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.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fat Turtle

I found a turtle between the compost pile and the garden. It was obese! I never knew that a turtle could become overweight. But the fat rolls that were unable to fit inside of this turtle's shell were disturbing. What's more is that I feel responsible! Three days in a row I looked for him when I took the compost out and I found him every time.
My compost pile is not well kept or protected. It is a heap of food that is covered with leaves and left for nature to do as it pleases. I never thought much of it before now. I figured that some wildlife might enjoy it, but I didn't see a problem with that. Most of my compost is fairly healthy. However, looking at this fat turtle I realize that he is addicted to what I throw out and because it is so easy to eat so much, he has become unhealthy. I don't think he can get all of his fat rolls into his shell; therefore, he is easy picking for a predator. I am ruining this turtle's life!
It makes me wonder how many other obese animals are hiding in the woods between our houses, waiting for us to take out the garbage or throw those scraps in the yard. How many dumpsters are all you can eat bars, tempting fat raccoons, foxes, rabbits, and yes, even turtles!
I will properly fortify my compost pile this weekend!    


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Bark Scorpion Girl

Striped Bark Scorpion
At the Ozark Natural Science Center, before I take students on our first hike together, I always ask the students to each tell me what they want to learn more about. Most of them either name the first animal that comes to mind (bears, snakes, or deer) or they flip through their field guide and read a heading to me, even if they don't know what it means and are not interested in it. One cool fall day last year I got a surprising answer, "I want to learn more about the Striped Bark Scorpions," said a little girl with black hair and wide wandering eyes.
"Bark Scorpions?" I mused. "I'm not even sure we have them around here..."
"Oh yes, they are here. They live under rocks during the day and then climb trees at night in search for food. They hunt insects and stuff. They are only, oh, about this big..." she showed me a little over an inch with her fingers. "They blend into the bark, especially because it is night, so when you put your hand on a tree they sting you. But they won't kill you, its like a bee sting."
"Wow, I think you might need to teach me about them! Obviously you know quite a bit more about them than I do."
"I like to study them." Her gaze lowered and she seemed slightly embarrassed. Other students were snickering and rolling their eyes at her. At her age, being smart is NOT cool.
Throughout the rest of our time together, the girl continued to teach me things and I taught her what she didn't already know. She was full of questions and answers both. The bark scorpion did not come back up since I felt stupid not knowing anything about them.
This past week, while walking with fellow Ozark Natural Science Center teachers, during staff trailing, we flipped over a rock in the glade and found a stripped bark scorpion. Immediately I thought of the bark scorpion girl. As I asked teacher naturalist more about this species, I realized the girl had been right about everything she had told me, from its size to its habits.
"I knew a guy who picked them up!" someone said.
"I dare you to pick it up, Caleb," said Adam.
Caleb smiled.
"I will rub nose burn on my nose if you pick up the scorpion." Adam dared. (Nose burn is a plain little plant or weed that grows in Ozark glades. People who touch it get a stingy or burning sensation that rarely last more than 20 minutes. However, Adam found it not to be painful when he lost this bet and rubbed it on his nose.)
Carefully, Caleb crept up behind the scorpion and then quickly plucked it off the ground. The scorpion curled its legs in and froze in the giant's grip. While taking a picture of the only Ozark scorpion I have ever seen, I wished the bark scorpion girl was there to see it too.
Caleb Wardlaw Holding a bark scorpion

Monday, September 3, 2012

Shallow Water

 
Green Heron
Creeks and rivers are still very shallow. I went to one of my favorite swimming spots and found that the pools of water were not only shallow, but the water quality was poor. Perhaps this little branch of the white river has always been slightly polluted. It is beside a rural bridge where thoughtless people can so easily drop trash off the side of their truck and into the shadows below. Normally their trash is carried down stream. But this year's stagnant pools revealed every coke can and chip bag. Also, there was an oily or white shimmer of scum on the water's surface.
Blue Heron
Despite these signs of carelessness,  there was no lack of life in these waters! Turtles were thriving, basking on a log sicking up out of the water and floating near the surface ready to plunge into the depths at any moment. Fish filled the water so thickly I was afraid if I stepped into the pool they would come lapping onto shore.
Of course, herons were attracted to these fish filled pools. As we approached the river a small green heron perched and watched us suspiciously before flying into a nearby sycamore tree. Further downstream, a blue heron flew to the far bank and watched us from there. As I crept closer, the huge bird kept its eyes on my every move, but was reluctant to fly away from such a beautiful buffet of fish. After creeping very close, the heron opened its huge arching wings and lifted itself into the air. As it crested the trees it stopped flapping and began to soar.

Watermelon Sprout
Before we also decided to soar away, I spotted a watermelon sprout growing up from between the river rocks. There its seed had fallen after been spat from unknowing lips. The sprout reminded me that not everything humans carelessly discard is garbage, and even amongst the garbage, life grows onward!