Goodbye to a native son
A light has dimmed in the universe. It was a light that shone with gracious comforting warmth yet it was sparked by a lucidity so radiant, so white hot, that it cut laser-like through the intellectual and pseudo-intellectual babblings of science and religion straight to the heart of the universe like a hot knife through butter.
Thomas Berry, born William Nathan Berry in Greensboro on Nov. 9, 1914 left this corporeal universe on June 1. One of 13 siblings, he was surrounded by family, in Greensboro at the time of his death.
Berry took the name Thomas, after Thomas Aquinas, when he entered the Passionist Order of the Catholic Church at the age of 20. Though ordained a priest, Berry chose the life of scholar, teacher, learner, and sharer.
Some books by Berry include The Great Work, The Universe Story, Dream of the Earth and Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community. Two new titles, The Sacred Universe: Earth, Spirituality, and Religion in the 21st Century and Christian Future and the Fate of Earth will be released this year.
A glimpse at the light that spilled forth from the mind and soul of Thomas Berry:
From a 2002 interview with Caroline Webb:
“We can’t survive without using what’s around us but we have to do it in such a way that we recognize this mystique of the community of the Earth. It is time to step back and find the human place in the natural world and not think that we can make the human world primary and the natural world secondary. We have got to say to ourselves, ‘Let’s begin to try to understand the natural world and find a way of prospering the natural world first.’ Then find our survival within that context. Because if we think we can put ourselves first and then fit the natural world into our program, it’s not going to work. We have got to fit the human project into the Earth project. That is what I am suggesting with Law. You have got to fit human law into the structure and functioning of planet Earth.”
[And that mystique makes] “All the difference in the world. In other words it’s the mystique of the mountains and the birds, the sea — it’s what makes us sing. It’s what makes our literature. Even though we have worked out a mechanics that is fairly helpful, it doesn’t give us an interior world. The natural world gives us an interior world. It gives us a healing presence, a fulfilling presence. By the term `presence’ I mean that indwelling quality that manifests itself throughout the natural world. We find this awesome presence in the sun and moon and stars in the heavens, in the mountains and seas of Earth, in the dawn and sunset, in the forests and meadows and wildlife. We are immersed in an ever-renewing wonder-world that evokes our music and dance, our poetry and literature as well as our philosophical reflection and our scientific inquiry. None of our industrial productions brings such inspiration as we obtain from these sources.
“So, even if we use solar energy, without some mystique of the Sun and the Earth, it won’t work. We should do away with the light pollution in cities so that children and all of us can see the stars. Our children don’t have the experience of seeing the stars, and they are crippled, emotionally and in other ways. And that’s the danger of putting children into this context of computers and machines, because what we make, makes us. Children don’t have contact with anything natural, they don’t wander through the meadows and see butterflies, fireflies, lizards and frogs and so they do not have contact with reality — they are living in an artificial world. The greater difficulty is not the physical damage to our lungs from industrial pollution; it is what is happening to our souls, our minds and our emotions.”
“Indigenous people still live in a universe, but we don’t; we live in an economic system. We’ve got all kinds of scientists but we don’t have a universe. There is an Earth out there, but for us it’s just a collection of resources to be exploited. It’s got no dignity. But really it is a communication of wonder.
“Let me recite a poem I wrote about children. It expresses what I mean about ‘cosmology’:
The child awakens to the universe
The mind of the child to a world of wonder
Imagination to a world of beauty
Emotions to a world of intimacy
It takes a universe to make a child
Both in outer form and inner spirit
It takes a universe to educate a child
It takes a universe to fulfill a child
And the first obligation of any generation to its children
Is to bring these two together
So that the child is fulfilled in the universe
And the universe is fulfilled in the child
While the stars ring out in the Heavens
The light Berry shined is not unique. We all have that light. What is unique is that Berry could see that light and understand that it is just a small part of the light of the universe.
Stop and smell the flowers
Sure, we all hear it and we all think, “I’m gonna do just that as soon as I catch up.” And then next year we hear it again.
Well thanks to a wonderful offer from Chuck Dayton and Sara Evans from St. Paul, Minn. and Waynesville, I had the opportunity to ditch my rapid, rabid point to point birding survey for the Forest Service and stop and smell the flowers on Saturday, May 23.
Chuck and Sara were entertaining a group of friends from Minnesota and asked if I would lead a birding/wildflower trip. I had met Chuck and Sara on this spring’s Waynesville Watershed hike and knew they were knowledgeable about and had a keen interest in the natural environment.
Chuck is a retired environmental lawyer whose many accolades include being dubbed Minnesota Sierra Club’s Environmentalist of the Decade for his work in the 1970s to increase and expand wilderness protection in the Boundary Waters. Sara’s love for the outdoors may be in her DNA. Her Mom, Maxilla Evans helped establish and design the Cornelia Bryan Native Garden at Lake Junaluska and in 2006, Maxilla was awarded the 20th annual Tom Dodd Jr. Award of Excellence which is presented each year at the Cullowhee Conference on Native Plants in the Landscape.
There were no hard-core birders in the group so we had a rather leisurely start from Chuck and Sara’s around 9 a.m. Saturday. I believe there were 13 guests from Minnesota plus Chuck, Sara, Kate Queen and myself.
While it was a large group, it was the kind of group hike leaders dream of. The group was interested and attentive and it was easy to see they were enamored by our beautiful old mountains.
We ended up with a decent bird list (58 species) for birding primarily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in late May. And while birds — many likely incubating — were hard to coax from the woods and/or tangles we did get some really good views of Canada warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, black-throated blue warbler, northern parula, wild turkey(s) with polts and sadly, ruffed grouse fledglings on the side of Heintooga Spur Road, where their mom and one brood mate lay mashed by some inattentive driver.
Our birding time was also compromised — in a great way — by all the wildflowers in bloom. I was surprised to find serviceberry and silverbell still blooming at higher elevations along with large-flowered trillium. Other trilliums included wake robin and painted trillium. Canada mayflower was beginning to bloom along Heintooga Road and we found some large stands of umbrella leaf.
Two of my favorite wildflowers were duly noted. Pinkshell azalea, Rhododendron vaseyi, is blooming profusely around the wet, ragged rock outcroppings just before and just beyond Waterrock Knob.
The pinkshell was discovered in 1878 by George Vasey and is known from only four counties in Western North Carolina. The majority of pinkshells are, indeed, pink. But blossoms can range from almost pure white to deep purplish-pink. Grandfather Mountain is home to an extensive population of pinkshell.
Another of my favorite wildflowers, Indian paintbrush is in bloom along the shoulder of Heintooga Road. You can’t miss the scarlet head of Indian paintbrush glowing from the green roadside. But the color is not from the flower. The flowers are actually yellowish-green and the scarlet bracts surround them.
Pinkshell azalea and Indian paintbrush are both ranked S3 in North Carolina meaning they are at moderate risk of extinction due to restricted range and relatively few populations. But both of these species, as well as countless others, are in full bloom now so there’s no excuse not to stop and smell the flowers.
Crepuscular by nature
The sun knows the secret.
Beginning and end
Are the beautiful times.
The soft warm
And sensual times.
Dawning and setting
The magic times
Of every day.
The sky began to brighten. Clouds and dark green mountains played mirror games with the placid lake and wispy fog. The contrast of smoky white and wet gray clouds draping the mountains, all reflected in the still opal waters struck a nostalgic chord.
Every dawn is different in a thousand ways. Sometimes the sun leaps up, hot and yellow into a clear cloudless sky. Sometimes it casts orange rays over the horizon, web-like, to hoist itself skyward. And sometimes, like last Saturday, it’s simply there to backlight the clouds and shadows as night gives way to gray day.
Yet every dawn is the same. It’s the beginning of a new day. The Earth is awakening and all of Mother Nature’s daily rituals begin anew. In spring and early summer once the Neotropical migrants have arrived to set up housekeeping the cacophony of early morning birdsong can be deafening. We anthropomorphize and talk about happy choristers greeting the day. But these songs, while beautiful, are not accolades to ol’ Sol. They are dire warnings to any interloper that would dare trespass on established nesting territory. The gray squirrel crawls from its den and stretches on the big oak limb before beginning to forage for today’s sustenance. It tests the air with its nose and warily searches the treetops for any hawks also on the prowl for breakfast.
This is a spectacle I never tire of. I was hooked at a very early age. As a little boy, sleeping in a room with my two brothers, all my Dad had to do was open the door and call my name and I was up and out in a flash, getting dressed in the pre-dawn darkness with the light of a dim, naked light bulb, to the smell of bacon and strong coffee. Then there was the clandestine drive through the morning blackness to either woods or water where I learned to be still and quite and watchful, as the curtain would rise on a new day.
Now, as I steal out of bed at 4:30 a.m. to strike out for my bird point surveys for the Forest Service, I wonder if Izzy or Maddy will be bitten by the dawn bug. I certainly hope so.
Watching the world wake up connects you in a visceral way. You will understand how the natural world deals with the continuum of time and see that clocks and hours and minutes are arbitrary human inventions that have little to do with real time. The day starts with the rising of the sun and ends when the last orange glow of evening sunlight is swallowed by night.
I am sure my ancestors — and yours — were crepuscular creatures that started their day with the rising of the sun and prepared for night and rest as the sun waned every evening.
What’s that buzzin?
“Daddy, daddy, there’s a yellowjacket in the bedroom!” cried Izzy.
And somehow, the dusty old synapses fired and I replied, “It’s not a yellow jacket, it’s a fly.”
Now, I guess I could have been premature — it wouldn’t have been impossible for it to be a yellowjacket — but the odds were against it. In early May there are few yellowjackets around. All but fertilized queens die in late fall and early winter. These fertilized queens generally overwinter under bark, in stumps and logs and under leaf litter. Some occasionally find refuge in man-made structures, usually barns or other out buildings.
When they do emerge, and it can be as early as early May, these queens immediately get busy building nests and laying eggs that will eventually become those huge picnic spoiling colonies of late fall.
However, now that spring has arrived the odds of a fly slipping in one of the seemingly always-opened front or back doors that serve, like Alice’s rabbit hole, as portals to wonderland for my two little girls, are much greater. But a fly that looks like a yellowjacket? Yep, enter the yellowjacket hover fly.
Hover flies or flower flies are true flies in the family Syrphidae. These flies are noted Batesian mimics. Named from British naturalist, Henry Walter Bates, these mimics, usually insects, closely resemble unpalatable or harmful species and are therefore avoided by predators, 7-year-old little girls and probably a majority of humanoids who, upon hearing a buzz and seeing a bright yellow and black “bee” quickly begin swatting and retreating.
The retreating is not so bad. The hover fly is unscathed and the humanoid gets to breathlessly recount being “that close to being stung by a yellowjacket.” The swatting, spraying, mashing, bludgeoning or other dispatching of the offending “bee” is, however, a sadder affair.
Flower or hover flies are actually quite beneficial insects. Flower flies are major pollinators. In agri-ecosystems like orchards, flower flies out-perform all other native pollinators. The only more productive pollinator would be the honeybee. But honeybees only pollinate. Flower flies are also beneficial as predators. The larvae wreak havoc on aphids, caterpillars, thrips and other harmful insects.
If you can still yourself till the “fight or flight” response passes, it’s fairly easy to distinguish between the yellowjacket hover fly and the yellowjacket. The fly has only two wings. The yellowjacket (and all wasps and bees) has four. Yellowjackets have long antennae. The hover fly’s antennae are shorter than its head. Hover flies actually hover, yellowjackets don’t.
The hover fly’s mimicry doesn’t stop with appearance. Once your logic has overcome your flight or fight response and you have captured the hover fly in your hands, it will press its abdomen to your palm and don’t be surprised if you react by waving your hand and dancing a jig while squealing like a 13-year-old girl at a Jonas Brothers concert. That flight or fight response is not called “hard-wired” for nothing.
After two or three captures you will regain your swagger and be one of the first to say, “here, let me take care of that for you.” But as you reach for the culprit you will be going through a mental checklist: two wings, long antennae, it was hovering, right?
This little buzzer is also known as a “buzz bee.” It has the habit of getting in your face and buzzing loudly. In parts of Appalachia it is known as the “good news” bee. The folklore goes: if one buzzes in your ear you will soon experience good news.
A decade of Birding for the Arts
This past Saturday morning (May 2) more than 20 arts patrons and bird fanciers gathered at 8 a.m. under ominous skies at the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre for the 10th annual (time sure passes when you’re having fun) Birding for the Arts fundraiser.
We began, as usual, at the theatre and were rewarded immediately with all three of the area’s mimics — gray catbird, mockingbird and brown thrasher.
Many other common birds, residents like blue jay, common grackle, European starling, northern cardinal, American goldfinch and American robin along with migrants such as northern rough-wing swallow, barn swallow and chimney swift were also noted at the theatre.
Those aforementioned skies began to leak a little as we spied on the green heron rookery at Lake Junaluska. The lake is always a great place to compare and contrast our common swifts and swallows. We saw purple martin, tree swallow, northern rough-wing swallow, barn swallow and chimney swift all side by side. Wetland specialties at the lake included double-crested cormorant, pied-billed grebe and spotted sandpiper. It was a little slower than usual at Junaluska for migrant passerines, but we did manage to find a Cape May warbler and a yellow-rumped warbler.
The next stop was the Waynesville Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is always a productive stop for the Birding for the Arts tour. The dwarf larkspur and other wildflowers here always compete with the birds for our attention. But we came for birds and we weren’t disappointed. Warblers seen and/or heard at the overlook included black-throated blue, black-throated green, American redstart, ovenbird, black-and-white warbler, blackburnian, worm-eating warbler and chestnut-sided. Other Neotropical migrants included indigo bunting, rose-breasted grosbeak, scarlet tanager, veery, blue-headed vireo and red-eyed vireo.
There were numerous grosbeaks at the overlook, all vying like American Idol contestants to be chosen virtuoso. As we were watching one contestant strut his stuff from the top of a not-yet leafed out tree, a different species began to clamor for stage time.
“Fire, fire! Where, where? Here, here, quick put it out!” called an indigo bunting. We located the bunting and a large number of the group was focused on it when we had one of those “birding moments.” A male scarlet tanager suddenly flew into the field of view and perched, it’s scarlet body and jet-black wings contrasting with the bright indigo of the bunting.
Rain began to fall as we left the Waynesville Overlook, headed for Licklog. When we arrived at Licklog Overlook, we were socked in and the rain was steady. Our gracious hosts Sen. Joe Sam and Dr. Kate Queen offered their porch in Waynesville for a dry lunch catered by the Patio.
After the delicious lunch, checklists were passed out and we tallied the morning’s species. Most of the group was surprised to find out, that even through the rain and fog we had recorded 61 species — a reminder of the amazing biological diversity here in our mountains.
The rain and gray had set in for the day. Those of the group with good sense finally dry and with bellies full called it a wonderful trip and packed it in.
That left only the bird-brained — the senator, Kate and myself — to head back into the gray. We got to bird only in snippets in the fog between raindrops but we added a dozen species to the list. Our best stop, species wise, may have been the last one at Polls Gap on Heintooga Road. We probably couldn’t see more than 300 feet but managed to add golden-crowned kinglet, red-breasted nuthatch and yellow-bellied sapsucker to the list.
Because of the limitation on number of participants (due to logistics, birding groups need to be compact), Birding for the Arts is probably not one of the Arts Council’s major fundraisers. But it certainly is one of the most enjoyable. Plan to join us next spring!
Hats off to Avram and the activist spirit
Avram Friedman, executive director of the Canary Coalition, is not afraid to put his money (whatever fine he may have to pay for trespassing) and time (eight hours in Mecklenburg County jail) where his mouth is. According to Associated Press accounts, Avram was the first person arrested at an April 20 Charlotte protest at Duke Energy headquarters.
Protesters were there in opposition to Cliffside, Duke’s newest and grandest monument dedicated to King Coal, proposed (actually 30 percent completed) in Rutherford County.
Forty-three other brave souls joined Avram in this much-needed exhibition of civil disobedience. From AP reports, it looks like Avram’s relatively young legs – he’s 59 – allowed him to nose out 86-year-old Betty Robinson (you go granny!) at the arrest-me line.
Regular readers of this column may know that Avram and I have, at this point in time, differing opinions about the efficacy and environmental tradeoffs associated with large-scale wind farms on the ridges of Southern Appalachia. But I have never, and will never, question Avram’s integrity and motivation as he fights for clean air. I consider Avram a friend and colleague in the struggle for a cleaner environment.
Avram and I are contemporaries and were “coming of age” in the 60s when the power of public opinion and civil disobedience was showing its muscle. The hero of the day was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The hero of the past was Mahatma Gandhi. And the counter-culture hero was Abbie Hoffman. There were some fringe groups, but the mainstream movement was huge and it was civil. What is needed today is a real public wake up call. The public — loud and large and civil — is the only “body politic” with the power and moral authority to change the status quo, to implement a paradigm that says public health and well being and the fate of the planet are more important than the bottom line.
Sure, Duke and other corporate polluters — and there are many across the country, Duke is just the big dog on our home court — will try to play the “jobs” card. They will shout that the mean “environmental whackos” want to take away the “average man’s” paycheck. Well, I am the average man and I work shoulder to shoulder for 12 hours a night with other average men and women, and if you asked any one of them what’s more important — this job or the health and well being of your children — you will find out fast where you can put “this job.”
As long as the powers that be at Duke and its corporate brethren think they can paint a line on the ground and sit in their corporate towers and be shielded from taking the responsibility of explaining to you and me how emitting six million tons of carbon dioxide into the environment every year for the next 50 years is in the best interest of my daughters and your sons, well, they’ve got a lot to learn about the average man.
I want to thank Avram and his 43 courageous, convicted compatriots for reminding us that spray paint on the ground is simply spray paint on the ground, and if anyone should be in control of the best interest of our children it is their parents.
Maybe next protest there will be 444 arrests and 4,444 after that ....
A picture is worth a thousand words
When the 1968 Apollo astronauts rounded the moon for the first time the deepest impression was not the view of that barren, never-before-seen lunar landscape, but the sight of a dazzling, beautiful blue and white gem floating in the black vastness of space. The astronauts sent images home, and for the first time in the history of the world humans all around the world got a glimpse of their one celestial home.
Poet Archibald MacLeish described it in Time magazine, “to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold — brothers who know now that they are truly brothers.”
These shots seen round the world helped coalesce, especially in the U.S., a burgeoning environmental awareness. The 60s and early 70s were heady times in this country for social activism, civil disobedience and grassroots organization. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (published in 1962) decrying the widespread indiscriminate use of pesticides was a New York Times best seller. Filled with passages like, “There is still very limited awareness of the nature of the threat. This is an era of specialists, each of whom sees his own problem and is unaware of or intolerant of the larger frame into which it fits. It is also an era dominated by industry, in which the right to make a dollar at whatever cost is seldom challenged. When the public protests, confronted with some obvious evidence of damaging results of pesticide applications, it is fed little tranquilizing pills of half-truth. We urgently need an end to these false assurances, to the sugar coating of unpalatable facts. It is the public that is being asked to assume the risks that the insect controllers calculate. The public must decide whether it wishes to continue on the present road, and it can do so only when in full possession of the facts. In the words of Jean Rostand, “The obligation to endure gives us the right to know,” Silent Spring created a sense of urgency that lent itself to the passions of the times.
Some may argue that the city of San Francisco’s Earth Day celebration on March 21, (spring equinox) 1970, created by activist John McConnell was the first and/or original Earth Day. And while many consider McConnell the “father” of Earth Day, it was the massive (estimated 20 million participants) countrywide events that occurred on April 22, 1970, spearheaded by Sen. Gaylord Nelson D. Wisconsin that landed Earth Day and the environmental movement squarely in the center of the political socio-economic spotlight.
This early, fervent and widespread public support created the political capital that allowed for groundbreaking legislation like the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. And while that early passionate blaze has led to important political and industrial gains in the form of stricter environmental laws and policies, it is easy to see from here, in this land of nonpareil beauty and biodiversity, which is being choked under a heavy brown blanket of pollution, there is much still to be done.
The fact that our county and many of its neighbors, plus the “pristine” Great Smoky Mountains National Park, don’t even meet EPA standards for clean air 39 years after the first Earth Day means we’ve dropped the ball.
We need to fan those Earth Day embers back into a maelstrom of public outcry demanding that we and our children and their children deserve and shall have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink.
Happy Earth Day!
Canaries in the coalmine
As I passed the kitchen windows last Friday (4/10), a brilliant red streak caught my eye. I followed the streak to a branch in one of the large poplars at the corner of the deck. There in all his freshly plumaged glory sat a scarlet tanager. The scarlet so bright and vivid it was screaming next to the jet-black wings.
Now don’t tell anyone associated with Cornell’s Back Yard Bird Count or I’ll have to recant because it’s entirely too early for a scarlet tanager in the mountains of Western North Carolina. It would have to be an aberrant cardinal or a cardinal in poor light.
One of my many shortcomings as a birder is the fact that I don’t take notes or record observations. But I have friends that do. So I called a birder friend that does (Bob Olthoff) and asked how last Friday compared to his earliest scarlet tanager record. Bob said the bird in my yard was a good 10 days earlier than his earliest record.
This spring also happens to be my earliest arrival date for blue-headed vireo. I had one singing in my yard on March 23 this year. I don’t know how early that was but it was early. I didn’t think much of it because blue-headed vireos are early migrants. But add the tanager and it makes you go hmmmm.
I have casually perused some of the information regarding global warming and migration over the last few years. The early appearance of the scarlet tanager caused me to turn to some of that data again.
The appearance of one or two early migrants means little, in itself. But, thankfully, many birders are better at keeping records than I and studies are beginning to show bird-population trends consistent with warming trends. Models predicted that birds would shift their home range northward and/or toward higher elevations as temperatures rise.
Research of data collected for the past 24 years shows that warblers like prothonotary, blue-winged, golden-winged, Cape May and others have expanded their range northward by an average of 65 miles during this timeframe. And one study of 20 species of migratory birds showed early spring arrival dates in 1994 to be 21 days earlier than in 1965.
The implications regarding effects of global warming on bird population distributions and behavior are myriad and complex. A quick primer can be found at www.abcbirds.org/conservationissues/globalwarming/global_warming_factsheet.pdf, at the American Bird Conservancy’s website. Or for my unplugged friends who find the listing of URLs a bit biased, you can call Darin Schroeder at American Bird Conservancy, 202.234.7181.
The canary in the coalmine comparison is troubling. The only way the miners knew they must leave and remedy the conditions in the mine was if the canary was dead. If we wait for mass extinction of our multi-colored, nightingale-voiced canaries before we begin to address the issues of climate change we will indeed wake up to Rachel Carson’s silent spring.
Last Saturday (April 4) was another sojourn into the town of Waynesville’s 8,500-acre plus watershed. The town initiated these watershed hikes back in 2007 to introduce town residents and other interested parties to this amazing resource that has been set aside in a conservation easement to insure the town has an ample supply of high-quality potable water.
This spring’s hike included a combination of first-time and repeat hikers. We carpooled up to the beginning of the hike. At that point we separated into two groups — those that came to stretch their legs surrounded by this beautiful setting and those who were content to amble along seeking early spring blooms and listening for returning neotropical migrants.
I suffer from chronic naturalist’s-amble. If I want aerobic exercise I put on my running shoes and hit the road or track. In the woods I cannot go far or fast without seeing something that requires closer scrutiny. Sometimes it is something interesting or unique like the broomrape we found last spring or the wood frog hiding beneath the leaf-litter of a vernal pool that we discovered last fall. Often it is something common in unusual circumstances, like the bloodroot we found this year in seemingly dire circumstances — the stem colorless and the leaf still curled tightly — that catches the eye.
This spring about a half dozen participants joined my daughter, Izzy, and me for our amble. I have to admit, Izzy ambles differently than I. She’s 100 miles per hour up the trail, then 100 miles per hour back to see what we’ve stopped for. But even at that speed her youthful eyes are quick to focus on interesting objects and she waits patiently (?) to show us the newest bloom or animal track she has discovered.
It was a crisp morning (mid-30s) when we embarked. And being early April, not a whole lot was blooming. We found bloodroot, golden ragwort, meadow parsnip, cut-leaved toothwort and a couple of species of violets in bloom. The only neotropical migrants we heard were blue-headed vireo and black-throated-green warbler.
As we climbed, so did the temperature. Around 10:30 a.m. we began to shed jackets. And as we stopped occasionally to look down on the reservoir sparkling in the sunlight, we also drank in the warm spring sun like the fecund leaf-littered earth. These settings nurture more than wildflowers.
After a while hiking we found a comfortable spot to stop and cast off our backpacks and drink in the warm spring sun.
“So, who are those people?” asked one of the hikers.
“Oh,” I said, “that’s a group of teachers and educators participating in a Project Wild workshop. They are learning how to incorporate hands-on environmental education in their curriculum.”
“Does a lot of that go on in the watershed?” asked another participant.
“Oh, sure,” I replied. “There are Project Wild programs for educators and for kids in K through 12 grades. Haywood Waterways Association’s Kids in the Creek program uses the watershed to help educate eighth-graders in the county about the benefits of good water quality.
“Community colleges and universities from the region and around the country come here to monitor and learn about best management practices and the forest management tools used to restore the watershed to a more natural, pristine state.
“We can stop at the visitors center on the way out and you can learn about all the recreational and educational opportunities—
“Daddy! Daddy! Wake up! You’re dreaming that watershed dream again.”
Caving moratorium sought
Three weeks ago (Naturalist’s Corner 3/11) I wrote about a mysterious malady dubbed White Nose Syndrome (WNS) that has been decimating bat populations at various hibernacula across the Northeast and spreading south. Last week (3/26) the U.S, Fish & Wildlife Service called for a voluntary moratorium on caving in states with documented incidents of WNS and in adjacent states.
The fact that WNS has been reported from sites considerable distances from known WNS-hibernacula has U.S. Fish & Wildlife concerned that humans may be aiding the spread of the disease. “We suspect that white-nose syndrome may be transmitted by humans inadvertently carrying WNS from cave to cave where bats hibernate,” said Fish & Wildlife northeast regional director, Marvin Moriarty.
Fish & Wildlife is asking spelunkers to suspend all caving activities in WNS-affected states and adjacent states. The Service also asks that cavers not use clothing and/or gear that have been used in WNS-affected states in any caves even if the equipment and clothing have been disinfected using Fish & Wildlife’s protocols. The advisory states, “Although we have confidence in the current protocols for decontamination, there is no way to guarantee efficacy for all equipment in all circumstances, and they may not adequately address needs for technical or vertical gear.”
Fish & Wildlife and other agencies will also re-evaluate all scientific activities taking place in hibernacula to try and insure they are not possibly aiding the spread of WNS.
The nine states where WNS has been documented to date are New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia. At least 60 hibernacula are known to be infected and the service estimates that more than 400,000 bats, including 25,000 endangered Indiana bats have succumbed to WNS. Some hibernacula have experienced mortality rates as high as 97 percent.
The Service has closed four caves at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, near Decatur Ala. And may close more on Service property in accordance with advisory guidelines. Fish & Wildlife only has authority to close caves on property it owns but noted in its advisory, “We expect other government agencies, organizations or private landowners will close caves to help prevent or slow down the spread of WNS.”
Northeast Fish & Wildlife director, Moriarty noted, “We understand that following these recommendations will inconvenience recreational cavers, but we believe this is the most responsible course of action as we face this unknown threat to bats, which play an important role in our world.”
Fish & Wildlife is hoping for the same kind of cooperation and understanding from cavers that rock climbers have shown regarding Peregrine Falcon closures.
The four recommendations the Service has issued are:
1. A voluntary moratorium on caving in states with confirmed WNS and all adjoining states;
2. Nationally, in states not WNS-affected or adjoining states, use clothing and gear that has never been in caves in WNS-affected or adjoining states;
3. State and federal conservation agencies should evaluate scientific activities for their potential to spread WNS; and
4. Nationally, researchers should use clothing and gear that has never been in caves in a WNS-affected or adjoining state.
We intend to review the cave advisory frequently – at least quarterly.