Archive for July, 2013

walnut’s doing fine, thanks for asking

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

I’ve written about this walnut tree from time to time here on the humble blog. It grew in my neighbor’s compost bin back in faraway suburbia, and he let me dig it up to move out to my woods. I placed it in the pine plantation because the soil there is good and because it is kept moist through most of the year because Good Neighbor Brian’s leaky pond is just to the left of the photo. I have some walnuts growing in my woods, mostly at the eastern end on the south-facing slope (which I wouldn’t have guessed was ideal for them), but I thought that if I was going to take an adventure and plant one on my own, I should give it the best circumstances I could.

The poor thing got nipped in its first year, losing its leader to some browsing deer, and I think that stunted its growth for a while. (Walnuts, like most nut-bearing trees, tend to be slow growers in their early years anyway.) I improved the fencing around it, but there’s not much that can deter a deer, I’ve learned. Even so, the little walnut used to be lower than the top of those posts, and now you can see that it’s much taller. I guess it’s getting its adolescent growth spurt.


In other news, today is the last day of July (in case you haven’t been paying attention). The year is seven-twelfths half over, and if you proposed to yourself to get something done by the end of the year, you really ought to be at your seven-twelfths halfway point. I had proposed to run at least 1,000 miles this year, and right now I’m so close to 700 miles that my feet are itching right now to get out there and hit that round number.

whipped whipper

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

This is the electric weed whipper that I brought down from faraway suburbia the last time I was at Roundrock. I mentioned before that it wasn’t up to the task. The grass was mostly too tough for its plastic whip, and the thing was noisy out there in the wild in a way it doesn’t seem to be around the yard.

The arm-swung grass whip I have in the cabin is much better at this work — and it’s less noisy — but it takes more muscle to get it “running.” Still, it seems that each time I go out to the cabin, I use the grass whip on the open area before the cabin, and a little bit at a time does seem to make a difference. Now if I were only out there more often.

There really is no problem that a lot of money can’t fix. I actually have a gasoline-powered pole saw that I can convert to a weed whipper (with a steel blade even), but the engine is fussy, and I haven’t used it in years. I would need to spend some money getting it running again. Got any?

red buckeye blues

Monday, July 29th, 2013

This caged thing is one of the bottlebrush buckeye plants I have growing near the cabin at Roundrock. (Actually, there are three of them in there, and there are three more on the other side of the cabin.) If you look closely, you can see that many of their leaves are brown and have fallen to the ground. I attribute this to heat and drought stress, but I’m not getting too worked up about that. The buckeyes had exhibited this same reaction last year yet bounced back again in the spring and have grown nicely since then. I even had a bloom this year.

Though they are native to Missouri (which is my requirement for planting just about anything in my woods), they aren’t common to my part of the state. Planting them here always bore some risk, but that’s been my experience with just about every tree and shrub I’ve planted at Roundrock over the years. (About a dozen pecans are now established of the 100 or so I stuck in the ground. The shortleaf pines just might make it. The buttonbush have some healthy survivors. Everything else I’ve cultivated has more or less failed — though I have lost track of many of the random things I’ve scattered around the forest.)

But I’m confident about these buckeye. I think they’ll make it.

new use for an old tarp

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Sherri made a comment here a few weeks back about how to address the grass and such that is growing in the gravel too close to the fire ring. I had written about how I didn’t want the grass growing there, and I lamented that I was probably going to have to spray it with some herbicide. I don’t like to resort to that to begin with, but with the area being less than a hundred feet above the lake, I liked that solution even less.

Sherri’s simple and elegant comment was simply to cover the grass for a couple of weeks and let it die from lack of sunlight. I fished around in my cluttered head for what I might use to cover the grass. I didn’t have any old carpeting or sheets of cardboard, and I figured either would get pretty nasty after a few weeks in the Ozark sun and rain. But then I remembered the tarp you see above. This is the old shelter tarp we had strung up in the early days before we had the cabin built. I think it was the third tarp we’d purchased. Three tarps in ten years, which is pretty good for a shelter that is under tension and outdoors 365 days a year.

We kept the tarp thinking that we might create a new shelter with it where we someday hope to build our house, to show the universe that it would be a good place for that kind of thing. But we never did that. Yet now the tarp has a new use, one that it is just about perfect for.

The best part is that I can move the tarp all over the gravel area and achieve the same benign destruction. The lumber you see resting on it is what I salvaged from the old tree stand that collapsed onto my side of the fence a couple of years ago. So I re-using the tarp and repurposing the lumber. Not a bad arrangement.

good neighbors

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

This is what greeted us as we arrived at our woods last weekend. This is the easement we own across Good Neighbor Brian’s land. (You’re actually looking away from our woods.) My other good neighbors, Tom and Fred, mowed this, apparently the very morning before our arrival on Saturday. They’ve done this for me occasionally, especially when Good Neighbor Brian hasn’t gotten to it.

Many years ago, Tom and Fred were burning some of their pasture just beyond what you see in this photo, and the fire got away from them. It burned the whole area you see and into my woods. Fortunately, I had had my road through the trees cut by then, and it served exactly as the fire break I hoped it would be. But Tom called me, quite apologetic, to take blame for what had happened. I didn’t mind at the time. It burned up some of the accumulated tinder on my forest floor, reducing the potential for a more disastrous fire later, and it confirmed that my road-through-the-trees fire break actually worked. But I told Tom that any time he had his tractor and mower in the area (their cabin is about a mile and a half away — I know. I’ve run this distance out there), they were welcome to mow my easement.

This is actually a good road. There is a thick base of gravel below all of that mown grass. It’s a decent drive across an otherwise often wet meadow. I could certainly drive across it even if the grass were four feet tall (and I have), but I like the look of a mowed lane. And I like the neighborliness of the gesture.

Tom and Fred never lock their cabin. They have running water, a flush toilet, a shower, and a refrigerator packed with beer. They’ve welcomed me to help myself to any of it at any time. So far I haven’t. But we have jawed quite a bit over the years, and since I measured the distance from their cabin to mine, I will probably run to their place more often just to clock some miles. (Fred was a runner in high school, so that’s another subject we can chat about.)

round rock on pink wall

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Plans change. What I had intended to be an overnight weekend at the cabin turned into a long day of mostly swimming after a long run in the morning (in faraway suburbia). I don’t know what to say about this running mania of mine. I’ve reached the point where I simply must run, and everything else must be worked in around it, but that’s a different story.

So we headed for Roundrock only about two hours later than our normal departure time, driving in rain for the first hour. I had looked at the weather maps and knew that while Kansas City would be wet most of the day (finally!), Roundrock would be dry (most of the day). We had nothing much on the agenda, but I had brought the weed whipper down with us intending to do some trimming around the cabin to make the place a bit more tidy, and then after that to trim among the pines to make them feel loved during their recovery.

An electric weed whipper with a plastic string on it is no match for Ozark prairie grasses. I whipped the grass, and the grass whipped back. It barely bent under the onslaught of the whipper, sometimes even clogging the spool until I had to stop and tease the grass out of it. I managed to trim a bit around the cabin and left the impression of a path down to the lake, and I gave up any thought of using it among the pines, but I’ve learned the muscle-powered grass whip is going to be my best (and only) tool on the areas where I can’t take that rental mower. So instead I will sit in the comfy chair on the shady porch overlooking the sparkling lake and contemplate the chores before me.

But I didn’t even do that. Instead, we donned our swimming togs and followed that impression of a path down to the lake to throw ourselves in the warm, warm water. Can you believe that this was only our second dip in the lake so far this year? The lake is down about five feet from full pool, which means a lot of the shallow end to the west is mud flat right now, but I’m not too disappointed. Given the experience I’ve had with the lake over the years, I would have expected it to have leaked away a lot more than this, and that suggests that the proper application of Bentonite that Seth and I made last year may be working. If the lake gets much lower, I may have the opportunity to repeat that application this summer and perhaps achieve an even better seal.

So we floated and paddled around the lake for perhaps an hour. The dragonflies were in abundance, and that means — I’m told — that the horseflies and mosquitos will be diminished later in the summer. I hope so. (I wish they ate ticks too.) We entered the lake under a blue sky with only wisps of clouds far above, but as we swam, the clouds got better organized. Eventually we decided it was time to have lunch, so we dragged our dripping selves up the hill and fixed our meal: a sensible salad and fruit, finished off with a sugar cookie, and iced tea (unsweetened, of course). Then it was back into the lake for more floating. I paid special attention to how my legs felt dangling below me, virtually weightless in the water. I wondered if that helped with their recovery after the morning run (of only 6 miles) since I intended to head out on Sunday to nearly double that distance. I’m insane.

I suppose we were in the lake for nearly two hours after lunch. We wandered down to Danger Island (now not an island) with the idea of seeing how the pines there were doing, but the blackberry was too thick for two people in swimming suits to venture in, so we gave that up and soon found ourselves back in the warm water. The clouds overhead were thickening and massing, and soon we heard rumbling to the south. I had known that there was a possibility of thunderstorms in the late afternoon in the Roundrock area, and it seemed that was about to be fulfilled. But if the storms were coming, they weren’t coming very fast, so we stayed in the lake and just puttered about.

Eventually, the thoughts of what awaited us in faraway suburbia urged us out of the water. We sat on the porch and drip dried as we watched the sky darken, but it seemed that the storm was going to pass us to the southeast. The rain never came while we were down there. But we had a good time and a good day, so there were no regrets when we climbed into the Prolechariot a little later and steered our way home.

a wolf drinking beer, of course

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

Yesterday a tiger. Today a wolf. Drinking beer. Of course.

This is a random photo from the archives (since I don’t really have anything fresh to share from Roundrock). It’s actually on the side of the Anheuser Busch headquarters building in St. Louis. In all of the years I lived in St. Louis, and despite all of their product I have consumed, I have never taken the tour of their facilities. It’s supposed to be a spectacular visit.

Maybe someday.


the tiger mask abides

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

I regret my lack of photos from my last trip to Roundrock. I stayed mostly in the cabin and on the porch (and even then harvested a fine crop of ticks from my clothes) and didn’t have occasion to take many photos. That’s making for some pretty lean posts here on the humble blog.

This tiger mask is ceramic. It’s hung on the white oak beside the pine plantation for nearly a decade. We really thought the first winter would destroy it, but it abides. Some wasps built a nest inside it one year. I half expected some small bird to use it for the same as well, but I’ve seen no sign of that. The mask watched as we planted the pines, as they grew, as we cared for them, and as whatever pest it was devoured most of their needles this year. (The pines were making a come back on my last visit.)

We have masks hanging on the trunks of trees around the cabin. Most people don’t see them at first, and then when they do, they find them unnerving. I hope that juju keeps the interlopers away (though, of course, I know it doesn’t). Some day perhaps we’ll move the tiger mask closer to the cabin as well.

Jingle in July 5K

Monday, July 15th, 2013

I have to say that I have mixed feelings about this run. My niece from St. Louis, Stephanie, came to town specifically to run this one, so we went there together, with Libby as our driver and support team. This run was completely underground in limestone mines not all that far from my house. (You’ll recall that I ran through some limestone mines in February for the Groundhog Run. That was a 10K. The Jingle In July was only a 5K.)

The course for this run was completely flat and nicely paved. The underground temperature was reported to be a constant 68 degrees. Given these qualities, I really expected to run my best time. That didn’t happen. I’m not sure why. A few guesses include having run more than six miles the day before, so perhaps I was more tired than I realized. Also, I made the rookie mistake of keeping up with the pack at the start, running a much faster pace than I could sustain, and I think that exhausted me too soon. The temperature was not as advertised. There were pockets back in that cave that were actually hot. When I reached the water station at the halfway point, I threw a little water in the general direction of my mouth and the rest of it over my head. And the air was stale in some places; my throat was surprisingly scratchy after the race. Or maybe I just didn’t try hard enuf.

There were 500 runners and walkers in this race. As usual, most of them passed me within the first mile — including the man who was juggling five balls as he ran — which I’ve long since resigned myself to. The route was a twice-around loop, so the scenery never changed: row after row of dusty white pillars of limestone. Also, the jingling. The ceaseless, ceaseless jingling.

Everyone was issued a jingle bell necklace, but many of the runners supplemented this with their own bells. Tutus abounded. Stephanie’s tutu, above, was laced with jingle bells. The ringing was all around me, and with a ceiling overhead, the sound was contained.

Stephanie had run on ahead after the first half mile, but she waited for me at the halfway point, and we completed the second half together. That upped my pace a bit, but I guess I got my second wind by then. By that point in the run, many of the runners were already finished, and those of us left on the trail were spread out. Stephanie and I chatted about this and that as we ran, and that helped regulate my breathing, which was probably helpful. We had both decided that when we rounded the last turn before the finish, we would go as fast as we could. And we did. I don’t know where the energy came from, but I bolted in and felt strong. My time was only a minute longer than my best 5K, but I was surprised by that.

In retrospect, I wonder if my intention to set a personal record was what defeated me. I started out too fast, thinking that would make a difference, but the difference it made was not the one I had hoped for. I wonder now if I had just run at a decent pace, and then picked it up in the last mile if I might have done better.

Jingle in July

Saturday, July 13th, 2013

I expect to be running where the sun don’t shine tomorrow morning. Another run through another limestone mine. My niece from St. Louis is coming to town to run with me.