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My Jungle Adventure, Missouri style

Posted Monday, August 27, 2007, at 7:34 AM

My daughter Kristin grapples with a large polk plant in the back yard jungle of her aunt's Springfield home. In the background can be seen the harvested remains of the bamboo forest, recently cut down with machetes and other implements of destruction.
At the risk of creating a great deal of envious resentment, I must inform my loyal readers and fellow bloggers that I experienced RAIN this weekend!! Yes, friends, real RAIN - wet, drenching, cool, thunderstorms!!

Where, you ask? Ah, if only it were on my parched Tillman farm! Sorry, no such luck!

I took my trusty work crew and drove the old farm truck over to the rolling hills of Southwest Missouri to help my sister, whose back yard looks like a South American jungle, complete with lost Mayan temples and a hidden tree of life. To complete the jungle theme, a torrential Friday night storm swept up from the southwest, filling Springfield streets and dry creeks with WATER! I couldn't believe it! Over here in the Southeast, we've forgotten what rain feels like.

The torrent swept right up the I-44 line (as usual), and bypassed Southeast Missouri, just as it did in that awful summer of 1983, when my husband were standing out on our farm, watching the sky and praying for a rain which never came.... Why does this climate DO that??

One look at my sister's back yard jungle (the reason for our journey), and I knew immediately that this part of the state had been keeping the rain to themselves!

I have never seen polk bushes so tall in my life! There was a veritable polk bramble in that back yard. The bamboo that my sweet, sainted mother had planted many years ago, pruning religiously every fall, was now woven into a mysterious inpenetrable labyrinth along the fence. Enormous piles of February ice-storm damage still dotted the landscape, furnishing more spots for a veritable forest of polk plants with stems larger than my wrist. Had it been just 3-4 short months since I last tackled that massive back yard? How could it have grown so big, so fast??

My daughter and her boyfriend, armed with machetes, disappeared into the polk/bamboo forest, hacking plants 10-12 feet tall. My sister and I attacked the mountains of broken, shattered tree branches, loading them into wagons and wheelbarrows and pushing/pulling them uphill to my truck, which seemed miles away in the front yard.

Ah, yes, folks, this is Ultimate Yard Work at its best. Man (and woman) against the elements of the Jungle, pitting our strength and wits against those ancient forces of primitive nature.

Beasts and poison ivy lurked in every darkened recess, as we hacked our way through the Great Polk Forest of the Southwest. I fully expected to see flesh-eating vegetation larger than a hippopotamus, reaching out to snatch us up like popcorn!

This must be what those intrepid explorers of that great southern continent felt like when they explored the wilds of ancient Brazil. I fully expected to meet Stanley Livingston deep under the branches of that rambling forest of polk.

"Dr. Livingston, I presume?" I would say.

"Why, yes, my dear lady. Would you like a spot of tea?" he would reply, as he gave me a seat beneath the bamboo trees... He leans forward to pour my tea....

"Madeline, what are you doing?!" shouts my sister. "Get back here and help me load this wood!"

"Sorry, Dr. Livingston. Perhaps another time," I murmur...as I pick my way back to reality...

Saturday evening finds us filthy, bug-bitten, and scratched, but happy. Though we have not finished my sister's massive brush clean up, we HAVE made a difference.

She treats us all to a delightful vegetarian dinner at Tasia, and we live to fight another day...another weekend.

I'm sure Dr. Livingston will wait for us under the bamboo, until we can all get another weekend off to go deep into the darkest Jungle of Southwest Missouri, searching for the key of life, the fountain of youth, the lost City of Atlantis...

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

Rain? What is this rain you speak of?

Surely this is some sort of allegory or perhaps a vivid dream you are describing?

I have never seen bamboo grow that high-you see a little bit out on sloughs or ditchbanks,I thought I'd plant some if I ever become a homeowner instead of renter!

What an adventure,you are a regular "Missouri" Jones!

-- Posted by Yellow Rose of Essex on Mon, Aug 27, 2007, at 10:11 AM

Yes! Missouri Jones. Gotta love it. Were there any ferral goats hiding in that forest? Sounds like your sister could use some of your goats for a while.

Aha. Rain. What a joyous memory! I'm sure the other bloggers join me in saying we're so glad you didn't get swept away in those swollen creeks/drainage ditches.

Dear Yellow Rose - the only way to safely plant bamboo is to plant it in a metal tub that is mostly submerged below the surface of the ground. It puts out runners that make it spread like an only slightly slower growing cousin of KUDZU. I once planted some along a property line only to have it morph into a bamboo grove all over my back yard.

-- Posted by Ducky on Mon, Aug 27, 2007, at 1:09 PM

Goats? Did somebody say "goats"??

Aha! The solution to your problem, my dear!! I have just the ticket - two sweet little red modified boy goats named "Heckle" and "Jeckle"! They will ZAP that bamboo before it can get two inches out of the ground!

Don't pandas eat bamboo?? Do you think the Chinese government would ship a pair to Springfield?

Pandas and goats! Your problem is solved!

Now, let's check those local ordinances....

-- Posted by goat lady on Mon, Aug 27, 2007, at 5:32 PM

Madeline, have you ever considered turning your flair for writing into some short stories? Your expressive, witty and entertaining style kind of reminds me of the way Brock Yates used to write about cars. (Burt Reynolds' Cannonball movies were inspired by Yates.) Hum, let's see. Burt Reynolds' character could be chopping his way through the backyard jungle vegetation aided by his sidekick Sally Field as they are searching for ...

Madeline Dejournett's response:

Naw, FJGuy, that's too much like work! It's getting harder and harder for me to make those deadlines. That's why I like working for a weekly newspaper, instead of a daily, like the Statesman.

When you get to be my age, you wind DOWN, not UP!!

-- Posted by FJGuy on Mon, Aug 27, 2007, at 5:43 PM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
Naw, FJGuy, that's too much like work! It's getting harder and harder for me to make those deadlines. That's why I like working for a weekly newspaper, instead of a daily, like the Statesman.

When you get to be my age, you wind DOWN, not UP!!

But thanks for the compliment. These old bones appreciate it.


Isn't it funny how, at "our age," hard work of the sort you experienced, feels so good on those old bones every once in a while? It's one of those, "Hurts so good" moments for sure!! Fulfilling, relaxing, exhausting all in one.

-- Posted by bringwine on Mon, Aug 27, 2007, at 8:21 PM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
Yeah, that's how it felt to work really hard like I used to, get really dirty and sweaty -- load up two trucks with brush and follow my brother out to the Springfield brush dumping site. It was so funny -- a man was trying to unload his brush, but he had no gloves, so my brother David and my daughter's boyfriend went over to help him. The man said, "No, no, that's all right. I can do it."

Hahahaha! I had to laugh out loud at him - You don't refuse help from my brother! He doesn't OFFER help - He GIVES it, whether you want it or not!

I could tell that the guys were REALLY ENJOYING all that physical labor! The loads had to be strapped down. Ooooeeee! Ratchet straps! They LOVE to tie things down with ratchet straps! It's such a guy thing!

There's a bond between people who work together on a big physical project like that. It used to be like that when we hired hay crews out here on the farm -- but now nobody does it anymore. Such a shame! Guys could really get in shape during the summer, lifting hay bales - and it taught teamwork.

Maddie all that work that you described makes me glow and all out of breath. we had the same dry weather in Mich that you had 9 weeks without rain the farmers with irrigation failed,sure will be a shortage of hay for my goats.

-- Posted by rusty nail on Tue, Aug 28, 2007, at 2:41 PM

Thanks for the bamboo alert Ducky! What's the skinny on Pampas grass? It looks like it may spread like Bermuda grass,probably like bamboo,best to admire from afar unless you have a goat or panda handy!

I once saw on HGTV that kudzu was edible if it hasn't been sprayed. I was unaware of any farmer that didn't spray kudzu! Have any of you wild ones ever ate any ?

Also,I thought of Cakelady when you mentioned polk, I bet she's got a simply glorious polk berry recipe. I always thought it was spelled poke,'cause that's how we pronounce it in Essex. Live and hopefully learn!

-- Posted by Yellow Rose of Essex on Tue, Aug 28, 2007, at 4:53 PM

Now, rusty nail, since when have you had goats? I think you're making that up, just so you can be in the "IN" crowd!!

Poke Berry Pie, Essex style!! Now there's a Labor Day recipe I'll have to have!!

-- Posted by goat lady on Tue, Aug 28, 2007, at 9:08 PM

You are perceptive, Yellow Rose...how did you know? Polk berry a la mode...one of my specialties. One that my second husband was particularly fond of, God rest his soul.

-- Posted by letseatcake633 on Wed, Aug 29, 2007, at 8:32 PM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
MMMmmm....now we have a recipe for polk berry a la mode, but no one has responded on a recipe for kudzu. It might wilt nicely. We could concoct a recipe similar to wilted lettuce. If it went over really big, we might end the kudzu problem in the South. Chefs would be beating each other over the head to get to that old barn covered with the obnoxious weed.

What do you think, cake lady? How would you fix kudzu??? I'm not sure I even know what it looks like in "person." I've googled it before and seen pictures. Not sure if I have it on my farm.... I guess if I had it, I'd know it, wouldn't I?

Madeline-when you go to Cape on Hwy. 25,kudzu covers a few poles and my dad says it all over some trees before you get to Delta,where you see the large rock outcropping. I think there is a little park called Whitewater right after you pass the Kudzu forest,but I'll look again next time I go to Cape.

Now mind you,this was that crazy Alton Brown guy who touted eating kudzu,he tends to eat strange roadside "delights".I'm sure he would eat dog fennel if you made it the secret ingredient on Iron Chef!

-- Posted by Yellow Rose of Essex on Fri, Aug 31, 2007, at 6:05 PM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
I didn't know if that was kudzu or grape vines. I've been wanting to do the research for a story on kudzu, but it always gets pushed to the back burner. I wonder if goats will eat kudzu? Mine used to eat poison ivy, but they seem to be boycotting it right now.

Ummm, yes...marinated kudzu with a creamy polkberry sauce. An esquisite combination. Why, my third husband was quite fond of it, God rest his soul.

-- Posted by letseatcake633 on Sun, Sep 2, 2007, at 2:30 PM

Country cuisine at its finest! Cake lady, your culinary creativity never fails to amaze me!

I've heard that oleander makes a lovely dish... And did you know that apple seeds contain arsenic?? My children's poor gerbils discovered that fact, rest their tiny rodent souls.... (if rodents have souls... I understand that the question is under debate...)

-- Posted by goat lady on Sun, Sep 2, 2007, at 9:23 PM

Yes, GL, oleander does make a lovely dish...why my pecan-crusted oleander appetizers go exceedingly well with the creamy polkberry sauce. I may just prepare a little snack if the weather cools down a bit.

-- Posted by letseatcake633 on Mon, Sep 3, 2007, at 3:46 PM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
Hey! You girls are turning my blog into a "Cooking with Madeline's Friends" blog!!

Next thing I know, you'll be posting recipes for possum pot roast, armadillo stew, and thistle salad!

Yellow Rose, pampas grass is ok. It won't spread or be invasive like bamboo or kudzu. I have two different varieties of pampas grass in my back yard and they're fine year after year.

I've never eaten kudzu or heard of anyone who did - and I'm originally from Alabama where whole towns have been engulfed by the noxious weed. I have heard of people making wreaths and baskets, etc. out of kudzu vine rather than grapevine. I've heard it makes a very sturdy alternative and is much kinder on the native flora than using wild grapevine.

I have also never eaten polk salad, but it was eaten with great gusto by some folks back in Dixie. One uses the young leaves, but never the berries. However, both it and the pecan-crusted oleander sound good when cakelady talks about it. Letseatcake makes anything sound delicious.

-- Posted by Ducky on Wed, Sep 5, 2007, at 2:29 PM

Thanks again Ducky for the 411 on pampas grass! I wonder if it is more drought resistant than regular grass,my parents lawn is but merely a distant memory!

Madeline,I think it would be fantastic if you would do a story on plants,trees,edible or not we can find locally. I have heard of pawpaw & cottonwood trees, but I really don't know what either of them look like!

You could have a "What's that Stuff in My Yard"? segment! Pictures of kudzu,etc.

The Heartland Gardener on Ch.12 always says to take unknown plants to your local Extension office, but I was afraid they might be on the same level as MDC. "Lady, that didn't grow here, are you crazy? This isn't China, bamboo doesn't grow wild"

-- Posted by Yellow Rose of Essex on Wed, Sep 5, 2007, at 2:59 PM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
That is a very good idea, Yellow Rose! I shall see what I can do!

I didn't know what ragweed looked like until a few short years ago, and I'm sure I'm super allergic to it! Also amazing how many people can't identify poison ivy. ICK!

I still don't know what poison oak looks like. I used to think that Virginia Creeper was poison oak, but, of course, it's quite harmless.

Sassafras root is supposed to be a very good tonic in the spring of the year. My dad always said that it "thinned your blood," and got you ready for hot weather. I know what the leaf looks like, but I don't know if I could identify it in early spring before it's leafed out.

As for Missouri mushrooms, I'm really out of my element on those. I wouldn't know a morrell if I sat on it. And, then, there's ginsing root. (Is that how it's spelled?) I know people who've made some good money digging that.

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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at advancensc@sbcglobal.net.
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