I’ve made some posts of the adventures of Mary Jane. She’s smart, she’s spry, she’s 99, and she cares about the future. Specifically she cares about the future of a small piece of the Ozarks.
Mary Jane’s parents settled in the area north of Eureka Springs around 1915. Her grandparents already had a small farm in town and her great uncle was a recluse down in a hollow near the railroad tracks. Her father and his sister bought a large tract of land east of the White River. Mary Jane’s father once told her that owning land meant you would never be broke. You could always sell a few acres. Over the decades Mary Jane has bought and inherited hundreds of acres, and as her family needs have changed she has sold some.
The largest sale came in the late 50s when Mary Jane’s daughter was in high school. She sold her favorite parcel to a developer. She sold because the power company was bringing electricity to the area, her house was on the wrong side of the highway and her high-school-aged daughter desperately wanted to have power. She had been raised in a home where you carried water and lived by candlelight. She built a small home in the area where power was coming and moved to improve the lives of her family.
At the time Mary Jane had no idea what a development would be. She had sold to farmers and neighbors in the past. Today there is a golf course community and 1500 people living on that lovely tract of land where her beloved dogwood forest once stood. This experience has helped to shape her views on land use. It’s not that the development was bad or unrealistic, it’s that there was a sea change in how land was being used. This ignited a desire in her to see that the development stop at the current line of her property.
Since the 1970s she has been more cautious about who she sells land to. She has filled the hollows and hills with people she knows will love the land like she does. More importantly she has made sure that an entire hollow will remain just as it is forever. She has worked with the Ozark Regional Land Trust to create the Oak Hill Wildlife Preserve and Land Trust.
Once a year we meet with someone from ORLT who will verify conservation easements and go over stewardship plans with us. As a long time resident I’m included in these sessions, as a lover of this land I’m thrilled to come along and get the finer details from Mary Jane.
This year we met with Preston, a smart young man who has a passion for land preservation and who made sure to make Mary Jane feel like he took every concern seriously. Here he goes over a 50-year-old map with Mary Jane that shows an accurate survey.
Maps are all good and well, but going to the boundary points is crucial, Mary Jane’s memory is amazing. She can walk across a field and take you directly to a survey marker that she has not looked at in decades. Here she just barrels across a field towards the point.
She pointed out a line where the corners of “the 40” should converge. Old school surveying was based on 40 acre tracts. Corners are marked with metal posts, rock piles, or witness trees.
Here we are walking one of the lines. This was a really uneven area and Mary Jane reluctantly accepted some help as she walked the side of that 40.
This find was somewhat disconcerting for me. This is an illegal camouflaged deer feeder six feet from the the property line. Hunting is illegal on the land trust, but it’s also prohibited in the development – I’m have no issue with hunting, but hunting without permission on land like this is incredibly dangerous. Over by the line I found a carbon shafted arrow. People hike and children play in this field. People’s homes are in the line of sight of this. It’s not safe, it’s not legal.
At this point we moved on to a hike into the actual land trust. This part was a little sad for me. Until a couple of years ago Mary Jane took these hikes with us. Physically she could still do it, but with her failing eyesight it’s just not safe anymore. She knows this hollow in a way that I can only compare with the way I remember the cracks in the sidewalk out in front of my childhood home. Not having her with us was sad, even so it was wonderful to be in her favorite place.
This is the trail as we enter into the hollow. We walk along the remnants of an old logging road.
Much of the woods are what I call a “beautiful tangle” – vines, saplings, leaves, fallen limbs.
This is all that is left of an old Volvo parked a quarter mile into the woods sometime in the 70s. I know it sounds odd, but an old gold Volvo was a landmark for us. Turn right to see the pivot rock, go down to see the waterfall, keep left to see the spring. The owner of the Volvo was an old friend of many of my neighbors, he passed away a couple of years ago. The Volvo was full of personal items. It was Jim’s storage unit. Over the years hikers had stopped to look inside. There’s a story of a lady who found a chandelier inside. Tools, fixtures, antiques – one time my nephews carried out a huge french-fry cutter. Jim told me to keep it and its mounted in my kitchen to this day. After his death friends hung prayer flags over the Volvo. His son had been to visit it. It wasn’t natural, but we had all come to love it. About a year ago we discovered that it was gone. Probably stolen for scrap, prayer flags and all. I can’t even imagine the work it took to get that thing out of the woods. We all miss it and will likely leave the spare here as a marker.
We continued down the trail towards the easement. The woods here are thick and this time of year the light through the trees can be stunning.
A rich carpet of leaves about a foot thick blanketed the forest floor.
The dogwoods in the hollow are starting to change – just the slighted turn towards red.
Francie, an old friend of Mary Jane, owns a small piece of land inside the trust. It’s on a conservation easement and part of the process is verifying that these easements are in compliance. Francie owns a small spring and its a wonderful sanctuary for her. She comes twice a year to spend time there. It’s always going to be a peaceful place. Here Preston and Francie work their way to the spring.
Dogwood leaves in the afternoon sunlight.
Color through cedars. I should point out that I shot everything today with my fast prime lens – a Leica 25mm 1.4 – the equivalent of a fast 50. It let me isolate objects like these cedars. It’s not the greatest for the trail shots, but at least I get lots of detail.
Leaves on the ground.
Leaf in the sky.
These shots are from a special place along the trail. This was Mary Jane’s playground. She tells stories of playing in between the “pancake rocks” and imagining that it was a fort, or a pirate ship, or a carousel…
I can just see her playing and climbing on these rocks. I would have loved to have had a place like this as a child…
Climbing, playing, finding wonder in what nature gave her.
I love the way the moss grows on the sides of the pancake rocks.
A look back down the hollow.
This leaf was huge – over a foot across.
I laid it on an old washtub I found near an abandoned wickiup back in the hollow. Throughout the 70s there were young people who lived back in this hollow. Some children were even born back here. Mary Jane loved to have people who enjoyed the land there and they still come back to see it from time to time.
A look up…
Off the trail…
A relic of an earlier time…
Dogwoods playing their last song before winter…
All in all a glorious day in the hollow. My land abuts this amazing place. Thanks to Mary Jane I never have to worry about condos looking up at my mountaintop. Our trip yesterday got her a bit fired up. Some markers are not quite right, some boundaries need to be redefined, some calls need to be made. The whole day made me think about what an amazing gift she has given not just to us, but to those who will come a century after us. Remote, undeveloped, real nature. Over 160 acres of it left to the flying squirrels, the owls, and the dogwoods – forever.