Sunday, October 26, 2014

Cross Timbers Country

If you've ever seen the early 1980s maps of the ecological regions of the United States, you'll see a region where the Great Plains prairie meets the Eastern Deciduous Forest, aptly called the Cross Timbers Region. Widely scattered and stunted post oaks and black oaks dot the landscape, historically mantled in long lived perennial wildflowers and warm season grasses. Today, Cross Timbers country, located about an hour's drive from the Niangua Basin, is the land of recreational fishing lakes designed to generate hydroelectric power. In Missouri, we have several of these associated lakes surrounded by protected largescale wooded landscapes. While many of these wooded areas are generally depauperate from a biodiversity perspective, they're still undeveloped woods full of birds, and the world isn't making undeveloped woods anymore. Despite the local serious deer overpopulation problem, lack of fire, and long history of grazing, the wooded tracts in Cross Timbers county are protected from development and have an intrinsic value for this reason. It's nice to be in big tracts of woods with short little post oaks and scraggly black oaks that average 50 ft. tall.

Around the Current River, especially near Van Buren, development pressure is significant. When I first saw the new Winona wine shop, a fancy place called The Wine Cube of modern architecture, I couldn't help but think that there go the Ozarks--a vacationing population or full time residents of a class that can support a fancy wine shop? Outside of the Scenic Riverways, on the approach to Van Buren by canoe, massive homes of great value now line the streambanks. There's a lot of money moving into some parts of the Ozarks, especially around the Current River. It's a case of the country turning into the city, similar to the Lake of the Ozarks region; the reasons for having a country home no longer exist. It's a city in and of itself now. Not so much in this part of the Cross Timbers.

Recreational opportunities tend to be focused on the fishing resources and RV parks in the area. Huge, enormous campers and nice boats are pretty common around here. There's one winery, Crane Creek, that specializes in terrific fruit wines; Crane Creek's elderberry and strawberry wines are particularly nice. The drought, their location, and lack of traffic coincident with the end of the Missouri Wine Passport Program have, together, provided a great challenge to this little winery, located a stone's throw from the Nemo corner. At Hobo's, a family style restaurant, one could order Crane Creek's blackberry wine by the glass.

Dining options, like the wine options in the area, are limited to rustic fare: pizza at the bowling alley, a fun, diverse menu (with the ability to modify to make certain foods vegetarian and healthy) at Virginia and Tim's Pub and Grub, and multiple family style barbecue restaurants in the area. This is not the fancy part of the Ozarks or the Lake of the Ozarks region, and I think folks are happy with that. These are good-hearted, hard working people, appreciative of the surrounding natural world and their fishing opportunities. This is not the climate for a fancy wine shop, and it's great that way.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Glades in September

The asters and goldenrods have just started their autumnal displays. Those wonderful yellow composites are still hanging on this late September....

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Botany in Roadside Ditches

It's a seldom occasion when I champion the protection of obviously degraded landscapes like roadsides. In an effort to find Helianthus angustifolius in the southern Ozarks, however, I found myself becoming increasingly upset by the wanton and excessive use of herbicides on rural roadsides, and, worse yet, in ditches that clearly hold water (and invertebrates) much of the growing season. In this situation, the search for H. angustifolius and Solidago leptocephala, the only places we found these desired plants were on roadsides, the two roadside ditches that had been spared widespread herbicide application that serves to homogenize and kill everything in its path.

It's scary enough to learn that most of the American food supply consists of GMO foods and that industrial farms in Missouri have at their disposal a genetically altered seed bank that allows for massive-scale spraying of glyphosate and every other chemical legal on the market (with few if any actual studies on the detrimental impacts to human health....but I'm not going to address all of that and my political alliances). To add insult to injury that biodiversity in Missouri is crashing not just from the deer overpopulation problem, exotic species invasion, and development pressure, but even on the damned roadsides where a few Element of Occurrence Records persist despite plowing and logging and grazing and every other anthropogenic disturbance that degrades natural systems, even roadsides are blasted with ever-increasing potent herbicides to wipe out populations and the assorted biota that have tried to adapt to life on a roadside.

We found a ditch. We found a really nice ditch on a rural road in the Ozarks that had rare plants in it. In that one ditch, we located thriving populations of H. angustifolius (it really should be tracked by Heritage. It's just not going to magically show up on prairies in the Osage Plains where it once was in the 1950s), Solidago leptocephala (once known from sand prairie country, but likely extirpated with all the center point irrigation and plowing), and Eupatorium hyssopifolium. Next to this nice roadside that hasn't been sprayed, we found a little Heteranthera loyal to agricultural ditches and Rhynchospora corniculata, super showy. Everywhere else on the roadsides and what was once a native landscape? Herbicide, farming, herbicide, development. Even the monarch butterfly advocates are concerned about the new crops that can withstand glyphosate--all those milkweeds and other "weeds" that so many (except pollinating insects, birds, and other wildlife) find so baneful are being sprayed to oblivion.

It was actually pretty depressing to find most of the herbarium specimen records for certain fall composites restricted only to roadside ditches that have been spared herbicide treatment. It's not sustainable. And it's depressing. But I sure did see some neat plants this week.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sad Days in Van Buren

Kim, the head concessionaire at Big Spring Lodge and Cabins, has her quilting operation up and running. While tending to the masses coming to the remarkable cabins at the Ozark National Scenic Riverways Big Spring outpost, she quilts, making beautifully colorful blocks of Log Cabin designs and others. I do adore Kim, who will take my last minute calls for cabin reservations, sending the bill to the right address and letting me know whether there will be firewood waiting or if I need to bring my own. But after this season, Kim's operation will shut down as the Scenic Riverways will close the Big Spring Lodge and Cabins for repairs for three years.

Three years, that's a long time to live without a cabin at Big Spring. The cabins and Lodge are fully operational since the days of the Conservation Civilian Corps. In recent years, the concessionaire has added window unit air conditioning to make the cabins more bearable during the late summer nights. But in spring and fall, one can count on timber mill seconds for firewood to keep the cabins warm. Other lodging in Van Buren? There's Rosecliff, the hotel attached to The Landing, the premier canoe outfitter and nice restaurant with a full bar, great porch and vegetarian options.

But it's not a cabin at Big Spring. Our waitress at the lodge, wearing her watermelon apron and barrettes in her hair, said that the National Park Service wasn't going to change the rustic character of the lodge and cabins with their planned upgrades (I hope she's right). The closure of the cabins and the lodge will allow for foundation and electrical repairs, and upgrades to the cabin kitchens which are now spaces with electric hotplates and coffeepots. I'm worried they're going to bring wifi to the cabins, that they're going to upgrade the cabins and lodge so much so that fancy city people will come and change the character of the landscape. I hope my worries are unfounded. The jet boats in the Big Spring area have already decimated the river, I hope development doesn't destroy the cabins and lodge.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Fleeting

It's been a summer of scheduled appointments, of conferences, of not spending time in the natural world beyond the random trips to rivers and streams and the rogue woods hiking. Temperatures are high in late August in Missouri, so rivers and streams are more welcoming than ever. Daddy flies in from Louisiana on Tuesday, and Wednesday morning we're setting out for Big Spring country via St. James and Concord grape stands and earnest wineries like Heinrichhaus over on CR 1000. I told him to bring swim trunks, that splashing around in the Current River would be the best thing for him while we're staying at those fantastic Conservation Civilian Corps-built cabins at Big Spring that were not built for hot August nights. My grandpa Bacil worked with the CCC building Army barracks in the Gulf south, but they've since been torn down. I just can't wait to show Daddy how the Ozark National Scenic Riverways has done such a nice job (better than Louisiana) preserving the cultural heritage of that period.

Cicadas drone all day and night. Katydids don't start talking until nightfall, but when they start up, they are wonderfully vocal until the very early morning hours. Bats are still active at dusk as they flit around the street lamps hawking moths. While most folks recreate during June and July, I try to avoid people, so my recreation period begins when school starts and people disappear. I'm looking forward to a five day float on the Eleven Point River, to a trip to Arizona to see some of those ridiculously beautiful birds on their way south, and to shorter trips during aster and goldenrod season when the crickets start talking at night as they presage fall.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Seed Tick Country

Generally, as a rule, the only time I really use trail systems in Missouri's natural places is during seed tick season. As an asocial melancholic, I don't like seeing other people when I visit nature, so I avoid weekends and trails. But during seed tick season, I am somewhat and vaguely grateful for trails. Still, only between Mondays and Thursdays when few others recreate outdoors.

In the past few years, there has developed in Missouri a growing hysteria about the dangers of visiting nature: bears! mountain lions! snakes! rocky trails and twisted ankles! dehydration! I've always maintained that driving to nature is more dangerous than anything in nature, and I am certainly more wary of tick borne illness than I am of venomous snakes. But it doesn't keep me out of the woods. Seed tick season, however, is brutal. With the Ozarks' ever-burgeoning deer herd, ticks seem to be increasing in abundance. Regardless of my habit of wearing light colored trousers with duct taped ankles, seed ticks still manage to find their way to my torso and ankles. So I try not to bust through too much brush in August. Two steps off a trail at the toeslope of a glade and five big slugs of thousands of seed ticks scatter all over my trousers and ankles. Swatting them off with a big cedar branch helps, and if I liked my boots and wore them more often than I wear my running shoes, the tiny ticks wouldn't find their way through my simple cotton socks, but I don't wear my boots much. So I deal with seed ticks.

Nevertheless, seed tick infestation is preventable, and I have little empathy for hikers who wear shorts and flip flops to the woods in August. And regardless of the threat of ticks (and snakes and spiders and mountain lions and bobcats and bears and trees falling and stepping on natural tread that might twist an ankle...), there is nothing that will keep me from witnessing the explosive display of the yellow composites in August.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Stone Hill Winery does it again

HERMANN, Mo - The 2014 Missouri Governor's Cup top honors were awarded to Stone Hill Winery for their 2012 Cross J Vineyard Norton. This prestigious wine also took home the top honors of C.V. Riley Award for Best Norton and the designation of Best of Class Dry Red wine. This marks the second straight year Stone Hill Winery won both the Governor’s Cup and C.V. Riley Award after winning both awards last year for their 2011 Estate Bottled Norton. The Missouri Wine Competition is a premier competition designed to recognize and promote quality wines made in the state. The Governor's Cup recognizes the best wine in Missouri and was determined by a panel of nine judges from across the U.S and one industry judge. During the course of the two-day competition, which wrapped up July 16, the judges tasted 300 wines before awarding the Governor's Cup and C.V. Riley honors to Stone Hill Winery. "This competition truly showcases the top wines in Missouri," said Jim Anderson, Executive Director of the Missouri Wine and Grape Board. "This year, more wines were awarded gold medals than ever before, which is a direct reflection of the quality of wines Missouri is producing." Stone Hill Winery, established in 1847, is the oldest winery in Missouri. Stone Hill boxed its two millionth case of wine last year. The winery, with locations in Hermann, New Florence and Branson, boasts many awards over the years, including multiple past Governor's Cup awards, including last year's sweep of the same three top awards with their 2011 Estate Bottled Norton. "To win the trifecta at the Missouri Wine Competition two years in a row is an incredible honor," said Jon Held, Vice President and General Manager of Stone Hill Winery. "It's a great compliment to our super vineyard and winemaking team and to the value of investing in state of the art technology." The C.V. Riley Award is for Best Norton, the official state grape of Missouri. The award is named in honor of C.V. Riley, Missouri's first state appointed entomologist who is credited with salvaging the French wine industry with his discovery of the state's pest resistant rootstock. Norton is a Native American grape and Missouri's premier red varietal, accounting for 20 percent of all grapes grown in the state. Norton grapes produce a rich, spicy, full-bodied red wine. The Governor's Cup winner was selected from the 12 Best of Class honorees: Sparkling: LBV Brut, Les Bourgeois Vineyards - Rocheport
Rosé: Estate Bottled La Fleur Sauvage, Augusta Winery - Augusta
Dry White: 2013 Seyval Blanc, Montelle Winery - Augusta
Semi-Dry White: 2013 Vignoles, Les Bourgeois Vineyards and Winery - Rocheport
Sweet White: 2012 Vignoles, Hermannhof Winery - Hermann
Dry Red: 2012 Cross J Norton Vineyard, Stone Hill Winery - Hermann
Semi-Dry Red: Hunters Red, Adam Puchta - Hermann
Sweet Red: Stone House Red, Montelle Winery - Augusta
Fruit Wine: Good News Red, Windy Wine Company - Osborn
Dessert/Fortified:Signature Port, Adam Puchta Winery - Hermann
Late Harvest/Icewine: 2013 Late Harvest Vignoles, Stone Hill Winery - Hermann
Distilled Product: Cherry Brandy, Montelle Winery - Augusta
Judges determined the awards through the process of blind tastings. Throughout the course of the competition, they granted 51 gold medals, 109 silver medals and 88 bronze medals. Thirty Missouri wineries participated in this year's competition. The winning wines will be on display throughout the 2014 Missouri State Fair, held in Sedalia Aug. 7-17. Many will be available to taste and purchase in the Missouri Wines tent on the fairgrounds near the grandstand.