OUTSIDE

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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The Past and Present of Elms

The Past and Present of Elms

Elm trees have been appreciated by humans for many generations, primarily as a stoic large urban tree lining streets and shading landscapes. During the 18th and 19th centuries it was one of the most popular landscape trees in Europe and America. Native Americans also revered the tree for its medicinal qualities. We have several native species.

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Firefly Light Show

FireFly

A peaceful form of summer entertainment is sitting out in the yard watching fireflies do their light show at dusk. And who hasn’t as a child stalked and captured “lightnin bugs” in a jar? Fireflies are real standouts of the insect world, so let me illuminate you (yes, humor).

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Let There Be Light

Sun Beams

Light is something we don’t think about much, but almost everything that’s alive on the planet needs light for sight and energy. Human eats cow, cow eats grass, grass grows on light… you get the picture. Scientists have studied light for centuries, but still don’t fully understand it.

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Earthworms

worms

Since I enjoy an occasional fishing trip and dabble with a garden, I thought I knew a fair bit about worms. Little did I realize what amazingly beneficial little guys they are. The two most common worms we have in our area are the nightcrawler and the redworm. The nightcrawler is the larger of the two and can be 11 inches long and thick as a pencil.

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Minimal Composting

Compost Bin

With living “green” becoming a thing these days, you’ve probably heard the benefits of composting yard and kitchen waste. It’s good fertilizer, adds organic matter, improves soil moisture, and the environmental upshot is you’re sending less stuff to landfills and septic systems. But despite the positives, few people compost for various perceived negatives: no room, maintenance hassles, too complicated, bad smell, etc. As a composter I would be considered a passive one, bordering on lazy. I don’t worry about any of the above and my waste still rots down without smelling.

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Balms, Banes, and Worts: Plant Name Curiosities

Beebalm

As a wildflower enthusiast and more recently a student of medicinal plants, I keep running across plants with recurring name components. The terms balm, bane, and wort come up often, so I decided to see why. Prepare to delve into the world of ethnobotany, the study of plants used by humans.

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Why We Love the Mountains

Why We Love the Mountains

Mountains seem to be a universal attraction to people no matter where they come from. To we who were born and raised in them, they are especially endearing because they were the constant backdrop of our lives: their beauty, their challenges, and their molding of the culture of our ancestors that was passed on to us. Mountains are special, but what is it about them that everybody falls in love with? This will sound over-simplistic, but the answer is their 3-dimensional terrain. Let me explain.

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Hiking Shoes: Choose Your Friends Well

Hiking Boots

My fun and my work have for many decades involved walking over rough terrain, so finding practical but comfortable shoes or boots has been critical. They’re so important to me that I end up emotional attached to them and mourn when they finally wear out and I must let them go to shoe heaven. I’m teary eyed right now just thinking about it. So, today's article is advice on choosing footwear that will be your friend.

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It’s Dogwood Season

Dogwood Flower

One of Spring’s pleasures after a winter of subdued color is the flowering of the dogwoods, which are universally enjoyed and mega-popular as yard trees. We are blessed to have them growing wild in our forests and are very common. Virginia is particularly big on dogwood, as it’s their state tree.

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