With flying colors

_MG_4271.JPGI got a dose of wildness right next to a Sam’s Club and an interstate highway in Fayetteville. A 121-acre wetland prairie called called Wilson Springs Preserve sits there, owned and managed by the nonprofit Northwest Arkansas Land Trust. It’s strange in some ways to call the place wild: A lot of human effort and machinery is almost done mulching trees and invasive shrubbery to get it back to its original state. But, to me, it felt wilder than some others I’ve hiked.

It might be because of the green and blue and white and gold-flecked dragonflies that continuously zoomed around me, or the vivid, metallic ebony jewelwings and dogbane leaf beetles. There were the tiny tadpoles that filled short-lived puddles to the brim and later emerged as toads the size of a fingernail. I heard the huffs and grunts of startled deer and carefully stepped over two box turtles. There was no avoiding the squads of ticks, some just a couple millimeters across, pulling themselves up my legs like gung-ho rock climbers scaling a cliff. And I had two experts with the land trust on hand to introduce the area and some its inhabitants to me Friday for a newspaper article. They’re probably the real reason for how I felt about the preserve. They helped me see it’s thick with life.

Speaking of that article, here’s what’s happening: The land trust works to either preserve or restore tracts around this corner of the state and is launching a campaign to bring 5,000 more acres into its protection in the coming years. The trust says wetlands like this one and other pieces of land, even farms, can clean rainwater and soak up its floods, protect rare species of fish and reptile and insect — the benefits go on and on. I’ve got a lot more information in the story here.

I didn’t have my camera with me Friday, and with all of these living things buzzing or growing in every direction, I had to go back. So I was up with the bugs the next morning.

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_MG_4229.JPGThe land trust holds tours here, but the preserve generally isn’t open to the general public; I had to sign a waiver to get in. Trust director Terri Lane told me it could open fully sometime in the next year or so. If you end up going one way or another, I’m not kidding about the ticks. I recommend a good coating of repellent, khaki pants to make the bugs obvious, and a thorough screening when you get home. That’d probably be a good approach for any hike, really, since tick-borne diseases are surging around the country. But don’t let the ticks stop you.

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_MG_4169.JPGThanks for looking.

Dan

Marching on

_MG_1416.JPGSaturday afternoon was misty, dreary and below freezing, and it turns out it takes more than that to stop Fayetteville’s Mardi Gras parade. This one was the city’s 27th and my fourth. The weather certainly cut down the size of the crowd from past years, but everyone who came out cheered extra loud, decked themselves out in extra color and dove for thrown beads and candy with extra enthusiasm in spite of the gray day.

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_MG_1581.JPGHere’s to a happy official Mardi Gras this week and a happy Lent after, for those observing it.

I meant to end here, but all of that mist and drizzle spend the evening and overnight freezing to every surface. Roads and sidewalks this morning around my apartment were too slick for much more than slow hobbling. The grass was crunchy. This wasn’t frost; it was a half-centimeter or so of solid, unadorned ice. I had to see more.

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_MG_1692.JPGThanks for looking, and stay warm out there.

Ghosts

_C1_9921.JPGThe past few days have been a battle between air, water and light. The recent cold snap that broke today kept northwest Arkansas below 20 or so degrees, freezing over creeks and ponds pretty easily. But even that kind of cold yields to the warmth of daylight. Water, meanwhile, is good at retaining its heat and can stay liquid in lakes and stronger streams for days of subfreezing temperatures. But the sun sets and the cold air can triumph over some of those waters, at least for a few hours. Back and forth the energy goes.

The constant exchange of heat molds the area’s water into all sorts of ice. I think it helped grow the frost flowers.

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These ghostly ribbons grow from the stems of certain plants. I never expected to see them on a morning hike around Lake Wedington, but whichever plant grew these is apparently all over that area, especially on its dam.

The water in the plants’ stems freezes and expands, splitting their sides. Water from the roots keeps coming out and freezing, slowly pushing through the cracks like icy noodles. The process leaves delicate bundles that seemed to glow in the early light. Though they’re made of ice, these flowers can only bloom if water in the plants and the ground under them is still warm enough to be liquid. Without all of that warm sunlight, in other words, they might not have formed.

I probably have that warmth to thank for my other discovery this morning: singing ice. Turn up your volume for this one:

 

The layer of ice along just one corner of the lake trilled, like dozens of frogs singing to each other, as liquid water jostled it from beneath. I suspect the cause for the trilling is the same as the one behind the strange noise that sounds when you throw a pebble or stick onto a frozen lake. A smack or a cracking sound contains higher and lower pitches that travel at different speeds through the ice layer, so they reach the ear at different times. The result is a chirp. (The same principle is behind the sound of “Star Wars” blasters and the rainbow created by light through a prism.)

This all goes to show how much the characteristics of ice depend on where the water is and what it’s doing when it freezes. Flowing water, for example, might freeze clear and smooth but often becomes opaque white from bubbles if it’s tumbling down a fall. Peaceful water freezes into sheets that sometimes overlap in abstract patterns or fit together like angular puzzle pieces. Wedington and Lake Fayetteville provided examples of them all.

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_C1_9939.JPG(Lake Fayetteville shots begin here:)

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_C1_9754.JPGIce’s variety and beauty will forever mesmerize me. Thanks for looking.

Dan

Liminal lights

_C1_9275.JPGFayetteville on Friday put on its holiday season getup, switching on hundreds of thousands of lights around the downtown square. The event’s been plenty cold in past years, but this evening it was warm enough for T-shirts and shorts. Arkansas is part of the South, obviously, but it’s not so Southern that seeing a parade with Santa Claus with temperatures in the 60s is normal.

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_C1_9297.JPGThe temperature mismatch has corrected itself since Friday evening, but in my mind it does help show how we’re in a liminal, transitional time at the moment. It’s not quite winter, but more and more of the trees are bare. Some people have Christmas trees up while others won’t tolerate holiday music until after Thanksgiving, thank you very much. I’m still having a hard time believing it’s already the week of Thanksgiving at all.

We’ll snap out of it soon enough. In the meantime, I’ll take some advice from this lady: If you’re selling kettle corn, make sure you save some for yourself.

_C1_9407.JPGThanks for looking.