Archive for December, 2014

gravel bed

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

gravel bed

No doubt you’ll recall my recent moaning about having to push a wheel barrow full of gravel a half mile or so (uphill) from the cabin to the pothole in the road near the pond that needed filling. We had spent the night on that trip, and on the next day, Libby had suggested that I use the bed of the Prolechariot to haul more gravel, more easily.

“Easily” is in the eye of the beholder, or at least it’s different between the person who has the bright idea and the person who must carry it out.

First of all, I didn’t want to have to shovel the gravel out of the bed of the truck only to see much of it remaining between the ribs of the liner. I also didn’t want any lingering gravel to foul the hinge area when the tailgate was closed. So I struck on the idea of using the so-many-uses tarp we had on the ground near the cabin (killing grass and scrub without the use of chemicals) as a second bed liner. Then I simply shoveled a goodly volume of gravel onto it, closed the tailgate, and drove up the hill to the pothole by the pond.

Getting the gravel out of the truck bed was not as easy as it might seem. Yes, I had a shovel, and yes, my arms and back were in proper working order, but the angle was wrong, and each shovelful was seemingly insignificant. After a few attempts I tried a different approach.

I pulled the tarp to the edge of the open tailgate and then fussed with it until I had the bulk of the gravel slide from it into the pothole and the low ground around it. Then it was a simple matter of smoothing the gravel, more or less, and reaching behind myself to pat myself on the back.

The hole is filled, although I did (#1 Son Seth did) push one more wheel barrow load of gravel to it on a subsequent visit. Now I simply need to drive over it a few times to tamp it down and be on my way to the next project that needs doing. There are so many.

white stuff

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

white stuff

The reasonable question goes like this: what is that white stuff in bird poop? The reasonable answer goes like this: it’s bird poop. (The more specific answer is that it’s urea.)

Often when I’m stumbling through the forest I find white splotches of bird poop on the leaves. (Also deer and coyote droppings, though Queequeg is sometimes quicker at finding those and intent of rubbing himself in them.) I don’t think I ever considered the question of why it is white until I saw the question written somewhere and the snarky answer delivered quickly after it. Now, of course, whenever I see it, that Q/A quickly runs through my head.

But I also look above me, not in fear of being a target but to try to puzzle out what story there might be to see. I’ve assumed that the larger concentration of droppings are the result of a night of roosting by the bird in a given spot. (I have a thermometer on one of the posts holding up the roof on the cabin porch. Apparently that thermometer is sometimes used as an overnight perching spot, with the tell-tale signs on the porch floor.)

In the case of the splotch above, I turned my eyes up and saw this:

mighty oak

Sorry, this photo does not give you a proper sense of the scale; this is actually a white oak with a trunk nearly two feet in diameter. It’s an old one. (Note the size of the trees around it.) We were walking in the northeast corner of our woods, a place we don’t frequent much because there’s “nothing interesting” there, when I came across this beauty of an oak. I don’t think I’d ever seen it before (which tells me I shouldn’t be so disdainful of that part of my forest).

When I see trees shaped oddly, I always wonder how they got that way. This one, I imagine, fell victim to a larger neighbor falling across it as a sapling. The fallen tree eventually rotted away, but not before its weight held the younger oak in an odd position long enuf for it to become permanently deformed. (I’m not going to contend that it is a thong tree, but you should go to that link and follow the lively discussion in the comments.) I don’t suppose this deformed state made the tree any better than any other tree for roosting, but I’ll leave that for the birds to decide.

And so, like my walks in the woods, we’ve rambled from white bird poop to white oak trees. And why not, right?


Monday, December 29th, 2014


Okay, what have we here?

It is a cluttered photo, so I’ll break it down for you. What you see is a glass bird with a blue head, nestled in the upturned root wad of one of the standing stumps near the cabin at Roundrock. Now it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

We have a house full of tchotchkes like this. Little trinkets and objets d’art around the house back in faraway suburbia, gifts or impulse purchase or little inheritances. Libby had the notion that we could place these in various places around our forest as a way to “display” them and stow them and otherwise give them a purpose rather than sitting in a box in our basement. So we’ve begun that project, and this bluebird is our first effort.

The standing stumps (there are currently four of them in our woods) are art projects on their own, and I don’t intend to adorn them all. (In fact, I sometimes use them to place peanuts for the critters to enjoy.) But there are plenty of other locations in the forest where we might place an item. We had originally thought to put this glass bird in the knothole of a tree, but every time we found a suitable one on our rambles through the woods, we’d realize that we’d left the bird back at the cabin. Thus it has found its pedestal just steps away from the cabin.

seasons greetings

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

holey rock

It is true that the tilt of the earth’s axis is the reason for the season, but only in the most literal sense, of course.

This is a time of the year that is holy or special to people all around the world, and it is worthwhile to recognize that. Given the pageant of human cultures, it would be a shame to limit ourselves to acknowledging only one holiday. Here are a few that I know about:

  • Xmas
  • Shabe Yalda
  • Boxing Day
  • Bridging Day
  • Chanukkah
  • Kwanzaa, Festivus
  • Las Posadas
  • Ramadan
  • Solstice
  • Saturnalia
  • New Year
  • Feast of Sacrifice
  • Santa Lucia’s Day
  • St. Nicholas’ Day
  • St. Stephan’s Day
  • St. Etienne’s Day
  • Yule
  • Durin’s Day
  • Winter Veil
  • Rizal
  • Quema del Diablo
  • La Purisma
  • Dingaan’s Day/Day of Reconciliation
  • Day of Goodwill
  • Emperor’s Birthday
  • Newtonmas
  • Hari Raya Haji
  • Feast of the Sacrifice
  • Johnkanus

Happy Holidays, however you choose to observe them!


Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

shell fossil

I’ve walked up and down the south spillway dozens of times (perhaps even scores of times), yet I’m always open to new experiences when I do.

Because the dozer man had to break up some bedrock to make the spillway, a lot of ancient history is exposed along here. Most of the fossils I see here are crinoid stems, and occasionally I find a shellfish. (It was also here that I found a stone tool, but that’s not quite as ancient — still pretty old I’m guessing.)  But it was only after the spillway was constructed that I began to see ammonites.

This specimen is about four inches across, and I’ve probably stepped on it in the dozens (scores?) of times I’ve walked along here. But it was only on a recent visit that I saw it at all. There is another one much like it only a few feet away, and I suspect if I looked just a little harder, I could find more.

“blood everywhere!”

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

crime scene

We were collecting ourselves to return to faraway suburbia after our most recent visit to Roundrock when I noticed these drops of blood on the shady porch floor. I knew I wasn’t bleeding, and Libby reported the same. Queequeg is too cool to do something like bleed. That left Flike.

We had been playing throw the stick/keep away for a while. I throw it down the road as far as I can, and he chases it, snatching it from the gravel or leaf litter to bring it almost within reaching distance when he will then whip it about (as though trying to break the stick’s neck) and threaten my knee caps for a while. Eventually, he will drop it for me to pick up and throw and repeat the nonsense again. He seems to like it.

His play is so vigorous (really, when do they stop being puppies?) that he will sometimes draw blood from his gums, which is what I assumed had happened when I saw the two drops of blood on the porch. But then I looked further and saw other drops. Many drops. We examined his mouth but found no wounds; all he oozed was saliva. Whence the blood then? As he walked around, he left more blood, and I quickly realized that his paw was bleeding (back, passenger side).

When he lunges for the thrown stick, he will often slide toward it (don’t even ask about the grass in my back yard). My guess is that in one of his sliding stops, he cut the pad of his paw on a sharp rock. I don’t know when this happened. We were playing for at least 20 minutes, and when I stopped, he was ready to keep going. He wasn’t limping after we stopped.

Libby — who is at her very best when she is caring for another — quickly subdued him and examined his paw. The center pad was cut deeply. He didn’t seem to notice or care, but we worried that this was an avenue for infection. This had actually happened to him before when he was (more of) a puppy. Adam had taken him to a park with some friends and threw a stick for him. The park had paths paved with chipped wood. When Flike came home, tired but smiling, we found that the skin on the pads of several of his paws was lifted away. A trip to the vet proved anticlimatic. The vet said that, yep, this happens to playful dogs. Nothing to worry about unless he starts limping.

We hoped the same was the case this time, but the cut was deep. Libby restrained him while I scoured the cabin for something in the way of a bandage. We have a couple boxes of Band-Aids and a tube of antiseptic ointment, but Libby didn’t think the former would stay on his foot for long and didn’t think that latter was right for such a deep cut. So I foraged further. I managed to find a scrap of cotton cloth (what was that doing there?) that Libby could use as a bandage, but we had none of the rubber bands that she said she needed to hold it in place. As I poked about further, Libby solved the problem. She removed the lace from her boot to tie (gently) about Flike’s paw to hold the wrapping in place.

bandaged pawFlike is generally oblivious to scolding or forgives it quickly. This time, however, he seemed to know something was different. We hadn’t scolded him, but we were treating him differently. As I said, we were preparing to leave anyway, so I lead him to the truck and bid him jump in the back seat. He had no trouble doing this, but his entire manner was subdued. I spent a lot of time assuring him he was a good boy, and he was, but I’m not sure he was convinced.

We finished packing up and closing up and then began the long drive home. Flike spent much of that time apparently trying to get comfortable in that spacious back seat. He would settle but not stay that way for long before he rose to hang his head for twenty miles or so. And thus it repeated for the entire drive.

When we got home (and unpacked and put away), we examined his paw again. The bandage was soaked with blood. Flike was still subdued, but I think it was more about our odd treatment of him than from any pain. He still wasn’t limping. Libby, now with her well-stocked supply of first aid goodies, got to work. She wiped the cut with several applications of peroxide then put a clean bandage in place. Flike moped in his kennel for the evening but didn’t seem to be in any pain.

We have changed the bandage daily after that, and he doesn’t seem to be bothered by it at all. He’s his usual puppy-like self. We talked about taking him to the vet, but that doesn’t seem to be needed.


Skywatch Friday ~ blue sky over brown cabin

Friday, December 19th, 2014

sky over cabin

I’ve shown photos from this angle before, but I never tire of them. This was a late November morning at my woods in the Missouri Ozarks. I like how even the reflection of the sky in the cabin window shows the blue.

On a subsequent visit to our woods, the clouds reached from horizon to horizon and the sun never made an appearance. Unbroken gray does not make for memorable photos, but I did have this little view from the earlier visit to share.

Skywatch Friday

a dam little work, or, a little dam work

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

dam work

I mentioned two weeks ago that I was using the (two wheelbarrow loads of) dirt I dug out of the (filled in) roadside ditch to raise a sunken area on the pond dam. This photo is not very good for illustrating that, but it’s what I have. (You can see a bit of water at about two o’clock.)

You can clearly see the two loads because of the difference in the color of the dirt. I’m not sure how to account for that. The first load, the farther one shown here, is darker, richer dirt. It was dug from closer to the culvert and is more likely to be actual runoff of good topsoil from my neighbor’s field to the north since it is a natural depression in the undulation of the land (hence the placement of the culvert). The second load is full of orange clay (which didn’t make the tree roots any more reluctant to grow into it). I can’t say why the soil that filled in there would not be as rich as the other; where else would it be coming from? Regardless, that’s what I dug.

The sunken area pretty much fills the area shown in the photo. I’ve estimated that I’ll need about twenty wheelbarrow loads of this dirt to correct the sink and make the top of the dam level all the way across.

I certainly have the soil in that long, long distance of the ditch that needs digging out, and then some. If I did a couple of loads each time I visited Roundrock, I’d probably have the top of the pond dam repaired by late spring, when I could expect the fescue (“the grass that ate the county” as one conservation agent told me) to colonize it. Then all would be right with the dam. (But, c’mon! Can’t a guy relax?)

That would certainly leave a lot more of the ditch to be dug out, but I can still use all of the dirt I would get from it. The area directly behind the overflow drain on the lake dam has washed out. The retaining wall I’ve built above it is falling in and needs some love — soon. (I suspect that when there is a high-water event and the overflow drain is pressed into use, water escapes from the drum and drains around the exit pipe as well as through it. There is no gasket or caulking here. And there is no humanly possible way to fix that short of disassembling the drum.) So I can fill my wheelbarrow with the dirt and then push it all the way to the lake dam (at least it’s downhill) where I can pour it into service.

Beyond that, I can just dump dirt over the side of the dam, especially at the south end where the top of the dam is narrowest. I will need truckloads of dirt to improve that, and, as I’ve so humbly said, I’m just one man and a shovel. And if I’m really ambitious, I can carry the wheelbarrow loads of dirt even farther to the low spots in the spillways to attempt to correct that. The timing has to be perfect for that to work though. I would have to get the soil (a lot of it) sufficiently in place for the fescue to grow and mature before a high-water event sends water down the spillway and otherwise washes the dirt down into the pecan plantation. (The pecans would probably benefit, but that’s not my plan, dagnabit!)

So I work at it all, one shovelful at a time.

late November pond

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

November pond

Long time readers (both of you) will remember that there are two bodies of water at Roundrock: the come-and-go lake and the pond. The photo above is of the pond, taken from the dam when Libby and I were last there working on this and that.

This pond was around in the days of the cattle ranch (of which my 80+ acres were once a small part). Apparently the cattle used this pond because it is silted in. (This can occur naturally too.) The muck and mire at the bottom is the “loathsome goo” I’ve sometimes referred to in this humble blog. The (two) times I have ventured into the pond afoot, I have sunk in the goo to my thighs. And the stuff is foul smelling. Once I win the lottery, I’m going to hire someone to dredge this and restore it to a better state.

We’ve tried fishing here a few times and pulled out some sunfish, but they were tiny, and I suspect they are stunted because of either overpopulation or insufficient resources to thrive in. Or both. Plus predation.

On the day we were working on the dam, there was a skim of ice on the pond. As the wind blew, the thin ice would undulate. I had never seen that before I had come to Roundrock all those years ago, but now it is a common enuf phenomenon. Still, I’m always pleased when I see it anew in the late fall and early spring.


Tuesday, December 16th, 2014


Well, what is it? If you guessed the reflection of a cloud on the lake at Roundrock, you would have made an excellent guess. You would have been wrong, but it would have been an excellent guess nonetheless.

What you see here is a boulder barely submerged in the lake but catching some sunlight. This is a companion to the boulder the two turtles were on in yesterday’s post. It’s about twenty feet away, and it is a smaller rock since it was still underwater (in the shallower part of the diminished lake) than the exposed, turtle-serving boulder. And like that other boulder, this one should be deep under the water, so deep that your toes would not touch it if you were floating directly above it at full pool.

I’m told that structures like these in the lake make good fish habitat, and I’m all for that certainly. I’ve added fish to the ones that nature provided, and I want to do all that I can to give them a good place to live and thrive. Thus the boulders, even if I do sometimes bark my shins against them when swimming in low water summer months.