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Uncle Jack's Flowers


Gray-headed coneflowers on Jack's farm.

One day this summer we got a call from my wife’s uncle Jack. He said, “Jeanette and I have a real crop of wildflowers this year, and I think you need to see them.” We eagerly grabbed the camera and the bug spray knowing we were in for a real treat.

We went to a part of Jack’s property called the Old Protsman Place because, like many properties in the Ozarks, it remains tied to the name of its early pioneers. Jack is a farmer with land, cattle and all the hard work that goes with this lifestyle. He is also a naturalist, a hunter, a seeker of knowledge and a lover of things beautiful, delicate and wild.

The Baron Creek Church is just up the road from the home where Jack was raised, and his family attended regularly. Throughout his childhood, he helped his mother find fresh wildflowers to decorate the church pulpit, and he was especially good at finding wild azaleas (Rhododendron prinophyllum), one of the first showy flowers of spring.

Earning a living on the land often means competing with natural processes while all the time appreciating nature. Deer use Jack’s pastures and sometimes damage his fences, but Jack has looked forward to every one of the last 50 deer hunting seasons. In fact, his farm becomes “hunt central” for good friends and relatives who depend on Jack to know where the deer are and to show them a good time. Both of my sons relied upon Jack’s patient mentoring and positive attitude to take their first deer.

But, back to the wildflowers. The poet Emerson wrote, “Earth laughs in flowers.” If so, the Earth heard a good joke that summer morning. The fields were a feast for the eyes—showy, large plants like gray-headed, yellow and purple coneflowers, butterfly milkweed, black-eyed susan, coreopsis, beebalm and more. Some of the most striking areas were within sight of the fall’s most popular deer stands.

Jack pointed out ironweed in bloom and explained that the tall stems, straight and strong, could be used to make arrow shafts for taking small game. As a little boy, Jack made an ironweed arrow, using a small piece of baling wire for the tip and chicken feathers for the fletching. With his homemade bow, he shot the arrow at a bluebird with no expectation of hitting it, but did, and the bird died. I am told he cried at the unfortunate result and learned a valuable lesson.

Jack treated us to many smaller, less conspicuous flowers, like yarrow and sensitive briar, discovered by his discerning eye. He made a special point to show us one of his favorites, leather flower (Clematis pitcheri), a small and delicate bloom that most passersby would not notice. For many years, Jack has also kept secret the location and blooming time of lady’s slipper orchids and remains committed to their protection.

Jack knows his land, and he made it his business to know wildflowers. He knows where to look and can explain the names and natural history of many native plants. I’ve seen a few reference books at the farm house, but I bet he’s rarely stumped. He is a lifelong learner who shares his knowledge with others and motivates them to continue their outdoor education.

In November, I’ll head back to Jack’s to enjoy “hunt central,” but now I can appreciate what the land yields during other seasons. It reminds me of why I enjoy my own land throughout the year and its seasonal variety. Thanks, Uncle Jack, for giving our family yet another lasting memory!

John Hoskins, director

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