The Hawksbill

_C1_9559.JPGThe forest sounds different without its leaves. Rather than rustling millions of leaves, Sunday’s gusts roared like a distant waterfall between the trees’ bare bones. A good strong wind always seems to accompany hikes along the heights of the Ozark National Forest.

Area hiking enthusiasts probably recognize the outcropping above instantly: Hawksbill Crag at Whitaker Point, near the Buffalo River. It’s one of the best known spots in the state, but in all of my time here, I hadn’t seen it. I tried almost three years ago and was foiled by a steep and wet dirt road. A good friend just bought a Jeep, so this time we were golden. (It turns out there’s also at least one easier route a little further down the road. Good one, Google.)

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_C1_9602.JPGThe overlook at the end is obviously the primary draw of this trail, but the scenery on the way deserves its own attention. The trail runs along the top of a bluff line peppered with boulders and crowned by trees growing right out of the rock. The Boston Mountains swell and fall all around like immense ocean waves. These bluffs, like many around the Buffalo, can be deadly for those who go too close to the edge. Be careful if you visit.

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_C1_9549.JPGAnd here’s a view from on the crag itself. An unseasonably warm December afternoon wound up being a terrific time to get acquainted with this landmark. Someday I’ll come back to see its greener self.

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_C1_9576.JPGThanks for lookin’,

Dan

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Early spring

_C1_0323.JPGThis is just wrong, y’all.

Trees and other plants from the South to the Great Lakes are coming to life several weeks early. Four days this month have reached record high temperatures, according to the National Weather Service, and we’ve gotten to 80 degrees twice. January had 11 days above 60, while the average is in the 40s. Now, there’s always been wacky weather, and climate scientists are always quick to point out that climate change doesn’t cause any single weather pattern, instead affecting the probability of certain events. Scientists have measured the highest carbon dioxide levels in millions of years in the atmosphere; the gas is strongly connected to temperature throughout the planet’s history.

On top of that, these particular blossoms belong to a Bradford pear, an ornamental but invasive species that humans brought here from east Asia. Invasive species like these trees and honeysuckles crowd out native plants and steal away their light and nutrients, which can hurt local bugs, birds, mammals, soil, water and us, and they’re hard to get rid of.

Basically we’ve made a mess, even if it looks nice or feels great.

_C1_0222.JPGThat brings me to these rock piles along Lee Creek at Devil’s Den State Park. I know I’ve shown them here at least once before, and they’re a pretty and neat way for dozens or even hundreds of people to connect in the same space. It’s also something we shouldn’t be doing, come to find out. It’s bad for creek beds and the fish and amphibians and bugs living in and under them, and it’s something park rangers around the country are trying to stop.

Anyway, I don’t mean to be the buzzkill during some really fantastic weather. The point is we humans have a way of leaving our marks big and small. Keep an eye on them.

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Thanks for lookin’.

Dan