The High Places Made Low

Talus field along Nameless Creek–moss and fern-covered boulders tumbled down from Nameless Mountain –a high place that was gone long before there could be human views from the top.

One of the places I stand and ponder in our daily silvan peregrinations is up back, beyond the last extent of floodplain of which our five-acre pastureland is the remainder. Beyond that point, the path skirts high above the rock shelves and tumbling waters of Nameless Creek.

What now stands as the high country above us rises at least 150 feet above the creek, and so steep we have never been to it. This is all that remains of Nameless Mountain, as I think of it. It calved all these boulders that hikers dread to pass over and call scree, and which geologists refer to as talus slopes. Erosion, gravity and time lay green and jumbled, in place now for a thousand human generations.

Nameless Mountain–a crest pushed up during the Ancient and Early Blue Ridge mountain-building epoch or orogeny–would have been as high as today’s Himalayas or Rockies. Coming to full acceptance of this truth (remember truth? It was popular once) is easy to achieve after much practice, standing quietly above the creek and below the wasted remnant of mountain crest.

We are surrounded by traces of time to which our now-ness  makes us blind. Unfortunately, we have also become blind to time to come, and do little or less to make ready for the gravity of those challenges. They are as real as the mountain that once rose above Goose Creek and Floyd County and dominated what we think of as Southwest Virginia.

This is the place we call the Valley of the Bones. Our dogs often find remnants of mammals who have sought out the dark spaces under boulders to die.

Here is how one writer describes talus:

The very random placement of fallen boulders, slabs of rock and massive pieces of stone creates an abundance of small caverns, nooks, cubbies, and grottos connected by a labyrinth of narrow passageways, chimneys and tunnels. In shady places, such as in ravines, on north-facing slopes, and along the edges of streams and rivers, a carpet of moss frequently covers the surface of these piles of rock. In heavily forested settings, a layer of organic debris may develop in cracks and crevices that promotes the growth of some species of ferns, herbaceous plants and small shrubs.

BlueWater Dream of the Great Below

I awoke with a start. I had fallen asleep slumped against my favorite leaning poplar a ten-minute walk from the house. I was most certainly not exactly there now. I had nodded off on a warm summer afternoon, but now I was immersed in a cool but pleasant darkness, and more floating than lying against anything at all.

The half-familiar smell of being in a cave — or the dank, moist, earthy and energizing smell of a rainstorm — was intense; it came from every side of me, though I truly could not have told you — or cared at that moment — which way was up. My eyes waited for a glimmer. Maybe I’d slept into darkness under a passing shower. I was just groggy. Right?

I wasn’t afraid, exactly, but I confess some discomfort in not knowing: if I was dead; or in a coma maybe; or had I been transported across a divide into a place so utterly unfamiliar that I might never regain my bearings? Maybe I had gone mad.

I tried to stand, and somehow in the pitch-darkness had the sense that I became vertical, but I recall the odd sense of nothing under my feet — no pressure against my soles, no feeling of gravity whatsoever on my joints. Where ever I was, I was buoyant, weightless, a feather floating in… in what, I could not tell.

Read more of this at medium.com

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.

Test-tube Earth: The Anthropocene Experiment

Honeybee on Black Cohosh flower, Floyd County VA 2015

Innoculate, Feed, Wait, Observe

We are living in the midst and are each of us part of a great experiment. There is no control group laid out to co-exist on a planet where our species has NOT altered the chemistry of the atmosphere. And so we are destined to jump right to the increasingly-likely CONCLUSION: the more CO2 in the air, the lower the nutrient value of foods.

And this, as the global petri-dish population of us grows towards 8 billion and beyond. Beyond–well beyond–the carrying capacity to grow healthy bones, brains and bodies as the nutrient content of our food falls.

Quotes from The Great Nutrient Collapse, Politico / 13 Sept 2017

“Every leaf and every grass blade on earth makes more and more sugars as CO 2 levels keep rising,” Loladze said. “We are witnessing the greatest injection of carbohydrates into the biosphere in human history―[an] injection that dilutes other nutrients in our food supply.”

Could carbon dioxide have an effect on human health we haven’t accounted for yet? The answer appears to be yes.”

And one consequence perhaps already seen outside our doors here in early Appalachian autumn–one caged canary in this massive one-off experiment might be the European honey bee feeding on goldenrod pollen:

“Goldenrod, a wildflower many consider a weed, is extremely important to bees. It flowers late in the season, and its pollen provides an important source of protein for bees as they head into the harshness of winter. Since goldenrod is wild and humans haven’t bred it into new strains, it hasn’t changed over time as much as, say, corn or wheat.

And the Smithsonian Institution also happens to have hundreds of samples of goldenrod, dating back to 1842, in its massive historical archive—which gave Ziska and his colleagues a chance to figure out how one plant has changed over time.

They found that the protein content of goldenrod pollen has declined by a third since the industrial revolution—and the change closely tracks with the rise in CO2. Scientists have been trying to figure out why bee populations around the world have been in decline, which threatens many crops that rely on bees for pollination.

Ziska’s paper suggested that a decline in protein prior to winter could be an additional factor making it hard for bees to survive other stressors.”

See also / The Guardian / Sept 26, 2017:

Sixth mass extinction of wildlife also threatens global food supplies |