“I think that I shall never see/A poem as lovely as a tree”. They are verses from my childhood. The poetry of Joyce Kilmer, or at least his poem “Trees”, was a mainstay of my youth. Last week I had the good fortune to visit a forest that is named in his honor. The Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is tucked away in the very corner of western North Carolina. It has some of the last virgin forest growth on the east coast.
It is, simply, magnificent.
From the website:
A walk through Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is a journey back in time through a magnificent forest with towering trees as old as 400 years. Some enormous yellow-poplars are over 20 feet in circumference and stand 100 feet tall. The floor is carpeted with a garden of wildflowers, ferns, and moss-covered logs from fallen giants.
The only way to see the impressive memorial forest is on foot. The figure-eight Joyce Kilmer National Recreation Trail covers 2 miles and has two loops: the 1¼-mile lower loop passes the Joyce Kilmer Memorial plaque, and the upper ¾-mile loop swings through Poplar Cove, a grove of the largest trees.
We enjoyed the full two-mile hike and look forward to returning. It is the kind of place that will never be the same, no matter how often you visit. Even Tango was amazed.
For the next couple of blogs I will share images from the Kilmer Forest. Not all of its wonders are gigantic. Many are small and captivating. All are wonderful.☙
Frequent readers may recall that Fawn Hill came with a small orchard of apple trees and autumn is the time for apples. Of course autumn doesn’t officially begin for another three weeks but apples don’t read calendars and the apples on Fawn Hill are ripe and ready to go. We never expected much in this first year. The trees, like the rest of the property, have been neglected. We provided a pruning in May and wondered what might happen.
Well, as you can see, we had a bumper crop of apples. Perhaps it was the wet spring and summer that contributed. Maybe it was a favorable response to the pruning. We’ll never know. I do know there were way more apples than I could ever consume. My neighbor suggested I put up a sign, offering the apples for free. “People appreciate that kind of stuff around here.”
So, I did. I put up the sign yesterday afternoon and almost immediately saw the cars slow to read the sign and assess the situation. Late this afternoon the crowds came … well, eight people is a crowd to me. The three older apple pickers came prepared with buckets and had pretty much picked clean the lower branches when the other five arrived. They were much younger and of hispanic origin. It was clearly their first time picking apples and they were thrilled. I went down to visit and learned where they live (very nearby). They were appreciative of the apples and were going to try to bake a pie. I suggested they might want to start with apple sauce. This was a GREAT idea. They asked how to make apple sauce and I gave them a quick explanation. “Look it up on online,” I said. You would have thought I’d given them the key to the universe.
By twilight the trees were picked clean … well, clean enough to take down the sign and re-assess the situation. My young neighbors climbed part way into the trees and shook loose many apples. It was fun to watch but I worried for the health of the trees and the youngsters up in them. One tree has many apples but they aren’t healthy. An aggressive pruning is in order next spring. It may be that the tree has reached the end of its run. But the others are clearly healthy and capable of producing a good crop. We’ll see what next year brings. ☙
A couple of months back I moved to North Carolina where my sister and I bought some property last fall. It’s a small bit of land, about 1.25 acres, and has an aging double-wide mobile home that was vacant for a couple of years and not very well cared for by the tenants who vacated it. But there is amble evidence that the first owners, some 25 years ago, really loved this land and this home. One bit of evidence is the stone wall.
Even though it was incredibly overgrown with English and Poison Ivy it captured the eye of both my sister and I when we first saw the place. We both felt the tug towards this familiar fixture from our New England youth, where gravity stone walls were as common as june bugs and birch trees.
Gravity stone walls are probably as old as man. Basically there isn’t much to them–find stones, stack them and you have a wall. There is, of course, much more to it than that.
The wall that we have on Fawn Hill is probably about 50 feet in length and was incredibly overgrown. Part of my summer months–a fairly big part–has been spent uncovering the wall. It has been hard work and not without some adventure. Like the time I was clipping the English Ivy and clipped the power cord to the water pump. The loppers I was using bear the scars–a notched blade and black soot. I’m lucky I didn’t kill myself.
The oldest section is not hard to find. The rocks are aged and have moss and lichen growing on them. The wall is about a foot or so in depth at this section. It’s really beautiful, as you can see. The stones are stacked so wonderfully and remind me of stone walls that I’ve seen in Scotland and Ireland, walls that you know have been around for a long while. This section of wall has been my inspiration this summer. How I would love to see the entire wall look like this.
But the wall is in disrepair. Over the years sections have broken down and slid away. Repairs were attempted but evidence suggests the original mason was gone. In fact, I’m fairly certain there are several different masons on this wall. At one point the entire approach changes. No longer are the largest stones laid as a base to be stacked upon but are, instead, leaned against the bank. As a result the rocks are stacked more on the bank than on each other and tend to slide down behind the base stone. The approach seems self-defeating. No longer is all the pressure directed down but rather out, precisely the direction you do not want the wall to go.
I’ve puzzled what to do about this. For the time being at least the answer is relatively clear. I’ll keep clearing away the ivy and other detritus. Beating back the poison ivy is a top priority and ascertaining that there are no more hidden surprises, like the water pump power line, are upper most on the list. So is collecting rocks from various spots on the property. At one time some tenants savaged part of the wall to build a fire pit in the back yard. Still others seemed to have tried moving the wall out to the front of the house, near the driveway. The rocks are so poorly placed at this spot that it is likely this effort was more decorative in nature.
I have done my best to shore up one area but I had to build upon the leaning-against-style and I’m not entirely happy with the effort. But it looks a darn sight better than what was there to start with. There is something about the process–building a stone wall–that is wonderfully basic and rewarding. Stay tuned. I feel almost certain I will write about this again. ☙
Toadstool. What a wonderful word. It conjures so many images, it tweaks the imagination, it brings a smile to one’s face. So, what is the difference between a mushroom and a toadstool? Most internet sites that I visited said there were none although there is a widespread belief that toadstools are poisonous and mushrooms are not. According to one site the earliest reference to “toadstools” is from the 1400s. To me it’s about the look. Some mushrooms are toadstools. Like these. These are definitely toadstools. ☙
It has been a joy to watch fledglings mature to almost adulthood. This picture is a perfect example. A juvenile, female red cardinal, I’ve watched her parents fly in and out of the feeders on an endless gravy train run of food to their chicks. Later the parents brought the young birds to the feeders where I would watch tender feedings from adults to fledglings. Soon the parents made it clear it was time for the young ones to stand on their own and so they have. This young female is poised on the brink of adulthood. Perhaps she’ll join a migration southward or maybe cardinals “tough it out” in the North Carolina winter. I haven’t been here long enough to know and, since I don’t plan to be here in the winter, I’ll probably never know. We can’t know the minutiae of life’s cycle, only the broad strokes. She is vibrant and ready to take on life. Good luck to her. ☙
Tonight’s post is a simple chickadee, grabbing some chow at the feeder. Birds, if you watch them long enough, take on human qualities. There are the flashy birds–like hummingbirds, cardinals, and buntings. There are the working class birds–the finches, doves and crows. And then there are the not-quite-flashy-but -fun birds–like the chickadee, the tufted titmouse … so many birds! I love them all, even the drab LBJs–little brown jobbers. My late friend Susan was the first person I heard use that expression. It stuck like glue. There are TONS of LBJs–finches, sparrows, juvenile _________________ (fill in the blank). With age I have come to realize that appreciation is the key, not the species name. Chickadees or LBJs, I love them all. ☙
Autumn is close at hand. Migrations and changes have begun. Yesterday a neighbor called to ask if I was being over-run by starlings. Her deck, with its many feeders, was covered with starlings–young, adult, old, they all vied to get as much feed as they could before flying away. Birds migrate mostly at night, using the stars for navigation. So these starlings were “packing on the carbs” before the night’s flight.
A few starlings visited me but my swarm was quite different. It was bees! Hundreds of bees had found their way to my hummingbird feeder and drained it dry. There were so many bees that the birds were intimidated and perhaps even stung. They would fly in, furtively, grab a quick mouth of seed and fly away with bees on their tails. The bees massed in great numbers on the hummingbird feeder and some even climbed into the feeder through a feeding hole that had lost its tiny plastic “flower” which narrows down the opening, drowning themselves in the process and making quite a mess. You can see them in this picture, bunched at the top of the liquid.
I was puzzled as to why they had suddenly decided to descend on a feeder that has been in place for two months. The answer presented itself today.
A short distance from the hill on which I live is a small business that specializes in erosion control and surveying properties. The owner also has bee hives which he put out in a field last May during my visit. In the past couple of days the number of beehives has increased dramatically and so has the activity at the business during the night. The annoying beep-beep-beep of a lift backing up has pierced the night, disrupting the sleep for many of us here on Fawn Hill. We could not imagine what this company was doing in its work from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. but today, as we drove by the place returning from a delightful day trip to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest we noticed that the number of hives has increased tremendously. They line the driveway and stretch onto the fields. Suddenly it all became clear. The bee hive keeper was collecting his flock, preparing it for a move south. Hence the bee population in this neighborhood has skyrocketed and they are going for whatever they can find eat.
Just another part of the cycle. I’ve been told I need a special feeder that has holes so small that only hummingbirds with their small proboscis can access them. I’ll make that investment and, next year, the hummers will have two feeders until the bees return in August. Then we’ll put away the feeder that calls many to their death. Just part of the learning process here on Fawn Hill and, after all, life is for learning. ☙
Backyard naturalists everywhere agonize over the process of identifying their sightings. It would seem that capturing an image of something–flower, bird, tree, mushroom–would make identification easy but it doesn’t. This beauty (above), making a second appearance in this blog (see “Tonight, Under the Big Top“), had me stumped for a while. But I think it is a chanterelle. Yesterday’s image did not reveal the classic trumpet shape that chanterelles adopt. This mushroom is standing nearby the first and clearly has the chanterelle trumpet shape developing.
One can argue, “Who cares?” Post the picture and move on. Given my inability to retain very many names of the natural wonders around us I can almost go in that direction. Post the picture and move on. But these wonders are just that…wonders. And it seems …respectful to at least make a stab at getting the name right. I encourage, and even welcome, confirmation or correction. ☙
Macro photography is a wonderful hobby. But it is also … well, it is hard work. Today I was doing some work in the backyard when my eye caught the most amazing bright orange color under brown, damp leaves. There were two small orange dots and I began to carefully clear away the detritus wondering what would emerge. To my utter amazement there were two, very small mushrooms. One was about two inches tall, the other about half that size. The color was stupendous. They were ORANGE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! They bordered on red. To say I was captivated is an understatement.
I dropped everything I was doing and headed to the house for the camera and attendant gear — tripod, remote shutter release, etc. But these small lovelies were on a steep slope…a slope I was trying to preserve by re-building a beautifully stacked stone wall. And they are so small. The one above in no more than an inch in height. A nearby cousin is about 1.5 inches. The equipment that I was bringing to capture these beings could easily crush either one and the slope made arranging the tripod VERY difficult.
I struggled with the situation for the better part of an hour, snapping about 50 or so images. There are, perhaps, two to three that I am happy with but I have learned that I am too harsh on myself. Many images that I deem “adequate” are viewed by others as “fabulous.” And I have begun to understand why. Even though my photos may not be up to National Geographic standards the simple truth is that I pause to capture moments that make others appreciate what is out there, around them, thriving on this globe that we call home … Earth.
And, from a purely selfish point-of-view, macro photography reveals wonders that none of us are aware of. This shot is a perfect example. My energy was focused on trying to capture a photo of this less-than-one-inch-high mushroom. The focus is less than satisfactory but look…to the right…dropping from the mushroom like a player in some Cirque de Soleil show at Las Vegas or Disney World. I did not see that creature until I off-loaded the pictures to my computer. It personifies what I love about macro…the absolute unknown, captured in a shutter’s heart beat. None of the other pictures had this creature. Macro, to my mind, is a WHOLE lot of preparation but also a WHOLE lot of luck. This is not a particularly good picture but it has captured a life energy that 99% of us are totally unaware of. How cool is that? How wonderful is it that we can capture these moments?
A week of rain has brought another round of mushrooms popping up in the Carolina woods. Many are familiar from last July but a newcomer (to me) is a good sized stand of Straight-branched Coral mushrooms near our tool shed. Larger than the Violet-branched Coral mushroom of a few weeks back, these mushrooms seem very robust. It will be interesting to see if they become food for some critter. The field guide states they are “sometimes bitter.” I accepted that and let them be. ☙