What's Blooming

Ongoing post with pictures of nature in the Allegheny Highlands of Virginia and the Greenbrier Valley of West Virginia.

Thursday, October 09, 2008


The term "surfing the Internet" is now long out of vogue, but the concept the phrase expresses remains one of the most powerful aspects of the world wide web. Today, while reading an online newsletter about technical issues with Windows, I clicked an inviting link to a talk about new technology for displaying video information. That talk was on a site (www.ted.com) where I soon found myself listening, watching Eve Ensler, Paul Staments, Michael Pollan and others. Along with all the great ideas presented, I was struck by two things consistent among all the speakers.

First, while many of the speakers talked about some of the very darkest sides of human nature or what we humans have done to this earth we rely upon, they did not dwell on the negative. Rather, they had all moved through the darkness of the storm to find solutions, and through those solutions they became personally empowered. The solutions didn't require massive government programs or giant corporations, they were available to individuals. By making a difference on 100 acres or in a small village or putting masses of information into a form usable by a school child, these people are making a difference and they focus on that difference, on the success and progress and potential.

Something else all of these speakers shared is passion. Yes, they've all had success and will likely continue to have success. But, I rather suspect, the passion came first. Passion is not very common in our society. My orchid and wildflower friends have it when they are in the field behind a camera or talking about their adventures and finds. I see fly-fisherman/woman who have it and golfers and businessmen.

Many people are passionate about this or that, or say they are. Real passion though is probably rare. Or maybe it is just expressed in different ways by different people. Somehow though, I think real passion is rooted in something that Joseph Campbell would call the hero's journey. Real passion goes beyond a personal drive and fanaticism.

Greater pens than mine have written of the lack of passion, the loss of personal focus and integrity, the damage and inevitable ruin of a society when gain and wealth and power become the dominate measure of success. As we experience the biggest (and very much predicted) global economic melt down, perhaps it is time to look not outward, but inward. Are we any different than the wall street banker? Perhaps in scale, but in motive, ethic?

The Bible says "without a vision, the people perish." Later it adds that a vision that is based all on possessions is also poison. Here's a couple of things Aldo Leopold had to say that are worth thinking about. Think about these things and remember, the fix to the worlds problems isn't in Washington or New York. It is in those people with the passion to change their own lives and influence the people around them. Wisdom from Aldo Leopold:

"We shall never achieve harmony with land, any more than we shall achieve absolute justice or liberty for people. In these higher aspirations the important thing is not to achieve, but to strive."

"Do we realize that industry, which has been our good servant, might make a poor master?"

"[W]e seem ultimately always thrown back on individual ethics as the basis of conservation policy. It is hard to make a man, by pressure of law or money, do a thing which does not spring naturally from his own personal sense of right and wrong."

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Fall color

For many people, Fall is their favorite season. I too love the beautiful colors and the first crisp, cool nights after the late summer heat.

This year has been a little different with cool weather in August and September and down right cold weather this first few days of October. The weather seems so unusual and yet it is probably closer to normal than the past couple of fall seasons. I can remember seeing a couple of inches of snow fall in Blacksburg on September 15 back in the dark ages of 1968.

When I first moved to Bath County 16 years ago, a September or early October frost wasn't that unusual. Much of this area is likely to see frost tonight which will speed the change in color. Already many maples have changed and all have some color. By this weekend, the mountain roads will be a living painting like this photo taken last year on the road over the backside of Warm Springs Mountain to Clifton Forge--the road locals call airport road.

This weekend I plan to head over to White Sulphur Springs to the National Fish Hatchery for the annual Freshwater Folk Festival. The people at the hatchery are doing some amazing work in trying to save our freshwater mussels in addition to all the trout they raise. Now they are planning to add hiking trails, an amphitheater and other educational facilities.

If you plan to wander into the mountains this weekend for some leaf peeping, add a stop in White Sulphur to you trip. There are other festivals in the area and any road you take coming and going will be beautiful. I plan to head up to Cranberry Glades and across the Scenic Highway Saturday afternoon. A favorite fall trip for my daughter and I.

I see that another bog is slipping off a mountain near a wind project in the British Isles. But still, the focus on opposition to commercial wind turbines is on bats and birds and view sheds. More on what I see as an equally big issue next week. Enjoy your weekend. If you can't get out to see the mountains in fall, message me and I'll point you to some photos and short video clips we'll take this weekend.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Walking on the wild side

Already I often carry too much gear into the woods when I go for an evening hike, but now that I'm trying to blog regularly I'm thinking that having my laptop along would be convenient. As much as I enjoy being out in the mountains, often off trails and wandering through hollers and over hills, there is much that I experience that I would like to share.

It would be much easier to sit down on a log or rock and write the moments at the time than it is to make the time to relive the experience in words when I get back to my computer. In this respect, I can understand how Blackberries and cell phone texting have become so popular, especially among young people

But there is much to be said for letting moments mellow and age. Our immediate culture wants everything to be now. Being in the now has become a strange and twisted image of the old Zen concept of the same name. The old way implies an acceptance, an appreciation. The new way is demanding and living with an expectation of the next moment, next gratification.

Those who know me, know that I have a tendency to immediately expressing my thoughts, especially in writing. Email and texting give an opportunity for passionate pleas or angry outburst that are seldom productive. Thought I know the danger, I still occasionally fire away.

From the time I started taking wildflower photos 20+ years ago, I've been drawn to capture images that combine a sharply focused flower with a similar flower slightly out of focus in the background. Not mirrors exactly, reflections of sorts but of flowers that are not the same. Perhaps I'm drawn to try to capture the way we live and see life.

In that respect, taking a laptop along on a hike would probably be a mistake. For one, more gear would make the whole experience less pleasant for me and thus I'd have less to write about. (A great metaphor there for all the baggage we carry through life, but I'll leave that for another post.) More importantly though, I wouldn't have the advantage of time to filter the sounds, sights, smells and touches of my time in the wilds.

Time and distance begin to blur memories. The image softens and no matter how hard we try, details are lost. No one has a perfect memory, although we all tend to claim perfect recall when it seems necessary in an argument. However, we are only fooling ourselves.

But like my photos, that soft, slightly distant image is an important part of life. There is a beauty there different from the immediate, in your face, here and now. The past lives as an ever present background to the present. Maybe that is what I'm trying to capture in some of these flower images. The present, while clear and distinct, will fade. But as the new flower depends on the seed from the old, the present depends on those faded wounds and glories.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Tilting at windmills

Somehow, two years have gone by since I last posted to this blog. I know what happened between early '07 and late spring '08. I went to work for The Recorder newspaper and kept very busy at board meetings and around the county. I also revived the What's blooming column in the newspaper which reaches a much wider audience than does this blog. But now I am back on my own and it is past time to get this blog back up and running. And who knows, perhaps I can get as many people reading this as did my newspaper column. I know I cover a different range of plants and view of nature than does the person currently doing a flower article for the paper.
A brief recap of the summer: I Saw many great native orchids this year. Some Bath populations have taken a beating, including the S. lacera in Douthat State Park mentioned in my previous post. Weedeaters allow people to mow down to bare dirt and I guess people think that is a good thing since it keeps them from having to mow more than once or twice per summer. Meanwhile, wind and water erosion eats away the soil, the grasses and plants like the laddies tresses die off, and all that will seed and live in the bare soil are invasives and plants no one wants. Rather counter productive in the long run. But then we humans are very good at the counter productive in the long run type of decisions.
On the first of August, I found a small population of an orchid never recorded here in Virginia. It is known from a number of sites in WV and further north. There is a lot to tell about this particular plant, but I'll let that wait until after October when a major journal article about the species may come out. What I find most interesting about the new site in Virginia, is that it is in Highland County, less than a mile from the proposed wind turbine facility.
This is not the only rare orchid in the immediate area of the wind turbines. Nor are the orchids likely to be the only rare plants on or near the property. However, the big current argument the state is having with the developers is over the view shed of the civil war battlefield on Allegheny mountain. Every one seems to be most worried about the ruined view and the possibility of bat and bird kills.
Now I don't want to minimize either of these concerns, but I wish people realized how much damage is done just cutting the roads and building the pads for the giant machines. To me, the damage is done long before the towers are finally in the air. We humans just don't seem to care about the fragile nature of the soil and plant communities on which life depends.
A wind turbine project in Ireland caused 450,000 cubic meters of peat bog to slide down a mountain in 2006. The slide took trees and soil from the mountain along with it, eventually to a river and lake. Tens of thousands of fish were killed. Certainly a real tragedy, but no one seemed concerned about the rare and fragile bog community that was lost and will take centuries to rebuild. The river and lake will be clean in a couple of years and the fish restored by stocking, but the bog community, home to orchids and critters, is centuries old.
I don't know of any bogs on the mountain near the Highland County wind turbine site. There are some seeps and wet areas that I know harbor some rare species. I suspect there are many rare plants and animals yet un-known. When the big trucks are gone, they'll spray grass seed grown in the Pacific Northwest on everything and when it turns green call it--all fixed. How stupid and short sighted can we be?
But at the same time, I haven't seen solar photovoltaic panels going up on the roof of The Recorder building in Monterey. That business operates mostly during daylight hours and since the paper isn't printed there any more, the main power use is computers and lighting. The whole operation could be run with solar power. What a statement that would make about priorities and putting resources into things that matter long term.
Until we are all willing to make those statements by changing our lifestyles and investing in alternative energy sources, complaining about our view sheds at old battle fields really is Quixotic. There is an old saying about putting your money where your mouth is. Few of us really do. We rant about people mowing orchids we love or putting towers in the landscape we cherish, then we drive our big vehicles an hour to save 10 cents on a can of beans and load up on fads we won't even remember next year.
As much damage as wind turbines do to our mountains, they are far more a symbol of what we do to our own bodies, our relationships, our communities, our environment and the world we live in when we continue to plow through life proudly riding on our white horse, blinders firmly in place, lance in hand, charging forth as the hooves of our faithful steed tear up and sling aside clods of the very fabric upon which our lives and happiness depends.

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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Summer orchid season

Here it is the end of July already. Summer is zipping by. The good news is that last week and the next couple of weeks will be peak time for summer native orchids. I have seen seven species of native orchid in bloom or near bloom during the past week.
First the bad news. This hasn't been a good year for orchids along the roads. New types of mowing equipment and the need to keep the road sides clear have meant the end of some nice orchid patches for this year, perhaps longer. Those of you who have been waiting for the Yellow Fringed Orchids along what we call airport road between 220 and Clifton, aren't going to see any orchids there this year. The VDOT crews of cut from the road edge to the forest edge right down to the dirt. They don't normally cut so much and the orchids escape beyond the reach of the sickle bar. But this year they mowed the entire bank. If they had waited two weeks we would have had the blooms and if they had done the clearing in the winter the plants would have escaped. But I know they have to do the mowing periodically or the road would soon grow over. Just sad to see old orchid friends get chopped off so close to bloom. Let's hope they return next year.
The Yellow Fringed near the top of Wilson Mountain along 220 are just about ready to open. You have to look carefully since the flowers are back up the bank. Let's hope VDOT doesn't get to this patch this year. There should be more Yellow Fringed around the county. Look in wet sunny areas along roads and fields. Also watch for Purple Fringeless Orchid in wet fields and fence lines. I know of three locations in the county for Purple Fringeless and there are probably more.
Other orchids to see include the most common native orchid in our area, Rattlesnake Plantain. And the most rare orchid in non-tropical North America, Bentley's coralroot orchid. The Plantain can be found in just about any woodland around the county. The leaves are distinctive and the spike of white flowers stands out. Take a hand lens and look at the tiny flowers. Or take your digital camera and then enlarge the picture on your computer screen.
Bentley's coralroot is going to be more difficult to find. There are now five known locations for the little plants in Bath County, two of them found this year. However, among the five locations there might not be as many as a total of 100 plants or so. The plants are seldom more than six inches tall and even people who know them well and look right past them in the woods. Would be great to find more and to find them in Highland County.
Also blooming is Spotted Coralroot and Club-spur orchid. Both should be found in many locations around the county.
There are eight or more orchid species blooming in the county right now. Plus other pretty flowers and even a few Rhododendron still to be found.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Natural Wonders

On Saturday I finally had an opportunity to go on one of the hikes up on The Nature Conservancy's Warm Springs Mountain Preserve. Once again I am amazed by the wonders protected on the mountain. Brad Kreps, the local TNC director, is a great trail guide and picks varied locations for the monthly hikes that highlight the wonders on the mountain. OK, so I'm using the word "wonders" over and over. But what more can be said? While the evidence of human use of the mountain for the past few hundred years are obvious, nature is doing an amazing job of holding on to some habitats and reclaiming others. The views from the old stone overlooks perched on the side of the mountain are breath taking. We saw a huge bear tracks in the sandy road. In a wet area we found Liparis smallii, Small's Twayblade Orchid, a new species record for Bath County. The orchid was in bloom, which is weeks after the plant blooms in Giles County to the south.
I highly recommend these hikes. You can call TNC office in Warm Springs to check the schedule. There is a hike each month, open to the public. Also, don't forget the public trail that starts at the overlook on Route 39. And if you have a little extra time and/or money, the Warm Springs Mountain Preserve still needs help to pay off the debt and to help fight invasive species. Few places in the county are as special.
Not exactly nature, but don't forget to visit the Bath County Art Show this week at Valley Elementary School. Two-hundred-forty-three artist are showing 637 pieces of excellent art. You'd have to travel to a big city to see a collection as varied and as high in quality.

Friday, July 07, 2006


There is an old saying that ignorance is bliss. But then old timers also say a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. I don't know that I would be happy with the kind of bliss that goes along with ignorance, but yesterday I was reminded how knowledge can be dangerous in the sense of bringing some emotional pain that we wouldn't have had had we stayed in ignorance. And yes, this does relate to wildflowers. Doesn't everything in some way?
Two weeks ago, my friend and nature mentor Stan showed me a site in West Virginia not far from where I live for tubercled orchid -- one of those pretty little orchids with the spikes of greenish flowers that tend to get overlooked. The flowers were just beginning to bloom two weeks ago. I returned yesterday to find the site mowed to bare earth by some hard working and well meaning government employee. And I am serious about the employee being well meaning. Driving a mower along roads on hot summer days is a thankless job that we all take for granted. But one does hope that they get a little information about sites for rare plants before they just reduce the site to bare earth.
On a happier note: Along the top of the mountain on 250 west of Monterey, there is still Mountain Laurel in bloom. At lower elevations and all around Bath, the last of the great mountain shrubs is blooming -- Rosebay Rhododendron. The flowers I have seen are mostly white, but the blooms can be from white to dark pink. This weekend and the following week look to be peak.
This weekend will also be the last chance to see grass pink orchids in the Cranberry Glades. There are a few sites for these orchids in Bath and Highland counties. And probably many more sites in wet fields and wet corners of yards that have never been noticed. This is a wonderful little flower (see photo above) and worth hunting for. Over in the Glades are many thousands of Rose pogonia orchid and these too will be gone in the coming days.
Yesterday I saw five species of native orchids in bloom. So, keep your eyes open especially in wet woodlands, fields and roadsides. And maybe take a walk through those field and roadsides before you mow. Never know what wonders you might find.