OUTSIDE

The Christmas Tradition of Advent

My church celebrated the beginning of Advent December 1st by carrying out the “hanging of the green” tradition of decorating the church sanctuary for the Christmas season. Our pastor explained the meaning of the Advent tradition, which was good because while I had heard of it, I didn’t really know what it about. I’m all about old traditions, and so it sparked my own research on the subject, which I thought I would share.

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Christmas tree care tips

Those that hold to the tradition of using a real tree enjoy the smell and feel of a natural product that comes from a renewable resource. Buying one can also help support small family farms, so it has many positives. On the downside, a Christmas tree is a living thing that requires some extra care to be sure it doesn’t dry out and pose a fire hazard. Here are some tips from the National Christmas Tree Association on keeping your Christmas tree fresh and green as long as possible.
- When you get the tree home place it in water as soon as possible.

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The Roots of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of the high holidays of the US, involving traditions of being with family, eating a bountiful meal of traditional foods, and hopefully taking time to give thanks for what we have been given. You know the traditional story of the first Thanksgiving involving Pilgrims, Native Americans, feasting and all that, but history is always good to review occasionally, as you often learn something new.

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More Mountain Speech

I’m still studying a book called Smoky Mountain English, which is a dictionary of mountain dialect. I was blessed to be around my grandparents quite a bit growing up and heard a lot of phrases and word pronunciations that aren’t used much today. But some of it is still hanging around and I find myself using it without thinking about it, which my granddaughters find puzzling. So what follows is my latest list of words in the book that I personally have heard used sometime in my lifetime. I’m sure you will find many familiar as well if you’re from around here.

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Top Wildlife Plants

Wildlife feed on a variety of food sources: woody plants, weeds, herbs, grasses aquatic plants, and cultivated plants. How each plant is used by wildlife is useful information for hunters, farmers, or anyone interested in wildlife and their habitat.

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Persimmons are ripening in East Tennessee

Folks who would like a taste of some wild food ought to get out and hunt persimmons this time of year. They are abundant in our area and easy to find in fencerows and woodland edges.
There are many varieties of persimmon trees in tropical areas of the world, but only two in the United States. The one growing in our area is called "common persimmon" (Diospyros Virginiana), or "possum tree" by some.

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Local Rivers Were Early Interstates

Back in the early and mid-1800s the industrial age and a growing population created a demand for raw materials to make products, especially from wood and metals such as iron and lead. Our area had metal ore deposits to produce pig iron in locally owned furnaces fueled by charcoal and coke. Pig iron needed to be shipped to big cities like Chattanooga where it was refined and made into metal products such as tools and farm implements.

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Boxelder Bugs

Boxelder bugs can make a nuisance of themselves by gathering around the house in large numbers. They usually do this in the autumn in preparation to move into protected areas to over-winter. While they do not cause physical damage to the house, they may stain walls and curtains with brown fecal matter.

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Mast years are good times for wildlife

Many species of trees have “mast years,” when their seed/fruit production is extraordinarily high. Mast refers to tree seeds that are a food source for wildlife. It comes from the old English word “maest”, referring to tree nuts that have accumulated on the forest floor.
Hard mast includes all of the nut trees, including oak (nine local species), hickory (four local species), walnut, beech, chinquapin and hazelnut. Soft mast includes the fleshy fruits like dogwood, sassafras, blackgum, blueberry, blackberry and cherry.

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Vampire Plants

The standard definition of a plant is a life form that is green and capable of making its own food through photosynthesis, and for the majority of plant families that is true, and are designated as autotrophs, meaning “self-feeding”. But there are plants that defy the status quo and lack the green chlorophyll needed for food production, and must get their nourishment through other means, some by taking it from other plants by sucking their version lifeblood, sap.

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House Dust

Those trying in vain to keep a house clean detest house dust. It floats in sunbeams and accumulates on furniture. Most assume the dust comes from outside, and about 60% of it does in the form of dirt or pollen, but much of it is generated inside the home. If you look at floater house dust under a microscope, it appears to be small flat plates, usually six sided and slightly wrinkled on the surface. It’s is mostly skin cells from us or from pets. We shed them constantly in fantastic amounts, and it’s the body’s way of keeping itself clean and free from invading pathogens.

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Sycamore

Sycamore (Planatus occidentalis) is a very common tree in our area, and easy to find growing along streams and lakes. It is also one of the easier trees to identify in the woods because almost all of its identifying features stand out.

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Meat Eat

The average American diet includes one of three meats, either beef, pork, or chicken. I always thought we ate more beef than anything, but chicken has of late given beef a run for its money. And if you look at it on a global scale, it turns out that beef is not always “what’s for dinner”.

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Spikenard: Connecting Our Mountains with the Bible

As a botany nut I’m always amazed at the diversity of plants we have in the mountains, as I’m constantly coming across plants I don’t know. One I’ve observed for a number of years but only recently caught it in bloom to identify it is Spikenard, which is mentioned in the Bible several times. The most familiar one is its use to anoint the head and feet of Jesus just prior to His crucifixion.

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Wild Drinks

Our area’s high plant diversity makes getting outside an adventure, with every trail or country road having something interesting to see, feel or smell. If you’d like to add taste to some of your outings, there are several common plants that provide a variety of flavors to enjoy as a beverage. Here is a rundown of some that I have tried and enjoy. Be sure of correct identification before consuming any wild food and try only a small amount in case of food allergies.

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Trees, Air, and Water

picture of tall 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 body (stem, limbs, etc.). In trees we call this wood, something we use a lot of.

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