Archive for August, 2012

not underwater

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

Long-time readers (both of you) may recognize this image. With the drought in the area, the lake has shrunk to a small pool, and many features that used to be underwater are now exposed. This is bit of fish structure near the center of the lake. Normally this would be underwater. In fact, that brown glass bauble on the top of the stump should be at least a foot underwater. Hasn’t been for a long time though. (That’s a feather stuck in the stump beside it.)

This is the remnant of a burn pile that didn’t burn. When I had the lake built, the man with the bulldozer plowed into the Central Valley and pushed down all of the trees to make piles of them. Then he burned them. For some reason, this pile never caught fire very well. So we flooded the valley behind the dam and left this pile to serve as fish structure. I suppose it worked. Little fish and big possibly used this to have shelter and make fry and all sorts of fishing things that they couldn’t do in open water.

So when the lake fills again, the structure can do its thing again, too. I can wait.

Rock Flipping Day is coming!

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012


Everyone! Rock Flipping Day is coming.

This year it will be on September 9. Go here to get the instructions, and then get ready to participate.

It’s really simple. Just find a rock, flip it, and give an account of what you find beneath. You can take a photo, or sketch, or write a poem. Then send a link to Wanderin’ Weeta to post on the collective blog. There will also be a Flickr site for your images.

I’ve participated in past years, and a couple of times I turned up some snakes. I think this weekend I’ll start searching.

Just remember to replace the rock after you’ve flipped it. The rock may be the roof to someone’s home. Also, be careful if you’re in snake or scorpion country.

secret messages

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

I think I mentioned on this blog long ago about reading the book Hardscrabble, by John Graves, and enjoying his account of collecting the stones he needed for the chimney he was building for his litte cabin. He said he went to the homesite of some long-gone pioneer and began dismantling the chimney that was there. And within it he found an old metal box. In the box he found a note; it was a curse on whoever tore apart the chimney to use the stones. Graves said he buried a similar curse in the chimney he built.

Recently, I read the book My Father’s Cabin by Mark Phillips. It was an account, among other things, of the cabin his father had built. Sadly, his father was dying and was racing to get the cabin more or less finished. Phillips eventually moved into the cabin full time, and when he began remodeling it, they removed some wallboard behind the fireplace and found a message the father had scrawled there with some of the sooty coals of the fire. It was his name and date — a sign that he had been there.

Clearly, chimneys are where hidden messages belong.

I don’t have a fireplace or even a wood stove at my little Cabin at the End of the Road, so I don’t have a chimney. But I have thought about leaving a hidden message for some future person to find. I don’t know what I would say, but I like the idea.

Head for the Cure 5K

Monday, August 27th, 2012

I laced up my running shoes and did another 5K yesterday. This time it was the Head for the Cure run, and it was at the office park literally just down the street from me.

I’ve been psyching myself up for this run for a while now. My regular runs — up to three times a week now, go me! — are all longer than a 5K. Some are more than twice as long. So, I assured myself, the 3.1 miles of a 5K really should be nothing, not a challenge or difficult at all. Yeah, that’s what I told myself.

But this race was different from the two others I have done. The first had only 300 participants. The second, fewer than that. The Head for the Cure run had more than 4,000! For some reason, this really intimidated me. As we all milled around waiting for the starting horn, all I could see were elite runners and high school athletes, and every single one of them was going to leave me in the dust. (Actually, there was no dust because something amazing happened — rain! We’ve had some decent rain the last few days, and it was even raining a bit on race morning.) Because of what turned out to be problems with their official clock, the start of the race was delayed for half an hour. This, of course, made me more nervous, but I’m told that such anxiety can be put to use for runners (and all competitors, I’m sure, but rarely allowing myself to be a competitor in any way keeps me from knowing this for sure).

To say that I started at the front of the pack is not saying much. There were so many people that nearly five minutes passed after the starting horn before I even crossed the starting line. Fortunately, we were chip timed (based on when the little electronic chip attached to my shoe crosses the starting line), so when I crossed wasn’t as important as that I crossed the starting line. My personal clock started then.

This race had a huge number of walkers — whole teams of walkers in matching shirts. I had understood that we runners were going to get a five-minute head start on the walkers, but apparently the walkers didn’t get this message. In the nearly five minutes it took me just to get to the starting line, probably a thousand walkers were already on the course ahead of me. My, they were having a jolly time. Walking and chatting and on their cell phones and pushing their strollers and walking with their dogs and waving to their friends and hanging in packs of six or seven abreast, blocking the road where we runners needed to hustle. I spent a great deal of the first third of the run going around these walkers. I heard one runner complain that it was going to be more like 3.5 miles when you took into account the distance devoted to diverting around the packs of walkers.

But, honestly, I can’t complain about the walkers too much. After all, they were out there. They were doing their part to raise funds and awareness to fight brain cancer. It was all just another learning experience for Pablo.

After the first mile marker — the first third of the way — all of us were thinned out pretty well. By then I didn’t have to get around whole groups of people and just faced the usual slower (!) runners and walkers. The rush I felt from being amidst the pack (and I did feel the rush, so much so that I think I ran faster at the start than I should have) was gone, and it was just Pablo against the pavement, me against the miles. That’s when the benefit of all of my solo running kicked in and when all of the counseling I had given myself about being able to handle a mere 5K was brought to bear. It worked. I’ve learned that I must both listen to my body and ignore my body when I run. Pay attention to problems and issues, but ignore the imagined fatigue. My left knee has sometimes given me some problems on my longer runs, and I worried that that might crop up on this run. And it did — before the race. My knee twinged and felt tight. Great! I couldn’t even get started without a problem. Yet as I ran, the knee offered no complaint at all. I suppose it was psychological before the race and physical during the race. Whatever the reason, I found my groove and just stuck to it.

It happened that at around the first mile marker, the course passed the start/finish line on the other side of the road. I made the mistake of looking over there and seeing some runners actually finishing the race while I was just getting started. I shouldn’t have looked. But I’m just a beginner, and I’m no longer 17, so I’m going to stick with realistic expectations of myself.

Not far after this point was the water station. I’ve learned not to wear my glasses on these runs any longer. I can see well enuf without them, and they are one fewer thing to manage as I trudge along. (Imagine taking them off, wiping your face with your shirt, then putting them back on, all the while trying to maintain your stride and not collide with anyone.) So when the kind person at the station held out a cup of water for me, I took it and threw it in the general direction of my face. A fair amount of water actually made it into my mouth. I’m getting good at this.

Because the course was so close to my house, Libby and I had driven over it a couple of times in recent days. I wanted to know where the hills were, and there was one that looked long and grueling. It wasn’t all that steep, but it was long. As I approached this hill, I kept telling myself to keep on keeping on. Try to maintain a pace, and take deep breaths. On hills, I tend to look down at the ground before my feet. The road looks level when you do that. So I knew this hill was coming, and I was talking to myself about it. And I kept my eyes down for as long as I could. But then I knew I had to look up and face the hill.

When I did, I found that I was already at the top. That felt great, but there was still a mile to go. Fortunately, it was all downhill or flat from there. Curiously, I was passing a lot of people. Sure, most were walkers, or runners who had pooped out and were walking, but I was passing a few runners too. That also felt great, but only because it told me I was developing some mad running skillz after these months of effort.

And then came the big finish. Now, I understand this is not a good thing to do, but in the past two 5Ks I ran, I sprinted to the finish line. Supposedly, that’s how injuries occur. Still, I wanted to see what I had in me, and with a couple hundred feet ahead of me, I hit the afterburners and tore past quite a few people. It felt great, but I suppose I should try to behave in the future. I crossed the line and staggered around and gasped for air, and then I stumbled over to the people with the clippers who remove the chips from your shoes and bent at the waist to make the spots before my eyes go away. As the woman snipped my chip free, I saw some familiar feet standing before me. Libby had been there waiting.

I was recovered in just a couple of minutes. (Did I mention that the humidity was recorded at 96 percent?) So we walked around the various booths that were set up to hawk this or that or to give away bagels, granola bars, donuts, Gatorade, coffee, cookies, bananas, fruit, and water. I snagged a bagel and a granola bar and got Libby a cup of coffee. It was then that I learned about the problem with the starting clock and that they couldn’t post our finish times right away. They would be emailed to us. Since there was nothing to wait around for, we decided to walk home. That, too, was uphill about a half mile away, but I was energized by then and had no trouble. A shower and some clean clothes later, and I was ready for the vegetarian combo platter at our favorite Mediterranean restaurant.

When we got home later Sunday afternoon, our times were posted at the race site. I won’t embarrass myself by telling you my actual time, but I will say that not only was it my Personal Best so far — shaving more than a minute and a half off my last time — but it would have put me in first place for my age group at the first 5K I ran. So, go me! Again!

I have a couple more 5Ks and two 10Ks coming up in the months ahead. I feel as though I’m getting stronger, both mentally and physically, so I’m looking forward to them (until the morning of the run, of course).

lake looking low

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

The ongoing drought continues to sap the vitality ouf of my lake at Roundrock. That photo above makes it look far worse than it actually is, but it’s bad enuf as it actually is.

The shot looks to the east; that’s the dam you can see. Where I was standing when i took the shot I would normally (?) be in water over my head. Not now, alas. The pool of water near the dam is still probably at least ten feet deep, and I hope it will be enuf to sustain the fish, but it would be good if we could get some three-inch rainstorms in the coming weeks to recharge it, at least enuf to help them winter over.

That’s a cedar skeleton in the foreground. I placed it there years ago and weighted it down with rocks as a place for the fish to hang out and party. As far as I know, it worked — when there was water.

There is rain in the forecast for this weekend down by Roundrock. I’m crossing my fingers, though the ground itself is so dry that most of what falls will probably be absorbed right away rather than wash into the lake bed. Well, maybe I’ll get the chance to apply more Bentonite before it gets too cold to go in the water.


Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

I’ve been stomping about the woods of Roundrock for a dozen years, but it seems that there are still discoveries to be made.

When we were in our forest last Sunday, we heard voices along our eastern border. Being shy, we mostly stayed at the cabin, but eventually the voices died down and we took ourselves on a short walk to the eastern fence line. It seems that the rancher over there had been doing a little bit of clearing along the fence, cutting several small cedars away from it. (Later on our walk we found further evidence that his cattle had been getting through the fence onto our property, so I suspect he’s preparing to improve the fence.)

Every year I try to walk my entire perimeter, just to see what’s happening and to clear a little bit more a path along it. (Yes, in a year’s time, nature can more than undo whatever clearing I manage to do, but I still keep at it.) Thus our short walk on Sunday was a bit of that perimeter walk, and we did get to see what was happening.

As we stumbled down the hill, we came upon an odd tree. I’d never seen one like it in my forest, so I stepped closer for a better look. The leaves made me think of a catalpa, but I was certain I didn’t I had any. Yet as I studied the tree, I spotted the single bean pod you see above. It appears I have a catalpa in my forest after all.

For many years, I was certain I only had two walnut trees in my forest. Now I know better. I have a couple dozen — most of them along the eastern property line. And until recently, I didn’t think I had any mulberry trees, but I’ve since found two. Now I’ve found a catalpa. There may be more.

I’m pleased that I can still make a discovery like this after so many years.


Monday, August 20th, 2012

The last time I was in the little town near Roundrock, I saw this sad sight. The used bookstore has closed. I loved that place. It was poorly organized, the floor was soft and spongy beneath my feet, the place reeked of must and mildew, cobwebs filled the corners, the hours were erratic, and stacks of books threatened to fall on me all the time. They just don’t come like that much anymore.

I’d been going to this bookstore for as long as I’d been going to Roundrock, but now it’s gone. (That brown sign in the door says DONE.) Slowly I was rebuilding my collection of Iris Murdoch novels. And as I’ve always said about such places, you may not find what you like, but you’ll probably like what you find.



Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

At Roundrock last Friday evening, I spotted this little walnut shell on the shady porch, just beneath one of the comfy chairs, as I was about to sit in it to gaze on the diminished lake. Actually, there were two such walnut shells there.

There are walnut trees in my forest. I don’t have many, though when I bother to look, I tend to find a new one or two where I didn’t know I had them. So there may be more than I think, but even so, they aren’t many. And I know there aren’t many near the cabin. Across the road and into the woods, yes, but around the cabin, no. Thus I was surprised to find these two shells, which had obviously been gnawed open and the meat within devoured. Some critter, perhaps a squirrel, had carried these nuts from somewhere, and chose to eat them on the cabin porch. Why would that be?

About the closest the porch has ever been used for that is when I sit in the comfy chair and eat some of the peanuts that I should be reserving for the birds. And both of the dogs prowl this porch or sleep on it next to me as I sit in the comfy chair and contemplate the universe. Surely their lingering scent should deter a critter.

But it had been nearly a month since I was out (and I don’t think the pups were along for that trip), so perhaps the porch had a safe smell. I suppose it had good visibility for a prey animal, and being under a chair would protect it from a hawk or owl.

I love these little mysteries. They give my little gray cells something to do.

Finally. Yes, finally!

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

The bottom of my lake leaks. Beneath the mud and silt that has accumulated there lies plenty of Ozark gravel. Permeable Ozark gravel. The lake was at full pool in the spring. Now it has shrunk to a third its normal size, though I do have a good stand of cattails growing below the dam in the mostly permanent “ephemeral” pond there. The lake water pretty much leaks below the dam, and after a summer of drought as we’ve had, it hasn’t gotten the usual recharges to at least let me hold the illusion that the problem is slowing resolving itself.

I’ve had this problem since the lake was built. Once I had a gubmint man come out to look at my dam and lake to see if I was eligible for any kind of assistance and such — I was not, which I pretty much knew, but I wanted to have an expert give me his opinions. One of his opinions was that I could probably stop the leaks with enuf Bentonite. As I recall, he said a lake my size would need something like 11,000 pounds of Bentonite, spread in a line several hundred feet back from and paralleling the dam. (I’m pretty sure he misplaced his decimal point.)

Getting that much Bentonite (which is a kind of clay) out to my remote lake would be a problem of its own, even if you moved the decimal point over. Paying for it would be another. And applying it properly would be a third. I once hired a man with a boat to do it. I paid for $100 worth of Bentonite at the local feed store; the man was to collect it, take it to my lake, and broadcast it from the back of his boat. He called me some days later to say the work was done, and when I went to his house to pay him, he was out at the barn. As we stood there chatting after I handed him his check, I noticed a pallet of bags of Bentonite in the barn. Hmmmm. In any case, the lake bottom continued to leak.

As the years passed, I never forgot what that gubmint man had said about laying down a line of the clay parallel to the dam. The currents in the lake, especially after a good rain or two, would get the Bentonite where it needed to go. (And where it would go, the plan was, is into the gravel and other leaky areas where it would then swell to sixteen times its size — beginning as the size of salt on a pretzel — and plug the holes.) My good friend Duff volunteered to put his boat on my lake so I could pour the clay off the back in the line, but we were never able to coordinate his visit, and now the “boat ramp” is so washed out that I wouldn’t dare ask him to use it.

So I waited for the perfect alignment of another opportunity, my presence, and the presence of the right amount of muscle (my eldest son) to address the solution in a different way.

As I said, the lake has shrunk to a third its size. That means that areas that are normally over my head with water are now dry land. And the area where the line of Bentonite needs to be laid down is only in a few feet of water. I had the access I needed. With Seth stopping by the cabin on Friday evening (on his way from Little Rock to Kansas City) I had the muscle I needed. And with a Saturday morning before us, I had the opportunity I needed.

Thus we took ourselves into town that morning and got ten bags of Bentonite, as you can see above. Then we hauled ourselves and our booty back to the cabin. I looked around for an easy way to get these ten fifty-pound bags down into the lake bottom, but there wasn’t a good route. So Seth and I each shouldered a bag and hiked them down the path in front of the cabin, slipping and sliding only a little when we got to the mud at the shore. Five trips each and we had the truck unloaded. All that remained was to apply it.

That was harder that you might imagine. It wasn’t hard carrying a fifty pound bag of clay. It wasn’t hard pouring into the water in a more or less regular line. What was hard was finding decent footing in the murky water while doing this. I started near the north shore below the cabin. I poured slowly as I went, the clay pellets disappearing into the murk, leaving a swirl of grayish sheen on the water. We had ten bags, and I had no sense of whether or not that would be enuf to get across the lake. (Distance across water, as they say, looks deceptive.) So I walked and I poured until my bag was empty. Then I stood there until Seth arrived with his bag, to begin again where I had stopped. Meanwhile, I returned to shore to get another bag and stumble across the unseeable bottom with my bulky load to where Seth stopped.

Back and forth. I was happy to find that it only took us five bags to get across the lake. That meant we could supplement our pourings with a second application of equal amount. It wasn’t 11,000 pounds (actually it was 500 pounds), but it was a start on doing it right, finally.

By the end of the work, my hands and arms looked like salted pretzels, dotted as they were with the grains of Bentonite. Understand that Bentonite absorbs water very efficiently. It was clinging to my skin because it was sucking the moisture from it. Nor would it wash off with a splash of lake water. I pretty much had to scrape it off my skin, which wasn’t such a hardship, but somehow Seth had managed to get a bunch in his sweaty scalp. Ugh.

So now I have the beginnings of a possible, probable, hopeful solution to the leaking bottom of my lake in place. I’d like to do it all over again. And again. Should the water level continue to diminish, I may try to do at least five bags on my own. I know the process. I know the technique. The water is still warm enuf to wade into. I could do it on my own (though judging where I stopped and started might be iffy). I’d like to get down to Roundrock this coming weekend again and give it a go. But there is rain in the forecast. It’s odd to feel disappointed by possible rain in my forest.

two dogs

Monday, August 13th, 2012

After nearly a month away, I was able to skedaddled down to Roundrock after work on Friday. But I wasn’t alone, as you can see above. Flike and Queequeg joined me. And we weren’t alone either. #2 Son, Seth, was coming back to Kansas City on Friday night (from Little Rock) to attend the weekend wedding of a chum of his. I suggested he join us at the cabin overnight and then continue to KC on Saturday. He arrived Friday evening about 9:30, and after a little bit of enthusiastic greeting by the dogs, we pretty much settled into bed.

Since I had some muscle at the cabin for part of the weekend, I had a plan I’ve been meaning to enact for several years, but I’ll tell you about that in a later post.

In the meantime, Flike and Queequeg continued to present sticks to be thrown, and they were glad that Seth was there to help them with their project as well.