Jill Henderson ~Show Me Oz
With a huge array of beverages available on the market today, it might come as a surprise to learn that common black tea is the most popular beverage in the world. In this 3-part series on tea that I first published in Llewellyn’s 2015 Herbal Almanac, I delve into the tantalizing world of tea.
I love history. Particularly when I find it in a far-flung or unexpected place. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled across a tree with a huge hole in the side of it. Of course, it’s not uncommon to find trees with natural cavities in them around these parts, but this particular breach was not made by nature or time, but by man – and for a very specific purpose.
Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz – On the ridge behind my house is a small meadow encircled by towering trees. A short, but well-worn path leads to a small pond clinging to the steep slope. The pond is circled by a grotto of ancient oak trees with branches so big around they dwarf the trunks of almost every other mature tree on these 42 acres. As I sat and stared into the massive reaches of these ancients, I wondered why this handful of trees had been spared from the saws of men when so many on the property clearly had not. Obviously, the pond had been here a very long time – perhaps even as long as the trees themselves. And judging from their size, they had been there for about 200-250 years. It wasn’t long after that first encounter that answers to my question began to emerge from the land itself.
Quite a few years back, on a beautiful fall day just like this one, a bit of unpleasant news filtered down through our village grapevine. Apparently, an elderly and well-known gentleman in our little community had been arrested for bootlegging moonshine. That the man in question made and sold corn whiskey was no secret to many in the surrounding area, for he had been doing it for the better part of his life and made little secret of it. Some of the first official reports claimed that this gentleman and his immediate family made and sold up to 9,000 gallons of moonshine each year. And while that may sound like a lot of ‘shine, it didn’t come as a surprise to me or to anyone else living within a 100 mile radius, because this fella had a reputation for making absolutely top-notch hooch and everyone who drank alcohol wanted a jar of their very own.
In last week’s article, America’s Native Bamboo: History and Ecology, we learned that America was once home to massive colonies of native bamboo, better known as canebrakes. These lush cane forests played a critical role in the ecology of the regions they inhabited by filtering sediments, controlling erosion and providing food and shelter for many native animal and bird species. Cane also played an important role in the lives of the earliest inhabitants who valued it as a nutritional food plant and an important material used to fashion tools, weapons and lodging. In the early days of settlement, America’s native cane fields were first used to fatten cattle and then cleared for farmland. Today, a whopping 98% of America’s once-abundant native bamboo has been extirpated from the landscape. This week, I will discuss the ways in which native bamboos are being used in restoration projects and how we can help return them to their rightful place in nature and beautify the home landscape, all at the same time.
Mention the word bamboo and most people in the Western world naturally think of panda bears, China and steamy exotic jungles. In fact, the majority of the 1,450 species of bamboo in the world do originate in countries located in South and Southeastern Asia, with a few scattered species in Saharan Africa and the very farthest regions of South America. In these places, native bamboo species can grow as dense as the thickest forest you can imagine and produce giant canes as big around as small trees, while others are as diminutive and slender as a clump of our native Big Bluestem. In fact, bamboo is actually a grass belonging to the Poaceae or True Grass family. With over 10,000 recognized species, true grasses represent the fifth largest plant family on earth. Knowing this, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to find out that the United States has three very distinct native species of bamboo, known collectively as river cane.
In the woods near my home is an unusual tree. At some point in its long life the tree was bent into a distinctive L-shape. The trunk is almost perfectly horizontal and nearly touches the ground, running almost five feet before making an abrupt 90 degree turn towards the heavens. It’s a perfect place for two people to sit back and observe the forest hillside and all its goings on. But it is much more than a handy bench – it is an ancient form of communication and a little-understood piece of Native American cultural history
By Jill Henderson (A Journey of Seasons: A Year in the Ozarks High Country)
When my husband and I left the pristine wilds of Montana back in 1996, I never thought I would ever again see rivers that were as lovely and clear as those high mountain streams – but then we found the Ozarks. Some of the rivers in these hills are so clear that you can count the rocks at the bottom six feet down, and so cold they’ll take your breath away. Obviously, Ozark rivers are the pride and joy of south central Missourians and in the depths of the hot summer months, they are also our respite. But the rivers in the Ozarks also have a long history – some of which is much more recent than most realize.
For many years I have written about the Ozarks. Most of the time I write about the natural landscape and the plants and creatures that inhabit it. But that’s not where my love for this place ends. For what is a place without its people, its culture and how it sees itself compared to the rest of the world and how the rest of the world sees them? Ask anyone who doesn’t live here about the Ozarks and most will eventually use the word hillbilly in some shape or form. Continue reading →