Saturday, July 9, 2011

Joe Neal reports from Ninestone Land Trust along the Piney Creek and invites all to a bird walk at Chesney Prairie at 8 a.m. July 10, 2011

 From the edge of Piney Creek, a Louisiana Waterthrush chips, soon  followed by song. An Indigo Bunting delivers bright doublets from a shortleaf pine on the sandstone bluff above. Judy Griffith, Joan Reynolds, and I are in cool shallows at Ninestone Land Trust, in southern Carroll County. Looking above, way above, two Turkey Vultures and one Black Vulture soar over our well-baked, mountainous Ozark landscape. It is really good to be here now. How can you beat sounds of birds and rushing water, minnows schooling and flashing as they swim in a deep pool? From our spot directly below Judy's home, the waterthrush is almost, but not quite, out sung by spring flows cutting through a smooth sandstone bluff. Here we are in July and the flow remains clear, smooth, unhurried, well-groomed. As it passes over and falls, it separates like wind-blown hair into thin streams and droplets. Quiet water gone wild, now grayish rather than clear. And it slams into the deep, rocky pool below, spreading frenzy and energy of white bubbles. Well, slams is too much of a word for a fall of six feet, but it roils the pool's surface. No matter to crawfish, easy to see in the water, waiting on rocks below. Welcome to waterthrush country, a great place anytime, but most especially now, when vegetation is curling brown, earth cracking, SWEPCO electrical generating plant burning hundreds of railroad cars of Wyoming coal to satiate our ravenous urban AC appetites.
Standing there admiring falling water, trying to see the waterthrush, we are surrounded by marvels. Joan notices pines successfully rooted in shallow holes pocking the almost vertical sandstone bluffs. I start examining the bases of these pines when suddenly something stunning green and black crosses my binocular view. Perched then on a spicebush shrub, I see polished emerald green, prominent dark eyes, clear wings black at the tip, and set off extraordinarily by a prominent white spot. Like a Greek chorus well-steeped in the natural history of the Ozarks, Judy and Joan respond "female ebony jewelwing," a damselfly. And we have the males too, with impossibly black wings. Piney Creek had massive spring floods taking out parts of banks. Big sycamores now lean across the water, what Judy calls raccoon bridges. While root wads are partially exposed, the trees continue their duties; much remains in gravelly soil. They adapt to this unexpected lean in life by sending branches and fresh leaves up and vertical from horizontal trunks. I'm thinking this may be something to consider myself, blown out of my comfort zone by a variety of storms. Maybe I too have the sap for some new leaves out of the old trunk?
OK, strange musings these are. Why waste my time here in private murk? I understand completely that I've fallen far from center. At least a half-bubble off, as one of my co-workers noticed years ago. But as I wander in a curious mental state, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo calls unseen nearby. I realize, for maybe the 1000th time, I've come here to the creek to be called back. It may be oppressively humid and lethargic, but undeterred, Red-eyed Vireos keep up songs, a steady chorus, with dogday cicadas, and that is good enough. As Thoreau said in his last breaths, one life at a time, and as I think now, we will have this one right here, thank you, and with whatever roots available. And now Joan has spotted an artistic caddis fly egg case constructed and well-disguised between short plant stems. The fly larva is at home. This marvel noted, Judy and Joan head up the creek to look at a special liverwort. I remain behind, piled down on a boulder and listening in on the pines above the bluffline. I hear a Yellow-throated Warbler and much louder, persistent, and insistent, wheezy HER REE! HER REE! begging calls of a fledgling Red-tailed Hawk. Closer, a Yellow-throated Vireo delivers its burry song in a walnut tree right along the creek.
 JOSEPH C. NEAL in Fayetteville, Arkansas
Chesney Prairie field trip begins in eight hours!

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