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.
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park Volunteer
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (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 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.
A bonus for getting out into the woods in early spring is enjoying those wildflowers that bloom while everything else is still asleep and dead looking. There is a short period when the ground warms a little and the forest floor is still receiving full sun that these early flowers, called ephemerals, manage to grow, bloom, produce seeds, and then die back in a short time frame. To pull this off they have a growth cycle backwards from other plants.
For several years we have had to endure a home invasion of ladybugs that are determined to make themselves bothersome houseguests, and this year is particularly bad. They are beneficial creatures, feeding on other bugs that damage farm crops. But indoors they drive you nuts buzzing around lights, dive bombing into drinks, and smelling bad.
We seasonally have a pair of bluebirds build a nest under the eve of our house that I allow because I enjoy having them around. They are pretty creatures with an appetite for insect pests. The first sighting of bluebirds is considered a sign of Spring.
Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) are easily identified by their sky-blue back and rusty colored throat and breast (they are cousins to the robins). Females are not as brightly colored as males. The birds are most often seen sitting on an isolated perch or hunting for insects on the ground.
The above high rainfall we’ve had past couple of years seems to have caused a boost in lichens. Lichens are those flat light green blotches or hair-like tufts you see growing on tree bark and rocks. Like all life on Earth, lichens have found a niche where they can grow without much competition. Most older trees in our area have at least a small colony growing somewhere.
Arbor Day is approaching for our local states (Tennessee March 6, Kentucky April 3, Virginia April 24), and it’s a worthy recognition of the importance of trees in our lives. Here in the mountains they are omnipresent, with every scenic vista tree laden. Every home is full of tree stuff, from bananas to the roof trusses, and every breathe we take has some tree air in it. What follows is some quotes and a little poetry spoken by wise people on the importance of trees.