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. After twenty years of travel, I returned to the abondoned homestead. Now I live and work in the Ozarks and visit the mountain often. These are stories about the Ozark Wilderness written from a women deeply influenced by this special place.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Black Birds in White Mist

A Flock of Common Grackles


Upon the mountain, the fog is dense, whitewashing the world. Wind blows the last of the brown leaves from their branches. I go for a drive, desperate to escape the gloom. But today there are layers of clouds and even the valley is overcast. I pull into a scenic overlook, knowing the fog is too thick to glimpse even the trees along the bluff let alone the valley below. But beauty is never far. As I step out of my car, a flock of black birds flutter up from the treetops. They blow like leaves in the gusty wind, migrating from one group of skeleton limbs to another. Their chirps, trills, and squawks rise and fall like the roar of a crowd. A few brave males, with their shinny black feathers ruffled, dive low and perch near me. Their white eyes pierce my body, searching my soul. Then they rise into the canopy again. For a moment, there is a great ruckus as the birds discuss my presences. Finally, all goes quite. I settle in as they settle down. Together we watch the dense fog blow over, lift slowly like a curtain, and reveal the beauty all around us

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Fog

I live in a cloud forest. The thick, moist air hangs on mountain tops and covers me with fog. Often the dense fog, as think as pea soup, cloaks the morning. Sometimes it lingers all day, drifting like ghosts between the tree trunks. From Owls' Knob, I imagine the entire world is cloudy. But like I have discovered many times, a quick drive to the valley is all it takes to have sunshine on my shoulders again. At a distance, I look back at my home and see how one little grey cloud is sitting on the hilltop amongst a blue sky. And I can't help but recognize my blindness to the rest of the world when I was inside the fog, or my ignorance of the fog from my sunny spot in the valley.

This wasn't taken on a foggy day.
It is the view of the mountains
to the south of Owls' Knob.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Overcrowding

Locusts have appeared and disappeared mysteriously throughout history. People wondered where they came from and where they went, until it was discovered that they were never a separate species, but a stage of life. A locust is actually a mad grasshopper. When certain species of grasshoppers become overcrowded, they go through a metamorphous. They turn darker, gather in masses, and grow wings. They transform into a swarming, ravishing plague. In hoards they take flight and reproduce like crazy. Luckily, their offspring are not locusts but solitary grasshoppers.
In light of this, I can’t help but wonder if we too are locusts. Have we been driven by overcrowding to change from our natural state into monsters who rape, pillage, and kill? If so, will we produce more locusts or will our children be grasshoppers?  

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Crackling Lullaby

At Owls' Knob, fire is our only source of heat.  All summer the stove sits cold and dusty. When winter sets in, the flame flares, the iron glows, and a friendship is rekindled. It is a hungry and needy friend. The cutting, chopping, hauling, and stoking is labor intensive. If the blaze dies you must nurse it back to life. Yet, the softest touch can melt your skin and burn your flesh. It has a temper too; the inferno can take your house, your family, and your life, turning it all to ash. But I wouldn't have it any other way. Its warmth heals me. Its crackle is my lullaby.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Taking Turns

Maple trees sprout and prosper best under beech canopies; likewise, beech sprouts thrive underneath maple canopies. The two trees often create maple-beech groves. Then the trees must take turns being the dominate one. Both trees will try to have the highest canopy. Neither tree wants to be part of the under story.  So they oscillate, taking turns being on top.       
In late fall, the brilliant colors of maple leaves drown out the beeches. But as winter sinks in, the maples loose all their color when their foliage drops. Devoid of color, their dark trunk blends into the forest. But beeches get to keep their tan paper-thin leaves. Though beech leaves are not impressive among a show of fall colors, in the drab of winter they add a yellow glow to a black or white world.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Subscribe

It took me a long time to do, and I could never explain how I did it, but I managed to add a subscribe feature to my blog. You can now go to the bottom of the blog, enter your email address and you will receive an email each time I post a new blog.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Butterflies

    In August butterflies swarm the highway. Swallowtails and monarchs flutter along roadside flowers but just as a car approaches they bumble into the way. There is no time to react. Little buckeyes, wood satyrs, and painted ladies are hit unnoticed because their brown wings do not glisten in the sun. After a Friday evening commute or a Sunday morning church migration, disconnected wings scatter the steaming cement—like oak leaves in autumn, they swirl in the wake of passing cars.
            I swerve for butterflies. Tourist following me must think I am drunk. I would stop for them if I it was practical, but then I’d have to creep along at twenty five miles and hour while the butterflies lackadaisically moved aside.
I don’t imagine many people want to hit butterflies just to watch in the rear view mirror as they bounce along the asphalt. The butterfly is a gentle creature and a representation of reincarnation. Butterflies have a childlike way of enjoying life. They flutter carelessly and seemingly without purpose. Then they land and slowly fan their wings, absorbing the glory of each individual moment. The insect shows us that metamorphosis is possible. It gives us hope that we too may be able to become reborn in a less destructive more beautiful being. Because every butterfly was once a caterpillar. There is something cute about a caterpillar. In its helpless grub-like state it reminds me of a baby. But any farmer knows the destruction a caterpillar can bring.
            I have only one fruit tree on Owls' Knob, a young pear tree. A friend of our family planted it years ago as a ritual for his daughter’s fifth birthday. It has never produced a flower or fruit; it's still too young. But every summer I walk down to the pond where it grows and collect the bag worms. I take a long stick and use it to wind up the webbing like a cardboard cone is used to wind up cotton candy. With my cotton cone of wiggling worms, I walk to the edge of the woods. Watching them wiggle, so helplessly, like unborn fetuses inside their womb of webbing, I feel sorry for them. Nonetheless, I hurl the stick, worms and all, deep into the forest where birds probably feast. It amazes me that I can dislike a creature so much in one stage of its life but then love the same creature in another stage. Everything changes inside that magical cocoon. The cocoon turns a troublesome grub into a beneficial angel.


This photo was taken last August. This little friend sat on my hand for almost an hour. Around me people were walking by and children were screaming, but the butterfly just stayed put. It licked my index finger intently all the while. Whatever was on my hand that day, made the butterfly very happy. Never have I sat with a wild, winged thing so long.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Lessons from "The Lady Who Swallowed The Fly"

                Today, while hunting flies, with my swatter drawn like a sword, I pondered how the fly population exploded. Though the compost pile is a contributing factor, providing food and a place for egg laying, it doesn't explain why this year is worst than the last. The major difference between this year and previous ones is that we have cats now. We got the cats to catch the mice. (Mice that thrived in our abandoned house.) However, cats also caught frogs. By killing the flies major predators, the frogs, we created another imbalance. It ripples onward... from mice, to cats, to frogs, to flies... perhaps we'll die.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Fly

Just about the time that all the bugs have died off and you think that you’re in the clear, the flies emerge. They didn’t get the memo: winter is coming. With reckless abandonment flies get stuck in your hair, dive into your drink, and do a quickie on your knee. They don’t care that the nightly freeze will kill them; their life span is short anyway.
Flies are not particularly troublesome; they cause no real harm. They’re just plain annoying. The way they land on my foot over and over again, tickling it with tiny feet, drives me insane. The constant copulation on any surface, from my spoon, to my son’s head, seems awfully disrespectful.
If I’ve had enough flies for one day, I go on a killing rampage. Stalking the flies through the house, wielding a fly swatter like a sword, I kill, kill, kill. But when the red has faded from my eyes and I can not find anymore flies, I feel remorse, sweeping up the bodies. Once the dust has cleared and the fly swatter has been put away, futility sets in, since just as many flies appear as before.   
Early morning is the only time to get away from the flies, before the stove’s fire has broken the night’s chill, when the house is cold. Huddled around a steaming beverage, I can find peace. This time of year, birds no longer call to the sunrise and the hum of insects has faded. Silence can be found. But when such impeccable stillness ensues, my ears begin picking up distant rumbles. Only in winter can I hear semi-trucks on the highway.
After listening to the jake braking in the distant, I am reminded of the annoyances I have escaped from: sirens, car alarms, traffic jams, and trash trucks at 6 am. At Owls’ Knob I must endure some to avoid others. I recognize the compromises I’ve made. By the time I’ve finished pondering city life, the warmth of the fire has awakened the flies. Yet somehow, for a moment, they don’t seem all that bad.  

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sally the Spider

To some city folks, every brown spider is a brown recluse and every black spider is a black widow. Black widows are not common in the Ozarks. They don’t bite unless you are a bug caught in their web or you're about to squish them. Though very few people die from spider bites anymore, a black widow bite can be deadly. But, I’m not afraid of black widows; in fact, when I was young I had one as a pet.
I found her in a shed and scooped her into a wide mouth mason jar. After punching holes in the metal lid with a safety pin, I set the Mason jar on my desk in my room for all to see. I tried to feed her a variety of insects but she wouldn’t eat. Depression must have seized her appetite.
I proudly showed her off to my friends who screamed and recoiled in fear even though she could only peer out at them through the thick glass. After a few weeks, I let her go. I didn’t want her to die. When I opened the jar I imagined she would turn and chase after me, fangs drawn and dripping. But she didn’t. She waited and then timidly tried the opening. Upon finding herself free, she paused as if waiting for the inevitable shoe sole of death. When it didn’t come, she made a mad dash for cover. She was more afraid than any of my friends had been of her.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mothers

A mother is a powerful source. We are our mother’s children, our grandmother’s children, children of mother earth. Deep in our past is a woman who gave birth to us, who came from the earth and created life. No matter how much respect we have for the source of our life, we still resent her. We despise all her bad habits because we inherited so many of them. Even her beauty is not appreciated, for it is the beauty within ourselves. We are her, amplified. Our relationship with our mothers, grandmothers, and the earth is complex and much more profound than we will ever admit.
But what happens when our mother is sick, when our grandmother dies. Perhaps it is a necessary event that initiates us into adulthood. Despite our relationship with her, for most of us, until she dies we are not entirely alone. Falling back on our mother maybe shameful, but it is a option for most of us as long as she is alive. Everyone dies, every mother dies, some sooner than others. With death, comes loneliness to the living.
Upon reflection, I see this is all a cycle, of life and death. One day I will die, like my grandmother before me and my grandchildren after. Our great grandmother, the earth, will also pass when her time comes, just as the stars and the sun will one day expire. Such sorrow fills me when I think of the inevitable ending. Yet, it is inevitable, natural, and necessary. If only I could embrace death, life would be fuller.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dead or Missing

I thought my last cat had died. She didn't come back one night. It happened just a week after I found my second cat on the side of the road, no life left in her. I've had three cats in the past year and all had vanished. Once that third cat had been gone a week, I swore off cats. Dogs might be more my style out here in the wilderness. Owls' Knob can be a dangerous place.
Then, the cat came back. I stroked her soft fur and thought of how tricky death can be: taking our loved ones without notice and sometimes returning them, just before the point of no return. She meows differently now, as if her voice is hoarse. I wonder what happened to her out there with the coyotes, bears, and owls. What went through her head when she bolted? What did she think of as she returned?