Tag Archives: Ozarks

Unhappy Goat Snow Days

My Nubian goats are spoiled. Dairy goats in general seem that way, or so I hear. They hate to get wet or tromp through the snow. They like to go out romping. Snow days are tough on them.

The first day wasn’t too bad. My herd is smaller now and has plenty of room in the barn to argue among themselves. Standing around with enough hay in the troughs to replace their bedding is fun too.

Nubian goat herd on snow days

Snow is still covering most of the ground. Still my Nubians look out from under their door cover blanket hoping I will open the pasture gate. Somehow I must be able to give them their pasture back minus the snow. I wish I knew how. They need the exercise. Mobbing the milk room door is not exercise for them, only frustration for me.

Even Augustus didn’t mind the first day. He is lonely now without Gaius around. He liked having the herd stay around all day.

Day two wasn’t so fun. The goats have plenty of hay to eat. They are bored with hay. Acorns are tastier. New hay doesn’t appear often enough.

Water is another complaint. The buckets don’t arrive often enough. Of course, the goats can’t be bothered to get drinks when they do arrive. New hay is on the agenda, then water. I am supposed to wait around until they are ready.

Nubian buck Augustus on snow days

Nubian buck High Reaches Silk’s Augustus has room in his pen, just not enough. By day 3, he is ready and eager to get outside and run. Unfortunately the snow is not leaving and he is stuck watching the world go by.

Exercise is important. The goats chase each other around in the barn. There is one bench and the thunder of feet going over it is almost continuous. I’m glad I got it repaired last week.

Augustus is tired of snow days. His pen is big enough for a short time. Two days is too long. He wants out to play too. His brand of playing is not appreciated by the does.

Up north the snow days lasted for months. This herd would go nuts. Luckily for my herd Ozark snow days last only a few days.

The storm should pass tonight. The sun will start melting the snow tomorrow. By the next day the goats will be ready to race out the gate churning up the mud as they buck and bounce their way out to find those acorns.

Enjoy raising goats? Try Dora’s Story.

Changing Climate Gardening

I’ve had a garden here for twenty-five years. It was very small the first few years. It’s grown and changed over the years. It has always been challenging, but gardening in this time of changing climate is hard.

Ozark springs are normally short, warm and wet. I skipped cold weather crops like cabbage and broccoli.

The last two years spring has been long, cold with frosts, wet and miserable. This is great for cabbage and broccoli. So I put some in.

changing climate lets cabbage grow in winter

The mulch keeps the ground from freezing. The biggest problem with it is cold and wet rotting roots, but that hasn’t happened this winter. Normally even cabbage and turnips are done in December. This winter they are still growing in January.

Except.

The plants were growing well, looking great. The temperatures went up into the eighties, humidity to match and no rain. Both crops rotted.

Lots of people put in their tomato plants when the weather is still cool thinking they will get a head start. The plants languish.

I prefer to wait until the weather is warm and settled as my plants will catch up quickly because they are happy.

Except.

Tomato plants do not like eighties and nineties with hot sun. They hunker down refusing to grow, blossom or set fruit. Even providing shade doesn’t help much.

Fall into early winter has been a good time for lettuces and cabbage. Changing climate has winter confused. My plastic protections must be taken off for days, then put back on.

broccoli survives winter in changing climate

Broccoli takes a lot of cold, but not twenty degrees and under. That hasn’t been a big problem this winter. The plants are growing slowly under makeshift plastic shelters. Maybe I’ll have broccoli this spring.

The seed catalogs are sitting on my kitchen table. I want to put a seed order together. The changing climate must affect what I grow. I need to try some new crops. Crops that can tolerate drought, heat and weeds.

Maybe I should start growing more of the edible weeds. The changing climate doesn’t seem to devastate them. Perhaps I will cut back on the lettuce and other tame greens and expand into more wild greens.

However, tomatoes, okra, winter squash and bell peppers stay in the garden. These are the joys of summer eating. These make winter menus so much better.

Where are those seed catalogs?

How Do You Count?

Nature doesn’t count the way we do. When you look at a flower, some flowers are in sets of three, some fours and others fives.

Purple trillium is an easy one to see the sets of three in. It has three leaves, three sepals and three petals. False garlic is another one.

Bluets come with four petals. The early small bluet so hard to photograph as the camera always tries to lose focus has four distinct petals in some shade of lavender, blue or white. The later long leaf bluet has a trumpet that breaks into the four petal lobes at the top.

count three with purple trillium

A spring ephemeral purple trillium sends up a single stalk with three leaves. On them open three sepals exposing three purple petals hiding three yellow anthers.

The rose family has a set of fives. Tame roses have been bred to have so many petals, it’s hard to see the underlying fives. Wild roses, crabapples, wild plums and swamp agrimony have five petals.

People count in sets of ten. We have five fingers, all right, four fingers and a thumb, on each hand. Children use each one to stand for a number and end up making ten.

Our number system is set up on tens. We keep adding one number at a time until we get to that tenth one. It goes in the next column as one complete set of ten plus no ones (10). The ones add up again until we get to that tenth one again. It becomes a two in the tens column plus no ones (20).

count four on a bluet

A common bluet flower has four petals. They are often blue but range from white to lavender. All have the dots of color at the base. I find them very difficult to photograph. They seem to stay out of focus.

As I began to look over my rough – very rough – draft of The Carduan Chronicles, I hit this fundamental fact. I was counting in sets of ten. The Carduans would not count in tens as they do not have five fingers on each hand.

Now, as the Carduans are imaginary, I could change that. Yet I had good reasons for not giving them five fingers. Size is the most important factor.

I am roughly fifteen times bigger than the average Carduan. My hand is about six inches long from palm base to finger tip and half that wide. That would give the average Carduan a hand four tenths of an inch long and two tenths wide, roughly half an inch by a quarter inch. Their fingers would be a sixteenth of an inch in diameter, ridiculously small to have any strength in them.

count five on prairie roses

Prairie roses have this wonderful scent. It’s a bit sweet and spreads for five feet and more around a bush. These simple roses show the typical five petals.

So the Carduans have two fingers and an opposable thumb, three digits on each hand. They will count in sixes. Theoretical math calls this base 6. I’ve heard of it, but know little about how to use it.

This means I have to recalculate things in the draft and correct these counts before I can do a proper rewrite. This changes the number of ration packs in a crate. It changes the time frame altering the time line I need to construct to correct another set of problems.

The one thing I don’t need to change is the number of degrees in a circle. That was invented by the Sumerians long ago and they used a base of sixty giving 360 degrees in a circle. We still use this for navigation, for longitude and for compass readings. And sixty is divisible by six.

I still prefer using the normal way to count.

Wildflowers are one topic of photographs and haikus in “My Ozark Home.”

Fall Liverworts Flourish

Wanting to reacquaint myself with the ravines as I get ready to work on “The Carduan Chronicles”, even though this is November, not February, I walk back into the first one after the rain stopped. Water is flowing over the rock shelves and making small waterfalls. Dead leaves cover everything. And the liverworts flourish on the rocks along the water.

liverworts flourish in ravine

Last winter this pond was frozen over and a white ice river extended up the ravine above it. The white ice river moved into “The Carduan Chronicles” for one adventure and a bit of exploration. The ravine itself has influenced the imaginary ravine the spaceship lands in. for now the ravine is a lovely walk looking up the slopes at the fall colors and admiring the mosses and liverworts on the rocks near the water.

November is National Novel Writing Month, that annual challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days. And I am attempting to return to Cardua and finish my draft long neglected as I finished two books, “My Ozark Home” and “Mistaken Promises,” over the year.

I do remember the premise: Spaceship Nineteen from a convoy ferrying colonists and supplies to a new Arkosan colony is dropped out of a disintegrating worm tunnel into a February ice storm and lands in an Ozark ravine where the three crew members and six young Arkosans are stranded leaving them to learn how to survive in an alien environment. Reading through the draft has helped me remember the incidents and interplay between the Arkosans now Carduans as they name their new home Cardua.

Walking through the ravines is to help move me back into the story. My walk was working until the liverworts distracted me.

Liverworts flourish in a pile on a rock

These liverworts pile exuberantly over this rock and each other. This would be a Carduan point of view as I put the camera on the ground looking at the rock.

Liverworts are one of those primitive plants mentioned in biology texts that teachers have probably never seen. There is a picture of a liverwort. The class yawns and forgets all about them.

Much of the year the liverworts around the creek and up some of the ravines merit only that yawn. These plants like lots of moisture and cool temperatures. Summer may have the moisture, but not the temperatures. Winter freezes them. Spring and fall are the best times to see liverworts.

new liverworts flourish

Evidently this is a new liverwort colony. The tongues are growing outwardly, branching and creating a pretty pattern across the rock.

Last spring lasted about three days.

This fall the liverworts flourish. Long green tongues stretch out over the rocks. They branch, pile over each other and almost glow in the dim light under the clouds.

Even being distracted I noted several things I may use in “The Carduan Chronicles” over the course of the month. And I have an added reason to visit other ravines: to see if the liverworts flourish in them as well.

Leaves Falling Like Rain

Black walnuts are interesting trees. They are among the last trees to leaf out in the spring and the first to drop their leaves in the fall. Frost brings leaves falling like rain.

Walnuts begin falling in early September, a few at a time. By October many trees are bare of both walnuts and leaves. Other trees still have many walnuts hanging high overhead and lots of green leaves.

Killing frost arrives.

Standing in the barn door during milking I listen to the walnuts hitting the metal roof on the workshop. Whump! Pow, pow pow. Thump! It is a continuous drumroll.

leaves falling like rain cover the ground

Many of the black walnuts are still hard and green when they fall. The bigger ones will crush underfoot. The smaller ones roll and can make walking dangerous. Killing frost is a trigger for the walnuts to fall along with the leaves.

Black walnut leaves are compound so there is a foot long stalk with nine leaflets on it. Each leaflet is close to two inches long and half as wide.

Given time walnut leaves turn yellow in late August. This year was warm and moist so the most leaves stayed green

Each puff of wind brought leaves swirling down from the trees. Sunlight highlighted these as they twisted and spun and fell looking like great green raindrops.

Walnut leaves falling like rain covered the walnuts and ground as a green carpet. Walking is again hazardous.

leaves falling like rain leave bare trees

Black walnut trees don’t leaf out until the middle of spring. Their leaves begin to yellow and fall in the middle of August. The trees still grow big.

I was done picking up walnuts. Two loads were plenty and took most of my work time for two weeks. Then killing frost paved the ground with more walnuts.

There will be another load of walnuts. Not as big as the other two. It could easily be bigger.

Walking out to find the goats in the evening the ground under every walnut tree was paved with walnuts and leaves. Out on the hills too there were leaves falling like rain.

By noon the green rain was over. The black walnut trees are bare. It will be another year before I can again watch the leaves falling like rain.

Going Mushroom Hunting

Wild mushrooms showed up at the Farmers Market last weekend. The three plus inch rain has brought up all the summer varieties. I decided to go mushroom hunting.

There are lots of edible mushrooms in the Ozarks. There are lots of poisonous ones too. The only summer mushrooms I know for sure are puffballs and chanterelles.

A man brought in a box with several mushrooms I’d never seen before. One was a rich blue inside and out. Another was white and shaggy. I knew it from a picture as a lion’s mane. Others were coral mushrooms which are a bit iffy as edible for some people.

Mushroom hunting is not usually productive for me. It is mostly an excuse to go out walking. Still, I packed a couple of bags just in case. And I remembered to spray up as the seed ticks are out in force.

There is a loop across the base of the hill above the south pasture, up a deep ravine, across the top of the hill and down into the big ravine leading back to the south pasture and the house. It’s not a bad hike, steep in places.

There were lots of mushrooms scattered through the woods. They came in many sizes and colors. I took some pictures, but picked none.

The goats were somewhere up the hill. I heard a snort now and then. I found an area with scraped off spots where the herd had rested. The goats were no where to be seen.

The reasons for the goats being on the hill were scattered around. No, they were not mushroom hunting. They were acorn hunting. Acorns do not make goats sick and they love them.

My mushroom hunting yielded some pictures, no mushrooms for dinner and a few hundred seed ticks. The goats did much better, coming in full of acorns.

Enduring Ozark Summer Heat

Missouri Ozark weather is usually changeable. Lately the changes have been slow in coming. Summer heat has been sitting here for a couple of weeks.

Temperature is only part of the story in the Ozarks. The other part is the humidity.

Our bodies sweat. It evaporates. Our bodies cool down. Humidity slows or stops the evaporation so we stay hot and feel hotter than the temperature warrants. Lately humidity levels have rivaled the temperature.

cat sleeps through summer heat

My cat Cloudy sprawls out on the grass next to the sidewalk occupied by my cat Burton. both await my appearance to serve dinner. They look so comfortable. They make it tempting to join them.

Cats don’t sweat. When summer heat settles in, they find a shady spot and sprawl out. Favorite haunts are often in front of doorways. Open the door. Find splat cat lying a step outside.

Chickens move into the shade. My flock has lost its favorite haunts as a pair of gray foxes has moved into the area. The chickens now hang out around the goat barn.

summer heat makes chickens pant

Chickens try to slick down their feathers. Then they start panting. These three are in a shady corner of their yard. A family of gray foxes has moved to the area so the chickens stay on full alert through the heat.

Horseflies and deerflies influence the goats. These insects have vicious bites. The goats come in with big, raised welts oozing moisture. The flies like sun and moist areas.

The goats go up on the hills and tuck themselves into deep shade under the oaks. Unfortunately the best browse is down in lower areas.

My herd is smaller now, only seventeen goats. They pack themselves into as small an area as possible. Each goat hopes the flies visit the neighboring goat or can be rubbed off onto the next goat.

Nubian goats in summer heat

Goats pant when they get hot. The herd loafs in shady areas most of the afternoon. My herd goes up over the hills and down the ravine during the day, between layovers in deeper shade. Once the air starts cooling, the herd comes out into the pasture to graze.

Toward midsummer the horseflies move up close to the goat barn. The goats don’t appreciate this. The chickens do.

Savvy chickens stalk the goats watching for flies to land. Snack time.

Summer heat is making work difficult. It’s too hot for me to work outside, even in the shade by noon. My barn is almost cleaned out. I keep trying to take out a few loads of manure each day.

Noon means coming in to change shirts as the morning shirt is sopping wet. There is a rumor this summer heat will break for a few days by the end of the week. All of us need the break.

My Ozark Home Pictures

Patience is difficult. My book “My Ozark Home” is nearly complete. A few more pictures are missing. And I have to wait.

There’s an old saying: A watched pot never boils. Well, a watched plant never seems to bloom.

Over the years I took pictures of my road in all seasons except one: summer. I took lots of close ups of the plants, but not the road. The book needs one of the road.

waiting for road pictures

How long does it take for a daylily to bloom? These buds have been about this size for a week!

Summer has lots of greenery. It’s short on color. There are flowers like daisy fleabane and Deptford pink blooming, but they are small.

Orange daylilies are a big splash of color. There are several patches of these plants along the road. They bloom in early summer. Except this year.

This year I’m waiting for them to bloom. The buds formed. They get bigger, slowly. I wait.

The daylilies on adjacent roads are blooming. The daylilies in the backyard are blooming.

I’m waiting.

In the meantime I’m editing. The written parts of the book are done. The pictures I have are in. The haikus are there, most of them.

one more day to pictures

At last! The buds are getting tall and showing orange. The tallest one will bloom tomorrow morning. It would be nice to have several buds open the same morning. Please?

Next come the page numbers. These take planning in a book like this one.

Odd numbered pages are on the right. Even numbered pages are on the left. This is important to remember.

The Table of Contents must be on an odd numbered page. That was easy. It’s on page three. Page one is the title page. Page two is the copyright page.

There are ten written pages. I want each to be on an odd numbered page with the first photograph of that section on the facing even numbered page. That leaves the previous section ending on an odd numbered page.

That sounds simple. Until a section ends on an even numbered page.

My Ozark Homes pictures

Maybe this picture will do. The road is a bit overgrown as the brushcutter hasn’t been by in two years. With good weather and lots of rain, the plants grow fast anyway. finally some of the daylilies are blooming. Only some of the buds open each morning.

There are now two choices. I can eliminate one of the photographs in the section. I can add another photograph and haiku to the section.

The second choice is preferable. Back to the piles of photographs to find the one that will fit into the section.

Of course, putting a new page or rearranging pages means the page numbers must be adjusted. So much for this being a simple book to complete.

I think I will go out and look at the daylilies again. I do need more pictures to complicate my editing.

Pursuing Plants

March in the Ozarks was cold. Wild plants tried to grow. Pursuing plants was simple as so few were blooming.

April hinted at spring then sprang into summer. Trees leafed out overnight. Spring wildflowers were buried under rampant summer growth. Pursuing plants became a hopeless task.

pursuing plants found yellow bedstraw

I’ve seen this Gallium or bedstraw before but dismissed it as an old weed. This year I took a closer look and found a new plant. There are ten members of the Gallium group in Dent county. I have now completed two and started two more. And there is another I think I have overlooked. This six inch tall, multi-stemmed plant called Yellow Bedstraw grows in sunny pasture or other grassy places.

Still, the botany project continues. That elusive goal of 2000 plants could be on the moon. This year the goal is to make 400.

Over 200 plant picture arrays were completed last year. Many others are missing one or two pictures. Some of the ones for this year will be trees.

Pursuing plants takes more time than I can spare. The secret is to carry the camera whenever I go out for any reason.

pursuing plants found a last picture

So many plants have one or two pictures missing. This Monarda often called Horsemint was missing a picture of the plant. this can be difficult to get as it prefers shady areas and is hidden by other plants.

A goat kid gets lost? Take the camera. Find the goat and take a couple of dozen plant pictures.

Fences need checking or fixing? Take the camera. There are plenty of wild plants on the trek out, around the fence and on the trek in. Taking a slightly different route helps too.

pursuing plants found a green violet

Violets are blue, or so the saying goes. Violets come in several colors including green. This is a green violet. The plant is easy to spot. the flowers are small and hang from the stalk like little green earrings. One more picture of the fruit will complete this plant’s picture array.

This year’s plan is to take one day a week to go out pursuing plants. There are two conservation areas and a state park close enough to make day trips.

To date those plans are on hold. I’m ready. The weather isn’t. It keeps raining on the day I want to go hiking. Digital cameras hate the rain.

The weather has been frustrating. I find a plant, take pictures of it in bloom and estimate when to come back to get a seed pod picture. It rains. Next year’s list now has three plants and two trees on it.

pursuing plants can lead to mix ups

As a child I learned about plants with leaves in threes: poison ivy and poison oak. The leaves of fragrant sumac look a lot like poison oak, but don’t leave you wishing you’d never met. The yellow flowers are followed by red berries.

There is one other ploy I must add to my plans. Next year I will have stakes to mark where smaller plants are. Wild pinks are so bright, so vivid, they can’t be missed. The plants are small and easily overwhelmed by taller ones. I missed the seed pods.

Another challenge is coming: the brush cutter. My road is too overgrown and must be cut. This is the worst possible time, but it will come anyway. I have at least two plants to mark so the brush cutter will leave them.

Pursuing plants may be a bigger project than I can ever complete. The pursuit is the true goal.

Many plants are included in Exploring the Ozark Hills. Check out the sample pages.

Cleaning Up After High Water

Another round of rain began as I came in from milking in the evening. Clouds had already dropped two and a half inches this week. It was slow, soaking in with no cleaning up needed.

Steady drumming accented with lightning and thunder continued until long after sleep claimed everyone. Morning light brought the rush of moving water.

The rain hadn’t stayed slow and steady. It poured. Rising waters had rampaged for a time, then dropped to a smaller torrent.

creek after flood

Last night’s flood has passed leaving the creek muddy and foaming. Debris left on the pastures marks the water’s high level. Debris is trapped against trees along the creek.

Cleaning up displaced all other tasks. The road washed out where the wet weather creek roared out next to the driveway leaving a three foot deep hole. The large rocks put into the culvert hole were across and down the road.

There was a culvert across the road at that spot twenty-five years ago. It washed out and was never replaced. The hole washed out every time the wet weather creek flooded. We filled it with large rocks to slow this down. Usually they work.

cleaning up the road means moving rocks and gravel

A wet weather creek poured out onto the road tearing off the gravel and rolling out large rocks leaving a three foot deep ditch across most of the road. Yes, the neighbor drove into the ditch and scraped the underside of his truck getting out again. The first step of cleaning up was putting the large rocks back into the hole.

The small pasture fence was flattened for thirty feet. Leaves, branches and road gravel are piled onto the wire.

My goats went out to pasture to find the bridge is washed out. The I-beams are still there. The approach is half gone. Many of the planks are gone. They didn’t cross the creek.

cleaning up downed fencing is hard work

Leaves and branches caught in the fence. road gravel piled on. Fence posts gave way leaving thirty feet of fence flattened. Cleaning up starts with pulling leaves and branches loose. Then the gravel is hoed away. Finally the posts are straightened or replaced so the wire can be raised.

What happened on the other side of the creek? I don’t know yet. The creek is too high to wade across. It doesn’t matter for now. Cleaning up this side will take time.

The neighbor came by while I was milking and drove into the hole in his large pickup. I heard the frame scrape on the edge of the road.

cleaning up the creek bridge will take weeks

High water often carries the bridge planks away. We find them, bring them back and pace them back on the bridge. This time cleaning up means filling in where the bank has been carved out.

Cleaning up began. First some large rocks went into the hole in the road.

Cleaning off and standing up the pasture fence will take several days. I cleared the first foot of debris off the top of the fence leaving the gravel.

Gravel is hard to move. It is heavy. It is full of rocks. Maybe I’ll use the tractor to move at least some of it. The driveway needs it.

Storms and floods are the topic of an essay in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.” They are a section of “My Ozark Home” due out this summer.

Ravines With Water

Ravines are not good places to be during high water. Afterwards, when the water is shallow again, is another story. Then ravines can be special places.

After starting cleaning up after the flood, I went walking up a ravine I rarely go into. It’s overgrown, has steep sides and begins far up a hill, coming out behind the backyard.

waterfalls in ravines

Blocks of rock create eddies and waterfalls a foot high in parts of this Ozark ravine.

Water flows through parts of this ravine much of the year. Seeps and small springs are dotted along a left branch of the ravine.

Last winter I found the water had frozen into a foot thick sheet of ice. It found its way into The Carduan Chronicles. This is long gone, as are the bare branches and barren leaf litter.

Water tumbled down over rock ledges. It spread out into moving sheets in wide areas of bare rock. It eddied in long, foot deep ponds patrolled by water striders.

trees line Ozark ravines

Ozark trees are decked out in summer finery now. Spring ephemeral wildflowers are setting seeds and vanishing. Summer wildflowers aren’t blooming yet. Quiet and green hillsides are restful vistas.

Liverwort covered some rocks near the seeps. Christmas ferns lined folds in the hill rising to the south of the ravine. Trees decked out in spring green leaves lined the hillsides on both sides.

This excursion into the ravine was done in rubber boots. Boots are a must with water running across and over the road, standing in pools in the pastures and with the bridge needing repairs necessitating standing in the creek.

pools in ravines

Pools over a foot deep form in places in this ravine. Last winter this pool was a sheet of ice. Now it is a skating rink for waterstriders. The rock shelf along the side makes it passable for me wearing rubber boots.

Boots made walking up the ravine easy. I stayed in the water course striding up the shallow areas with cool water swirling around my feet, stepping up the small waterfalls and edging around the pools.

Half way up the ravine, it splits. The side to the left is narrow, lined with seeps and wet rock ledges three to six feet high. It goes up a deep fold in the side of the hill.

water in ravines

Tiered sheets of rock form the floor of this ravine. Flowing water is a shimmering sheet dropping down the tiers.

The branch to the right is broader with gravel across its floor. This side is dry except after a rain. It runs between two hills.

I ventured a short way up the branches, then turned to return the way I had come. Walking in ravines with water flowing is relaxing as the wind rustles the leaves overhead and the tumbling, gurgling and splashing water flows by.

This is one of the ravines I’m using for ideas for The Carduan Chronicles due out this fall. Pictures of it are in “My Ozark Home” due out this summer.

Lone Star Tick Season Arrives

Warm weather is pouncing into the Ozarks. Hints of warm weather bring out the lone star ticks.

A lone star tick gets its common name because of a single white spot on the back of the adults. These are the common ticks in the Ozarks spring to late summer.

The cool weather did bring out a few ticks. A tick here. Another there. Enough to be annoying, but not a problem.

lone star tick on leaf

The white dot marks this as a lone star tick. It clambered over rocks, leaves, twigs and ground is a frantic attempt to reach me.

That changes with warm weather. Armies of ticks are out in force.

Although ticks are common out in the woods, they aren’t easily seen even when you look for them. Many are immature and a bare sixteenth of an inch across. Even the adults are less than a quarter inch across.

I met up with an adult lone star tick in the woods. The pussytoes are in bloom and I wanted a picture of some.

Since pussytoes are less than six inches tall, I sat down to get the camera down for a picture. This audacious lone star tick started racing over toward me.

This tiny creature was eighteen inches away. How could it know I was there?

lone star tick on twig

This was one determined tick. I shoved the leaf or twig it was on back a foot. Still the tick raced over towards me. It was amazingly fast leaving most of my photographs blurry.

I tossed it over a few inches. It immediately began racing toward me again.

After two or three times of tossing this tick aside and having it still race toward me, I knew it was homing in on me somehow. Mosquitoes use carbon dioxide and heat. What was the tick using?

The beacon had to be heat. I find ticks prefer warmer areas on the goats so it must be heat. Once a goat is bitten, the area reddens heating up and becomes a tick magnet.

One thing for sure, this tick had to be extremely sensitive to heat to notice the slight increase from me over eighteen inches.

Unfortunately for the tick, it was rushing to execution.

I have zero tolerance for ticks. The insect repellent is coming out of the closet. Soapy water and chickens are even better as the ticks die.

Gobbles Announce Turkey Season

Calendars don’t accommodate weather. This is a cold, wet, wintry spring. A few days lure plants and animals into spring. The next day sends them scurrying back to hide. But turkey season is still on the calendar.

Like all the other creatures, turkeys have been trying to greet spring. For tom turkeys this means putting on displays and gobbling. For hen turkeys this means finding nesting sites and hanging out with the toms.

turkey season toms

During the fall groups of tom turkeys forage for grass seed in relative harmony. In the spring these same toms are rivals competing for hens.

Usually gobbling is audible much of the day. Turkeys parade across the hill pasture easily watched from the house.

This year gobbling is an early morning sound, if the weather is warmer, like forty degrees. Otherwise the turkeys stay up in the woods scratching for leftover acorns and plants growing in spite of the frosts.

Turkey season for hunters is in April. Toms have been gobbling for a few weeks. Hens are busy laying eggs in their nests.

This year turkey season is still in April. But the toms are still getting started.

turkey season display

Only tom turkeys are hunted in the spring. During most of the year, tom turkeys keep their feathers down and aren’t much bigger than the hens letting them slip away from sight. Spring brings on the displays with tails raised and spread, feathers standing up, wings spread into fans. This is hard to miss from quite a distance away. However, wild turkeys are still wary birds and impossible to approach in the open.

There are a lot of turkeys around my hills. There is a north pasture bunch. The hill pasture bunch is the one I usually hear and see. Another bunch is in the south pasture. Next door is a huge bunch.

The bunches on my hills haven’t been hunted in years. I don’t hunt due to time and lack of skill. The neighbors love deer hunting, but don’t do much about the turkeys. The family who hunts deer on the place don’t hunt turkeys.

So the turkey population continues to go up.

Like all natural populations, turkeys die for lots of reasons. Coyotes catch them. In bad acorn years, many starve to death. Poults get picked off by coyotes and hawks.

There are still enough turkeys for a hunter to enjoy wild turkey dinner. And this year a hunter has asked to visit these hills for turkey season.

Find more about turkeys in Exploring the Ozark Hills.

Learning Botanical Families

Like animals are sorted into animal families, plants are sorted into botanical families. These are based on the flowers.

As I struggle to identify the wildflowers I come across, I’ve tried to learn the different botanical families. A few are fairly easy.

botanical families include Asteraceae

A common Asteraceae flower head has a disk of tiny flowers surrounded by ray flowers that look like petals. Not all Asteraceae flower heads have ray flowers. They all do have the tiny disk flowers.

The Asteraceae includes flowers like daisies, dandelions, sunflowers and pussy toes. All have masses of tiny flowers squashed into a single head on a disk.

The Asclepiadaceae have complex flowers with five petals, five hoods and pollinaria (packets of pollen). Common milkweeds are butterfly weed, swamp milkweed, purple milkweed and green milkweed.

botanical families include Asclepiadaceae like butterfly weed milkweed

Butterfly weed milkweed, like most milkweeds, attracts lots of butterflies, beetles, bees and wasps. The flowers have five backswept petals, five wells of nectar and five horns pointing into the wells. The sizes and colors can vary, but all the flowers have this basic pattern putting them into the same botanical family called Asclepiadaceae.

Other families were more difficult for me to recognize. Then a friend loaned me a book “Botany In a Day” by Thomas J. Elpel that goes through most of the families and explains how the flowers are arranged in each family.

Family by botanical family I am plowing my way through this book. It is easy to read and understand, just filled with information that takes time to absorb.

Then I found Elpel includes edibility and medicinal information for plants within each family. It is mostly the medicinal uses and many are ones I would never want to try after reading the descriptions.

Botanical families found in Botany In a Day

The book “Botany In a Day” includes keys to the various botanical families and pages about each family along with edibility and medicinal information. It’s written for Montana but many families occur in the Ozarks too.

The edibility is what I am interested in. I do pick and eat a number of wild greens. Lamb’s quarters is a favorite. Pokeweed, chicory, plantains and chickweed are other tasty treats.

The problem with these plants is where they grow: disturbed ground such as gardens and roadsides. I need to know about edible ravine plants as the Carduans in The Carduan Chronicles will be sampling and eating some of these.

This book is a step to finding plants for the Carduans. The first step is identifying the plants out in the ravines.

Back to poring over “Botany In a Day” and learning the botanical families. Then I can identify the plants and find which ones are not only edible, but tasty.

Botany Season Begins

Officially the season is winter. Officially the pastures are paved with dry, yellow grass and the hills with bare limbs. Botany season has begun anyway.

No wildflowers are blooming yet. Even tiny corn speedwell is waiting this year. There has been warmer weather, but no moisture.

botany season begins with river birch

One of the special sights over the winter is the tree bare of leaves so the trunk and branches show. This river birch has so many fine twigs giving it a brushy look.

Storms are forecast and touted as bringing rain, sleet, snow and mixtures. They track north of the Ozarks. We stay in the severe drought belt.

This week we have hopes. This week the rain, even a scattering of snow has moved through here. There is mud in low places.

Green leaves line the road. Dead nettle and chickweed are shaking off their winter survival settings. Pasture grasses are stirring and sending up a few new green shoots.

botany season willow tree

This willow is a small tree. It’s twigs and buds are yellow and hairless. Which willow is it? There are eight to choose from. I will wait to see flowers and leaves.

This doesn’t sound like good botany season timing. Nothing is blooming. Things are barely growing.

I walked out to look at the willows and plants nearby. River birch catkins are swelling as are black alder catkins. If the weather stays warm enough, the catkins will bloom within two weeks.

The willows are a mixed bag. They are shrubs to small trees that like water such as the nearby cold water spring fen. Each year I go out to try to identify the different ones growing there. Each year they defeat me. I know there are four or five of the eight species found in Dent County growing there.

willow buds

Willow buds are long and narrow, alternate. This willow has hairy twigs and buds in off white. Other buds are red or yellow or brown. Most have no hairs.

This year I am going to identify these willows.

A willow has male plants producing catkins and female plants producing seeds. The plants usually appear similar except for the flowers.

Some willows bloom before leafing out. Other willows bloom as they leaf out. A few bloom after leafing out. All the leaves are similar, long and narrow with a single strong vein down the center.

botany season willow shrubs

These willows are only shrubs. They grow thickly in one area making it look red with their twigs and buds. Which willow are these shrubs? Eight possibilities. I will wait.

The key to identifying these willows is visiting them several times over the spring. I need to see the flowers and the seeds. I need to see the leaves, bark and twigs. Most importantly I need to keep my records of which willow is which straight.

I now have bark, twig and bud pictures of each different willow, I think. Each has its little folder. The first one should bloom about the time the river birch blooms.

My botany season has begun.

Scrounging Winter Pasture

For months the goats were out gorging on grass and browse. Winter pasture has little to offer.

Last year’s wind storm blew down big trees. The goats sampled the leaves. There were too many leaves for the goats to eat all of them. Those remaining are now brown and dry.

Normally the grass is deep in the fall from late rains. The rains did not come. The grass is skimpy.

fallen trees are winter pasture

Trina and Flame are munching on the last of these leaves on a fallen oak. The leaves are a sad reminder of better times for browsing.

Goats used to walking miles every day don’t like being cooped up. They soon pick on each other. Since several are heavy with kids, this is not good.

Winter pasture helps. There may not be much to eat. The goats must go distances to scrounge what there is.

Don’t think the goats wear themselves out. Goats don’t walk as though on a treadmill. They wander to one area, nibble, lie down and relax. Then they get up and repeat the routine in another place.

Nubian doe in winter pasture

Nubian doe Sasha, the oldest doe, relaxes in the remains of the winter pasture.

Over the warm months the goats eat breakfast then line up at the pasture gate. Now the herd lines up in the barn waiting for hay. Only after the hay is eaten, trampled and otherwise disposed of, do the goats entertain the notion of going out to winter pasture.

Nubian kids on winter pasture

The three remaining Nubian doe kids are getting big. They play tagalong after the does on the swings through the winter pasture and the woods.

My routine changes accordingly. I milk, put out hay and go to the house. A couple of hours later I go back to the barn. If the weather is good, I let the goats out. If the weather is bad, more hay goes into the troughs.

The bucks root for good weather. The does and bucks share the barn lot. When the does are in, the bucks are in their pens. When the does go out, the bucks get out into the lot.

Nubian herd on winter pasture

Hope keeps the Nubians herd scrounging through the winter pasture and the woods. Maybe something new has appeared.

The rains seem to be returning. At least, several storms have dropped an inch of water each lately. The temperatures are warm for February. The grass has noticed and is putting up a few pioneer blades.

Perhaps winter pasture will give way to spring pasture in a couple of weeks. The goats would be delighted.

Search For Silence Brings Quiet

Noise seems to be everywhere. At times it is overwhelming, leading to a desire for silence, an absence of all the noise.

I have never heard silence, that total absence of sound. Doing so seems an impossibility for any person able to hear. Perhaps someone who is deaf can hear total silence, I do not know.

Silence is one of those things people say they want to hear. In this technological world companies make ear covers to keep out all outside noise. I’ve never tried a pair of these, but have no doubt they work.

nature brings quiet

Several years ago I found this place to sit. The redbud tree has grown. The hillside is above me. The creek is below me. It is a quiet, restful place to sit where time seems to suspend itself.

Even with these silence is not truly possible. There is an old story that, if you hold a large sea shell to your ear, you will hear the ocean. You don’t. You hear the sound of your blood coursing through your ears. These ear covers can’t keep out this sound.

Discounting this, there is still the sound of your breathing. The brain seems wired for sound and can generate clicks and roars, that ringing in the ears to keep silence at bay.

Ozarks can bring quiet vistas

Once spring arrives in the Ozarks, the hills become a place of daily change as wildflowers grow and bloom, trees leaf out, their greens shifting through the summer until they color for fall.

Instead of attempting to find silence, seek quiet. The problem isn’t noise, but the overabundance of noise. Consider the ordinary house.

I’ve walked into houses and heard the television playing to an empty room, the radio blaring elsewhere, computers or other devices spewing music. No one is listening to any of these. They are background noise to keep silence at bay.

trees and clouds bring quiet

Overhead the leaves move in the breeze casting changing shadow patterns on the ground. Above the trees the clouds can make fantastic shapes. Both can let the mind feel quiet.

Even if these devices are turned off, other motors hum. Refrigerators, freezers, water pumps, air conditioners, heaters, all the devices we depend on for our lifestyles rumble along in the background.

In the rural Ozarks a big storm can drop the electric lines. All the motors cease. Intense quiet seeps through the house.

Nerves relax. Muscles relax. Ears strain. Then comes the sigh of relief. A clock is ticking. It’s quiet, not silence, quiet.

creek sounds bring quiet

The sound of water gurgling down an Ozark creek is restful. Watching the creek can let me spot a snapping turtle or a mink. The simple sounds of wind and water make the mind feel quiet.

For people used to noise, this quiet can become disturbing. There is supposed to be noise, the brain says.

Me? I relished the quiet. I reveled in this quiet. My nerves seemed to relax. My mind let the quiet seep in bringing calmness with it. The resuming hum of the refrigerator, when the electricity came back on, was an intrusion and resented as well as appreciated.

Most of the time quiet must be sought out away from houses or barns or roads. It’s there, out in the woods where the sounds are bird calls and wind. Even better is a snowy field. Snow seems to hush all sounds but the whisper of wind.

I will never find true silence. It’s not what I want. Quiet is preferable. Quiet to hear the world live, the mind think, letting stress seep away.

Savor some of the sights and sounds of the Ozarks in Exploring the Ozark Hills.

Designing Carduan Ravines

Ravines abound in the Ozark hills around me. Small ones are merely folds coming down hills. Narrow ones are where two hills are close together. Large ones can broaden into wide shelves of land adjoining a deep graveled creek bed.

For the Carduans, their ravine will be their world for a long time. The distance they can go exploring will be limited.

At a bit over five feet tall, a mile is 2,100 steps for me. That makes each step about two and a half feet long or half my height.

Since my Carduans average four inches tall, their steps would be two inches long. A mile is 63,360 inches long or 31,680 Carduan steps long, about a 15 mile equivalent.

Admittedly Ozark ravines aren’t that long. The longest one nearby is a mere half mile. This would still be a seven mile Carduan hike.

Carduan combined ravines

Creating a world for a novel is always a challenge whether the world is our own or on an alien planet. No Ozark ravine is the same as any other Ozark ravine. That made designing one for The Carduan Chronicles easy and hard. This is the rough draft. Next it needs a distance scale and detailed drawings. I wish I could just take a picture.

The immediate Carduan ravine therefore will need to have everything they will need within a short distance. What will they need?

First is their landing ledge. This almost level rock ledge juts out of a hillside and overhangs the ravine.

Second is a water source. Springs and seeps are a common Ozark feature. adding one to the Carduan ravine is reasonable.

Third is level ground suitable for agriculture. The Carduans are an agricultural people raising livestock and crops for food and fiber.

Fourth is a safe place to build homes. Ozark ravines are prone to flooding so this must be high enough to stay out of the flood waters. It must be defensible from coyotes, bobcats, owls, snakes and other predators who would consider the Carduans tasty snacks.

I went exploring nearby ravines. One yielded the perfect ledge rocks. First criterion met.

Another had two ravines joining, one with a spring and the other larger one with the possibility of level land. Another had a wonderful series of rock ledges for the spring water to descend in a series of small waterfalls. The second criterion met.

The level land came from another section of ravine. This has several ravines feeding into a main one creating deltas. These are high enough to avoid small high water events, but will flood once or twice a year. The Nile River would do this and provide wonderful soil for the Egyptians. Third criterion met.

The fourth criterion solution was found on the sides of a ravine. It will be noted as solved here as it is a part of the story.

So now I get to draw out the map.

The first of The Carduan Chronicles is schedules for release in October, 2018.

Ozark Seasons Reflections

After living up near Lake Superior where winter arrived in October and stayed until April, the Ozark seasons had great appeal. All four seasons showed during the year, but none were extreme. Waist deep snow for six months would not be missed.

In the North, the cold is dry. The air is sharp, bracing. Snow comes in many varieties. Each layer settles and is covered by the next. Sometimes ice even appears in clear air sparkling like diamonds drifting around.

Ozark seasons winter

For those who have lived in snow country, the big impression from this picture is cold. Setting the shivers aside, snow makes a tree look so dramatic.

Ozark cold is a damp cold. It slices through jackets dousing you in ice water. Snow and ice storms blow in, drop layers and blow elsewhere. Rarely does the ice or snow stay for more than a few days as warmer air arrives to turn them into mud. Temperatures creep up only to drop again with the next storm.

Spring in the North arrives around the middle of April with the break up of river ice. It slowly spreads green across the landscape. Sudden, severe frosts can arrive even in June.

Ozark seasons spring

Early spring leaves have a blue tinge in their green. The ephemeral plants shoot up quickly from stores of food in their roots. Other plants are slower to appear making the green carpet sketchy.

Spring, my favorite of the Ozark seasons, doesn’t arrive in the Ozarks. It argues with winter for weeks. A single day can be wintry in the morning and spring in the afternoon or vice versa. These arguments can erupt into thunderstorms.

Ozarks spring can be a few weeks long. The wildflowers appear. The trees leaf out. Or spring can seem only a few days long to be replaced with hot, summery days making the spring wildflowers trip over each other in their hurry to bloom and set seed.

Northern summers don’t get very hot. Highs in the eighties are a heat wave. July is the prime time. August brings fall and night frosts again.

Ozark seasons summer

Green is everywhere over an Ozarks summer. Over the summer the green changes shades and mellows until late summer green has a yellowish tinge to it.

Summer in the Ozarks stretches from sometime in May to August. So much happens over an Ozarks summer, there seems to be little time to stop and admire the hills. The plants and animals charge ahead at full speed.

Every plant is its own shade of green making the hills a collage of light to dark green mixed as though tossed for salad. Heat makes leaves droop. Humidity smothers plants and animals. Thunderstorms gather the humidity into towering clouds then drop it accompanied by pyrotechnics leaving the air so full of moisture animals almost need gills.

Ozark Seasons fall

Nothing announces fall in the Ozarks like the blazing crimson of the sumacs. It seems to glow.

One day toward late August, it is fall. The day before was summer. Now the day has a cool fall feel, the night has a frost sharpness, although it doesn’t frost.

Sumacs blaze crimson. Virginia creeper and poison ivy hang red garlands from the trees and wrap their trunks with color. The year is winding down in a mad flurry of wildflowers and activity as birds migrate, raccoons and woodchucks fatten up for hibernation and storms change from puffy cumulus clouds to sheets of stratus clouds.

One cycle of the Ozark seasons is over and winter comes again.

This is an essay draft for the upcoming Ozarks book. Exploring the Ozark Hills explores the seasons through individual topics and is available now.

Ozark Winter Hiking

It snowed. There’s only an inch of the white stuff. And it’s January, not February. Still, I need to see what my ravine setting is like in the snow. Winter hiking is the plan.

The problems with winter hiking are the cold and wet. Both are very discouraging to me. A warm stove and a good book are so inviting.

Enough of that. I have to go out exploring before the Arctic front moves in. Both cold and wet can be dealt with.

winter hiking trail

The tractor road weaves between the trees. All is covered with snow giving the trail a lonely, bare look. It has a stark beauty as I hike into the ravine.

Clothing layers are a first line of defense. Long johns. Flannel shirt and jeans. Vest. Hoodie. Snow suit.

I see people walking in the cold without hats on. A tremendous amount of body heat is lost through your head. Hats are a must for winter hiking.

Cold feet are sure defeat. When feet get cold, they start hurting. The cold spreads up the ankles to the legs. The toes are ice cubes.

Snow calls for pack boots. Plus wool socks.

Carduan rocks

The landing rock ledge for The Carduan Chronicles stands hard and cold under a layer of white fluff. Apt as the crew is presently watching their first snow storm.

Next are the gloves. My hands are small so gloves are difficult to find. Those sized for women’s hands aren’t made for rugged use. Men’s sizes are too large. A double layer of jersey gloves works, if the air isn’t too cold.

Gloves have another aspect for me. I take a camera with me and intend to take pictures. Gloves are clumsy. Jersey gloves are easy to take off and put back on.

Digital cameras are another problem for winter hiking. They do not like being cold. If the temperature drops into the teens, the camera moves inside the snow suit.

Finally I am suited up. It only took fifteen minutes. I am stiff. The pack boots are heavy and clumsy.

I open the door and set off. The going is slow. Through the gate, across the bridge and out to the pastures.

winter hiking trees

Winter trees are dark, bare skeletons of branches. A dressing of snow resting on the branches adds contrast and eases the starkness.

Snow blankets the ground. Snow highlights tree limbs. Most creatures are tucked away trying to keep warm so the world is quiet.

A pileated woodpecker hammers on a tree. A large hawk swooshes by overhead. A barred owl flees from under a rock ledge.

The air is crisp. Bits of snow drop to the ground. I walk through a winter landscape straight from a picture on a card.

Winter hiking takes lots of preparation. It’s worth it.

My Ozarks Home

This year will make twenty-five years for me here in the Ozarks. I have been looking through photographs and reminiscing about my Ozarks home.

A photograph is flat. It can’t show anyone the smells, feel or sounds of being out walking in the Ozarks. A photograph does trigger my memories of when I took the picture. Words can try to add depth to that picture.

stumps in mist on my Ozarks home

This pile of stumps was at the base of the hill pasture when I first saw the pasture, relics of when the pasture was cleared sometime in the past. They are slowly disappearing.

One of the wonderful things about living here in the Ozarks has been the opportunity to go out walking away from people and their noises. There are still times when such noise is not heard here.

I read how many people, especially young people must have their digital devices, must share their every experience right then. I pity them.

Leaving those devices behind lets me think my own thoughts, see things in my own way, get in touch with myself.

spider on web

Late summer and early fall is the time of large spiders. These orb weavers favor pathways stretching their web from one side to the other. They are almost invisible. The first warning is focusing on a large spider hanging at eye height just before stepping into the web.

My local library had a book display for those wanting to learn yoga or mindfulness or other stress reduction technique. Walking the hills and pastures of my Ozarks home does this for me. Even better is sitting still in a special place looking up the hill or down to the creek, listening to the wind, the water, the birds and the insects.

I do take one digital device with me out on my walks. My camera. I take pictures not so much to share with others as to let me revisit my walk other days. This is wonderful on those cold, cloudy, dreary days of winter.

Most of my pictures are of the plants for my botany project. Some of these are beautiful. Many others are of my goats, chickens and cats.

my Ozarks home creek

The creek runs the length of the place. In some places it is narrow and runs quickly. In others, like here, it spreads out into broad pools.

Then there are those from around the hills and pastures. They range through the seasons. They are panoramas and close ups. Each has a story to tell about being here at my Ozarks home.

As I looked through my photographs, I did come to want to share them with others, to show others why my Ozarks home is so special. Slowly a book is coming together. I plan to have it finished by this fall.

Planning Cardua Science Fiction

Winter is down time mostly for me. The garden is done. The goats are eating hay peeking out at the bad weather. The chickens are on vacation. I write. This winter I am planning Cardua.

What is Cardua?

It is Earth, except the Arkosans don’t know that. All they know is the little piece of the Ozarks where they are now stranded. They call it Cardua.

planning Cardua landing site

The Arkosan space ship is 30 inches long and 18 inches wide. Still, that requires a good sized rock ledge for it to land. These rocks are a bit small, but the ideal set up. The Carduan Chronicles begins with their arrival.

Science fiction is one of the genres I read lots of during and after university. I liked the science base used by Isaac Asimov. A modern novel in that vein is “The Martian” by Andy Weir.

So “The Carduan Chronicles” became a science-based science fiction survival tale. Nine Arkosans are stranded in an Ozark ravine. They arrive during a February ice storm. Since they are very small, they won’t venture far from where they landed.

That leaves me planning Cardua.

planning Cardua view

Compared to the Arkosans, I am a giant. So I got down to their level to see what they would see out the door lock on their space ship. The trees look a lot taller. The rock ledge has no easily seen boundary. That brings a new challenge in writing this book as I must remember to see the world through their eyes, not mine.

If you were stranded out in the wilderness, no phone, no way to contact anyone or get home, no hope of rescue, what would you need to survive? My list includes water, food, shelter and protection from predators and weather.

Why an Ozark ravine? Because I thought I had the perfect place a short distance from the house. Except I didn’t.

Now I am planning Cardua by using parts of several ravines and creating the perfect place for the story. First, the Arkosans needed a place to land their ship. I found two large, flat rocks sitting one on top of the other that will do nicely.

planning Cardua ravine

This Ozark glacier was a surprise find up in a ravine with the perfect set up for the Carduan landing site, if I move the rock ledge into place. The glacier could add some spice to the story as well. Ice skating anyone?

Second, the Arkosans will need a water source. In the beginning they will use ice from an ice storm. Later they will need a more permanent source.

The Ozarks have lots of springs and seeps. One branch of the Carduan ravine will have a spring. I found this in a different ravine.

Third, the Arkosans will need a place to build homes. I’m still working on this but have a couple of places with possibilities.

Fourth, the Arkosans will need flat land to farm. I found this in a ravine, actually two ravines. The problem is flooding. The flat lands are the mouths of wet weather creeks.

Research is part of writing. The nice part of planning Cardua is the excuse to go out exploring the ravines in winter.

Christmas Fern Polystichum acrostichoides

Lace and ferns seem to go together. Fern fronds like on the Christmas fern have such graceful arches, a great mound of green. I went around the curve of a hill and found a wrinkle where water runs after a big storm lined with large ferns. It became a favorite place to go just to admire these beautiful plants.

 

Polystichum acrostichoides Schott

June to October                                           N                                 Family: Dryopteridaceae

Christmas fern sori

Sporangia: A fertile leaflet has a double row of circular sori under it. These have 64 tiny ball-shaped spores under them. The spores well and turn brown as they mature turning the entire underside of the leaflet an orange brown.

Christmas fern leaf

Leaf: Each compound leaf has twenty to thirty pairs of leaflets arranged alternately. Each leaflet has a prominent ‘thumb’ sticking up near the petiole. A long, single leaflet tips the petiole. Each leaflet has forked veins and toothed edges. Many of the fronds have the usual leaflets half way up then have a series of smaller, more triangular leaflets. These are the fertile leaflets with sporangia under them.

Christmas fern petiole

Stem: Clumps of petioles come up from various places on the rhizome. Each green petiole is grooved. The base has hair-like brown scales which look like scattered hairs higher up. The petioles can be two to three feet long.

Christmas fern fiddlehead

Fiddlehead: These appear in early spring. They are light green, an inch across and covered with silvery scales that look like hairs. These turn brown as the frond unrolls past them.

Root: The perennial root is a rhizome.

Habitat: This plant prefers light shade and moist places. It is common on the slopes of ravines and wet weather water courses.

 

Christmas Fern

Christmas fern plant

In the fall Christmas Fern leaflets turn dark green, become shorter and lie flat on the ground. These fronds stay green all winter. They were gathered and used as Christmas decorations giving the fern its common name.

During the spring and summer, Christmas ferns are among the showiest Ozark ferns. They can form large linear colonies along fold on hillsides where rain water gathers. They line the slopes of ravines and higher sections of ravine floors. They like moist areas but not wet ones.

The ‘thumb’ on the leaflets is a definite identification when coupled with the thick, green petiole. Ebony Spleenwort also sports these ‘thumbs’ but has a thin, wiry petiole and is much smaller.

Christmas ferns are available commercially. They are easy to grow in the right places. They grow well in pots.

Finding Ferns In the Ozarks

Finding ferns in the Ozarks means leaving the lacy, arching sprays of fronds picture of ferns in the market. Some Ozark ferns look like that, but most don’t. Many are much smaller as well.

Ferns do have leaves. Familiar plants like spicebush have buds that split open and tiny leaves expand out of them. Ferns unroll their leaves from fiddleheads.

fern fiddlehead

Fiddleheads begin as tiny bumps. They seem to unroll as they grow taller. Tiny leaves expand as the fiddlehead unrolls past them until the entire frond is there looking much too big to fit into such a tiny package.

There are people who eat some kinds of these fiddleheads. They can make you feel ill, if you eat very many.

finding ferns walking ferns

Walking ferns use their leaf-like fronds to ‘walk’ new plants across the rocks. Look in damp places such as ravines or open hillsides of moist bluff rocks to find them.

Once fern leaves unroll, they look very different from one another. Walking ferns have triangular leaves with long tips that reach over to start new plants. Maidenhair ferns have leaflets like tiny fans. Grape ferns and bracken have a single lacy leaf. Christmas ferns look like small commercial ferns.

Most fern leaves have two parts. One is the stem or rachis. This can be covered with hairs, wide or narrow, cordlike or winged, green or red.

finding ferns Christmas ferns

Christmas ferns look much like the ferns people think of. Each of the leaflets on the fronds has a little thumb sticking up near the stem or rachis.

Leaflets attach to the rachis. These can be alternate or opposite. Some are simple and others lobed or even divided multiple times into fine lace.

Finding ferns means looking in different places. Many do prefer moister locations. Christmas ferns like the sides of ravines. Walking ferns like wet bluff rocks. Grape ferns prefer the floors of ravines.

finding ferns cut leaf grape fern

Three grape ferns call Missouri home. These have a single frond and a stalk topped with tiny ‘grapes’ that split to release spores. This is a cut leaf grape fern.

I have always liked ferns and have done my best to notice the various ferns around on my hills. The difficulty has always been to identify the various ones. Some are easy. A few have defied my attempts for years.

finding ferns maidenhair ferns

Maidenhair ferns have circular fronds. The dark,cord like stalk or rachis has a partial ring with compound fronds sticking straight out. Look for these in moist ravines and along streams and wet weather creeks in shady places.

Now I am trying my luck finding all the different kinds of ferns found in Dent County. According to Yatskievych’s Flora of Missouri, Volume 1, there are 22 known to occur here and 9 more possibles. So far I’ve found 9 of the known, 3 of the possibles and have 3 unknowns.

Droughts are hard on ferns. My holiday wish is for the drought to break. Even though few plants are actively growing over the winter, the soil would stockpile that water for next spring when I can renew my quest of finding ferns.