The Photography of D L Ennis, and more!


Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Spring? Sometimes You Just Need a Break!

Candy, last summer, on a blanket in the shade where I do my morning reading on hot summer days.

I was sitting here in my home office this morning, pouring over some research for a project I’m working on, when my constant companion “Candy”—the smallest of our five dogs—starts fussing for me to take her outside; I finally gave in!

So, we went out back to our full-sun garden and I laid down on the bench-swing watching the fluffy-pillows of clouds drift by while Candy did her thing.

The longer I lay there the more my senses came to life and I suddenly noticed that a Carolina Wren was serenading me from a near by holly. I sat up and let the warm morning sun bathe my face for a moment then opened my eyes and began looking around. The first thing my eyes noticed was the swelling buds on the Hickory and Bradford Pear trees.

Image left: Japanese quince; an early bloomer.

As I looked around the garden a beam of yellow dashed into my eyes and them pink; A Forsythia and Japanese quince was in bloom. I turned to look at the Dogwoods and the buds, sat last autumn, were still tightly wrapped, perched on the tips of their bare winter branches; ah, a false spring; it happens every year; I’m always trying to rush spring on during the waning days of winter!

But take heart, for there are only twenty days left until the first day of spring when the earth springs to life. So, if you can, do yourself a favor and take a few moments to enjoy a beautiful late winter day like today, here at my Blue Ridge Mountain home, where the temperature is sixty-something, it’s mostly sunny, and the birds are singing!

Monday, February 27, 2006

A Typical Mountain Woman

Part One: Rock Castle Gorge

Image: Edith Underwood and Ruby Underwood in Rock Castle

Ruby Underwood was born in 1913 in a little hollow of the Blue Ridge Mountains known as Rock Castle. She was the sixth of eight children born in a time of large families and small communities of subsistence farms. Her life spanned seventy-nine years of great change in the mountains that she called home.

Ruby's father, Samuel Henry Underwood, descended from Pennsylvania Quaker stock, independent thinkers that were churched for various reasons and left Pennsylvania for the freedom of the mountain frontier. Her mother, Addie Belcher, was of solid German descent. The Belchers were some of the first settlers in the Rock Castle community, with early deeds showing their presence shortly after Patrick County was formed.

Rock Castle, now known as Rock Castle Gorge and National Park Service property, possibly was named after the quartz rocks that are found in the area. Some think that "Rock Castle" is a corruption of "Rock Crystal". Others think that the name came from the bare rock cliffs that show in the side of the mountain; looking up at them a fanciful nature might think that they looked like stone castles. The community was large enough in 1861 to appear on a railroad map printed at the time, while other communities, including Meadows of Dan, were left off. Oddly enough, there was no railroad through the area, but the 'main road' on that side of the mountain, a steep wagon trail winding up the mountain, went through Rock Castle.

Ruby grew up in a community of farmers that were nearly all related to her; those families not related had lived side by side for generations. Stories of life down in Rock Castle reveal a close-knit community. Gatherings at the Bear (or Bare) Rocks, a large tumble of huge boulders that thrust out of the mountains, included picnics for the entire community, singing, exploring of caves and a little courting while children scrambled over stones and into crevices with an abandon unknown in today's world. There was a cave somewhere in the rocks, or nearby in the mountains, where the local explorers wrote or carved names and quotations. There was the "Potato Hill" named for its shape or the fact that potatoes grew well there. Rock Castle Creek tumbled down the mountain, usually in sight of the main road.

Sam Underwood's two story frame house stood above Rock Castle Creek, surrounded by gardens, pastures and outbuildings. A Delco plant provided electricity for lights in the house and a large stone chimney with fireplaces and cookstoves provided warmth. Ruby and her sisters helped with the cooking, tending the chickens and gardening, while her older brothers got out early to tackle heavier chores. All of the children helped with getting in the hay, and Ruby, as the smallest, was sent atop the haystack to stamp the hay down as it was pitchforked up. The hay had to be stacked with particular care, and Ruby remembered how itchy and hot the job was, clinging to the pole in the middle and marching around on top of the slippery hay as the stack rose higher beneath her bare feet.

Apple orchards also surrounded the houses and apples were stored in cellars, along with potatoes and onions, or dried for the winter. Before the chestnut blight devastated the mountains and robbed the settlers of the rich bounty of the chestnut tree, the children were sent out to gather the chestnuts to be sold for cash money for necessities that couldn't be obtained on the farm. The money for Chestnuts provided sugar, coffee, and shoes for the children to wear to school in the winter. Thousands of pounds of chestnuts were shipped from Patrick County each year to markets in the Northern states.

Family was important to the people in the mountains, who still count kin as far away as fifth or sixth cousins. Ruby's large extended family included uncles and cousins that lived down in the mountain as well as more distant kin in the surrounding hills. Ruby's grandfather, Reed Belcher, was a Civil War veteran. When she was small Addie and her sister took turns caring for the old man, bringing him up and down the mountain with the seasons. Ruby remembered them sitting him up in his rocking chair in the farm wagon to transport him from house to house.

Reed Belcher's story was one that is remembered by the family. He and at least one of his brothers went into service with the Confederate army, but their father kept one or two of the boys at home, either because he needed the help or he felt that he had risked enough with sending the boys that had gone. There are conflicting versions of this tale, but Ruby's story is partly supported by documentation. A Confederate conscription force came through Rock Castle "hunting for Belchers", according to the Confederate captain's diary. They found the old man at home but the boys had fled into the rhododendron thickets and were well hidden. One version of the tale has the mother of the children flinging a dipper of water in the captain's face when he demanded refreshment for his troops. Most versions agree that when the troops couldn't locate the elusive Belcher boys, they 'strung up' the old man from a tree in the yard by his neck. Apparently they just pulled him up in the tree to strangle, rather than actually hanging him and breaking his neck. The boys were nearby and with their mother were able to rescue their father.

Image: Alfred Underwood family, including Sam Underwood

When Reed heard the story, he was so disgusted he quit the Confederate army and went to Ohio, joining up with the Union force. It's said that there was some family feeling about the situation. Reed received a small pension, while other members of the family that had fought for the Confederate forces didn't qualify. Ruby said that to tease the old man the older boys would sing "Dixie" to infuriate him.

Henry Dillon was a neighbor who taught a school in the area and acted as an unofficial doctor during emergencies. He said he obtained his education from reading whatever books he could get his hands on. He and Sam Underwood had a good bit in common; Sam was a reader and subscribed to the Atlanta Constitution, which couldn't be touched by anyone else until he read it. His children were all great readers, especially Ruby, who read the heavy newspaper even when she was too small to understand the stories. There were a few treasured books in the house, read over and over and shared with the children.

Another neighbor was a woman farmer who raised her children and kept the farm alone, with only the help that the neighborhood folks could spare her. She was well-respected as a hard worker and self-sufficient woman, and was called "Mrs." although she never married, as far as can be discovered. One of her sons stayed with her and took over the farm as she grew older, staying there with her until the Park Service purchased the land.

Ruby's early childhood years were spent deep in Rock Castle, where she was surrounded by family and friends and wealth in the form of a large and loving family to protect and provide for her. Necessary chores were done, even by small children, but there was plenty of time to play with cousins from up and down the mountain and to explore the creek and surrounding hills. Children invented their own games, toys were few and treasured but imagination was boundless.

To Be continued....

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Black Bear in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Image: Black Bear (Ursus americanus) courtesy of the National Park Service

With spring on its way bringing more people to our beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains to camp and hike, I thought that I would do a series on the black bear and how to camp and hike safely in black bear country.

This first segment is meant to familiarize you with the black bear; a little history, their look, range, and habits.

The North American black bear (Ursus americanus) is the best known and most widespread of North American bears. It is of medium size among bears, averaging 135 to 350 pounds, although individuals over 600 pounds have been found. Adult black bears, standing slightly over three feet at the shoulders, have a predominately black coat which is smooth and short haired, compared to the brown bears. However, there are also a number of well defined color variants: chocolate-brown, cinnamon and a silver gray tending to off-white. Smaller than their cousins, the black bear is an agile climber, even in adulthood. Black bears are alert creatures, with a sense of smell more highly developed than other large animals, with exceptional hearing but apparently only average eyesight.

The black bear originally inhabited the vast majority of our North American forest. Their numbers are estimated to have been about two million in the 1500's, but the black bear has been eliminated from many areas of the eastern, southeastern and central United States, and now, less than 200,000 are estimated to exist. Much of the range of the black bears is shared with the grizzly in parts of the northern Rockies, western Canada and Alaska. Although somewhat similar in coloration, in much of its habitat, the black bear does not have the noticeable front shoulder hump of the grizzly. The black bear has not been eliminated to the extent that the majestic grizzly bear has and is still found in a majority of the states, as well as all of the Canadian provinces and territories. It is a typical woodland animal and prefers forests with abundant undergrowth.

The black bear has become known to the public at large through the enormous popularity of US National Parks. As they are protected within the boundaries of the parks, some bears have lost their fear of man and will even go so far as to beg for handouts at the roadside. Other bears congregate around trash dumps or campsites and seize available food. Scarcity or abundance of natural food has much to do with black bear behavior. Not only will a black bear eat almost anything, it will gorge itself until its stomach can hold no more, sleep it off, and start the process over again.

Black bears are solitary animals that wander all their lives in search of food. The black bear's diet is similar to that of the brown bears, omnivores who will eat almost anything, but it is more markedly herbivorous. Depending on the season and the environment, vegetative matter makes up between 80% and 95% of its diet. During the spring (April-May) black bears feed mainly on grasses. Appearing to wander aimlessly, black bears are always in search of a more plentiful source of food or a mate during breeding season. In June they add insects, grubs and ants to their diet and in the fall the main source of foods are berries, mushrooms and acorns with supplemental carrion when available. Fall is a critical period as far as nutrition is concerned, in that sufficient reserves of fat must be built up for the winter. This is particularly important for those females which are going to be suckling young during the winter retreat.

The next segment of this series will be online next Monday 03/06/ 2006.

Please, when you go into our forest and National Parks leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but photos and wonderful memories!

All of us here at the Blue Ridge Gazette appreciate all of our readers very much and we hope you continue to visit us and continue tell your friends…Thanks!

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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Out of the Blue Zone-Yellowstone & Grizzly Bears

Image: Yellowstone National Park Hayden Valley - Mt Washburn

Out of the Blue Zone is a new feature on the Blue Ridge Gazette. We will take a look at things going on in other regions of our natural world. Today, Yellowstone National Park, the grizzly bear and Congressional attacks on the Endangered Species Act.

We as citizens and guardians of our natural world must take issue with the Bush Administration's proposal to remove the grizzly bears, in and around Yellowstone National Park, from the list of endangered and threatened animals as well as recent Congressional attacks on the Endangered Species Act.

Now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could be deciding the fate of the grizzly bear as soon as March 17 which we must act now!

The grizzly bear is an irreplaceable part of America's natural heritage, a symbol of the independence that defines the American character and an icon of all that is wild and free. Since 1975, the Endangered Species Act has worked to protect these magnificent animals.

For 30 years our country has invested tremendous time and energy into improving the chances of the grizzly bears' survival and that work has started to pay off, increasing the number of grizzlies in the U.S. from a meager 150 to about 600 today.

Delisting grizzly bears at a time when their population is still so small and their range is so limited could have devastating effects and we can't let that happen!

So Please, Act Now, Show Your Support for Delisting Yellowstone Grizzly Bears by Contacting Your Representatives in Washington DC. I have already sent my letter and the National Wildlife Federation has made it easy for you to also; just click here.

If you can make a donation, make it to the National Wildlife Federation or the Sierra Club to help protect the grizzly bear.

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The Elusive Morel Mushroom

Image left: by D L Ennis, Morel Mushroom found in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

Morels grow in temperate latitudes around the world, in both conifer and hardwood forests. In North America they usually emerge first along the West coast in Early Spring and later in much of the forested East, from the Appalachians up through the Great Lakes region, with scattered harvests into Summer and Fall months.

Morels are among the most highly prized of all the wild mushrooms. The reason is plain; their taste is superb!

They evolved from a “yeast” so recently that they have not acquired a high degree of structural complexity. It is interesting that the morel is in the process of evolving from a single celled organism (a yeast) into a multicelled organism. This hasn't happened in hundreds of millions of years, and now the process is observable having begun about 50,000 years ago for the morel and continuing.

Morels grow primarily in sandy soil, never clay, unless there is a lot of organic matter near the surface. Therefore, they are usually found near rivers. They are also found scattered widely in mountain humus. They never grow in bog, because water seals out oxygen.

The habitat is usually tall trees in undisturbed environments, though morels are sometimes found in brush. In clean sand, they tend to wander some distance from trees. They sometimes come up in tall grass.

Timing is critical in finding morels. They come up about six weeks after the ground thaws. It might be eight weeks, if dry weather slows down their growth.

This means early April in the Blue Ridge Mountains, late April in Iowa and middle of May in northern Michigan. Experienced morel stalkers check an environment several times starting early and after every rain.

Morels usually come up after a rain. The day after a rain is the best time to look for them. They will still be in good shape for 3-5 days, if someone else doesn't get to them. In about a week, they start to break down, and bacteria grow on them, which will make a person sick. So don't eat morels which are old and starting to break down.

Sometimes, morels will come up in flushes each time a rain occurs. Sometimes, they will come up without a rain, but they will then be delayed a couple of weeks.

Morels are not found in the same place for more than one to three years, because they use up the type of nutrients that they require, which is a particular type of bacteria.

The best way to spread morel spores is to put the old ones on tree branches. Only the old ones have mature spores. The young ones will dry before spores are formed.

Image right: by George Barron, University of Guelph, Canada. Saddle-backed False Morel- Helvella crispa

Be careful of false morels, sometimes called brain mushrooms. They produce a toxin. It is usually not lethal in this country but should be avoided. False morels are rounder and lower to the ground, and the ridges are more rounded, like brains.

Be careful about storing morels a long time before eating, unless they are dried or precooked and frozen. Otherwise, bacteria grow on them, which can make a person sick, but not seriously ill. The bacteria are probably Psuedomonads. Store in paper bags, which absorb moisture, but avoid plastic, which causes moisture to accumulate.

Even when cooking kills bacteria, it leaves a moderately problematic endotoxin with gram negative bacteria, which grow on morels. Endotoxin is a lipid complex in the cell walls of all gram negative bacteria. It's the most common problem with food spoilage.

For recipes and more about the Morel Mushroom click here.

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Mountain Meadow Farm and Craft Market

Sammy and Sue
Sammy and Sue Shelor

Sue Shelor was born and raised in Connecticut, but her whole life changed when she met southern boy Sammy Shelor. Sue first met Sammy in 1997, in Connecticut, and a month later they saw each other again at a Pennsylvania bluegrass festival. Sammy Shelor is a well-known bluegrass musician, heading up the Lonesome River Band.

Single mom and Hunter
Sue and her young son, Hunter

Sue was a single mom with one son, Hunter, with family connections in Connecticut. She owned a business in Connecticut that was successful and enjoyed being independent. The long distance part of the relationship with Sammy, 600 miles from one driveway to the other, lasted two and a half years.

Sammy and his grandfather
Sammy Shelor and Cruise Howell, his grandfather

Sammy was born and raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, in a small community where his ancestors had settled for generations. From the time he was five years old he had been playing bluegrass banjo, with the encouragement and support of his family, especially his two grandfathers, William Cruise Howell and Sandy Samuel Shelor. Cruise Howell was a banjo player and had come from a family of mountain musicians. Sammy's career has spanned decades of success, with four consecutive International Bluegrass Musicians' Association Banjo Player of the year awards and numerous SPBGMA awards. The Lonesome River Band appears at festivals nationally and internationally, and the central location of Sammy's Meadows of Dan home, close to Nashville and his roots, prevented his considering a move to Connecticut when his relationship with Sue became more serious. After much discussion and persuasion on Sammy's part, Sue and her young son moved to Virginia. In a small country church near their new home, with family and friends and bluegrass music, Sammy and Sue were married in September of 2000.

The farm in Meadows of Dan

After the death of Sammy's paternal grandfather, Sandy Shelor, Sammy inherited the 22 acre farm where Sandy spent the largest portion of his 96 years. This lovely piece of property is located in the small community of Meadows of Dan, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway and at the intersection of Squirrel Spur Road and Highway 58. Sammy's career is demanding and he spends much of his time on the road and promoting LRB, as well as in the studio with other projects. Sammy and Sue both realized the potential of the family property as a means of improving the local economy and promoting Sue's business, Mountain Meadow Crafts. She opened the Mountain Meadow Farm and Craft Market in the summer of 2005, with a very successful craft and music festival. At the market local farmers and crafters have an opportunity to showcase their talents to the appreciative scores of tourists that come to Meadows of Dan from the Blue Ridge Parkway throughout the season.

Happy Crowd at the Chinquapin Festival
Chinquapin Festival

The Mountain Meadow Farm and Craft Market has been a great success, with monthly festivals that include music, crafts, fresh local produce and other activities. Sue is continually working on new ideas for her venture, adding activities and promotions that keep the tourists and the locals coming back for more. Her large tent will be replaced soon with a permanent pavilion, and eventually there are plans for a shop on the property for crafters to rent booth space for their quality hand crafted items. The Market is located on The Crooked Road, the music heritage trial through Southwestern Virginia. The first Meadows of Dan Corn Maze will showcase The Crooked Road logo.

Sue in her shop
Sue in her shop

Sue's business, Mountain Meadow Crafts, began when she became interested in crafting with gourds. While Sammy's gifts are musical, artistic talent runs in her family. Sue's mother is a fabulous painter, while she has a sister that's creative genius graces everything she touches. A brother is a talented woodworker and makes fine handmade furniture. Sue had dabbled with ceramics, batiking, and pencil drawing in her younger days, before the demands of motherhood and making a living took up her time.

Sue's artistic talents emerged with this new medium and she was on her way, using natural materials, woodburning, carving and other techniques to create beautiful gourd art. She has created over one hundred unique pieces, and she spends every hour she can manage in her shop, creating unusual one-of-a-kind items ranging from birdhouses to decorative items for the home.

Lucky Dog in the shop
Lucky in the studio

Cheerful dog Lucky often keeps Sue company in her studio, set up in a small building near the main house. Sue discovered that with a busy and active family, having her own space to create her specialty art was vital to her craft. Books on Tape are a favorite accompaniment to her work, or music as she assembles her pieces from an extensive collection of natural materials ranging from pine needles to shells. It's not uncommon for one of the family's three cats to wander in, stroll across the work table and then settle in to watch for a time.

Curious Kitty
Visitor to the shop

Sue finds her inspiration in the surrounding beauty of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains she now calls home. She and Hunter spend time wandering through the woods, searching for unique embellishments to enhance her lovely gourd creations. Sharing the unique heritage and natural beauty of Meadows of Dan is a goal that Sammy and Sue Shelor share, and they invite everyone to come and visit the beautiful and special little community, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway between milepost 178 and 177, right on U. S. Highway 58. Visitors will find scenic views, beautiful Bed and Breakfast homes, the well-known and beautiful rock churches of Robert Childress fame, historic sites such as Mabry's Mill, and wonderful trails to hike and explore.

The Mountain Meadow Farm and Craft Market is currently open on weekends from April to October. Located in Meadows of Dan, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway near the intersection with Highway 58, on Concord Road. Hours are 10 AM to 5 PM. Watch the Blue Ridge Gazette calendar for information about monthly festivals.

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Friday, February 24, 2006

On a Mid-Winters Eve

On a mid-winters eve, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, I walk the dirt road that ends at my house, looking, listening, hearing and breathing in all that nature offers me. A dove in the distance coos as two lithely take to wing on a whistle from the tall burnt-gold grass that borders the road. Horses whinny as I pass the field where they feed, watching me like a dog guarding his food bowl.

On the northern wind blows a chill electrifying all living things, even I have more spring in my step.

The mountains in the distant blue; the darkened wood adorned in evergreen, bejeweled with pools of sun adrift on the winds tide as day flows west.

As I turn onto an adjoining road, the soiled gravel beneath my feet, harsh in contrast to all that my senses -now in full bloom- contemplate, a young whitetail doe, harmlessly feeding on grass along the edge of the coppice, flees into the wind crossing my path no more than twenty feet in front of me. Her eyes large and the deepest of brown, holding such beauty and the wisdom of nature’s ways with an instinct of survival handed down from antediluvian ancestors. I pause to admire her tracks along the roads edge, a ritual I have performed since childhood. I cannot help but to marvel at this sign of presence left by such an amazing animal, this gift given us, an endowment, as is all life on this extraordinary planet.

If man would slow down, take notice and ponder with reason, genuinely trying to see the singularity and splendor that all of life upon this breathing orb -that we call earth- offers, how much more congenial this world would be to live in.

Another hundred yards beyond this place there joins another road bordering the land of a friend forty years my senior, and I am not a young man. Charlie Floyd, a teller of tales, both temperate and callous, has lived in these mountains for eighty-nine years and has more stories to tell than time to tell them. When time does permit, we sit beneath the tall pines over looking the hollow behind Charlie's small mobile home. There is a pond in this hollow filled with fish and loved by the local beavers and otters, migrating ducks and geese make their presence known in spring and fall.

On this day, the pond - in spite of the brisk northern wind, is as smooth as silk but for an occasional ripple, as a wisp of wind steals down the ridge to intrude upon the serenity of the lakes surface. We sit in hush, there will be no story told today exclusive of the one unfolding before our eyes. One should pause and allow their senses to guide them through the oldest story told on this earth, a story understood by few--nature’s story.

The day ends as dusk drapes this mid-winters day and I say farewell to Charlie and take the shortcut through the woods, back to the warmth of my Blue Ridge Mountain home, on a mid-winters eve.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

American Indian Influence in the Blue Ridge

Spring is on its way, and as you travel the Blue Ridge Parkway this spring and summer, look for the ruminants of our Native American friends. The Blue Ridge Parkway extends nearly 500 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains through North Carolina and Virginia; it encompasses some of the oldest settlements of pre-historic Native Americans.

The Cherokee Indians of North Carolina, and the Monacan and the now extinct, Saponi, and Tutelo Indians of western Virginia, were among the earliest inhabitants of the Blue Ridge, leaving artifacts and changes in the landscape as evidence of their existence.

Many of the fields that are still visible at the base of the mountains date back centuries, to ancient American Indian agricultural methods of burning and deadening the trees and underbrush to provide needed grazing and crop land. Mountain and river names along the Parkway also reflect the American Indian influence.

One of the best places to learn about the pre-history of the Appalachian chain in Virginia, is at the Peaks of Otter Visitor Center museum (milepost 85.9). Arrowheads and early tools found in the Peaks area are exhibited.

In North Carolina, the Parkway enters the Cherokee Indian Reservation at milepost 457.7 and features an informational display on the reservation at the Lickstone Overlook (milepost 458.9).

Images: by D L Ennis, Dancers at a Monacan Powwow

Attend the 14th Annual Monacan Powwow May 20 & 21, 2006. Click the link for more information.

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Friends of National Parks Steps Up

I recently did a post about the vandalism at the Gettysburg National Battlefield entitled “New Battle at Gettysburg.” Now Friends of National Parks in Gettysburg has established a $30,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the recent monument vandalism at Gettysburg National Military Park. The Friends reward is being offered in addition to any money offered by Adams County Crime Stoppers.

To establish the reward, the Friends teamed with the Gettysburg National Battlefield Museum Foundation, the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides and the Gettysburg Civil War Round Table.

”We are devastated by this vandalism, and we’ve heard from people all over the country who are eager to help find the people responsible,” said Friends, Chair of the Board Barbara J. Finfrock. “The monuments were placed on these fields” as testaments to bravery and sacrifice “by the soldiers who fought here, and we are honored to stand with our partners to seek justice.”

Three monuments were severely vandalized last week: the 11th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry monument, the 114th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry monument and the 4th New York battery (Smith’s battery) monument.

Anyone with information should call Gettysburg National Military Park at 717-334-0909 or the Adams County Crime Stoppers at 1-800-869-8057. Callers may remain anonymous. It is the Friends “mission on behalf of all generations of Americans” to honor, support, protect and enhance the resources associated with the Gettysburg National Military Park, the Battle of Gettysburg and the Eisenhower National Historic Site.

For more information about the Friends, call 717-334-0772 or visit Friends of Gettysburg.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006


Hello, my name is John. Since June 2005 I have been writing and editing A DC Birding Blog, in which I narrate my birding adventures and comment on environmental issues that affect the Mid-Atlantic region and the world. If you would like to learn more about my interests, I suggest that you check out my archives, starting with the posts I have linked in the left sidebar.

Earlier this week, DL Ennis, the proprietor of the Blue Ridge Gazette, invited me to join the team of bloggers he is putting together here. After giving it some thought, I gladly accepted. I am looking forward to learning more about the region and its natural history as I blog here.


The 34th National Storytelling Festival

Image: Last years NSF brochure cover.

Now is the time to make plans for the 34th National Storytelling Festival, October 6-8, 2006 in Jonesborough, Tennessee! The festival begins Friday morning and continues through Sunday afternoon.

I know that it may seem a little early to be telling you about an event that doesn’t take place until October but, if you want to go hear these fascinating tales unfold beneath big festival tents and nighttime stars, you need to purchase tickets and make hotel reservations early; this festival attracts the world's best raconteurs to regale crowds of some 10,000 people.

Over thirty years ago, a high school journalism teacher and a carload of students heard Grand Ole Opry regular Jerry Clower spin a tale over the radio about coon hunting in Mississippi. And the teacher—Jimmy Neil Smith—had a sudden inspiration: “Why not have a storytelling festival right here in Northeast Tennessee?”

On a warm October weekend in 1973 in historic Jonesborough, the first National Storytelling Festival was held. Hay bales and wagons were the stages, and audience and tellers together didn't number more than 60. It was tiny, but something happened that weekend that changed forever our culture, this traditional art form, and the little Tennessee town.

The festival, now in its 34th year and acclaimed as one of the Top 100 Events in North America has sparked a renaissance of storytelling across the country. To spearhead that revival, Smith and a few other story lovers founded the National Storytelling Association. The founding organization became the center of an ever-widening movement that continues to gain momentum to this day. Storytelling organizations, festivals, and educational events have popped up all over the world. Teachers, healthcare workers, therapists, corporate executives, librarians, spiritual leaders, parents, and others regularly make storytelling a vibrant part of their everyday lives and work.

For more information and too purchase tickets, visit the National Storytelling website.

For an interesting read and an interview with Jimmy Neil Smith click here.

And, to read, or listen to, a couple such stories written by yours truly click here.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Hiking Cold Mountain

View of Cold Mountain, Shining Rock Wilderness Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina

On bookshelves around the world you will find Cold Mountain, a best-selling novel by Charles Frazier, whose lyrical prose makes you feel as if you have been to the summit. In the book, Inman, a wounded Confederate solider, leaves his hospital bed and heads home, on foot, to Cold Mountain.

An excerpt from Cold Mountain--

Inman can see west for scores of miles. Crests and scarp and crags stacked and grey to the long horizon. Catalucci, the Cherokee word was, meaning waves and mountains and fading roads, this day the waves could hardly be different from the raw winter sky that were barred and marbled and same-shades of gray only. The outlook stretched high and low like a great slab of streaked meat…it was to Cold Mountain he looked. He had achieved a vista of what for him was homeland.

You can find the real Cold Mountain in North Carolina’s Shining Rock Wilderness, which was originally part of the Cherokee Nation until white settlers with a land grant from the state began migrating here in 1796. At 6,030 feet, it is the tallest peak in the wilderness area. Located in the Pisgah National Forest, Cold Mountain hasn’t changed much since the Civil War in which the book is set.

At milepost 412.2 on the parkway, about 30 miles from Asheville, is where you’ll get your first glimpse of the peak. The best views of the mountain’s south face are from the Wagon Gap Road parking area. Thousands of travelers have had their pictures taken beside the Cold Mountain sign with the peak in the background.

If you want an up-close and personal encounter with Cold Mountain, strap on your best hiking boots and pack and plenty of food and water for the invigorating 10.6-mile hike. Hikers gain 2,800 feet in altitude as they leave the Art Loeb trailhead at the Daniel Boone Scout Camp, heading for Cold Mountain’s summit. You’ll reach plummeting Sorrell Creek about two miles into the hike, a cold, clear mountain stream that passes by some excellent campsites.

The trail ascends to marvelously forested Shining Rock Ledge, past Deep Gap and up the final 1.5 miles to the summit. A tangle of rhododendron can make reaching the top a challenge. Only experienced hikers who have maps and a compass should try this hike since this is a wilderness area with no signs or trail markers.

There is no town named Cold Mountain here at the peak, only the wildlife, the forest, the coves and creeks that Frazier described so vividly in his novel. But on a clear, cool North Carolina autumn afternoon, what could be better than this place of quiet contemplation?

Directions too reach the trailhead to the Cold Mountain summit, drive through the Scout Camp. It begins on the left, just past the last building.

Directions from Asheville via I-40: (Approximately 35 miles) Take I-40 West to exit 33. Turn left on Newfound Road toward Canton. Go 1.6 miles, turn left at the stoplight in front of the big paper plant. Go a short distance and turn right on Church Street. Follow 19/23 south through downtown and turn left onto NC Highway 110. Go 5.3 miles, and Highway 110 will turn into NC Highway 215. Continue for 5 miles. Turn left onto Little East Fork Road. Go 3.8 miles to the Scout Camp.

Directions from Asheville via the Blue Ridge Parkway: (Approximately 53 miles) At Milepost 423.2, take NC Highway 215 and go 13 miles north. Turn right onto Little East Fork Road. Go 3.8 miles to the Scout Camp.
There is also a Scenic Driving Loop

This approximately 85-mile loop drive combines the two below routes for the beginning of the Cold Mountain hiking trail. It is a beautiful, hilly, curvy drive through a very rural mountain area. Allow 3-4 hours. This section of the Blue Ridge Parkway is closed for much of the winter.

*Travel south on the Blue Ridge Parkway. For the best view of Cold Mountain, stop to hike Mt. Pisgah at Milepost 407. Continue south on the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopping at Cold Mountain overlook at Milepost 411.9. (See above "Best Places to View.")
*At Milepost 423.2, take NC Highway 215 north for 13 miles.
*If you want to drive an extra 8 miles roundtrip to go to the base of the hiking trail, turn right onto Little East Fork Road. Views of the mountain are limited.
*Continue for 5 miles. NC Highway 215 will turn into Highway 110. Continue 5.3 miles.
*In Canton, turn right onto Highway 19/23 north.
*Turn left onto Church Street, and right on Newfound Road.
*Go 1.6 miles to I-40 East to return to Asheville.

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Farming as My Way of Life

Farming as My Way of Life

The first half of the 20th century found people leaving the family farm in droves. This was due, in part, to the heavy physical labor required and the perception that life would be easier and more (financially) rewarding off the farm.

Ironically, the second half of that same century found people leaving their city jobs and returning to the farm for exactly the same reasons as their parents had left. People have found out for themselves, as well as finding out the hard way, that work accomplished with their own hands and heart is more rewarding than the work accomplished simply for a paycheck. That honest work contributes to an honorable way of life and when we are worthy stewards over God's gift of creation, we reap rewards and benefits only dreamt of in office cubicles.

The back to the land movement of the 1960's continues into the twenty-first century with the numbers of family, small, hobby and female farmers comprising the majority of new farmers. Women, especially, have become the new pioneers in the farming movement and sheep, goats, rabbits and other small livestock make up their new farms. In the Commonwealth of Virginia alone, women farmers number 19,500 and, as a population, are growing faster than the decline of the traditional male farmer. Yet, overall, in the USA farmers are fewer than 2% of the population.

We would do well to remember Maslow's Heirarchy of, shelter and clothing are *needs*, everything else is a want.

My kith and kin first settled the Appalachian Mountains in the mid-1700's and became farmers and shepherds. Both sides of my family have always had a milk cow or two, chickens for both eggs and pot, hogs, sheep, beehives and gardens. In Les Hamrick's book, Roots & Wings - The Family Record of Benjamin Hamrick, one of the cover photos is of my female relative, Jane Hamrick. She's in what might be her best dress, seated in her garden spinning a long draw at her Saxony spinning wheel. What's remarkable is her Saxony spinning wheel could be the twin of the Reeves Saxony wheel on which I spin while seated in my sunroom, overlooking the horses, sheep and cattle grazing the Appalachian mountain pastures.

My logo is a 1934 photo of my Daddy, Ellsworth James Bennett. He's kneeling on the ground with his arms encircling twin black lambs. Twin black lambs were a rarity because, at birth, they would usually be killed, stripped of their pelts and then sold to Miss Viola. She would turn those pelts into a French Mouton Fur Coat and then sell the coats to rich New York City women. Daddy was the baby boy and allowed to keep those twin least for a time.

Appalachian Wool Works - Happy Sheep Make Beautiful Wool is my nod of the head to my kith and kin. Of course they would have eaten their sheep as well as used their fleeces and sold both to market but my darlings have no such worries. My sheep are fleece providers only and are well known for their fleece luxuriousness, length, strength and beauty. Like people, when sheep have low stress, the right food and nutrients and drink from crystal clear mountain rivers, they respond by giving their absolute best.

When a woman becomes a first time farmer, rancher or shepherd, she finds out she's, generally, considered to be an anomaly. She has to prove herself in the areas of livestock whereas with crops it's usually a different story. Crops are somehow equated to gardens and gardens to herb gardens and kitchens where, traditionally, women have reigned. Crops in the field and livestock have been a man's domain and he's sometimes a bit reluctant to relinquish his pun intended.

I've found younger men to be more accepting of me as a farmer and shepherd. Perhaps this is because they see me as a Grandmother figure and they want to lend a helping hand more? I don't know and it really doesn't matter just as long as they keep coming 'round to help out. One young man, James, is very protective and is always calling to ask, "what'cha need help with this week?" He's helped with my sheep by de-worming, feet trimming, shearing and is going to help with fencing and barn repair this spring. A young couple, Danny and Tammy, share both the work and the reward when it's time to cut, kick, bale and put up hay. Ken and Joey have also pitched in when I’ve been in desperate need.

Whoever is here at mealtime puts their feet under my table. It’s the way I was raised and I see no need to change. Millionaires and farm hands have sit down to a table groaning with food and, hopefully, the experience has made us all better. Perhaps that’s one reason why I’ve almost never been without help - people know they will eat and eat well thorough out the day.

The Internet has increased my market from locally (where I struggled to sell anything) to worldwide where I'm known for the quality of my fleeces and my rare breed American Curly horses. The horses number around 4,000 in the world and are known for being hypoallergenic and calm with exceptionally gentle dispositions and temperaments. People from Norway, Japan, Canada and all over the US have visited Thistle Cove Farm because they are interested in a horse that doesn't disturb their allergies.

The Internet has also allowed me to enlarge my personal world as well as my worldview and, I hope, has made me a better person. It has allowed me to sell fiber, goods and horses all over the world and has given me many friendships and has taken me to places I never dreamed of visiting. It’s helped many of my dreams come true.

Since I was six years old I've known I wanted to farm and that dream came true when we bought Thistle Cove Farm in the Appalachian Mountains of southwestern Virginia. It took more than four decades but God gave me the desire of my young heart. The lesson of tightly holding onto hope continues to serve me well as farmer and shepherd.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Greenberry House

Greenberry House at Chinquapin Festival
Greenberry House at Chinquapin Festival,
Meadows of Dan, Virginia

The story of Greenberry House, my little business, begins with my great-grandmother's spinning wheel. It sat in a corner of my grandparents' house and survived a couple of generations of playful children who had no real idea of its use or real meaning. I shudder to think these days how often we played with it, turning the wheel by hand at speeds it was never meant to attain. Somehow it survived intact, and as we grew up it stood quiet, treasured by my grandfather because it had belonged to his mother. Eventually it wound up in the attic, and I grew up and went away, forgetting it.

Even though the spinning wheel was forgotten, I was always involved with some sort of craft. As a child I was surrounded by talented people that created beautiful work. My mother's mother was a talented seamstress and quilter, while her father was a woodworker that made beautiful musical instruments. My father's mother was an artist, and so was his sister. Many cousins possessed creative talents as well. I grew up thinking that creating was a natural part of life. Many of the family items in the homes around me were hand made, with purpose, skill and beauty. Quilts, tables, beds, chairs, rugs, tools and other necessities were crafted to last by necessity and with beauty out of the pleasure of creation.

I spent a few years wandering the East Coast, but the call of home was always there, and soon I traveled back to the Blue Ridge Mountains where I was raised, determined to stay and make a place for myself, and a living. While I was away I learned to spin on a drop spindle, with the dog hair I harvested from a cheerful Samoyed dog that was my constant companion during long Maine winters. When I came home I started working at Poor Farmer's Market, a unique country store in Meadows of Dan. I became the gift buyer for the shop and thoroughly enjoyed the work, which was creative and demanding. I put aside my spindle for a time, concentrating on the shop and enjoying the success of a small country store that has grown to be a tourist attraction.

Greenberry House and Iris Garden
Homeplace, Meadows of Dan, Virginia

I moved into my Grandfather Shelor's house in Meadows of Dan in 1994, and in 1999 my mother gave me my great-grandmother's spinning wheel. I learned to spin, teaching myself with some wool I found at a farm in West Virginia. Great-grandma Loucinda's wheel was a little fussy; age had taken a toll but with care and coaxing I could make yarn and I was hooked. I fell in love with angora wool when I tried it on my spindle and soon I had three wonderful German Angora rabbits to start my rabbitry.

Greenberry House Bunny

The name "Greenberry House" was suggested by a cousin for my rabbitry. Greenberry Steadham was a great-grandfather on my father's side. At first I only planned to keep a few rabbits for myself, but first the bunnies sold well and then the fiber. Right after I bought the angoras I started looking after my grandfather Shelor full-time, working a few hours at night and staying with him during the day and through many nights. My income dropped drastically during this time, and in casting about for ways to make ends meet I found success selling books, bunnies and fiber on my web site. I was able to get away occasionally to deliver bunnies, when my brother's busy family had a few days to spare.

Sweet Faced Autumn Joy
Greenberry's Autumn Joy

By the time my grandfather died after a long decline, the bunnies and books were of necessity supporting most of my needs. I was limited as to what I could do while I stayed with him, but as the business grew I realized I would need to put more time and effort into it. I began working full time with the Internet business, shearing bunnies and designing original pieces that I hand crochet from fibers grown here on the farm, or at nearby farms by other fiber artists. Several times a year I vend at craft shows, and the Mountain Meadow Farm and Craft Market has opened here on the farm, with festivals throughout the summer. I now spin on a modern Reeves wheel, a beautiful hand crafted piece, when I go to shows and for fine fibers. But great-grandma's wheel is still operating well, especially if I want to spin a bulkier yarn that really looks handspun. I also have an antique walking wheel and use some other antique tools to create my hand spun yarns.

Rainbow Shadow
Hand Painted Merino/Angora Yarn

The next step for my business is opening a shop here next to the Parkway, with books, crafts and collectibles as part of my stock. I plan to move my studio from my house into the shop building, where visitors can see my work. Perhaps a friendly bunny will live there as well. My brother, who owns the family farm now, and his wife have plans for a craft shop, a corn maze and other projects here that will benefit the community and my little venture as well. I hope to have my shop open by May 1, 2006.

Winter Shadows
Hand Dyed Alpaca and Natural Angora
Hand Crocheted Cape

The traditional ways of making a living in Meadows of Dan for countless generations have been subsistence farming, shopkeeping and milling, while a few individuals used their talents as carpenters or blacksmiths to support themselves and their families. Just a few generations ago flocks of sheep grazed on the hills in the Busted Rock section of Meadows of Dan, and the wool was used for necessary clothing, rugs, coverlets, and other textiles. My generation and the generation before mine mostly left the farm, turning to factories or leaving the area for higher paying positions in many fields. Those that remain, and have come back, are discovering that factory jobs are few, and that in many cases we have to make our own opportunities for supporting ourselves. For me to be able to make a living here, using the skills of my forefathers, is an opportunity I treasure.

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The Southern Appalachian Mountains

Image by, D L Ennis, The James River in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

The forests of the Southern Appalachian Mountains are among the oldest and most biologically diverse forests in the world. Sheathing some of the most ancient mountain ranges on earth, the forests of the Southern Appalachian Mountains have served as the heart of evolution for many of North America’s plant and animal species. The geologic and climatic stability of the region over the past 65 million years has afforded sanctuary during extraordinary climate changes, permitting species to weather ice ages and then repopulate in the wake of receding glaciers. The forests of the Southern Appalachian Mountains are currently home to more than 20,000 species of plants and animals.

There are 4.6 million acres of National Forests in the Southern Appalachian Mountains ranging from Virginia to northwest Alabama, offering recreational opportunities, within a day’s drive, to over half of the population of the United States. The wild and magnificent mountainous Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia adds another 900,000 acres of public lands to the network. Southern Appalachian National Forests also include the Thomas Jefferson and George Washington National Forests in Virginia, Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests in North Carolina, the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee, the Francis Marion and Sumter National Forest in South Carolina, Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest in Georgia and the Bankhead and Talladega National Forests in Alabama.

The Southern Appalachian National Forests contain 728,487 acres of road-less wilderness which provides refuge to an extraordinary natural legacy: more tree species than in all of Europe; hundreds of native vertebrates, from the mighty black bear to the petite, endangered blue shiner; over half the flowering plants and ferns in North America; abundant migratory songbirds; numerous salamanders; and, one of the greatest intensity of aquatic diversity in the world.

However, as stunning, rare and valuable as the Southern Appalachian National Forests are they still face numerous threats from the Bush Administration’s corporate welfare policies, including increased commercial logging, continued conversion of native forest to pine plantation, oil and gas development, and the negative impacts of illegal motorized vehicle recreation on the forests.

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Bird Watching in the Blue Ridge

Image by, D L Ennis, an immature Cedar Waxwing not long out of the nest.

Bird watching is a fascinating pastime and hobby as well as an entertaining and educational way to spend time with your children. Too many young people are completely out of touch with nature these days, and this needs to change if our wild lands and wildlife are to be preserved for future generations.

In the Blue Ridge Mountains we have an incredible array of birds; some are year round residents, like the Chickadee and the Carolina Wren while others are seasonal residents like the Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Wood Thrush.

There is a wonderful loop trail in the Blue Ridge Highlands that affords an opportunity to see many of our wild birds as well as wildlife and historical sites.

Most of the sites on this loop are in and around Carroll County in the Blue Ridge Highlands. Loop sites span from the New River along the Blue Ridge Parkway to Major J.E.B. Stuart’s Birthplace, and end at two wildlife management areas near the City of Galax. The drive between each site is scenic and can provide extensive wildlife watching opportunities from the road (be careful, drivers!). White-tailed deer are abundant throughout this area, as are woodchuck and eastern chipmunk. Some of these sites, such as Major J.E.B. Stuart’s Birthplace and the Shot Tower Historical State Park, offer a rich historical experience as well. Other sites, such as Devil’s Den Nature Preserve, relay their ancient histories through their fascinating geological characteristics.

Click here for an enlarged, print-quality map (PDF)
NOTE: This file is very large and may take several minutes to download, depending on your connection.

For an interesting site on Bird Watching, I recommend A DC Birding Blog.

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Saturday, February 18, 2006

Making a Living in Southwestern Virginia

Family farm, Meadows of Dan

For as long as I can remember, tourism has been a major influence on the area where I grew up. The Blue Ridge Parkway, built along the high ridge in sight of my house, was one of three major construction projects during the 1920s and 1930s that opened a once isolated region to the world. Men came in with the builders, married local girls, and some stayed, while some moved on with their new families. They left behind a community that was changed. With incomes affected by chestnut blight and with an easier way to travel, people began to find other ways of making a living that took them off the small family farm. Some people traveled to the textile mills, while others ventured into the coal fields. The Depression made little difference to the small communities that depended on subsistence farming, but World War II drew even more farm boys away from the mountains.

While natives were leaving the area, tourism began to build on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Travelers passed through, attracted particularly by Mabry's Mill, a unique attraction just a mile from Meadows of Dan. For many years tourists were not a part of the local economy. Eventually as land became available from fading family farms, visitors bought property and built vacation homes in the hills that they had been admiring from the Parkway. A few local entrepreneurs noticed the flow of money that was cruising past, and set up shop at the crossroads to serve the tourists and support themselves. A once sleepy village is now a booming tourist center, especially in the beautiful months of fall.

The modern traveler wants more than pretty scenery. She's looking for an experience and the communities along the Parkway that offer unique shops, music and other entertainment are making a success of tourism. But the shops can only do so much. With family farms in trouble and making a living growing more and more difficult in Southwestern Virginia, a changing landscape may drive the tourists away. Urban sprawl is affecting tourism in more traditional historic areas. While Southwestern Virginia isn't affected to those extents, the loss of the family farm as well as the loss of the local people will leave very little for tourists to enjoy.

Mountain Meadow Crafts Studio
Sue Shelor, Gourd Artist, Mountain Meadow Crafts

There are no easy answers to the problems facing any economy with limited resources. But tourism has become a way for this little community to survive. New inititives like Round the Mountain, an artisan's guild, and The Crooked Road, a traditional music trail, are beginning to offer means to promote artisans and musicians so that they can make a living doing what they love, and benefit their communities with tourist dollars. It's an exciting time for a community that was once made up of farmers, millers and shopkeepers. Traditional arts and farming are once again becoming a possible means of making a living in Meadows of Dan.

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Friday, February 17, 2006

Congress May Expand Trail of Tears

Painting by Robert Lindneux (Woolaroc Museum)

The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail commemorates the removal of the Cherokee and the paths that 17 Cherokee detachments followed westward. Today the trail encompasses about 2,200 miles of land and water routes, and traverses portions of nine states.

The National Park Service Thursday endorsed a proposed study of adding perhaps 2,000 miles of land and water routes to the current Trail of Tears National Historic Trail through nine states.

The agency already works to preserve 2,200 miles of federally designated trails to educate the country about the tragic relocation of 16,000 Cherokee Indians from homes mostly in Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia. They were forced in the winter of 1838-39 to march about 800 miles to newly designated Indian Territory in what became Oklahoma, and more than 4,000 reportedly died.

"The Department (of the Interior) recognizes the importance of telling the complete story of the Trail of Tears," John Parsons, associate regional director of the Park Service, told the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks.

You can read the rest of the story here.

The Legend of the Cherokee Rose

No better symbol exists of the pain and suffering of the Trail Where They Cried than the Cherokee Rose. The mothers of the Cherokee grieved so much that the chiefs prayed for a sign to lift the mother's spirits and give them strength to care for their children. From that day forward, a beautiful new flower, a rose, grew wherever a mother's tear fell to the ground. The rose is white, for the mother's tears. It has a gold center, for the gold taken from the Cherokee lands, and seven leaves on each stem that represent the seven Cherokee clans that made the journey. To this day, the Cherokee Rose prospers along the route of the "Trail of Tears".

"I would sooner be honestly damned than hypocritically immortalized"
--Davy Crockett

His political career destroyed because he supported the Cherokee, he left Washington D. C. and headed west to Texas.

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Out of the Blue Zone

Out of the Blue Zone is a new feature on the Blue Ridge Gazette. We will take a look at things going on in other regions of our natural world. Today, Queensland, Australian and Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA.

Fooling with Mother Nature

What happens when we fool with Mother Nature can be devastating to our environment; and usually is! First, Bufo marinus (cane toad) in Queensland, Australia. Then, the nutria, (Myocastor coypus) and the gaffe in the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

A poisonous cane toad sits on a keeper's hand at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney. The cane toad (Bufo marinus).

”Darwin's nightmare: Toxic toad evolves to secure supremacy”

PARIS (AFP) - He's fat, ugly and poisonous -- and he's mutating. He's the cane toad (Bufo marinus), a species which was introduced into the Australian state of Queensland 70 years ago to tackle insect pests in canefields and has since become an ecological catastrophe.

Weighing in at to up two kilos (4.4 pounds), the unwanted anuran has extended its range to more than a million square kilometers (386,000 square miles) in tropical and sub-tropical Australia, crushing native species in its relentless advance.

A team of University of Sydney toad watchers positioned themselves on the front line of the invasion, 60 kilometers (35 miles) east of the city of Darwin, and for 10 months caught toads, some of which they radiotagged and let loose again.

They were astonished to find that the creatures can hop up to 1.8 kms (1.1 miles) a night during wet weather, a record for any frog or toad.

To read the rest of this story click here.

Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge

I grew up primarily in Virginia Beach, Virginia and spent a great amount of time at the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, fishing, hunting and trapping.

Back Bay Refuge contains over 8,000 acres, situated on and around a thin strip of coastline typical of barrier islands found along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Habitats include beach, dunes, woodland, farm fields, and marsh. The majority of refuge marshlands are on islands contained within the waters of Back Bay.

The varied habitats at Back Bay Refuge provide food and cover for mammals such as river otters, white-tailed deer, mink, opossums, raccoons, and the red fox Nutria, introduced to the United States from South America in the early 1900's are common in refuge marshlands. Other non-native species include feral horses and pigs. These animals compete with native species for food and cover, and are responsible for negative impacts to the managed environment. Nutria damage dikes through burrowing activity; pigs uproot valuable marsh vegetation; and horses trample plants and litter the area with their droppings.

In the 1960’s a bounty was put on the nutria, (Myocastor coypus), is a large semi-aquatic rodent. They were brought in from South America for two reasons, the fur trade and in hopes of controlling the Muskrat, which was doing a lot of damage to marshlands through their burrowing. Nutria nest and were thought to nest above ground and not to be burrowing. Instead they used the tunnels that the Muskrats created only, because of the nutria’s size, the tunnels grew larger; result, even more damage. (Nutria weigh an average of 12.0 pounds (5.4 kg).

In addition to their size, adding to the damage problems, nutria are prolific breeders.

They breed year round and are extremely prolific. Males reach sexual maturity between 4 and 9 months, whereas, females reach sexual maturity between 3 and 9 months. Sexual maturity may vary with habitat quality. With a gestation period of only 130 days, in one year, an adult nutria can produce two litters and be pregnant for a third. The number of young in a litter ranges from 1-13 with an average of 4.5 young. Females can breed within a day of having a litter. Litter size can vary with age of female, habitat quality and time of year. The young nutria at birth are fully furred and the eyes are open. Newborn nutria feed on vegetation within hours and will nurse for 7-8 weeks.

Also, nutria predominately feed on the base of plant stems and dig for roots and rhizomes in the winter. They often construct circular platforms of compacted, coarse emergent vegetation, which they use for feeding, birthing, resting and grooming. Nutria may also construct burrows in levees, dikes and embankments.

Will we ever learn to leave Mother Nature alone?

Note: I no longer hunt or trap, and rarely go fishing; usually for native trout.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

New Battle at Gettysburg

There is a new battle being fought at Gettysburg, a battle against vandals. What makes people do these things? It is repugnant and disgraceful!

Vandals damaged monuments and removed parts of sculpture at the Gettysburg National Military Park in the third such incident in a little over a year.

Two bronze sculptures honoring New York and Pennsylvania soldiers were dragged from their places, and a sword is missing from a sculpture honoring Massachusetts infantry, park spokeswoman Katie Lawhon said Thursday.

The bronze head of an artilleryman figure was removed at the New York monument, she said. The vandalism occurred late Wednesday or early Thursday.

You can read the rest of the story here.

Gettysburg National Military Park:

Gettysburg National Military Park is located 50 miles northwest of Baltimore, the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was the site of the largest battle ever waged during the American Civil War. Fought in the first three days of July 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg resulted in a hallmark victory for the Union "Army of the Potomac" and successfully ended the second invasion of the North by General Robert E. Lee's "Army of Northern Virginia". Historians have referred to the battle as a major turning point in the war, the "High Water Mark of the Confederacy". It was also the bloodiest single battle of the war, resulting in over 51,000 soldiers killed, wounded, captured or missing.

Image: Enlisted Men's Tent

These items in the tent were typically used by two enlisted Union soldiers in a field camp. The enlisted men's tent depicts food and cooking utensils, cards, pipe, rubber blanket, and other items.

The rubber blanket spread on the ground was a prized piece of equipment for G.F. Wiltshire, 4th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry. He used it as a waterproof ground cloth or poncho.
The hook lying on the large cooking pot is a ramrod bent to serve as a pot hook. It was found in a Civil War fire pit near Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

Near the front of the tent is a package of hardtack in its original heavy waxpaper wrapping.

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Backyard Bird Count for 2006

I was just viviting a wonderful birding blog, "A DC Birding Blog" and John over there has a great article called "The Great Backyard Bird Count for 2006." Check it out and while you are there look around, if you are into birds you will love this blog!

Here is an excerpt from "The Great Backyard Bird Count for 2006":

The Great Backyard Bird Count for 2006 is coming up this weekend, February 17-20. The GBBC is one of several "citizen science" projects that are coordinated by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Like the Christmas Bird Count and mid-winter counts run by local birding clubs, the GBBC aims to establish bird population and distribution. What sets the GBBC apart is that this count provides a nationwide picture of bird populations over a single weekend, rather than the two-week period of the CBCs or the local picture of the mid-winter counts. The late February date places the GBBC at a time when most birds are on their wintering ground - after fall migration is done and before spring migration is taking off.

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