The Photography of D L Ennis, and more!


Sunday, April 30, 2006

High Peaks of the Adirondacks

Yesterday was the perfect day for a drive up north to see how spring is progressing in the North country! We enjoyed a nice ride up and stopped frequently to take some photos and enjoy the scenery. We did notice a fire in the Village of Lake George. It turns out a large section of buildings caught on fire and burned nearly to the ground. This is very bad for the village as tourist season is about to start! Our destination for the day was Lake Placid where the 1980 winter Olympics were held. The village is now host to many conventions and sporting events and well as a major tourist destination! We took the elevator to the top of the ski jump tower to enjoy the 360 degree view. We also stopped to visit John Brown's farm. John Brown was a famous abolitionist who was involved in the Harper's Ferry incident in the Civil War times. We then headed out to do some Geocaching. This is my newest hobby! It involves using a GPS until to locate hidden caches, usually in the forest. This is a lot of fun and a good way to get some much needed exercise! All in all it was a good day! Today will be a shorter day for outings due to the NASCAR race at Taledega on TV this afternoon! Happy Spring everyone!

Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Most Wonderful Day!

I woke up early yesterday, knowing I had a long day of house building ahead of me, and went out to take a walk. I decided to walk around the land to places I hadn't gone before. So, down the hill I go into the rhododendron area thinking, "What am I going to find here? Nothing grows around the rhododendron." But then, the flora changed and the forest opened up and I saw her... Pink Lady Slipper (Cypripedium acaule)! Then... I saw another! And another! (I have never found more than 9 lady slippers at one site. She was severely over harvested in the 1900's for medicine, and has never recovered. She has a symbiotic relationship with the microbes in the soil and only grows in specific areas and it is extremely hard to transplant. So, I began bawling when my count got to over 160 lady slippers, and I decided to stop counting and just enjoy!! There were so many that I had to watch where I stepped so as not to step on them! I can't begin to explain the feeling I had yesterday morning walking on this amazing, sacred land in the Blue Ridge.

An Abbreviated History of Railroads

Image: Freight Locomotives, Z1 #1443, W2 #701 and M #445 at Island Yard, Lynchburg, Va. (photo by Walter Dunnam - 1940's)

Railroading has been referred to as "the biggest business of 19th century America." Animal and gravity-powered rail transport had been used by quarry companies in Massachusetts and elsewhere in the Northeast in the early 1800s. The United States quickly adopted the steam railway once reliable locomotives suited to long-distance public transportation were available. After 1830, and the creation of better locomotive types, railroad investment in both England and the United States accelerated almost simultaneously. Britain's first true public railroad, the Liverpool & Manchester, began operations in 1830, as did the first such American railway, the South Carolina Railroad.

In the 1830s and '40s America's railroads were small private affairs of limited mileage, scattered along the Atlantic seaboard from Maine to Georgia, with a few enterprising companies pushing westward into the Appalachians. By 1852, thanks to merchants demanding faster and more reliable means of transporting their goods, more than 9,000 miles of track had been laid, mostly in the New England and Middle Atlantic states. During the next decade, American railroads grew into a coordinated iron network of more than 30,000 miles serving all the states east of the Mississippi River.

Railroad construction slowed during the Civil War (the first American conflict in which railroads played a major role as movers of troops and supplies), but resumed on a large scale immediately afterward. By 1880 the United States had 94,000 miles of track binding the country together; 20 years later it had 193,000. By the end of World War I in 1918, the country could boast more than 254,000 miles of track and 65,000 steam locomotives.

Image right: Freight Locomotive, Y6 #2136, at Wilcox, West Virginia(12/17/59 - Howard W. Ameling)

As the railroads expanded, so did the country. Between the Civil War and World War I, the United States was transformed from an agricultural to a manufacturing nation, thanks largely to the railroads. They brought raw materials like coal, oil, iron ore, and cotton to the factories and carried away steel, machines, cloth, and other finished products. They moved livestock, grain, and produce from farms to the cities. And they carried people everywhere. Most of the immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania's Lackawanna Valley traveled there by train, just like the immigrants who settled Minnesota, the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas in the 1870s and 80s.

The railroads shortened the time it took to travel great distances, thus bringing cities closer together. In 1812, for example, a trip from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia took six days by stagecoach. In 1854, the same journey took 15 hours by train. By 1920, the trip was down to five hours. Rail deliveries of freight and passengers were generally faster and more reliable than those by stagecoach, wagon, steamboat, or canal packet. The railroad drove many canal companies out of business and lured away most potential passengers from river boat and stagecoach lines.

Until the end of World War I, railroads carried the bulk of all freight and passengers. After 1918, they faced increased competition from automobiles and trucks. By the 1950s railroads were hauling less freight, had reduced passenger service, and abandoned some lines altogether. By then the railroads had undergone dramatic changes, beginning in 1925 with the introduction of the diesel-electric locomotive. Within 30 years, the diesel locomotive, with its great reduction in labor needs, its operational flexibility, and its relative cleanliness, had replaced the coal-burning steam locomotive.

Images from: Retroweb-Steam Locomotives and Other Railroad Images

Also read a BRG historical transportation related article: A Brief History of the Kanawha Canal Project

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Friday, April 28, 2006

Your Comments and Suggestions Please

I would like to say hi and thanks to all of our regular readers, and welcome to the folks who have just found us! We very much appreciate all of you and I hope that you find the words of our writers inspirational and interesting, and that you continue to return.

We want you to know that you are always welcome to leave your comments, and in fact we encourage it! If there is anything that you’ve not found on the Blue Ridge Gazette and would like to see, you can leave a comment on any post or if you are a little shy about doing that you can always email us here. We would love to have comments and suggestions from all of you. We aim to provide you with information, that in some cases, cannot be found anywhere else on the Internet or is so spread out that you would have to look all day to find it.

We are determined to be the best source of information for the Mountains between Maine and Georgia and with some help from you we will achieve that goal. Below is our mission statement and all of us here at the BRG fully believe in it!

Our Mission Statement:

The Appalachian Mountains, from Maine to Georgia, is a culturally diverse region filled with a colorful history and rich with natural beauty and people of extreme artistic qualities. Here at The Blue Ridge Gazette our mission is to celebrate, educate, and raise awareness of all that the region and its people have to offer.

For those of you who don’t know we also have an online publication called Blue Ridge Gazette, if you haven’t checked it out yet you should. The May issue is online now.

And don't forget we are always looking for more writers to assure that there is fresh content everyday! If interested, you can email me here.

Thanks and tell your friends, and return often to the Blue Ridge Gazette!

Loosing Our National Parks

Image: by D L Ennis, The Blue Ridge Mountains

The Bush Administration has not been kind to our National Parks and the environment and it keeps getting worse.

Knight Ridder news services, in recent stories, have been reporting that the Bush Administration thinks our national parks are too fat. A directive called the “core operation analysis” has been issued directing park officials across the country to cut between 20 and 30 percent of their operating budget while maintaining the parks’ core mission of resource protection and visitor enjoyment. Many parks have already begun to implement cuts and all parks are supposed to be in compliance by 2011.

This from Smoky Mountain

“While the National Park Service officially says that meeting the core operation analysis will not impact visitor enjoyment or resource protection, cuts that have been implemented to date do not bear that out. According to a Government Accountability Office report, parks had already initiated service cuts before the core operation analysis began. As early as 2004 the Great Smoky Mountains National Park cut interpretive programs by 25 percent and replaced seven seasonal technicians with student volunteers. A March 2004 report by the National Parks Conservation Association noted that the number of permanent park rangers had dropped by more than 16 percent since 1980 and the number of seasonal employees had fallen by more than 23 percent.”

As a presidential candidate, George W. Bush pledged to increase our national parks budgets in 2000 and 2004. And park superintendents were urged to talk about these types of cuts as “service level adjustments.”

Now President Bush’ proposal is to cut more than $100 million from next year’s national parks’ budgets, and according to internal documents released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the administration is urging superintendents to be “honest and forthright” with the public regarding smaller budgets, reduced visitor services and increased fees. According to the documents, shortfalls for essential operations would be made up for with fee hikes, cost shifting and increased reliance on volunteers.

Image right: from the Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation.

In a thoughtful editorial in the April 19 Asheville Citizens-Times, Houch Medford, executive director of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, discusses some of these impacts and talks about park funding in general. I think the first paragraph of Medford’s piece is quite telling: “Park philanthropies have traditionally provided the National Park Service with funds that provide a margin of excellence, but continued federal under funding could force them to provide a margin of survival. This is unfair to the donor who has made a good faith contribution with the expectation that their gift will support the ‘excellence’ factor. This arrangement could even potentially establish a form of double taxation: a donor pays for parks once via the IRS, and the second time via a charitable gift to compensate, unwittingly, for a park operations offset.”

Groups like the Friends and the Parkway Foundation and others should be the icing on the cake. The heavy lifting should be up to Congress. Recent attempts to sell off public lands, efforts towards privatization of services and increased vendors in our national parks, and now the core operation analysis all portray an administration that views our national forests and national parks as a burden on the ‘bottom line’ rather than treasures to be preserved, protected and enhanced for future generations.

Also read my article, Give Them an Inch – NPS and Corporate Logos

Note: This article has been amended by me, D L Ennis, from its original version on 4/29/06 at 9:54 AM. It was pointed out to me by one of our writers that my political view and my attacks on Mr. Bush were not in keeping with our Mission Statement; said writer was right!

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Celebrate National Parks Week with a wildflower walk in the Smokies

It's National Parks Week through Sunday across the country (see Time to celebrate and appreciate all our national wild lands have to offer.

Here in North Carolina, one way to celebrate is by taking advantage of our beautiful Spring weather combination of rain and sunshine and going on a wildflower hunt.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is celebrating with its 56th Annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage. There will be programs through Sunday, including hikes, photographic tours, seminars, art classes and more. Check it out at To learn more about our most visited National Park, visit

Here's a taste of some of the treats you can find along the trails in the Smokies.

Crested Dwarf Iris (left)
Image by: Wesley Satterwhite
Taken April 2006 Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Showy Orchis (right)
Image by Wesley Satterwhite
Taken April 2006, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

You'll find many varieties of Trillium, including White Trillium, Painted Trillium, Catesby's Trillium, Nodding Trillium, and Wake Robin Trillium in both variations, nodding and erect. Look for them in hillside patches, often hiding beneath their broad trinity of leaves.

White Trillium Pair
Image by Wesley Satterwhite
Taken April, 2006 Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Other lovely specimens include: Foamflower, Solomon's Seal, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Sweet Shrub, Wild Violets (many varieties), Bluets, Phlox, Toothwort, Doghobble...

All are waiting to be discovered. Get out and take a look around.

A Call for Writers

We have of expanded our coverage to include all mountainous regions east of the Mississippi and we are looking for writers.

I would prefer that you live in the mountains of eastern United States, but if you are interested in this area, and love and want to write and know how to do research, I don’t care where you live. We need writers who want to write!

Our Mission Statement:

The Appalachian Mountains, from Maine to Georgia, is a culturally diverse region filled with a colorful history and rich with natural beauty and people of extreme artistic qualities. Here at The Blue Ridge Gazette our mission is to celebrate, educate, and raise awareness of all that the region and its people have to offer.

Things you should know: We do not get many comments. However, we do have a large readership that is growing daily and this is a wonderful opportunity to be read and improve your writing!

If interested you can email me here.

The BRG Weekly Artist Compendious

Image: Brotherly Counsel, a 4" circular original etching, by William F. Cox.

Every week we will be profiling a different artist, some contemporary and some from the past. We will not limit ourselves to any single art form but look at artist from many different disciplines.

This week’s featured artist is William F. Cox of Pilot, Virginia.

William F. Cox, Internationally acclaimed artist/printmaker, has delighted audiences with his intricate original copperplate etchings for the past thirty years.

Cox is a former teacher and artist-in-residence; he lives and works in the rural mountain setting of southwestern Virginia with his family. He has been awarded numerous Best in Show and First Place awards over the past quarter century, his etchings can be found in permanent collections such as the State University of New York at Buffalo, the Library of Congress, and Vatican City, as well as countless private collections worldwide.

Copperplate etching is the second oldest family of printmaking, the intaglio process, which dates from the mid 15th century. Well-known masters of this medium include Albrecht Durer (1471-1528), Rembrandt (1606-1669), Wm Blake (1757-1827), and M. C. Esher (1898-1972).

Image right: Close up on the village on the left side in the background of the above image, Brotherly Counsel, by William F. Cox.

The process involves scratching a copper plate thru a thin resist to expose the metal. What the artist sees is a negative; bright metal against the dark wax background, and reversed left-to-right. After the drawn plate is submerged in acid to eat lines into the scratches, the wax is removed. Ink is forced into the lines and carefully wiped off the surface to leave ink only in the lines of the image. Dampened acid-free paper and a felt blanket are placed over the inked plate and slowly rolled under tremendous pressure through the press to transfer the image to the paper. The resulting image has a three-dimensional raised line embossed effect characterized by greater permanence and quality of detail than the best pen and ink drawings.

Etching is the most time-consuming form of printmaking; each plate takes from fifty to hundreds of hours to make. The hand inking and wiping process has to be repeated for each individual impression of a copper plate, taking from twenty minutes to an hour or more.

Artist Contact Information:

4818 Gold Rush Rd
Pilot, VA 24138
Phone: 1 [540] 382-3254

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Going Home to a Place I’d Never Been Before

Image: by D L Ennis, the James River and the Beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains; about 15 minutes from where I live now.

As a child, I lived in eastern Virginia near the ocean and was always fascinated by the oceans infinite appearance. I loved the ocean; I still do. It was beautiful all of the time and looked angry a lot of the time. I could spend hours at a time watching it and thinking of all the people, throughout history, that had sailed it; and of their adventures. However, there were these things called mountains.

Mountains, I had seen them in books and on television and they looked magical, mysterious, mythological…did such a thing really exist? I had to know for sure. The books said they did…my parents said they did, and there they were on television; but, so were cartoons. It all seemed as inexplicable and unreachable as the night sky.

Then, one spring day, late in the school year, I came home and there was a tent set up in the back yard. My Dad bought a tent and set it up in the yard, I guess, to learn how. I ran in the house and asked, “Whose tent?” “Ours!” dad said, “How would you like to go camping…in the mountains…this summer?” I was nine years old and had never been camping and as for mountains, well, I’ve already told you about that.

The first weekend after school ended dad packed the car and at 4am, on a Saturday, he and mom loaded me, my older brother and two younger sisters into the car and we left on our first trip to the mountains.

I want to tell you…I was excited! However, five hours later, excitement was turning into impatience; I had not yet seen the first mountain. Dad always knew where he was going; he just didn’t always know how to get there. But, in fairness to him, there were no interstates back then and it did take quite a bit longer to drive across the state. Mom kept saying, “Why don’t you stop and ask someone?” Dad was about as good at doing that as he was making restroom stops; it was always, “Okay, I’ll stop at the next place on the right side of the road.” He said that every time we passed one…every time.

Finally, around 10:30 am, Mom said, “Look, Mountains!” We all jumped up from our dreadfully frustrated slouches to see the mountains. They looked like clouds on the horizon to me. “They’re not mountains…they’re clouds.” I said. At that point none of us knew whether they were mountains or clouds but as we got closer they got bigger. Oh yes…there they were…the Blue Ridge Mountains!

Image Right: Me, my older brother, and two younger sisters somewhere on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

At first, the grade was slight; you had to look out the back window to even tell that you were going uphill. As we entered the Skyline Drive there was a little shack in the middle of the road where, as we approached, a ranger, hat and all, stuck his head out and motioned for us to stop; I was in awe! I was used to having to stop at little shacks in the middle of the road, but there was always a stern, unfriendly face attached to the guy stopping you; a Marine at a Navy base. This guy was smiling and looked like the ranger on the Yogi Bear cartoons.

As ‘Mr. Ranger Sir’ let us pass it began to feel more and more that we were on a real mountain adventure and I was so overwhelmed by it all, that I had a incurable case of spine tingling chills! I knew that the mountains were where I was supposed to be and one day I was going to live there!

We left the mountains at around noon the next day but the wonder of the mountains went home with me and stayed with me if only in spirit until I was thirty years old and got married. My bride to be had been all over most of the US, as had I by then, but she had never done more than pass through the Blue Ridge Mountains, so, we decided to get married on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We did, and when we returned to the coast it wasn’t two months later that we moved to the mountains!

We’ve lived here for nearly twenty-three years now and there is nothing that could make us leave. We finally moved home to the Blue Ridge and day in and day out it remains as beautiful and mysterious as ever!

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Monday, April 24, 2006

Blue Ridge Gazette Online Magazine

The May issue of the Blue Ridge Gazette Magazine is now online! Check it out...In the May issue you will find the best of the Blue Ridge Gazette blog along with many articles never before published. There are also many new features I'm sure you will enjoy, and be sure to tell a friend or two and sign up for our newsletter while you are there!

We are now taking submissions for the June issue of Blue Ridge Gazette Magazine!

We are always looking for more writers to join us here on the blog...If you are interested you can email me here.

A Brief History of the Kanawha Canal Project

Image: by D L Ennis, Battery Creek Lock on the Kanawha Canal near the James River Visitor Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway

The James River and Kanawha Canal project was first proposed by George Washington when he was a young man surveying the mountains of western Virginia. He was searching for a way to open a water route to the West, and thought his proposed canal would be the key to helping Virginia to become an economic powerhouse in what would eventually become the United States.

Washington had identified the Potomac and James rivers as the most promising locations for canals to be built to connect with the western rivers by 1772. His preference was the James, as the Potomac led to rivers in land disputed with Pennsylvania and would be equally helpful to Maryland, whereas a canal along the James could be aligned with the Kanawha River (in what is now West Virginia), and would best serve only Virginia, which was his priority. In 1785, the James River Company was formed, and George Washington made honorary president, to build locks around the falls at Richmond. By then, Washington was rather busy with the affairs of the new nation which would elect him as its first president in 1789.

In those days, waterways were the major highways of commerce. Early development of the colonies along the east coast tended to end at the head of navigation of the rivers. Such early communities in Virginia included what we now know as Alexandria on the Potomac River, Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock River, Richmond on the James River and Petersburg on the Appomattox River.

Image: Batteaux, New York State Military Musuem

Due to the efforts of George Washington, Edmund Randolph, and John Marshall, the first commercial canal in the United States, stretching from Richmond to Westham and paralleling the James for seven miles opened in 1790. The canal expanded the existing bateaux transportation on the James River. Bateaux were flat-bottomed boats which were laden with tobacco hogsheads, drifted down the James River to Richmond and returned with French and English imports such as furniture, dishes, and clothing. The canal boats were packets, which drew more water than the smaller capacity bateaux. Mules and horses pulled the packet boats along the towpaths which ran beside the canal.

Locks were built as a necessity at points where the river had rapids, in all 90 lift locks raising water levels more than 700 feet would be incorperated into the canal system. However, the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 each slowed construction. Work was slow, expensive, and very labor intensive through the rocky terrain of Virginia's Piedmont region, which is a transitional area between the sandy coastal plain and the mountains. Much of the hardest work was done largely with slave labor, rented from plantation owners near the route of the canal. Work stalled for a number of years, and the James River Company went broke and gave up.

Image by D L Ennis, One of the lock gates at the Battery Creek Lock

In 1820, the Commonwealth of Virginia took control of the James River and Kanawha Canal and resumed construction only with the financial help of state funds through the Virginia Board of Public Works. Work stalled yet again, and in 1835, construction of the James River and Kanawha Canal resumed under the new James River and Kanawha Company, with Judge Benjamin Wright as Chief Engineer. He was assisted by his son, Simon Wright, and Charles Ellet Jr., and Daniel Livermore. By 1840, the canal was completed to present-day Lynchburg.
Eventually, the canal was extended 196.5 miles west of Richmond to Buchanan by 1851. From there, it was planned to linked with the James River and Kanawha Turnpike to provide passage through the most rugged portions of the mountains to reach the Kanawha at its head of navigation about 30 miles east of today's Charleston, West Virginia.

The portage necessary made competition with the railroads a real threat, but construction of a planned railroad across the portage route was delayed by the American Civil War (1861-1865). However, with the damage done to the canal system and increasing funtionality and spread of the railroad, rendered the canal obsolete shortly after the war had ended. By the time the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway was built through to the Ohio River in 1873, the doom of the canal was clear and it was sold to the Richmond and Allegheny Railroad company, which built tracks along the towpaths. That railroad was sold to the C&O, and today, the old canal route is followed by CSX trains loaded with coal from the mountains headed to port at Hampton Roads.

Image by D L Ennis, Looking through the Battery Creek Lock from upriver to the downriver entrance/exit

In the second half of the 20th century, portions of the old canal, locks, and turning basins became the source of renewed interest in Richmond and at other points along the line. As part of Richmond's revival and redevelopment of its waterfront, a portion of the canal was restored and now boat rides and a canal walk area are featured. Richmond's Canal Walk extends for a mile and a quarter parallel to the old Haxall and James River and Kanawha canals. Several historical exhibits about the canals themselves and the City of Richmond are dispersed throughout the length of the restored portion of the canal.

Much of the route of the connecting James River and Kanawha Turnpike portage through West Virginia is today the Midland Trail, a National Scenic Byway.

Near the James River visitor center, visitors can see one of the restored canal locks. The James River/Otter Creek recreation area is one of five developed areas along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, and is located near two highway crossings, state routes 501 and 130. Besides the visitor center, the area has a campground, restaurant/gift shop, picnic area, and handicap-accessible fishing dock.

An Interesting Side Note: In about 4,000 B. C. King Menes had the first, known, canal built in Upper Egypt.

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Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Parasols of May Appear in April

Image: D L Ennis, A cluster of May Apples

If you live anywhere in the eastern half of the United States between Quebec and Florida chances are you have seen May Apples (or Mayapples) growing in the forest. The May apple, Podophyllum peltatum, is one of the simplest to identify of all forest plants.

"About 14 hundred May Apple stems,With their parasols up, marched down the hill.And all the Spring Beautiesturned up their pale, peaked nosesAnd said, "Don't them May Apples Think they're somebodyWith their bumbershoots up!"Oh, it was a grand day, a specially grand day."
-- from "Beautiful Sunday"by Jake Falstaff, Ohio

May Apples appear before the deciduous trees, they grow beneath, leaf out. The plant is sometimes called the umbrella plant because it resembles a closed umbrella when first emerging, then opening into the open umbrella shape. First year plants have only one leaf and will not bloom, while second year plants have two stems and develop a white blossom at the junction of the two stems. The white flower is about 2 inches in diameter, and grows beneath the leaves, and the berry that develops is the "apple" of the plant.

The best places to look for May apple plants are moist, open woods and the edges of boggy meadows. Be on the lookout for a cluster of greenery, rather than lone specimens. The May Apple grows from a single underground rhizoid stem which, in very early spring, sends up dozens of, closed umbrella, shoots sporting young leaves tightly furled around a central stalk. Within a matter of just a few weeks, huge rambling colonies of full-blown specimens twelve to eighteen inches tall blanket entire patches of ground.

Image right: D L Ennis, the flower of the May Apple

The nodding white flower, sometimes two inches across, has six to nine petals and twice as many yellow stamens. The root leaves and stem are poisonous but the ripe fruit, or apple (it is really a berry).

Other names for the May Apple include Devil's Apple, Hog-apple, Indian Apple, American Mandrake, American May Apple, Racoonberry, Wild Lemon.

Once called the witches umbrella and thought to be employed by them as a poison, which may not be untrue! The English version of this plant has much lore told of it, being called Manroot (mandrake) believed to be alive and its screams when pulled from the ground would render a man permanently insane.

American Mandrake, or May Apple, is medicinal and edible (fruit), used extensively by Native Americans. The fully ripe fruit is eaten raw, cooked or made into jams, jellies, marmalades, and pies. It is very aromatic, and has a sweet peculiar but agreeable flavor.

The seeds and rind are not edible, said to be poisonous. The root and plant contain valuable constituents Quercetin, Kaempferol, Podophyllin, Isorhamnetin, Gallic-acid, Berberine, Alpha-peltatin, that are being studied for their healing, anticancer and other properties. The root is used as a medicinal herb, it is antibilious, cathartic, cytostatic, hydrogogue and purgative, it should only be used by professional Herbalists.

Image left: D L Ennis, here you can see the fruit of the May Apple

It is a most powerful and useful alternative medicine. A possible treatment for cancer is being tested as it contains podophyllin, which has an antimiotic effect (it interferes with cell division and can thus prevent the growth of cells). The resin, which is obtained from the root, is used in the treatment of warts.

Warning: The whole plant, apart from the ripe fruit, is highly poisonous in large doses. American Mandrake herb produces nausea and vomiting, and even inflammation of the stomach and intestines, which has been known to prove fatal. In moderate doses, it is a drastic purgative with some cholagogue action. Not a medicinal herb to be used during pregnancy, may cause birth defects.

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Springfest in Meadows of Dan

The Mountain Meadow Farm and Craft Market will be hosting Springfest in Meadows of Dan, April 29 and 30, 2006.

Located in Meadows of Dan, Virginia, on Concord Road, just 150 yards off the Blue Ridge Parkway
and 50 yards from Business 58, the Spring festival highlights the planting season with horticultural seminars given by local experts on subjects ranging from beginning organic gardening to the care of daylilies and annuals.

Craft vendors will offer jewelry, hand embellished gourds, hand spun apparel and other items, and much more. Kettle popcorn and area favorites fried apple pies, locally made fudge, hand dipped ice cream and Hungry Hillbilly Sandwiches. Locally produced honey, beeswax candles, gourds for crafting, herbs in four packs and an assortment of hanging plants for Mother's Day will be featured in the Farmers' Market.

Featured musical entertainment are local artist Sue Nester with friends on Saturday, and special guest Sammy Shelor and friends on Sunday. Bring your lawn chairs and enjoy the weekend!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Celebrating Cultural Tourism Partnerships Conference - Save the Date

Creating a New Economy in Southwest Virginia:
Celebrating Cultural Tourism Partnerships

In Partnership with:
Virginia Commission for the Arts
Virginia Department of Housing &
Community Development
Virginia Foundation for the Humanities
Virginia Tourism Corporation

With Support from:
Blue Ridge Travel Association
Heart of Appalacia Tourism Authority
Join us as we explore and showcase the cultural assets and opportunities of Southwest Virginia. Learn about the emerging creative economy with some of the region's leading artisans, educators, community leaders and economic development strategists.
The Honorable Tim M. Kaine
Governor of Virginia
Keynote Speaker:
Becky Anderson
Founder and Executive Director, Handmade in America
Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center
Abington, Virginia
For more information: 276.492.2080
Or visit our websites at:
Heart of Appalacia Tourism Authority
Save the date! June 12 & 13, 2006
More information coming soon!

Crane sightings

The daffodils are up—I know, old news for those of you further down the Appalachian ridgeline—and fields are being spread with manure, both true signs of spring. Driving to Burlington yesterday, though, I saw another sign that spring has come: cranes. Not birds, the big ones that launch a construction project.

Long winters with frozen earth leave us with a short construction season. Projects are planned in infinitesimal detail so that when the snow goes, crews can fling themselves into action. Yesterday on my drive to Burlington and back, I saw an entire building’s steel carapace that had sprung up, and then a bridge for the interstate’s southbound lanes that was gone. Startling.

The season can stretch as far as Thanksgiving, all depending on the judgments of the construction professionals who have been watching these seasons turn their whole lives. Last November, I squeezed in under the wire to have excavation work done, but I was counseled not to try such a risky move again. November is too late to move around growing things, which will not have a chance to recover before the snow comes again. Excavation is serious business, and one much take care of the thatch. Remedial work in the spring will likely be required.

Vermont’s clean, crisp outline is partly due to this annual cleansing by ice, helped along by summer mowing. Right now authorities are sounding brush fire warnings, but in a couple of weeks there will be enough moist, verdant vegetation to moderate the risk.

Having lived at both ends, I love all the variants of Appalachian spring. There is nothing in austere, chilly Vermont to compare with the exuberant lushness of a Southern spring. But I do enjoy the length of the seasons here. I love finding new ways that this sometimes harsh climate affects the rhythm of life—like seeing cranes and construction crews burst into activity. I love watching for the snow to go, seeing the hills gradually get green, waiting for perennials to poke shoots toward the sun. In August (so soon!) there is a day when we all feel the weather turn toward fall, but right now we are watching for the dandelions that will soon sprinkle the green hillsides.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The History of Oak Hill School 1886-2006

Spending life as an active school building from 1886-1952, Oak Hill school was one of the first in the East Tennessee area to get public funding from the newly created state funded public school program. Oak Hill was home to first through eighth grade students in the Knob Creek Community, 7 miles from Jonesborough. When the last class was ended for the 1952 school year it was never reopened and used for public education. It stood for years alone in a field as though left abandoned and forgotten. It did find new life as a hay barn and storage building to a local farmer. Never intended to be a barn, this once vibrant and important link in East Tennessee public education was reduced to nothing more than a storage building to store all the things that humans no longer had a use for or to hold hay for winter feeding of cattle. The lifeblood of this once glorious beacon of education had been moved to more modern buildings where separation was the new idea for teaching and learning. Now I'm not saying that it isn't perhaps the best way to go when trying to deal with large numbers of children by having them divided into age groups and tailoring the materials to better suit the group. I'm sure that this made teaching and learning less stressful for all parties involved. But I also have no doubts that it had growing pains associated with it as well. Nevertheless, Oak Hill was destined for far greater things than spending the rest of it's life as a barn.

When road construction and "“progress" threatened to reduce it a pile of sticks, the Jonesborough/Washington County History Museum took the initiative to insure that all was not lost to the bull dozer by raising support in an attempt to save this historic structure. There was no lack of support for this effort, however a lack of funds did seem to have a death grip on efforts to get the building moved to a safer place. After all, moving a building is no easy task nor is it inexpensive. Cost for moving a complete building off it's foundation and transporting it for any distance can run into figures that would rival the national debt of some small countries. But thanks to kind and generous individuals who knew the value of such a building as this, Oak Hill school found that is was not forgotten and discovered new friends in the process. Several donations were made from private individuals and families to support getting this building moved. To spare you the details of all that's involved in moving a structure such as this, suffice it to say that once sufficient funds were in hand the moving crew loaded up the building and hauled it 7 miles to it's new location behind the visitors center in Jonesborough.

As a celebration of the contributions that this school made to East Tennessee and Washington County, each year the remaining former students of Oak Hill gather at the building's new location for a reunion to reminisce and share stories with the public on life in a one room school house. These remaining members of a time gone by provided vital input on how the building appeared when it was in use as a school. Today the building looks just as it did in th1880's's. With Jonesborough being the home of the National Storytelling Festival this is so very fitting that this building would come home to share it's stories with us. The Oak Hill School Heritage Education Program was established and is a "“living classroom" which allows a student to spend the day experiencing the life of a young person in 1892. Reading , Writing, Arithmetic, History, Geography, even the pledge is all as it was prior to the turn of the last century. The curriculum is based on the detailed 1892-1893 diary of a Washington County TN School Superintendent. Students gain an understanding of the lives of their peers through this glimpse of a typical school day. Designed for a single classroom, a day at Oak Hill School is an experience students will not soon forget. Even my own son had the chance to be taught in this building a few years ago when all the restoration work was completed. The story of Oak Hill School is still being written in the faces of young students each day when they are transported back into history. (photos from the ETSU Center for Appalachian Studies and Services)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Earth Day and National Park Week in the Smokies

Image: National Park Service

This Saturday, April 22 is Earth day (Earth Day began on April 22, 1970) as well as the beginning of National Park Week. National Park Week (April, 22-30, 2006) is an annual week designated to celebrate national parks. This year's theme is Connecting Our Children to America's National Parks.

At the Great Smoky Mountains National Park they will kick off National Park Week on a positive note with Junior Ranger programs for children, ages 5 to 12 years, and their families.

Oconaluftee Visitor Center
Reservations are required for the following programs by calling 497-1942.

Walk on the Wild Side - 9-11 a.m. Children will become a nature detective and investigate animal sign, tracks and scat
Explore, Learn, Have Fun: A Family Approach to Hiking in a National Park - 1-3 p.m. Families will learn about wildlife, wildflowers and cultural history.

Appalachian Toys - 2:30-4 p.m. Learn about turn of the 20th century toys and make a "buzz button" to take home.

Sugarlands Visitor Center
Reservations are required for the following programs by calling (865) 436-1292.

Creepy Critters - 9-11 a.m. Use equipment like "sucky-uppy-things," water nets and a video microscope to delve into the dark and mysterious world of salamanders, bugs and macroinvertebrates.

 Nuts for Nature: Nature Adventures for Families - 1-3 p.m. Take an easy, one-mile nature walk geared towards outdoor adventures for families.

Cades Cove Visitor Center
No reservations required. Meet in front of the Cades Cove Mill Area.

Black Bears in the Smokies- 12:30-1 p.m. Learn about the most popular mammal in the Park and how bears survive in the Smokies.

Animal Olympics- 1:30-2 p.m. Discover the fascinating abilities of animals on how they live, eat, and survive in the wild.

Mountain Toys- 2:30-3 p.m. See the creativity and craftsmanship of "old-timey toys" and discover how children of years ago spent time.

The Junior Ranger Program guides children to learn about everything from animal tracks and trees to finding out about the park's history.

As a reward, children who complete the program, which involves completing an activity booklet and participating in a ranger-led program, will earn a Junior Ranger badge.

The National Park Foundation, Unilever Co., the Aloca Foundation, Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Great Smoky Mountains Association recently provided additional funding to assist the park in upgrading and improving the popular Junior Ranger Program, which serves about 4,500 children annually.

Image right: National Park Service

In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park you will find ridge upon ridge of endless forest which straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. World renowned for the diversity of its plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains, and the quality of its remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture, this is America's most visited national park.

Wildflowers are heralding the arrival of spring in the park. Blue phlox, bloodroot, trillium, hepatica, columbine, trout lilies, and many other wildflowers are blooming at low elevation. The most abundant displays of spring wildflowers bloom in mid to late April at low elevation and into May at high elevation.

Spring brings unpredictable weather to the park. Changes occur rapidly — sunny skies can yield to blustery rains in a few hours. At higher elevations spring storms may force the temporary closure of US-441, which travels over the mountains between Gatlinburg, TN and Cherokee, NC. Click for information about road closures.

Anytime is a wonderful time to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and this Saturday, April 22 will be the most perfect of times. If you can make the trip do it…you won’t regret it and the children will have an experience that will stay with them their entire lives!

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Birds of the Mid-Atlantic #7: Wood Duck

Wheeeep! Wheeep! This ascending whistled call announces the presence of wood ducks in bottomland woods and marshes in spring and early summer. In a family known for its bold plumage and vivid colors, wood ducks stand out for their particularly beautiful appearance. The male has a bright red bill and eyes, green and white patterned head, chestnut-brown breast, and beige sides, with alternating patches of green and blue on the wings. Females, while more drably colored, have a striking white eye patch that makes them look as exotic as the males.

The exotic look is no accident, as the wood duck has no close relatives in North America. Its closest relative is the mandarin duck, native to eastern Asia. They are the only two members of the genus, Aix.

Male and Female Wood Ducks / Photo by Dave Menke (USFWS)

Wood ducks are unique in another way, as well. Unlike other North American dabbling ducks, wood ducks are cavity nesters. (Most dabbling ducks nest on the ground.) Originally, this meant holes in trees about 20 feet up. Now, in addition to natural cavities, wood ducks will take advantage of nest boxes. Because they are cavity nesters, wood ducks face the threat of predation by squirrels and raccoons. While natural cavities offer little protection against this threat, nestboxes can deter such predation with the use of baffles.

Crossposted at A DC Birding Blog.


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The BRG Weekly Artist Compendious

7" LONG X 5" TALL X 5½" DEEP, by Allen F. Weidhaas

Every week we profile a different artist, some contemporary and some from the past. We will not limit ourselves to any single art form but look at artist from many different disciplines.
This week’s featured artist is wildlife artist, Allen F. Weidhaas .

Allen Weidhaas was born and raised in western Massachusetts. A childhood of summers growing up on a lake, with camping, shooting, fishing, and boating, led to a life-long affliction of admiration and closeness to the outdoors, nature, and wildlife. His father and older brother enjoyed this life style and it was natural for Allen to tag along. And, there is an obvious influence of the gentler side of nature through the teachings and observations of his mother. Allen still recalls the first pink lady's slipper and white-lipped forest snail his mother pointed out to him at an early age, and how she seemed to attach such great importance to the small wonders of nature. To this day, his upbringing remains a strong influence in his life.

By the age of sixteen, Allen had found an intense desire to express himself in some form of visual art. Most of his endeavors were two dimensional works, but a trip to Arizona in 1971 changed Allen forever. On this trip he was able to visit the studio of a well known western artist--a painter who also did sculpture. It was the sculpture in 3-dimensions that really caught his eye. Allen was able to visit the foundry this artist used also, and it was this experience that captivated him. "The whole process of bronze sculpture was so intriguing. So hands on! It was a medium through which you could pour your heart out through your hands, pushing and moving that clay around." It was this medium on which Allen wanted to someday concentrate.

When Allen was 18 years old, his family relocated to rural southwestern Virginia. That fall, he struck out for Billings, Montana, and the Art Department of Rocky Mt. College. He later transferred to the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale and in 1974 graduated as a graphic designer with illustration being his major strongpoint. He worked for several years in the advertising industry. Throughout this period he continuously concentrated on 3-dimensional work on his own time. In 1976, Allen embarked on a three year period of full time self-study with sculpture. He explored different mediums, materials, and techniques. This culminated in his first sculptures cast in bronze. It was during this time, too, that he discovered a fascination for working directly in wood. In 1978, wildlife finally resurfaced and developed as his main subject of interest, and he began to find a steady audience of collectors for his one-of-a-kind wood carvings. A desire to create all forms of flora and fauna, including birds, fish, undersea life, and even insects--in general, anything and everything in the natural world--became his main focus. He admits that at times he carries this to an extreme by including the usually overlooked tiny details of a setting in his compositions. He has found that the majority of his collectors enjoy these additional details in the little vignettes. In some of his works, Allen essentially recreates the whole eco-system. To this day, he continues to gain self-satisfaction in carving, where the artist is in such great control over the end result.

Image right: RACCOON, by Allen F. Weidhaas
6" LONG X 6" TALL X 4½" DEEP

With bronze sculpture, most artists have to rely on a commercial foundry service to be involved. Through the mold making process, the type of tools required to work with the bronze, and the nature of the material itself, a constant vigilance must be waged so as to keep the loss of detail and esthetic feeling of the sculpture to a minimum. Applying the patina to the finished bronze is an art unto itself, and requires separate study. But in Allen's opinion, the benefits of limited edition lost wax bronze sculpture far outweigh any of its drawbacks. The ability to produce more than one sculpture of the subject, which is lost in most other alternatives, adds a considerable advantage to the artist. And too, bronze is an old world "high art" medium used for centuries to freeze for all time the creative visions of the artist. It ranks right there next to carved marble.

In 1996, Allen returned to working in bronze, continuing the tradition of quality for which he had become known through his wood carvings. The bronzes afford him the ability to now reach a greater number of collectors. There is a new emphasis for him on bronze sculpture. Most of his bronzes are cast in Montana by several different foundries. Due to the nature of the foundry process, he travels there when necessary. He continues to do only selective one-of-a-kind wood carving commissions.

The works of artist-sculptors Frederick Remington, Daniel Chester French, and Augustus Saint-Gaudens have all influenced and inspired Allen. These artists are another testament to ageless bronze. He admits further inspiration from the old master painters of sporting arts such as Weiler, Pleissner, Goodwin, Stick, Frost, Ripley, and Rungius. "They bring back treasured golden memories to an outdoorsman's sporting life."

Allen has won numerous prestigious awards over the years for both his wood carvings and bronze sculpture. In addition to wildlife and nature, his works include hunting and fishing sporting figures, hunting and fishing still life, figurative, and monumental pieces. He will stray occasionally from wildlife and sporting art. In April, 2000, he was honored to be commissioned to do a life size-and-a-half monument of the famous Confederate Civil War general J.E.B.Stuart to be portrayed when he was a youngster growing up in Ararat, Virginia, his birthplace. The monument was commissioned by the J.E.B. Stuart Birthplace Preservation Trust; Inc. Installation will be on the birthplace property.

The majority of Allen's professional career has been spent in the southeastern United States (Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, and South Carolina), but he maintains a gallery presence in the northwest, as well. National advertising and involvement in national wildlife art shows afford him the opportunity to draw on an audience across the country. His works have been collected by institutions, corporations, and private art patrons across the United States. His work has been purchased by The Virginia Historical Society and is on permanent exhibit at The Virginia History Museum, Richmond, Virginia. The artist has shown his work by invitation at the Virginia Marine Science Museum, Virginia Beach, Virginia. He has been called upon to judge in the decorative miniature class in waterfowl and bird carving. Allen was honored with a nomination for the Virginia Governor's "Awards for the Arts" in 2000. He has always supported wildlife conservation. Allen maintains a temporary summer studio in Montana and a permanent winter studio in his adopted hometown of Stuart, Virginia.

Contact the Artist:

Allen F. Weidhaas, Sculptor
108 Mountain View Heights
Stuart, Virginia 24171
Phone: 1-276-694-6282

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Appalachian Springtime in Central Pennsylvania

Since everyone else seems to be bragging about the gorgeous Spring flora in their regions of the Appalachian Mountains, I decided to post these pictures from Central Pennsylvania. The Forsythia came out about two weeks ago and the Azaleas just this week. When the pink Azaleas begin to fade, the dark red ones will come into full bloom and so will the Rhododendrons. I can't wait.

Plant Life in the Mountains

I grew up in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Well, my parents moved here when I was 12, so I'm fairly close to being a native. One of the main reasons I have stayed here is the plant life. Did you know that this area has one of the most diverse plant populations in the world!!

A little over a week ago my family purchased 25 acres of land. I can't tell you how much fun it has been exploring these woods and seeing the green sprouts of life coming out of the ground! I'm like a kid running around, screaming with glee as I learn what plant life is a part of this land. This past weekend, I noticed a section of land where there are raspberry canes everywhere. I know, I know, most of you would say "Get that prickly, brambley stuff out of there!" But my reaction was more along the lines of "Yahooooo!! We have raspberries!" Here's why:

Aside from having a really tastey berry, Raspberry leaves (Rubus idaeus (cultivated), Rubus stigosus (wild)) can be used for so many things, and are considered the herb supreme for women! Raspberry leaves are used widely in pregnancy and childbirth, but can be a wonderful nutritive tonic for all cycles of womanhood. It can help tone and relax the pelvic and uterine muscles in preparation for childbirth and helps to increase and enrich milk flow in new moms. Because of its high vitamin and mineral content, it is a great tonic herb and can be used all 9 months of pregnancy, helping to ease morning sickness, decrease risk of miscarriage, and hemorrhage and decrease pain in labor (because of that well toned uterus!) Raspberry can also be used for excessive or painful menstruation, for healthy bones and teeth, for diarrhea, fever, vomiting (it’s gentle enough to be used with kids, too!), as a mouthwash or gargle for inflammations of the mouth and throat, and as a wash or compress for skin inflammation, ulcers, wounds and hemorrhoids.

American Indians used a tea made from the Raspberry root for sore eyes. 17th Century Europeans made syrup from the berries to stop vomiting and the berries were also used to dissolve tartar on the teeth. In the 18th Century, the berries were considered a remedy for heart disease.

Raspberries aren't just local to WNC either. In fact they can be found in almost all but the most southern states in the US. So, go out there and give your raspberries a little lovin'! For all they give to us, they deserve it.

Spring on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Image: by D L Ennis, Blue Ridge Parkway

Spring is a wonderful time of year to take the family for a leisurely ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There is not a lot of traffic yet and won’t be until after Memorial Day. There are plenty of beautiful and safe places to have a picnic and let the kids run and play.

To me springs new growth that fills natures pallet with varying shades of green in the form of new foliage on the mixed deciduous forest, the ever present evergreens of cedar, white and yellow pine, and the Douglas Fir and the blossoms of the redbud and dogwood are the major attraction.

Image right: by D L Ennis, Spring on the Parkway

It seems that around every bend your eyes meet with the soft lavender to pink blossoms of the redbud, and often times the branches and flowers of the dogwood are intertwined with them. If there is a haven it would have to be adorned in the fresh foliage and blossoms of spring in the Blue Ridge Mountains!

Image left: by D L Ennis, Spring on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Before the gentle beauty of spring wanes into the deeper shades of summer, if it is possible, take a ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway and enjoy the meditative beauty of a Blue Ridge spring, you’ll be glad you did!

If you can’t make it to the Blue Ridge Parkway you can still enjoy all of the seasons, and more, in the Blue Ridge Mountains by visiting our newest feature the BRG Photo Slideshow!

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Dad's Boring Hobby

Yesterday afternoon I thought the family would enjoy getting out of the house for a while, and I was itching to do a little photography. I decided we would drive to the nearby towns of Dillsboro and Sylva, a couple of very scenic mountain towns filled with craft shops, and a stop for The Smoky Mountain Railroad. After a short, 20 minute drive through beautiful mountain scenery, we arrived at our destination. Unfortunately, I somehow forgot it was Easter, and all the interesting shops that are usually open on Sunday in Sylva were closed. Same story in Dillsboro. No problem for me, since there was still lots of things for me to photograph outside. There were old buildings with intersting architectural details, budding plants and flowers, and a nearby river with a small dam. I was having a great time, but everyone else soon got bored with Dad "taking 75 shots of every blade of grass" as my 16 year old daughter so eloquently put it. So I packed up my gear, stopped at a Sonic in Sylva to get some milkshakes to calm the natives, and then headed home. The upside to this story is that I've found a sure-fire way to create some space when I want to be by myself: I just say, "I'm going out to take pictures!"

Sunday, April 16, 2006

After Sheep Shearing Day

Happy Easter one and all; it's the day after sheep shearing. The days leading up to sheep shearing were full of work, cleaning up after the winter storms, fence and barn repair, gate painting, cleaning up the farm office and other chores. It's great to fill the day light hours with rewarding work that can be seen as soon as it's accomplished.

This week has also been full of fun. I celebrated a birthday and am grateful for good health to enjoy all the blessings bestowed upon me. We celebrated quietly at home with home made crab soup and bread dipped in a mixture of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Of such little joys are the memories of life.

Not all the sheep were sheared yesterday must to the consternation of some visitors. But, we're on farm time and emergencies happen that are beyond our control. Farm life sure keeps a body humble.

Clinton, our shearer, has had more than 90 sets of triplets born this spring and lambs continue to come. He was able to shear a few of my sheep before packing up and heading back to the lambing barn. The sheared sheep are nekkid and a lot cooler while the un-sheared sheep continue to battle the heat. Can you imagine wearing a fur coat in 80 F degree weather? Ugh! It makes me break into a sweat just thinking about it.

Leslie Shelor of Greenberry House came to help skirt fleeces as well as demonstrate spinning. She spins lovely yarn and has already written her blog entry along with lovely photos.

Leslie, on left with Donna Crick on right, as they skirt a lovely sun kissed brown Romney fleece. Some of the Romney fleeces will weight 25 pounds before skirting and will still weigh in between 15 and 18 pounds after skirting. Usually a vigorous shake will get rid of the vegetable matter and the nastier bits are picked out by hand.Ah, but how good is life? To be up to one's elbow's in fleeces on a warm, beautiful day in this valley --- as near to heaven as one can get on earth!

People really enjoy seeing demonstrations and Leslie shared space with Larry Counts who makes decorative and useful brooms.

Ken Smith of the Coalfield Education Endeavor was in uniform as Johnny Reb and told people of the life of a Confederate soldier. The non-profit CEE's mission statement "..Securing our Future through the Preservation of our Cultural Heritage.." and does so by working with both gifted and at-risk students. Their three-pronged approach uses Living History, Aerospace Education and Genealogical Studies to promote pride among the region's residents and to "encourage the youth and adults of the area to develop their potential and increase their knowledge".

Richard Vogel is an expert woodworker and uses only antique or handmade tools to make benches, hay rakes, hay forks, grain shovels, spoons, stools and other useful, decorative wooden items. A couple of years ago, Richard made us a king size bed using massive cherry tree trunks and putting the whole thing together with pegs. It's an incredible piece of work!

Charlie Butcher, luthier, came and brought his lovely family including his beautiful first grandchild, Benjamin. It's been said babies are God's opinion the world should go on. Who could look at this precious child and disagree?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Be Weather Wise – Know What to Do!

Image: lightning.gif Photo courtesy and (c) Charles Doswell

Yesterday morning, evening, and last night thunderstorms moved through the area where I live in the Blue Ridge Mountains; some of the storms last night were quite significant. These storms reminded me of the importance of a hiker or camper’s knowledge of weather and what to do in the event that you are caught in the outdoors during an electrical storm.

When hiking, always be on the lookout for the signs of an approaching thunderstorm. It’s wise to check the weather forecast before setting out on a hike. However, if you are on a long (several days) hike you may not have access to weather forecasts and, as we all know, you can’t always depend on a forecast being accurate. Even though thunderstorms are more prevalent in late afternoon than in the morning, you must always be alert to signs of approaching inclement weather.

Lighting can originate from 6 – 8 miles (10 - 13 km) away from its last derivation, so it is possible for lighting to strike on the edge of a storm; if you wait until you see lightning, it may already be too late to take action.

If you are caught in a thunderstorm in the outdoors there are a number of things you can do to help protect yourself, but remember, there is no completely safe way to survive outdoors in a lightning storm.

If you think a storm is approaching move out of open and exposed areas. Ridges, open fields, or nearby tall objects like solitary trees, communication antenna, or rock spires are a bad place to be. Ridges and open fields leave you exposed and as the tallest object around, solitary trees and rock spires serve as natural lightning rods. Stay away from lakes, rivers, beaches where you are in the open and exposed. You will not be safe underneath canopies, small picnic or rain shelters, outhouses, rock overhangs and shallow caves.

Photo right: Courtesy of NOAA, Lightning causes around 100 deaths in the U.S. annually (more than hurricanes and tornadoes combined). In the picture right, the young woman and her friends were severely injured by lightning just a few seconds after this picture was taken. Notice that no rain was falling, clearly illustrating that lightning can strike up to several miles away from the thunderstorm.

If you are hiking as a group spread out at least 20 feet (6 m) apart; lighting can jump as far as twenty feet and if you stay close together a lightning strike can injure a group of people.

Look for an area that is not exposed, an area with trees of uniform height or an area with low brush and bushes. Never seek shelter directly under a tree. If you cannot find any shelter at all, for example if you are above the tree line, go as low as you possibly can away from any ridges.

If you do get caught in the open and lightning is nearby, the safest position to be in is crouched down on the balls of your feet. A good bet is to crouch on top of a rock (not the highest one in the area) that is somewhat elevated or otherwise detached from the rocks underneath it. Do not allow your hands (or other body parts) to touch the ground, and keep your feet as close to one another as possible. The reason why you should hunker down on the balls of your feet is that when lightning strikes an object, the electricity of the lightning’s discharge does not necessarily go straight down into the ground. Often the electricity will travel along the surface of the ground for a significant distance. This is known as a "side flash". Many people who are "struck" by lightning are not hit directly by the main lightning channel, but are affected by the side flash as it travels along the surface of the ground (this can be especially true if the ground is wet). By keeping the surface area of your body, relative to the ground, to a minimum (that is, keep your feet together and do not allow any other part of your body to contact the ground), you can reduce the threat of a side flash from affecting you.

Alternatively if the above is difficult, sit on top of your pack, if you have one, with your feet together on the ground; crouched down with your eyes closed and your hands over your ears. Sight and hearing injuries are very common among lightning strike victims and near strike injuries. DO NOT lie flat on the ground, as this is not a safe position.

If you have metal gear like a metal hiking stick, lay it on the ground at least twenty feet (6m) away from you.

Stay away from sharp changes in terrain such as the edge of water, the edge of a forest, where rocks meet dirt, the top or bottom of a ravine etc; such areas are naturally more hazardous and lightning tends to follow down the slope.

If your hair stands on end, you feel a tingling sensation, or if the area around you appears electrified, lightning may be ready to strike. Keep your ears covered and your eyes closed and hold your breath; people have been seriously injured when they breathe in the superheated air that surrounds, and is expanding out, from a lightning bolt.

It’s best to wait at least 30 minutes after the lighting and thunder has stopped to move on and resume activity; be sure the storm has left the area.

If a member of your party gets hit by lightning start emergency treatment immediately. A person is not electrified after being hit by lighting and a full 80% of people that are hit by lightning recover. If a person has no pulse or heartbeat, start performing CPR. Treat electrical burns as you would any other, and as soon as possible, get the injured person professional help.

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Friday, April 14, 2006

Trillium Time

Each year I try to take one of my vacation weeks when my two daughters are out of school for spring break. Gas prices being what they are, we've decided to stay close to home this year, which is not really a hardship when one lives in the mountains of western North Carolina. There's plenty to do and see within a short driving distance of our home.

This morning I decided to get out early and go after one of my favorite photographic subjects, the wildflowers of our region. For the past few weeks I've been keeping watch on a section of woods that I pass daily on my route as a truck driver. Each spring this otherwise unassuming hillside in Jackson county is suddenly covered with white trilliums. They seemingly appear overnight, and are completely gone after only a couple of weeks. I started noticing the blooms earlier this week, and began making plans to grab some photos before they reached their peak and began to fade.

I arrived at the sight about 30 minutes after sunrise, when the light is great for flower photography. An added bonus was a bright, overcast sky that assured me of even, low contrast lighting. Trillium grow in open forests where they get some sunlight, but not harsh, full sun all day. As they bloom, they form a beautiful floral carpet spread out over the forest floor.

There are at least 38 different varieties of trillium in North America. These pictured here are large white trillium. I tried many different compositions, both of the entire field, and of individual flowers. As spring progresses, other varieties will appear as they bloom at successively higher elevations. As they move up the mountains I will continue to search for other varieties and different colors. Trillium season won't last long, so I'll have to be alert as new patches come into bloom.

For photographing trilliums, or any other wildflowers, early morning or late afternoon are the best times. Look for specimens in open shade, and avoid harsh, direct sunlight. If necessary, make your own shade with a regular umbrella, preferably white in color. A tripod is another necessity to eliminate camera shake for clear, sharp photos. A tripod also helps in framing and composition. Remember to move in close, and fill the frame with your subject. With a little care and planning, you should come home with some photos that you'll be proud to display, or share with friends.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

"Da Boids" One -- Predators zero!

Here on Hawk Mountain the birds are tough, and a bit psychotic. I suppose it makes sense. If you are going to nest right smack in the middle of a choke point on the main migration route of northern raptors you’d better be tough. There are a lot of predators in the sky.

A couple of days ago, sitting in my study, I heard a very loud, sustained trilling sound outside my window. “That’s odd,” I thought, “haven’t heard that one before.” Obviously some songbird was in trouble. Then something flashed by my window, too quick for me to make it out clearly, and I heard a thud, rustling leaves, and more trilling. “Hmmmm….” Then I heard a harsh croaking sound followed by more trilling. Croak, croak, trill; croak, croak, trill; croak, croak, trill…. “What the…?”

I roused myself from my keyboard and looked out the window and saw the aftermath of the predator’s strike. A kestrel [sparrow hawk] had chosen my resident psycho jay as his next meal. He chose badly.

As a species jays are territorial and aggressive. This one is even more so – much more so. Every spring he takes possession of one of our rhododendrons and spends several weeks assaulting our house. [He's doing so even as I type this] We have tried hanging things in the windows, as the experts suggest, but nothing dissuades him. Nothing, that is, except the biggest, meanest, robin I have ever seen. It has a thing about rhododendrons and windows too, and is every bit as persistent as the jay. For the past two years they have taken turns trying to break into my living room. All that exercise seems to have toughened them up. I call them "da boids."

The pictures aren’t very clear. I was shooting from a bad angle, through a screened window, with a slow camera; a boxwood obscures some of the picture, and the damn birds wouldn’t stay still, but if you look closely you can see what was going on.

The kestrel is flat on his back [on the left, you can make out his head, but the wing are blurred], talons up, flapping his wings slowly, hesitantly, and ineffectually, and croaking his distress; psycho jay, wings and tail full spread is standing on the hawk’s tail trilling triumphantly [you can make out his tail and his right wing, the rest of the bird is obscured.

I took a few pictures, moving around to try to get a better angle, then both birds saw me and took off in opposite directions. The hawk kept on flying, getting the hell away from here; psycho jay simply flew to a branch in the closest tree from whence he screamed his defiance at me. Apparently, I had ruined his fun.

Don't worry Jay, there will be more hawks to savage; lots of them, and eagles too..., just be patient.