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.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Environmental Groups in NWA

Today I went to the Environmental Education and Outreach Networking Meeting. I met many wonderful people in great groups all over Northwest Arkansas. It filled me with hope. There are so many people working to protect the Ozarks. So here is a list of some of the local environmental organizations, projects, and outreach programs I recently became aware of:

  • Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality - ADEQ protects the air, water and land from the threat of pollution. We strive for environmental quality through programs of regulation, education and assistance.
  • Arkansas Environmental Education Association - AEEA is a networking and information based organization that works with educators, students, business, government, and the general public to increase the awareness and knowledge about the environment... AEEA's purpose is to promote and advocate for environmental education which incorporates a number of disciplines including conservation and natural resource education.
  • Arkansas Forestry Education Foundation - AFA advocates for the sustainable use and sound stewardship of Arkansas’s forests and related resources to benefit members of the state’s forestry community and all Arkansans today and in the future... AFA members are finding ways to meet the demands for essential forest products, with the world's growing population, while maintaining fresh water and air supplies, enhancing fish wildlife habitat and conserving significant sites and recreation areas.
    • Project Learning Tree - "Project Learning Tree (PLT) is an environmental education program that presents a balanced approach to teaching our children about our forests, forestry, and the environment... PLT is a source of interdisciplinary instructional activities and provides workshops and in-service programs for teachers, foresters, park and nature center staff, and youth group leaders.
  • Arkansas Game and Fish Commission - Education Division- "[Nature] centers are an outlet the Education Division uses for hands-on experience and education. Each center focuses on the natural elements and ecosystems found in its region of the state. Education Centers are part classroom, part museum and part playground, the centers help people of all ages better understand their natural surroundings.
  • Arkansas Recycling Coilition - The ARC is committed to assisting members in improving their reduce, reuse, and recycling opportunities, recycling skills and techniques through education, special studies, research and the exchange of ideas and technical knowledge.
  • Arkansas State Parks - There are 52 state parks in Arkansas. Each one with its own beauty and attractions. The parks offer education and teaching oppertunities as well. How many have you visited recently?
  • Audubon Arkansas - Mission: To conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity.
  • Beaver Water District - Our mission is to serve our customers’ needs by providing high quality drinking water that meets or exceeds all regulatory requirements and is economically priced consistent with our quality standards.
  • Beaver Watershed Alliance - Homework assignment: find out where the rain falling on your backyard ends up. Do you know your watershed? Do you know where the water you drink falls as rain?
  • Benton County Environmental Services - Our mission is to preserve and protect the environment of Benton County...
  • Boston Mountain Solid Waste District - Our objective is to provide environmentally sound and economically feasible solid waste management to Northwest Arkansas using an integrated approach of waste reduction, reuse, recycling, composting, disposal, and education.
  • Botanical Garden of the Ozarks - If you haven't been to the Botanical Garden, you must visit the facilities this spring. Throughout the year the garden has various events and educational outreach programs.
  • Center for Math & Science Education - A wealth of links ad resources!
  • Fayetteville Wastewater - CH2M - The protection of both human and ecosystem health in the Northwest Arkansas region is vitally important.
  • City of Fayetteville - The city has a lot of branches devoted to protecting the local environmnet.
    •  Solid Waste and Recycling - The Solid Waste and Recycling Division provides for the collection and processing of commercial and residential waste for the City of Fayetteville.
    •  Strategic Planning - The Department serves as a liasion to local, state and national organizations on climate protection, green building and energy issues. It targets non-profit facilities for energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements. 
    • Park Planning and Urban Forestry - Access Fayetteville - Check out their non-native or invasive species brochure!
  • Feed Fayetteville - An organization dedicated to alleviating hunger and creating food security in our community by cultivating a local sustainable food network.
  • Fayetteville in Bloom - The Fayetteville In Bloom committee's mission is to serve as an umbrella for all facets of the population, to share ideas, to increase awareness through education, and to improve the quality of life, keeping Fayetteville a beautiful and viable community.
  • Fayetteville Public Schools -
    •  Farm to School- Students at three elementary schools learned about the importance of eating local foods in a dynamic, interactive lesson.
    • Apple Seed, Inc. - We believe that all children deserve good nutritional foods, healthy activity, and joy.
  • The Green Team - The FPS District Green Teams are committed to educating students, parents, community members, etc. about environmental issues and therefore taking steps toward improving the environment in the home, school, community, workplace, county, and world.
  • Illinois River Watershed Partnership - The Illinois River Watershed Partnership works to improve the integrity of the Illinois River through public education and community outreach, water quality monitoring, and the implementation of conservation and restoration practices throughout the watershed.
    • Rain Garden Project - Storm water is the number one pollutant in our nation's waterways. Rain Gardens are beautiful and reduce the amount of rain water pollutants in streams, rivers, and lakes.
  • Keep Arkansas Beautiful Foundation - Conservation, recycling, and clean water and air are top-of-mind issues.
  • Native Expeditions - To Provide education, leadership skills, and stewardship opportunities in cultural arts, history, geography, and environmnetal literacy.
  • U of A Applied Sustainability Center - Creating a sustainable global consumer goods economy.
  • U of A Office for Campus Sustainablility - No Impact Compitition!
  • Washington County Coorperative Extention Service -  From agricultural programs to family financial management to youth education, we offer educational programs that have immediate and practical applications.
  • Washington Co. Environmental Affairs and Recycling - The goal of Washington County Environmental Affairs and Recycling is to promote the proper disposal of solid waste, provide assistance for cleaning illegal dumps, enforce stormwater regulations and provide environmental education to all ages of the county.
  • Wildlife Habitat Certification Program - Making wildlife habitats at home...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Bean Mountain Farm Plants

Winter strips the leaves off trees and turns the grass from green to brown. Gardens are mostly barren. Only the most hardy plants remain.
At owls knob, even without water this summer or any attention during fall or winter, a few plants seem to always persist. Kale is the main vegetable. I posted back in fall about how kale is an amazing food. It grows despite drought and even keeps producing green edible leaves through most winters. This year has been mild so far and my kale is still flourishing. I was delighted to pick delectable fresh greens to spice up my burrito last weekend!
Herbs also persevere through the winter months. I once had an old rosemary bush that lived five years and produced food all winter. I also had an old thyme plant that kept  its leaves in the snow and ice. Though they died back each cold season, it grew bigger than ever before each spring.
This year oregano is my herb. Underneath the blown leaves I find hairy oregano leaves hiding. It is nice to flavor pasta with fresh oregano in January!
But I can not take credit for these herbs and hardy vegetables. The plants I grow from seed rarely last long, grow big, or produce in hard seasons. The plants in my garden that thrive are all from Bean Mountain Farm.
Bean Mountain Farm sell small and large plant starts every spring. They always have a booth outside the Ozark Nature Food Co-op on different weekends in spring. This year some of their sale dates are March 24, April 14 (Owner Appreciation Weekend) and May 12, all at ONF. Their annual Mother's Day Sale always inspires me to finish planting before the cool spring weather expires. I have bought plants from the Walmart plant department or from Lowes with much less success. Often the plants I buy from these big stores are half the price as local plants. But when the plants dies and all my money is lost I realize that investing in quality plants is very important! Something about the Bean Mountain Farm plants is special. They live a long time, grow bigger, and are very hardy. When preparing your garden this year, consider buying your plants from a local farmer!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Friday, January 20, 2012

Boxely Valley Spring

At the foot of a mountain, on the south side of Boxely Valley, a fast flowing spring brings clean, clear water forth from the depths of the earth. Locals from all around fill water jugs and drink the pure water that flows there. To many of us, water are sacred. Water is at the base of all life. Clean, drinkable water is becoming harder and harder to find. However, near the headwaters of the buffalo river springs feed every stream and ripple throughout the valley. In fact, these mountains are actually part of a plateau which was originally flat on top when it was formed. Over the years, spring fed streams and creeks have shaped the land, creating deep valleys. The old saying goes: "It is not that our mountains are high, but that our valleys are low."

Down stream from the spring's opening, water crest grows. Water crest is an edible aquatic plant that will only grow in the clearest springwater. Above the spring, grows the largest beech trees I have ever seen! Many of the largest trees have died in recent years, presumably from old age. One of the large dead trunks is covered with carvings and initials tracing back through time. On the road nearby lies the remains of an old one room school house that burnt in 1997. I was a young girl then and I remember that the school house fire was the talk of the county for weeks. Beside the school house a smaller building, probably a root seller, still stands.
While examining the ruins, my son found a sweet gum ball. He brought it to me, asking "that". I explained it was a seed and would grow into a big tree. We walked up to a big tree. Zane look back and forth, from seed to tree, trying to wrap his mind around how such a change could have taken place. Meanwhile, I tried to imagine what the little valley must have looked like when that huge tree started out as a seed so many years ago.

Boxely valley has a rich history of settlers, natives, and animals. Once is had been a favorite hunting spot for Osage and other tribes of Natives to hunt buffalo. Settlers found the valley to be beautiful and hospitable. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, the valley had a much larger population than it has today. People in the valley were divided by the civil war, brothers were fighting brothers in their grandparents yards. After the war, the valley became a center of 'progress'. Timber was gathered from ever hill and valley, leaving the steeps barren. Every last buffalo, elk, bear, cougar, and wolf was hunted to extinction. Once the resources were all used up, the people moved away. Years later the Buffalo River became the first national river. The surrounding land fell under nation wilderness protection. The forest service reintroduced elk and bears. Deer and other wildlife populations increased under new protection laws. Today the upper buffalo wilderness area is a favorite vacation spot for nature lovers, campers, hikers, and canoeing adventurers.
My favorite spots are the hidden springs and ancient trees off the trail. The valley contains magic. In the mossy cliffs, crystal clear water, and arching ferns the purest beauty can be found. You just explore with open eyes.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Life in a Log

Flat headed Borer Grub
While chopping wood at Owls' Knob, John came across this strange grub. This long grub is a flat headed borer and will go through a complete metamorphosis this season, emerging in summer as a beautiful beetle. Butterflies are not the only insect to that goes through a complete metamorphosis, beetles also start out as a larva, pupate, and come out a completely different creature. Like most beetles, this bug spends most of its life in this larva stage where it plays an important roll as a decomposer. Some borers kill living trees and can be pests to a forest. However, this borer perverse dead wood, so it is not a threat to live trees. This decomposer help break down wood and recycle it into fertile soil. It is also a prized find for any bird and sought after by all woodpeckers.

Left: Bess Beetle--Right: Flat headed Borer...no relation

Soon after discovering the flat headed borer, John discovered a black beetle. Like many insects that live through winter, beetles turn the water in their bodies into glycerin which acts like an antifreeze so they don't freeze solid in winter. Therefore, this beetle moved as if in slow motion. I spent all day trying to identify this beetle. There are more beetles species than an other creature on earth, over a estimated 350,000! Many species are likely still undiscovered. Upon first glance I thought this was a stag beetle but they are only found in their adult form during summer. Then I guessed species of ground beetle, but its furry legs, distinct face, and unique antennae told me otherwise. Finally I identified it as a Bess beetle (Odontotaenius disjunctus).
Bess beetles live in communities inside logs and communicate using over 14 different clicks, squeaks, and kissing sounds. Because insects do not have voices, all these sounds are made by rubbing their wings against their abdomen. Larva also makes sounds by rubbing their tiny legs against their soft bodies.
In most cases, insects lay eggs and never wait around for the larva to hatch. However, Bess beetles not only wait for the eggs to hatch but they feed their young, protect the larva, and stay with them as they pupate and go through a complete metamorphosis. Both male and female Bess beetles care for their young, feeding them premasticated wood. In the insect world it is almost unheard of for males to tend to their young, in fact, it only occurs in one other beetle species and in termites.
Bess Beetle (Odontotaenius disjunctus)
Like the grub above, the Bess beetle eats wood; it is a decomposer. Among all the categories in the food chain, I believe that decomposers are the most overlooked. Of course it is easy to see that plants are producers and animals are consumers but the decomposition process is rarely praised even though it is at the foundation of all life. When people think about decomposers they usually think of slimy fungi and icky grubs. The shinny black beetle with its complex social structure, language, and upstanding parental skills does not often come to mind.
 If it weren't for decomposers we would be up to our ears in rotting goo. Luckily, the earth recycles everything in a beautiful and efficient way; and the decomposers that we can thank for this are not as gross as you might have originally thought.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Climate Change

January 2010

January 2011

January 2012

Friday, January 6, 2012


     I write this blog because I enjoy writing and sharing my ideas with the world. A writer was asked once, "Why do you write?" and he responded, "For the same reason you breathe."
You may have noticed that I have put ads on my blog page. I took the ads off my blog page long ago because I was not (and I am still not) writing to make money and I thought the ads look tacky. So why post ads now? Well I figure I have earned the right at this point to try to make a few bucks on the endless hours of time and energy and ideas I have poured into the blog. I have published over 100 posts. I estimate most of them took me between one to two hours to think about, write, and edit. (And that does not count all the post I wrote and then trashed for one reason of another.) So, I think I deserve to be a little tacky and have ads on my blog now.
     Just in case you don't know, it works like this: I get paid per click. If you are on my blog and (even accidentally) click on an ad (even if you never think about buying anything) I get paid. If I have a lot of traffic through the site, I get paid more per click. Therefore, if you enjoy reading Owls' Knob, please click on an ad from time to time when you are done reading and essentially toss some money in my 'tin cup." I don't plan on actually making any serious money doing this; however, if I begin to make enough to compensate my time even a little bit, I will feel like I can devote more time to the blog. More time means more post of better quality. In the end, I really think we could all win!

Children's Eco-Art

When I went to Arizona for Christmas, I did not know what to expect exactly. But the idea of 11 children under the age of 11 (and 10 of those were under the age of 6) made me a little anxious. I figured it would be intense to say the least. However, I also imagined that the children would end up watching a lot of television. My son watches very little TV, much less than most children. I find that parent's solution to a lot of hyper children is often sit them in front of the television because the mystical tube can hypnotize children, giving parents a break.

     I am very proud to say that over the course of the week, the television NEVER came on. The children, all 11 of them, were never sat down in front of a single show or movie. The children played with each other, learned from one another, and spent a lot of time outside. Arizona's weather was nice enough, sunny but chilly with cold nights. My aunt's yard, where we all gathered daily, was not a grassy lawn. In this progressive little town, called the Village of Oak Creek, people landscape with rocks, desert plants, and red rock gravel or sandstone. The red sandstone gravel was not only a wise choice for such a dry setting, but to the children it looked like the world's largest sandbox!
     At first I worried that aunt Carolyn might come running outside telling the children they were ruining her landscaping. Instead she seemed to take joy in it. She smiled and said that she needed to redo it anyways and she laughed saying that her landscaper would have his job cut our for him next week. She is a very understanding woman!
     Three of the girls decided to make a "castle" in the sandstone. They piled and lined up rocks taken out of the irrigation ditch and then collected cups of juniper berries for color. They added sprigs from nearby trees and and locust seed pods. Before I knew it, the children had spontaneously taken nature and turned it into art!

    As an environmentalist, artist of sorts, and teacher, I enjoy eco-art by children more than anything.  I delighted in the creativity among the children and their inspiration to play together, enjoy nature, and stay outside. It is so important to turn off the television (or never turn it on in the first place) and take children outdoors. Let them use their imagination, explore, and destroy the yard turning it into art. And as you watch them play, learn to play a little more too.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Transformations over Time

The red rocks of Sedona Arizona are amazing. No photograph can capture the overwhelming beauty of the place. Towering rocks pillars lace sheer cliff faces, all in brilliant red color. Surrounded by these rock giants I feel like I must be in another time or place untouched by my current one.
I spent months traveling this landscape as a nineteen year old hippy, living out of my car. In those days I was lost, trying to find myself. Sedona attracts tourist of all kids, but it has something special for the lost, hopeful idealist. There for "positive vortexes" among these mystical rocks. (Don't ask me what that is, I am still not sure.) As a teenager, I followed a  boy who did contact juggling with crystal balls for spare change while I played the flute. I didn't know much back then, so I didn't even bother trying to grasp what had happened to the landscape.  I just appreciated the beauty and went on searching for myself.
Now I think I can explain the rocks formations (as an armature understands it), because I now know how the Ozark Mountains were formed. The Ozark Mountains are not really mountains at all, but gentle canyons and valleys. The Ozark Plateau was created from sediment under a shallow ocean millions of years ago, then a great uplift made the plateau rise up out of the ocean like a mesa. It started out relatively flat on top. Over time, rivers have eaten away the limestone, shale, and sandstone, creating valleys and thus rolling hills in between. The red rocks of Sedona have a very similar story.
These rocks were formed underneath oceans and on beaches; they are sedimentary rocks, mostly sandstone. Then a great uplift caused the area known as the Colorado Plateau to rise out of the water. The Colorado Plateau is like a giant cake, lifted up above the rest of the land area. But over time parts of the plateau have eroded away. It is like a giant cake melting and washing away from weather and rain. The sandstone of the desert sifts away quicker than the denser limestone and shale of the Ozarks. However, the layers do not all deteriorate at the same rate; therefore, pillars and mounds are left in between gullies and canyons. Brilliant red pigment seen in the rocks is a result of iron oxide; a mineral found covering each grain of sand in the sandstone.

 After years of erosion and weathering, natives found the red pillars of stone and came to nearly worship them. Hardy tribes lived among them despite the lack of fertile soil and rainfall in the area. To a primitive person walking along the earth, a giant red stone without a logical explanation, had to be from the Gods!
While visiting Arizona we stopped by Montezuma Castle. The ancient remains of a rock apartment complex, which must have housed over 100 people during its time, stands high above the ground. It is sheltered by the rock from falling rain and rising river water, preserved after thousands of years. The ruins were once home to a tribe of Natives called the Sinagua, but all their artifacts have long since been taken. The Sinagua tribe lived in this desert between 1100 and 1425. They survived by  using primitive farming and irrigation techniques.

Years ago, when I came to Sedona, and couldn't grasp the landscape, I was a very different person than this last time. It is interesting the way the environment changes and adapts over large amounts of time. We also change and adapt, only over short fractions of time. Nothing stays the same.