About Me

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I am a mother, a teacher, and a nature lover. I grew up on a mountain we called Owls' Knob in the Ozarks of Arkansas. The first seven years of my life were spent living in a log cabin, far from a store or streetlight, without electricity or running water and after twenty years of travel, I returned to the abondoned homestead. Now I live on a hill by a small lake and work at a public garden. These are stories about nature written from a women deeply influenced by place.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Osage Oranges and Locust Pods

I took my son to the park. We tried the slide and swings, but everything frustrated him. He fell off the slide and swinging made him sick. Finally, we walked into a black locust and Osage orange grove. I sat the one year old on the ground among spiraling locust pods and green Osage balls. He quickly began throwing the lumpy green balls. Then he took two locust pods and discovered that the seeds inside rattled when shook. Among the leaves, sticks, and seeds of nature, the youngster played.
Yes, joy does grow on trees; and happiness can be found in the dirt.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Trip to Jasper

I went to Jasper, the county seat, the largest town in a 60 miles radius from Owl's Knob. I drove there along highway 16, through the tiny town of Nail and Deer. As I approached the hill that descends to my destination, I came up on a car with Texas plates. Tourist come from all over to see this stretch of highway dotted with the colors of fall. A person from the Rockies would likely argue that the Ozarks are hills and not mountains at all. But I disagree; the rugged country is an ancient mountain range, that has been rounded off by about 400 million years of erosion, reducing them to hills in the eyes of some, but not mine. Along the highway leading to Jasper, the earth drops off. One can stand on the edge of the cliff and see into the valley and over the mountains beyond. This time of year the view is particularly beautiful. For me, it is a view I've seen so many times that I am blind to its beauty. I found myself riding the Texans' tail, wondering why they were inching along at 35 miles an hour. Then I glanced to my right at the view and, for a moment, I saw it with their eyes, eyes that had been staring at the vast desert for years. I relaxed, backed off, and enjoyed the ride leisurely.
The highway curves into switchbacks as it drops into the valley. With less than 500 people in it, Jasper is no metropolis. There are no fast food chains, stoplights, or billboards along its dozen or so streets. I drove past the library and the market where a little old woman sells local produce and delicious jam for reasonable prices. I slowed down to admire her pumpkins.
After the market there is what looks like a yard sale, but it is a store front of sorts. The man who runs it leaves his priced items, a box of envelopes, and some pens out for people to shop and pay. The customer chooses an item and pays for it by putting money in an envelope then dropping the envelope in a slot on the locked shed nearby. Once I stopped in while the owner was pricing new merchandise. I asked him if it worked, didn't people steal? He said, no; occasionally people gave him a little less than what was on the price tag, but people wouldn't steal in public view in a town where everyone either knows who you are or that you're not from around here. Only in Jasper.
In the center of town there is an old courthouse. The highway curves sharply around one side of the square that the courthouse stands on. Along the square there is a great pizza parlor, an authentic Ozark restaurant, a lovely antique shop, a few other stores, and then you are heading out of town again. At the edge of town there is a gas station, dollar store, farm store, and Bob's--the grocery store. The highway continues onward toward Dogpatch, a hillybilly amusement park that was shut down years ago.
But I had a purpose in Jasper, I was there to vote; so I stopped along the square and went into the courthouse. The people there were as friendly as ever. I love doing my business in Jasper. In most cities the revenue office, assessors office, and health department is a nightmare of long lines and grumpy people. But in a small town these offices are empty and the people behind the desks greet you with a smile because they are glad someone came to visit them. Such pleasant experiences should not be so rare.
After voting, I drove back along the senic highway. Again I came upon a slow car. I didn't pass. I took the chance to enjoy the veiw. Yet, I did not stop. I did not take a picture. So often we hurry about our lives, wherever they take place, and don't notice such beauty. We need to adopt the eyes of a tourist or a child more often.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

After the Rain

             After a dry spell, cool rain fell. It splashed onto dusty soil, which had forgotten how to absorb such abundant moisture. The droplets collected on the surface, creating rivers until it found grass to channel it into the earth. Slowly the dust became mud again.
            Dry and wilted plants, already given in to winter’s calling, perked up once more. Flora and fauna rejoiced with the rain, perhaps for the last time this season, before the nightly frosts will kill off all annual life. Even the morning glories were blooming; even while the leaves were falling in the background.
            The world seemed particularly alive today. While making breakfast, I almost stepped on a millipede. I stopped to watch how it moved. From the side the millipede’s legs move like a well organized crowd-wave at the baseball game. Its body floated evenly as its tiny legs swam. I coaxed it onto a paper bag. There it stopped and curled its head downward, its face pressed onto the paper while I took it outside. It didn’t move when I set it on the ground, but as soon as I ran in to get the camera, it hurried away.
Once outside, I saw two spiders, both of which I had only seen one other time. The first was furry and grey with huge fuzzy tusks. It scurried and jumped backwards instead of forward. The second had a yellow triangular thorax with two horns protruding off of its rear end. This spider spun is circles and flip upside down on leaves when threatened. I watched these spiders thoughtfully, wondering why I hadn't seen them all summer.
While walking with my son in his stroller, a butter-colored butterfly joined us, fluttering nearby, leading the way. My dog chased off a deer, a few rabbits, and other animals of which I never caught a glimpse. In the woods, I saw a giant white mushroom. I knelt beside it and moved a rock to take its picture. Under the rock a salamander glanced at me fearfully before disappearing into a wet tunnel. 
So much life, bustled about today. Life that had been hiding from the intense drought the day before and will hide away for the winter in a short time. This was a special window just before winter and just after the rain.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Autumn in the Ozarks

Some autumns are better than others. Occasionally, showers are blown in during August and September, providing the forest with a rainbow of colors. But more often than not the dry summer results in an array of browns. Regardless, the trees put on a fashion show of gold and crimson frills which fall into a copper carpet as winter’s chill strips the forest naked.
After the trees shed, walking in the woods is deafening. The crunch of leaves under my clumsy boots masks the scampering of squirrels gathering food and the whoosh of wind under migrating geese wings. Under the blanket of leaves, hide anything that was left in the yard. All summer lawn ornaments, dishes, and toys are scattered about during the warm weather, and if not collected in time, the blanket of dead vegetation hides it for months.
Trickery does not wait for Halloween. The dry rustle of leaves tricks my ears into thinking the clouds have finally busted. Like the infrequent rain, yellow drops cascade from the hickory branches when the wind blows creating the illusion of butterflies. Along with the leaves, hickory nuts barreling out of the canopy, and hitting the tin over the woodpile, causes me to jump imagining a hunter wandered into the yard and shot my prancing dog. Leaves deceive my eyes when they tumbled end over end across the highway, making me slam on my breaks thinking that a brown rodent has darted into my car’s deadly path. A single red leaf fluttering alone in a shrub might fool me into believing a cardinal has come to call.
But it is not a season for arrivals, but of departures. Autumn comes each year like the exiting of in-laws who stayed too long. There is a tinge of sadness as animals prepare for hibernation and insects die after such a short life. But to a bug bitten human, the solitude is appealing. In winter, the forest is empty, like streets on Sunday at 4 am. Of course, by February I will be lonely and those first flowers and pesky bugs of Spring will bring me joy. But for now, I welcome the exodus.

Friday, October 22, 2010

How to Raise a Good Mouser

Every county home needs a good mouser. But not every cat hunts mice. There are ways to train a cat to be a killer. First of all, mothers are best. The motherly instinct drives any female feline to protect and feed her babies at all cost. Therefore, a fixed female doesn’t have the maternal instincts of a killer that she would have had with her ovaries intact. As a kitten, if she learns that food is never far, she has no need to feed herself. So if you want a good mouser, keep her at a hunting weigh. And, of course, verbal encouragement goes a long way when training any pet. Once all these elements are set, make sure you’ve disposed of any mouse traps, lay some food out, and wait for the cat to hunt the baited rat.
            The real question is not how to raise a good mouser, that is relatively easy; the conundrum is do you really want a killer. Once a cat has been trained to kill, she won’t discern between a mouse, mole, bird or bat. After the mice population has been all but wiped out, frogs are found lying on the porch without arms or legs, still breathing. Beautiful indigo buddings and endangered bats are found dead around the yard. As the frog, bird, and bat populations decrease, the insects swarm. Before long, in a cloud of mosquitoes, the mice don’t seem all that bad.    
Like the old woman who swallowed the fly found out, any ecological change has its consequences. The cycle of life has a delicate balance and each animal (including humans) keeps or destroys that balance. The mice population exploded out of control because we inadvertently feed and protected them. We got the cats to eat the mice. Soon we need something to eat the cats. Luckily, the coyotes and owls were obliged. I’ve never had a pet cat for more than two years. Though I morn every death, I am beginning to realize that my cats are disturbing the balance of nature here at Owl’s Knob. I must accept the death of a good mouser as readily as I accepted the deaths of the mice.

Among Mosquitoes, Only the Mothers Suck Blood.

At the crack of dawn, a mosquito often wakes me. I carefully scoop my son out of his crib and bring him into bed with me. I lie awake, as light fades into the room, with my son under my arm and my hand hovering in the air, waiting. I am daring and fierce when my baby is in danger.
Sometimes I relax and doze off but as soon as I hear the high pitched buzz of the mosquito’s wings, my senses return. I watch the empty air for a flutter. I listen for her humming wings. All the while, I stay completely still with my chest and shoulders exposed, letting the sweet smell of my skin lure her to me.
She can’t resist. The mother in her drives her to take impossible risks. She needs my blood to feed the eggs growing inside of her. Like me, she can be daring and fierce when her babies are in danger. It is her motherly instinct that draws her to my naked skin. It is my motherly instinct that keeps me awake, ready to kill.
            Finally, she lands. I strike. There is a moment of stillness. I lift my palm slowly, holding my breath. A smear of blood and the remains of her crushed body stain my hand. I exhale.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hiding in Foliage

The garden was a wasteland of rotten tomatoes, gnarled sticks, and weeds. I thought nothing survived August’s heat or September’s drought. But in October, out of the yellowing foliage of a red bud, came a pole bean tendril. It uncoiled like a snake, speckled with white blossoms and adorned with heart-shaped leaves. My one year old son and I ate the tender pods; it gave us hope.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Back to the Land

I decided to return home to Owl's Knob while sitting on a beach off the Pacific coast of Michoacan, Mexico and talking to a young native woman. She was raising her children in the cottage her great grandfather built, protecting their traditions and culture. Her pride gleamed as she told me that her people took care of their old, stayed close to their roots, and kept the family homestead. While she talked of her home, I thought of my own childhood home and began yearning for it.
At age 22, I bought back the land and house, which had lain in ruins for five years. I now live in the house I grew up in and I am letting the mountain--which raised me--raise my son. The same land that taught my bare baby feet to walk, teaches my baby boy to take his first steps.
I have come full circle, but I am a different person now. Yet some things never change. The frogs and whip-poor-wills still sing each spring, the wind still blows thunderstorms out of the west in late summer, and the owls come hunt the mice, living in the old cabin, every night. This is and always has been a magical place. 

The First Blog

I love journals, nice hardbound ones. Often the nicest one stays blank for years. On rainy days, I pick it up, stroke its lovely cover, page through the thick pieces of paper--so nicely bound--and then let the pen hover over the first line on the first page. This seldom results in written words. I'm so nervous about those first entry, the irreversible hook, that I just don't write in the journal at all. A blog is much like a journal. My fingers have been hovering over these keys for months, anticipating this first post. And now that I am here, all I can talk about is the struggle of getting here.