Archive for January, 2014

late holiday cheer

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014


Our daughter-in-law’s parents sent these two seed ornaments (all the way from some place called Indiana) for the holidays, knowing that we could take them out to our cabin and hang them for the winter visitors. And we did, on one of the double-trunked trees just off the porch. I’m not sure how soon we’ll be getting back out there, but I hope the birds don’t wait for us to begin enjoying them.

Yes, that’s a horse shoe they’re hanging from. We had found that along our north fence line when it was a sort of bridle trail through the area. That stopped shortly after we purchased the 80 acres, and I suspect the horsey set felt they weren’t welcome anymore. I wouldn’t mind them cutting across our land, but I can’t speak for the other landowners. Anyway, they left behind that horse shoe and we hung it where we could see it from the porch. Then we hung the seed treats from it.

I hope the birds like these seeds more than the black sunflower seeds I have in the feeder. On our last visit, that feeder still was not empty. I filled it nonetheless and even poured a generous pile of seeds on the ground below it. Don’t know what to think about that.

under the tarp

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

under the tarp

Last week I hinted at a discovery we’d made under the tarp behind the cabin at Roundrock. I’m sorry if I made it sound like something momentous was going to be revealed; it’s not all that significant.

The wind that had assaulted the woods last week had yanked up part of the tarp we’d laid on the ground to kill the grass growing in the gravel. When I saw this, I also saw what you see above: green grass growing under the tarp despite being in darkness for several months.

After only a month under the tarp, a large patch of grass and weeds near the fire ring had turned brown and shriveled, and I was able to rake it away (and use it for tinder). We’d had similar success with some grass growing in the parking area. And so I hoped to have the same result with this area behind the cabin. Not so.

I had feared that what I was doing was creating a mini greenhouse that would nurture the grass through the winter, and it seems that’s what I have done. I’ve heard that this approach only really works well when the sunlight is most intense — during the active growing period for the grass.

I didn’t pull the tarp completely away; in fact, I just put it back and laid the wood on it to hold it in place. I think on my next trip to Roundrock, I will pull up the tarp ¬†and see what there is to see below it.

Groundhog Run 2014 10K

Monday, January 27th, 2014

GHR 2014

A year ago, I ran the Groundhog Run 10K, and I vowed I would not do it again.

I did it again.

When I ran it before, I found the air stale and the scenery monotonous. Miles and miles of limestone pillars with the lanes between them disappearing into the possibly endless darkness. The exhaust of big trucks and even trains that pass through the caves still in the air. Reports of orcs and goblins. The gloom of the underground could overwhelm a sensitive soul, but I had been preoccupied with the anguish of running 6.2 miles. I was glad I had done it, but I was also glad it was done, and I had no interest in doing it again. Once again, though, I had the chance to be on the company team, which meant not only did my fees get paid, but I got VIP parking (other runners had to be bussed in), and I got access to the VIP lounge (which has coffee, bagels, donuts, and real bathrooms).

Because I was not caring for anyone’s nursing baby this year, and because no one had called for a team photo too early in the morning, I did not have to get there nearly four hours ahead of my start time (as I had to last year). There was one other difference this year. Libby came along as my support team. This is not really a good run for spectators. They do not have access to the bowels of the cavern miles back in the hill; they can only really be present at the finish line to watch us come stumbling in. And with my comparatively pokey pace, that meant Libby would have a lot of time to kill after I started.

We got to the mine only an hour before my start time, which seemed to me to be cutting it close, but we did have enuf time to find out where the chocolate milk was being given out — critical information for after the run. We also met up with some old friends of ours whom we hadn’t seen for seven years. I was going to run with one of them, but her pace is much better than mine, so “running with” her was more expression than reality. We milled about, caught up a little bit, and wandered over to the start area. (The place was too packed for us to get to the actual start for a while.)

Soon we runners parted from our spouses and pushed into the crowd of starters. We were in the third wave, so two groups took off ahead of us, giving us more space for collecting ourselves nearer the actual starting mats. Because we were underground, my running watch could not get a satellite signal and had to rely on the sensor on my shoe to judge how far and how fast I would be going. In order for it to do that, I had to walk a short distance as the watch searched for that sensor, and then after it was found, I would have to start the actual running within a certain amount of time or else the watch would have to find the sensor again. Fortunately, I was able to pull off this massive synchronization feat just about perfectly, and I pressed the GO button just moments before my feet carried me over the starting mats (which would provide the official — and likely more accurate — time). So we were off.

My running companion was soon out ahead of me, and by the first quarter mile, I had lost her. Also at the first quarter mile, oddly, was the first water station. No one needs water in the first quarter mile, but I realized soon after that that was not the point. Since the full 6.2 miles would require two circuits of the route, this water station was actually for when runners were at mile 3.35. (It would be a while before I would reach that point.) I started out slowly, by intent, and hundreds of runners were surging past me. I did a good job of holding back at this point when the energy of the crowd tends to get me going out too fast and wearing out too soon.

The first mile of any run is the worst for me. I question whether I can go even that far, why I am doing this to myself, why I have made all of the choices I have in my life, whether my life insurance premiums are paid up and my will is in order. Even knowing that I will eventually get through the anguish of the first mile doesn’t seem to help me get through the anguish of that first mile. But get through it I always do.

Fewer people were passing me by then, and I had begun passing the walkers, all of whom had run past me earlier. I was beyond my initial agony but I was pushing myself to keep running. I had half promised myself that I could walk through the water stations, get a refreshing drink and a moment of rest, but when I came to the first (well, second) water station, I didn’t walk. I did grab a cup of offered water, queried if they had Bud Light, but kept on running.

At several points along the run, the route goes down an avenue, makes a turn, then comes back along that same avenue. Thus I could see all of the runners who were ahead of me, and I studied them to find my friend. I never did see her. However, when I had made the turn and the oncoming runners were those behind me, I saw a co-worker and we waved. (This surprised me since she is a much better runner than I.)

And so the miles passed. I took water from all of the stations, but I never walked. I deliberately did not look at my watch to know my time since it was a) not reliable, and b) often discouraging, so when I came back to the start and began my second time around, I really didn’t know if I was doing well or doing poorly. I did walk several hundred feet at this point. In the tiny back pocket of my shorts I had stashed some Honey Stingers, a kind of energy candy that supposedly would give me a boost to finish the race. I gobbled those as quickly as I could and then attacked the remaining 3.1 miles.

By this point, the crowds had thinned. I rarely had to squeeze between or dodge around people to pass them, and this surprised me because I was actually passing other runners. I assumed they were even more exhausted than I was. What other possible explanation could there be for this?

When the opportunity allowed, I looked for my friend among the runners ahead of me, but I couldn’t find her. I kept throwing one foot in front of the other. I looked up now and then to take in the scenery (why was there a boat parked in that cave? is there a lake down there?). I took special meaning from the NO IDLING signs. I ignored the STOP signs. I took water when it was offered. And I just kept going.

Two things happened at mile 5. I found a surge of energy. I was exhausted. I wanted to stop. But I could feel my legs pumping faster, and I thought I could keep it up. Was it the Honey Stingers kicking in? The good night’s sleep I managed to get? The weeks of training? The glazed donut I had snagged from the VIP lounge? The three Advil I has slammed that morning? My positive mental attitude? I don’t know what it was, but I was eating up the pavement, feeling excited that there was some unexpected energy in me so late in the run.

The second thing that happened around mile 5 was that I caught up with my friend and passed her. I couldn’t believe that, but I couldn’t believe I was running so well at all. I expected her to trot up beside me, but she never did, and I ran the rest of the race nearly alone, seemingly going faster the farther I went.

At mile 6 I came upon one of my friends from the running club I am in. I didn’t even know she was at this run, but she recognized me and asked if my watch was working. Hers wouldn’t link to her shoe sensor and she wondered where we were in the total distance. As I said, I had not been looking at my watch much during this race, so when I obliged her and checked our mileage, I saw that we were at 6.1 miles. We had only a tenth of a mile to go, and I was still feeling strong. I hit the afterburners then and pushed hard to the finish, crossing the mats and then gasping for oxygen in that foul underground as I slowed then stopped. I had the sensor cut from my shoe (not the one that talks to my watch), and then someone gave me this:

GHR 2014 blingMy first bit of running bling for the year. The Groundhog Run is a benefit for the Children’s Therapeutic Learning Center, and those children are the ones who can fly because we run for them.

Soon after I finished, my friend crossed the mats. She and I walked a bit as she cooled down, then her husband and Libby found us among the crowd and we all hugged. I soon made my way over to the chocolate milk station and gulped two cartons (on top of the one that Libby had secured for me earlier). We took some photos. I met up with some other running club friends. And then the four of us returned to the surface of the planet and drove off to a breakfast joint for some well earned indulgence.

When I plugged in my watch later that afternoon and saw the time it reported, I compared it to the time I had run the race last year. I had shaved off nearly four minutes from last year’s time. And when I looked up the official time online, I confirmed that I had beaten my earlier time by more than four minutes. On closer examination of my run, I found I had negative splits. I ran each mile faster than the one before it, covering the last mile at a pace better than my best all of last year. That was surprising since I had taken off the whole month of December to recover from some injuries, so I considered myself in recovery mode.

So, I had vowed not to do the Groundhog Run a second time, yet I did. Now I’m thinking that I must run it every year and keep trying to get better.



Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

windy 1

We finally made it out Roundrock last Sunday for a cold, windy, and it turned out brief, visit. The winds that have been bringing the extreme fluctuations in temperatures to the region had clearly visited our woods ahead of us. You see above and below what greeted us when we got there.

Normally these three chairs encircle our fire ring. Now you see one overturned, one in the fire ring, and the third across the road and partly in the ditch. (Note that Flike did not care. He merely wanted me to throw a stick for him.) I subsequently stacked the three chairs together with the hope that their combined weight would keep them in place so they weren’t scattered about again.

windy 2We also have two chairs we keep on the cabin porch. You can see that one was moved to the edge of the porch and the other was taken a short way into the woods. I don’t think that second chair scooted its way there. The ground is too rough. I suspect it tumbled that short distance and only happened to land on its feet. Note that these two chairs were blown in the opposite direction of the three brown chairs by the fire ring nearby.

Though the forecast called for mild temps, the morning of our arrival was cold and windy. We might have stayed for the brief bit of mild weather (restricted mostly to the porch I suspect), but it was actually warmer back in faraway suburbia to the north than it was at Roundrock then. So after a reasonable amount of time, we loaded up the truck and got ourselves on the road. I’m already searching the calendar for our next chance to visit.

But enuf about Roundrock. Why don’t you take yourself over to the Pure Florida blog and wish the Florida Cracker and happy and joyous birthday, because today is his birthday!

please stand by

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

The humble blog is experiencing technical difficulties.

back of the cabin

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

I’m probably boring you with my accounts of the leaves behind my cabin. But it is a wooden cabin after all, and the leaves do tend to accumulate there.

Not so much this time of the year though. This is about how the cabin looked when we were there over the weekend. This photo happens to be from a visit we made in late December. I guess a combination of most of the leaves having fallen from the trees (though the oaks are still clinging to plenty of leaves) and wintry winds help to keep the area mostly clear of this very nice tinder up against my wooden cabin.

We were just getting ready to leave last Sunday when I happened to see the leaves here. (Maybe twice as many as in this older photo above.) Rather than re-open the cabin, get out the rake (from behind everything else), and then devote 15 minutes to clearing the leaves (they need to go a good distance after they are removed from behind the cabin), I just shuffled through them to loosen them so the scouring wind might clear them.

The wind has certainly arrived here in faraway suburbia; if it’s the same at Roundrock, then all of those leaves are gone (and likely new ones have replaced them).

In the foreground you can see the old shelter tarp covering some weeds growing in the gravel. The wind did a number on that tarp too. I hope to have a post about what we discovered up soon.

a tale untold

Monday, January 20th, 2014

I came upon these footprints in the snow on the ice on the lake and wondered what story they had to tell. The prints were already degraded by the time I saw them, so I can’t even be sure what kind of critter left them. I’d guess it was a coyote (or wandering farm dog) given their size and spacing. I don’t think a deer would venture onto ice.

But I can’t think of why a coyote would either. This is near the end of the dam, at a “corner” of the lake, so it’s not as though the critter was saving itself some distance by cutting across the ice. Perfectly solid, dry land was nearby. Perhaps to escape a predator? Maybe that would account for the sliding tracks on the snow and ice. Or maybe it was a juvenile, and this was its first experience with ice.

The tracks lead to the edge of the snow and likely beyond. I’m sure there is more tale untold here.

blue sky with pecan ~ Skywatch Friday

Friday, January 17th, 2014

I’ve had middling success growing pecan trees in the open acre below the dam at my woods. I think about a dozen have survived of the 100 or so I planted (and replanted) over the years. Some of the survivors, like the one you see above, are doing very well.

I never seem have have any problem with blue sky in my woods.

this ‘n’ that

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

That photo shows some frosty grass growing in the south spillway (where direct sunlight doesn’t reach this time of year), but the forecast calls for unseasonable warmth this weekend, so Pablo’s feet may find themselves at Roundrock.


I dithered for a while about whether I would bother to get any trees from the Missouri Department of Conservation this year, but when I found that extra pine emerging from the blackberries in the pine plantation and then those two that are persevering on the island, I decided to have faith and hope, so I ordered another 25 shortleaf pines as well as a ten more deciduous holly (with the bright red winter berries). Not sure where I’ll plant all of these, but come April, I’ll be doing it.


I seem to remember saying that I was going to be more selective about the races I ran in 2014. So far, that hasn’t been the case. I certainly remember telling myself I was not going to do the Groundhog Run 10K again. Yeah, I’m signed up for it in 2014, just a week and a half away. (I’m on my company’s team for this one.) And then there’s the Kickoff 5K in early February that ends inside Arrowhead Stadium (some sort of team performs there during its season). I won a free entry for this one. And soon after that is the Sweetheart 5K that Libby and I are going to do together. I won a free entry for this one too. So far, the month of March is open, but there is a St. Patrick’s Day 4 miler that I missed last year I’d like to do this year. After that comes Rock the Parkway, another half marathon, in early April and then the Trolley Run in late April. (The Trolley Run last year was a big psychological hurdle I had to get over — it convinced me that I could actually do this whole running thing — so I must do it every year now.) In May I only have one run scheduled (so far), the Coach Chavez Memorial 5K, but this one will be off road, so that should be interesting. And, of course, looming out there in October is the Portland Marathon — a full marathon I’m determined to run. Undoubtedly I’ll fill in the empty months.


let’s play

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Through the years, I’ve cut probably a dozen sticks for Flike to fetch. The best ones are about 2.5 feet long, about 1.5 inches in diameter, and made of a denser wood so they will both throw long distances and withstand Flike’s bite for a few months.

We used to keep three or four of them stuck in the gravel pile outside the cabin. As soon as the door to the Prolechariot opened, Flike would explode from the truck and run directly to these, tugging one from the gravel to begin what must have certainly seemed our sole purpose for driving to the cabin: to play fetch all day long!

These sticks don’t have a long life. Some Flike can chew to splinters. (I think the cedar are the worst.) Others simply get lost. I found one of his sticks on the other side of the lake. I have no idea how it got there; I don’t think we would have let him bring one of these sticks along on our hikes, and he doesn’t stray from us when we’re sticking close to the cabin. Others simply disappeared. Libby has stashed a supply of them inside the cabin, and so far Flike hasn’t found them, but when he does, he’ll promptly lose them.

I wrote yesterday about the young trees growing in the lake bed. As an experiment, I cut one to just the right length for a throwing stick. Then I presented it to Flike. He quickly approved. That’s it in the photo above and below.

So perhaps I’ll harvest those young trees with the nice dimensions and add them to the waxing and waning collection of throwing sticks. Next time you’re at Roundrock, be sure to throw one a few hundred times for Flike, okay?