Archive for May, 2013


Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

Behold, the back of the cabin. This was how it looked on my last visit to Roundrock. Longtime readers will remember that leaves tend to accumulate here, and I don’t like that because they can be a fire hazard, and if they get wet, they promote mold growth on the “logs” of the cabin. So I dutifully rake them away and off into the forest.

Not so on my last visit, for none had accumulated. It really is a seasonal thing. I think the forest has given up all of the leaves it’s going to have until the fall, so I don’t expect big raking chores in visits for a while.

Now my concern is the weeds and grasses that are starting to grow up in the gravel around the cabin. I think I may have to go for the nuclear option on these, at least around the fire ring (which you can see in the distance). I may spray the biggest areas of growth. I don’t like doing that much, especially uphill from the lake, but my gravel bed there is beginning to disappear. Stay tuned and I’ll let you know.

Memorial Day 10K

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

Yep. Running around again. This time a little farther from home.

We were in St. Louis for the Memorial Day weekend to attend the wedding of the daughter of some long-time friends, so of course I had to see if there was an organized run I could do. And there was. And I did.

There is a 10K run that is believed to be the oldest west of the Mississippi — this year was its 39th running. It’s called the University City Memorial Day Run, and there was both the 10K and a 5K. I, being the smug, “experienced” runner that I am, now think it’s hardly worth the trouble of lacing up if I don’t go at least 5 miles, so I chose the 10K. I was in need of a little humbling it seems.

For some unaccountable reason, I still get nervous before a run. I don’t know why. I’ve done enuf of these to know . . . what? That I’ll survive. That I’ll do decently for my level. That no one will ridicule my pace and just about everyone will be encouraging. But I get nervous, so, of course, I had to get to the race site a full hour before the start so I could fuss and fret and try to settle my nerves.

The day before, when I picked up my race packet, I had driven the course (well, what I thought was the course given the quality of the map they provided) and soon regretted it. One of the techniques suggested for pre-race jitters is to drive the course so you can know what to expect. I shouldn’t have. The damned thing was all uphill! And that is, of course, impossible since it started and ended at the same place. Yet for all of the uphill going, I didn’t see any downhill compensation that wasn’t immediately followed by another hill that had to be beaten. So I had that bit of perceived reality to gnaw on for the morning too.

But the other runners were gathering, and the 80 percent chance of thundershowers turned into 70 degrees and clear blue sky with benevolent sunshine streaming down on us. (The rain came in the afternoon when we were around a bandstand in a park listening to patriotic tunes.) There were more than 1200 runners registered, though it didn’t seem like that at the starting line (it seemed like fewer). Libby was with me the whole time, assuring me that I always do fine on these things and that this time would be no different. Part of me understood that; part of me didn’t.

As the appointed time neared, I separated from Libby and joined the throng behind the starting line. Then I turned on my watch and waited for it to grab some satellites. At the horn, the throng herded ahead, but we only started actual running as we crossed the starting mats. (Probably 30 seconds passed between the horn and when I was underway, which I believe dragged down my official pace, but I never give too much credence to those things anyway.) And so we were off — straight uphill! Nearly a mile of uphill, folks! Seriously! Nice way to start. As usual, the throngs were racing past me, but I have this tendency to start too fast on these kinds of runs, unconsciously keeping pace with those around me, charged up by all of the energy of the event, and I burn out quickly. So I deliberately held back my pace and let the masses move ahead. It wasn’t very long before I had a nice, open road around me, with a few runners beside, a few ahead, and a few behind. Pretty much perfect conditions for me. I could vary my pace as I needed to without hindering others or being hindered by them.

And so I pushed on. The first water station was just after mile 1, and while they offered both water and Gatorade, I was disappointed that they didn’t have any Bud Light. (I did ask though. Curiously, they kept telling me the beer was at the next water station.) This was on one of the few downhill stretches of the run, but it was a tease, because it merely distracted us from the next, long uphill stretch we had to face.

At about mile two, the 5K runners peeled off on their route, and we hardy 10K runners (foolhardy?) kept on our route. I generally ignore the screams of anguish that my body gives me during the first mile of a run. That’s just the shakedown, and while it seems as though I’m going to die horribly and certainly not be able to complete the run, I know it’s just griping. At about mile two I have a better sense of how I’m doing.

So at mile two I was hearing screams of anguish, certain that I was going to die horribly and not be able to complete the run. Remember, I routinely run 10K on my own several times a week. There was no reason for this 10K to be any different. Except for those unceasing hills. They weren’t steep. They were long. Loooonnng! They were pulling all of the energy out of me, energy I was hoping to conserve for the latter part of the run, but as Yogi Berra said about baseball, “ninety percent of the game is half mental.” I really knew I had to power through the hills and that I would still have the strength to keep at it on the flat stretches. I was proud that I did run up all of the hills while many of those around me walked them and only began running again at the top. And those flat stretches did come. There were even some short downhill parts, but they always seemed followed by more hills.

Somewhere about mile 3.8 I got my second wind. This usually hits me in mile 4, so I take it as a sign I’m improving my stamina if it’s arriving earlier. That was also just over the halfway point and, it seems, all of the hill climbing was done by then. There may have even been a barely perceptible downhill slope from that point, but the full force of the sun cancelled that completely. I was sweltering. My face was hot. The sweat was rolling, and there were miles to go. I had stopped at the first four water stations to sip a cup of water (and catch a minute or two of rest), but not long after the fourth, I began to see a miscalculation in this. Though I had no breakfast (other than a banana), I felt as though I needed to empty my stomach. Unwillingly. Beside the road. This had happened to me one time before when I took too much water in the middle of a run, but two weeks before I got a terrible cramp in my calf during a run apparently from being dehydrated, so I was trying to be mindful of that. I managed to take my mind off my stomach by concentrating on the screaming of my lungs and the wobbly feeling in my legs and the general anguish I felt all over. That’s the power of positive thinking.

And I pushed on. I was on the long, flat, straightaway before the last turn toward the finish line. Though I was among the last coming in (well, there were 30-40 behind me), but there were still people on their porches and driveways cheering us all on. And the police were vigilant at every intersection to keep us safe. (I thanked every one of them as I trudged past.) And then, about a mile from the finish, I heard a familiar voice.

Libby had come out to meet me. Perfect excuse to stop for a moment and say hi. She took a few photos — I look terrible — and then I got going again. I really felt drained, but the legs seemed to be working on their own by then. People were still giving me thumbs up and encouragement from the sidelines, and as I made the last turn, I saw the finish archway far ahead. Impossibly far ahead. So I did what I always do in these cases. I just looked down at the ground before me and kept going.

Part of me knows that I have more energy that I let myself believe. When I set out to do a 7 mile run, I can breeze through the 5 mile mark with no trouble. But if I set out to do a 5 mile run, I have to fight with myself to get to that fifth mile. So it was with this 10K. It’s only 6.2 miles, and if I had started out planning to eat 8 miles, 6.2 would have been nothing. (Well . . . ) And that may have been at the back of my mind as I approached the finish. I straightened up. I put a little more flash in my stride. I painted a smile on my face. And I came in looking strong and happy. (For the photographers.) I summoned the ability to do that because it was there all along. (This is the part of me that tells me I will be able to do that half marathon in October.)

Then I gasped and panted and wiped my sweaty face with my shirt and staggered around in circles and assured strangers who asked that I was okay. And I was. Because she had gone out to meet me, Libby was not at the finish line until later. I wandered through the booths, but there was no chocolate milk and no bagels. They did have samples of burritos, yet not only was the line for these really long, but I really didn’t want to risk a burrito on my stomach at that point. I did dare a cup of water, and I managed to keep it down. And then Libby arrived. I checked my time and found that I had once again successfully defended my spot as slowest in my age group, then we got in our car and drove to the bed and breakfast where we were staying. I partly disrobed and then fell into the swimming pool there. Many distance runners will take literal ice baths after a run. This wasn’t exactly the same, but the water was cold, and I don’t think the temps were in the 80s yet, so I got a sense of what that must be like. My thighs felt like pudding, but it was nice to wash the crusted salt from my face. And out of my running cap, which had gotten a bit grungy lately. I was only in the water for perhaps 15 minutes, and then I sat in one of the lounge chairs and let myself bake in the sun for a while.

I was beat, but I was not beaten. I had not set out to take on a challenging run for this trip to St. Louis, but part of me thinks that I need to do it again next year just to see how much I can improve in that time.

For those of you keen of eye, you will have noticed my running shirt in the photo above says “Olathe Running Club.” That’s the group I joined at the turn of the year to get encouragement and advice, which I have gotten. But I’ve also gotten fellowship, which is an unexpected benefit. “Olathe” by the way has three syllables. o-LAY-tha. Now you know.


eaten, revisited

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

It seems to be a week of split trees here at Roundrock Journal.

When I was last out to my forest, Libby and Queequeg took a nice nap in the cabin while Flike and I took a nice walk in the woods. We ranged all over the place, but it was a spontaneous walk and I failed to take my daypack along, which has a bottle of water in it, and the loppers, with which to liberate cedar trees from their earthly toil. The walk might have gone on longer or gone on farther if I’d had either or both, but at least we came to the spot in the forest that you see above.

When we first came to Roundrock more than a decade ago, I put this little round rock (the size of an orange) in the fork of this tree. When I’d come by again, the rock would have fallen out, and I’d wedge it in there again. I did this several times. And then, it seems, I stopped coming to this part of the forest.

But I remembered the rock in the fork on my hike with Flike, and we made this our farthest point. You see above what I saw when I reached it. The tree is eating the round rock now. This was, of course, my plan all along. It was also part of my plan to have a grandchild or two who I would bring along and point out the progress of the rock-eating tree. The grandchild part hasn’t happened, but the rock eating continues. And it seems I may need to find a larger round rock to wedge in the fork above this one so that it can begin being consumed, just in case I am honored with a grandchild some day in the next ten years. But I don’t want to be pushy about that.

Doom, revisited

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

A long time ago, I posted the picture you see above of an old oak tree in my forest at Roundrock. I knew then that it wouldn’t be standing like this for long, but it managed to hang on. Although I can’t find the post right now (I’m lazy in that way), I suspect I made it more than five years ago. Thus this is how that oak looked let’s say five years ago.

Here is how it looked on my most recent visit to Roundrock:

I took this shot from quite a ways back so you could get the fuller impression. From the looks of the split and the debris around (and in) it, I’m pretty sure the oak fell apart within the last month.

We’ve had some severe storms this spring, but they’re nothing more than can be expected for the Midwest. I’m sure one of the recent storms, the ones that are keeping my lake full so far this season, finally brought this old oak down. Now it can begin returning to the soil all of the resources if found there and from the sun.

still on the nest

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Okay, so I didn’t intend for so much time to pass between posts here at Roundrock Journal, but there were some access problems last week (you may have noticed), and life has been hectic.

We were able to get out to our woods two Sundays ago, and we stopped by the pond on our way in to see how mama goose was doing on her nest. She was still sitting on it then, which suggested to me that she must have been near the end of the gestation. I think by now the eggs have hatched, and we probably have goslings swimming about the pond. I’m not sure when we’ll next get out there, but I sure hope we’ll get a look at them when we do.

I’m sure this would not be the first hatch of waterfowl in my forest, but it’s the first one I’ve been aware of, and it makes me feel that my stewardship has been worthwhile. I know. It’s silly in a way. But for me it’s also a big, encouraging, enriching deal. It makes me feel happy and warm inside. So there!

Mom’s Day 5K

Monday, May 13th, 2013

Well, I don’t have a photo of my running kit for you this time because we couldn’t pick up our packets with our bibs until the morning of the race. And what’s a kit photo without a bib, right?

This is a new race for our area (though I understand it’s held in other cities). I probably would not have entered except that it benefits the local Ronald McDonald House, and that’s a charity we have supported for years. Plus, it was a “run” that Libby and I could do together, and after the wonderful disaster of the Whiskey Run 5K we did together, I was ready for something more walker friendly. This run was going to be conducted on the paved hike/bike trail that happens to pass right through our neighborhood.

As the trail runs, the start of the race was about 3.5 miles from my house, so I decided I would run to the event, walk the 5K with Libby (who would drive there), and then run home afterward. (I’m trying to run at least 20 miles each week, and so far there’s only been one week this year when I didn’t reach my goal — and I did manage 18 miles that week — so running to and from the run would get me the last miles I needed to meet my weekly goal. I ended with 23 miles run last week.)

So about an hour before the scheduled packet pickup time, I left my house and found my way to the trail then followed it to the start area. I did not need the whole hour to get there — not even most of it — and I arrived just as the organizers and vendors were unloading their cars. So I sat around in the still cool air, waiting for Libby to arrive. Which she did. And then we approached the picnic table where we could pick up our packets.

It turned out that we weren’t getting bibs for this run. Nor was it to be timed either by chip or by gun. It was just a nice walk on a nice day with a nice lady. I did have my Nike+ watch on, and I recorded our distance and time, but we weren’t out to set any records. In fact, we happened to be the last two people to cross the start line. But as I said, that didn’t matter; we were just out for a walk.

It also happened that we passed three people on our walk, one of whom eventually passed us again, but we were not the last two to cross the finish. We were, however, among the last people to be at the finish area. Most of the other two dozen or so participants had long since finished and left for home. The vendors (both of them) were also packing up by the time we returned.

This was a small event, and I chatted with one of the organizers about it. She said that they’d gotten a late start developing it, and because there were two other Mother’s Day runs in Kansas City last weekend, she didn’t have high expectations for this first time.

It happened that my watch recorded that we’d walked 3.7 miles. A 5K is 3.1 miles. Had this been a timed event, or if runners were going to use their times to qualify for other races, that would have been a serious problem. (Several other walkers noted that their GPS devices recorded the extra distance as well.) But it was a nice 3.7 miles. The charity got some money. Libby and I had a nice walk. And then I ran home, a little more tired, with a more sloppy gait that earlier, but I still set a decent pace and was satisfied with my morning.

I have two 10Ks coming up and another 5K that I’m doing with Libby. It’s called the Color Run, and was you’re hurtling along, people throw stuff at you. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

center of the section

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

My northwest corner is the center of a section. I had always thought that must be important, but everyone I’ve mentioned that to dismissed it as a mere technicality. It’s established fence lines, not imaginary lines that make sense only in some specialized maps, that are meaningful.

That’s fine. I can live with that. In fact, we’ve always known that our established fence lines are twenty or more feet from the surveyed lines. When we first tromped on what we would one day call Roundrock, the realtor had said that the surveyed corner was in our neighbor’s pond. I didn’t see much way to divide up a pond, and I certainly didn’t want to be the kind of neighbor who would make a dispute of that kind of thing anyway. My neighbor eventually sold his land, and Good Neighbor Brian became the new owner. He’s the kind of guy you could never have an argument with; he’s just so amiable.

We’d peeked at his pond several times when our feet had carried us to that corner, but it was generally so deeply ringed with cattails that we couldn’t see much from the shore and certainly not out to the middle of it. And what did we expect to see there anyway?

When we were planting the pines on a visit in April, though, the pond was cattail free and I was able to venture over there to have another look. The pond is up, just like our pond and lake, because of the recent rains. But there in the center I saw what you see above: a post rising from the water. Could that be the marking of my northeast corner? The center of the section?

Does it matter? Brian has spoken a number of times of getting his little Bobcat in there to improve the pond. Had he been able to do that in years past (means, motive, and opportunity not always aligning), he’d likely have taken out this post, not knowing what it was (if it was what it was, that is).

So we abide.

former zip ties

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

There is planting, and then there is re-planting. For our pines this year, it was a job of re-planting. I’d say our pines have been the most successful of our planting adventures at Roundrock over the years. Many of the plants we’ve put in the ground have vanished without a trace. The dogwoods are the best example. Others linger and languish. Those would be the nanny berries. Some, like the button bush, have flourished in a few specific places — above and below the pond — but haven’t made a show elsewhere. But the shortleaf pines have been our success story.

Granted we’ve lost about fifty percent of them each year, but given our record and our limited ability to nurture them at all, I’d say that’s a pretty good ratio. Part of that success is attributable to the fact that we’ve put nearly all of the pines inside fences to keep the marauding deer from eating or thrashing them into nubs. Even so, about half of those fenced-in pines don’t survive. But Pablo has put so much effort and expense into crafting those fenced cages that they become the locations for subsequent plantings when the current occupants are finished with them.

We use chicken wire around a pair of posts to make the fence. (I still use steel fence posts in some situations, but lately I’ve been making posts out of young cedar trees, which reluctantly volunteer to take on the responsibility. I estimated that I have more than a hundred steel posts doing various duties at Roundrock, and when I calculate how much that has cost me over the years, I blanch a bit. So now the cedar posts, which seem to work just as well, at least for this purpose.)

We set the posts, then plant the pine, then wrap the chicken wire around the post, then affix it with zip ties. They’re cheap and quick and versatile. And then when the pines die and we come back to the same spot the next year, we snip the zip, open the fence, plant the pine, close the fence, and zip it tight once again.

I always collect the snipped zip ties. I don’t like leaving them on the ground. That’s litter to my eye. Plus they might foul the blades of a mower if enuf accumulated. (I have mowed around the pines a few times.) Or get ingested by some unfortunate forest critter. What you see in the photo above is just some of the snipped zips from our last planting expedition. On subsequent trips to the pine plantation, I’ve found a few more former zip ties that had somehow fallen out of my pocket or the backpack or my attention. As I said, these things are cheap, but like the steel fence posts, I probably shouldn’t calculate how much I’m spending on them through the years.

journey to Danger Island

Monday, May 6th, 2013

What you see in this photo is Danger Island, truly an island now that the lake is full (at the time of the photo at least). And the fenced area you see on the island is where we have (once again) planted a dozen or so shortleaf pine trees with the hope that some of them will survive and give me a little forest there. All of the pines we planted last year died because of the heat and drought of last summer.

That great expanse of water you see in the foreground was our challenge of the day when we planted the pines. This was in mid-April and the water was only slightly warmer than the air, yet we had to pass through both to get the pines onto the island and into the ground. Now, that great expanse amounted to no more than about thirty feet across and two feet deep, but it is near the headwaters of the lake and far from the comfort and convenience of the cozy cabin where we outfit ourselves for our adventures.

I didn’t want to wade through the water with my boots on, but I didn’t want to hike across the rocky ground to that point without them. In the end, I left the boots behind. Libby and I each have a pair of water shoes that have hard soles, and while they don’t provide much in the way of ankle support (always a nice feature when your hiking anywhere in the Ozarks), they can help you get across the rocky, uneven ground without contusions and lacerations on the soles of your feet. That day I was carrying a sharp shovel and a day pack filled with various tools and other gear necessary for planting pines. Libby carried the bucket with the pines, half filled with water to keep their roots moist until we got them in the ground.

Our hike to the water’s edge was without mishap, in part because we’ve covered that ground many times, though we did leave the dogs shut in the cabin. Flike would not have been a problem until we got to the water. I don’t know if he would have wanted to enter the lake with us or fuss and fidget on the shore as we crossed. I am not looking forward to the day when he realizes he can swim and comes back to the cabin (or into my truck) sopping and dripping. Queequeg, on the other hand couldn’t be left behind on the shore. He would wander off while we were across the water since he is a willful little guy. And carrying him to the island with us would be just one more burden to bear. So we made our trek without their help.

I didn’t tell Libby at the time (or since, now that I think about it), but as I stood on the shore waiting for her to catch up so we could wade across, I saw a snapping turtle the size of a turkey platter paddling about in the area where we always cross. An encounter with a beast like that would probably be benign, especially in mid-April when it was still waking from its long nap, but that thing could also easily bite through the thin fabric of our water shoes (and the flesh and bone within) if provoked. For whatever reason, though, the turtle paddled off before we made our way across.

The journey across the water was without mishap. We got the pines into the rocky ground without too much trouble (or even effort) and marked each of them with a pair of round rocks. (When I had the island built years ago, the dozer man simply pushed a lot of gravel into a pile. I didn’t think anything would ever grow on that, but now it is covered with lush grasses and scrub. There are even some trees growing on one side — though my pines haven’t been so fortunate. By mid-summer it will be hard to find the little pines amidst all of the growth. Thus the pair of round rocks beside each, so we can find them later.) Libby later used the bucket to bring some lake water up to them to give the pines a first drink in their new homes.

And so once again we planted hope in the ground. Maybe this year a few will survive. The rain has been well timed in the weeks since then, and the temps have been mild for the most part. Send warm (but not hot) thoughts their way when you have a moment.


Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

I realize it’s gruesome in a way, but I also think this spine that Buck Mulligan no longer needs is beautiful in a symmetrical, work of nature kind of way. When we hike on the south side of our lake, Queequeg always runs directly to this collection of bones. (In fact, for having the blunt little nose of a Pomeranian, he always seems to find the smelly stuff on the forest floor while big old Flike trots blithely past, no doubt looking for a stick.)

I assumed I would leave these bones for the critters to gnaw on, but the last time we were by I thought I might collect them and others like them I’ve found here and there in the woods and do something with them.

My first thought was to clean them and then string them together like a sort of necklace. Then, whenever we have ceremonies at the cabin, someone would wear the necklace with great gravity and purpose and perhaps preside over the ceremony. Or it might be worn by initiates to Roundrock, guests on their first visits and such.

What do you think? When you come to my woods for the first time, won’t you be pleased and proud to wear such a necklace?