Archive for January, 2013

mouse proof

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

The Cabin at the End of the Road quickly became a cluttered place. All of the this and that needed to spend time comfortably there or to have at hand when needed or simply left out because there was no other place to put it was accumulating on the tables and chairs. Or in battered metal popcorn tins on the floor. I never liked the look of it. And when we needed to move a table onto the porch (for cooking on the camp stove), we’d first have to clear the junk from it.

I had long been on the look out for a metal cabinet to put in the cabin. Metal because it had to be mouse proof. So far we’ve never seen any evidence of mice in the cabin, but the price of freedom is eternal vigilance and I wasn’t about to get lazy over something like mice. So I scoured the used office furniture store near my house, always looking for a metal cabinet. And I found a few, but they tended to be in rough shape: battered and dented, even rusted in one case. Doors that wouldn’t close. Shelves missing. And not cheap either. It seems that everyone has a country cabin that needs a mouse-proof cabinet, and they’re driving up the price with their demand.

It was frustrating, but only in a low-boil, simmering sort of way. We could continue to keep our oatmeal and peanuts and seasoning in an ugly popcorn tin on the floor. It was a workable solution.

Then, one Saturday as we made a trip to the big-box hardware store by my house in faraway suburbia, looking for something altogether different, we came upon a metal cabinet that was on clearance. It was the display model and it was marked at half price. A price well under what I’d seen for used cabinets in shabby shape. Suddenly our plans changed. And our timing must have been fore ordained. I quickly decided to buy the display model, and as Libby hurried home to get the Prolechariot (instead of her Accord we’d arrived in), I practically had to wrap my arms around the cabinet as other shoppers began to show interest in it as well.

Purchase made and cabinet stowed in the back of my truck (it fit so perfectly with the bed extender that I took it as another sign of the kismet involved), we drove home and parked the truck in the garage, all the time switching our plans for the following day when we would dash down to Roundrock to deliver what we had so long sought.

Over the years, I had envisioned such a cabinet in various corners of the cabin. I didn’t want to block any windows, of course, and that left corners. Actually, given that the beds took up two of the corners, I only had two left, so the location scouting was easy enuf. We got the cabinet to the cabin without mishap and managed to carry it in without bending it too much out of square. Then I prepared the corner. I moved out the small wooden table that resided there, swept the floor dutifully, then taped the foil sheathing to the bottom stud of the cabin frame. (You can see a bit of the tape to the left of the cabinet in the photo above. This is an attempt to decrease the insect incursion. Possibly futile.) So the corner was ready, and we muscled the cabinet into place.

Except Libby didn’t like the look of it. She said that it was placed wrong if it was going to be among the first things seen as you walked in the cabin door. I trust her judgment, so we wrestled the cabinet into a new position, ninety degrees from where I had placed it, and Libby declared it acceptable. You see her preferred location above.

Then we began to de-clutter the cabin. I tried to be methodical about it, loading like items to each shelf. One was devoted to food and food preparation. Another to generic little stuff (first aid kit, sun lotions, dish washing liquid, hand warmers). And so on. We soon had nearly all of the loose and annoying dreck of the cabin stowed in the cabinet and found that we had plenty of space left for future accumulation. I suppose we’ll fine tune how we use the cabinet and what we shove in there. And that’s as it should be.

The cabinet is not perfect. It was a display model, and the right door does not hang properly from its hinges. When I close it, I have to toe the bottom part in so it will shut tight. But I have to do that with the cabinets at the office too, so I consider that a design issue. The back has some long dents in it from our loading and unloading. But these are minor points.

Since it is metal, I have already started applying magnets to it to adorn it.

Groundhog Run 2013

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Skimpy attire for a run in late January in Missouri? I agree. But I was going running come rain or shine because where I was running there would be neither rain nor shine.

I haven’t done an organized road race since November, but I did the Groundhog Run 10K on Sunday, and you could still say I haven’t done an organized road race.

I’d always been fascinated by the Groundhog Run, even in the years before I became a runner. The run is completely underground, all 6.2 miles of it. It’s held in the limestone mines in north Kansas City, deep beneath the earth, and rain or shine, the run takes place. The surface world had rain this morning, but in the caves, we were dry (and dusty, and a little stale). So since I was underground, could you call it a road race?

This little run was unique in my experience because I was part of the company team. There were more than a dozen of us on the team, and the company paid our entry fees, so that was handy. But only two of us were running the 10K portion (I didn’t know this other man and was not introduced to him — oops, it wasn’t a man, it was a woman); the rest of the team was running/walking the 5K. The 5K started at 8:00 a.m.; thus most of our team was finished by 9:00 and ready to go home to their families. The 10K race started at 10:00, and I was in the last wave of runners to start (given my average pace), so I didn’t cross the finish line until nearly 11:30.

Team photos were at 7:30, and I was there for that. And I wished my 5K teammates well as they huddled toward the starting line with the thousands of other runners. One of my teammates happened to have brought along her nursing baby boy, and while momma ran, I tended her son. This involved mostly just carrying him around and keeping him from pulling off my glasses. We were there to greet his mother as she crossed the finish line, and then we went to the hospitality room and met up with the rest of the team. Everyone congratulated each other on their runs, and then they collected themselves and left for the day. I still had nearly an hour before my run began. I milled about and ate a bagel. Took my Advil as a preventative. As I passed the Brooks Running Shoes table, the man behind it handed me a shirt. He was giving them to any runners who passed who happened to be wearing Brooks shoes, which I was. So I got a sweet shirt out of the morning. (I also got a Groundhog Run shirt as part of my registration.)

My normal afternoon run several times a week is 6.2 miles. I pretty much do a 10K all the time on my own, so I shouldn’t have felt any anxiety about this run, but I always do. Perhaps being on a team with my coworkers had me worried. Or maybe it’s just the “officialness” of an organized run that got me nervous. Whatever the reason, I was anxious, and I just wished the run would start so I could worry about something else, like sudden death on the course, rather than my nervousness about the race.

I had asked around about this race among my few running friends, and I kept hearing one common thing: the air on the run is no good. One man said it was very dusty. I guess that makes sense given that it takes place in a limestone mine. A woman I ran with on Saturday morning said she found the air to be musty. And one of my team’s 5K runners, whom I greeted at the finish line, said he had difficulty breathing far back in the cave. (This man is an athlete; he was among the first 100 runners to finish the 5K.) So along with my usual anxiety, I had this new factor to deal with.

I huddled with the masses near the starting line, my timing chip on my shoe and my Nike+ watch on my wrist. I was far enough back, though, that more than five minutes had passed on the clock from the official start before I crossed the starting line. I deliberately told myself to keep a slow pace so I could last the entire distance. Thus many people were passing me, and that was fine. The full course was twice around the roads in the mine, and I wanted to get a sense of what I saw on the way so I could judge how far I was when I was doing my second lap. Let me tell you, the scenery doesn’t change down there. Huge, rough limestone pillars at regular intervals, stretching off miles into darkness. Avenues of more of the same meeting at right angles between the pillars. Imagine the parking garage of your worst nightmare and you get a sense of what it was like deep under the earth this morning, and the only way out was to run for 6.2 miles.

The mile markers were spray painted on the ground, and by the time I was crossing them, thousands and thousands of feet had already trampled them. They weren’t very legible, but I did manage to find the first two. As I was crossing mile marker two, someone behind me was shouting for everyone to get over to the right. Then several bicycles sped past, followed by a runner who was going nearly as fast. This was the man who was going to win the race, and he was already on his second lap of the course. I had done two miles while he had just finished more than five. Quickly behind him came several more swift runners, and it pretty much stayed like that for the rest of the first half of the run.

Still, at several points the course came and went on opposite sides of the same stretch of road. Thus I got to see how many people were behind me, and while I wasn’t trying to beat anyone, it was gratifying to see how many people were behind me. I’m probably never going to get a bicycle escort, but I don’t think I’m going to be the slowest runner in my age group any more either. (Oops! I was this time.)

Nonetheless, the air down there really was bad. I could feel a burning in my lungs that I don’t feel when I’m running on the surface of the planet. It seemed like stale air, air that had already been inhaled and exhaled by thousands of runners before I got around to sucking it it. This made the first half of the run a chore. I think I needed to get accustomed to it, and I’m not sure I ever did.

When I reached the halfway point (the starting line again), I opened my pack of GU Chews. GU is an energy gel that may or may not help me run with more stamina in the latter half of my longer runs. Is it enuf energy to make a difference? Can I metabolize it quickly enough to make a difference? Does it make a difference, or is it all in my head? I don’t know, but I do know that I seem to do better after a gob of GU. Normally, when I eat my GU (which is like cake frosting in a foil pack), I am stopped, waiting for a traffic light so I can cross a busy street safely. Since there wouldn’t be any traffic lights on this run (though there were several railroad crossings — an actual underground railroad!), I didn’t want to take time from my run to stop and deal with a foil pack of cake frosting. Thus the GU chews, which are like jelly candies. I figured I could open the packet, jab a couple into my mouth, and chew on them as I was running. And that’s what I did. It seemed to work. I didn’t have to stop moving, which, for some reason, I consider honorable, and yet I could still take my hit of energy. And, of course, at about mile four I felt an unaccountable rush of strength that I pretty much held onto for the rest of the run. Was it the GU? Perhaps. Maybe I was just getting accustomed to the foul air. Or maybe my muscles were finally warmed up. In any case, it certainly could not have been the “cheering” of the volunteers along the sidelines that charged me up. They were sitting in chairs or leaning against the walls, lackadaisically mumbling encouragement or clapping their hands listlessly. Sigh. At least they were keeping us runners from turning down the wrong roads in that endless maze of pillars and darkness. And I should be fair and acknowledge that they’d been at their jobs of encouragement for more than three hours by the time I was stumbling past.

At about mile five I decided it was time to see what energy I really had left in me and tried to up my pace. It was tough, but I seemed to be moving a little faster. And every time I came around a turn, I expected to see the finish line ahead of me, but it turns out I hadn’t memorized the course as well as I had thought on my first lap. Amazingly, however, I did finally make the last turn and come to the avenue leading to the finish. I really had no energy left by then and couldn’t hit the afterburners for a fast finish. I remember the announcer calling out my name, but I don’t know what he said about me. I crossed the timing mats and had the chip removed from my shoe, and then I looked up. No one on my team was there to greet me. No one had brought my son to the finish line to congratulate me. But there was plenty of chocolate milk waiting, and I enjoyed two cartons of it. (There was also a lot of coconut milk, but I’ve tried it and it’s nasty.) Then I stumbled to the hospitality area where I had left my sweats. They were still there (as everyone said they would be), and I pulled on the pants. I carried the jacket since running more than six miles had warmed me up plenty then headed back to the surface.

Rain had fallen in my time underground though it had stopped by the time I emerged. I walked back to my truck in only my skimpy dri-fit shirt and sweatpants, not feeling cold at all, then climbed in. I may not have been in any condition to drive at that point. I was in a kind of daze. Normally, Libby is along for these things and drives me home. But she couldn’t be there this time. And I guess I was in enuf of a daze not to realize I was in a daze, so I just drove home. (Without mishap.)

I didn’t achieve my fastest time on a 10K with this run; I had done that on Thursday for some unaccountable reason when I was out running on my own. But I did beat my times in the two other “official” 10Ks I’ve run, the latter being in September, by more than 15 minutes, which I think is respectable. I think maybe if I’d had decent air to breathe, and I hadn’t run four miles the morning before, and if I hadn’t told myself I was carb loading the night before when I had a big spaghetti dinner, I might have done even better on Sunday.

I’m glad I satisfied my curiosity about the Groundhog Run, but I don’t think I’ll ever run it again. Still, it was nice to be able to run in so little clothing again.

This just in . . . the local newspaper quoted me about the run.

cold sunrise – Skywatch Friday

Friday, January 25th, 2013

On our last trip to Roundrock, I managed to snap this photo of just moments before sunrise. The real world event was more colorful that my little camera was able to capture, but like most sunrises, the image was ephemeral. A few more minutes and a few more miles and it was all gone.

lingering snow

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

We were out to Roundrock on Sunday, but only for a short time. (We spent more time driving to and fro than we did on site.) The day was cold and seemed to be getting colder, plus there were things to do back in faraway suburbia.

But while we were there, we took a walk across the dry part of the lake bed and onto the southern shore where we found this lingering snow preserved in an area that, I suppose, remains shady throughout the winter given the angle of the sun and the tall trees. From the weather maps it appeared that a great deal of snow had fallen in the area shortly after our visit prior to this one — thus eight days before. That was good for helping recharge the diminished lake. Based on comparison of photos, I’d say the lake was up a couple of inches, but that’s an iffy judgment, reliant on tiny images on the back of my camera.

This snow we came across was presumably a remnant of that snowfall of more than a week before. It isn’t likely to melt any time soon, but neither is any rain expected to fall any time soon. The deepest part of the lake is at least six feet deep right now, which is about two feet below the suggested requirement for fish to overwinter. Still, there’s nothing I can do about it except cross my fingers and send good thoughts that way.

You may do the same if you wish.

green tips

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

When I was a lad back in the Boy Scouts one of our affectations was to walk around with a match in our mouths, much like a toothpick (though we didn’t use it to pick our teeth, and as I remember, we rarely even brushed our teeth on camp outs). It had to be a strike-anywhere match too because you never knew when you might need to call forth fire (which humans had only recently mastered, this being so long ago). If you were really cool at the time you didn’t carry around a red strike-anywhere match in your mouth; you had a blue one. And Ohio Blue Tip match. I can still remember the dubious look my mother gave me when I insisted that she needed to buy me a whole box of Ohio Blue Tip matches.

Ohio Blue Tip matches are long gone, though the town that once manufactured them holds a festival each year in celebration of the heritage. I’ve heard vague and conflicting assertions that strike-anywhere matches are now illegal, though I wonder how true that is. I can still find and buy red strike-anywhere matches at odd places (like the gas station convenience store on the way to my woods). These don’t seem to be as robust as the matches of my tender youth though. I’m guessing that the strike-anywhere matches of today are a dumbed-down, civilian version of the vigorous matches of yore. Perhaps whatever contraband the original matches contained has been removed from these newer versions.

Anyway . . . at some point I must have mentioned aloud my fondness for strike-anywhere matches, and my daughter-in-law Amber must have been listening because she presented me with three boxes of them as a holiday gift recently. They weren’t blue tips though. They weren’t even red tips. They were green tips, as you see above. I’ve never seen those before, and I imagine that had I carried one of those around in my mouth back in the day, I would have been king of the camp outs among my Scouting peers. Amber’s mother had found these for me and bought the three pack. What nice people!

So now the cabin is stocked with its match need fulfilled for several decades. Resplendently fulfilled I’ll add.

second harvest

Monday, January 21st, 2013

Not a bad harvest, but not an altogether easy harvest either.

You may remember me talking about the tree stand on my northern property line that tumbled onto my land when the tree died and collapsed. I cleared the fallen branches off my road, but I left the lumber from the blind alone since it, technically, didn’t belong to me. After several months, when no one came to claim the lumber, I assumed it was abandoned and felt entitled to collect it.

My original intent was to burn the pieces in a campfire, but when I laid my hands on one piece, I found that it was treated lumber, full of all sorts of nasty chemicals that probably should not be added to the atmosphere you and I must breathe, so I began to consider what I could do with the wood. Then I hit upon the idea I’ve had of making a sawbuck. My original plan was to cobble one together with cedar stumps I would harvest from my woods. I’d had that idea for months and months, and I never cut a single stick of useable cedar in that time for the project. I think some part of me realized how difficult it would be to build anything out of irregular cedar trunks, certainly anything that had to be as stable as a sawbuck. And so I’d found a use for the lumber from the blind.

When I had visited the fallen blind before, I saw that it had been put together with screws, so I charged up the batteries in my cordless drill and brought it to Roundrock on my last visit. I figured that would make quick work of disassembling the blind, and I’d have some nice, clean lumber as a result.

Well, the drill was a bust. I couldn’t turn a single screw. I’m guessing that there are several reasons for this. Primarily, I suspect the drill just doesn’t have the torque to do the job. But perhaps the treated nature of the wood meant that the screws were held more tightly as well. Or that fact that they’ve been weathering in that wood for years. Also, the bit was stripping the heads of the screws as it turned fruitlessly. In any case, I soon put the drill back in its case and scratched my head. I also found that the builder had used nails as well as screws. Most of the nails were longer than the wood they passed through, so their ends had been hammered down at right angles. Delightful. That made disassembly even tougher.

But something out of character had gripped me that day, and I decided that I wasn’t going to quit until the job was done, so I kept at it. (I know! Who is the man?) I began by prying the planks apart, which worked for a number of the joints. I also used a hammer I had in the truck to pound away at some of the joints. It was a brick hammer, though, (why do I carry a brick hammer around in my truck?) and it wasn’t too good at prying. But kept at it, I did. I pulled and pried and pounded and pummeled, all the while stumbling over the fallen branches of the dead tree, but my stack of harvested lumber was growing, and the blind was shrinking. Of course, the pieces of lumber all had long screws and nails sticking out of them, but removing them will be a job for another day (and perhaps I can salvage some of those screws,too).

Libby and I eventually pulled all of the board apart and loaded them into the bed of the truck. Only two pieces of the blind were useless: one board that unaccountably rotted and the plywood floor that had peeled and split and was as flimsy as paper. I left those to rejoin the soil. Otherwise, the mess was cleared and the wood was salvaged and we felt the warm fuzzies of a job well done.

I left the lumber stacked near the cabin as you see in the photo above. It’s possible that someone has driven to the Cabin at the End of the Road in the time since we were there and found the neatly stacked wood. It’s possible that someone has made a third harvest of it. If so, I don’t suppose I can complain; it wasn’t my wood to begin with. I could only claim it by adverse possession.

But if it is still there when I return (which I think is likely), then I’m going to start laying it out and figuring out how I can re-assemble it into a sawbuck. I’ll probably need to add some new lumber to it to finish the job, but it will be a job of satisfaction for me.

That will, of course, leave me with little excuse for not cutting a lot of firewood, which will be a new problem.

Skywatch Friday ~ bleak

Friday, January 18th, 2013

The view from the bottom of the lake, which in a perfect world would be filled with water where I was standing. Our last visit was gray and brisk; the temps never reached their forecasted high, and they seemed to give up, falling as the afternoon progressed.

Perhaps those clouds contained some snow. I saw on the weather report that the area got blanketed. I hope so. The lake bed could use a bit of recharge this time of year to help keep the fish alive that are huddling in the deep water by the dam.

the reckoning

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

So every year I try to tally the number of visits I’ve made to Roundrock in the prior year. I began this when Libby first accused me of going about every other weekend, which, while that would be nice, probably wasn’t true.

I keep a calendar on the wall of the cabin, and when we visit, I put a big star on the date. At the end of the year, I can simply count the stars, divide by 52, and know my frequency. I should note that if a visit lasts overnight, I count it as a single visit even though it could involved two (or more) days.

So how did 2012 shape up?

January – I made two visits, one of which was a Saturday/Sunday overnight. Not bad for the cold time of the year.

February – Two visits again, on subsequent weekends, but only at the end of the month. Early February was a drought of visits for me.

March – Two more visits. One was a Saturday/Sunday overnight, but the second visit was the very last day of the month. It almost doesn’t even count. (Except that it, too, was a Saturday/Sunday overnight, spanning into April.)

April – Finally things are shaping up. Counting the overnight that began in March and ended in April, I visited Roundrock four times. Two more of those were overnights (both Friday/Saturday overnights), and the fourth one was a Friday, which is unusual. I usually get my Conservation Department trees delivered in April, and that probably accounts for one of those weekend overnights.

May – Three visits this time, but one of them was a three-day visit, a Friday/Saturday/Sunday overnight. Another was a Friday/Saturday overnight, and I marked a little “S” on the Saturday to note that we went swimming. The first swim of the year. The third visit was on a Tuesday. Perhaps we were returning from a visit to #1 Son in Little Rock and detoured slightly from our homeward route to stop at Roundrock.

June – Three visits including one Saturday/Sunday overnight and two swimming visits. Not bad considering we had an out-of-town wedding Back East to attend that included sticking around NYC and having some fun too.

July – Only two visits in July. One was on the first, and the second, on a Saturday included the swimming notation, so that was nice.

August – Three visits this time. A Friday/Saturday overnight that included a swim and then a visit on the last day of the month that involved an overnight spanning into September.

September – Again with three visits, beginning on the first. Then another Friday/Saturday overnight and another odd Tuesday visit. I’ll take it.

October – Only two visits in October, but this included a Saturday/Sunday overnight, so a good time was had, no doubt.

November – Alas, only two visits. One on the first Saturday of the month and the second on a Friday. This was the day after Thanksgiving, which is our traditional Anti-Consumer Culture escape to the woods visit. A balm for a tortured soul.

December – We ended the year with only one visit this month, but it was a Saturday/Sunday overnight on the first weekend. Then responsibilities and family and the holidays presented themselves to intervene.

The tally? My count comes to 29, which does mean that I visited more frequently than an average of every other weekend, but you can’t blame a guy for that.


power of water

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

At the main inlet of the lake, the collection of rocks is always changing. When water comes rushing down the Central Valley, it pushes new rocks into the upper end of the lake and rearranges the rocks that are there, revealing what was hidden before and hiding was was on top.

On our most recent visit I went to the inlet looking for round rocks. Sadly, most that I found were broken. Among the surprises there, though, was this mini-boulder. It was as tall as it was wide; it’s a big rock that I could barely move. I put my boot in the photo to give you the scale.

Yet this heavy beast was not there when I last walked in this dry part of the lake bed. The water pouring in (when it did) shoved this rock into its current place. And likely when we have another big water event, the rock will be move or buried. And something else will take its place.

Water with such force that it can move boulders and split round rocks. Someday I hope I’m there to witness this happening.

a nice pair

Monday, January 14th, 2013

Five weeks! Five weeks had passed between our last visit to Roundrock and our visit over the weekend. That’s far too long, even with holidays and out-of-town guests to complicate things. I hope I never let that amount of time pass between visits in the future.

The visit on Saturday was briefer than our usual. We stayed only four hours, which is almost as long as the drive there and back. In that time, we got three big chores done (out of four planned), but the temps were forecasted to drop through the day with some precipitation arriving in the afternoon, so we decided to head home earlier than normal.

And it’s a good thing we did. On our drive home, we met rain, sleet, and snow. And when I checked the weather map after I got home, it showed Roundrock getting hammered by something. Like most of the middle part of the country, Roundrock has faced a drought since last summer, so the inch or so of rain that fell down there last week — we drove through puddles and running water after we left the paved road — plus whatever fell after we left will probably mostly get absorbed into the ground. Nonetheless, the lake was a little fuller than on our last visit, and maybe it will fill a bit more.

We saw flocks of robins in the woods on Saturday. The pileated woodpecker passed over us as we walked in the dry part of the lake bed. A pair of hawks were wheeling and screaming in the sky overhead. We saw three deer floating over a fence as they ran before us. And once I filled the feeder, the titmice flocked to it as they always do.

Roundrock goes on, whether I’m there or not. Still, I like to be there.