Dogwood Sunset

plate 1. Compton Ridge Dogwood (Cornus florida).

Shades of Spring

by Joshua Heston

Fleeting moments of astounding beauty. A landscape of browns and grays changed, seemingly overnight, into an artist’s palette of transcending color. The warm gust of a southern breeze. Duck fluff of white oaks, actually small blooms and tender new leaves, suddenly dapple the forest floor in tentative shade. And the valleys are kindled in a thousand shades of pink and blush, rose and white. A spring thunderstorm moves over the mountains, sheets of life cascading over rock and new leaf.

Again, the Ozarks bloom. Another season has come to life.

Shannon County Ozark Redbud

plate 2. Highway 106 west of Eminence, Missouri.

Shannon County, now one of the least populated counties in the Missouri Ozarks, is a respite for the city-weary. It is a place of truly rugged terrain, old Ozark families, and winding roads snaking their way over high ridges. Here, the road to Eminence is punctuated by the brilliant rose blush of redbud unassumingly filling the roadsides.

Ozark Valley Springtime

plate 3. Jacks Fork River Valley, Shannon County, Missouri.

Jacks Fork River Valley as seen from a high ridge, a cloud of dogwood and redbud in a dreamlike sea of fresh new leaves. There are places and moments in the Ozarks that appear as from an idealized painting. It is a land of deep valleys and high ridges, a window where time disappears and the enchantment of the imagination hovers for just a moment beneath a fleeting springtime sun.

Ozark Bridge

plate 4. Highway 19 near Round Spring & the Current River.

A log truck rumbles across Highway 19’s Missouri Highway Department Bridge No. 804, built in 1924 to cross the Current River. A robin’s egg blue sky. The dandelions are blooming. And even the sound of traffic seems to echo an earlier age: A time when families moved into this country instead of out of the hills. A melancholy snapshot brightened by the promise of the season.

Ozark Dogwood

plate 5. Dogwood blossom detail.

Dark valleys are momentarily brightened by starburst showers of dogwood blossoms, suspended beneath silhouette branches. The dark coves and steep, rocky cliffs spring to life. Upon close inspection, the dogwood’s tender blossoms (bracts for the technical and horticulturally minded among us) inspired a touching Christian legend. The white mountain tree’s flowers form the shape of the cross, each “petal’s” tip appears pierced by a nail and stained by blood. A beautiful bit of poetry illustrating that moment when North America’s unique flora was touched by an Appalachian and Ozark faith.

Green Moss

plate 6. Moss in Drury-Mincy Conservation Area, Taney County.

The bottomlands of Fox Creek, which empties into present-day Bull Shoals Lake near Mincy, Missouri, come alive with star-like moss, reaching, striving for the sun — an ecosystem yes, but also a world of poetry and grace, life teeming with possibility yet only a hands-breadth across, framed by rock and twig.

Ozark Violet

plate 7. Wild Violet, Mincy Conservation Area

Nearby, a fresh mountain violet (Violaceae Viola sp.) emerges from winter’s darkness, dappled by a recent rainstorm. Often considered weeds, wild violets splash tiny but vivid color across the forest floor.

Wild Cherry

plate 8. Wild Cherry (Prunus serotina)

Wild cherry leaves illuminated by an afternoon sun. The tree’s tiny red blossoms may be see in the upper left of the photo. Disliked by farmers — the leaves and berries can be dangerous to cattle — the wild (or black) cherry makes a popular fruit for birds. And in late summer, the tiny, almost coffee-like flavored berries can be gathered for a dark, intensely flavorful jelly. Springtime blossoms waft an apple-like scent onto the warm, afternoon breeze.

White Tulip

plate 9. Church-step Tulips.

Stark, pristine tulips in white and cream yellow bring images of purity and innocence to mind in the evening chill of early spring, seen here blooming against the front steps of Parch Corn Holler’s Smyrna Baptist Church (near Ozark, Missouri, and the Finley River).

Ozark Crabapple

plate 10. Crabapples in vase.

Inside the church, fresh branches, gathered from an old, old crabapple tree on the Wills Homestead, grace the sanctuary. The beauty of the apple blossoms is accentuated by the glass vase, the water acting as a magnifying glass, shaping and intensifying the blooms while capturing a lens flare in the afternoon light.

Spring Dogwood

plate 11. Pussy Willows.

A picture of hope and innocence, pussy willow blossoms (Salix discolor) fill the air with an intoxicating scent. Bees hum around the willowy branches. Though not common in the lower Ozark region, the species is simply too beautiful not to include, especially when illumined by a heavenly evening sun.

Old-fashioned Lilac

plate 12. Lilac blossom detail.

The exquisite lilac — which blossoms with a unique and uniquely exquisite scent equal to its clusters of lavender blooms — sports the unlikely name of Syringa vulgaris. Name not-withstanding, there is nothing vulgar about this non-native yet deeply historic species. Originating in Persia, the lilac was introduced to England centuries ago. Lilac rootstocks were first sent to the American Colonies from Europe in the low-riding hulls of 18th century sailing ships.


plate 13. A traditional ladybug (or ladybird) beetle.

Scarlet backs bedecked in black spots, the colors of the tiny ladybug (Coccinella magnifica) are a harbinger of mid-spring and a sign of good luck. Even better, ladybugs consume millions of damaging aphids every year. These days, a true ladybug is an especially appreciated find as more and more invasive “harlequin” ladybirds (Harmonia axyridis) make their way throughout North America. The difference? Native ladybugs tend not to swarm, are small in size, and of a distinctive scarlet-tangerine hue. The invasive species? Much larger, pumpkin-colored and with a nasty habit of swarming into clouds.


plate 14. Dandelion close-up.

Oft-maligned Taraxacum officinale was brought from Europe during our Colonial era, planted as a valuable medicinal plant and good source of nutrition (the young leaves are edible as fresh greens). Today, Americans spend millions on killing off dandelions, often ignoring the true beauty of these not-surprisingly hardy plants. The blossoms, upon close inspection, show a starbust like intricacy similar to the showiest of well-bred chrysanthemums.

Morel Mushrooms

plate 16. Morel Triptych.

Throughout the mountains, indeed throughout the temperate climates of North America, rural folks hurry into the wilds as soon as soil temperatures begin to rise, searching for the often elusive moral mushroom species. Valued for their unique flavor, particularly when dredged in flour and fried in bacon grease, morels can hide even better than a tom turkey in huntin’ season. Some folks swear this particular fungi can even sneak off when it hears approaching footsteps. This photo of three morels is highlighted by the bright colors of the Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea), a non-native member of the mint family.


plate 17. Columbine detail.

The jewel-like columbine, a native flower species, appears like fairy lanterns in the late-April or early-May garden, bringing to mind old folklore stories or the lyrics of Shakespeare himself —

“Over hill, over dale, through bush, through brier, over park, over pale, through flood, through fire, I do wander everywhere.
“Swifter than the moon’s sphere; and I serve the fairy queen, to dew her orbs upon the green. The cowlips tall her pensioners be: In their gold coats spots you see; those be rubies, fairy favours, in those freckles live their savours;
“I must go seek some dewdrops here and hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear. Farewell, thou lob of spirits; I’ll be gone; Our queen and all our elves come here anon.”

— A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Sunset Lilac

plate 18. Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)

A flurry of lilac blossoms, this time back-clothed in a penetrating green, is illuminated by a dying sun.

Jack in the Pulpit

plate 19. Jack in his pulpit.

Mysterious denizen of the sun-shaded forest floor, Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) stands tall, its unique form calling to mind a preacher in his pulpit. In fact, Arisaema triphyllum is known by many names, not the least of which is “Indian Turnip.” Also called “Wake Robin,” a name which the species must share with similarly leaved Trillium sp., Jack in the Pulpit was once prized for its medicinal properties. Today, it is a beautiful oddity of the springtime forest.

White Mountain Dogwood

plate 20. Dogwood and Blue Sky.

Blue and white, the understory mountain dogwood’s firework-like display of color is puncuated by black branches tracing outlines against a truly brilliant blue springtime sky. A high pressure front has brought clear skies to the Ozarks.

Mountain Firepink

plate 21. Fire Pink detail.

On rocky mountain slopes of the Ozark hills, protected by heavy leaf litter and guarded by massive old yellow pines, the delicate fire pinks bloom (Silene virginica). Thriving in the uniquely low-moisture environments of rocky hillsides, the tiny flowers splash a vivid orange-scarlet across an otherwise brown landscape.

Ozark Sunset

plate 22. Ozark sunset.

The closing of day, the dying of sun. Just a moment left of daylight and a decided chill is now in the air. High on Compton Ridge in Taney County, Missouri, the evening light is seen, just out of focus, framed by dogwood leaves, blossoms and branches.

It is a darkening scene, a last moment filled with all the hope, heartbreak, promise and foreboding of an Ozark soul.

These shades of spring.

April 28, 2014

Shades of Spring: State of the Ozarks

All photo credits: Josh Heston. All photo credits: J. Heston. Plates 1, 22: Compton Ridge, Taney County, Missouri, May 3, 2008. Plates 2, 3: Rural Shannon County, April 7, 2010. Plate 4: Rural Shannon County, April 8, 2010. Plate 5, 7: Drury-Mincy Conservation Area, Taney County, April 10, 2009. Plate 6: Drury-Mincy Conservation Area, Taney County, April 11, 2009. Plates 8, 9, 10: Parch Corn Holler, Christian County, Missouri, April 11, 2010. Plate 11: StateoftheOzarks Archive, April 10, 2011. Plate 12: Hollister, Missouri, April 15, 2009. Plate 13: StateoftheOzarks Archive, May 10, 2009. Plates 14, 16: StateoftheOzarks Archive, April 30, 2011. Plate 17: StateoftheOzarks Archive, May 12, 2009. Plate 18: StateoftheOzarks Archive, May 8, 2009. Plate 19: StateoftheOzarks Archive, May 9, 2009. Plates 20, 21: Drury-Mincy Conservation Area, Taney County, April 15, 2009. April 23, 2014

dogwood petal

The Penny Loafers

(Berea, KY) A hush fell over the crowd. Fifteen thousand Southern Gospel fans stopped in anticipation. And then, the solid, lush harmonies of four men from Berea College in Kentucky sounded through the house. When finished, the applause was thunderous. The Penny Loafers, new to the National Quartet Convention but veteran music makers, were welcomed into the Southern Gospel world.

Larry Nichols (baritone) still remembers that September night in 2010. “We had never set foot at NQC until then. We’re not a traditional group and didn’t think we were a good fit. But the way the audience responded? It was very affirming to us. It felt like the Lord was saying, Your work is not finished. There are exciting times ahead!”

The group was formed in 1985 when Alan Pike (bass), Kevin Slemp (2nd tenor) and Michael Hunt (1st tenor) were still in college. They formed an a cappella group, combining smooth vocals with 1950s’ and 1960s’ era jazz, do-wop and gospel numbers. Early on, in searching for a group name, they happened to realize each band member was wearing penny loafer shoes. The name was decided.

By 1989, a decision was reached: the Penny Loafers would establish a full-time ministry, choosing predominately — but not solely — Gospel music as a way of showcasing their vocal gifts. That summer found them on the South Carolina coast, working with missionaries, ministering to tourists. Many of those tourists, impressed by the group’s sound, would take the Penny Loafers’ contact information back home and it was not long before requests for traveling dates came in.

In two years, the Loafers were traveling full-time, performing 150 shows each year.

Larry Nichols of Dayton, Ohio, joined the Loafers in 1992 when he was only 19. “My pastor brought them to our church and asked me, ‘Why don’t you open for them?’ A few days after that Sunday performance, Alan [Pike] called me and said, ‘We’ll stop by next Sunday and pick you up.” I celebrated my 20th birthday on the road.”

The Loafers worked full-time until 1996. Marriages, families, and the obligations of work (each member works full-time as a pastor or music minister in their respective churches) reduced the number of performance dates.

“By 2008, we decided the group had pretty much run its course,” relates Nichols. “We thought it was time to hang it up. But we ended up singing in Indiana and Bill Gaither was in the audience.” That meeting would breathe new life into the group’s future, as did that first performance at NQC.

Today, the Loafers keep a busy schedule, balancing home, church and roadwork. An affiliation with IMC Concerts keeps them traveling, this year to Phoenix, Orlando, Branson, Niagara Falls, and Virginia Beach. They also perform at a number of corporate events. “Our repertoire includes lighter, secular songs,” sayd Nichols. “It gives us the opportunity to share the Gospel we wouldn’t have otherwise.”

For contact information, be sure to check out our State of the Ozarks Links Page!

For a full listing news articles, click on our State of the Ozarks News Directory!

Chronicle Gospel Group

(Holden, LA) According to the dictionary, “Chronicle” means “a factual account of important or historical events.” Founded in April 2009, the Gospel trio Chronicle is dedicated in their mission — sharing a factual account of God’s grace.

“You can’t tell you are touching people until you are singing to them,” shares vocalist and songwriter Missy Kinchen, “But when the tears start to fall? You know the Lord is dealing with souls. It is not us. But the Lord is successful in our alter calls a lot. We stress that throughout each service.”

The trio share a passion for the Good News matched with a masterly polish not often seen in “part-time” groups. Missy works as a nurse. Husband Tim is in construction. Group co-founder Greg Sullivan works for Blue Cross Insurance.

Separately, Chronicle members share a diverse musical background. Greg has a long history as lead and backup vocalist and is known for singing with regional group The Harrells prior to establishing Chronicle. Tim is an accomplished instrumentalist. “I’m a saxaphone player and that is already a bit out of the ordinary for Southern Gospel,” notes Tim, “I was kind of pushed into singing in the late ’90s.”

“Tim started teaching me harmony,” explains Missy with a soft Louisiana drawl, “And at the time I was like I cannot learn this! After about a year, God added to it and the ability grew.”

“Not everybody can sing harmony,” notes Tim, “but it was already there in her. Some people have a talent for it and Missy does.” Chronicle’s sound isn’t commonplace though strong Southern Gospel vocals are found in each selection. Missy writes many of the group’s songs while Tim’s saxaphone licks grace a number of tracks, giving their albums a soulful Southern feel.

“We try some traditional stuff and then put a twist on it musically or vocally,” says Tim. “We try to push boundaries. Some of the stuff will have a big band or country sound.”

Clearly, the group is doing something right. Chronicle now appears on the Christian Voice chart. Their new song will debut at #57 and, for a “part-time” group, the Louisiana trio travels extensively. Look for them at the Gatlinburg Gathering (July 3-5), Liberty, Texas (September 6) and Mobile, Alabama (November 1) in addition to a number of events in Louisiana and Mississippi.

For contact information, be sure to check out our State of the Ozarks Links Page!

For a full listing news articles, click on our State of the Ozarks News Directory!

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