Archive for August, 2013

lovely, dark, and deep

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

I know these woods. I think I know them anyway, but I’m sure I hardly do at all. I took this shot from the road at the far western end of Roundrock. From here you could walk a half mile and still be on my property. You might have to swim some of that half mile though, because somewhere in there you would come upon the lake.

Too much time has passed since I was last out at my woods. Life intrudes. Promises require keeping. Travel to distant lands. Miles to run. Bills to pay. Life to live.

But the stars are aligning, and it looks as though I’ll be able to visit my little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks this coming weekend. There will be swimming and campfires and maybe some chores. Or just basking in the sun and sheltering in the shade and picking ticks off of dogs and other mammals. Sleeping to the sounds of the night forest. Waking before dawn to spot the wild things on the prowl. And all of it. I need to be there.

commuting

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

Kansas City could learn a lot from Portland in terms of commuting. The varieties of ways that people used to get around this city was heart warming. Perhaps the most unique is the one from which I took the photo above. There is a sky tram that goes from the river front at the south end of the city up the side of a mountain to the hospital complex. (Yes, putting a hospital at the top of a mountain doesn’t make much sense when you think about icy days, but it looks cool up there.) It happens that my son and daughter-in-law take the tram to work just about every day. They live perhaps halfway up the mountain, but they walk down (less than half a mile) to the tram station, get aboard the capsule, and the glide up the mountainside with spectacular views and excellent cell phone service. (No, there really isn’t a good way for them to simply walk up the mountain to their work.)

The ride up the sky tram is four dollars, but the trip down is free. (I guess they figure if you got yourself all the way up there somehow, you earned a free trip down.) On our last full day in Portland, my son drove us up to the hospital complex and dropped us off. We then walked over to the sky tram dock and got aboard. It was packed with commuters, but they found a little space for us. Then we started down. The man controlling the tram wouldn’t let me push the buttons, but I did ask. When we got to the bottom, we crossed the pedestrian bridge and found our son waiting with his car to take us the half mile to his apartment. (We could have walked that distance, and had actually walked all the way from the downtown to their apartment the prior day. In fact, I even ran 6.4 miles from their apartment and back to it, the last, stinking half mile uphill! I’m such a hero!) I’m not sure how many bridges they have across the Willamette River in Portland, but they’re building a new one that will not take cars at all. It will be devoted to pedestrians and the Max line. What a civilizted city!.

The city has a Max light rail system that hustles about and gets people to the airport and all around the city. It also has a trolley that moves people around virtually for free. (You’re supposed to pay for it, and many people do, but no one checks.) There are busses, and traffic lanes devoted to bicycles, and broad sidewalks, and esplanades that just call out your name to be run upon. As Adam and I ran these in the early mornings, one woman on a bike regularly greeted him. She was one of the doctors at the hospital where he works, and she recognized him. She was on her way to work, bicycling part of the way and taking the sky tram the rest of the way. We saw many cyclists on the trails we ran, wearing backpacks or bearing saddle bags that likely held their work clothes and such. It was just the thing to do. (We also saw many people who did not have work and did not have places to live. Portland seems to have a tolerance for all aspects of humanity.)

One of the most astonishing forms of commuting (at least to this flatlander) was rolling. Skateboarding and roller skating is considered a legitimate form of movement in this town.

Cyclists are supposed to yield to pedestrians (and generally they did in my experience), and I think pedestrians are supposed to yield to skateboarders and roller skaters. In any case, it sure seemed like everyone was able to get along.

I’m thinking I’ll get back to Portland in October of 2014, but if I do, it will be for a different kind of movement, covering 26.2 miles. Who’s with me?

Multnomah Falls (again)

Monday, August 26th, 2013

About a half hour east of Portland, up the Columbia River Gorge, is Multnomah Falls. It’s pretty much a must-visit destination when we go to Portland, but it took us most of our week before we could take ourselves there. (Actually, we went there on our first day — directly from the airport — but the line of cars waiting to get into the parking lot, was backed up on the highway, so we delayed our visit to later in the week.)

This is a spring-fed waterfall, so it pretty much flows all year long. From its top to the first pool there is a drop of more than 500 feet. And for the daring, there is a path that leads all the way to the top where there is an observation deck. When we finally made it to the Falls later in the week, we decided we were going to hike to the top. The sign at the bottom said the trail was only a mile long, so that seemed easy enuf. I was wearing an old pair of my running shoes, which isn’t ideal for this kind of hiking, but the trail is paved all the way up (how did they manage to get hot asphalt all the way up there?), so I was gonna do it. Many other people that day were gonna do it too, and with far less substantial shoes than my sneakers. I saw many women with flip-flops on (or thongs, if you prefer) heading up the trail.

Libby, Adam, and I set out together, but as Libby slowed, Adam stayed with her and I pushed on. When I was nearly to the top I came upon a sign that said I had completed a mile and that there was only a quarter mile yet to go. The sign at the bottom was wrong! Had I known it was a mile and a quarter rather than a mile, would I have attempted the ascent?

But I made it up there, took a quick photo attempting to peer over the falls (it didn’t work out) and then turned around for the descent. I met Libby and Adam at the mile mark and assured them they could finish. Then I continued down and found a nice place to sit and wait for their return. I took the photo above from that vantage and watched the pageant of people speaking all kinds of languages parading past.

Along the way I met one of the locals, which you can see in this photo:

Skywatch Friday ~ Portland Sky

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

My Portland sojourn is about to end, and while we saw so very much on our visit, there never is enuf time. We did the highlights, some of which we’d seen/done before but that we knew had a fine payoff and were worth repeating.

Among them was the Japanese Garden, which we will probably always visit when we come. (Just as we always visit the botanical garden when we travel to St. Louis.) The Japanese Garden is comprised of a series of vignettes, little settings of scene and serenity that surprise you when you come around a turn in the path. My sky scene above was such. I happened to look up at the clear blue sky (which is a treat in Portland, I’m told) and saw the contrast with the vivid green of the bamboo. (They tell me there is even a mountain east of the city, called Mt. Hood, that has allegedly been seen by human eyes, but the sky is generally overcast and obscures it. Even on the clear days here, I’ve had it pointed out to me, but in the haze it looks more like a cloud that a mountain.)

Below is a bonus photo: one of the many scenes you come upon at the Japanese Garden. Enjoy.

creepy

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

When we were driving past the pine plantation on a recent visit to Roundrock, Libby pointed out one of the trees, noting that some vine was engulfing it. I looked and looked, from the comfort of the truck, but could not see anything. Soon I forgot all about what she’d said.

Later, when we were actually walking among the pines, checking for survivors — and we had 100 percent survival in the plantation area — Libby tried once again to point out the vine wreathed pine, taking me by the hand and taking me over to it. And then, I saw what you see above. I’m not sure how I missed it before, but there it was, plain as day.

Rather than yank the vine from the tree, which can rip off bark and even branches, we decided to simply chop the vine at the base and let it die on its own. The only problem was that there was a nice chicken wire fence protecting it. Libby’s solution was to cut through the chicken wire (with the handy loppers) and then cut the vine. And we did.

As I recall, it was a trumpet creeper, which I’d never seen at Roundrock until this year.

These flowers were blooming in early summer at the very back of the pine plantation, so I guess along with shortleaf pine trees, the soil in this area favors trumpet creepers.

Keep Portland Weird

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

So I’m in Portland for the week, seeing my son and daughter-in-law (though we did make a dash up to Seattle yesterday to see Libby’s sister and brother-in-law and their two boys). #1 Son stayed home in Kansas City with the dogs, and he sends periodic text messages telling us the pups are doing fine.

The Pacific Northwest seems like a wonderful place to live, with lots of culture and diversity and vibrancy and running paths. My son and I grabbed a nice 10K run on Sunday morning before breakfast. We ran along the Willamette (rhymes with dammit) River, crossed one of the oldest raising bridges in the country, ran back along the river, and then crossed it once again. It turned out to be a Nike Preferred Route, so that gave me some magic pixie dust or something when I plugged in my watch to upload the run.

The weather vane you see above is atop the house next to my son’s (lovely and spacious) apartment. You can see it when you relax on his shady and flower-bestrewn porch over the street. This weather vane, which I’m saying is supposed to depict a rooster but you can say is whatever it seems to you, is quite large. It’s certainly bigger than your average seventy-five pound Border Collie. The house itself is a Victorian, painted colorfully, and quite adorable.

We’re here for the week, and there is plenty of exploring we’ve yet to do, but we’re going to hit some old favorites too: the Chinese Garden, the Japanese Garden, the art museum. More anon.

where’s the button?

Monday, August 19th, 2013

I’m traveling this week, which means yet another too-long period when I can’t get out to my beloved woods. (#1 Son may get out there as a sort of proxy for me this week though.)

When we were last out we wandered over to an area below the dam near the ephemeral pond (which ain’t that ephemeral) where we had planted buttonbush several years before. It’s doing great there. In fact, it’s doing great everywhere I’ve planted it. Aside from the pines, the button bush is the one cultivated plant I’ve added to Roundrock that has been a success. (The pines have been a lot of work, but I count them as a success. The pecans have been a lot more work, and while the survivors are now strong, the ratio of plantings to losses among them is too high to count as a success. Those 25 redbuds we scattered here and there may or may not be a success; it’s hard to distinguish the ones we planted from the natives that do so well. The cypress, nannyberries, and others seem to be hanging on here and there, but they’re not thriving. And the dogwoods? Vanished without a trace.)

So the buttonbush is thriving, but we missed the bloom this year. What you see above is what’s left after the bloom has faded. (Here’s a link to a pretty good image of the blooms.) I’m happy for that unqualified success. I just wish I could be out there more often to enjoy it.

excavation

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

What you see here is a strewn pile of gravel on the side of a hill. (The gravel is the orange stuff at the bottom of the photo.) This is actually a big pile, more than fifteen feet from one end to the other and a noticeable hump on the hillside.

At first I thought that it might have been what was left after a large tree fell and the roots and stump had rotted away. But I would have guessed that in the time a fallen tree would need to completely rot away, the pile of gravel — on a hill, remember — would have been washed away and/or buried in leaves and sticks. It would no longer be so apparent had it been around that long.

And that suggests another cause for the gravel to be there.

This hole, perhaps a foot across at its widest point, is uphill from the gravel. You can just make it out in the upper photo. This is obviously the burrow of some critter. But what critter? I’ve seen armadillo burrows here and there in my forest, and they are not as elaborate as this. The amount of earth and rock that has been moved suggests that there are several chambers beneath the ground here. Would a fox do that? A groundhog? I’ve seen both in my woods. It seems too small for a coyote den, but I’ve seen them around too.

I take this as a cosmic sign. This is pretty much the area where we hope to build our house someday. We’ll dig into the hillside in a modified earth-sheltered manner. So the fact that some other critter is already doing so in this spot suggests the gods favor it.

Nonetheless, the next time I’m out at Roundrock, I’m going to set up my game camera to watch this spot.

blackberries

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

July is true blackberry season in the Ozarks, so my handful of harvest on a particular August day was not representative. We were doing a little maintenance work in the pine plantation and I grabbed these few for a taste. Long-time readers will recall that what we now call the pine plantation was once called Blackberry Corner, and it would be again if the blackberries had their way. They are trying to reconquer the area, and it’s only through vigilance and occasional mowing that we’re keeping them back.

These berries were on canes that were growing inside the fenced area around one of the pines. The mower couldn’t get to them, but the cane grew through the fencing and left the berries within easy picking. So I did.

The darker berries were sweeter; the redder ones were more tart. Both provided me with hours of tooth picking as I pried the seeds from them.

We’ve thought about actually harvesting the blackberries and taking them home to make a cobbler or such, but in the end it’s mostly just sugar and butter you’re tasting, so we never do.

falling oaks

Monday, August 12th, 2013

When we were last out to Roundrock (so long ago, it seems) we were greeted with this on the road in. An oak tree had died earlier in the summer and was leaning over the road. On each visit, it seemed to lean a little more. And by our most recent visit, it had come down far enuf to be in the way of easy passage.

Thus it was time to bring out the saw and get the offending thing out of the way. That was about fifteen minutes of work. The trunk of the tree was about four inches in diameter, and as I cut it, the lean of the tree put more tension on it, making the cutting go quickly. It fell into the road, and I simply dragged it deeper into the forest. Problem solved.

But not explained.

I’ve noticed throughout my woods that quite a few young oak trees have died. They came out with leaves in the spring but died in the early summer, their leaves still on the tree but shriveled and brown, as in the photo above.

It seems to be only the younger oaks, and it doesn’t seem to be one kind of oak. Except for the Blackjack Oaks, which seem to thrive under the worst conditions, just about every other type of oak in my forest has a representative on this unfortunate list. I don’t know what’s happened to them, but it isn’t widespread. They’re easy enuf to find, but they’re not common. There are far more healthy oaks in the forest than the comparatively few that have died.