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White Rock in Mid-Winter

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February 8, 2012 by Joseph C. Neal

120126 Hermit Thrush Slate Gap

White Rock is way out in the middle of the Ozark National Forest and the Boston Mountains. Birding is good with Hermit Thrushes and Golden-crowned Kinglets in a stand of native shortleaf pines. Male Purple Finches are enjoying coralberries and tree buds right alongside Forest Service Road 1505. Flocks in scattered weedy openings include juncos, gold- finches, and cardinals. Field Sparrows decorated twigs poking out of an old rock wall in the ridgetop farming community of Bidville.

Despite a record-breaking ice storm, a forest-decimating outbreak of borer beetles, and relentless cutting of the Federal budget, the Forest Service has managed to keep difficult, mountainous, winding roads to White Rock safe, open and even improved in places, including attractive road signs.

From Combs in Madison County, I drive along Mill Creek, where in early January Hamamelis vernalis, Ozark Witch Hazel, is covered with rather elegant reddish blooms. Unfortunately, off-road vehicles are damaging Mill Creek bottomlands. Freshly eroded tracks and huge mudholes are visible without effort. Fresh nobby tracks go right past “Road Closed” signs.

From Mill Creek, the forest road ascends toward White Rock. Along some of those high ridges another Hamame- lis species, American Witch Hazel with cheery yellow flowers, is also blooming. Fox Sparrows, all handsome browns and grays, perch in thickets of greenbriar and grape vines. Well below and out-of-sight, a steady rustling of dry leaves, like deer or perhaps a bear proves to be busy White-throated Sparrows, plus an Eastern Towhee.

What we see today — cabins built from native stone, hiking trails, and winding mountain roads — recalls a different era. White Rock, Devil’s Den, many schools, courthouses, and lakes were all visions that grew from the challenges of the 1930s Great Depression. In the 1930s, most people believed government by the people and for the people should help people with useful jobs, conservation that saved productivity of land and soil, and affordable recreation. The builders of forest roads and fire-fighting capabilities were Arkansans out of work and down on their luck — our parents and relatives from a different era — and they and their families survived in part due to a then-generous view of the purposes of government.

The view from White Rock is astonishing. A Pileated Woodpecker flies over and out across a ridge full of dead and dying trees, a legacy of ice, insects, and a natural turning over of an old forest even to- day being renewed.

My old friend Eleanor Johnson used to say, “It’s an ill wind that doesn’t blow someone some good.” In that respect, it’s good now to be a woodpecker, a logger or a fire wood cutter.

At the start of a new year, I am thankful for a day to explore. An adult Bald Eagle that soars over reminds me we are lucky to live in a beautiful and inspiring plac

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