Archive for April, 2012

working hard or hardly working

Monday, April 30th, 2012

The photo above is evidence of actual “hard” work I did while at Roundrock last month.

Some critter had been burrowing behind the little retaining wall I had built above the overflow drain in the dam. Any burrowing on a dam is a bad thing. So on a recent trip to the woods I took the wheelbarrow and shovel across the dam to the spillway where a good amount of silt had collected. I shoveled the silt into the wheelbarrow, then wheeled it to the overflow drain. I then packed the silt into the holes the burrowing critter had made. I held no illusions that my silt would stop the burrowing, but I did shove a lot of rocks into the holes before I filled them. At the very least, I hoped to prevent rainwater from rushing into the holes and further compromising the dam.

On subsequent visits, I found that the silt I had packed there was undisturbed. It seemed a success. Until I saw that the critter had simply dug a new entrance to its lair nearby.

Still, it’s a pretty nice photo, don’t you think?

A little world

Friday, April 27th, 2012

I’ve come to think that the wall I’ve built in front of the cabin is a sort of microcosm of life. I’ve seen little critters like these more than a few times on the stones. I suppose there is something they like about the wall, or the stones that comprise the wall. The stones are warm and flat. Perhaps the hunting is good.

I bought the stones at the local hardware store in the little town near Roundrock. I’d much rather give them my business, and I’d much rather haul a load of the stones only 10 miles to my woods rather than 110 from my home. Even so, I once had two pallets of the stones delivered to the cabin. The service was free. Some day, when I’ve put together a couple of dollars, I intend to get another pallet of the stones and finish the wall all the way to the road. It will help define and maintain the area around the fire ring. (Plus it will keep old Pablo busy.)

I chose pinkish stones, which I think was the best choice given the options I had. I don’t like the gray ones; they look unfinished. The dark brown ones look dirty. The creamy ones will soon look dirty. Regardless, the regularity of the wall looks appealing to me. And perhaps to the critters too.

The salvia is in for the season

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Last year, in the late spring, I picked up two hybrid salvia plants to put in the bed in front of the cabin. We had put in regular salvia as well as impatiens in the bed in a bid to lure hummingbirds, which would then entertain us as we sat in the comfy chairs on the shady porch overlooking the sparkling lake.

The impatiens didn’t last long at all. The regular salvia hung on a little longer but eventually died off. The hybrid salvia, however, stayed with us the whole, dry summer and into the fall. They still had flowers in November, and they were green into December. Best of all, the hummingbirds loved them.

Thus we’ve been on the look out for these hybrid salvia this year. The usual stores where we get bedding plants for the house in faraway suburbia either never heard of such things or were expecting a shipment of them “any day.” It happened that we were at a local farmers market in faraway suburbia when we came upon a grower who had several flats of them. They weren’t cheap, but they were large and flowering, and they were winners last year. I was willing to to spend a little money and get a few. But I dithered, and the grower sensed my hesitation, so she made an offer. I got ten of the plants for twenty dollars, which I thought was a good price, especially for large plants that were already flowering.

So when we were down at Roundrock last weekend, we put the salvia in he bed before the cabin. We gave them a drink of water (since there is no rain in the forecast for this week), and then I told them that I hoped they could begin attracting hummingbirds soon. (I assumed there were none in our area this early.)

Then we went to the pines to put up some fencing. The blackberries there (still trying to reclaim that corner of our land) were flowering profusely and promise a good crop of berries. As I looked at the white flowers, a saw a bright green jewel fly up to one. There was at least one hummingbird at Roundrock that day.

Later, when we were back at the cabin, Libby said she had just seen a hummingbird visit one of our newly planted salvia. The plan is working already.

Buckeyes are blooming in Kansas City right now, but my baby buckeyes at Roundrock were not. I didn’t expect them to this soon after being planted. I’ve read that they can bloom as soon as their second year, but I doubted my luck would hold out that far. Maybe next year at this time I’ll have some red buckeye flowers beside the cabin to help attract the hummers.

The next level of interloping

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

If you can make out the tire track in this photo, then you’re seeing what I saw last weekend. What you can’t see, but what I did see, was where this tire track led: into the lake!

Someone has loaded a boat onto the lake at Roundrock, and it wasn’t me. It was very recent, though. There was rain down thataway on Wednesday, and I arrived on Friday. The track was made betwixt those times.

No one has phoned me to say they wanted to put a boat on my lake. I’ve not given standing permission to anyone to do that. I haven’t hired anyone to get on my water (though I could use more Bentonite spread — a lot more Bentonite).

No, the person who backed a boat trailer into my lake waited for a day when I was likely not going to be around and then did whatever he or she did on the water.

The lake has been up to full pool most of the spring. It’s lovely and alluring. I suspect some interloper believes (incorrectly) that there are some good fishing prospects in the lake. Long-time readers here know that whatever stocking that had taken place before last year was random and done by the water birds who brought in eggs on their feet. Last year I began collecting some fingerling large mouth bass from a friend’s farm pond and rushing them to my lake to pour in. I think I’ve put in twenty bass in that time. (It’s getting to be time to start doing that again.) So I’m pretty sure that I don’t have any good-sized fish in my lake. None worth fishing for anyway.

Perhaps my interloping friend doesn’t know that and imagines the fishing is good in my lake. I hope he or she was skunked and decided not to come back to the lake again.

On the other hand, one of the landowners in the area, one who lives in the nearby town, told me once that I should stock crappie in my lake. They’re excellent game fish, he assured me, and he all but said that he’s seeded my lake with some already. That might be what’s going on. My local neighbor, who can visit my lake at his leisure, may have stocked my lake for his own fishing fun and is now doing so.

I don’t know that, of course. It could be anyone, but it has to be someone who knows the lake is there (not so hard, I suppose) and that I’m not (also not so hard) and has a farm tractor for pulling a boat trailer. The tire tracks you don’t see are from tractor tires. Evidently, the interloper needed something with a lot of traction to get the boat in and out of the lake.


I don’t know what to do about this. I don’t really want to put up a gate at the entrance to my land. I don’t want to get a reputation for being the out-of-town owner who’s a jerk. I can’t really call the sheriff and ask for a patrol. Unless I catch the interlopers in the act, which is unlikely given my opportunities to get down there, I can’t even know who it is. Nor am I a confrontational person.

I have set up one of my game cameras on a tree near this part of the lake. I took out he memory card and the batteries. I would imagine that my interloper friend would simply steal the camera, and then I’d be out a camera. So maybe it will be a deterrent. But all he or she would have to do is open it to see it’s merely a bluff. And if the person is clever enuf to know when I’m not at my cabin, he or she is clever enuf to elude my “deterrent.”

I’ve thought about running a chain between the trees just below the cabin. I suppose I could do that, but it would be a nuisance for me sometimes. And it just feels like a mean spirit in the place where I retreat and rejuvenate.


one of my leavings?

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

I was a’ramblin’ in the woods, not far from the cabin, when I came across this little arrangement. Someone, perhaps me, slipped this bone in between two trunks of a cedar tree. It’s the bone of a deer — a shoulder bone is my guess — and it’s wedged in well. It will stay for a long time.

I don’t have a specific memory of doing this, but it is the kind of thing I would do. For a while I was putting round rocks in trees much like this, but they wouldn’t stay put. I suppose when the wind blows and the tree sways, the firm grip the round rock has is loosened, and gravity asserts itself.

Most bones on the forest floor don’t seem to stick around long. I’ve gone back to piles of them I’ve found in the past only to find them diminished. They may get scattered by foraging critters. Smaller critters will gnaw on them to get minerals. They get buried in the leaf litter. Someone comes along and puts them in trees. All sorts of reasons.

turkey dinner without the trimmings

Friday, April 20th, 2012

Sometimes we have turkey sandwiches for lunch when we’re out at the cabin. The turkey who contributed the feathers you see above has not supplied our sandwich meat however.

I was stomping in the woods not too far from the cabin when I came across this little vignette. Someone — a bobcat? a fox? a coyote? — had made a nice meal of a wild turkey, and not very long before I stumbled upon these feathers. (We’d had a lot of rain in recent days, which is why, I think, the feathers look so tattered.)

I’ve come across these collections of turkey feathers before in my forest. Curiously, I never find any bones among them. My guess is that the bird is killed and rended, and when the captor is assured of a successful kill, the bird is carried off somewhere else for eating. I think that makes a kind of sense. The site for a kill might not always be the best place to defend a meal. Or it may be the kill was taken back to a den for pups or kits to eat.

There are more stories in the forest than there are years to tell them.

solo, or maybe not?

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

Not the best photo I’ve posted here, I’ll admit. But it’s interesting nonetheless. For the past several weekends when we’ve visited Roundrock, we’ve seen this solitary goose on the lake. (Don’t confuse this one with the pair we’ve also seen that I posted about earlier in the week.)

For a while we wondered why it was alone. Had it gotten lost from its flock? Did it lose its mate? Was it injured? We knew it could fly, so why was it hanging around? We slowly came to imagine that its mate was actually somewhere nearby, sitting in a nest on a clutch of eggs.

Sure, there are more Canada geese than the world probably needs right now, but creating an environment where two geese could bring off a clutch of goslings would be a dream come true for Pablo. It’s one of the reasons he built that silly, leaking lake. (Also, for swimming and for catching lunker bass some day.)

When we ventured onto Danger Island to plant our pines last weekend, we worried that the nest (if there is one) might be there. If so, it might truly be a dangerous island for us. But we were able to approach it without mishap, and we didn’t find any nest there. If we have one, I’m guessing it’s among the trees on the north-facing slope above the lake.

We’re hoping we’ll see this goose at our lake in upcoming visits. And maybe we’ll see its family too. I’ll let you know.

Pine planting process

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

You see above our destination early last Friday morning. Gefarhinsel. Isla de Peligro. Danger Island. Several weekends before we had fenced in that 12×12 square as a proper place to plant puny pines. At that time we were able to walk on dry land to the island. But in the time we waited for the pines to be delivered, a lot of rain had fallen from the sky, and the lake was pretty much at full pool by planting time.

Therefore, we left these on the shore:

You see them tucked under a cedar tree. The sky was dark and darkening. We hoped to get our island planting done before the rain fell, but in case we didn’t we put our boots where we hoped they would stay relatively dry until we needed to put our feet back in them.

Instead, we rolled up our pants and put these on our feet:

These hard-soled aqua socks have been wonderful. They allow us to swim in our lake and walk on its rocky bottom without sharp pains, which is always nice. I wasn’t sure how well they would work for driving a shovel into the island, but since that island is merely a big pile of gravel, I had decided simply to use my pick axe to break open a hole to put the pines into. I had experimented with that method a few weeks before, and it seemed to work well.

When we got to the island on planting day, though, I found that I could drive a shovel into the rocky soil and make a better hole to receive a pine seedling. Even more amazing, however, was that I could drive that shovel wearing those aqua socks. I had to use my heel, but it worked nonetheless.

In the end, we managed to put fifteen tiny pines in the square (which left ten for the expanded pine plantation area — and we already had nine places prepared for them). After we crossed the water and got back to our boots, we decided simply to walk the rest of the way back to the cabin (less than a quarter mile) in our aqua socks. It wasn’t bad at all (though I still prefer solid boots and long pants tucked into tall socks).

So here is a representative of our hopes:

Each pine got its own round rock. In the coming weeks/months we’ll need to visit the pines on the island and cut away the scrubby growth. (Blackberries are already colonizing the island!) Whether we’ll have to don aqua socks or cross on dry land remains to be seen, but I’m sure I’ll tell you all about it.

Honking geese

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

We were sitting on the porch of the cabin last Friday (in two new comfy chairs that we had just brought down that day), relaxing after a morning of planting pine trees, when this pair of geese came honking in overhead and splashed down in the lake below us. They then proceeded to swim back and forth on the bit of the lake visible from the cabin porch, honking the whole time. This went on for half an hour.

Here’s a confession: My original purpose for building the lake was to make it a wildlife magnet, specifically a place where Canada geese would come and raise a family. I’ve been watching and waiting for ten years. It was only last fall that we first saw geese visit the lake. Four had come in at dusk on a night we happened to be spending at the cabin. They spent the night as well and departed in the morning. I considered it a small triumph. (Yes, I’m sure that all sorts of critters visit our lake when we’re not around, which is most of the time.)

Now, this spring, we’ve begun seeing geese (and ducks) on our lake as we never have in the past. (It helps that we’ve visited three weekends in a row, which may be unprecedented in our Roundrock history.) I’m hoping it’s a sign that the lake has matured to the point where the water fowl find it suitable. That’s my goal.

Were these geese temporary visitors? Or were the scouting a place to raise a brood? I can’t tell you. We were perplexed by their honking behavior. They spent a half hour swimming back and forth within our view, honking the whole time. I assume they saw us up on the porch (a hundred feet away), but what were they saying?

Once I got back home to faraway suburbia (“faraway suburbia” is from a poem Libby read to me once as we sat on the cabin porch), I tried to learn what such behavior might mean. I found two things. One, the one I suppose is more likely, is that it is a reaction geese have to feeling threatened. Two humans at what they may have supposed was their private lake could be a threat, at least to their goosey minds. A large black and white dog with those humans might add to that feeling. The second explanation is what is called “triumphant honking.” This is a kind of greeting that Canada geese exchange with family members and mates after being parted. These two arrived together; there didn’t seem to be any parting.

In any case, after they had finished their half hour of honking in our general direction, they spent a little time at the deep end of the lake near the dam and then took off. Wither they went, I cannot say. We left about a hour later. They may have returned. I’m eager to find out.

Lotta watta

Monday, April 16th, 2012

What you see in this photo is the side of the road through the trees coming down the hill toward the cabin. The view is up the hill. The leaves have been parted by rushing water.

When we had some repair work done on the spillways recently, the dozer man dropped his blade alongside the road to refurbish the ditch there. (No extra charge!). He’d come most of the way down the hill like this. I continued his work with my pick axe and shovel in a short area closer to the cabin. The point, of course, was to keep the rushing water from washing out the road and to divert as much of it as possible from flowing into the lake. (It’s a well-fed lake, not to worry!)

I’m glad we did all of that work last fall because this spring seems to have been a wet one in my woods. (The lake has been at full pool on our last few trips, and there are scenes like the one above to suggest a lot of rain.) And based on these “tracks” of the flow, there is one more spot I need to give some attention to along the ditch. I can dig it out a bit as well as try to build a small hump in the road to direct the water away from pouring into the lake. (It’s not the water I object to in the lake; it’s the grave gravel that is being carried in.)

It’s odd to me, though, that so much water would collect in one place on this hillside. The road comes down the hill at an angle, so it’s not as though the moving water is traveling in the most direct line down hill. Nor is the road particularly open to the sky in order for a lot of rain to fall on it specifically. In any case, I take it as a reminder that even though I’ve been stomping about these hills for more than ten years, there is always more for me to learn.