Farewell Ellie…


Animal Cairn

The cairn under which at least eight of my pets are buried

My beautiful Ellie who I recently wrote about, has joined Brown Cat in that special place that all cats go to when they pass on from this earthly life.

She did not handle the passing of Brown Cat very well and it was obvious that even though they were not close, she did miss him if only for the companionship of another cat in the house. She totally changed her lifestyle from being an indoor cat sleeping on the bed all day to spending hours outdoors in any of the special places that she found to sleep, on the deck, under the deck, in between the trees and under the shed. If I didn’t bring her in at night, she would probably have spent all of her time outside not even coming in to eat. Even after eating, she immediately wanted back outside again although I wouldn’t let her out until the morning choosing instead to listen to her plaintive meowing in protest.

We had a rainy day and true to form, she again slipped out using the doggy door. I looked for her as the rain pelted down but could not find her anywhere. Eventually, around 12:30 that night, I located her under the deck totally soaked and very dirty and managed to get her indoors where I gave her a bath, sort of. Have you vere tried bathing a cat? I do not recommend it as they have teeth and claws and put them to very good use. I eventually got a lot of the dirt off her and dried her and put her in her room.

The next day, when I let her out, she immediately headed for the doggy door but only made it halfway and collapsed on the floor. I could see she was in trouble so I put her in a carry crate and off we went to the vets (again). Although I love my vets dearly having been with them for the 32 years I have lived in this house, they have seen far too much of me these past couple of years.

I left Ellie with them and waited for the call confirming what I already knew the news would be. True to form, Dr Donop, called and we talked about Ellie. Turns out that she had an open wound on her leg that I had not noticed before even when I bathed her.  With her outdoor life, the flies had gotten into it and they had made it much worse with their eggs and maggots and Dr Donop could not find any way to sew up the wound in order to treat it. We discussed the alternatives of which there were very few options and in the end,  based on his recommendations, I told him to go ahead and put Ellie to sleep and out of her suffering. It was something I was prepared for this time, not like Richie. I told him I would be back later that day to pick her up.

I walked out to the garden carrying my spade and shovel and headed for that special place next to the big pond where so many of my pets are buried. Normally, the digging is hard but as we had recently a lot of rain, it was somewhat easier than normal. Being Texas Hill Country, the limestone is usually only a foot or so below the surface which limits the depth of the hole and I make up for it but covering everything up with rocks.

I buried Ellie next to Brown Cat and Richie, the most recent of the many dogs and cats that lay in this special place. I stood for a while and said my goodbyes to Ellie as I have to all of the pets buried here. She was the last of the many cats that I have had the pleasure of living with over these many years both here and in my previous home out in the country as I do not plan on getting any more. My little menagerie has dropped radically in size from an all time high of eight dogs and three cats to two very small and very noisy dogs. What they lack in size, they truly make up for with their noisy barking at anything that moves out in the yard, perceived or real. Ginny is about eight and Pete around four so they should be around for awhile, hopefully, the rest of my lifetime.

There are stone statues of dogs and cats on the cairn.

In retrospect, this has been a bad couple of years as far as pets go in the Allcorn Residence. Four of the last six dogs and cats that I have taken to the vets have all come home in cardboard boxes and then there was Abigail who drowned in the septic tank. In fairness, with the exception of Richie and Abigail, all of the others were getting on in years and their time had come. Ellie was at least 18 years old and she had a good life.

I will miss her as I do all of the ones that have gone to that animal heaven up in the sky. They all asked for very little and in return, gave me their unconditional love. A man could not ask for anything better than that.

Rest in Peace Ellie. You will be missed.

Written 10/8/2017

 

Renovating the Small Pond – Part 1


new small pond

This was the restored pond after it’s first major re-build.

When I first built the “small pond” as I like to call it more than 15 years ago, it was a part of a two pond construction. The ponds were separated by a weir which allowed water to flow from one to the other which then in turn was pumped back to the top of the first and bigger of the two ponds. I kept this system in place for several years but had a lot of trouble in maintaining the water levels between the two ponds. In the end, I installed a 1200 gph pump in order to balance the water which in turn lost all of the effects I was trying to achieve.  After several years of discontent on my part, I made the decision to separate the two ponds and have them independent of each other. About four years ago, I did a major renovation on the lower pond which included doing repair work on the liner. Last year, I renovated the upper pond. Apparently, my work on the lower or small pond did not hold up and it was not long before I detected a leak in this pond.  It was only a small leak and by keeping the automatic water levelers  on, not very noticeable and not very costly. Even so, it was still a pain and bothered me to no end knowing that the pond was leaking somewhere. I guess my pride was also hurt knowing that my workmanship in which I take a lot of care, had failed in this instance.

A couple of months ago, I turned off the water leveler hoping that the pond would slowly drain down and then I could find a point where it had stopped which would give me the indication of where the hole in the liner might be. I suspected that the rats of which I have several, had chewed a small hole, enough to create a leaky situation without actually draining the pond. I have had to repair such leaks in the other ponds and the “Old Man” disappearing stream has been rebuilt 4 times and still has a leak. I even concreted under the liner to seal the bottom of the stream  and somehow, they have managed to chew a hole either in the waterfall which is slowly creeping nearer the statue making the stream shorter as I keep rebuilding it or it is in the disappearing fountain box. I know that the rats have made a home in the waterfall as one ran down the tunnel which I had exposed as I was searching for the leak. I have sat here at my computer looking out of the window and watched as several of them have come out to feed on the bird seeds that have dropped from the feeders. Can’t poison them because of the dogs and when I tried to trap them, all I caught were Wrens who like to eat the seed also. Darn rats.

Back to the pond. The water had dropped about a foot with no sign of stopping and obviously no hole to repair. I did not want to wait until the hot weather to get here and decided to go ahead and more or less completely rebuild the pond and install a brand new liner on top of the existing one. I needed a plan so the next step was decide the best approach as I did not want to move the 60 or so goldfish until the last minute to keep their time in stock tanks at a minimum. I should mention that I live in Austin, Texas which is located right at the start of the Hill Country. We can dig down about a foot and then hit limestone. Consequently, all of my ponds are built upwards after going down as deep as possible which is usually only about a foot or so. This pond is actually about 2 feet deep and that is because the contractor who built the house had done some back-filling in that particular spot and I got lucky.

I decided that my best approach was going to be to remove all of the stone exposed in the upper part of the surrounding walls and replace them with concrete block which in turn will be covered by the old and then eventually the new liner below the water level. I should mention that I plan on taking advantage of this rebuilding and add another 8 inches or maybe more to the depth of the pond so that it should measure out around 3 feet deep when I am finished. I can achieve this by making the outside walls higher which is possible as I still have to purchase a new piece of liner.

I wanted to try to do a lot of the work without disturbing the goldfish. I was able to remove all of the stone from the outside of the pond by working carefully and taking it down piece by piece leaving the goldfish still in the pond.  At the same time, from the outside, I rebuilt the walls using the concrete blocks all the way to the new raised water level. The blocks would eventually be covered with the new liner which would be hidden below the water level.

As the work progressed and as I had gone as far as I could from the outside, I  had to put on the waders and get into the water to work on the rest of the stone/block-work. While I was in there, I took the opportunity of cleaning out some of the pond plants leaving just a few so the fish still had some cover. Things went well including a couple of trips to my local Lowe’s at Bee Caves where I had to pick up concrete blocks. I didn’t plan very well and instead of getting them all at the same time, I hadn’t thought far enough ahead about using two different sizes 8 inch and 4 inch and had to go back for the 4 inch blocks. The young guy that helped me to load them was full of complaints about his job but did mention that he was a lot stronger and had lost some weight for the hard and strenuous work he had chosen for himself. I didn’t point out that I was also going to have work with the blocks and I wouldn’t have any help and am probably at least 4 times his age and am very happy that I am still able to work with the heavy blocks. Two opposing views and I didn’t want to make him feel bad…

After completing the dismantling and having a new supply of blocks to work with, I continued to rebuild the outside walls with the blocks. The plan was to build the perimeter, including anchoring the old liner between the blocks, to the proposed new height which would make the pond an extra 8 inches deeper. I finished the basic work around the perimeter and all of the blocks were in place and the old liner stretched up and over them to make a good foundation for the new liner.

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Showing the first set of raised blocks  and the old liner. The goldfish are still in the pond at this point.

I moved the 2 – 80 gallon holding tanks closer to the pond to contain the fish. I pumped down the water from the pond and put some into each tank and then topped them up with fresh water. Then I set the 4 stone aerators close enough with 2 stones in each tank. I thought that I would have to ask my buddy George to come over and help me with the fish when it occurred to me that the very low spot is right next to the side of the pond and easily within reach for me to net out the fish after pumping down the water which is what I did. I managed to catch all that were in the pond and transferred them to the stock tanks. With any luck, I was hoping that they would only be there at the most 2 days and nights if things really worked well. It turned out that by the time I caught all of the fish, there were 73 altogether. I removed the plants and blocks and cleaned out the pond ready for the new liner which I still had to buy.

As a matter of interest, I discovered the leak after I pumped the pond down. It was right on the bottom in a seam that had come unglued. I would have had to let the pond completely drain out before I could have discovered it and the only reason that I found it this time is that water flowed back into the pond through the hole. There I was blaming the poor old rats…

Leak in the liner

I called my local Pond Supply, Leaf Gardens to see if they had a piece of liner. Unfortunately, they were out and would not have a new roll until the following week so I opted to drive to Cedar Park to Hill Country Water Gardens as they had liner of the right size. I just love going to that place. It is always so well laid out and they were in the process of changing the front ponds to connect to a stream. They are always doing something to make the place interesting. They cut and loaded the liner for me and at the same time, I purchased de-chlorinator and also a pond treatment for the fish in the big pond  and made my way home.

First thing was to unload the liner which I managed to wrestle off the trailer and onto my dolly. I thought about calling my buddy George to give me a hand but figured that I should try to do it myself. Turns out that I was able to work it off the dolly and into the pond without too much trouble. It must have weighed well over a 100 pounds but by being careful and thinking ahead, I got it into position. Once it was unfolded, it was fairly easy to keep moving it around until I was more or less happy with how it was fitting.  I found out much to my chagrin, that I had over compensated and had a lot of liner hanging over the blocks, enough that I could raise the walls by another 8 inches all the way around which will give the pond more depth to the 4 feet I was aiming for.

Of course, I never had enough blocks… again and as the trailer was still hooked to the car, I drove to Lowe’s in Bee Caves and they loaded another 45 –  8 inch blocks and 10 – 4 inch for me. This time, it was two different guys one of whom just wanted to show off his manliness by  loading the blocks by himself. The other guy, a much younger and obviously smarter kid,  just sat on the forklift and I stood back and watched, very appreciative of the fact that he wanted to do the work. Wish I could get them to come home and place them in position. Actually, the pleasure for me of having ponds is more in the construction than maintaining the finished product. I have worked in the construction industry all my life in many different capacities and there is nothing quite like the feeling of satisfaction that working on and completing another project can give. Working on home projects by myself is always another challenge as I need to think very carefully about how to do things by myself without any help. That plus lifting and moving the heavy blocks and the stone is a great work out.  Who needs a gym when I can get all of the weight training that I need and exercise my mind on the planning at the same time.

 

More to follow in Part 2.

Re-Building the Bog on the New Pond


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The finished bog viewed from the pond side.

The last pond that I built in 2010 I call the New Pond. It is over 6000 gallons and the largest one that I have. The first pond, built in 1990, is now relegated to the name of First Pond as it falls behind in size containing just 5000 gallons.

When I built the New Pond, I included a small bog on the side that was fed by it’s own supply from the main pump. It then returned the water back into the pond by gravity feed. I was pushed for room when I built it and it measured about 2 ft wide and 8 ft long with stacked stone walls on the three sides away from the main wall of the New Pond. I used the standard construction method which comprised of a liner and then filled with loose pea gravel. I planted it out with a mix of different plants and for the longest time, it worked well.

A couple of years ago, I noticed that the water level was dropping in the New Pond and went through the usual methods of trying to isolate where the leak could be. First, I shut off the pumps and the water still went down which told me that the leak was either in the pond or in the bog (or both). Suspecting that I had a rat chewing problem, I started a serious search from within the pond all the way around the water level and discovered an area of about 6 feet that the rats had chewed through the liner in several places from within the surrounding rocks which they had made their home. This resulted in me having to drain more water out of the pond to lower the water level and then to apply several glued on patches to the affected areas. The repair was simple enough and after giving it time to cure, I refilled the pond and started everything back up.
DSC_6207
The water level held up for more than a year and then started to drop again. Suspecting more rats, I checked the repairs and they were still holding up so by a process of elimination, I isolated the bog area which turned out to be the culprit. With a lot of other things going on like Septic Tank Repairs, remodeling the bath to a shower and a host of other things, I just turned the bog off and let it grow out which it did with the most amazing display of Green Taro.

Having caught up with many of the other pressing things in my busy life, I turned my attention to this bog. Reluctantly, because of the Taro’s amazing growth, I dug out all of the plants, some in pots and others having already outgrown them with roots going everywhere. I saved the rhizomes for future use, transplanted what plants I could and then proceeded to dig out the gravel. I forgot to mention, that for once, the position of this bog with the gravel path running alongside of it, made it very easy to work on. As I removed the rocks that made up the exterior walls, I re-laid them into the new wall with very little effort so that I had the outline of the new bog. I was able to increase the size to about 3 ft average width and 12 feet long. I also planned to tear out the waterfall I had previously built and use the outlet from the bog to act as a return waterfall.

I dug out all of the dirt inside the new walled in area and cleaned everything up. I then completed most of the stonework bringing in other stone from a pile that I had elsewhere until the shape and depth were sufficient.

I was then faced with the problem of what to do inside the walls as in their current state, I could not cover them with a liner as the stones were so uneven. I got over the problem by building a 2 x 4 form which I filled with concrete. I used old wire mesh and used hardware cloth that I had laying around from another project for reinforcement to help hold it all together. When I finished the long wall, I worked alternately on each end wall so that the finished product was completely lined with concrete on the three sides. The side that surrounded the pond had enough existing dirt still from the original excavation that all I had to do was fill a few holes with concrete and smooth them over.

I measured the hole for the liner several times to make sure that I was allowing enough. As you pay for the liner by the square foot, it is very easy to want to skimp on it. I erred in the other direction having already made the mistake of having the liner a few inches too short on previous projects and having to make adjustments because of it. I visited Jeff Yarborough at Leaf Landscape Supply to buy the liner as it is only a couple of miles from my house. Jeff is one of our Speakers and the company is one of the Austin Pond Society Sponsors so I like to give them my business. Not only that, I get a Club Discount which also made it worth while. As I usually do for this sort of thing, I drove out the back and helped one of the workers lay out the liner and then fold up the piece and put it in my trailer.

I needed some used carpet to put under the liner to give it a cushion and protect it from any sharp edges and made a couple of calls. Leaf Supply came through and suggested that I contact a Carpet installer off William Canon which I proceeded to do. They have this huge pile of used carpet outside and for a very small fee (they called it a donation for which I gave them $5), I could take all that I wanted. I got it home and installed it to completely cover the inside of the excavation.
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On my previous efforts of handling large pieces of liner by myself, I had already figured out the best way to do it is to lay it out and then re-fold it in the way you want it to unfold. This save a lot of pulling and dragging and risking moving the rock walls or damaging the liner. It is much easier to move a liner in small lifts than to try to drag the entire thing. I’ll bet the piece that I had probably weighed a 100 pounds.

With the liner in place and folded the way I wanted it on the corners, the next step was to work on building the water chamber. This comprises of a space of about 8 inches between the floor and the medium that was going to hold up the larva rock which I was going to use as filter material. There are a variety of ways to create the space. Several of the Pond Society Members have acquired plastic Coke crates and stacked them end to end to fill up the space. I didn’t have a supply of these items but I did have an 8 x 4 feet sheet of small lattice plastic fencing material and several 8 x 16 concrete blocks. Prior to placing the blocks, I cut small pieces of liner to fit under each one so as to shield the liner and help to protect it. I placed enough of the blocks in such a way to support the lattice without any fear of it collapsing under the weight of the larva rock and then cut the lattice to shape. I used the entire sheet and prior to installing the lattice, I installed two 2 inch PVC pipes through which I had pre-drilled two rows of 1/2 inch holes about 6 inches apart. I threaded these pipes through the blocks so as to raise them off the bottom. I covered the whole thing with a layer of weed cloth of the absorbent kind that would allow the water to go through.

Having successfully gotten this far, I then filled the bottom up with water to allow the liner to settle into the corners before completing the rest of the work. The next part of the project was to hook up the plumbing which was a fairly easy job as the service to bring in the water from the pump was already in place. Using a tip learned from my previous work on the plumbing for the Septic System, I drilled a 1/4 inch hole below the water level in the upright feed pipe inside the bog to prevent an air lock as the pipes went from the ground, up and over the wall in the shape of an inverted U and back into the bog.

The next order of business was to purchase the larva rock. Previous experience had shown me that the bags at Lowe’s are 1 cubic foot compared to those at Home Depot which are only 1/2 a cubic foot for almost the same price. I purchased 14 of the bags. I was going to just put the rock into the bog loose but again, my friends warned me that it is tough to dig it out when the time comes to clean the bog and that I should use bags. With much more forethought and skillful planning than me, they had managed to buy used craw-fish bags from Louisiana at a fairly cheap price. I had to make do with laundry bags from Target which I paid a bit more for but mine are a little bigger and can contain more rock. Of course, that may also be a disadvantage as they may be too bloody heavy for me to get them out when the time comes. Given a few more years, and I doubt if I can lift what I do now. It’s hell growing old for many reasons.

I filled the bags and carefully installed them in the bog and filled in between with loose lava rock. The original plan was not to plant any pots or marginal plants in there but it looked so bare that I relented and stuck back in many of the same plants I had dug out of the previous bog. That was after re-potting them.

Before filling the bog with water, I checked to see that the outlet rock, a 2 x 1-1/2 foot slab was positioned and was level. It was very important for getting the proper waterfall effect, that this particular item be almost perfect. This rock, I had bedded in a mortar mix in order for it to be correct. I had already stacked rocks on the inside wall and used spray foam to fill the joints and prevent the water spilling out in the wrong places. I turned my attention back to the outside walls and completed placing the rocks to give it a finished look.

Then came the moment of truth.  I filled the water back into the bog and added
de-chlorinator to prevent the new water from affecting the fish in the pond. As the water rose, I adjusted the liner in a couple of places and then watched as it reached the outlet stone and came out in a perfect waterfall. Breathing a huge sigh of relief, I watched for a while and then gave myself a mental pat on the back for another completed project.

It took me almost 2 weeks to complete this job and that was with long hours. Sometimes, I would run short of this or that and have to make a quick run to Lowe’s or Home Depot. Luckily, the weather for most of the time was pretty nice although it did get hot (for the time of year) for a couple of days.

The next projects are already in the works. This time, I have to explore why both streams are leaking. I have already re-built the Little Old Man stream 3 times with the last time of adding a concrete bottom and sides under the liner. As you have probably guessed, I have a rat problem in both of these areas too. For now though, as it raining fairly heavily outside, I am content to just write about the stuff already completed. Oh yeah, a big thank you to all of my friends for their words of wisdom. They helped me to stop from copying their mistakes.

First Trip to Bull Creek Nature Preserve


Bull Creek

Bull Creek


I had itchy feet again yesterday as well as the urge to take pictures so I packed up my stuff, jumped into the car and headed towards Bull Creek Nature Preserve off Loop 360. Pulling into the parking lot, the only other vehicles there was a construction truck with three Hispanic gentlemen sitting and enjoying the beauty of the surroundings as they ate their lunch.

I wandered up and down a little still in the lot, trying to decide which way to go before I put on my pack. On the way back to my car, there was this fairly large turtle that measured about six inches walking across the lot. Being the good guy that I am, I decided that it was a little risky leaving him where he was although I have to say, for a turtle he was making pretty good time as he walked towards the water. I picked him up and deposited him much closer to the water so that he had a better chance of making it. I was probably ten feet above the water from where I was and it seemed too far to just throw him in so I decided to let him find his own way and if he chose to jump, so be it…Do turtles jump?

I returned to the car and put on my pack after checking the camera, grabbed my monopod and off I went travelling downstream. I hadn’t gone more than 50 yards and I came across this big rock sticking out of the water. It was covered in turtles from very small to absolutely huge, with several probably more then a foot long. When they saw me, most of them slid into the water and I managed to get a couple of shots of the remaining two or three. As I looked into the water which at this point is probably more than ten feet deep, I could see many more large turtles just floating or swimming around. It was a veritable turtle haven. If you click on the picture, it will enlarge and you can see the size of the turtles. The one nearest the water looks like the back of his shell is damaged. Must be an old guy…

Turtle Rock

Turtle Rock


Moving on with my hike, much of the trail was wet and muddy caused by the water as it seeps out of the soft limestone rocks. A bit different to many of the trails I have been on. Eventually, the trail led me down to the river bed where I was walking on solid rock. I came across some double lines cut in the rock and recalled that there were similar tracks in Round Rock created by the wagons that followed the Chisholm Trail. At one point, there are two distinct set of tracks that finally merge into one as they lead up and out of the river bottom.I wonder what the history is behind these tracks. Are they a part of the Chisholm Trail or just those made by the locals as they used the river bottom as their road? Obviously more research is required.
Chisholm Trail? I wonder.

Chisholm Trail? I wonder.

Continuing on downstream there are some huge chunks of rock that probably fell from the cliffs above over the years. Looking at the horizon, the wealth of man was very obvious in several places as the houses overlooked the valley below. At the bottom end of my hike, I came across a Bull Creek District Park that even had permanent restrooms. It is located at 6701 Lakewood Dr., Austin, Texas 78731 and is a good place to start next time.

Rock in the Stream

Rock in the Stream

I passed a few other hikers out to enjoy the wonderful day, not yet so hot to be uncomfortable as we all know the Texas summers can be. Starting back towards my car, I crossed over to the other side of the Creek to make my way back. This side was more like the regular trails that I hike in the other places that I go with the trails under and through the trees. At one point, the seepage from the rock was very consistent and a dense growth of hanging moss was suspended from the rocks. It looked very pretty.

Hanging Moss

Hanging Moss and Fern

I came back to my starting point and decided to keep going for bit to explore the trails going upstream until I came to the Loop 360 overpass. At this point, I turned back and made my way back to my car. There were many more people about especially in the Parking Lot and couples sitting off by themselves enjoying each others company in beautiful surroundings.

Loop 360 Overpass

Loop 360 Overpass


My turtle friend was no longer where I left him so hopefully, he was cooling off in the water along with his buddies. I packed my gear back into the car after my usual change of clothes, headed to Cedar Park where I needed to visit the Hill Country Garden Center. All in all, it was a very nice hike. Unfortunately, the scenery is pretty repetitious and there are many pictures of the Creek and the rocks surrounding it and not much else. Enjoy.