What's Blooming

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

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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