Archive for December, 2015

dug in

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015

dug in

Direct your attention to the pair of openings at the base of that fallen tree in the photo above. They lead to the underground den of some critter, and I’m pretty sure it is an armadillo. The Aztecs called them turtle-rabbits. The nine-banded armadillo that lives in Missouri, sadly, cannot roll itself into a ball the way other species of ‘dillos can.

I see these den openings all over Roundrock, which would suggest that I’m overrun with armadillos, but it’s been years since I’ve seen a live one. Once or twice a year I find the remains of an armadillo, but that is because the hard “shell” of their outside bleaches white and is easy to spot on the forest floor.

Armadillos do not hibernate, and given the recent ice storm that passed through the area, I’m guessing that the ‘dillos at Roundrock are glad they have these many dens to hunker down into.

tavallodet mobarak!

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

So, for some unfathomable reason, both NBC and NPR chose not to deliver this important piece of news: my granddaughter, Elaheh Laurel, was born on Saturday, December 26, in Portland, Oregon. “Elaheh” is the Farsi word for “goddess.” A lot of texting and Facetiming has been darting about the intertubes, but I won’t get to see her in person until early February when Libby and I make a trip up there. In the meantime, the other in-laws are in Portland for a month’s visit, which is great since mom is recovering from the C-section delivery.

not a round rock

Monday, December 28th, 2015


This is not a moss-covered round rock. It is merely a mound of moss. These are surprisingly common on the south-facing slope in the western part of our woods.

Sorry I was absent most of last week (didja notice?). My grandson, Kenneth, arrived on Sunday and is here for a three-week stay. (His mom and dad came along. So did their dog.) So I’ve been busy with this and that.

I haven’t been out to my woods for a couple of weeks, and I don’t see it happening soon either. The best time of the year to walk in the woods (and search for round rocks) is approaching. On mild days in the winter, when the leaves and bugs are gone it’s easy to ramble about. After a few scouring winter winds, the fallen leaves go wherever they go and the ground is exposed, making it easier to spot the round rocks emerging. I now carry a hand shovel in the backpack I wear when I’m rambling specifically for digging out promising-looking round rocks. I don’t have any use for them beyond the satisfaction of collecting them, but I suppose that’s another reason to have by woods.

“. . . ye sons of bachelors”

Friday, December 25th, 2015

Get down your copy of Moby Dick and read Chapter 22 today, Christmas day. You owe it to your fine self and to fine literature.

The Pequod (Ahab’s ship, natch) embarks on its voyage into history on Christmas morning “never mind how many” long years ago.

Peleg, the pilot who will lead the ship out of the harbor and then depart, urges the crew to get busy with weighing the anchor and calls them “sons of bachelors”, which I take to mean, illegitimate children: bastards.

doing the dishes

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015


Three of my four are married, which means we’ve hosted several largish parties before or after the weddings when family and friends have gathered. To do that, you need lotsa stuff, and one thing we got lotsa was paper plates. As we were rummaging though the stacks of things (mostly our kid’s things they don’t have space for) we came across a bag with hundreds of thick paper plates. Acquired for one of the parties, no doubt, the plates were later shunted to an obscure shelf in the basement and forgotten.

But when we found them, we thought we would schlepp them out to the cabin where we would more likely use them. They’re ideal in that they are so easy to clean. Sufficient, clean water is always a challenge at the cabin — we pretty much have to bring whatever water we want to have — and cleaning dishes sometimes doesn’t happen until after we return to faraway suburbia and taps with nearly unlimited flowing, clean water. (Yes, we often do clean our dishes at the cabin but only at the end of our visit when we won’t be using whatever water is left for anything else.)

On our last trip, when we cooked burgers for our lunch, we used some of these plates to eat off of. And then came clean up, which you see in the photo above.

Some day we’ll run out of the plates, and I remind my sole single son that we need an occasion to get more of them.

a fallen tree

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015

fallen tree

On our last trip to Roundrock I was surprised to find this tree near the cabin had fallen. As far as I can recall, it was alive and green last summer. But there are so many trees in my forest that I can never be sure about any given one.

Normally, we don’t get much wind damage at this part of our forest because it is more or less near the center, so any strong winds are blunted by the surrounding trees before they get here. At least that’s my theory. I suspect that this tree may not have been alive since there didn’t appear to be any root structure in the upended base. So maybe it was standing due to inertia and only needed a little push to fall.

Fortunately, it fell in the right direction — away from the fire ring. (That ladder you see on the right was what I scavenged from an old tree stand near the pond that had been abandoned for several years and fell to the ground.)

The top of the fallen tree actually reached the brush pile I’ve been maintaining for since before the cabin was built. (Had I known when I first created the brush pile that I was going to have a wooden cabin near by, I might have built it a little farther away.)

I’ve never absolutely confirmed that any critters use the brush pile. I have seen chipmunks run in and out of it. And the back door to the wood rat’s den in that other fallen tree opens near the brush pile. Plus there are some obvious, rabbit-sized paths in and out of the pile. So I’m guessing my effort at stewardship is benefitting the wild things.

So I took this opportunity to break off the upper branches of the fallen tree to add to the brush pile. It was a serendipitous situation.

brush pile

I realize it doesn’t look like much, but through the years the pile diminishes as the branches rot into the earth. Thus periodic additions like this are needed to maintain it as shelter. Up on the cabin porch you would be able to see Libby snoozing in a comfy chair had I not lined up one of the intervening trees to block that view.

I really should get my chainsaw fixed. That fallen tree has put a lot of great firewood within easy reach, but I sure don’t want to use a handsaw to cut it up.

views of the pond

Monday, December 14th, 2015

pond 1

Long-time readers of this humble blog (both of you) will know that I have both a pond and a lake in my woods at Roundrock. The pond predates our tenancy on the land and most likely existed in and for the days when the area was part of a larger cattle ranch. The bottom of the pond is deep with silt — loathsome goo, I’ve called it — that I’ve verified by actually wading in and finding myself mired up to my thighs by the stuff. (Haven’t done that in a long, long time.)

Today the pond serves the wildlife, and it is common for us to find ducks on the pond when we arrive, though our arrival nearly always causes them to fly away, which suggests these are truly wild ducks and not just visitors who also frequent ponds in parks in faraway suburbia.

A recent visit to the woods took us on a hike to the pond. It had been low during the summer and fall, low enuf that the top-heavy cattails that lined the dam had actually uprooted and fallen in ugly masses. Then the rains came and filled the pond, washing some of those masses into the spillway (and clogging it a bit), and turning others into tiny islands. You can see a couple in the photo above.

You can also see ice reaching halfway across the pond. This view is looking north, and there are large oaks behind me, so this side of the pond is the last to see the sun and feel its warmth. Thus the lingering ice even though the day was in the 50s.

This is the kind of thin, spongey ice that I’ve seen rippling when the wind sends waves across the water, but the air was still this day, so there was no rippling ice.

pond 2

I’m not sure just what put these features into the surface of the ice. I’m tempted to say that loose strands of grass had fallen on the ice as it was forming, leaving negative impressions there, but I don’t think that’s the right explanation. First of all, there really aren’t enuf stray bits of grass in the area to do this. I don’t mow this part of my woods (I don’t mow anything but the top of the dam and the pine plantation, and that’s only during growing season, if even that often.) Second, if the grass was there as the ice was forming, wouldn’t it still be there once it was solid?

So I suspect this is an artifact of the freezing/thawing process, some kind of fracturing perhaps. It’s another of the little mysteries that Roundrock continues to give me over the years.

pond 3

At the western end of the little pond the ice was clear and the water was liquid, and in it were these tenacious remnants of the duckweed that covers the pond for shore to shore from about June through the first frost. I’m impressed that even this little bit of the stuff was hanging on, though I suppose it’s evolved sufficient survival skills through the eons before my arrival and amazement. While the pond will get covered by duckweed, the lake down the watershed has never shown any sign of it. I’m not sure why. It certainly grows algae abundantly, so it must have nutrients in it. I suppose I am glad the lake doesn’t get covered though. Since it doesn’t have thigh-deep loathsome goo on its bottom, Libby and I swim in the lake, and pushing through a surface of duckweed would detract from that simple pleasure.

Skywatch Friday ~ contrails

Friday, December 11th, 2015


This image is nearly a week old, but still datable in the last century because of the contrails (“condensation trails”) in the sky. Contrails are a fascinating subject, especially if you’re interested in atmospheric optics (as some people are). But on this day in my Ozark woods, I was just enjoying the blue sky over my little pond.

Today’s post pairs nicely with this recent post.

For more views of the heavens, go over to Skywatch Friday. Maybe you’ll want to add a link of your own.

a week and a day later

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015


My Black Friday visit to Roundrock finally happened a week and a day later, and we had a nice time doing nothing much at all. Somehow we’d gotten out the door earlier than usual, and even a stop at the small-town grocery story for supplies didn’t seem to interfere with a very early arrival. (Roundrock is southeast of our home in faraway suburbia, so maybe traveling downhill like that made the difference.) With ample sun and moderately warm temps in the offing, we looked forward to a day of nothing more than soaking up the sun in the comfy chairs. Or maybe hiking. Or cooking lunch over a fire. Or throwing a stick for Flike.

The biggest surprise upon arriving was to find the lake nearly at full pool. I’m not sure I realized that so much rain had fallen in the area lately; I hadn’t been paying attention. I started noticing the signs of it at certain points along the drive down: a huge soybean field that doubles as a duck-hunting preserve when allowed to flood was partly covered in water, a low-lying forest we pass was dotted with pools of water, the massive Corps of Engineers lake we cross thrice was beyond its normal banks. In the past we’ve seen these same signs and reached Roundrock only to find that none of that rainfall had found its way to our side of the ridge, but clearly it had this time. The lake was broad and had clearly been even fuller in recent days given the flotsam that lined the shore. Of course it was leaking as vigorously as ever under the dam, but I’m glad for this fuller pool so that the fish have more depth for overwintering. (I’ve concluded that if I can simply line the bottom of the lake with twenty-dollar bills — rather than twenty dollar bills, which wouldn’t be enuf — I can solve my leaking problem. So don’t send anything smaller than a twenty.)

When we arrived, we unpacked the truck, which includes opening the back door and stepping aside to allow Flike to explode from within and dart around, barking uproariously, looking for a stick. We got our supplies into the cabin, with no surprises waiting for us on the porch. (Sometimes we arrive to find the comfy chairs off in the woods — the work of the winds rather than the critters, I hope — or the phoebe brooding a new clutch, though not this late in the year, or a scattering of sticks and leaves — again the wind, I hope.) Our plan was to have a fire to cook our burgers, so Libby got busy unstacking the chairs around the fire ring and otherwise organizing. I unpacked the things we’d brought to the cabin including the wall clock that sings various bird songs at the top of the hour (when the batteries are not worn out, as they were) and various kitchen implements that we’d taken home for a more thorough cleaning than we can manage at the cabin. Then it was a matter of deciding what to do next. Flike suggested a hike, so that’s what we did.

Although the sun was shining, the temperature was still in the forties, so I kept our hiking to the south-facing side of the Central Valley just to stay in the comparative warmth. We rambled through the trees, up and down the ravines, and eventually found ourselves at the pond in the northwest corner of our 80-acre rectangle. It, too, was full, and we hung around there for a while, just enjoying the quiet and solitude, but then our stomachs suggested we make our way back to the cabin and do something about lunch.

Do I have to go into detail about how I failed at achieving a one-match fire? Can we just let it stand that my first effort at building the fire to cook our burgers was merely preparation for my second effort? Libby was kind enuf not to goad or chide me about the mess I’d made of things, but eventually I managed to get the wood to burn (could the recent rains be part of the reason the wood wouldn’t light? or was it my insufficient supply of tinder?) then build up a sufficient pile of coals to shove under the grill. The burgers, pink and no doubt gristly, shrank to the size of hockey pucks over the coals, but with sufficient hot mustard, Swiss cheese, some pickles, and a good-sized Kaiser roll, they were toothsome nonetheless. The dogs agreed, getting two burgers (without buns) themselves. Lunch was completed with two cookies from the bagel shop. (I had paid for one but they gave me two, which means I should return to pay for the second. And while I’m there, I may as well have some bagels, right?) Then it was time to sink into the comfy chairs (or in my case, the bed in the cabin) to reflect on our tasty lunch.

But our stupor was interrupted by the sound of a car or truck coming down our road. We are far enuf back, and the cabin is literally at the end of the road — you can’t get anywhere else from there — that we rarely get visitors, and the ones who do come along are usually people we know. (Though check out this early account for something different.) It turned out to be Good Neighbor Brian, whom we hadn’t seen in more than a year. He’s been dealing with some personal issues back in Kansas City that apparently kept him away from his woods that adjoin ours, but his chores that day lead him to the area, so he stopped by to say hi, hoping we’d be there.

We had a nice chat, got caught up on everyone’s business and the local gossip, then he had to get on to his chores, so he left. The day was still young, and the sun was still shining, so we decided to take another hike, this time to the east where we’d heard some of the neighbor’s cows raising a ruckus. We started our hike heading down to the pecan plantation below the dam, but the scrub there is so thick that little Queequeg had a hard time keeping up. So we turned our feet a bit to the north to get back into the woods where there was less undergrowth. This proved to be the case, but Queequeg was still having a hard time keeping up. This time he was simply too tired from the morning hike, the big lunch, and the demands on his little legs. It took a lot of cajoling and frequent pauses to keep him on task. Our hike took us to our northeast corner, unchanged since our last visit several months before, but the path along our northern fence line was littered with fallen tree tops. I suppose the storms that filled the lake had brought down some trees as well. As Libby and I worked to clear the path, Queequeg got to enjoy the time to rest, and Flike, I imagine, was delighted to see us handling what had to be the biggest sticks we were ever going to throw for him.

The afternoon hike didn’t last very long. Soon we reached the road, and we followed it down the hill to the cabin. Libby and Queequeg retired to the porch for rest and recovery while Flike and I did a few chores in the area (which involved another downed tree and stick throwing). It was satisfying work, but with the shortened sunlight, I knew that if we didn’t get on our way home soon, we would be driving in the dark for the last third of the trip, the part where we meet the traffic of the city. So we slowly packed up and closed the cabin. I certainly would like to get back to Roundrock in December — one more time for the year — but little Kenneth will be coming in a couple of weeks for a three-week visit, so opportunities may be sparse.

By the way, here is the view we saw from the cabin porch on Saturday:





Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

orange leaf

My crack technical team has transferred Roundrock Journal to a new server, which may get us ahead of the spammers and bots for a while.

If you’re still having problems pulling up the blog or leaving comments, send me an email (paul at roundrockjournal dot com) and I’ll let the team know. Of the more than two thousand posts I’ve made here in the last decade, there have been more than twelve thousand legitimate comments left by you gentle readers. Keep ’em coming!


I don’t think I ever shared that I have a Flickr account where you can see photos I’ve taken or “liberated.” Most of the stuff you’ll see there is stuff you’ve seen here, but it goes back more than ten years, so when you’re bored, maybe you’ll enjoy drilling through it. Or not. I don’t know. You tell me.


So far, I have not ordered any trees from the Missouri Department of Conservation. My luck with them has been spotty through the years, not because of the quality of the trees they produce, but because of the lack of care I can give them once they are planted. Also, it’s possible that I’m trying to grow the wrong things in the wrong conditions. My successes have been the pines, the pecans (12 of the original 50 are still hanging around), and the red buds (which I already have plenty of in my forest). My attempts with flowering/fruiting bushes seem to have simply disappeared in the welter of the woods. Perhaps I’ll come across some abundantly flowering shrub some day that I’ll realize I had planted long before. Or not.