the pipe.

I felt a little bit bad about, robbing a forest critter of its home just months before the winter, and I wouldn’t have done it if I’d known the woodrat was in there. So I have this twinge of bad feeling about what I did, but I think the woodrat will survive, and so will I.

Missouri calendar:

  • Yom Kippur
  • Snakes begin winter dormancy.
  • Bittersweet starts to ripen.

Sunday audacity

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

squirrel

We had a squirrel incident in the back yard in suburbia this last week. Somehow, three baby squirrels had fallen from their nest high in the cypress tree on a cold and rainy night. The mother was whistling for them, but the little things must have been too dazed to move. Queequeg found them for us, and before he could do what dogs do, Libby put him in the house then retrieved the half-drowned squirrel pups and put them on a soft towel in a box in our garage. She didn’t think they would live, but by morning, they were, quite literally, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. When she let them out under the cypress, two darted right up the tree to mama. Another made for the tall ivy by the fence. But it was then that she found the fourth one, flat on the ground and soaking from being exposed outside all night. She put the barely moving thing in the box and put it in the garage again. She called me at work and told me I would probably find a dead squirrel when I got home. Instead I found yet another bright-eyed and bushy-tailed baby squirrel in the box, and when I let it out, it ran under our new porch. Later I saw it on the porch, surveying the yard. I think the family is reunited now.

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If I had to count on one hand the most formative experiences of my life (that I’m conscious of, anyway), one of them would be those idyllic boyhood summers on my grandparents’ farm in Kentucky. I still have an aunt living near there, but I don’t think I’ve been back to Kentucky in fifteen years. That may change soon. My mother is moving there from St. Louis. I understand I’ve already been recruited to move her possessions (though not with Prolechariot but with a big rental truck). So it looks like I’ll be making some visits there in the years to come. Of course I’ll have to visit all of the old spots I saw as a wee lad, and I’m sure half will be changed while the other half will be gone. It will still be good to reconnect.

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International Rock-Flipping Day was another hit. If you haven’t gone over to the coordinating blog to see the links to all of the participants, give yourself a treat. There is also a Flickr pool of pix you might enjoy.

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The submission deadline for the next edition of the Festival of the Trees at local ecologist has been extended until tomorrow evening, September 28. Send your tree-ish links to Georgia at info (at) local ecology (dot) org, or use the handy contact form.

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Every time I see a mourning dove at the backyard feeder, I always think it is a female. I know that can’t be true each time. Among the birds of my acquaintance, these are among the least distinctive between male and female, and also among the birds of my acquaintance, these are among the most “feminine” looking, so my initial reaction makes a kind of sense.

Missouri calendar:

  • White pelicans congregate at Squaw Creek and Swan Lake National Wildlife refuges through mid-October.

Critter crossing

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

signage

Just a bit of whimsy in Good Neighbor Brian’s forest. He has cut a road through the trees leading to his mobile home and tool shed (shed! It’s more like a semi-trailer). His plan is to leave the open meadow before this clear (though he will have to march a couple of power poles across it). Thus the road through the trees, which he’s been improving slowly.

I’m not sure that any critters actually cross at this point of the road, but the tree seemed substantial enuf to lend its support, so there it is.

Missouri calendar:

  • Acorns begin to fall.
  • Squirrels bury acorns and nuts for winter food.

Skywatch Friday ~ Ozark Skies

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

sky

We had some blue sky early in the morning, but as the day progressed, gray clouds closed ranks and shut out the sun. By the end of the day, we were driving home in the rain. Still, any time is a good time to be in the forest.

Skywatch Friday

Missouri calendar:

  • Fawns have lost their spots.
  • Persimmons start to ripen.

Willow island must die!

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

willow

Sorry about the crummy photo, but it is the enemy after all. This is one of the (many) willows I have growing in the lake. Obviously, the water has receded some, but when the lake is full, this willow rises without apology from the water.

As you can see, the root mass of this thing is creating, effectively, a new island in the water. I’m not sure what to think of that. I suppose it’s good for the aquatic critters to have a place to hide. And maybe in time something like solid ground will appear here and give a goose a place to have a nest. Or, if the ground freezes nicely in the winter, I’ll get out there with some sharp instruments and make an effort at removing it.

I have attacked a couple of these along the shore, and though I’m assured the damned things will just grow back, they haven’t. I don’t know if they’re just waiting for me to feel confident or if I somehow managed to eradicate them. Time will tell.

Missouri calendar:

  • Tiger salamanders move to ponds in the rain.
  • Hickory nuts ripen and begin to fall.

Wordless Wednesday ~ Laser Mice

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

mice

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

Meeting of the minds

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

racks

I have never found a companion as companionable as solitude.

Henry David Thoreau

When Libby and I were out at Roundrock on Saturday, our plan was to cut back the encroaching trees and branches along the road and then later have a weenie roast. I gave you an account of the relative success and failure of the former in yesterday’s blog post.

As we were (I was) cutting the branches I could reach and/or manage with the hand saw, we (I) could hear the sound of heavy machinery working at Good Neighbor Brian’s place next door. He’d just had his septic tank and lines installed two weeks before. Well drilling was to come next, followed by electricity. Things are moving at Brian’s place, and it sounded like something was happening while we were near.

Since the tree clearing work wasn’t happening, I thought we could go over to Brian’s and watch the big machine we could hear doing its work. And so we did, but as we approached and peered through the trees, we couldn’t see any big machinery.

All we could see was Good Neighbor Brian on his lawn tractor, moving the grass around his trailer. He has a real tractor and a brush hog for the meadow (and our road), but he uses the lawn tractor for close cutting work near to his living area.

When Brian saw us approach, he drove over and turned off the mower. Then he hopped off and came over to say howdy. We chatted a long time. The well digging and electricity work were still to come. The big machinery we had heard was merely his lawn tractor. Hmmm.

Anyway, as we chatted, he mentioned that he had to show us the new toy his wife had bought for herself. In fact, he couldn’t tell us what it was; he had to show it to us. So he trotted off through the trees and scrub to the area he has cleared for his equipment storage, and soon we heard an engine fire up. A moment later a truck came around the trees. His wife had bought herself a Toyota Tacoma four-door pickup, just like Prolechariot, only hers was white instead of screaming red. When we had all gone to lunch together a month before, I drove us in the Prolechariot. Brian said that she was very impressed with it (how could she not be?) and decided to get herself one. We visited for a while longer, but the weenie roast was foremost on our minds, so we made our excuses and drove back to our forest.

We have two (well, three) fire rings in our woods. The one near the lake is overgrown and needs to be cleared, so we planned to cook lunch there. The grill we cook on is at the fire ring by the new campsite, and since we forgot to bring the skewers, we decided to snatch the grill. Our campsite is “deep” in the forest, at the end of a twisting road with an entrance mostly hidden by a falling cedar. We were where no one would find us, and while Libby sat in one of the comfy chairs, I prowled the campsite to see what changes nature had wrought in our absence. Nothing much had changed. I had my camera in hand, and I was thinking about walking over to the spot where we had planted the plum trees when I heard something.

“PAUL!”

It wasn’t Libby. It wasn’t Good Neighbor Brian either. It was a man approaching us through the trees. In fact, it was two men. It happened to be Good Neighbor Tom and his brother, Good Neighbor Fred. Somehow they knew we were “deep” in the forest at our hidden campsite, and they were walking right toward us.

If our little community of landowners can said to have any movers and shakers, Tom and Fred would be the ones. They own the largest number of acres. They know everyone. They generally coordinate any projects. And the even have electricity at their cabin!

In a rare moment (probably iced tea induced) I had volunteered to write to all of the landowners along our common road asking for some money so we could improve it. They wanted to talk to me about the types of improvements we should have done. (Mostly, I think, they wanted to make sure I didn’t blow any funds I collected on laying more gravel on the first big hill until after we had the drainage ditch problem there resolved.)

So we chatted a while about this and that and the other thing. I asked them how they knew so unerringly where Libby and I were when they came, and they said they could see the Prolechariot though the trees. (Remember, screaming red. Time to move the campsite even deeper into the forest.) Tom and Fred told us not to be strangers and to please come visit them at their cabin sometime. Even if they weren’t there we were welcome to use the toilet (!), the shower (!), the beer in the refrigerator (!), the satellite television (!), and even the full capacity washer and drier (!).

As we chatted, we saw Good Neighbor Brian drive into my woods in his wife’s Tacoma and continue along, not having seem the screaming red Prolechariot “deep” in the trees. Well, we thought he would get to the end of the road by the lake, not see us, and then come back, and we’d be on the road waiting for him. It took Brian “forever” to return. I think he must have gotten down to the lake and then got out and walked around, hollering our names for a while.

But we finally met him along the road, and so we all had another good, long chat about this and that and the other thing. Brian is determined to use his jack hammer to clear some of the bedrock that is frustrating our drainage ditch improvements, so they got to talk about that. At a certain point, tools become toys. Brian said he had come by to see if we needed anything in town because he was going there. I think he wanted us to join him for lunch, but we still had a notion of a weenie roast in our minds.

Anyway, we finally broke up. Brian went to town. Fred went back to Kansas City. Tom went back to their cabin. And Libby and I went back to the fire ring by the lake, with the grill in hand.

I mentioned that this fire ring was overgrown, and it was, but it was also hampered by the large tree I had brought down on top of it a few weeks before (when the chainsaw was cooperating). Libby used the grass whip to clean out the scrub while I used the hand saw to cut some of the branches of the fallen tree out of our way.

After all of the visiting and working, the afternoon had progressed, and we found that it really was too late to get started on a weenie roast. We hadn’t even begun collecting our tinder, kindling, and fuel, and I figured it would be another hour before we could start cooking. So we decided to scrap the weenie roast until the next visit. (We had, after all, spruced up the fire ring.) So we packed our gear and started to drive out.

We decided, however, to visit Tom and Fred’s cabin to see if their fantastic boasts about it could possibly be true. Goodness, they were! And more. Those boys have everything, including two soft-looking couches, five beds, a wood-burning stove, an adequate kitchen, and a metal storage building that is big enuf to move their whole cabin into!

After we had fully explored the cabin and all of the camp around it, we climbed back into the truck and headed out. On the way, we met Tom coming in, so we sat parked beside each other in the road and chatted even more. After that, we started leaving again only to meet up with yet another truck coming our way. This was Good Neighbor Randy, whose father actually lives at the entrance to the former cattle ranch and keeps an eye on everyone coming and going. We chatted with Good Neighbor Randy for a while as well. And then it was time to leave. We hoped we wouldn’t see anyone else on the way out.

But we did. As we drove up the big hill, there was Good Neighbor Brian coming up behind us. He flashed his lights as though wanting us to stop, so we did. And we chatted a while. He wanted to tell us all about the effort he had made that afternoon with his jack hammer on the bedrock in the ditch. Brian has all the tools, and you could tell he was especially happy about the jack hammer. He explained to us that he would be able to do the work but that it would take all day, and require some helpers. In fact, he thought, I ought to organize a work day for everyone who could come out to help clear the ditches.

Ah, solitude!

Missouri calendar:

  • Autumnal Equinox: day and night are equal in length.
  • Early wintering sparrows arrive.

Revolt of the machines

Monday, September 21st, 2009

saw

Most of the month, my chainsaw and pole saw sit on the floor in the garage back in suburbia. Every couple of weekends they are called into service, especially lately as Libby and I have been cutting back the encroaching trees and branches along the road in our Ozarks woods.

On our latest trip to Roundrock over the weekend, I learned that they are in a conspiracy against me. That’s my theory anyway.

Normally, I have a bit of trouble getting the pole saw started, but once I do, it runs like a champ, slicing though hard-to-reach limbs and generally proving its worth. On this most recent trip, however, it displayed a new quirk. Every time I would raise the blade end of the pole saw above the horizontal, the engine would begin to cut out, and if I didn’t lower the saw, the engine would die. It did this every time I tried to use it. I managed to get only two branches cut with it before I gave up — and they weren’t even encroaching branches; rather, they were branches I had to clear to get to the encroaching branches. I tried later in the day to use the pole saw, thinking maybe it had overheated (those two branches I had managed to cut were on a Blackjack oak, which is an evil tree all around!), but it repeated its unwillingness to work on any branch above about waist level. (I later spoke with a man who has two pole saws that exhibit the same symptoms. It is his understanding that there is a crack in the fuel delivery line somewhere, and every time he raises his above horizontal, they begin to suck air into the fuel.)

Well, I still have my standard chainsaw, and there were plenty of trees and branches I could attack with that. And I did. One time. After I’d cut my first close-to-the-road tree (a wee sapling I could have used the hand saw on), the chain saw began its own sputtering-before-dying routine. I could get it started again, but it would just die as soon as I gave it some gas.

Obviously, during all of that time the two saws spent on the floor of the garage back in suburbia, they had a discussion and decided to cooperate in a sort of nonviolent resistance. No forced labor for them. I guess I’m going to have to send them both to re-education camps (repair shop) because winter is the prime cutting season in an Ozark forest (not hot, no bugs).

In the end I resorted to my trusty hand saw that you see above. It was a gift from my good friend Duff (the wood carver, so he knows blades), and while it limited the range of my cutting to what I could reach with my comparatively short stature, I managed to stay busy with it the entire time that Libby napped away in the truck.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.