Sunday, December 28, 2008

Redmon's Candy Store

You probably reached my blog about Ozarks natural history because you were looking for the hours of operation for Redmon's Candy Factory, the big candy store on I-44 outside of Lebanon. I've noticed that hundreds of people each month end up at my blog, and suffer through a post I wrote about feral hogs and how destructive they are. I never offer many of them any of the information they want. All I give in this post is a personal experience from visiting the store. Considering that Redmon's doesn't have a website, and their phone number is listed incorrectly in at least one online source, here's the information you're looking for:
Open daily from 7:30 am-9pm
Phone: 417-589-2123

It was a warm November afternoon when my colleague and I set out from Oklahoma's Wichita Mountains. Donned in the same grubby clothes we had worn for the past three days, we made our way back to Missouri, stopping only for coffee and petrol. Winds near our campsite were vicious that morning, so we hiked out of the wildlife refuge without coffee, without oatmeal, never lighting a match on the campstove for fear of starting a massive wildfire. Buffalo Grounds, the small, charming, independent coffeeshop near the refuge was closed for bible study, operated as it is by a contingent of evangelical Christians. We found coffee after 20 miles on rural Oklahoma roads and continued east on I-44, refueling on big cups of decaf and bottled water to suppress hunger. For the past few days, we had eaten nothing but lentils, quinoa, fruit, oatmeal, cheese, and almonds and we simply weren't presentable enough to sit down to a meal anywhere in the Ozarks.

It was just outside of Joplin when my colleague announced that we would break our pace, that we were going to stop for a while outside of Lebanon. On our way westward a few days before, he affected a halted and hushed tone, one that traditionally connotes the discussion of a serious or audacious topic: "Can you believe the governor of Illinois?" or a line I always say, "Have you ever had the butternut squash risotto at Higgins?" He took a deep breath and said, slowly, "have you ever stopped at the candy store outside of Lebanon?"

I had seen the billboards literally hundreds of times: a cartoon boy in a red shirt, red baseball cap, holding his hands in the air with a manic smile as though screaming the words on the billboard. World's Largest Candy Store! Drive west a few more miles, and the boy is happy about the World's Largest Gift Store! Despite the claim that the largest candy store is outside of Lebanon and I, frankly, love candy I truthfully and casually told my colleague that no, I never even thought of stopping there. Not even for their homemade fudge.

"Oh, we have to stop there. You won't believe it." A seasoned veteran of Missouri roads, he had only pulled into Redmon's earlier this year at the request of another colleague, a Baton Rouge native who loves good food and treats as much as I do. "The entire store is nothing but candy. Aisles of candy!" He went on to explain that it wasn't just any candy, but every candy. Big bins of penny candy fill the store: Mary Janes, Walnetto, those brightly colored foil wrapped flavored toffees, little Italian anise candy, IBC rootbeer candy, etc. On the right side of the store is the fudge factory where they make about 15 different kinds of fudge. Peanut brittle, cashew brittle, long strands of licorice, chocolate covered nuts of every variety. He was right. We had to stop.

The bright fluorescent lights provided a brilliant contrast to the cloudy fall day. Screaming colored cellophane candy wrappers of pink, orange, blue, green and red turned an industrial warehouse into a place so joyful that I laughed as I grabbed a white paper bag from the end of the aisle. Candy by the fistful! I took handfuls of every candy in the bulk bin aisles (except starlight mints. How boring.). I grabbed a pecan log, a nougat filled roll covered in chopped pecans that I used to buy when we'd stop at Stuckey's when I was a child. All of the Atkinson Candy Co. candy was represented: peanut planks (my all-time favorite candy, wrapped in paper that looks like wood grain), Chick-O-Stick, those Neapolitan coconut bars. I picked up peanut brittle for my stepfather, licorice for Doug. I ignored the fudge, since no one can make fudge like my mother can. When I finally set my bulging bag on the scales, it weighed almost 15 pounds. 15 pounds of sugar.

"Wasn't that great!?" my colleague exclaimed as we hopped back in the car. We debated about what to eat first. We broke into the pecan log and began to exchange childhood stories, rather competing with one another about who used to eat the most candy. Actually, despite how much I loved sugar as a kid, I think he won. I spent allowance on stuffed animals and ice cream, but he spent his solely on penny candy, Zero bars, Heath bars, chocolate bars. Together, my esteemed colleague and I littered the floorboard of the car with candy wrappers that afternoon.

I knew I wouldn't be able to run for a while after the first day of the backpacking trip when I injured myself. So, really, my candy purchase resembled my monthly pastry purchase. I pick out pretty pastries for my colleagues (nice strudels, things with pink icing, eclairs), but I won't eat them. Oh, I'm sure they're great, but I'm careful about what I eat. So I didn't actually plan on eating all the 15 pounds of candy, I just wanted to pick it out and think about eating it. I wanted to look at it, to run my hands through it.

I rolled up the bag from Redmon's as we pulled into Osage Beach following my colleague's hesitant "okay, that's enough." That night, back in Columbia, I made a generous donation to Doug, another lover of sugar, who looked just like the happy boy on the billboard when I dropped 14 pounds of candy on his desk.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Make it interesting

Every once in a while, thanks to my current position, I have the chance to read beautiful natural history essays and reports written by seasonal naturalists. Students of Missouri State University or the University of Missouri-Columbia working in these temporary (but vital) jobs make better writers: MSU graduates tend to have a fantastic understanding of karst features in the Ozarks, freshwater mussels and wildlife biology, while a lot of MU graduates still refer to trees as "timber," but have a working knowledge of Ozark fire-adapted landscapes. Regardless of curriculum requirements, most of the graduates from these schools can write effectively.

While plowing through projects written over the summer (finally submitted for my edits last month), I came across a fantastic 32-page document pertaining to the natural history of the Springfield Plateau. The writer started with the geology, the soils, then wrote about anthropogenic fire regimes, the importance of grazing by large, native herbivores, the "changes in populations" (read: European settlement) that caused the general degradation of so many Ozark landscapes. Knowing that the writer was a temporary employee, one with a solid understanding of Ozark natural history, I was determined to track him down, to see if he was interested in being a full time employee.

"I think he's backpacking out, for several months," his former boss said. This fueled my desire to find him a job even more; a lot of folks who work in natural history don't actually go to the woods, much less go backpacking. His former boss gave me his number, telling me that he's "really hard" to get in touch with. I left a message in the morning, he returned the call that afternoon. He was, indeed, backpacking out west: Oregon, Washington, British Columbia. He set out in August just after he had finished his writing project and wasn't set to return to Columbia until after Christmas, after seeing Utah in December (lucky duck). Naturally, we talked about Oregon for a while; the coast is great! We exchanged email addresses and I told him to keep in touch after he finished his backpacking trip.

Last week, I received a friendly email from him. He was excited about Oregon and Washington, but "Utah," he wrote, "made geology interesting!" Wait...this guy who waxed so eloquently about Ordovician formations of dolomite and limestone had to go to Utah to find geology interesting? I casually wrote him back, feeling unjustly slighted (considering I'm not even from here), offering suggestions of available jobs, contacts, the website for applications. I closed with a simple, probably blatantly defensive "yeah, but dolomite and limestone can be interesting, too, especially when it's gushing ice...." I figured I had lost him to the bright red rocks of vast Western landscapes. After all, I'm the one who regularly checks out Nature Conservancy job openings in Idaho-Montana-Wyoming-Oregon when I get aggravated at work. I fully understand the allure of western landscapes and sunsets.

Moments later, my email quietly pinged at me. He countered, without a greeting: "But dolomite isn't a red sandstone hoodoo at sunset." Dang it. He's right, it's not. The Ozark Highlands will never be Canyonlands or Arches; they'll never make a person in a photograph turn bright red. But grungy, black dolomite seeps water, it supports rich, rich floral attributes, it makes up incredibly diverse cave systems. Ringed salamanders are known only from dolomite caves. Glades! Where would glades be without dolomite and limestone? I quickly dug up a (hopefully interesting geology) picture: a nice close-up from the Jack's Fork River, a moist image of glacial relict ferns, mosses, little purple asters clinging to the side of an ancient dolomite outcropping.

"Dolomite and limestone are pretty great, I'll admit," he wrote back after a few moments, "and my loyalty, my heart is always in the Ozarks. Float trips, where would we be without float trips?" The Jack's Fork keeps me here, too, I answered.

Pictures from the first snow event in the upper Ozarks: frozen fog, which turned the landscape into a 19th century English painting; snow and ice, which caused a fine Buick owner to lay on his horn for almost 1/4 a mile when he was stuck behind my slow, plodding snow tire-less Honda (not wanting to end up in a ditch in rural Missouri where I don't know the people who drive trucks to pull me out); ice coming out of rock. Fascinating.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Army at Vienna

"Oh, come on. You're not a lawn ornament person. Your family are not lawn ornament people...Really, Allison? A Santa Claus?" Doug reiterated for the second time after I asked if I should find a 4 ft. plastic light-up Santa Claus for my sloping front yard, currently covered in wet pin oak leaves. For the past week, I've been thinking of those plastic Santa Clauses that I have never, ever, not once in my life, ever even paid attention to. Doug's right, of course, that my family are not lawn ornament people. We aren't outdoor-Christmas-lights people, either, but I've insisted on those for the past three Christmases in Missouri, switching to truly exquisite -brilliant!- LEDs this year. Only two other houses on my block have outdoor Christmas lights, and one neighbor filled his picture window with spray-on "snow" that reads (from the inside, no less) "MErRy Xmaglorb." (So, if you didn't expect a "Merry Christmas" in the window, you'd be hard pressed to understand not only the abbreviation and the backwards writing, but that the writer didn't accurately map out how much space he needed to write the greeting, thus ending the abbreviation with a big splotch of carcinogenic flocking.)

And here I am wanting to supplement my Frazier fir garland, red velvet ribbons, and bright little lights with a mass produced plastic Santa Claus. I don't have Santa Claus things, I don't collect things (other than jointed wooden Pinocchio figures from Tivoli. I think I have 6 of all different sizes. The Italian folktale entrances me.), and I don't put plastic figures in my yard. But something came over me this week as I drove through the Ozark Highlands. Not a lot of Christmas cheer evident in the upper Ozarks, with only a few houses decorated in uniform white lights strung on the eaves or draped in netting form over shrubs. But in Vienna, several miles outside of Jefferson City, I grew utterly transfixed (causing me to slow to 20 mph on a major highway) by an Ozark family who collects plastic Santa Clauses.

Driving north out of the luscious Gasconade River Hills, homes along Hwy. 63 are uniformly Ranch-style, set back from the highway with big, empty, regularly mowed front yards of fescue or Bermuda turf. Not a tree in sight save a sad Japanese maple girdled by the mower. But as sun was setting that day last week, no fewer than 30 Santa Clauses lit up an open field adjacent a sprawling white house covered in little white lights. I immediately called my colleague who runs the same road weekly:
"Oh, man, have you seen this? The Santa Claus yard in Vienna?"
"Oh, yeah, the army of Santas at Vienna. This is their first year out. Never seen it like that before. A whole mess of them."
"It's so danged jolly!"
Hours later in my gray walled cubicle, I couldn't stop thinking about the Santa Claus yard. How did this happen? Did the family innocently buy one Santa Claus clutching a candy cane one year, and relatives, upon seeing the lit up statue, decided the plastic saint needed a companion, perhaps one holding a present? Or 20 more in different positions? Did the husband simply go to wherever these things are sold and buy all of them, in one fell swoop, because he liked them? Did the family run a store that carried these things, forced to close their doors because of the Walmart in Rolla, leaving them in possession of 30 non-returnable light-up Santa Clauses? Is it a measure of mirth to have a yard packed to capacity with Santa Clauses? And if this is their first year on display, were they all waiting for a certain number, a critical mass, to debut?

There's something very peculiar about this yard. So peculiar that I made a point to return there with a camera. The Santa Clauses, you see, are not all the same. Some are bailing out of chimneys, others are holding gifts, some are waving. There are a couple of jolly snowmen out there, as well. Directly in front of the house, the Santa Clauses are joined by the illuminated three men from the East and the equally bright Holy Family. A couple of Santa Clauses hang out by the ornate, green-roofed dog house. The statues are not all facing Hwy. 63; some are turned towards the house, others are turned facing one another, a few wave at drivers. Based on the pristine snow, I was apparently the only one since the snow event who stopped, walked into the yard, and smiled at all of the statues. Maybe the family is really ironic or full of postmodern thought, making a statement about humankind and the homogenization of our culture, of our souls? Isn't there just one Santa, one individual we can believe in to bring joy on one morning each year in every kid's life? Oh, no, illustrates the family in Vienna, there are countless of them. For some reason, I didn't have the nerve to march to the door and ask.

This peculiar fascination illustrates nothing less than that my brain hasn't been the same without regular cardiovascular exercise. I don't know how sedentary people live their lives, because this lifestyle change is brutal. Earlier last week, following the discovery of the Santa Clauses, I grew obsessed with the concept of Christmas pins. Since I work in an office now (the first time since I lived in New York in the 1990s), I'm surrounded by office people who wash their hair every day and wear stockings and makeup and Christmas pins. My secretary has two of them, a Santa Claus and a wreath. She casually tilted her head at me last week and asked, sincerely, "don't you have a Christmas pin?" Well, no, actually, because I'm usually not inside enough to wear jewelry at all, much less jewelry I can only wear for 30 days. But here I am, entering week 6 of that stupid injury, and I'm still inside. Without a Christmas pin. I didn't even know where to find one. Is it the only mark of joy and happiness in an office to wear sweaters with reindeer on it and earrings with jingle bells? I've noticed that the women in my office with the most ruthless positions, those in budget and finance, wear more Christmas cheer than any of us.

So I found a wreath to wear on my black sweaters, a classy little pin that I discovered on my first-ever foray into the heart of Columbia Mall. I'm not searching for a plastic Santa Claus, because I like the effect of a whole mess of them, arranged scattered in an old field, not just one sitting on my wooden porch. Further, I'm not a collector, a hoarder of things and stuff, and besides, despite how transfixed I've been on the yard in Vienna, light up Santa Clauses are terribly inefficient.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Aw, shucks

So, I turn uncustomarily sheepish when anyone hurls a compliment at me. I tend to altogether change the subject really fast, turn attention to someone else, or dismiss the compliment ("oh, no, really, it's's easy....stop.") and back away from the situation. Earlier this month, an esteemed, truly brilliant entomologist and gifted writer bestowed upon me a fine award which he had justifiably won. A California-based blog, The Scholastic Scribe, created The Superior Scribbler Award (artwork undoubtedly inspired by Sempé) for weblog writers. Ted, author of Beetles in the Bush and Bikes, Bugs, and Bones, won this award and bestowed the esteemed prize on me. Winning the award, however, comes with a set of rules:
1. Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy Friends.
2. Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author and the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.
3. Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog and link to this post, which explains The Award.
4. Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we’ll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor!
5. Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

Like Ted, my entomologist friend who was given the award by another talented writer, Huckleberry (a natural history expert in British Columbia), I am stumped by the first rule. I read a private blog, available to close family friends only (thus exempt from the award). Shamelessly, in moments of desperation, yearning for tennis season, I flip to Maria Sharapova and all of her excessive exclamation points and pink hearts and read her blog about "how wonderful (insert tennis tournament name here) is!." Occasionally, I'll end up at a blog about vegan cooking while looking for an eggplant recipe. But really, Ted writes the only blogs I actually read: beautifully crafted essays about insects and the world they live in, offering great depth to the natural history of the world's unsung heroes. Ted has such a wealth of knowledge that he carefully and deftly connects the life history of a single beetle to an entire landscape. He writes of host plants, of water requirements, of the incredibly intricate details that make entomology as fascinating as it is. His photographs are stunning, capturing the essence of a landscape. He's also an avid cyclist and regularly takes great, long rides in and out of the country and writes beautifully about the places he's gone through, about tribulations and triumphs of an avid cyclist. Ted's a fascinating man, a responsible father, extremely well-respected in his field, and yet I've never actually met him. Never even heard his voice. I imagine when I do meet him, I'll give him a warm hug.

So, in a way, I feel like I've failed Ted by not being able to uphold my end of the award. I'm usually so embarrassed by recognition that I just don't show up at ceremonies or I use thick wooden engraved plaques as door jambs. But an award for writing? Tell that to my Terence professor who wrote: "your paper on the running slave had such potential!"

And worse yet, this comes 5 weeks, 3 days, and 8 hours after a ridiculous running injury that has forced me to stay out of the undulating Ozark landscape that inspires me to sit down at my 1920s table in Columbia and write. I haven't been outside at all, barring the walk from my Honda to the misplaced, out of character, unhealthy bass trees outside of my office (complete with 10 years' worth of compacted mulch around the bases, which has essentially girdled each tree). I'm hoping to get back into the field once this week's gnarly weather passes. I was told to rest my leg for 6 weeks. 6 weeks without a run, without a hike in the woods, without a scramble through a burn unit has been torturously slow. I've managed to plow through embroidery projects, (pictured, from last year's projects, 1940s patterns!) keep a clean-ish house every once in a while, spend more time reading.

As I accept Ted's compliment, the charming, illustrated Super Scribbler's Award, I promise to write more (once my leg heals) and to finally investigate all of the other writers who spend time behind the cool glow of a computer screen at night to share their thoughts, however intimate or vaguely interesting, with the world.

Friday, December 12, 2008

It's the substrate, silly.

I learned this week that plant ecologists haven't really investigated the odd ecology of possumhaw. The little tree whose seeds are spread by birds grows just as well in wet bottomland forests as on Missouri's limestone glades. Rigorous online searches and lunch hour investigations in the Natural History Program's herbarium came up empty of answers to my question.

My trusty colleague muddled the topic even more today when he volunteered "oh, yeah, and supple jack (Berchemia scandens) grows in swamps of southeast Missouri and dry limestone glade openings of the southwest. Huh. I guess that doesn't answer your question, does it...." No, dear colleague, it doesn't.

So I collaborated all of the information I could gather about possumhaw and supple jack to determine that, indeed, these plants depend on limestone and limestone-based soils to thrive. Flipping back to the occurrence map in Julian Steyermark's benchmark Flora of Missouri, I notice that possumhaw is known from counties in the lower and upper Ozarks, west to the Osage Plains, but it doesn't appear in the Ste. Genevieve area (dominated as it is by sandstone), the granite-based St. Francois Mountains, or those counties with chert-based natural communities around Springfield.

Oh, as usual, I'm open to suggestions about the growth patterns of deciduous holly. At this point, I merely surmise they're all based on the high pH of limestone and the associated soils. Sounds like a good project for a graduate student.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Bright red berries

I distinctly remember the July afternoon when I grabbed the smooth gray branch covered in glossy green leaves and yelled at my colleague (stooped down over a sedge): "is this possumhaw?" Having known the deciduous holly from years spent down south in swampy backwater regions, I was stumped, truly perplexed to find it here, perched as it was on a limestone bluff in the middle of the dry, dry White River Hills of southwest Missouri.

Of course, it wasn't the first time that I stood utterly confused over a plant growing on a limestone glade. These dry, rocky outcroppings harbor a whole host of restricted plants, including the brilliant, charismatic Trelease's larkspur (bright, vibrant blue flowers!). This spring, we found a population of stunted ninebark, a charming little understory tree found primarily in moist woodlands, in full flower on a limestone glade. I did precisely the same thing upon both discoveries: I stood there, grasping branches of these plants, wondering if I had lost my mind or if they were really growing on glades. That day in the natural area, I learned that a certain plant that grows in bottomland hardwood forests of the southeastern U.S. can grow just as well on a rocky limestone or dolomite glade in Missouri. It's the exception, of course, and not the rule.

In Missouri, deciduous holly (Ilex decidua) is known from southeast Missouri, Mississippi River Valley floodplains, and Ozark regions based in limestone and dolomite substrates. As represented in its common name, deciduous holly loses its green leaves each year, thus exposing shiny red berries that persist into the winter months. Winter bird populations (Eastern bluebirds in particular) relish the nutritious berries found on possumhaw. Heading towards Columbia on the dolomitic regions of the Outer Ozark Border, fencerows are lined with possumhaw shrubs. They're so common, in fact, that they're characterized as "weedy."

In full sun, possumhaw branches burst forth with berries, covering every inch of bark. Because my nagging running injury persists (1 month, 3 days, 8 hours) and I still can't walk up inclines (or run, or drive without pain, or walk more than four blocks at a time), I was unable to see the brilliant red berries on top of the Butler Hollow Glades Natural Area outside of Cassville, Missouri this year. Instead, I rely on a dim photo taken in August from deep within a moody bottomland forest in southeast Missouri to express the subdued beauty of this shrub. (Berries occur in greatly diminished populations in the understory.)

So what are the requirements that allow possumhaw to thrive in thick, mucky soils of the Mississippi Embayment as well as dry, rocky glades of the Ozarks? Is it the low acidity of the soils? Is it the substrate? The esteemed Julian Steyermark doesn't provide an answer, and because the plant isn't particularly cherished by anyone but gardeners in Louisiana, I doubt anyone has investigated it. I can't get around anywhere these days, so I'll see what I can find out.