Sunday, June 15, 2008

Flip side

"Molly barks," the groomer muttered to me Friday morning. No "hello, your wonderful dog has been groomed and is ready to be picked up," just a surly complaint. I bet they put her in a cage. Molly's never been in a cage and likely felt really uncomfortable. She doesn't bark unless she's uncomfortable. She barks when she wants food, to go outside, to get on the bed, and if she simply wants things to go back to the way they were. She doesn't like change.

Earlier this week, I wanted to be like Molly. I simply wanted to let out a big "rowf" to let my colleagues know that I was uncomfortable. I didn't want to be where I was, a lousy glade in the Current River Hills. Instead of barking, I did what I always do when I'm somewhere I don't want to be: I walk away. I try to leave. The day before, I had spent almost 2 hours at the lovely glade pictured below. Rich, diverse, picture-worthy. But in an effort to find the rare-in-Missouri Eriogonum longifolium, a motley crew of us set out for this crummy glade outside of Eminence, Missouri to find it. Historically, the densely hairy little glade plant grew there in abundance; in fact, the lousy glade was one of the only sites for the plant in the state. We hiked through degraded dry chert woodlands that desperately needed to be burned and ended up in a glade so scarcely populated by plants, it looked like it had been grazed as early as that morning.

It took about 2 minutes to find the plant (pictured), a curious member of the Polygonum family. The wide, strappy basal leaves were densely covered in fine hair, as was the stalk and the flowering structure. I took pictures, made sure everyone saw it, and I was ready to go back to the truck to embark on nice, high quality regions of the Current River Hills. The experience in the degraded glade made me realize that I've given the Ozarks an unfair shake. I tend to show only the best sites, the ones that haven't been overgrazed, the ones under current management. So, tonight I'm sharing photos of what a large part of the Ozarks looks like. The premier sites that I profile are just that, premier, not ordinary. Millions of acres of Missouri's Ozarks are in desperate need of help. It's inspiring, sure, when I look out at places that need help and imagine my own diligence applied to them. But sometimes, it's overwhelming.

Because the rest of the group wanted to hang out at the crummy glade to look at calamint (the overriding ground cover, pictured) and search (in vain) for other conservative plants, I distracted myself by thinking of ways to manage such a glade. There's really not enough fuel to carry a fire, so a simple little fire wouldn't really help (unless the lucky guy with a driptorch did what I did at another lousy glade: set each individual patch of grass on fire, walking through naked chert rubble all along.). Removing some of the encroaching trees might help? But, really, you'd have to go back to the 1920s and 1930s and shoo off all the cattle, hogs, sheep, and goats.

After ambling into the adjacent woods (only to find such generalist plants as Virginia creeper), I finally confronted the group of botanists. "Can we go?" I said anxiously. I may as well have said "Rowf!" as they pondered over a grass that shows up everywhere in Missouri. We finally hiked back and arrived at the line of agency vehicles after arguing over some Desmodiums. I abruptly turned to my colleague and asked, plaintively, "can we see something good? That glade made me sad."

As we left, we encountered a little fen that had Indian pink (Spigelia marilandica), known in Missouri only from the southern Ozarks. The pretty little red and yellow flower was in full glory. I could feel my soul restoring itself. I met a few more fen plants and set out for a Butler Co. site I had been encouraged to visit the whole time I was in southeast Missouri. I heard it was the only site that could possibly contain the much sought after bird voiced treefrog, unrecorded in Missouri.

I walked slowly through typical degraded Ozarks woods to get to the site and then entered another world. The earlier part of the day was erased from my memory. I beheld a landscape so incredibly moving that I was rendered (likely for the first time in my life) speechless. I thanked my colleague for taking me there and had to catch my own breath.

So, for now, see, a lousy glade, the coveted plant (the hairy thing not in flower), Coreopsis palmata (yellow flower), and Indian pink from the fen. I don't really even know how to tell you about the incredibly transcendent place that is nestled in the crummy woods of Butler Co. I'm still having dreams about it.

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