Right to a Nature-Rich Childhood

I happened across this piece I’d written some years back–for Blog Action Day maybe–and thought it might have a place in what used to be the book I was writing and compiling from odd bits here and there that might deserve to see the light of day.

So I posted it at Medium.com today. Go there to read:

The Right To a Nature-Rich Childhood

When Our Forests Disappear

This is the first part of a four part series in the Floyd Press, first installment in this week’s edition. — FBF

When the oak leaves fell from November trees along the crest above the house, we were shocked to discover that the rounded ridge beyond and above us was now as smooth as a baby’s bottom against the northern sky.

The south-facing flank of Lick Ridge had been clearcut. The sight alarmed and upset me–and not just because the aftermath of a clearcut is unspeakably ugly.

The intended future for that cleared ridge long after we’re gone from here is not that it be a diverse woodlands like the one so recently eliminated by the thrumming machinery of industrial logging. The pure-as-possible stand of pines that will grow behind us on Goose Creek a generation from now will be a wood products plot, and much will be missing there.

The soils and the plant and animal diversity in that a future pine plantation will be utterly changed. The stand of mostly pines will exist as what some have referred to as a “green desert.”

Its impoverished variety of species of plants and animals will stand in extreme contrast to the native ecosystem it will replace. Biologists refer to this as lost biodiversity, which is happening at an unprecedented rate today.

Clearcutting is driven by efficiency and somebody’s bottom line. A mixed hardwood-and-conifer forest in our part of the world, under natural process after selective timber harvest, will grow slowly back to become a mature forest of hardwoods and scattered white pines.

But shade-intolerant pines only grow close and straight where hardwoods do not shade out these higher-dollar faster-growing evergreens. And so with those dollars and the returns cycle in mind, natural hardwood stump regrowth is typically suppressed by the application of herbicides like Roundup. This thought made me wonder.

Was this clearcut so close to us sprayed? We learned from a local forester that the clearcut was indeed doused with herbicide mixture by helicopter (about 11 gallons per acre) last summer.
We had not known about this at the time. The logging company is apparently under no requirements to inform adjacent landowners in advance. That doesn’t seem right.

Asked his opinion about the use of clearcutting as a forestry practice in the Blue Ridge, a forester I spoke to stated that “there is not enough of it to suit me.” As long as metric tons of fiber is the prevailing measure of worth of an acre of fast-growing planted or slower-growing natural forest, this form of forestry practice is likely to increase across Floyd County, the southern states and beyond. There are visible and invisible costs to be paid.

The intact biology and chemistry of forests work for the good of our air and our drinking water, our soil and our senses. We are both consumers and caretakers of this living community and natural benefits provider we know as forests. They are a feature so common in our part of the world that we tend to take them for granted. You might say that we often lose sight of the forest for the trees.

Sixty-four percent of Floyd County is forested (that’s some 156,000 acres of trees), and all of it (save for the strip along the Blue Ridge Parkway) is owned and its fate determined by people like you and me.

The second part of this four-part series will consider some of the costs and benefits of our use of today’s and tomorrow’s forests, even as we live pleasantly surrounded by them for the time being.

We live among trees and most of us care about the health of future forests. This is a complex issue—the stewardship of this vast wooded expanse of southwestern Virginia. The boundaries of these private plots you can see on a map, but the real benefits of forests (environmental services) are public and contribute to the well-being of all of us.

The most conspicuous of these common goods is the beauty of our wooded ridges and valleys and coves that give this place its character and form in every season, for residents and visitors alike.

This is part ONE of a four part series. Go to https://goo.gl/tx00q7 for related links.

Not Sleeping In

No I’m not sleeping in these days nor have I run out of things to say. You kidding?

I just seem to be juggling cats most all the time any more and wondering in years past where I found the time to spend filling this page with dog and snake stories, grampa tales and avuncular pronouncements about things environmental.

Below: some of what I’ve been up to by way of a “story” I created (with a few images also from Andy M) from Saturday’s Floyd Market Breakfast, organized and made to happen by SustainFloyd and a lot of great community volunteers.

Floyd Market Father's Day

Money made above costs will go to support the market operations, promotion and maintenance, and we ALL benefit!

Being, Learning, Serving: Floyd Voluntours

Click image to enlarge

This is the fourth year that SustainFloyd has hosted a group of spring-breaking students from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

Our name for the week is FLEX–the Floyd Experience. The sponsoring organization’s name is VOLUNTOURS, a function of         * Via International.

The student group is divided into three “teams.” Every day there is a “home team” in charge of setting up meals, taking care of livestock at Riverstone where they are housed this year and general housekeeping at the home base. The two other teams today spend their time at the Blue Ridge Chinese Medicine Clinic helping SustainFloyd Community Advisor and local farmer David Grimsley in the medicinal herb gardens; and the third group will be providing grounds and trail work at Smartview Picnic Area under the guidance of Blue Ridge Parkway staff.

Tomorrow night the group will be informed and entertained by Radford University’s Ricky Cox, who teaches in their Appalachian Studies program and is a well-known author, local historian, and Floyd-native musician-entertainer.

Thursday night, we’re hoping for good weather for a big bonfire dinner at the beautiful picnic spot at Riverstone on the banks of the Little River, where all will have the opportunity to share the stories of being, for a week, a member of our community.

Other daytime service involves Angels in the Attic, Seven Springs Farm, Jason Rutledge horse logging demonstration and discussion, and Spikenard Honey Bee Sanctuary.


*Via’s service-learning opportunities include Mexicali, Tecate, San Diego, New Mexico, Guatemala, Central Mexico, Sri Lanka–and Floyd Virginia.

Here’s what their website says about the experience students might expect in Floyd:

Hidden away with a backdrop of the beautiful Appalachian Mountains, Floyd Virginia is on to something unique and new. Experience a resilient community, complete with rich history and many expressions of sustainable local initiatives…

…what can a community do for itself? What is true self-reliance? You will be engaged with community members who are interested to share their experience and invite you into their community life.

This program has the potential benefit of touching participants with a deep sense of the authenticity and significance of the Appalachian Mountains and the people who live there. The real service comes in the breaking of old ideas and stereotypes about people from Appalachia. Additionally, there is a service rendered by better understanding the global effort to balance the needs of humanity with the needs of the Earth.

Terra Infirma and the Boggy Ox Carts of Floyd

People of The Mud

I feel certain that Floyd County of all the Commonwealth’s counties, has more miles of “unimproved” roads than any other. I’m sure I’ve at least heard that stated as fact.

You just can’t quite appreciate, with the figure of those many hundreds of miles of so-called gravel, how incredibly unimproved this particular one has become over the past few years of relative neglect.

At one point, there was a VDOT station in the county. The workers knew the roads. They knew the people who lived on the roads. Their switchboard operator had actually heard of your road and had some notion of where you lived in the real world. That was then.

It is true that someone will answer the phone when you call the VDOT number to register a “concern.” They might be in Richmond. They might be polishing their nails or watching the last few minutes of a Netflix movie while they pretend to be taking down your various laments about the deplorable–if not dangerous–condition of your road. They’ve heard it all before–about the same god-forsaken byway. Yawn. If it makes you feel better, go ahead and call. Just get real. There’s no money. And your road? You kidding?

So I called a week or so back and described the situation on this “third world county ox cart” that was once a state-maintained road.

“It’s a disgrace. An embarrassment. We have friends who refuse to come see us for fear their cars will suffer damage from the pot holes. No, let me rephrase that. Potholes would be preferred. We have bomb craters.”

“It’s so bad” I told the poor lady whose fate it was to take my call “that we have to keep tongue depressors in the car to put between our teeth when we leave the house to keep from breaking a filling.”

But today. Today, it was the MUD. We knew better (we thought) than to go straight out up the high side from here, where the ice lingers for months, and the mud can be really really bad. No we’d go Griffith Creek to church–a longer route and still steep but not as wet. Wrong. It was really really really bad.

It was as close as I ever hope to come to an off-road mud race. There were places I thought surely we’d lose our forward progress in first gear and never regain it–if we didn’t fishtail off the road entirely. There was mud splattered all the way to the roof.

Yes, I’m embarrassed and disgusted. They’ll come out here eventually and dump some rocky dirt on top of dirt. What good is that?

I told somebody today that this road probably got better treatment in the days of road crews with pick and shovel vs the straight blade of a Volvo road grader that makes the road look lever by pushing mud around the highest bedrock that pokes up to the surface. A guy with a shovel would find all those places where there is nothing but mud–where from bedrock up, there should be a new load of actual crushed rock. Gravel road. Ya know?

Yes this is an unimproved country road, but it can’t get much more unimproved and those of us who live here be able to reach the improved roads that lie two short miles and a twenty minute shake shimmy-and-swim from here.

NOTE: even the VDOT workers shake their heads. They know what needs to be done. They are not given the time, funding or political will to do what’s needed.