Our Arkansas Ozark house stands on a promontory in the midst of several wooded acres and tree-lined ravines. The area was mostly clear-cut over a hundred years ago, and the old fence-lines and ruts from the lane of a farm still stretch through the land less than fifty steps from the house. The land was mostly abandoned for natural seeding and return of the oaks, maples, cedars, southern pines, sassafras, wild cherries, redbuds, and dogwoods that now dominate the area. Ferns and mayapples cover the forest floor. Where there are small sunlit clearings, black raspberries, tickseed, red poker, and dozens of other wildflowers bloom their hearts out.
The raspberries filled with white blossoms this May, more abundant than ever, although I never saw a pollinator buzzing through all the days that I stayed there. I wonder what kind of harvest we will see from all of those blossoms?
Rains finally came in substantial amounts in May, filling the old valley lake eight miles upstream, when it had previously shrunk to the level of a few small ponds joined by the old course of Little Sugar Creek. The herons seemed to enjoy the return of abundant water, along with a variety of geese and ducks. As I ran around the lake path, all varieties of birds seemed to be singing their gratitude for the water.
The last six years have seen perennial droughts in the area, and the most obvious casualties are the oldest and largest of the oaks. Six red, black, and burr oaks within sight of the house must have sprouted soon after the deforestation years, and stood for the hundred years since. Their progeny surround us with their smaller, younger trunks, six to ten inches in diameter. That the roots of any tree can grab into the cherty clay and grow large seems a wonder. The drought has left the smaller trees, but each of the older ones have died, leaving their huge trunks as hulking memorials.
Meanwhile, more pines have sprouted, seemingly hardy in spite of the drought. They appear to be saying to us, “We were here first, and we shall return.” The old photos of the valley show the dominance of Southern Yellow Pine, and here and there one stands that must have escaped the ax, but who knows what the next forest will look like, as hotter, drier temperatures intervene?
I would like to have kept the woods just as it was when I first entered it sixteen years ago. Now it is markedly different, and I recognize that nothing that I could have done would have halted the inevitable change that each year brings.