Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sad Days in Van Buren

Kim, the head concessionaire at Big Spring Lodge and Cabins, has her quilting operation up and running. While tending to the masses coming to the remarkable cabins at the Ozark National Scenic Riverways Big Spring outpost, she quilts, making beautifully colorful blocks of Log Cabin designs and others. I do adore Kim, who will take my last minute calls for cabin reservations, sending the bill to the right address and letting me know whether there will be firewood waiting or if I need to bring my own. But after this season, Kim's operation will shut down as the Scenic Riverways will close the Big Spring Lodge and Cabins for repairs for three years.

Three years, that's a long time to live without a cabin at Big Spring. The cabins and Lodge are fully operational since the days of the Conservation Civilian Corps. In recent years, the concessionaire has added window unit air conditioning to make the cabins more bearable during the late summer nights. But in spring and fall, one can count on timber mill seconds for firewood to keep the cabins warm. Other lodging in Van Buren? There's Rosecliff, the hotel attached to The Landing, the premier canoe outfitter and nice restaurant with a full bar, great porch and vegetarian options.

But it's not a cabin at Big Spring. Our waitress at the lodge, wearing her watermelon apron and barrettes in her hair, said that the National Park Service wasn't going to change the rustic character of the lodge and cabins with their planned upgrades (I hope she's right). The closure of the cabins and the lodge will allow for foundation and electrical repairs, and upgrades to the cabin kitchens which are now spaces with electric hotplates and coffeepots. I'm worried they're going to bring wifi to the cabins, that they're going to upgrade the cabins and lodge so much so that fancy city people will come and change the character of the landscape. I hope my worries are unfounded. The jet boats in the Big Spring area have already decimated the river, I hope development doesn't destroy the cabins and lodge.

Sunday, August 24, 2014


It's been a summer of scheduled appointments, of conferences, of not spending time in the natural world beyond the random trips to rivers and streams and the rogue woods hiking. Temperatures are high in late August in Missouri, so rivers and streams are more welcoming than ever. Daddy flies in from Louisiana on Tuesday, and Wednesday morning we're setting out for Big Spring country via St. James and Concord grape stands and earnest wineries like Heinrichhaus over on CR 1000. I told him to bring swim trunks, that splashing around in the Current River would be the best thing for him while we're staying at those fantastic Conservation Civilian Corps-built cabins at Big Spring that were not built for hot August nights. My grandpa Bacil worked with the CCC building Army barracks in the Gulf south, but they've since been torn down. I just can't wait to show Daddy how the Ozark National Scenic Riverways has done such a nice job (better than Louisiana) preserving the cultural heritage of that period.

Cicadas drone all day and night. Katydids don't start talking until nightfall, but when they start up, they are wonderfully vocal until the very early morning hours. Bats are still active at dusk as they flit around the street lamps hawking moths. While most folks recreate during June and July, I try to avoid people, so my recreation period begins when school starts and people disappear. I'm looking forward to a five day float on the Eleven Point River, to a trip to Arizona to see some of those ridiculously beautiful birds on their way south, and to shorter trips during aster and goldenrod season when the crickets start talking at night as they presage fall.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Seed Tick Country

Generally, as a rule, the only time I really use trail systems in Missouri's natural places is during seed tick season. As an asocial melancholic, I don't like seeing other people when I visit nature, so I avoid weekends and trails. But during seed tick season, I am somewhat and vaguely grateful for trails. Still, only between Mondays and Thursdays when few others recreate outdoors.

In the past few years, there has developed in Missouri a growing hysteria about the dangers of visiting nature: bears! mountain lions! snakes! rocky trails and twisted ankles! dehydration! I've always maintained that driving to nature is more dangerous than anything in nature, and I am certainly more wary of tick borne illness than I am of venomous snakes. But it doesn't keep me out of the woods. Seed tick season, however, is brutal. With the Ozarks' ever-burgeoning deer herd, ticks seem to be increasing in abundance. Regardless of my habit of wearing light colored trousers with duct taped ankles, seed ticks still manage to find their way to my torso and ankles. So I try not to bust through too much brush in August. Two steps off a trail at the toeslope of a glade and five big slugs of thousands of seed ticks scatter all over my trousers and ankles. Swatting them off with a big cedar branch helps, and if I liked my boots and wore them more often than I wear my running shoes, the tiny ticks wouldn't find their way through my simple cotton socks, but I don't wear my boots much. So I deal with seed ticks.

Nevertheless, seed tick infestation is preventable, and I have little empathy for hikers who wear shorts and flip flops to the woods in August. And regardless of the threat of ticks (and snakes and spiders and mountain lions and bobcats and bears and trees falling and stepping on natural tread that might twist an ankle...), there is nothing that will keep me from witnessing the explosive display of the yellow composites in August.