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.

Thy Rod and Thy Staff

If you trail hike much, perhaps you used a walking stick to lean on for balance or help support a sore knee joint. This simple tool goes back a long way and was used for more than just walking. The Bible refers to them as a rod or staff, and both have strong symbolic meanings.


Snowflake watching

Many enjoy watching it snow, as the slow-motion quiet of falling flakes provides a peaceful, serene setting. A single snowfall offers a myriad of exquisite ice sculptures that are short-lived, often unnoticed, and worth a closer look. In his book, Snowflake, Kenneth Libbrecht discusses how to observe snow up close.


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.

The Sense of a Goose

Geese are often perceived as awkward, rather silly creatures that waddle around honking off key. “He doesn’t have the sense of a goose” is an old put down. But I contend that geese have an intellect and team approach that humans would do well to emulate.


Cottontail Rabbit

It’s a tradition in my family for the men to go rabbit hunting on Thanksgiving morning. Our native cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) is the fourth most popular game animal in the United States, behind deer, turkey, and squirrel. They provide food and sport for humans and are an important food source for other animals higher on the food chain.


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).

Yellow Fall Asters

When most folks consider a wildflower season, spring is usually what comes to mind, and rightfully so based on the sheer number of species that bloom then. But autumn also offers an impressive burst of color when some wildflowers make one last push to propagate before the killing frosts. Asters are particularly easy to find blooming now, especially yellow ones.


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.