Saturday, November 22, 2008

An Endangered Bug

A Time to Remember
An Endangered Bug
By Ronnie Powell
The bug I am referring to is not a rhinoceros beetle, a doodle bug, a cockroach or any of the many natural bug species inhabiting the Earth. This Bug has however, infested nearly every corner of the Earth, been subjected to just about every form of abuse imaginable. Swarms of them spread rapidly into society capturing the imagination of millions of people. As they began to evolve in many variations and sizes and quite rapidly I must say, these bugs began appearing in every color of the rainbow and adapting to just about every climate and land condition.
They could not be stopped, or so it seemed. In the late 1970’s new Volkswagen Bugs began dwindling in numbers across the world, however, Mexico became an ideal haven for this phenomenon but less than fifty years later the last breeding ground of this unusual bug has been eliminated.
The Kdf-Wagon or “Strength- Through Joy Car, would later become known as The Volkswagen Beetle and much later the Volkswagen Bug. It was not until the Nazi regime lay in ruins and the reconstruction of Germany began that watchful mass production of the legendary Volkswagen began under the close supervision of the U.S. and British occupation that ultimately would create a most remarkable invasion of little cars around the world.
Adolph Hitler’s return to the Nazis party in January of 1933 marks the conception of o the Volkswagen Beetle, although yet in it’s true form. The kubelwagen, (bucket car): and the Schwimmwagen, war time versions of the VW were manufactured for a power bent on the destruction of the world.
Fast forward and the Volkswagen Beetle eventually became an icon of efficiency on the road, although a bit small for most families. Quite agile in the mountains, deserts and a general all around vehicle, however, the early models were noisy, the suspension bad and the life of the engine relatively short. By the 1950’s Volkswagen Beetles were performing much better, a distinctive and strangely beautiful car and in the ensuing years Volkswagen became a part of a diverse U.S. culture.
It is general knowledge that America embraced the little sedan; willing consumers from every walk of life drove the Volkswagen Bug. The Hippie’s of the 1960’s adopted the car creating many unusual versions of it. Surfers and racing people created the Baja VW. The little care was customized in many ways, for example, the tires widened, the hood replaced with replica hoods of famous cars. In some instances front engines appeared. These VWs were fast and more often dangerous to drive. But for the most part this simple little car designed to satisfy a basic consumer’s need and desire to express oneself became an unforgettable unpretentious machine.
Most memorable of all are the memories attached to individual Volkswagens. One particular 1966 Volkswagen of which I owned for a time was unceremoniously shoved into the Niangua River one evening by its previous owner expecting it to float. It was widely rumored that the Volkswagen bug would float a considerable distance and I suppose a few would, but this one did not and sank like a rock. Later after being dried out and the motor rebuilt, it again was ready for the road, serving me faithfully for a number of years through snow packed roads, wooded trails and the open highway.
A much newer yellow 1972, Super Beetle came into my possession equipped with an automatic transmission. It was a beautiful car as sleek as any on the road, a real eye catcher. I drove it to Lamar, Missouri to attend a craft fair show to try and sell my woodcarvings. Heavy rain dogged me the entire trip and when night came the rain continued. Sometime along toward morning I awakened and went to the door of my motel room. The parking lot and all around lay under at least a foot of water. The Volkswagen sat near the door, water slapping at the running boards. I hurriedly dressed and with suitcase in hand went out the door to find the car floating about eight feet away. I wasted no time, and foolishly got in the car and drove onto the street. The gallant little bug spun its tires spewing water from beneath the rear end as we headed to higher ground. The engine sputtered several times during our precarious escape up a hill and came to halt on safe ground. The flooding in Lamar was devastating and it took nearly ten hours for me to get out on the road home, thanks to the Volkswagen.
The Volkswagen may have started out with sinister intent, but when reaching America it became a wonderful conveyance with soul. Herbie will attest to that.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Secrets of McKee Ridge

A Time to Remember
Secrets of McKee Ridge
By Ronnie Powell
There is a portion of the Niangua River basin where mysteries of the past abound in the many deep hollows, canyons and lofty bluffs. This intriguing aspect of the river is but a small area of the basin that guides the reckless river to its submission into the Lake of the Ozarks of Missouri.
The journey down McKee Ridge and adjoining land would take more than ten years for me to complete across centuries, along forgotten trails leading to the remnants of an ancient people who once inhabited the Missouri Ozarks along the Niangua River. Lying beneath the dust of overhangs and caves, in the tangle of vines and roots and hidden in thick underbrush are artifacts and burials of distant cultures including those of white settlers. The journey was not an easy one, often fraught with danger, grueling climbs and cold nights in secluded caves and deep hollow retreats.
The Cowan Ridge abruptly ends at or a short distance below the Windyville Bridge and McKee Ridge begins its majestic rise above the river. Barren faces of limestone bluffs tower above the river. Weathered by millenniums of time, creased and broken by nature’s relentless forces, these bluffs are timeless sentries and keepers of many secrets of the dead. Some are forbidden places and will remain so as far as I’m concerned. They are thresholds, sacred reminders of man’s obsession to preserve the dead or for illicit reasons to destroy all presence of a life.
In many of the caves and overhangs situated along McKee Ridge and I will not reveal the location of these caves. I discovered quite easily artifact from the earliest civilization to the present. Earthen pottery shards possibly dating back ten thousand years, chert arrow points, knives, hammer stones and many other tools representing Prehistory Indians. Bone beads, awls, needles, mussel shell ornaments and effigy creations were relative common in most of the old shelter sites. Human burials were also evident representing a wide range of life ways from the very earliest to the declining years of the 1800s.
Remnants of whiskey stills were noted and in one small overhang where I discovered a seven shot revolver frozen in rust along with an assortment of stoneware shards, representing bowls, cups and a jug. Two metal straps were noted, a Santa Fe Railroad key and a portion of a bridle rein. A metal ring protrudes from the east wall of the shelter and below a horseshoe was noted along with several horseshoe nails. One can only imagine what transpired there in that secluded part of the bluff.
Near a steep slope below a small cave that has suffered a major collapse and extensive erosion over the years I explored a long trail of eroded gravel and stone, locating Indian artifact and an assortment of skeletal remains. The debris field also contained evidence of later occupation and or perhaps a burial. The brass trim from a rifle was located about half way down the slope along with the rusted remains of a flintlock weapon.
I found when entering the cave small pools of water fed by surface runoff from the ceiling. Red clay mud covered most of the floor area except for a high point near the south wall and it contained several small to medium stones. The lower end of this area had also been inundated by the erosion and revealed about four inches of a gun barrel. I removed most of the stones and exposed the rest of the barrel. The barrel measured roughly thirty inches in length and I believe it to be a smooth bore. Two lead balls were also excavated of a about sixty or seventy caliber each.
At the upper side of the excavation several pieces of badly decomposed bones were noted, one distinct piece belonging to the lower jaw of a human. Two brass buttons were recognized but due to extreme decomposition were little more than blobs of green. The fate of this individual will remain a secret of McKee Ridge. One can only speculate or wonder. Was he a Spanish Conquistador or an early trapper living among the Indians?
Many other small caves and rock shelters were visited and all contained evidence of occupation whether by Indians or white immigrants. Some of these sites had been dug out leaving them barren. McKee Cave has long since been ravaged by pot hunters and bears little resemblance to the time of the Indians.
In a deep hollow or more correct a small canyon that flows into the Niangua River I located a spring of sweet water, where ferns grew in abundance. A small cave is situated above the spring and is completely dry, an ideal shelter. Inside this compact enclosure were obvious signs of human habitation, flint or chert flakes were noted along the walls and earthen potshards were abundant. Near the center of the enclosure, close to the small entrance I probed the soft dry earth and found charred turkey and deer bones and an incomplete arrow point. I did not intrude further into this pristine treasure.
The journey to distant horizons was not without danger. A fall while climbing up a bluff sent me tumbling down a rocky slope and if not for an oak tree, I might not have survived. The fall was not with out consequences, resulting in cuts, bruises and a minor injury to my lower back.
One day while climbing a bluff to get a better view of an opening high above me, I arrived at a ledge and proceeded to pull myself up and came face to face with one of the largest black snakes I have encountered. Eye to eye we were and with out warning the reptile struck, hitting me in the left cheek with tremendous force. I lost my handhold and fell a few feet down the slope with the black snake tumbling down with me. Neither of us was seriously injured except for our pride. I have faced swarms of red wasps, a very large buzzard that had been wing shot and in no mood to face another human drove me from its cave refuge. A female bobcat with young forced me to retreat rather quickly from a cave and skunks were often a reason to abandon a rock shelter. I have encountered Copperhead snakes usually timid, but also can be quite unforgiving, striking with deadly intent.
I did not reach a point of origin in that distant horizon I sought, for to have done so no longer would I dream. The trails lead back into the shroud of time and will always hold insurmountable secrets. I began my journey in 1945 after unearthing a stone knife and little did I realize I would someday stand where no man of my kind has stood before to stir the ashes of forgotten fires that once held back the dangers of a wilderness night.
My journey to distant horizons ended many years later when I climbed to the summit of a Mayan Pyramid of the Sun in old Mexico. I stood gazing at the far mountains from where the Spanish came, listening to an old man playing a clay flute, perhaps reminiscent of an earlier time and glimpsed the reflection of Spanish armor in the distant hills. Adios