the big news

January 12th, 2015


The big event took place. My grandson was born on Thursday, January 8th, in New York. Kenneth Gunner Johnson weighed 7 pounds and 8 ounces, and by all accounts he is healthy and perfect in every way.

Apparently the labor was about normal, though there was a hasty and harrowing cab ride to the hospital that arrived just in time.

Kenneth was the name of one of his great grandfathers on his daddy’s side (and a great uncle on my side). And Gunner is the middle name of his daddy, his grandfather, and his other great grandfather.

I’ve seen quite a few photos of him and even a real-time video of him sucking on his mother’s finger. I’ll get to meet him in person the first week of February. So far he hasn’t said his first word or started crawling, but I expect that to come right on time.

ham bone

January 7th, 2015

flike hambone

I mentioned recently that my brother bought a cow at a local FFA fair in his town. We finally got around to thawing the large, shrink-warpped thing he had given us, and it turned out to be a spiral-cut ham. A big one. (So he must have bought a pig too?) We ate the ham over the holidays and picked the bone clean for scraps to add to soups or omelets or to give to the dogs. But that left us with the bone, specifically a hip joint (I think).

Should dogs have bones? There is actually some debate about this. I think the fear is that a bone could splinter when being gnawed on and choke the dog, and I guess that’s possible, but I have never seen that happen with any of my dogs or know of anyone whose dogs suffered such a fate.

So on our next trip to Roundrock, we brought the bone along and decided to give it to Flike and Queequeg to see what they would do with it. I may have mentioned that little Queequeg is the alpha male of the two. If he doesn’t want Flike to have or do something, he makes sure he gets his way. (And big Flike is thoroughly intimidated.) I wondered what would happen when we threw them a bone.

Fortunately, Libby realized that with a little effort, she could separate what were actually the two bones of the hip socket, and that solved our wealth distribution problem.

Queequeg hamboneAt first they didn’t know what to make of this smelly thing we presented to them. They both worked it out pretty quickly, though, and carried their prizes to separate parts of the graveled area beside the cabin. (Better out there than on the porch.)

Flike gave his a lot of work, crunching the bone in his jaws and generally picking it clean. He even went back to it later in the day to see what more might be gained. Queequeg was obsessed. He carried his bone farther from us, and if we approached, he snatched it up and ran away. He clearly did not intend to give up this bounty.

Eventually it came time for us to go home. We left the bones on the gravel, and perhaps the next time we come, the dogs will find them again and relive the glory. It’s possible that some other critter will find them before that; there are plenty of farm dogs in the area that pass through, and I know we have coyotes. Lesser beasts might make an appearance. The bones might no longer be there when we return. But we had done the same thing with the bones from our beef steaks on an earlier visit, and those bones are still in the gravel and still earn a casual sniff by our pups when they arrive.


the reckoning ~ 2014

January 6th, 2015


Every year around this time I tally my visits to Roundrock for the previous year. I had begun after Libby had accused me of visiting nearly “every weekend” (though that seems more like praise than an accusation). Now that I’ve become a runner, she could probably say that about races, though I try to limit myself to only once a month for those. Either way, here is the reckoning for 2014.

January – I only made one visit in January, on the 19th. What was I doing the other weekends? I can’t recall. Perhaps the weather was too cold. Or it was warm enuf that I was outside running. (I seem to recall a lot of time on the treadmill then, so the roads and sidewalks were probably packed with drifts of snow, which would have made trips to Roundrock more difficult too.)

February – Again I made only one visit to my woods, on the 15th. Again I can give no account for why or why not. In any case, clearly not “every weekend” as was once claimed.

March – I stepped up my game a little here. Not only did I visit two weekends in a row, but the second visit involved an overnight (which likely included a campfire and more extensive chores). Perhaps I was planting my pines then.

April – Another one-visit-only month. Spring racing season would have been in earnest then, and likely at least two weekends would have been given over to preparation, running, or recovery. Still, spring is a nice time to be in the forest too.

May – Only one visit, but an overnight, and curiously, a Friday/Saturday overnight. I don’t recall whether I took a day off of work or just left Friday afternoon for the cabin. This may have been one of my solo overnights where I sit and brood and sometimes even get some chores done.

June – Two visits. One on the 8th and the second on the 21st. Nice time of the year (though apparently not warm enuf for a swim). I also had gone for a long-ish trip to Portland in June (half marathon), which would have devoured a weekend.

July – I didn’t record a single visit to Roundrock on the cabin calendar for July. I suspect that’s merely an oversight on my part; I can’t imagine not going to the cabin for that long, but maybe I did.

August – One visit, but again an overnight. It was also a full moon visit, so I’m sure I sat beside the campfire, my eyes red and stinging from the wood smoke as I gazed up at the moon and thought about making a visit there.

September – Two trips! Two overnights! The first trip was a Monday/Tuesday visit. That would have been Labor Day, so I must have taken off the Tuesday from work. I wonder why I chose to do it that way. (About this time I begin to see how much vacation time I have accumulated that I must take by the end of the year or forfeit, so I do take off the odd day here and there.) My second visit this month was two weeks later. The stars must have aligned and offered a perfect fall weekend.

October – Only one visit, on the 19th, but I suspect I was hobbling as I rambled my woods. October 5th was when I “ran” my first full marathon (again in Portland), so I was probably sore and weary for a while.

November – Two visits including one overnight at the end of the month (our traditional anti-Black Friday escape from the consumer culture). I know I was sore and weary on these because I had run my fifth half marathon on November 2, and my right leg still aches from doing that so close to the full in October. (At least that’s what I think is causing the leg pain.) The milder weather and the more open woods allow for more chores in the forest, so I’m sure I devoted some of that overnight to hauling or cutting or clearing or stone stacking or hiking or camp firing or the like.

December – Two visits but no overnights. I know these involved a lot of shoveling and moving of gravel to fix the pot hole in the road by the dam and to begin the extensive dig out of the ditch beside the road along our northern property line (so the water will drain better and the road won’t be so soggy.

And so, that was my (recorded) visit schedule at Roundrock. I can’t say I’m pleased or disappointed. Sure, I’d like to spend more time there, but I’m also pursuing other interests. A boy’s gotta have his hobbies, right? (Also, oddly, I did not record any swims in the lake. I know we dipped in a few times, but I guess I didn’t feel like noting them on the calendar.)

The round rock you see in the photo above is the flip side of this round rock.

stacked stones

January 5th, 2015

stacked stones

Is it human nature or just Pablo nature? I can’t seem to not leave some sign of my presence when I’m walking through my woods. I’ve written in this humble blog before about the stacked stones I leave beside our northern fence line when we pass along there. The sandstone emerges from the ground in this area, and while some slabs are as large as table,s most are fragments with flat sides just calling out for handling and stacking.

I’ve been making little sandstone stacks along our northern fence line for as long as I’ve been coming to Roundrock, and when I return to those stacks on my next random ramble that way, I generally find them knocked down and even scattered. At first I thought that some human interloper was the culprit; our northern property line had once been a route horse riders used to get from here to there, and I think there was some tacit understanding between them and the property’s prior owner that they could do this. (I wouldn’t object either, but no one has approached me and the riders have long since stopped coming.)

Now, I suspect, it’s raccoons that do the dismantling. Whether they are curious about something new in their domain (the stacked stones) or whether they can smell my skin oil on the stones and want to take them apart to see if there is anything good to eat, I can’t say. But someone is taking apart the stones. (And, really, why would any human interloper want to do this except to be mean?) So it’s one of the mysteries of my forest, and I don’t mind.


I had said that some of the sandstone along here is the size of a table, and these two boulders (above) are examples. The photo and the thick leaf litter don’t give you a sense of scale here. I’ve featured these two rocks on the blog before as well. Some critter lives beneath them. (Which is why I haven’t dismantled them myself and dragged them to the cabin to use for sitting around the campfire. Also because they are much too heavy for me to lift and move.) When my game camera worked (long gone now) I set it up here to see what might emerge. I thought maybe an armadillo took up residence here though there is no tell-tale excavation pile outside the entrance that dillos usually make. The game camera took some nice shots of a squirrel standing outside the entrance. (Also a possum.) I understand that in the winter squirrels will abandon their leaf nests and find some snugger place to hole up and hibernate, but I didn’t think they were subterranean, and there are plenty of tree cavities that probably suit them. And this was why I thought a dillo, despite the lack of evidence for that as well.

When we were hiking along here on our most recent visit, I stopped to take this photo while Libby and the dogs continued. Moments after I took the shot, a rabbit bolted from the back entrance of these stones (I didn’t even know there was a back entrance). It raced across the leaf litter — right in front of Flike’s nose — and passed onto my neighbor’s property to the north. Queequeg was far ahead (as is his disobedient little nature) but saw or heard or smelled the rabbit and took off after it, easily passing under the barbed wire fence along the property line and becoming an interloper himself. Flike had no idea what had just happened while Libby and I shouted to Queequeg to come back to us. He eventually did, unrepentant and smug.

So maybe rabbits live in this cleft between the boulders? One of the reasons I’ve never attempted to move these is because I didn’t want to rob some poor critter of a warm winter den and/or a safe springtime nursery for its little ones. (Also because too heavy.) If I were confident that rabbits were the residents, maybe I could chart when it would be safest to upset their lives and then rent a bobcat to scoop up the rocks and make them mine. Or not.


Skywatch Friday ~ elusive sun

January 2nd, 2015


This was the eastern sky that greeted us on our most recent trip to Roundrock. Of course my camera wasn’t up to the job of recording the colors as my eyes saw them, but this is a pretty good image nonetheless.

Though the day dawned magnificently, the clouds soon lumbered in and blanketed the sky with gray; we saw little of the sun on our visit, but that’s about normal for this time of year.

gravel bed

December 31st, 2014

gravel bed

No doubt you’ll recall my recent moaning about having to push a wheel barrow full of gravel a half mile or so (uphill) from the cabin to the pothole in the road near the pond that needed filling. We had spent the night on that trip, and on the next day, Libby had suggested that I use the bed of the Prolechariot to haul more gravel, more easily.

“Easily” is in the eye of the beholder, or at least it’s different between the person who has the bright idea and the person who must carry it out.

First of all, I didn’t want to have to shovel the gravel out of the bed of the truck only to see much of it remaining between the ribs of the liner. I also didn’t want any lingering gravel to foul the hinge area when the tailgate was closed. So I struck on the idea of using the so-many-uses tarp we had on the ground near the cabin (killing grass and scrub without the use of chemicals) as a second bed liner. Then I simply shoveled a goodly volume of gravel onto it, closed the tailgate, and drove up the hill to the pothole by the pond.

Getting the gravel out of the truck bed was not as easy as it might seem. Yes, I had a shovel, and yes, my arms and back were in proper working order, but the angle was wrong, and each shovelful was seemingly insignificant. After a few attempts I tried a different approach.

I pulled the tarp to the edge of the open tailgate and then fussed with it until I had the bulk of the gravel slide from it into the pothole and the low ground around it. Then it was a simple matter of smoothing the gravel, more or less, and reaching behind myself to pat myself on the back.

The hole is filled, although I did (#1 Son Seth did) push one more wheel barrow load of gravel to it on a subsequent visit. Now I simply need to drive over it a few times to tamp it down and be on my way to the next project that needs doing. There are so many.

white stuff

December 30th, 2014

white stuff

The reasonable question goes like this: what is that white stuff in bird poop? The reasonable answer goes like this: it’s bird poop. (The more specific answer is that it’s urea.)

Often when I’m stumbling through the forest I find white splotches of bird poop on the leaves. (Also deer and coyote droppings, though Queequeg is sometimes quicker at finding those and intent of rubbing himself in them.) I don’t think I ever considered the question of why it is white until I saw the question written somewhere and the snarky answer delivered quickly after it. Now, of course, whenever I see it, that Q/A quickly runs through my head.

But I also look above me, not in fear of being a target but to try to puzzle out what story there might be to see. I’ve assumed that the larger concentration of droppings are the result of a night of roosting by the bird in a given spot. (I have a thermometer on one of the posts holding up the roof on the cabin porch. Apparently that thermometer is sometimes used as an overnight perching spot, with the tell-tale signs on the porch floor.)

In the case of the splotch above, I turned my eyes up and saw this:

mighty oak

Sorry, this photo does not give you a proper sense of the scale; this is actually a white oak with a trunk nearly two feet in diameter. It’s an old one. (Note the size of the trees around it.) We were walking in the northeast corner of our woods, a place we don’t frequent much because there’s “nothing interesting” there, when I came across this beauty of an oak. I don’t think I’d ever seen it before (which tells me I shouldn’t be so disdainful of that part of my forest).

When I see trees shaped oddly, I always wonder how they got that way. This one, I imagine, fell victim to a larger neighbor falling across it as a sapling. The fallen tree eventually rotted away, but not before its weight held the younger oak in an odd position long enuf for it to become permanently deformed. (I’m not going to contend that it is a thong tree, but you should go to that link and follow the lively discussion in the comments.) I don’t suppose this deformed state made the tree any better than any other tree for roosting, but I’ll leave that for the birds to decide.

And so, like my walks in the woods, we’ve rambled from white bird poop to white oak trees. And why not, right?


December 29th, 2014


Okay, what have we here?

It is a cluttered photo, so I’ll break it down for you. What you see is a glass bird with a blue head, nestled in the upturned root wad of one of the standing stumps near the cabin at Roundrock. Now it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

We have a house full of tchotchkes like this. Little trinkets and objets d’art around the house back in faraway suburbia, gifts or impulse purchase or little inheritances. Libby had the notion that we could place these in various places around our forest as a way to “display” them and stow them and otherwise give them a purpose rather than sitting in a box in our basement. So we’ve begun that project, and this bluebird is our first effort.

The standing stumps (there are currently four of them in our woods) are art projects on their own, and I don’t intend to adorn them all. (In fact, I sometimes use them to place peanuts for the critters to enjoy.) But there are plenty of other locations in the forest where we might place an item. We had originally thought to put this glass bird in the knothole of a tree, but every time we found a suitable one on our rambles through the woods, we’d realize that we’d left the bird back at the cabin. Thus it has found its pedestal just steps away from the cabin.

seasons greetings

December 24th, 2014

holey rock

It is true that the tilt of the earth’s axis is the reason for the season, but only in the most literal sense, of course.

This is a time of the year that is holy or special to people all around the world, and it is worthwhile to recognize that. Given the pageant of human cultures, it would be a shame to limit ourselves to acknowledging only one holiday. Here are a few that I know about:

  • Xmas
  • Shabe Yalda
  • Boxing Day
  • Bridging Day
  • Chanukkah
  • Kwanzaa, Festivus
  • Las Posadas
  • Ramadan
  • Solstice
  • Saturnalia
  • New Year
  • Feast of Sacrifice
  • Santa Lucia’s Day
  • St. Nicholas’ Day
  • St. Stephan’s Day
  • St. Etienne’s Day
  • Yule
  • Durin’s Day
  • Winter Veil
  • Rizal
  • Quema del Diablo
  • La Purisma
  • Dingaan’s Day/Day of Reconciliation
  • Day of Goodwill
  • Emperor’s Birthday
  • Newtonmas
  • Hari Raya Haji
  • Feast of the Sacrifice
  • Johnkanus

Happy Holidays, however you choose to observe them!


December 23rd, 2014

shell fossil

I’ve walked up and down the south spillway dozens of times (perhaps even scores of times), yet I’m always open to new experiences when I do.

Because the dozer man had to break up some bedrock to make the spillway, a lot of ancient history is exposed along here. Most of the fossils I see here are crinoid stems, and occasionally I find a shellfish. (It was also here that I found a stone tool, but that’s not quite as ancient — still pretty old I’m guessing.)  But it was only after the spillway was constructed that I began to see ammonites.

This specimen is about four inches across, and I’ve probably stepped on it in the dozens (scores?) of times I’ve walked along here. But it was only on a recent visit that I saw it at all. There is another one much like it only a few feet away, and I suspect if I looked just a little harder, I could find more.