Archive for April, 2013

on the nest

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

I realize this is not best photo, but it was the best I could do under the perilous conditions.

What you see is a small island in the pond at Roundrock. (Note that we have a tiny pond near the pine plantation that is not the same as the lake at the other end of our woods.) During most of the year, this area isn’t an island at all, but since we’ve had a wet spring, the pond level is up and the island is formed.

But it’s not the island that I want you to see here. Rather, look closely and you’ll see a goose sitting on a nest on that island. Libby first noticed the goose there two trips ago (more than three weeks past now). For some reason, the goose raised her (?) head as we drove past. Otherwise, I’m sure we would have missed knowing what was happening right there in our little pond. Once we realized what we were seeing, though, I stopped and got out with my camera to get a shot. I crept toward the water slowly, trying to keep trees between me and the goose, but I suspect she (?) knew I was there the whole time. When I got within about thirty feet, her partner, that I hadn’t seen on the side of the pond, began honking at me and swimming my way. I squeezed off the shot and headed back for the truck. I didn’t want to distress them such that they would abandon their nest.

When we were out at Roundrock the next week, she was still on the nest, so I think my interruption was long forgotten.

Canada geese will incubate their eggs for about 30 days. Given that we don’t know how long she (?) had been sitting on them when we first saw her, they might already be hatched, with little goslings paddling about. I’m sure there have been other nests on our pond over the many years we’ve been stomping around, but this is the first one we’ve actually known about. It warms my black and shriveled heart to know that my stewardship efforts (mostly benign neglect) are actually having a positive effect.

Trolley Run 2013

Monday, April 29th, 2013

The morning came cold but clear. I was determined to wear only shorts and a shirt on this run, as you can see in my customary kit photo above, but the temperature was 45 degrees when I rose. Still, I decided to tough it out and head to the start in such skimpies.

The Trolley Run has been my goal run for a long time. When I began running, just over a year ago, when I could barely run a hundred feet and needed to rest for the remainder of the day if I did, I looked across the months ahead, completely unable to imagine that I could run a whole mile, much less the 3.1 miles of a 5K. But I thought that if I stuck with it and trained hard, maybe, maybe in a year and a couple of months, I could actually run — and complete — the Trolley Run in Kansas City.

The Trolley Run is a big deal here in town. Thousands of runners participate, and whole parts of town are shut down to accommodate it. Everybody has run it. (In fact, even Libby had run it several times back in the day.) And so I thought that it should become my goal; I would complete the Trolley Run and finally be able to call myself a runner without qualifying or apologizing or mumbling.

Thus is became a psychological barrier, a boogie man, a holy grail. In the time since I’d set that goal I have run longer races. I’ve done a half dozen 5Ks, three 10Ks, and afternoon runs that are eight miles or more (usually ending at some watering hole, but only by coincidence). I’m training now to do a half marathon in October, and my goal for 2014 is to complete a whole marathon. (That still looks utterly impossible!) So by the time I stepped up to the starting line at the Trolley Run on Sunday, I had the experience, the knowledge, the support of many new friends I’ve made in the running community, and a day promising full sunshine. All I lacked was confidence.

I had frightened myself into self doubt because I had envisioned this run to somehow be a validator of my running ambitions.

I knocked about the house the morning of the run, nervous, anxious, impatient. I thought about eating something but decided against it. I thought about donning some warmer clothes but decided against that too. When I couldn’t sit around any longer, we got in the car and drove away. As usual, Libby and I got to the starting line far too early, but we weren’t the first ones there by any means. I was to meet some friends for a group photo shortly before the start, but that left a half hour to kill, and the air was still cold outside of the car as we waited for the sun to crest the nearby buildings and start warming the air.

Sometime during the last year, I had learned that the Trolley Run is not a 5K, which would make it 3.1 miles, but a 4 mile run. It goes from the Waldo neighborhood in Kansas City to the upscale shopping district known as The Plaza. They say the course is all downhill, but it isn’t. In the first mile there are three hills you must top. They’re not steep, and they’re not long, but they are there. I knew this from having driven the course the day before. Everyone told me I would set a personal record since the run is down hill “all the way.” All I could think of were those initial hills and the cold and my doubts.

Libby’s plan was to drop me off at the start in Waldo and the scurry down to the Plaza to park and find her way to the finish line to wait for me. Many of the runners had parked their cars at the Plaza and took the courtesy busses to the start, and these throngs were arriving as we waited. So I gave her a kiss and told her to go. Then I jumped out of the car and did a thoroughly inadequate warm-up run to the place where I was supposed to meet my friends. Of the 17 of us, only four showed up for the picture, but we took our photo and wished each other a good run, then we separated to join our waves. I was in the Green Wave, the largest group, comprised of runners decidedly below the elite athlete level, but who would indeed actually run the race. The wave after us was made up of fast walkers, people pushing strollers, and those who wanted to give it a try but might not be able to finish. (Ahead of us were the elites, some of whom subsequently finished the four miles in just over 19 minutes!)

There were more than 8,500 people doing the run, and I was packed in with the mix, near the start. The sun had finally come over the buildings across the street, and I could feel the warmth on my exposed skin. I was still cold, but I hoped that when I started moving, I would warm up.

The elite runners were the first to fly. Our wave was herded toward the starting line then. I turned on my running watch and hoped it would find a satellite before I had to go. It did. And we waited. Then I hoped my watch would not shut itself off before I had to go. It didn’t.

I ran across the starting mats, the sensor tied to the laces on my shoe registering my start, and I quickly found a pace that I hoped I could sustain for the next four miles. People were passing me by the hundreds, but I had expected that. I wasn’t racing with anyone but myself, and I had serious doubts about beating that guy to deal with. The course passes through some very nice neighborhoods of Kansas City, and I have some friends who live there. I hoped they might be among the hundreds of people sitting in chairs on their lawns, ringing cowbells and cheering us on. I did see one person I knew, and we shouted toward each other and waved, but that was after I’d completed only one mile, and I knew I had distance ahead of me.

It’s funny how difficult the painted lines on the street can be to run on. Same with the tar splotches. I began to dread these, but I was hemmed in mostly by other runners, either going at my pace, hurrying past me, or needing to be passed even at my measured pace. The miles were marked, so I knew how far I had gone and how far I had to go, and if they hadn’t been, I could have looked at my watch, but I’ve learned not to do that. It shows both my distance and my pace, and pace has been my enemy lately. Not too slow, but too fast. When I would look at my watch and see how fast I was going (fast for me), I would suddenly get exhausted, telling myself I was pushing myself too hard. So I decided I would just run at a pace I thought I could maintain and not know what the clock number was. (It’s a good thing I didn’t check my pace on the Trolley Run.)

The crowd of runners was thinning around mile two. The faster ones were far ahead. The slower ones and those who were walking by then were behind. People continued to pass me, but I was also passing others. For the most part, though, I was among a crowd of people who were going at about the same speed I was. I have found that to be helpful at times because it allows me to control my pace and even get a break. I was hoping to marshall some energy to burn at the end when I could come blazing across the finish.

Around mile two I was glad I hadn’t eaten anything for breakfast. I think I would have left it on the road by then. Also at that point I was glad I had decided against putting on warmer clothes. My engine was running by then, and I was sweating enuf to wipe my face with my shirt. It was glorious in a way.

Around mile three — we were well into the true downhill-only part of the run — I got that realization that I was going to finish the race. Can I say this was a watershed moment? Sure, I had done other runs, but the point was I was doing this run. I was meeting the goal I had set for myself a year before. I was knocking down a psychological barrier that meant nothing to anyone else but seemed to mean everything to me. It wasn’t just knowing there were photographers all over the course that made me smile for the rest of the run.

Alas, as we neared the end, the four lanes of the parkway we were running on narrowed into two lanes and the crowd got thicker. Once again I was hemmed in, and though I could maintain my pace, one that actually felt comfortable by that point, I didn’t see much opportunity to turn on the afterburners and really race to the finish line. There were simply too many people, and as we all approached the finish line, the avenue grew narrower as the fencing herded us toward the mats. As I crossed the mats and turned off my watch I pretty much had to stop moving altogether because all of the other runners in front of me had done so. It might have been nice to slow down a bit. I’ve seen this at a few of the other runs I’ve done, and I’m sure it bothers other runners too. If I were in charge, I’d figure out a way to fix this much.

Somewhere in the crowd of spectators Libby was supposed to be waiting. I looked around as I was herded forward. I stopped and had the chip removed from my shoe then gladly took the bottle of water that was offered to me. Libby didn’t seem to be around, and I assumed she had moved to a point where the crowd of exhausted and exultant runners had thinned out a bit, so I made my way there. No sign of her yet, but there was the tent giving away free slices of pizza. And one handing out peanuts and pretzels. And energy drinks. And bananas, and bagels, and the blessed, blessed chocolate milk (for recovery, of course). But still no Libby. I assumed I missed her, so I used the one thing I had carried with me on the run: my phone. (My skimpy running shorts have a tiny inner pocket that perfectly holds my little flip phone.)

It turns out that in my blaze across the finish line, Libby had missed spotting me. (I had worn that bright yellow shirt — a color known as Volt — just so I would be easy to spot among the runners approaching the finish line. But it also turned out that many other runners had had that same idea.) She was still at the start, worrying that I must have fallen along the way since I was overdue; I had told her to expect me to take an hour to run the four miles. We finally met about halfway between the start and the point where I had wandered. Then we moseyed through all of the food booths again. (I ended up eating 3 small slices of pizza, a half of a glazed donut, one whole-wheat roll, a half of a banana, two airline-sized bags of peanuts, and four small containers of chocolate milk. Plus I was feasting on a huge serving of satisfaction.)

What I haven’t mentioned is that shortly after I crossed the finish line, when my vision returned to normal and my breathing didn’t wrack my whole body (and I exaggerate) I did look at my watch. I dared to look at my watch and see my result. For this race, I had adopted a new policy toward my running. Should I find myself getting tired, I would simply slow my pace — to a crawl if I had to — and rest on the run, so to speak. I would not stop and rest, nor would I walk. I would keep running, but I would run slowly if I had to. Thus I didn’t expect to find a really great pace for this run because, especially in the first two miles, I slowed myself several times. A common phenomenon at such runs is to get caught up with the energy and start out too fast, keeping pace with runners who are much stronger than you are. I tried very hard not to fall victim to this, but I don’t think I succeeded since the first two miles were exhausting. My watch would tell me the truth.

And the truth was . . . I have set a new personal record for a 5K and averaged a really fast pace (for me) over the whole 4 miles of the Trolley Run! I am not a fast runner, but I am a faster runner. I hit a pace that I never would have thought was possible. This is big stuff for me.

I broke through a psychological barrier on Sunday. I faced and achieved a goal that has spooked me for more than a year. And in doing so, I also showed myself that I can push myself harder and faster and farther and better.

And then I went home and took a nap.

first fire of the season

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

My first fire of 2013. I think about sitting around a fire at Roundrock a lot. Most of our trips there are only for the day, and I’m always reluctant to start a fire only to drive away from the coals a few hours later. Yes, I have plenty of water in those ugly milk jugs to kill the embers, and right now I have a full, full lake for more water if I need it, but I’m still nervous about it. I’d much rather have the coals burn themselves out through the night and then give them a last pour in the morning. Plus, it’s nice just to sit in the dark before a fire and listen to the forest sounds.

So last weekend was our first overnight of the year and thus my first chance for a fire. We cooked burgers over that fire, and a few beers might have been consumed, but our evening ended early and I didn’t sit for hours and hours before the flames, contemplating the universe. I suppose I was tired from tending the pines and throwing rocks in the holes in the south spillway.

Flike, of course, sees a fire as merely a temporary interruption in the stick throwing regimen. You see him there, waiting for me to return to the road for a session.

May is a busy month. I’m not sure when I’ll see another overnight, but I’ll be looking for it.

cherry blossom time

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Sometimes (even if it’s by accident) we time our visits just right. I was standing at the cabin, gazing into the forest, and spotted something blooming. It wasn’t until the next day that my feet carried me over to that part of the forest and I realized we were in our woods just as the cherry trees were blossoming. I’m not sure I’ve ever been in my woods at this exact time before.

Nor, lately, have I been able to make the macro function on my little camera work as well. That’s a pretty good photo above, at least for my skills and equipment.

The green is beginning to blush on the trees now, but I was tickled to see this white.

The cherries on these trees are tiny, and though I suspect they are edible, I’m not going to try. I’d probably get an angry stomach, and the critters would do better with them anyway.


Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

I hold my found artifact in my hand (from yesterday’s post, of course) and try to imagine the years it has been around, the hands that formed it, the hands that used it, how it was lost or left behind. Is it a thousand years old? Older? How much time has transpired between its last connection with human hands and now mine? It’s a fruitful and fulfilling path of inquiry even if I know that I’ll never know the answer.

And yet even a thousand years is hardly the blink of an eye compared to the time represented by the many, many fossils that were all around the spot where I found the artifact. Their span of time is beyond human imagination. Hundreds of millions of years.

The spiral-shaped fossil in the photo above is, I think, an ammonite. As a classification, that’s about as broad as it gets, and as a classification that’s about as precise as I can get. Ammonites were swimming or floating invertebrates, and their closest living relative is the nautilus. The must have thrived in the shallow sea that once covered the land we now call Missouri.

Sorry about the quality of the photo below. The sun was in the wrong part of the sky when I was in the right part of the spillway. This fossil is raised from the surface of the bedrock, and I suspect it was revealed when the dozer originally cut the spillway.

My daughter-in-law Amber is a great lover of natural history, and the next time she is out at Roundrock, I intend to bring her over to the spillway bedrock and let her make discoveries of her own.

frustration, with a fine finish!

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

We returned to Roundrock last weekend for an overnight; that’s two weekends in a row that we were there. The trip was supposed to be merely for relaxation, but, of course, I found myself pulled toward a couple of chores that needed doing.

One was to do more filling work of the hole that was developing on the south spillway. I had devoted an hour to throwing rocks in that hole last weekend, and I thought another hour or two just might fill it, and maybe I’d avoid having the berm on the spillway being completely washed out.

I didn’t need to worry about filling that hole. In the week since I’d been down, a couple of big rains had gouged even bigger holes that were even greater threats to the integrity of the spillway berm.

The mess you see above is the south spillway, a week later. It’s hard to tell, but some of the holes on that left side are three feet deep. That exposed area is where the rushing water had eaten into the berm. Another overflow event and I expect the berm will blow out, allowing the rushing water to pour into the pine pecan plantation far too close to the dam for my comfort. (That spread of gravel at the bottom of the spillway has been washed there in the last two years. It used to be grassy there.)

So I ventured over to the spillway on Saturday soon after we arrived and saw the impossible task before me. I could spend the rest of my life throwing rocks in that forming canyon, and another big rain event would simply wash them down the hill. I grew despairing and figured I had to call the dozer man to come out with his big machinery to tackle the problem.

On Sunday I thought about a different approach. About halfway down the spillway, the water tends to stay on the right side (far from the berm), kept in place by a crack in the bedrock there that forms a natural channel. At the halfway point, the bedrock is no longer cracked and the water spills out, crossing the spillway and gouging out a new channel in the gravel and dirt. My thought was that if I could create a new channel in the gravel and dirt on the right side of the spillway, the water would be steered away from the berm a little longer.

So Flike and I headed over there with the pickaxe and shovel. (I carried those. Flike carried a stick.) Then I did a little work at the top of the spillway to remove some gravel so that the water would more easily flow into the natural channel formed by the split in the bedrock. That didn’t take long (and probably didn’t make much of a difference), and I headed down to the halfway point where the natural channel ends and the dirt and gravel begin. And I couldn’t bring myself to dig.

What I really need to do is fill the hole, not create a new one. An ideal spillway would be covered with a carpet of grass to help prevent erosion, and that’s what I have at the point where I was going to start digging. (As you can see on the right side of the photo above.) The water is getting diverted here, but that’s not the fault of the grass. And it seemed foolish to destroy part of the spillway that was actually the way it needed to be.

So I threw rocks in the holes again, aware of how futile that was. And for a break, I used the pickaxe to dig a little in the channel in the bedrock, to widen it where I could and allow it to carry more water.

And that’s when it happened.

Something I’ve been wanting to happen for more than a dozen years.

Something I’ve been hoping for since I first started stomping about my Ozark forest.

Something I was beginning to despair would ever happen in my life.

. . .

I found a Native American artifact!

Look at that beauty!

Here’s the other side:

I have no idea what it is. Obviously it’s too large to have fit on an arrow. Perhaps it’s a spearhead? Or maybe a knife blade. Nor do I know who made it or how old it might be. (I’ve been told that the larger they are, the older they are, but a given use could determine size as much as age, I think.)

The bottom is broken off, as you can see, and that might have shed more light on its original use or craftsmanship. It’s made of chert (I think) and it’s symmetrical in width and depth. Plus there is clear evidence of knapping on its edges.

This had washed into the spillway sometime in the last two years and was buried in mud. (This part of the spillway was broken out of the bedrock, so the artifact couldn’t have gotten there before then.)

Suddenly my woes with the spillway seemed unimportant. I washed the artifact in the water that was trickling down the spillway and examined it from all angles. It wasn’t giving up any of its secrets though.

It sits beside me on my desk. I pick it up frequently and look it over. Now, of course, I expect to go out to my woods and find artifacts all the time. I’ll let you know how that goes.

south spillway action

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

What may look to you like mayhem and mess is actually what I like to call the south spillway. This is the first avenue of exit for too much water in my little lake (after the overflow drain), and it’s been busy lately.

We’ve had a wet spring so far; the lake is at full pool, and the overflow drain has been working constantly, at least during our visits. So just about any new rainfall will put the spillway to work. (The north spillway also showed signs of recent use, but it seems to be a bit higher, so the water level must really be up for it to be called upon.)

The south spillway has now been eroded mostly to bedrock, at least near the top. Much of what you see is the fossil-laden bedrock that underlies this part of the hillside. The dozer man carved it a bit (see the wall to the right, which was broken out of the rock that was there). Thus it’s ideal for a spillway since it won’t erode (as quickly) as gravel or grass.

I’ve been shifting some rocks around at the top to steer the water to the right side of the spillway. The whole point of a spillway is to get the overflow water out of the lake in a way that doesn’t erode the dam itself. Thus the farther to the right it goes here, the farther from the dam it stays.

I can shift rocks, but I can’t shift bedrock, and that’s a problem. About a third of the way down the spillway, just around the bend you can see above, the water gets diverted to the left side (because of the lay of the bedrock), and it’s there that I found a nice hole about three feet deep just at the base of the spillway wall. The racing water (that must be a magnificent and frightening sight), had dug a hole and is threatening to blow out the side of the spillway, pouring water into the pecan plantation a bit too close to the dam for my comfort.

So I spent a lot of time on my last visit throwing big rocks into this new hole, hoping that they would arrest further erosion of the spillway wall and allow the water to rush down to the ephemeral pond that you can see in the photo. (That pond is pretty much year-round now, so it’s a misnomer to call it ephemeral.)

I’m not sure how soon I’ll be back at Roundrock, but I’ll need to visit this spot again and see about doing even more to fill that hole and divert the water better. Unless the side of the spillway is blown out by then and I’ll need to get the dozer man back.

Wordless Wednesday – an old nest

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

the exit

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

This is the overflow pipe outlet at the base of the dam. It’s doing what it’s designed to do, which is to lead away all of the water pouring into the overflow basin. When I see this I know that my lake is full, which is reason for a happy dance.

In the days since I took this photo, there have been more rainy days than not in the Roundrock area. We’re having a wet spring so far, but I seem to recall that being the case last spring too, and then the summer drought came. Since I’ve long since forgotten the steps to a rain dance, I’m just going to have to trust to nature to keep my lake full, or not.

A couple of years ago I had this black pipe extended a dozen feet. This is the tip of the extension that you see. So before, the base of the dam began another twelve or so feet to the right. And the part below the pipe was eroding deeply. (As I think this bit is, but it’s too wet for me to check right now.)

That ugly white thing you see is the barrel that houses the valve I can open to drain water from the bottom of the lake if I want. So far, I’ve never wanted to. In fact, I’ve sometimes wished I could drain water into the bottom of the lake. I’ve only turned that valve twice. Once when it was new just to see how neat it was and once much later after I had dug out around the barrel after it had become partially buried with mud.

I hope to get out to the woods this weekend (some of my plants have arrived from the Conservation Department), and the weather report suggests I’m going to see a full lake again.

wordless Wednesday – just a round rock

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013