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!


Mt. Kessler

IMG_9708Mt. Kessler is the grand name of a big hill covered by a patch of Ozarks forest that’s tucked inside Fayetteville’s southwestern city limits. Being within a city doesn’t mean it’s small: A three-hour hike Sunday wasn’t enough to get to its best rock formations and overlooks. I’ll have to head back to find what else it has tucked away, but this time I focused on some of the place’s smallest details, such as this passion flower:

IMG_9718The “passion” in the name of this complex and vivid bloom refers to the Passion, as in Jesus’ last days of life in Christian tradition — missionaries centuries ago saw reminders and symbols of those events in the numbers and shapes of the flower’s different parts, such as the three “nails” prominently displayed at the top. I think this was the first time I’d seen one in person.

I also almost walked face-first into this little thing:

IMG_9673For years I’ve wondered what these little green danglers are doing hanging down from branches like a fish lure. It turns out they’re inchworms, usually smaller than their name suggests, and this bungee-jumping behavior is a way to flee from predatory bugs in the trees above. After the threat’s gone, they reel themselves back up on their silk threads, as this one was doing.

Speaking of caterpillars, I also came across this devilish-looking mass of them:

IMG_9716Not sure what they are — Googling “fuzzy caterpillars with red heads” isn’t helpful — but they are remarkably social, and they might be a kind of tent caterpillar, the leaf-eaters responsible for those clumps of silk that smother tree limbs all summer long.

To round out this bunch of images, here’s a strange growth on a tree that looks like a mushroom and an actual mushroom for your viewing pleasure.


IMG_9684Thanks for looking.


Water and Rock

IMG_8874This volcanic-looking slope is in Devil’s Den — where I’ve been a dozen times, yeah, but a few friends and I ventured to somewhere new last Sunday, farther past the overlook and into the cliffs than I’ve gone before.




IMG_8901I’ve been thinking recently about how easy it is to do, taking a new direction. No particular reason for the thought; work and life’s going fine, and Lord knows there’s lots of news going on to cover. But what if I decided to try making a living with photography? What if I ran for public office? What could happen? Maybe nothing. Several years ago I walked into an Omaha gallery and store for Thomas Mangelsen, one of many nature photographers these days who carry Ansel Adams’ torch. It was a beautiful place, and the idea of doing that for a career has floated in my brain since. But I don’t know. The idea of different paths is fun but scary.




IMG_8904The water was heavy again in the park because of that Friday storm. Cool, gushing, beautiful water had bent over trees and washed a small parking lot away. Just another summer in the forest.


IMG_8930Thanks for looking, and as a character in one of my favorite TV shows said, keep your brains open to the possibilities.


Arboreal Undertakers

IMG_8487We have a complicated relationship with fungus. We eat some kinds of it and bake or ferment with others, while other types are lethally poisonous. Even the name “fungus” sends my mind straight to gross and slimy. Fungi are an essential group of life forms — perhaps millions of species that keep nutrients flowing through entire ecosystems — and because of their work, they’ll always be connected to disease and death. Besides all of that, they can be too inconspicuous to notice. But they’re always there.



IMG_8519I drove down today to the old standby hiking area, Devil’s Den State Park, hoping to see if the rivers and waterfalls would be high and fast from the deluge that has soaked Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas in recent weeks. The streams here were fairly strong, but a day or so without the constant rain had calmed them down. What caught my eye instead were dozens of mushrooms — sparks of color in the otherwise constant green, if you can find them.



IMG_8518Fungi are neither plant nor animal, though they’re closer to the latter. Some disturbing varieties get their energy from living things, but most absorb nutrition from leaf litter and whatever else settles to the forest floor. What you can see in these photos is the proverbial tip of the iceberg; a much bigger network of threads and tendrils lies in the log or dirt beneath, occasionally sending up the visible segments to release spores. This lattice can carry on for thousands of years in some cases, just doing its thing unbothered by the surface world.




IMG_8516Outside of the world of fungi, it was a good day for a hike, and I wasn’t the only one out there.






IMG_8509Thanks for looking!