Flashback Friday #9

 Ozark Folk Center

Just outside the quaint little town of Mountain View, Arkansas, exists a wonderful state park called the Ozark Folk Center.  The mission of this park is to preserve and present to visitors the pioneer heritage of the Ozarks region.  Last year Retta and I spent some time at the Folk Center, where we were able to enjoy a day filled with American folk music and displays of living history.

The park strives to recreate an authentic pioneer village, and many of the living history displays are housed in original log houses scattered about the grounds.

Ozark style log cabin at Ozark Folk Center

The photographs above and below show two of the log cabins that the visitor is able to examine and stroll through.  It is my understanding that these two cabins were disassembled at their original location, and then reconstructed within the park.

Rear view of log cabin at Ozark Folk Center

The best part of the Ozark Folk Center are the living history displays which occur throughout the park.  In an era where we are accustomed to mass production, it is both interesting and educational to witness how many common items were produced in the past.  For example, we all know what is required today in order to sweep the floor.  We go to the local super store, where we fork over $4.88 to buy a broom produced in Malaysia or China.  But in the past, in order to sweep the floor you had to first make the broom yourself.  This process entailed the searching for, and gathering up of all the components that made up a broom.  Straw would have to be found to create the broom head. Proper wood had to be found, cleaned and dried, and only then could you begin the process of weaving the straw onto the broomstick in order to create a functional broom.

Broom assembly at Ozark Folk Center

In the photograph above, the craftsman shows a visitor how the process of making a broom occurs.  One of the things that I enjoyed most about the Ozark Folk Center was the fact that you could mingle with the craftspeople, who were delighted to show you all the nuances of their skill.  By the time this demonstration was over, I felt as if I could produce a half-way decent broom on my own, should the need ever arise.

Cooking demonstration at Ozark Folk Center

This friendly lady was demonstrating how the pioneers would bake various treats.  The kitchen was equipped with many of the utensils, ingredients and appliances that were in use in days gone by.

Print shop at Ozark Folk Center

The print shop pictured above was the means by which books, magazines, and newspapers were produced in the past.  In this day and age, when virtually anybody can become a publisher with a computer and simple printer, it is interesting to think about all of the technology that has evolved over the years.  Today, we can publish anything we want to at the mere push of a button, but in the past it took all of the machinery pictured above to create the most simple reading matter.

Soap production at Ozark Folk Center

Now that we have swept the floor, baked some treats, and printed a newspaper to read, we might want to wash up before enjoying our fresh-baked snack.  Since there was no market available to purchase soap, it was necessary to make your own soap in the past.  The Ozark Folk Center has a soap making demonstration that shows all of the steps involved in producing a bar of soap.  Today, this might be an enjoyable hobby for some, and a full fledged business for others, but most of us would probably prefer to just pick up a bar of soap or two at the local market.

Weaving on loom at Ozark Folk Center

The woman in the picture above uses this loom to demonstrate various weaving techniques and patterns to visitors.  Throughout this room were several looms, each with  weaving projects in various states of completion.

You may have noticed in all of the photographs above that there doesn’t appear to be many people gathered around the crafts persons.  At the time that we visited the Ozark Folk Center, we pretty much had the grounds to our self.  I do not know if this is the way it is at the Folk Center all of the time, but we were there in mid-June of 2005, and the place was not crowded at all.  We had a wonderful time visiting the park, and I especially enjoyed the ability to have one-on-one conversations with the craftspeople throughout the park.

Although I do not have pictures to show about the music, I still must comment about it now.  Mountain View, Arkansas is considered by many to be the American folk music capital of the world.  On any given evening, you are welcome to pull up a lawn chair in the town courthouse square, where you will be treated to musicians performing traditional folk music.  Since there is plenty of space around the square, many individuals and groups may be performing at any given time.  There are places around the square to buy snacks, such as hot dogs and hamburgers, but Retta and I opted for ice cream cones.  Lapping up the ice cream, while sitting in a lawn chair and listening to talented musicians play traditional American folk music is a wonderful way to spend the evening. 

The town hosts the annual Ozark Folk Music Festival, as well as a host of other traditional American music festivities.  The Ozark Folk Center has daily concerts in several venues in the park, so that visitors can listen to traditional folk music the year round.   I highly recommend a visit to Mountain View if you have the opportunity.

Seeing Things In A New Light

A wonderful habitat

Having been born and raised in the suburbs of a major metropolitan area, and living most of my life in neighborhoods where homeowners typically spent at least part of their weekends manicuring their yards, it is understandable that I would bring some city type thinking with me to our rural ranch.  And so it was with my attitude towards dead trees.

In the city, as I noticed on my last trip to the Los Angeles area, it is difficult to find a dead tree.  If the tree is on public property, than city maintenance crews will quickly remove the tree for safety reasons.  If the dead tree is located on commercial property, the property owner will remove the tree for liability reasons, and if the tree is situated on a residential lot, the homeowner will usually remove the tree for safety and/or aesthetic reasons.

When we moved onto our property five years ago, the land had pretty much been neglected for several years, so there was much remedial landscaping and field work to be done.  One of the first things I noticed were some dead trees of one species or another scattered throughout the area.  My suburban instincts immediately took hold, and I vowed that I would soon muster up the tractor and a log chain to pull down these offending eyesores.

As fate would have it, there were so many more pressing chores to do that I never had the opportunity to remove any of the dead trees that were scattered around our land.  Never the less, I vowed that I would get around to this task before too much time had passed.  One thing led to another, and before I knew it, another season had passed without my vow being fulfilled.

Today the dead trees still stand.  Is the fact that they still exist a testament to my procrastinating nature?  Fortunately not.  Since we moved out to the country, I have tried to educate myself about the things I see around me.  And one of the things that I have learned is just how important dead trees are to the environment around us.

A standing dead tree, know as a snag, is a thriving habitat for an entire mini-ecosystem.  First of all,  a snag is nature’s version of the fast-food restaurant.  The dead wood itself becomes a meal for ants, termites, and wood-boring beetles.  These insects, as well as their larvae, in turn become a meal for various species of birds.  Raccoons will also visit the snag for a delicious meal made up of insect larvae.

Besides serving as a feeding station, a snag provides cover for a vast array of creatures.  The loose bark of a snag provides cover for bats to roost, as well as a cozy spot for caterpillars to pupate.  Also taking cover under the loose bark are tree frogs, salamanders, and various types of beetles.  Tree holes also provide a place of refuge for a large number of critters, including woodpeckers, owls, bluebirds, nuthatches, chickadees, wrens, titmice, squirrels, raccoons and opossums, to name just a few.  It has been estimated that up to one-third of all forest birds and mammals depend on dead trees for either nesting or shelter.  The great popularity of providing man-made housing for birds stems from the fact that many species have lost a good portion of the snags that they depend on for their survival.  Thus the need for bluebird houses, bat houses, purple martin houses, etc.

One of the prime uses of a snag is for perching.  Predatory birds, such as owls, hawks, eagles and osprey use the unobstructed view afforded by the leafless snag to observe the surrounding area, searching for prey.

According to the Pennsylvania State Wildlife Management Agency, in their article Why Dead Trees Are Important To Wildlife, dead trees in many cases have become a more valuable resource than living trees, due to the declining number of standing dead trees.  Many states are beginning to require that dead and dying trees be retained in harvest areas, which marks a shift from previous forestry practices.

The Pacific Northwest Research Station, in the article contained in their journal “Science Findings” entitled Dead And Dying Trees: Essential For Life In The Forest, indicates that the latest research into forest ecosystems reveals that the extent to which dead trees are essential to forest species has been severely under-estimated in the past, and that there is a much broader variety of species that depend on dead trees than previously thought.

In conclusion, as I have come to understand the critical role of dead trees and snags on my property, I have become grateful for the circumstances that arose preventing me from taking the rash action of downing these wonderful trees.  Instead of thinking of snags like the one shown in the photograph above as “dead trees”, I now view them in their proper light – a vital habitat for the survival of the many wildlife species that inhabit the area.

You Can’t Escape the Long Arm of the Law

If you have followed this blog for any time now, you may know that we have suffered a rash of wildfires over the past half-year in our county.  We have had four fires that have burned on our property since Thanksgiving Day 2005, and all have occurred under the worst possible conditions for firefighting – very windy days combined with drought conditions (our drought has eased this spring, thank goodness).  If you would like to refresh your memory, you can read previous posts here, and here.

When I read our local weekly newspaper today, I came across the following article:

Arson Investigation Results In Arrest

Following a joint investigation between investigator Jim Thomas of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office and investigators with the Arkansas State Forestry Commission, a Harrison man was arrested for arson.

Marion County Sheriff Carl McBee said, “Nicholas Ray Taylor, age 21, of Harrison was arrested on June 13 on an outstanding felony warrant charging him with unlawful burning, which is an unclassified felony.”

McBee said that the investigation occurred after several fires were reported in the Zinc area of Marion County from January through March of this year.  With information provided by concerned citizens in the Zinc and Lead Hill areas, investigators developed enough information to arrest Taylor.

During the interview, Taylor admitted that he intentionally set four fires in the Zinc area.  Taylor was a new member of the Zinc Volunteer Fire Department.

Taylor was booked into the Marion County Jail and released after posting a $2,500 bond.  He is scheduled to appear in the Marion County Circuit Court on June 28 to answer the charge filed against him.

“I would like to thank all of the members of all of the fire departments who worked long, hot hours fighting these fires and for their assistance during this investigation,” McBee said.

Source: Mountaineer Echo – June 25, 2006 – by Jane H. Estes – Front page

I would also like to thank these firefighters once again for all of their hard work and dedication to their communities.  Without volunteer firefighters, there would be no one to turn to in these kind of situations.  It is too bad that there was one “bad apple” in the barrel, along side of all the other wonderful men and women who give so unselfishly of themselves.  Hopefully, these frightening events are now going to be a thing of the past.  There is enough to worry about in this world without these kinds of nutcases running around loose.

Sir George’s Fifteen Minutes Of Fame

Sir George, our Yellow Labrador Retriever, sat me down and had a talk with me today.  It seems that he was feeling a little bit slighted, in that Gracie (our Great Pyrenees) and the two new kittens appear to be getting more cyberspace notoriety than he is receiving.  I indicated to George that he had a valid point, and that I would attempt to rectify the situation.  After consulting with my editor-in-chief (me), I decided to help George attain his well deserved fifteen minutes of fame by posting his picture on the World Wide Web.

George loves summertime activities.  His favorite pastime, besides sleeping and eating, is lazing around the swimming pool.  Doesn’t he look as if he would fit right in at one of those senior-citizen retirement villages that are so heavily promoted down in Florida?  I think he would enjoy a good “swim-up” bar, along with a friendly older gentleman to talk to on occasion. 

George loves summer activities

As you can see in the picture below, George and the kittens are getting along just fine.  Sometimes the kittens drive George crazy with their constant playfulness and miniature feline antics, but usually they just seem to enjoy each others company.

The nurturing instinct takes over

If cats and dogs, who are reputed to be natural enemies, can get along like this, why can’t we humans do the same, I wonder?

Flashback Friday #8

William J. Clinton Presidential Center

 Exterior of Clinton Presidential Center

Today’s field trip takes us just south of the Ozarks to Little Rock, Arkansas, where we will visit the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum.  The Clinton Library is the newest of eleven Presidential libraries administered by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.  Besides the Clinton Library, I have visited the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and birthplace cottage located in West Branch, Iowa, and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library located in Simi Valley, California.  The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri is on my list for a visit in the near future, and I aspire to see the seven additional Presidential Libraries in the course of my lifetime.

Unique architecture abounds here

The first thing that one tends to notice upon arrival at the Clinton Library site is the unique architecture of the building itself.  I have seen this building in photographs, in video, and through the lens of my camera.  And none of these depictions of the building do it justice.  My meager photographic skills certainly can’t, but maybe they will whet your appetite to see for yourself some time. 

Plaza fountain

The grounds of the Clinton Presidential Center lie along the banks of the Arkansas River, next to an old railroad trestle that is in the process of renovation.  The area is beautifully landscaped, and though it will take many years to achieve the mature lushness that surrounded the Hoover Library in Iowa, or the wonderfully aromatic rose garden at the Reagan Library in California, it is in a remarkably pretty location.

Railroad trestle across Arkansas River

As you begin to acclimate to the unusual architecture, you begin to notice all kinds of little surprises, such as this interior/exterior transition which is viewable from upstairs only –

Ever changing views

The public exhibits are contained on two floors, with an open mezzanine allowing for an unimpeded view of the facility.  I was impressed by the spaciousness that this design presented, as opposed to the museum-like, one room leading into another room design of the Reagan or Hoover Libraries.  It allows the visitor the opportunity to see where the crowds are gathered at any given moment, and to divert to an empty section of the Library, which makes the visit much more enjoyable.

It is interesting to note the bookcases that are situated at the ends of the exhibit sections, which hold the large blue binder shelves.  Contained within these binders are some of the actual archived and indexed presidential documents.

Interior of Clinton Presidential Center

The Clinton Library and Museum exhibits seem to have been designed from the ground up to be a more hands-on, interactive experience than I encountered at either the Hoover or Reagan Libraries.  The Cabinet Meeting Room is recreated in actual scale, and visitors are encouraged to sit around the cabinet table to explore the issues that were current at the time of the Clinton administration.

The Cabinet Meeting Room

Interactive touch screen display panels are built into the Cabinet table, and a surprising amount of information is accessible directly from this system.  You are encouraged to ask questions of the docents, who are knowledgeable about many aspects of the Clinton presidency and Presidential protocol.

Touch screen information displays

Scattered throughout the building are varied signs and symbols of America and the presidency, such as this rug that lays on the floor of the Oval Office replica.

Seal of the Office of the President of the United States of America

First Ladies in America have a history of White House re-decorating, from flooring to furnishings, from art to landscaping, and everything in between.  But the one item that gets updated most often seems to be the White House formal dinnerware.  The display at the Clinton Library of a complete formal table setting was gorgeous.  Since I am pretty sure I will never be invited to a White House dinner, it was nice to see how I might have dined if I were.

Elegant place settings

A self-admitted car guy, I couldn’t resist snapping a few pictures of the Presidential Limousine.  Forget the sit-down dinner with all the fancy china and crystal and all, I would rather just be invited for a few laps around the block in this baby!  Can you imagine what it would be like to be chauffeured around in the Presidential Limousine, motorcade entourage and all?

The finest ride in town!

I guess no tour of a Presidential Library should end without some mention of politics, and this one won’t either.  The concept of the Presidential Libraries administered by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration is to make available to historians, scholars, and the American public the complete record of the subject administration, accessible in one convenient location.  This has been achieved at the three Presidential Libraries that I have visited.

An additional function of these libraries, through the museum portion of the facilities, is to present a portrait, a legacy if you will, of the President depicted.  The materials that are displayed to the public, and the manner in which they are displayed are generally under the control of a foundation created by the former President in question.  It stands to reason that controversial positions of an administration are presented in the best available light by the library’s foundation.  So in the sense that what is displayed, and how it is displayed is cherry-picked, you might argue that you are viewing revisionist history at times.  I will not argue with that point of view, but I will point out that all three Presidential Libraries that I visited seemed to be equally adept at “shaping” events to suit the image they wanted to portray.

So my (unsolicited) advice is this – visit every Presidential Library you can, and take away from them all of the knowledge and history that they have to offer.  Take off your political hat and put on your historian’s hat when you enter the front doors, and be thankful for the opportunity to get an inside peek at selected American presidencies.

Fescue To The Rescue

Festuca arundinacea

Tall fescue ready for cutting

Tall fescue, as pictured in this 5 acre hay field above, is a robust cool season grass that has been imported to the Ozarks region.  Tall fescue has major benefits to the farmer, but it also brings with it major headaches.

The major benefit that fescue bestows lies in the relatively diverse growing conditions that it will thrive in.  Fescue will tolerate wet soil and short periods of flooding.  At the same time, it is also very draught resistant.  Although it grows most vigorously when soil pH, phosphorus and potassium levels are within certain bounds, it will thrive in conditions that are well outside of the recommended ranges.  About the only requirement that seems to be absolutely necessary for vigorous fescue growth is an adequate supply of available nitrogen in the soil.  Because of the wide diversity of environmental and soil conditions that fescue will thrive under, it has spread throughout the cattle producing regions of the Ozarks.  Agronomists have estimated that about 75% of the tall fescue in the Ozarks is infected with a fungus called an endophyte.  An endophyte is a fungus that grows within another plant, without causing any apparent harm to the host plant, and in some cases, providing benefits to the host.  For fescue, the benefit of the endophyte is that it produces chemicals called “alkaloids” which protect the grass from insects and nematodes.  It is said that any square inch of bare soil will soon grow something, as nature abhors a vacuum.  If that square inch is in this neck of the Ozarks, most likely it is fescue that will emerge, due to the reasons cited above.

The negative factors pertaining to fescue arise primarily due to the health effects fescue has on livestock.  The very endophytes that have caused fescue to predominate in the area also lead to the health risks to animals.  The alkaloid ergovaline causes the constriction of the blood vessels in animals.  Since cattle rely on increased blood flow through capillaries under the skin for heat reduction in the warmer months, the reduced blood flow as a result of vessel constriction can easily lead to heat stress, which in turn leads to early embryonic death.  Another byproduct of fescue induced heat stress is reduced feed intake and decreased animal performance.  For horse owners, the endophytes create a condition called fescue toxicity, which can lead to spontaneous abortion or still birth in foaling mares.

For this reason, farmers reactions to fescue are both mixed and intense.  It is a grass with robust growth, yet requires careful hay and pasture management to prevent adverse health effects on livestock.

There is much information available to the farmer and rancher regarding fescue management.  It can be easily obtained on-line, or through any agricultural extension office.  For the homeowner, there is also a large quantity of information available for the best lawn management practices.  But for someone like myself, who has many acres of established tall fescue that is NOT being actively grazed by livestock, there is very little information that I have been able to find on how to manage fescue without substantial monetary expenditures.  Fortunately, our land is comprised of many fields, and through much experimentation, I have found procedures and schedules that combine to produce lush, green growth at a minimum of expense.

Tall fescue height at cutting time

The photo above shows tall fescue at maturity.  The white sheet of paper is a standard sheet of 8.5 x 11 paper, which should help to indicate scale.  When mature, the fescue reaches a height of 48″ or more.  The ample seed head is located at the top of the grass stem.

Red clover

In order to meet the minimum nitrogen requirements that fescue needs to achieve optimum growth, one can rely on either an imported, or an intrinsic nitrogen source.  An imported nitrogen source would be the application of any type of fertilizer, either natural or synthetic.  This is the routine most farmers would go through, but it requires a considerable annual outlay, in both fertilizer costs, and fuel costs to spread the material.  Since we derive no income from the production of cattle, it makes little sense for us to incur these expenses, especially since there is another way to provide nitrogen to the soil.  As you can see from the photograph above we rely on an intrinsic nitrogen delivery source – red clover interspersed with the fescue.  The clover will supply and fix the nitrogen into the soil, providing the fescue with this all important resource.

Seed heads are not quite ready for cutting

Eventually, the fescue grass will run out of steam and need to be replaced with fresh seedlings.  The way that we manage this is to delay the cutting of the fields until such time as the cutting will also serve to re-seed the field.  In the photograph above, you can see the seed heads of the fescue grass.  Notice that there are no loose seeds on the white sheet of paper.  If the fescue field is predominately at this stage, then it is too early to cut.  By waiting until the seed head readily sheds its’ seeds when you shake the fescue stem, as shown clearly in the picture below, then any cutting and baling of the fescue grass will result in the loose seeds being sown into the field.

Ready for cutting when seeds fall off

The cutting of the grass, as opposed to just letting it persist throughout the season, serves to eradicate weeds and brush that would otherwise occur in a field of this type.  The annual or semi-annual cutting of the fescue, along with the encouragement of natural re-seeding, tends to crowd out any undesirable plant growth, and because of the extremely tolerant nature of the fescue to adverse conditions, it will eventually take over the field.

By following this type of schedule consistently, you achieve a constant re-seeding of the field, and by including clover in the mix, you provide the necessary nitrogen for vigorous fescue growth.  And best of all, you will notice that there was nothing that had to be purchased, so the expense is limited to the fuel required for cutting the grass.

What we have found on our land by experimentation is that by allowing the fescue to produce viable seed on a regular basis, and by being persistent with the cutting of the grass, we can produce fields that look like the one that follows, and do it at a very minimal cost.

Unharvested and ungrazed fescue field

You will have to ask our Pyre Gracie if it is all worth the effort.  I think I can see a big smile of approval on her face.  Can you?

A New Piece of Farm Equipment?

We are very fortunate to have visitors to the ranch this week.  My brother Mark and his friend Sandra are on a cross country trip, and they have stopped by to see us.  How do you think they fared driving up a two mile long, bumpy and rutted dirt road to get to our place?

Mark and Sandra on Rewaco Trike

The trike that is pictured above is a Harley-Davidson powered, German built Rewaco Trike.  It is way more cool than it even appears in this photograph.  You have to see it in person to believe it.  I wonder if Mark would allow me the liberty of attempting to attach my Bush Hog rotary cutter to his trike, because the pastures are getting a little bit long?