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.