Toad in the Hole

May 26, 2004

Baker Prairie, Arkansas

One stop during our whirlwind tour of northwest Arkansas was Baker Prairie, in or near Harrison. This involved the usual couple of U-turns and retracings, as there are some arcana of intersection markings in Arkansas that I am slow to decipher. When I stopped kicking myself about that, we both had a better time.

So you go through Harrison after a very nice sandwich in a cafe on the town square whose name escapes me, and turn onto Goblin Lane. I'd like to do a tripbook someday to research just how many Bible Belt school mascots are goblins (only a few, and I think it shows some imagination) or demons or devils. People used to have more of a sense of humor about those, I suspect. Harrison's are the Golden Goblins, and the highschool is on this road. We parked in the school's empty parking lot (it was a weekend) and walked across the road to the Baker Prairie sign, on what was not much more than a vacant lot, a couple acres if that.

The photo doesn't do it justice. We were knee-high in grasses and mostly flowers of a dozen kinds, only a few of which we've keyed down so far. Tradescantia (most of the blue ones in the pic) and white camas and red paintbrush and lupine and wild indigo (which is white, not blue) and penstemon and buttercup and some nifty multiheaded shooting star and pale coneflower (with narrow drooping rays) and prairie parsley (tall yellow umbellifer) and some small sunflower, maybe oxeye. And more that I don't know the names of yet, that little white thing that fills the aesthetic niche of our local linaria, and other small yellow things, something pink, more blues (rather a lot of blues, in fact) and oh yes, a prairie rose, low and pink. There were sassafrass seedlings and a short row of trees, in which a cardinal and a dickcissel, goldfinch and meadowlark sang and zipped about. Several butterfly species -- both spicebush and pipevine were in range, and we kept seeing red-spotted purples that week to further complicate ID matters. And I have no clue what the grasses were, except that there seemed to be more than one kind.

Yes, a vacant lot -- strategically vacant, vacant and unabused for sufficient time to make it a remnant tallgrass prairie. Across the road was the ever-expanding school complex, with a shiny new building surrounded by the usual piles of scraped dirt. Over the hill was the Pepsi (Coke? I forget which religion rules here) bottling plant, and a couple other light-industrial buildings, all surrounded by acres and acres of plain green turfgrass lawns, one being mowed by someone on a minitractor as we watched.

In fact, mowing grass seems to be a major industry in the Midwest. Probably much of the country; I'd forgotten. Seems like everywhere we went we saw grass being mowed, often with riding mowers or things just this side of a John Deere combine. I'm told it's a matter of pride to a lot of people, having the greenest flattest plainest lawn. And all they'd have to do to have something like the glorious assemblage we were standing in -- whose flower show, the books say, changes to a new one every couple of weeks -- is, well, practically nothing, once the thing's installed. Mow once a year, or rent a cow. Baker Prairie gets a controlled burn every two or three years, period.

I'm assuming that it's difficult to rent a bison, for several obvious reasons.

I don't take lightly the amount of work that can go into prairie restoration in the first place. A well-tended controlled burn takes planning, savvy, and lots of crew. But for a lot less work in the aggregate and certainly less money for fertilizer, weedkiller, supplementary seed, and fuel, people could have something as splendid as this on their incidental acreage.

And those birds and butterflies too.

Posted at May 26, 2004 01:50 AM