This day was our dogwood trek. As I’ve noted before, we’ve not found any dogwood trees in the woods at Roundrock. However, Fallen Timbers, that other little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks that we have, is rich with the trees. In fact, their abundance was one of the qualities helping us decide to buy those 40 acres.
We feared that we had missed the blooming since the dogwoods in Kansas City were in full flower already, and Fallen Timbers is 125 miles southwest of the old hometown. But Karl over at Pile of O’Melays (even farther south, though still in the great state of Missouri) reported that his dogwoods were currently rampant with flowers, so we were hopeful as we finally found some free time to make a day trip. A powerful storm had passed through Missouri the night before, and with the forest now greening up, we thought we would have a delightful trip.
The private road leading to our forest (two miles from the county gravel road) is more of an idea than an actual road. It can pound the fillings out of your teeth in places, and this visit nearly managed to do so. But with appropriate recklessness and four-wheel drive, we were soon pulling into the overgrown entrance to our woods. The track that cuts across the southwest corner of our land was once the old ridge road that served whoever lived or worked in these hills in the past, and it serves as our property entrance and passage to our fire ring. It was still discernable to us, especially since we have relied on it to get through the trees for years, but it could be lost to an untrained eye amidst the sprouting young trees and scrubby growth. Had we visited more regularly and perhaps done some more vigorous maintenance to it, this old ridge road might have stayed more open.
So we were on a dogwood trek, but we thought we ought to do a little clearing work on our entrance road, and since I knew we’d be too pooped to work after we returned from a dogwood hike, we decided to work first and explore later. None of the scrub that was growing on the road was more than an inch in diameter at ground level — and most of it was much less — so our tools were lopers and hand saws. Applied with the right of amount of bending, stooping, kneeling, grunting, and cursing, they can do an effective job, but they clear only one invader at a time. Still, we thought, a little bit of work, and a little on our next visit, and so on would make a big job more manageable and provide at least some sense of being responsible about our duties as landowners.
As we were chopping and snipping and sawing away, our neighbor drove up and stopped to chat. I’d met him once before, and he’s a personable chap who also lives near Kansas City and keeps his woods for a wilderness refuge. (As we chatted, he spoke of one visit when he was surprised by a heavy snowstorm and was left snowbound in his cabin for three days — remember that malevolent road I spoke of — and how it was the most blissful time he’d ever had.) He looked at our work, commented on how big a job it was, and offered to bring his brush hog by to make quick work of it for us. We demurred, of course, but he insisted, saying it wouldn’t be work to him but actually a big load of fun. When he finally agreed to let us pay him for the gas involved in running his tractor the matter was settled. He would drive over to his cabin and return with his tractor and brush hog while we would hike over to our fire ring where our truck was parked so he’d know where the clearing work ended.
Suffice to say, he did a few months worth of work for us in a few minutes (well, a half hour), but I’ll leave that tale for another post.
Then it was finally time for our dogwood trek. Our fire ring and general campsite is on the ridgetop, and most of our land at Fallen Timbers lies on the land sloping down from there to the north. Although there were a handful of dogwood trees here and there on the ridgetop, we knew the thickest stands were down on the north-facing slope. So with a knapsack full of bottled water and a few hand tools (plus two cameras), we turned our feet to the north and began our stumble down the hill. Now I know that the temperate forests of the Midwest can’t compare with the tropical growth in, say, Florida, but we were pushing through dense, dense growth, making our way down the hill. Occasionally we’d come upon a game trail, but the critters are too clever to go directly up and down the mini-mountains in this part of the Ozarks, so we were generally crossing their paths rather than following them.
The dense scrub was due to the fact that this hillside had been mostly clear cut about a decade before (two owners past), and with the canopy open, the opportunistic seeds and nuts and acorns sprouted to life and elbowed their way to the sunlight. As a result, we lost our bearings a bit and veered to the west more than I realized. When we finally reached the mostly dry creek at the bottom of the slope, we were much farther to the west than I had expected, but that was okay since it was exactly where the thickest stands of dogwood were.
Alas, the best time to visit Fallen Timbers to see the dogwoods seemed to have been the day before. Apparently, the storm was just as intense down here as it had been in Kansas City. Most of the bracts (the white “petals” of the dogwood blossoms) were battered or knocked from the trees. There were still clouds of white up in the trees and on the hillsides, and some of the more protected trees deeper in the ravines still bore passable blossoms, but it looked like we had just missed the best display. Nonetheless, any time spent in an Ozarks woods is time well spent. As a compensation, the gods managed to shower us with these bracts as we sat by the stream, as though with a soft, white snowstorm. That was pleasant.
The plant life at Fallen Timbers is much more diverse than at Roundrock. Not only do we have plenty of dogwoods and redbud, but we have dense thickets of sassafras and some tall-standing variety of sumac. We also found many flowering plants that we had not seen at Roundrock, and I tried to get decent pictures of them all, so in the days to come, I’ll bore you with these as well.
Having done a little mountain backpacking in Colorado in another life, I learned that it is much easier to hike up a hill rather than down one. Yes, gravity assists you going down, and fatigue fights you going up, but at least you can be more certain of reliable footing as you climb with less fear of sliding as you go. And so went our return to the fire ring and lunch waiting for us back on the ridgetop. We diverted here and there, paused to take photos or investigate this or that, and all the while take a few stabs at clearing some of the scrub. Eventually, we were throwing ourselves down in the chairs by the fire ring, doing our best to be polite and dainty as we prepared our lunches (when what we actually wanted to do was shove it all in our mouths and wash it down with great gulping glugs of water — though I had iced tea, with no sweetener).
After lunch came the regular stupor as we listened to the birds and watched the butterflies. Something noisy poked about in the leaf litter nearby. Early flies buzzed around our heads. And we drifted in and out of consciousness. Finally, we pushed ourselves out of the chairs and made a last great effort at clearing some of the scrub that was encroaching the fire ring/campsite area. Again we made a few discoveries that I’ll post about in future days, but finally we thought we might see what time it was (not having worn a watch, of course), and it turned out to be nearly 5:00 p.m.! We still had a two-hour drive ahead of us as well as unloading, showering vigorously, and then some regular household chores to address before we could fall happily into our beds.
So we said farewell to Fallen Timbers, but I think we’ll be back again pretty soon.
- Ruby-throated hummingbirds begin arriving.
- Hickories bloom.