Archive for June, 2013

a bit more tidy

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

I’d been telling myself I needed to rent the mower from the hardware store in town near Roundrock for the last few visits. There is, apparently, a good time to mow tall grass in the wild, and for all I know, this is not the time. (It has something to do with the needs of the wild critters at different times of the year.) But opportunity and muscle coincided, and a loose belt on the machine resulted in a nice discount on the cost, so last weekend was mowing weekend at Roundrock.

#1 Son, Seth, was along for our visit, which meant I had a second set of muscles to fight the rented mowing machine with. (It’s a beast.)

First priority was the top of the dam. We cross the dam a lot to get to the southern half of our woods, and while it’s no great hardship to push through the tall grass there, it is tick infested, and poor Queequeg, though eager and willing, has a hard time navigating it. Plus, there is something pleasing to my eye to see a well trimmed top of the dam.

So as soon as we unloaded the rented mower from the back of the Prolechariot, Seth fired it up and proceeded to steer it down the road toward the dam. The drive belt then fell off. You can imagine how frustrating that was. (One time when I rented this same mower, the tire literally fell off the wheel. I guess it wasn’t inflated enuf and lost the seal.) Fortunately, Seth has a graduate degree in engineering, so he was able to figure out the problem and the solution. And soon the top of the dam was mowed. I told him to try to get as close to the edge as he could, but this was a bad idea. He lost control of the beast and followed it down the side of the dam. Fortunately, he was able to put it in gear and drive it back up the side of the dam, but the nature of the language he was using at the time suggested to me that I shouldn’t suggest to him that he mow the face of the dam while he was down there. (It does need to be mowed, but it is pretty much too steep.)

Our second mowing item for the day was the pine plantation, which you can see in the top photo above. I don’t suppose mowing the tall grass around the pines does anything for their recovery, but the blackberries are still intent on reclaiming Blackberry Corner, and the beast of a mower is the best way to persuade them that this is a foolish venture on their part. Plus it will allow me to walk in there with the fertilizer spikes and (perhaps foolishly) assist with their recovery. Both Seth and I wielded the mower for this job. It is a bit challenging since there are pines in the way, so you have to adjust your trajectory as you hustle along behind the machine, and then you have to plan a different angle of attack for your return, trying to get as close to the fenced trees as you can without ripping the fence away. (I didn’t succeed too much at this in a couple of cases.)

The pines are at the northwest corner of our woods. And the dam is nearly as far east as you can get and still be on our property. Seth simply put the mower in gear and followed it down the road from A to B, mowing much of the tall grass that is growing in the road as he went. That was like the fourth mowing item on our agenda for the day. (When he finished with the pines, he followed the mower back to the cabin, thus cutting a wider swath from B to A.)

Then it was lunch time. (Sub sandwiches, a cookie, and iced tea, unsweetened, of course.) Our intent was to go swimming in the lake. The temp was above 90 degrees, and we hadn’t set foot in the lake yet this year, so that was definitely on the agenda. But we had that rented mower, and we had two containers of gas with us. And we were nourished from our lunch. So I suggested that Seth take the mower down among the pecans below the dam and at least cut the perimeter and a few paths across the center to allow more easy passage across it. He was game, and soon the mower was chopping its way down the road and into the tall grass among the pecans. (When the dam builder cleared this area for us a decade ago, I couldn’t imagine anything could grow there. It was a field of shattered chert. But now the grass and scrub grow tall and robust.)

Seth went around the perimeter a few times, widening his swath as he went, and then cut a few paths across the middle. I took the handles of the machine and cut a bit more. But the sun was high in the sky, and the cool water of the lake beckoned, so Seth drove the mower back up the road (widening that swath as well) and we loaded into the back of the Prolechariot. Then we jumped in the lake. And an unexpected thunder storm soon followed, cutting short our lake time, but that’s another story for another day, perhaps.

in recovery

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Sunday at Roundrock we made a deliberate visit to the pine plantation (it would be hard not to since we have to drive past it to get to the cabin) to see how the poor trees were doing, and I’m pleased to report that they seem to be recovering.

The photo you see above is of a branch that apparently avoided the onslaught of whatever pest denuded the trees. In the lower right corner of the photo, though, you can see regrowth that is coming out nicely on a nearby tree.

This second photo shows the regrowth a little better (as well as how stripped the trees were). I’m cautiously optimistic about their survival, so if you want to send them warm wishes, please go ahead.

The next time I’m out to my woods, I am planning to drop a fertilizer spike inside the cage of each of these trees (until I run out of spikes, that is). I’m soliciting your opinions on this. I did it years ago for the pecans, and perhaps that made a difference, but I didn’t notice any difference. My thinking is that the fertilizer will help these pines recover. But might this be the wrong time of the year to encourage growth, with the likely heat and drought of the summer coming?

this makes me sad

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

I was greeted with a shock when I ventured into the little town near our Ozark woods last weekend. Part of me wishes I hadn’t gone into town, but I know I would have learned the sad news eventually.

Last summer I wrote about an eccentric used bookstore in the town that had closed after many years. I knew the owner was not well, and I was not too surprised when he decided to close up shop. I don’t know what’s become of him, if he’s still in the town or even still alive. When I would go to the little town,  I always drove past the bookstore even though I knew it would be closed. I could still see the shelves full of books in the windows, and I wondered if someone might try to reopen the store or at least try to liquidate the inventory.

But that was not to be. Sometime since our last visit, the bookstore — and two 19th Century shops beside it — burned to the ground.

That pile of bricks and charred timbers and the white things that were once books is all that is left of the store. I took that shot from where the other two stores stood. They were vacant at the time, but it’s a shame that they were lost too. It looks as though all of the debris from the three lost buildings was shoveled into this place. There was a basement under the store, so that pile is deeper than it looks.

Something in me loves used bookstores. The musty smell. The creaky, spongy floor boards. The dust. The chatty shop keeper. The crazy books you’d never see anywhere else. And occasionally, the treasure you’ve been seeking for years. But this one is gone. In the back of my mind I think I knew that this was the likely end of the store. Who would want the inventory? Who would even want to haul the inventory to the dump? No one was clamoring for the space — there are plenty of vacant storefronts in the little town. It wasn’t even on the square but on a side road, much like the little town wasn’t on the highway but out of the way and inconvenient. So the thousands and thousands of books sat there, waiting for the flame that would be their end.

It makes me sad.

another nest

Monday, June 24th, 2013

Editor’s note: Apparently Flike, or probably Queequeg, signed on to Roundrock Journal and made this insane post. You should just ignore it.

Some weeks ago I reported on a goose sitting on a nest on a small island in the pond. I had hoped to be able to give you a report of the outcome of that venture, and possibly even some photos of a family of goslings, but I don’t have anything for you. A long time passed between visits, and when we were able to return to the pond, not only did we see no sign of the geese, but we saw no sign of the nest or even the small island. It’s possible that the geese were elsewhere at the time. I can’t say, but it would have been nice to know the outcome of the nest.

What we did find, when he hiked to the pond through the forest rather than from the road, was that there was a second island on the other side of the pond with a second nest hidden on it. (I know what you’re thinking right now. Couldn’t that simply be the same nest on the same small island, just seen from the opposite shore? No, it isn’t. Though it’s difficult for me to explain why I never saw this second island before or why the first island has vanished altogether. But no, this is a different part of the pond. So unless the island is floating . . .)

In any case, I have similar non-news to report about this nest. The nest (hard to see in the photo but evident in person) was vacant, and there were no birds on the water or foraging in the tall grass on the shore.

Part of me is frustrated by this lack of closure, but another part is pleased that the pond seems to be suitable to support the wildlife, even if I never know the outcome. Had I found the chance to get down to the woods more frequently in recent months I might have learned more, but not getting out to my woods is a whole different story of frustration, and I’ll spare you the boring details about that.

south spillway

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

I was certain that this section of the south spillway was going to be washed out when I visited Roundrock last time. There appeared to have been a lot of rain in the area since my prior visit, and there wasn’t (isn’t) a whole lot of spillway left to be washed away before the water cuts itself a new way below the dam.

So I was happy to find that the spillway held; it actually looked as though hardly any water had gone down the spillway. That doesn’t mean the problem is gone however. As you can see from the photo above, the washed out area is no better than it was before. It’s supposed to look like the area immediately above it (at about 11:00). There should be no exposed dirt, and there shouldn’t be any three-foot-deep gouge in the soil at all. That will require some heavy lifting and some soil.

You can see that I’ve laid some larger flat rocks on the side of the wall. My hope is that they will eventually be buried there and serve as a sort of hidden wall to direct any subsurface water away from the edge of the wall. There is one large flat rock resting there to the left that I’d like to lay against the wall, but it’s too heavy for me to move. Next time #1 Son is out with me, I think we can manage it together. Then we simply need to find another dozen or so more just like it.

As for the soil, well, that’s going to be a different challenge. My current, admittedly inadequate, effort is to fill the hole with cedars I’ve cut off. I point the trunks downhill, and my hope is that as silt and other debris come pouring down the spillway, it will get trapped in the branches of these cedars and settle there. It will be a slow process this way, but I’ve seen it done for deep trenches in roads, so maybe it will work. At the very least, it’s a cost-free way for me to feel like I’m doing something. (Something short of hiring the dozer man to come out — again — to repair this.)


Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

This is my doing.

We were walking across the dam when I saw this log floating in the water. We get plenty of flotsam washed into the lake, especially this spring since it’s been so rainy. Most of it is natural runoff from the hillsides that form the Central Valley where my lake sits.

The log above, however, was clearly cut with a saw. That would have been my doing, and I suppose I would have believed it was far enuf above the water line to be safe from getting washed in. But I was clearly wrong.

It’s a chunk of cedar, which means it’s not going to get waterlogged soon. That leaves two possibilities for its future. Either it will get lodged in the overflow drain and I’ll have to remove it the next time I clean that (every visit lately) or it will get washed over the spillway and perhaps make its way into the pecan plantation.

A third possibility, however, would be for me to keep it as a pet, they way I watched Peregrine float around the lake for years and years. This log is smaller than Peregrine, and I might lose it in its trips for a while, but that would be part of the adventure.

Of course another possibility is that I’ll pull it from the water and put it on the next campfire I have. I’ll have to let you know.

Fathers Day Run 10K

Monday, June 17th, 2013

So, I was told that my account of the Color Run was “very detailed.” I take that to mean . . . boring. I’ll try to keep this one more brief.

I ran a 10K on Fathers Day that was tough. The humidity, it turned out, was 93 percent, so it was like swimming and running at the same time. But anyway, the account:

Two members of the running club I am in were going to be at the Fathers Day Run, so I was already intimidated even more than I usually am about these things. Both of these guys run like rabbits while I plod along. We were all running the 10K part of it (there was also a 5K), and we assembled at the starting line. I told them to run on without me, which they would certainly have no trouble doing.

This was a horn start (rather than running over starting mats) so the clock began when the horn sounded. Fortunately, I was only about ten feet behind the line, so that didn’t matter much to my overall time. I deliberately started out slow, knowing I had to shepherd my resources to last more than six miles, also knowing that the energy of these kinds of events can seduce me into starting too fast.

The start headed downhill a short distance, but then we had to climb a hill to the first turn where another hill awaited. (I had driven the course the night before, so I knew what was coming. I’m still undecided whether this is a good tactic or not.) The first water station (again, no Bud Light) was at mile one, which was just before the second turn. Again we went down a nice, shady hill before slamming into another long uphill grind. The next water station was at mile two, which was at the top of this hill. From here, though, it was mostly downhill the rest of the way to the finish line. I was down with downhill.

It wasn’t a particularly hot morning, and the sky was overcast, but the humidity was awful and I was sweating until my eyes were stinging. Also, my shirt was beginning to chafe in a couple of places I’m not going to talk about on this humble blog. (Yes, I applied Body Glide liberally that morning.) I kept plugging along and made the last turn with about a quarter mile to the finish arch. (The course was a square on suburban streets.) Libby and #1 Son, Seth, were on the sidelines there to wave and cheer and take humiliating photos of my sad and wretched self. And then I reached the turn for the last hundred feet toward the finish arch.

And I did not turn.

I did not turn but kept going because I was running the 10K, and that meant I had to run the square course TWO TIMES in order to complete the 6.2 miles. So all that I had suffered was only prelude.

Because I’m a slow runner, there were few other people still on the course by the time I was repeating it. I passed a few walkers, and I was passed by a few others, but the lot of us were thin, and I was pleased to see all of the cones still set up and the police at every intersection keeping us safe. (The first 10K I ran was not like this. They were literally shutting down while I was still on the course.)

When I made the last turn with the quarter mile left to my finish, I spotted a woman not too far ahead of me that I decided I would pass just to keep myself motivated. I plugged along and gained on her, and then I reached her just at the point where Libby was again on the sidelines, cheering my forward. But as this woman runner and I made that final turn toward the finish, she hit the afterburners and bolted ahead. I did the same, but there was no contest. She was clearly better at shepherding her resources than I. Still, I came in fast and fine, crossing the timing mat and feeling pretty good as I grabbed the water bottle held before me. Most of it went down the front of my shirt (not intentionally either), and that did not help with the ongoing chafing problem.

But i finished and staggered my way to the tents where all of the vendors were. I found a place to sit and was about ready to pour the rest of the bottle of water on my head when my two running friends came up and congratulated me on my run. They were being kind and generous, of course, and I know one of them finished about twenty minutes ahead of me. (In fact, he’d run with his son who finished first in his age group and fourth among all of the runners that morning.) We chatted a while and then headed over to the food tent where nearly all of the bagels were gone and there never had been any chocolate milk (!). About the only thing left in quantity were donuts (that were labeled as non-kosher — the run was sponsored by a Jewish retirement community and the funds raised will go to Alzheimers research). I made the mistake of eating one of those sugary donuts, and I regretted it the rest of the day as my stomach growled.

Later, when I got home and plugged my running watch into my computer, I found that I had not been so successful at holding back at the start. I was going at a very, very fast pace for my ability, and that took its toll on those hills I faced (when my pace slowed embarrassingly). My watch time was three minutes shorter than the clock time. When I stopped for water along the route, I stopped my watch. I guess that accounts for the three minute difference. I was grateful for those rest breaks though.

And so, another 10K behind me. It pushed me to 26 miles run that week, which is a little better than my weekly goal. I have a 5K coming up in July, but it’s another underground one in the limestone caves. See you there?

Skywatch Friday – black and blue

Friday, June 14th, 2013

We had a dramatic sky on our last visit to Roundrock. The day dawned overcast, and on our drive down the rain fell. I had looked at the weather map before, however, and understood that the storm was only passing through. Our experience of it was sustained, though, because both we and the storm were headed in the right direction.

By the time we got to our woods, the rain had passed. I feared that we might have trouble getting across the two wet-weather streams on the way to our woods, but they were hardly a concern, and soon we were pounding up to the ridge top where our forest lies.

As the day progressed, the clouds began to part, and occasional, actual sunshine touched the ground. Soon the sunshine stayed longer, and eventually, we were presented with blue skies only dotted here and there by big, puffy clouds. We drove home in the sun.

what is the opposite of sweetness and light?

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

Is my pine plantation looking a little skeletal?

It wasn’t all fun and games when we were down at Roundrock last weekend. We got some pretty bad news when we drove past the pines. As you can see, they look terrible. They seem to have lost most of their needles.

These pines are nearly 8 years in this ground; they’re older than this humble blog, and I’ve watched them grow from little saplings less than a foot tall to a few that are now more than twenty feet tall.

But maybe no more.

I don’t know what happened to them, but I think they were attacked by some pest. Here is a close up on one:

It looks as though the needles had been eaten. Is that possible? Does anyone know about these things? I’ve done a cursory search of the internet for shortleaf pine pests, and there are a number of insects that might have done this. The fact that all of them in the little corner are in the same condition tells me that it is not a case of the soil being too moist (another problem with these pines). This is a wet corner since Good Neighbor Brian’s pond is just past the trees, but I’ve had wet springs before and nothing like this has happened. Plus, all of the new pines we planted this year (all less than a foot tall and currently obscured by the tall grass) seem unaffected. That suggests they simply were not found by the pest. (The walnut back in the corner was also untouched.)

It’s not all bad news (I hope). You can see that there is new growth on the ends of the branches. All of the pines have this new growth, and I’m hoping that they can recover with this. My subsequent trips to the woods will probably give me an indication of their future.

Should they die, I’m not sure what I’ll do next. More pines next year? Something else?

porch scene

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

A little scene like this greets us most times we visit our cabin. This is, of course, the front porch, and we keep two chairs there for musing in. But when we leave, just after we’ve swept the porch floor and just before we hop in the truck and drive away, we arrange the chairs nicely beneath that far window.

There have been times when we’ve come back to find the chairs at the other end of the porch, in the flower bed before the porch, even down the hill toward the lake.

I attribute two possible causes to this mayhem. The first is that a storm may have blown through between our visits, and the strong winds pushed the light chairs across the clean porch. I realize how unlikely that seems, which is why I have another possible cause.

I suspect the local raccoons have parties at our cabin when we’re not there, and they rearrange the furniture — on the porch and down at the fire ring — to suit their revelries. And then they get too wasted to put things back the way they found them as they slink off to their dens to sleep away their hangovers.

They’ve never invited me to any of their parties.