Archive for January, 2012

Central Valley, revisited

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

Central Valley

That title is literal. I have been up and down the Central Valley at Roundrock countless times, but I specifically revisited it on a recent (September 2011) visit to attempt to get the photo of something that is no longer there.

Roundrock is 80 acres in a rectangle: a quarter mile by a half mile. It is more or less one long valley, falling from west to east. We made our lake by damming part of the valley. Above the lake the valley grows more narrow though it is probably a hundred feet wide just above the lake, gradually losing width to the hillsides the farther west you go.

The ground is relatively flat, so it is a natural game trail, and in parts there is still some grass growing, probably remnants from the long-gone days when my woods was pasture as part of the cattle ranch that was once in the area.

The game trail that ran through the Central Valley was a convenient conduit for we talking apes to get from here to there. Our passage kept the trail open; the deers’ passage kept the trail open. But then the big ice storm of a few years ago brought down some big trees across parts of the Central Valley, interrupting the trail. The wild things, and we humans, had to divert around them to make our way through, and as a result, we visited this part of our forest less frequently.

So on my recent visit, I ventured in to this part of Roundrock to get a photo of the fallen trees that caused the problem, but they were gone. Not gone as in removed but as in sufficiently rotten to fall to the ground for the most part. Where I hoped to find blocked trail I found instead open woodland, as you see in the photo above.

I suppose I need to be suspicious of my memory of the blocked trails. I certainly seem to remember fallen trees getting in my way, but I couldn’t find much evidence of them after a few years. It doesn’t seem likely that they could decay that quickly. Maybe I didn’t visit the right part of the Central Valley. Maybe my memory has been embroidered.

The photo above was taken at pretty much the exact center of my forest. When I want to feel that I have fully escaped the troubles of the outside world, I take myself to this place.

Sunset at Roundrock

Monday, January 30th, 2012

Is there anywhere else on the whole world I’d rather be than right here? Of course not! This is sunset at Roundrock. That’s the back of the Cabin at the End of the Road, my little retaining wall, and all of the Ozark “soil” I dug up (with a pickaxe) piled up behind it.

I don’t get to spend long evenings at my cabin as much as I’d like. I miss scenes like this. And a man ought not to miss scenes like this!

But I have this photo. And I have the memory of it. And I have the ambition to spend more nights like this one. About time to enjoy another one, don’t you think?

Upon closer inspection

Sunday, January 29th, 2012

It seems that the bears are not fighting on the welcome sign. On my most recent visit to the cabin, I took a closer look at the sign, and what you see above is what I found.

I didn’t make as much progess expanding the pine planting area as I had hoped on my last visit. In part that was due to Flike insisting that I throw a stick for him. Cut down one sapling and drag it into the forest. Throw stick a half dozen times. Return to saplings. Repeat. I leave Libby and Queequeg at the cabin with the truck when I embark on my pine work. Flike and I hike cross country through the forest, liberating cedars and unearthing nice round rocks along the way. When we get to the pine plantation, we’re already a little worn down, but we get to work. When she’s had enuf contemplative time at the cabin, Libby puts Queequeg in the truck and drives over to the pines to collect me for lunch.

So with my clearing time limited, my energies spent, and my lunch looming, I don’t get nearly as much done as I imagine I will. But I’m not sure how much I really do need to get done. I only have 25 pines to plant in April, and perhaps half of those will go on Danger Island — I think I’ve worked out the defensive fencing arrangement there — so that leaves a comparatively small number of pines over a comparatively large area of land. But I like the clean, open look of the area, so I keep at it.

Queequeg: Amused. Not Amused

Saturday, January 28th, 2012


We were out to the woods last December for the day. (I had wanted to stay the night in the cabin, but it was going to get uncomfortably cold — not dangerously cold, but uncomfortably so. Plus the sunlight is gone by about 5:30 p.m. now, and without electricity in the cabin we would have been sitting around in the dark, waiting for bed time.)

One of the tasks I set myself at this time of the year is to walk my fence lines. I want to pay attention to what’s happening along my property lines so my neighbors will know that I care. I’ve also had this notion that I would cut a path along the fence for walking. This is a bigger job than it seems when musing about it in the comfy chair on the cabin porch, but a few cuts with each pass and I should have that path clear in a hundred years or so. I also refresh my markings when I walk my perimeters, which involves mostly adding new survey tape to the posts but sometimes also cutting low limbs from trees in such a way that the fresh cuts will be visible to anyone on the other side of the fence.

It’s not a big walk; the whole perimeter is less than two miles. But for little Queequeg, that’s a lot of ground to cover with four short legs. He tends to wear out before we’re halfway done. Carrying him in our arms is not a good option since we tend to need those arms for other chores, like carrying saws and loppers or pushing branches out of our way.

We had talked for a long time about getting some sort of harness for carrying him on our chest, much as you see babies being carried by young parents. We’ve looked at those in the store, but they don’t seem proportioned for little animals with tails. Plus, they’re expensive. So Libby hit upon the idea of carrying him in a lightweight backpack, of which we have dozens in our packed basement, castoffs of our children now moved away.

You see the outcome in the photo above. Queequeg was reluctant at first, but he soon came to appreciate the qualities of his new position. He could be with us (rather than be stuck alone in the cabin, which we’ve done in the past). He was up high, where he could see everything. And he didn’t have to walk. I liked it because he wasn’t off in the leaf litter, which this time of the year is the same color as his fur. We’re constantly worried about some fox or bobcat seeing Queequeg and deciding to make a meal of him. Queequeg tends to be willful, too. He will wander off and not always come when called. So having him corralled like this sets my mind at ease.

The backpack system worked well on our first trial last weekend. We walked most of the southern line (no surprises there), through thickets and up and down hills, before we had to abandon the arrangement. Queequeg hadn’t objected. Nor had Libby, who was carrying him. But we had come across a couple of very nice round rocks that begged to be collected, and there wasn’t room in the pack for both the round rocks and the small dog, so the small dog was set on his feet and had to finish the hike under his own steam. That wasn’t so bad since we had reached our southwest corner, where our road begins. We were able to walk along our open road all the way back to the cabin. (The road follows the property line for most of its journey.)

In the afternoon, I had other chores to do. One involved gleaning the forest near the cabin for large rocks to add to the stone wall I’m building behind the cabin. (The wall is intended to be a sort of fire break. I don’t know if it will work or if it will simply lead to the accumulation of a lot of leaves that will allow any ground fire to leap the wall and continue toward the wooden cabin.) I used the wheelbarrow to go up the road for my collecting spree, and Queequeg wanted to come. Thus you see the arrangement below:

not amused

He did not like this at all, as you can tell from the scowl on his face. The surface was slippery under his feet, and my movements made the wheelbarrow wobbly from his perspective. After about fifty feet of this, he tried to get out, so I lifted him to the ground. He then darted down the road to where Libby was.

I managed to collect a half dozen good rocks this way, but it occurred to me that I ought to be using the truck for the job. It can go farther than the wheel barrow and carry more weight. Plus Queequeg can sit on the back seat and supervise through an open window. Next time, I suppose.

Moon streak ~ Skywatch Friday

Friday, January 27th, 2012

I came upon this juxtaposition some months ago and then rediscovered it among my photos recently. So here it is for you to contemplate and enjoy.

What would a visitor from a century ago think of contrails do you suppose? It’s a formation in the sky that would not have occurred before jet travel, so it would be something new under the sun for such a time traveler. The moon, of course, is ancient, always present, always in human memory and experience. Old and new. White and blue.

Tiger mask holds a secret

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

I’ve shown this tiger mast here on the blog before. It hangs on a large white oak tree beside the pine plantation. It’s been there probably an entire decade. I’m not sure why I put it there originally, but before it came to Roundrock it hung on a tree by our fire ring at the other property we had, which we called Fallen Timbers.

Anyway, when I hung it here, I always half hoped that a bird would use it to hide a nest, and I would check it once or twice a year to see if that happened. It never did.

But a recent visit showed me what was using it.


They’re not using it right now, of course; it’s winter. But they obviously used it last summer. Can you imagine walking up to this mask and seeing hornets emerging from its eyes, nose, and mouth! I should hang it by the entrance to keep interlopers away.

I’m amazed at how long this mask has held together. It’s glazed porcelain (I think), and I wouldn’t have expected it to hold up under the weather extremes it’s been subjected to. Yet there it hangs, year after year.


Building more of a wall

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Lovely, isn’t it? This is a bit of limestone I harvested from the south spillway. I had intended this to be my third stepping stone across the ephemeral pond, but that whole idea needs some rethinking.

Instead I decided to transport this chunk o’ limestone to the wall I’m building behind the cabin. That’s no small feat for someone of my limited equipment and motivation, but I thought I ought to try, so I did.

The dam is supposed to be 200 feet across, which I’ll take as correct. Based on that, I had to move this rock about 500 feet from its resting place to the wall. Fortunately, I had brought the two-wheeler on this trip to the woods, and that made all the difference.

You see it above atop the dam. It was a slog getting the slab up the spillway to this point, but it was a comparative walk in the park across the dam.

It’s hard to tell from this photo, but there’s a hill behind that rock. I stopped at this point, having just finished crossing the dam, and took this photo. For some reason I thought a great deal about Sisyphus while I took a little break here. But I persevered and lugged the two-wheeler with its load up the hill. At one point we even leashed Flike to it, and he helped me pull. I think he made a difference, but he was an erratic force, helping and hindering in equal measure. He was willing, but he was unfocused. But I managed to get the rock to the spot behind the cabin where the wall is rising.

Here is the rock in place. Sorry about the washed out look of this photo, but I was more or less shooting into the sun. Notice how far away from the cabin I’ve built my firebreak wall. I hope it makes a difference when the time comes. (Should the time come.)

Here’s an end view of this part of the wall. (I’m working on three separate sections.) The cabin is to the right, and the newest stone is on the far end. Yes, there’s a tree directly in the path of the wall. I don’t know what the engineer was thinking when he put the wall on this line, but he clearly has rocks in his head.

What’s especially worth noting in that last photo is the leaf litter. Notice how there are plenty leaves on the left side of the wall and comparatively few on the right (cabin) side. That suggests to me that my plan is working in two ways. Not only will the wall slow or stop a fire moving in from the left, but it is depriving the right side of having fuel for the fire to continue. I’ve seen this phenomenon beside fallen trees in my forest all over the place. Generally the leaves collect on the uphill side of the log, and uphill in this photo is the left side.

So every time I visit my forest I try to add a couple of rocks to my wall. I suppose I’m nearly a quarter of the way finished, though I’ll probably want to do some chinking and supplementing for a long time to ensure I have a sturdy barrier.

Building a wall

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012


I’m building a wall. You already know that I have a wooden cabin in a forest. And I worry that a ground fire through the woods will someday reach the wooden cabin and make its acquaintance.

I’ve been doing various things to help prevent this meet up. I’ve been clearing the deadfall around the cabin, and I’ve been trimming up the branches on the nearby cedars. (Ground fires are natural and are generally not considered a bad thing as long as they stay out of the tree tops, so removing lower cedar branches helps prevent this.) I’ve also skirted the cabin with a gravel path (though it is only about three feet wide at its narrowest point, which is not enuf I suspect) and built two retaining walls, one behind and one in front of the cabin. In the fall and winter I even rake away the leaves that have gathered against the (wooden) wall of the cabin.

I should say that on the east side of the cabin we have a large gravelled area where we have our fire ring and general outdoor gathering area. It’s probably 40 feet across, and then there is the gravel road. So I think I have enuf fire break on that side of the cabin. And we have cleared a view on the south side of the cabin from the porch to the lake. We only have short grass growing there (if we keep it trimmed) so I don’t see much of a threat from that direction.

But on the east and north sides there is nothing but forest and leaf litter. Generally in this part of the hemisphere, fires spread from west to east since that’s the predominant direction of the wind, so a fire threat is more likely to come from the west.

And so I am building a wall. It won’t be a great wall or a tall wall or a thick wall. I’m just going to stack stones, maybe a foot high and two feet wide at the base and about a hundred feet long, as a sort of fire break. My hope is that any ground fire that crawls through the leaf litter will meet this wall and at least be stalled long enuf for someone to attack it with a rake and try to snuff it. (That would require someone to be present during the ground fire, which isn’t likely, but still . . . ).

The biggest problem I have had with this project is collecting the rocks I need. It’s ironic that in the Ozarks I would have trouble collecting rocks, but I do. The ones I want are all the way over there, and the wall I’m building is all the way over here. I’ve already scoured the immediate area for the rocks it will yield, and while my forest is filled with plenty of suitable ones, getting them where I want them calls for physical effort, which I try to avoid. Plus, I can generally only transport one rock at a time from these distant points (cradled lovingly in my arms), which makes for slow progress. I keep meaning to take the wheelbarrow to some rock rich area and load it then wheel it back to the cabin. It’s a good idea. I may even do that some day.

So next time you’re out at Roundrock, let’s have a rock collecting party, shall we?

Still keeping me warm

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

I’ve had this afghan for most of my life. In fact, I think I’ve had it for four-fifths of my life. My sweet mother made it for me when I was a wee lad, and it’s stayed with me ever since. (Okay, I think it went off to college with #1 Son, but when it came home, it stayed with me.)

All of the dogs I have ever known and loved (except for my very first dog, Touche) have slept on it. Scout. Precious. Whimsey. Max. Now Queequeg and Flike. Out at the cabin, where the afghan now resides, it’s a favored sleeping place for little Queequeg. On cold sleep-over nights, he prefers sleeping on top of it rather than snuggling under the covers with us.

I’ve made a conscious effort to prevent the Cabin at the End of the Road from becoming a repository of my life’s junk. There have been plenty of cabins and second homes I’ve seen that have accumulated all of the clutter of their owners’ lives: spare furniture, knick-knacks, spare this, and the extra that, decorations too ghastly to display at home, and so on. I don’t want my cabin to become that way. (Besides, we Westerners tend to have too many “things” anyway.) Thus I try to be careful about what makes it to my cabin and what I’ll allow to remain there. This blanket with its many uses and many memories is something that belongs there.

Also, speaking of things worth keeping around for a long time, Happy Birthday, FC!


Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

You don’t know about me without you have read a post by the name of Stepping Stones; but that ain’t no matter. The post was made by Pablo, and he told the truth, mainly.

What you see above is a more recent photo of the stepping stones I’d placed in the ephemeral pond below the dam. What? You don’t see them? There they are. Under the water!

My plan is not working out as well as I had hoped. The water seems to be deeper at some times than at others. (And when it is deeper, it is also wider, which means the normally dry land I would step from might be underwater too.) No doubt the deep times will be when I need to cross, right?

So I’m not sure just what to do. I have a pretty good supply of slabs up the hill, but I may need to break them up to make them manageable sizes. And then what? Put them on top of these? Will they be wobbly? Will they tip me into the water when I try to cross? Will I come to see them after several weeks away and find them unseated by rushing water or mischievous critters? Is this what I get for trying to civilize the forest?

Whatever happens, I expect I’ll have wet boots. I been there before.

My apologies, Mr. Twain!