Archive for June, 2012

My friend Todd

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Many years ago, my friend Todd was cleaning out his garage (in order to build an addition on it that doubled its size) and was throwing stuff at anyone who wanted to haul it away. Among the things I liberated for him were about fifty flat paving stones (which I’ve used to make the fire ring among other things) and two chairs, one of which you see above.

We’ve gone through a lot of chairs at Roundrock. We leave them out year round, so they suffer the extremes of weather. I’ve found that there are two levels of quality for molded plastic chairs. One level is obviously intended for one-season use, or else they need to be put safely away when not being used. We’d bought several pairs of these before we came to understand how brittle they were. The slats on the back and seat would break, sometimes pinching the sitter in unwelcome places. I had one of these break while in the back of my truck, being taken down to Roundrock. (The wind flipped it over — I had it tied in — and broke the arm off.)

The second quality level of these types of chairs seems to be made of thicker plastic. Or perhaps it is the design of the supports that makes the difference. These tend to last longer, despite the same treatment. Their back and seat slats don’t break as often, yet the sitting and contemplating in them is the same fine quality. Curiously, the good ones I bought this year were no more expensive than the poor quality ones.

The chairs I still have from Todd have been around for at least five years. I haven’t seen their make anywhere or I would buy more. A few years ago, Todd moved away to points west. Then last year, he moved back to Missouri, vowing he would never leave again. In any case, when I sit in one of the green chairs he gave me, I have fond memories of pinball and parties at his house.

high and dry

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

So the lake is a little low at Roundrock. That’s not surprising given that there hasn’t been a lot of rain, and the temps have soared into the triple digits. (With no relief is in sight.)

As a consequence, the western end of the lake is mostly dry land now, which makes it easier to get around, such as to Danger Island to tend to the pines (another story for another day), but it also left this willow within easy striking distance for someone who doesn’t like them in his lake.

But that wasn’t on the agenda for the day, so I didn’t come at it prepared with the right tools (bulldozer). But sometimes the right tool for the job is the one you have in your hand, and I did have the loppers with me.

I didn’t attack the willow you see above but one nearby. I cut all of the branches, and Libby and I dragged them into the forest. Now, I can hear many of you saying that my assault will make no difference, that if I don’t remove every hair of the roots, if I don’t scorch and burn it to the bare earth, the damned thing will simply sprout again. And that’s likely true.

But on the other side of the lake, where a forest of willows was growing, Libby and I swam over there with the loppers and cut and cut and cut. We made a dent in the little forest. That was a couple of years ago. That little dent is still there. We did seem to make a difference that lasted.

Will my efforts over the weekend remain effective. Maybe so if this drought persists. But if not, well, it kept me busy for a little while.


bloomin’ bergamot

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

It’s the season of bergamot at Roundrock. (I’m pretty sure its Monarda fistulosa, but I’ve been mercilessly shot down for my faulty IDs before.) We saw this blooming in a lot of the open, sunny places around our land. The one you see above — part of a dozen or so — was on Danger Island. We had hiked up there to tend to the pines (another story for another day) and paused to smell the flowers.

Bergamot, in case you didn’t know, is used to flavor tea, and I understand it’s commonly used to give Earl Grey tea it’s distinctive taste. (I don’t use Earl Grey for my iced tea, but I do drink it hot early in the week, like today.)

You’ll recall that I’ve been traveling a bit lately. For Memorial Day weekend I was in Little Rock to see #1 Son. Then we were home for a couple of weeks. Last week we made our way to Rhode Island and New York. So I pretty much progressed from south to north. Coincidentally, the hydrangeas were in bloom in these three parts of the country at the time I was in them. In Little Rock, they were mostly pink. Here in KC, depending on the fertilizer gardeners use, they were pink or blue. But in Rhode Island and New York (yes, there are flowers in NYC), they were almost uniformly blue. Also interesting is that I saw my first beaver last week. In Manhattan. That was unexpected.

“that boy is a running fool”

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

So, unbeknownst to most of the world, I’ve taken up the sport of running in recent months. “Running” is a generous word. Trotting would be more apt to describe what I do. I think on a good day, with the wind at my back, I can do a mile in just under twenty minutes, which is not much faster than walking, so read the word “running” with that understanding.

I started running with Flike at the dog park. He thinks it’s cute. Me trotting along; him dancing before me, urging me forward or vigorously shaking a stick close to my shins. We’ve estimated that the perimeter of the off-leash dog park is about one-third of a mile. When I started running back in the winter, I was lucky if I could do even a third of that third. (I am no longer a youngster — but I’m still younger than FC!) On my last trip to the park — more than a week ago — I made it around four times without stopping: a mile and a third!

So, as you know if you read yesterday’s unfocused post, I was in Rhode Island part of last week and over the weekend. Among the many, many attractions in that tiny state is the Cliff Walk that runs along the coast, beside the obscenely opulent mansions of the ultra, ultra rich. I had this notion that if I ran on that course, that I would be edified and encouraged to run farther and longer than I ever had before. And since my daughter Rachel (who has run four marathons and dozens of smaller races) and son-in-law Travis (who has run at least two marathons and dozens of smaller races) were along, I thought I might be able to learn from from my betters. Thus on Sunday morning, we drove from our hotel to the lovely town of Newport and then out to the trailhead for the Cliff Walk.

The setting is magnificent, and if you’re ever in that part of the world, you should treat yourself to an hour or two of ambling on this walk. I told Rachel and Travis to go on ahead of me; there was no way I would be able to keep up with them. They were gracious enuf to stay with me for a short distance, giving me tips on shoes and socks and speed and stance and style and stuff. But then they were off.

The Walk has been maintained well, though when I was last in RI, perhaps 15 years ago, parts of the Walk had fallen into the sea (I think). Well, it’s fine now. And it certainly is a fine place for pounding the pavement (though I’m told I don’t have a pounding running style). Here is part of what I saw:

I’m not sure what that body of water is correctly called. It’s salt water, and if you stuck with it, you could eventually paddle to the Atlantic Ocean. I don’t think it’s Long Island Sound. It’s probably a bay of some name. (Easton Bay?) But that doesn’t matter. It was on my left the entire run out, and it was as gorgeous as you can imagine.

There were a bunch of things like this on my right:

That one is the Breakers, probably the nicest of the mansions. This is a lot like what I’m thinking of building out at Roundrock. Curiously, at the start of the trail, there were warning signs about staying away from the edge of the cliffs or face a seventy-foot fall to the rocks and surf below. That looked like a legitimate warning, even though there was a well-worn path beyond each of these signs. But there were also signs that cautioned walkers and runners to beware of the poison ivy growing beside the path. I happen to know what poison ivy looks like, and I did not see a single leaf of it. I suspect that was a bogus warning, intended to keep the curious from pushing through the scrub to get better views of the mansions. (I did see what looked like wacky tabacky, but I confess I’m not well informed about that plant.)

I pressed on, only having the vaguest sense of how far I was going. The Walk has a number of access points where nearby streets meet it, and there were signs saying how far the next access point was. I urged myself to run to the next access point, and since I couldn’t really see it until I was upon it, I didn’t have much sense of just how far I had to go. Not knowing that meant that I didn’t mentally vow to stop as soon as I reached it. I would just go until I reached it. And when I did, I vowed to keep going to the next one. The paved walk was smooth, though it was narrow in most places, as you can see from that top photo. On the run out, I didn’t encounter many people (though there were a number of runners who came upon me from behind and flowed past me, making it look so effortless and causing surges of envy in me, envy that perhaps even pushed me on).

So on I “ran.” I met occasional dog walkers (most of whom ignored the admonition to keep their dogs on leashes, but most of the dogs were Labs, which seem to love everyone in the world and train up well so were well behaved — I met with no problems and took a few occasions to stop and pet them briefly). I did also stop at one point to gasp for air and wait for the shiny points of light to stop appearing before my eyes. But aside from those moments, I kept my legs moving the whole time. I was pleased.

At one “distant” point, the paved trail gave way to this:

Would this be called rock scrambling? Rip rap running? Foolishness? It reminded me of climbing Pinnacle Mountain in Arkansas a few weeks before. I leapt from boulder to boulder, but I didn’t try very hard to keep the same pace as I had before as I crossed this. You can see the end of this section (down by that first white house), so I didn’t have to go far, but something inside my little head told me it was about time to turn around. When I reached pavement on the far side, I didn’t run much father before I came to the next access point. A sign there reported that the access point beyond that was two miles ahead. As I said, I was using these access points as my distance markers and taunts to keep going. I didn’t think I had it in me to run two more miles (much less to run them back plus what I had already run). Thus I decided to turn around at that point.

But since it was a morning of self encouragement, and since I was feeling pretty good, I decided I was going to run the whole way back (so I was glad I hadn’t decided to push on for those last two miles). The run back was much the same, though it turns out the water was on my right the whole way. I guess I should have expected that.

This is not a great photo, given the shadow (and possibly the exhausted state of the photographer), but it does show how narrow the path is as well as how hard the property owners work to keep the unwashed masses from venturing onto their private property. But what you really need to see here is that strip of sand in the distance (on the right). That was where my morning run began and where it would end.

And it did. I “ran” the whole way, stopping only twice (plus to pet a few dogs and take a few pix — a total of less than five minutes on a hour+ run), but my clever daughter and son-in-law assured me that was perfectly legitimate and part of the whole running experience. Based on the distance markers given at the various access points (some in quarter miles and some in third miles) I calculated that I had run a total of three miles that morning. I realize that doesn’t sound like much, but it was more than twice the best I had ever run before. I was pleased with myself.

And pissed with myself.

I learned that I could do it. I learned that if I urged myself, I could run three miles now. I had progressed that far in my personal improvement program. You know what that means. Now I have to do it. I have no excuse.

Expect that I do.

Two days later, in another of the great States of this Union, I couldn’t push myself to do more than a mile, and that included a lot of stops to walk and gasp and wait for those points of light to go away. But that’s a tale for another day.


I’ve been away

Monday, June 18th, 2012

Hey, all. I’ve been away, to Rhode Island, specifically, for the wedding of a niece. A grand time was had by all. The wedding was beautiful, as was the bride, the bride’s family, the guests, the weather, and the whole tone of the time away.

Rhode Island is a nice place, though I think you could fit the whole of it in your back pocket. Unlike the wide open spaces of the Midwest where I live, everything in Rhode Island is close and compact, and the locals seem fine with that. Nonetheless, the roads are more congested as a result since there doesn’t seem to be as much space for improving them as we have in those wide open spaces I spoke of. A simple ten mile drive from one end of the island (Aquidneck — where the bride’s family lives) to the other (where our hotel stood) could take a half hour. And the locals seem fine with that. (According to Wikipedia, Rhode Island is the 8th least populated yet 2nd most densely populated of the states. Wrap your brain around that!)

I’d noticed this same phenomenon when I moved away from St. Louis to Kansas City twenty-five years ago. (Gosh, has it been that long?) In St. Louis, if you had a long commute because there just wasn’t any space to add six more lanes to the highway, well, you had a long commute. It was a fact of life. You accepted it. You dealt with it. In Kansas City, such an offense could not be tolerated. Houses would be bulldozed, parks would be torn up, farm land appropriated, whatever was needed to expand and improve the road way so that congestion would never bedevil the almighty commuter. (I exaggerate a bit, but only to make the point that different communities have evolved different attitudes to reality.)

All of which is to say that I haven’t been to Roundrock in a grievously long time, an offense I hope to correct this coming weekend. Also, I now have a new camera (purchased just in time to take to the wedding back east), and I hope to begin using it to take better pix in my forest for your delight. I had considered going toward the upper end, getting a camera that had super powers, letting me take detailed pictures of the ducks across the lake and the hairs on the back of my hand and other such needful images. But I realized that a) I needed something that was small and would fit in my pocket else I wouldn’t take it along with me or it would constantly get battered by my vigorous adventures in the woods, and b) I don’t have the mad skilz to work one of those complicated machines; I really need a simple point and shoot. Which is what I got. Even that has been daunting, and my clever nephew had to adjust the settings on it for me so I could simply point and shoot.

And so I hope to get back to my regular blogging subjects and frequency in the coming weeks as I realign my world and take more pictures of it. I think I’ll have at least one more post about my time in Rhode Island, and it will be another of those off-topic posts, but it is about an interesting (and surprising) development in Pablo’s otherwise staid and settled life. Also, it will feature a bit of Rhode Island.

Rescued hummingbird moth

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

When we were last out to Roundrock (a little over a week ago, but it seems longer than that), among the many things Amber did was rescue a hummingbird moth from a spider web. She then “wore” the moth on her shirt for a while. It showed no interest in flying away. (I suspect it had strands of webbing impeding its wings or some other trauma that it needed to recover from.)

Amber was able to place the moth on various flowers that were in bloom and take some nice photos. I only managed to get this one of the moth on her shoulder.

She stayed busy with her moth model for most of an hour before she left it on a bunch of flowers where there were other hummingbird moths buzzing about. She reported that her moth was feeding from the flower, so let’s assume this story had a happy ending.


Thursday, June 7th, 2012

Before we ate that dump cake I posted about yesterday, we fixed a somewhat sensible meal. Burgers on Kaiser rolls, with chips and home-made corn salsa. Those doggish-looking things are chicken hot dogs, but, um, they went to Flike and Queequeg. Amber had brought them along from her refrigerator and said they weren’t very good. She said they were made from “machine-separated” chickens, which means there were lots of things besides meat in them. (bone? beak?) She said she’d crunched into something more than once.

I was determined to try a bite, though, and once they were sufficiently cooked, Libby took them from the fire and cut them into pieces. I ate one piece. That was enuf. It didn’t taste like chicken at all, and whatever spices they put it in were not a wise blend. Ugh!

We ended up tossing the pieces one at a time to the dogs, who didn’t have our same reluctance.

The grill you see above is suspended over the coals by being stuck between some of the blocks that make up the wall. It’s salvaged from someone’s gas barbecue left at the curb for large item pick up day in faraway suburbia. We’d priced a decent camp grill several times, but they don’t look any better than what we “repurposed” and they certainly cost more.

We had another large item pick up day in faraway suburbia recently and acquired two more grills much like it. I’m not sure that we’ll ever need them. The one we currently use has been there for two years now and shows no sign of wearing out.

Happy 32nd Anniversary, Libby!

dump cake

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Behold, a dump cake. Perhaps the worst possible thing in the whole world to eat, but we managed.

Daughter-in-law Amber came to her marriage with, among many other things, a cast iron Dutch oven. As I was rummaging through the basement last week, I came upon it, looking lonely and forlorn. So I proposed that we take it on our trip to Roundrock that coming Sunday and make a dump cake in it. Since we were celebrating Amber’s birthday then anyway, that seemed fitting.

I had never heard of a dump cake until my sons were in the Scouts. Basically, it’s pie filling and cake mix, plus a stick or two of butter and a Dutch oven. It’s not the kind of thing your cardiologist would recommend, but we also had meals on our Scout campouts that were lovingly called “bypass on a plate.”

Anyway, you make a dump cake pretty much how it sounds. You dump the pie filling in the Dutch oven. You dump the cake mix straight from the box onto the pie filling. And you dump a bunch of butter (cut into little pats) onto that. Then you close the Dutch oven, put it on the coals, put some coals on top, and let it bake for about 45 minutes. (Some of the dads in the Scout troop were rigorous about this, counting the exact number of coals to go on the bottom and on the top, timing it to the second, and other such nonsense. Our cake, which came out perfectly, was much more casually approached.)

Amber’s choice was peach pie filling and yellow cake mix. I’ve known people to use cherry pie filling and chocolate cake. One man, who was our troop aficionado of dump cakes, always used fruit cocktail, which may have made sense given that pie filling has far too much sugar for human consumption.

Libby had prepared the cake (while Amber was busy inventorying the fish in my lake), and she sensibly lined the Dutch oven with foil. That made clean up much easier. I set the oven on the coals and shoveled some other coals on top. Then I nudged the glowing logs close in. Someone noted the time. Later someone remember to check the time. When I pulled the oven out of the coals and carefully lifted the lid (remember it was covered with embers and ash), the photo above is what greeted my eyes.

It tasted about like what you’d expect. It’s not quite a cobbler (my Kentucky grandmother made the best cobblers), and I think we could have used two boxes of cake mix to give it more body. The peaches bubbled up through the cake mix. The butter gave it a glaze. We devoured it all.

I don’t think I’ll ever have another dump cake, but I’m pretty sure there are plenty of other, sensible meals one can cook in a Dutch oven. We left it at the cabin. It’s waiting for me there right now.

long-lasting feeder

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

I need a new camera, obviously, but that’s not the point of this post.

I’ve posted about this feeder before. It was given to me by my son and daughter-in-law four or five years ago. Other bird feeders have come and gone out at Roundrock, but this one has been a survivor. It’s made of metal and glass, which may account for its durability, but I like to think that it was the good intentions of the givers that make the difference.

There is a bit of metal filigree in front of the glass, and though it’s hard to tell, on the left side of the feeder you can see where some determined critter has bent that back in a futile attempt to get to the seed that was inside. I thought about bending it back, but I like the testament it makes to the durability and reliability of the feeder.

When I was out at Roundrock on Sunday, observing the birthday of the daughter-in-law who gave me that feeder, I filled it with both safflower seed and black sunflower seed. Thus the two-toned effect. I’m not sure what the birds thought of it. We stayed close to the area during the day (cooking over the campfire, solving all the world’s problems, the usual stuff), so they didn’t really get to visit and sample the safflower seed. I suspect when I’m out there again, they’ll have it emptied, regardless of what I put in it.