Archive for March, 2012

A toad of some kind

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

I don’t pretend to be any kind of expert on critter life, so if I dare to identify this as an American Toad, then you must understand that I don’t know what I’m talking about at all. (Do I even need to tell you that?)

Anyway, I spotted this little fellow hopping across the gravel road near the cabin at Roundrock, and I had to get a picture of him (or her). The toad is about the size of a quarter, and I zoomed in as far as I could without scaring it off by getting too close.

I saw a blue-tailed skink out at my woods the last time I was there. I know some of you doubt that these things even exist, but I make the assertion anyway. A good many frogs, toads, grasshoppers, and other things are moving about.  The critters are emerging in the Ozarks woods. I wish I was there more to see it.

Hybrid salvia

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Another hopeful sign of spring at Roundrock. Last year we planted many varieties of red flowering bedding plants in the garden in front of the cabin: conventional salvia, impatiens, and some hybrid salvia I picked up on a whim at a grocery store. The idea was that we would attract hummingbirds to the front of the cabin as we sat in our comfy chairs on the shady porch overlooking the sparkling lake.

The conventional salvia and the impatiens didn’t last long at all. Even though I had prepared the soil there to make it unlike anything found in the Ozarks, they failed to thrive. Libby suspects that they simply did not get enuf sun, and that may be true, though the would have gotten at least a few hours during the middle of the day. Plus, they had to rely on whatever water fell from the sky, which I guess wasn’t enuf either. (I had even planted some bulbs in one corner of that bed the fall before, hoping to surprise Libby with some unexpected flowers in the spring. I think they were anemones. The surprise came in the middle of winter, however, when we visited the cabin and found that part of the bed dug up and the bulbs gone. I guess some critter could smell the bulbs.)

What did do well, however, was the hybrid salvia. It grew and bloomed and kept blooming into December. It kept its leaves into January. (This was the winter that wasn’t, though.) And the best part is that the hummingbirds did visit the blooms. We don’t have a lot of hummers in our part of the Ozarks, but there were times when we had two and three of the little beauties buzzing about us as we sat. (I generally wear red shirts when I’m at the cabin — so hunters won’t shoot me — and I’ve been buzzed by hummers several times, which I presume is because of my shirt.)

So when we were out at the cabin — two weekends ago — I was tickled to see both of our hybrid salvia sending out leaves. So now I’ll be watching the progress of these little plants as the spring advances. And, I’ll be scouring the grocery stores for more of these plants. If I find any, I intend to fill the bed with them.

Note: The little garden bed in front of the cabin, perhaps two feet by twenty feet, is the only place in all of Roundrock where I will plant non-native species. The only place, that is, until I build my house and wall in the courtyard to create a mostly critter-proof garden.

Strong stimulant

Monday, March 26th, 2012

Our internet connection here at Chez Pablo has been spotty for days. We’re supposed to get it fixed soon with a new cable box, but I’m not convinced yet. Libby just smacked our existing cable box around a bit, and we got a connection again, but I don’t know how long it will last.

Our connection needs a strong stimulant. We followed the tanker truck above down the highway on our last trip to Roundrock. I took the photo on extreme zoom, which accounts for the grainy quality. The tanker eventually went a different direction than we were going, and I didn’t follow it. Had it said ICED TEA (Unsweetened, of course), I might have stayed with it.

Watcher in the woods – three

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

This fellow looks down on the campfire ring east of the cabin. He’s the most obvious one we have due to his color. We picked him up at a little antique/gift shop in Rocheport, Missouri last fall when we stayed at a bed and breakfast there. The shop didn’t take credit cards, which we didn’t know, and we didn’t have enuf cash for our entire purchase, so they told us just to take our items and send them a check when we got home, which we did.

I spray sealed the mask before taking it to Roundrock, and then on our next trip, I found a suitable tree and drove a nail in it. Then I hung the mask by its wire (see the bridge of his nose).

Now when we visit the cabin, we often find him hanging upside down, some forest critter or the wind spinning him 180 degrees. I set him aright and move on, only to find him upside down on our next visit.

I could probably put a nail through his chin or something, but that would be a shame.

That’s Flike in the lower left corner. And look at those trees at the top of the photo. They’re probably all full of leaves now. I wish I was there.

Buckeye’s are back!

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

On our visit to Roundrock last week I was delighted to find the three buckeye bushes in full leaf. I had written about them as recently as here, and then I was pleased to see that they had overwintered well. Now I’m even more pleased because they’ve obviously made a commitment to live and thrive at Roundrock.

I think these little plants have the best possible planting conditions of anything I have introduced in my woods. I had dug out their hole more than a year before planting them, using it as our compost pit for a while. Then I added store-bought topsoil to the hole and even composted yard waste from home in suburbia.

Now I see them as full and happy as they were when I put them in the ground last spring. I hope they will double in size this season. I’ve read that it’s possible for them to bring out flowers this soon, but I don’t think that’s likely.

If they do, however, it will be interesting to see if that one on the left is actually a white buckeye rather than a red. It’s leaves are differently shaped — more like a white buckeye’s — and its bud was different too, as you can see if you go to that earlier post I linked above.

Libby was so pleased with these that she wants to put a second set of them on the other side of the cabin. That means it’s time for me to start preparing the ground I guess.

Maple bud

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

When we were at Roundrock last weekend, most of the trees were still bare. Only the cherries were sending out bright green leaves. And the redbuds were in bloom. But I suspect the greening was only days away. By now it is probably a different forest from the one I saw.

To my knowledge, there are only two maples at Roundrock, both of which I planted. Actually, they are the two survivors of the several I have planted over the years. The photo you see above is of the maple just inside our entrance. It is ready to burst into leaf.

I had wanted a bright red maple to greet me in the fall at the entrance to our woods, but so far this maple has always turned yellow. It was a volunteer from our backyard in suburbia, and since my neighbor next door has a red maple that is doing very well, I had hoped my little volunteer was an offspring of that. So far, it doesn’t appear to be so. Or perhaps it is that the soil isn’t right where I planted it. Or maybe it’s a hybrid that isn’t color fast.

Well, I will keep watching it and see what there is to see.

an island, a fence. it makes sense

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Sometime next month, my shortleaf pine trees will arrive from the Missouri Department of Conservation. I only ordered 25 of them this year, and that’s all I ordered; there won’t be any shrubs or other trees. My planting adventure this spring ought to be quick and easy. Of course, I won’t let it be that way. I have found a way to complicate it.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I wanted to have a small copse of pine on Danger Island. I know that the local deer bed down there sometimes because I’ve seen the matted grass. Thus I know that any pines I plant there will not be safe from hungry, browsing deer. (Note, the island is rarely an island. The lake is hardly full enuf to keep water all the way around the island, and I don’t think that would stop the deer anyway.) So I decided to build a fenced area on the island and plant the pines within it. That will give them a little better chance of surviving. So that was one of the chores we undertook on our weekend visit.

I have been accumulating fence posts for months in anticipation of this. Even so, I’d only managed to get myself four of them. So I bought another five as well as a fifty-foot roll of chicken wire fencing, and between Libby and me (and the two dogs) we managed to get all of that plus the driver and other tools onto the island in only two trips.

So, I have this roll of fifty feet of fence. A little math, not too taxing for my qualitative brain, told me that if I made a square of 12 feet by 12 feet, I’d have two feet of fencing left over once I enclosed the square. Using the posts as six-foot measurements, I laid out the four corners and then took up the post driver, dreading the job of pounding those posts into the giant gravel pile that makes up the island.

It turns out the job was far easier than I expected. Sure, I had to pound and pound, and the dogs didn’t like the noise much, but I managed to get all nine posts into that gravel without breaking a sweat. Here is the result:

I know what you’re thinking. Some of those posts don’t look very straight. I welcome you to come out to the island and pound steel posts into Ozark gravel any time you’d like.

I have a center post on each side but two posts on the west side (in the foreground). That is because I am putting my “gate” in the fence there. I’m not sure how often I’ll need to get into my little pine tree garden to need a gate, but I suppose in the first couple of years I’ll need to cut down the scrub within so the pines can get sunlight. “Gate” is a fanciful word, too. I’m just going to attach the fencing to the corner post with two zip ties rather than three so I can cut them to open the “gate” and then replace them to close it.

The next job was to put the fencing up. I have newfound respect for people who lay continuous fencing fabric. It’s a lot tougher than I imagined to get the fabric straight and taut, especially with an island that is not as flat on the top as it appears. There’s no way a fence on an island in a lake is going to look picturesque, though, so I didn’t sweat perfection too much. It’s a deer barrier, not a work of art. Here is the result:

I don’t know if four feet of fencing is going to stop a deer. I suppose it wouldn’t if the deer were determined. But it might deter the deer. Anyway, we marched the roll of fencing around our square of posts, attaching it as we went, and we were nearly finished with putting the last zip ties to close the gate when I saw that we’d left the post driver and one backpack within the fenced area. So I crawled through the little bit of gap we still had left at the bottom of the gate corner to fetch those things. And it turns out that there are thorny vines on that ground that you don’t see until you kneel on them or press your bare hand on them.

And another thing: somehow my fifty feet of fencing only stretched forty-eight feet. Fortunately I had undersized my square. Had I set the corners at twelve and a half feet, I wouldn’t have had enuf fencing.

It actually looks pretty good from a distance. On our hike back to the cabin to sit in the comfy chairs, I turned to look at our handiwork, and it looked pretty good. Of course planting trees in that rubble is going to be a chore of its own, but I’m sure I’ll tell you all about it.

Wonderful weekend in the woods

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

We went to the woods on Saturday and stayed overnight. The weather was about perfect: warm and mild during the day, cool and comfy at night.

#2 Son and his wife were in from Portland for the week before, and they were catching their flight back home on Saturday afternoon. Our job was to get them to the airport, which we did. And once they were through the gate, and the obligatory good-bye waves were made, we were on the road home to throw the last few things in the Prolechariot and get on the road to Roundrock.

We were racing the sunset. I’ve been wanting to sit around a campfire for a long time, and my plan was to do this on Saturday night. But I needed to collect the wood for the fire, assemble it, and get it started before it got too dark to work. Our late afternoon start had me worried about the fading daylight (just as the massing clouds had me worried about wet dogs in the cabin). I needn’t have worried about either. The closer we got to our paradise, the more the clouds broke apart, and by the time we were there, we had blue sky and plenty of sun throwing long shadows to the east. Here’s one of them:

I had the fire ready to light long before official sunset (about 7:30 p.m.) and even longer before real dark, so that gave me plenty of time to collect more wood for a long fire, which is what a fellow wants to sit around anyway.

You can see from the photos that spring has not arrived, at least in spirit, yet. The peepers were singing, as was just about every bird in the forest. But only the cherry trees were just beginning to bring out leaves. Nonetheless, if you look closely at the thermometer in the top photo, you’ll see it was about 75 degrees, at 5:00 p.m. on a March day in the Ozarks.

We ate our dinner around the fire, drank some beer, talked about everything and nothing, let the logs burn to powdery white ash, then turned in for the night.

We woke before dawn and knocked around the cabin for a while, and then we had the whole day ahead of us for chores or goofing off. We did a little of each.

A new thong tree

Monday, March 19th, 2012

On a recent ramble through my woods, I came upon this little vignette. Some standing dead timber was no longer going to remain standing. A strong wind pushed or a wet day loosened its remaining roots and the tree fell in the forest. (I wasn’t around to hear it, alas.) In its path, though, was this young hickory, and it is now bent to the ground.

In time, the log will rot away (though not for a long, long time in my observation), but in that time, the hickory will continue to grow, and the part emerging from the other side of the log will send out leaves and branches, eventually reaching to the sky again. By the time the weight of the log is gone, the hickory ill be shaped in this way permanently. And thus it will be a thong tree, at least in appearance.

Skeptics are dismissive of the notion that some surviving ancient thong trees were actually created by Native Americans. The theory is that these trees point to springs or caves. (There was one at our old property, Fallen Timbers, that pointed to a small spring as well as a number of what I took to be burial mounds.) The skeptics suggest that the more plausible explanation for such curiously shaped trees is natural forest events, just like you see above.

Part of me wants to be rational; part of me wants to be romantic. Such a tension is just like what is happening to that hickory I suppose.

Fort de Chartres

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

On our way from Kansas City to Paducah, Kentucky for my mother’s birthday, we stayed in a very nice bed and breakfast in Chester, Illinois. From there we ventured a little off our path to visit Fort de Chartres.

I’ve loved this Fort for a long time. My family had been visiting it since I was a wee lad on our trips from St. Louis to western Kentucky, then to see my grandparents. Most of what you see at the Fort today is a modern reconstruction of the Fort that stood on the site nearly 300 years ago. The original foundations are there, and the powder magazine still remained after all those centuries, but the rest of the fort, including the stone walls surrounding it were either washed away when the Mississippi River changed course or were carted away by the people of the nearby town, Prairie du Rocher, for their homes.

Of course, I haven’t been around for 300 years, but even in my comparatively short span of life, I’ve built a lot of memories and longings about the Fort. So when my path took me near it, I made sure to visit it and try to re-capture some of that.

We visited on a Sunday morning, and for a while we were the only people in the whole place aside from the ranger and one interpreter in period costume. I think that added to the feeling of abandonment that the place had to it that day.

They have a nice little museum that explains the French influence in the area and includes a number of artifacts that have been unearthed at the Fort through meticulous excavations. Also included in this museum of ancient things was this:

Of course the French did not have pay phones at their Fort 300 years ago, but when is that last time you’ve seen one of them in our era either?

It turns out that in this part of the Mississippi River valley, there is pretty much absolutely no cell phone signal to be grabbed. The pay phone worked, and I suppose it gets a lot of use.