Thursday, December 26, 2013

LaBarque Conservation Area Doubles in Size

It was news to me that the 639-acre LaBarque Creek Natural Area, with its 3-mile trail, had three parcels added that make a total of 1,274 contiguous acres forming the LaBarque Creek Conservation Area. The Missouri Conservation Dept. says that a "natural area" is an area untouched by development, one that shows visitors native Missouri landscape; in this case the oak-and-hickory, creased and pitted Eastern Ozarks. By contrast, a "conservation area" might once have been farmed or otherwise used, but is now protected from further "development."

So when the hiking group went off-trail to explore the new acreage on a cloudy, cold Christmas Day, I went along. From the trail, down the rugged slopes we bushwhacked to the streambeds, some with icy water or pools (pictured) but mostly intermittent and full of stones, and bright-green moss. We found unexpected glades (already undergoing red-cedar removal), one impressive cliff, several small or narrow waterfalls, and much quiet woodland.

Don't bring your kids. It was heavy going -- one mile per hour. The new parcels link the Natural Area to the soon-to-be but not-yet-open Don Robinson State Park, for a total of more than 2,100 acres of new public land. I picked the right place to live, I did, because none of this was conservation land before I moved here. It's all about protecting our precious 6.1-mile creek, the mighty LaBarque, habitat of many wonderful Ozark-type creatures whom you have met on my pages, some of whom I've personally hosted in my house.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas 1958

My Christmas trees grow outdoors and birds are all the ornaments they need, so I don't decorate for Christmas, but cleaning out closets today I found my oldest personal possession: this Santa doll.

Mom said a Serb named Kuzman gave it to me. A family friend, Kuzman must have habitually brought gifts because there's a dated photo of him handing me a non-Santa-doll gift in our living room at Christmas 1958. (The film was processed in April 1959; at that time one took fewer photos than now, because developing and printing cost money, and if anyone had wasted film on "selfies" back then, the whole town would have been aghast.)

Our family was Eastern Orthodox, celebrating Christmas by the old calendar, on January 7. We had
"American Christmas" because everyone else did. At Christmas 1958, I, their eldest, at 23 months, was too young to have pestered my parents to put up a tree, so they did it voluntarily.

Daddy certainly took the photo. At Christmas 1958, Mom has a six-month-old and she will have a third baby by Christmas 1959. Wasn't any birth control for women in those days, at least not that Mom knew of.  Guests were always invited to settle in and stay a while, have a drink or coffee and talk, so Kuzman wearing his coat is unusual. His name is the Serbian version of "Cosmo," a 4th-century Christian martyr. As for my small self, I am already abashed or ashamed to receive gifts. I will, however, straighten out in about 20 years.

The skier in a glittering leotard and silver cap -- built like a snowman but with flesh and facial features -- ornamented our family Christmas tree as long as I can remember. At some point Mom gave it to me. I'm not one for tchotchkes, but I can't call these things clutter.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Levee High

The town of Kimmswick on the Mississippi River has suffered many floods but is still quaint, with 1840s houses, gift shops and craft shops, and my neighbor treated me to a hearty homemade lunch there at The Blue Owl, a historic country tearoom that grew into a gingham restaurant that never forgot it evolved from a bakery -- and to this day produces the Levee-High Apple Pie, which makes the "normal" pies surrounding it seem like rice cakes by comparison. The Christmas-cookie tray (not shown; it's too many calories to even look at) also had a major wow factor. The Blue Owl keeps country hours, closing at 3 (that's p.m.!) on weekdays and at 5 on Saturday and Sunday; closed Mondays. Currently it's got nice Christmas decorations. Order a slice of Levee-High Apple Pie and half a pound of sliced apples collapses onto your plate. Nowadays when they say "as American as apple pie," they mean this one.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Kingfisher

I saw him from a distance, short blunt body, boldly crested head, waterbird's long bill, and he was within a few yards of LaBarque Creek: The first kingfisher I'd seen here in ten years. The creek is shallow and slow but it must provide what the kingfisher likes to eat or it wouldn't be there.

Excited, I approached, listening for the kingfisher's distinctive "rattle" of a voice. Heard it. It saw me coming and flew to the top of an electrical pole, leaving me only its silhouette. Wouldn't let me get close even to that, flying away over the bridge into the woods, rattling. I savored its voice for a while, and thought the voice followed me for a bit, but then I continued my walk past the creek along Doc Sargent Road and heard it no more.

On my way back, same route, I listened but didn't hear any rattle. It made sense: LaBarque Creek is slow, shallow and currently frozen in places; there's better hunting in the larger river not far away. I stopped on the bridge over the creek to listen again . Heard nothing. I felt blessed by even this rare scrap of an encounter with a kingfisher, and, filled with divine love, I said to its afterglow, "I love you."

Far away, a rattle. I smiled and knew that I am truly blessed.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

. . .And I In My Cap

In winter, the Divine Cabin's log walls and concrete floor all radiate cold, and its bedroom, a non-log, non-insulated add-on circa 1969, is the worst place to be. Beneath its single-paned window, covered with plastic inside and out, is my pillow. Delightful in summer to hear there the sounds of night; it's like sleeping outside. But the same is true in winter, so over the years I've assembled an arsenal: portable electric heater, electric heating pad, flannel sheets, piles of blankets and a quilt, and, on very cold nights, sexy black bed socks that Demetrius used to make fun of, but he's dead and I'm not so I got the last laugh. Because I can't both cover my head and keep breathing, I sleep in this fleece helmet when it's exceedingly cold, like last night's 7 degrees. I like it so much ($5 at Wal-Mart) I bought three in different colors, plus matching gloves with finger pads that let the wearer use a smartphone. The hats and gloves are color-coded: red stays in the car, gray is for indoor wear, forest green is backup for the items that will be lost around the time of the January thaw. Sexy? You betcha!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Let It Snow

The first snow came, only an inch or two but enough so that I woke to the screaming demands of the local Pileated Woodpecker that I get up, shuffle out through the snow and replenish the suet because all of a sudden he can't find his own food. And for years I've tried to be a good backyard bird-feeder and give my year-round cardinals a balanced diet of millet mixed with sunflower seeds, but they always ate only the sunflower seeds. So, just a few days ago I gave in and now serve only sunflower seeds. My reward is more cardinals, males and females, in constant motion from tree branch to feeder to wire, like a mobile.

I 'm secretly delighted to be hosting and serving birds -- mine are the world's finest.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Bush Beater

On a glorious day took a walk in Engelmann Woods Natural Area, one of the few tracts of old-growth forest in Missouri:  regal oak, hickory and ash trees. Its lollipop loop trail of two miles is marked, but insufficiently; fallen leaves buried part of the trail, especially the low-lying areas, and huge fallen old-growth trees or their limbs blocked the way a few times, and circumventing one of them I saw no further path. But I did see a bluff I wanted to get to for the view, so leaving my hat on a branch as a marker, up I scrambled.

Got my view. Orienting myself using my hat, I then cautiously picked my way down the leaf-covered, rocky slope and retrieved it. Now to regain the trail and finish the hike--but not knowing where it was I consulted the app called Map My Walk. Using GPS it red-lines your journey on a Google map of the area. (On the map you can see where I went off the trail, around the 1-mile point.) It told me a straight line would get me there. Forward I plunged, calf-deep in thrashing fallen leaves that hid rocks and holes and silt; bare branches of understory whipped my face. Then I saw the trail marker. I finished the trail and went on home, but being lost was the fun part.