Archive for January, 2015

run along

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015


At this time of the year, when shadows are long, there are occasional periods when the season loosens its iron grip and allows a series of warm, sunny days. And when that happens, I generally lace up and head out on the trail.

The community where I live has created a series of interconnected trails, mostly along streams that cut through the area, that hikers and bikers and skaters and skateboarders and runners can use. And they do.

We’ve had a string of warm days lately, and that’s meant that I’ve been turning away from the treadmill to run outside on the trail. In the photo above I am on the Indian Creek Trail, right at mile post 10, which is about two miles from my house. The ICT happens to run through my neighborhood, and the distance from my front door to the nearest access points is only .6 miles (downhill going that direction). I can go east or west from there and depending on my ambition, I may take the flatter route to the west or the hilly route to the east. (Since I’m observing Drynuary, I am not running to sports bars in either direction on this trail to meet Libby and rehydrate as I had before. And since I also expect February to return the iron grip of winter, I may not be out on the trails much then to run to the sports bars.)

I’m told (but have not personally verified) that you can, if you make the correct turns at the correct points, cobble together a full 26 mile loop, ending where you started. Part of that would involve running along much of the Tomahawk Creek Trail as well as the Indian Creek Trail. I generally find my way to the TCT on Sunday mornings (alas, three miles from my house to the closest access). Then, purely coincidentally, I finish five miles further at a salad and sandwich shop where Libby is waiting for me. I want to keep her company, so I generally allow myself a salad and iced tea (unsweetened, of course).

2.2The trails are well maintained. Parts get resurfaced so that, I’m guessing, the entire route either gets new asphalt or new sealer once a year passes. (I don’t mind the new asphalt, but the sealer can by slippery underfoot for a few weeks.) In some cities that the trails pass through, they will even plow away the snow. (Not my community though. I don’t mind running on snow, but it soon enuf turns into ice, which ain’t no fun.)

The mile post you see above is on the Tomahawk Creek Trail. The mileage there — an odd 2.2 measurement — is the distance from there to the end of the trail, where it connects with the ICT. Alternatively, it can also be taken as the distance made since the beginning of the trail if you’re going thataway. I don’t know why they put a mile post at 2.2 miles, but there is also one on the Indian Creek Trail. In that case it measures the distance to (or from) the state line betwixt Missouri and Kansas. (There are organized runs of 2.2 miles. I don’t know the significance of that distance though.) The salad and sandwich shop happens to be about a half mile in on the Missouri side, just off the trail. It makes for a good Sunday long run, though I need to start grabbing longer distances.



Tuesday, January 27th, 2015


Here is Kenneth Gunner Johnson. My grandson. I’ll probably have him in my arms a week from now. For the present, I have to survive on photos and texting conversations with my daughter. She sends at least one photo a day via text, and then we grandparents fire back questions and comments, and a virtual conversation ensues.

This photo sparked speculation on the future sports he might pursue. With his long legs some suggested rugby. Others, football. He might be interested in basketball, as his daddy was. Or soccer, as his uncle was. Me? I see a runner with those long legs of his. Of course, it’s much too early to begin imposing expectations on him. And I hope he gets to pursue whatever interests him with nothing more from us than encouragement.

There were also comments about how big he’s gotten. (He’s nearly 3 weeks old now!) My daughter, Rachel, says that while he is putting on weight at the proper rate, what we’re really seeing is Ken “unfolding.”

Some days, Rachel will send more photos, though they’ve been getting less frequent recently. The reason, I am sure, is because she is exhausted. Funny how such a tiny thing can take everything you have and more just to care for. Interrupted sleep. Nursing. Bathing. Laundry. Emotional investment. Even with her loving husband, I know Rachel is worn down. Happy, too.


sad state of affairs

Monday, January 26th, 2015

round rock

I think January 2015 may be the first month ever when I haven’t made at least one visit to Roundrock. (I might be able to look that up to confirm it, but just suspecting it hurts enuf.)

The last time I was in my woods was December 26, 2014. I had hoped to make it down last weekend, but I laid my bets on the wrong day, staying home on Saturday in the 50 degree weather (well, running 8.25 miles) and planning to go to the woods on Sunday, when the forecast had originally called for even better weather. But Sunday dawned at 47 degrees with temperatures expected to fall throughout the day and with a chance of rain. I looked at the weather map for the area that morning, and it looked as though the rain was going to happen. So I decided not to go to the woods.

It wasn’t an easy decision. Sunday was my very last chance to get out to Roundrock in January. I work every day this week (of course), and on Saturday — the last day of the month — I hop on a plane to fly to New York to make the acquaintance of my new grandson, Kenneth.

I’ll survive. But I’ll be dredging up posts here for at least two weeks, using older photos and maybe even going off topic. (So far, no one has complained about seeing little Ken here.) So bear with me as I endure this hardship.

Skywatch Friday ~ sky on the run (and a birthday)

Friday, January 23rd, 2015


I took this photo on Sunday in the middle of my long run. I was thinking very hard about quitting about then. I’d gone 5 painful miles on tired legs and still had more than three to go. So I took a break to assess my condition and resolve.

These are sycamore trees. The path I was running on goes through all sorts of terrain, mostly following a stream that flows more strongly the farther you go as feeder streams enter it. At this point I was in a forest of sycamores with a vault of blue sky overhead. I was also overdressed. I had headed out just after daylight and the day grew unseasonably warm for the middle of January in the lower Midwest. (Peaking at 60+ degrees!)

I did finish the 8.4 miles, but it wasn’t pretty, and I was sore for days after.

Also, Happy Birthday, Raymond!

signs and more signs

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015


I guess no one has stomped around the 80 acres of Roundrock as much as I have. I suspect even back when the land was part of a cattle ranch, none of the ranch hands tread it as much as I have in the last dozen years. I still look for signs of past use. Some long breaks in the trees might be former roads. I found a horse shoe once. Some twisted wire. Some cattle bones. Bits of trash too heavy to have blown in.

Mostly when I’m abroad in my woods I see signs that I have passed that way before. When Libby and I were out for a ramble with the dogs on our last visit, we came down the north-facing slope and crossed the dry creek at the bottom. And then I spotted what you see above. Some time in the not-too-distant past, I had wedged that round rock into the cleft of that double-trunked tree. (I’ve done this before.) I don’t remember having done this, but it surely looks like my handiwork.

Of course I couldn’t leave it like that. I wedged a larger round rock above it in the cleft.

By their nature, these split trunks will waver in the wind. I may go back to this spot one day and find one or both of the rocks have fallen free. If so, I’ll put them back. I’m just like that.

Also, this:

bath time

Little Ken had just had a bath, and his hair was impossible!

a different view

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015


I go to Google Maps frequently to have a look at this or that. (Sometimes I ponder routes to run this way and then go to Map My Run to calculate their distance and elevations.) What you see above is the 80+ acres of Roundrock, which I snagged from Google Maps.  (On the ground the dimensions of what you see are a half mile by a quarter mile.) You can make out some of the features: the diminished lake, the pecan plantation below it (to the right), the pond (in the upper left), the Central Valley (coming in from the lower left and forming the lake). Most of it is forested, though that may be hard to tell since the hardwoods have all dropped their leaves in this photo. I don’t know of any way to determine the date of the latest satellite images, though that’s not really important for my needs. I can guess that this one is fairly recent since the trees are defoliated, the lake is about what I’ve seen in recent visits, and the pines are tall.

Here is a close up of the pine plantation:


I realize it’s hard to make out, but the pines are the regularly spaced darker things. (I think the “darker” bit is actually their shadows rather than the green of the pines themselves.) That is my road cutting from lower left to upper right. And just to the right of this is the pond but I didn’t include it in this capture since I wanted to get as close to the pines as I could. In the top left corner is my northwest property corner. We used to call this area Blackberry Corner because of the blackberry stands (the size of a house) that filled it. Now we call it the pine plantation (and they are doing well), but the blackberries are bitter about that and are doing their best to retake the area.

After a hard day of chores at Roundrock (and sometimes before), I sit in the comfy chair on the shady porch overlooking the sparking lake. Here is the cabin as seen from space:

cabin close up

A cozy-looking setting, isn’t it? The roof of the cabin is green metal, and though that looks like a chimney on the right side, it ain’t. (There should be a nice area of white gravel to the right of the cabin. It’s where we park the Prolechariot and where the fire ring is. The gravel seems to be covered with fallen leaves, which is another general indicator of when the satellite took the photo.) That’s the lake at the bottom, and you can perhaps see how far it has receded; all of those white rocks along the shore would be under water at full pool. The space between the cabin and the lake is open (for the view, of course), and you can make out the path we take from the cabin to the lake when we go for a swim. Keeping that path open is one of the regular chores. The northern edge of the dam is in the lower right corner, and that’s my road leading to it.

Below is a capture from about the center of the top image of the whole of Roundrock:

centerThis shows most of the features of my forest. The hardwoods are the things that look like black sticks. You can easily see the green cedars. Also shown is one of the open areas. These appear seemingly randomly in my woods. I think some of them at the western end are the sites of burn piles from the days when the area was a cattle ranch. The ranchers had killed the trees, knocked them down, piled them high, then set them aflame. I suspect the heat and ash from such conflagrations would alter the soil chemistry significantly and perhaps make it unwelcoming to trees. (This is all speculation.) The open area you see in this image is actually on the side of one of the ravines leading to the lake. (The slope goes from the upper left down to the lower right.) I don’t think that would have been the site of a burn pile, so I cast about for some other explanation. Prairie grasses are pretty good at resisting colonization by trees, and since this was a slope, it may not have been grazed by the cattle back in the day, so the native prairie grass may have survived. Sounds good, but that’s also speculation.

The photo below is not something you find at Roundrock. Not yet, anyway:

sleepy time


shoring up the spillway

Monday, January 19th, 2015


So much to see in this bad photo. This is a shot of a portion of the south spillway below the dam at Roundrock. It is a mess, due mostly to the one or two times that the lake was full enuf to pour water down the spillways. And pour it did from the evidence left behind. It must have been a fearsome torrent, strong enuf to move rocks the size of basketballs down the spillway and into a pile fanned out at the bottom. Strong enuf to gouge deep (two feet) ruts in the soft soil of the spillway. Certainly strong enuf to overcome any piddling attempts by a man and a shovel to fix it or at least undo what’s been done.

The green band of grass you see above is the top of the berm that edges the spillway. Behind me when I took this photo is the north-facing slope. The path of the spillway (about ten feet wide) runs between the slope and the berm, and its purpose is to lead the rushing water in such a way that it doesn’t erode the dam itself. (There is a similar spillway on the north side of the dam.)

It works obviously since it’s been so eroded itself; better there than on the dam. But the erosion is eating away at the berm a little farther down, and another high water event of sufficient volume and force will likely breach the berm and send water into the pecan plantation far above where it’s intended. That won’t really be so bad since it will still be well away from the dam and no threat to it.

Still, I don’t like it. I’ve been trying to fix the eroded area a little bit each visit, but my contributions are trivial compared to how easily they can be undone by the water. I’ve dropped straw bales in the two deepest eroded areas (the thinking being that they will catch any silt and small rocks that flow against them and thus help fill the holes), and I’m constantly throwing larger rocks in (though the good ones are at the bottom of the spillway). Another technique I use is to put liberated cedar trees in the eroded areas (their tops pointing uphill) and then put rocks on them. This will trap silt as well. Some of the spillway runs over limestone bedrock, exposed during the construction (exposed for the first time in perhaps millions of years, which is staggering when you stop and think about it). As it has weathered, slabs of it have cleaved free. If they are manageable sized, I muscle them against the berm wall (as you can perhaps make out above). The brownish one on the right is my latest addition. My hope is that they will help prevent the rushing water from eroding the berm. I suspect the water will easily get behind the rocks, push them down the spillway, and then eat at the berm nonetheless. But I try.

The mess you see here is one of the straw bales:


In a perfect spillway world, the grade would be level from side to side, and it would all be good soil on which a healthy stand of fescue grew. Not so in this case, of course. The dozer man did not make the grade level; in fact, it slopes down toward the berm, thus creating the conditions that created my problem. Plus, much of the top of the spillway is over exposed bedrock with its own fissures, so there is no “directing” of the water other than where the bedrock intends. And though I’ve tried, you can’t grow grass on bedrock.

The north spillway is not much better, though it seems to have several inches of elevation at its top over the south spillway. It doesn’t get as much use as the southern one and is only called on when the lake is very full. I guess that’s a good thing; it serves as a back up. (And before either of these is used, the overflow drain is supposed to bleed off high water. I know it gets used because it is often clogged with sticks and leaves in the spring.) The northern spillway surface is nearly all gravel with a small amount of exposed bedrock. There is one gouged spot, but it’s near the bottom where it isn’t a problem. The gravel is equally hostile to growing grass, and I think its position on the dry-er south-facing slope also prevents me from getting a decent stand growing there.

So I persevere, doing what I can to prevent erosion, lamenting my inability to do more, and resigning myself to the reality that it’s mostly beyond my control. The coming spring rains will probably bring all sorts of spillway surprises.

because I can, that’s why

Thursday, January 15th, 2015


Here is Ken only three days old, but today he turned a full week old.


They grow up so fast!


Wednesday, January 14th, 2015


My father-in-law once had a Jaguar automobile. The conventional wisdom about them goes like this: “Buy a Jag, buy a leak.” I don’t know if that was the case with his (I never even rode in it, much less drove it).

As long as I’ve had a dam and lake at Roundrock, I have had a leak. The valley we dammed was filled with several millennia of Ozark gravel, and its base is porous enuf to let water pass under the dam and emerge in the pecan plantation. I’ve written several times of my attempts to plug the leaks with Bentonite, and maybe that’s done some good. (It’s certainly cost some money.)

The leak intensifies when the lake is fuller, and I think that’s due to the head pressure over the leaky spots (assuming there are “spots” that are leaky rather than the entire bottom of the lake being a sieve). At a sadly low level, the leak actually stops, but then the lake is hardly deep enuf to swim in, and it would be especially crowded with fish all congested in that small pool.

I was standing on the dam when I took this shot, looking into the pecan plantation. You can clearly see the path of the leaking water. That pool on the right is about ten feet in diameter. It’s close to where the outlet is for the drain pipe and valve, and it is a common enuf phenomenon of this kind of plumbing that water travels along the outside of the pipe (since it is smooth and direct). There are baffles and such that can help slow this, but it’s pretty much just a fact of life. (Plus, I’d have to tear apart the dam to install them.)

The water draining from the left side of the photo springs from several points along the base of the dam and collects to form this little rivulet. Notice that the water (or rather, the mud under the water) here is orange. Sometimes it is even stinky. My suspicion is that the dozer man had buried some large trees in that part of the dam as a way to build up volume. I guess the trees are slowly rotting (though there can’t be a lot of air inside the dam for this to happen) and the orange mud is a consequence of this. Sound good?

I’ve heard different opinions about using trees in dams. Some say that it’s perfectly fine, such as my dozer man. Others insist that they provide an avenue for leaks. I’m leaning toward the latter view, but I’m not going to dig up my dam to find out.

of spoons and forks

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015


Do you remember my spoon experiment? Or the more recent modified spoon experiment? (And bonus points if you’ve been around long enuf to remember my bag experiment!)

The bag experiment is long over (and inconclusive). The spoon experiment fell victim to loss of the spoon. The modified spoon experiment is still underway, but as you can see from the photo above, is not showing any signs of change or decay.

I noted in that 2012 post I linked to above about the modified spoon experiment that I thought the spoon and fork have been under that paving stone for about three years at that time. It is now two years later, so the spoon and fork have been in the dark for about five years. Still no sign of decay.

I took this photo on my most recent visit to Roundrock (back when we had temperatures that were not — literally — life threatening). I replaced the paving stone, and since I foresee no need for it in the immediate future, I suppose the experiment can continue.