Shedding a Little Light

You’ve heard by now how much more efficient Compact Florescent Light Bulbs (CFL) are than the old-fashioned incandescent bulbs. Replacing the light bulbs in your home or business is a single step that everybody can take (I think I read it’s now mandatory in Australia, and lawmakers in California and New Jersey are considering bans on incandescent bulbs) to save significant energy and reduce greenhouse gases.

Walmart is jumping on the GREEN bandwagon (image is everything) promoting the bulbs to their customers. Great! But the downside is the mercury these bulbs contain.

…in January 2007, Wal-Mart announced it had set a goal of selling 100 million compact fluorescent bulbs this year. But, even after two months, Wal-Mart has refused to adopt a national recycling program to deal with the serious environmental threat posed by the mercury content contained in the CFL’s.

Without a national recycling program, Wal-Mart’s efforts to sell 100 million CFL’s could result in the spreading of an estimated 227,273 pounds of mercury into American households.

Some large chains, like IKEA, are also making themselves responsible for recycling these bulbs from their customers who buy them. Apparently, some serious soil and water contamination is probable given enough broken bulbs in places where that dangerous element might enter the food chain.

So, the take home: get low-mercury CFL bulbs (we don’t do Walmart, period) and gradually phase out all the old style. (We’ll have to replace a couple of our old favorite lamps here at Chez Goose Creek that take the large-based 3-way bulbs, but that won’t kill us.) But be very careful what you do with the bulbs once they finally burn out (should you live so long!) They ARE a hazardous waste!

And come on! Wake up, Walmart!

Today on Nameless Creek: A New Kind of Calvin-ism

Hope for Hemlocks?

Could there be hope for those eastern hemlocks that haven’t already succumbed to this cottony sucker-of-death? Is the adelgid doomed?

ASHEVILLE ~ A new method of attacking the pest that destroys hemlock trees—a technique that involves the dairy product whey and a fungus—shows promise but may be a long way from making an impact.

About 74,000 acres of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s 500,000 acres contain hemlocks, and “pretty much every place we have hemlocks, we have adelgids,” said park spokesman Bob Miller.

The park uses a crew of up to 16 people in peak season who spray about 2,000 acres of trees with a soapy solution and inject the insecticide, a program that will cost $812,000 this year. Predator beetles are employed in more remote areas.

We probably won’t live to see if this experiment makes any real difference. And there will be places–Goose Creek, for instance–where it will already be too late. I doubt we’ll have any living hemlocks left in five years.

There are several massive hemlocks along the steepest part of our road, dead and leaning, and every day I expect to see the last night’s winds or rain have sent a massive branchy trunk down across our single-lane road. Ann is most likely to discover such an event as she drives to work in the morning dark.

When a smaller one fell last winter, the highway department came to deal with it, sure enough. But rather than clear it away, they simply pushed the branches and tops and bark and chunks of rotten trunk down the bank toward the creek. It looked awful, and still does. I can imagine what the debris field will be from one of the giants. Its corpse will be scattered across a half acre. And then another. And another.

But maybe some can be saved. The Smokies have the greatest concentration, and that area still has relatively healthy stands I think. I was happy to see that work still goes on to save yet another forest species under threat from an invasive agent, though this will be scant comfort over the coming decade as ours rot in place. Or barricade our mountain roads.


To have one’s bones picked clean by vultures and live on, with wings.

While this reincarnational idea is more poetic than a statement of my personal future expectations, it is just one among many pondering points in an essay by Radford English prof Rick Van Noy. There were so many out-takes from the piece I am helpless to do justice in summarizing it. Find the essay in the archives of Appalachian Voices here.

For those like me–this includes perhaps a few Fragments readers–who have an inexpressible awe and respect for even the “ugly” parts of the natural world (spiders, snakes, and bare-headed buzzards), I highly recommend this piece. A few small bites from the author about vultures to whet your appetite, so to speak…

Vultures are “Nature’s flying janitors”.

“Raptors hunt with intent, while vultures, members of the stork family, wait for accidents.”

They fly in packs…”nature’s version of a street gang.”

“Their cousins bring babies, but they are the undertakers.”

Van Noy’s account of visiting the Radford, Virginia vulture roost with his children is predicated around what he sees as the solemn fact that his town is making great efforts to discourage over a thousand vultures from making their home near town. And it is not for reasons of health or safety that the masses feel such repugnance.

The author gives us a different view of these birds through the eyes and words of others who have watched and wondered about them, including Cormac McCarthy, Robinson Jeffers, and Edward Abbey. And after pondering the world of vultures with Van Noy, perhaps the next time you watch the dark shapes of these “tearers of flesh” you will hold them in higher regard than the squinty-eyed, sinister, sloop-shouldered cartoon caricatures you’ve harbored in error all these years.

Out of the Cold

Landscapes from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia by Fred First
Well, not quite. Ann left to spend yet another night at the workplace so she’d be sure and be able to open up the pharmacy at 6:00 this morning. We’ve had just enough accumulating snow showers and strong winds to make driving–especially in the dark–something to be avoided.

But this week’s weather promises the possibilities of a return, perhaps briefly, to some low 50’s temps, which will fell positively balmy.

And how happy I am that I took the time to stop for these frozen creek pictures, because the warm rain before the last ice storm sent muddy water onto the white surface of the creek, and its transient beauty was lost. Once again, as if I needed it, I’m reminded of how fleeting each moment’s light truly is. Note to self: be inclined to stop and smell the roses–or capture the moment to digital film; and indelible memory.

How Cold Was It?

Landscapes from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia by Fred First
You know it’s cold when the rhododendron leaves go tubular.

As one of the few broadleaved plants still in leaf over winter, extra precautions are needed.

On the plus side, this evergreen mountain shrub can remain metabolically active all winter long. But that involves water needs (from frozen ground) and water production in photosynthesis (with the risk of cells burst by freezing.)

So rolling the leaves reduces surface area, creating a higher humidity field around the leaf’s lower surface; the top surface is lacquered in a kind of waterproof coating, the cuticle. The substances in rhododendron’s sap (the equivalent of resin in conifers) acts as a kind of antifreeze.

And the tight rolls offer little for snow to settle on, though we have ample evidence in our woods that wet snows have been heavy winter burdens on the gnarled and spindly shoulders of our mountain heaths, creating low tangles that have long been called “laurel hells”. Just try to get through one, especially with a backpack on!

NOTE: Today will be the warmest day in weeks, only to be followed by an ice storm coming our way tomorrow. Doh!