Come winter, trees reveal their blemishes

Like an old man’s face, mature hardwood tree trunks are covered with blemishes that signal age: cankers, seams, burls, butt scars, sterile conks, and protrusions in the form of bracket fungi. Winter is the time to take a closer look at this somber side of the natural world.

Plants and animals who choose to hunker down

mtnvoicesThe evergreen plants and birds that overwinter here in the Southern Appalachians have made fundamental “choices” in how their lives will be governed. Being aware of what those “choices” are provides a better understanding and appreciation of what they’re up to.

The secret of ministry of frost

mtnvoicesIt’s Oct. 6 as I write this. The first frost hasn’t as yet arrived. But it won’t be long coming. Most gardening resources for Western North Carolina cite on or about Oct. 10 as the average date for a killing frost.

Life on LeConte: Winter on the top demonstrates the harshness and beauty of nature

out frSipping hot tea while swaddled beside a propane heater, warmth beaming as wind whips snowflakes around the mountaintop outside. A stack of books beside the bed, well-worn titles alongside new adventures, a self-replenishing treasure trove of stories illuminated by kerosene-fueled light. Outside, darkness obscuring what dawn will reveal to be an ocean-like view of mountains upon mountains, frosted with snow and seeming to bow before the 6,594-foot peak of Mount LeConte, the third highest summit in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

It’s a romantic image, an idyll about which a society steeped in virtual reality is still wont to fanaticize. But for the past four winters, those cozy evenings and frostbitten mornings have been J.P. Krol’s life.

Adaptation helps plants weather the cold

As I write this on Tuesday morning there are five or so inches of snow covering the ground outside my window. The forecast on the Internet is for more snow. By Thursday there may be upwards of 10 inches. 

My wife and I protect ourselves from the elements by having an artificial structure (our house) to live in. We can put on additional clothing. We keep the woodstove in the living area stoked up. Bedroom, bathroom, and office doors can be closed so as to maintain warmth in the living area. Soup is simmering in a crock pot. This is our version of hunkering down.

Winter on the ridge: Wintry conditions cause Parkway closures despite warm temps at low elevations

out frThough a mixture of rain and ice pelted the windshield as I headed toward the Balsam Gap access of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the forecast was calling for a high of 52 and the car thermometer read 48 degrees. 

I was headed up to see what springlike weather down below translated to when sitting at 6,000 feet on the scenic mountain road, because, let’s face it, I was skeptical. The Parkway had been closed for much of the winter, including the previous week, when temperatures in Waynesville climbed up to the sunny 60s.

Cherokee knew how to handle the chill of winter

mtnvoices“Two or more Families join together in building a hot-house, about 30 feet Diameter, and 15 feet high, in form of a Cone, with Poles and thatched, without any air-hole, except a small door about 3 feet high and 18 Inches wide. In the Center of the hot-house they burn fire of well-seasoned dry-wood; round the inside are bedsteads sized to the studs, which support the middle of each post; these Houses they resort to with their children in the Winter Nights.”

— John DeBrahm, “Report of the General Survey in the Southern District of North America,” ed. Louis de Vorsey, Jr., (Univ. of South Carolina Press, 1971)

Maggie Valley to hold first Winterfest

In an effort to bring in more tourism dollars during the cold winter months, the first WinterFest Smoky Style will be held Feb. 28 and March 1 at the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds.

A feathery Christmas: Birders head outdoors for annual bird count

out frThere’s plenty of tradition and symbolism that goes along with the holiday season, but for birders no tradition is more part of the holiday than the annual Christmas Bird Count. 

The count is just what it sounds like: Every year around Christmastime, birding groups around the country get together for a full day outside to count as many bird species as possible in a circle that’s 15 miles wide. Local groups can set their own date, but they have to fall within about 10 days of Christmas Day. This year, bird counts are happening between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. 

Let it snow! Area photographers capture winter beauty in WNC

out fr1For every degree of cold or inconvenience, wintry weather adds two of beauty. Members of Waynesville’s Lens Luggers photography club kept their cameras at the ready as below freezing temperatures and above-normal snowfall transformed Western North Carolina into a winter wonderland. We hope you’ll enjoy some of their favorite images and the stories of how they came to be. 

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