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.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Elk

By 1840 Elks were extinct in the Ozarks.
Between 1981 and 1986 the Game and Fish Commission transported 112 elk from the Rocky Mountains.
Today elk thrive here once again.


  
      Elk graze throughout Boxely Valley, walking slowly, eating constantly, and attracted tourist from all over the east coast. Mini vans, Jeeps, and RVs line up along the roadside, often blocking the highway’s lane. They take pictures rapidly from out their open window, as if the magnificent creatures might bound off into the forest at any moment. The single male of the herd, with his wide rack, receives the most attention.
      Day after day, the elk just stand there, staring at the tourist, the real spectacle to the viewed, the non-native, invasive animal. I see elk at least once a week. It is nothing special. They don't live exciting lives. Rarely do you see an elk bound, jump, or even trot. Like cows, they graze. I just can't see all awe and wonder.
      Nevertheless, while driving down a dirt road the other day, I came upon a herd of elk bulls. An alpha bull claims a harem of female cows. It is the alpha bull in the valley, parading like a pimp proud. Other bulls are cast aside, undesired and unwanted. They ban together to create a herd of bachelors.
      This particular herd stood blocking the road ahead, staring at the truck with awe but without fear. I edged closer. An old bull closest to me walked into the woods. The other docile males followed. Watching the way they strut with their heavy head held high, I gained admiration and respect. These gentle giants managed to maneuver through the under bush with absolute grace. Each step was taken with precision, like a ballerina on her toes. They stared as my truck passed by slowing. I leaned out the window, snapping pictures. I saw my reflection in their eyes, a tourist marveling at simple creatures' everyday lives.
Yet, I also saw the wonder and awe.   



Sunday, January 23, 2011

The "Simple" Life

I use to be that girl in the coffee shop or bar, speaking loud enough for everyone to hear. I preached recycling, using alternative energy, and living a different kind of life. I use to rage against the machine while acting as a gear in it. I read revolutionary and environmental texts. I did my part to recycle and reuse, but I lived like most Americans. Life was easy, but it wasn't the life I wanted to live.
So I decided to change my life. I bought 15 acres in the Ozark wilderness. Now I live a very different life. I not only recycle but my home uses only solar power, my water comes from the ground and returns to the earth once I'm finished lightly using it. I compost my food and human waste. A wood stove is our only source of heat. The yard is turning into a garden and I still hope to obtain goats and chickens soon. This is the life I use to talk about. The simple life. But it is not so simple.
Owning your home is ideal, but when there is no landlord, everything that breaks is your problem. When the water heater doesn't work, you take a cold shower or fix the problem with time, energy, and money. Out here it seems that everything breaks in time. On cold winter nights the pipes often freeze, the living room stays around only fifty degrees, and snow falls, trapping us at home. On hot summer days the ants attack the kitchen, ticks lurk in the weeds, and the heat pulls moisture from the skin. When the sun hides behind thick clouds, the electricity is depleted to nothing. The garden struggles and I strive to understand how things grow and die. Between bugs, droughts, floods, sun, and clouds, I have yet to produce heaping baskets of vegetables. The battle is ongoing.
All year, we get lonely out here. Desperately, we drive sixty miles into town, spewing carbon and toxins from the tail pipe. The lonely feeling could be resolved without the use of an engine if we weren't so secluded. If more people lived out here; if more people would seek the simple life, knowing it is not so simple.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Sticky White


Overnight a white comforter covered the landscape and feathery flakes followed until midday. The wet snow stuck to cedar needles, beech and bamboo leaves. It painted profiles on tree trunks and accented outreached arms. My feet stayed cold and damp.

Late in the day, the clouds parted for the bluest sky and gleaming sunshine. As the sky grew dark, the yellow moon peered with a full face across the glistening snow. Shadows of naked trees drew fingers and hands on the ground. The clear night's and bitter cold sucked all moisture from the air, leaving icy flour to swirl at dawn.

Today the clouds hung low and the frozen world slept. The pipes froze overnight again. By noon the hot water flowed, but the cold waterline never defrosted. I taped plastic to windows and stapled curtains to door frames, keeping the fire roaring and the chicken soup simmering. Tonight I will sleep well under my quilts, even though more frozen waterlines are expected.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Wood Heat Makes You Stronger

Fire is everything during winter out here. Sticks are gathered before a rain, broken, and assembled into a tangled mass. Paper bags, unwanted mail, and newspapers collect in the corner for fire starter. A chainsaw is brought into the forest where fallen trees and limbs scatter the ground. Once cut, the wood is hauled into the yard where it is split with nothing more than a sharp block of steel on a stick and manpower. Split wood fills the space between the rock wall and the kitchen counter on a good day.You get use the splinters in your fingers and burns on your hands.
There is an art to building a fire. The template, the material, and the quality of your resources can make all the difference. But a master can make sparks fly in any condition. Still, it requires persistence and constant maintenance. It only takes a good movie, devoted cleaning, or intense conversation to forget about the fire. I have tried to wake up in the middle of the night to keep the stove hot, but sleep is just so warm and comforting in contrast to the cold hardwood floor. First thing in the morning, before coffee is brewed, the fire must be tended. If no coals survived, a flame must be kindled. Usually a few cinders remain, but it is often not enough to catch the wood. Instead it fills the firebox with smoke, so opening the stove's door lets clouds out.
Recently, I spent time in a modern house. After weeks of giving a gentle nudge to the thermostat any time I didn't feel comfortable, I forgot about the fire. Central heat and air made me weak. I wore short sleeve shirts and walked on carpet with bare feet. The frozen world beyond the house couldn't touch me. The reality of winter was lost.
Today, I made a fire again. I collected moist sticks, ripped a paper bag to shreds, stacked my logs, and lit a match. As heat slowly emanated from the black box, I shivered, dreaming of that heavenly modern heating system. But then, I trudged outside and gathered frosty logs in my arms; upon entering the house again, I felt cozy and grateful. Listening to the crackle, touching the radiant heat, and smelling the faint smokey scent, warms much more than the body.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Back in the Ozarks

Returning to the Ozarks is always bittersweet. I know this place so well. I understand the rolling hills. The forests are familiar to me. And that is why whenever I go somewhere else I hate this place. It all seems so common, so boring. The bitter winds of the Rockies were invigorating. If I think about it, they were flipping cold! Yet, I don't think, I just let it wash over me. I am not ignorant to the world beyond my comfort zone. I have traveled from sea to sea and back again, home to the Ozarks. It is not fear that keeps me here; in fact, I fear getting stuck more than leaving. I stay here because I like it. It is dull at times, but I like the winter sun, and the gurgling creeks; the flowering dogwoods, and the blushing maples. I like the friendly smiles, dirty overalls, and blunt speech. There is a flavor or a smell in these parts that is unique. So I stay.
Though I know I should have loved the sweet southern sunshine more today, it brought me little joy.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Ghost Town


St. Elmo-late spring 2010


St. Elmo-2010


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

St. Elmo

West of Buena Vista the mountains part to reveal the Chalk Cliffs and Creek. Under the shadow of Mount Princeton the cream colored cliffs collect snow where the low winter sun can’t shine. As we drove along the road, I watched the bubbling water dip under the icy surface and gurgle among miniature glaciers. Nearing the abandoned mining town of St. Elmo, the tall cliffs drew back and in the small valley a collection of ancient buildings stood in a line along the narrow street. Though the old saloon, hotel, and blacksmith shop hadn’t been occupied for a century, I felt like a miner’s wife might peek from a foggy window with a suspicious glare. Once the sleepy mining town had bustled with three hundred people and employed one hundred muckers who dug deep in the earth for silver and gold. Train whistles once echoed as the steel rails rumbled down the hollow. Not far up the mountain, Tin Cup Pass was like a window trains entered to reach the mountains and valleys beyond. The town was once a source and a crossroads, a home. But now the empty buildings collect dust and snow creates dense drifts that bar every door. In the silence, whispers of forgotten ghost mummer.  

Monday, January 10, 2011

Wild Colorado

I am visiting my mother in Colorado this week. Leadville, at 10,000 feet, is nothing like the Ozarks. Dry snow falls like powdered sugar and blows like sifted flour across the desert terrain. But some days are actually warm. The sun is closer and burns brighter among the thin atmosphere.
The rugged peaks and separated by flat fields. Everything is a veiw. My mother lives at the base of a 14,000 foot peak. Tucked between the foothills with southern exposer, the house stays warm, even if the view is compromised a bit. But the wild here is more wild than the Ozark wilderness. We have bobcats she has mountain lions.
One morning while playing on the deck with my son, the dog trotted by with an entire deer leg. She held her head high and eyed us suspiciously. My son stared, bewildered. I said nothing. Only a few minutes later the dog returned, strutting with the leg, or maybe another leg. She beamed with pride. I watched my son's face. Finally, I explained to him that dogs, like wolves, eat deer. I don't know if he understood, but he ignored the dog after that and eventually she retreated to the edge of the deck where she gnawed her prized find.