Monday, May 31, 2010

"Every garden a munition plant"

"Every garden a munition plant"

For that inspiring gem we can thank Charles Lathrop Pack, whose book, The War Garden Victorious was published in 1919 for the National War Garden Commission.

The whole book is online -


What the "three R's" mean to preparation for a life of peace, the three M's become in the conduct of war. These three M's stand for men, money and munitions. In its broadest sense, the term munitions includes everything needed by an army, and of all an army's needs the basic and most important is food....

Of course, garden food does not possess, pound for pound, anything like the food value of the concentrated foods sent to our allies and to our armies, but garden food is provender, and it is wholesome food....

Like that young man of great possessions who came to Christ, inquiring, "What shall I do to be saved?" hundreds of men who possessed or represented immense wealth, captains of industry and leaders of big business, came forward in this present-day struggle against pharisaism and demanded: "What can we do to help?" In their desire to back up the government, they were ready to do anything possible to increase the efficiency of either their works or their workers.

Even before the war began, a few manufacturing concerns had started community gardening among their employés, though the number of such enterprises was small. Once the war-time need of food was pointed out, however, business and industrial plants in every part of the country organized their men for garden production....

Among the large companies which helped their men in this way was the Carnegie Steel Company. Here is what the superintendent of one of the Carnegie plants wrote the National War Garden Commission:

The plots were taken by men in all classes of employment. Laborers, skilled operators, clerks, and executives–a large number of them without previous experience–went into the work. A great variety of produce was raised. Much spirit and rivalry developed among the gardeners, this being increased by the offer of prizes for the best gardens. In spite of the fact that the river twice flooded part of the gardens during the growing season, two of the prizes were taken by workers in the flooded areas. The general average of the gardens was above eighty per cent., and thirteen of them above eighty-four percent. Only one was adjudged a failure. The committee of judges was compelled to revisit the gardens twice after the first marking in order to decide on the winners, and even then had to place several of them on a par.

The gardens were not only an assistance to livelihood and a decided profit to the average worker, but were also an inspiration and fascination, as well as a means of pleasure and healthful education and exercise....

Service Flag of the Home Canner - "Can the Kaiser"

In thousands of cases his war garden meant to its owner the difference between ability and inability to subscribe to a war loan. There were more than 21,000,000 subscribers to the fourth Liberty Loan. The estimate of war-garden production means that the money saved through war gardening enabled at least one-fourth of these subscribers to become holders of their country's war-purpose bonds....

More War Garden posters at -

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


While hiking through a spruce-fir forest recently, I watched an insect land on a leaf.

This one caught my attention because of its large size, its lurching movements and the two-inch long “stinger” emerging from its rear. The critter looked downright deadly as it moved rapidly from leaf to leaf.

I hesitate to post these photos because they are of such poor quality, but I had difficulty getting my camera focused in time to snap a picture. As shown in one of these pictures, the bug would arch its long body toward its head and wave that wicked looking weapon in an impressive display.

If my post-hike research is correct, the imposing insect was a mayfly. The depth of my ignorance is staggering - I knew virtually nothing about mayflies until I perused a few references on this creature.

First, the “stinger” was not a stinger at all, but a long – and harmless – tail.

I’ve subsequently learned just enough about mayflies to commend them as neighbors worth knowing.

Although I would have used other words to describe my spruce-fir mayfly, many people call them “delicate and graceful.” This video, a clip from "Bugs of the Underworld" (Ralph & Lisa Cutter, DVD, 37 minutes) reveals the diversity and beauty of mayflies. The Cutters’ extraordinary underwater cinematography follows the life cycle of these unique insects, and it is quite a story.

A great diversity of mayflies are native to the Southern Appalachians but they are highly susceptible to water pollution.

To make up for my less-than-stellar pics, I found two collections of exquisite mayfly photos.
They are intricate, colorful, varied, jewel-like miracles:,mayfly

Finally, I came across this old publication:

Nature Bulletin No. 345-A - May 17, 1969
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation


Back in the time of Aristotle, the Greeks applied the name Ephemeron to an insect we know as the Mayfly, because it lived only a single day.

Actually, although the winged adult may die the same day it matures, the young which produces it must go through an underwater existence ranging from several weeks to two years, depending on the species.

The Greek name was quite apt, however, because the adult mayfly is a delicate defenseless creature with a pair of gauzy triangular wings held upright when at rest, and a smaller second pair which are often overlooked. The soft slender body varies in length from one-quarter
inch in the smaller kinds to one and one-half inches in the larger ones, and is tipped with two or three bristle-like tails, often twice as long as the body, which small boys mistakenly call "stingers".

Mayfly eggs hatch into water-dwelling six-legged larvae with seven pairs of gills. Some species, the "sprawlers", are flattened and streamlined for clinging to rocks in swift streams.

Another group, the "clamberers", are found among weeds in the quiet water of lakes or stream pools and, because they are out in the open, make an important part of the diet of fish.

A third group, the "burrowers", are large larvae reaching two inches or more in length and living in soft bottom muds where they slowly tunnel through the mucky silt -- literally eating" their way, like earthworms. These are often dredged up and sold as bait, called "wigglers", especially to ice fishermen seeking perch and bluegills.

Adult mayflies, with only feeble imperfect mouthparts, do not eat but all mayfly larvae have chewing mouthparts by which they feed on algae and other plant material, both alive and dead. As these larvae approach maturity they become hunchbacked from the swelling wing
pads beneath the outer skin, and increasingly restless. Finally they swim or crawl to the surface. There, the skins of some species split so swiftly that the adults almost explode from their juvenile husk; others must struggle for several minutes to free themselves.

Mayflies are unique in that the winged adult passes through another molt before it becomes fully mature. Emerging from the water, they fly to some nearby tree, bush or other shelter where they rest for a day or more, depending on the weather, before this final molt. Then these "duns", as fishermen call them, shed their dull gray skin and appear in colors ranging from pure white, through shades of yellow, green, brown and red to almost black. On that day, as evening approaches, they go through their mating flights, lay their eggs -- and die.

Some kinds dive to drop their eggs on water; others drop them from high in the air; while still others light on the surface to lay their eggs.

In many trout streams unusually good fly fishing for brown trout can be had when certain of the large burrowing mayflies swarm and go through their brief performance.

Mayflies are found in most parts of the United States but are more abundant and show a greater variety of kinds in the Great Lakes region. They are food for many birds, bats, toads and dragonflies, as well as fishes. Many artificial flies used by anglers are imitations of
the mayfly. Different species hatch at intervals from March to November but along our Chicago lake front the largest swarms appear about the first of July. Then they flock to street lights and store windows at night, often forming heaps a foot or more high and making pavements dangerously slick with their crushed bodies.

Immortality awaits an ode to Ephemeron.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Farmers Transform Champs Elysees

From the BBC:

One of Paris's main thoroughfares, the Champs-Elysees, has been covered in earth and turned into a huge green space in an event staged by young French farmers.

(Al Jazeera video)

They want to highlight their financial problems, caused by falling prices for agricultural produce.

Plants, trees and flowers were brought in by lorry overnight to transform the avenue into a long green strip.

More than a million people are expected to visit over the next two days.

The event, which cost 4.2m euros (£3.6m; $5.3m) to stage, has been organised by the French Young Farmers (Jeunes Agriculteurs) union over the holiday weekend in France.

It will serve as a showcase of farm production from sheep breeding to crop growing.

The union, which represents some 55,000 farmers under the age of 35, wants to impress on the public - and the government - the efforts required to produce what goes on the table.

"It's about re-establishing contact with the public about what our profession is and what they want from it," William Villeneuve, president of the Jeunes Agriculteurs, said on Friday.

"Do they want the cheapest products in the world or do they want products that pay producers?" he added.


Only in France are you ever likely to see such a monumental mobilisation of creativity and resources, all in the cause of that beloved but beleaguered figure: the French farmer, says the BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris.

Overnight, 8,000 plots of earth have been brought into central Paris, and on Sunday morning, from the Arc de Triomphe down, the Champs-Elysees is one vast green space.

Some 150,000 plants have been installed - including 650 fully grown trees - representing agricultural produce from the marshes of the Camargue to the plains of Picardy, our correspondent adds.

Video at:

Friday, May 21, 2010



Abraxas, by M. L. Breton

In Dictionnaire Infernal (1863) Collin de Plancy writes of the illustration above:

A god in certain Asian theogonies. From his name is derived the magical word Abracadabra. He is represented on amulets as having the head of a cock, the feet of a dragon, and a whip in his hand. Demonologists have made him a demon with the head of a king and with serpents for his legs. The Egyptian Basilides, second-century heretics, looked upon him as their supreme god. Finding that the seven Greek letters contained in his name amounted to 365, the number of days in the year, they placed at his command several spirits who presided over the 365 heavens and to whom they attributed 365 virtues, one for each day. The Basilides also said that Jesus Christ, Our Savior, was but a benevolent spirit sent to earth by Abrasax. They deviated from the doctrine of their leader.

[For Breton's depictions of all 69 demons and the entire text from Collin de Plancy - The 1822 edition of Dictionnaire Infernal was advertised as "Anecdotes of the nineteenth new century or historiettes, recent anecdotes, features and words little known, singular adventures, various quotations, bringings together and curious parts, to be used for the history of customs and the spirit of the century when we live compared with the last centuries." ]


Afterwards broke out the heretic Basilides. He affirms that there is a supreme Deity, by name Abraxas, by whom was created Mind, which in Greek he calls Nous; that thence sprang the Word; that of Him issued Providence, Virtue, and Wisdom; that out of these subsequently were made Principalities, powers, and Angels; that there ensued infinite issues and processions of angels; that by these angels 365 heavens were formed, and the world, in honor of Abraxas, whose name, if computed, has in itself this number. Now, among the last of the angels, those who made this world, he places the God of the Jews latest, that is, the God of the Law and of the Prophets, whom he denies to be a God, but affirms to be an angel.

To him, he says, was allotted the seed of Abraham, and accordingly he it was who transferred the sons of Israel from the land of Egypt into the land of Canaan; affirming him to be turbulent above the other angels, and accordingly given to the frequent arousing of seditions and wars, yes, and the shedding of human blood. Christ, moreover, he affirms to have been sent, not by this maker of the world, but by the above-named Abraxas; and to have come in a phantasm, and been destitute of the substance of flesh: that it was not He who suffered among the Jews, but that Simon was crucified in His stead: whence, again, there must be no believing on him who was crucified, lest one confess to having believed on Simon. Martyrdoms, he says, are not to be endured. The resurrection of the flesh he strenuously impugns, affirming that salvation has not been promised to bodies.

- from Against All Heresies, by Tertullian


Abraxas represented the 365 Aeons or emanations from the First Cause, and as a Pantheus, i.e. All-God, he appears on the amulets with the head of a cock (Phoebus) or of a lion (Ra or Mithras), the body of a man, and his legs are serpents which terminate in scorpions, types of the Agathodaimon. In his right hand he grasps a club, or a flail, and in his left is a round or oval shield.

- from Amulets and Superstitions, by E.A. Wallis Budge

Music from the Santana album, Abraxas - view video full screen - it is gorgeous


This is a god whom ye knew not, for mankind forgot it. We name it by its name Abraxas. It is more indefinite still than god and devil.

That god may be distinguished from it, we name god Helios or Sun. Abraxas is effect. Nothing standeth opposed to it but the ineffective; hence its effective nature freely unfoldeth itself. The ineffective is not, therefore resisteth not. Abraxas standeth above the sun and above the devil. It is improbable probability, unreal reality. Had the pleroma a being, Abraxas would be its manifestation. It is the effective itself, not any particular effect, but effect in general.

It is unreal reality, because it hath no definite effect.


Abraxas is the god whom it is difficult to know. His power is the very greatest, because man does not perceive it at all. Man sees the supreme good of the sun, and also the endless evil of the devil, but Abraxas, he does not see, for he is undefinable life itself, which is the mother of good and evil alike…

Abraxas is the sun and also the eternally gaping abyss of emptiness, of the diminisher and dissembler, the devil. The power of Abraxas is two fold. You can not see it, because in your eyes the opposition of this power seems to cancel it out. That which is spoken by God-the-Sun is life; that which is spoken by the Devil is death.

Abraxas, however, speaks the venerable and also accursed word, which is life and death at once. Abraxas generates truth and falsehood, good and evil, light and darkness with the same word and in the same deed. Therefore Abraxas is truly the terrible one. He is magnificent even as the lion at the very moment when he strikes his prey down. His beauty is like the beauty of a spring morn.

He is fullness, uniting itself with emptiness. He is the sacred wedding; He is love and the murder of love; he is the holy one and his betrayer. He is the brightest light of day and the deepest night of madness…All things which you beg from God-the-Sun, generate an act of the devil. All things which you accomplish through God-the-Sun add to the effective might of the devil. Such is the terrible Abraxas.

-from Seven Sermons of the Dead, by Carl Jung

[For the full text of Jung's Seven Sermons - ]


The bird struggles out of the egg. The egg is the world. Whoever wants to be born, must first destroy a world. The bird flies to God. That God’s name is Abraxas.

-from Demian, by Herman Hesse

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Arey's Pride of N.C.

While perusing some old photos I came across this image of a nifty keepsake that belonged to my uncle.

"Scientifically Blended"

The contents of the bottle had been emptied long ago, but the artwork on the label is charming. The pig is an especially nice touch.

Although I grew up near Salisbury, I never heard of Arey’s Distillery. If they went went underground during Prohibition, they never resurfaced.

Apparently, they did not diversify into the bottling of milk. Had there ever been an Arey’s Dairy, I’m quite certain I would have remembered it.

Just last month, the Salisbury Post published a feature on the Arey Distillery:

From the Post article, an old advertising sign for "The Pride of North Carolina"

"The industry was an important source of revenue for the city of Salisbury," the Post's Heath Thomas wrote in a retrospective in 1953. "In fact, at one time, 50 percent of the city's revenue was extracted from the liquor industry. That figure was around $25,000 which was a large amount of money when measured on the yardstick of 1900."

Dugal Lindsey Arey was born in Rowan County in 1856, and he lived for years at 621 N. Boundary St., near the business. Arey died in March 1922, and both he and his wife, Nancy, are buried in Chestnut Hill Cemetery.

Patterson says Arey was an influential Salisburian, though he had to move his distillery from Salisbury to Danville, Va. (Later D.L. Arey products also were labeled as originating in Baltimore, Md.)

Thomas wrote that Arey became "immensely wealthy."

In Salisbury, the Arey distillery produced at least nine brands of liquor, including Pride of North Carolina, Turkey Mountain, Roaring River, Mountain Queen, Monte Carlo, Thelma Hill, Old Watauga, Southern Bell and Crane Creek.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

White Flowers - 4

The black locust is blooming now.

That fact is noted by connoisseurs of the light and delicate locust honey. Meanwhile, hopeful gardeners might cast an anxious glance at the trees if they put any stock in the old mountain saying – “a good locust bloom means a poor crop year.”
The vigorous legume is nothing if not contradictory. A source of tough, durable wood, the tree can be a stubborn, invasive and thorny pest.

The genus, Robinia, is named for Jean Robin, 1550-1629, herbalist to Henry IV of France and his son, Vespasian Robin, 1579-1662, who first cultivated the locust tree in Europe. The black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) was known as False Acacia and was naturalized in many countries for its ornamental qualities.

After struggling against locust for decades (and with the scratches to prove it) I have to chuckle at the mental picture of Vespasian Robin eagerly planting the locust trees brought back from the New World.

Of course, a jar of locust honey, a pile of locust stakes, and the beauty of their blooms are all worthy of admiration.

This story was going to be short and sweet until I opened “Stalking the Wild Asparagus” by Euell Gibbons. On page 93, he shares a recipe for locust blossom fritters, and that set me to thinking about the word “fritter.”

Given the current popularity of social networking, “fritter” is a relevant word these days.

A little etymology lesson reveals that the verb “fritter” in the sense of “whittling away” one’s time comes from the Latin word fractura. The noun form associated with “fried batter” comes from the Latin frictura.

Got that? Fractura. Frictura.

Here are the entries from one of my favorite sites, the Online Etymology Dictionary

fritter (v.)

"whittle away," 1728, from fritters "fragment or shred," possibly alteration of 16c. fitters "fragments or pieces," perhaps ultimately from O.Fr. fraiture "a breaking," from L. fractura.

fritter (n.)

"fried batter," 1381, from O.Fr. friture "something fried," from L.L. frictura "a frying."

Following are Euell Gibbon’s instructions for cooking up the flowers of Black Locust, or Wisteria or Elderberry Blow.

“All make delicious fritters,” asserts Mr. Gibbons.

Remove the coarse stems and dip the clusters in a batter made of 1 cup of flour, 1 tablespoon of sugar, I teaspoon of baking powder, 2 eggs and ½ cup of milk. Fry the dipped clusters in deep fat, heated to about 375 degrees for approximately 4 minutes, or until they are a golden brown. Place them on a paper towel, squeeze a little orange juice over them, then roll in granulated sugar, serve while they are piping hot and watch them disappear.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Leave it to Wendell Berry to continue finding new ways to say important things. The following questionnaire is from his 2009 book, Leavings:

How much poison are you willing to eat for the success of the free market and global trade? Please name your preferred poisons.

For the sake of goodness, how much evil are you willing to do? Fill in the following blanks with the names of your favorite evils and acts of hatred.

What sacrifices are you prepared to make for culture and civilization? Please list the monuments, shrines, and works of art you would most willingly destroy.

In the name of patriotism and the flag, how much of our beloved land are you willing to desecrate? List in the following spaces the mountains, rivers, towns, farms you could most readily do without.

State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes, the energy sources, the kinds of security, for which you would kill a child. Name, please, the children whom you would be willing to kill.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

White Flowers - 3

Drunken Silenus, by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1618

Scarlet blooms of the Fire Pink (Silene virginica) have brightened the landscape the past several weeks. But I’ve been thinking about one particular patch of Fire Pinks that I saw on the Blue Ridge Parkway last June.

In the midst of the red flowers, a few white ones stood out conspicuously. I could recollect some range of color in Fire Pinks, but never anything approaching pure white!

I turned to my guidebooks for a white-flowered equivalent to Silene virginica. At first glance, Silene stellata seemed a likely candidate, but the Starry Campion (native to this area) has lacy petals very different from the ones on the white Fire Pink wannabes.

After reading that uncharacteristic white flowers can develop on occasion, I decided to take a two-minute crash course on albinism in flowers.

There are albinos and then there are albinos.

Technically speaking, an albino plant is one lacking pigments. This is a losing proposition, since chlorophyll is essential for the production of carbohydrates in most plants. Indian Pipes (Monotropa uniflora) derive their sustenance from complex relationships with other plants and fungi, and so they survive their lack of pigmentation.
(Tom Pelletier explains the Indian Pipes /mycorrhizal connections and life cycle )

Indian Pipes, Monotropa uniflora

But back to Silenus...

Those odd white Fire Pinks had green stem and leaves, and thus were not “albino plants” in the strictest sense of the term. Through the expression of recessive genes, however, white flowers can appear on plants that don’t generally bear white flowers.

One more possibility is the “sport” which can result from a traumatic disturbance to plant tissue and leads to a deviation in only part of the affected plant.

Somewhere in the preceding, I might have touched upon the reason for a white Fire Pink.

Who knows!

By the way, "Fire Pink" (or at least the “Pink” part of its name) is not a reference to the flower’s color. Instead, imaginative flower-namers thought the shape of the petal suggested it had been trimmed with pinking shears.

Hence, this decidedly red flower is a pink.

And while on the subject of botanical etymology, Gray’s Manual of Botany explains:

[The genus name, Silenus] was adopted by Linnaeus from earlier authors, said to have come from mythological Silenus, referring to viscid excretions of many species, the intoxicated foster-father of Bacchus being described as covered with foam.

In another month, I’ll track down that patch of Fire Pinks once again, just to see if those mysterious white blooms return this year...with or without "viscid excretions."

Drunken Silenus Supported by Satyrs, ca. 1620, attributed to Anthony Van Dyck

Monday, May 10, 2010

Chauga Coral

Coral Honeysuckle, or Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) on the banks of the Chauga River, Oconee County, SC, 5/2/10

Sunday, May 9, 2010

White Flowers - 2

Mama always sent me to cut roses for “me and her” to wear to church on Mother’s Day.
“You wear a pink or red rose if your mother is living and a white rose if she has died,” Mama explained.
-Jaine Treadwell, writing in the
The Troy Messenger

Growing up in a small Southern mill town I was indoctrinated in 1001 customs, traditions and niceties.

In my case, it was a futile exercise.

I’d like to say that those social graces are essential to preserving our humanity and our civilization, both of which are in big trouble these days. But in practice, I have let them all slide, save one. I have remained faithful to one of those life lessons from long, long ago: I’ve always remembered that the only place for cornbread batter is a sizzling hot cast-iron skillet.

But in thinking about some unexpected white flowers I have met, my memory turned to the same old tradition that Jaine Treadwell wrote about this week.

Her story was my story. Fifty years ago, I heard the same explanation when my mother pinned a red rose to my lapel while we got ready for church on Mother’s Day.

I’m curious if anyone still observes this little tradition. I wonder if it was just a southern thing. In any event, I hope it still happens somewhere, quaint practice though it may be. And if I do go to “church” today (i.e. a trail in the deep woods) I’ll be sure to slip a white flower in my hatband.

Friday, May 7, 2010

White Flowers - 1

A Nashville flood survivor...and sage...left an interesting comment this week:

The slower we go the more we see and when we stop we can see everything.

I like that.

The statement reminded me of some flowers I found while looking for the Cypripedium.

Dwarf crested iris (Iris cristata) is pretty common in these parts. I see patches quite often while driving here and there. Whenever I do, it is hard to resist pulling over to the side of the road and taking pictures.

Iris cristata exhibits some variety in coloring, anywhere from pale blue to violet.

I snapped a few pictures of a big patch of dwarf crested iris, and then saw something new.

At the edge was a smaller patch of white ones.

I haven't been able to learn much about them. Apparently, a white dwarf crested iris is not particularly rare. I did find one mention of albinism in Iris cristata, and don't know if that is inconsistent with the gold blazes on the sepals of the white ones I observed.

Anyhow. Either way. It was a pleasant surprise. And I would have missed it, except that I stopped.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Zahner Lecture Series

Normally, I don't post this sort of thing but I've had such wonderful evenings at the Zahner lectures the past couple of years, I'll share this news release:

Small Purple Fringed Orchid, Platanthera psycodes - inspiration for one Robert Frost poem

Zahner Conservation Lecture Series begins May 7 with ‘Spirits of the Air’

The Highlands Biological Station continues its tradition of conservation themed lectures on Friday, May 7. The series is named for the late Dr. Robert Zahner and his wife Glenda, of Highlands, in honor of their significant contributions to the conservation of land on the Highlands Plateau. The Series serves to educate and inspire the public through a series of talks by premier scientists, conservationists, artists, and writers.

This year’s Series will kick off with a talk by Dr. Shepard Krech, Professor of Anthropology and the Director of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology at Brown University. Dr Krech is the author of 11 acclaimed books. He will discuss his latest work “Spirits of the Air: Birds and American Indians in the South.” Using examples from art, decoration, politics and culture Krech helps us understand the complex relationship early Native Americans of the south had with the natural world.

On Thursday, May 13, the Biological Station’s own Dr. Jim Costa, back from his year-long, worldwide book tour, will discuss his most recent book, “The Annotated Origin,” an annotated edition of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, published by Harvard University Press. Dr. Costa’s passion for the subject and his years of teaching experience bring Darwin’s more elusive concepts into a relevant context for modern readers. Don’t miss these exciting lectures and keep your Thursday evenings free this summer for the remaining 12 Zahner Lectures.

Lectures will be held at 7 p.m. each Thursday evening from May 13 through Aug. 5 at the Highlands Nature Center, 930 Horse Cove Road in Highlands. For a full schedule of lectures, as well as information on other programs and resources available at the Highlands Biological Station, visit or call 828-526-2602 .

Here are dispatches from some of the lectures I've attended:

Ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan shared his "Terroirist Manifesto" August 2008.

Nabhan appeared in Highlands shortly after the publication of Renewing America's Food Traditions. It is a gorgeous book, reviewed here:

Where else would you find a recipe for Passenger Pigeon Pot Pie? (No kidding.)

Last summer, Cherokee scholars Heidi Altman and Tom Belt spoke on “Cherokee Ways of Naming Places:"

Earlier the day of that lecture, I had been doing some research on Herbert's Spring...

...and so my jaw dropped when Altman and Belt discussed their own search for the mythical (?) spring.

Also last summer, a real Renaissance man was one of the featured speakers. Peter White is a UNC biologist, and his little book, Wildflowers of the Smokies, is one of my favorites.

More on White's Great-Smokies-All-Taxa-Biodiversity-Inventory-research into the elusive twinflower at:

However, this botanist and guitar picker was in Highlands to speak on natural history in the poetry of Robert Frost:

One of the things I've liked about the Zahner lectures I've attended is the attentive and appreciative audience. During the Q&A for White's talk it was fun to hear folks share their memories of attending Robert Frost readings many, many years ago. Opportunities like that don't come around very often...

...and they're well worth the trip up the mountain.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Perfect Day

The day had arrived to set out on a search for the Yellow Lady Slipper. I knew that if I waited much longer it might be another year before I would get a chance to see this spectacular flower growing in the wild.

Chau-Ram Falls, aka "the falls on Ramsey Creek” just above its confluence with the Chauga. Until this very moment I had been wondering why they named it “Chau-Ram Park.” NOW, I get it.

As best as I can tell, two slightly different species are referred to as Yellow Lady Slipper. In this case, turning to the Latin name only muddies the waters. My guide books apply these names to the Yellow Lady Slipper:

Cypripedium pubescens
Cypripedium calceolus
Cypripedium calceolus var. parviflorum
Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens
Cypripedium parviflorum var. parviflorum

Despite the confusing nomenclature, and the fact I’d never seen one in the wild, I was confident that I’d recognize one when I saw it, regardless of the official name.

After a bit of research into where they grow I decided to head south. Last year, I found very detailed directions that led me to the Pink Lady Slippers on the Rabun side of the Chattooga River. This time, I was only able to obtain generalized reports of the habitat for this flower.

Playing hopscotch with the rain all day, I managed to avoid getting caught in any downpours. I spent some quality time at one possible site, the Chauga River. I’ve crossed this river many times on the US 76 bridge between Long Creek and Westminster, SC, but had never explored it. The stretch of the Chauga flowing through Chau Ram Park was rich with spring wildflowers including some that were new to me and some I have yet to identify.

No cypripedia, however.

A couple of more stops at supposedly likely locations yielded similar results.

Pink Lady Slipper, Cypripedium acaule

Returning to one of my favorite spots on the Oconee side of the Chattooga, I revisited a patch of Pink Lady Slippers I had seen on May 8, 2009. On that date, the wild gingers were also in flower, with their peculiar blooms that hide in the leaf litter at the base of the plants. But on May 2, 2010, I couldn’t find any gingers in bloom.

Wild ginger, Asarum canadense

The final stop on my agenda was another trail near the Chattooga, one that I had never hiked before. You couldn’t ask for a better trail. The area is dominated by rhododendrons and centuries-old hemlocks, which are now just gray ghosts.

I did see some flowers along the trail, but no lady slippers.

Although I had devoted a whole day to finding the Yellow Lady Slipper I couldn’t claim disappointment at coming up empty. It had been a lovely day. The time had come, though, for me to turn back and head for home. But not before seeing what I might see around one more bend in the trail. After crossing a dry creek bed, I looked up the hillside from the trail and noticed a subtle interruption in the rhododendron-hemlock vegetation. This area must have been a clearing some years ago. Grass grew thinly here and there. A few pines and other small trees were well on their way to closing the canopy.

Bushwhacking up the hillside, I did see various lilies with shiny, broad leaves, but no blooms.

I did not see any lady slippers.

The place was so nice I sat down for a few minutes of rest before my return trip.

When I stood up to take one last look around, I detected two yellow dots of color about fifty feet up the hill. The light bouncing off them suggested blooms with a spherical shape.

Could it be?

Yes, indeed!