OUTSIDE

Autumn Colors

Blackgum

After a long hot summer my favorite time of year is finally here, with its balmy days, cool nights, and eventual forest color display that everyone looks forward to. If you ever wonder why leaves change color, here’s the latest scoop.

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Fairy Rings: Mysterious Mushrooms

Fairy Rings: Mysterious Mushrooms

I’ve seen two postings with photos of Fairy Rings on Facebook this week, so there is an apparent outbreak of them, likely caused by all the rain we’ve gotten lately. Fairy rings are those peculiar sprouting up of mushrooms in a well-defined arc or circular pattern. This has caused a lot of myths about their origin to sprout up over the centuries, but there is an explanation as to what’s going on with the rings.

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Ironweed

Ironweed

Ironweed (Veronia altissima) is the purple flowers you see growing on a tall, slender stalk in pasture and hay fields while driving down the road. It seems particularly plentiful this year.

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The Upside-Down Tree

North White Cedar

I’ve bragged about our areas plant diversity in the past. The mountainous terrain dissected by rivers and streams creates an incredible variety of habitats that supports more plant species than anywhere but rain forests. One example of this species richness is a tree that is not only growing far out of its normal range but has a most peculiar growth habit that helps it survive.

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Identifying Pesky Poop

Bat Poop

I really enjoyed my career as a forester, partly because of the variety. It was rare that I did the same thing two days in a row. I could be walking in the woods collecting field data in the morning and be on a wildfire that afternoon. If you like routine, forestry is not for you. One unique task I did on occasion was identifying animal poop, especially when people would find droppings in their house and badly wanted to know what uninvited visitor left it.

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A Cosmic Perspective

Galaxy

I was mowing the grass the other day and, not particularly enjoying it, mused over what a dull thing to be doing. I was not taking things into perspective.

While I thought I was puttering along on my mower at a blazing two or three miles per hour, I was in fact mowing grass on a surface of the Earth that was spinning at a rotation speed of 1037 miles per hour. While spinning at this breakneck speed, the Earth and I were whizzing around the sun at a speed of 1110 miles per hour. That’s like driving to Myrtle Beach in 23 minutes.

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A Thorny Subject

Thorny Plant

My job as a forester was a blessing to allow me to get out and enjoy the beauty of our woods and fields and get paid for it. But there were plants out there that would suck some of the joy of being outside. I’m talking about plants that can make you bleed because of their thorns; things like blackberry, escaped rose bushes, and my worst nemesis: sawbriars. I’ve come off wildfires with literally every square inch of my legs scratched from these painful vines.

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Pondering the Milky Way

Milky Way

I hope each of you have had the opportunity to be in a really dark place on a clear night and caught a glimpse of a shimmering, sort of thin fog like band of light across the sky. This time of year it runs high overhead. It helps to let your eyes adjust to the dark before trying to see it, and any street lights or the moon ruin your chances.

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Moon Surprises

Full Moon

There have been many theories and guesses about conditions on the moon, such as: It’s a dead, dry world; that it has Earth-like mineral soil; that weathering doesn’t occur because the Moon is surrounded by a vacuum, and the like. Information retrieved from the Lunar Prospector probe launched to the Moon several years ago, along with long term study of lunar rocks retrieved from the Apollo missions, have turned up some interesting facts.

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Sumac

Sumac smooth

Sumacs are very common in our area, most often found in overgrown fields and areas that have been disturbed. While considered a weed by many, it does have the virtues of providing cover and food for wildlife, and nice fall coloration for human enjoyment.

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Box Turtle Trivia

Box Turtle

The way a turtle is put together is pretty much the reverse of ours. I mean look at it: we have soft body parts protecting a hard-inner skeleton. Turtles have a hard-outer skeleton protecting inner soft body parts. The most common turtle you'll run into around here (and one you probably aggravated when you were a kid) is the eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina).

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Murmurs about Mimosa

Mimosa leaf flower

Mimosa (Albizia julibrissin) is an imported ornamental that is very common in our area and is most noticed when it produces its fluffy pink flowers in the summer. Its commonness is worrisome from a forest health standpoint.

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Snake Bit

Copperhead

When you run across a snake, their normal reaction is to get away. But if they feel threatened enough all snakes will bite defensibly. If you are bitten, here are some recommended first aide treatments.

Try to determine if it’s venomous or not. If you’re confident it’s not you can treat the bite like you would a puncture wound. Check with your doctor to see if you might need a tetanus shot booster.

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Snake Folklore

Snake Folklore

Snakes have fascinated and frightened people for centuries, which has led to some pretty interesting stories about some of them. I did some research on some sayings about snakes I heard as a kid to see how they held up under scientific scrutiny and animal behavior. Here’s a rundown of what I found.

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Wildlife Cover

 Wildlife Cover

From past biology classes you know that all animals require the right habitat that provides all that they need to survive. Habitat needs can be broken down into three basic components: reliable water, food, and cover. While water and food needs are easy to understand, cover is more dynamic, and its use varies from day to day and season to season.

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Got Water?

Got Water?

Water is the world’s most healthy and inexpensive beverage. It can increase energy and endurance, prevent kidney stones, aid digestion, and regulate body temperature. Yet few of us consume as much as we should.

It is surprising how much water your body loses in a day. About two cups are lost just breathing, and another two cups are lost through perspiration just sitting around. Another six cups are lost through kidney and intestinal function. That’s 10 cups you lose just doing office work.

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The Miracle of Plants

The Miracle of Plants

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 long and complex. It is so complex that it’s tempting to simply say that plants bring in carbon dioxide and water, add sun energy, then a miracle happens and out comes oxygen and food. While there is truth there, let me elaborate on the miracle part.

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Blackgum

Blackgum

Blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica), also called tupelo gum and sour gum, can be found in almost any woodland in our area. It grows on a wide range of conditions, from wet areas to dry ridge tops.

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The Sounds of Nature

The Sounds of Nature

When it comes to appreciating the natural world, getting out and seeing it is how it’s most often done. We go on vacations or road trips to see beautiful things like forests, mountains, rivers, oceans, and canyons. This makes sense, as we are wired to perceive the world mostly through the sense of sight. 30% of the neurons in our brain’s cortex is devoted to vision. For comparison, 8% is used for smell, and only 2% is used for hearing. One could conclude that sounds in our surroundings are not important, but I beg to differ.

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