Cumberland Gap National Historical Park Volunteer

Air and Water, the Building Blocks of Trees

When I ask kids why trees are important their number one answer is that they produce oxygen. Plant leaves are solar collectors that take sun energy to produce food through the miracle of photosynthesis, a complex chemical process where carbon dioxide and water are converted to a glucose sugar. This sugar is used for food energy or converted to a starch called cellulose for building the plant’s body (stem, limbs, etc.). In trees we call this wood, something we use a lot of.

Much Ado about Dew Point

When you watch the weather forecast you invariably see a listing of current conditions: temperature, wind speed, relatively humidity, and dew point. Like you or I use those readings to predict how the weather is going to impact my comfort if out in it. But why is dew point important enough to be listed, and how does it impact your day?

The Unappreciated Summer Sweat

Summer is my least favorite season with the bugs and all the heat and humidity. With winter when it’s cold you throw on another layer of clothes and your good, but with summer you can run around buck naked and still be miserably hot just standing around. And then there is all the sweating, a particular negative in public, with the B.O. and wet spots under your arms and the small of your back. Summer season is sweaty season, and something I do not like. However, some personal research has revealed that I need an attitude adjustment, for it turns out sweating does the body good.

Chigger trouble: A pain in the belt line

By: Steve Roark
Volunteer Interpreter, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
Being outside is normally a lot of fun, but sometimes you pay a price when you run into a nest of chiggers. For their size, these little guys are a real pain in the belt line.
Chiggers are actually baby mites. They are almost too small to be seen with the naked eye, and are red with eight legs. The adults, which can be seen, feed only on plants and are not a problem for us, except for their laying eggs that make more baby chiggers.

Dog Days, a Hot Topic

I’d heard of Dog Days all my life, but only knew that it referred to the sweltering heat of late summer when dogs laid around more and were more prone to go mad (with rabies). I had a request from a reader to write on the subject in more depth, so if you’re curious as well, read on.

It’s Blackberry Season

The blackberry (Rubus allegheniensis) is a plant known for its delicious fruit this time of year and nasty thorns any time of year that make walking through a colony of them difficult and painful. It is normally found on disturbed areas such as timber harvests and neglected farmland.

The canes grow up to 6 feet tall, are green to red in color depending on age, and have leaves that form in clusters of 3 to 5. The flowers are white with five petals, and bloom late spring, identifying one of the many cold snaps (blackberry winter) common during that time of year.

The Mountain Lore of Removing Warts

I really like learning about our local mountain culture and am blessed to have grown up in a family that has held onto that culture for generations. One example of an old cultural belief that has been around ever since it was brought over from Europe is charming warts off.

Eating a miracle

As an amateur naturalist I have a curiosity to know how things work. In college I once saw the chemical reactions involved in photosynthesis laid out on a large poster. This all-important method plants use to make food for themselves (and ultimately us) was incredibly complex and took up half the wall.

Sourwood Blooms, a Beekeeper’s Delight

Sourwood does not stand out in the forest except this time of year when it is in bloom, and perhaps in the fall when it displays brilliant red colors.

Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) is locally called "sorrel” and is common in our area. It tends to be a small understory tree growing under larger tree canopies.

Fishing for Bluegill

Bluegill are a fun fish to catch and eat. They will bite at almost anything, are fierce fighters when hooked, and offer meat with a slightly sweet taste. Most folks started their love for fishing as kids fishing for bluegill with a can of worms. They are easy to catch, but here are a few tips for getting a good stringer of bluegill for supper.

The Wilderness of Night

When was the last time you left the comforting lights of your home or campfire and stepped into the darkness? Familiar places take on a mysterious look. Colors vanish and the world closes in as your view becomes limited. You begin to depend more on your ears as your eyes fail. It can be a little spooky, and yet adventurous. Ever since that first campfire man has become addicted to light. We don't feel comfortable outside of the illumination of electric lights, flashlights, or fire. The darkness has become a foreign, forbidding place.

Clouds, the weight of elephants over your head

By: Steve Roark
Volunteer Interpreter: Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
With all the rainfall we’ve had, clouds have been pretty common of late. And when you look up at fluffy clouds suspended in the sky, you naturally think they do not weigh much since they are literally floating on air. But taken as a whole, there is a surprising amount of weight hanging up there.

Buttercups Are Creating Yellow Landscapes

Driving down the road you may enjoy seeing pasture and hay fields full of lovely yellow flowers, which are buttercups. While I agree they create an attractive scene, they are a wolf in sheep’s clothing in that they are toxic if eaten by livestock and compete with the grass for nutrients, sun and other resources.

When Hand Washing First Became a Big Deal

Hand washing has certainly come to the forefront these days, and rightfully so. The experts say frequent and thorough hand washing is the most important thing you can do for defense against Covid-19. And it’s been an important health action for many decades, but this hasn’t always been the case. For thousands of years people were getting sick or dying from contamination spread by unclean hands, but no one knew anything about bacteria or viruses and such. The first glimmer that clean hands were a big deal occurred in 1847 in an unusual manner.

Woodpeckers are designed tree specialists

Pileated woodpecker

By: Steve Roark
Volunteer: Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
Beautiful spring mornings are often accented with the distant sound of woodpecker drumming. During this time of year, the males use drumming on trees and even metal roofs to announce their territory and attract a mate.

Wild Ginger

Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) is an interesting plant found in rich, moist, forested areas in deep hollows and drains. East and north facing lower slopes are its favored habitat, where it can be pretty prolific

Ginger has a stem (called a rhizome) that grows low along the ground with pairs of heart shaped leaves sticking up through the leaf litter. The leaf stems are very hairy. If you scratch around under the leaves in the spring you may find a brownish purple flower with three petals. If you break off a piece of the rhizome it will have the strong smell like ginger.

Utility Lines Versus Trees

Utility Services are what makes our homes comfortable, providing electricity, water, sewage disposal, etc. It’s easy to forget that these services are provided through wires and pipes that are overhead or below ground. When trees are planted near these lines there could be trouble in the future, so think before you plant. Here are some things to consider.

Pages