After an hour or so wandering around Victoria Glades, sort of looking for the trail, but not looking very hard, I finally found one, and decided to follow it. But I didn't get very far when I noticed, off in the woods, another glade opening and the start of a small creek, fringed in cedars. Since Victoria Glades's trails hadn't done well by me, I headed off through the woods. And, after going not more than twenty or thirty yards, I discovered an utterly magical place.

It was just where a creek starts to cut its way into the hillside, at the start of a pair of glades, opening up on either side of the creek, running down the slope below. The creek--the creeklet? the rill? I don't think we have a word for a watercourse so small--must have been be fed by small, almost imperceptible seeps. Water ran in creek, from one small pool to another, about as much water as from a partially open faucet. The seep must flow most of the year, because moss grew on the rocks and deer come there to drink. Next to the creek was a small bit of flat rock, about the size of an apartment balcony, shaded by cedars. It was a delightful spot, private and secluded.

I make it a point to look for such spots because I think they're the essence of the Ozark experience. We've been conditioned to expect grandness as the defining characteristic of "nature". Our iconic images are all thus: the Ansel Adams images of the Yosemite Valley, the Hudson River painters' panorama, Jackson's images of the mountain west. But if we take those icons to the Ozarks, we will more often than not return home disappointed. On the other hand, if we let the Ozarks define a sense of beauty appropriate for them, then they can be as delightful as any sequoia grove.

But if you go looking for what's there (stunted oaks, twisted like bonsai, in the middle of a glade; a smallmouth bass, finning quietly in a pool, miles upstream from where it's expected, flowers which appear only when you pause to look for them) then you will always leave the better for it. If the Ozark experience is like anything else, then it's much like a trip to a museum, where one galley leads to another, where objects are displayed in succession.

The little spot at Victoria Glades had much of that. It was a nice place to relax for a few minutes, and to look closely at the surroundings, the trees enclosing the small meadows, the water pooling silently down the rill, the bright sun flickering through the cedars. The essence of my day at Victoria Glades was concentrated there, distilled free of distractions, and left perfectly memorable, much more memorable than any camera could have left it.

Still, spots like the rill sometimes also make me suspect my affections. Do I like such spots--such private, enclosed grassy glades, with a comfortable spot to sit and pleasant things to look at--because they remind me of the suburban yard, or of the manicured public park? Or do I like tended landscapes because they remind me of some wild landscapes?

Either way, spots like the rill suggest a certain desire for contained experience, and for the security that comes from both from seclusion and enough openness to see whatever walks up. Deer likes such places, where there's concealment and cover, but where they can also see trouble coming. Perhaps written deep within our brain stem, just a trace really, as faint as deer trails, is some inherited memory of having been hunted and of having learned, like deer, that some places are peaceful and pleasant because they're safe.