Saturday, January 31, 2009

On the Springfield Plain

Located on the southwestern edge of the Ozark Highlands, the Springfield Plain is a broad, smooth plain rich with karst features. Relief is slight here, averaging 150 feet, with most changes in elevation occurring primarily in the dissected streambeds that punctuate the landscape. The gently undulating topography fails to suggest to the average visitor to the area that the Springfield Plain represents some of the highest ground in Missouri. Thanks to a few hundred feet, the highest point in Missouri is on a dramatic igneous knob in the St. Francois Mountains rather than in a fescue field outside of Springfield.

Small springs are common on the Springfield Plain, feeding small streams and creeks throughout the region. Journals of early settlers to the area convey the significance of water features to settlement patterns, reiterating that families and native American tribes wouldn't live in a given area were it not for the springs. Because of the high elevation, the waterways that begin on the Springfield Plain radiate downward and often represent the headwaters of major rivers: The Sac River flows north into the Osage; the James and Finley Creek flow into the White River; the Spring and Shoal Creek feed the Neosho. Sinkholes are common here as well, now often used for livestock watering purposes.

Sloping off the dome of the Ozark Highlands, the high structure of the Springfield Plain is based on Mississippian limestones and chert. Soils here were once very deep, giving rise to vast stretches of prairie and savanna with open woodlands occurring along streambanks. Few traces of the historical landscape remain today as much of the area has been converted to agriculture. Native woodlands and savanna are unknown today in the Springfield Plain and most of the prairie has been planted in fescue or overgrown in invasive trees.


The Springfield Plain stretches from Hickory Co. in the north to Barry Co. and the Kansas and Oklahoma borders to the south and west. It's a large area that includes roughly 80,000 acres of public land. Few of these areas represent the native natural communities, and while they provide recreational opportunities like hunting and fishing, few if any ecosystem restoration projects occur here. Despite this fact, over 800 records of 145 plants and animals listed in the Heritage Database can be found in this subsection. Several can only be found in Missouri on the Springfield Plain. Among them, the diminutive Missouri bladderpod (Lesquerella filiformis), a federally listed species whose range in Missouri is relegated to a very small area of limestone glades in the Springfield Plain. (A hearty thanks to the fine folks of the Arkansas Natural Heritage Program who found this plant in Arkansas, quelle surprise, thus knocking off our list the only plant once thought endemic to Missouri's Ozarks. For every plant we find here, botanists in Arkansas find it there, too. Gah-lee. Isn't that just grand.)

So I headed south to Greene Co. recently to see the limestone glades that host bladderpod populations, prickly pear cactus, lemon-mint monarda and other glade plants. My colleague stationed there had big restoration plans for his tiny, degraded patch of land. Once hosting tallgrass prairie and post oak savanna with thick, knee-high bluestem, this small area has been converted to fescue pasture with third growth, weedy trees surrounding his limestone glade. The 6 spring branches that once coursed through the landscape here were dammed years ago to create a fishing pond, stocked with bluegill by a state agency.

Several weeks ago, I ordered land survey notes for the 400 acres so I could understand the character of the pre-European settlement landscape before we launched into a landscape restoration project (Fascinating documents, survey records, and you can order them for your own land, too! Contact the Division of Geology and Land Survey in Rolla with your Township, Range and Sections and they'll send you copies of the original survey records listing witness trees, the quality of land, and sometimes personal notes about the hardships of traversing the land, how cold it was, how thick the grasses were...Surveyor Moulder was particularly chatty in his records). As suspected, based on existing landforms and topography, prairie once dominated the landscape here. However, the land was "very hilly and stony, unfit for cultivation." Thick woodlands were uncommon in this part of Greene Co., attested by the surveyor's notes of "timber very thin with post oak, black oak, chinquapin, hickory and undergrowth of hickory and some hazelnut." Fire tolerant trees like these thrive in fire-dependent savanna landscapes. The small limestone glade that hosts Missouri bladderpod (or Arkansas bladderpod, or whatever) was described as a "ledge of limestone, good soil but too hilly and rocky for cultivation. All very thin timbered with pin oak, black oak and hickory."

As the land exists today, the limestone glade represents the only native natural community on the whole property. A small walnut grove described in the survey records no longer exists, and speculation holds that it was anthropogenic in origin to begin with, planted by native American tribes in the area. Successive burning has brought back some diversity in the historic prairie, Indian grass and big bluestem coaxed out of the fescue. My colleague has cleared cedars from his glade, an area so small in scale that it may officially be classified as a barren rather than glade.

But when the enthusiasm is there -standing right before me holding survey records!- to restore a prairie, barren and woodland to its natural state before settlers removed all the characteristic old growth trees and seeded the prairie with fescue, it's near impossible to dismiss the landscape, to swat it away as a lost cause. 400 acres in Greene Co. will never fully represent the native state of the Springfield Plain, but it's a start.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Walloped

The winter storm that I wanted to bring a few inches of polite snow to the Ozark Highlands turned into a monster of an ice storm Tuesday night. The river town of Eminence received five inches of ice and sleet. Every utility pole in Piedmont cracked under the weight of ice. Thousands upon thousands in the Ozark Highlands and southeast lowlands are still without power for the third night in a row. So much for a polite snow that drapes on trees and allows for easy passage on roads. Temperatures remained so low that even the most earnest snowman builder wouldn't be able to create a snowball.

I made my way into the central Ozarks Tuesday night under extreme weather warnings. Wednesday I passed by huge heaps of snowbanks and several miles of streambanks in hopes of finding the bright yellow flowers of Ozark witch hazel. Gravel bars were common on Mill Creek, but they didn't possess the flowering shrub. I'll head back out this weekend to hopefully snap a photo or two.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Schnee!


Right now, the first good chance of a winter storm is developing in the Ozark Highlands. Chunks of sleet pounded the ground earlier this evening creating little holes in the existing sleet bed that resembled the work of an ant lion. Each sleet pellet looked like a starfish, likely the result of snow melting and refreezing somewhere in the atmosphere. Alyssa fled this storm, flying out of Victor, Idaho as another foot of snow fell there, arriving in cool Louisiana with her down jacket packed away in her checked luggage. Sadly (for those of us who love snow), New Orleans has seen more snow this year than Columbia.

The annual snowfall accumulation in the Ozarks is low for this time of year. It takes 7 inches of snow to equal an inch of rainfall, and cumulatively, the Ozarks haven't seen 7 inches of snow yet this season. But maybe this is the storm system that will bring it.





From a great trip into the St. Francois Mountains at a time of year when my colleague called me "stubborn" for camping, pictures of the Mudlick Mountain valley, a truly magical place when it's encased in ice. Big snow events in Missouri happen in February and March, rumor holds.
I shouldn't complain about the lack of snow, really, because the recent spate of dry, dry weather has allowed us to burn another 1,500 acres of woodlands...but I'd still like to hear the crunch! under my boots.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ozark witch hazel


Every year, the Missouri Department of Conservation publishes a lovely, posh calendar full of exquisite photos taken by some of the state's best photographers: close up images of a solid pink katydid known from our southwestern prairies; big, sweeping views of the St. Francois Mountains; a marbled salamander coiled around her eggs, all incredible images of Missouri's natural history. Each day on the calendar corresponds to a certain natural event. So, for example, Ozark least trillium starts blooming in early April, while morels pop up two weeks later. Prairie chickens start "booming" from their leks in early March and white oak acorns start falling in the Ozarks in late October.

When I first moved to the Ozarks for my $5.27/hr. job, the natural events calendar represented the only ornamentation on the walls of the maintenance shed I lived in. Wanting to learn as much as possible about natural history in the Ozark Highlands, I consulted the calendar daily for events that I wanted to witness for myself. If I wanted to catch Dutchmen's breeches in bloom, I knew that I would seek out a mesic woodland that week to find it. The calendar instructed me that spring peepers started chorusing in March, but I noticed that they began their deafening calling in the sewerage lagoon across from the shed a couple of weeks before the calendar said they would begin. I noticed spotted salamander eggs in the same lagoon 3 weeks before the calendar said they would begin laying eggs. But the calendar remained a good guide.

I tracked bloom cycles of wildflowers both on the calendar and in a raggedy yellow Field Notes booklet, often noting spring ephemerals bloomed earlier than the calendar instructed. Same with migratory bird occurrences, the first time I saw coachwhips basking on a glade, the first blades of little bluestem in the woodlands after a fire. And of course I tracked morels, whose populations depend not on a calendar but on rain cycles and occurrences of subsequent warm days. I spent every day outside that year in awe of the Ozarks. The natural events calendar was a great learning tool when I first moved here. I depended on it and planned travels around bloom cycles of plants not found in the Niangua Basin where I lived.

In 2004, the following year (living in the same maintenance shed), I was up for the game once again. I picked up a calendar, but was disappointed to learn that the daily information was exactly the same as the year before. No new shrub bloom cycles, no information on the arrivals of black and white warblers, no new natural history events that I didn't witness the year before. Further, editors didn't account for the two week time difference on almost every event that occurred in 2003. If I depended on the calendar rather than my own fieldwork, I would have missed blood root in bloom and just seen the oddly shaped leaf among the oak litter. I realize, of course, that the calendar is a guide, a planning document, not a sacred text. The natural world isn't so kind as to abide by our calendar system. Nevertheless, the exquisite photography and fun facts in the calendar covered the hole in the wall that the deer mice were using that year.

So I've never seen the pink katydid that represents summer months in the calendar every other year. I've also missed out on the rare lichens of the St. Francois Mountains pictured there. I've certainly never seen the astonishing Greer Spring on a foggy morning like some lucky photographer has. But this week, despite the gnarly weather warnings, I hope to rectify a glaring omission in my searches for natural history events noted by the MDC calendar. I've been here for a few years now, but I've never seen Ozark witch hazel in bloom. The calendar said it blooms in January, the Shrubs and Woody Vines of Missouri says it blooms in January, so I'm going out in January to look for a flower.

Located in every county in Missouri's Ozark Highlands (except the Niangua Basin), Ozark witch hazel is a large shrub that grows along gravel bars and rocky streambeds. The leaves are rather non-descript, resembling the exotic hibiscus Rose of Sharon that grows in urban areas. A common plant of gravel bars, Ozark witch hazel has likely figured in my kindling piles when camping on the Jack's Fork, but I've never really noticed the plant (a fault of my own, not the shrub's).

But the flowers! Ozark witch hazel begins to bloom in mid-January every year, sending out elegant, brilliant yellow and orange tinged fringes which fall out of a deep orange center. The flowers only have four slender petals, and they grow in clusters along the stem. I imagine a large grouping of these shrubs will be as inspiring as a woodland filled with blooming spicebush--an otherwise brown landscape dotted with patches of yellow flowers. Unlike spicebush which blooms in April, Ozark witch hazel blooms even when there's snow on the ground.

Julian Steyermark, author of the Flora of Missouri, speculated that plant associations of Ozark witch hazel, fringe tree, and yellow wood (common in the White River Hills) indicate the establishment of plant associations in the Ozark Highlands during the Tertiary Period, much earlier than the Pleistocene Epoch. According to Yatskievych's fine Steyermark's Flora of Missouri, populations of Ozark witch hazel and these other woody species were relics of a "more continuous distribution of eastern deciduous forests in the region."

Last February, following the big ice storm, I set out into the St. Francois Mountains in search of this pretty little shrub. I was told by a colleague who lives there that I -once again- missed the bloom period (though this knowledge didn't stop me from stomping through snowy riverbanks to look for it anyway). The national champion Ozark witch hazel can be found at the base of Taum Sauk Mountain, several miles from my destination this week, and populations are common along the river systems there. So I'm going out two weeks earlier than last year in hopes of capturing the same astonishingly beautiful images of this flower that I've seen in the MDC calendar (I'd like snow on the ground, too.). Meanwhile, enjoy the remarkable stippled illustration by the esteemed Paul Nelson, who manages to capture the elegance and delicate nature of every plant he draws.

(Image from the Shrubs and Woody Vines of Missouri, by Don Kurz, 1997)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Before and after


The White River Hills region of southwest Missouri possesses the largest complex of dolomite glades in the state. However, following years of fire suppression and overgrazing, high quality examples are the exception while glades choked in cedars and other woody plants represent the rule. With over 400,000 acres of public land scattered throughout the subsection, potential is high for meaningful ecosystem restoration. 142 state-listed rare, threatened or endangered species have been recorded from the White River Hills, with many of them restricted to dolomite glades.

Several months ago, I was contacted by a private landowner who owns a substantial tract of glades and woodlands in the White River Hills. He asked for advice, how to make his glades look like they did when he bought the property 45 years ago. He told me that when he bought the property, there were no cedars on the glades; they were all cut down years before for fencepost construction. He burned his glades and woodlands every few years to stimulate ground flora for his cattle. It was great to hear that he had brought fire back to the management regime, despite his reasons; I've heard the same history from a landowner in Jefferson Co.

It came as a surprise, however, when I found a 1939 aerial view of Hercules Glade Wilderness Area and saw a landscape I hardly recognized. When I read "extensive glade belts were once common here" in modern day descriptions of the White River Hills, I envisioned small bands of glades on knobs, not thousands of acres of glades as illustrated by the photo. What the photo doesn't show, however, are the millions of cows, goats and sheep that used these glades for grazing in the 1930s and 1940s.

As late as the 1950s, the Forest Service published a trifold brochure for cattle owners titled "Ozark Glades: Great for Grazing," picturing a big polled hereford chewing big bluestem on the front. Late last year, with the urging and administrative finesse of the Mark Twain National Forest's Forest Ecologist, glades in the Mark Twain were designated off-limits to cattle grazing. Of course, the impacts of 40+ years of intensive grazing can't be reversed, but it's a grand start towards restoration.

The 1939 aerial photo, when compared to a 2005 aerial photo, shows how much we've lost in the White River Hills. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the region will see largescale restoration efforts to ever compare to the 1930s landscape. Years of fire suppression coupled with intensive grazing pressure encouraged Eastern red cedars to proliferate on the glades here. We know what happens when you remove cedars and apply prescribed fire to these natural communities--warm season grasses and wildflowers long suppressed return to the landscape. Because this area is within a designated wilderness area, hand tools must be employed for largescale cedar removal projects, an undertaking few have made priority. (Moreover, extensive use by horseback riders has caused massive erosion and soil compaction at Hercules Glade, both problems that prescribed fire and cedar removal can't help.)

So you focus energy on the sites you can restore. The private landowner I talked to now knows what to do to restore his glades, as does the rest of the resource management community in the White River Hills. We have a long way to go to bring back the historic landscape to the region, but with ongoing cedar removal projects by land agencies down there, each 70, 20 and 100 acre parcel will contribute, on however a small scale, to the protection and viability of the region's significant resources.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Time travel


There's likely commonality between land managers (wherever they are in the world) that encourages them to ask the same sort of question I asked my colleague last week: If you could travel back in Missouri history, what year would you most like to visit? A political historian may say 1863, smack in the middle of the Civil War when Missouri was a truly divided state politically. Someone in Ste. Genevieve may say sometime in the mid-1700s when the area was first being settled by a thriving French population who established towns that resemble those in southeast Louisiana more than anywhere else in Missouri. Most people I know, including my colleague, choose anytime between 200 and 300 years ago, years before settlement and land surveys, before the timber harvest decimated the Ozark Highlands, during a time when fire still freely roared across the landscape. (No one ever says "pre-Ice Age," because no real trace of that landscape exists, thus obviating any comparison to modern day Missouri.)

Missouri's Natural Areas Program identifies the "best remaining examples" of a landscape type, the richest, most biodiverse examples that best represent Missouri's natural history. So, for example, the remarkable tract of dry chert woodland, glade and savanna that I burned last week is listed in the Natural Areas Registry as one of the best examples of a woodland of that type. The 972 acres represent -as closely as possible- what the area looked like before European settlement, timber harvest, open grazing, and fire suppression altered the landscape. Therefore, land managers have an obligation to continue implementing natural processes, namely fire, to prevent timber harvest, to keep livestock out of the woods and off the glades in order that the area will continue to uphold the representation for future generations.

Unfortunately, most of our state (even most of the modern day Natural Areas) was open to livestock grazing, millions of animals roaming freely across the landscape compromising even our highest quality sites. So I vote for traveling back 300 years ago to see what the area looked like, back when elk and bison were the primary grazers, before cows camped out on dolomite glades chewing plants to the ground. While the Natural Area we burned is rich now (following a 25 year old prescribed fire regime and thinning projects), it was surely more biodiverse 300 years ago; as recent as the 1970s, horses grazed the woodlands and glades here. Of course, in light of that and the historical grazing patterns, we'll never really know what we lost.

But here we are in 2009 with mounds of scientific research revealing that livestock grazing directly impacts biodiversity. We know that following the decimating timber harvest of the early 20th century, the Ozark Highlands suffered under cattle, goats, hogs. We know that grazing directly impacts fragile soil layers; as non-native grazers repeatedly devour plants to the nub, root structures are no longer able to hold soils together, to support new growth. As erosion occurs, soils (and their rocky components) rush down hill into our streams and rivers. Hundreds of articles have been written about livestock grazing and its impact on biodiversity. Yet, in 2009, some of our designated Natural Areas on public land, the "best remaining examples" of the presettlement landscape, continue to host grazing cattle. Areas set aside for their impressive biodiversity are actually providing protein for the livestock industry...despite the known impacts on native plant populations. If managers would be guided by the protection of biodiversity as a goal rather than commodity-driven pressures, cows would be removed from high quality sites and placed on fescue fields where they belong.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Feeding the Ozarks

I'll be the first to admit that Aunt Sybil's pumpkin bread recipe deserves blue ribbons. It's pretty simple, really, and includes 2 cups of quick cooking oats that serve to give the bread a certain texture that flour alone can't provide. My mother parted with the recipe this year so I could make several batches for colleagues, neighbors, family, friends. I added all kinds of debris to the batter: dried cranberries, pecans, dates, dried blueberries, cherries from the grocery store bulk bins. I cut the sugar to half, shocked that any one recipe would require so much. My pumpkin bread turned out great. My mother ate a whole loaf (save a sliver) on Christmas Eve night after I had gone to bed.

When I returned to Columbia after Christmas, Molly and I set out to deliver pumpkin bread wrapped in cellophane (tied with a sprig of Frazier fir!) to neighbors. The kids across the street were at their grandparents' before Christmas, and frankly, I didn't want the random assortment of adult houseguests to eat what was intended for the kids, so I waited until after Christmas. The lady who walks the old dog named Brownie got one, too. Across the street, I knocked on the door and handed the loaf directly to Sierra (the middle child) through the cigarette smoke-filled doorway. I put some loaves in mailboxes, one on a stoop.

The next day, Sierra came over asking in her lilting voice, "do you have anymore pumpkin bread?" No, I told her, but I was glad she liked it. Seconds later, the other two kids came over with Sierra's real motive: "My mom wants to know if you have any pumpkin bread!" the oldest girl hollered from the street.

The kids come over periodically to ask for eggs (in the middle of a recipe, every time). They beg for cheese, nuts, fruit, all of which I have given them on occasion (though not when they beg. That's annoying.). I learn my lesson the hard way when they come back, empty handed, asking for more because their mother took what I had given them. "You have to stay in my kitchen to eat this...." I now ask.

Later that evening, the oldest daughter knocked on the door again and asked for "two boxes of macaroni and cheese." No, sorry. "One?" No. The request quite naturally rubbed me the wrong way, prompting me to say out loud to no one as I was closing the door, "Guh. I'm not the Food Bank." But, you see, other neighbors on the street are regularly served by the Central Missouri Food Bank and they eat well: lots of fresh vegetables, fruit, Kashi brand products like oatmeal cookies and cereals. I felt bad about my comment, worse knowing that the kids were probably hungry that night. And I guess my gesture of pumpkin bread wasn't taken at face value, as spreading Christmas cheer, but of simply giving the family some food.

No, I'm not the Food Bank, because the CMFB has an enormous impact on 33 Missouri counties, on thousands of hungry citizens in the Ozarks and Central Dissected Till Plains each month. Every year, the Central Missouri Food Bank donates over 20 million pounds of food to 145 agencies for distribution: soup kitchens, food pantries, rehabilitation centers, shelters for the abused, homeless, and low income senior citizens. In the Ozark Highlands, their influence reaches the Niangua Basin and west towards Pomme de Terre Lake. An estimated 105,000 Missourians in the food bank's target area live below the poverty line. In 2006, agencies served by the CMFB reached 80,000 individuals.

From the CMFB website:
Twenty-five years ago a small group of committed citizens in Columbia, Missouri had a vision to feed the poor. Tom Sawyer, a Columbia College professor, and his Social Work students, area churches and the Human Development Corporation launched the Central Missouri Food Bank (CMFB) in September, 1981. In its first four months of operation, the fledgling organization distributed 18,000 pounds of food. The concept for the food bank was simple: capture good, edible food that grocery stores were discarding and distribute it to various charitable outlets to feed our hungry neighbors. CMFB affiliated with America’s Second Harvest, a national association of food banks, in 1986 and secured a stable food supply. In 1993, the great flood that devastated the Midwest propelled CMFB into a leadership role in disaster relief that continues today. In the same year, another small group of committed citizens, the CMFB board of directors, courageously eliminated the fee attached to food distributed to hunger relief agencies. Today, this food bank is one of only five in the country (out of more than 200) that gives all of its food away for free ensuring the supplies go to where the greatest need is.


In 1984, organizers established the Food Bank Pantry in Columbia, serving working poor and the elderly. In January 2008, the pantry served 7,400 citizens; by October, the number of individuals going to the pantry increased to 9,500. The needs of the food bank inspired a group of 26 doctors of the Columbia Orthopaedic Group to pool together resources over the course of five months this year to help pay off the mortgage to the non-profit's building. The doctors donated $160,000 to the food bank, thus allowing organizers to spend $4,000 more each month on food rather than mortgage payments. This will translate into an additional 80,000 pounds of food each month. According to the 2006 website, in a poll conducted of 1,000 individuals seeking assistance from the food pantry in the course of one month:
* 79% are Female
* 67% are white
* 78% are between the ages of 18 - 54
* 62% have a high school or greater education
* 43% have an average of 1 adult in the household
* 70% have 1 - 2 children living in the household
* 70% make less than $950 per month
* 67% get no paid vacation benefits
* 79% get no paid sick leave
* 59% pay more than $200 per month for housing
* 46% do not own a car
* 65% would grow their own produce if given the training and resources
* 70% pay bills instead of buying food
* 54% go hungry in order to feed their children
* 67% report that in general they do not have enough food.

In the lower Ozarks, the Ozark Food Harvest serves 29 counties in similar fashion to the CMFB. As a member of Second Harvest, they distribute over 5 million pounds of food to 340 agencies who help feed 41,000 people every month. Of course, neither of these food banks that are integral to the health of so many Missourians would exist without the vision and organizational skills of those who simply wanted to help feed the hungry. And I don't know if the mother of the kids across the street even know they exist.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Woods in Progress



Bluebird skies and warm, April temperatures invited me to strip off my cheap blue sweater to expose a thin, green short-sleeved t-shirt from Goodwill earlier this week. For the first time in 7 weeks, I finally found myself hiking in old running shoes through a patch of woods situated high on the Central Plateau. It was a quiet, windless Tuesday, perfect for a slow, slow meander through broad steep ridgetops down into moist, craggy draws covered in fading Christmas ferns and oak-hickory leaf litter.

If there's one small section of the Central Plateau that harbors great hope for savanna restoration, I saw it this week. Fires have ripped through this landscape four times in ten years, leaving behind noticeably black scars 3 ft. high on some of the larger trees. Thick stands of little bluestem populate the canopy openings, and desiccated stalks of last year's wildflowers and sedges indicate that these woods are (sort of, a little, kind of) rich.

Tuesday was a fun day of winter plant identification: a brown, branching stalk with a once-hairy basal leaf was all that remained of elm-leaved goldenrod. A cluster of fine sticks with no leaves or seeds left behind represented a pretty little hot pink flower, slender false foxglove, a member of the snapdragon family. Three kinds of woodland asters were there, even the hard, gray pointed leaves of stiff-leaved aster (I have a big cluster of these above my stove and learned recently that they were being unwittingly used as rosemary.). There's diversity in these woods -- woodland plants galore! -- but no real evidence of highly conservative species, of the plants that would qualify the area as a Missouri Natural Area, for example. Then again, these woods haven't been burned in several years, they're choked in oak sprouts, and I was there well outside the growing season, in late December, for Pete's sake.

As the setting sun cast long shadows on the hills of the Central Plateau, I found it difficult to return to the car. I ran into a cricket out there, the first in months, a little ladybug on a puffy seedhead of an anemone, an enormous baldfaced hornet nest attached to a sapling (Thanks, Ted!). The black oak leaves rustled from the young trees as the wind changed direction, ushering in cooler temperatures. It took a trip to the woods to start compiling my list of 10 resolutions for the new year (plant my front yard with hundreds more bright yellow daffodils; volunteer at the Ozark Food Bank; learn Spanish wines because right now I think they're downright sweet but I know there's more to them; make better roux; etc.).

I thought about the thousands of acres of woodlands in Missouri, both public and private, and how most of them just need fire, some thinning, a little management to restore some semblance of what the earliest settlers encountered. In the past 100 years, these woods of the Central Plateau had been hammered by open grazing, timber harvest, fire suppression, but they're showing signs of hope. The ground wasn't covered in buckbrush and Carex pennsylvanica (telltale signs of intense grazing history). Prairie grasses such as big bluestem and Indian grass poked through the leaf litter in certain spots. Land managers plan to burn several hundred acres of this unit this spring.

After his last visit, my colleague had given up on these woods, written them off as "...okay," assured that the sad history of land abuse has permanently damaged them beyond repair. Knowing that intense fire regimes can, in the right circumstances, turn a fescue field into a decent prairie...that fire and thinning can, in the right patch of woods, transform chert rubble into one of the richest woodlands in the state, I'm relying on patience with this restoration unit. Woodland restoration efforts take time, many years, sometimes. They require regular management (he's told me a million times...). I need to go back there after this spring's fire when the entire understory isn't a uniform brown but a diverse matrix of woodland plants, just to see if maybe, hopefully, the propagules of conservative plants needed a little more coaxing, a little more patience.

Pictures! Let's see: dolomite based creekbed with big slabs of rock; Christmas fern; one of the hawkweeds buried under warm oak leaf litter; seedhead to dogbane; seedhead to a Monarda; sweet everlasting!; an Eragrostis against the bright blue sky; baldfaced hornet nest (huge!); post oak acorns, almost always in threes.