Beaver Water District Blog

Editor’s Note

Dr. Robert “Bob” Morgan is the Manager of Environmental Quality for Beaver Water District.


May 2015 – River or Creek?

Austin and Peter Neirengarten enjoying a day on War Eagle Creek

Austin and Peter Neirengarten enjoying a day on War Eagle Creek

This May I have had the privilege to be on War Eagle Creek three times. May 9 was the inaugural running of the annual Morgan-Mhoon float trip. Then May 16, Sharon and I kayaked on the War Eagle arm of Beaver Lake with my friends Steve Patterson and Ed Fite. Finally on the Saturday before Memorial Day, I once again paddled on War Eagle Creek with my friend David Thrasher, whom I have written about before, Bill Elder and his wife, Karen Freeman, along with their daughter, Meredith, son-in-law Peter Neirengarten, and their son Austin. All three were great trips with their own special character.

Every time I make a trip to the War Eagle with folks that have not been there before, I get the same question, “Is it a creek or a river?”  That question is easy to answer. United States Geographic Survey (USGS) maps all give the name of the stream as “War Eagle Creek.” War Eagle Creek is the official name as determined by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names and subsequently is listed in the USGS’s Geographic Names Information System. It just doesn’t get any more official than that! It’s the next question that is difficult, “What is the difference between a creek and a river?”

This is really a tough question with no clear answer. We tend to think of a hierarchy of water body sizes starting from brook and working up to river.  One reference on the internet says you can step over a brook, jump across a creek, wade a stream and swim across a river. That might work, but I distinctly remember my childhood friend Steve Wilson showing me a photo of his dad standing with one foot on each side of the Mississippi River.  I have also been to places on the White River where it is an easy step from one side to the other. Also, I have been to places on War Eagle Creek that definitely require swimming. So the size category breaks down at some point.

Another idea is that creeks are tributaries (flow into) of rivers. That may be generally true, but some creeks flow directly into bays or estuaries. And, as Steve Sobieszczyk of the USGS points out, the Little River behind the USGS office in Reston, Va. flows into Goose Creek. In the case of War Eagle Creek and the White River, it is hard to determine which is tributary to which. Both streams start on the same hill outside of Red Star, Ark., at about the same elevation and both are generally the same size at the confluence (joining of streams).

War Eagle at High Water May 2015

War Eagle at High Water May 2015

Length is another criterion that can be considered. But we can quickly rule that out as well. A quick surf of the internet gave four claims for the longest creek in the United States, including the French Creek in W. Va., the Elkhorn Creek in Ken. (124 miles), Crab Creek in Wash. (165 miles), and Laughery Creek in Ind. (90-some miles). However, Lodgepole Creek in Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado at 278 miles is the longest creek in the United States. An interesting fact about Lodgepole Creek is that the highest average annual flow in the stream ever recorded at the one and only gage in Bushnell, Neb, was 18.1 cubic feet per second (CFS). However, the last year when the average annual flow exceeded 1 CFS was 2003 when it reached 3.18 CFS. Several years since then, the averageflow was 0.  For comparison, the highest average annual flow in the War Eagle was 641.5 CFS in 1957.  Each CFS equals 449 gallons per minute. The title of shortest river is also contested. The Guinness Book of World Records currently lists the Roe River, which flows 200 feet from Giant Springs to the Missouri River, as the shortest. However, the citizens of Lincoln City, Ore., claim the D river that flows from Devil’s Lake into the Pacific Ocean is that shortest. Their measurement of 120 feet is suspect since they measured to the line of “extreme high tide.” Either way, it is clear that length alone does not determine river or creek.

So there is no clear answer to what differentiates a creek from a river. We can say that a river is generally larger and longer than a creek and that creeks are frequently tributary to rivers. But there are always exceptions. Likely the name is just a matter of the preference of the person who named the stream.  There are in fact over a hundred terms that refer to flowing bodies of water. These terms include brook, run, creek, crick, kill, run, runnel, stream, rio, river, arroyo, branch, fork, gut, rill and many more.

The term “creek” comes from old English which likely got it from the Norse. In England, creek refers to an inlet or bay where ships can find shelter from the sea. Settlers from England and Scotland brought the term with them, but for some reason referred to small streams as creeks as well. River on the other hand is from the Latin term “riparia.” French explorers who took the name from the native Osage Indians named the White River. The name War Eagle Creek did not appear until around 1820 after the United States purchased Louisiana (as in Louisiana Purchase, not the State of Louisiana) from the French.  Since the United States was heavily influenced by its English settlers, my speculation is that the descriptor of creek or river just is a reflection of who was in charge when the stream was named.

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Hiking in Portland

In March of this year, I found myself at a meeting in Portland, Oregon. The meeting, which lasted three and a half days, ended at noon on a Wednesday. With flights from Portland to northwest Arkansas being as they are, it didn’t matter whether I caught the late evening flight home or the early morning flight. Either way, I would arrive in Arkansas at 1:30 the next afternoon. So I decided to hang around Portland instead of sitting in an airport all night.

Portland is the kind of place where it only rains once a year. Usually, the rain starts in October and ends around the middle of June. But this is a strange year in the west. With the exception of one day when it poured, the rest of my stay was clear and mild. Mt. Hood, roughly 60 miles to the east, stood out clearly.

Portland is good at three things: beer, coffee, and walking. With the better part of an afternoon on my hands, I did what I normally won’t to do. That is I went for a long walk. Downtown sits on the bank of the Willamette (will-lam-it) River. Forty-five minutes’ walk to the west is the International Rose Test Garden. Clearly, there weren’t going to be any roses in bloom the day after St. Patrick’s Day, but it was a destination. What I didn’t know was that the Rose Garden was just a small part of the 400-acre Washington Park. Not only is Washington Park home to the Rose Garden, there also is a Japanese Garden, a Magnolia Garden, a Winter Garden, and several miles of wildland trail. Washington Park also is home to at least three of Portland’s infamous open water reservoirs.

Open drinking water reservoir in Portland

Open drinking water reservoir in Portland

Let me explain the open water reservoirs. These are, or were, reservoirs for storing drinking water. They are not round storage tanks like you might expect. You or I would likely call them lakes. They fit into the terrain and are very attractive features.

Portland’s source of water is the Bull Run Watershed. Bull Run is in the Mt. Hood National Forest northeast of Portland. The entire watershed is protected for the water supply. You are not even allowed to hike the watershed. The water is as pure as it gets.

Because Portland’s water source was so well protected, when EPA promulgated the Surface Water Treatment Rule, that required filtration of surface water, Portland was able to get a waiver. That waiver saved the city literally hundreds of millions of dollars because of not building filters. For years, they have drawn water from their reservoir in the Bull Run, disinfected it, then piped it into the mentioned open reservoirs. From the reservoirs, the water flows by gravity into the people’s homes. That is until last year. In 2009, EPA promulgated a new rule that prohibited the use of open reservoirs for treated water. The basis of that prohibition is that open reservoirs are open to contamination from animals, birds, trash and people. Indeed, in April of 2014, the city had to drain an entire reservoir because a young man found it amusing to pee into it. The citizens of Portland fought the new rule, but ultimately they lost. It is less expensive to build new closed reservoirs than to cover the existing open ones. Today the reservoirs sit empty. Likely it was time to close them anyway. After all, they were decades old and in poor shape. Portland’s website indicates that maintenance of the reservoirs was going to cost $125 million over the next few years.

Moving on past the reservoirs, I headed on up the hill to the Rose Garden. Roses really don’t interest me that much and they weren’t blooming anyway, so I walked on past and headed up the hill. While the roses were not blooming, spring does come early in Portland. Cherry trees were in full bloom as were many other blooming shrubs that I couldn’t identify. Eventually, I left the paved trail in favor of a less developed woodland trail. A couple coming off the trail stopped to talk for a minute. They told me that the trail I was on would eventually loop back to the Rose Garden. They also advised that I take a short side trip to the Magnolia Garden that was in full bloom. That being the best advice I had, I headed on up the trail into a forest of giant western red cedars figuring on a couple of hours of pleasant walking. That’s when I was surprised to find one of my favorite wildflowers, the trillium.

Pacific Trillium

Pacific Trillium

Anyone who walks the woods in Arkansas, or anywhere in North America, should be familiar with the trillium. In the Ozarks, trilliums grow along the base of moist hillsides. They have a brown stem up to several inches high, three ovate green leaves topped by three oval green sepals, and then three petals. The petals are usually a maroon color. Some references say that the leaves aren’t really leaves but they are actually bracts. That is a little beyond my horticultural expertise. They look like leaves and act like leaves so I call them leaves. Trilliums are members of the lily family.

In the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s database, there is a list of 22 different species of trillium. The one that I saw in Portland was the Trillium ovatum or the Pacific trillium, also called the western wake-robin. It was about 6 to 10 inches tall and a similar dimension across. The flower was white with petals maybe an inch and a half long. As I moved along the trail, I realized that the trillium was numerous in the park. It was a great day to be out.

I eventually headed down the mountain back to downtown. I stopped at a gastro-pub to enjoy another of the good things of Portland. Then, I headed back to the hotel to get into bed early. My morning flight left at 5:45.

As I already mentioned, trilliums are also called “wake-robins.” The name has a nice flow to it. Why it is called wake-robin is hard to say. The only reference I could find was from John Burroughs, a 19th century naturalist who lived in upstate New York. Burroughs’ first book was titled “Wake-Robin.” He used the term exactly once in the book: “When I have found the wake-robin in bloom I know the season (of birds returning to upstate New York) is fairly inaugurated.”

Arkansas is much further south than New York, and it seems to me that here the birds arrive first, and then the wake-robin blooms. Another common name is “birthroot.” Herbalists have in the past used trillium to stop the hemorrhaging of blood after childbirth.

Green trillium growing near Beaver Lake

Green trillium growing near Beaver Lake

Carl Hunter’s book, “Wildflowers of Arkansas,” describes five species of trillium growing in our state. We have the green, purple, and sessile trilliums in the Ozark and Ouachita mountains. The Ozark and the white flowered trilliums have a much smaller range. The Ozark may be found in Montgomery, Polk and Pulaski counties, according to Hunter. The white flowered is found in Stone County. The Ozark and sessile trilliums are likely the ones that we see most often. These plants are relatively large for woodland wildflowers, have wide green ovate leaves and the petals are a maroon color. The leaves, sepals and petals are always in threes. Usually, the petals are oriented vertically. The green trillium is the largest that we have at up to two feet tall.

Trillium can be found around Beaver Lake. Try cruising (paddling is best) slowly along a moist wooded hillside. Look for a small spot of maroon color. You can also try walking up the creek beds in the Devil’s Eyebrow or along Hobbs State Park and Conservation Area. April and May are the best times.

 

 

 

 

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March 2015 — 800 Moons and Counting

For the last 40 years or so it has been my habit to rise early, go outdoors and get 30 to 45 minutes of exercise most every day. Early morning seems to be the one time that life doesn’t get in the way of this exercise habit. Perhaps one day I will be able to wait until sunrise. But until I retire, it looks like pre-dawn is my time.

There are advantages to being out before dawn. You almost always have the place to yourself, it’s cooler during the summer, and all day long you have a good feeling created by exercise. Sometimes it is really cold. But being cold is hardly ever a problem when you are exercising. Another advantage is that it helps you keep up with the phases of the moon.

moon-phases

The first full moon of 2015 was Jan. 5th. In our part of the world, the latest sunrise occurs around Jan. 11. So when I arrived at the park that morning it was still two hours before daylight. The full moon sets in the west just as the sun rises in the east. So the moon was still two hours from setting. In the east, Scorpio was just rising. Jupiter was high in the southwestern sky right below Leo the lion. The Gemini twins were setting in the west. Had I been out at dusk instead of dawn, the full moon would have been rising in the east just as the sun set.

This particular night it was so bright that when walking to the west I had to squint to see the paved trail. Forty-five minutes later as I finished up, the moon was still hanging above the western horizon.

The moon looks huge when it is setting. But I remember my astronomy professor telling us back in college that it actually was the same size as when it is high in the sky. It is just the reference to features on the horizon that make it look large. You can check that out if you want. Hold your thumb out at arms’ length and put it in front of the full moon when it is high in the sky. Your thumb should just about cover the moon. Then when the moon is low in the sky, try again. If your thumb covers the same part of the moon, then my instructor was right.

The morning following the full moon, and each subsequent morning, the moon climbs higher in the sky. It’s 12 ½ degrees higher each morning if you really need to know. During this period it is referred to as a waning gibbous moon. After about a week, the third quarter moon is high overhead. It’s strange that we have full moons and quarter moons but no half moons. Over the next week, the waning crescent is a little lower in the eastern sky in the morning. By the end of the second week, a sliver of a crescent moon is just rising in the east when I arrive at the park.  Every now and then during the sliver of a crescent, the rest of the moon will be just visible. That is referred to as the new moon in the old moon’s arms. It is really the dark part of the moon being lit by earthshine. The next day the moon will be new and I won’t see it at all.

After the new moon I don’t see the moon at all for a couple of weeks. That is because it doesn’t rise until after daylight and it has already set when I arrive at the park at 5:30 a.m. The moon is going through its waxing crescent and waxing gibbous phases during these two weeks. Then one day I see a glow in the western sky in the morning. The next morning it – starts all over again.

A few thousand years ago, there was a priest in some castle in the desert whose job was to stay up at night and watch the heavens. Over time, he figured out that the cycle of the moon from full moon to full moon took 29½ days. That is close to a month, but not quite. So the date of the full moon moves up a day or two each month. Since it was regular, it was only natural to keep time by the moon. But unfortunately, the 365 days in a year do not divide equally by the 29½ days in the lunar cycle so the moon didn’t make a very convenient calendar. That is to say you couldn’t figure out when to plant the corn by the cycle of the moon. The Persians figured that out about 4,000 years ago and shifted over to the solar calendar.

April 4th will mark the 800th time that I have watched the cycle of the moon. With some luck, I may live to see 200 more lunar cycles. With a lot of luck, I may see 300 more. Could I see another 400? Well, it’s not likely.

By coincidence, there also will be a partial lunar eclipse the morning of April 4th. But you will have to get up early to see it. By partial I mean only a portion of the moon will be covered by the earth’s shadow. Later this year on Sept. 27th, we will get to see a total lunar eclipse. The moon will be completely covered by the earth’s shadow.

Some mornings, there is a ring circling the moon. An old saying goes, “ring around the moon, rain comes soon.” There is actually some truth to the old saying. Cold fronts are often preceded for a couple of days by high cirrus clouds. Those clouds are made of millions of tiny ice crystals. The ring is caused by moonlight being refracted by ice crystals. If you measured it, you would find the ring to be about 44 times as large as the moon.

Out of the 800 lunar cycles that I’ve lived, I guess a hundred or so cycles went by before I figured out there was something other than moon at night and sun during the day. One day at Central Ward Elementary School in Rogers, I looked up during recess and saw the moon overhead. It amazed me to see the moon during the daytime. I guess I was lucky that a softball didn’t hit me while I was staring at the moon. Ms. Simpkins explained the lunar cycle as best she could to a bunch of knot-headed fourth-graders. After a couple hundred cycles, I pretty much had the phases figured out. Since then, the cycles have simply marked time. But it is fun to watch anyway.

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January 2015 – Just For Fun

According to the U.S. Corps of Engineers, the shoreline of Beaver Lake is 487 miles long. The word mile, according to tradition, comes from the Latin word “millia” (thousand). Millia passuum, or one thousand paces, was a unit of length used by the Roman Legion . Every 1,000 paces the legion would push a stake into the ground to mark the distance marched. A pace is the distance from where your left foot leaves the ground to where it lands again when you are walking at a normal cadence. It takes two steps to make a pace. The Romans standardized the pace at 2 gradus. Each gradus was determined to be 2 ½ pedes. A pede was just under a foot long . Thus a passuum, or pace, was 2 ½ pedes of roughly 1 foot each times two pedes per passuum or roughly 5 feet. One millia passuum was then 1000 times 5 feet or 5,000 feet.

'Twenty_Thousand_Leagues_Under_the_Sea'_by_Neuville_and_Riou_027

An illustration from Jules Verne’s novel “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” (1866-69) drawn by George Roux.

Today’s statute mile is 5,280 feet, slightly longer than the Roman mile for several reasons. But, at 5’ 9 1/2”, the average American is slightly taller than the average Roman Legionnaire (approximately 5’ 7” ) so a mile is still close to 1000 paces. A walk around Beaver Lake’s shoreline then, if it could actually be walked, would be 487,000 paces or 974,000 steps. Currently, there is a fitness fad that sets a personal goal of taking at least 10,000 steps per day. If a person started walking around Beaver Lake’s shoreline taking the prescribed 10,000 steps per day, then they would finish the walk in approximately 3 ¼ months.

Infoplease.com claims the length of the Atlantic Coastline from Florida to Maine is 2,069 miles. That means walking 4 ¼ laps around the shoreline of Beaver Lake is the same distance as walking the eastern seaboard of the United States. But it really isn’t that simple. As it turns out, when measuring the distance of something like the shoreline of a lake, the distance is highly dependent on the length of your ruler . A shorter ruler measures more nooks and crannies than a longer one. Therefore, the length measured with a short ruler is longer than that which is measured with a long one. The length of the eastern seaboard was measured using a unit of 30 minutes of latitude, roughly 30 miles. The length of Beaver’s shoreline was measured using a much shorter ruler. Nevertheless, it is a long way around Beaver Lake.

beaver_0363 Courtesy of Clifton Eoff

Photo courtesy of Clifton Eoff.

 

When Beaver Lake is full to the brim, elevation 1130 msl (mean sea level), the surface area of the lake is 31,700 acres (Wikipedia). Frequently, you will hear or even read a reference to a “square acre.” The term “square acre” makes little sense. First of all, an acre is a unit of area itself, not one of length. An acre is an area consisting of 43,560 square feet. If you were to square an acre, then you would have 43,560 square feet times 43,560 square feet or 1,897,473,600 feet raised to the fourth power (when you square a square you get the fourth power). Feet to the fourth power are difficult to visualize, much less to lay out on the ground. Moreover, acres were never intended to be square to begin with.

Back in the Middle Ages in what is now England, the Anglo Saxons measured distance in rods, furlongs and miles. In our modern day system of measurement, a rod is equal to 16 ½ feet. To the Anglo Saxons, it was likely equal to the length of the pole used to control a team of 8 oxen . Or it may have been equal to the length of 20 “natural feet” or possibly 30 “shaftments” or hand-widths. A mile has already been described. A furlong referred to the distance that a man with an ox could pull a wooden plow (plow a furrow) before the ox had to rest. A furlong as it turns out was 40 rods.

Oxen are hard workers, but they apparently keep banker’s hours as it was considered bad form to work your ox both morning and afternoon. The Anglo Saxons determined that during a normal morning of plowing in good soil, an ox could plow an area one furlong long by four rods wide. That area that could be worked in a morning was referred to as an “acre” .

Thus, an acre is a long thin area one furlong long and four rods wide. Since the Middle Ages, the length of a furlong has been standardized at 660 feet and a rod at 16 ½ feet. Four rods are 16 ½ times 4 equals 66 feet long. So the area of an acre is 660 feet long times 66 feet wide equals 43,560 square feet. Today we refer to any parcel of land with an area of 43,560 square feet as being one acre in size regardless of the shape of the land.

Now getting back to the mile. A mile, as stated earlier, was a millia passuum or 1,000 paces of the Roman Legion. In 1592, the English Parliament standardized the mile at 8 furlongs, 5,280 feet (Russ Rowlett). Since the length of the mile was established by statute (law), we now have a “statute” mile.

While the units of furlong and rod are not frequently used these days, they are still around. Canoeists traveling in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Northern Minnesota quickly become familiar with rods. The Boundary Waters are hundreds, possibly thousands of lakes in the wilderness. When canoeists come to the end of one lake, they pick up their canoe and equipment and carry it all to the next lake. These carries are called “portages” and they are measured in rods. So you will see on the maps a portage of 80 rods or 320 rods etc. A portage of 320 rods is a mile long. Furlongs appear most frequently in horse racing. The Kentucky Derby for instance is run over a distance of one mile and two furlongs. Also, the home stretch is usually the last furlong of the race.

Furrows and rods show up other places as well. Those of us who took surveying in college were introduced to the “Gunter Chain.” The surveyors of the Louisiana Purchase used Gunter’s chain as they mapped out the land. The chain consisted of 100 links with each link being 7.92 inches in length making the total length of the chain 66 feet, or four rods. Now that might be handy for laying out 1-acre fields as the field would be 10 chains long by 1 chain wide. Every 10 links on the chain were marked with a ring. That means that each ring was 1/100 furlong and each link was 1/1000 furlong.

When cities were being laid out for the first time, they were typically divided up into standard city blocks with 16 blocks to a mile. So each block is ½ furlong long or maybe you prefer 5 chains.

So getting back to Beaver Lake. Our lake of 31,700 acres is equal to the area that a man with an ox could furrow in 31,700 mornings or roughly 87 years. That is more than a lifetime of plowing. The length of the shoreline is 487 miles. That could be expressed as 3,896 furlongs.

The length of Beaver from the headwaters down to the dam along the submerged river channel is 50 miles. But wait, that distance is measured over the water so it should be measured in “nautical miles” (6,076.12 feet) not statute miles. To save the pain of conversion, 50 statute miles is 43.45 nautical miles. Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo measured distance traveled under the sea by the Nautilus in “leagues.” A league is three nautical miles. That makes our lake 14.5 leagues long.

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December 2014 — Love the One You’re With

The rocky hills of the Ozarks are my home and favorite spot in the whole world. The deep valleys and clear rivers are just hard to beat. Nowhere else do rivers have bluffs like ours. Our fall color may not match New England, but it isn’t bad at all. Then add in our lakes and reservoirs and you have the formula for an outdoor wonderland. There is just no better place to spend a weekend. Over the years, I must confess, I have become very Ozark-centric.

However, sometimes you just can’t be where you want to be. Business and family obligations have to be met. For several years now, I have had to travel to Texas three or four times per year. My son now lives in Houston, and my mother-in-law lives on Lake Palestine southwest of Tyler. Don’t take this wrong, I love visiting family. But sometimes when the weather is great you just want to get outdoors. Sitting around fretting about not being in the Ozarks is a waste of good time. So paraphrasing a line from Stephen Stills, if you can’t be in the hills you love, love the hills you’re in.

Lake Palestine, Texas. The wide and shallow nature of Lake Palestine along with relatively little water level fluctuation make it possible for large grassy flats to develop.

Lake Palestine, Texas. The wide and shallow nature of Lake Palestine along with relatively little water level fluctuation make it possible for large grassy flats to develop.

Lake Palestine sits in the ranch country of East Texas about 15 miles southwest of Tyler. The lake is a reservoir formed in 1962 by a dam on the Neches River. The lake was built and is operated by the Upper Neches River Municipal Water Authority (UNMWA). Currently the reservoir provides drinking water to the City of Palestine, Texas. Dallas and Tyler, Texas also have contracts to withdraw water from the lake. Palestine is a typical East Texas lake, which is to say it is wide and shallow. At 25,560 acres, Palestine’s surface area is similar to Arkansas’ Beaver Lake. However Palestine’s average depth is only 16 feet compared to roughly 60 feet at Beaver. Now that means Beaver has about four times the volume of Palestine. Palestine is also only 18 miles from headwater to dam compared to 65 miles at Beaver. So Palestine is much wider and shallower. At my mother-in-law’s house on the lake, the lake is over four miles wide.

The weekend before Thanksgiving I once again found myself traveling to Texas. This time I planned ahead and loaded the kayak on the red truck. The original plan was to get up Saturday morning and drive up to Lake Caddo. But the weather forecast kept going downhill. It looked like some really crummy weather was going to move in just after noon. Besides, Arkansas and Ole Miss were on television at 2:30.

A Google Earth tour of Lake Palestine revealed a stretch of shoreline along the Flat Creek arm that was about two miles long and for some reason had not been developed. So at daybreak Saturday morning, I found myself in my red truck heading down Smith County road 315 headed for Flat Creek Landing on Lake Palestine. The countryside around Lake Palestine is kind of a rolling savanna. It’s cattle country. The ranches have vast pastures with scattered trees. Then where the forest has been left, it is really dense. Thicket is the word that best describes the forest in the area.

The sign at the landing said “Flat Creek Grill” but apparently the grill closed several years ago. I headed on down to the lake and unloaded the kayak. Another sign warned about spreading invasive species. Zebra mussels like to hitchhike in boats as the boats move from lake to lake. The kayak had been thoroughly washed and dried since it was last in the water and my wet suit booties were completely dry, so I was good to go. I made a mental note to do my part by being sure the kayak dried out before I used it again.

At eight o’clock I was ready to launch. I headed upstream into the Flat Creek arm going under the highway 315 bridge and across a bay. Upstream from the bridge, the UNMWA did not clear the forest before the lake filled. Over the last 50 years or so, all of the old trees have broken off just above or below the water surface. The result is that not many boats head up that direction.

The sky was mostly overcast with just some breaks. A fair breeze blew from the southeast heading into Flat Creek. The water was choppy. The tip of my paddle blade was barely visible in the green water. That is another difference from Arkansas’ Beaver Lake. The water in Beaver is mostly very clear. Limnologists would say that the water in Palestine is more productive than that in Beaver. By that, they mean the water has more organic content. Likely, the fishing is better in Palestine because of the higher productivity. I didn’t get a chance to check that hypothesis out. It is really impossible to compare water quality from different reservoirs. Palestine and Beaver are in two entirely different ecosystems. Some people around Palestine likely wish the water was clearer, but clear water is just not what nature provides in this situation.

Around the bay upstream from the bridge, there were several cormorants standing on the stumps of long submerged trees. The kayak never got very close to a cormorant. As I moved along, one after another, the cormorants would take off from their stump running along the water flapping their wings until they had enough air speed to fly. Landing on the other hand is precise, each bird lands on its own stump with no hassles.

Fifteen minutes later, I was across the bay at the start of the undeveloped shoreline. Coming from the Ozarks, I don’t think of East Texas as a place to go for fall color. But I was wrong, wrong, wrong. The forest was full of bright red, or vermilion maples, brownish-yellow cypress, reddish-brown cherry bark oak, green post and water oaks as well as American red holly, deep wine-colored gum and light green pine. It was certainly the equal of the fall color along Beaver’s shores.

Texas Color

Texas Color

I poked along the shoreline for about an hour checking out this nook and that cranny. Every once in a while I would pick a leaf off or a tree or bush to identify back at the house. Lots of birds were around, but the dense forest left them well hidden. I did see kingfishers, several types of ducks, lots of great blue herons and several black vultures. And I heard lots of birds singing, including white-throated sparrows, cardinals, phoebes, chickadees, titmice and red-headed woodpeckers.

Eventually, I came around a bend to an expanse of grassy flats. I never did identify the grass, but it was about six feet tall and in clumps. I poked around in the grass for a while. Then I spotted some white wings flapping like crazy. After a bit of confusion, I realized that I had been duped by a couple of “robo” decoys. Duck season was open on Lake Palestine. Poking around grassy flats in a small boat out of sight of guys with guns trying to shoot things was likely not the best plan at that point. Respecting the hunter’s space, I backed out into open water and headed on out along the shoreline.

Another hour poking along the shore and it was time to head in. The bridge at Flat Creek landing was still visible, but just barely. It was going to take at least an hour and a half to get back. The other side of the lake was more sheltered from the wind so I headed across, cormorants scattering along the way. I moved along into the wind at a steady pace and arrived back at my red truck just in time to get back for the ballgame.

Nature happens where you find it. And, beauty is spread around this world for everyone to enjoy. An opportunity to get outdoors is a unique experience every time.

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October 2014 — The “Get-Up-Early” Syndrome

The saving grace of jet skiers and other power boaters is that they tend to sleep late. That habit provides an opportunity for those of us affected with the “get-up-early” syndrome a chance to enjoy our lake in relative peace and quiet. Yes, there is an occasional bass boat speeding by, but fishermen tend to have someplace to go so the interruption of peace and quiet is temporary. So on a Sunday morning in late August, I found myself pulling my kayak off of the red truck at 6:38 a.m. The sun made itself just barely visible on the east horizon. The temperature was slightly cool and there was just a bit of a breeze. But it was clearly going to be a hot, muggy day. In this unusually cool August, real summer had finally arrived in the Ozarks. I should have been here 45 minutes earlier, I thought to myself. There may be two or three hours of tolerable temperature before the heat sets in for the day. Ah well, one of the benefits of the get-up-early syndrome is getting to take advantage of these two or three hours of coolness.

The next thing I know, the kayak and I head off to the west, for “it” seems to know where it wants to go. As for me, I am just going along to see what happens and to provide the power. The wind is in our face but the kayak can slip under most of it. The water is unusually clear for this area of Beaver Lake. I attributed that to the season. August is in a period that limnologists, a.k.a. lake scientists, call the clear zone. During springtime and into early summer, there is a bloom of diatoms. Diatoms are algae that form little glassy shells out of silica. They like the cooler temperatures and a bit of sediment in their water. As summer progresses, the diatoms start to die off. During late summer, shortly after Labor Day, blue-green algae start to bloom. Blue-greens are the ones that cause the earthy taste and odor that we experience here in northwest Arkansas each fall in our drinking water. In between these blooms, there may be a small bloom of green algae, but usually the algae are less abundant, which leads to clearer water.

Friendship Creek is a great place to explore Beaver Lake’s in the micro instead of the macro. Back in 2012 Sharon and I paddled our canoe into this cave.

Friendship Creek is a great place to explore Beaver Lake’s in the micro instead of the macro. Back in 2012 Sharon and I paddled our canoe into this cave.

After 10 minutes or so the two of us, the kayak and I, turn into Friendship Creek cove. Off to the right almost out of earshot, the pumps at Beaver Water District’s intake are humming. There are some birds chirping. Other than that, there isn’t much noise at all. Up ahead something is swimming across the cove. At first glance it looked like a snake, but as we drew closer together it became clear that it was a beaver. At about 10 boat-lengths distance, the beaver spooked, slapped its tail on the water and dove. He must have been 5 to 6 feet from head to tail. I make a mental note of the beaver. Beaver waste is a significant source of giardia and cryptosporidium, two parasitic protozoans.  Protozoa are mobile, one-cell animals, many of which can infect humans and cause severe gastrointestinal illness. Giardia and cryptosporidium form chlorine resistant cysts and therefore are difficult to kill. EPA regulations require water suppliers to step up their treatment process when the cysts are found in their source water.

The kayak carries me on back into Friendship Creek cove. The hills block the wind and everything is calm. The only noise is the call of a pileated woodpecker. I catch a glimpse of it as it flies back into the wooded shoreline. Pileated woodpeckers are the great big ones that look like the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker. Back when I was a Boy Scout, our scoutmaster referred to pileated woodpeckers as “Good Lord” birds. That was because when you see one, your first words are always “Good Lord, look at that bird.” Pileated woodpeckers eat insects, mostly carpenter ants and wood-boring beetle larva and can help keep those pests in check. Interestingly, they also eat the berries of poison ivy.

Goldenrod (Solidago) is one of my favorite late summer wildflowers. They start blooming in mid August and stay in bloom through September. There are over 50 species of goldenrod in North America.

Goldenrod (Solidago) is one of my favorite late summer wildflowers. They start blooming in mid August and stay in bloom through September. There are over 50 species of goldenrod in North America.

At some point in a trip, a decision has to be made whether to focus on the macro or the micro. Friendship Creek is one of the best places on Beaver Lake to focus on the micro. The entire south shore is lined with a bluff that ranges from maybe 15 to 30 feet high. It is a fractured rock with lots of crevices, caves, and at least one natural bridge. The interaction of light, water and rock makes fascinating patterns. Then there are the wildflowers growing on nooks and crannies on the bluff. This Sunday, goldenrod is starting to bloom. The kayak pulled in close to the rock so I could examine what was there.

From the amount of rubble lying on any flat spot along the bluff, it is clear that these bluffs are active. Someday I may get a chance to see one of the rocks fall. It will be interesting so long as I am not watching from below. Last July, a bluff on Lake Whitney west of Fort Worth, Texas, crumbled taking a $700,000 house with it. The saying, “solid as a rock” may not apply in all cases.

A standing rock along the bluff in Friendship Creek.

A standing rock along the bluff in Friendship Creek.

With a mind of its own, the kayak continues its exploration on back into the cove. At one point, it sticks its nose into an especially large nook. A couple of years ago when the water was lower, Sharon and I paddled our canoe completely into this nook. The rising and falling of the water level in Beaver Lake is significant. Usually there is a 15 to 20 foot fluctuation during a year. I don’t know for sure, but I can speculate that the fluctuation has a huge impact on the rocks falling off of the bluff.

Good hunters and fisherpeople, in my opinion, are victims of the get-up-early syndrome. The best hunters and fisherpeople that I know really don’t care a lot about killing game or catching fish. They are there to commune with the outdoors. They have learned the value of slowly exploring a shoreline, or observing the woods. It is because of their good observational skills, they become good hunters and fisherpeople in the first place. Most of them try to be out at daybreak. Maybe it is a form of meditation, or maybe it’s just getting away from the crowd.  Either way, this brief respite is a pleasant way to start the day.

 

It is now 8:45 a.m. The temperature is rising, and the kayak is riding the wind back toward the red truck. At the landing, I stop to take a look around. There are a couple dozen turkey vultures huddled around something down the shore a bit. Out on the lake, the first jet ski goes by. Breakfast is waiting. Time to go.

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July 2014 – Why I Appreciate Lakes

Upper White Lake is an oxbow lake in the White River National Wildlife Reserve

Arkansas has always been considered a water-rich state, and for good reasons. Rainfall in Arkansas ranges from a little over 45 inches per year in Benton County to over 54 inches in extreme Southeast Arkansas. Even in years of extreme drought we get something between 25 and 30 inches, which is more than many states in the West get in a good year. Even so, rainfall can be fickle at times. Almost every year there is a dry spell that starts late June to mid-July and extends into the fall. Some years, the dry spell starts as early as mid-Spring. Many, and perhaps most, of our roughly 90,000 miles of creeks, streams and rivers cease to flow during the annual dry season. Fortunately, lakes and reservoirs exist that help us make it through.

Arkansas has more than 2,400 named lakes and reservoirs larger than 5 acres in total and covering over 600,000 acres. These lakes range from small, privately owned farm ponds and reservoirs up to the gigantic Bull Shoals Reservoir that at times covers more than 71,000 acres. These lakes and reservoirs help us get through our dry seasons by storing water from the abundant rain in quantities that will survive the drought. Uses of our lakes include fishing, irrigation, recreation, wildlife habitat, fire protection, water supply, power production, flood control, and even more.

Many people will tell you that Arkansas does not have natural lakes. But that is not true. In fact, Arkansas has at least two types of natural lakes. The first and most dominant is the oxbow. People who live along the Arkansas, Lower White, Mississippi, Red and Lower Ouachita Rivers are very familiar with oxbows. Oxbow lakes are formed by natural erosion processes. As a river flows around its meanders, alternating bends to the right and left, the flow of water tends to erode along the bank on the outside of the curve and deposit material along the inside of the curve. If you are looking downstream and the stream is curving to the right, the outside of the curve is on your left and the inside on your right. The river slowly moves around its floodplain as the erosion progresses. Sometimes, the erosion from an upstream meander will catch up with a downstream meander and the river will shortcut across the new connection. The result is that the bend between the points of contact is cut off from the stream and it forms a lake. The shape of these lakes is a kind of big omega (as in the letter from the Greek alphabet). When oxen were the primary source of power for plows, they were connected to the plow by a yoke. The collar that went around the ox’s neck was shaped the same way and was referred to as an “ox bow.” Hence, these lakes are referred to as oxbows. Did you know that Lake Chico in Chico County is the biggest oxbow lake in the world? Well, it is!

Lower Greasy Falls is an example of a plunge pool lake on Greasy Creek in the Hurricane Creek Wilderness Area

The other natural lake, one that is not normally recognized as a lake at all, is the plunge pool. When water flows over a waterfall, it erodes a pool at the base of the fall. These pools are referred to as plunge pools. Plunge pool lakes can be quite large, but most in Arkansas are small. Frequently, they are referred to as “skinny-dipping holes” because they are usually secluded, clear and very cool places. Skinny-dippers likely are not aware of the number of snakes that like these cool places, too.

By far the most common lake in Arkansas is the reservoir. Reservoirs are artificial lakes. Reservoirs can be created by putting a dam across a valley where a stream flows, or by building a levee or digging out a hole that can be filled with water pumped from a nearby stream. The latter type sometimes are referred to as tanks. Reservoirs have one function, to store water. The stored water and the habitat it creates can be used for all of the purposes listed above but the function of the reservoir is to store water. In fact, the term reservoir is French for “storehouse.” It is this storage function that helps us get through our long dry Julys and Augusts.

Governor Beebe declared July to be “Lakes Appreciation Month” in Arkansas. The declaration is part of a larger effort by the North American Lake Management Society to have July declared as Lakes Appreciation Month in every state of the United States. So, just why is it that I appreciate lakes and reservoirs?

Boaters appreciating Hog Scald Hollow on Beaver Lake this month

First of all, they provide us with a steady supply of drinking water. Those of us in Northwest Arkansas who are more than 60 years old can remember the big drought of the mid-1950s. It never really got bad enough that we were in danger of not having drinking water. But we were restricted as to how much water we could use. I can remember driving down to Lake Atalanta in Rogers with Mom and Dad and looking at how dry it was getting. We would stand on the road that normally was right next to the west shoreline and throw rocks to see if we could reach the water. Fortunately back then we only took baths on Saturday evening so we got through the summer. (Seriously. I’m not kidding!) Today, Beaver Lake, a giant reservoir created by damming the White River, provides us with more water than we use. At least we are good for the next few decades.

Of course, the value of lakes to our economy has to be appreciated as well. Up here in Northwest Arkansas, we have several industries that use water at a rate of hundreds of thousands of gallons per day. Our groundwater resource in this part of the state just will not provide that quantity. Back in the days when our water came from springs and stream withdrawal, it was not possible to get a steady supply in the quantity needed during drought years. And those years occur about two or three times per decade. In other parts of Arkansas, the economy is based upon row crop agriculture. With the declining water table in the Mississippi Alluvial Aquifer and other aquifers, more and more of these farms are relying on farm reservoirs to provide the needed irrigation water. Those reservoirs may also become great sources of recreation for the residents of the region. Then, there is the electrical power produced in some of our reservoirs.

The economic value of water is an intellectual and professional interest for me. However deep down in my heart, I have to say that my greatest appreciation is for the simple beauty that is provided by lakes and the wildlife habitat provided by them. In most of Arkansas, lakes are not the natural environment. But once built, the lakes evolve fairly quickly. In a few years, an aquatic community complete with bacteria, biofilm, algae, plankton, insects and bugs, and fish develops. If the water level is fairly constant, a vegetative community will develop as well. Then around those lakes where the water level doesn’t fluctuate constantly, riparian vegetation develops providing cover for all sorts of terrestrial reptile, mammals and birds. Days just don’t get any better than those spent simply poking around a lake in a canoe on a cool still morning looking at the birds and wildflowers.

And then speaking of lakes and boats, I come to one of my favorite pastimes, messing around with boats. Any kind of boat will do, but kayaks, canoes, rowboats and sailboats are my favorites. I know that some people also like powerboats, but I find them to be less interesting and generally aesthetically less pleasing. But to each his/her own. With Arkansas’ 2,400 lakes, there is plenty of room for us all. Plus, I can spend a good part of the rest of my life exploring new (to me) lakes.

There has been controversy in Arkansas, sometimes heated, over whether or not streams should be dammed to form lakes. The epic battles over the Buffalo River and Lee Creek come to mind. Well intentioned people sat on both sides of those arguments. Kelly and Donna Mulhollan of the folk music group Still on the Hill recently produced a CD titled “Once a River” that addresses that controversy. The subject of the CD is the history of Beaver Lake. There are songs about the watershed before the lake existed as well as afterward. One of the songs is based on a discussion as to whether or not Beaver Lake should have ever been built. The conclusion was “what’s done is done and it’s time to move on.” Yes, we did lose a beautiful valley and river along with all of the ecological services that was provided by that valley, but the resource we gained is also priceless. Our parents and grandparents made the decision to dam White River using the best knowledge they had at the time. I don’t know that I would ever support the building of another large dam in the Ozarks. What I do know is that the resource we have needs to be protected and appreciated. Please go out to a lake and say “thank you.”

 

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April 2014 — A Gathering of Waters

In late September or early October, the first snow falls in the mountains of Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico. At first, the snow melts before the next storm hits. Eventually though, snowfall exceeds melt. As the weeks go by, storm after storm hits the mountains. The snow stacks up to 10, 20, even 30 feet in places. A tremendous amount of water is stored on top of the mountains! When spring arrives, days warm above freezing and the snow starts to melt. For several weeks, new snow more than makes up for the melt. But as spring progresses and temperatures warm, melting wins out. What once formed a white layer for as far as the eye could see begins running downhill. The melt water flows in sheets over land, then it comes together to form small rills. Rills merge and form riverlets. The riverlets flow downhill, all the while slowly eroding canyons and valleys into the mountainsides. Riverlets join riverlets to form streams. Streams join streams to form rivers. And eventually, all the water from the watershed merges together and flows to the sea in one, single mighty river. It is a gathering of waters.

At least that is the way it is supposed to work. In the desert southwest of the United States, water is scarce and water use is heavy. Some of our rivers no longer reach the sea. The Colorado River has been the poster child of overuse. It has been decades since water regularly flowed all the way to the Gulf of California. An interesting experiment was started this spring to re-establish flow to the Gulf through controlled release of water from the giant reservoirs on the river.  We will see how that works out over the next several years. The Rio Grande, which starts in southern Colorado and flows through New Mexico on its way to the Gulf of Mexico like the Colorado River, at times goes dry before it reaches its destination.

Last year, a group of people in New Mexico decided to restore the flow of the Rio Grande. They wanted to see that at least some water in the river made it to the Gulf. A canteen was carried to the headwaters of the Rio Grande and partially filled. Then the canteen was carried downstream. At each confluence with another stream, the original group of people met other people who had a small amount of water of that stream’s headwater. The waters were mixed in the canteen. All the way down the river, people brought water from tributaries to the canteen. Eventually, the canteen was carried to the mouth of the Rio Grande where the contents were poured into the Gulf of Mexico. The gathering of the waters of the Rio Grande was complete.

Sharon and I had the opportunity to visit the desert southwest and the Rio Grande basin this past April. As it turned out, I had business with the American Water Works Association which required me to be in Denver from March 30 through April 2. And what the heck, if you are going to drive 800 miles you might as well stay a while. By chance, there was a workshop titled “A Gathering of Waters: Human Relationship with Water” scheduled for the following weekend at the Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico. This workshop was a follow-up to the original gathering from last year. Sharon and I had been looking for the right chance to visit the Ghost Ranch for a couple of years. And this was the perfect opportunity. I could juxtapose the highly technical aspects of my AWWA committee work with the more spiritual side of water.

Abiquiu is famous for being the New Mexico home of artist Georgia O’Keefe and the subject of many of her paintings. The Ghost Ranch is a 23,000-acre retreat owned by the Presbyterian Church; it sits adjacent to O’Keefe’s home. Ghost Ranch offers spiritual retreats and workshops on a variety of topics through the spring, summer and fall. Our workshop started Friday evening right after dinner.

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Bob and Sharon at Chimney Rock

The terrain around the Ghost Ranch is high desert. It is the kind of country where Wile E. Coyote chased Road Runner through hundreds of cartoons. We arrived shortly before noon on Friday. Since we couldn’t check in until 3 p.m., we took a hike out to Chimney Rock. Chimney Rock is one of dozens of hoodoos, large columnar rocks at the edge of the mesas, in the ranch. It was cool and breezy; the temperature was in the 40’s. We climbed up toward the Mesa. The climb warmed us quickly. No one else was on the trail. The vista just kept getting bigger and bigger, with seemingly dozens if not hundreds of square miles of nothing. At lunchtime, we found a big rock to shelter us from the wind and settled in. The sun kept us warm. We made little burritos out of tortilla, avocados and tomatoes. Shortly after lunch, we topped out on the Mesa and walked over to Chimney Rock. I snapped a few photos and Sharon sketched a gnarly old juniper tree. Then we wandered back down to the ranch and checked in.

Accommodations at the Ghost Ranch are, well, rustic, but entirely appropriate for the setting. Our neighbors were also settling in. She was a retired Episcopal priest and an artist. He was retired engineer. We were friends right off the bat.

Our workshop started Friday evening with a reproduction of the “Gathering.” We had all been told in emails to bring water from our home. Unfortunately, the email didn’t arrive until Monday prior to the Gathering and we were already on the road. Fortunately, Sharon had a bottle of Beaver Water District water in the car. We put that bottle aside and filled another bottle with Denver water for drinking. During the introductory session of the Gathering, each of us, in turn, presented our water by describing its origin and something interesting about its watershed. Then we poured our water into a communal urn. In addition to my water from the White River, there was water from Minnesota, Illinois, Colorado, California, New Mexico and Queensland, Australia. Artist Basia Irland brought a bottle of pee that she said represented the way we treat water. (Visit basiairland.com for more about her work.) Fortunately, she graciously declined to pour her bottle into the communal urn, which would be used later in the workshop.

I took a short walk out through the desert before breakfast Saturday morning. There is something about the desert southwest that brings out the spiritual side of people. Maybe it is the inherent natural beauty of the desert region. I also find the natural beauty of the Ozark Mountains unsurpassed, but my spiritual experience differs from the mountains to the desert. It’s hard to explain. Maybe it’s the fact that a person is never far from death in the desert. Maybe it’s the solitude and silence. Or perhaps there really is something spiritual going on. Regardless, I’ve concluded that the desert southwest experience is unique unto itself. I suggest you visit there, if you haven’t already, and make up your own mind.

But back to my story … .  After my walk, we all met for breakfast in the dining hall. Then we wandered over to the meeting room. Not surprisingly since we were in New Mexico, most of the presentations centered on the value of water in a water scarce region. Of particular interest to me were the presentations by Dr. Sue Jackson from Griffith University in Queensland and Dr. Jose Rivera from the University of New Mexico. Dr. Jackson’s presentation was on the significance of water to the indigenous people of Australia. Dr. Rivera gave a discussion of New Mexico’s Asequias. Asequias are hand dug canals that carry water from snow pack in the mountains to irrigated crops. Everybody that belonged to an Asequia was entitled to use water in proportion to the amount of land that they cultivated. The one requirement was that to use the water, you had to participate in the annual cleanout of the Asequia — no work, no water. Asequias distributed water equably to farmers in New Mexico for centuries. It was a sustainable system governed by local citizens. Other presentations included the use of art to spread the message of water, water ethics, and the discontinuities and outright contradictions of New Mexico water law. That evening we watched the video “Watershed,” produced by the Redford Center. (Watch the movie at redfordcenter.org.)

Building the Medicine Water Wheel

Building the Medicine Water Wheel

Sunday started with another hike. This time Sharon accompanied me and we walked out into a box canyon. The canyon sat between two mesas. Nearly shear walls rose on each side. There was a small arroyo down the middle of the canyon. This arroyo was the source of water for the Ghost Ranch. If you followed the canyon all the way to the end, the two mesas merged to form the “box.” We hiked all the way to the end of the box canyon a couple of years ago, but this time we stopped at the first creek crossing and turned back. Back at the ranch, we gathered for another great breakfast and then headed back out to the box canyon to build a medicine water wheel.

The medicine wheel is sacred in Native American culture. The wheels have been used for millennia in traditional ceremonies. The wheel, according to Wikipedia, represents the never-ending cycle of life.  That is entirely appropriate since about everything in our ecosystem follows a cycle of some sort. The term “medicine” does not refer to medicine you get from the local pharmacy. The term refers to the vital force of nature and to the personal power within each and every one of us. My understanding of the function of the wheel then is that it focuses the force of nature onto its surrounding area, but only if we use our personal power to activate the wheel.

The medicine water wheel is a relatively new phenomenon. The history that we were given was that prior to World War II, medicine men of Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest disappeared into the mountains each spring and conducted ceremonies at the headwaters of important water sources. Those ceremonies helped to protect the flow and quality of the vital waters in the valleys below. After the war, the tradition was lost. Concurrently, the quantity and quality of waters in the regional streams began to degrade. During the 1960s, elders of the northwestern Native Americans instituted the medicine water wheel ceremony to reconnect mankind to the natural cycle of water. The wheel is an appropriate symbol as water moves in a great cycle around the earth, the hydrologic cycle.

Completed Medicine Water Wheel

The completed Medicine Water Wheel at Ghost Ranch.

According to Marshall Jack (goldeneagleceremonies.com), the purpose of the medicine water wheel is to “energize, celebrate and honor water.” The medicine water wheel is also a place to “deepen our relationship with the spirit of water.” Golden Eagle Ceremonies has initiated a project to “create a web of 172,000 Water Wheels linked together across the planet that serves to renew our sacred relationship with water.” Our medicine water wheel at the Ghost Ranch completed 1/172,000th of the vision. Unfortunately, I had to get back to Northwest Arkansas so I didn’t get to stick around for the dedication ceremony. Next time I will plan better.

I personally cannot say what is sacred and what is not. My background is Judeo-Christian strongly influenced by Greco-Roman logic and reductionist science. However, even in my Judeo-Christian heritage, water is frequently used in Christian sacraments and symbolism. I venture out into speculation here, but my opinion is that the biggest challenge we face as water resource managers today is to get people to think about and value water. With that said, one might determine that anything that helps us renew our sacred relationship with water — even a medicine water wheel ceremony — has got to be a good thing.

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March 2014 – The White Rock Death March

It was 7:58 a.m. Sunday morning when I drove my red truck into the parking lot of the Visitor’s Center at Hobbs State Park. I pulled my hiking boots out of the back seat, sat down on the tailgate and started lacing them up. These boots are old friends. For the last 10 years they have carried me to lots of interesting places. The leather is starting to crack just like me, but they still have sole. (I couldn’t help myself on that one!) Our goal for the day was simple, to put in some mileage! With 31 miles of hiking trails, Hobbs is a perfect place to do just that.

Several years ago, a group of us were training for a climb on Mt. Rainier in Washington. Rainier is roughly 14,500 feet above sea level. The “standard route” up Rainier starts at the Paradise Lodge at roughly 5,000 feet. Climbing crews leave late morning and hike up to Camp Muir at just above 10,000 feet. The first half mile or so of the climb is on a developed trail. Beyond that, it’s uphill through deep snow, even in late July. Once crews reach Camp Muir, they find a spot in the snow and make camp. Then they spend the night and lounge around the next day acclimating to the altitude and waiting on evening. Around midnight the crew puts on the alpine gear, ropes up and heads out across the glacier toward the summit. If you climb steadily, you reach the summit right at sunrise. The view is spectacular. Then you descend all 9,500 feet back to Paradise picking up your camping gear along the way.

Training for Rainier in Arkansas is difficult. A person could run five miles a day and lift weights every night and still not be fit for Rainier. Alpine mountaineering just uses a different set of muscles than anything else. With your share of the crew gear, your crampons, carabiners, ice screws, helmet, storm gear, food, ice axe etc., it is nearly impossible to get your pack down below 65 lbs. Then you walk uphill. After reaching the summit, you walk downhill, a long way down. Each step pounds your knees. The only way to train is to put a bunch of heavy stuff on your back and then walk up and down hills.

Aggressive use of prescribed burns in the Hobbs State Park and Conservation Area are restoring the “open forest” characteristic of the Ozark Mountains.

Aggressive use of prescribed burns in the Hobbs State Park and Conservation Area are restoring the “open forest” characteristic of the Ozark Mountains.

A difficulty of training for Rainier in the Ozarks was finding hikes that replicated the 4,500-foot daily climbs that we would be doing on Rainier. One approach was to climb Pinnacle Mountain seven times in one day. That does get kind of boring after around the forth climb. So we looked for other alternatives. One of us figured out that if you counted all the climbs on the 20 miles of the Ozark Highland Trail (OHT) between the Cherry Bend trailhead on Highway 23 and White Rock Mountain, the total elevation gain was just over 4,000 feet. Hence, the White Rock Death March was born.

The first death march occurred in late January 2001. Days are short in January so we planned on meeting at Cherry Bend at eight in the morning. There were 10 of us in the crew. The guys that had camped the night before at White Rock were late so we were on the trail promptly at 9:30. Snow had fallen earlier in the week and some was still on the ground. The temperature was just below freezing. It was a grueling day. We placed cars at intermediate trailheads in case someone came up lame. By the time we left from Potato Knob for the last decent into Salt Fork Creek and the final climb up White Rock Mountain, there were only three of us left — Charlie, David and me. It was pitch dark when we forded Salt Fork. Then we started the climb. We were cold, tired and out of snacks. David swore that I spoke in tongues during the climb. He was right. Charlie and David had walked me into the ground.

David Thrasher preparing to ford Salt Fork on the White Rock Death March. Only one climb remained.

David Thrasher preparing to ford Salt Fork on the White Rock Death March. Only one climb remained.

Since 2001, occasionally one or the other of us will challenge the others to a repeat of the Death March. Last January David, who is semi-retired, was lounging around in Florida. Every few days I would get an email with a photo of a different fish that he had caught. One afternoon I got to thinking that David would be getting soft after all that lounging around. I on the other hand was dealing with the rigors of a hard Arkansas winter. My chance to get even had arrived. I issued the challenge. To my surprise, David accepted. The death march was on for the first weekend of spring. There was no backing out. And that explains why I was sitting on my red truck pulling on my boots Sunday morning.

Going into woods alone, you never know what you will find. But it is almost guaranteed that you will find something interesting. On this trip it was fire!

Before Europeans “settled” the Ozarks in the early 1800s, forest fires were a regular event. A little bit less often than once per decade, low intensity fires burned through the forest. Mature, resilient trees survived the fire but underbrush tended to be killed back. The result of the fire was a forest that was much more open than the one we have today. During the 1820s and ‘30s, the General Land Office surveyed the country. The surveyors marked all of the section and township lines and described the landscape. The description that you see most often in North Arkansas is “open forest.” Some references speak of being able to see a quarter of a mile through the forest.

Many of these fires were ignited by Native Americans who were managing the land for game. The idea was simple. Burn off the underbrush, let lush grasses and bushes grow up, and soon deer and elk move to eat the grass and you live fat and happy for years. White Oak, Hickory and Shortleaf Pine are also more resistant to fire than other native trees so their shoots survived while the others were suppressed by the fire. This additional resistance to fire led to the Oak-Hickory forest that we have become accustomed to in the Ozark mountains. The fires, along with other occasional disturbances such as blow downs or tornados, led to multi-aged stands. The multi-aged forest was more resistant to infestations and thus was very resilient. On the forest floor, the thick duff of leaves and twigs was controlled to a much thinner layer, allowing the emergence of grasses, forbs and herbs. Biodiversity actually increased.

As Europeans moved in, they continued the practice of burning through the 1800s. Then starting in the 1920s and ’30s forest managers, using the best science they had at the time, started suppressing fire. It took about 50 years for managers to realize that the increase of understory and deadfall caused by the suppression of fire was actually increasing the potential for a catastrophic fire. During the 1970s and 1980s, experimentation with prescribed burns started. Today, prescribed burn is a standard practice for forest management.

The crew out at Hobbs has implemented an aggressive prescribed fire program. That is what I walked into on Sunday morning. It wasn’t entirely a surprise, since on Friday afternoon, smoke was billowing up on the east side of Beaver Lake indicating a large fire in the area. As I walked into Van Hollow, smoke was in the air, the ground became charred, and small fires continued to burn here and there. It was a surreal experience walking through miles of burnt forest. The Hobbs crew has been at this for several years; in Van Hollow the open forest is actually starting to become a reality.

Some controversy still remains regarding the environmental impact of prescribed burn. Obviously, burning releases tons of carbon into the atmosphere. But the consensus of the science seems to be that the luxuriant growth that occurs after the burn more than compensates for the carbon released during the burn. Similarly, the impact of water quality is a mix. An intense storm occurring shortly after the burn would cause excessive erosion. But the impact is short-lived. Within a few weeks new growth covers the landscape reducing the potential for erosion. All in all, it seems the short-term impact of a prescribed burn is more than made up for by the long-term improvements.

I walked on through Van Hollow and around the Bashore loop. At the far end of Bashore loop there is an overlook with a view of Blackburn Hollow on Beaver Lake. I made a vow to come back in my kayak later in the spring. Then I returned to the Visitor’s Center via the south side of the Clifty Creek loop. Along the way I met a young man headed the opposite direction. He greeted me with “Hello Sir.” It’s a horrible thing to be called “Sir” on the trail. What he really meant was, “look at this old coot, he must be older than my father-in-law’s uncle.” The next thing you know, I will meet some girl who took one of my classes and she will greet me with “Dr. Morgan, you sure are looking good!” Oh well, it is what it is. At least I am still out on the trail.

The death march came off without a hitch. OK, there was that episode of head-to-toe cramps during the return shuttle from White Rock. But that only lasted 10 minutes or so. The challenge has been issued for next year, first weekend of spring.

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Freddy 2002-2014

Freddy

Freddy

When we take a dog into our lives, we know full well that in 10 to 15 years we will have to deal with its death. It’s a pact that dog lovers make; a couple weeks of grief in exchange for several years of companionship and unconditional love. Even so, when the day comes it is not easy. Freddy died Monday morning, Jan. 27. He takes his place in my soul alongside Wags, Willie, Pepper, Dogmatix, Jodie, and Rascal.

Freddy was a “miniature” schnauzer. He shared our home for 11 years and 21 days. Sharon and I picked him up from a breeder in Joplin, Missouri, on Jan. 6, 2003, just two days after our wedding. The literature said he would be 18 to 24 pounds when grown. Well, he went right on past 24 pounds in 18 months. Eventually, he topped out at 35 pounds. There wasn’t an ounce of fat on him, just pure lean muscle. He was built like a fullback, 35 pounds in a package the size of a basketball. He was fast and quick as a rabbit. He loved to play chase. Try as you might, you never could catch him if he didn’t want to be caught.

Freddy was good-looking and he knew it. He walked with confidence. At the park, he looked everyone directly in the eye. If you listened closely you could hear him say to the passersby, “You love me, don’t you.” It wasn’t a question, it was a statement.

Speaking of walking, hiking in the Ozarks was another of Freddy’s favorite pastimes. Over the last 11 years, he and I hiked roughly 100 miles of the Highland Trail. Freddy wasn’t exactly the standard trail dog being only 15 inches tall, but that didn’t slow him down a bit, although sometimes he seemed to overestimate his size. Once when we were hiking up Jacks Fork Creek, we sat down by a sluice to have lunch. Freddy was about 2 years old at the time. The creek flowed through a slot in the rock roughly 6 feet wide and 2 or 3 feet deep. There was a little waterfall above the sluice and another below. Freddy was poking around on the other side of the sluice sniffing trees and peeing on rocks when he decided to rejoin the pack for lunch. Instead of walking around, he headed full speed straight for the sluice and jumped. He landed about halfway up the side! Immediately, he went into four-paw drive but to no avail. I worked my way down the bank and retrieved him from the pool below.

Freddy must have read John Muir somewhere. I say this because when we went hiking, he sauntered into the woods just as Muir described. He checked out everything. He got to know trees personally. Every few yards he would find something to sniff. When he finally finished sniffing, he circled three or four times, then peed on whatever he was sniffing. Then he moved on with a smug satisfied look on his face. Just like Muir, Freddy always brought some of the woods home with him. Usually a bath would get it off.

Canoeing was a different story. When Freddy was young, I tried to make him a canoe dog. He didn’t care for it at all. Usually, I ended up having to fish him out of the river after he jumped from the canoe when we got close to shore. He was sure to shake water off in my face just to tell me of his dissatisfaction. Freddy always watched hopefully when I started getting my outdoor gear together. But when the paddles came down he headed for the back yard.

Freddy was clearly a pack animal. The more the merrier. Visitors to our house were greeted with a special ear splitting shrill bark. The more he liked the visitor, the more shrill the bark. The most shrill bark was reserved for my sister, Kay. She must have been his favorite. It was an annoying habit, but there was no breaking him of it. I am sure we have friends who don’t go to the Morgan’s house because of the obnoxious dog.

On Monday afternoon, I buried Freddy in a 2’ by 4’ grave down between our Pine Tree and Silver Maple. His body is already starting to decompose. By spring, all that will be left will be some minerals and water. Hair roots from the trees are likely working their way into the grave as I write. When sap starts flowing up the tree this spring, part of it will be Freddy’s atoms. Those atoms will become part of the leaves, needles, pine nuts and maple seeds. The squirrels that Freddy used to chase around the yard will eat the seeds and pine nuts and make nests from the leaves and needles. Some of Freddy will then become squirrel. The squirrels will drop detritus and squirrel waste on the ground where it will nourish the grass in our yard and flowers in our bird garden. So Freddy will slowly be spread around the yard. He will become grass and flowers and even bird. The local rabbits will eat the grass and Freddy will become part rabbit. Maybe our resident Red-shouldered Hawk will catch and eat a rabbit and Freddy will then take flight. Several summers from now, when I have my coffee on the back porch, I will look out and say, “There’s Freddy.”

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