Category Archives: Ozark Hills

Walking and learning about the Ozark Hills

Hispid Buttercup Invasion

Several years ago a lovely buttercup appeared in my garden. After much debate, I decided it was an Hispid Buttercup, although the plant in the garden was much bigger and lusher than any in the wild.

As is the case with wildflowers, the next year produced a bumper crop of Hispid Buttercups in my garden. I pulled most leaving a couple to grace the garden with their sunny yellow flowers for most of the summer.

Hispid Buttercup flower
Hispid Buttercup flowers are bright yellow and held over the foliage. A happy plant is covered with blooms for months.

The plant was not happy with my garden as a place to grow. It decided the entire yard needed a few buttercups. Some made it across the road into the back yard.

On the way to town I pass a horse pasture, at least it is supposed to be a pasture. It is yellow as the Hispid Buttercup has taken over.

Hispid Buttercup plant
This small plant was out in the creek bottoms. The one in my garden is much larger and lusher and made me wonder if it was the same plant.

Normally the plant is small, only a foot tall or so. It sports a handful of flowers. It favors drier areas with a bit of shade as the edges of the woods.

The flowers are glossy. They really have a special chemical giving them their bright shine making them a nightmare to photograph. Cloudy days work the best along with restricting the light setting.

The flowers are smaller, about three quarters of an inch across. Pistils form a pompom in the center. They become a little fruit filled with seeds.

Hispid Buttercup leaf
The basic hispid buttercup leaf has the three lobes. Bigger leaves can have lobes in the original ones making a more complex leaf. The majority grow up on long petioles from the base of the plant.

If you can put up with the invasive nature, the Hispid Buttercup would be a lovely addition to a flower garden. It blooms from late spring through most of the summer. In the garden the plant is around 18 inches tall forming a mound of green foliage hidden by the yellow flowers.

In my garden, which is supposed to be a vegetable garden, my buttercups have a spot where several plants are allowed to grow. All others are dug out and removed.

Admire more Ozark plants in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Dwarf Larkspur

For over 25 years I’ve walked around on these hills and along the road. Surely I’ve found and seen all the flowers by now. Dwarf Larkspur proves me wrong this year.

dwarf larkspur plant
The dwarf larkspur plant itself is small. The flower stalks give it its height, a little over six inches.

This is a small plant with big dark blue flowers. A single plant was nestled in the grass by the nearby spring.

That dark blue is how to find this plant. It stands out from the spring greens around it. Even so I was lucky to spot it as this plant was barely over six inches tall, but the flower stalk was still getting taller.

dwarf larkspur flower
Deep blue and hairy describes the flowers of the dwarf larkspur.

The plant I found was in a low, moist, shady area near a spring. The area has lots of grasses, periwinkle, wild geranium among others. The area has been let go wild now rather than mowed for picnicking.

dwarf larkspur side flower
It’s easy to see the spur or up swept tube looking at the dwarf larkspur flower from the side.

The leaves are on long petioles and have numerous lobes sticking out from a central area above the petiole. The tops are light green and the underside even paler. The petioles come from the base of the plant.

dwarf larkspur leaf
Called palmate, the dwarf larkspur leaf is the type where all the lobes radiate out from the top of the petiole.

The dwarf larkspur flowers begin blooming from the bottom buds on the flowering stalk and move upwards. It’s easy to see where the name came from as the flower is horn shaped with the back swept up into a blunt point.

The open end of the flower is split into six petal tabs surrounding a white ring. Inside are short hairs, stamens and pistil. The blue outside has a covering of short fuzz.

None of the seeds were ripe. However I peered into the throat of the old flowers now green husks. At the base were four seeds still green and growing.

I had planned on going to other places this year, but am staying close to home to avoid other people as much as possible. Having found a new plant, dwarf larkspur, around my home area I’m planning to do more exploring. There may be other new plants out there waiting to be found.

Find out about some of the plants and other things in the Ozark hills in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Putty Root Orchid

Exploring in the big ravine a few years ago I came across a single interesting leaf. I remembered seeing a picture of it in my “Ozark Wildflowers” guidebook under an entry for the putty root orchid also called the Adam and Eve orchid.

In the fall this single large leaf appears. It is finely striped green and white yet looks green. It is elliptical with a blunt point. Only one leaf survives the winter.

Having no way to mark the spot, I made note of a large sycamore nearby on the edge of the ravine waterway. A couple of fallen branches were moved to surround the leaf.

And I couldn’t find it again.

A couple of falls back I found the leaf again alongside a single stem with seed pods on it. The putty root orchid blooms in the spring and this was the result.

I again marked the spot. This time I could find the stem as it was a bit over a foot tall and more easily visible than the leaf down near the ground.

Missouri is home to a number of orchids. The most well known one is the Lady Slipper. Other nice ones to spot are the Lady’s Tresses with their small, white flowers spiraling around a central stem.

Putty root orchids have the single leaf in late summer through the winter. By spring it’s tattered and drying up. Some springs, not all, the plant sends up a stem topped with purple and green flowers.

putty root orchid flower

This spring I got lucky. I had gotten good at finding the correct sycamore tree and could watch for a flower stalk. And it was up with the first orchids open.

The Lady Slippers are blooming now too. I love finding the big yellow moccasins in various ravines.

The putty root orchid is much smaller, but lovely colors. Even better is finally finding it in full bloom.

Milkweeds bloom in the summer. Check out the new guidebook to Missouri Milkweeds.

Walking My Ozark Hills

Walking my Ozark hills has been a real joy for many years now. They provide inspiration for some of my posts, comfort when things go awry, relaxation on lazy afternoons.

Watching the goats out in the pasture the other day reminded me of some people who wanted to buy some goats one year. I warn people to set up a day when they will come by so I can keep the goats in.

walking my Ozark hills can be challenging
This Ozark hill is very steep. All those leaves hide gravel, holes, fallen branches and other hazards. Only an emergency will get me to go straight up this hill.

These people were expected in the morning. Instead a vehicle pulls up the afternoon before. They were out driving and thought they would drop by to see the goats.

using a goat and deer path for walking my Ozark hills
Goat paths are often easy to follow. They angle along most of the way up then fan out leaving me scrambling the last third of the way. One hazard of following a goat path is being taller than they are. There are times I must detour around fallen trees they walk under or over.

I knew where the goats were. They were on top of the hill. Walking my Ozark hills had long since taught me to respect them. I warned these people about how steep they were. They insisted they were in shape and would enjoy a little hiking.

hillside gravel
Loose gravel is an accident waiting to happen. My Ozark hill is covered with the stuff. It shifts underfoot. It slides down taking my foot with it. Hill climbing shoes must have good tread.

We set off across the bridge and out along the side of the hill. I knew from previous times the far end was an easier way up. They kept pace until we started up the hill.

This hill is steep, stair steep without the stairs. It is covered with loose gravel that rolls under foot. It is a steady climb of a couple hundred feet or more.

lichen and moss on rock
Larger rocks are covered with folious lichen and moss. This is interesting to look at. It is dangerous to assume such rocks are securely embedded in the hill. The bigger ones are. The smaller ones often aren’t.

We got to the top of the hill. The goats looked us over and decided to move over to the next hill. A cascade went past down the hill and up the next hill.

The people watched the goats go by. I asked if they wanted to follow the herd. They declined. They would be back in the morning as previously arranged. I heard panting as we went down the hill.

looking at the creek walking my Ozark hills
Steep as the hill is going up, don’t look down. The creek flows along much of this particular hill. The path can run on the edge of the slope down. There are places where one slip on the gravel will land me in the creek. So far I’ve only slid down five or six feet before stopping. It does get scary at times.

Walking my Ozark hills never seemed that bad to me, at least not going up. I tend to follow the goat trails and set a steady pace. It’s good aerobic exercise.

The hard part is coming back down. Some parts are done tree to tree or sitting down and sliding. Who needs a roller coaster when I have my hills?

Enjoy my Ozark hills in My Ozark Home.

Milkweeds, Milkvines and Pipevines of Missouri

A few hardy wildflowers are blooming in the Ozarks. The milkweeds, milkvines and pipevines of Missouri are months away as they like it hot.

As wildflower season begins, I’m checking through my equipment. Camera and batteries. Tripod. Walking stick. Guidebooks.

Speaking of guidebooks, there is a new one out. Dr. Richard Rintz has completed his guidebook to the Milkweeds, Milkvines and Pipevines of Missouri.

cover for Milkweeds, Milkvines & Pipevines of Missouri by Dr. Richard E. Rintz

Wildflower enthusiasts know about milkweeds like common and purple and swamp. Gardeners may know butterfly weed, the orange milkweed. Missouri is home to fifteen milkweeds.

The four milkvines are around, but not as well known. Maybe I should amend that comment as Cynanchum laeve better known as sand vine, angle pod or blue vine is something of a nuisance once it moves in.

Milkvines that should be better known are the Mateleas or climbing milkweeds. These two vines are long vines adorned with flower clusters, one purple and the other white. They are not difficult to grow and come back year after year needing a trellis and little else.

angle pod flowers from Milkweeds, Milkvines and Pipevines of Missouri
Angle pod is one of four Missouri milkvines. The names milkweed and milkvine are from the thick white sap of the plants.

Pipevines are different. Missouri has two. Most common is one called Virginia snakeroot. It likes wooded hillsides and is difficult to spot even though it is a foot and more tall.

The second is known as Dutchman’s wooly breeches and is hard to miss along rivers when it’s around. The leaves are a foot across and heart-shaped.

pipevine flower from Milkweeds, Milkvines and Pipevines of Missouri
Looking at a pipevine flower from the side it’s easy to see where the name pipevine came from. The flower uses its shape to trap small insects inside for a day to cover them with pollen, then releases them to seek out another flower. The insects are well fed in return.

The flowers give the group the name of pipevine as they are shaped like a pipes. The Virginia snakeroot flowers are a brownish purple and near the ground as they are ant pollinated and ants cart the seeds away. Those up on the big vines are green and a couple of inches tall.

Milkweeds, Milkvines and Pipevines of Missouri has lots more information about these plants. The guidebook is full sized with large full color photographs to aid in identifying these plants.

These guidebooks are privately printed and spiral bound. Dr. Rintz has studied these plants extensively for many years. This guidebook is easy to use for any wildflower enthusiast.

Read sample pages from the guidebook Milkweeds, Milkvines and Pipevines of Missouri.

Multiflora Roses Everywhere

I remember the ads years ago advertising living fences. Multiflora roses were touted as ecologically good and planted all over.

Now everyone wants rid of their multiflora roses. They spread quickly reaching up into trees and covering pastures. Every branch touching the ground puts down roots.

Trying to walk through a patch of these thorny bushes shows why people thought they would make good fences. Clothes, hair, skin get caught in the thorns. Branches wrap around legs and attach to backs.

multiflora roses have white flowers
Rosaceae, the rose family, has a basic flower pattern like that of the multiflora roses. There are five or a multiple of five petals around a central cone surrounded by numerous stamens. This same pattern is seen in common and rough cinquefoil, wild plums, apples, hawthorns, pears and native roses among others.

In areas where multiflora roses are common it’s a good idea to stick some hand pruners in the back pocket. These are the easiest way to extricate yourself from the embrace of these determined plants.

To give the plants their due, they do cover themselves with masses of white flowers in the spring. The flowers are small, single roses with little scent and become small, red rose hips that persist through the winter unless eaten. Native roses are pink with a strong, sweet scent and larger hips.

Goats and probably deer like the leaves. Their dexterous lips reach in between the thorns and yank the compound leaves off.

Like all successful invasive alien plants multiflora roses leaf out early. The bare stems already have swollen buds and some have opened into leaves. These will be welcome food during this lean food month for wildlife.

multiflora roses leaf out early
It’s February with snow threatening the Ozarks. The multiflora rose cane buds are swollen, some already opening up their leaves. Native plants are still dormant. If the rose leaves aren’t killed by frost, the plants will be growing vigorously before the native plants are leafed out.

Eradicating multiflora roses is next to impossible. They have deep perennial roots. Even if all of the canes are chopped off, new ones grow up from the roots.

Some herbicides will turn the bushes brown. Some of these roots will grow out again.

Intensive grazing by goats will kill the plants out as the new buds are eaten as soon as they open out into leaves. This works best if the old canes are cut down first so the goats can eat the tender new canes and leaves. They will take the tips of old canes, but not the main woody part.

These plants are a nuisance, but multiflora roses are here to stay.

Kingfisher Comes Visiting

Raucous cries greeted me the other morning as I went to open the pasture gate for the goats. I thought I recognized the bird call and looked for the source. There in a tree was a kingfisher.

kingfisher
Kingfishers have a big voice, but aren’t very big. I tried to blend in with the goats. The kingfisher was not fooled.

When we first moved here, there were deep pools along the creek. Two properties up there was a beaver dam slowing down the flood waters and evening out the regular flows. A kingfisher was unusual, but did come calling.

The loggers came through several properties above us. The property before ours cleared the land all the way to the creek then put large cattle on it.

New owners destroyed the beaver dam after killing all of the beavers. They used a small bulldozer to straighten the creek.

kingfisher
Minnows inhabit the creek in front of the tree where the kingfisher sat. The creek is only a foot deep and eight feet wide at this spot. Maybe the creek will deepen more over the next few years and the kingfisher will be able to move into the area.

Our deep pools filled with gravel. The creek bed gained about eighteen inches of the stuff.

The properties above us have new owners. The beavers are trying to establish themselves again. The creek banks are growing up in sycamores, black alder and willows. Slowly the gravel is being pushed down to the river and pools are starting to form along our creek again.

Snapping turtles discovered the creek. One or two come up the creek every year. One even laid eggs a couple of years ago.

kingfisher
The goats were eager to go out and graze. The herd left me standing with my camera. The kingfisher inspected me and decided I was no immediate threat. After I went back to the barn, I heard his calls from further down the creek.

Now a kingfisher has come up the creek to look the place over. The pools aren’t really deep enough yet for him to dive for his supper. The fish are still a bit small.

As far as I know the creek mainly has broad headed minnows, bloody shiners, darters and madtoms. The minnows and shiners can reach six inches, but are normally four or less.

Maybe, in another year or two, the pools will again have blue gill in them. They will again be four feet deep. Then a kingfisher won’t just visit looking the place over, but will decide to stay.

Looking At Seeds

When was the last time you thought about seeds? Not buying them, but what they are. Looking at seeds shows several things. They are truly wonderful things.

A seed is a special package designed to survive in harsh conditions. Inside is a precious cargo: a new plant.

Those who split open persimmon seeds to forecast the winter weather talk about spoons, forks and knives. What they are really talking about is a plant embryo lying in different positions inside a package of provisions to nourish it when it germinates.

giant ragweed seed
Nestled against the stem giant ragweed seeds are protected until the birds come by. Finches and sparrows hang on the stems picking the seeds out and eating them. The birds never seem to eat them all judging from the numbers of new plants showing up in the spring.

Splitting open a peanut lets you see the plant embryo too. It’s that little nubbin at one end.

Looking at seeds shows their great diversity. Lots of familiar seeds are small. A giant ragweed seed is a quarter of an inch long. That seed packs a big plant into a tiny package.

Birds love seeds for the same reason plant embryos do. That little package is packed with nutrition. It has lots of fats, carbohydrates and proteins, perfect for keeping animals warm during cold weather.

Before anyone starts feeling guilty about eating those seeds, plants make more than enough. Picture a dandelion clock. Looking at seeds in the ball will show couple dozen seeds.

looking at seeds and counting them
Dandelions are common plants usually considered weeds, but are edible. The clock or ball of seeds is easily recognized. How many seeds are in one? Each white dot is over one seed.

Now picture a lawn say 30 feet square. That gives it 900 square feet. If a dandelion plant needs a quarter of a square foot of space, that lawn can accommodate 3,600 dandelion plants.

If one dandelion plant grows in that lawn and produces seeds at the rate of 20 per ball and five balls on the plant (You do know this is a very low estimate, if you’ve ever watched a dandelion.), that one plant will quickly become one of 101 plants.

These will be large enough to bloom in a month. If each produces the same number of seeds and the original plant produces another batch, there will be 10,100 plants vying for those 3,600 spots.

We need more birds eating more dandelion seeds. And that goes for most plants. Enjoy eating some seeds today.

Looking At Winter Buds

Trees are so tall, towering over my head. I wanted to see some winter buds and went looking for trees with branches within reach of my walking stick.

A walking stick is useful on a hike for lots of reasons. They help on steep and slippery slopes. They push bramble and rose branches out of the way.

My walking stick has a hook on one end. Originally the hook was for hanging plants, but isn’t needed for that now. What I do need is a way to reach those tree branches several feet over my head.

Winter tree identification relies on these winter buds. Each kind of tree makes its own kind of buds. Each family of trees has similar bud arrangements.

Pignut hickory winter buds
Unlike the oaks, hickories have a single terminal bud. Usually the bud is large. In the case of the pignut hickory, the original scales fell off leaving a downy set of scales protecting the tender leaves inside.

Hickories tend to have single large buds on the tips of the branches. Oaks have clusters of buds on the tips of their big branches. Maples have buds in steps.

As my main purpose was to take pictures of some silver maple winter buds, I walked down to the river. Trees lining the roads have branches high up over the road and lower branches, sometimes, on the other side. Smaller trees have branches lower down.

silver maple winter buds
Maples have opposite leaves so their winter buds occur in pairs on opposite sides of the twigs. The terminal arrangement has a single top bud and a pair of lower buds. The two larger buds are not leaf buds, but flower buds getting ready to open. Maples tend to open their flower buds in any week long warm spell in late winter.

There are branches I can reach with my hook I won’t pull down. These are brittle or short and stiff or have some other indication they will snap off rather than bend.

My botany project is starting up again and I hope to be able to do lots of work on it this year. Trees are a focus as I’m not that familiar with many of them. They are too tall to see well.

black oak winter buds
Black oak buds have angles on them. You can see the ridges on the buds. Like other oaks, the terminal buds have several in a cluster.

Wandering down the road I came across a hickory and several oaks. Later I found the hickory was a pignut. “Trees of Missouri” has pictures of winter buds in it.

One oak I knew was a chinkapin. The other turned out to be a black oak.

chinkapin oak winter buds
Chinkapin oak buds are reddish and big. There are several terminal buds in a cluster, but they are fewer and similar in size. The raw area under the buds is the leaf scar where last year’s leaf broke off.

The silver maple buds were a problem. The trees were there, branches fifty feet high. Finally I found one with a branch hanging out over the river.

Only a month or so remains to look at winter buds. The silver maple is already getting ready to bloom.

More about winter buds on trees is in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.

Honey Locust Seeds

It’s a funny thing about honey locust seeds. The trees were decorated with the long pods last summer and these are falling to the ground.

One reason the tree is called honey locust is the sweet layer inside the seed pods. My cow Dolly used to stand under the locust trees eating the seed pods. Evidently deer do the same thing as I find piles of droppings. The goats must too.

There are so many pods, there are plenty left on the ground. These are supposed to be seed pods. The funny thing about them is the lack of honey locust seeds in the pods.

honey locust seeds in seedpods
The honey locust seeds should be lined up in these long, thin seedpods. The pods are about a foot long and 1.5 inches wide. I have yet to find the seeds in the pods.

Looking at a pod, the places where seeds are supposed to be is obvious. There are thin oval spots the length of the pod. If you run your fingers down the pods, these places are empty.

Not believing my fingers, I opened a pod. No seeds. I opened several more. No seeds.

There must be honey locust seeds. These trees don’t form colonies of sprouts from their roots, but seedlings are coming up.

honey locust seedling
This honey locust seedling in near a black walnut tree. It is already arming itself as deer and goats find the leaves good to eat.

Another bit of proof the seeds must exist is in my garden. I use lots of goat manure in the garden. The goats eat the seed pods, pass the seeds through and they sprout in the garden.

Every year I pull up dozens of locust seedlings in the garden. There are never any seed pods in the garden so the goats must eat them.

My old copy of “Trees of Missouri” has a photograph of the seeds next to a seed pod. They are oval and would fit well in the places in the pod. Why don’t these pods have seeds in them?

Why am I interested? I am again contemplating “The Carduan Chronicles” and the Carduans use the thorns as weapons. They would be interested in planting more trees near where they will start their colony. Only they need to have some honey locust seeds.

Cleaning Water Up

As I write the water stories for “The City Water Project”, I keep finding and thinking about new things about water. One is about cleaning water up before it is piped to people’s homes.

My house has a private well. The water appears clear and doesn’t taste like mud. Of course I may not notice the taste after drinking it so many years.

just shaken jar of muddy water
Shaking dirt in water makes a thin mud. The water is thick and dark.

That was the case in St. Louis, Missouri, for many years. Amazingly their water system dates back to 1764! There were so few people then the city used wells and cisterns. By 1800 these were inadequate.

If you haven’t looked on a map, St. Louis is flanked by two large rivers: the Mississippi River and the Missouri River. The first can be a mile across normally at this point. The city needed water. The rivers were available and never went dry. They were also full of mud.

cleaning water up takes more than an hour
After an hour sitting on the table a layer of chopped leaves and other organic matter has coated the surface. A layer of heavy mud has formed on the bottom. The water is still dark with suspended mud.

A simple experiment to show the mud problem is to put a handful of dirt in a quart jar, fill it two thirds with water, cap it tightly and shake vigorously for a minute or so. You may laugh. You may say the result is obvious. The dirt is now suspended in the water.

River water digs out dirt along its route and suspends that mud in the water. It flows along carrying the mud with it.

What happens when the water stops moving? Obvious, you say, the mud will drop out of the water. So set your jar on a counter and wait an hour.

cleaning water up takes more than settling
Even several hours after being set on the table, mud remains suspended in the water. These tiny particles are too light to settle out in a day or more. This was the problem faced by cities trying to use river water as a water source.

Like the city water department, you will find a layer of organic matter, leaves and such, floating on the top. These are easily removed. A layer of mud will be on the bottom of the jar.

The water in between is not clear. Even waiting a few more hours doesn’t clear it.

Cleaning water up takes more than letting the mud settle. St. Louis didn’t bother for seventy years and the populace drank water with a muddy tinge.

Then the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition came along. St. Louis found a way of cleaning water up from even this fine silt. Today the city has clear tap water.

First Flood Starts New Year

Every year seems to have its own weather characteristics. Last year had no big floods. This year the first flood has already been here.

Usually it takes six inches of rain to trigger a flood. That has changed and this first flood is the new kind that drops its two inches in a short time, faster than ground already soaked with over an inch the day before could absorb.

Previously a flood would last for several days as there was so much more water. These newer floods rise up quickly and drop almost as fast. They do more damage too.

remnants of first flood
The flood hit before dawn filling the flood plain. By mid afternoon the creek was down but snow was lining the banks. Winter seems to be moving into the Ozarks.

This first flood of the new year left lots of debris around as the water went up into the edges of the pastures. Leaves, branches, sand and gravel line the high water mark.

There is a good point about this storm. It was rain. We cleared bridge and culverts and fence as the air got colder.

Snow arrived that afternoon. The ground melted the snow as it landed for a time, but the temperatures kept falling. Big clumps of flakes piled up an inch. There was no wind.

Strangely each January weather patterns seem to change and set the tone for the coming year. The last few years have been very windy. This year might be calmer in the Ozarks.

first snowfall of the new year
Snowfall is really hard to get a picture of. Flakes are too small. This first snowfall began with huge clumps of flakes falling thickly. Such a snowfall is usually of short duration as this one was. The large clumps gave way to small flakes a few minutes after this picture was taken.

Last year there were no floods. The first flood has arrived. How many more will there be this year?

Some patterns seem to be continuing. Rain comes in downpours. Clouds hang around for days. Winters in the Ozarks continue to be warmer.

I’m sure other parts of the country work differently. One dividing line seems to be the Hwy 44 corridor. Weather is colder north of there. Somewhere south of here is the dividing line for the severe thunderstorms.

The Ozarks does get some of that weather, but much of it misses us in recent years. That is one pattern I don’t want to see change.

Watching Deer Graze

Deer seem to be a popular reason for people to live or move to the country. Watching deer graze out on the hillside or in the backyard starts or ends a nice day.

One or the reasons deer do graze in our backyard is an absence of dogs. Deer are afraid of dogs. We prefer watching deer graze to watching a dog chase everything off and bark much of the time.

buck deer grazing
This buck deer has a lovely set of antlers. He should drop them soon. Maybe I will find them in the hill pasture.

We like dogs and see them when we visit friends. Dogs take time we don’t have and supervision when we want to do other things. So we don’t have a dog.

Usually does graze in the back yard and in the hill pasture. At present there is a pair, probably a doe and last year’s fawn, and another doe who wander across the yard cropping the grass. One discovered fallen sunflower seeds under the bird feeder one evening.

watching deer graze can mean deer watching me
Deer have good vision for motion making them hard to sneak up on. I am far away, maybe a hundred yards, and this doe still spotted me. She decided my camera and I were not a threat and went back to grazing.

These three see us standing in the kitchen and get used to us being around. They take off only if we walk out into the yard. The small herd in the hill pasture is much more flighty and numerous.

Six does wander down from the hill beside the pasture and out into the hill pasture. They watch as I call the goats in for the night. The goats stand at the barn watching deer graze and occasionally call to them, but get no answer.

watching deer graze
Winter temperatures have been a bit warm and grass might be growing a little. If not, grass is still tall from last fall and the deer have noticed. A small herd is out grazing almost every evening.

Rarely bucks show up. A trio went across the back yard one year. A pair went through this year. One joined the herd in the hill pasture.

I found a lovely pair of sheds, five points on each, by a telephone pole one year. Looking at the buck in the hill pasture with his nice antlers I wondered where these would fall. In the meantime I can stand at the gate watching deer graze out in the pasture.

Celebrate the special times on the hills in “My Ozark Home“.

Spring Water Problems

The Ozarks has many springs. Some are huge pouring out thousands of gallons of water. Most are small and enticed people to use them for house water. Spring water problems are many.

Reading some old books (“Canoe Country” and “Snowshoe Country” by Florence Page Jaques) from around 1940, the author tells of going down to the lake and bringing back water for use in the house. Times have changed.

Surface waters are usually full of pollutants now. Giardia is found even in clear mountain streams. Ozark springs are surface water.

spring box shows spring water problems
Ozark spring water comes bubbling up often looking clear, cold, refreshing. Using it for house water calls for special measures from covering the spring box to keep out the leaves, creatures and dirt to filtering out unwanted bacteria.

Many people see the springs gushing out of deep caves and think the water has been safely filtered underground. The Ozarks is Karst, limestone and dolomite rocks riddled with holes from slightly acidic rain seeping down through cracks and between layers. The water is not filtered.

Karst is known for caves. Some caves collapse and become sinkholes. For many such holes were great trash dumps.

Walking past a nearby spring today I was reminded of these spring water problems. An inch and a half of rain had fallen the night before. The old cement spring box was full and pouring out water over the top. This was water from the hill above the spring.

old spring shows more spring water problems
No one has used this spring box for water for decades. The spring still runs. Rain makes the spring overflow the box.

This spring was never used for a house. The next spring down still is used. I found out about spring water problems talking to the owners as I mention using springs in “The City Water Project”.

Spring boxes have gravel in the bottom to filter out mud. A pipe comes up through the gravel and captures the water carrying it with the help of a jet pump through a filter and into a pressure tank. More filters are used on the faucets in the house.

water cress supply
Water cress loves shallow cold water like this from the old spring. Recent rain has raised the water level. Soon it will drop again. With warmer weather the water cress will grow big enough for lots of good eating.

I was told that big floods can bring mud into the gravel so it must be replaced. The filters are used to strain out as many pollutants and bacteria as possible. The water has never made anyone sick.

Are drilled wells safer? People think so. For me I will avoid spring water problems using a drilled well for water, but the spring water grows great water cress.

Water cress is one of the wild greens found in the Ozarks. Read more about it in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Canoe Country by Florence Page Jaques

In the Ozarks canoe trips down the Current River are big business late spring to early autumn. In “Canoe Country” by Florence Page Jaques such trips are an illusion.

The author finds herself persuaded to make the three week canoe trip in northern Minnesota in late August about 1936.

cover of "Canoe Country" by F. P. Jaques
“Canoe Country” by Florence Page Jaques is a thin book of her journal kept during a three week canoe trip on the lakes of far northern Minnesota around 1940. The sketches illustrating the book were done by her husband Lee Jaques.

Northern Minnesota at that time was wild country with few roads or towns. Indians lived in the woods of mostly evergreens. Travel was by water from lake to lake. The state is known for its 10,000 plus lakes.

Lee Jaques does wilderness sketches and has been canoeing in the area many times as a boy and an adult. His wife is a city girl whose friends and family think this a mad venture she will soon regret.

Blue Heron sketch in Canoe Country
The canoe slid silently by beds of reeds where a blue heron stood motionless watching for a fish to swim by. This was along the edge of one lake in far northern Minnesota during a canoe trip by the author of “Canoe Country” and her husband who did the sketch.

Everything for the three weeks must fit into their canoe and still leave room for them. In addition they must be able to carry it over the portages around rapids or between lakes.

The book is a series of trip diary entries set off with sketches of the scenery and animals. It is a fantasy trip for those living now. The pair needed no guns, only fishing gear. They could dip water from the lakes for drinking and cooking without filtering it first. They saw only a few people the entire three weeks.

porcupine swimming sketch from "Canoe Country"
Northern Minnesota has thousands of lakes and ponds. The fastest way across one is to swim. But a porcupine? Their quills are hollow and filled with air making a life jacket to buoy them up as they swim. the sketch is by Lee Jaques in “Canoe Country”.

The descriptions will be better appreciated by those who have seen the north country with its forests of Christmas trees. No description is adequate for the calls of the loon. Through all of the entries comes the wonder of a newcomer to the wilderness.

The illustrations of the animals are the animals, how they look and act. Those of the scenery make me want to join them on such a trip.

The sad part of this book is knowing that the trip these people made is part of a time and place no longer found in such pristine conditions.

Watching Wild Turkeys In Town

I live in a small Ozark town. To my surprise the other day I found myself watching wild turkeys at the outskirts of town.

A creek goes through parts of town. The town limit toward my home is a bridge crossing this creek. The creek area is still thick woods and is kept this way due to flooding.

Wild turkeys do live along this creek. I’d seen them out toward ShawneeMac Conservation Area. They go across the road into the pastures along there.

watching wild turkeys
As the street leaves town, it curves sharply to the left leaving a field directly ahead. The wild turkey flock was busy checking for anything edible. The creek growth behind them is where they live.

Just inside the town limit there was a small pasture. A pony lived there for a time. Across the road are some fields cut and round baled every year.

Late one afternoon as I drove home from town, I noticed a flock of wild turkeys in the small pasture. Watching wild turkeys in the fields around home I learned to do fast counts and estimated a dozen birds.

It was late. I needed to get home to let the herd in for the night. I didn’t stop.

The next time I came home I looked in the field. There were no turkeys. It must have been a fluke. Or the neighborhood dogs had made the turkeys decide to go back to their usual pastures.

wild turkey flock across the street
The small field had limited fodder. The larger hay field across the street was occupied by more wild turkeys foraging. Although wary, the turkeys weren’t frightened off by vehicles or people on the road. Most of the turkeys didn’t look up leaving that to a few guards.

After another long day in town with a list of errands much longer than the time available, I headed home. Winter days are frustrating as they get dark so early and the goats need to come in before dark.

I rolled down the hill toward the Spring Creek Bridge. There was the flock of turkeys. This time I stopped to take a couple of pictures. Watching wild turkeys is fine. Having pictures to savor later is better.

watching wild turkeys watching me
A few wild turkeys stretched up tall checking me out. If one of them ran, the entire flock would run for cover. These few guards decided my camera and I were no threat.

This was the dozen birds. I turned toward my truck. Across the road in the other fields was another dozen or more.

These are definitely town birds. Watching wild turkeys out my way takes stealth as they take off as soon as they spot you. These town birds looked me over and went back to eating.

Wild turkeys are one of the topics in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.

Bald Eagle Watching Days

Bald eagle watching is popular in Missouri over the winter. Eagle Watching Days are posted for many of the state parks and bigger conservation areas.

I never get a chance to go to any of the formal events. I’m not a birder, only a casual bird observer. Still, large birds soaring in the sky are very impressive.

For the last few years bald eagles have shown up here in my valley. Usually it’s a lone bird that takes a look around, then leaves. My chickens like that idea.

bald eagle watching pays off with this one
Far off across a pasture the most noticeable thing is the white head of a bald eagle. It is an intense white unlike any other thing except fresh snow in sunlight.

I let my chickens out to bug hunt one afternoon. There are few if any bugs in the sinter, but they eat grass and scratch and have a good time.

The flock raced out the gate. I turned to set the gate only to be run over as the flock raced back in the gate and into the house.

A bald eagle had soared over and landed in a tree along the creek. The chickens stayed in their house for a couple of hours, long after the eagle moved on.

This year a poacher dumped a deer carcass in the road ditch a mile away. During the warm months such a cache would attract turkey vultures. They have moved south for the winter. The crows did show up.

Then the eagles showed up. Bald Eagle watching days had come to the valley. There were three or four of them at first. The meat is gone so the eagles should be gone. Two are still hanging around.

bald eagle watching nets pair
This pair of bald eagles moved from one tree to another watching me and my truck as intently as I was watching them.

The road has steep banks, muddy ditches, twists and turns. Still I’m creeping down watching the trees along the creek. The eagles favor the wide pasture up the road.

These eagles are wary. They stay far back from the road and take off at any excuse. They are getting used to traffic going by. For a little road going no where, this road gets a fair amount of traffic.

Once I spot the eagles, I stop and get out of the truck. The camera is on maximum zoom and hard to hold steady. My hands are not as steady as a tripod, but there is no time to set one up.

If I take enough pictures, surely one will come out good. The best part of bald eagle watching along the road is being the only person there.

Admire the Ozarks in “My Ozark Home.”

Watching Rain Beating Down

Standing at the window looking out at a dark cloudy day with rain beating down and pouring out of the gutter can be dispiriting. At least it is raining more than the quarter and half inch rains of the last few months.

The wet weather creek along the yard is starting to flow. Usually it takes and inch and a half of rain to do this. It took nearly three this time which indicates the ground was dry.

rain beating down on the roof runs off the gutter
The Ozark midday is dark. Rain beating down obscures the far trees. The water pouring out of the gutter is a waterfall into the rain barrel below.

When the plants are dormant, dry soil isn’t as apparent as during the summer when the plants stand with leaves drooping, wilted to conserve moisture. But it is as damaging to the plants as roots still take up some water to keep their metabolism going.

Plants do have a metabolism. Their cells are alive and still digest sugars for energy to remain alive over the winter. This requires water.

The flow of water looks simple here. The rain falls on the hills and pastures. The extra runs down into the creek and away to the river.

rain beating down ends up in the creek
The storm has passed. The clouds are broken up. The Ozark creek ripples shine in the sun as the water flows down under the bare trees on its way to the river.

This picture is true and false. It is true of the rain. It is false as the ground water, even the surface water in the Ozarks does strange things.

The wet weather creek only appears dry. There is a spring up behind the yard flowing into a small pond. That water seeps down the wet weather creek under the surface gravel for some of its length before being stolen away by plants along it.

Over the south pasture is a seep. The flow is too small and temporary to be called a spring. It is enough to keep an area moister than the rest of the pasture supporting sedges and other moisture loving plants.

Three miles up the road the creek is usually dry. Only rain beating down on the hills makes the bed fill. Here the creek flows all year. Between here and there are several springs whose water feeds into the creek.

small Ozark spring
Some Ozark springs are impressive. This small one is simply a gap under one rock on top of another rock. Moss clings to the rocks. Fall leaves drift in. In freezing temperatures hoar frost coats the rocks. The spring produces enough water most of the time to fill a small pond favored by spotted salamanders for laying eggs in. Frogs move in. Duck weed covers the pond in the summer.

Some of the springs are large enough to have spring boxes around them. The two I know of are deep cement boxes. One is abandoned now. The other provides water to a house. Unlike when spring boxes were used for house water more commonly, the water is now filtered several times to remove contaminants.

Standing looking out on a dull cloudy day, one of a string of such days, watching the rain beating down can make a person wish for sunny weather. But that rain keeps the springs and creeks flowing.

See more pictures of my Ozark creek in “My Ozark Home.”

Using Red Cedar Poles

I’ve been using red cedar poles for years. They make great chicken roosts.

The advantages to red cedar include the smell. This does diminish over the years. The tree tends to have a trunk that stays much the same diameter for a long distance . There are usually lot of them in a small area. And they are easy to cut down.

Maybe that last one is a stretch. Red cedar trees are lined with branches. Each branch must be cut off. Many of them are small enough to use loppers instead of a saw.

red cedar poles come from large red cedar trees
Although the tree is called red cedar, it is a juniper. It takes advantage of any open area and can come up in hordes. Few animals eat red cedar. Goats do in the fall and winter, possibly deer as well. The berries are valued by birds like cedar waxwings. It is a good roosting spot for many birds especially in bad weather. However, too many of the trees will kill out competing plants.

Why the sudden interest in red cedar poles? I don’t need any at the moment. That may change as the goats like to browse on them in the winter.

As I write “The Carduan Chronicles,” I realize many of the things easily available to me won’t be to these small survivors. That includes lumber. They do have the wooden crates their supplies are packed in. But that will be all the lumber available.

They want to build things. At the moment shelving is needed to keep kitchen pots and pans and utensil up off the ground. They will need to store food supplies.

red cedar poles for the Carduans
Red cedar saplings tend to have trunks that stay the same diameter for two to three feet. They are about three quarter of an inch in diameter. There is no red center, only white sapwood with lots of resin. Still, they will work as poles for small building projects.

This is where the red cedar poles enter the story. They will make excellent uprights to hold these shelves. Granted that these poles will not have the lovely red centers as such trees are much larger than the Carduans would care to tackle. But the white wood lasts a long time when kept dry and is easy to work with.

The resin might be a problem. But these survivors need to make torches and the resin will work very well. That is, it will once they learn how to start a fire.

Come to think of it, those red cedar poles will work as roof rafters too. Oak might be better, but they don’t know that. Yet.

Read more about Ozark red cedar in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Honey Locust Thorns

Every year honey locust seeds drift into my garden. I pull up dozens of the little trees. Some I reach for and find I have a handful of honey locust thorns.

Some seedlings come up armed with half inch needle thorns. Most do not. The grown trees are the same.

honey locust tree
From a distance a honey locust tree looks like a tree. What sets them apart is the hazy look around the trunk caused by the thorns. Even the thorns don’t keep deer or goats from chewing on the bark so this tree is protected as the goats do value the shade in the summer as a favorite lay up spot in this pasture during hot weather.

Somewhere I read that, although honey locust trees have both male and female flowers on them, some have more female ones. These are the ones covered with thorns. I’m skeptical.

The prize winner of the honey locust thorns was a whopping sixteen inches long. Most are half that. Those on twigs and small branches may be a mere two or three inches long.

thorns make useful tools
Anyone who has ever driven a rubber tire over a honey locust thorn knows they are hard as nails and very sharp. Only trees that have been attacked by deer or goats make huge numbers of long thorns.

Small thorns are generally a single barb pointing up. Longer thorns have side thorns on them. The small ones are the most dangerous.

Honey locust branches are easily broken off, especially when they are small. These barbed booby traps sink down into the grass. The thorns last for years, hard and sharp. Any foot or tire that goes over them may regret it.

small honey locust thorns
This small two inch thorn may not look that fearsome. It will flatten a tractor tire. If you are a four inch tall Carduan, it will be very useful as a weapon. Think about porcupine quills. Not too many would be predators want a mouthful of thorns.

On a honey locust trunk the thorns grow in clusters. The color varies. Old thorns weather into a dull grey. New thorns are shiny reddish brown. Others are intermediate.

Scattered clumps of short thorns adorn a honey locust trunk. Then a deer or a goat comes by and starts nibbling. The number and length of the thorns increases. Some trees end up with their trunks so lined with thorn clusters its hard to see the bark. It does deter the goats.

honey locust thorns
This honey locust hasn’t been bothered much. It has small thorn clusters up to four inches long. The tree is in an old cow pasture that is hayed, but no livestock. If deer browse on the bark, more thorn clusters will appear and the thorns will be much longer. The tree got its name because of the sweet pulp inside its seed pods. The flowers drip with nectar as well and attract lots of insects.

Why the interest in honey locust thorns? As I write “The Carduan Chronicles” I find these small aliens need to defend themselves and hunt for game. These thorns are ideal.

The thorns are hard, sharp, fairly easy to get, come in a variety of lengths. They will definitely discourage a predator that doesn’t want a mouthful of thorns. They can double as a spear to bring down small game animals. Then there are the various other uses: walking stick, digging stick, lever.

Honey locust thorns are very useful indeed.

Wishing For Spring

Winter is arriving in the Ozarks with typical fanfare. A day of seventy degrees is followed by a day of falling temperatures from forty to near freezing. This leaves me wishing for spring.

There are other reasons. The first chapter of “The Carduan Chronicles” won second place in the Arts Rolla writing contest. Definitely incentive to complete this massive mess.

Spring Beauty flowers
Spring Beauty plants are a stalk with two opposite leaves. The top of the stem forms lots of flower buds that open a few at a time. Some petals are nearly white. Others are nearly pink. Most have the pink anthers over pink stripes on white petals.

And there is NaNo – National Novel Writing Month – where I have said I am completing “The Carduan Chronicles” even though I’m not sure it will take another 50,000 words to complete it. As part of bringing the two plots together, I am taking the two ships through one day at a time. And the Ozarks is in spring.

The Carduans are meeting spring flowers like Spring Beauty, Rose Verbena and Toothwort. They are munching on flowers from the Redbud trees. And I am wishing for spring so I can enjoy these flowers with them.

Redbud spring flowers
Flowers are for producing seeds as far as a plant is concerned. They are sources of food for many kinds of insects. Redbud flowers are edible by people with a delicate nutty sweet taste.

I do realize that anyone reading this novel won’t want a daily diary stretching out over fifteen six day weeks. It would get boring quickly. But, since I am melding two plots, I must have a strict timeline so they meet at the proper time.

Knowing much of what I am presently working so hard on will end up cut out of the final novel could be very discouraging. However, I don’t know now what will be cut or merged or summarized as I start the final major rewrite of the novel. The Ozarks in spring is an exciting place to the Carduans.

Rose Verbena plant in bloom
Roadsides and creek banks sport vivid rose pink from early spring to frost in the form of the Rose Verbena.

These little aliens have few flowers on their home planet Arkosa. They are amazed at the ones they see. They are searching for food. Do you know which wild plants are edible? I am learning. They must find small creatures to kill for meat and face the necessity of killing their own meat.

Then there are dangers. The snakes are coming out for the warm seasons. Four inch tall Carduans are tasty morsels or are they? How do you protect yourself?

Still, in spite of all the regular plot and events happening, it is the arrival of spring I enjoy most. I am wishing for spring and savoring each description I include in my writing.

What else might the Carduans discover? Check out “Exploring the Ozark Hills” for clues.

Autumn Leaf Rain

Late autumn leaf rain in the Ozarks isn’t what you think of when you hear the word rain. It isn’t water.

Frost arrives and the leaves turn color. This year many of them turned brown. Some turned yellow, purple or orange.

Regular rain did go through when the color was peaking on the hills. Heavy stratus clouds blanketed the sky and kept the days dim dulling the colors.

goldfinch eating seeds
The giant ragweed and other plants are dead sticks now with food attached. Goldfinches, sparrows, juncos and cardinals are reaping the seeds.

Peak color often holds for several days. It did hold this year for two or three dull days.

Finally the clouds moved on one afternoon letting the sunlight make the hill colors glow. Wind made some leaves fall.

The next morning was about twenty degrees. This is frost flower temperature.

These delicate ice curls only happen one or two mornings each year. I go up on the hill to where the dittany grows to look for them.

autumn leaf rain
The first big killing frost signals the beginning of the autumn leaf rain and the end of fall colors. Any hint of a breeze brings down clouds of colorful leaves to blanket the ground. It continues until the trees are bare for the winter.

As I crossed the bridge, I found I was in the middle of the autumn leaf rain. Every tree was raining its leaves.

Most deciduous trees have s special layer form between their leaves and stems when the leaves change color. This double layer of cells is where the leaf will break free when it falls.

Like the color change, temperature determines when most leaves fall. A deep killing frost like twenty degrees does it.

Under foot the ground was paved with color. Leaves drifted down on the wind making me look for birds and finding only leaves.

ice edged leaves
Spikes of ice create a lacy effect on pasture plants. This takes temperatures in the twenties or below. These spikes vanish when the sun touches them.

The pastures were white with frost. Birds were everywhere. The juncos or snowbirds and sparrows have arrived for the winter. They are eating seeds on the various plants such as giant ragweed, daisy fleabane and grasses.

The hillside hadn’t gotten cold enough for frost flowers. The dittany even had green leaves on its stems. The trees were the attraction with their autumn leaf rain.

Admire the Ozark hills more in “My Ozark Home.”

Blazing Maple Colors

Many tree leaves turned brown and are busy falling. Maples are defying them by turning their usual blazing maple colors.

In looking through my “Flora of Missouri” volume I found there are quite a few different kinds of maple trees. Around here there are silver, sugar and red that I know of. That made me think.

Lots of people have maples in their yards in town. Fall is always lovely because of the blazing maple colors. These range from a simple lemon yellow to orange yellow to orange salmon to deep red.

The different kinds of maples look a lot alike to me most of the year. I know the shapes vary some, the barks vary and the leaves have differences. I’ve never really studied them, but should start again in the spring.

In truth I should start now. The different blazing maple colors are a good place to do just that. The colors are the key.

subdued sugar maple color
When we moved to this house, the sugar maple was a spindly thing. Large oaks shaded it. The oaks are gone now, one fell over and the other one died. The sugar maple has gained in size and is a tower of color in the fall.

Someone long ago planted a sugar maple tree in our front yard. It is finally getting big. It turns an orange tinged yellow. In cloudy light the color glows.

The silver maples growing in the area turn lemon yellow. It looks almost like the leaves are painted as the color is so true yellow.

I don’t know which maples turn that gorgeous shade of orange salmon. The trees are easy to spot as they seem to be on fire as the color is so vivid. I need to note which trees these are as they must be a different kind of maple.

blazing maple colors
One kind of maple turns this gorgeous color in the fall. There are several trees in town to admire. In the sun the trees are ablaze. In cloudy weather the trees smolder.

The deep red ones might be red maples. It seems logical to call them red maples, if they turn red in the fall. There aren’t as many of these around.

Asking the home owners which kind of maple grows in their yard won’t work. The trees are old and the houses have had several owners. I will have to get pictures of the buds and bark this winter. Flowers and leaves will come next spring. Perhaps next year I will know the kind of tree for each of the blazing maple colors.

See more photographs of Ozark seasons in “My Ozark Home.”

Ozark Fall Colors Finally Appear

September was warm, in the eighties most of the month. Leaves stayed green although they did yellow a bit showing that fall colors lurked just below the surface.

Killing frost hit suddenly a week early in October. The leaves ignored the warning.

Not all of them ignored this cold. The dogwoods turned purple. The black walnuts dropped their leaves a little faster. The far hillside looked more yellow.

some fall colors showing on hill
Ozark trees are having trouble putting on their fall colors this year. Some are just dropping their leaves. Oaks don’t drop their leaves and are turning red a week or so after the first killing frost.

Several more frost have whitened the mornings. Finally the trees are taking notice.

I read somewhere that day length was what triggered fall colors. Watching the trees here I have serious doubts about this.

The trees do change color over the growing season. Spring has a lighter, more vivid green. Summer has an intense darker green. Fall brings in a dryer, yellower green.

But these are all shades of green. Very few plants show fall colors as long as the temperatures stay warm. Poison ivy turns red even before frost.

fall colors increase
In just a day the amount of color showing on the hillside has increased. The trees were ready to turn color. The sycamores along the creek have had some leaves turn yellow, some turn brown and others fall still green.

Frost brings out the yellows and reds. The colors don’t show overnight. I’m watching the hillside trees.

First the yellow deepens. It’s as though the trees are discussing what to do next.

A week or so later the trees seem to come to consensus. Oranges creep in.

Over three or four days the entire hillside turns into a riot of fall colors. These will hold until a deep killing frost, high winds or storms knock the leaves off the trees en masse. The leaves do drift off a few at a time before this and would slowly leave the trees bare without the bigger pushes.

hillside in full fall colors
Once the trees begin to change color, the hillside is reddish orange in a week to ten days. The line of persimmons has already dropped its leaves leaving fruit hanging on the branches. This drops a few at a time when the wind blows. The goats harvest the fallen fruit during the day. Deer scavenge during the night.

This hillside  of mostly oaks is easy for me to watch as it is opposite the barn door. The goats have taken to staying out late and have to be hunted down and encouraged to come in. The late blooming grasses, falling leaves, acorns and persimmons are too good to leave, it seems.

I walked down the creek bed and out into the pastures. Perhaps I was late doing this as the hickories are brilliant yellow. Perhaps I should take more time away from settling the garden for the winter and go looking at the fall colors as they won’t be here nearly long enough.

Enjoy Ozark seasons in photographs and haiku in “My Ozark Home.”