Fragments from Floyd Photos and Front Porch Musing from Floyd County Virginia Wed, 23 Jul 2014 11:27:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Day in the Woods Wed, 23 Jul 2014 11:27:14 +0000 I confess I too seldom take time these days to recharge my batteries by getting away from home, away from the computer, away from various obligations and commitments and duties.

I realize the cost of that missing element when, like yesterday, I take a botanizing walk with guy-friends and remember how much fun that is–not to mention enriching.

One of us kept at least a partial list of things we identified and those we never quite figured out.

I am inordinately thrilled to have observed a lily I have never seen. Adding a newly-identified flowering plant to my life list is not a common occurrence. I will post images with or without an ID later on in the month when I have time to work on it based only on the few images I came back with.

We hiked down Rock Castle Creek trail, starting near the Cabins, and making maybe two miles, not quite reaching the creek. We did not make good time; covering the distance was the farthest thing from our minds.

Of special note and to be investigated: a disease (I understand it is bacterial) is laying waste to individual  Rhododendrons. Spotty in most places, the affected plants were not just spotted or wilted as they would be with “die-back” caused by a fungus (the Irish Potato Famine villain Phytophthora).

These were dead, every twig and branch, all the way to the main trunk. In some places, whole hillsides were covered with the tan skeletons of a former thicket of Rhododendron.

It gives one pause: to think, what if the southern mountains lost all the shade, soil stabilization on steep mountainsides, bird and amphibian habitat, and other unknown stable conditions that have been maintained for thousands of years by this one plant?

So if you’re traveling the Parkway in the next few weeks, pay attention. Seeing dead Rhodies along the way? Maybe by then, we’ll at least have more details about WHY.

NOTE: I learned in my little bit of research that Rhododendrons are also affected by Sudden Oak Death, and that that diseases is also caused by Phytophthora–the organism that got every last tomato in many Floyd County gardens last year.

IMAGE: View from Saddle Gap, looking down over the lower end of Rock Castle Gorge, toward the north-north-east.

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A Life-Changing Discovery: Bacteria That Don’t Eat Tue, 22 Jul 2014 11:33:29 +0000 I used to ask the question in biology class: why do we eat?

The logical and most common answer, of course, was “because we get hungry.”

“But why do we get hungry” I asked them back?

“Because our stomachs are empty.”

You get the picture. And it went around like this until students understood that when they said “I’m hungry, I’m thirsty, I’m tired…” they were at bottom, making statements about the conditions of their cells.

And I would from there go on to describe the universal chemistry whereby electrons were stripped from “food” consumed in one way or another to eventually be picked up by the “universal energy currency called ATP.”

“All organisms from microbes to monkeys follow the same path from food energy to ATP energy to operate  muscles, glands, and nerves.”

Well, I was wrong. Just discovered: bacteria (apparently quite a few diverse species across a range of habitats) that use electrons directly to do things that require energy: growing, moving, reproducing.

So, technically I suppose, these organisms don’t EAT. They bypass that act and obtain and apparently make use of energy directly in the form of electrons from their environment without stripping them in the Krebs cycle.

This is perhaps one of the most astounding discoveries of recent decades in a world where we tend to think we’ve seen it all.

This is why I stay rapt in the real world and not so interested in reading fiction.

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This is My Father’s World Mon, 21 Jul 2014 11:54:17 +0000 You perhaps know by now that Floyd County is on the map of the proposed route of a large inter-state natural gas pipeline.

This has been rightly identified as an issue of stewardship appropriate for consideration by congregations across the county.

Heck–given the large number of churches in Floyd County, odds are it could very well be that one of those churches might have a 42″ pipe coming right down the middle aisle and out through the narthex.

Christians have a dog in this fight. How we use or abuse creation is not an inconsequential after-thought in either Old or New Testaments. We cannot be silent by-standers in this matter of servanthood and not be seen as hypocrites.

The churches can provide an appropriate setting for discussion and information-sharing about the risks and costs of the pipeline to church properties including cemeteries.

They can host discussions about how to peacefully but firmly confront the first agents who request access to properties.

They can educate congregations on how to be wise and faithful servants in general in the use of the resources over which they have been given responsibility, and in particular, about the complex issues involved in resisting eminent domain or mitigating damages to our community if the pipeline cannot be stopped altogether.

SO: If you have a church affiliation in Floyd County, please consider bringing this issue ASAP to your minister, sunday school teachers, board of elders or another appropriate entry point.

Begin having these discussions right away while time remains to do what’s right in this important future-changing issue confronting all of us.

Need Information about natural gas pipelines in general? 

Need information about the proposed Floyd County pipeline in particular?


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Simple Lines from Simpler Times Fri, 18 Jul 2014 09:50:58 +0000 Sometimes in today’s busy places you have to look really, really hard to find anything for your eyes to rest upon that gives you ease. This is especially true for me when waiting for tire repairs at a certain Christiansburg facility where the road is always being dug up again and more shoddy apartments and condos and commercial strips pile one upon the other, ad nauseum.

So I was pleased to discover, wandering around back of the sterile noisy place, that even here in what I think of as the armpit of Montgomery County, there is a remnant patch of the farming community that once flourished here. Once. Then it was paved over, shouted down and left to decay gracefully along the margins of the real world as we know it.

Old barns, among aged architectural remnants, strike me as particular graceful and noble. Maybe it is that at the same time their lines are pleasing, they once were filled with busy-ness of a less hurried kind than what goes on in that commercial zone today. Those hand-built barns hummed with the sound of human conversation, animal noises and their walls and stalls were filled with simple farm tools powered by those same animals and humans.

I do know that the metal barns that replace the old wood framed and sided structures leave me cold, even if the shape is more or less the same.

So I’ll just leave it at that, here on a Friday. I’ll be off shortly, running my mouth heading south, tour bus destination: the Blue Ridge Music Center–come rain or shine. And we’ll probably have some of both.

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I Come to the Garden Alone Thu, 17 Jul 2014 11:23:28 +0000 Another few weeks and Ann will be threatening me with my life if I bring in another five gallon bucket of tomatoes or beans or squash.

This is a statement of faith, as anything can happen in love, war or summer gardens.

Today, I’m going to anchor down the tomato cages, having learned from freak windstorms in years past that five foot tall fruit-laden plants are quite top-heavy. There’s nothing quite so sickening as to go out after the storm has passed and find a dozen wire cages on their sides, the soil littered with a hundred green tomatoes.

What I’ll do first though, before any gardening this morning, is take this aggravating dog out and run some of the mischief out of her. She won’t leave me alone, and has resorted to fetching undergarments from the washroom and trash from the waste baskets to get my attention. She’s got it.

Having my daughter’s equal-sized pup over the weekend of the 4th, I now know what level of play-energy Gandy is capable of sustaining–for hours at a time–and my puny rope toss and tugging matches don’t touch her reserve capacity for play.

Not unattractive–if they just didn’t like to eat the same things I do.

Gardening pests this year: not so bad. Cucumber beetles and squash bugs seem to be controlled by kaolin spray (a kind of clay–imagine chalk dust) and I got ahead of the bean beetles (fingers crossed) and the Japanese beetles (pictured here on a totally ravaged ornamental cherry taken while I was waiting on a tire repair in Christiansburg yesterday) have only nibbled my beans.

I hear the whining: Fragments has become all gardening all of the time. Trust me–there is much more going on in my life just now, but the garden does not generate stress, require agendas or have committee meetings, so it is my wilderness refugium of choice.

Please close the gate behind you as you leave.

[Larger garden panorama is at Flickr. Click to view]

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The Future: What Happens in Our Back Yards Today Wed, 16 Jul 2014 12:15:55 +0000 I woke up this morning wondering what it was I thought about the potential of a 42″ x 20 mile long natural gas pipeline across Floyd County. This is not an easy challenge to understand, even from how it settles in just one individual mind, cluttered as it is with opinion, fact, pseudo-fact, bias and the hope for clarity.

So as I often do in these moments of muddy personal waters, I just let my fingers find the words. Or at least SOME words. There are thoughts about the notion of compiling written personal narratives on the topic at some point, to see collectively how this issue hits us at gut level. 

So just to lift the subject a bit more into the local radar beyond its Facebook presence, here are my last few paragraphs from the thought bubble this early morning. 

My coming to the table stems from the fact that there is a vast difference between energy company purposes and hopes and my own.

Wendell Berry said “What I stand ON is what I stand FOR.” That pretty well says it.

My hopes stand on the present and future health of the soil under my feet. And my hopes look ahead–seven generations lets say–a vision our wise predecessors on this continent once practiced in their relationship to the land while we, in our modern sophistry,  have grown blind in this important aspect of our collective ecology.

Where there is no vision, the people perish. We need to put on our spectacles and see far ahead as clearly as possible, not squint at pay dirt under our feet in the present moment.

I will do my darndest to follow my best advice, here early on, and be prepared to listen while withholding immediate judgment until a 30 thousand foot view of all of this comes into view.

I don’t believe that anyone truly has an open mind in such matters. None of us was born yesterday and we have been paying attention. We may attend to different parts of the elephant. And that is probably, in the end, a good thing. But we have points of view.

I hope ultimately we all can give a fair hearing across a wide range of voices representing others who we allow to come to the table with their own baggage, filters, blinders and hopes–just like I come there.

In the end, no one thinks that we can sell the foundation to pay for the house. We have to decide together what is precious about this place, and agree on what can not be sold at any price.

There will be a public meeting on the topic at the County Store in Floyd on Thursday, July 17 at 7:00pm.

See Large gas pipeline projects come to Southern Virginia | WDBJ



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Traveling Hopefully Tue, 15 Jul 2014 12:41:57 +0000 So I had this notion a month or so back that my experience as teacher, speaker, field trip leader and engaged citizen would mesh nicely before small groups of folks who come to Floyd County lacking any depth to our natural or human communities here.

Well, you know about plans. Mr Murphy is always ready to give us a ground in The Way Things Are.

If you plan something so well that nothing can go wrong, something will. Before you can do what it is you want to do, you have to do something else first. Everything you want to do takes longer than you think, and costs more than you have. And finally, if you do something so carefully and thoughtfully that nobody could object, somebody will.

So here’s how things are.

First, the unintended has become the only actual boots on the ground from my original intention. I had not even considered being a guide for tour buses.

Floyd has until this summer lacked adequate lodging in town for busloads of out-of-town guests. Hotel Floyd now offers 40 rooms, in addition to other nearby lodging. And the Jacksonville Center is now a bus destination since its parking lot is paved for the first time ever.

So having gained a bit of visibility for my touring intentions, I was contacted by USTours, and as things turn out, this Friday I will have the opportunity to tell the story of Floyd and Carroll County landforms from Saddle Gap to the Blue Ridge Music Center at milepost 213 south of Galax.

We’ll talk about the history of the Blue Ridge Mountains and of the Parkway. There will be things in bloom and the Eastern Deciduous Forest in general to explore through the windows. The Bluemont rock church, Buffalo Mountain, Bob Childress and Olean Puckett will offer interesting characters and features to explore.

Pilot Mountain, Mt Airy and the Andy Griffith era also fair game at about milepost 189–the mountain barely visible at the overlook due to the “sequester” that has choked off funding for parkway maintenance.

Stops at Mabry Mill, Nancy’s Candies, Poor Farmer’s Market (for lunch at the deli there), for music at the Blue Ridge Music Center, and at the Jacksonville Center on the return trip will make for a full day. I’m looking forward to it.

Meanwhile, with regard to the MAIN service I hoped to provide and closest to my heart: the nature walks along the Parkway are off the ticket. I learned at the last possible moment before press releases went out last Thursday that the fees and other expenses ($600 or more the first year) and other restrictions and burdens were more red tape and bureaucratic crap than I cared to wade through.

There may be private forest and ridge that will serve, but it seems a crying shame to me that the fantastic resource of the parkway should be so difficult to use for education for those like me whose returns from any commercial use would be so small. Fishing guides in western National Parks could pay in one day what it would take me a season to bring in.

And so it goes.

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Fruitless: Unpollenated Gardens Mon, 14 Jul 2014 09:03:24 +0000 Finally in the middle of July, our garden is visible above the ground, even from the road some 30 feet away. For the longest time, it seemed like an iceberg–7/8ths below the surface, invisible.

Now tomatoes near the tops of their wire cages, and the Delicata squash wrap their tendrils around the cattle-panel walls of the garden, climbing toward the highest wire as it they intend to stay.

Floppy yellow flowers open first from the base of the squash vines, and bring the first color other than green–soon to be joined, hopefully, by oranges, yellows and reds of several tomato varieties, should we escape late blight this year. It’s anybody’s guess.

The downside of all this profusion of growth is that so far, most of the squash plants are unfertilized. In the few flowers where pollinators have come and gone, the female bees have left the pollen-dust off their feet on the sticky female stigmas. (The males do more of the buzzing competing for the females, who do all the real work.)

Those visited flowers–like the one pictured–are “pregnant.” They swell at the base of the flower with a baby bump that will become the ultimate striped squash fruit we will gather in August. Other flowers, never visited, simply wither and die, beautiful but barren.

Years past, I have planted squash (the relatively insipid yellow crookneck) more to be able to hear the chorus of the bees than to eat. I learned not so many years ago that there is an insect specialist for this task–the squash bee–and we have had them in noisy profusion for a month or more in summers past.

This year there are, once again, no honeybees, and of great concern, not enough native squash bees to strike up a chorus of buzzes. This is an ominous sign to one gardener, and by extension, to all gardeners, and from there, to all who have the habit of eating.

Some would argue that our agricultural needs can be met without the non-native European honeybee as a pollinator. But we  cannot get by without ANY bees at all if the native bees are also lost. And this seems to be happening–at least here, in a place I would judge to be one of the more chemically unaltered spots in the eastern US.

The environmental service that native bees have offered for free may only be appreciated, sadly, after we come to realize we cannot do for ourselves what they have done for us.

Fragments From Floyd: All the Buzz

As Honey Bees Die Off, First Inventory of Wild Bees Is Under Way

Created By Storm: {Giving Back to your Garden: Mason Bee Keeping}





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WordCrafters: Two Dozen Under One Roof Thu, 10 Jul 2014 10:11:31 +0000 The Radford Library dispel the notion that books and reading are so yesterday.  You can help in this mission. You must!

Plan to come for the authors who have given their day to this opportunity to speak with each of you personally about their writing. Come  to hear them read from their work and tell their stories. Come to hear the music, to have lunch and enjoy life under the big top–the authors’ tent, rain or shine.

If you pass by my table, I will have both of my books, signed; all of the notecard sets; my laptop with a multimedia photography show; and some freebies. I read during the noon to noon-thirty slot in a nature-themed threesome of authors.

I am by far the most invisible of this august group. So when you amble past my table, do please wink or wave, nudge me, snap your fingers or otherwise acknowledge that I am apparent and real, or as a signal that we are imaginary friends in another world.

Hope you’ll come start your Christmas shopping early–or heck: buy your own self a present. You darn sure have earned it. Right?

What’s Your Story? « Radford Public Library
Schedule of Speakers

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Maple, Dreaming Wed, 09 Jul 2014 11:17:36 +0000 There lives this one tree to which I have bonded, this maple–outside the window over my desk, just beyond the green mailbox. It is deeply rooted in my life.

It stands for all the trees in all the world, an object lesson I can see, smell and taste: we make syrup in the early spring from its sap. Its constancy is reassuring in a world of change.

This always will not always be. The maple will remain–only for a time; I will move on before.

And so I made a point not long ago to pull up a chair at the edge of the dirt road and be in the cool quiet of its space for a settled hour.

This likeness, perhaps, some day, will bring me back to that shady spot, into maple dreaming.

Click here for larger image at Flickr.

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