Archive for November, 2014

white Friday

Friday, November 28th, 2014


Today is perhaps the one day out of the year when anyone who cares will know exactly where I am (and where I am not). I am indulging in my traditional anti-Black Friday exercise.

And the weather is so nice for late November in Missouri that I will probably make an overnight trip of it, with a campfire and all the trimmings.

Stay sane, everyone!

no there there*

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014


Remarkably, this tree is alive, even thriving. Flike and I came upon this hollow tree on our recent ramble in the woods at Roundrock.

Some time long ago, this tree met with a serious trauma that appears to have stripped it of its bark on one side. Perhaps a lightning strike did it. My guess is that the inner part of the tree was already dead (they actually are — it’s only the outer layers closest to the bark that are still alive) and perhaps even rotted away, making a nice den cavity for some critter. But then the trauma came and exposed the empty heart of the tree, further rotting whatever insides it still had.

And yet two-thirds of the tree stayed alive and stayed standing. Its branches high in the canopy are reaching for all of the sunlight they can as though they have no idea of the trouble below. Though maybe it’s not really trouble. Not from the tree’s perspective.

That dark spot at the bottom that looks like a hole is . . . a hole. When I looked more closely I could see what looked like a den entrance, so even the roots of this embattled tree are providing a home for some critter


*Today’s post title comes from Gertrude Stein who had said this of her childhood hometown of Oakland, California. She was referring to the loss of the familiar touchstones there, such as the home she grew up in, but the quote has been taken to mean referring to a place that has no culture or significant identity.


Tuesday, November 25th, 2014


This is a stone wall I’m slowly constructing behind the cabin (to the north and west). My intent is for it to serve as a firewall. Should a ground fire sweep through the forest, my hope is that it will stop when it reaches this wall, thus sparing the wooden cabin about thirty feet beyond it.

I’m not sure how effective this will be. Notice that leaves are thick on both sides of the stone wall. A single flame or hot ash passing over the wall will find plenty of fuel waiting for it, and the fire can continue its red rampage.

Granted, this is fall, when the leaves fall, so they are piled evenly on both sides. The winter winds will scour many of those leaves away, leaving bare ground in their place. Most ground fires come in the spring — if at all — and I think I can count on the leaves having moved along by then.

Except for the second problem I’ve realized. As the wind blows the leaves along, they will hit the wall and stop there, piling thickly. Thus if any ground fire does come along, it will find a nice, dense supply of fuel close to the cabin.

I have one rake, 80+ acres, and not enuf leaf bags. I need to give this some thought.

old face

Monday, November 24th, 2014

old mask

We have a number of masks hanging in the trees about the cabin; I even did a photo inventory of them here once, but a couple of the smaller masks have gone missing since then. (Snatched by critters?)

This mask is one of a pair we have from the great state of Hawaii. I think Libby picked them up on her last trip there, though some other family member may have supplied it. Lost in the mists of memory and time.

Anyway, I hung this one on a tiny limb of a Blackjack Oak tree, thinking, reasonably, that the tiny limb would be there forever because, well, it’s a Blackjack Oak and those limbs never break off. Yet I found this mask on the ground on my last visit. When I tried to replace it, the tiny limb stub was gone.

That required me to get the hammer and a nail from the tool box (which also serves as a bedside nightstand) so I could rehang the mask. The nail pounded in reasonably well (remember: Blackjack Oak), and the mask was soon back in place.

I was going to pick the leaves out of this fellow’s beard, but then I thought they looked fitting there. It makes me think of what my beard would have looked like if I had let it grow long. Instead, I shaved it all off after 30 years — mustache included — as a reward to myself for running that marathon nearly two months ago. Oddly, many people didn’t notice any difference.

Wordless Wednesday ~ shells

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014


poke overload

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014


This, gentle reader, is the pine preserve atop Danger Island at Roundrock. This is the 10 x 10 foot area I fenced and cleared to plant a dozen shortleaf pines two springs ago. And then planted another dozen last spring when most of the originals died. And you see what’s become of it. A gigantic poke plant raised itself in the very middle of the square and sent its branches hither and yon. I’ve never seen a poke plant this huge. Those stalks in the center are better than two inches in diameter. This beast of a plant literally covered the entire fenced square.

When Flike and I were last out to Roundrock — more than two weeks ago — we diverted to the island (which is currently high and dry) to have a look at the pines. I expected some losses since these are not in ideal soil. (The island was just pushed-together gravel from the lake bed.) The pines got whatever water fell from the sky whenever the gods chose to grant it. And, as you can see above, they had no one to visit them periodically to prune away any competitors for the sunlight.

We marched around the fenced area; I had to cut some poke branches away with the loppers just to get by (I never leave the cabin without them). As we went, I peered in through the scrub to see if any pines were still there. I couldn’t see many, perhaps only a half dozen. Most of those were brown and dead. I suspect they simply didn’t get enuf water to survive the summer. Yet a few were green and looked to be thriving, biding their time and getting their roots established before making their bold sprint for sunlight. In fact, you can see one of them at 9:00 in the photo above. The green smudge with the pink tie on it. That’s one of the pines.

This was a noble experiment. I envisioned the island with tall pine trees rising from it, and I tried for two years to make this happen. But I’m not going to try any more. If the few surviving pines survive and thrive, that will be great, but I think I’ve learned that the conditions are not close to good enuf to plant and then abandon pines.


Monday, November 17th, 2014


See above what greeted me when I got to the door of the cabin at Roundrock on my last visit. This is the base of the door. The closed door would be on the top right of this photo. And if you’re a tiny critter, subject to predation from above and all around, this might be a safe corner of the world to nestle into, giving protection on three sides and from above. It seems to be a good place for the small critters since the front porch of the cabin, right against the wall, is always filled with droppings when I arrive.

In this case, the threshold seems to be a fine place to have a meal as well. The acorns — so abundant in my Ozark  oak/hickory forest — are mere husks, the edible bits all eaten away. The discarded shells have accumulated, suggesting many, many meals were enjoyed here. What you can’t really see, however, is the “outcome” of those meals. The darker stains at the top of the photo are these “outcomes” and they don’t sweep away the way the empty acorns do.

I suppose I don’t have much to complain about really. A few critter droppings I can easily sweep or wash away. I want to be a good steward of the land, and the critters haven’t gotten into the cabin. (Except that one time. Although the moths seem to have found a way in.)

So a little work with the broom each time I arrive is a small price to pay for being the beneficent landlord of a little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks.

whence the western red cedars?

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014



Last month I undertook a little endeavor, and the reward I got for my effort was these two trees (among other things). They are western red cedars, and right now they are living peaceful, quiet lives in pots in my house in faraway suburbia. I was surprised they survived the plane trip back from Oregon in my luggage, but there the are.

Actually, the one on the right is looking more ragged now. It’s lost one of its branches, and the needles are dry. But it is in the same location as the other, in a south-facing window, and both get the same water and kind words. It may be that only one will survive until next spring when I plan to plant them at Roundrock, at the back of the pine plantation. No, they’re not native to Missouri, so I am violating my land ethic, but only slightly.

race stickersThe inside walls of my cabin are being festooned with stickers lately. You can see my two most recent additions above. The Portland Marathon sticker is actually for a wine bottle; apparently a special wine was made for the marathon, but I never saw a drop of it. There are other stickers on the walls. Some are running related (mostly products you can buy) but some are also political, and I suspect, of the political cast that would not endear me to most of my neighbors. Perhaps some day I’ll cover all of these with insulation and then put up drywall. Then, far down the road, someone will uncover them and puzzle about the person who put them all there.


Behold the latest addition to the mouse-proof cabinet. 26.2. Yes, it’s pink. The man who gave it to me had originally bought it to give to one of the women in the running club, thinking (foolishly it turned out) that he could talk her into running a marathon. When she politely and repeatedly declined his challenge, he kept the magnet in his car and waited for me to run my marathon.

So a big part of my life is intersecting with another big part of my life. Seems fitting.


November sun

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

November sunA pretty shot, looking northwest in my woods. The sun coming over my shoulder. My dog somewhere or other but not in the frame. The November sun striking the leaves on the forest floor.

But November sun is deceptive. It’s cheery but doesn’t give a lot of warmth. The high forecasted for Roundrock today is 36 degrees, and that’s the warmest day of the week going forward.


We received a little bit of snow in Kansas City to greet us this morning. Everything that reached the warm ground melted right away, but on elevated surfaces, such as my back porch, the evidence was there. Winter weather has arrived.



Monday, November 10th, 2014

Flike and stick

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.