Archive for the 'Landscapes' Category

Beautiful Morning in June

June 30th, 2010

Sometimes you wake up very early, and can really enjoy watching the world come alive. The temperature was in the fifties, and as the sun rose I saw wisps of fog rising from the pond. I walked around with the dog, taking in the sights and as the sun came up it highlighted the mist rising all around.

The yellow lab was fascinated and wanted to jump in the water…   he sat down eventually and relaxed.   I’d like to think he was enjoying it too.

It was calm, and yet the mist was slowly stirring in circles, moving above the surface of the water, drifting across and towards one end, moving as wisps and pushed by something gentle and unseen…

It’s one of those days I love to share with everyone… but only I was awake.  Like many things, it didn’t last. Within a half hour, the air had warmed and the magic was gone. I can share it here with you however, and it’s a perfect day because today is my Mother’s birthday.   Let’s just say she has a few decades on me yet.   I can’t think of a more beautiful day and picture to wish her a Happy Birthday.   If you can think of someone you’ve always known, that puts you at ease and who always offers love and kindness…   that’s her.

One of these days I’ll put her picture here.   Probably with flowers and gardens.  And I’ll share a few stories too.  In fact she still digs and plants with greater endurance than folks half her age. Our challenge is getting her to slow down.   I should know better…    Happy Birthday Mom!  :)

Days Around the Pond

June 19th, 2010

Morning around the landscape- the sun rises slowly, painting the trees with color and bringing the world alive.   I like wandering around, checking up on things, enjoying that fresh cup of coffee…

… and then almost spilling it as I turn the corner to find a little beastie looking for his own breakfast!  This black rat snake was only a few feet long- they get a lot bigger (6+ feet), and really they do a lot of good with rodents and such.  But I wouldn’t mind if they did it a little further away!  Hmmm… no eggs yet for the chickens, but this guy will be around and I’ll have to watch them.  Ron had a cool post about catching a big one eating his chickens’ eggs, and Sage managed to interrupt lunch.     This one quietly slithered away…

I see the pond in the afternoons and think of fishing more.  For some reason it looks nice undisturbed.  There is life there… in fact it’s teeming with critters.  Bass, bluegill, catfish, grass carp, koi… bull frogs, snakes (water snakes!), and various turtles.  Glad this isn’t further south or I’d wonder about ‘gators.   The heron comes every now and then, looking for his breakfast too.  The occasional geese and ducks.  Swallows and martins swooping low over the water… bats flying around in the evening.  And sometimes a kingfisher makes an appearance, chattering as he swoops over the water near the trees.  They don’t stay long- this isn’t a river, and the fish are probably too big. 

The way the wind and sunlight dance across the water is something I never tire of seeing.  It’s not even two acres in size, but the water speaks of rivers and oceans…  

Across the pond I check up on the “orchard” of apple and pear trees.  They’re only a few years old, growing slowly, but perhaps one day will be gnarled and heavy with fruit. 

We had an apple or two last year… they grew small and the squirrels ate them.  This year just growth, which is fine with me.  There’s time yet, although I doubt I’ll be here to see the mature trees.    That’s okay… something about the hope that they will live on and provide healthful food and maybe a restful site for someone is enough.

One of my favorite wild plants is Elderberry.  I’ve planted a couple of dozen around the property over the years.   The boy and I made the rounds one afternoon and found this elderberry in full bloom.  This flower head was huge!  I enjoy the plant both for the unique flavor and the healthful jam, jelly and syrup it can provide.  Research has shown the juice from the blue-black berries have anti-viral properties and can be used to shorten colds and ward off flu.  I don’t know about all that, but it sounds good and I keep it around.  If I feel like I’m getting sick I pull out the elderberry jelly and syrup and a few days regimen seems to help.   It sure tastes good… and it’s fun to make a batch in late summer.

I had really planned to cut a few flower heads and try to start some elderflower wine or some other creative undertaking.    Alas the days drifted too quickly into one another and there are only berries forming now. 

In late afternoon the sunlight shines on the far side of the pond.   It’s the south side, although the land slopes down to the north.  The shoreline is covered in taller grass that I have not cut this year.  Now there are blackberry vines and woody trees starting to grow… which means I need to get busy!  I let the pond vegetation grow because it dissuades canada geese from hanging around.  The geese prefer ponds and grass like golf courses and parks.  This is a more natural place, and the life around the pond is indeed wild.   So I cut only a couple of times a year and it keeps things in shape.

The trees are everything to the landscape, and really make a difference in contrasts between sun and shade.  A few more have died in recent years, and the view is becoming more open.  But the trees remaining are growing taller and wider, so maybe the balance is the same.

And the wild blackberries are almost ready!  They look wonderful but are fairly small. There’s a blueberry/blackberry farm not too far away and they have these enormous juicy berries for picking.   I’ll still try the wild ones… something about enjoying that part of our natural world I guess, or maybe I like that they don’t cost anything… except for a few scratches here and there :)  Do you pick berries?

And then the night. I was out a few days ago and the fireflies were everywhere… it was nearly dark, and the little little twinkling lights were dancing across the landscape on the slopes to the pond- it really was beautiful.   I went out with a camera to get a picture.   I could barely see, but when I set the camera shutter to stay open longer and catch the fireflies, the picture ended up looking like daytime with strange tint…  

 Fireflies, lightning bugs… how many can you see?  There’s a cat on the prowl too…

The garden is coming along too… and the chickens new home.  Yes, I’m still working on finishing that coop!   Enjoy the day…

April Sunset in Missouri

April 16th, 2010

Virga at Dawn

April 13th, 2010

The weather has been so nice the past week that it’s hard to keep up with all the changes. Everyday there’s something new around the property, or in the garden. I love walking around outside before the sun comes up, in that peaceful, subdued light of dawn.

Yesterday the air was perfectly calm, and as I walked outside I looked up to see the most beautiful clouds!  I believe these are Virga cloud formations, denoting the fall of moisture or ice crystals from the clouds, drifting downward slowly but evaporating before reaching the ground. I’ve seen it a few times before, but not at dawn as the sun rose.

I wasn’t sure what I was seeing at first, but then realized that the precipitation was very slowly falling in the calm morning air.  It was neat to see… here’s a closer look:

As I turned around to look behind me, the same weather phenomenon was taking place from all around the area.   This cloud line was marked by small lines of moisture in a vertical fashion.    You just never know what you might see when you really take a good look.

Later in the day I saw a bird flash past the eave of the house and realized that the barn swallows have returned!  What a journey they make across two continents. They’re three days earlier than last year, and about a week later than the years previous. 

I went out to say hello :) and it was a solitary bird zooming all around the house.   Later in the day two more swallows had joined the first, chasing each other around as they decide who gets which of three nest sites on the house.    I enjoy watching them fly and really appreciate that they eat insects.

And this morning the little chickies moved to a bigger home.  The little cardboard box was getting too crowded for them, and they were hopping out while trying to explore a little more.   I was going to put together a bigger cardboard box, but then realized that the wire kennel I use for the labrador retriever would make a perfect brooder for these guys for a few more weeks.   I just taped a little carboard around the bottom half to keep their scratchings in.   

They’ve grown about twice their size of a week ago, and run around flapping wings and dive-bomging each other.   Even though they bash each other out of the way for food or water, they seem to get along pretty well so far.  I think there’s two roosters in the mix, but I won’t know for sure for a while yet. 

I keep them on a little glassed in porch area that is naturally heated by the sun during the day.  At night I’ve been using a 250 watt lamp a couple feet away.  Now they’re old enough where it’s not as critical to keep really warm all day and night, but I keep them out of drafts and the temperature from 75-85 degrees.   The new brooder cage has a rock for the birds and the waterer to sit on, and a little log for a mini-roost.  They still like to sleep snuggled up on the floor, and when it gets really warm they sprawl out in every direction.     I’ve got 2-4 weeks to get a coop built before they get really big!

Misty Morning

March 18th, 2010

Misty, and almost ghostly this morning, with thick fog all around.


Everything is heavy and wet, with droplets in the air… the kind you breathe in thickly.  I almost expect to hear the deep, resonant “Whooooounh…” of a foghorn at sea…

Winter Day’s End

February 10th, 2010



I will never tire of sunsets, no matter the season, or the place.   I see the dawn and dusk of each day as constants that mark and celebrate our journeys through life.


The landscape has been so very bright of late, with that good bit of snow that makes you feel winter has really come.  And soon enough I’ll be happy to say, “and gone!”.    Even a few snow days off from school has tempered the boy’s excitement.  Still we had a chance to frolick about yesterday and marvel at winter’s beauty. 

I see our little snowfall and can only wonder what waking up to two feet of new snow must be like for those of you back East.   Our rural schools are mostly closed, simply because there’s so many twisty country roads that the buses can’t get around to very well.   Personally I like living in a place where the plows can’t get to everywhere.   Keeps you on your toes just enough to not take things for granted, at least as much as we usually do. 

If I’m lucky (or motivated!), some wayward plowman will do something with our driveway. Stay warm out there.

Winter Mix of Shadow and Light

January 14th, 2010


My goodness the days are flying by.  The snow on the pond was beautiful yesterday with the shadows of the trees. And there were many animal tracks near the pond’s edge, with a few tracks heading out across the ice. The mysteries of the night…


Yesterday we enjoyed almost fifty degree weather finally, and the snow has almost finished melting. Gave me a chance to catch up on splitting wood, running a few engines and chasing the mice out of the barn.  These are the remaining oak and hickory rounds from trees cut up in summer.  They don’t look like it, but the wood should be fairly dry and will provide enough heat to get us through winter.  I didn’t expect to use so much so quickly this season.


That subzero weather last week really did a number on a few things, not the least of which is my 16 year old truck. Seems the clutch fluid must have moisture in it because the clutch froze in place and I couldn’t drive it. Maybe ice on the cables… anyway I’ll top it off today and since we’ll see 40+ F degree weather again I’m hoping it works normally.   One morning we awoke to a beautiful scene of ice crystals on the trees and shrubs.  I love how the light shimmers through the branches.


I am worried about the bees however… I didn’t see them flying around yesterday which I would have expected. Usually after an extended cold period they will be out and about briefly with temperatures above 40 degrees F.   It wasn’t warm that long yesterday however, so maybe they’re still clustered up?   I won’t open the hive unless it’s warm for a few days in a row, and we’ve still got freezing night temps.  From now through March is the difficult time of year for the bees when they really depend on stored honey.  When it’s super cold they go through those stores faster… and you can’t really feed them until it warms up a little. Keeping my fingers crossed.

Driving home at dusk the other day, the sunlight glowed beneath the clouds.


Our wintery landscape seems so far from the events taking place around the world, such as earthquakes and unrest.  Wish I could do more to help from so far away.  In a couple years when the boy is older I may be able to… for now our thoughts, prayers and donations can help in some way. 

Did you know you can use the American Red Cross’ TEXT2HELP program to donate from your cellphone here in the U.S.?   For specific Haiti-related donations, you can text HAITI to the number 90999 and it will donate $10 to the Red Cross to help with earthquake relief efforts.

Update: There’s many other organizations to help with Haiti disaster assistance, and other charitable efforts of course. Here’s a few more links to share:
The International Committee of the Red Cross
International Medical Corps
Catholic Relief Services
Save the Children
Direct Relief International
World Food Programme
World Vision
International Relief Teams
Yéle Haiti
Operation USA
World Concern
Mercy Corps
Operation Blessing International
Operation USA
Doctors Without Borders
Medical Teams International
The Salvation Army
American Red Cross

Landscapes of Ice and Snow

January 7th, 2010

Yesterday we finally had a chance to explore the ice on the pond, before the snow storm last night.  Some years we only get one or two chances to explore the ice a little so we took advantage of the opportunity.  What is it about ice or a frozen body of water that is so fascinating?

From this perspective the pond almost looks like a river. It does have a long drainage, and the main entry points for the watershed are the foreground cove and that inlet to the left side.   That big log round in the ice is from one of the oaks I cut up in the summer… it weighed about 100 pounds dry and rolled down the hillside at the other end of the pond; I haven’t been able to get it out yet.


Here in Missouri it’s unusual for the lakes and ponds to freeze very long. Which means that freeze and thaw cycles occur quickly without ever having a safe surface of ice throughout winter. But over the last few weeks the temperatures have been so cold that the ice has frozen quickly for a long period of time… and we could explore a little!

Now how do you suppose that got there?  Maybe it rolled down the hill too at some point… and then floated all around the pond for a while?  It was a surprise to find it in the ice.  The yellow lab scratched and tried to pry it out of the ice… he loves anything that looks like a ball!


I remember living in New Jersey long ago as a youngster for a couple years. We would head for a local pond during winter and strap on our hockey style ice skates for the afternoon.   We’d skate all around on the ice with smooth and bumpy parts, and it felt so strange but fun. Someone would always have a fire in an old 55 gallon drum to get warm again.

I never had the chance to do that again (and we don’t own any ice skates yet). The cycles of cold and warm, drought and moisture all change with the seasons and decades, and this winter seems like those of long ago.

I’m pretty careful about walking on ice though… the ice has to be around 4 inches thick before I’m willing to set foot on it. Then we only test out the shallow parts near the shoreline for a while. The ice is usually weaker around the weedy shoreline (and in the middle of the pond), but if it cracks and we fall in near shore up to our knees, we can get out easily.   There’s too many stories where people blindly rush out on ice to play and meet with tragedy.  I try to make this instructive in that regard.


So I took a four foot board with wood screws sticking out and we wandered around the shoreline. The board was just in case something cracked or we needed an extra support to grip the surface. The ice was mostly clear of snow and clear enough to see through and gauage thickness. With my weight being (more than) three times that of the boy (!), where I went safely he could then follow.  And I didn’t want to wait for today with the snow cover… you can’t see what you’re walking on.

We practiced laying flat on the ice and talked about weight distribution, and how rescue teams might try to help someone who has fallen through the ice.  And it was fun to try and see some fish, but we were excited enough to find some cracks, bubbles and leaves.


The ice bubble formations were really neat looking… especially these “tiered” bubbles that probably froze at some regular interval as the ice grew thicker.  


Alas it was time to head inside as the sky grew darker with the approaching storm.  We were getting pretty chilly after a couple hours outside stacking wood and playing on the ice.  But it was actually one of the warmest days of the week with highs near 25 F / – 4 C.    Today our high is only half that, and lows for the next two nights will be near zero F / -18 C! Apparently these will be our coldest temperatures in over a decade.

I was really suprised that the yellow lab was fairly sure-footed.  He ran all around the ice and didn’t slip… but he did have trouble stopping when chasing a stick, sliding for a good ten feet.   Here you can see that he had a great time and was reeaallly happy, maybe a little too happy!


We walked across the smooth ice in varous places, but not out to the middle of the pond.  I just wasn’t willing to go that far yet, but it was fun to slide along the smooth ice.  


That was our fun afternoon at the pond, and after stocking up on groceries and firewood we settled in for the coming snow.   I just love snow in winter… I know it can make life difficult for many, but somehow I’ve always welcomed it.  Maybe because I’ve never had more than a foot or two to deal with.

But I stayed up late and got up three times during the night to watch it fall…   at three in the morning there I am at the window with the porch light on, and I see a mouse!  The little guy darts out from a small evergreen bush, and buries itself in the snow to dig around for birdseed, literally tunneling under the snowy blanket.  It was actually pretty funny to watch, and he made several trips.   I was surprised he lived that close to the house with our cats all around.  

And then what do I see but a cat, in the middle of the night, jogging along through the snow, glancing at me in the window.  It wasn’t one of ours! We live off the road quite a bit, and our cats are “fixed” so we don’t usually see strays.  It kept on going around the other side of the house… who knows.  After watching the falling snow, a mouse and a strange cat, I stoked the woodstove and figured it was time to get to sleep.


We didn’t get that much snow, but it’s beautiful.   Everything is different… peaceful and quiet, for a time.  Then the wind picked up and now we’ve got drifting snow everywhere.  Nice to be inside on a day like this.  And the boy got his snow day off from school.   That little track at left is where he slid down the hill a few times.   

In recent years I’ve figured with all the climate change discussion that we wouldn’t have very good winters any more.   Maybe at this rate however I’ll get some skis and skates after all.  Somehow I think there are parallels from the past to the emotions, ideals and political fervor we see on these issues.    With such fervent desire to “do good” I think we often lose the macro perspective for potential consequences.   I’m not sure how much of it has to do with “doing good” anyway…   But that’s a topic for another day.   Stay safe and warm out there friends- I think I’ll curl up tonight with a scotch and a good book.

The Walls and the Shed

November 16th, 2009

I’ve been away… working on “The Wall” over the past week.  We were fortunate to have a week of mild, dry weather, and I took some time to spend almost every hour of the day (and some in the dark) outside.   I haven’t even left the property in five days… and I learned a lot along the way.   Mostly involving how hard folks work that do this for a living.  I think I have new muscles, and found a few old ones that I had forgotten about!

I could have built this somewhere else.  A little farther away perhaps.  Okay, it would have been too far away, or too deep in the woods, or… something.  It would have been easier though.  Then again I’ve never been one to do something simply because it was easier.   Often the right, or better, or more efficient, or simply the preferred way isn’t the easiest.  

Of course sometimes it is.   When things work out like that it’s just peachy.  But not in this case.  A hillside where I wanted to build the shed, closer to the house.   This was thirty-four days ago.


I really thought it wouldn’t be that hard.  That’s the problem with starting something before you reeaallly know what’s involved.  Mea culpa. 

After hand mixing over 1800 pounds of cement, moving and setting 2800 pounds of concrete blocks, mixing 540 pounds of mortar, spreading 300 pounds of sand and three tons of gravel, I can only wonder… what in the heck was I thinking!?!

In this case, once I swallowed a few more mea culpas and got some decent weather it was time to get to work.  I may not have needed such a big footer, or a large backfill, or drain tubes…  but some old aviation maxims come to mind:   It’s better to ask for forgiveness than ask… wait, not that one!  

It’s better to plan for what might happen, rather than end up fixing what you could have prevented in the first place.


A little planning goes a long way.  And sometimes you just can’t fix what you could have prevented.  Of course sometimes you just don’t know.  And sometimes ignorance is indeed bliss… for a while.  I tend to believe that ignorance is no excuse.  I think it was John Hope Bryant that said, “If you do not know better, you cannot do better.”  So true for so many people, and that’s where education is supposed to come in.   The problem is that somewhere along the way of  not knowing better, a lot of folks get into trouble.  

Not wanting to be one of those folks in this situation, I decided to remedy the ignorance part with some research.  Finally armed with coffee, determination and a little information, I forged ahead.

I started pouring cement 10 days ago, after digging things out for almost two weeks.  That back footer is 18 inches wide and nearly a foot high, but I placed the wall blocks on the forward portion of the footer so I wanted it to be extra sturdy.  Rebar is embedded throughout, and more was placed for the walls.

While the concrete was curing I brought in the rest of the materials. 



I started placing the blocks just six days ago. I was surprised at how much mortar I used.  It took a while to get that “creamy, buttery texture” that worked so well.  Stirring mortar is really good triceps exercise!  I was generous (and messy) with the mortar both inside and outside the blocks, especially for the lower blocks.  The first day I took my time and only placed eight.  By the last day I did fifteen more quickly and effectively.  There were more than 50 large blocks and 22 cap stones in all.


I started at one corner, and worked across.  Staging the blocks before hand allowed me to see where I would have too much or too little.  The corner blocks are staggered and interlocked with the side walls, and overlapped for the rows.  I still needed to cut a small block for the middle of the wall at one point, as the base was slightly wider than the upper row.


After finishing the back wall with blocks, I painted it with masonry sealer, and then backfilled it with one-inch clean gravel.  First a base on the footer, then I used landscape cloth to wrap more gravel and fill between the wall and cloth/dirt embankment.  About six inches from the top I layered sand and soil, compacting it firmly, and then covered again with sand and rocks.


I used levels and wooden guides to help keep things straight while building.  Or straight enough… like many things I learned again that it’s easier to fix something earlier, because that error just becomes amplified over time.


Along the back wall I built in weep holes with half-inch copper pipe.  After I dug out the hillside, I noted after a rainstorm last month that water was draining through the soil, especially toward the left side.  I knew tremendous hydraulic pressure would affect the wall over time, so I placed eight drain tubes in all, five on the bottom at the footer, and two above the first row of blocks.  When I backfilled the wall, I made sure the tubes would be clear with larger crushed rock all around. I finished the side walls with drain channels lengthwise, and packed that space on top with clean, course gravel also.


It seemed like I’d never be finished, and daylight ran out too soon.  I worked for an hour after dark one night under poor lighting.  The next morning I learned that wasn’t such a good idea.  I had to fix a few things… but progress came, day by day.


Some of the days were in the upper 60’s last week, nice and warm. Unheard of for November, but I wasn’t complaining. Evening came quickly, and I enjoyed the sunsets.  I remembered a really nice one the week before while watching the boy play in the leaves.


I’ve been a tired puppy each night…  like somebody else.   I know this kennel looks awfully small for a 90 pound yellow lab… but he won’t sleep anywhere else!  I’ve got a nice sleeping pad for him in a  larger kennel, and carpet and rugs in various places… but this was his “home” as a puppy.  He squishes himself inside and sleeps there at night; the door is even open, but he just feels cozy there.  He was so tired, my pictures didn’t even wake him up. 


I was finally building the ends, and the side walls extended out past the side footers by three blocks.  The soil outside the walls was only about six inches high at that point, so I wasn’t concerned about side pressures.  But I dug out and packed gravel for a base before setting the blocks in a thick bed of cement/mortar.  The blocks should also be strengthened by the footer, and overlapping blocks and mortar on top. 


If anything shifts or cracks on this wall it will probably be near the front ends.  I believe the gravel and mortar is deep enough and strong enough to prevent shifting from freezing and thawing over time. The lower blocks are also filled inside with mortar and small gravel for the whole structure.

The wall is almost finished.  I didn’t ask them to sit there, but the basset and the lab found a new place to lay down.  I gave them bones to keep themselves busy.  Of course one bone wasn’t enough… they tried to sneak each other’s bones when they could.  The lab had an advantage- the basset hound kept falling asleep throughout the day!


I painted everything with masonry sealer once again, a race against time yesterday with rain coming.  Thankfully the rain held off while I continued to pack gravel, sand and dirt all around the outside of the walls.  


Finally it’s finished!  Almost.  I have eight end cap pieces that I need to cut to size and fit.  I don’t have a masonry saw and need a clean cut to set them properly.  I tried splitting a couple blocks with chisel and hammer, but that didn’t work out very well.  Actually, I did manage to split and shape that one small piece in the middle of the back wall, but the front end pieces will need to be exact. 


I just got things wrapped up last night when the rain came.  I covered up the wall end-holes with extra block  and went inside.  It rained steadily all night and we got about an inch.   This morning I went out with the umbrella to check the drain holes at the base of the wall…


It was nice to see clear water coming through about half the drain tubes, and draining down the gently sloped gravel bed.  That’s one of the reasons I want to support the shed on a “floating foundation” off the gravel base- to keep the floor off the moisture.  And there should be enough air circulation underneath to keep things dry over time.   Once I finish packing more dirt around the outside walls, I hope to get grass sod established to channel the water around the structure a bit more during rain.  A lot of it comes from the natural slope and the pasture beyond the fence line- I may try to build a smaller berm along the fence to redirect some of that water flow during rain.

Now if I can get another 4-5 days of decent weather it will be time to get the shed up!  I really have learned a lot… and I’m glad this part is finished.   I certainly have new respect for masonry craftsmen.   Not only because of the effort and skill involved, but the patience and diligence that it must take over time.   I wouldn’t ever try this on a large scale, but it makes for an interesting home project.

My little block wall is far from perfect, but I kind of like it.  There’s quite a few dips, curves and bulges here and there.  Kind of like me :)  But that’s okay, it just needs to serve a purpose, and with luck it should last a bit longer than most of us!

Cool An’ Green An’ Shady

September 9th, 2009


Taken a couple of weeks ago in August, on a warm day and a quiet, lazy afternoon- the boy said it looked like a mirror. Still kinda like that, peaceful and calm, with cooler days now… brings me back to John Denver’s “Cool An Green An Shady”…

Those nothin’ much to do days are getting harder to find… 

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