Volume VII, No. 4, Summer 1980
DOROTHY LEAKE'S LOVE FOR THE OZARKS
Edited by Carmen Broyles, Photography by Mary Schmalstig
"I think I'm fortunate to have my retirement here. I like to do lots of things outdoors," said the spry eighty-six years young doctor of freshwater biology, Dorothy V. Leake.
Dr. Leake, being very interested in conserving and preserving the flora and fauna of the Ozarks, has been interested in many projects since her retirement in 1959. Probably most important to her is her efforts to slow down some of the detrimental ecological changes she sees occurring all over the Ozarks.
"One of the changes going on I'm actively involved in is preserving the wildlife which would all be gone from here--the fish all gone from the stream and the animals would be gone. All the things that grow here would be killed. I have 'coons and 'possums come up to the back door and eat whatever I put out for them at night. People don't pay very much attention to the environment as much as they talk about it. They don't really try to preserve it."
Dr. Leake lives on a wooded acreage devoted to conservation. Since their retirement, she and her husband have established a freshwater biology station with their chief goal being to research the wildlife while it is still there and preserve as much as possible all aspects of Crane Creek and its adjacent areas. Since her husband's death in 1978, she has continued this work alone. "I haven't time to get lonely,'' she said, "I'm busy all the time. Of course, I'm lonely for my husband. He was a great companion. We did everything together."
Crane Creek, a tributary of the James River, runs through her property, giving her a natural laboratory right beside her house where she can do her research.
"The creek rises at the railroad at the corner of our place. Years ago they made an embankment for the railroad by shooting off the face of the bluff. The spring which had come out at the base of the bluff managed to penetrate the embankment and is still the head of Crane Creek.
"Streams like this one are all diminishing in size. They're becoming polluted and not as useful as they once were. So, I had the idea of doing research here. I have done all the biological research that has been done here and published some papers, but there is a lot of work that could still be done. With so many members of the animal and plant kingdoms, it is an inexhaustible study which I think ought to be recorded before the stream deteriorates as it's bound to do in this day and age.
"Above and beyond that I enjoy living here very much. I have never lived anywhere I liked as much as I like the Ozarks. I think it's a special section of the country that's ideal."
A VISIT WITH DOROTHY LEAKE
I was born in Columbus Junction, Iowa, in 1893. That's a town close to the Mississippi River in a wooded area where there were lots of these pretty spring flowers everyone loves so much. I got my first experience with nature there.
At the turn of the century, when I was seven years old, my father, who was a lawyer, moved his family from the hills, streams and woods of southeastern Iowa to the prairies and granite mountains of the southwest corner of Oklahoma. The country was quite different there. We lived in a town called Granite. It was called this because it was at the end of the Wichita range which is just piles of red granite rising right up out of the prairie with no foothills at all. Of course, there was a lot of vegetation all over between the rocks, but the rocks were the most prominent things about the mountains. We lived halfway up one of the mountains which was only about 800 feet high. There was a spring on a level place at the middle of the mountain, and we had two houses we lived in. In one house we had the living room and bedrooms, and in the other house we had a kitchen, dining room and storeroom. They must have been a hundred feet apart, so we had to run from one place to the other.
Since there were pretty little clear streams that ran down the mountains, it was a great place to study nature. The game hadn't been shot out of the country as it has now. There were lots of different kinds of western type animals like lizards and snakes that lived on the mountains. Lots of rabbits, too.
As you probably know, the air in the west, if the altitude is high enough, is very clear, so it makes a great place to study stars. Many a time I would join my father, who was very much interested in nature, to study the stars. I learned all the constellations and planets and all the mechanisms of the solar system and part of the universe that we could understand at that time. There was a drawing close to nature for me.
When I went to college in Springfield at Drury College, in 1910, the country in the Ozarks was so much like the country in Iowa I had liked a great deal that I really felt at home here, more so than in arid Oklahoma. I liked the climate and wildlife so much better. I had a chance to study biology in school, developed in that line still more and took my bachelor's degree and the year after that my master's degree. That was 1914 and 1915. Then after a period of teaching years, a college romance resulted in marriage in 1919 to Harold Henderson Leake, a teacher of piano and voice. Our first seven years of married life were spent on this place where I now live.
When our daughter was born, my father came up from western Oklahoma to see his new grandchild, and he was so taken with the water and the trees and all the wildlife, he decided he'd just get out and buy a place while he was up here. He was a lawyer, and he wanted to move his other son-in-law up here to start a practice. My husband and I knew about this place and had been here and sat on that ledge of rock down there at the corner and wished that we could live in a place like this. We directed him to this place, and he fell in love with it, too, and bought it. Then he couldn't persuade his other son-in-law to come up here at all because he liked the prairies better. So he asked us if we would come down here to live, which we did.
Our daughter, Marcelotte, and son, Benjamin, were born here where the family enjoyed the country life. We supplemented the music teaching income with general farming--we had a garden, pigs, chickens and cows. This was our first experience with farming, either one of us. We just fell right into it, loved it, but we couldn't make a living at it.
The children had a Shetland pony, although she was definitely not a producer of anything but amusement. I taught my daughter by the Calvert school method so much used at that time by foreign missionary parents. When she was ready for the third grade, we moved to Aurora and I conducted a kindergarten with my five year old son as one of the "kinders."
Next year came the chance to teach in the newly organized Junior College at Monett. Mr. Leake was head of the music department and I head of the science department. There was a time in the late 20's when they organized junior colleges in this area. This school has since closed. They didn't keep it up more than fifteen years, I think.
After five years of this pleasant work we were offered attractive positions in Oklahoma. Mr. Leake became director of Educational Radio at the university of Oklahoma at Norman, and later at Oklahoma State University at Stillwater. I taught botany at both these schools.
I was fifty years old when I took my doctorate degree at the University of Oklahoma in '44, taking my degree at the same time my son took his bachelor's degree. They weren't so particular then about how old you were, but I believe you had to do more work then than you do now. After acquiring the doctoral degree, I became head of the biology department of Southeastern State university at Durant.
We built this house in '51. The house on the hill my grandchildren live in is the house that was on the place when we moved here. We lived in it seven years. My husband's family came from New York through Tennessee to the Ozarks, following the mountains. My family was from New York, too. They came to Iowa instead, so I'm not an old-timer, but my husband was. When he was born, my husband had the offices of a Negro midwife, Aunt Maria, who was the one who raised the famous Negro over near Diamond--George Washington Carver. She befriended him when he was a little boy and raised him. You ought to know who Thomas Hart Benton is, the artist? He was brought into the world about the same time my husband was and by the same midwife.
One of Dorothy Leake's hobbies while visiting and living in England was making rubbings of brass burial memorials in the churches of England. These rubbings decorate the walls of her house. Above is the rubbing of the brass memorial to Johanna Strode in Trinity Church at Shepton Mallet, Somerset, England.
"At Shepton Mallet, in the noble 15th century church, we found a big brass high on the wall which would have to be reached by a ladder which was brought by the priest. We moved a table out of the way and he set the ladder between two mouldings and said it wasn't to be moved for fear of damaging the mouldings. The brass was thirty inches high and four feet wide. It had to be reached from the top of the ladder. It was about the most uncomfortable rubbing I did, not counting the coldness of the churches and the brasses not being high enough off the floor to keep you from stooping over.
"Johanna Strode was the wife of William Strode Esquire. She died in the forty-second summer of her marriage. She was the mother of six sons and three daughters whose figures and names are on the brass. The scroll says she was an eloquent, faithful and kindly wife. She was helpful, quiet and industrious. She was not in any way pretentious, never crosswise and Christian penitent wife. Praise and glory to God, and her soul reposes with Jesus Christ. At the bottom of the scroll is the 31st Proverb, verse 11 which reads, "Give her of the fruit of her hands and let her work praise her in the gates.'
"The brass is quite elaborate with heavy architectural arches on either side of the scroll. Over the arches are faces peering over the cross beams--crowned heads on the left side. Notice the platform on which the husband and wife kneel. Between them is death with a spear pointing at her. Two little banners on opposite sides of the skeleton read, 'Pariem fuit'--Too little time she had to live, and 'Dieu vexit'--God conquers."
My husband was for many years the director of Educational Radio at the University of Oklahoma and at Stillwater State University. He was at both those schools, as I was. His radio name was Henderson Leake because Henderson sounded better than Harold in broadcasting.
He had a commercial program with KWTO [Springfield, Missouri] for almost three years. They called it "Between the Windows." He wrote his broadcast between the windows in the living room here. He did this for Producers' Creamery. It was a program of general events, historical matters, weather and nature things. He described, for instance, what he saw out the window. He could see what was going on in the creek and something goes on every day that's interesting. The kingfishers were flying up and down the creek or the muskrats were swimming around.
When retirement time came, my versatile husband became a priest of the Episcopal Church, working mostly in the churches of northern Arkansas.
We had four trips abroad. The first was to Canterbury, England, where we attended a summer session of theology lectures at St. Augustine's College. The second was to attend the performances of Wagner's Four Ring Operas at Bayreuth, after which we toured Europe in a VW camper bus-- especially visiting the cathedrals of England. The third trip was to spend fall and winter in the Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen (and the modern John Fowles) country of Dorset. The fourth trip was when my husband exchanged pulpits with an Anglican priest for three summer months. Mr. Sims of Haxey, Lincolnshire, England, came to my husband's church in Idabel, Oklahoma, while my husband had charge of St. Nicholas' church at Haxey.
That was the time when I made most of the rubbings that I have. I have forty brass rubbings that are scattered around. This is one on the door over here.
In the period between William the Conqueror, 1066, and the seventeenth century, they made brass plates that were engraved with memorial figures and inscriptions which were put on the floor over the grave of the person or they were on tombs or they were on the walls. Some of the ones that had originally been on the floor were moved to the walls to protect them because people crossed them in their hobnailed boots and damaged them.
All these years since we left the farm for teaching positions. The homing instinct has brought us back as often as possible. In 1951 we built our retirement home and prepared to carry on our conservation and research activities here. The place is a natural for such work. It is an old grist mill site on the headwaters of Crane Creek. The Wissman Mill was not in use when we had come here in the 20's but was still standing until the 1940's. Crane Creek is very rich in all kinds of plant and animal life, so rich that it would take years to study it completely. It's one of the few streams left in the Ozarks that is not badly polluted. There are so many streams being polluted by town sewage and dump places that plants and animals cannot live in them.
We have offered the use of the station to the schools of the area interested in doing biological research here. The professors are younger than I am and they can get out and do the field work better than I can now. So I'm going to kind of turn it over to them. I'm expecting them to do some work. My own research has been on the ecology, physiology and taxonomy of algae.
In the early 60's I spent some time in the Rocky Mountains making 362 pen and ink drawings of the higher plants--ferns, conifers and flowering plants for the book, Handbook of Rocky Mountain Plants by Ruth A. Nelson. This book, now in its third edition, is in great demand throughout the Rocky Mountain area. Currently I am trying to get published a book on Ozark wild flowers which I wrote and illustrated. It's written so that anyone who is not an expert can understand it, such as the tourists who are going through the Ozarks and want to learn about the plants.
I have an interest in the girl scouts of the area. Seven or eight towns around here belong to Scout Area IV for which Barbara Boone is the chairman. She has organized groups to come down here. We have made a trail that goes along the creek and has different stations where we study special things.
Bittersweet staff members and Mrs. Leake explore her land. "She's like the grandmother I never had," Carmen said.
We call our acres on the creek The Freshwater Biology Station. It is also a wildlife refuge, teeming with all sorts of flora and fauna. There are plants of great variety and beauty. Some of the animals are ground hogs, muskrats, chipmunks, many kinds of mice, skunks, 'coons, squirrels and beavers. More than a hundred species of birds have been recorded at the station. Many kinds of fish live in the stream, trout, bass, perch and pickerel, and there are other aquatic vertebrates and innumerable invertebrates.
Our aim is to preserve the station in as natural a state as possible, and to protect it from the destructive impact of so-called civilization. We want it to be useful to researchers and helpful to groups like the girl scouts and the biology classes in the schools of the surrounding towns.
What my ambition is with respect to my research is to have a record of this kind of clear creek, which is getting rare in Missouri. Because I feel it is impossible for things not to change, as change is a rule of life, my work will be to make some record of what it was like, a history of it, as it goes ahead with these changes that are inevitable. Another motive I have is to make the place as useful as possible to people, not just to sit here and live as a selfish individual, but to share it with people and have them learn about it and enjoy it, too.
Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.