Sunday, May 8, 2022

Catawba Rhododendron blooming, declaring the beginning of summer



Yep, summer has arrived at the Cloister at Three Creeks, and its only early May.

No, don't give me any of your technical gobble-de-gook. Just open your eyes and look around. Listen to the birdsong echoing off the rich, fresh green forest canopy. Take a deep breath. Inhale the scents of the woods come fully alive again on a misty, damp May 6th morning ... and you *know*.

Friday, May 6, 2022

The strange, the scary, the sublime: May 5th



The strange: A Monster Violet plant.

The scary: almost stepping on a Rattlesnake, just minutes after photographing the first bloom of Rattlesnake Weed (how aptly named is *that* ?!!!)

The sublime: basking in the multi-sensory experience of the spring woods at the Cloister at Three Creeks.

Below are some of the featured photos from the video, for blog viewers to peruse at their leisure.

Daisy Fleabane, in the aster family: Erigeron annuus



Shagbark hickory

Wild Yam: Dioscorea villosa

Wild azalea plant in peak bloom, photo-bombed by a passing Black Swallowtail butterfly

Black Swallowtail at rest, sunning on a rock.

Rattlesnake weed, first bloom: Hieracium venosum

Very distinctive leaves of Rattlesnake weed.  It is such an aptly named plant--it shares an ecosystem with rattlesnakes and blooms at the same time that the reptiles come out of their winter dens.

First rattlesnake sighted right on the grounds of the Cloister.  I suspect this is the same one who frequented the grounds all last summer--a big old gal or fella with 8 or 9 rattle segments.

First Mountain Laurel bloom of the new season--this plant's bloom, for me, has always heralded the start of SUMMER!  But it's May 5th!

Second Mountain Laurel bloom, just opening

Oxeye daisy, Leucanthemum vulgare, an import from Europe

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Five feature flowers, and a photo bombing bug



Five short videos featuring five flowers.

The first is the size of Indian Pipes, with the same general form and shows no green, just like Indian Pipes, but it is not Indian Pipes. My internet searching at the time I made the video came up with no ID, but a more careful search the next day, after revisiting the plant and studying it, turned up the ID:

It is One-Flowered Broomrape, Orobanche uniflora. It is parasitic on herbacious plants such as asters and saxifrages.

The second is Mayapple, featured to celebrate May Day. Third is Anise Root, a member of the carrot family, whose tissue carries a strong anise/licorice scent. Fourth is a close-up look at Jack-in-the-pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum. Finally I found a Mountain Laurel that is almost ready to burst into bloom, which was a surprise, and probably more evidence of climate change shifting the seasons.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Parental discretion advised: A chat with Bad Axe Jack at the Mean Boys' Pit



This is a big change from my usual material. Beware of the foul language.

Forest predation by humans (deforestation, both government-sanctioned and illegal, and tree poaching) is one of the most serious threats to our world, and unfortunately, it will never be solved by regulation or enforcement. If there's a buck to be made, no matter how hard you try to stop it, greedy people will operate outside the law to make it. Same as for pollution emissions in general and for the use of fossil fuels in specific. Sorry for the pessimistic point of view, but you can't regulate human nature.

There are so many threats to our forests. Invasive species, animal and vegetable and in-between, the aforementioned ongoing deforestation, fires and drunken forests (melting of perma-frost) made worse by climate change are just some of the biggies. If I stop to think about it, as I did today while a helicopter ran rampant above the valley of the Cloister at Three Creeks, I either get so depressed that my day is ruined, or, alternatively, I try to find a way to change the way I deliver my message, speaking for the trees. Today's video is an experiment with a new message. Did it work? Only time will tell.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

What do I do? A chat with my buddy 'Easy Listener'



Time to talk out my future options and plans. What comes next? Another long distance hike?

In the past twelve years, since I got my first GPS unit, I've recorded 20,000 hiking miles and counting. I've hiked from Katahdin in Maine to Key West, Florida, the Appalachians to the Outer Banks via NC's 1100-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail where I pioneered and was the first to hike a new 300-mile route called the Coastal Crescent. I've hiked from the AT at Harpers Ferry, WV west and north via PA's Standing Stone and Mid-State Trails to New York's Finger Lakes Trail then west via the North Country National Scenic Trail, Ohio's Buckeye Trail, and Michigan's Iron Belle Trail across all of Michigan's Upper Peninsula to northern Wisconsin, then south along Wisconsin's Ice Age trail to Illinois, then west across the Great Plains to the Colorado Rockies.

In those 20,000 miles I completed the goal of walking to the front door of every home that I've ever lived—almost two dozen of them.

But my wandering feet are not satisfied. They long to continue west from Colorado and stick my toes in the Pacific Ocean, and then to wander up toward Alaska and Canada's Northwest Territories to touch the Arctic Ocean too.

Big dreams. Along the way I would hope to continue to raise awareness of my nationwide ‘Fifty Trail’ route and advocate for building and establishing a network of connected trails in the US that could start to rival the amazing national trail network in Switzerland, which includes no less than seven different continuous cross-country trails.

I'd also hope to promote my AT-hike memoir, which I'm finally, ten years after the fact, finished writing and ready to publish.

Yet I'll be turning 74 this year. One of the things I'm usually good at is 'listening to my body' and understanding its needs and limits. At this age the art of 'resting' becomes as significant as the goal of staying fit and active. The scales find a different balance than they did ten years ago when I hiked the whole AT twice in one year. It takes longer to recover from a long hard hike. I hike slower, and when I do I find that I'm appreciating what I'm passing more than ever—stopping to 'smell the roses' in ways that I had not done before. But that means fewer miles per day—longer time needed to accomplish any goal.

So ... what should the next goal be? Or should I continue my hermit-at-the-Cloister lifestyle of retirement from cross-country hiking and just focus on full immersion in this amazing place?

In today's video I use the camera as my 'easy listener' - my sounding board to air out my thoughts while rambling through the woods on a gorgeous spring day.

At the end there's a report on the half-dozen or so new first blooms seen today, April 26th.

Below, as a bonus for those who come to this blog, here are the new blooms spotted the last two days. Enjoy.

"Fall Color" on the Cutleaf Toothwart.  They, along with the Spring Beauty, have gone to seed and are now going dormant.
First Jack-in-the-pulpit, April 25th.
Early Saxifrage, Micranthes virginiensis
Pussy Toes, Antennaria plantaginifolia
Ohio Spiderwort, Tradescantia ohiensis
Blackhaw, Viburnum prunifolium
Artsy shot of a Blackhaw bloom from the underside
Baby Blue Eyes, Nemophila manziesii, native to California but abundantly self-seeded in the east now after escaping from people's gardens.
True wild strawberry (as opposed to the mock wild strawberry with yellow flowers), Fragaria Virginiana

Monday, April 25, 2022

Very early, very welcome guests arrive from Central America



The audio is the primary feature in the first video of today's three snippets: The song of the Wood Thrush.

Wood Thrushes winter in Central America, and according to Wikipedia they start arriving along the US Gulf Coast "during the first week of April." Here in the mid-Atlantic they have historically arrived (in my experience) in early June. Last year I first noted them in May, and now here they are on April 24th! A sign of climate change? I suspect so.

Also featured are three first-bloom sightings, and an overview of the Valley of the Cloister, with nature's green paint deepening and spreading up the mountain sides.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

The unusual flowers of April 23rd



Here are three real treasures. Two are rare, hard to find varieties of common species found blooming today in the woods in some high valleys above the Cloister at Three Creeks. The third specializes in, and is found only in, a fairly uncommon mountain habitat.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

You never know what you'll find in the woods



April 22nd. A very diverse selection. To call the first scene man-made is kind of the tip of the iceberg. What man leaves behind, nature begins to shape into its own designs.

The second scene was only slightly man-modified - by me - and it really belongs among the seventeen happy places I sought out in yesterday's quest to bring bright thoughts to a dreary day. Had I seen this yesterday, I would have burst out laughing. It's really too good to be true.

Third scene is the one new sighting of spring wildflowers. In this case, you never know where or when, or what new species you'll come across.

Finally come two short clips of one of the fellow ramblers of the woods - and this, too, is a clear sign of spring.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Two depressing graveyards; Seventeen happy places



It was a dull, gray, dreary, blustery day today at the Cloister at Three Creeks, and for me it started off very much on the wrong foot.

Early in my daily ramble, I came across a truly depressing place. The weather didn't help matters, and so the sadness that I felt really got under my skin.

Basically, I spent the rest of the day looking to nature to cheer me up, seeking those small, simple joys that I can always find in abundance.

Mother Nature did not disappoint.

The weather never did improve much, but my attitude sure did.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Garlic mustard -- a uniquely troublesome invasive



In the woods near the Cloister at Three Creeks today, I came across an example of Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) growing in an apparently undisturbed forest area, and concentrated directly under a large dead oak, with only young red maples surviving in the area.

Could Garlic Mustard be contributing to the pervasive 'oak decline' we are observing at the Cloister and in the east coast deciduous forests in general?

I discuss this quote, retrieved today, 17 April 2022, from the Wikipedia article entitled 'Garlic Mustard as an invasive species':

"Garlic mustard produces allelochemicals, mainly in the form of the compounds allyl isothiocyanate and benzyl isothiocyanate,[9] which suppress mycorrhizal fungi that most plants, including native forest trees, require for optimum growth.[10] However, allelochemicals produced by garlic mustard do not affect mycorrhizal fungi from garlic mustard's native range, indicating that this "novel weapon" in the invaded range explains garlic mustard's success in North America.[11]"

Garlic Mustard is a spice that was used by my north German ancestors at least as far back as 6000 years ago. The remnants found in 'Funnelbeaker Culture' pottery is, in fact, the oldest known documented evidence of the use of spice by humans. It was brought to the US by European Colonists to grow in their gardens as a cooking spice, and escaped into the wild, just as so many other problem invasives here have.

But in this unique case, the damage is much more complex than simply physically out-competing native forest ground cover species. It acts chemically, to suppress growth of its competitors and to weaken the forest trees in its vicinity.

All natural woodland ecosystems are highly complex, involving a tapestry of biological and chemical interactions between species that we're only just beginning to notice and identify.  The disruption that Garlic Mustard wields on the balance of our eastern deciduous forests is just one example of the sort of subtle, indirect effects that our forests are struggling, and largely failing, to adapt to.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Happy, sad, Happy



Spring is in full swing. My focus today was on building comfortable seats in the best locations for experiencing the while water at the Cloister at Three Creeks, and as rest stops along a favorite hiking route.

In the process, I paused to discuss some new spring developments among the community of flora, including the emergence of young shoots of Pokeweed. Pokeweed is poisonous to most mammals, but the young shoots, when boiled two or three times, with changes of water, are a wonderful spring treat that tastes much like asparagus, and the boiled leaves are not too different from spinach.

All other parts of the plant, and in all other times of year, Pokeweed is poisonous. Eating just a few berries, or especially the roots (sometimes mistaken for parsnip or horseradish) can kill, usually from respiratory paralysis.

But the eastern black bears love them. They have evolved immunity, probably simply because they have eaten pokeberries regularly over countless generations back into the dim reaches of time. Last summer, almost exactly eight months ago, I captured a 720HD video of an old gray-muzzle bear eating the pokeberries in the 'Yarrrrrrd' among the tulip-poplar plantation at the Cloister. Watch for that feature in the middle.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The end of the beginning



How, after all, did it ever come to *this*?

Well, here's a brief summary.

Really had fun with this one. Hope a few of you actually enjoy it!

Among the new flowers that appeared today was the badly invasive Garlic Mustard. Not showing a picture of that, but here are some of the others:

Wild mock strawberry, Potentilla indica, a native of Asia
Early meadow-rue, male flowers, purple variety, Thalictrum dioicum

Yellow variety, Early meadow-rue, male flowers

Early meadow-rue, young leaf clusters and flower buds, probably female

Coltsfoot, from Europe, Tussilago farfara

Sunday, April 10, 2022

New first blooms on a cold April 10th



On the morning of April 9th, I woke up to find the ground covered with snow. But that hasn't stopped new spring wildflowers from bursting into bloom.

Up in the forest canopy, enough leaves have unfurled now, that, when viewed from above, the Cloister's isolated mountain valley is taking on a green tinge.

Every day this time of year, nature marches new players out onto center-stage and gives them their cameo. The change seems fast-paced, because there are so many members of the cast. It's easy to miss something if you aren't vigilant. For this old hermit, it's such a joy -- an interactive, participatory performance where I get to meander around on the stage and interview the new actors who have just appeared and check in on the veterans who have been playing their part for weeks.

New today were the wild phlox, a pink variety, featured in the 'thumbnail' of the video, the unfurling of the white flowering dogwood buds, a variety of wild indigo with pale pinkish-white flowers, which is a member of the pea family, and the parasitic American cancer-root, also called bear corn, which shows nothing above ground but its flowers. There is no green here. The plant doesn't photosynthesize and needs no leaves because it gets all its nutrients from its host plant. Its roots tap directly into roots of oak or beech trees and steal their sugary sap.
Wild indigo, a relative of garden pea vines and climbing beans.
Flower detail
American cancer-root, Conopholis americana, which gets its nickname bear corn from the corn-cob-like appearance of these flower stems.  It was also called 'Squawroot' because America's first peoples used it as a treatment for women's symptoms such as menstrual cramps.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Five Quickies in the woods ... oooooh!


;-D

Going natural, as always, and finding new signs of spring at the Cloister at Three Creeks.

As a bonus for those who come to this blog, and don't just check the video on YouTube, here are Five Quickie still photos, further documentation of the progress of spring:

First, in the unfinished business department, I finally identified this plant, spotted in bloom a few days ago.  It is the Blue Cohosh, named for its blue berries: Caulophyllum thalictroides.

... but now I have another problem child.  This looks to be in the thistle family, but multiple internet searches have not produced any identity yet.  It has leaves that over-winter flat to the ground before springing up in this aptly named new season.

Here's a giant fungus with its own ecosystem, nearly a foot and a half across, decades old.  It's the Crack-capped Polypore, Phellinus robiniae, growing on a living Black Locust tree.  It is said (and it is my observation also) that nearly every mature Black Locust tree has its own resident parasitic Crack-capped Polypore.

Signs of spring in the canopy, the flowers of the Sassafras tree set off by the maturing winged seeds of the red maple.

Indeed, the canopy is now definitively showing its green tinge, as demonstrated in this zoom shot from a viewpoint.  Most of the tree crowns that are the greenest are tulip poplar trees.



Thursday, April 7, 2022

The Progress of Spring: April 6 at the Cloister



A fellow resident makes an appearance, as does budding new growth of several flowering trees and woodland denizens.
New foliage of the Christmas Fern, sprouting its 'fiddle-heads'
 
Terminal bud, just starting to swell, of the well-named Devil's Walking Stick
And finally, an extremely rare purple-flowering form of Bloodroot seen yesterday at 3500' elevation along the AT.  Never seen this before, and can't find any on the internet, which is a sign that it's *seriously* uncommon.

But one honored 'bellwether' of Spring refuses to admit that winter is over ...

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Waterfalls and Wild flowering Cherries



Nothing announces the arrival of spring like Cherry Blossoms. This year on the Mall and Tidal Basin in Washington DC, peak bloom of the hundreds of Japanese hybrid Yoshino Cherry trees was early--March 21st. Yoshino Cherries are world-famous for their abundant thick clouds of bloom. Out in the woods, our wild cherries make a more modest show, but the individual flowers themselves are every bit as pretty.

Here at the Cloister at Three Creeks, on the actual grounds of the 11-acre property, I've discovered only one blooming wild cherry. We have a number of black cherry trees, but these don't put on any serious bloom display. The one blooming wild cherry is an old one, with its top broken off, but it still produces a healthy crop of pure white blossoms. It appears to be a naturalized (self-seeded, probably by birds) example of the European flowering cherry Prunus avium. It was reaching peak bloom today, April 3.

Also reaching peak bloom today was a much more surprising discovery on the steep rocky slopes beside 'Secret Falls', an almost inaccessible waterfall that may see a visitor or two in a month, maybe less (Most of them being me). It is a pink flowering cherry, probably also self-seeded by birds (who have no problem with the inaccessibility issue here). The species is most likely Prunus serrulata, a native of Japan.

Both of these probably trace their lineage back to a garden tree in somebody's yard in the nearby valleys east of the Blue Ridge.

Also today I found a late blooming variety of the ubiquitous white-flowering Shadbush or Serviceberry tree. Most of these trees and shrubs, which are very early bloomers, have passed peak bloom and are going into leaf, but up at about 2200 feet elevation today I found a very pretty compact-flowering form in full peak bloom. Its blossoms have much narrower petals than the cherries. I show a couple photos here for comparison.

Coming back today to Secret Falls in order to document the peak bloom of the pink cherry, I had the opportunity to just sit and bask in the sound and spray and endlessly changing motion coming down this 120-foot-high cascade (I made the measurement today as part of my expedition). I visited a few other special waterfall spots too. Watching on video is not the same as being there, of course, but I hope I was able to share the joy of the experience with those who could never make the steep rocky climb to get there. Enjoy.

Friday, April 1, 2022

Shocking new sightings at the Cloister


Fun at the Cloister at Three Creeks.  Our guest host introduces some new findings.


Signs of spring, he declared.  Well, I suppose so ... heavily 'processed', however.  

In the 'this is no sh*t' department, we did have some new blooms opening today.  This first one I can't identify.  It's a very common Oak-Hickory understory plant in dry settings, shoots up quickly to reach 18 inches to two feet high, but the flowers are pretty inconspicuous, though also quite unusual.


Today I spotted the first emerging May Apples.  These umbrella-leaved plants are not common around the Cloister.  The deer love them, and so in places they have been browsed back to near-extermination.


Rue Anemone was the real star wildflower among those appearing for the first time.  Here are two views.  Such a delicate looking plant with such a showy bloom:



Found a fairly rare nearly pure-white violet blooming:


And chanced upon a cluster of round-leaved yellow violets putting on a great show.


Always love the mosses after a good soaking rain that fell last night:


Then there was this Tolkienesque discovery:  The evil fortress tower of Barad-dûr.


And finally, though I featured a whole field of them in the video, I'll further celebrate the one-month anniversary of the very first spring flower sighting at the Cloister--the Spring Beauty.  Here's an especially colorful specimen:


That's about it for today, April 1st, from the Cloister at Three Creeks.