added to the chores

March 31st, 2014

rug 1Add, now, to the long list of chores at Roundrock sweeping the rug in the cabin.

The floor of the Cabin at the End of the Road is made of concrete. That’s easy enuf to keep clean with a broom. But soon after we’d built the cabin, my mother was moving out of the old family home and was discarding many things. Among the items I scored was the braided rug you see in the photo above. It fits nicely in the open space, and it is soft on the feet after a long hike in the rocky Ozark woods, but it’s hard to keep clean in a cabin that does not have electricity to run a vacuum sweeper. We had some frustrating success by sweeping it with the broom, but that seemed to drive as many leaves and debris into the braids as it did from the braids.

Somewhere Libby got the notion that the little brush sweeper you see might do the job. It’s the kind of thing you often see at restaurants, doing a quick clean up under the table that recently hosted a family with little children. I was skeptical. I’d never seen these things do much of a job in the restaurants on carpeting with an even pile. How was it going to work on the uneven surface of a braided run? One that not only had two humans tracking in all kinds of forest bits, but also two dogs (who also shed hair by the sweaterful).

So on our last trip to Roundrock, we took along the little brush sweeper and I gave it a try. Turned out that the thing worked really well.

rug 2

I had to work on the rug for a long time, making several trips out of the cabin to open and empty the sweeper, but this was the first real cleaning it had received in the several years the rug has been on the floor there. And, I’m pleased to say, the sweeper also picked up plenty of dog hair. Not quite enuf to make a sweater, but a good start at one. (Cleaning the dog hair out of the brush on the sweeper was not easy, but I rose to the challenge.)

This brush sweeper does not work as well on the concrete part of the floor, but we have a broom for that. So now I have another chore to add to the ever-growing list of them at Roundrock. But it’s a satisfying one.

harbinger ~ Skywatch Friday

March 28th, 2014

3We enjoyed mostly sunny skies on our trip to Roundrock last Saturday, but the drive home presented portents. The “flocks of sheep” clouds massed to the south. I’d read somewhere that these cloud formations are a sign that precipitation is coming in the next twenty-four hours.

I woke on Sunday to a dusting of unforecasted snow. And Monday brought more snow. The message in the clouds was right.

 

stumped

March 26th, 2014

stump

 

Yes, the lake is down. Way down. It’s to be expected around this time of the year, before the spring rains come and mostly recharge it. (Expected, but not desired.) And while so much of the water has receded, Libby and I (and the dogs) can walk the ground that is exposed to see what there is to see.

What you see above is the former burn pile that never really burned and now serves as fish habitat in the lake, when there is enuf water, that is. The top of this stump should be more than a few feet underwater. The top of this stump should also be adorned with a piece of brownish slag.

We’d known that the slag had become dislodged some months before when the receding water exposed the mishap. But through the winter, the water hadn’t gone down enuf for me to hike out there, find the slag, and restore it to its glory atop the stump. Until our visit last weekend.

And so that became our first chore of the weekend — to hike across the lake bed and fix the stump and slag. I could see that the slag was missing from my vantage at the cabin, but I couldn’t see where it had gone. I suspected not far since, really, where could ten pounds of glass go when it falls from a stump? If you look closely in the photo above, you can see it on the left side of that stump. I’m surprised it fell in that direction since it would be “uphill” across the top of the stump. Perhaps a critter dislodged it. (Also, if you look in the center right of the photo, you can see Libby.)

The stump has been sitting there for more than a decade, much of that time underwater. You can see the greenish bearded growth on the side of it. But it’s begun to shift now. Its top used to be nearly horizontal. Now it slants. I think the pile of gravel and mud it rests on is slowly washing away. And I suspect that eventually, it will topple from its perch and the piece of slag will no longer have a home.

But for now it does. I restored the slag to its rightful place, screwing it deeper into the stump which is obligingly beginning to rot on the top. I hope we get a summer of placement out of it. And I hope I never know because I hope the lake fills and the stump and slag are hidden underwater.

stump 2

yet more emergence

March 25th, 2014

buckeye

I said in yesterday’s post that I saw few signs of spring’s emergence, but one of the signs I was eager to see was this good news from my buckeyes.

These poor bushes/trees don’t take the summer heat and drought well. They drop their leaves — after letting them turn a discouraging brown — and then seem to go dormant. Usually in late July. I’m always sure they’re dead. Yet for the few years they’ve been gracing the area before the cabin, they keep coming back, getting a little larger, and, last year, one of them bringing out flowers.

I have two sets of three buckeyes — they have red flowers — in front of the Cabin at the End of the Road. (Actually, I think one of them has white flowers, but it hasn’t brought forth any evidence yet.) There are three on one side of the porch and three on the other. And when they all bring out their crimson glory, I’m gonna take a picture to share with all of you fine folks.

But for now, I’m just happy that they’re bouncing back and bringin’ the spring!

leafbullet2

Just for the record — and because I know you’re wondering — the chicken wire I have placed around the buckeyes is not blue. It just seems that way in this photo.

emergence

March 24th, 2014

green

Why is it that you hardly ever see any green cars on the road anymore? I don’t mean those muted olive greens that look more like brown, or those bright kelly greens that look like a running shirt. No, just good old honest green. Look around next time you’re out. You just don’t see them. Do they only come out in the spring?

We finally made it down to Roundrock last weekend (after some pre-dawn treadmill work to get my run in). This was our first visit in March, which is just criminal. (But I have secret plans to deal with that.)

As often happens when we fold ourselves out of the Prolechariot after the nearly two hours of driving to get to the woods from faraway suburbia, we steered our feet down to the dam to see how the lake looked. (Sad, in a word.) But something was emerging on the top of the dam. The thing you see in the photo above. It’s grass! And it’s green! I remember this color from old posts and history books. It seems that green is returning to the Ozark forest.

I actually got down on my stomach to take this photo, which is something I would never do any much later in the season since I would be hosting thousands of chiggers very soon after. (So far, no sign of personal infestation.) The green was such a novelty and delight that I got up close and personal. And I even trusted my unreliable camera to take this macro shot. (Acknowledgement: the fault with the camera may be completely in user error rather than the equipment itself.)

There were hardly any other signs of the greening of the Ozark forest though. I looked for it, but like the green cars, just about all I saw was the olive green of the many cedars, and I did a pretty good job of liberating several of those while I was there. But I think the seasonal corner has been turned. The birds certainly seemed to think so while we were there.

leafbullet2

For many years, Libby and I had two green cars, and they both had a brown contrasting band along the bottom. Now we have two red cars. Next time I going for that screaming blue!

nowruz

March 20th, 2014

rose

Happy New Year to all of my Persian family and friends.

I bought myself TWO new shirts in observation!

Westport St. Patrick’s Day Run 2014 recap

March 18th, 2014

I’d been having some not-so-good runs in the days before this race. I think because I spent so much time on the treadmill these last few cold months, I was having pacing problems. The treadmill belt turns at a constant pace, so I trot along at a constant pace (despite what the shoe sensor is telling my running watch). I can increase or decrease the speed on the treadmill, but for most of my runs I keep it at a constant pace.

Not so, it turns out, on actual pavement. The real ground does not move beneath your feet. You have do more than just lift and drop your feet. I had forgotten that detail. And when you are doing “real” running, you are in complete control of your pace, except when you’re not paying attention and let yourself get going too fast. Then you wonder why your lungs feel like they’re about to explode and you’re seeing black dots in the corner of your vision. So on recent outdoor runs I’d get going too fast without realizing it and then stop to gasp or slow to a walk to recover, which is not satisfying or encouraging (especially when you have a full marathon in your fast-approaching future).

So I was apprehensive about this four-mile run in the middle of Kansas City. I had wanted to run it last year but couldn’t because I was out of town. Thus I was eager to take the chance this year and signed up for it as soon as the window opened. I’d had a bad run on Wednesday of last week and decided I was running too much. (I know, blasphemy.) So I took off Thursday and Friday to rest, and to fret.

Saturday morning dawned warm and sunny. My legs felt rested. I had picked up my packet the afternoon before. My watch was charged. My attitude was hopeful. And so Libby and I made our way down to Westport, the oldest part of the city. It’s a place full of restaurants and bars and funky shops that come and go. It has a vibe, mostly counter culture, but we suburbanites leaven it a bit.

This year marked the 36th running of this race, and since it’s in observance of St. Patrick’s Day, the organizers felt it appropriate to have it start in front of a bar called Kelly’s and end in front of a bar called McCoy’s. There were several thousand runners, mostly dressed in green, as well as folks in costumes either of color and splash or of caricatures (or stereotypes) of Irish culture. Is there really an Irish bobsledding team? Are three Gumbys somehow representative of Ireland? Runners were encouraged to form teams, which would tie themselves together. (A hazard when you want to run between them if they’re in your way.) One team consisted of a leprechaun, a rainbow, and a pot of gold. Another, more unsettling, team was a middle-aged man and two much younger (and more fit) women all encircled by a rope. The women ran the lead with the man behind them as though being towed.

But I gave myself over to the happy spirit of the day and decided to concentrate on my own run, which was really the only thing under my control anyway. I met with several friends in my running club and we all chatted before the official start. But we would all go at different paces, so once we were off, we split up as expected.

Since there were so very many runners, and since I was in about the middle of the pack waiting to start, I think several minutes passed before the general shuffle got me to the starting line. I had managed to get my watch to find some satellites in time so when I crossed the starting mats, I started my watch. And I was off.

As usual, hundreds of people passed me. The start gave us a brief down hill and then a gentle rise to a more or less level stretch for a while. Being mindful of my tendency to start too fast at these events and to fail to pay attention to my pace, I tried hard to go at a reasonable rate. I knew I had to shepherd my energy for the entire distance. So I got over to the right side of the road where the slower runners were and settled in. Even so, this reasonable rate proved to be faster than my blistering rate normally. But I felt good and so tried to stick with it.

At the first quarter mile, someone was on the side of the road handing out shots of Guinness extra stout beer to anyone who wanted it. (Note that this was not an official aid station.) I might have been tempted except for two things: I don’t like stout beers and I was leery of drinking any beer so early in a run. So I passed on the beer.

And I passed a lot of walkers. I’m sure there were hundreds of people who were there to walk the four miles, and I hope they were who I was passing. If they were runners who had already exhausted themselves in the first quarter mile, then they were going to have a disappointing morning.

By the half mile mark we began to climb a steep hill. That didn’t last long, but we only leveled out for a short while before a long, more gradual hill presented itself. This hill lasted until mile two. It was at mile two that the first (and only) official aid station was. They were handing out cups of water, which is a fine thing and something I now try to make use of on all of my runs. (I think it helps me more than I realize.) Unfortunately, it appears that someone had donated cups for this event. They were about 10-ounce plastic cups. Souvenir cups with some company’s logo on the side. I, and I think every other runner that morning, did not want to carry a souvenir cup the rest of the race, so like the paper cups normally used, these were drained and then tossed to the ground. Paper cups are no problem. You can run on them and they crush readily. These plastic cups were not so obliging. If your foot landed on one of these you might turn your ankle. Or the cup might crush and send a shard of itself up into the sole of your expensive running shoe. We were dodging around the hundreds and hundreds of these cups in our path, kicking them when we couldn’t miss them, and cursing them all. This was a mistake in planning, and I certainly hope it does not become the norm.

But that mess was soon left behind, and as I turned the corner after mile two, I knew I was halfway done, with no appreciable hills left to face. A mother and daughter were just ahead of me along this stretch, and the mother was coaching her daughter (perhaps 10 years old) about endurance. But she kept telling the girl that the next mile was going to be the hardest. I think it had something to do with being eager to finish but still being a long way out. I’m not sure, but that certainly didn’t seem like the kind of thing to tell a novice runner. The girl didn’t look like she was having any trouble keeping up with her seasoned runner mom, so why tell her she was about to have trouble?

Along here, and not surprisingly, I began to pass other runners. This nearly always happens to me in organized runs. I guess I get warmed up or find a stride or achieve emotional maturity or something, and I get going faster. Sustainably faster. I knew I was pushing my pace at this point, and I was able to keep it up. Granted, I wasn’t blistering along like some fleet forest animal, but for me, I was moving. And that was satisfying, especially in light of the bad runs I’d been having lately.

Unlike most runs I do, I had not driven the route of this one, so I didn’t really know where we would turn and such. But there were still plenty of runners on the road with me (and behind me), so I had no trouble staying on course. Even so, there are whole stretches in this second half of the run that I have no memory of. I don’t think I was lost inside my mind (it’s not a very big place after all), and I wasn’t fighting exhaustion. I don’t know why I can’t remember any specifics about these parts. Maybe I was just in the zone.

The last mile was a straight shot to the finish, and I was familiar with this part of town. I felt myself running faster the farther I went, and although it was a push, I felt good, like I could keep going. And I did.

At mile 3.5 another unofficial aid station appeared. This time they were handing out cups of (non-stout) beer and Jello shots. The beer might have been nice at this point; the shots, not so much. But I was so close to finishing, and I was running so well, that I didn’t want to delay even the few seconds it would have cost me. Instead, I pushed even harder. And when I saw the finish arch not too far ahead, I really pushed, running at nearly two-thirds of my normal pace. I think I only achieved that because I knew I didn’t have to sustain it for long.

We were told in advance that our finish line appearance would be on video later (in addition to the free photos we would get), so I wanted to look fabulous (rather than exhausted), but I hope my pumping arms and legs achieved that for me because my face and gaping mouth probably didn’t. (I haven’t seen the pix yet.) In any case, I crossed the finish mats and turned off my watch, then I accepted the green bead necklace that they gave us in lieu of the finisher medal we were promised. It seems that the finisher medals were tied up in customs — so much metal being shipped into the country apparently set off alarms. So we get to pick them up later in the week, which won’t be a problem since one of my runs goes right by the running store where they will be available. (But this explains why I don’t have a photo of the medal and my bib.)

Then I looked for Libby, who had intended to be waiting for me there. I don’t know what it is about the areas past the finish arch, but too many people were gathered and milling about. It seems like this could be better organized so that we runners pelting across the mats don’t have to hit the brakes so suddenly and the folks hoping to get a photo of us pelting can get a clear shot. But I don’t organize these things, and no one has asked me to.

Libby and I missed each other, but I wandered about and eventually found her. I grabbed some chocolate milk and we got ourselves some late breakfast. (Apparently I was entitled to as much free green beer as I could drink, but no one had told me this, and I don’t think I would have had any had I know. So I don’t feel too bad about missing that.)

I had a good run, which was exactly what I needed. My next run is a big one: a half marathon in April. I have a couple of shorter runs after that, then another half in June. Then there’s that full marathon looming in October. I am, of course, insane.

failure to launch

March 17th, 2014

coconut

Well, I had fine plans for a weekend at Roundrock, but the great cosmic conspiracy that seems intent on mostly thwarting my dreams and only occasionally granting me moments in the sun was in play.

Trips to the woods have always been in competition with the rest of my scattered life. It used to be that we had a regular commitment in town every other weekend that overrode Roundrock visits (at least overnight visits). Then that ended but the maniacal running begin. So organized runs, or even the obsessive need to get in miles before the week ended, often swallowed weekends whole. Thus what was always a challenge — to find a free weekend to devote to a trip to the woods for the relaxation of ceaseless chores — remained a challenge, just with new players.

Yet my Roundrock drought had gotten so severe that I decided I had to wedge in a visit regardless of the other demands on my time. And this last weekend was to be it.

Not that it was a free weekend by any means. I had a run on Saturday morning that I’d been looking forward to for more than a year. It was a quick four-miler in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in a funky part of town, and I had missed the chance to run it last year because of some out-of-town travel, so I was eager to run it this year. (Perhaps a race report tomorrow.) Four miles is not so much, even on my aged legs, and I thought I could pound that out and then jump in the Prolechariot and get down to Roundrock for a full afternoon of working in the pine plantation then relaxing before a warm campfire before retiring to the snug bed in the little cabin, then to rise to a cooler morning where I could absorb more of the medicine my woods offer before a return to that other part of my life I try so hard to ignore (but fail).

When I have these plans, I watch the weather forecast for Roundrock all week. And for this past weekend, the weather looked just about ideal. Nearly 70 degrees on Saturday, dipping to 40 overnight, then climbing back into the 50s on Sunday. Just about perfect for working and campfiring and sleeping and relaxing. But remember that cosmic conspiracy I mentioned?

The Saturday run didn’t even begin until 10:00 a.m. (I think that had something to do with getting the runners finished at about the time it would be just acceptable to begin “rehydrating” for the holiday weekend at the many watering holes literally just beyond the finish arch.) Regardless, I would finish the run, then stagger through the after party collecting as much swag and bagel and chocolate milk as I could. Then drive home to shower and change and pack and get on the road, not arriving at Roundrock until mid-afternoon.

Okay, that was still workable. My secret goal anyway was to sit around the first campfire of the year. But then I watched the weather forecast deteriorate. Saturday still promised to be warm, but a later arrival meant that those warm temps would be retreating even as we arrived. And the slight chance of rain reported earlier in the week increased to near certainty of rain, beginning at 5:00 p.m. — prime campfire cooking time — and then continuing the rest of the evening — prime campfire sitting-around drinking beer time — and through the night. The rain would stop on Sunday but only because it would change to snow, with a predicted high temp of only 35 degrees. The evil forces arrayed against me must have chuckled as they slowly revealed this to me through the week.

So to Roundrock we did not go last weekend.

But this coming weekend is looking good, and perhaps the great cosmic conspiracy will take a break and let me have my campfire.

fallen forest face

March 12th, 2014

fallen face Another casualty of the winter wind storms was this mask we have on a tree near the cabin. The mask is made of wood, and I suppose it was intended to be on some indoor wall. It has no proper bracket on the back, so we passed some wire through its empty eyes, across its nose, and used that to hook it on the nail I put in the tree. Often we’ll find the mask turned upside down but still on the tree. Occasionally, we find it on the ground. And we just put it back in place. faceWe actually have about a half dozen masks around the cabin, hanging on trees. This one is the most colorful; the others tend to blend in as though they are watching you secretively. Some of them have been gnawed on by critters, but for the most part they remain unmolested, and aside from this tri-color mask, remain where we put them.

dillo den

March 11th, 2014

dillo denbe it ever so humble . . . and so on.

This is, I am pretty sure, the main entrance to an armadillo den. What you see are the old roots of a long-ago fallen tree resting on the forest floor. It’s hard to tell from this photo, but dirt has been excavated from beneath those roots (and scattered on the foreground) and then the resulting hole has been packed with leaves. Clear signs of a typical armadillo den. If I had a GoPro camera and a really long ladder stick I might send it in there to see if someone is home. But I don’t, and I didn’t.

I see a lot of these den doorways in my forest. There is even one not too far from my little cabin (which is certainly better than having one under my cabin). All of them are on the slope of the hillside, and most of them are in the south-facing slope. This one happens to be on the north-facing slope. In recent years my dillo sightings have become more common too.

Like coyotes, I understand that armadillos are expanding their range and moving north. One explanation I have read is that their biggest predator is now gone: Native Americans who used to hunt and eat the critters. I don’t know if that is true (the hunting and eating part), and I suppose there are other possible explanations, including the general warming of the hemisphere. In any case, they have not been a nuisance in my forest, and my dogs have not yet discovered them, so I’m happy to abide with them.

 


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