Humankind: Finding Our Place in the Natural World

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Where are we headed in the love-hate relationship of HumanKind with Nature (that is: the biotic and abiotic parts of the only planet we have from which all our resources are drawn)?
 
It can’t be much farther in the current direction. So who will turn the ship, and how? The WHEN of the matter must be NOW!
 
So I gave some thought to our evolving place in the natural scheme of things, and doodled it out on the back of a digital napkin.
 
Seeing something helps me comprehend a complex topic a little better. And write about it. FWIW.

What is Your Barbeque Footprint?

Labor Day for many marks (or used to mark) the end of summer and the return of the kids to school. By that time, Floyd County students will have been in sweltering classrooms for almost a month. But that is not the point. Labor Day may also be at or near the end of the outdoor grilling season. And that brings us to today’s burning questions:

► Where does my charcoal come from?

► What is my BarBeQue Footprint? and…

► What is this stuff anyway and now does it compare to Propane?

All this was triggered a few weeks back when I was at Lowes (a once or twice a year visit) and found on sale two huge bags of Kingsford Charcoal. Heck, this might be a lifetime supply at our age!

But given the fact that wood from just behind and above us most likely ended up as pellets for European Power Plants, I wondered about the history of these particular black briquets and how responsibly they are produced, and where.

Well first I found out that all sorts of organic matter can be burned while oxygen-starved to create the high-heat low-smoke product we call charcoal. It contains no COAL, by the way.

Olive pits, grape vines, and corn cobs make good charcoal. Hmmm…

► Idea: a corn-cob to charcoal industry from ag waste in Floyd and other rural counties?

Barbecuing sustainably: How not to burn rainforests in our grills | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | https://www.dw.com/en/barbecuing-sustainably-how-not-to-burn-rainforests-in-our-grills/a-44543655

Comparing the BTUs of charcoal to propane, here’s the scoop: There are 91333 BTUs in a gallon of Propane and 4.7 gallons of propane in a 20 gallon tank. So that’s about 430,000 BTUs in a typical full tank.

There are 9700 BTUs in a pound of Kingsford briquets. This makes a tank of propane approximately equal to about 44 pounds of charcoal. You can price the two and do the math. Only consider that charcoal burns hotter, gives your grilled meats and veggies the smoky taste most folks want from cooking outside, and did not come from fracked gas through pipes in sone good person’s former back yard.

The Science of Charcoal: How Charcoal is Made and How Charcoal Works https://amazingribs.com/more-technique-and-science/grill-and-smoker-setup-and-firing/science-charcoal-how-charcoal-made-and

But where DOES Kingsford charcoal come from—and one should ask because SOME comes at the cost of burning tropical trees. I asked Kingsford and was told they product comes from domestic lumber mill waste only.

Kingsford (charcoal) – Wikiwand https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Kingsford_(charcoal)

And final trivia fact: this well-known company derived from Ford Charcoal–as in Henry and Ford Motor Co. Early on each car was trimmed with wood and there was a lot of waste. So the idea: let’s make charcoal. And early on, the only place you could get it was at your Ford Dealership!

So get grillin before the autumn’s chillin.

Everything You Need to Know About Charcoal | HuffPost https://www.huffingtonpost.com/craig-goldwyn/charcoal_b_858606.html

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Giant Hogweed is Here

I recently had the opportunity to ask one of the most knowledgeable botanists I know as many pertinent questions out of my confused and confusing plants folder as I could tastefully work into the conversation.

“Have you run across Giant Hogweed on your place?” He lives on a sizable parcel of Floyd County property that he knows well, both as a farmer and as a retired botany-educated professional. He said “Why yes I have.”

It had recently been observed in Virginia, but not the southwest part of the state.

Dangerous Hogweed Plant Found in Virginia

We talked about the so-what, and he was not optimistic that its spread could be contained, given the effort it would take and the general apathy of local citizens–even other farmers.

I contended that, even so, it made sense to me that, for sake of prevention of the health impact of this plant, we should educate folks. And so…

The best source I have found for comparing similar plants is from a New York source–a state where Giant Hogweed is long and well-established. If you want to be knowledgeable and possibly save yourself or someone you know from a really really bad time, give it a careful look. There are helpful illustrations here of five plants that bear resemblance to and could possibly be confused with Giant Hogweed.

Giant Hogweed – New York Invasive Species Information 

And I’d hope that our local network of naturalists, farmers and hikers would communicate about observations. Catching these populations when there are few individuals and they are not 20 feet tall would be preferable. We don’t want our kids coming in contact with this. And animals–who may not react to the exudate–can carry it on their coats and transmit it to human skin that way.

Balm of Gilead

Black Cottonwood or Balm of Gilead, Populus balsamifera

Neither of these words in the title are likely too familiar, and less so in these parts the tree that sometimes goes by that common name.

Balm of course is a soothing ointment, and Gilead is in Israel. There is a haunting African American Spiritual that centers on this “universal healing” that arose from that piece of geography long ago. See and hear the video at the end of this post. It is quite well done.

“SO what is this tree?” a friend asked recently at his grandson’s birthday party about 10 miles from town. We had both decided NOT to participate in the slip-n-slide going on a nearby slope, so were making conversation.

I had no idea, and had to have help from a FB group devoted to such mysteries to identify the tree in question as Populus balsamifera, also known as Black Cottonwood.

I defend my ignorance in part by stating the fact that this is NOT a native of Virginia. As a matter of fact, this tree is described as the “most northern-growing deciduous tree” and is far more familiar to Alaskans that Virginians.

You can kind of tell that the back side of the leaves is rusty orange in patches. I did not take sufficient note of this while on site. Resinous secretions of a similar sort from the buds in spring is apparently where the sticky medicinal substance comes from.

So I’m wondering if there are other trees like this–not native, but planted intentionally at some point. The two mature trees I saw were older than ME! Yes, that old. If either of my blog readers knows of other trees like this in FloydCo, please let me know.

So if you want to see more pictures and find links from images of Balm of Gilead go here.

If you want to learn more about medicinal uses of Balm of Gilead go here.

And I encourage you to listen to the haunting melody, There is a Balm in Gilead in the video just below.

Cuckoo for Caterpillars

They look awful, and seem to threaten the forest with ultimate consumption–the fall web worms whose unsightly tents of silk tatter the margins of roadways and fields in autumn.

What many people don’t realize is that, in the end, the caterpillars generally don’t kill the trees they make their webs in; and second, that there are predators whose numbers rise in relationship to the numbers of caterpillars. And if you pay attention, you can hear them–the black-billed cuckoos who eat them by the thousands. They are related to the western roadrunner.

We are hearing both yellow and black-billed in abundance this summer.

Here’s an interesting fact I did not know, according the first link below, and not corroborated yet by other references:

“…cuckoos are true dietary specialists adapted to eating the hirsute larvae whose multitudes have overrun our parks and woodlands in many places. Over time, a cuckoo’s stomach becomes matted with caterpillar hairs that stick in the lining. Eventually this felt becomes so dense that it inhibits digestion, so the cuckoo sheds its whole stomach lining and grows it anew.

I suggest you click the audubon field guide links to listen to the songs of these two birds. And I’ll bet at least some of you (that is if there’s more than one person who reads this post) will say “Hey! I’ve heard that!”

The yellow-billed song sounds more like something that would come off a Tarzan movie. It is also referred in some parts of the south as the “rain crow.”

 
Black-billed Cuckoo | Audubon Field Guide https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/black-billed-cuckoo
 
Yellow-billed Cuckoo | Audubon Field Guide https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/yellow-billed-cuckoo
 
Black-billed Cuckoo | John James Audubon’s Birds of America https://www.audubon.org/birds-of-america/black-billed-cuckoo
 
Yellow-billed Cuckoo | John James Audubon’s Birds of America https://www.audubon.org/birds-of-america/yellow-billed-cuckoo