OUTSIDE

A Weird Twist on Snow

A Weird Twist on Snow

A lot of folks had their first taste of snow recently, and since snow is more welcome during the Christmas season, I decided to use it as this week’s topic. Trouble is I’ve written several articles about snow in the past, so I had to dig harder to find something fresh to write about. I did find something surprising, that I’d have to classify as weird science. It involves something called heavy water, so prepare to go sub-atomic.

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The Flora and Fauna of Christmas

The Flora and Fauna of Christmas

We often come up with mind games to pass time with our grandkids on extended road trips, and being the Christmas season, we recently did a guessing game that involved plants and animals associated with Christmas. It was interesting enough that I decided to share the list and researched how certain plants and animals became synonymous with Christmas.

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Chestnuts Roasting

Chestnut nuts

One of the more popular Christmas carols is “The Christmas Song”, sometimes called “Chestnuts Roasting”. The first line goes (sing it with me): “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire”. It occurred to me that most folks sing it with only a vague idea of what it means, so allow me to illuminate.

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A Guide for Christmas Tree Varieties

A Guide for Christmas Tree Varieties

I grew up using local cedar trees for Christmas trees from farm fence rows, mostly because that’s all there was. But modern commerce has allowed a greater variety of evergreen species available. So that you may be an informed consumer, here is a listing of Christmas tree species and their attributes.

Virginia pine: A popular one for growers due to its rapid growth and ability to take heavy shearing. The foliage is dense with light green needles around 3 inches long; Needle retention is good if obtained reasonably fresh; Fragrance is fair; Cost is usually lower than most.

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Indian Summer

Indian Summer

Indian summer is a name that brings thoughts of balmy, hazy fall days and cool nights. It is a description of weather conditions rather than an actual season, for no dates exist for it. The closest time frame I could find was from Henry David Thoreau, who noted in his diary that Indian summer occurs from September 27 to December 13.

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Deer Hunting Weather

Deer Hunting Weather

In order to survive, animals have instinctive reactions to the weather, migrating birds being just one example. By knowing how game animals react in differing weather conditions can up a hunter’s chances of a successful kill.

Deer depend heavily on scent to protect themselves from predators. They usually respond to a strange scent by bugging out before hunters get close. Deer move into the wind to better pick up scents. To take advantage of this, a hunter must move and stay downwind of his prey. This can be determined by the old wet finger trick.

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Somewhat Supernatural

Somewhat Supernatural

To give a nod to it being Halloween season, I thought I’d share some stories that, while not spooky, have enough of the paranormal to be interesting. The stories involve people having a precognition, foreknowledge, of a future event before it happens. Several cultures call this having “a vision” and can come in the form of a dream or just come out of nowhere. There is no explanation for precognition, and I’m a stickler on finding an explanation of how and why things work, leaning heavily on science.

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Hazard Trees

Hart Rot

Large trees are a great asset in a home landscape, providing shade, beauty, and added property value. Well cared for yard trees are normally healthy and will provide these benefits for decades, perhaps a century. But trees with health issues can be potentially dangerous. These are classified as Hazard Trees that pose a threat of dropping large limbs or falling over on people or property. Poor tree health can be caused by landowner neglect, insect or disease attacks, old age, and wind or ice storms.

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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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