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Gardens of the Cross Timbers: On the move

Becky Emerson Carlberg
Contributing writer
Morning Fog and California Smoke

Have you ever been homesick and realized home is either too far away or gone?  One of those moments surfaced Monday morning after a particularly painful walk.  The fractured left knee which had not healed properly worked in tandem with the malfunctioning right foot bones attempting to fuse together.  Feeling positively sorry for myself, I went to my ‘go home’ source…the Southern Living magazine.  In the July 2020 edition, right below the title in bold letters, were the words ‘Summer Escapes’.

Yes, escape.  Having lived years in Tennessee, North Carolina and Little Dixie (SE OK), home usually involved mountains, fresh water or the Atlantic Ocean.  One advertisement extolled the virtues of visiting Oriental, N.C.  My family’s friends in Wilmington had a cabin in Oriental. Next page featured a pine wood cabin by an Alabama lake with its own tiny island.  Oh, this looked so inviting.  The homeowner quipped “When you stand at the sink overlooking the water, it feels like you’re at a ship’s helm.”  Of course, realize any house in Southern Living is usually budget-busting expensive, but this was not only a home but imaginary boat!  

The Travel & Culture section was full of national forests, scenic trails and seashores. They even included the Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Pawhuska, the Wichita Mts. Wildlife Refuge and, drum roll, the Talimena National Scenic Byway.

Talimena Drive was our go-to place on weekends of uninteresting ballgames.  We’d pack a picnic lunch and drive up, down and all around the Ouachitas.  Nothing says being outdoors more than gripping your sandwich and drink while the winds sweep over you and the short, scraggly, leaning trees grasping for life on the mountain tops.  We often ate in the car, but what a view.

My Muscadine Grape harvest

My Michigan uncles found Talimena Drive fascinating.  One visit nearly netted a guardrail for a souvenir as we careened around one sharp corner.  Words of amazement came as they marveled at the age of the vehicles on the road, especially since none showed much rust. More than a million tons of road salt are used each winter on Michigan roads!

The Southern Living issue ended with recipes for pancakes, outside snacks and beach food.  Last short article was ‘The Longest Summer’ by Rick Bragg.  His memories were my memories:  bare feet on hot asphalt, fried crappie, and catching June bugs.  I felt much better by page 116.   

With few surveys done on our Oklahoma wildlife each year, the BioBlitz! Has come to the rescue.  For the past 15 years, BioBlitzes have been held in most of Oklahoma’s ecoregions to give us all an idea of what lives here besides us.  The novel idea sprung up 24 years ago in Washington D.C.

Funnel Weaver spider waiting.

Sam Droege of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (background in statistical analysis) is a bee expert and photographer. He and colleague Dan Roddy of the National Park Service (NPS) thought: Why not invite some biologists and other ‘ologists to come and find the things that interest them in Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens? Invite the public to assist.  NPS Naturalist Susan Rudy came up with the name BioBlitz and it took off from there.

Kenilworth Park has history.  The Nacotchtanks, a branch of the Algonquins, were sustained by these fresh water tidal marshes for hundreds of years.  In the 17th century colonial settlers arrived, destabilized native settlements and introduced European diseases.  Native populations dropped by up to 90%.  The remaining few were forced off their land.  The area was named Anacostia. From the early 1900’s to the 1930’s it operated as a commercial water lily garden.  In 1938 the gardens were saved from dredging of the nearby Anacostia River by the creation of 700 acre Anacostia park.  In 1982 an area of the park south of the water gardens was turned into a municipal dump.  Trash was burned in open piles.  The dump was closed in the 1970s followed by extensive environmental restoration.  Today 45 ponds are full of lotuses, water lilies and aquatic life.  The well-maintained park has an elevated boardwalk, tidal marshes and a wildness about it people love. The Nacotchtanks, wherever they might be, would again find plentiful wildlife and fish.

Native Liatris now in bloom

The entire month of April 2020 was the first Virtual Spring BioBlitz! in Oklahoma! People saw wildlife in yards, in parks, wherever they were.  They recorded migrating birds, emerging insects and pollinators, arachnids, herps (amphibians and reptiles), and varieties of plants (two new species spotted this year).

One thousand two hundred and five Oklahoma ‘citizen scientists’ made 26,909 observations of 2,893 species. The Common Pond slider turtle was most often seen with 153 observations.  Sightings included 131 Indian Paintbrushes, 122 American Robins, 101 fox squirrels, 77 scissor-tailed flycatchers, 53 roly-polys, 52 blackjack oaks, 39 raccoons, 34 beavers. 31 scorpions, 27 evergreen bagworms, 25 splitgill mushrooms, 24 armadillos, 23 cedar apple rusts, 19 American Bison,18 brown recluses and 9 White Crappies.  The Oklahoma Master Naturalists were pretty proud of Zach DuFran.  The OMN student was the GRAND Bioblitzer this year, documenting 567 verified species.  Zach loves moths. He manages the Moths of Oklahoma Project.

This year, the fall OK BioBlitz 2020 will not be at Roman Nose State Park as planned. It will also be virtual.  Everyone can participate. BioBlitz weekend is October 2-4. Find the Virtual Nature Center at https://biosurvey.ou.edu/bioblitz2020/

Field Mushroom at eye level

After the last rains, fairy ring mushrooms sprouted up in the landscape.  Agaricus campestris is very closely related to the button mushroom, Agaricus bisporus, sold in stores. The short-lived edible field mushrooms appear late summer into autumn growing in partial or full rings.  They have broad white caps with gills underneath that turn dark brown. If you aren’t definite about the identification, don’t eat the mushroom.  As Professor Ken Conway, mycologist, used to say: “There are old mushroom hunters, and bold mushroom hunters, but no old, bold mushroom hunters.”

Another similar but inedible schroom, Agaricus xanthodermus, will turn yellow at the base when cut and issues a strong medicinal scent especially if cooked. The Yellow Stainer contains enough phenol to make your tummy very unhappy.  Remember Lifebuoy?  Same smell.  This soap had carbolic acid (phenol) extracted from coal tar which gave it germicidal disinfectant properties.  

Happy Sneezeweed

According to Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch, this year’s Monarch migration might be fast-paced.  Last year’s migration was the latest in 28 years.  Too warm.  This year the temps in the Upper Midwest and northern breeding grounds are in the 60’s and 70’s.  Monarchs are on the move.  The population will advance steadily into the southern region and will be very compressed with few stragglers.  Keep eyes open.  It could be quick.

Autumn arrives Tuesday Sept 22nd.  Candy corn time!