The Devil’s Eyebrow

1.JPGWay up in northeast Benton County, between Beaver Lake and the Missouri border, stand a few thousand acres of rugged forest, exposed rock and spring-fed streams called the Devil’s Eyebrow Natural Area. It’s only an hour’s drive away, but I’d barely even heard of it before last week.

That changed while I worked on a story in today’s paper about how northwest Arkansas’ plan to preserve open and natural areas as it grows is showing results. As the last piece of that article, I needed some photos, which meant a couple hours of hiking and exploring a new, beautiful place. I mean, I’ll do it if I really have to, I guess.

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3.JPGMy generous companions were Jennifer and Isaac Ogle, who introduced me to the wonderful experience of hiking with people who can spot, name and enthusiastically describe almost every plant, animal and rock I’d want to photograph and learn about. Jennifer Ogle works as a land management specialist with the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, one of a long list of groups that have helped manage or expand Devil’s Eyebrow and other lands around the state. She told me the area’s name comes from an old prediction that it would be easier to run a railroad on the devil’s own eyebrow than through these hills. I think the name kind of fits with the arching bluffs, too.

One more thing about it — I was a little worried the woods would be bone-dry after weeks of temperatures in the 90s and no rain, but fortunately at least two springs ran cool and clear and quick, supporting crawdads, fish and at least one small water snake.

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4.JPGThank you, Ogles, and thank you, Devil’s Eyebrow. I’ll have to go back sometime.

Dan

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The forest floor

IMG_9563.JPGThe soccer field at my elementary school in Springfield, Missouri, was nothing but a patch of bare, reddish dirt, and it was my favorite part of the place. I liked soccer just fine, but the real reasons for my affection were the thousands of dime-sized rocks caked into its surface. Almost all of them were imprinted with fossils: tiny grid-like bryozoan colonies, striated mollusk shells, cylindrical crinoids the size of pencil erasers, all remnants of an ancient sea. I was 7 years old and could spend half an hour after school crouched over the gritty dirt excavating these treasures with my fingertips, saving the most striking ones for my collection.

That’s all to say keeping an eye out for the small and overlooked underfoot has been my jam for pretty much forever. How could I possibly resist the yellow slime mold above? I’d only seen these weird organisms in textbooks before this moment. It might look like a fungus, but it’s actually the result of countless microbes literally fusing together into one huge cell that can move around and even learn, at least in some senses of the word.

Other denizens of Devil’s Den State Park’s forest floor don’t have the same flair, but I still love them.

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IMG_0020.JPGThis unsettling phenomenon seems to be guttation, which is apparently just the excretion of excess water — one more thing I’d only seen in books before now.

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IMG_0025.JPGAfter almost four years photographing the woods around here, they’re still surprising me. Thanks for looking.

Fire and rain

_C1_0718.JPGFireworks still work when it’s raining, if you ever wondered.

This Fourth of July weekend brought a little heat and more humidity to northwest Arkansas, but mostly it brought rain. I had hoped Monday evening to wander around my neighborhood and catch people putting on their own shows, but an approaching storm mostly put a damper on that idea.

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_C1_0265.JPG(Don’t hold Roman candles, by the way.)

Gentle, off-and-on rain lasted through Tuesday evening, forcing the crowd at Bentonville’s huge Orchards Park to clump under umbrellas, gazebos and their folding chairs.

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_C1_0338.JPGAfter half an hour of this with no slowing in the rainfall, the show began anyway, triumphantly exploding in the darkness without a preliminary word from the organizers. The bombs vaporized the falling water, shrouding their streamers in a dramatic cloak of steam and smoke. I like to evoke space or the deep ocean with firework shots, and this nebula of mist didn’t hurt.

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_C1_0745.JPGIt was a great show as always, and these photos don’t do it complete justice. You might see a metaphor in the fact that it went on undiminished by the weather. In any case, I hope the country’s 241st birthday was a good one for you, too.

Thanks for looking.