Lessons on the Mountain
by Joshua Heston
There was once a time when you could scarcely keep me out of the timber. These days, the rigors of editor-in-chief keeps me close to the studio and desktop.
For the last couple of years, I’ve kicked myself for not getting out to the mountain in early spring, witnessing the birth of a new season in all its tiny, cumulative miracles.
So, the day after the first day of spring, I made it. To rediscover the depth and texture and tone and melody of springtime on the mountain.
The first pussy pussy toes (Antennaria neglecta) are already up, pushing their white, gauzy heads through the dense leaf bed, as well as wood sorrel, tiny and clover-like. Easy to miss, easy to step on, wood sorrel are delicate beacons of promise.
Atop the rocks, scrubby oak gesture hard in the sky. This land is harsh. Survival is never taken for granted. And the wind, the fire and the weathering of the seasons take their toll. Scars are natural.
As is death, seen in the leaves of last year, reddish and crumpled. Of overturned trunks, moss-eaten and rotting away. Only the elephant rocks, great heads of granite forged in long-ago earth fires, seem timeless. Slumbering beneath a shadowy palette of lichen.
The persimmon buds are swelling as are the all-but sacred dogwood. Deep in the holler, a trickle flows in the creek bed. Ozark streams are often tiny, intimate things, full of microcosmic life, the world etched, dancing on the head of a natural world pin.
Three butterflies tumble in the air, finally settling upon the dense cover of oak leaves. They disappear! Upon closing their wings, each butterfly is as drab as the brown leaves themselves. It is only when they take flight their true beauty reveals.
The sarvisberry have begun to bloom — tall, thin trees reaching for the forest canopy — but they are scarce. Easy to overlook. Easy to pass by. Sometimes the showiest things are not the greatest.
Lastly, the redbuds, perfect harbingers of a North American spring, are just beginning to come into their own. By May, the flowers will be tattered and worn. But now? Now they are new, like the season. Like the promise of a new year.
Innocence can never be underrated.
Photos by Joshua Heston and Dale Grubaugh. March 22, 2018, Mincy-Drury Conservation Area, Taney County, Missouri, StateoftheOzarks Media Inc.