Saturday, November 27, 2010


There are enough cedars in Ozark woodlands and glades for every mantle, front door, and stairwell in the uplands to be decked to the nines in greenery this Christmas, even leaving enough cedars for wintering birds to cluster beneath the boughs during cold, snowy, windy days.

Every year, my Native Plant Society chapter gathers in late November after a few months of gathering interesting seeds and berries to make Christmas wreaths with native and non-native plant material. One member is in charge of whacking down cedar branches on her property (find the branches laden with blue berries and you'll be hailed a hero among the group), and the others canvass their farms, fencerows, and private property to build a diverse assortment of paper bags filled with seedheads from many different species. They collectively gather enough material to fill more paper bags than can fit into a small sized truckbed, actually.

Prairie rose rosehips are always nice to have, bright red berries significantly larger than similar fruit from the exotic multiflora rose (which works well in smaller arrangements). Sweet everlasting is common on roadsides in the Ozarks, and the dried flowers bring light to the dark green cedar branches. Lespedeza capitataseeds look great with their mellow brown spikes arranged in clusters. Someone in the group owns a pond populated with American lotus, thus offers lotus pods which we all gravitate towards.

Bright red sumac berries! Sumac grows everywhere in the Ozarks, in old fields, roadsides, in open woodlands. The berries retain that brilliant red all winter, and chickadees will gravitate towards your garland or wreath if you include them.

Don't overlook the grasses. Big bluestem seedheads alternately look gold or khaki, and inland sea oats, little bluestem, and the foxtails are quite charismatic.

(I'll advise against using asters and goldenrods until all the seeds have flown off the stalk; otherwise, the airy and feathery seeds will rain down and scatter on your wreath every time the wind blows or you open the door.)

Of course, after the cedar branches have turned a pale, sage green, and Christmas is a mere memory, it is always fun to dismantle the arrangement and set it on fire, saving the wreath form for the next year.

Before gathering any material from public lands, please contact the land manager for permission or a necessary permit....

Thursday, November 25, 2010

St. James v. Beaujolais

Following a hopelessly sad visit with one parent in the Alzheimer's section of the Louisiana Veteran's Home, we descended on the 85+ degree home of another parent for a ridiculously large Thanksgiving dinner that included Beauregard sweet potatoes prepared four different ways. Before the acorn squash went into the oven, we set the stage for the official tasting of St. James' 2010 Nouveau and George DuBoeuf's 2010 Beaujolais Nouveau.

The judges: Rupert Reginald Vaughn, a.k.a. Daddy, whose primary care physician has instructed him to "drink more red wine." On the doctor's advice, he has distanced himself from his longtime love affair with cheap fishing beer and small batch Kentucky bourbon.
Ronald Teasdale, sister Ashley's friend, an expert in affordable Petit Syrah and all other big, bold, jammy reds from California. I don't know much about him but he's really nice, I like his dog, and he's remarkable for putting up with my sister.
Myself, an enormous casual fan of Nortons, Washington cabernet, anything from the 07 vintage from Cotes du Rhone, but always fawning over Willamette Valley pinot noir.

The referee: Douglas Miller, a lover of treats like peppermint ice cream and chocolate chips, but can appreciate Washington cabs, 07 Cotes du Rhones, and other subtle reds solely because they're "good for" his health. Those enormous Willamette Valley pinots are "too much, too big, too kablammo!" for his palate. Ironically, his palate can detect the faintest hint of mineral, the metallic overtones in sharp whites, and he regularly whips out tasting notes like "the 08 Vignoles from Mt. Pleasant tastes like canned chicken."

Four Reidel pinot noir glasses schlepped from Missouri to Louisiana. Two half full of the 10 Beaujolais, two half full of the 10 St. James Nouveau.

Result: All three judges preferred the St. James Nouveau. The referee commented that the Beaujolais may have maderized in the late fall heat, adding that the same bottle in Missouri on Sunday at Ann's tasted remarkably different, better, more like the 09, 08, 07...etc. Beaujolais Nouveau.

Daddy: The French wine was more acidic, too tart. The buttery aftertaste in the French was nice, but the fruitiness of the Missouri is more pleasing, delicate and more interesting.
Ronald: "Oh boy, that's nice" he said to the Missouri. Elegant, bouncy. The French was flat.
Me: The St. James Nouveau did not taste like a Missouri wine (it must have been the absence of the oak barrel?). I liked the complex fruit character, heavy on the creamy Chambourcin reminiscent of a good pinot noir. The Beaujolais was simple, light, with no finish to speak of.

But the referee? He says the Missouri tasted like "a jumble of mixed grapes" with little definition (which is what it is, a blend). It's not convincing. The French was "consistent, whereas the Missouri was a Frankenstein of flavors with notes of dog." Caveat: there were five dogs in the house where the wine was sampled, including one particularly stinky bassett named Gulliver.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

St. James' Nouveau est arrive!

Last week, on the third Thursday in November, Beaujolais Nouveau made landfall in America. Parties celebrating the wine’s arrival take place throughout the country, usually in the airport hangar where the wine will be unloaded. In graduate school, I learned that these parties pose a great dilemma to middle aged women of a certain set. As overheard in Sendik's in Whitefish Bay, one woman in fur and sleek leather boots to another woman in fur “…well, the party will be held at a hangar, so it will be cold [as winters tend to be in Wisconsin], and it’s a hangar—a big warehouse, really—so do you dress up for it? I mean, it’s a wine party, so do I wear sequins? All black? I just don’t know…is it okay to wear a skirt? But it’s a hangar….” I went dressed in fleece and khakis.

In Missouri, hangar parties welcoming the arrival of Beaujolais tend to be restricted to the big cities with wine drinkers, but Missouri is, actually, one of the few states in America that offer a young, bright, unaged (and fragile) wine much reminiscent of Beaujolais Nouveau! Fancy that, Missouri has her own Nouveau! St. James Winery has bottled its Nouveau for several years in a row, usually restricted to only 100 cases a year. Like the wineries that bottle Beaujolais Nouveau, when St. James’ 2010 Nouveau sells out, they won’t make another until November 2011.

Made with Corps Noir, Rougon and Chambourcin grapes, St. James’ Nouveau blend tastes so similar to the French Beaujolais that I grabbed several bottles for the Thanksgiving table. I packed my Reidel pinot glasses, a St. James Nouveau and a DuBoeuf Beaujolais for a blind taste test among family members at the table. St. James' Chambourcin blend without oak aging should be interesting, and while Beaujolais is a staple on the Thanksgiving table, usually after one glass of sweeter, fruity wine, I switch to a heavy cab that tastes like a white oak. St. James' Nouveau is only available at the winery and for a limited time only.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

When the kids at Camp Zoe go overboard

This is what happens when kids don't know what the Grateful Dead was really about. Even Alyssa complained in 1993 that the Dead followers she encountered at shows were "so uncool." She even had her Volkswagon van broken into by kids looking for drugs. Way uncool.

From the Current River Hills:
Undercover bust burns Camp Zoe fans
By T.J. Greaney Columbia Daily Tribune
Thursday, November 18, 2010

Apparently, not all of the dudes and dudettes swaying to the rhythm at Schwagstock were there to mellow out.

This week we learned that after a four-year undercover investigation, the federal government is on the verge of seizing Camp Zoe, the Missouri farmland that is home to regular Grateful Dead tribute music festivals.

According to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Missouri, officers from the Drug Enforcement Administration and other agencies have been deep undercover amid the rolling hills and gyrating bodies of Shannon County.

The complaint says that agents witnessed “open sales” of cocaine, marijuana, LSD, ecstasy, psilocybin mushrooms, opium and marijuana-laced food products during the concerts. The sales allegedly occurred while Camp Zoe staff — including owner Jimmy Tebeau — were in the immediate area.

One can only assume these agents were dressed in tie-dyed T-shirts and kicked hacky-sacks back and forth to blend in with the crowd. Buzz cuts tend to stick out at Camp Zoe.

The result of the investigation is that Tebeau, the dreadlocked bass player who co-founded the band The Schwag, is facing the seizure of nearly all of his assets. That includes the property valued by the government at $600,000 and a bank account of more than $100,000.

It’s a stunning turn of events for a man with a cuddly, mainstream image. In 2005, Tebeau was even honored by a resolution in the Missouri House of Representatives saying:

“We, the members of the Missouri House of Representatives, Ninety-third General Assembly, join unanimously to applaud the entrepreneurial spirit and creative skills embodied in the life and work of Jimmy Tebeau.”

But somewhere along the line, the official good will for Tebeau and his merry band of free spirits seems to have worn off.

The federal complaint seeks to seize the property under Title 21 of the U.S. Code. The burden of proof will be much lower in this civil case than it would be in a criminal proceeding. And unlike protections offered by Missouri law, Tebeau does not have to be convicted or even charged with a crime to lose his 352 acres. Under Missouri forfeiture law reformed in 2001, a defendant must be convicted of a felony before the government can seize his or her property.

Federal law carries no such requirement.

Under Title 21, Section 856, a property owner can be charged with “maintaining drug-involved premises” if he or she knowingly opens, rents, leases or makes available a property “for the purpose of unlawfully manufacturing, storing, distributing, or using a controlled substance.”

Columbia attorney Dan Viets, who is representing Tebeau in the case, wondered whether this broad interpretation of federal forfeiture law means Columbia city parks might be subject to seizure. After all, Douglass Park and Stephens Lake Park have been the site of repeated arrests over the years. City Parks and Recreation Department officials must have known there was at least a decent possibility they could be the site of crimes when they were built.

Or, Viets said, what about any other large concert venue?

“When the Rolling Stones played Memorial Stadium, it was full of smoke, and there was no effort to stop it,” Viets said. “Does that mean the feds are going to come and seize Memorial Stadium?”

Supporters of Camp Zoe are raising funds to help pay for Tebeau’s legal defense.

Local music fan Courtney Allyson Joseph spoke for many in an e-mail to the Tribune decrying the police raid: “The owners cannot possibly supervise everyone that attends a festival out there,” she wrote. “Bottom line, take care of the bad people, and leave the peaceful ones alone.”

But not everyone was surprised by the demise of the camp. Arrests at Zoe were fairly common, and the medical staff there is periodically called into service to deal with overdoses. According to multiple accounts, drug dealers would walk among the crowd brazenly hawking their wares during large festivals.

I spoke to a musician who played Zoe for years and said he had become frustrated with the rampant drug use. He didn’t fault Tebeau personally but said his band stopped playing there several years ago when they became convinced the drugs had become too much of a distraction from the music. “We really lost interest, lost faith in the whole thing,” said the musician, who asked not to be named. “Kids were out of their minds on ecstasy or Molly” — a form of ecstasy usually snorted — “it became something we just didn’t care for.”

The musician said the campgrounds had become a playground for a certain type of privileged, suburban “trust fund” kid who abuses drugs with parents’ money. These kids were nicknamed “Trust-afarians,” and, he said, their drug use was shocking.

“We call it getting spongy — just over-drugged,” he said. “It’s really frustrating to play your set in front of a large crowd and they’re so out of it you could literally burp in front of a microphone and they would just keep standing there in front of the stage.”

Urban dwellers

Doug has a relationship with the birds that visit my feeders and brush pile every day. He quietly sits in his office typing away and, upon hearing an alarm call, he pulls back the sheer curtain and more often than not spies one of three free-ranging neighborhood cats: black cat, brindle cat, and this fluffy orange and white cat who really cannot understand that he is most unwelcome in my yard. My urban neighborhood is not populated with cat owners who keep their animals inside like they should, or even drape their cats in collars with bells so that birds, snakes, frogs, and small mammals will be alarmed by their stalking.

Anyway, the birds make an alarm call--usually a chickadee or a cardinal will do the work--and Doug quickly bails out of the office to run madly at the cats to shun them out of the yard. The system works, and since he keeps a close eye and ear on the birds, we have yet to see a damned housecat take even a single ground-foraging and unsuspecting dark-eyed junco. Birds are not adapted to dealing with housecats. Neither are frogs, snakes, chipmunks, deer-footed mice, and the rest of the natural world that fall prey to housecats by the millions every year.

But earlier this week, the birds didn't make a peep, they simply disappeared--a mob scene on the sunflower seeds one minute, and the next, 50 bird heads sticking out like whack-a-moles from the brushpile. Expecting the brindle cat or that stupid orange and white cat, Doug pulled back the sheer to find a Cooper's hawk perched on my ever-burgeoning brushpile, now about 5 ft. tall with Silphium perfoliatumstalks, cedar slash and the remains of a sickly silver maple that drops limbs when the wind merely whispers through the neighborhood. Unsure of his footing, and clearly unsure of what he was supposed to do in this situation of hiding birds ("they were just there!"), the hawk rumbled and stumbled around the brushpile long enough for a few photos, then left the scene. As soon as he left, a groundswelling of white-throated sparrows, wrens, cardinals, doves, juncos (and the rest of the motley crew that hangs out in the yard) came pouring out of the brushpile.

Known as a woodland hawk, Cooper’s hawks deftly fly through trees in search of birds. Leafy suburbs and quiet neighborhoods in cities seem to be fine enough places to reside for these hawks, and certainly bird feeders help them find easy prey. Mourning doves, rock pigeons, robins, jays and flickers--bigger birds--are preferred food sources for Cooper’s hawks, but one study in Arizona determined that their nestlings can suffer from a disease acquired from eating dove meat. These birds have also been known to prey on small mammals like chipmunks, squirrels and bats; western populations depend on small mammals for the bulk of their diet.

Unlike falcons which tear into prey with their beaks, Cooper’s hawks kill their prey by repeated squeezing. It’s also been reported that they sometimes choose to drown their prey by holding them underwater until they stop moving. (Vicious, man.)

Cooper’s hawks are year-round residents in Missouri and are common in towns, especially around bird feeders with hearty populations of unsuspecting doves and jays. The hawk hasn't been seen since that day, but hopefully he's waiting patiently in my chinquapin oak (an 1845 witness tree with fire scars!) waiting on the Western diet of field mice to avail themselves from the abandoned lot next door. He needs to keep his claws off my flickers.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Dressed in khaki

Bald eagles (8) and wild turkeys (25+) outnumbered belted kingfishers (4) on a canoe trip down the Niangua River this week. We had the river to ourselves and wildlife on a 74 degree day, with only a few strands of Mardi Gras beads and a fabric Hawaiian lei wrapped in a buttonbush shrub all that remained of what are surely loud and boisterous summer weekends on this Ozark river.

Bur oaks are common inhabitants along the Niangua, these thick, gnarled fire-adapted trees that produce the largest acorns in North America. We saw only one recently burned hillside on the way to the outfitter in this landscape that historically burned more frequently than any other in Missouri. Someone (not me) extinguished the fire before it reached the river which undoubtedly serves as one of the best firelines in the state. In long stretches of the riverbank, warm season grasses grow all the way through the riparian zone down to the water. Bank stabilization at its finest.

What we see today- barring the stray silver maples still in yellow -we'll see until March. Late fall came too soon this year and the outfitter won't open again until April (early March, if I ask nicely).