Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cloudy Wednesday in the St. Francois Mountains

I couldn't capture it, the breadth and scope of it. I seriously regretted not owning a macrolens or a panoramic camera yesterday as we crested the ridgetop on a not-so-recently cleared section of the Ozark Trail. The evening of May 8, 2009, full force gale winds from a storm that began in Kansas and Oklahoma ripped through the Ozark Highlands of Missouri in an historic weather event labeled by the Springfield NOAA as a "Super Derecho", a hook echo storm effect that has not occurred in Missouri in recorded history. It resulted in a massive swath of downed trees, decimated woodlands, roads blocked for weeks on end. The Ozark Trail Association was first on the scene, out there on the trail with chainsaws to clear the trail for everyone who wanted to see the impacts of such a remarkable storm event. Historic in nature, the derecho earned a paragraph and photos in the 2010 edition of The Terrestrial Natural Communities of Missouri by Paul Nelson (now with all color photos, available for 30$ at state parks or for 100$+ at the University of Missouri bookstore). The effects of the derecho will be seen in the Ozarks for many years to come.

After the roads were cleared and power was restored, land owners began harvesting, salvaging all that "downed timber." The shortleaf pine was salvaged first, a short shelf life after it's on the ground, and the oak was left for later. Now that the oak salvage is nearing its final days (before it becomes beetle food), parts of the St. Francois Mountains look like a lunar landscape--skidders and other logging equipment ripping up the understory to get to the logs. The soils in much of the derecho-damaged area is so disturbed that no regeneration is occurring and bush honeysuckle will likely become problematic.

So we went to one of the only largescale landscapes that wasn't logged, hiking up the hill to the sound of whispering pines and warm season grasses all taking advantage of the recent canopy openings. Looking out across the valley, I saw this:

Ridge after successive ridge of derecho damage, trees that didn't bend to the wind toppled by the sheer force of a very short lived storm that roared through the Ozarks that spring night. As far as the eye could see, randomly scattered pines and oaks standing, but oaks and hickories and pines, hazelnuts and dogwoods and the rest of the woodland associates all leveled, flattened, facing in one direction, the path of the derecho. I don't think I can express through words how moving it was to see the sheer force of nature, the brute force of nature, and the life anew in two year old pine saplings everywhere on the landscape. It's poetic. Ridge after ridge of untouched, raw, leaf off, force of nature. I was speechless, and still can't find the right words even sitting here in my bungalow in Columbia. Go see it. True wilderness in the St. Francois Mountains.

We continued to poke around the woods and the successive igneous knobs that go on and on throughout the landscape here in this ancient volcanic landform. Witch hazel is still in bloom, scattered in a wetland at Mina Sauk in a beautiful display with flowering alder. The national champion witch hazel is located at the base of Mina Sauk Falls, a 25 ft. tall tree down by the creekbed. You can't miss it.

The stillness of the winter landscape, the random pipping of a dark-eyed junco or peek! of a downy broke the silence that day. Go. Go to the St. Francois Mountains before leaf on in late April. Go before the hordes of people show up to break the silence.


M.Whittemore said...

Hello, just began following. Great shots and commentary. This post makes me want to visit MO one day!

Allison Vaughn said...

Thanks so much for reading. Let me know if you ever get a hankering to visit the Ozarks, and I can give you a list of the sweet spots you wouldn't want to miss!

Scott Laurent said...

Beautiful post. Its amazing what nature can do. Keep posting.

Allison Vaughn said...

Thanks, Scott. I wish I was a better writer to really explain the unspeakable beauty of that part of the Ozarks right now, but I'm not. Hope you get a chance to get out there.

Anonymous said...

I may have mentioned this to you at sometime in the past . . . if so, attribute this comment to the less sagacious musing of an old fart, please.

While I was touched by the content of how, not what you wrote relevent to the advent of spring, the poetry secreted within its lines which you had disguised as prose, yet insightfully acknowledged as having its own innate poetry was enjoyed.

That subtle poetic mode that came percolating through your own expression reminded me of an experience Norman Maclean once wrote about. As I recall, every now and again, in an informal forum, the Lit faculty at U. of Chicago would share some of their writing with their colleagues for spontaneous and reciprocal critique. One of them (I can't recall her name) complimented him on a brief piece based on his experiences while working in the logging industry during WW I, I believe. She spoke of the exactness of his syntax, the convincing precision of details of daily life in the lumberjack camp as he had depicted it, and the flashes of insight many of his youthful experiences had sparked.

But then, she challenged him to free up the poetic voice he had (in her view) kept hidden behind his academic mein. He took her advice which resulted in his pulling together from scattered notes (and much unwritten cognitive debris) what I believe will become an American classic: A River Runs Through It.

I trust that you are continuing to archive your musings for that future time when you publish them, maintaining the professional terminology which must be present to effect authenticity, while allowing the Muse to shape those terms into the prose-poetry I see flowing from your mind from time to time.

Heather's Dad

Allison Vaughn said...

I remain forever grateful that I still find great solace in our few remnant tracts of native intact ecosystems, and that the peacefulness that I hadn't felt since before the storm in pine woodlands in and around your lovely craftsman in Pineville can continue to inspire me. I'm glad you can see through my crankiness, and that you remain a reader. Please let Charlotte know that the lovely sailor dress I've always loved is now in the hands of the local French Laundry and being tailored to fit my 38 year old figure that can still wear clothes I bought in the 8th grade. I love your family, I love your soul, I love the land your from, and I can't thank you enough for sticking with me despite my travails in the depths of very serious depression that only woods can bring me out of....much love to the sterlings.