outdoors Photography Plants

Meets the eye

Yesterday was an absolutely beautiful day, almost 70 degrees. There was a breeze, but it was warm and gentle and one could go about with a light jacket and feel just right.

I hadn’t been up to Shaw in a long time because of the road construction on I-44. The state is adding an extra lane all the way to Gray Summit, and in the process the lanes are narrow and the road surface uneven. The speed limit is supposed to be 50, but I’ve yet to see anyone follow this. Well, other than myself. A Ford Focus handles beautifully on country roads, gravel, in the city and what not, but it does not do well on uneven roads.

At Shaw I debated on taking the forest path to the wet land, or the country road behind the back. I had my iPod in its new heavy duty Belkin leather case, and it was fun just walking along the road, listening to Bond; taking the ear buds out from time to time to listen to the wind through the trees and the birds singing.

I also took along my camera because, though Shaw is in the middle of its dormant stage, you never know when something will pop up that might be fun to photograph. Such was the case yesterday when I came across piles of cut Eastern redcedar.


Eastern redcedar is really a juniper tree, but it still has a beautiful grain and smell. The photography gave me an excuse to get close to the wood and breath in the scent. I noticed that the trees must have been fresh cut, as they were still ‘bleeding’ from the cuts.




A couple of folks came along and seemed dismayed to see what looked like healthy young trees cut down. After all, this is a Nature Center, what could be more natural than trees? Especially when the Center replaces the stands of trees with what looked like fields of weed. However, this effort is part of the the ongoing effort to remove invasive species all across the park; restoring native wetland and prairie, as well as stands of hickory and oak, which are more natural for this area.

Environments are delicate, and the health of a particular environment is not necessarily obvious in the eye of the beholder. Though a vast empty prairie may look like ruin, and a forest of cedar look richly healthy, the opposite can be and often is in true–prairies are alive with many species of plants and animals that may be difficult to spot, while eastern redcedar forests may contain just that: big redcedar trees and nothing else.

At one time, Shaw was prairie and wetland, but people came along and plowed it under into farmland. When the farms were abandoned and the ground lay fallow, rather than be reclaimed by what was natural wildflowers and grasses, seeds contained in berries eaten by birds made their way to the fertile ground and honeysuckle and eastern redcedar thrived. Unfortunately, redcedar needles contain a high level of acidity, unpalatable to other plants. Both species choke out others by overrunning the ground as well as providing a canopy preventing young plants from getting enough sun.


Like many other areas in the Midwest, work is underway to pull up these invasive plants, and replant native species in their place. Until this is finished, every winter the park is a mass of pulled and destroyed honeysuckle vine and redcedar trees in addition to the marks of controlled burns.

I left the road half way around to take the forest path past the prairie. The park had added a new bench overlooking the hills in a nice place to sit and enjoy the view of the grassland and the sod house on the hill.


I liked the inscription on the bench: He was in love with this world.





Insects outdoors Photography Places

Last call

I’m off tomorrow into the wilds of the Ozarks, into that part of the state new to me. There will, of course, be photos when I return, but maybe code, too, as I like to work on code when I’m in a hotel room — gives me something familiar.

Today, though, I went to the Botanical for another chance to get photos of the water lilies. Last chance, really, as the summer is waning and you can see this in the richness of the trees, and the activity of the insects. Particularly the insects, as the garden was ripe with butterflies today; so with yet more water lily photos you’ll also be getting yet more butterfly pictures.

Next time: code, I swear. And pictures of something different, I hope.


Still, I don’t think I can or ever will, get tired of being surrounded by butterflies and water lilies. It’s like you’re in the middle of a cartoon drawn by a young child with a new box of Crayolas. Everywhere you turn, you see another bright splash of color.


In the Spring, the insects are lazy, shy, and elusive. Today, though, you could almost reach out and hold them they were that close. But they were moving, constantly, which made getting a photo a little challenging. Now is the last chance for the bees to get nectar for the hive; the butterflies to store up energy to finish the migration; the dragonflies to, well, I don’t know why the dragonflies were frantic.

Not just the bugs, the photographers were out in force today, even at the 7am opening of the garden. Of course, the weather was going to be hot, and the sun isn’t that good for photography, but I must have ran into a dozen photographers within one hour. Most had tripods, a few were like me — just winging it.


Today’s bright and busy activity reminded me of years ago when I would go to a bar, and the bartender or band would announce last call. The lights would come up in the place, and people would scurry about, making good on the last few moments before having to head out into the night.

This girl would run up to her friends and whisper something into their ears and they would giggle and leave; that young man would be writing a phone number down in a match book. Of course now everyone carries pocket computers and cellphones and numbers would be jotted down into some kind of electronic device, but it’s not the same.

Friends would come together and split apart, some for home, others for another party somewhere, yet others to go to breakfast. And not just a small breakfast, either. I don’t know what happens now, in this Atkins Diet time, but back then, it was large, it had eggs, and it had potatoes and butter. Mega-cinnamon roll was optional.

There was one place in Seattle that was famous for the after hour breakfasts they’d make: huge plate size omelets covering a bed of crisp, perfectly done hash browns, served with good, hot coffee–all accompanied by thick, buttered toast and real preserves. The place was small, and people would be lined up for a block to get in, it was that popular. We’d sit there and laugh about the night, none of us wanting it to end–caught up in that perfect moment that’s not quite morning, but not evening either.


I remember a morning just like that in Salt Lake City, walking all night with friends, greeting the dawn with outstretched arms. The last of summer, and summer’s golden light.

This is a good time of year. The roses and other flowers have started to wilt, but in doing so they let out their richest scent. The leaves are at their darkest green, just before they begin to turn. Birds are everywhere, no longer bound to nests or to mating, and free to fly, and sing, just for the joy of it. It’s warm, but we’re starting to get a cool breeze now and again. And of course, all those butterflies.

I did like to walk among them today. They’re not shy of you at all, unless your shadow falls on them and then they take off into the air. As I walked by the rows of flowers, butterflies would leap into the air behind and around me, as if I were a June bride. My last chance to be a June bride, really, as I’m of an age with the summer.


outdoors People Photography

Festival of Nations

A storm blew in tonight and took with it the heat that has oppressed our state. We have broken records right and left, including a heat index of 121 degrees on Saturday, and several days straight with over 100 degree real temperatures.

Now I can go outside, and I need to as my daily level of stress has increased beyond comfort or even good health. I was so desperate that I did go to the Festival of Nations for a few hours on Sunday — with a heat index of only 106.

The poor dancers — especially those in more elaborate costumes. I was so hot that sweat poured into my eyes, burning them, as I surreptitiously wiped my brow with my shirt (having forgotten a handkerchief, and desperate enough to conveniently forget everything my mother taught me when I was young). But at least I was in light and loose cotton — some of these people were in woven silks and satins. The only groups that seemed truly comfortable were the ones from Haiti and the Ivory Coast and South Africa. Their outfits fit the intolerable heat.

But the dancers never showed anything but love of the dance.

The Festival had food from so many countries, including Eritrea, a first for me. Vegetarians would have been delighted as most of the stands had meat free dishes. The Greeks had Baklava sundaes having hastily converted their offerings into something with more appeal on a hot day.

One stage provided the dancers, another music, and other areas provided craftspeople and individual performers. An Irish fiddler roamed through the trees. The crowds were light, and whether it was because everyone was suffering together, everyone was in good spirits.

But it was too bloody hot and I could only stay for a few hours, which was disappointing. Still, there was much to see in those few hours. The time was richly spent.


Killer Bambis and other tales of the wild

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

The bites on my legs have improved and worsened, depending on which ones you look at. The one on my left inside ankle and right knee are just small purple dots. The one on my inside calf area of the left leg is developing what looks like a blister, but is pretty small; while the one on my right ankle has no blister, but it is about a quarter sized irregular shaped purple splotch. It is the two behind my left knee that worry me a bit. They’re inflamed and blistered, and don’t seem to be improving.

The bites aren’t ticks. I know this from experience. They also aren’t chigger. Ditto on the experience. Not bees, not wasps, not mutant mosquitoes, poison ivy, or about a half a dozen other things that can and do bite, sting, or rub off on you if you’re stupid enough to leave the trail when hiking in Missouri’s summer.

I’m beginning to suspect that the bites are from brown recluse spiders, particularly since I did go through an ill-formed, irregular web at one point when I was walking along the rocks overlooking the shut-ins and had a hard time finding a safe path back to the trail. I don’t remember getting bit, but I was feeling the effects of the heat and distracted by the bear, so I may not have noticed it. If it is brown recluse, it’s not that big a deal–most recluse spider bites heal fine on their own without any medical treatment. I do find it humorous, though, to have been worried about a bear all the while I’m being bit by a tiny creature the size of my fingertip.

At least I wasn’t pounded by Bambi’s Mom.

outdoors Places

Fault line

I’ve walked through cracks in cliffs before, but never a crack in the ground; not with dark and hidden pockets just out of view, against a background of damp, dripping cold. I started to pass through but stopped, just after entering, and couldn’t continue. There is this little primeval monkey in the back of my mind that beats its tiny hands against my skull, screaming out in terror when faced with the unknown. Though I can usually calm the monkey without much trouble–throwing millennia of evolution at it until its cries are smothered by reason–sometimes the monkey wins.

Yesterday I decided it was time to face down the screaming monkey and walk through The Slot at Pickle Creek. The weather was going to be warm, but I left early and got there about 9, before anyone else had arrived.

I grabbed my camera and my walking stick and headed out. The way was much easier than the last time I tried the trail, when it was cold and wet and hard to walk on the slippery rocks. And when I reached The Slot, rather than be filled with mud and water running through it, it was crowned by trees with new green leaves, as sun filtered through to sprinkle the dark of the crack with light. I hesitated only a moment before entering.

The way through was very clear and easy to traverse, and all the dark nooks and crannies weren’t so deep I couldn’t see the back. I started taking pictures, feeling pretty good about quieting the primate inside, as well as silly for being nervous of a tiny crack in the ground, which is really nothing more than a natural split along an old fault. Between one step in the next, though, the sides of the The Slot deepened and darkened, and the temperature dropped at least 20 degrees, if not more. I could also hear footsteps and both the monkey and I stood perfectly still, not even breathing. Well, I wasn’t breathing–the monkey was hyperventilating.

The couple had cameras like I did, but smaller, as they snapped shot after shot of the walls of The Slot. We exchanged pleasantries and I urged them to go ahead, because I’m slow on rocks with my bad knee and ankle. I emphasized my bad knee, and alluded to a fall during another hike. They smiled, politely, completely disinterested, thanked me and moved on.

The way opened up on the left, though the cliff on the right steepened until a hill carved into rough rock and I was moving slowly — it was difficult to traverse. Not as difficult as Mina Sauk, but I had to use my stick more than once. But it was beautiful, looking into the carved rock around me, and back at The Slot–now reduced to an odd bit of rock and fern. Sadly, there goes all monsters.

The path after climbing the hill was very smooth, and the way easy though starting to get warm. It climbed until we reached the Cauliflower Rocks, though why this impressive formation of boulders is called this, beats me. Luckily, rather than have to rock climb down, Missouri has provided a nice set of stairs so even the rock challenged such as myself could traverse them. It led to the Double Arch, a beautiful formation that framed the forest and the path, forming a cat’s eye with the tree on the other side.

The original couple was there, climbing all over and taking photos. The man stood under the arch, as the woman took his photo and I had this sudden desire to yell out, “Earthquake!” though I fought the impulse down.

The path leaving the Double Arch was relatively even, with some rough spots where I had to use the stick. The next rock formation was the Keyhole and here I was stumped because I saw two trails leading off, and no idea, which path to take. One led to a narrow gap in the rocks with fairly steep steps; the other to a gentle path down to a field spotted about with delicate pink flowers–the rare wild azalea. I wish I could say I was a wild woman and took the tiny gap, but I opted for the flowers. I am so weak.

Well, the path was the wrong one, but still good and I enjoyed the flowers and a nice, easy trail. Luckily, it did connect up with the right path before too long. From there it was down to Pickle Creek, which since there had been no rain for some time, was pretty shallow, with only a faint, tiny waterfall–not much more than a big drip. By this time I was getting tired because though the way was relatively even, it had been challenging in places, and I thought the trail was only one mile. Later I was to learn that the Pickle Creek trail is one mile end to end –where it then connected with another trail to loop back to the parking lot.

It was getting warmer and I was getting tired, when I ended up on Dome Rock. I realized this was the back end of the rocks that had stopped me once before and I remembered that time that I couldn’t find an easy path, and I wasn’t sure I could slide down rocks, or return back the way I had come because what was easy to climb up, isn’t easy to climb down. The guide book had said this trail was moderate; I should have remembered from my experience with both both politics and religion, ‘moderate’ in Missouri doesn’t necessarily translate cleanly into the King’s English.

I walked towards the edge of the rocks to look over the valley and spotted an arrow pointing out the path, and a sign that read, “Rock Climbing Prohibited”. Oh. Darn. There was a nice cool breeze, and the view was good and I perked up and thought, hey, stop being a wimp, Shelley.

Walking to the other side of the domed rock, I could see the trail leading off, and the way down, though requiring a recourse to my stick more than once, traversable. I wondered how I had lost the trail last time I was out. I was about half way down, when I heard small feet running behind me and two dogs came running up, about level with my head on the rock above me, barking.

I am not comfortable meeting dogs without owners out in the forest. I yelled out, “Dogs! Are they friendly”, all the while holding out my stick. A voice yelled out, “They’re friendly, don’t worry!” and though the dogs didn’t come up to be petted, they didn’t come closer, and I realized they were more scared of me than me of them.

They belonged to a nice, if irresponsible couple who were showing their favorite walk to two relatives visiting from Scotland. These were older women, older than me, by far, and I watched with envy as they bounded past. I am not old, I think to myself — I am wounded. It’s my knee’s fault, I am not old.

We chatted for a bit, and after they left I started my slow descent and the way was not easy. At one point I had to inch down, walking sideways, sliding one foot to rest next to the other, on a ledge of dirt because I couldn’t climb up on the rock in the middle of the path. If I fell, I would only slide 8 or 9 feet, no real danger involved. It made me angry though, because I’m tired of having to hobble along with joints stiff and painful as people hopped and skipped past. A trip that would take one hour takes three, and leaves me so covered in sweat that even six bottles of water still leave me thirsty.

I made it, I didn’t fall, but I had a headache and was feeling overheated and lightheaded. And still feeling angry–why can’t the parks maintain their trails better? Why leave large rocks in the middle of the path so that people like me have to inch fearfully past?

At the bottom of the hill was a bench that faced one of the limestone canyon walls and I gratefully sunk into it, exhausted. I sat there for a while, trying to cool down, and regain my interest in my surroundings.

After a time, I began to notice the coloration of the different layers in the limestone cliff across from me. At one time the land all around had been smooth and featureless, but the pressures of a growing world had stressed the rock at faults, and cliffs formed, and valleys dropped, leaving behind one of the most unusual environments in Missouri; framed by boulders, filled with rare ferns and flowers, creeks and springs and falls formed at sharp edges–truly a lost land amidst all the constant Missouri forest.

Fault lines. Funny that a word used to describe a geological wonder is also used to assign blame, to weep and wail at fate and fact. My difficult on hills was the fault of my knee; my knee was the fault of improper walking due to in injury to my ankle and foot; my injury was due to a fall on the hill.

But why stop there? My fall on the hill was the fault of my distraction. My distraction was the fault of one worry or another. My worries were the fault of a soft job market in St. Louis. My living in St. Lous was the fault of the dot-com industry going belly up in California, while the cost of living remained the same. This state of affairs was the fault of rampant greed, shallowly based on industries with little real worth. And on and on it goes, a spiral of blame and fault finding until eventually the whole world is at fault, in one way or another.

“What did you do Saturday, Shelley?”

“Well, I sat at the bottom of a cliff surrounded by hay-smelling ferns and rare wild azaleas in the middle of a slice of the Ozarks older than sin, and sweated gallons of water while my knee throbed and old Scottish ladies pranced by like bloody young lassies, shaking my fist at the sky and cursed the world.”

“So, how about you?”

There was a crash in the bushes in the hill behind me, something much too large to be a squirrel and moving fast. I looked over in time to see a small red fox dash out about ten feet away and run, fast as it could across the path and down the hill towards the cliff. Following it, by a fairly long distance, was the darker of the two dogs I had met earlier, and behind it the other. They crashed off through the bushes until I couldn’t hear them any more.


I sat and looked after them for a time and then grabbed my stick and started up the trail. Eventually the younger dog came up behind me and trotted past, following the path up the hill.

I waited for the other one, the older one. Eventually he showed up on the trail behind me, limping a bit, and obviously tired. I called him by his name, but he wouldn’t approach me, but neither would he pass me. Figuring he was frightened of my walking stick, I started walking again and he followed.

I stopped now and again to rest my knee and look about, and as I did, the dog behind me also stopped. I walked, and he followed, and thus we made it up the hill, me first, the dog several paces back, both stopping at the same time, both footsore and panting from the heat, until we met up with his master. At that point, the dog bounded past me to a happy reunion, and the owner waved one more time at me, and yelled thanks and took off, while I made the rest of the way to the car.

When I got home, my roommate asked how my walk went.

“I saw a red fox. Not ten feet away from me, running away from a couple of dogs chasing it.”

“You saw a fox? I didn’t know there were fox in Missouri?”

“Yeah, a red fox. It was pretty cool really, but he was gone before I could get a photo.”

He shook his head, and said, “Too bad about the dogs chasing it. Stupid dogs.”

“The dogs were just doing what dogs do. It wasn’t the dogs’ fault.”

“It never is. ”