Photos and Front Porch Musing from Floyd County Virginia
Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee. ~ John Donne
Puffins: I’ve never seen one, but I feel their pain–a pain that they suffer, but not in the way that we suffer, knowing; dreading; blaming; lamenting the ends that we have created for ourselves by the ways we have treated the “least of these…”
This is a long and complex, insightful and sad bit of research (American Prospect) highlights the tangled webs that bring down clusters of species–or entire Orders over not much more time–of creatures in their webs of inter-relationship.
This kind of linkage is what John Donne expressed in his poem, though not likely in his mind extending beyond the Home Team species he belonged to.
I continue to advocate for a shift from the individual “pursuit of happiness” to the collective “ecology of well-being” as an end of our civilization’s measure of success. It would take the emphasis away from solely our perceived satisfaction of having (usually in this country MORE than) enough to a focus on the impact of all our actions on the health of all species in all biomes across present and future times.
Tl, dr. I’d hope maybe in time somebody will find this post and actually read–and then actually internalize the message in this article about Puffins.
Because I my interest in the topic had been ramped way up by a SustainFloyd Movie Night last year, I stopped my morning browse-fest to read an article from Ensia (highly recommended environmental journalism and news source!)
Scroll down in that article to the animated depiction (header image above, from millions of geo-data points) of container ship movements, plus the cargos they are carrying on any given day. Scroll around the globe, zoom in, and ponder. For sure, you received an Amazon delivery that was carried on one of those moving dots.
Be sure and click the PLAY button to hear an informative narrative about the present and future of getting our STUFF from China and other non-local sources.
Some of you Floyd folk viewed the movie called Freightened: The Real Price of Shipping. For many of us, it was shocking and sobering. I know it made me realize in a more informed way when I passed a tractor-trailer hauling a MAERSK container somewhere on I-81—where it had come from and what it represented. The globalization of commerce rides on pallets stacked in containers and containers stacked ten-high and thirty long by industrial robots in a shipping yard in Norfolk or Shanghai.
I wrote about palletized containerized business-as-usual at some length, and posted that at medium in May of last year:The Story of (Moving) Stuff
The fact that the International Maritime Organization is actually making progress on the industry’s energy-and-resource footprint is encouraging. Imagine some day our children may see giant sails moving their widgets silently into port.
Every autumn, I tend to get a little bump in book sales.
This autumn, I’m pleased to let visiting leaf-peepers know that my books can be found in an additional location: the new Maggie Gallery at the corner of Route 8 (Locust Street) and Oxford Street, across from the bank parking lot.
Ron’s artwork and crafts are familiar to and appreciated by many in Floyd County. And now he and wife Lenny are hosting the work and crafts of others in a fine old home right in the middle of Floyd.
Another reason to visit Maggie Gallery soon: You get a bonus when you buy one of my books: a copy of the pen and ink drawing of our barn by Ron Campbell (while supplies last)–an image that he graciously allowed me to use for the front pages of my second book, What We Hold in Our Hands. This is really a very generous compliment to me from the owners, and a high-value bonus to you, the patrons of the gallery!
I happened through a fairly mature oak-hickory forest on the grounds of Warm Hearth Retirement Community yesterday. With the road being surfaced, the woods became the alternative route to my car parked well beyond the paving trucks.
I smelled them before I saw them–an amazing assortment, probably a dozen species–of mushroom, flushed into the above-ground world by the ample rains we have had since Florence passed through a few weeks back.
Gathered, the three clusters of Hen-of-the-Woods would have totalled probably 10 pounds. They were in very good condition. I have never eaten them. Many have. Why didn’t I fetch at least ONE of these clusters home?
In an earlier column I confessed my (and my hapless wife’s) checkered association with snakes and so I suppose it’s a short step to admit that I also have an inordinate admiration as well for insects—for joint-legged animals (arthropods) in general, I suppose, even including spiders.
There. I’ve said it. They have fascinated me for countless hours over the course of a long life as a bug-watcher.
In miniature, inside an armor-plated exoskeleton of a crayfish or millipede, wasp or butterfly exists all the working parts—muscles, nerves, vessels, cells, tissues organs—that sustain a human or an elephant on a larger scale of space and time.
Here on the planet long before us, the insects have become specialists with marvelously unique job descriptions or “niches” in their inherited life settings of desert sand or ocean floor, under tree bark or pasture soil. Let me just describe a few of them to you from those we find along Goose Creek in September.
A thoughtful neighbor brought me a gigantic immature insect in a bucket last week. Oh Joy! It had been years since I’d seen a Hickory Horned Devil—a hideously beautiful caterpillar that might just as well have come direct from the lot of a B-grade science fiction movie as from a modern-day forest floor.
This blue-green sausage-sized monster is the unlikely preparatory stage required to build the elegant Regal Moth, a beast and beauty story if ever there was one. You’d hardly think something lovely could come from the intentional ugliness designed into this largest of North American caterpillars with its orange, re-curved and thorny “antlers” (which actually are harmless to touch).
Today’s beleaguered forests are not the same as the undisturbed forests to which these creatures have adapted over their long history and this species—an intimate forest dweller—is one of many insects in decline across the country. So if you find one, show it to the neighbors—like mine did!
As fall approaches and summer vegetation begins to droop and brown, milkweed and goldenrod are both likely to harbor colorful and interesting species.
Common milkweed has been a plant-distribution success story as fields and pastures were cleared from the original virgin forest of the continent. Air-borne seed on silky parachutes spread across America, and with the milkweed as a food source, the Monarch butterfly and other insect species also spread.
The remains of our wild milkweed looks pretty rough by this time of year, dog-eared, raggedy and full of milk-weeping holes. The grasshoppers use it as resting spots, and inch-long Assassin Bugs lie in wait behind a leaf. When dinner comes, they spear it, and suck up its juices with their needle-like mouthparts that also contain in inner straw for this purpose. Also called the “Wheel Bug” for the toothed curve on its back, this is one to watch but not touch, as its bite can be painful.
Here I should mention that this bestiary of creatures on the milkweed is likely to have hard times ahead. While it’s important to insects like the Monarch butterfly, milkweed is just that—a weed—to those who grow crops or cattle on their land, and it is being exterminated across large parts of its former range. So if you have milkweed growing around the perimeters of your place, please leave it–or even plant a “butterfly garden” of milkweed and other host plants with the idea that species other than man and his animals need to make a living, too.
Lastly, check out the goldenrod, wonderfully crawling with a little community of specialist insects who come there for mating or dinner. One to look out for is the Locust Borer, an elongate beetle that you’ll hesitate getting too close to at first. With its yellow and black stripes it looks for all the world (and this is no accident) like a yellow jacket. (Notice a distinctive black “W” across the tops of the outer wings.)
This is a great example of “protective resemblance” in which a harmless animal wears the garb of a noxious one. Just don’t do like I did this week in my haste to show Ann this “sign of fall”: I quickly scooped up a Locust Borer from a goldenrod to show her, and when I opened my hands, I’d also captured a little bumblebee hiding on the back side of the flower cluster!
They’ll be gone soon, the insects of autumn, as much a part of the march of seasons as the passing of the wildflowers or migration of the songbirds. So do pay attention to the little zoo of fall invertebrates just out your back door, in your meadows and woods. They offer all sorts of lessons for those who take the time to look carefully at the small things close at hand.