Sunday, December 30, 2012

Cress in Spring Water

At the end of a rocky 3-1/2-mile hike today, with patches of snow still on the ground, I came to a dark little spring with stepping stones across it, and its whole downstream was paved with fresh watercress. Stunned to see such green wealth amid the blue and gray I got excited, and wanted instinctively to grab some for salad but didn't have a bag or nothin', and wasn't sure if it was legal -- so all I took was a photo. And I thought about the people before me subsisting during the winters on dried corn, dried meat, and dried beans and how thrilled they must have been to see and get the first fresh greens: always watercress -- leaves both bitter and sweet.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

From Our House to Yours. . .

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all the LaBarque Creek beavers & Divine Bunbun. Like the beavers, I stayed home. And had something good to eat. And read The Other Side of Desire: Four Journeys into the Far Realms of Lust and Longing. But there's nothing more to long for when you live in a snug little home in rugged rural Missouri.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Carrot Box

This cheerful hand-painted wooden box was found at a Missouri antique mall some years ago and, charmed, I bought it, for, like, $12. Inside, it's just plain painted wood, no lining, no compartments, no decoration. I guessed it's for vegetables -- winter root vegetables that like darkness and room (not heaped on top of each other; onions or potatoes all heaped up will quickly go bad). I keep this "carrot box" or "carrot coffin" in the unheated laundry room that serves as my root cellar, and use it for onions. When the thermometer in there approaches freezing I save the onions from turning to acrid mush by moving the box into a heated room.

I looked up "carrot box" to see if such boxes were somehow traditional, and also learn the reason for their treasure-chest shape, but a "carrot box" today means a cardboard gift box in the shape of a long cone. Classic wooden vegetable bins hold a lot more vegetables and look nothing like this. This box, painted with 11 clean, idealized carrots, very witty, holds approximately 3 pounds of produce.

Monday, December 17, 2012

She's an Easy Target

Driving on the highway I saw a woman my age walking alone on the road shoulder, an unusual sight. She was hiking. Before thinking anything else I thought, "There's an easy target."

Then I thought: That's what I look like.

I go on solo hikes all the time, and take daily walks on back roads and trails mostly, sometimes crossing highways. City walks were filled with fears about being jumped or followed or harassed. That's not special; that was life as an urban female. In a better part of the city we women wore sweatsuits and sneakers while on walks to indicate that we were exercising and not out on the streets to make money. I gladly moved to the country where walks were carefree and I could forget I was female.

But I had no idea until now what I looked like to others. I tried to think of the last female solo hiker I met on a trail. There are almost none. That's because women are afraid. They're told they should be. There are those horror stories broadcast on TV into our minds. Once when I was fishing in a remote area three hunters emerged from the woods with their firearms and I thought, they're probably harmless--but what if they're not? So now, so as not to be defenseless, I'm armed; now very consistently armed. I'm aware that this isn't a perfect solution. You might tell me to get a man or a pit bull or at least another woman companion. Why? I have the right to walk and hike free of fear. I sure do.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Crunch Crunch

You'll never see another photo like this one: The beaver team down on the LaBarque thought they'd fell this mature creekside oak -- which would have been the largest timber in their dam -- but then changed their minds, apparently. Wonder why? Their jaws got tired? Too much chance it would fall the wrong way and create a fatality? Too tall to guide down their mud chute into the creek? They've simply abandoned this particular tree.

Friday, December 7, 2012

December's Garden

Temperatures have been in the 60s and 70s most of the fall, including last week, meaning that the fall vegetables my neighbor and I planted in September haven't frozen yet, and today I plucked up and scissored four scarlet radishes, and small lettuce, spinach, and kale leaves, holiday colors, enough for a full salad bowl. Not only that, but while I was at the store I saw and bought 1/4 of a watermelon because I have so missed the taste of it. Except for tomatoes and hummingbirds I can still pretend it's summer. First snow predicted in a few days.

The sunsets now are pretty, too, but the best thing about mid-December-- it's only two weeks until the days begin to lengthen.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Rare Pink Dolomite

Found this specimen while hiking the rocky 2.6 mile trail at Valley View Natural Area, in Jefferson County, 2 miles south of Morse Mill. It's one of the two areas in Jefferson County where dolomite glades, or rocky outcroppings, often south-facing and hot and dry, are preserved with controlled burns and cedar-tree removal -- the only way to preserve this once-common and precious Missouri natural feature. Glades support wildflowers and wildlife that thrive nowhere else (and are prettiest in spring). Cedar trees are invasives which entered the area along with mass settlement about 150 years ago, and they overtake glades and native oak-hickory forests unless they are stopped.

But we were speaking of dolomite. Even geologists don't agree on what it is, except that it's calcium and magnesium somehow mixed, and rarely there are pink examples of it, probably from being mixed with a little iron. A dryer-sized chunk of petrified mud had this chip broken off of it, revealing lovely sparkling stone bubbles (saddles) and glittering crystals.

I learned today that flipping flat rocks looking for creatures or fossils underneath them -- and not replacing them-- destroys the flora and fauna that lived in that environment. I was never in the habit of flipping rocks but now I know for certain that it's bad manners.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Wide Missouri

Joined the local "Let's Hike" Meetup club to discover new trails, and they're all in my area. The group has many members  and usually about 10-20 people on every hike. They all come with many hiking tastes and paces and kinds of equipment. This photo was taken on the invigorating five-mile Clark Trail at the 7000-acre (no typo) Weldon Spring Conservation Area in St. Charles County, MO, about 24 miles from my home. Lots of persimmon trees! The river is the wide Missouri.

Monday, December 3, 2012

How to Stay Alive in the Woods

Rarely do I get lost in strange woods but it was 4 p.m. and the sun was low in the naked trees with darkness scheduled to fall within the hour. A trail I'd followed had petered out, tempting me to bushwhack to my goal: the riverfront. All my tricks to get back (such as retracing my steps, or walking at an angle where I'd surely cut across the trail -- sure I would! -- didn't help me. A book I like called How to Stay Alive in the Woods says that most lost people, at worst, miss a meal, and that's nothing. I walked toward the sun, because on my way in it had been behind me.

Fortunately I had some drinking water, a hiking stick, and a small firearm, and knew that if one is lost at nightfall one stays put, hopes the cellphone is working, and when the searchers are searching, fires three shots into the air to guide them. "Be prepared" is great wisdom; I felt lucky and calm. Too bad I'll miss a meal, I thought. And then I was presented with this cluster of mushrooms growing at eye level on a live tree. I said thanks but no thanks; I'm no expert, won't put wild mushrooms in my mouth without proper I.D. I got back to my car before dark and at home looked these up because they seemed so familiar. They are oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) like you buy in the market, graded  "choice" for eating. So I want you to know, if you're ever lost, look around, and you'll probably see you've been provided for.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Mating Season Mystery

It was a red fox's tail. Just the tail. In the road.

I know December is fox mating season, so its attacker might have been another fox. They defend their territories, but aren't known to kill or maim each other. Chasing the intruder from the territory is enough.

Foxes have few wild predators: bobcats, bears, golden eagles. Foxes can outrun dogs, as every British hunting party knows. People do say bobcats live here, but I haven't seen proof. Human fox killers, who don't eat them, always want the tail as a trophy. They wouldn't remove it and leave it. Looked around for traces of a car killing. None. So it's a tail without a story.

The dime in the photo lets you see its length -- about 11 inches. That's short for a fox tail so it might have been a young one that got into trouble because it didn't know better. Maybe it sacrificed its tail.

A fox uses its tail for warmth (curling it around and burying its nose in it to sleep) and for balance and to communicate (the way a dog's tail does). Somewhere a red fox around here is minus its tail. It must hurt a lot.