Monday, May 14, 2007

Summer's first float trip

Because the circle I canoe with never goes canoeing on weekends, we're usually the only floaters that have to be driven to the designated "put out spot." Invariably, I end up in the front seat with the driver. Because we tend to float long distances, we spend a decent amount of time in the van. I always ask questions about the river, if business has slacked off since the "no rowdiness" rule was put into place, where's a good place to eat after the float. I generally learn a lot from the driver.

Today's driver hailed from Malden. He left the Bootheel because he couldn't handle the way farmers take out fencerows (and then complain about not having any rabbits). He hated how his water pressure dropped significantly every summer because farmers ditched off all the rainwater before it could seep into the aquifer. He left Malden about 15 years ago, when farming practices turned for the worse. Farmers didn't just take out fencerows (he yelled as we were getting in the canoe), they even mowed down all the windbreaks, which caused massive soil erosion.

Just before today's driver left the Bootheel, downtown Malden died. It's a familiar story: Walmart moved in and all the small stores closed. Sure, the air base closed and the Ford manufacturing company moved away, but the downtown businesses still managed to get by. When Walmart came to town, downtown shuttered its doors except for the pizza place. So, the driver picked up and moved to one of the pretty parts of Missouri, the Current River, an area with vast stretches of woods, clean rivers and federal protection. The Current is part of the Ozark Scenic Riverways, a river trail managed by National Park Service.

The banks of the Current River harbor a large population of giant cane. Aside from a relictual population somewhere on the Meramec River, this is the only place outside the embayment in Missouri where cane grows. And it grows prolifically. At the end of the canoe trip, I finally saw the bird that I had heard all day. Not one, but TWO cane obligate Swainson's warblers, in plain view! Today there were lots of yellow warblers, vireos and cedar waxwings along the riverbank. Seeing the Swainson's warbler was bittersweet. I've wanted to see it for a few years now, but I've wanted to see it in the park. I guess I just had to look outside the Bootheel where there's more habitat.

Pictures! Big Spring, which discharges 154 million gallons of water a day; small spring in a cave; columbine; Orconectes luteus, a common Ozark crayfish.

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