The old backyard

IMG_2525.JPGThere’s no mistaking a southwestern Missouri creek. I’ll always recognize the high-pitched clink the fist-sized rocks make when I walk on them. Many of them bear tiny round or cylindrical fossils — some rocks are essentially nothing but fossil. Crawdads and snails and fish flit or crawl over the creek bed. The water itself, cool and clear, gleams golden and reflected green. I’ve known these creeks, like Bull Creek above, since my earliest memories, and my dad has known them even longer. It was good to get back a couple of weekends ago.






IMG_2490.JPGI’m heading up north again in a couple weeks for the Aug. 21 solar eclipse that will sweep from coast to coast. Click that link for detailed maps on where to see the total blockage of the sun by the moon — you can bet I’ll have about 1,000 photos to share, but it sounds like photos won’t do this cosmic event nearly the justice it deserves. If you can go and decide to do it, watch out for tens of thousands of others doing the same. If you don’t, you’ll at least get a partial eclipse no matter where you are in the country. But there’s no way I’m missing this thing; I’ve been looking forward to it for more than a year.

See you on the other side!


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.



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.





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


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.






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.




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