sensitive briar

July 8th, 2014


I’d known for for a long time that we had sensitive briar at Roundrock, about as long as we’ve been going to our patch of forest, but it seemed like years would pass when I wouldn’t see it at all. This is not one of those years. I’m seeing the stuff all over the place, at least in all of the sunny places.

I first wrote about this nine years ago in this post, which wasn’t really about sensitive briar but in which Rurality, the Queen of all Blogs, had kindly identified it for me. (Alas, Rurality is no longer posting, and the world is a lesser place.) This plant has some nasty prickles, and I don’t mess with it, though I understand cattle love to eat it. It’s in the pea family. I’m told it has a nice fragrance, but I’m reluctant to put my nose close enuf to sniff it.

stumbling stump stands again

July 7th, 2014

standing stumps

Several months ago, I wrote about having #1 Son along on a trip to Roundrock to help me dig the holes and plant the upturned tree stumps that have been resting beside the cabin for years as a sort of naturalistic art project. I’d first done this many years ago and wrote about it in this post. To date, I now have four standing stumps in the forest at Roundrock. One is beside the road near the pine plantation. The two above are beside the cabin. And one is deeper in the forest, to be come upon by some hapless interloper who will possibly marvel at the unlikely image he (or she) comes across.

Unfortunately, one of the standing stumps beside the cabin had tumbled. It had actually snapped at the point where it emerged from the ground. I’m not sure why that happened. I don’t think it was something the wind did; the stumps are simply too low to the ground, and there wasn’t any other sign of wind-induced mayhem in the area. Nor do I think it was rot since the wood at the break appeared solid and strong. I’m not sure what happened, but perhaps a bird alighted on the top of the stump, and that weight was enuf to topple it. I’m going with that explanation anyway.

Several visits to the cabin passed before I pushed myself out of the comfy chair (on the shady porch overlooking the sparkling lake) and did something about the stumbling standing stump. First I had to saw the upper part of the stump free from the part still in the ground. It’s a white oak (or was in its life), and the sawing required was considerable. (Just kidding, it was about an inch of wood that needed sawing.) Then I extracted the part of the upended trunk that was in the ground and found a very nice and relatively deep hole in the ground just waiting for me to fill.

After that all I had to do was wrassle the remaining trunk with its heavy root wad into the hole without pushing in too much Ozark gravel in first. I turned it to give the most interesting aspect the view from the porch, and then I back filled the sides of the hole and stomped on it heartily.

And so when we left the cabin on our last visit, we once again had two standing stumps there. (You can see the red handle of my handsaw resting on the farther stump.) I had filled their roots with peanuts, wishing the local critters well. I hope to find the stumps still standing when I return (whenever that is — there’s so much running to get done). And we shall see.

bountiful buckeye

July 2nd, 2014


When I visit Roundrock, even when I’m driving to Roundrock, there are visual cues I look for to get a sense of what has transpired since I was away. I cross many streams and even lakes on the way down. If they are high or low I can then imagine what I’ll see of my own lake. Is the grass on my road tall? Then Good Neighbor Brian hasn’t been by to mow. Are tree branches littering my road in? Must have been some storms recently. That kind of thing.

But there are long-term cues I look for as well, such as the growth of the buckeyes I have planted in front of the Cabin at the End of the Road. I had put the original three in three years ago and then the second three a year later. Their first year was successful, though I didn’t know it at the time. They brought out leaves in the spring but then lost them all in July when the relentless Ozark heat and drought attacked. Happily, they bounced back. In their second year, one of the buckeyes actually brought forth flowers, and there was much rejoicing. The other set has yet to bring out any flowers (unless I missed them), but they are still growing and thriving.

In their third year, the original set of buckeyes all bloomed. That was three plants, including the one that looked different from the other two and that I suspected was actually a white flowering variety (rather than the red I wanted). But that third plant brought out red flowers as well, and there was much rejoicing.

And so now I see that the tiny buckeyes I put in the ground three years ago are about to surmount the protective fencing I had put around them. (Those vandal deer!) Best of all, the spindly stalks they grow from are now looking woody, as though they plan to stick around for a while.

So I take a lot of heart from this particular visual cue in my woods. I’ve never found any other buckeyes in my forest, but given the success of the six I’ve planted, maybe it’s time to put in a few more, randomly here and there.


the update on the cabin mouse is . . .

July 1st, 2014


there is no update on the mouse in the cabin. I haven’t been back to Roundrock since that last misadventure. And it’s not likely that I will be back there for at least two weeks.

I’m hoping there is an inconclusive update eventually. My hope is that I won’t open the cabin door and find the mattresses shredded and baby mice running through the mess. Or worse, find the mouse had gnawed a hole through the side of the cabin to get in and out with ease, inviting friends for parties and such. With luck, the poor mouse will have died of thirst (that’s luck?) and is tucked away in some dark spot. Maybe I’ll find the corpse some day. Maybe not.

But all of that will have to wait until I have the chance to return to my woods. Hang on.

latest report on the phoebe next

June 30th, 2014


After a two-week absence, we returned to Roundrock, fully expecting the phoebe to have been finished with her nest. You can see from the photo above that she had other plans.

But what are her plans, exactly? We first found her nest on the front of the cabin in early May, and it contained two eggs. On a subsequent visit two weeks later, the egg count had increased to five. Well, I want to be a good steward of my land, so I figured nature was following its course. Our next visit, more than a month later (!) showed only four eggs in the nest. That suggested to me that the earlier clutch of five eggs had been hatched and that the four were a new brood.

But what to make of the five eggs we found on our most recent visit. Could that be the second clutch with an extra egg added? Or is this a third clutch? Incubation usually takes a bit more than two weeks, so it’s possible that these five are merely the second clutch. Phoebes generally will produce two broods a year, and with our sporadic visits, it’s likely that our observations aren’t informed enuf to imagine a third brood.

While we were there on our last visit, momma phoebe flitted about in the trees before the cabin and even fluttered up under the porch a couple of times. That tells me the eggs are still viable and that she wanted to get back to them as soon as she could.

It may be several weeks before we find ourselves at Roundrock again. In that time, I think this second (or third) brood can be hatched and maybe even fledged. Maybe then we’ll have a little closure on this.

And maybe then I can finally decide if I should leave the nest in place — phoebes often use the same nest year after year — or take it down and clean the mud off the front of the cabin.


 Our original phoebe observation two years ago.

The first report on the phoebe nest this year.

The second report on the phoebe nest this year.

The third report on the phoebe nest this year.

Skywatch Friday ~ pine portrait

June 27th, 2014

sky pine

Last year about this time, something ate most of the needles on my pine trees. When we were at Roundrock nearly three weeks ago, it looked like the devastation was happening again. The needles were obviously thinned. I worried that by the time we returned two weeks later (last weekend), the trees would be denuded again.

I was happily surprised, though, to see that the needles were coming back. Perhaps the infestation wasn’t as bad this year. Or perhaps we’d seen the pines after the infestation was over and they were already coming back. You can see in the photo above how this pine looked at least a little bit decent.

mouse in the house

June 25th, 2014

1 nest

Well, the mouse-proof cabinet is going to show what it’s made of I fear. We left Roundrock last weekend with a mouse in the cabin. And this was a fifty percent improvement over what it was.

I’ve written here once or twice about how I use a large tarp to lay on the gravel near the cabin as a way to kill the grass and weeds growing there. I don’t want to use herbicides (at all) this close to the lake. And I don’t want scrub to grow in the area near the cabin and around the fire ring. So I’ve laid the tarp down over the stuff and secured it with planks of wood. This plan certainly worked well in the last two weeks. We had moved the tarp on our last visit to devastate another section of the gravel, and when peeked under it on our most recent visit two weeks later, the gravel was clear of the growth. You can make out the placement of the tarp in the photo below.


The area was clear of scrub but not clear of the nest you see at the top. Some critter (I suspect a mouse) had snuck under the tarp and built that comfy looking nest. In fact, that must have been such a good idea that the critter made two more nests nearby. They’re not easy to make out in this photo, but they run from the top left to the lower right, and they were very clearly nests.

3 nestsWell, I’m a nice guy, and I want to be a good steward of my land, so I don’t begrudge the mice their nests under the tarp. Of course, their nests suddenly became useless, but the tarp was merely moved to the other side of the fire ring, and they could have moved in over there if they wanted.

But they didn’t. They had larger ambitions.

Now, I can’t say for sure that mice built these nests, and even if they did, I can’t say for sure that they are the same mice that feature in the rest of this post, but I can see a certain irony in the possibility, so I’ll go with that.

Shortly after we did this work, we were walking back to the cabin porch (where the phoebe has her nest — hmmmm!) and Libby saw two mice scamper through the open door and into the cabin. This was not good. In all of the years that we’ve had the cabin, we’ve never seen any signs of mice in it. Bugs, yes. But no mice. That suddenly changed.

A pair of mice in our cabin! What could that lead to? There are peanuts and oatmeal in the mouse-proof cabinet (as well as sun bloc and other such potions), and I could imagine a mouse delighting in discovering these. If so, I’ll know the cabinet is not mouse proof. At the other end of the cabin are two beds with actual mattresses. If the mice liked living under a tarp, I expect they’d love living within a mattress. And if they were a pair, well, you know what would come next.

So we had to chase the mice out of the house. They ran along the base of the wall, and with Libby at one end and me at the other (wielding a broom), we managed to terrify one of them into a place where Libby could place a cup over it. She then carried it outside and let it go.

The other mouse was not as cooperative. We chased it back and forth along the wall. It got past us and took refuge under the mouse-proof cabinet. Libby went after it with a stick and flushed it out, but it continued to evade us. In all of the mayhem, the mouse managed to get to the opposite corner of the cabin and under the steel bedside cabinet we have there. And then behind the beds. And then back under the cabinet.

We eventually gave up. Two mice would be intolerable, but only one mouse (as long as it wasn’t a pregnant one) we could leave in the cabin until our return. As unkind as it sounds, I’m not too worried about this. There is no food outside of the mouse-proof cabinet, and there is certainly no water. If we take at least two weeks to get back out to the cabin, I think the problem will be solved by nature.

fishy nests

June 24th, 2014

fish nests

Yes, not the best picture I’ve ever posted. I took this shot from the porch of the cabin, so I was several hundred feet away. Still, I think you can make out what I’m intending here. Can you see those light colored circles in the water?

Those are spawning nests made by the random fish living in my lake at Roundrock. I had written about this same phenomenon last August in this post. What you see above are the nests still under the water.

I tried walking down to the shoreline, but the angle was bad and the glare of the sky reflected on the water make the shot impossible.

Later, when I was swimming in the lake, I walked over to this area, and I could see the nest sites more clearly, but of course I did not carry my camera with me then. Also, as I moved slowly through the shallow water, a cloud of silt follow me. (I’d stirred it up from the bottom as I walked.) When I stopped before the nests, the cloud of silt continued ahead and fell on the nests.

I don’t know if the eggs were laid or hatched by this time, but I suspect that the parent fish would have returned just as soon as I wandered off to clear away the settling silt.

The lake was up a couple of feet since our last visit two weeks before, but even that isn’t going to give these fish much time to get the business of hatching their fry done. Unless more rain falls in the area, this part of the lake will probably be dry by the time I return.


pestersome pine problems

June 23rd, 2014

glove pine

Are you sick yet of hearing about the troubles I’m having with my shortleaf pines at Roundrock. Well, I can tell you that I am sick of having those troubles.

We went to the woods on Saturday with two chores to do: to pick up the cot we keep out there for #3 Son and his wife to take on a trip, and to swim in the lake. We managed to do both, but we also poked around a little bit to see about this and that.

One of the things we did was stop at the pine planation on our way in. When we were last out there, the pines had shown signs of being eaten, presumably by the same pest that had denuded them last year about this time. They hadn’t lost all of their leaves two weeks ago (our last visit), but they looked well on the way there. So I drove up to the plantation with worry that I would once again see bare trees.

The pines had come back well after last year’s munch festival, but I worry that too many years in a row of this kind of abuse will eventually kill the trees altogether. Starting the pine plantation back in 2005 was one of the reasons I wanted to start this humble blog. I wanted to document their progress.

So my heart was heavy as I rounded the turn and pulled into the shade of the mighty oak to have a look-see. Fortunately, the pines actually looked much better. My hope is that the pest period is past, that whatever munching was going to take place this year is over and the pines can get back to doing what they do best, which is grow tall and thick so they’ll shade out the prairie grass and blackberries that are threatening to reclaim this corner of Roundrock.

What you see above is my attempt to right a leaning tree. During some ice storm last winter, this tree seemed to have fared worse than its neighbors. In fact, if you look closely at the trunk just below the repurposed glove you can see the bark worn away by an earlier attempt I had made with twine to upright the tree. (Yeah, I just made a verb out of an adjective. I’m a writer. I can do that.) I don’t know if this kind of girdling will hurt a shortleaf pine the way it would a deciduous tree. It doesn’t seem to have affected it, but I’ll be watchful in the decades to come.

The glove is my second attempt to upright the tree. The glove had worn through in one of the fingers a long time ago, a fact I continued to be reminded of every time I wore them to clear brush or turn hot logs in the fire. It was time to retire the gloves, so I put one on the fire and the other on a tree, first passing a rope through it — out the obliging hole in the finger. I’m hoping this padding will be more forgiving to the bark.

The tree is not fully vertical yet. My plan is to tighten the rope over time so that the roots aren’t wrenched by a single effort to make the change. We’ll see how well that idea works.

what is it?

June 18th, 2014

tail bone

Any guesses as to what this is? We found it in our forest on a recent ramble. There were several others just like it nearby. Its presence reminds me of this story.

Give up? Here’s another hint, also found nearby:

dillo shell

This is not the same one as I showed a couple of weeks ago. It may be that we just happened to stumble upon two or it may be that some predator has picked up the pace in my woods.