I was too late to see Sonya Glassberg's daffodils, but one of her hyacynth was fresh. I don't recall seeing a "wild" hyacynth before. Irises, and lots of daffodils, to be sure. But never a hyacynth.

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The park has rules. Rules about posting pictures of the sculpture on the Internet, and rules about touching and climbing on the sculpture:

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A month or so ago, I wrote a post that began, "I wish I knew the names of flowers." Since then, I've done a little studying.

Last year, very early in the spring, when the daffodils bloom, I came across this in the floodplain of Beaver Creek, near the river at Meremec State Park: . . .

It rained all week before the first weekend in May. Not normally a fact worth noting, except that this year, I went to Taum Sauk that Saturday.

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This biggest hills and the best views in the state, without excepttion.

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Another fishing destination, but with a long trail to a natural bridge.

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My anti-chigger vigilance slipped for just ten minutes, and this is the result:

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I stopped by on a windy day. The flags were stiff in the wind (nice), and the air was full of dust (not so nice, since the place was a lead smelter).

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Is this the prettiest picture I've taken all year?

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I'm still not really philosophical about the whole feral hog thing.

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A lovely, varied park. Shame about the feral hogs, though.

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Finding old ruins is often a matter of catching a brief window in spring.

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This thing sits like a grounded UFO in Washington State Park.

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Melancholy in the Ozarks. Or, a cemetery fading down into the fallen leaves.

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Hamilton Valley is in Meremec State Park, so of course there are caves and springs. Probably more that I noticed.

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In few places is history layered across the landscape like it is in the Hamilton Valley.

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I went back to Meremec State Park this spring. Were the feral daffodils still there?

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I'm not sure whether our hawks qualify as wildlife or not, or even which definition of "wildlife" applies to such as settled, domesticated state as ours. I was down at Washington State Park at the end of March. The trail intersects with a popular pull-off, where people stop to take in the view of the Big River valley:

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This March and April, I've been running into burnt stuff everywhere, or so it seems. On Good Friday, I walked back to one of the backpacking camps at Hawn State Park. I'd (surprisingly) never spent any time there, so I thought it would be a good spot for lunch. A couple of days later, it looked like the DNR was fixing to set a controlled burn at St. Francois State Park.

So I wasn't particularly surprised when I walked up on this at Forest 44: . . .

Forest 44 is mostly a place for horseback riding, but there's hiking to be had. It appears to be run almost exclusively for riders, and for the horse boarding businesses in the area:

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The Civilian Conservation Corps made Big Spring. Not just the buildings, or the roads and bridges, but the spring.

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The Wilderness Trail is a fine, long hike, only an hour from South St. Louis County. It's close enough to home to be a reason to drive past closer, but less interesting spots.

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It's close, 30 minutes from home. Close is good. But is it good enough?

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I'm surprised the legislature hasn't declared the state tree to be the power transmission tower. They seem to be everywhere, no matter where I go. If I don't run across the big, high-volatage kind (click thumbnail), then I'm bound to cross the little, one-pole type.

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How does Emerson start The Divinity School Address? Something like, "In this refulgent summer, it has been a luxury to draw the breath of life."

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The quickest introduction to the St. Francois Mountains in the state. The St. Francois Mountains offer a different experience from what we usually find in Missouri. There's more exposed rock, hard igneous rock instead of the usual limestone. Sometimes there's so much rock that trees have a hard time growing, and the landscape remains open, with views that stretch to the next line of hills.

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A medium length trail through a varied landscape. The loop hike (6 miles?) at Washington State Park, and the varied terrain it passes through, is certainly worth the drive. It's a good plae to think about the history and development of Missouri's state parks, and the trail offers a number of pleasant surprises.

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A brand new conservation area! So new that I didn't know it was there, until I drove past it on my way somewhere else. It's not an especially big conservation area--about like the others in the same part of Jefferson County--but it's still a nice addition.

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How does the Cole Porter song go? Something like, "Birds do it, bees do it, even Ozark turtles do it . . . " Or maybe not.

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I've never met Danny McMurphy, but I feel like I know him. Maybe because I've been running into him on the internet for years.

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A big area, with miles of old woods roads. The Conservation Department closes most of the trails in the area during hunting season, although it's still possible to get a good, long hike through an area where hunting is off-limits.

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In the Ozarks, history and nature each contain the other, each depending on the other. It is, I suppose, convenient to think about them as separate things. "History" is the thing people do to the landscape. They chop down trees, cut roads, build houses, clear pastures, run fences. And the things people do leave marks on the landscape, marks as clear and obvious as any written text. The world is a kind a parchment, and we are the pen the marks it. On the other hand, "nature" is everything else, the things that happen when we aren't around.

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I go there to fish, but there is a short trail that can be fun. The last few years, I've been going to Montauk for a week around Labor Day. It makes for a very relaxing week. I fish a little, read a little, nap a little. This year, I made a point of just walking around the park. I hiked the official trail, but I also just walked around, usually in the afternoon, when the fishing was slow.

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I'm a nature fan-boy, and I know it. It's not hard to get to start gushing, to loose all control of my enthusiasms. To the point of being tiresome, in fact. I've seen that glazed look in my friends' eyes, watch my co-workers suddenly remember urgent tasks that require immediate attention. It's fine.

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An hour from home, with trails enough to fill a day.I have fond childhood memories of the park. There's a scout ranch a little farther down 67. When my mother would take my brother and I to summer camp, we'd stop off at St. Francois for a picnic. Fried chicken, usually, not the thickly battered kind, but my mother's floured version, peppery and crisp.

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Big Springs is thick with history. We spent a long weekend there in late May, staying in one of the CCC-built cabins on the ridge above the spring branch, and eating dinners in the lodge overlooking the water. We did as close to nothing as possible. No TV. Almost no radio, although oddly enough, the Rev. Larry Rice has a station just down the road.

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What a difference the spring makes!

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The nicest park in the state, bar none. I've been visiting the park since I was a child. My grandfather took me by there, a side-trip from day-long drive we took in search of sawmill scraps for the fireplace. Since then, I've camped there, backpacked there, day hiked there. I know the main trail, the Whispering Pines Trail, as well as I know any place. And yet Hawn is the only place where I've ever been truly lost. Twice.

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After the farm fails and the barbed wire rusts away, what's left? We've seen before that once people and their things leave a place, their plants remain. We've seen that most notably in the springtime daffodils next to the foundation of ruined cabin. Except for the daffodils, I would have walked right by the cabin.

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When I think of Hawn State Park, I think of pines. Big stands of mature native short-leaf pine.

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There's a hidden natural area down stream from the campground at Hawn State Park.I'd like to say that I found it, and that it was wonderful, but I never made it there. Too many ticks.

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Sometimes the uncomplicated pleasures are best. Sometimes the big philosophical throw-down seems, well, contrived. Misplaced. Misdirected. The effort might be better spent on just looking.

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Even a familar place can seem new, with a bit of exploring.

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Beaver Creek, not much more than a trickle, has cut a wide valley.

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Is the designation of a "Natural Area" forever? Or can it be rescinded like any other act of the government?

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The season--late May--was perfect for ferns, and Hickory Canyons was almost the perfect place to see them. Hickory Canyons--a Natural Area administered by the Department of Conservation, is an easy detour on the drive to Hawn State Park, where I went for few days to camp and hike.

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Sometimes old roads go nowhere. But sometimes they do. In early March, I was wandering around Meremec State Park, piecing together unofficial trails, abandoned roads and obvious cross-country routes. I knew I was in an area that had had a bunch of river clubhouses before the the failed attempt to dam the Meremec, so it seemed wise to follow whatever evidence of previous use I came across.

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It was windy when I went to Meremec State Park in early March, and the hawks were out, soaring up the updrafts rising above the river bluffs. I noticed one first when I was walking along a gravel bar next to the river. I couldn't really get a good look at it, because it was so far above the river.

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I happened to be in Poplar Bluff for a few days in early April. For a funeral, which seemed unseasonable, since it was about as springtime as I can ever recall it being. This spring--the spring of 2012--is one I'll remember for the rest of my days. In part because it has been so beautiful. And in part because the funeral was for a man who lived a life as beautiful as the spring.

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Abandoned cabin sites announce themselves with daffodils in March.

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A pleasant walk through 145 acres of pristine woods. The Conservation Department advertizes Englemann Woods as, "a rare remnant of old-growth Missouri River hills forest" (see the entry on their natural areas site).

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Sometimes an uncomplicated long walk is fine.

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How old is a forest? I don't have a good way of answering the question. It's one of those things I have to get at through indirection. But when I find myself surrounding by big trees (see the thumbnail), I have to ask anyway.

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Who was A.P. Greensfelder? It's not a trivial question, since he was involved, either directly or through cooperation with others, in the donation of the land--Rockwoods Range (1,400 acres), Rockwoods Reservation (1,800 acres), and Greensfelder County Park (1,600 acres)--that forms the big chunk of open space in west St. Louis County.

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Henry Rowe Schoolcraft is the authority on the Ozark landscape in the early nineteenth century. How good of an authority is he?

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So gorgeous, and so close.

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How bureaucratic can the protection of nature be? Plenty, it turns out.

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Better than the Grand Canyon? No, of course not. But every bit as good? You bet.

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Whatever his faults, Thoreau was an accomplished naturalist. It doesn't really come through in Walden, but it's readily apparent in his appendix to The Maine Woods, where he catalogs the plants he saw on his trips there. It's a tour de force, complete with each plant's Latin name, common name, and a note or two on where it's usually found. It's rather like watching a good musician practice scales, while knowing full well that he or she has a virtuoso piece readily at hand.

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Ravines sink abruptly at LaBarque Creek. It must be due to the way the bedrock is layered, hard rock atop soft. The little streams must reach a soft layer, cut through it until it hits a hard layer, then widen the resulting ravine by meandering back and forth across the harder rock flooring the ravine.

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I can't walk by a smallest creek without stopping. I think I must number among what Melville (or Melville's Ishmael--I'm not sure they're the same) calls "the crowds of water-gazers".

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Nathan H. Parker The Missouri Handbook, 1865

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Wear orange: A forest actively managed for wildlife and hunting.

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Young Conservation Area is a good place to think about land management. The whole of the Ozarks--the whole of the United States, in fact--is owned by someone, even if that someone is a government agency. And those owners all have agendas of one kind or another. Sometimes, especially if they're like the Missouri Department of Conservation or the U.S. Forest Service, they have multiple goals on their agendas, and those goals get worked out differently in the different parcels owned by the agency.

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Every hiking season has its pluses and minuses. In the spring, green takes on a special beauty, especially after winter's monochromes, but it tends to rain a lot. Summer days go on forever, but Missouri can be beastly hot. If there's a perfect season, it's autumm, but usually it isn't cold enough to shut down the chiggers.

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A nice stand of nearly mature trees rise in the back of the Young Conservation Area, between ares where the Department of Conservation has been thinning timber. The trees are large enough to shade out the underbrush, so the forest floor is clear and open.

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Sometimes, the trail fades away to nothing, inviting (or forcing, depending on your point of view) off-trail exploration.

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A brilliantly designed and executed trail loops through a small but varied landscape of glades, forest and creek bottoms. Valley View Glades Natural Area is located west of Hillsboro in Jefferson County, about 40 minutes south I-270 down MO 21. MO 21 is four-lane divided highway through Jefferson County to where it ends at route B (paved). Go right on B 4 miles or so to Valley View Glades (parking on left).

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I'm puzzled over a spot at Valley View Glades. Running parallel to the trail, as it heads along the top of the ridge, are a pair of long, straight ditches.

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After an hour or so wandering around Victoria Glades, sort of looking for the trail, but not looking very hard, I finally found one, and decided to follow it. But I didn't get very far when I noticed, off in the woods, another glade opening and the start of a small creek, fringed in cedars. Since Victoria Glades's trails hadn't done well by me, I headed off through the woods. And, after going not more than twenty or thirty yards, I discovered an utterly magical place.

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After wandering a bit across the open landscapes at Victoria Glades, I headed for a nearby hilltop, where the openness was abruptly replaced by thick brush. Fortunately, an old wagon road headed south through the brush along the hilltop.

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How natural are Ozark glades? They're common around Valley View and Victoria Glades, so at first glance they seem like a normal part of the landscape.

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Glades are marvellous places, and Victoria and Valley View Glades are good places to see them. Even though they occur in a variety of places in Missouri, they always feel unique, a departure from the usually timbered Ozark landscape. They invite a kind of slow progress, a constant stopping and turning to look, since glades often reveal a vista that is not possible in thick woods.

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If you hike counter-clockwise around the trail at Valley View Glades, you'll eventually end up on a old wagon road running along a ridgetop. After a bit, the trail leaves the road and descends to a wet weather creek, near a spot where the water plunges over rock ledges and down into a bathtub-sized pool.

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Some trails go nowhere.

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The carcass of old car, a '60 Fairlane perhaps, sits in the middle of a dry creek bed a short distance south of the Victoria Glades parking lot. There are two ways to get there. If it hasn't rained recently, follow the creek bed. Otherwise, pick your way down a faint path leading off south from the parking.

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