Archive for February, 2015

keep the flame alive

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015



Forgive me for again lamenting my absence from Roundrock. The forecast for the coming weekend isn’t looking too promising for a visit (or for an outdoor run — though I’ve been having some good treadmill runs lately, which I can’t figure out).

What will I do when I finally get myself out to my woods? Will I continue work on the big, big job of digging out the roadside ditch along the northern property line? Will I hike the perimeter of the 80+ acres as I’ve intended to do every February (and have actually done a few times)? Will I clear some trees here and there and cut them into firewood? Will I try to remove the large poke plants from the dam or in the pine planting on the island? Will I take photos of anything and everything? Or will I do none of those things and “merely” sit in the comfy chair on the shady porch overlooking the sparkling lake and soak in the peace and solitude?

Whatever I choose to do, I’ll be glad I’m doing it, and I’ll be sure to tell you all about it.


Monday, February 23rd, 2015


Well, I’m going to pass through all of February not having visited Roundrock, which was my fate in January as well. This is unprecedented, unfortunate, and unreal. Blame the weather. Blame the grandson. Blame my inertia. Or don’t lay blame at all.

The silhouettes you see above are of massive, ancient cottonwood trees. They are at a park not too far from my house that has a nearly-half-mile paved path around a nicely maintained lake. The park has the usual amenities, including playgrounds, picnic shelters, restrooms, and, oddly, a “historic area.” I can’t figure out what that might be other than possibly those cottonwood trees. They were very likely around in settlement times. On the day I visited, the lake was filled with geese and ducks. The park was nearly empty of people though because it was about 25 degrees outside. There were three teenagers (one in shorts!) who were fooling around with a basketball and on the swings, and there were about three people and one dog walking around the lake.

Add two people and two dogs to the walkers. Libby and I, as well as Queequeg and Flike, took ourselves to this park to get the dogs out of the house and a little bit exercised. We also wanted to see the most recent improvements to the lake. (I have this thing about lakes and lake improvement.)

Most of the work was being done to the shoreline on the northern side. It had been eroding for years, and what may have once been a stone retaining wall had fallen into the water, not looking so bad itself but serving as a trap for all of the trash and cups and soda bottles that found their way into the lake. It was unsightly and, of course, a magnet to every kid who visited. The new retaining wall is more solid looking as well as neat and tidy. Come spring, when grass begins to grow where there is frozen mud now, it ought to be very nice. (Except for all of the goose droppings.)

a new feeder

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015


I’ve had a number of bird feeders near the cabin at Roundrock. Most were made of plastic and were destroyed by non-winged critters trying to get the seed inside. (I blame raccoons.) The one I’ve had the longest is made of metal and glass, but it is nearing the end of its working life. In fact, the critters made a good attempt at raiding this durable feeder, and you can sort of see in this old post. It’s also dented on the bottom where the seed emerges, so it’s not dispensing as well as it used to. The seed is also getting wet, which it never did before, and rotting.

In other words, the time had come to replace it. I didn’t want to get another plastic feeder since I knew that would have a short life, so I shopped around for a metal one in a reasonable price range. An afternoon of visiting gardening and bird shops lead me to the one you see above. It’s made of metal, as you can see, and it is curiously divided in half, presumably so I can load each side with a different kind of seed. I’m guessing the left side with the finer mesh screen would be best for a tiny seed like niger, while the more open mesh on the other side could hold the larger seeds that would attract different birds.

I’m not going to be so diverse. I’ll fill both sides with only one kind of seed (the backyard birding variety I currently have, and then black oil sunflower seed when I buy my next supply). I’ve not had any complaints from the nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, cardinals, finches, and occasional blue jays yet.

Next time I’m out to Roundrock (assuming that ever happens again), I’ll take this new feeder out and install it. Then we’ll see.

from a long time ago

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

lake 3-13-03Traveling deep into the dusty, cobwebbed catacombs of my picture horde I found this photo of the newborn lake from March of 2003 — twelve years ago! It was nearly at full pool that day. (Both long-time readers will remember that the builder of my lake reported that it had filled overnight after a monstrous rainstorm. I think what I photographed above was the result of that.)

Notice all of the flotsam at the bottom of the photo. Most of that was either on the bed of the newly carved lake or washed into it from the 100-acre watershed that feeds it. This was all thrilling stuff for me at the time, and while I still get a lot of flotsam at the south spillway (and clogging the overflow drain), it’s no longer as thrilling for some reason.

Also thrilling was when I learned that I had fish in my lake. I hadn’t stocked them; apparently they came in as sticky eggs on the feet of water birds that visited. I’ve since put in about a dozen bass and at least one bluegill from a friend’s overstocked pond. When I stand quietly on the edge of the water, and when the sun is just right, I can see foot-long bass cruise the shoreline, and that’s gratifying (even thrilling).

The lake levels have ebbed and flowed over the years, and perhaps all of the Bentonite I have thrown in the water has helped seal the bottom. I think only a few thousand more dollars worth of Bentonite ought to fix the matter.



Monday, February 16th, 2015

bird house

I think I have six bird houses left at Roundrock. I’d put up several more, but they were soon destroyed by the elements or by the squirrels or perhaps by whatever is also trying to eat the cabin. The destroyed ones ended their wooden lives in various campfires over the years, but the remaining ones seem to be better made, generally store bought, though my friend Duff has made me a few solid ones; he is a wood worker who knows how to do these things.

In any case, I don’t think any of them has ever been used by a bird for nesting. Part of the reason for this is because there are so many natural nesting cavities in the trees and snags of my woods that the birds don’t seem to need any alternatives. But another reason is because other critters have used them instead.

The one you see above is attached to a fence post on my southern property line. I put it there so my neighbor, who maintains an open avenue on his side of the fence (which you can see in the photo, behind the birdhouse — that’s not snow on the ground but overexposure from a sunny day), will see that I am also active on my side of the fence. And what you see in the bird house does not look like a bird’s nest to me. There is another bird house at the other end of my woods and one nearer the cabin that have the same cozy-looking material added in them. (I can open them to look inside. Others I can’t open without taking them apart.) I don’t know what critter would put this soft material in a house, but my guess is that it is flying squirrels. They are native to the Roundrock area, and I did see one once, when #2 Son, Adam, knocked down a snag, and the little squirrel came bolting out of it and ran into the trees. Adam felt really bad about that.

This article suggests that my conclusion is probably on target. If so, then the bird houses used by the flying squirrels would be what are called refugia nests. I’ve been tempted to clean these boxes when I find them in the state you see above, but I never have. I wouldn’t want to destroy the refuge of a little forest animal. Another house near the cabin is filled with acorns. I had thought that maybe bluejays were doing this, but that same article suggests that flying squirrels may actually be responsible.

I don’t really mind that critters other than birds are using the boxes. As I said, I think the birds have plenty of other options (but then, so would the flying squirrels, who are known to have evicted birds from their nesting cavities). I’m happy just to be a good steward of the land. (Though another box I have near the Old Man of the Forest has been used for several years by wasps for their pendulous nest. And while I don’t technically mind the wasps making use of the bird house, it has been an unpleasant surprise when I’ve opened this box only to find an active wasps’ nest inside. Better wasps than hornets anyway.)

Skywatch Friday ~ eye on the sky

Friday, February 13th, 2015

eye on the sky

I can pass this off as a sky photo, can’t I? I mean, I have a new grandson. I can be indulged a little, right?

What you see is a reflection of the sky over Brooklyn one day this week, as seen by the one-month-old eyes of my grandson, Kenneth. When I was there last week, the sky was uniformly overcast with white clouds. It seems that may still be the case.

No, he does not have that much hair already. He’s wearing a warm hat his momma got for him. He even wore it home from the hospital. Here’s a better picture of the little angel:

fur baby

(I have confirmed that he does have a lower lip, in case you were wondering.)

bite me

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

bite me

I’ve written about this before. Some critter (verging on varmint) has been gnawing at the wooden corners of the cabin. This began almost as soon as the cabin was finished, but it only seemed like sampling then. Lately the gnawing has gotten more serious.

I don’t know what it is that they are getting from the chewing they do. We don’t really touch that part of the door frame, so I don’t think they smell skin oils there. Nor do we throw salt on the porch floor. I can’t figure out what’s going on. (Look closely and you can see that even the rubber gasket between the door and the frame has been nibbled on.)

We’ve talked about painting the door (and frame) in Santa Fe blue, but the dark green looks so good, and it matches the roof of the cabin, so maybe we won’t. We’ve also talked of painting the front door of our house in faraway suburbia Santa Fe blue, and while that is more likely to happen, we can’t seem to agree on just which blue is Santa Fe blue. I think a trip to New Mexico is called for, don’t you?

priorities change sometimes

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

Kenneth Gunner Johnson

No, I haven’t been out to Roundrock since December, but thank you for your concern. I don’t think I’ve ever let a month go by without some kind of visit to my woods. The weather wasn’t very conducive for wandering around the forest in January, though there were one or two days when I might have gone.

The first week of February was devoted to seeing the little guy above. I’ve run out of superlatives to describe him, so just take my word that he’s the most wonderful little boy in the whole world. Ever.

He slept most of the time while we were there, but that was okay. Just holding a sleeping infant in your arms is an important human experience. (And I found I still have the soothing skills I had cultivated more than 30 years ago when his momma was an infant.) He began to use his eyes — deliberately use them, that is — while we were there. Once we could get his attention with a rattle or a smile, he would follow it as we moved it, first moving his eyes and then turning his head. Pretty sure that’s a major milestone.

I was hoping to induce a deliberate smile from him while we were there, and I did get a few smiles, but I think they were random. From what I’ve read (I don’t remember such details from my own infant-caring days) it’s still too early to expect that. (His other grandparents arrive for their first visit this coming weekend, and it will be my luck that they are able to get him to smile. If so, I’ll say that I laid the groundwork!) I don’t think I’ll get to see him in the flesh until late spring, which is not my desire but is a reality of the world. I’m hoping his daddy will get him an iPhone soon so we can Facetime.

The day after we returned from New York (a Sunday), the temperature at Roundrock skyrocketed into the 60s. It would have been a perfect February day for a visit. I know the dogs would have approved (having spent the prior week “at camp”). We chose not to go, however, because we were recovering from our trip and getting our Midwestern legs back before returning to real life on Monday.

Instead I laced up and went for an 11+ mile run in the balmy weather. Short pants, only one shirt, a ball cap rather than a knit cap, light gloves instead of mittens. (I struggled for the first seven miles, but then I found a groove and finished well.)

Altra Paradigm

The shoes you see above are my newish Altra Paradigms (where do they get these names?). They are zero drop, which means my heels in them are at the same level as my toes. It also means that my knees and ankles ache after a run since I’m not used to that kind of foot action after my many decades in conventional shoes. I did not wear these on my Sunday run though I did wear them for both of my runs in NYC. I took the photo above as I was riding on the subway back to Brooklyn, having run four miles into Manhattan to pick up some cronuts. I gave a brief account of that adventure here.

The weather for this coming weekend looks tolerable for a Roundrock visit. I hope we can manage it. It’s long overdue.

Happy Birthday, Momma Rachel!

pretty sure it’s a fern of some kind

Monday, February 9th, 2015
Christmas Fern

Christmas Fern

I wish I knew more about my woods than I do. I’ve been stomping around the place for more than a decade, but there is still so much I don’t know.

I think what you see above is a Christmas fern (Polysticum acrostichoides), but I’m not confident with my identification skills. That plant certainly is native to Missouri, and my part of Missouri too.


I have these ferns (and a few other varieties) throughout my forest — on the dry, south-facing slope and on the wetter north-facing slope as well as in the western half where there is actual soil. That aligns with what I’ve read about their growing habits and habitats. And the leafing pattern looks right as well.

I’ll be bold and say that this definitely is a Christmas fern. (Leave your gentle corrections in the comments.)

I was a little surprised to see all of the spores on it. This photo was taken in December, and I have only the vaguest sense of where the fern was exactly, so I don’t think I’ll be able to revisit it (should I ever get back to Roundrock!) to see if it has released the spores or not. I’ve read that this will happen when the air temperature is around 60 degrees, and that has certainly happened a few times since my last visit.

Skywatch Friday ~ the view from the bridge

Friday, February 6th, 2015


My week in New York comes to an end tomorrow. Seven days with my new grandson is hardly enuf time to get to know him. During my time here I managed to squeeze in two runs (the weather was my adversary). One of my runs took me from Brooklyn to Manhattan to pick up some cronuts. It was only a four mile run, but there was a lot of stop and go as I waited at intersections for the lights to change. (I took the subway back to Brooklyn.)

Mile Two was in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge. It was windy up there, and you can tell it was cold by the lingering ice on the deck. The forecast suggested the temps would reach to 40 degrees, but they hadn’t quite started in that direction at 7:30 in the morning when I was afoot. The sky was a uniform overcast white. No snow or ice fell during my run, and the sidewalks seemed just as congested with busy people as every other time I’ve been there.

Next time I visit, I hope I’ll get a run in the sun.