Wounded Wood

Walnut Wood / Floyd County / Southwest Virginia
Back when we first moved to Goose Creek, I was chatting excitedly with a woodworking friend about my idea to grow walnuts on our land as an investment crop for our children’s future. Walnuts make exceptionally beautiful pieces of handcrafted furniture.

“I wouldn’t bother” she discouraged me. “Walnuts growing in Floyd County are often gnarled and misshappen. They can be used for some interesting small pieces, given their distorted grains, but they don’t do much as saw lumber.”

And since then, we’ve burned a good bit of walnut as firewood (culled from the edges of the wannabe-garden). A half dozen cast shadows on (and grew their roots into) where we wanted veggies to grow, and we’re burning them this winter for heat. And they have without exception have had warty-gnarly trunks with little clear grain for more than a foot or two. And my presumption now is that this might be due to genetics: our local walnuts have inherited poor wound healing genes.

You can see in this picture what I found when I unloaded the truck one day recently. I had been cutting up a walnut dropped up the valley along the old postal road that follows alongside our pasture. This tree is only about 45 years old, so the lead bullet slug I cut in half with my chain saw earlier that day couldn’t have come from Daniel Boone’s black power rifle. Shucks. I can’t say when it was shot, but long enough ago that you can see the tree has grown “scar tissue” down over the entry point; you can almost visualize the turbulence created in the layers of spring and summer wood as the bullet arked its way to a stop deep in the trunk.

And it is just this kind of swollen hump that are found so commonly on our walnuts–even those that haven’t been filled full of lead. It may be something as simple as normal limb self-pruning that leads to this unsightly wounding in our genetic population of walnuts, while others elsewhere make nice clean scars that don’t damage the quality of the beautiful purple-brown wood.

On this single-digit winter morning, I have one other observation about walnut: as firewood, it makes more light and ash than heat, and I hope not much more of it goes through the woodstove doors. My kingdom for some oak! Brrrrr! (More on tree genetics and wound healing here for the one person out of a thousand who would care to know.)

HELP! Has my sidebar disappeared in MSIE? Just checked it from work and it’s gone! If it is missing, has it been missing for days? Anybody noticed? – FF

4 PM Tuesday: Home now, and MSIE from here shows the sidebar. AND the Google Ads are more relevant in MSIE than in FireFox, which among others at this minute shows PASCO COUNTY–Florida? Common Google. RELEVANT! Surely you can do better!

Whole Foods, Whole Planet

“An Enviga website says that the drink’s blend of green tea and caffeine burns more calories than it contains and can help drinkers maintain an ideal weight. According to a Nestle study, young people who drank three of the 12-ounce drinks a day burned an average of 106 calories.” link

I thought it was a joke when I heard about this new soft drink on NPR tonight. Targeted at overweight teenagers, it burns calories, they say. But wait a minute: you have to drink 36 ounces of the stuff, including the artificial sweeteners, caffeine and theophylline plus lord only knows what else–to burn a hundred calories?

This especially striking example of “nutritionism” loomed large after recently reading Michael Pollan’s piece, Unhappy Meals in the NY Times. How have we become so far removed from WHOLE FOODS and so wrapped up in their reductionist dissection into “nutrients” about which we still understand so little? Whatever our modern western notions are about eating, they’re not working. They’re killing us and the planet.

“The problem with nutrient-by-nutrient nutrition science,” points out Marion Nestle, the New York University nutritionist, “is that it takes the nutrient out of the context of food, the food out of the context of diet and the diet out of the context of lifestyle.”

In the end, Pollan’s simple but well-reasoned advice (in the long NYT article–clip and save it): Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Consider avoiding anything that wasn’t around when your great grand-parents were having their meals. Eat as few industrialized, refined food-like substances as possible. And don’t listen to food labels, or most food or diet fads.

Why are we in America the most “well-fed” while our diet is killing us? I highly recommend you read this piece, and like me, send it to your kids. They need to hear it again: eat your vegetables! Our health future–and the world’s–may depend on it.

Plants and Music

Wildflower Galax / Digital Photo / Fred First / Floyd County, Virginia<br data-recalc-dims=” border=”0″ height=”304″ hspace=”10″ vspace=”10″ width=”452″ />
I’d be interested to know how many people recognize this common Appalachian plant in winter. It doesn’t always turn such a nice red color. I think it may tend to do this more in sunny places, and it often grows under Rhododendron in the thickest of shadows. But red or green, in parts of the Southern Mountain forest, it is being gathered in quantity–poached, if you will–and sold on the “green market” to florists shops.

The common name for this plant is based on the latin word for MILK. There are cosmic applications of this term as well, and the name makes sense should you find a thick carpet of this plant in flower in summer: it’s white spikes give the rocky hillsides a milky appearance.

Who will be the first to give this plant its proper common name?

Hint: the nearest town to the Blue Ridge Music Center at Milepost 213 is named after this plant.

On the interpretive signs that someday will be placed along the trails at Fishers Peak, the hope is to tie the plant’s natural or cultural history back in some way to the traditional music. Was it named in a song? Was it used to make instruments or used to treat an illness named in a mountain tune?

Come back later. I’ll have a shot from yesterday’s visit to the Music Center. You can let me know if you think it will work for the upcoming newsletter. More about that directly.

Of Mountains and Molehills

Just so those from *off won’t think life here is unrelentingly lovely, I felt compelled to show you the dark side of country life, with a snippet from a little essay under construction.

Image copyright Fred First Our dog, who scares away more potential animal observations than he produces, has a nose for small mammals, and brought us two mammal sightings this week. As far as his species memory and drive goes, insectivores (moles and shrews underground) and small rodents (voles and mice in above ground nests of pasture grass) are food morsels in a wrap of hair, little legged tortillas, and if not delicious, then at least no small excitement to catch and torment in cat-like fashion.

Yesterday, the dog veered abruptly from beside us as we walked across the pasture, ran thirty feet at right angles to our path, cocked his head raising one front paw to his chest, and pounced. His front feet churned the wet, sandy soil. (Did he smell this subterranean creature from that distance? Or hear it digging?) A half-dozen quick scratches later, a dark grey velour sausage of an animal lay at our feet, eyeless, earless, and covered in dog spit.

*Off: not from these here mountains, a term suggesting a general mistrust, a term that a local would use to distinguish the origins, for instance, of the do-gooders who came into the Appalachian backwaters in the late 1800s to gentrify the mountaineers. An outsider; a flat-lander.

Dead as a Duck

Test results are pending to explain this puzzling and disturbing die-off of mallards along a small, remote Idaho creek. Bacterial or fungal agents are said to be suspected, but why only mallards susceptible?

Migratory mallards from Canada and their local cousins staggered and struggled to breathe before collapsing, Parrish said. He said every mallard in a radius of several miles has died–approximately 2,500, up from an earlier estimate of 1,000.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in 20 years here,” he said. “There were dead mallards everywhere–in the water and on the banks. It was odd; they were in a very small area.”

The massive outbreak is puzzling scientists because only mallard ducks are dying. Golden eagles, geese, magpies, crows and other birds in the area all remain healthy.”

Stay tuned.