Tag Archives: hiking

The Problem With Trees

Trees are plants. They bloom. My botany project, a Dent County Flora, needs pictures of these trees.

Each of the plant entries requires several pictures. For trees this includes the winter bud, the bark, twigs if there is something special about them, the tree, leaves, flowers and fruit.

The problem with trees is their height. At five foot and change, I don’t have much height. Trees tower over my head.

bark of a shingle oak tree
Tree bark is the easy picture to get of a tree. It doesn’t matter if the tree is in a crowd of other trees. The trunk is in easy reach. And the bark helps in identifying the tree. This particular shingle oak is an old friend. It grows at the base of the hill pasture and has gotten steadily bigger over the almost thirty years I’ve known it.

I’ve never been much of a tree climber. I’m not about to learn now. That leaves me staring up at the things I want pictures of.

One solution would be to cut some trees down. This is not the solution I want to use. First because I don’t want to cut down three trees (one for winter buds, one for flowers and leaves, a third for the fruit) of each kind. Second because I don’t use a chainsaw any more.

Another solution is to find the same trees being used as yard trees in town. I suppose this is cheating in a way. However, I definitely find the trees out in the wild before I resort to this solution.

the problem with trees is reaching the bud of a shingle oak tree
Leaves are a favorite way to identify a tree. Unfortunately leaves are not reliable in the winter as many trees drop them in the fall. Oaks don’t easily drop their leaves, but they shrivel up and get torn off by the wind. guide books to winter trees go by the bark and the winter buds. Each kind of tree seems to have a unique winter bud arrangement. Notice the arrangement of these buds. Each is covered by scales to seal out winter weather. Luckily these buds are within reach with my hooked walking stick.

Still another approach is to find young trees with branches within reach. As I have an eight foot walking stick with a hook in the end, this young tree can be fairly tall. I can reach up ten to twelve feet easily to snag a branch and pull it down as long as it is supple and long enough to get down into grabbing distance.

This last method works well for winter buds, leaves, twigs. If I am lucky, it works for flowers and fruit. Most of the trees like to put their flowers up high, out of reach.

The main problem with trees is their height. Once I solve that one for a particular species, I’m left with two others. One is getting to the tree at the right time to see the flowers and fruit. The other is identifying the tree correctly which can be a big problem with hickories and oaks.

Ozark Woods Winter Greens

Looking over at the hills with their bare trees in browns and grays, it’s easy to overlook the winter greens. To see these, you have to go out walking.

These greens grow in the woods all year. Most of the time they are in deep shade under the tree canopy. Now that canopy is gone and these tiny plants can show off.

Where do you look for these winter greens? One place is on the ground where they show off some of their many shapes.

moss and lichen group on the ground of the Ozark woods show winter greens
How many different kinds of mosses and lichens do you see? This makes it easy to understand why some people study these plants. Unfortunately for me, they thrive when the weather is cold and I would rather spend most of my time inside by the wood stove keeping warm.

Mosses are among the first plants to grow on land. They have no roots, only tiny threads holding them to the ground or the rocks or the trees depending on where they happen to grow.

Don’t think moss and assume it’s all the same. Some moss looks like tiny cedar seedlings. Other moss forms tiny green tails. Still other moss coats rocks with soft green fur. There are many shapes and sizes, if you seek in different habitats.

mosses and lichens in Ozark woods
Ozark woods ground lichens come in so many forms. This branched type is spongy, although the lichen is stiff. The moss is growing up in columns getting ready to ‘bloom’ which is putting up spore capsules.

Accompanying the mosses are the lichens. These aren’t really plants. They are a partnership of a fungus and algae. The fungus provides the shape. The algae living in the fungus provides the color.

These too come in a variety of shapes and grow in many places. There are the foliose lichens that often coat rocks with flat tongues usually gray in color. Forming clumps mixed in with mosses on the ground is a branched lichen. This shape likes to coat honey locust branches. Orange lichens grow on black walnut trunks.

foliose lichen on rock
Sometimes a single foliose lichen is on a rock and forms a circle of flat tongues. Usually there are several on the same rock and they collide with each other.

The soldier lichen puts up little clubs topped with brilliant red. Still others have green cups.

Like the mosses lichens have no roots and are easily knocked loose from the ground. Step carefully while exploring the hills seeking these winter greens. They are as varied and lovely as the wildflowers that will tower over them when spring comes back to the Ozarks.

Exploring Ozark Hills

Over almost thirty years one thing has remained a constant here. Exploring Ozark hills has been and is a great pleasure.

At first everything was a new discovery. Each flower, tree and animal was something to be written down as special. We bought the Missouri Department of Conservation guidebooks to identify these new discoveries.

exploring Ozark hills for lady slippers
Lady slippers are not common as they are very particular where they grow. We came across some on the north side of a couple of ravines.

Each year exploring Ozark hills took us to new places looking for familiar sights and seeking new ones. Lady slippers hid up a ravine. Indian pipes appeared on the hills.

Even so many years later new plants and animals turn up. Special encounters happen.

I shared these special things first in a local ad paper and now on my website. They fill a book “Exploring the Ozark Hills”.

This was a surprisingly difficult book to write. I split it into the four seasons. Spring, summer and fall had so many possible things to write about, it was hard to choose the twenty-one I included.

exploring the Ozark hills for Indian pipes
Indian pipes grow underground getting nutrition from rotting matter and roots. Only the flower stalks and flowers emerge much as mushrooms do. They appear in the late fall.

Winter was different. When I wrote “Exploring the Ozark Hills”, I looked for themes to fill up the slots. Then I had to find photographs to go with them.

Falling snow is very difficult to capture with a camera. The eye sees it easily. The camera does not unless the flakes are the large clumps that sometimes begin or end a snowfall.

This was one of the first books I wrote. The essays are still pertinent. The photographs are still beautiful. For spring, summer and fall I could go out and find everything again, although some are much more difficult to find now.

The winters here in the Ozarks have changed. This last winter was the first in several when we got several inches of snow. And it was gone in days, not weeks.

Changing weather patterns are making exploring Ozark hills a new challenge again. Only now it takes spraying up to deter the ticks.

Butterfly Clusters

Walking along my road or around the trail at ShawneeMac Lakes Conservation Area I sometimes notice butterfly clusters. There was one yesterday of three different kinds of swallowtails.

Swallowtail butterflies in a butterfly cluster
This patch of ground is wet with a sheen of moisture over it. Several swallowtail butterflies landed to sip this mineral water. There are the regular yellow and black swallowtails. A smaller white and black swallowtail joins them. the black swallowtail may be either a Pipevine or a Spicebush swallowtail.

Butterflies are pretty and people think of them as friendly, pretty, carefree creatures. They are belligerent and constantly on the alert for predators. That doesn’t distract from their lovely wing patterns.

Gray Hairstreak Butterflies form butterfly clusters
The tiny extensions from the lower wings mark this butterfly as a hairstreak. The deep blue indicates this gray hairstreak is a male. These small butterflies often form large clusters with as many fluttering over those that are on the ground.

Butterfly clusters are good reasons to stop and admire these insects. The clusters can be on flowers such as butterfly milkweed. More often they are on manure piles or rain puddles in the road.

Pearl Crescent butterfly
Butterfly wings are delicate and soon start fraying on the edges as on this Pearl Crescent. This is another smaller butterfly. These sometimes join gray hairstreaks in a cluster around puddles.

Nectar is a great energy food and butterflies need plenty to keep flying. Nectar doesn’t supply proteins and minerals. Manure and dust do.

Although butterfly clusters are one way to see lots of these flying wonders, there are other ways. Single butterflies land here and there.

On my recent return to ShawneeMac Lakes the day was cool. I saw several butterflies sitting and sunning themselves. They spread their wings or slowly fanned them soaking up the sun’s heat.

Fritillary Butterfly
Sometimes called dead leaf butterflies, the outside of a fritillary’s wings are mottled dull browns mimicking leaf litter. The jagged edges complete the disguise. These butterflies are more solitary than others.

As long as I don’t cast a shadow on the butterfly, it will sit there ignoring me until I get within a few feet. Different kinds of butterflies have different distance triggers. The gray hairstreaks, pearl crescents and fritillaries are more tolerant. Sulfur butterflies have a trigger of about ten feet making them very difficult to photograph.

Another insect was out and about around the Lakes Clear wing dragonflies are a smaller member of the group. Dragonflies have excellent eyesight and are normally very wary. It was a surprise to get within a few feet of a couple and almost step on a few more before they zipped away.

Once the weather gets more settled and stays warm, these close encounters will become more rare. The butterflies and dragonflies won’t need to bask in the sun to warm up. But the butterfly clusters will still happen.

Find out a lot more about water in “The City Water Project“.

Canada Geese Arrive

Plants are beginning to sprout defying the up and down temperatures of an Ozark spring. At ShawneeMac Conservation Area the main attractions are the Canada geese.

I hadn’t walked the trail there in months. The trees are still bare. The grass is thinking about growing.

The mowed area had lots of early saxifrage blooming. These plants were only four inches tall, but trying to set seed before the mowers start arriving.

Canada goose swimming
This Canada goose was curious about me as I walked along the trail around the upper lake at ShawneeMac Conservation Area. It swam toward me and then paralleled me for fifty or sixty feet until the trail turned back inland.

The honeysuckle was leafing out. The burning bush buds were swelling. These invasives are easy to spot along the trail.

The American holly was easy to spot as well. It’s the dark green plant scattered here and there off the trail. I am hoping to catch it in bloom this year which is challenging as it blooms for only a few days each spring.

group of Canada geese
Geese eat grass among other things. This group is on the edge of a picnic area mowing the grass. I guess the big one in the back is the male. The group honks quietly to each other while eating.

The honks of Canada geese kept me company during my hike. There were a couple of dozen birds in various groups around the upper lake. A couple swam by watching me watch them. Cameras are so interesting.

Much of the time the geese were behind lake edge vegetation and hard to spot. That changed when I got back to the parking area where I had left my truck.

pair of Canada Geese
One of these Canada geese is swimming quietly along. The other one came up beside her honking loudly and seems to be putting on a display for her. She is ignoring him.

A half dozen Canada geese had taken over a small point of land extending into the lake. Evidently it had one big male and several females. I really can’t tell the difference however another loudly honking goose started swimming over. The biggest goose in the group attacked and drove the interloper away.

Canada goose landing in lake
This Canada goose was up on shore when another goose came across the lake. It flew up and over landing in the lake to attack the approaching goose. Both were honking loudly.

Other geese swam, took baths, walked around in other areas and generally took over the lake shore. Some will be staying over the summer. Others move on to other lakes and ponds in the area or go farther north. The next Canada geese arrivals will be their goslings in late spring.

Read more about nature in the Ozarks in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.

Eastern Chipmunks Love Acorns

Driving down my road I occasionally see these little creatures shoot across with tails held straight up. These are Eastern Chipmunks.

Both chipmunks and ground squirrels live in Missouri. The ground squirrels are bigger with different coloring and don’t seem to live in my valley.

Except for an occasional sighting chipmunks aren’t noticed much either. My cats catch those that move into the yard. Their favorite routine is to bring the chipmunk into the house and let it go.

Cats do have a sense of humor and must enjoy watching me try to corner a terrified little rodent, scoot it into a container kept ready for such emergencies and slam the lid on. The chipmunk is then carried off down the road beyond where the cats normally go and turned loose.

eastern chipmunk
Eastern chipmunks give another meaning to cheeky. This one stashed an acorn in a cheek pouch for a secure carry back across the road. The swelling might give the impression of a big tumor, but it’s easily removed.

For some reason I had believed eastern chipmunks, like woodchucks, hibernated during the winter. So I was surprised to see several of them busy gathering acorns on a walk down the road.

Chipmunks do not hibernate. They do stay home in their burrows in cold weather. This means they must gather up a supply of food to snack on. Acorns are popular snacks.

That is exactly what these busy creatures were doing when I noticed them. It was hard to not notice one of them.

Most wildlife wants to avoid people. The birds keep flying off to a tree further down the road. Deer bound off white tails waving. Squirrels streak up the trees.

eastern chipmunk eating acorn
Being a rodent, the front gnawing teeth have enamel only on the front which grows continuously. Gnawing on things like acorns wears it away and keeps it razor sharp. The fingers are long on all four paws and have good nails for digging burrows. What most people see is how cute they are.

Eastern chipmunks often do take off and are only rustling in the leaves. One was determined to get another acorn. It darted across the road about ten feet in front of me, stuffed two acorns in its cheek pouches, sat on a fallen branch to assess what I was up to and darted back across the road.

The little rodent didn’t go far. It raced up a fallen tree and across to a perch on another fallen branch to eat an acorn. I assume it was the same one. I saw two or three others in the area.

The next morning was twenty-five degrees. It warmed up quickly and I went walking. The chipmunks had all stayed in their burrows.

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.