Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas Fern

All along the creek bank, the snow crunched with every step. Winter walks in the woods provide such a great chance to see wintering birds, to find antler sheds, and to note the topography and texture of the Ozark Highlands. The khaki landscape still holds on to a few splashes of green in our multitude of mosses and lichens, and an abundance of overwintering ferns. While there are a few ferns in Missouri that remain green in winter, one of the most commonly encountered is Christmas fern (Polystichum achrosticoides), and it takes my prize for the most charismatic.

Christmas fern stands out like a giant among the leaf litter in wooded settings. Big, strapping evergreen fronds lie close to the ground during winter; the base of the plant is typically ringed with desiccating fronds, but during the growing season, new growth is erect, averaging 2 ft. tall. Because the leaves are so leathery and thick, the older, brown fronds persist all winter next to the green fronds. According to Julian Steyermark's Flora of Missouri, "pioneers used the leaves [of Christmas ferns] for making Christmas wreaths." There may not have been enough cedars to go around for Christmas greenery in the early 1800s, so settlers resorted to fern fronds for Christmas greenery. Today, we can hack down all the cedars we want for Christmas trees (and wreaths, and garland, and for kindling for backyard fires) without even making a dent in the cedar population in the Ozarks.

Check out moist woodland rocky slopes, sandstone outcroppings and other acidic soils in the Eastern Ozarks to search for marginal shield fern (Dryopteris marginalis). In Missouri, this is the most common species of the genus Dryopteris, and can be found throughout the Ozarks and Ozark Border Divisions in wooded settings, another fern that remains green through early winter. I've seen it on igneous and sandstone, and not once on dolomite.(Special thanks to RC for the lovely fern in snow photo)

It won't be long before the days creep longer and the first leaves of Hepatica poke through the matted down leaves and Harbinger of Spring pops up. Winter is so quiet in the woods these days with the early morning stillness broken by flocks of bluebirds sunning on the cedars.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Santa's Army is out!

The wonderful house of Christmas cheer in Vienna has pulled out the stops once again this year, filling their large lawn with brightly lit Santas, snowmen, and the Holy Family. I managed to find the best cedar Christmas tree this year with one solid trunk and no bagworms. Unfortunately, it was 12 ft. tall, so I had to knock off 2 ft. from the base so it wouldn't bend at my 10 ft. ceilings. In honor of my mother who died a year ago today, I will embark on making Christmas candy, her mother's famous date loaf, her fudge, her divinity (only when the humidity is really low). I have bags of pecans from her house and her candy recipe books. Gently into the deep, dark winter nights to wish cheer and happiness to all.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

On Gunter Sandstone

Amidst the extensive tracts of dry chert woodlands and dolomite glades in the northern reaches of the Niangua River Basin rest small inclusions where the sandstone layer expresses itself. Typical for many sandstone glades in Missouri, the Gunther glade here is in the bottoms, associated with a stream characterized by slabs of sandstone and sparse vegetation. But even in winter at least one sandstone element was visible, the lovely lumpy fern, Cheilanthes lanosa, tucked into a boulder.

Also in this area are classic examples of restorable Gunther sandstone woodlands with massive old growth chinquapin oaks surrounded by cedars and a doghair stand of red oaks, relicts of fire suppression and grazing. But the large sandstone boulders make the area truly scenic. During the summer, large populations of fame flower dot the glades in little pockets where soil still exists on the slabs, and Spiranthes tuberosa can be found in the moist areas of the woodlands. It has been suggested that in the same region exists one of the longest caves in Gunther sandstone in the state, home to thousands of grotto salamanders.

In 1983, ecologists Paul Nelson and Doug Ladd published their first iteration of a glade map of Missouri using various imagery and sensing techniques. They originally found only a handful of sandstone glades in Missouri, but with our 2010-2013 glade mapping project coming to a close, the number of sandstone glades in Missouri has increased by over 1,000% from the 1983 publication with the bulk of them around Hermann and the Pennsylvanian channel sandstone region in the western part of the Ozarks. On this Gunther glade, the remains of this plant stumped us all:

Sandstone communities in Missouri are interesting places with a suite of plants restricted to them, including the federally listed Geocarpon minimum. The spring wildflowers associated with sandstone glades are lovely, curious little things that take advantage of the spring rains and then desiccate as the hot, dry summer moves in.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Snow!

The first big snow event of the season occurred yesterday, making driving conditions poor at best. Check the Missouri Department of Transportation Travelers Map here before you set out to see if your route has been cleared....

Thursday, November 28, 2013

November

Sunday, November 24, 2013

For Sale: Meramec Vineyards

A sad (for me) post came through my mail this morning, an e-newsletter from Phyllis of Meramec Vineyards, the home of weekday hours, nice lunches and supple Nortons. The winery is for sale pending her retirement from the business. Phyllis has made quite a legacy in the area that now houses four other wineries including the virtually ancient winery in the St. James region, Heinrichhaus Winery (another great Norton winery). See Phyllis' note below:
When It's Time To Find A Successor by Phyllis Meagher, Owner of Meramec Vineyards Sign on winery on I-44 If you have driven by the winery or visited us in the last couple months you know that there is a big FOR SALE sign in front of the winery. Yes, it's true - Meramec Vineyards is for sale. Some 33 years after purchasing the original vineyard and almost 15 years after starting the winery, I have decided to look for a successor and retire. It wasn't an easy decision. There Comes a Time Birthdays come and go. Another year. And another. They add up. Owning and running a winery is a blast. It's rewarding. It is a lot of work as well. Each year I say "one more year". But all those birthdays can't be ignored. There comes a time when you know that there isn't an unlimited number of "next years". It begins to get harder to keep up physically. I know that Meramec Vineyards would do well with a younger and newer set of hands to guide her. It may take a while to find the right new person but I know it is time for me to look at retirement. Recognizing that a smooth transition could require me to work and consult with the new owner, I decided to put the winery up for sale now so we have time to find the right new owner and I still have some time and energy left to help with any transition. Still Open and Flourishing The winery is not closing - not by a long shot. We have just finished harvest and have over 10,000 gallons of new wine in the tanks. Our winery is open seven days a week. Our Bistro d'Vine is open seven days a week. Our "Atrium" is ready for private parties. We will continue to operate as usual with the special events as well as the wine, the food, the ambiance you have come to enjoy. Even during harvest this fall, we found ourselves saying things like "next year" we should do ... [fill in the blank.] We are still of a mind to keep making improvements - noting things we can do better or differently. What is "For Sale" The entire business is "for sale". Meramec Vineyards is a fully integrated winery. We grow our grapes. We process them into wine in our building here on Interstate 44. We have a retail room with wine related items and complimentary wine tasting at our tasting bar every day. We have a Bistro where you can enjoy wine and food amid the ambiance of a winery. There's a garden patio seating area. All that we are as a business is included: the fixed assets such as the Interstate 44 property where the winery building is located and the 30 acres of farm with vineyard equipment, farm building and 15 acres of producing vineyards with six varieties of grapes three miles from the winery. Our wine inventory. Our name. Our reputation. Our systems for conducting business have been honed over the years. Our excellent and knowledgeable staff is in place. Our wine bottle window. Our cork mulch. All the finishing touches. Tell Me More Have you started dreaming yet? Check out all the particulars by contacting our Broker: Dilek Acar of Acar Realty in Rolla Missouri. Check out more pictures and information including the selling price by clicking on their website: Acar Realty link Email: dilek@rollanet.org Call her: Direct Line: (573) 368-7355; Toll Free:(888) 355-7355 or Mobile:(573) 465-4321.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Fire Season!

Pictures of burned landscapes came in from Licking, from Columbia, and from the southern Ozarks yesterday after scattered wildfires had broken out the day following the 60 mph wind gusts. Dry fuels, low humidity, and high winds compelled NOAA to issue hazardous fire weather notifications for some counties yesterday. Today begins a wet period of rain, snow, and the subsequent matting down of all those fluffy oak leaves that can carry fire so well in early fall. To keep up with the Western Ozarks' prescribed fire events, click here for the Springfield NOAA Spot Weather Forecast.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

First Frost

The north winds ripped the remaining maple leaves off the trees this weekend. The dry winds and low humidities associated with the cold front, coupled with the flammable one hour fuels sent up a few concerns from our fine friends at Springfield NOAA. Moisture still exists in the woods, and leaf litter is nice and fluffy and fresh. With the first frost event comes the delicate "petals" of frost flowers. These fragile sculptures occur in shady areas, or in the morning hours before the sun has a chance to reach the floor.

Frost flowers are formed when the sap in certain plants freezes, thereby expanding in the stem and causing the formation of small fissures. Water is drawn up through the stem, but as it exits the cracks, it freezes upon contact with the air. As capillary action pulls more water through the stem, the ice is forced out of the cracks, curling into delicate formations.

In the Ozarks, frost flowers occur in a handful of species. Among them are ironweed and snakeroot, both very common fall blooming wildflowers. Every frost flower is different, some more ornate than others. They're extremely delicate, breaking at the slightest touch. I've seen prettier ones than I saw today, but as harbingers of winter, they always remind me of the crisp morning air broken by the loud cackling of pileated woodpeckers.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Backpacking on an Igneous Dome

The winds whipped wildly through the shagbark hickories and red oaks as we crested the dome to set up camp. We planned to spend three days hiking around the St Francois Mountains with Devil's Wall as our base camp. We missed the spectacular show of fall colors by only a few days, dominated this weekend by deep brown leaves in the colder valley with splashes of yellow on the ridgetops. By Tuesday, with full force gale winds penetrating even my trusty Kelty tent all night, the autumnal display was virtually over.

No trip to the southern Ozarks would be complete without encountering windstorm debris from the May 2009 derecho that toppled thousands of acres of the woodland canopy. Backpackers who follow the Ozark Trail don't have to worry about remnant trees; the Ozark Trail Association had boots on the ground the day after the windstorm to make the trail accessible as soon as humanly possible. But venturing far off trail to reach the high point of the rock wall meant tackling downed trees, one step at a time, across the saddle. Through time, these symbols of that fierce spring night will melt away through natural processes, leaving breaks in the canopy and a rich understory that was gratefully spared the bludgeoning by salvage logging that occurred throughout the region.

With the thick, untrammeled vegetation, it was obvious that our chosen campsite had not seen overnight campers in at least a year. Hikers who visit this area conscientiously use the same fire ring that someone set up many years ago with igneous rocks, allowing the area to retain its naturalness by sparing it from randomly spaced campfire scars. The wind picked up at sunset, which meant blacklining around the campfire ring to remove the flammable post oak leaves and thin, wispy stalks of poverty grass. Darkness set in by 5:30 and the thick cloud cover brought in by the cold front masked what is undoubtedly an impressive starry sky with no light pollution for miles.

Many years ago, my mother bought me an MSR Dragonfly campstove, integral to campfire coffee. It's a fantastic and lightweight stove that boils water in a matter of three minutes with hot coffee ready in five. The cold, 20 mph sustained winds sucked the heat from my enamel cupful of coffee almost immediately the next morning. I usually have to let the coffee cool off for a short while, but not so this week. Within seven minutes, my coffee was as cold as creek water.

With the glade map in hand, we scrambled down the hill into the creek valley to refill water bottles. We trampled across slick igneous boulders covered in lichens and into the maple-filled valley where we neared the first glade of the morning. A few stray asters remained in flower, but mostly in seedheads. Large populations of Aster ptarmicoides covered the glade that is undoubtedly a Mead's milkweed site. The glades here are among the best quality in the entire region with thick grass cover and prairie plants like prairie parsley and Liatris pycnostachya. The igneous-loving Hypericum gentianoides dotted the openings on the glades. Miraculously, the glades in this area were spared a lot of the destructive grazing that occurred in the St. Francois Mountains; granted, goats traveled all over the place, but these glades are not barrens, and the grass thatch and deep soil are remarkable.

Atop a massive glade belt, one can look down and into some of the signature examples of dry igneous woodland in Missouri. Large, old growth trees are widely spaced with grass beneath allowing for fire to creep through the area every few years. Rugged country, the calderas of the Ozarks, and plenty of opportunities for solitude, for an unparalleled wilderness experience in a landscape reminiscent of those survey notes from the early 1800s before the age of extraction began to change the shape of the beautiful Ozark Highlands.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Missouri Wines meet Autumn

In early September, I overheard a lot of grumbling in my beer-loving town about the early release of pumpkin ales in grocery stores. September, of course, is the time of year for apple and pear ciders, not pumpkin beer made with cinnamon and cloves. The same argument against Halloween candy displays in July and Christmas decorations in October also applied to pumpkin beer this year. However, there are so many fans of pumpkin beer that I suspect large breweries will continue their early release in the future. (Columbia's Flatbranch Pub and Brewery, however, is holding out on their wildly popular pumpkin beer, waiting for the traditional Halloween release which results in long lines of folks with empty growlers at the bar for a couple of days before they sell out.)

If you've visited a Missouri winery in the past month or so, you may have been treated to charming displays of pumpkins, blooming mums, haybales, those traditional fall settings that start sprouting in late September when the nighttime temperatures dip into the 50s. If you've been to the Ozarks' Hemman Winery in Brazeau or Wenwood Farm Winery near Bland in the past few weeks, visitors have tasted pumpkin wine, the first of the seasonal wines that Missouri wineries offer each fall. Wenwood Farm's pumpkin pie wine is made with wine grapes, pumpkin, and spices (heavy on the cinnamon), reminiscent of a mulled Vignoles made with Aspen mulling spices.

St. James Winery recently released their sweet cranberry wine in time for Thanksgiving, and should release their 2013 Nouveau, a blend similar to Beaujolais Nouveau, in early November. Now that it is almost November, wineries have already started marketing their Christmas-themed wines. Ste. Genevieve Winery makes a delicious spiced plum wine and wineries throughout the Ozarks are featuring crock pots of mulled wine usually made with one of their sweeter wine offerings. The seasonal wines tend to sell pretty quickly, so I recommend taking a leisurely drive through a fall colors tour of the Ozarks and snatch up these interesting Missouri wines before they disappear like the yellow leaves on sugar maples.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Weather Forecast of a Persimmon

Persimmon trees are truly laden with ripe berries this year, so much so that in lawn settings, fallen persimmons are creating their own pudding of decay as they rot on the ground. I have been fortunate to collect several bags of persimmons this year, adding them to pumpkin cookies and to my little pots of Greek yogurt. Perhaps the abundant fruit this year is a related response to last year’s drought, and abundant as persimmons are, branches are bending ever slightly towards the ground waiting for relief of fruit drop.

I couldn’t find persimmons last year, so I failed to check the winter weather forecast by slicing a seed in half and examining the cutlery shape. Until recently, I didn’t realize this tradition of cutting into a persimmon seed to look for the shape of a spoon, a fork or a knife was Ozark-based, but according to several sources, it is. Tradition holds that if a split seed exhibits a spoon, the winter will include significant snowfall of heavy, wet snow. If it is resembles a fork, expect powdery, light snow and mild winter weather conditions. If the cut seed shows a knife, we can expect winter to be icy with brisk winds.

This year, with all of the persimmons availing themselves in the northern reaches of the Ozarks, I've cut into several seeds to find a spoon. Repeatedly, a spoon, a forecast of heavy, wet snow for the winter months. While this forecast bodes well for aerial censuses of deer across the landscape, heavy, wet snow is not a great forecast for much needed prescribed fire. 2012 was a wash with the politicization of prescribed fire and wildfire threat, so hopefully this fall will be clement enough and filled with fall days that fall within prescription for fire. The Ozarks are behind schedule, and a forecast of heavy, wet snow is really not what I had hoped to see in the persimmon seed. While I like to put faith in folklore, I hope this time that the forecast is wrong.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Aster-rific

Autumn has moved in with such a peculiar pace. Fall color is truly hit-or-miss in the Ozarks this year with some areas of maples in full yellow-red brilliance while in other parts of the state, green leaves persist on most trees except the hickories and walnuts which have already dropped theirs. Seed ticks are starting to disappear (or at least aren't as horrific as they were in early September). Fall hiking through biodiverse woodlands and glades is an absolute delight with all the asters and goldenrods in incredibly robust bloom, sassafras and aromatic sumac are stunning right now in the understory, and the days are crisp and sunny. The asters, I hope so many of these species are being used in horticultural settings for their almost manufactured but native beauty.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Fall Float

The crisp, clear days have ushered in several consecutive weeks of Bermuda shorts, long sleeved t-shirts and sandals, not cold enough for closed toe shoes but not hot enough for short sleeves. With just a hint of fall color moving in, especially on the sumacs and black hickories, this week was the perfect time of year to take a float trip. However, many float outfitters are closed now with the shutdown in place, and the days are shorter so finding a nice stretch of river near home was a challenge. I didn't succeed in that challenge.

Instead, I went to a river I know, a river I love, actually, but on a downstream stretch I hadn't visited before. I had a feeling the area was impaired by grazing livestock but I didn't quite know the degree to which the river had been trashed by cattle. I learned very quickly from the frothy mess and heavy sediment load that I had just rented a canoe to paddle 7.5 miles on a cattle stream. A sunny 75 degree day on a river beats a day inside regardless of the quality, but with my stitches still healing from surgery, I knew immediately that bodily contact with this waterway was out of the question for fear of major infection from a serious e. coli saturation.

I wasn't being histrionic in my fear of stepping foot in a cattle stream, evidenced by the suite of cows we discovered defecating directly into the river. Eroded streambanks were prevalent, and very little native vegetation existed on this stretch of Ozark stream. Sorry, no photos of cardinal flower or even Carex haydenii, but we did see an osprey, some eagles, herons and wood ducks. I just don't think it would be an Ozark stream without them. It's really sad, actually, how impaired this waterway is further downstream from the spring branch, which is why it is still amazingly bizarre that anyone would think that grazing cattle anywhere near a natural waterway is a good idea.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

October Way South

Way down southeast, in the farthest reaches of the Central Plateau, rest some of the driest woods in the state. This is true savanna country here, though hardly any high quality savanna is left, having all been converted to pasturelands and fescue. On two bluebird days this week I set out to flag firelines in some of this curious country that is dotted with glades (mostly choked in cedars) and misnamed “prairies.” In fact, several of these “prairies” I visited are actual savannas off of which the old growth post oaks have been cleared. It’s true that the Ozarks once harbored true prairie before the age of extraction began, but down here, according to all the land survey notes from the 1840s, fire tolerant post oaks and blackjack oaks dotted the landscape at regular intervals, all surrounded by tall warm season grasses and forbs commonly found in Arkansas and Louisiana.

The glades in the southern part of the Central Plateau are largely degraded, but a pretty conservative little Dalea grows there and on chert rubble roadsides. The Natural Heritage Database still tracks Dalea gattengeri because of its rarity in Missouri; down there, on a roadside glade, there were literally hundreds of plants, distinctively different from D. purpurea with a sprawling habit and much longer flowering heads.

My fireline flagging exercise brought me to some pretty high quality woods, considering they haven’t seen fire in at least 50 years. When I come out of the woods covered from head to foot in at least 6 species of Desmodium seeds (sticktights), I can assume the woods haven’t had a long grazing history or a bad deer problem, since the legumes tend to be ice cream plants for grazing and browsing. Where breaks in the canopy exist in this ultra-dry chert woods, Lespedeza hirta, all of the woodland asters, and big bluestem grow, hinting at what this area will look like after a few fires and maybe some small brush removal.

Among the Missouri life-list plants in the woods, two were darling yellow composites. Helianthus silphioides, a tall rangy sunflower, was still in bloom this week. Julian Steyermark noted about this southeast Ozarks plant “I have grown this species in northern Illinois in my wildflower preserve for many years and it has done well in any open sunny situation.” I look forward to revisiting these woods after a few fires to see how it populates the woods. The ovate, blunt-tipped leaves are the signature for this pretty sunflower. The other was Silphium asteriscus, typically large for its genus. However, the toothed leaves are quite distinct for a silphium. This is another plant that is relatively common in the Arkansas border counties in the Ozarks. With the amount of fire-suppressed big bluestem hanging on waiting for fire, and the 3-5 ft. tall forbs that are found throughout the woods here, I suspect in ten years when I visit this site on a dewy morning, I’ll need rainy weather clothes to stay dry.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Back in the Field

My land, it's been a long six weeks since surgery, but last week I was finally able to hike hills and glades and unburned woods in White River country. Palafoxia was in bloom, the summer wildflower that is quite common down there (and also on the Hwy 54 corridor from a planting)...

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Glade Verification

The glade mapping project I’ve been engaged in for more than four years is coming to a close, with over 85,000 glade polygons mapped. While it’s unrealistic to step foot on each mapped glade, field verification has shown that the methodology we’ve employed has worked well. Most recently I learned that there are hundreds of glades around Tuscumbia and St. Anthony, though driving through the area I never would have suspected this rolling country would harbor so many—of questionable quality like most glades in Missouri, but glades by definition. The same situation occurs around Truman Lake in the Western Ozarks where hundreds of glades rest quietly, waiting for restoration.

But in the intergrade region of the Cole Camp quadrangle, where the former prairies meet the Ozarks, the line of demarcation between former prairie and rocky, dry woods that support shallow bedrock communities depends more on the topography than on any signature one can glean from infrared and leaf-off images. The quadrangle is literally split in two: wooded hillsides with a few scattered glades in the southern part of the quad, and overgrazed pasture with little elevation change and barely a shred of native vegetation in the north half. Regardless, row by row, I look for glades, scanning for the signatures.

Using only the infrared imagery, cedar-choked woods on broad, flat pastured plains can carry the glade signature. However, the methodology includes close examination of other layers on ArcView. In the Cole Camp quadrangle, the topography helps tremendously to tell the story to delineate glades covered in cedars and flat ground old pasture covered in cedars. But then I thought about the Springfield Plain and all of those little limestone glades in the middle of gently undulating fescue pastures. Or the sandstone glade that provides a scenic overlook in the middle of a tallgrass prairie with a high quality stream below. The vegetation is more aligned with a glade than a prairie (for example, it’s the only place in 3,000 acres that I encountered Coreopsis palmata; it’s C. grandiflora country throughout the landscape). In the Cole Camp quad, I’m going to trust my judgment that the glades are in the southern portion with the wooded Ozark country, and the north is dominated by pastures with wall-to-wall cedars. Perhaps on my way to Eichenberg Winery I’ll do some field verification just to make sure.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Trying to Manage Seed Ticks

They must be the only downside to late summer hiking in Missouri, those millions and millions of seed ticks that end up on trouser legs after busting through a rich grass-forb mix. I made my first foray into seed tick-infested woods to finish my sampling last week (ill-fated and it set back my recovery by at least two weeks). But this time, I heeded my colleague's advice to help manage the overabundance of ticks in deer problem woods.

Starting around May 1, before heading to the woods, I wrap my trouser's ankles in duct tape which invariably leads to duct tape residue on my field clothes. I really don't mind what my trousers look like after days in the field, and certainly appreciate the level of security this practice affords as a preventive measure to keep ticks away. But this year, my colleague tried something new: Wrap the duct tape around the ankles with the sticky side out to keep the adhesive from staining trousers and to trap seed ticks which you first encounter with each step into the woods. After about twenty paces into rich woods last week, my sticky-side-out duct tape looked like this, hundreds of seed ticks and hundreds of Desmodium seeds:

I've always had romantic notions of backpacking for my mid-September birthday, but having been absolutely destroyed by seed ticks on September 6 and still recovering from surgery, I won't be venturing out to the St. Francois Mountains until after a tick-killing frost.

The sticky side out duct tape managed to trap literally thousands of seed ticks that day in the field, and yet I'm still covered in welts from where the seed ticks made their way into my clothes. When I revisit the hospital for post-surgery followup appointments, I'll have to explain that no, I don't have bedbugs in my house, and no, I don't live in squalor. I just go to the Ozark woods in late summer.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Recovery Reading List

Today marks the end of Week 2 of four weeks of prescribed bed rest following major surgery. Yes, cabin fever is setting in, and yes, one person can only read so much before said person wants to hit the tennis courts, a trail, or just a bath. I'm trying very diligently to remain still, spending hours in my dilapidated Adirondack chair in the backyard surrounded by desiccating Solidago canadense, Desmodiums and the suite of Eupatoriums that comes along with urban areas. I want to run but it's painful to walk. So I read books from my shelf, and I sulk. I make great company these days.

Among the books I've read in the past few weeks, one was a gift from my mother, a terrific book by the esteemed Douglas Brinkley, a book about Katrina. So many people sent me Katrina-related books after the storm, and I haven't had the stomach to finish any of them until now, 8 years after the storm. Laid up, I finally finished David Eggers' Zeitoun, a sort of biography of the man who painted my two story Marigny walkup a few years before the storm. I stopped reading it three years ago because he wrote about all of the abandoned dogs whom he heard howling every night. The book offers redemption and a good insight into how frustrating it must have been to return home in late 2005. But Douglas Brinkley's book, The Great Deluge, is a well-researched (which translates into very frustrating) book about the bureaucratic failures that led to over 1,000 deaths in the city and irreversible changes that have kept me in Missouri for 8 years. Next up, maybe in another year or so, I'll break into Chris Rose's One Dead in the Attic. A Reed graduate and long time columnist for the Times-Picayune, Rose stuck around after the storm and had to live through the horrors that I fled. A compassionate writer, he tells stories of citizens and of his own travails of trying to manage life in New Orleans after the storm.

I pulled a couple of Annie Dillard books from the shelf last week, both gifts in 1995 from my housemate in Brooklyn, an NYU film major who thought I was "curious" because I was passionate about natural history but majoring in the Classics. He also thought I was "strange" because I was reared as an Episcopalian in a largely Catholic state. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) is a terrific read about the natural world around Roanoke, Virginia and An American Childhood resonates with me as an adult view of growing up around natural systems and how a small family fit into it. Dillard is a very skilled writer who is reminiscent of Caroline Dorman, my childhood hero, the author of the first illustrated Wildflowers of Louisiana. Dillard has a rawness about her writing which is, at the same time, honed to a craft that celebrates the fluidity of nature while recognizing the human element that comes with observation. I haven't read her books since the summer before graduate school, so these books were fun departures in my backyard chair.

A must read for anyone interested even vaguely in the natural world we live in today, Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators by William Stolzenburg is a truly fabulously depressing book about natural history in the age of wildlife agencies who work arduously to remove top predators from the landscape. Oh, he writes of early studies in aquatic systems--remove the sea otter and you have a sea full of anemones and no other life, and then moves to my arch-enemy, the white tailed deer. He references that wonderful work conducted in Wisconsin over the course of 50 years wherein botanists tracked species decline due to white-tailed deer infestation and the continued adamance of wildlife agencies to remove predators to favor the deer tags that bring them revenue. This book can easily be placed in the context of Missouri, with wildlife agency folks "discouraging" the reproduction of mountain lions and even bears. We have a serious problem with deer herbivory in Missouri, but no one (besides me, my boss, maybe a few others, maybe some farmers who apply for depredation tags) really seems to give a damn about the impacts of deer overpopulation on biodiversity. Mr. Stolzenburg does, so I love this book.

The book I'm reading now came from Doug's mother who is a fine MFA writer and poet from Oregon. She not only sent me a darling Eileen West nightgown for my hospital stay, but a few days later this travelogue with a potentially marketable but not accurate title: Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific by J. Maarten Troost. Carolyn was wise to explain in a post-it note that the title didn't reflect the book's character; she's never steered me wrong in recommendations, so I delved headlong into it. In the book, Troost set out with his girlfriend to live in a very impoverished island in the South Seas. No, not a Fiji sort of place with haute cuisine, but a horrific place of poverty, on an atoll, where not even the beaches are fun to visit because of all of the defecating that goes on there. It's been a fun read, and it's been a travelogue, and considering that I can't even walk up a hill to a restaurant in Columbia at this moment in my life, it's nice to transport even to a place where the only music available is a continuous mix loop of La Macarena.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Glades in Bloom

2013 is definitely the Year of the Yellow Composites! We've been dealing with keys lately, arguing that what we've been calling Helianthus hirsutus may be H. strumosus, and some plants we're coming across don't fit in the keys at all. While taxonomy is a little frustrating and not very much fun, coming across glades covered in Rudbeckia missouriensis and Liatris cylindracea with the fall Allium mixed in surely makes running into a mess of seed ticks worth it. Late summer wildflower displays are peaking now, so if you have a chance get outside!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Harvest is here!

After a cool spring and wet summer, grape harvest is here. Check the roadsides on I-44 around St. James for stellar Concords for sale. And if you've never picked grapes at a winery before, I attest it's pretty fun and usually filled with camaraderie among other wine lovers. Like many other wineries in Missouri, Rolling Meadows in Warrenton is inviting anyone who wants to join them to help pick their Seyval grapes:
Come on out and enjoy the experience of Seyval Harvest It's time for our annual Harvest of Hope. Get up to your elbows in vines, grape bunches and a great cause. For every lug (30lb. container) that you pick, RMV Winery pledges to donate two dollars to Crisis Nursery in St. Charles. Never harvested before? Not a problem! All you need to bring are a pair of gardening quality gloves (and a pair of garden clippers if you have them or just borrow ours). Come for a few hours or stay for the day, and enjoy the first step in the wine-making process. We'll get started on Saturday morning, August 24 at 8:30 a.m. and work until sunset.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Missouri's Vignoles

A couple of summers ago, while sidled up to a tasting bar in Oregon's Willamette Valley, I met an older gentleman who taught viticulture at a small university in the upper Midwest. Doug and I were talking about the earnestness of some of the Oregon wineries we had visited that week, and vaguely lamenting how commercial the valley had become in recent years. Yes, it was sort of a "we were drinking Oregon pinot noir in the early 90s" conversation along the lines of "I was listening to Big Star in the 70s." Undoubtedly, I started a sentence with "in Missouri....," which made the professor's ears perk up.

"Pardon my interruption," he began, and started a love song to Missouri Vignoles. I don't drink whites, and I don't collect whites. I barely even taste whites, but I can tell from the tastes that have been somewhat forced upon me that Missouri whites are palatable. According to this professor, Missouri is making "fabulous Voignier, what they call Vignoles." All I could offer was a mild recognition that sure, as a white wine, a lot of Missouri Vignoles' are quite nice. The Wine and Grape Board officially declared August as Vignoles Month in Missouri. They've provided these interesting descriptors to entice you! If you're in the Augusta region, check out Nobleis' dry and semi-dry Vignoles for a particularly nice bottle of wine.

Varietal Descriptors Looks like: sunshine Smells like: fresh cut, tropical fruit Tastes like: an assortment of citrus, floral and tropical flavors Feels like: light and soft Pairs well with: fresh fruit and spicy dishes Varietal Facts 261 bearing acres (2011) 13% of the grapes grown in Missouri are Vignoles (2011) French-American Hybrid Grape STYLE: Sweet, Semi, and Dry

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

For RCR: with love

With great and significant sadness I learned that my Greek professor is suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease, a terminal illness for which no cure has been found. My Greek professor is not just my Greek professor, but a very dear, dear friend. We spent not a few nights in Chicago at the Lyric Opera House in the peanut gallery watching the Emerson String Quartet or Cecilia Bartoli, visiting Cafe des Artistes afterwards for coffee, long nights in Wisconsin talking about our cumulative travels, and so forth. He's a scholar of Marmot gear, of Tilley outerwear with its great colorful and flower-laden prints, of the TLS and NYRB. His patience as a professor and an aficionado of native flora served me well, and I would not exist today without his friendship.

During my tumultuous graduate career we made meals together when I lived in an unrestored Craftsman (Wisconsin with no storm windows) with Chinese medical students who brought home entire cow heads and sheep hearts for supper. After a long day in the library, I would be greeted with a dead cormorant on the table. Or a sheep's heart. I couldn't exist in that kitchen, and Dr. Ross realized that. We had lovely salads with beautiful balsamic vinegar, nice protein and delicate wines.

We both cherished editions of the New Yorker back in the day, before it had degraded to what it is today. We read the NYRB, he had a long term subscription of the TLS, and he taught me how to make soft boiled eggs to perfection. [His subscription of the TLS came to his address which was actually on Woodburn Ave, but translated to Would Burn Avenue, which made us both laugh heartily] Dr. Ross exemplified my adulthood, he taught me how to be an adult in a brutal world of academics, and even discouraged me from existing in such a world because he knew it would destroy my spirit. I inherited much of his beautiful spirit, and lots of out of print Greek and Latin books, some terrific Medieval history books including Vergil the Necromancer which is such a bizarre but beautiful book that explains the late Medieval history translations of Vergil. Among my prized possession is Dr. Ross's illustration from the Dutch edition of Ovid's Metamorphoseon, a hand painted illustration with dual text in Latin and Dutch. It hangs above my bed.

I miss Dr. Ross' missives sent on beautiful cotton Crane's paper. He remained my confidante, the one person who has access to everything I think and do and aspire to do and be. I miss my casual hitting partner, my dining partner over the San Francisco dishes with hippopotami (pronounced in Greek, mind you) on them, I miss Bessie Smith sessions and cheap white wine, the drives to the Newberry Library for my paleography classes, and the long nights talking about Pausanius. Dr. Ross is such a stellar classicist, so accomplished in the field of Greek epigraphy and manuscripts having studied under the best in the field at the University of Chicago, the Classical School at Athens and UC-Berkeley. My Greek professor is incredible, and remains the closest friend I've ever had. All my love to you, Dr. Ross. I miss your friendship.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Stone Hill 2011 Norton wins the Governor's Cup

The 2013 Missouri Wine Competition culminated in an exciting triple award of Best of Class Dry Red, C.V. Riley award for Best Norton and the top award for Missouri’s best wine of the year, The Governor’s Cup. Earning all those honors is Stone Hill Winery for their 2011 Estate Bottled Norton. What a wine! During the course of the two-day competition, a panel of nine expert wine judges from around the country and one industry judge determined through blind tasting which wines are good, great and the best. A total of 306 wines were entered this year from 37 different Missouri wineries. The judges named 39 gold medals, 102 silver medals and 103 bronze medals in addition to the top awards of Best of Class, C.V. Riley and the Governor’s Cup. So many delicious Missouri wines to try, so little time! Best of Class Honorees: Sparkling: Noboleis Vineyards, Noblevescent Dry White: Montelle Winery, 2012 Chardonel Semi-Dry White: Adam Puchta Winery, Traminette Sweet White: Blumenhof Vineyards, 2012 Valvin Muscat Dry Red: Stone Hill Winery, 2011 Estate Bottled Norton Semi-Dry Red: Stone Hill Winery, 2012 Steinberg Red

Friday, August 09, 2013

On Chert

Out around Joplin, down in the Osage Plains, rest very rare natural communities in Missouri. Based on chert bedrock, chert glades are among the rarest glades in the state. Field verification remains an integral part of our ongoing glade mapping project which is now, several years after launching, coming to an end. The methodology is a little complex, but I've finally become relatively well versed in it. But the field verification is vital to accuracy.

Among the discoveries we've made during this process, the most exciting is finding hundreds of sandstone glades, some of them vast in scale. Likely one of the most depressing discoveries we made earlier this month. There are very, very few intact chert glades. All of the signatures were there on the infrared, the topography, the leaf off aerial photos, but on the ground, they weren't glades at all but slag heaps, big mounds of cherty sandy substance, the remains of mining. I'm unclear what has been mined all over the chert country, but Galena is a nearby town. It's really quite sad to see so much destruction of chert glades out in the equally destroyed chert prairie country (though I did see a pretty nice little privately owned chert prairie near a big factory of some sort). High quality prairies remain quite rare, and becoming increasingly rare with the onslaught of poor management, but high quality chert glades possibly even more so. There is, however, an effort underway in Missouri to reclassify natural communities, a project that is making natural community classification unnecessarily complex and based not in any real science, but on pronouncement. I was told recently that in the heart of dolomite glade country, around Niangua Basin where historic grazing degraded glades to chert rubble overburden, that these are "chert glades." They are dolomite glades with chert rubble. This new classification system is pretty shaky, frankly, and creates a mess of natural communities that were so aptly described in Nelson's Terrestrial Natural Communities of Missouri, the system accepted by most ecologists worth their salt.

A quick visit to the chert falls allowed me to meet C. asteroides which was actually pretty common on the chert slabs. I wonder what a quality chert glade looked like 200 years ago before the age of extraction began.