IMG_7731.JPGEvery time I think I know a place I end up wrong. Some of us went camping this past weekend in the stretch of the Ozark National Forest just beyond Devil’s Den State Park (the same place I camped about a year ago, in fact). You’ve seen it before: hills, valleys, creeks, outcrops. Got it. But even now there’s always some new or unnoticed detail. I know I keep saying that, but it just won’t quit being true. Take flocks of delicate blue damselflies mating, for instance.

IMG_7655.JPGOr there’s the fossilized burrows and trails that little worms or other critters left behind some 300 million years ago — that’s tens of millions of years before the first dinosaurs arrived. The burrows coil over and between the ripples of some ancient shore or seabed that have also been petrified into the rock along Lee Creek.

IMG_7622.JPGThen take the boulders of shale in the creek that are about the same age as those fossils and have somehow managed to stay the size of a car while being made of rock you can break in your hands.

IMG_7660.JPGNearby a plant I haven’t found the name of creeps between the creek bed’s rocks.


Hundreds of feet above the creek there’s the funnel-weaver spider, its delicate front legs poking menacingly from the bottom of its translucent, 3-foot-long trap.

IMG_7726.JPGIt was a beautiful weekend. Even the loud music from the college campers didn’t ruin it.






IMG_7662.JPGGoodbye, summer, and hello, fall. Thanks for looking.

As the Creek Flows

_C1_9664I should never have said it was too dry.

You probably remember how prodigiously rainy May and June were, but those days seemed long gone when some friends and I went down Friday evening to Ozarks National Forest for a couple nights of camping. We drove to the other side of Devil’s Den, and Lee Creek was so low that some segments were stagnant, interrupted by islands of rounded stones and trees bent by a past current. But it was a beautiful night starting a great weekend with a fun group of people.





_C1_9741The water situation began to change the next morning, with a decent but quick thunderstorm, then fog that slowly gave way to warmth and sun. Some morning walks brought a few scenes and details I’d never come across before.











_C1_9981Even with the storm, much of the stream bed was still exposed when we went hiking around, with worn limestone rocks interspersed with flakes of black shale, as if someone dumped bags of black confetti here and there. I’ve seen this type of rock nowhere else, so fragile it can’t even be held without crumbling in your fingers.








_C1_0065Saturday evening was cool and clear and perfect; we had no cell service to check the forecast, but I figured everything must have blown out. Instead we woke up this morning to a two-hour storm, as if nature were saying, you want water, here’s your water. I woke up at the beginning of the storm and fell back asleep, realizing an hour and a half later it had been raining the whole time. We scrambled to pack everything away in the sandy mud.

The river was much higher when we left. It was a good adventure.

Thanks for looking!


Back in the Day

_C1_4250The breeze was warm and the gold of sunset glowed through swirls of gossamer cloud in the west when the first cars arrived. Soon the drive-in theater’s driveway  was strung with a half-mile of vehicles. Pink tinged the deepening blue in the east as tires quietly crunched gravel.

Nearby, headlights beamed in every direction as their cars criss-crossed the parking lot. Kids darted and laughed between them. Older couples stayed in their cars, and a man with a security vest patrolled wordlessly. Sunset deepened to dusk. Cars’ insides swelled with the sounds of fighters struggling and helicarriers exploding. Outside the windows it was quiet.

The sky was black when the credits ended. A cheery ’50s-style jitterbug played from speakers as the headlight beams returned. The manager reminded everyone to buy candy at the concession stand, and slanted spikes in the ground reminded everyone re-entry was not permitted.

* * *

_C1_4371Water tumbled over the dam, a 30-foot staircase of boulders. Twin wafers of vibrant gold — the wings of a tiger swallowtail butterfly — fluttered down alongside it. At the bottom of the wall two girls tiptoed through underwater moss. One wore red, the other, pink. Two sets of parents stood near them ready to grab a wayward arm.

A boy clambered down from the side and spotted his target: the butterfly, blinking in the sun with each flap. He gave chase in three-second bursts, hands outstretched. The insect ducked and bobbed between his arms but never went far, as if it were joining the boy’s game. After one or two minutes the boy gave up the chase,  lobbing rocks at the butterfly instead.

He missed. The butterfly stayed,  flashing yellow among flecks of silver water.