Mountain Lake(less)

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Mountain Lake (on Salt Pond Mountain) in Giles County, Virginia, was familiar territory once upon a time. I took five-week-long studies at the UVa Biological Station there in the summers of 1977 and 1978.

I have been back a few times since, doing author tables maybe twice. The last time I was there, I think there was still a lake. Last week’s visit was sad: there is now no lake at all.

Memories abolished by cataclysm, “progress” or decay are bitter sweet.

I remember diving off the large boulder nearest to what used to be the center of the lake. This part of the lake was called the Garden of the Gods. The water was unbelievably cold–even in July.

This, by the way, is (or was) one of only TWO naturally occurring lakes in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The other is Lake Drummond, in Dismal Swamp. At least that is what I have stated as being accurate and think it to be true (vs alternative) fact.

A trail follows the perimeter of the lake. I’ve walked it many times, finding amazing bird life, which, like human visitors, came for the water.

If you know of the Lodge (off image far right) it might be because it was the site of filming for some of Dirty Dancing.

I’ve told the geological story of the lake before, I know, but I can’t locate it just now. You can read some of the history of the lake and the lodge here.

 

 

The Fading Faint Colors of Fall

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It has not been a spectacular year for fall colors in our part of the Southern Appalachians.

The prolonged late-summer drought seems likely to have contributed to the subdued palette, but the alchemy of autumn is a many-splendored mystery with regard to the exact combination of temperature and moisture and sun and wind and plant attitude.

So we did not expect and did not see spectacular maples, hickories or beech on the parkway in our short walk a few days back. But there is color in places not seen from a tourist’s vehicle. You can find it if you look for it. Even the understory B-string of fall has something to show in its way out.

Here, the summer greens of cinnamon ferns fade to reveal the other-than-chlorophyll pigments that contribute to the work of photosynthesis. And another year concludes–at least above ground–until the days lengthen again in another six long-night short-day months.

When The Bottom Falls Out of the Food Web

Single blister beetle hanging out, ready to make whoopie.

Most people might think it’s a good thing–that there are demonstrably and significantly fewer insects than there were three decades ago.

But consider that these morels are critical links between the primary producers (grasses and other greenery that turns sun into food) and the chain of upper-tier eaters that depend on insect biomass to keep their own bodies warm and populations from crashing.

Scientists have long suspected that insects are in dramatic decline, but new evidence confirms this.

Research at more than 60 protected areas in Germany suggests flying insects have declined by more than 75% over almost 30 years.
And the causes are unknown.

“This confirms what everybody’s been having as a gut feeling – the windscreen phenomenon where you squash fewer bugs as the decades go by,” said Caspar Hallmann of Radboud University in The Netherlands.

“This is the first study that looked into the total biomass of flying insects and it confirms our worries.”

I always monitor the goldenrod of September as a kind of biological clock telling me where we are on the celestial rotatation towards autumn. In particular, there is a tan blister beetle that uses this plant as a “hooking up” spot, to meet, greet, eat and procreate.

There are usually numerous pairs on every plant around the edge of the garden. This year, there were four pairs–total. I could go on with similar stories about other insects gone missing.

Turns out our canary in the cage might be an insect after all. 

Saturday Shorts

►I often thought, when looking up at a crop of walnuts, that it would hurt mightily to be hit by one of those things. I was right. A glancing blow and no permanent damage done, but this time of year, wear protective clothing in walnut country. You were warned.

►And there are a gazillion nuts just waiting–a heavy mast year, and the oldtimers would say, this tells all the critters it’s gonna be a hard winter. The Good Lord is making sure there’s enuff for them what needs nuts and seeds and the like. But at this point, not winter by a long shot.

►We still have tomatos growing in the garden in early October. Unheard of!

►Speaking of glancing blows, that seems to about all we should expect from the (by then) Tropical Depression named after our son, Nathan. We really, really need the rain so hoping for at least a few inches.

►Life with two dogs continues to offer its ups and downs. The downs tend to happen in the very wee hours; and when a car goes by. We have work to do in the dog training department.

[Update from the moment: Dingo just sat when he heard a truck coming. He was promptly rewarded for this happy accident.] Pity us that dog training is not the only arena where we have work to do, and there, we’re getting way too much help–when hanging clothes, gathering wood, stomping walnuts. Dingo insinuates himself into all arenas. After all, he IS family now.

►Back to walnuts by the gazillions: there are a couple off hundred off that number in the trees now, because they have been “stomped” in our gravel parking space. There, they await the upcoming rains to soften them for the several stages between busted up on the ground and meats extracted, dry and stored for cookies and cakes. This last step, my mother has actually requested–a familiar duty, from a long history of shelling bushels of peas and picking PEEcans.

Urban Legend Anonymous Patron of the Arts

copy and use rights granted

Not surprisingly, I came to discover that there is no one by that name with a PO box in that small Blue Ridge mountain town whose name and zipcode appeared on the envelope.

The namesake of the purported sender was never seen again, nor the cool million he left the plane with, though some reports say some of it was found in an eroded riverbank decades later.

So the crisp, uncirculated 20s in the envelope might have been part of that loot, I thought, as I read the two sides of the interior of the card last week.

No mention was made of books or note cards to purchase–just 10 bills tucked in, with the final explanation that he and his wife also had disagreements about the thermostat–as in Solomon’s Sheets in Slow Road Home:

“Go buy yourself some new sheets.”

So thank you very much, Mr. Cooper, I am not surprised that, with your suitcase full of money you could go anywhere in the world, but you ended up just there, in that peaceful, rural mountain hideout.

That you are a supporter of starving artists I think speaks well for your sensibilities, in spite of your law-breaking, authority-flaunting past.

And let me just offer, lest I am tempted to resort to Google Ads, that anyone else who wants to sustain a wordsmith by underwriting the yearly subscription  for sundry app services and software purchases towards book #3, crisp bills are accepted. Also paypal transfers to my regular email you probably already have. Heck, I’m a new believer in the Good Fairy!

PS: the bills, crisp and never-before-used, were issued in 2009, and so NOT a part of the missing fortune from the 1970s that parachuted into obscurity.

PSS: I truly am awed and speechless by your gift, Mr. Cooper, and will be accountable to use it wisely towards whatever words I left to share that are worth the paper they are printed on. No promises, but I might just have enough brain cells left to get the job done. And those old hybrid sheets have, just now matter of fact, come apart at the seams.