Archive for February, 2012


Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Any guesses? It almost looks intentional, doesn’t it?

This is a pattern of grooves that I found on a turtle shell out at Roundrock. My guess is that some parasite had found a breach in the surface of the shell and got busy doing whatever it is they do. Or perhaps the shell was fractured in a tumble. After the turtle died and the glossy surface flaked off the shell, this bone white remnant tells the tale. But what tale?

I read an account once of a man carving his name into the shell of a live turtle and then finding the turtle many years later, still alive, still carrying the man’s name on its back. I suppose that’s possible, but it seems cruel, and even if the turtle couldn’t feel the carving in its shell, it still seems wanton.

I don’t suppose that’s what happened here, but it does look like the letters E and D below that florid design. Maybe I’ll give it a closer look next time I’m out.


Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

The plants I put in the ground at Roundrock are dependent on nature for their survival. I am not there often enuf to water them or otherwise help them through the heat and drought and freezing. I fence many of them in an attempt to keep off the marauding deer, and I have been known to pour a jug of water on a plant once or twice. But for the most part, they live or die on their own.

As a consequence, I must take my fortune as it comes. I think most of the shrubs I have planted over the years have not survived. I know that none of the dogwood I put in a decade ago made it. I’ve replanted many of the pecans and pines. Only the buttonbush seem to be a success story, but I have to put them in wet soil to begin with, so they have an advantage the other plants don’t.

So it was with my eyes thus open that I put three buckeye into the ground before the cabin last spring. I bought red buckeyes because I want to attract hummingbirds to the front of the cabin to entertain us as we sit and muse our days away. I had begun preparing a bed for them the year before. I dug out a good-sized hole in the Ozark hardpan and began using it as my compost pile for a while. And I brought rich compost from the bin I keep back in suburbia. Then I bought out bags and bags of good soil to supplement the compost. When the three buckeye arrived at my door, the bed was ready, and into it they went. I then surrounded them with fencing, spoke kind words to them, and hoped for the best.

They had a good first spring, but the summer shriveled their leaves, which fell off what seemed to be prematurely. Had I lost them? I couldn’t tell. All I could do was wait for the next spring to see if they were still alive. In mid-winter, which has been exceptionally mild, I saw what seemed to be fresh buds at the tips of the three stalks. As the mild winter progressed, those buds looked like they were swelling.

Now you see their state. Ready to burst. Ready to start again the annual procession. Now my hope is that winter is finished with my part of the world and that the buckeye aren’t jumping the gun. (What would my life be like without all of these things to fret about?)

The plant you see above is one of the red buckeye. I had ordered three plants — and I got three plants — but one of them had smaller leaves, and I suspect it’s actually a white buckeye. I won’t know until they bring out flower, which I’m told could happen as soon as their second year in the ground.

Here is the bud on the suspected white buckeye:

It certainly looks like a different plant.

Another great day in the woods

Monday, February 27th, 2012

As we sat in the comfy chairs on the shady porch overlooking the sparkling lake in our little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks, the thermometer said the day had actually reached 70 degrees. This on the last Sunday in February. In Missouri. In my life.

As I usually do, I watched the weather forecast through the week. Generally, the forecast starts out optimistic and gets more realistic as the week passes. (That is to say, the winter day gets cooler and wetter as it grows closer and the summer day hotter and drier.) This time, however, the opposite was the case. Even the more reserved NOAA website made last Sunday look promising. But it was wrong. The weather was simply better than predicted or expected.

A blustery day, too. After a couple of stops on the way down (gas for the Prolechariot, picking up lunch, stopping at the town hardware store for some stone blocks), we arrived at the Cabin at the End of the Road actually feeling cool. In fact, we retired to inside the cabin for a while to get out of the wind. We could hear the wind coming over the ridge, roaring through the treetops before it reached us. One of the comfy chairs was blown into the fire ring (no fire at the time — certainly not with that kind of wind). The bird feeder was swinging and swaying. Cat’s paws were racing across the lake.

But the sun was out and the sky was blue, and the temperature continued to climb every time I checked the thermometer. Plus we kept busy. I added six blocks to the retaining wall in front of the cabin. I want to continue it all the way to the road, which is maybe forty more feet, but I’ll worry about that later. Just swinging the pickaxe and shoveling gravel and hefting those blocks helped me get warm. After a while, though, it was hardly necessary though. The temps kept climbing and the sun kept shining, and I kept smiling. Nothing could be better than a day at Roundrock.

I think the photo above is the first time I’ve taken a photo of the lake at water level. It’s an interesting view. Looks very far across from this angle.

My side of the story – a guest post by Queequeg the Magnificent

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

I’m sure by now you’ve all heard the overblown tales of what supposedly happened last weekend. Well, don’t listen to any of that. I’m going to give you the facts, and then you’ll know the truth.

Mom and Dad and Flike and I all went out to Roundrock on Sunday. It was the usual long, boring drive, but once we got off the paved road, I got excited because I knew where we were. Even that big dumbo, Flike, figured it out. So we got to the cabin and walked around like we usually did. Mom and Dad and I walked down to the lake, but dumbo Flike had to bring a stick along and get Dad or Mom to throw it for him. (I would have thrown it in the lake!) Then we went back to the cabin and Mom and Dad did whatever it is they do there. I mostly just watched them and checked out all of the fresh smells around the place.

Later in the morning, Dad and Flike went for a walk deep into the forest. Don’t tell me it isn’t so: Flike is their favorite. Why does he always get to go on these long walks while I have to stay shut up in the dumb cabin with Mom? Don’t get me wrong. She’s nice to me. But I’m sure someone made a mistake because I should be allowed to go on those walks too.

Anyway, I could hear dumbo barking way off in the woods. There’s nothing discreet about that dog! After a while, Mom let me out of the cabin. I’m sure it was because she realized that I was supposed to have gone on the walk with Dad and dumbo. So of course I ran into the woods to catch up with them. It was easy to do. I just had to keep going toward the sound of Flike’s loud barks.

Mom must have been excited about going too because she chased along behind me, though she couldn’t keep up. I ran across a big area then down a hill and up another. Mom couldn’t keep up with me, but that was okay since I knew she’d just go toward the barking. But then a bad thing happened.

I couldn’t hear dumbo barking any longer. I didn’t know where to go, and I was all alone in the big forest. That wasn’t part of my plan!

But Mom saved me. She started calling my name, and then I knew where to run. And I did. As fast as I could. Then Mom put us in the truck and drove to where Dad and dumbo were digging holes in the woods.

Dad and Flike came back with us to the cabin, and we spent the rest of the day there, but for some reason they put me on a leash tied to a tree!

Queequeg the Magnificent

by way of illustration

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

This is all that remains of a tree that once stood where the cabin now stands. The dozer man pushed over and uprooted the tree then shoved it off to the side. Sometime later someone got busy with a chainsaw and cut away the bulk of the trunk, leaving only this stump with its exposed roots. It’s been around the cabin for a couple of years now, and someday I’ll even roll it over to the fire ring (on the other side of the cabin) and burn it.

But what I wanted to show you was the cutting pattern in the wood. It illustrates a technique I’ve never used that allows one with a relatively short bar to cut a tree that has a diameter larger than that. (I’ve never used the technique because I am leery of cutting any tree with a trunk that big.)

The method is to cut straight into the tree with the tip of the bar. In the photo you can see this happened from left to right. What this does is leave a comparatively small bit of wood still holding the tree up around the edge. Then it is easy to cut in from the sides since the saw doesn’t have to go far before getting through the remaining wood.

Glorious day in the woods

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

Libby and I, and the dogs, spent a glorious February Sunday at Roundrock. We had no real agenda, which sometimes leaves me feeling dissatisfied, but on this trip, it felt liberating.

And by no agenda I mean no big things that we had to get accomplished. I did clean and repair a broken bird house; and I did unearth some nice round rocks; and I did fill the bird feeder, the suet cage, and the peanut log; and I did add a stone to the firewall behind the cabin; and I did dig about in my visit journal looking for a specific fact; and I did use the grass whip a bit on the dam; and I did spray a little bleach solution on the mold growing on the cabin; and I did put in the last splash block beneath the drip line from the cabin roof; and I did cut down two small oaks to let more light get to the buckeyes; and I did eye some cedars as potential lumber for a project I have in mind, and I did throw the stick for Flike; and I did take a nice walk in my woods; but aside from that it was just a lazy day.

The weather forecast looked pretty good; the actual weather was even better. The sky was deep blue and the sun was out the entire time we were there (as well as the entire drive home), and by the afternoon, it was nearly 60 degrees on the porch. It turned out that February 19 was the first day this month that we’d made it out to our woods. The weather has not been that bad — the winter that wasn’t, they’re calling it — so that wasn’t our excuse. I don’t really remember why we hadn’t been out, but I’m sure competing demands in my life conspired against me. Regardless, we did make it out and we did have a glorious time.

The lake was nearly at full pool, though the leaks below the dam seem as vigorous as ever, but I chose not to focus on that for the day. Nothing has started to bring out leaves, and I’m not convinced that winter is behind us yet, but the red buckeye I planted last year near the cabin looks ready to. I’m eager for it to get established; I think I gave it a good bed to grow roots into, and once it gets established, I want it to grow into a nice big shrub with brilliant red flowers that attract lots of hummingbirds.

We heard a barred owl calling (“Who Cooks For You?”) as we sat on the porch. It’s nesting season for them. They nest in hollow trees, of which I have a few. It’s always nice to hear them.

So I’m not sure when we’ll get out to the woods again, but I hope it’s as nice as this trip was.

Fool’s gold

Monday, February 20th, 2012

fool's gold

This post was one of my anachronisms. I wrote it on August 1, 2011, and backdated it. And now I have brought it here.


After we had the road through the trees cut and graveled with limestone, we would often find bits of calcite. Most were tiny pieces but a few were as big as my thumbnail. (It’s a perfectly normal sized thumbnail.) It was always easiest to find by walking uphill, with the sun at our backs. Any little sparkle in the gravel merited investigation, and sometimes it would turn up a calcite crystal, which was nice.

After we had the cabin built and gravel spread on the parking and the fire ring area, we began to find bits of fool’s gold on the ground. The white gravel beside it is usually discolored with brown, presumably a type of rust from the pyrite. Most of it was tiny bits, hardly worth the bother of bending over to pick up. Some of it was just an edge of pyrite on a larger matrix of gravel. The better pieces are being collected on a windowsill in the cabin.

I suppose the gravel that was most recently spread was from a different part of the quarry, yielding less calcite and more pyrite. Life is exciting in that way sometimes.

Over the months I’d supposed I’d found all of the decent-sized fool’s gold to be had by our cabin. On our last visit to Roundrock, however, I turned up the nugget you see above. It is larger than my thumbnail and it’s solid pyrite. I saw only the tip of it emerging from the gravel in the parking area, and I only bent to examine it out of habit. But as I cleared away more gravel, I found that it was larger than I had thought. Once it was liberated, I rinsed it with some water and revealed the big nugget.

It makes the think there are more like it to be found. Now if only it was worth something.

Bringing order to (what seems to be) chaos

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

I’ve mentioned around here more than once that I’ve built a retaining wall in front of the cabin (and behind it, but that’s a different post). The ground where the cabin sits sloped down to the lake, and after framing the foundation to make it all level, the ground as reformed then sloped even more dramatically. The builder scoffed when I asked if the cabin was going to slide into the lake after a strong rain given its perch on its little hill.

Scoff or not, I was determined to make that perch as permanent as I could. And that’s why I bought two pallets of these stones and had them delivered to the cabin. (I wasn’t there for the delivery, and at least a week had passed before I got out there, yet all of the stones were there. I keep thinking that the bad people prowl the backroads looking for plunder, but I’ve been “disappointed” in that notion so far.)

The cabin, of course, is merely a temporary intrusion, a human construct in an order that is far, far older than human vanity and ambition and one that will barely be delayed in its reclaiming of the hillside, at least on its time scale.

I love to ramble the woods. I love to be surprised by the unfamiliar and comforted by the familiar in the wild woods. But there is also something about me that likes the order that the (mostly) straight lines of such a wall presents.

Nests all around

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

In the winter, when the leaves have fallen, it’s time to find the little nests that I’ve overlooked the rest of the year. I invariably find one or two that are within the immediate area of where I had been living or working or goofing. I’ve not noticed them during the leafy season, nor the flitting back a forth that the parent birds undoubtedly did during that time.

It makes sense, of course, that I would overlook them. I’m not a predator. I have no patience for the hunt. I wouldn’t want to harm the native bird population anyway.

In our former woods called Fallen Timbers, our ridgetop camping area was free of trees, mostly, but covered with a scrub. It was in this scrub that we would find two or three small nests like the one above. Impossible to see the rest of the year.

Identical to that ridgetop we used to own in its scrubby treelessness is Danger Island at Roundrock. I intend to plant pines atop the island this spring, so Libby and I ventured over there to inspect the area. In it we found the nest you see above. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that there were other nests there, ones we overlooked even in winter.

Interesting, isn’t it?

A nest within a nest

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

On our annual walks along the property line (and other times we’re in the area), it’s become routine to stop at this little nest box on a post (marking the approximate property line) and find the remains of a wasp nest within.

The first time I did this, the nest was still active, and when I opened the box, the residents were not pleased. I dropped the tools I was carrying and dashed twenty feet away to let them get settled. Now each time I approach this box, I look about warily and tap the top of it with my long-handled loppers to see if anyone is home. This is not a problem in the cold of January, which is when I made my most recent visit. And you see above what we found.

The wasps were done with their nest for the season, and I was able to clean the nest out of the box. In the years that the box has been here, I’ve never seen any evidence that birds have used it, but as I’ve noted on this humble blog before, there are so many natural cavities in my forest that the birds probably don’t need the supplements I’m providing. So the wasps do. Will the presence of wasps deter birds?

I took a closer look at the comb (?) of the wasp nest before I cleaned it out, and I found what you can see below:

There in the center of the photo is a wasp that didn’t successfully emerge from its cell. I wonder why? Was it not fully formed? Was it abandoned by its sisters? Did it try to emerge too late in the season? There were other cells that looked as though they still contained something too.

The nest box is made of some recycled plastic material. I wonder if that is what deters birds from using it. (The wooden ones I have here and there at Roundrock do show signs of use by birds.) So maybe I’ve just set up a wasp breeding station along my property line. I guess they need a home too.