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.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Dogwood Flowers

Photo taken by Mattie Speece Villines
     This year the dogwoods are stunning! Go out and witness the beauty for yourself because a 8 mega pixel shot on a screen will not come close to doing the forest justice. Not every year is as remarkable as the next. Every plant has good and bad years depending on circumstances such as weather and disease. In the past, the dogwoods as well as the rest of the forest, has had its share of dramatic sagas.
     When my parents first arrived at Owls' Knob in the early 80s, the property was covered with dogwoods. In springtime it looked like snow was falling as those white flowers opened. As a child, one of my best friends was an old dogwood tree I called the Horsey tree. Like many dogwoods, the Horsy tree had four trunks growing from the same base and branching off close to the ground in opposing directions. Each trunk grew out on an angle, parallel with the ground at some point before shooting up to the sky. To me the four trunks looked just like a horse, a phoenix, a serpent, and Falkor, the luck dragon from The Never Ending Story. I played out many fantasy games in the Horsy tree.
     In the early 90s a fungus began creeping through the Ozark forests. It was the dogwood anthracnose fungus and it killed its victims quickly and silently. At first it was just a dead dogwood here or there along the road. But I began noticing the dying trees on Owls ' Knob in 1996. I left Owls Knob for many years and when I returned in 2006 dogwoods lay dead all over the property. I walked out to the place where the Horsey tree stood and found its four trunks splayed out in a cross. To most people it was nothing more than some hunks of decaying wood in the forest, but to me it was a grave site. I picked a bouquet of dandelions and left them there. That spring, and for many springs afterwards, the snowy effect just wasn't the same.
     In February of 2009 the Ozarks experienced an epic ice storm. It wiped out power everywhere, blew transforms up all over town, and took out so many trees and tree limbs that it looked like God came out of the clouds with a whim-wham or weed eater to trim the forest. At the time, thought I gawked at the destruction, I didn't realized the a lasting impact it would have on the forests. Not only did it knock out entire groves, but it weakened the trees that survived. Nearly every tree had some broken limbs and many were missing significant portions of their canopy. After the ice storm, many trees became sick or infected with borers and have since died. My beloved oak tree died as well. The one that stood beside the house and gave our western windows shade in the summer. The tree I hung a swing from. I swung that tree all year. The death of the oak tree hit me harder than any other. We turned her stump into a chair and when I sit in it, I think of her and the ice storm that led to her death.
      Five years after the ice storm you can still see where the ice hit hardest because the forest is completely different in those areas. There are gullies that were hit hard, huge trees lay dead over entire hillsides. There are deep forests were the canopy, which was once shading the undergrowth, is now open and exposed to the summer sunlight. Today those forests are completely different, where once huge old growth oaks, hickories, and walnuts stood, are now filling with understory growth like sumac, red buds, and (yes I have finally found my way back) dogwoods.
      Nature has its mysterious ways. I pained seeing the dogwoods die and I pained seeing the oaks die. Each of those tragic events hit me as hard as loosing a friend. At the time I wanted to scream, "Why?" But I now see why. I recognize the need for an ebb and flow of life. There is a give and take that is necessary. Though it seemed tragic at the time, the death was an opening for new life. Nothing stays barren when it is dead in nature. Death equals new life, every time.
 This year we shall morn the death of many a great oaks, but we can rejoice in the beauty of many a young flowering dogwood.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mother Nature's Tax

My neighbor had warned me a few days ago that the fox was on the prowl. She said it had eaten all  but one of her chickens. "I had gotten lazy," she had told me. "We have a secure hen house, I just didn't lock them up that night. I guess I forgot."
I took it as a warning and locked up my coop. But only for that first night, when the warning was fresh in my mind. We had gotten lazy too.
Last night, the fox, visited the chicken coop. This morning I woke before dawn. I think the barking dog brought me out of my dream. Then I heard the sound of a chicken bawking in dismay. I bounded out of bed and rushed outside barefoot in my tank top and pajama pants. I found only two chickens in our hen house. I looked around the yard... there were feathers everywhere!
I heard bawking and followed the sound. In the moonlight I saw something slip away and then noticed a chicken. It was one of our little red hens inside the garden fence. Perhaps it had struggled and flown inside. At that point maybe the fox figured digging under the fence was too much work. He too had become lazy. I picked up the terrified hen. She seemed in tact, missing a few feathers perhaps.
I put her back into the safety of the hen house. Only three chickens left!
I realized then that my bare feet were so cold! In fact, that I could feel ice on the frosty ground. I ran back inside.
Soon I heard noises again from the hen house and I let the dog back outside. The dog barked for an hour and kept the animal away.
At dawn I went out to survey the damage. I intended to tell my son exactly what had happened to the chickens but I did not want him to see a mangled half dead bird or torn apart chicken carcass. I figured he was a little young and sensitive for that just yet.
To my surprise, when I stepped outside, three more chickens greeted me. Apparently they had retreated to the trees and survived the night!
Miraculously only one chicken had been eaten, Rosie, the cream colored one with a speckled head.

RIP Rosie
Reflecting upon the "fox attack" I feel fortunate that we only lost one hen. I feel responsible for not protecting her better but I learned a valuable lesson. The hen house will be closed up every night from now on; the fox can be sure of that.
But I also keep thinking of the fox. I heard her last year, calling for her mate in springtime. She may be pregnant right now and trying to fatten up her unborn pups. I imagine her sneeking into our yard one black socked feet. I see the glimmer in her eyes and the delight in her pounce when she knows she will eat well tonight. She is not greedy. She takes just one.
It is Mother Nature's tax. We all must pay our dues. I would rather pay Mother Nature than the government. I would rather feed the fox than fund the war. So, on this eve of tax day deadline, I will  pay Mother Nature her tax. It is a sacrifice I am willing to make. But until another year, the chickens we stay locked up tight at night.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

More Good News!

As I wrote in my last post, I have been making a push to get published. I made a New Years resolution to get published and already I will see my work in print in only a little over a month!
Yesterday I recieved another email from a small journal called Full Circle Journal. They are going to be publishing a short story I wrote called Spaceship Earth in conjunction with an art sculpture my sister created. Though it is not a big deal, and kinda just fell into my lap because of my sister's art, I am feeling inspired! Is this the year my writing career is going to being moving forward?
With this in mind I am developing a webpage. It will be at roslyneaton.com. But right now it is still under construction, so stay tuned.
I am also taking my husband's name, eaton, at last. Not only do I want my family to be untied under one name, but I feel like Eaton is easier to spell and therefore a better name for a writer who wants to be found. Becoming Roslyn Eaton is a change of identity for me. I think it will be a positive one.
Do you have a website? Please share! I am interested to see how other personal artists create their webpages!