Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Joe Neal and friends visit White Rock

White Rock is way, way out in the middle of the Ozark National Forest
and the Boston Mountains. Yesterday, there were Hermit Thrushes and
Golden-crowned Kinglets in a stand of native shortleaf pines. Male
Purple Finches (4) were enjoying coral berries and tree buds right
alongside Forest Service Road 1505. Flocks in scattered weedy openings
also included juncos, goldfinches, cardinals, and many White-throated
Sparrows. Field Sparrows decorated twigs poking out of an old rock
wall in the ridgetop farming community of Bidville. An adult Bald
Eagle soared over, too.

Despite a record-breaking ice storm, a forest-decimating outbreak of
borer beetles, and relentless cutting of the Federal budget, the
Forest Service has managed to keep difficult, mountainous, winding
roads to White Rock safe, open and even improved in places, including
attractive road signs that, at least as of yesterday, vandals hadn't
yet destroyed.

From Fayetteville I usually go out highway 16 to Combs, in Madison
County, then turn south along Mill Creek, where yesterday Hamamelis
vernalis, Ozark Witch Hazel was covered with rather elegant reddish
blooms. Unfortunately, off-road vehicles are damaging Mill Creek
bottomlands. Freshly eroded tracks and huge mudholes are visible
without effort, and this, despite the fact that ORVs have been
provided their own special ride nearby. Fresh nobby tracks go right
past "Road closed" signs.

From Mill Creek the forest road ascends toward White Rock. Along some
of those high ridges we found another Hamamelis species, American
Witch Hazel with cheery yellow flowers. We were enjoying Fox Sparrows,
all handsome browns and grays, in thickets of greenbriar and grape
vines. Well below us, and out-of-sight, we heard a steady rustling of
dry leaves, like deer (?) or maybe a bear (?) was walking. An
investigation by Joan Reynolds showed sparrows, mostly white-throats,
working the leaves, but in another place we spotted a fresh bear
track. There was also an Eastern Towhee in the mix.

The Ozark National Forest is full of dead and dying trees, a legacy of
ice, insects, and a natural turning over. My old friend Eleanor
Johnson used to say, "It's an ill wind that doesn't blow someone some
good," and it's good now to be a woodpecker. I gather also a logger or
a fire wood cutter. Without special effort we heard and saw most of
the expected woodpecker species and a sawmill full of hardwood logs
and a mountain of sawdust.

What we see today -- cabins built from native stone, hiking trails,
and winding mountain roads -- recalls a different era. White Rock,
Devil's Den, many schools, courthouses, and lakes were all visions
that grew from the challenges of the 1930s Great Depression. The view
from that time was that government was not the enemy. Government by
the people and for the people should help the people with useful jobs,
conservation that saved productivity of land and soil, and affordable
recreation. The builders of forest roads and fire-fighting
capabilities were Arkansans out of work and down on their luck -- our
parents and relatives from a different era -- and they and their
families survived in part due to a then generous view of the purposes
of government.


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