Flike took me with him on a trip to Roundrock last weekend. He even let me drive the truck and pay for breakfast. What a good dog!
Since Libby and Rachel (and Baby J) were in Kentucky at the River’s Edge Film Festival — a regular annual event — Flike noted that we were unsupervised and suggested we make a break for the woods where there are abundant sticks to carry around in our mouths. And so we did.
We were on the road shortly after 6:00 a.m., but we stopped at the nearby bagel shop to get our breakfast. I had two bagels (unsliced and untoasted) to go with my iced tea (unsweetened, of course), and he had a turkey sausage, egg, and cheese bagel sandwich that he had me lay flat and open faced on the backseat of the Prolechariot. I expected a mess, but he did a good job with it, as he assured me he would.
The drive down was unremarkable, but we did stop in the little town near Roundrock to drop off a bag of books at the county library. (Some they add to their collection. The remainder they sell at their annual fundraiser.) Then we stopped at the sandwich shop to pick up some lunch for later. After that, it was on to Roundrock.
I think I mentioned that last summer a group of us landowners got together and intimidated each other into throwing some money into the till to get our common road improved. We drove on the fruits of that effort once we left the paved road. It’s a rough gravel road from that point on, but it is a much-improved rough gravel road now, one that does not leave you in fear of losing a filling or snapping an axle as you cross it.
When we entered our 80 acres of forest, the first thing we saw was a buck deer (I couldn’t count the points because he was moving fast through the trees, but I think he had at least six) and what looked like a fawn. The second thing we saw was many branches on the road, presumably from a storm in the time since we were last there. We stopped the truck and got out. I slipped on some gloves and began tossing the fallen branches into the trees. Flike, of course, thought that this was a game and began bringing them back to me. What a good dog!
We drove slowly past the pine plantation, and I’m happy to say that the pines we planted last spring are doing very well. Some are already more than two feet tall. I need to clear more of the small trees from around them, but to do that, I need to get my chainsaw fixed. (What a finicky thing a chainsaw is!) Maybe soon. Right now is the best season to work with a chainsaw. Not hot and humid, but not yet too bitterly cold.
We passed the pond where we saw some (unidentified) ducks paddling, and then we drove down the road along our northern property line. For whatever reason, it looked as though my neighbor to the north did not harvest her soybeans this year. From what I understand, the rains didn’t come at the proper time or something like that. Given that the beans were not harvested, I expected to see a lot of turkeys and/or more deer in there foraging. When they are, and they see us coming, they usually make a dash for the forest, which means that they cross the road right in front of us. That didn’t happen this time; there were no critters in the soybeans. (Perhaps they’ve foraged all of them? Or the plants didn’t produce?)
The Cabin at the End of the Road was waiting for us, silently and patiently, and we were happy to visit it. Once I parked and opened the back door, Flike exploded from the truck in search of a stick. I’ve cut many for him over the years, and he loses about half of them. So Libby hit on the idea of keeping them in the cabin (instead of thrust into the gravel pile where Flike can grab each of them in turn and then lose them). So the first task ahead of me was to open the cabin and fetch him a stick. He approved of this and we were soon playing keep away. (I’ve heard this from other Border Collie owners. The dogs don’t fetch and return but fetch and retain, taunting you to take it from them, which, of course, you never can.)
Flike had no chores for us on this visit (other than keep away), but there were a few things I wanted to do around the cabin before our adventure — whatever that would be — began. Fall’s abundance of leaves had collected against the back wall of the cabin, and I needed to rake those out of there. They threaten in two incompatible ways. One, they are perfect kindling for setting the wooden cabin aflame should a ground fire come along. Ground fires are more common in the spring (though they have never happened in my tenure, except when my neighbor’s “controlled” burn got out of hand, but that never got very far into my woods), but they could happen at any time. Their second threat is that if they get wet from the rain (or, soon, snow) they create a humid microclimate on the backside of the cabin, fostering mold in the wood. I already have mold in the wood on the lower “logs” so I do what I can (during my too-infrequent visits) to prevent this from getting worse. When I got the rake out, Flike got excited, I guess because the handle of the rake looked like a very long stick. Once he saw that I was going to do work, though, he disappeared. What a good dog!
I also put some peanuts (unsalted, of course) on the log near the cabin for the critters, and I filled the bird feeder. You may recall that I had a bad batch of black oil sunflower seeds that the birds refused to eat. The feeder would stay full for weeks and weeks. I eventually poured out the remains of the large bag of seeds on the road, thinking at least the foraging turkeys would eat them, but even they refused. Eventually, I bought a bag of the standard backyard bird seed from the grocery store in faraway suburbia and filled the feeder. It took the local birds a while to return the the feeder that had disappointed them for so long, but now that they understand that the good stuff has returned, so have they. The feeder was empty when I arrived and full when I was finished that morning. (The feeder is made of metal and glass. The plastic feeders we have tried have not lasted long. I blame the raccoons. But even this feeder is showing its age; I think it is time to replace it.)
I straightened up around the cabin a little, but the forest was calling our names, so I threw the daypack on my back, grabbed the long-handled loppers, and started marching west. Flike was in complete approval of this plan and joined me riotously. My vague idea was to go in search of some nice round rocks. You can never have enuf of these here and there about the cabin, and in the backyard in faraway suburbia, and on the shelf next to the desk where my computer sits. Occasionally, I’ve even made a gift of them.
Unfortunately, this is about the very worst time of the year to go round rock hunting. The leaves covering the forest floor hide them very effectively. February is the ideal time, but this was early November, and the temperatures were mild, the sun was shining, the forest was beckoning, the dog was eager, the feet were itching, and I was willing. So off we went.
Along the way, I liberated many young cedar trees from their earthly toil. Flike, of course, assumed I had done this to give him more stick-like things to grab and carry along. Oak and hickory branches rotting on the forest floor seem bad enuf to carry in your mouth, but freshly cut cedars, with their sharp needles and flowing sap seem even worse. Not to a Border Collie, I guess.
My goal was the farthest reach of the lake bed. Round rocks wash down from the hills and collect in the rubble that is pushed into here. The lake is up, and likely will be sufficient to over-winter the fish, but it isn’t high enuf to have water in this area, and so I thought that I might find a few nice round rocks in the recent inflow of gravel.
But those darned autumn leaves. If there were any round rocks here (and I’m sure there were), they were hidden by the leaf litter. Well, there is a nice, open bit of the seasonal stream not far from here that I can often find nice round rocks in, and so I directed our six feet there, first getting around a lot of the deadfall that blocked the way.
This nice, open bit of seasonal stream is just about at the very center of my 80+ acres. Getting there is a bit of a hike, given the rougher terrain (and the constant deadfall), so when I do visit this place, I feel like I’m at the heart of it all. In the past, I’ve tried to keep this more or less open, but the deadfall outpaces me every time. Now I just take it as nature gives it to me, which is also nice enuf. Flike, of course, rates it on the supply of sticks, which he was having no trouble finding.
I did come across a few likely round rocks in this dry creek bed, but none was really worth collecting. (Not round enuf, not smooth enuf, not interesting enuf.) So we pressed on. I decided to wander up the draw where I had long ago wedged a round rock into the fork of a tree and have now wedged a second round rock, the first having been engulfed by the tree. Flike had no objection. By this point, he was wandering pretty far away from me. At some points, I couldn’t even see him and had no idea where he was. But each time I called him, he came bounding over.
I was pretty sure I knew the draw I wanted, and I really didn’t want to go any farther from the cabin in any case, so I headed up what I thought was right to see what I would see. At first I feared I had made a mistake. The going was rougher than I remembered. There was a fork that I expected, one leading to the pond we had passed on our drive in and the other leading, I hoped, to my intended destination. Regardless, it was a fine day, and we were happy enuf, so we kept going. A lot of the geology of Roundrock is presented in these draws. The hillsides are covered with scrub and trees, but the the creek bed itself is full of the rocks that tell the tale. There is plenty of limestone, and quite a few round rocks, and then there is the occasional large chunk of sandstone, which is the top layer of the subterranean world of my woods. A geologist could have a good, informative time, just studying the rocks that litter the bottom of the draws.
I had chosen the correct draw because after a bit of a hike, getting around more deadfall, I suddenly found myself before the forked tree where I had wedged those two round rocks. The first was still there, certainly, because the tree had mostly eaten it, but the second was also there, which surprised me a bit. I expected it to have fallen free in the time since I had placed it. (I assume the storms that whip the trees around would create enuf momentary gap between the two trunks to let the rock slip out. I’ve found it on the ground once or twice.) The last time I was by, I had pounded on the round rock with another rock to wedge it in place more firmly. Perhaps that will be enuf.
With that bit of discovery done, it was time to turn our feet to the east again and find our way to the cabin. The hillsides of these draws can be steep in places, which means they are often leaf free. And that means, anyone watching the ground for good round rocks has a better chance of finding them (at least in leaf-littered November). Pablo did find them. Two good ones. The first was suitably round and more or less smooth. The second was more ovoid, and even smoother. They were interesting finds, and I dumped them into my daypack to carry back. Adding rocks to the day pack is not a real hardship. Once it hangs from your shoulders, the added weight doesn’t really seem so much more. But this only works when you have someone along who can put them in your pack so you don’t have to take it off. Libby was in Kentucky. Flike had no interest in helping me with rocks. (Sticks, on the other hand . . . ) This mean I had to take off the pack, slip the rocks (the very dense rocks I should add) into it, and the hoist the pack back onto my back. When you do it this way, you feel the full weight of what you’ve added. But they were good rocks, so I didn’t mind.
Flike and I made our way back to the cabin, liberating young cedar trees as we went. I’ve hiked this bit of my forest many, many times — as shown by the round rocks placed in unlikely spots, like the base of a tree or atop a large rock — yet it seems to be different every season. I knew the general direction I was going, and Flike was darting all over the place, but the forest looked new to me, which, I think, is a good thing.
Eventually, I could see the red of the Prolechariot ahead in the trees and I knew I was nearly to the cabin. Flike was happy to be back because he headed straight for the bowl of water I had set out for him upon our arrival. Carrying sticks seems to be thirsty business. Although it was early, I declared it lunch time and got out the sandwich I had picked up in town. (Also, iced tea and a banana.) Flike suddenly had no interest in the kibble I had put in his bowl and was far more interested in my sandwich. Border Collies are known for their mesmerizing eyes. Apparently it’s what makes them good herders. They can stare a sheep into submission without the need to snap at them. So, imagine eating a sandwich with a Border Collie looking at you with his magical eyes. What can you do but share your sandwich with him? He had no interest in the banana, and he wasn’t going to get a drop of the iced tea, but I’d say he got a third of the sandwich.
And then it was time for a nap. The woods is a healing place, and a nap was pretty much what I needed then. To lie down and close my eyes and not open them until I was ready, if ever. Flike seemed to understand the agenda and found a comfy place on the rug to sleep. I think an hour passed this way, me drifting in and out of a sleep-like state. Perfect.
But my brother, his wife, and their two sons were in Kansas City, and I had made some vague promise about meeting them for dinner, so I knew I couldn’t hang out in the woods any longer.
We packed our things (not much) and then prepared to leave. I swept the cabin porch as I always do for my last chore. Then we were on our way. This may have been the last moderate weekend to visit the cabin, but I’m sure my body will acclimate to the winter, and there will be many more Roundrock trips in the months to come.