Archive for November, 2013

my anti-Black Friday

Friday, November 29th, 2013

I’ve always been resistant to our consumer culture. I’d read one commentary that said our economy is built not on buying but on frenzied buying. That’s more than a little sad, but what’s worse is that by 4:30 this very morning, I already saw posts on Facebook by people I’m related to saying how mad the shopping was out there.

Determined not to be a typical Consumer Culture Casualty, for years I have spent Black Friday in the wholly un-American pastime of not shopping but rather going to the woods for a day of frolic. So in a little while we’ll be packing the Prolechariot with a day’s supplies, getting out of the way as the dogs leap into the back seat (in their own kind of frenzy), then steering toward Roundrock. The forecast calls for nearly 50 degrees, though that will probably only occur for a few minutes late in the afternoon, but if we keep busy, sawing logs, or rambling in the forest, or throwing sticks, we should stay warm enuf and have a good day. Traditionally we have a campfire, and I see no reason not to do so this year too.

And then we’ll return home in the gathering dark and hear the accounts of others who took themselves into the manufactured and manipulative mass madness of shopping for “deals” and be grateful that we are not part of that.

How will you/did you spend the day?

a peanut

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

This is just about the worst time of the year to hunt for round rocks. The fallen leaves cover the ground and hide the rocks emerging from the soil. Yet I was on a mission during our last trip to Roundrock. I wanted to find some round rocks, and I went to an area where I’ve found a good many of them.

As far as I can tell, the round rocks are buried in a layer in the ground. Deep beneath them is the limestone bedrock. And in some places, the sandstone overlays this layer of round rocks. But on some hillsides, this layer is exposed, and that’s where I go to find the good ones. (I can also walk up the Central Valley and generally find a few in the creek bed, but they’ve washed down from above.)

And so that’s where I was, on a hillside where the layer of round rocks was exposed. But the fallen leaves were not helping in my mission.

Yet I soon found a round rock poking above the leaf litter. This is uncommon unless I have placed a found round rock on top of another, flatter rock, either for collecting later or for simply display randomly in the forest. Yet the rock I found was neither of those.

It was the rock you see above. The peanut-shaped rock you see above. I don’t think I’ve ever found a cojoined pair of round rocks in my forest. Part of it (the right side in the photo above, the side with the chip) was above the soil, but the rest of it was in the ground. I don’t know how it came to be standing vertically as it was, but once I realized what I had found, I didn’t leave until I had the whole thing unearthed.

I left it as you see it — note the deer bone beside it — and I’ll collect it on a later visit after the rain has cleaned it a bit. It will go to the cabin where we’re gathering the more interesting and more perfect round rocks.

And I did find other round rocks that day, which was my intention. It was a good day in the forest.

turkey feathers

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Yes, I stuck those two feathers into the bark of that cherry tree.

We sometimes find a couple of turkey feathers on the ground in our forest during our ramblings. I used to think that they were the result of a predator having a successful hunt. And when we find a half dozen feathers in one spot, I think that may be true.

But the occasional feather or two may just be part of a seasonal molting by the turkeys. I’ve read that they will molt in the spring and the fall, and that’s what I suspect I am finding most of the time.

Also, did you know that you can determine the sex of a turkey by its droppings? Male droppings are j-shaped. Female droppings are spiral-shaped. If the conversation at your Thanksgiving dinner table begins to fade, just bring up that interesting tidbit. You’re welcome.

no one home

Monday, November 25th, 2013

A few weeks back I wrote about the house cleaning of the log by the cabin where I set out peanuts for the critters. I concluded that post with a photo of the inside of the log, but it wasn’t a very good photo. This is my follow up attempt. It’s not much better.

It makes me wonder, though, where the living quarters are. The fallen tree is perhaps forty feet long, but the thick part is less than half that, and as you can see in the earlier post, there is a back door at the halfway point, so that reduces the potential living space even more.

If you look closely at the center of the photo, in the darkest, deepest point, there is some aluminum foil stashed down there. We use this occasionally for our cooking, either for foil dinners or to line the Dutch oven for dump cakes. Some of it apparently ended up in the fire, which the critter (a wood rat most likely) scavenged and stashed inside the log.

All of this makes me think that something is living inside the log.

Add to that the fact that I can set half a bag of peanuts on the log and then come by not even a half hour later and find most of them gone. Yes, the birds might come along and grab them, but I suspect that something far closer to the peanuts is collecting them and stashing them close by. I keep meaning to set up my game camera on the log after filling it with peanuts, but the last time I tried this, it didn’t work. I’ll try again.

Skywatch Friday ~ corn and cloud

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

We had dramatic weather when we were down at Roundrock last weekend. Rain, lowering clouds, occasional sunshine, and more clouds. I captured this image looking north across my neighbor’s corn field. The temperature rose twenty degrees while we were there, from 50 on our arrival to more than 70 degrees in the afternoon. The wind was blustery, and the sky kept changing costumes as we walked and wandered and waited and watched.

we went thataway

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

This is in the western end of our forest. The ground is more or less level here, and there is even actual dirt in places. If we didn’t have a sparkling lake to overlook, I think we would eventually build our house in this western area.

We were on a hike in our woods on a nice day, and our feet led us here.

It sure looks open, doesn’t it? Don’t be fooled. We are often walking around dense growth or deadfall. We can rarely go in a straight line in our woods. It only looks that way. (Can you see Flike on the left?)

snapper at rest

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

We often find box turtle shells here and there in our forest. According to one estimate I’d read, I could have as many as 800 turtles roaming the 80 acres of my woods. (That doesn’t seem likely though. I’d be tripping over the things if I had that many.)

Often we will collect these shells (since the turtles have no use for them any longer) and add them to the growing number near the cabin.

Above you see our latest addition, and it’s unlike any we’ve collected so far. It’s from a snapping turtle that, until recently, lived and thrived in our lake. I knew the snapper was there. I’d actually seen in a few times in the shallow end — one time as Libby and I were preparing to wade across the stretch of water to get to Danger Island to tend the hapless pines we’d planted there. I’d made the tactical decision not to tell Libby that we had a snapping turtle living in our lake.

You can tell from the toe of my boot in the photo above that the turtle had a long and apparently healthy life. That shell is the size of a turkey platter.

I suppose the snapper migrated to our lake. The lake has only been around for a little more than a decade, and it seems to me a turtle that size must be older than that. Regardless, it was a welcome addition, and despite all of the swimming we do in that lake, we’ve never encountered it on its own “turf.”

But one visit, a couple of months back, as we walked down to the dam (which we usually do as soon as we arrive and unpack) we smelled something awful. Something was rotting nearby. Not thinking to look toward the water, we poked around in the scrub and trees to find the dead thing. It was Queequeg who found it for us when he inexplicably pushed through the tall grass and went down to the water’s edge.

And there it was, the big snapping turtle already in a stage of decomposition. The smell was potent, but I knew I would eventually collect the shell. We persuaded Queequeg to rejoin us and went on our way. I would return on a subsequent visit, after the scavengers had done there their bit, a bit more.

This photo shows the turtle as we first encountered it. You can see that the scavengers had begun their work. Look at those claws! I think I can still find them. Maybe I’ll make some earrings for Libby with them. What do you think?

bone angel

Monday, November 18th, 2013

I hired a man to mow our road (since Good Neighbor Brian, who usually does it, had been recovering from some surgery recently), and as we strolled down it one day with the dogs, we found some bones where the grass had once obscured our view.

It’s not uncommon to find bones at Roundrock. Often most of a complete skeleton of some critter will turn up in a spot. Other times, we find a single bone, separated from its fellows, all on its own. I found the two you see above near each other on the freshly mowed road. I’m not sure they’re even from the same critter though.

One is, probably, a leg bone. The other is a vertebrae, likely from a deer (?). The dogs were not interested in them (they wanted to get back to the cabin where we had kibble waiting for them), so I toyed with them and came up with the little image you see above.

What to do with it though? I didn’t want to carry it all the way back to the cabin just to do I-don’t-know-what with it. So I stopped at a place where we had found a deer carcass and stuck it in the same tree where Libby had hung the deer’s skull. That was a year ago, and the skull is still there.

’tis a puzzlement

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

We’ve been mystified in recent months by our feeder. When we visit, ¬†we find it emptied and we fill it with black oil sunflower seed, and the birds flock to it, even fight over it. Titmice, chickadees, juncos, nuthatches, even cardinals will spar over the feeder as we watch, delighted, from our comfy chairs on the shady porch.

But not so much lately.

The birds haven’t been coming. I realize that many birds don’t hang out in the Ozarks through the winter, but the phenomenon we’ve noticed began last summer. They’re just not visiting.

I filled the feeder in August, fully expecting to find it empty on our next visit (perhaps two weeks later). It wasn’t. In fact, it was barely down at all. We didn’t worry at first. But on our next visit, perhaps another two weeks later, the feeder was unchanged. The seed hadn’t diminished at all.

I began to wonder then if the seed had gotten wet somehow and gone bad. So I poured it out onto the road near the fire ring (for the turkeys) and refilled the feeder with fresh seed.

But the same thing happened. Weeks passed and it wasn’t eaten. Months have now passed, and it has not been eaten. Sure, we see the occasional random bird visit the feeder while we’re in the comfy chairs, but not the half dozen at once, all waiting their turns to get a single seed to carry off and consume elsewhere. (We once saw a tiny goldfinch defend the feeder — successfully — for a half hour before it finally flew off.)

Perhaps not coincidentally, this curious behavior began when we brought a new bag of black oil sunflower seeds to the cabin. I’m beginning to suspect that we bought a bag of bad seed. Also possibly not coincidentally, the bird shop where we bought the seed had recently changed owners, and the seed we were sold was a new brand we’d not used before. In fact, the big 25 pound bag does not have a brand name on it at all. I suspect we now have a bag of useless bird seed in the cabin.

Not to worry though. The seed I had poured out on the road by the fire ring was utterly gone by our next visit. It may be that our turkeys will be well fed this winter.

the mouse proof cabinet gets a new adornment

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

I spent a lot of money on a metal cabinet for the cabin at Roundrock because I wanted something that was mouse proof. Now, we’ve never had any sign of mice in the cabin. I’m told that this is in part because we keep the ground immediately around the cabin clear so that mice fear to venture across it lest they be nabbed by a predator. I don’t know if that’s true, but in any case, unless we are there with food for our hungry stomachs, there really is nothing in the cabin that I think would attract mice.

But the cabinet is handy for stowing things and generally reducing the clutter inside the cabin. (And there is some oatmeal in there, inside a mental tin inside a metal cabinet. Any mice that can get to that have earned my respect.) And it’s also handy for adorning with meaningful magnetic objects. Above you see my latest addition.

The 13.1 is my newest metallic adornment. Now, I’ll confess that I was originally disdainful of people who put a 13.1 sticker on the back window of their cars, announcing to the world that they had completed a half marathon. To me it was like saying “hey, look at me, I’m half an athlete.”

That was until I actually ran a half marathon. Survived a half marathon. The bright red Prolechariot, which you can see reflected in the door of the cabinet, now sports a bright red 13.1 sticker in the back window. I earned that thing! It will stay there until I replace it with a sticker that doubles that number (in October of 2014, I hope).

But back to the mouse proof cabinet. You can see a number of magnets on it. The ORC is for the Olathe Running Club, of which I am a member (and which has made a huge difference in my running life). The blue compass rose at the left is the symbol of Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City where Libby and I volunteered for more than a decade. The red and white magnet is a piece of art glass from the contemporary art museum that we visit often (and where my daughter, Rachel, had her wedding reception). And the bluish magnet in the top right is a depiction of the Steel Bridge in Portland, Oregon that my son ran me across quite a few times when we were there visiting last summer. It’s a runner-friendly bridge, unlike at least one of the others that I feared would cost me my life as I ran across it.

So the mouse proof cabinet abides. As circumstances allow, I’ll add more magnets to it, and someday, someone will look at all of them and have no idea what each meant, but life is full of mystery in that way.