loppers, lopped

December 2nd, 2014


I don’t know if I can use the word “lopped” as I have in the title, but I’m going to anyway because: my blog.

I get a lot of use out of the two pair of loppers I carry with me just about everywhere my feet take me at Roundrock. If I’m not liberating young cedars from their earthly toil, then I’m snipping away low branches from trees to allow safe passage for the flesh on my face (and my eyes). Both pair have seized occasionally (the loppers, not my eyes), either being hard to open or to close, with leg muscles generally required to correct the matter.

Such was the case last weekend as I was snipping some scrub atop the dam. I cut away a trivial, dried annual and tossed it down the side of the dam (where Flike was less likely to go after it and bring it back to me). But then I couldn’t open the loppers. So I did what I do in these cases. I put my foot on one handle and pulled on the other. The tool resisted at first, but then I heard a small pop as, I assumed, a burr in the hinge was shaved off. They were fluid after that, opening and closing with surprising ease.

As we continued up the north-facing slope, I liberated a few cedars, but when I bent to snip the next one, the loppers came apart in my hands, as you can see above.

That burr I heard pop was actually the bolt holding the two halves together. Somewhere in the forest, the nut with some of the bolt still screwed in it had fallen. The head of the bolt, with a rough snap in its middle length, clung to the one half of the loppers. I confess that I abuse this tool. I use it to cut limbs and trunks that are too thick for its design. I just keep pumping the two handles until I worry my way through whatever it is I shouldn’t be cutting with them. And I’m sure that’s why they would seize occasionally. Regardless, my liberating work was done for the remainder of the hike. (We were venturing toward the southeast corner to see what my neighbor had done about that giant limb that had fallen across our mutual fence. I wrote about this a few weeks ago. From the sound of the machinery at work up there I expected to find cleared land the width of a landing strip. What we actually found, however, was no change at all. The giant limb was still on the ground, blocking his access to the far corners of his land, though no longer pulling down the fence since I had cut that part away.)

So now I’ll spend some time in the hardware store, looking for exactly the right nut and bolt for the job and likely not finding it. I suspect it’s too specialized to be generally available unless I order it from the manufacturer. I further suspect that the manufacturer would prefer that I just buy a new pair of loppers. (The more likely outcome, to be honest.)


“Loppers” is a curious word. It is what is known as a plurale tantum, which is Latin for “plural only.” These are words that exist only in the plural form (“lopper” is a legitimate word, though apparently only in print and otherwise clumsy-sounding when spoken). Other examples include scissors, glasses, electronics, and genitals.


December 1st, 2014

sunriseThe stars aligned and Libby and I were able to spend two days at Roundrock last weekend. Hiking, chores, a campfire, ridiculous food, and dogs. About the only thing we didn’t do was go swimming in the lake.

It has been our tradition for years to spend the Friday after Thanksgiving in the woods (rather than be Consumer Culture Casualties), but the weather forecast called for both Friday and Saturday to be close to 70 degrees and dry, so we took the opportunity to stay overnight in the cabin. (There have been too few overnights this year.)

Friday during the day was breezy with some strong gusts coming along as well, and I worried about having a fire (even though there had been rain in the area two days before — further east in Missouri there had been snow), but the wind stilled as late afternoon arrived. Since we would be cooking our dinner over the fire, we got an early start on it. I began building it around 3:30 so we would have some substantial coals ready before it got too dark to cook.

With morning, shortly after dawn (seen above, though the red was deeper to the unaided eye) the wind picked up again. And it stayed that way for at least as long on Saturday we we stayed there. Friday and Saturday were two anomalies with their moderate temps. The days preceding and now the days following have been colder. I suppose Friday’s wind brought the warmth and Saturday’s brought back the cold.

So we ended November with a great visit to the woods. I hope to get down there at least once in December. (I only have one organized run in December — this coming weekend — so I hope to be freer.) What did you do for the holiday weekend?


white Friday

November 28th, 2014


Today is perhaps the one day out of the year when anyone who cares will know exactly where I am (and where I am not). I am indulging in my traditional anti-Black Friday exercise.

And the weather is so nice for late November in Missouri that I will probably make an overnight trip of it, with a campfire and all the trimmings.

Stay sane, everyone!

no there there*

November 26th, 2014


Remarkably, this tree is alive, even thriving. Flike and I came upon this hollow tree on our recent ramble in the woods at Roundrock.

Some time long ago, this tree met with a serious trauma that appears to have stripped it of its bark on one side. Perhaps a lightning strike did it. My guess is that the inner part of the tree was already dead (they actually are — it’s only the outer layers closest to the bark that are still alive) and perhaps even rotted away, making a nice den cavity for some critter. But then the trauma came and exposed the empty heart of the tree, further rotting whatever insides it still had.

And yet two-thirds of the tree stayed alive and stayed standing. Its branches high in the canopy are reaching for all of the sunlight they can as though they have no idea of the trouble below. Though maybe it’s not really trouble. Not from the tree’s perspective.

That dark spot at the bottom that looks like a hole is . . . a hole. When I looked more closely I could see what looked like a den entrance, so even the roots of this embattled tree are providing a home for some critter


*Today’s post title comes from Gertrude Stein who had said this of her childhood hometown of Oakland, California. She was referring to the loss of the familiar touchstones there, such as the home she grew up in, but the quote has been taken to mean referring to a place that has no culture or significant identity.


November 25th, 2014


This is a stone wall I’m slowly constructing behind the cabin (to the north and west). My intent is for it to serve as a firewall. Should a ground fire sweep through the forest, my hope is that it will stop when it reaches this wall, thus sparing the wooden cabin about thirty feet beyond it.

I’m not sure how effective this will be. Notice that leaves are thick on both sides of the stone wall. A single flame or hot ash passing over the wall will find plenty of fuel waiting for it, and the fire can continue its red rampage.

Granted, this is fall, when the leaves fall, so they are piled evenly on both sides. The winter winds will scour many of those leaves away, leaving bare ground in their place. Most ground fires come in the spring — if at all — and I think I can count on the leaves having moved along by then.

Except for the second problem I’ve realized. As the wind blows the leaves along, they will hit the wall and stop there, piling thickly. Thus if any ground fire does come along, it will find a nice, dense supply of fuel close to the cabin.

I have one rake, 80+ acres, and not enuf leaf bags. I need to give this some thought.

old face

November 24th, 2014

old mask

We have a number of masks hanging in the trees about the cabin; I even did a photo inventory of them here once, but a couple of the smaller masks have gone missing since then. (Snatched by critters?)

This mask is one of a pair we have from the great state of Hawaii. I think Libby picked them up on her last trip there, though some other family member may have supplied it. Lost in the mists of memory and time.

Anyway, I hung this one on a tiny limb of a Blackjack Oak tree, thinking, reasonably, that the tiny limb would be there forever because, well, it’s a Blackjack Oak and those limbs never break off. Yet I found this mask on the ground on my last visit. When I tried to replace it, the tiny limb stub was gone.

That required me to get the hammer and a nail from the tool box (which also serves as a bedside nightstand) so I could rehang the mask. The nail pounded in reasonably well (remember: Blackjack Oak), and the mask was soon back in place.

I was going to pick the leaves out of this fellow’s beard, but then I thought they looked fitting there. It makes me think of what my beard would have looked like if I had let it grow long. Instead, I shaved it all off after 30 years — mustache included — as a reward to myself for running that marathon nearly two months ago. Oddly, many people didn’t notice any difference.

Wordless Wednesday ~ shells

November 19th, 2014


poke overload

November 18th, 2014


This, gentle reader, is the pine preserve atop Danger Island at Roundrock. This is the 10 x 10 foot area I fenced and cleared to plant a dozen shortleaf pines two springs ago. And then planted another dozen last spring when most of the originals died. And you see what’s become of it. A gigantic poke plant raised itself in the very middle of the square and sent its branches hither and yon. I’ve never seen a poke plant this huge. Those stalks in the center are better than two inches in diameter. This beast of a plant literally covered the entire fenced square.

When Flike and I were last out to Roundrock — more than two weeks ago — we diverted to the island (which is currently high and dry) to have a look at the pines. I expected some losses since these are not in ideal soil. (The island was just pushed-together gravel from the lake bed.) The pines got whatever water fell from the sky whenever the gods chose to grant it. And, as you can see above, they had no one to visit them periodically to prune away any competitors for the sunlight.

We marched around the fenced area; I had to cut some poke branches away with the loppers just to get by (I never leave the cabin without them). As we went, I peered in through the scrub to see if any pines were still there. I couldn’t see many, perhaps only a half dozen. Most of those were brown and dead. I suspect they simply didn’t get enuf water to survive the summer. Yet a few were green and looked to be thriving, biding their time and getting their roots established before making their bold sprint for sunlight. In fact, you can see one of them at 9:00 in the photo above. The green smudge with the pink tie on it. That’s one of the pines.

This was a noble experiment. I envisioned the island with tall pine trees rising from it, and I tried for two years to make this happen. But I’m not going to try any more. If the few surviving pines survive and thrive, that will be great, but I think I’ve learned that the conditions are not close to good enuf to plant and then abandon pines.


November 17th, 2014


See above what greeted me when I got to the door of the cabin at Roundrock on my last visit. This is the base of the door. The closed door would be on the top right of this photo. And if you’re a tiny critter, subject to predation from above and all around, this might be a safe corner of the world to nestle into, giving protection on three sides and from above. It seems to be a good place for the small critters since the front porch of the cabin, right against the wall, is always filled with droppings when I arrive.

In this case, the threshold seems to be a fine place to have a meal as well. The acorns — so abundant in my Ozark  oak/hickory forest — are mere husks, the edible bits all eaten away. The discarded shells have accumulated, suggesting many, many meals were enjoyed here. What you can’t really see, however, is the “outcome” of those meals. The darker stains at the top of the photo are these “outcomes” and they don’t sweep away the way the empty acorns do.

I suppose I don’t have much to complain about really. A few critter droppings I can easily sweep or wash away. I want to be a good steward of the land, and the critters haven’t gotten into the cabin. (Except that one time. Although the moths seem to have found a way in.)

So a little work with the broom each time I arrive is a small price to pay for being the beneficent landlord of a little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks.

whence the western red cedars?

November 12th, 2014



Last month I undertook a little endeavor, and the reward I got for my effort was these two trees (among other things). They are western red cedars, and right now they are living peaceful, quiet lives in pots in my house in faraway suburbia. I was surprised they survived the plane trip back from Oregon in my luggage, but there the are.

Actually, the one on the right is looking more ragged now. It’s lost one of its branches, and the needles are dry. But it is in the same location as the other, in a south-facing window, and both get the same water and kind words. It may be that only one will survive until next spring when I plan to plant them at Roundrock, at the back of the pine plantation. No, they’re not native to Missouri, so I am violating my land ethic, but only slightly.

race stickersThe inside walls of my cabin are being festooned with stickers lately. You can see my two most recent additions above. The Portland Marathon sticker is actually for a wine bottle; apparently a special wine was made for the marathon, but I never saw a drop of it. There are other stickers on the walls. Some are running related (mostly products you can buy) but some are also political, and I suspect, of the political cast that would not endear me to most of my neighbors. Perhaps some day I’ll cover all of these with insulation and then put up drywall. Then, far down the road, someone will uncover them and puzzle about the person who put them all there.


Behold the latest addition to the mouse-proof cabinet. 26.2. Yes, it’s pink. The man who gave it to me had originally bought it to give to one of the women in the running club, thinking (foolishly it turned out) that he could talk her into running a marathon. When she politely and repeatedly declined his challenge, he kept the magnet in his car and waited for me to run my marathon.

So a big part of my life is intersecting with another big part of my life. Seems fitting.