priorities change sometimes

February 10th, 2015

Kenneth Gunner Johnson

No, I haven’t been out to Roundrock since December, but thank you for your concern. I don’t think I’ve ever let a month go by without some kind of visit to my woods. The weather wasn’t very conducive for wandering around the forest in January, though there were one or two days when I might have gone.

The first week of February was devoted to seeing the little guy above. I’ve run out of superlatives to describe him, so just take my word that he’s the most wonderful little boy in the whole world. Ever.

He slept most of the time while we were there, but that was okay. Just holding a sleeping infant in your arms is an important human experience. (And I found I still have the soothing skills I had cultivated more than 30 years ago when his momma was an infant.) He began to use his eyes — deliberately use them, that is — while we were there. Once we could get his attention with a rattle or a smile, he would follow it as we moved it, first moving his eyes and then turning his head. Pretty sure that’s a major milestone.

I was hoping to induce a deliberate smile from him while we were there, and I did get a few smiles, but I think they were random. From what I’ve read (I don’t remember such details from my own infant-caring days) it’s still too early to expect that. (His other grandparents arrive for their first visit this coming weekend, and it will be my luck that they are able to get him to smile. If so, I’ll say that I laid the groundwork!) I don’t think I’ll get to see him in the flesh until late spring, which is not my desire but is a reality of the world. I’m hoping his daddy will get him an iPhone soon so we can Facetime.

The day after we returned from New York (a Sunday), the temperature at Roundrock skyrocketed into the 60s. It would have been a perfect February day for a visit. I know the dogs would have approved (having spent the prior week “at camp”). We chose not to go, however, because we were recovering from our trip and getting our Midwestern legs back before returning to real life on Monday.

Instead I laced up and went for an 11+ mile run in the balmy weather. Short pants, only one shirt, a ball cap rather than a knit cap, light gloves instead of mittens. (I struggled for the first seven miles, but then I found a groove and finished well.)

Altra Paradigm

The shoes you see above are my newish Altra Paradigms (where do they get these names?). They are zero drop, which means my heels in them are at the same level as my toes. It also means that my knees and ankles ache after a run since I’m not used to that kind of foot action after my many decades in conventional shoes. I did not wear these on my Sunday run though I did wear them for both of my runs in NYC. I took the photo above as I was riding on the subway back to Brooklyn, having run four miles into Manhattan to pick up some cronuts. I gave a brief account of that adventure here.

The weather for this coming weekend looks tolerable for a Roundrock visit. I hope we can manage it. It’s long overdue.

Happy Birthday, Momma Rachel!

pretty sure it’s a fern of some kind

February 9th, 2015
Christmas Fern

Christmas Fern

I wish I knew more about my woods than I do. I’ve been stomping around the place for more than a decade, but there is still so much I don’t know.

I think what you see above is a Christmas fern (Polysticum acrostichoides), but I’m not confident with my identification skills. That plant certainly is native to Missouri, and my part of Missouri too.


I have these ferns (and a few other varieties) throughout my forest — on the dry, south-facing slope and on the wetter north-facing slope as well as in the western half where there is actual soil. That aligns with what I’ve read about their growing habits and habitats. And the leafing pattern looks right as well.

I’ll be bold and say that this definitely is a Christmas fern. (Leave your gentle corrections in the comments.)

I was a little surprised to see all of the spores on it. This photo was taken in December, and I have only the vaguest sense of where the fern was exactly, so I don’t think I’ll be able to revisit it (should I ever get back to Roundrock!) to see if it has released the spores or not. I’ve read that this will happen when the air temperature is around 60 degrees, and that has certainly happened a few times since my last visit.

Skywatch Friday ~ the view from the bridge

February 6th, 2015


My week in New York comes to an end tomorrow. Seven days with my new grandson is hardly enuf time to get to know him. During my time here I managed to squeeze in two runs (the weather was my adversary). One of my runs took me from Brooklyn to Manhattan to pick up some cronuts. It was only a four mile run, but there was a lot of stop and go as I waited at intersections for the lights to change. (I took the subway back to Brooklyn.)

Mile Two was in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge. It was windy up there, and you can tell it was cold by the lingering ice on the deck. The forecast suggested the temps would reach to 40 degrees, but they hadn’t quite started in that direction at 7:30 in the morning when I was afoot. The sky was a uniform overcast white. No snow or ice fell during my run, and the sidewalks seemed just as congested with busy people as every other time I’ve been there.

Next time I visit, I hope I’ll get a run in the sun.


February 4th, 2015


Ground fires are a fact of life in the Ozarks. Prescribed burns are often used to restore grasslands (since grass grows from the ground outward whereas everything else grows from the tips outward). And old folklore believed that burning the scrub in the woods would reduce tick populations (though apparently there is no evidence that this is true). And sometimes small fires get loose and stampede across the ground.

There is plenty of evidence that fires have passed through the woods of Roundrock. During our tenure, there have not been any ground fires that swept through our forest, though a neighbor’s prescribed burn of his grassy field did escape his control and burned a little bit of our forest. Still, there are a number of snags in all parts of our forest that are charred from past fires. Perhaps they were the handiwork of when the land was part of a large cattle ranch. I don’t know, and I don’t think I’ll ever know.

I don’t really object to a natural fire in my forest, but I would hate for my wooden cabin to fall victim to one. I’ve done my best to build a fire break around it, but nature always wins (and insurance sometimes pays).

burned also


So I’ve had a request for a photo of Grandpa and Ken. Here you go:

ken and grandpa

He sleeps a great deal, but when his eyes are open, he does look into my face. I seem to have the ability to soothe him when he’s agitated, which is handy, especially in a small Brooklyn apartment. I don’t suppose I’ll see him again until late spring, and by then I’ll be a stranger to him.

stuff about the tarp

February 3rd, 2015


This is the traveling tarp. (Also Flike.) It began its life at Roundrock as a shelter tarp, allowing us to escape the sun or the rain and sit in comfy chairs overlooking the sparkling lake. For most of its shelter life, it sat where the cabin now stands. But the cabin replaced the need for a shelter tarp, so it was carefully folded and stowed under one of the beds. It remained there for more than a year, and all the time I thought that there must be some good use for it.

Then grass started growing in the graveled area around the cabin, and since the cabin is close to and overlooking the lake, I didn’t want to use any herbicides on it. I remembered the tarp and thought I might be able to cook the grass into submission, depriving it of the sun’s light but concentrating the sun’s heat. The tarp was stretched over the first targeted patch of grass, on the leeward side of the fire ring, and we held it in place with the remains of the deer stand that fell (onto our property) near the pond, much as you see above. After a month or so, we removed the tarp and found the offending grass withered and kaput. I remember raking it away and then using it as tinder for my next fire (which was satisfying).

And so the tarp has been in constant use, getting moved to various places around the cabin to knock back the infiltrating grass and incipient scrub. Summer is the most effective time to do this since the heat is more intense and the green stuff is actively growing. In fact, I worried that if I tried this technique in the winter, it might actually shelter the grass, providing a sort of green house for it to survive the cold even better. That didn’t prove to be the case, though it does take longer for the grass underneath to die away in the cooler months.

You can tell from the photo above that this placement was during the late fall, given all of the leaves on the ground. We’d left it in place for several months, in part to get the effect we wanted and in part because the encroaching grass elsewhere was no longer being assertive. Here is how the spot looked after we removed the tarp:

tarp gone

You can see the withered grass left in place. (That’s the lowest sandstone step up to the cabin porch at about 7:00. The edge of the fire ring is at about 10:00. No Flike in this photo.) All of that got raked into the trees to the right. That’s not the best solution, but at least the leaves are downwind of the wooden cabin, and after winter, they’ve diminished or blown away.

And then we moved the tarp to another area of grassy encroachment. This time it went behind the cabin:

tarp moved

It’s a smaller area, hence the more closely spaced planks. The area around 4:00 is an earlier location for the tarp too. It’s an effective, benign tool (except for the grass, of course). I’ll probably need to keep doing this for as long as I am coming to Roundrock, but that’s not such a hardship.


It is now Day 4 of my Brooklyn sojourn. My grandson, Kenneth, is adorable beyond description (naturally), and he’s beginning to learn how to use his eyes, which means he can look perplexedly at this face of mine that coos to him. I hope he comes to associate it with comfort and well being. (One of us should anyway.)


missing monks

February 2nd, 2015


So I was in Brooklyn, New York to see a little fellow, but I had to get some miles run, so I laced up on Sunday (when there was a break in the otherwise wretched weather) and headed out. I had a destination in mind, of course. About a mile and a half from my grandson’s apartment is the Green-Wood Cemetery.

It looks like a beautiful place, but they don’t let people run in there (and the security guard reminded me of that as I entered, though he told me there was no “jogging” allowed). I only went in (walking) as far as the magnificent entrance gate, which you can see the top portion of above. (The sky was an overcast white, but the photo turned out pretty good.)

Green-Wood is home to a number of notable people, including Basquiat, Boss Tweed, Leonard Bernstein, and Horace Greeley, but that wasn’t why I dodged people, strollers, cyclists, cars, and pigeons to run there. Instead I wanted to see the monk parrots.

Green-Wood’s most famous newest residents are a thriving population of monk parrots, native to South America and now established in Brooklyn. There are a few urban legends as to how the birds got there, but regardless of their veracity, they are there and famous. (I’d even heard of them out in the Midwest.)

Alas, the parrots were somewhere else when I ran there. (I expect I’ll be making future trips to Brooklyn.) What I did get to see was their massive nest at the top of the cemetery’s entrance gate. Can you see it above?

close up

Here is a crop from the first photo. The darker snarl near the top is the nest of the monk parrots. The view from the other side of the gate is better, but the contrast was bad; the image was washed out.

As I said, I expect to return to Brooklyn, and the 6.55 mile route I ran on this day is pretty good (with a nice half mile downhill finish). I’ll run it again. Maybe I’ll see the actual parrots then.

run along

January 28th, 2015


At this time of the year, when shadows are long, there are occasional periods when the season loosens its iron grip and allows a series of warm, sunny days. And when that happens, I generally lace up and head out on the trail.

The community where I live has created a series of interconnected trails, mostly along streams that cut through the area, that hikers and bikers and skaters and skateboarders and runners can use. And they do.

We’ve had a string of warm days lately, and that’s meant that I’ve been turning away from the treadmill to run outside on the trail. In the photo above I am on the Indian Creek Trail, right at mile post 10, which is about two miles from my house. The ICT happens to run through my neighborhood, and the distance from my front door to the nearest access points is only .6 miles (downhill going that direction). I can go east or west from there and depending on my ambition, I may take the flatter route to the west or the hilly route to the east. (Since I’m observing Drynuary, I am not running to sports bars in either direction on this trail to meet Libby and rehydrate as I had before. And since I also expect February to return the iron grip of winter, I may not be out on the trails much then to run to the sports bars.)

I’m told (but have not personally verified) that you can, if you make the correct turns at the correct points, cobble together a full 26 mile loop, ending where you started. Part of that would involve running along much of the Tomahawk Creek Trail as well as the Indian Creek Trail. I generally find my way to the TCT on Sunday mornings (alas, three miles from my house to the closest access). Then, purely coincidentally, I finish five miles further at a salad and sandwich shop where Libby is waiting for me. I want to keep her company, so I generally allow myself a salad and iced tea (unsweetened, of course).

2.2The trails are well maintained. Parts get resurfaced so that, I’m guessing, the entire route either gets new asphalt or new sealer once a year passes. (I don’t mind the new asphalt, but the sealer can by slippery underfoot for a few weeks.) In some cities that the trails pass through, they will even plow away the snow. (Not my community though. I don’t mind running on snow, but it soon enuf turns into ice, which ain’t no fun.)

The mile post you see above is on the Tomahawk Creek Trail. The mileage there — an odd 2.2 measurement — is the distance from there to the end of the trail, where it connects with the ICT. Alternatively, it can also be taken as the distance made since the beginning of the trail if you’re going thataway. I don’t know why they put a mile post at 2.2 miles, but there is also one on the Indian Creek Trail. In that case it measures the distance to (or from) the state line betwixt Missouri and Kansas. (There are organized runs of 2.2 miles. I don’t know the significance of that distance though.) The salad and sandwich shop happens to be about a half mile in on the Missouri side, just off the trail. It makes for a good Sunday long run, though I need to start grabbing longer distances.



January 27th, 2015


Here is Kenneth Gunner Johnson. My grandson. I’ll probably have him in my arms a week from now. For the present, I have to survive on photos and texting conversations with my daughter. She sends at least one photo a day via text, and then we grandparents fire back questions and comments, and a virtual conversation ensues.

This photo sparked speculation on the future sports he might pursue. With his long legs some suggested rugby. Others, football. He might be interested in basketball, as his daddy was. Or soccer, as his uncle was. Me? I see a runner with those long legs of his. Of course, it’s much too early to begin imposing expectations on him. And I hope he gets to pursue whatever interests him with nothing more from us than encouragement.

There were also comments about how big he’s gotten. (He’s nearly 3 weeks old now!) My daughter, Rachel, says that while he is putting on weight at the proper rate, what we’re really seeing is Ken “unfolding.”

Some days, Rachel will send more photos, though they’ve been getting less frequent recently. The reason, I am sure, is because she is exhausted. Funny how such a tiny thing can take everything you have and more just to care for. Interrupted sleep. Nursing. Bathing. Laundry. Emotional investment. Even with her loving husband, I know Rachel is worn down. Happy, too.


sad state of affairs

January 26th, 2015

round rock

I think January 2015 may be the first month ever when I haven’t made at least one visit to Roundrock. (I might be able to look that up to confirm it, but just suspecting it hurts enuf.)

The last time I was in my woods was December 26, 2014. I had hoped to make it down last weekend, but I laid my bets on the wrong day, staying home on Saturday in the 50 degree weather (well, running 8.25 miles) and planning to go to the woods on Sunday, when the forecast had originally called for even better weather. But Sunday dawned at 47 degrees with temperatures expected to fall throughout the day and with a chance of rain. I looked at the weather map for the area that morning, and it looked as though the rain was going to happen. So I decided not to go to the woods.

It wasn’t an easy decision. Sunday was my very last chance to get out to Roundrock in January. I work every day this week (of course), and on Saturday — the last day of the month — I hop on a plane to fly to New York to make the acquaintance of my new grandson, Kenneth.

I’ll survive. But I’ll be dredging up posts here for at least two weeks, using older photos and maybe even going off topic. (So far, no one has complained about seeing little Ken here.) So bear with me as I endure this hardship.

Skywatch Friday ~ sky on the run (and a birthday)

January 23rd, 2015


I took this photo on Sunday in the middle of my long run. I was thinking very hard about quitting about then. I’d gone 5 painful miles on tired legs and still had more than three to go. So I took a break to assess my condition and resolve.

These are sycamore trees. The path I was running on goes through all sorts of terrain, mostly following a stream that flows more strongly the farther you go as feeder streams enter it. At this point I was in a forest of sycamores with a vault of blue sky overhead. I was also overdressed. I had headed out just after daylight and the day grew unseasonably warm for the middle of January in the lower Midwest. (Peaking at 60+ degrees!)

I did finish the 8.4 miles, but it wasn’t pretty, and I was sore for days after.

Also, Happy Birthday, Raymond!