Stumped at Big Oak Tree State Park

Warriorette Shari’s friend Barb Goza Chambers flew in from California to see her Mother, Betty Goza, in January. They always like to go on a ramble when she hits town.

Betty in Walmart last year

Betty Goza 12-19-2019

I don’t pay much attention to people in stores, so I was surprised when Betty waylaid me in the Jackson Walmart last December. If I had been looking up, I’d have recognized that big smile anywhere.,

They decided they wanted to see the Big Oak Tree State Park, in Mississippi county. I’m pretty sure the soles of my shoes melted the last time I was there because the earth’s crust was still cooling.

I shudder when I think of big trees

Jackson’s Hanging Tree in 2010

The Missourian printed a picture of a big tree and wondered if it had set a state record.

Well, before long, we were flooded with people who claimed THEIR tree was a record-breaker, too. Guess who got to drive all over hell’s half-acre taking tree pictures and picking ticks off his young body. The only solace I could take while scratching chigger bites was that each tree was worth five bucks and mileage.

The only thing worse than trees was when the paper made the mistake of running a photo of a couple guys holding up a big snake in front of the newspaper’s front doors. Not long after that, we were given a “No more snake pictures” edict because the huge reptiles were freaking out passersby and the advertising staff.

Note: this wasn’t one of the the big trees. This is the Hanging Tree behind the Cape County Courthouse. The county cut the tree down on a Sunday in 2016 without giving any notice.

Back to the park to look for big trees

What’s left of former co-champion tree

Barb and I decided to head out on a boardwalk to hunt for the promised big trees. We should have read the display at the head of the walk before we took off.

The sign would have told us that five of the 12 champion trees were like this specimen of the former 17’7″ Quercus macrocarpa that fell in 2009.

The day was a bit chilly for the jacket I grabbed, so we didn’t do the full walk. On the plus side, we didn’t encounter any mosquitoes.

The best part of the trip

Google Map showing the park and Mississippi River

The best part of the trip was the journey back to what passed as civilization (New Madrid). We took some small roads that let us parallel the Mississippi River where we could see the chutes, islands and oxbows it makes.

New Madrid was a welcome sight because all that meandering left my van breathing fumes, something I didn’t share with my passengers.

Pine(coning) Away for Mother

Pine Cones and Memories of Mother

I ran across a couple things that stuck me this week during what would have been Mother’s 98th Birthday Season. We’ll get to them in a second.

Back in 2014, Mother and I went trekking for pine cones that we could use as fire starters. She took to it like a kid on Easter morning.

Today, I took Road Warriorette Shari and her mother, Senior Honorary Road Warriorette LaFern, to an undisclosed location for a similar hunt. (“If anybody asks what we’re doing, tell them we’ve been sentenced to community service,” I told them.)

When we were through, I said we’d make a side trip over to New Lorimier Cemetery to wish Mother a Happy Birthday with a pair of our pine cones. I mean, flowers are so ordinary.

Gregory Lincoln’s Thoughts

Gregory A. Lincoln administrator of Facebook’s Cape Rewound, a popular group with 5,311 members (and counting) recently lost his mother. He shared this with the group:

Sitting in my bed enjoying the pretty full moon shine through my bedroom window. 🙂. It’s been a very rough weekend. It’s hard to imagine her gone. All my life she was very tough and fought death and seem to always win except that final battle. I don’t understand. I assume it’s a battle we will all lose sooner or later. I guess she knew in her heart it was her time. Her birthday is approaching so please excuse me if I share a memory, a photograph or heart touching song.

About the same time, I was sorting stuff that had buried my desk, deciding what I wanted to keep, and what would be good fireplace fodder now that the weather is turning chilly.

Memories Sneak Out of My Eyes

In the stack was a letter from Brother Mark. It was a rambling thing, all full of non sequiturs and whimsy. On the last page, in the last paragraph before reaching a photo of Mother in one of her signature red coats, he wrote, “As I find myself at the bottom of the page, I couldn’t decide which to end with, so you get both. Put it in context, if you will.

“My memory loves you; it asks about you all the time.”

and

“Sometimes memories sneak out of my eyes and roll down my cheeks.”

Walnuts Keep Falling on My Head

We’re coming up another Mother Birthday Season without the guest of honor. One of the things I’ve become almost used to are the sounds of a house that is empty except for me.

It used to startle me when I’d hear a BAM! like someone trying to break into the house. That would be followed by a RUMBLE, RUMBLE, RUMBLE, SPLAT.

After awhile, I learned to identify that as the sound of walnuts hitting the roof, rolling down, then hitting the ground or driveway. In fact, it makes me think of the paraphrased lines of a B.J. Thomas song:

Walnuts keep falling on my head
But that doesn’t mean my eyes will soon be turning red
Crying’s not for me
‘Cause, I’m never gonna stop the walnuts by complaining

Because I’m free
Nothing’s worrying me

Winning the liability lottery

Warriorette Shari came down from St. Louis for the weekend and griped about the walnuts all over the driveway. I told her it was part of my long-range financial plan to have her slip and fall, collect a huge insurance payout (which she would, of course, split with me), and figure she had won the liability lottery.

She rewarded me with The Look.

While I was sweeping them up, it made me think of past dealings with the green bombs.

Dad got the great idea that we should round up all the the nuts that fell in the yard, crack the shells and spend the winter picking out the goodies.

There’s one big problem

The big problem with that is that the walnuts are encased in a hard, green husk that has to be removed first. That ain’t easy. We tried all kinds of ways.

Putting them out in the street to let cars run over them just meant that you had to chase up the hill, down the hill and in the ditches on either side of the road after they had squirted off in every direction.

Then, he got a great idea: he bored several sized holes in a 2×6 board. We were supposed to select a hole slightly smaller than the husk, then drive it through the hole with a hammer, leaving the husk on one side and the nut on the other.

The nut, unfortunately, was the guy holding the hammer. You’ve heard of walnut stain, haven’t you? Well, there’s a reason for calling it that. I think I was about 42 years old before all of the stain wore off. I tried to convince people it was Dektol developer stain from the making prints in the darkroom because that sounded somewhat professional.

Are you nuts for nuts?

So, here’s the deal. If you have a hankering for walnuts, I have a yard full of them. Some of them have been herded together, but there are probably a bushel or two in the wild scattered all over the yard. Come and get ’em. (If you want me to answer the door with pants on, I suggest you give me a 10-minute warning.)

I just remembered that I had written about walnuts in 2014, and had plowed much the same ground. Nothing much has changed since then. You can click on any of the photos to make them larger, then use your arrow keys to navigate around.

We were a pecan family

Because walnuts were so hard to crack, and it was no fun to pick them out, we were more of a pecan family. Dad’s favorite winter pastime was sitting in the basement picking out pecans while watching TV.

In later years, Mother took over the task.

 

Castor River Shut-Ins

Wife Lila and Grandson Malcolm came up for a visit. When Malcolm was here last year, we went to Johnson’s Shut-Ins and Elephant Rocks. He liked them well enough he told us he wanted to do the same when he came back in 2018.

“I LOVE this place,” he commented. It’s good to see him infected with the Midwest. There may be hope for him.

Anyway, just as we were getting ready to pull out of the driveway, I saw Neighbor Bill across the street and told him where we were going. He asked, “Have you ever been to Castor River Shut-Ins.

I allowed as how I hadn’t, but since it was about half the distance to our original destination, we decided to check it out. (You can click on the photos to make them larger, by the way.)

Their new favorite place

My visitors said they liked it better than Johnson’s Shut-Ins. It has all the rock climbing of Elephant Rocks, with the water fun. I agree that all the pink granite is pretty, but Johnson’s has more cool water flumes to shoot down.

Traded bold for old

My bold days have been traded for old days, so I was conservative about where I stepped and climbed. Wife Lila was a bit more aggressive because she wanted to keep an eye on Malcolm so she could write the “Dear Matt and Sarah, Guess what we did to your kid” letter.

A gasp and a splash

It wasn’t long before Malcolm was playing mountain goat and heading up a near vertical wall.

I heard Lila gasp, followed by a splash. Showing that she really is a photographer at heart, she complained that there was a branch in the way that kept her from getting a good shot when he slipped and bounced on his backside into the river.

He sat in the cool water for a few minutes regrouping before frolicking some more. About the only thing injured was his pride.

Beautiful scenery

The place is pretty, offers plenty of room to spread out, and wasn’t overrun by people, even though it was a hot day.

Google says that the Castor River Shut-Ins are 45.7 miles (1 hour, 9 minutes) from Cape via MO-72. Johnson’s Shut-Ins are 88.6 miles (1 hour, 53 minutes), also on MO-72.

Earlier visits to Johnson’s Shut-Ins and Elephant Rocks

Road Warriorette Shari and Curator Jessica also made it to the parks in 2017, but they didn’t do anything outrageous enough to publish.