Fragments from Floyd Photos and Front Porch Musing from Floyd County Virginia Wed, 19 Aug 2015 12:33:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Extravagance of Weeds: Velvet Leaf Wed, 19 Aug 2015 12:33:41 +0000 Continue reading Extravagance of Weeds: Velvet Leaf ]]> IMG_4634_Abutilon480
Click for larger image at Flickr

This is how easily I am enthralled:

Yesterday I had a little “assignment” to be at Riverstone Farm at 8 a.m. to shoot photos of the SustainFloyd refrigerated truck as it was loaded with local produce for delivery to Floyd County Schools.

This regular routine is part of the Farm to School project supported by a USDA grant obtained by SustainFloyd two years ago. And I do have the requisite shots of the truck loading on a very somber overcast day with no-so-great lighting. And that, for another time perhaps.

But I got there early and was kicking around the edges of the planted fields waiting for the delivery person to arrive in the truck. In particular, I was wandering down the margin of what had been the asparagus plot that is bigger than our front and back yard combined.

As you know perhaps, asparagus is an early spring plant, so the tops of the surviving spears had quite gone to “ferns”–the wispy spreading tops that gather the light and turn sunshine and CO2 into next year’s tender spears.

Honestly, it was a bit hard to see the asparagus for all the weeds that had exploded in the patch. And I’m  talking weeds of amazing height and vigor, growing in that heavily mulched soil. They musta thought they’d died and gone to heaven–Lamb’s Quarters six feet tall, amaranth the same, both with heavy heads and spikes of tiny seeds. I’m guessing this patch will be plowed under since I cannot imagine successfully pulling weeds out by the roots without doing excessive damage to the asparagus.

I quite enjoyed myself exploring the random volunteers that had snuck into the vegetative order of things. But wait: what is this odd-looking star-fruited seven-foot-tall thing that is perhaps the most common of all the asparagus weeds?

Well you see it here. I had to discover its identity because frankly I did not know it.

The genus us Abutilon. The common name is Velvet Leaf. You can read about it–an edible invasive cultivated and consumed in China some 3000 years ago.

And so as I expected, my horizons were broadened botanically, so the trip across the county was somewhat self-serving after all.


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Aural Unknowns: What’s That Sound? Wed, 12 Aug 2015 12:37:58 +0000 Continue reading Aural Unknowns: What’s That Sound? ]]> 2creeks480
Click image to hear morning birds and creek songs via SoundCloud

I just noticed last night- -though it had probably been ramping up for a week or more–that the insect noises out our back door were deafening after dark. I came back in for my iPhone to record a snippet but got distracted and never finished the task. But I will.

And I’ll post it here to share yet another vignette of life as it happens in my particular time and place. Not many readers click links like that, but I’ll do it anyway because some day I will come back to listen–maybe in a time of life where these were the good ol’ days, and the sounds can help bring it back to memory.

The bird song in the recording here were taken last summer from back up the valley when the creeks were low and did not drown out all other sounds, as is typically the case when the creeks are full.

It’s never been easier to communicate what we see and hear instantly across the globe.

Problem is, often we don’t know what we’re hearing in the natural world anymore. We’ve retreated indoors where the electrical outlets live and the sounds we hear are electronic strangers or familiar family voices. Night sounds from the natural world are too often drowned out by the hum of traffic or blocked intentionally by earbuds that filter out everything but the drone of our current playlist.

I am lately taking stock of all the “goods” in my life–not the material possessions but the value-added benefits of living where and when and how we do.  Our relative quietude is one of those blessings. Other than our own scurry and hurry around the place, we are alone with the sound of the creeks, the wind in the  trees on the ridge, and the sounds that nature provides–like the raven calls I posted a while back.

But what if you hear a sound you don’t recognize? Doesn’t that perplex you until you figure out what creature is making that sound? It does me. So I’m happy to have  solutions for aural unknowns.

One is the iPhone app from Cornell Ornithology called Merlin. It’s free but a whopping .7gb download. You can pretty well ID any bird you can see. And if you already know the bird you’re hearing, playing its own call back to it can make for some interesting male territorial behaviors.

And if it’s not a bird you can see or any other insect or animal sounds, just record it on your phone and send it in to nprcrowdsource (a collusion between National Public Radio and Cornell University) to have it identified. Read more…

Then you will never NOT know that one small voice in your world by name. It will become a familiar known comfort, not an unknown and unsettling thing that goes bump (or hoot or coo or whirr) in the night.



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Stories About Stories or Not Tue, 11 Aug 2015 12:41:19 +0000 Continue reading Stories About Stories or Not ]]> Storm image from Huffville Road, 2015_08_05
Storm image from Huffville Road, 2015_08_05. Click image to see a short “visual story.”

Thirteen years ago this week I had been blogging for three months, and instant publishing was all fresh and enlivening. My HERE and my WHO were unknown but apparently of some interest to others who would become regular Fragments readers. I had a very few visitors then (how on earth did they find me?) who wanted to see more and hear more. I was soon labeled as a “blogger about place” and the ECOTONE was born. But that’s another story.

I guess the point of this ramble is to ask out loud and mostly to myself if I have more stories worth telling, or if old stories can be told better after thirteen-plus years of keystrokes. On this, I burn hot and I burn cold.

As you might have endured  on this page a number of times over the past few years, I’ve ruminated and anguished about the increasing lack of reach and loss of satisfaction with this blog that was once pretty much front and center of my intellectual and emotional life–an outlet into which I poured myself every day before sunrise–without hope and without despair, as some writer described our obligations to write.

And so I’ve come close more often lately to the brink of declaring that I’m done with all of it–the blogging, speaking, researching, thinking about another book. That was then. Everything ends. So be it.

But the Good Devil on the other shoulder keeps pulling my smoldering resignation out of the fire.

“Wait a minute there, young fella. What if all your earlier grampa tales and eco-rants and hearts-and-minds writing–including both of your books–were just the warm-up to what you might create now that you’re not a novice any longer? Wouldn’t that opportunity–and obligation–make cashing in your chips a big mistake?”

So both little devils have had my ear, off and on this month.

And being the good devil’s advocate, I tell myself:  “Fred, your books are not stale. The topics have not gone out of date. Don’t buy into the “chronological snobbery” that says anything with a publication date more than a year old is uninteresting and unimportant.”

And I go on to tell me that “your writing has been a way of confirming your conviction that we begin to move forward hopefully as a species and a civilization by reclaiming our damaged relationships to the natural world–that thing you refer to as a “personal ecology.” You have a new synthesis from the 2006 and 2009 books that you can share all over again to the same Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, and friends of various libraries. You might not sell so many books as before, but then again, you might be surprised.”

So the Good Devil has got me thinking. I go back and forth when I hold this up to the light. Great idea! What a crock of crap. I need to get back on the horse and charge the hill. I am too old and worn and irrelevant to go jousting any more windmills at this age!

Another possible piece of the rebirth of story-telling zeal is that there are so many more media and methods to show-not-tell than there were in 2002 when I started writing.  I’ll toss this little bit your way, those who have persevered to the end of this ramble: A quick-drafted group of images by way of with a few full-screen shots of sky and cloud I called “Atmospheres.” A real story, of course, would also have narrative text.

This is just one of a dozen story formats worthy of a look with the gestating intention of finding other audiences who might care, once again, to let me share from this time and place in the world.


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We Really Don’t Know Clouds At All Thu, 06 Aug 2015 12:40:36 +0000 Continue reading We Really Don’t Know Clouds At All ]]> I’m sure I had another post topic in mind before I checked my Google News Alerts. Stupid thing to do if you have any interest at all in maintaining focus. I did not maintain.

One of my searches is for news for “cybersecurity.” While I’m not a coder or hacker, I’m an end-user. I’m a participant (mostly enthusiastic but with serious concerns) in the techno-commercial use of digital technology to run a civilization.

I’m deeply invested in web technology both at home and on the road. The “cloud” has made it so much easier to save and share and retrieve information–and gobs of it–on OneDrive, Box, Google Drive, and Dropbox. I use all of those. So this is NOT good news:

The lastest exploit–call “Man in The Cloud” puts at jeopardy the security of all these cloud storage tools. Once discovered, even changing passwords does not rescue your account (far worse if YOU are a big corporation) from being controlled by the invader or your files held at ransom. This is truer of Dropbox than of Google Drive apparently.

I’m thinking this is a Windows issue and NOT a Mac issue. I could be wrong about that if anybody knows for sure. Now that the story is in the wild, I wonder if we won’t see quick and major use of this before steps can be implemented to minimize if not prevent such attacks.

And if you want a smaller scale threat that’s more up front and personal–your iPhone can also belong to others if you are not VERY careful to ONLY download apps from the Apple App Store.

A “Masque” attack might look like an app from Facebook, Twitter, Whassap, or another legit app provider. It might work like the original. But it is enhanced and wants your data for lunch.

Header image confession: it is a mashup of two of my images.

► Man in the Cloud': Hackers can access Dropbox, Google Drive accounts without the user’s password – Firstpost

► “Man-in-the-Cloud” Attacks Leverage Storage Services to Steal Data | SecurityWeek.Com

► Fresh Masque iOS security flaw puts iPhone users at risk – Business Insider

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Call of the Raven Wed, 05 Aug 2015 11:59:31 +0000 Continue reading Call of the Raven ]]> …and it is not “nevermore” but so much more. They have quite a lot to say.

Got Ravens?
QUESTION: Are you hearing ravens where you live? I’m especially interested to know about other places in Floyd County where these birds may be year-round residences.

Their call is the distant throaty croaking you will hear several times, beginning about 10 seconds in.

We’ve had these impressive and intelligent members of the crow family living in our valley all along. But I am pretty sure we have not had the level of activity we are seeing this year.

And in the past few weeks, the soaring in pairs and the vocalizations have really increased–from dawn to dusk. I’ve set myself the task of finding a nest, which is likely on a rock ledge up the gorge.

I will likely have more to say about the ravens of Goose Creek later on, but for now, listen to this brief recording (over creek sounds and indigo bunting song) of back and forth raven calls. You can hear at least two distinct individual voices by their different pitches.

The raven image was taken on Buffalo Mountain a few years ago. I’ll have to retell that account of ravens at play–unforgettable!

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Storytelling in the Digital Age Tue, 04 Aug 2015 10:22:52 +0000 Continue reading Storytelling in the Digital Age ]]> buffalo-nov05-paint.jpg
Jonathan Kingston on the crest of Buffalo Mountain, Floyd County Virginia, at sunset.

It is all about the light we are given. The stories we tell “come to light” first through specialized nerve endings in eye and ear, then through the synthesis of what we see (and touch and hear, taste and smell) with what we image, hope, believe or fear.

There have always been storytellers. It is what we do, how we comprehend the world around us–weaving sight into insight,  fact into meaning and context. Our stories make sense of our senses.

With the small size and almost universal reach of today’s cameras, it has simply become easier to bring the visual into that light of story-telling. And some, like my friend Jonathan Kingston, have made a career out of it. I share his story with you by way of this slide show, in which you’ll see some shots from Floyd County.

How I Became a Nat Geo Creative Photographer from Jonathan Kingston on Vimeo.

“In June of 2015, I was invited to present my work at National Geographic Creative in Washington D.C.. For the talk, I chose to tell the story of how I became a photographer. Here is a recording of the slideshow.”

Also see:

► Winners of the 2015 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest – The Atlantic

A 2007 blog post featuring J Kingston in Floyd

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Nature Hike on Goose Creek: Sign Up! Mon, 03 Aug 2015 11:38:53 +0000 Continue reading Nature Hike on Goose Creek: Sign Up! ]]> The Flow of Things
Goose Creek–the headwaters of the South Fork of the Roanoke River

Take a slow, intentional-attentive walk in the woods with naturalist-photographer-author Fred First. Focus will be on the bigger-picture understanding of ecology and geology of this southern Appalachian landscape but especially will focus on the finer early-autumn details of fern, flower and forest. Turn rocks in the creeks, scratch and sniff, be fully aware in nature, nurture an appreciation for your own personal WHERE. Light refreshments of local food and drink provided to conclude the event conducted as part of the Southwest Virginia Outdoor Expo at Heartwood on September 12, 2015.

WHEN: From 2:30 to 4:30 pm on Sunday September 13

This event affiliated with the SWVA Outdoor Expo held at Heartwood in Abingdon. You can sign up there on that date–if any slots remain–or sign up today by way of the form–and learn more at the link below:

This is a paid outdoor-experience event, with all proceeds donated to SustainFloyd.

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Poultry Palace Complete Fri, 31 Jul 2015 12:06:35 +0000 Continue reading Poultry Palace Complete ]]> IMG_4514henhouse480
Coop installation by Karl Black of Black Hawk Construction who also put up the garden shed a few years back.

So you long-time readers might remember the great Chickalanche of the winter of 2014. All the snow off the barn roof came down with a swoosh onto our chicken pen and destroyed it. (And one of us got to say I TOLD YOU SO but we won’t go there.)

And then one of us insisted that we needed once more to offer our well-fed hens to whatever creatures get a hankering for some chicken–and they all do, every one of God’s creatures wants it some chicken, the list now including H5N1 bird flu spread by migrating birds. Oy.

But that’s a problem for spring, when (I speak as if I had any element of influence on the decision) we will get chicks and offer them up for dinner–to such creatures as this Coopers Hawk. Bring us your tired, your poor, your huddled wildlife longing for a drumstick.

Click image to enlarge.

We are, this week, in charge of a neighbor’s small flock, and Mr. Cooper here was perched yesterday morning not far from their little plot, looking hungrily towards the four hens. That’s 8 drumsticks. All survived their free-range daylight hours, thankfully.

It’s one thing to lose your own hens, and another to have to report that the coyotes or the roving dogs or the raccoons or the rat snakes or the chicken hawks or a crazed, ravenous mob of field mice ate what you were supposed to be protecting from becoming dinner.

And yet, things could be worse. Think how much more of a problem this would be if the wildlife chicken-eaters discovered gravy!

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Blood Moon Rising Thu, 30 Jul 2015 12:18:48 +0000 Continue reading Blood Moon Rising ]]> Personally, I have not been convinced that our lives are influenced by planetary alignment or other celestial events. But in the case of the “Blood Moons” of 2015, the heavens might indirectly with humanity’s help bring about earthly events that will be impossible to miss.

My concern is that the end-times “prophesy” [see links at bottom] coming largely from the pulpits of two preachers might play into the intentions and hopes if ISIS for their own apocalyptic final chapter. They are all a-twitter, gleeful as their Final Battle comes closer. The Blood Moon frenzy is only likely to throw gasoline on their fire.

You can read plenty about the predictable, non-spooky cosmological phenomenon of the full lunar eclipse in which the moon turns an eerie red while fully hidden in Earth’s shadow. This is being called a “blood moon” by Hagee and Blitz who claim to have “discovered” the connection between a couple of Biblical passages about the moon turning red before the end-time events begin to unfold.

What is not so common, but not without precedent, is that there will be four of these lunar events this year, the last on September 28. The woowoo, as it is being told, is that blood moons have fallen during significant historical events for the Jews.

Keep in mind that theirs is a lunar calendar with their holy days planned decades or centuries into the future based on the cycles of the moon. Keep in mind that some of the claimed concurrences of blood moons in Israel’s and Jewish history are not so closely synchronous as the preachers claim.

I might mention that one or both also have books on the subject and a “documentary” movie is in the works.

Someone asked me recently what I thought about this prediction and should they buy green bananas, and up to that point I had not heard anything about this growing angst in some church circles. If you also had not heard, chances are you will as the date in September moves closer.

I’ll have to admit, if I was going to re-read the Biblical accounts of the last days, I’d be inclined to see a place in all that for the Islamic State. I’d see a place in all that for the economic leviathan of the western corporatocracy and its armies that feed with apparent impunity on the blood and bone of creature and planet. There are some  really bad players on the stage. So yeah, I can imagine a show-down at the OK Corral.

But I am thinking that the odds are this highly-promoted blood-moon “sign of the times” will turn out to be just the most recent in long string of failed predictions–unless we let the tail wag the dog.

► What is a Blood Moon? | Human World | EarthSky

► Four Blood Moons: Total Lunar Eclipse Series Not a Sign of Apocalypse

► Everything you need to know about the ‘blood moon’ apocalypse debate – The Washington Post

► Prophets warn ‘Blood Moon’ THIS September will bring ‘huge earth-destroying earthquakes’ | Weird | News | Daily Express

► ‘Mystic’ rabbi issues ominous warning on eve of blood moon


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tEWWWsday (Snake)Tales Tue, 28 Jul 2015 11:18:27 +0000 Continue reading tEWWWsday (Snake)Tales ]]> snakeCollage480
Collage was easy with the help of Fotor app for Mac.

EWWWW! Is a gut response usually reserved for spiders and snakes.  Somewhere deep in our collective memory we carry a native fear buoyant on a  deep layer of disgust when it comes to certain kinds of animal. Plants, not so much.

I, OTOH, rather enjoy having both spiders and snakes a part of our warm-season co-inhabitants and have recently shared a celebration in webs.

But what I am realizing here past mid-way through the summer of 2015 is that we are not seeing our herptile regulars–the brown water snakes that bask on the rock foundation of the barn or the black rat snakes that sun on top of the sliding doors of the barn [the one pictured here is Lumpy–with probable tumor not a hen’s egg.]

We are not seeing the colorful corn snakes that have startled me imitating rope in the shed or the queen snakes basking in the blackberry canes that arch out over the creek or the rough green snakes we see every couple of years. It’s been maybe since early June that we’ve seen a single snake.

So where are the snakes this year? Is it just here on Goose Creek (that is always a few degrees cooler than most everywhere else) that fewer snakes are showing up?

Graphic cobbled using Canva

Are you seeing MORE snakes this summer or LESS than you typically do?

What triggered the direction of this morning’s thread was this NatGeo article below that elucidates the exact physiology of death by constrictor. Now this has a certain EWWW factor, if you’re up for some informative videos and deadly details. You’re welcome.

Why We Were Totally Wrong About How Boa Constrictors Kill

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