Cumberland Gap National Historical Park Volunteer

Life Listing, a Natural Hobby

Life lists are written documentations of things seen and identified. If you’re a birder you keep a list of birds you’ve personally seen. If you’re a railroad enthusiast, you keep up with what trains companies you’ve seen going down the tracks. In England they even have clubs for airplane watchers. These folks gather up around airports and watch planes with binoculars, making security people very nervous.

The Local Underworld

The geology of our area is unique in that it creates two worlds: a surface world and an underworld of caves, water, and stone. The type of terrain we live on is called "karst" and is characterized by rocky ground, caves, and sinkholes, underground streams, and areas where surface streams disappear into the ground. This type of terrain is the result of the eroding effects of underground water on limestone.

Squirrels practice art of forestry

An ecologist named Joseph Grinnell way back in 1936 once asked how it was that oak trees could colonize the tops of hills and ridges. Acorns are too heavy for wind to disperse them, and gravity tends to make them travel downhill rather than up. He concluded that animals must be responsible for getting acorns to high places.
Many animals use acorns as a valuable winter food source. Deer, turkey, wild pigs, and bears are heavy users, but an eaten acorn cannot germinate and make a tree.

The Purpose of Beauty

Photo by Steve Roark: White Branch Lower Falls

With all the worrisome events that have happened recently, I would ask that you pause and think about something. When you think of beauty, I assume that like me you envision things like a colorful sunrise, waterfalls, snow draped trees, and such. But I am sitting here having a tough time verbally defining it. It's an odd thing really. It does not produce any tangible product. It can't be bought or sold, and yet all humans value it and are drawn to natural beauty. Why?

Winter, A Time for Reflection

By: Steve Roark
Volunteer Interpreter, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

There are two mind-sets when it comes to winter: those who love it and those who do not, and I’m one of the former. When it is cold you can always dress up and be comfortable, but in summer you can go buck naked and still be uncomfortably hot. Really cold weather gives you a survival feeling, you against the elements, something lacking in these soft modern times. “If you can see your breath, you know you’re alive” is a quote that reflects that feeling about cold weather.

Reindeer Games

Reindeer are always of interest at Christmas, famously known as the mode of transportation for the Big Fellow on his annual trip around the world. But they are interesting enough animals to talk about for other reasons, so let me provide some interesting facts that you can impress your friends with at Christmas parties.

The Christmas Star

One part of the Christmas story that has intrigued scientists for centuries is the mysterious star in the east that the wise men or "Magi" followed, seeking a newborn king to worship. Matthew does not go into detail concerning the star but describes it as a miraculous occurrence.

Keeping Christmas trees fresh

By Steve Roark
Volunteer Interpreter, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
The smell, look, and feel of a live tree creates a strong Christmas tradition that many folks (and me) cannot do without. But with that comes the concern of the tree drying out and becoming a fire hazard. There is an amazing number of water additives suggested for helping keep the tree fresh, but I have seen little research to back them up. Here are a few.

Have seeds will travel

Plant life is very lush in our area. If the landscape is not paved or has a building on it, it has plants growing on it if it sits long enough. Which begs the question: How do plants spread if they are literally rooted to the ground? The answer is in seed design, and several ingenious mechanisms are used to allow plant embryos (seeds) to move away from the shadows of the mother plant.

Once in a Blue Moon

Everyone has heard the old term “once in a blue Moon”, which is used to reference a rare event. The origin of the term comes from the fact that when a month has two full moons in it, the second one is called blue. This will occur this month appropriately on October 31, Halloween, so be sure and watch for it. This second full moon blue thing is not old folklore. A March 1999 issue of Sky and Telescope describes the term as recent occurrence.

Autumn Coloration: the Tree Paint Palette

Seeing the hills and valleys ablaze with color is a special Autumn event. Many variables influence how bright the colors will be, such as sunlight, temperature, rainfall, and soil conditions. These will cause color variations in a given tree from one year to the next or even differences in various portions of the same tree.

A taste on the wild side: Jerusalem artichoke

The late summer/early fall season puts on a good flower show in our area, especially asters, those daisy-and sunflower-like species that come in a variety of colors, yellow in particular. One species that is not only pretty to look at but can also be enjoyed as a seldom-used vegetable is Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus).

On This Harvest Moon

By Steve Roark
Volunteer Interpreter, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

On October First be sure to look to the east at sunset and behold the most famous of all full moons, the Harvest Moon. Its nostalgia goes back to the days before electricity, when it was used as a night light by farmers to work longer in the fields to get the fall crops in, hence the name. But the Harvest Moon stands out for other reasons as well.

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.