Saturday, December 29, 2012

Five Days, Four Chainsaws

On a cloudy and cold Friday morning, I hiked up the steep powerline cut to the site of a 12 acre glade restoration project. I was told they had only just begun work on this big, broad flat in the Niangua Basin; these balds are pretty common in Niangua country--float from Bennett to Prosperine on the Niangua River and around mile 6 you'll see one similar to this one just around a bend. I've walked all over the one on the road to Ho-Humm, (it's totally trashed out), and every time I see it around mile 6 on a float, I want to cut the cedars off of it and send a headfire up to the road.

Anyway, it had only been a matter of days since they had hired the staff to do the work on this higher quality glade, but you certainly wouldn't know it looking at the progress they've made on clearing cedars. Stepping onto the glade next to the newly made lock box created to store tools at the site, the large stumps were visible for almost an acre. All this accomplished while also working on touching up firelines which had been installed in late October.

Some cedar choked glades in Missouri are packed with an even-aged doghair stand of closely packed cedars, but not so here. Widely spaced, open grown, large diameter trees are scattered all over the glade. I counted 90 growth rings on one stump that was surrounded by a thick mat of Carex eburnea , the cedar-loving sedge with wiry, smooth leaves. Even though the trees are scattered all over the glade, the stumps showed evidence of a wall of trees, once removed revealed old post oaks of gnarled character. 

The four men hired to do this fine work moved like streetsweepers down Bourbon Street on Mardi Gras night--methodically removing the undesirable, no cedar standing in the way. Unlike other sad "restoration" projects, these folks don't cut down the post oaks and chinquapins, and manage any oak sprouts or other woody vegetation with natural processes, not with a chainsaw and Tordon. Aside from the four well-maintained chainsaws, another two men are on site to pile these massive trees into heaps which will be burned when there's snow on the ground (or when conditions are favorable to burn the surrounding 110 acres that include the glade). Burning cedars when they're still green (but desiccated) prevents the super hot fires that come from burning at red needle stage and results in less damage to the fragile glade soils beneath the heaps. The potential of airborne embers is also lower when piles are burned when green rather than at red needle stage, so the chances of wildfire are reduced. 

 I've visited about five other glade restoration projects spearheaded by this remarkable team, and they've all been successful--no cedar skeletons left on the glade, no big burn out spots with nothing but fireweed and mullein, just quality glade vegetation that we sample after every burn to track restoration. Glade restoration projects are possibly one of the best "instant gratification" exercises, but only if they're accomplished properly--cut cedars, burn the cedars, burn the glade to keep woody sprouts like Carolina buckthorn and redbud from taking over. It's really easy, and I think this crew needs to write the manual.

Monday, December 24, 2012

My dear mother

My mom is probably very mad that she died ten days before Christmas. At her home in Louisiana, I'm combing through photos of her last trip to Missouri where she spent her 70th birthday in March. I'm thinking of how she wanted me to delete any photos where she was wearing a knit cap (like in fieldtrips to the woods). It was cold on March 3 this year, but she insisted on wearing her birthday crown to every Hermann establishment that day instead of her knit cap, remarking "I bet people are saying 'look at that old lady who thinks she's so cute...'" They probably were because she was cute, and the most beloved woman in my life. She left in her will that she wanted some of her ashes scattered in a certain tract of Ozark woods I visit every week and some in the Grand Tetons where she scattered my stepfather's ashes this past summer.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Santas on the Move

Driving south on that horrible stretch of Hwy 63 into the central Ozarks, the little German towns are lit up with Christmas cheer. Freeburg's Sinclair dinosaur is sitting on top of the white clapboard building, just as he is every day of the year, but his artificial orange fall leaves are taken down from his neck and replaced with Christmas decorations. Homes along the route pull out all the stops to make the drive a little less painful and white knuckle-inducing (especially at dusk with the onslaught of bright headlamps from oncoming traffic).

In the past few years driving this route I've seen a number of homes accentuate their decorations--more and more lighted candy canes, light up plastic figurines, lights in trees, bushes and all over the house, animated deer and Snoopy blow up figures that remain inflated all day. The drive has become very cheery in the past month, especially with the wonderful house in Vienna pulling out their annual Santa display--hundreds of Santa light up figurines, some in rows, one even elevated in a branch of a small Bradford pear.
In years past, the Santas have been organized in rows, about 10 rows stretching to back of the large property. This year, they're randomly organized. At least, they were a few weeks ago. But this year, the Santas seem to be moving around.

On a recent drive I saw the proprietor outside with a jumbled lot of extension cords and another large grouping of Santas in the other side of the house. Driving past on my way back north, the Santas had been reorganized. Or more added. This mutable display is quite spectacular at night when all the figures are lit up against the 6 pm dark skies.

Nearing the town of Vichy, notice a second house that continues to escalate their Christmas decorations to almost the same level as the folks in Vienna. All of these reminders of joy and peace and happiness make all the difference.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Meteor showers

Two meteor showers will be visible this week in the Ozarks. The first, the Wirtanen showers, were going on last night before midnight. The Geminids may peak tonight between midnight and 2am. It looks like clear skies throughout the Ozarks, so read here for more information.

Friday, December 07, 2012

O, Cedar Tree

Following over 100 years of open range grazing, of active fire suppression, of soil disturbance for the proliferation of settlement, the Ozarks are today chocked full of Eastern red cedars. Cedars line roadsides, they populate old fields, glades, woodlands with a history of grazing, they also remain in their rightful place on blufftops and cliffs. So, with all these millions of cedar trees in the Ozarks, one may think it's easy to locate an appropriate Christmas tree.

This is my fifth year to cut down a cedar for my Christmas tree, having abandoned visiting tree farms that spray paint their pine trees in green paint, resulting in a turquoise smoke when the tree is set on fire in January. Of course, by January, my cut cedars are incredibly flammable, which may be why cedars don't make popular Christmas trees? Or it may be that to locate a good Christmas cedar tree is actually pretty difficult.

Drive anywhere in the Ozarks and you're bound to see cedars lining the roadcuts. Around Meramec River country, the cedars are tall and narrow, while around Ava glades area the cedars are fat and bushy. Regardless of their habit, a casual drive past thousands of cedars would make one think Christmas trees are ripe for sawing. But once you stop the car to inspect old field cedars, glade cedars, or even roadside cedars, you'll find that all those perfect Christmas trees aren't so perfect.

Every year it's the same search: I need a cedar that will fit into my 1995 Honda Civic, into my 1931 Craftsman bungalow, a cedar without too many bagworm casings, and then there are obvious traits that must be present that anyone visiting a tree lot will take for granted, such as a tree with only one trunk. Trunks of many cedars are often multibranching. I've had to pass over beautiful cedars because that one tree is actually three main trunks in close proximity, and I don't have a tree stand large enough for three mature trunks. Remove one trunk and you lose half the tree. If the cedars are growing close knit in big clumps, they invariably have whole sides that are basically missing needles and branches. To a degree, one can place the bare side in the corner, but that only works if the bare side isn't completely bare like so many roadside cedars can be. Ideally, find an open grown cedar in an old pasture that hasn't been mowed so many times that it has developed multiple trunks. This year's tree, taken from a friend's old field, has a curving trunk which makes the tree not quite stand up erect on its own, so the trunk is submersed in the stand with the trunk almost on its side. It's a good tree, and will make ideal kindling in a month or so...