Sunday, May 12, 2013

Down the Hill

Nature Walk: May 12, 2013.

By John P. Smith
Freelance Writer

I decided to photograph some of the wild, untamed beauty of our little mountain in the Ozarks. My Sony Alpha SLR was out on loan so I ended up taking my wife's little pocket Kodak Easy Share camera. Not exactly my first choice, but I'd made a plan and I stuck to it.

Before I got started good, I noticed the Himalaya berries starting to bloom. The plant makes some of the most evil thorns to be found, but they will also be making awesome berries around the end of July.

I set out with my day pack; enough to get me through a day in the rough. Briefly, my gear consisted of: food and water, a small blanket, first aid kit, rain ponchos, a few basic tools, a knife, Ruger LCP 380 with a pocket holster, camera, cell phone. As I left the house, my nephew, Terrance, 12, asked if he could go with me. He was driving a 4-wheeler. I was on foot carrying my pack. I said, “Sure. Meet me at the camp.”

Over the past year, I've established a primitive camp site about a kilometer north of the road, on the back side of our family property. The site has nothing spectacular to recommend it except that it sits just below the outlet of a mountain-top spring. The water is clear, cold and wonderful. Earlier this year, when I was back there with a chainsaw doing some clearing to improve the site, I removed the remains of large maple dead fall. Under it, I found another outlet from the source, probably 100 meters from the primary. This spring once ran year-round. With the lower-than-normal rainfall of the past years it has gone dry in the heart of the summer. Perhaps, with our higher rain amounts this season, the water level will be up enough to keep it running all year. I did not take a shot of the primary outlet because we've plugged it up and run a pipe out of it to a catch basin as an emergency water supply.

In that spring at the top of the hill, we found this little salamander: After having his photo taken, he was released back into the same water hole where he was discovered.

My plan was to be quiet, move slowly and try to photograph some of the larger animals: deer, armadillo, squirrel, birds of all kinds, snakes, lizards, frogs, etc. That turned out to be impossible. Terrance is full of energy, questions and opinions. Our little trek took about 3 hours from camp to Cove Creek at the bottom of the mountain and back up. During this entire adventure, Terrance never shut up. Even when we were climbing the kilometer-high, 45-degree slant back to the top of the mountain. Climbing back up, I worked my way from tree-to-tree, 10 meters at time, sweating profusely, doing my best not to have a heart attack. Terrance climbed the hill, slid and fell back down several times, stopped to check out a few old logs, fallen trees and funky rocks. All the while, he kept up a running dialog of subjects from the best dirt to find worms for fishing to the Curiosity Rover on Mars.

Also on the way down, we ran across an overhanging bluff just northeast of the spring.

Of course, I moved with deliberate caution, understanding that a broken ankle or dislocated knee would be more than just a painful experience while we were down in areas that can't be reached by 4-wheeler or horses. Terrance was a ball of energy moving from one amazing discovery to the next. Like this tree we found that he had to climb out on despite my warnings that, “If you break your leg, I'm not carrying you all the way to the top of that mountain.” To which he blithely responded, “I can hop on one foot.”

Here's me. (Holding on because those rocks were slicker than snot.)

Nash was hanging with us.

At the bottom is Cove Creek, or at least one of its northern branch tributaries. Here we discovered that the water is still really cold. Terrance figured that out by leaning off a ledge onto a tree in the middle of a small pool. “Hey, look at this. Get a picture of me leaning out over the water.” To which I replied, “I'll try to get it before that old tree breaks and you fall in.” I didn't make it. Terrance got wet. All he had to say about that was, “Stupid tree.” I tried not to laugh too much. 

Just up the creek from where Terrance took the plunge, we found this waterfall.

Below are some of the creatures and plants we saw during our exploration.  This is the end of this story, but not the end of the photos.

This little girl was growing down by the bank all by herself. No others like her right where she was.

Found this area under a rocky overhang where the dirt daubers stay dry.

This feather washed up onto the shore.

This water spider was catching a few rays:

This guy was working hard to hide in the rocks.

While this guy sat in the water enjoying the sunlight. 

These inch worms were everywhere. (I'm trying to go all metric, but 2-centimeter worms just doesn't sound as descriptive as inch worm.)