Tag Archives: Ozarks

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.

Revisiting summer Through Wildflowers

The trees on the hills are bare gray skeletons. Vultures have flown south replaced by juncos from the north. I am spending part of the winter revisiting summer through wildflowers.

This past summer was amazing here for wildflowers. The roadsides, hills, pastures and riverbanks were full of plants I recognized and many I didn’t. My camera got a workout.

Time is finite. Downloading hundreds of pictures takes a lot of it. Trying to identify unfamiliar flowers takes a lot of time too.

beggar tick or tick trefoil flowers, genus Desmodium, look like little pink slippers
Long stems hang out lined with little pink slippers. Some kinds have eyespots, Some are three quarters of an inch long, others barely a quarter inch. All make flat triangular seed pods covered with fuzz to stick to anything walking by. These are the members of Desmodium, the beggar ticks or tick trefoil flowers.

Some groups of wildflowers are difficult to sort out. Sunflowers and beggar ticks are cases in point. So I dump them into an Unknown category.

Now the wildflowers are gone for the winter. My camera is used less in a month than it was used during some summer days. Instead I am revisiting summer through wildflowers as I sort through all of those pictures and try to identify those many unknowns.

revisiting summer through wildflowers like Deptford pinks
Deptford pinks are not large, barely half an inch across. It’s their vivid pink color that is remarkable. They were brought over from Europe and have made themselves at home along roadsides and in fields. The plants are tall, thin stems, but the flowers top them for months.

Several years ago I planned a Dent County Flora. I had lots of pictures and even started looking up and writing about many of the 2000 or so plants growing wild in Dent County. Except I am not a botanist, only an avid amateur. The project languished.

Then I came across “Missouri In Flight” and saw a way to reshape my botany project.

Forget the botanical descriptions I almost understand. Instead I can focus on my pictures. And the pictures can be as much about what I see as beautiful about a flower as an illustration of the flower.

Bull thistle flower with butterfly and bumblebee
Thistles are thorny plants, often big and leggy, so people cut or mow them down. Leaving one or two is worth the space as birds from hummingbirds to finches and insects including dusky skipper butterflies and bumblebees visit the flowers for nectar and the seeds for food.

Wildflowers don’t exist as garden subjects, pristine in their shapes and colors. They exist in the world with pollinating visitors, herbivores taking bites out of them, spiders and others using them as hunting grounds. And these make it into some of the pictures.

The best reasons for doing the Dent County Flora project are: having an excuse to go out hiking; taking pictures; and revisiting summer through wildflowers all winter.

Ice Storm Brings In New Year

Rain begins to fall after temperatures drop to freezing or a degree lower. Each drop freezes onto whatever it hits. This is an ice storm.

Ice deceives us as we don’t really realize how dangerous it is. Ice coating branches adds weight and rigidity. A quarter inch of ice breaks small branches. A half inch can shatter a tree.

ice coating on a tree after an ice storm
A thin coating of ice turns trees into crystal sculptures after an Ozark ice storm. This coating was barely a quarter inch. Ice is heavy. A thick coating will break the branches.

A quarter inch of ice on the ground turns everything into a skating rink. Feet fly out from under you.

These things are used in “The Carduan Chronicles” as the ship accumulates ice creating drag and increasing weight and bringing the ship down. The slipperiness of ice shows up in several other adventures.

ice and snow on a twig
An ice storm is a rain storm when the temperatures are freezing or a degree below. The rain freezes onto whatever it hits. It forms frozen drops below the twigs.

The ice does look pretty. Trees and bushes look made of glass. A breath of wind makes the ice tinkle. The hills are covered with light gray trees. If the clouds break letting sunlight through, the gray turns to gleaming white.

It takes a lot of heat to melt ice. One of the investigations in “The City Water Project” looks at this. The air temperature can climb to a few degrees above freezing and the ice stays on the trees, fences and other objects, but melts on the road making walks safe.

fox sparrow on icy branch
Birds like this fox sparrow puff up to keep warmer. The air trapped under their feathers acts like insulation. This sparrow is watching for a chance to join the crowd at the bird feeder to get some calories to burn for body heat.

Another aspect of an ice storm is the quiet. It’s like the hush in a snowy landscape. Unless a breeze moves the branches, sound is swallowed up. All I heard walking out across the pastures was the creek rushing over its gravel bed.

Once the temperature stays up in the mid thirties for a few hours, the ice begins to fall. It becomes dangerous to stand under electric lines or trees as chunks slip off and fall. Being hit with a piece is being hit with a rock.

Ozark road after an ice storm
The clouds have thinned so the ice turns into white crystal on the trees lining an Ozark gravel road.

One advantage to this ice storm bringing in the new year, is being able to stay at home. Looking out the windows at the ice coated landscape lets me admire the beauty until the ice finally melts escorting the ice storm into the past.

I am offering a free pdf copy of “Goat Games” to 4-H leaders. Contact me about it.

An Ozark Foggy Morning

Big rainstorms dropping three inches or more leave everything soaked including the air. In late fall into winter the clouds clear and the temperatures drop giving the Ozarks a foggy morning.

This morning was white with frost as the temperature had dropped below freezing before rising back to forty. The frost vanished into dew and moisture. This made the fog much thicker than usual.

I walk to the barn. The moisture in the air is cold and damp. It seems to seep through my jacket and moistens my face.

This dense fog erases the hills. Even the trees along the creek vanish into ghostly shadows.

bluebird on a foggy morning
It is November. I saw the bird in a tree across from the barn and zoomed in for a picture. I was very surprised to see a bluebird as I thought they had moved south for the winter.

I spend time standing in the barn door looking out at the swirls of fog. As the sun rises, the fog changes from blue gray to white gray. The sycamores at the bend of the creek take shape. A sudden break in the fog lights them up for a moment.

A deep breath is full of sharp dampness. I long to be out walking across the pastures. This morning chores must come first as there are two more new November kids to tend to.

This morning becomes a race between the goats and the sun. Since most of them are dry and expecting spring kids, I have time to look out at the fog impatient with the goats picking their ways daintily through their oats. I sprint to the house to grab the camera.

old stumps on a foggy morning
These stumps were old when we moved here. Twenty-five years later they are finally disappearing into the ground. They look so interesting with their shapes touched by mist. This picture is used in “My Ozark Home”.

An Ozark foggy morning doesn’t last long. Walking out across the pastures in the fog, seeing the trees loom up against it, listening to the quiet is a morning treasure.

This morning the sun won. The fog was suddenly gone leaving blue sky studded with clouds.

An Ozark foggy morning can come any season although the fog is usually thicker in late fall. Perhaps next time I can make it out to the fields and hills before the fog vanishes.

See the Ozarks in different seasons and weather in “My Ozark Home“.

Beautiful Country “Hillerman Country”

Lately I have been reading through the Navajo mysteries by Tony and Anne Hillerman. What I wish I had done first was opened the cover to “Hillerman Country” by Tony and Barney Hillerman, a look at some beautiful country.

Hillerman Country by Tony and Barney Hillerman
Sized as a coffee table book, the photographs by Barney Hillerman in the book are magnificent. The commentary by Tony Hillerman is interesting. Navajo country is awesome in color, vistas, shapes and making a person face how insignificant a human being is in this natural setting.

The book has commentaries about various places around the area. There are excerpts from the mystery series. All of it is trying to help others see what the Navajos have known for centuries: Desert the area may be, but it is truly beautiful in its colors, its immensity, its shapes.

I have been in Navajo country. It was long ago and some of the memories of this beautiful country are dim now. And, beautiful as they are, the photographs in “Hillerman Country” don’t really convey what it is like to be there.

beautiful country in Glacier National Park
Taken in July,1972 this view of the Rockies in Glacier National Park is stunning. It’s hard for a picture, no matter how good, to convey the sense of size when the landscape is so big.

That is true for anywhere. The United States has many spectacular places and more people should take the time to visit them. To fully find their beauty, turn the smart phone off.

My Ozark hills are not spectacular in the way the redwoods or Navajo country or Yosemite are. Yet I can find some of the beauty on them I found in those places.

beautiful country in the Ozarks
I used this long view of the south pasture in “My Ozark Home” as it shows how lovely the Ozarks can be in the summer time.

You have to stand there and let the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feelings seep inside of you. If you are thinking about how to tell someone else about the place, you can’t do that.

The experience is unique to you. Even if someone is standing next to you, it is still unique to each of you. Beautiful country speaks to each of us differently because we are different.

Those differences don’t make one person’s experience better or worse, more or less valid than another’s. Recognizing that we are each unique helps us create a better society.

There is another very valuable resource in “Hillerman Country.” A map spreads across two pages.

In “Song of the Lion” Bernie says the morning prayer to the dawn. It asks to be allowed to walk in beauty. That is a prayer all of us, no matter where we live, should relate to. Perhaps if we aspired to walk in beauty in how we see our world, ourselves and each other, we can find the peace so many of us search for.

See some of why I find my Ozark hills beautiful country in “My Ozark Home”.

Fall Into Winter Begins

Nature really has only two seasons in the Ozarks. One is growing season. The other is winter. Now the Ozarks is waiting to fall into winter.

Most plants still look green. Looking carefully there is a yellow cast hiding under that green. The few cold nights have turned some plants like the dogwoods to fall colors.

fall into winter foliage and color
Leaves are turning red as sunflowers and asters bloom. The growing season will continue until killing frost turns the plants black one morning.

Wait a minute. Isn’t fall another season? It is for people. For plants it is still part of the growing season as they busily make seeds and store sugars and starches down in their roots for the coming winter.

Green chlorophyll doesn’t photosynthesize well in cooler temperatures so the anthocyanins take over. These come in colors other than green.

For turkeys, deer, squirrels and other such creatures the fall into winter means an abundance of seeds and nuts to gather. They don’t care about colors in the leaves, only in eating and hiding enough of this bounty to survive the winter.

deer waiting to fall into winter coat
Still in the golden brown summer coat this young white tailed deer stands in a patch of sunlight along the road debating whether to flee. The notched ear indicates this one has had a close call in the past. She needs to learn to flee from people fast as hunting season opens soon.

The deer are putting on their dark brown winter coats. The raccoons are retiring up into the hills.

Birds are more mobile. Many of them are following the warmth south. One by one the hummingbird feeders are being cleaned and stored. Migrants are stopping by to stock up on sunflower seeds for extra energy giving us a chance to see some new birds.

The usual residents are ignoring the feeder as they load up on other delectables. This excepts the morning doves who leave standing room only on the feeder in the morning.

The turkey vultures are gathering and soaring in lazy circles as they drift south. The goldfinches have shed their gold feathers and are dull green now.

River oats
One of the easiest grasses to identify, the flat seed clumps are unique. At the end of the growing season they dangle glowing gold in the sun and tremble in the breeze.

The winter visitors haven’t arrived yet. These are the juncos, various sparrows and titmice.

The days are getting short. The temperatures are warm all day and cool at night. All it will take is a good rain and the Ozarks will fall into winter.

Meander through the seasons in photographs in “My Ozark Home.”

Garden Zipper Spiders

Some kinds of spiders survive all year. Others like garden zipper spiders begin as tiny spiderlings in the spring, grow all season and die at frost leaving behind, if they are lucky, a case full of eggs to hatch the next spring.

Each egg case releases a cloud of minute spiderlings too small to capture insects. Hay fever sufferers are miserable in early spring when the trees bloom releasing clouds of pollen, but tiny spiders depend on this pollen to survive. Pollen is rich in protein and other nutrients and easy to catch in tiny webs.

As the surviving spiderlings grow, they begin to capture insects for food. The bigger the spider, the bigger the insects their web can catch. By late summer garden zipper spiders are an inch long and easy to spot dressed in deep black, vivid yellow and white.

A new web is spun each morning. A spider tends to stay in the same area unless no food seems available there. Watching a spider spin a web is interesting.

The big spiders are all females and nearly blind seeing little more than light and dark. The web is spun by feel.

garden zipper spiders are web builders
The cephalothorax or head and body region of a garden zipper spider has a woolly look to it. The abdomen is deep black and yellow. The signature zipper is below the spider.

First the spokes are put up. Then the spider starts from the outside and puts the sticky spiral silk down attaching it to each spoke. Garden zipper spiders finish by putting a thick zigzag both up and down from the center.

The spider takes up position behind the zipper and waits. When an insect lands in the web, she races out to subdue and eat it.

Male garden zipper spiders are much smaller than females and don’t spin webs. They hunt for web of females and begin the hazardous task of wooing and mating. They tap out a message on the strands to announce their presence.

garden zipper spider
This garden zipper spider is getting ready to lay eggs. The abdomen gets bigger until it dwarfs the rest of the spider. From the underside a zipper spider is black and yellow.

If the female is interested, the male can advance and mate. Otherwise or even after mating, he can become dinner.

The female’s abdomen gets very large. One day she spins a tear drop shaped egg case and fills it with eggs. Securing it in a hidden sheltered spot those eggs will wait for spring to hatch into next season’s garden zipper spiders.

Meet more spiders in both “Exploring the Ozark Hills” and “My Ozark Home.”

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.