Whatever his faults, Thoreau was an accomplished naturalist. It doesn't really come through in Walden, but it's readily apparent in his appendix to The Maine Woods, where he catalogs the plants he saw on his trips there. It's a tour de force, complete with each plant's Latin name, common name, and a note or two on where it's usually found. It's rather like watching a good musician practice scales, while knowing full well that he or she has a virtuoso piece readily at hand.

It's a bit daunting, especially since I'm so unequipped to do the same for some of the mosses (and lichen?) which I saw at LaBarque Creek. I certainly seemed to spend a lot of time looking at them, perhaps because they were the only bright colors left in late winter. They are fluorescent against the constant tan and gray, the flowers of the winter landscape.


Some (the pale green sort, which may be a lichen, for all I know) seem to do best beneath thick stands of cedar. The trail passes through a good example not far from Hole in the Rock. It's not the best example I've seen (the best is in an old, overgrown pasture along the Padfield Branch on the Ozark Trail between Bell and Goggins Mountains), but it's respectable, and it's a lot easier to get to.

The small cliffs downstream from Hole in the Rock are covered with both thick, bright moss (the flourscent kind), and the the pale green sort. The effect is not unlike a Japanese garden, at the same time both spare and rich in detail.

I suppose that Japanese gardens, like the traditional English garden, are exercises in creating an essentialized version of a local landscape, and that they echo the rhythms and shapes of the world beyond the garden walls. It's an interesting exercise to think how an Ozark garden might similarly respond to its origins.

It would need dogwoods and redbuds for spring color, and oak and hickory for the autumn. Pines, for greenery year round, and cedars, quietly colored in any season. And maples, for their faded winter leaves, hanging like pale parchment, even into February. And mosses.