Archive for July, 2009

Why the pond leaks, or the Ohio Alps

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Sign resting on cut sandstone from the old log cabin

Sign resting on cut sandstone from the old log cabin

My uncle, Dr. Gordon Grender, is a Professor Emeritus of Geology at Virginia Tech. Sometime during the 70’s, he took a sample of the sandstone that is ubiquitous at the Hollow, had a slide prepared, and provided us with this report on its composition and characteristics:

Here’s specimen HEIHOL, which we picked up on our walk down near the creek last summer. This is the stuff that litters the hillside across from the trailer and makes the pond leak.  It’s pretty dull stuff except to a dyed-in-the-wool quartz-lover.

Medium-grained quartzite with rare accessory minerals, loosely cemented by quartz and hematite. Extreme porosity of about 40%; excess porosity probably once occupied by calcite, long since leached away [note: the neighbor’s spring goes cloudy white after a heavy rain].  This particular specimen has probably been on its way to the creek for at least 20,000 years; perhaps more.  Long enough to remove all of the calcite, anyway.  Originally it accumulated on a gentle, stable beach about 200,000,000 years ago (give or take a few million), before the collision of Africa and Eurasia with North America, which raised a Himalayan-scale mountain range about 250 to 350 miles Southeast of the Hollow–if you’d been there you might have been able to see it’s snow-capped peaks on a clear day.  After that, no more quiet beaches! These rocks were buried a few thousand feet deep by other rocks; they “floated” upward as the overlying mass was removed by erosion–a process that continues unabated, but which will slow and stop sometime in the next 50 to 100 million years as the region comes into equilibrium–unless something else happens to disturb it.Thin section of Heiser Hollow Sandstone

Thin section of Heiser Hollow Sandstone

Sandwich the thin-section between the polarizers.  The salt-and-pepper texture is QUARTZ.  How dull. Many other minerals are so colorful in polarized light! Gravestones and foundation stones made out of this rock go to pieces quickly –its that calcite cement, which is soluble in rainwater over a few decades.

The Best Hollow Day Ever

Monday, July 20th, 2009

_MG_5387.jpgLast Saturday was one of the best days I’ve ever had at the Hollow.

It didn’t start that way. I woke up to a gray and damp day, and by mid-morning, it had started to rain. It wasn’t enough rain to even start refilling the pond, and it petered out. By noon, it had become a lovely, breezy summer day, with temperatures in the low 70s, a blue sky with puffy white clouds, and just enough breeze to be refreshing. It was delicious weather–there is no other way to describe it.

I’d been skunked during the last couple of trips to the Hollow, and last July was an angling dud. This trip, they were biting better, and I got a bit more adventurous in trying out some different lures. Although it was a sunny day, which often seems to discourage our fish, this turned into a day of incredible fishing. After catching a dozen or so bluegills off the dam, I decided to try my luck at the relatively new section of pond that had excavated in the back a few years ago. I loaded up all three fishing rods, putting a small surface popper on the ultralight spinner (with a clear plastic float to give it enough weight to cast), a small jig on the second rod, and the biggest jig I’ve got on the third rod.

I sat on a large boulder that our Amish excavator had placed on the edge of the back 1/3 of the pond, and started casting towards the other hillside, about 30′ across the pond. I caught pan fish on each of the first 5 casts. Noticing that one of those lunker bass was lurking in that section of the pond, I tried the big jig. A large plastic minnow with a single hook and a lead head for weight, the jig was too heavy for the ultralight spin cast rod & reel I tied it onto (I was too lazy to untie whatever was on the medium weight spin cast rod & reel). I cast it across the pond, narrowly missing a fallen tree and the far shore, and started reeling it in. Wham! A bass latched onto it before I’d reeled it in more than 10′. The largemouth don’t really put up a fight like the bluegills and sunfish, but still, catching a 3 pounder in your own pond is a thrill. I wasn’t sure if the 4# test line would pull him out of the water, so I landed him on the shore, grabbed him by the lower lip, and after I finished admiring him, he went back–hopefully to raise up a brood of bass like they did last year.

The beautiful breezy weather meant that it was a perfect day for inner tubing. Admittedly, the pond can get…well, not scummy, but still kinda messy, with an oily film full of dead bug bits, pollen, and whatever comes from the pond up, and the trees down. The best floating requires a light breeze to send the floating film to the far side of the pond, and discourage horse flies. Elizabeth and Kirk, who unfortunately were not with me, are a lot less keen on the organic swimming pool, but this weather would have been perfect for them. I floated around for a while on one of the floats that Steve Towne and I bought 10 years ago when we spent a weekend at the Hollow with our boys (perhaps fitting for the news of that week, the floats are purple, and are labeled ‘Thriller’). I did a bit of swimming, and then dried off to go for a walk to some of the spots I don’t regularly visit.

The western slope of the Hollow was planted with white pine, maybe about 50 years ago. It used to be an intimate little pine grove, with several inches of fallen needles and a lovely Christmasy fragrance. The trees got bigger, and some of them are at least 60′ high and almost 2′ across at the base (log cabin?). We should have thinned the trees, which are too close together, and now sort of messy, but it is still a breezy and relative open part of the Hollow. On days like last Saturday, it has a distinct and pleasant pine smell. Walking through the pines to the southern property line and the upper meadow, I found a sycamore tree that I didn’t know about, bringing the total to 5.

After dad and I cleared the downed tree and stump a couple days earlier, we were able to bush hog the upper meadow, which is a bright but cool and breezy spot. The clearing has been there as long as we own the Hollow, and we’ve been mowing it, on and off, for at least 20 years. There have probably been raspberries all along, but I never really noticed them until the last few years. It seems like the number of berry thickets has increased significantly over the last few years. Certainly the big ice storm and last year’s ‘tornado’ opened up a lot of the forest floor to sunlight, but that doesn’t really explain why the periphery of this clearing should so many more raspberry bushes than it ever has had in the past. I’d been watching the berries ripen all week, and had picked enough to share with my parents a couple days earlier. Saturday, the berries were finally coming into their own. I picked and ate a couple handfuls, and then walked down the trail that we’d cleared.

I finished my walk in the SE corner of the Hollow, going back to investigate whatever animals were living in the ‘cave’. As documented in the previous post, this turned out to be a pair of very large vulture chicks (and presumably their parents). One of the properties near the Hollow used to be called Buzzard Rock, and I thought I’d seen turkey vultures descending into the trees in that part of the Hollow, but I’d never found a nesting site before. That was pretty cool.

We took an evening trip to Coshocton to have a steak dinner with Mom’s cousins, who live in town.  After a very quiet week,  all the frogs in the pond finally started singing, so after a memorable day of simple pleasures, I fell asleep to an amphibious chorus.

Talking Turkey

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

The SW corner of the Hollow has some large sandstone boulders, and a very burled stump that Dad has carved into a monolith to provide some turning blanks for a friend who does artisan woodworking. One boulder has some particularly interesting honeycombed erosion patterns. Lying directly next to another boulder, a sort of small ‘cave’ is formed between the two. A couple years ago, the large tree growing on top of the boulders blew over, creating a 15′ long 2′ diameter oak bridge to another boulder uphill (if I only had a Wood-Mizer).

July09-737.jpgExploring that area of the Hollow last week, I thought I heard a funny noise coming from inside the boulder–“clack, clack, clack, clack.” I climbed up on top of the boulder, and realized it was coming from the cave. Climbing back off the boulder, I peered into the cave from the back. Suddenly, this incredibly loud hissing noise came from inside the dark cave. Woah! I couldn’t see a thing. I was pretty sure that bears didn’t hiss, or clack, but I still decided that this wasn’t the right time to figure out what was making the noise.

So a couple days later, I return. Sneaking up on the front of the cave, what should I see, but two big, furry turkey vulture chicks peering around the mouth of the cave. Maybe circumstances exaggerated my perception, but they seemed to be at least 18″ tall. I wasn’t sure if they were turkey chicks or turkey buzzard chicks, but whatever they were, they were the biggest baby birds I’ve ever seen.

July09-741.jpgI took a couple of shots using the on-camera flash, and then went around the back of the cave to see if I could get a different view. It seemed that mom and dad were not home. There was no clicking, nor any intimidating hissing.

Given that the chicks were almost 2 foot tall, I wasn’t sure what an angry adult of that species would do when cornered. There are many stories of geese actually breaking peoples’ arms (and Elizabeth tracked down several stories of fatalities), and I just didn’t know how aggressive a large carrion eater would be. Certainly they must have some significant wing muscles to soar so elegantly and for so long. As it turns out, I was probably right to avoid a confrontation

According to Turkey Vultures: Facts, Maps, and Statistics, the primary form of turkey vulture defense is to vomit on their assailant. The site further warns that this can sting and stink. I’m not afraid to admit that I’m pleased I didn’t have the opportunity to learn this fact through actual experience.

These two are ugly enough that only a parent could love them.

Hollow Maintenance

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

July09-145-2.jpg

Kirk, my parents, and I, arrived at the Hollow on July 3–Elizabeth couldn’t make it this year.

We spent some time the first couple days doing some maintenance. Before setting up the tent on top of the dam, we used the tractor to yank the willow bushes from the front of the dam.

Between the chain saw, the tractor, a lot of sweat, and a bit of poison ivy, we managed to open up some of the trails that were blocked by fallen trees during last summer’s mini-nado and the big ice storm a few years earlier. The one we call the Ridge Trail, along the eastern edge of our property, had been blocked by a number of large birch branches for at least 4 years.

We cleared several downed maples between The Valley and the Ridge Trail (shown at left) and then tackled the big birch. After all those years, the branches had shrunk a bit, and were somewhat rotted, making it a lot easier to trim them and then push the logs out of the way with the tractor.

The trail on the western edge of The Hollow, leading up to the Upper Meadow, has been blocked for a number of years by a large tree, and its half-uprooted stump, that blocked the trail just before a very sharp hairpin. In the past, I’d been able to drive the tractor around that spot, but it was too wet last year, and I wasn’t able to mow the grass in the upper meadow, the highest spot in The Hollow.

It took about an hour to saw the end off this big log, and to attack the tree stump with a shovel, cleaning off much of the clay that was still stuck to the roots. Figuring we’d have to saw the trunk off right next to the stump, I dug a hole under it saw that we could saw it without dulling the blade. As it turned out, we were able to pop it right out of the ground with the tractor’s front end loader.

July09-213-2.jpgThe biggest project involved the felling of a 28-year old, 40 foot high pine tree. After the Northeast Blackout of 2003, the power companies have been a lot more aggressive in preventing trees from interfering with power lines. They finally reached The Hollow last year, spraying some sort of herbicide on everything within site of the incoming electric wires. Whether or not this pine tree would ever recover, it would always be horribly scarred by the loss of most of its branches, and it would always represent a threat to the power line, so we decided to take it out.

Felling a tree uphill is a bit of a trick, especially when it is bigger than a telephone pole. If we failed, the falling tree would take the power lines down with it, so I climbed up the side of the tree with a ladder, attached a chain to it, and attached the chain to a come along winch tied to the base of another tree. Taking a big notch out of the uphill side of the tree, Dad tightened up the winch, and the tree started to lean uphill. I finished sawing the other side of the trunk, while Dad continued to winch, and we managed to drop it exactly where we’d planned, without loss of human limb, or power.