OUTSIDE

Why We Love the Mountains

Mountains seem to be a universal attraction to people no matter where they come from. To those 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 three-dimensional terrain. Let me explain.

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Paulownia: The Purple Roadside Tree

Paulownia is most often noticed when it blooms in the Spring, right now in fact. Its large tubular purple blooms are quite showy along roadsides.

Paulownia (Paulownia tomentosa) is also called royal princess tree, empress tree, and lilac tree. It is not native to the U.S. but was introduced as an ornamental landscape tree around 100 years ago. It’s a very prolific seed producer and has since spread until it can now be found everywhere, especially along roadsides and other disturbed areas.

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Spring Violets

Violets are very abundant this time of year and are probably the most common and the easiest to identify family of spring wildflowers in our area. You can find them about anywhere, especially even in your yard right now unless you’re a grass purist who uses herbicides.

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Pink Lady’s-slipper: A Wildflower with a Dark Side

It’s time to be on the lookout for Pink Lady’s-slippers, which normally bloom from late April to mid-May. They are one of the most striking flowers of the woods, but for all its beauty, has a bit of a sinister side, especially if you’re a Bumblebee.
Pink Lady’s-slipper, also called Moccasin Flower, does indeed look like a roundish shoe with its large, pink, bowl shaped flower, making it hard to miss on a hike in the woods. The flower has a slit opening in the front for pollinators to access, and always has two large, twin-like leaves with deep, parallel veins growing at the base of the plant. It prefers to grow in dry woods under a mix of oak and pine trees. Pink Lady’s-slipper is in the orchid family and is one of two shoe-like wildflowers, the other being Yellow Lady’s-Slipper, which prefers moist sites found in hollows and near streams.

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What is a Creek?

By Steve Roark
Volunteer, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

I like looking over topographic maps, and I got to pondering all the different forms of water flow that show on a map. We have rivers, creeks, streams (also called brooks), and springs. I found myself asking what makes a creek a creek and a river a river? I assumed there was some size classification set up so that if a body of flowing water was so many feet wide it was a river. Research revealed that a creek is a vague concept.

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Serviceberry

By: Steve Roark
Volunteer, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

You may not be familiar with Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), but I know you’ve seen it. It’s the earliest native tree to bloom in the woods (late March to early April) and is very striking on a hillside forest still barren and brown from winter. There is another unfortunate early blooming white flower produced by Bradford pears that are being spread by birds and is a bad invasive plant that competes with native trees.

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Teach your children well … outside

Photo by Steve Roark

I’m going to sound like an old cranky dude for beginning a sentence with the time worn phrase “when I was young, I would…” fill in the blank. Well so be it. When I was young, we played outside, not necessarily because we wanted to but because that was all there was to do and our mom often shoved us out the door. I got exercise and was appreciating natural systems like forests and streams and didn’t know it, I just thought I was having fun. Kids today are the most technologically connected generation ever, but also the most disconnected to the natural world. That bodes ill for their long-term health and happiness, as well as the health of the planet.

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Wildflower Watching

Spring is a great time of year, when the dull brown of winter gives way to fresh grass, soft greens of newly opened leaves, and lots of flower blooms. Actively seeking out wildflowers in their varying habitats is an enjoyable way to spend warming spring days, roaming the woods and fields for some fresh air, exercise, and the challenge of the hunt. An additional challenge if you’re so inclined, is wildflower identification.

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Wild Onions

Each Spring many lawns, gardens and pasture fields grow a crop of wild onions, a plant considered by most to be a weed. However, to the American Indian the plant was considered an important food, using it both as a seasoning and a staple.

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The Why of Wind

By Steve Roark
Volunteer, Cumberland Gap National Park

March is considered a blustery month, with winds being kicked up by the seasonal changeover. And you probably haven’t thought about it since 8th grade science, but it might be interesting to review why we have wind at all.

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A healthier lunch hour

Photo By Steve Roark

Photo by Steve Roark

All jobs come with stress of some form during the day: deadlines, equipment breakdowns, something. And if you have the iconic “desk job” where you sit all day inside a building, those mental stresses are even more pronounced. Your lunch break should be a recharge time, but a lot of folks are working through lunch while swallowing a sandwich or doing non-restful things on their phone.

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The Teachings of the Trees

Photo by: Steve Roark

Photo by: Steve Roark

With state Arbor Days coming up (TN-March 4, KY-April 1, VA-April 29) I thought it appropriate to reflect on how intertwined our lives are with trees. We not only use forest derived products multiple times every day, but their constant presence is inspiring enough to be used in literature, poetry, and music. A time tested form of writing to teach wisdom is the proverb, a brief statement that expresses a general truth. The Bible is full of them, and they are used by about every culture on the planet. A way to juice up a proverb is to use figurative language, like: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water…”. It makes for imaginative reading that will be remembered. What follows is a listing of wise sayings where trees are expressively used.

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Uses for Wood Ashes

Folks that burn wood in stoves or fireplaces have the added chore of disposing of the ashes. It can be a valued organic fertilizer and insect repellant if used properly

Wood ash contains 1-2% phosphorus, 7-10% potassium, plus micronutrients such as iron, manganese, boron, copper, and zinc. The largest component of ash is calcium carbonate, making it useful as a liming agent to neutralize acidic soil.

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Get to Know Our Local Pines

Photo By Steve Roark

Photo By Steve Roark

Pines can offer a dab of color in a winter landscape, and provide lumber, wildlife habitat, pleasing views, and erosion control. The native pines that grow in our area include Shortleaf, Virginia, Pitch, and White Pine. Though not a local native, Loblolly Pine has been widely planted and does well in our area.

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Finding your way

Humans must have a hardwired wanderlust. For generations our ancestors were always moving on to new places, and this continues today.
On average, Americans will live in five homes in their lifetime, and in between we take vacations to see new places. Nowadays we have road maps, phone apps and global positioning system (GPS) devices to show us how to get to anywhere we wish.

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Bird Survival Tactics in Winter

Bird feeding on bird feeder.

Photo by Steve Roark

By: Steve Roark
Volunteer, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Many birds remain in our area during the winter and don’t fly off to warmer climes. Songbirds (also called passerines) have a normal body temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit and yet appear to go about their business on cold days in comfort. They have several adaptations and tactics to make it through the winter, mostly involving maximizing calories consumed while minimizing calories spent.

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Eastern Red Cedar

Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) needs no introduction around here. There's no place you can go without seeing it in some fence row, abandoned field, or empty lot. It can also be found growing on rocky areas where the soil is very thin.

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Winter Dressing to Stay Outside

With these harsh cold snaps we’ve been having, staying warm has become more of a challenge. Wearing the right clothing when getting outside can make all the difference between a pleasant outing and misery. The phrase "dress in layers," is used by Moms the world over, but remains good advice. Layers of clothing help trap air around the body and insulates it from the cold. Layers can also be removed to adjust to temperature changes or physical activity. Clothing layers are broken down into three parts: inner, middle, and outer.

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Old Christmas

You can learn a lot from talking with elders. In a conversation about Christmas with my mother some years ago I learned that the Christmas of her childhood had an extra bit of celebration. Her father Sillus Day would always hold back some candy from Christmas in a big, locked chest and would give it out on January 6, a day he called “Old Christmas”.

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