Some Days Are For The Birds

Recently the warm weather allowed me to get out for a few minutes and visit the bird feeder at my dad’s house. Dad goes all out for his little feathered friends. The TV is on but he has his binoculars pressed to his face looking out the window at all the activity in the chestnut trees on the edge of the yard. The term “yard” is kinda used loosely at dad’s place. In general it’s any place where you mow plus just under the trees where the woods begin. As we observe the feeding dad recounts the events at the feeder over the past few days. He hasn’t actually named these birds out loud but he knows all of the species and individuals who frequently visit his yard. He tells me that the Common Flicker in tonight’s feature image is the boss of the yard and how he even challenges and keeps at bay the murder of crows that are larger and outnumber him. He talks about the covey of mourning doves and how one always lands on the feeder and tosses food down to the ground for the rest of them. A Pileated Woodpecker swoops in as dad talks and lands on a dead limb of a hickory tree. He hits the dead wood like a jackhammer and sends wood chips flying everywhere in his search for insects living in the wood. ( I tried to get a nice shot of the Pileated Woodpecker but he’s far too camera shy and took flight as soon as I stepped outside.) Dad has one mortal enemy at his bird feeder and surprisingly it’s not the squirrels. It’s a mob of Common Grackles that have run the bluebirds out of his yard and have even overwhelmed the Flicker on occasion. The former Marine came out in dad’s eyes when he postulated on how to defend his songbirds from the Grackles. A few minutes later he softened a little and said that God had a place for the Grackles too. Most of shots from the window didn’t really turn out well and so I put my wilderness stalking skills to work and began to ease myself closer to the feeder. Most of the birds scattered at first but soon the chickadees returned. Small and agile the chickadees figure they can be gone with a mouthful of food before the human can react. I remained as motionless as a stone until they began to ignore me. As soon as the others saw that I wasn’t chasing after the chickadees they also returned. Then finally the Flicker decided that it was time to let me know that this was his feeder. The others gave way to him as he came in for a landing. He dug into the seed mix and found the one he wanted. Then he flew directly at the camera so fast that I couldn’t adjust the focus. He pulled up at the last moment and landed on the branch above me. Few a few minutes he seemed to play peekaboo by popping out from the tree with the nut in his beak. Finally he tucked it into his hiding spot on an upper branch.

Common Flicker hiding a nut in a tree branch

I watched him repeat this stunt a few times before I went back inside to visit with dad some more and share the photos with him. I’ve been told that some days are for the birds but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I want to encourage you to spend some time birding. The songbirds not only bring much needed beauty to the dull winter climate but also share their beautiful songs and impart a little peace to your morning.

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Making Time Away From Clocks

As I make my way down the long wooden staircase that leads to the base of the falls I’m mentally transported to a different world. A place where there are no time cards. A world where the only clock is the arch of the sun and the day belongs to the one who lives in it. That’s really the trick isn’t it? To have a little more life in the day? As the water flows over the rocks at Blackwater Falls the roar of cascade overtakes the noisy parking lot on the canyon rim and the modern world is pushed farther away. It’s easy to see why the ancient world explained creation as being made from only four elements of Earth (The stone cliffs), Wind (The breeze coming off of the falls), Fire (The warm sun beaming down) and Water ( The river itself). These things were the most powerful forces in existence outside of God himself. I recently read a headline that said that doctors in Scotland were now prescribing exposure to nature as a medicine. I definitely concur with them. God in all of his love and wisdom created a perfect world for his children. Even in it’s current fallen state it still exists to nurture and sustain his children. It stands to reason that in order to be healthy we need a certain amount of unspoiled nature in our lives.

Once more I’m fully invigorated by my time out from the world of ticking clocks and constant bombardment of ads on T.V. and whatever other media is encountered in the modern era and it’s time to make my way back up the mountain.

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A Winter’s Refreshing At Cathedral Falls

As the evening sun begins to retreat behind the mountains it grants one last gaze into the cove at the foot of Gauley Mountain. The soft light spreads through the forest floor as wood and stone are bathed in the cascade of Cathedral Falls. The oxygen charged air within the natural cathedral enhances the sense of peace as I cross the wooden footbridge. Time itself seems to slow to a halt as the elements of nature coalesce into my frame. It’s been said that God first set the word of His testimony into nature. I believe that is true because as I look at the beauty He created for us to live in his love for us is written on every stone, carved into every tree, bound into every drop of water and energized by every ray of light. With my spirit renewed in this natural sanctuary it’s time to replace the cap on my lens and return to the big blue truck and head home.

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Time Uncluttered

The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu is accredited with saying that “Nature does not hurry yet everything is accomplished”. In our high maintenance society of modern day planet earth we seem to be constantly on the go. Our lives are constantly governed by the ticking of a clock. Or in my case the prompting of my Google assistant reminding me to check the laundry or change the furnace filter. My smartwatch is constantly buzzing in sync with my phone to remind of one minor task or another. All of this perfectly timed organization allows for us to keep all the balls in the air. But is there an important difference between a full life and a busy life? Lao Tzu’s observation leaves it open to imply that we might be missing something if we are constantly being hurried. Yes Google will help you keep on top of all the important things but only if you remember to set the reminder in the first place. Is it all just cyberneticly enhanced rushing?

I suppose that the answer is in making time for that sense of peace. Sometimes that means that the laundry in the dryer gets a little wrinkled. Sometimes it means that one of the balls that we’re juggling has to be tucked into a pocket for a little while as we enjoy the graceful spiral of a snail’s shell found on the edge of a trail that we really hadn’t planned on walking that day.

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Winter And Wild Teas

In the natural world winter is a time for rest. The animals tend to stay in their dens. The hardwood trees are in a deep sleep as are the bears. Even the deer find a nice place in the deep woods where they can shelter from the cold. The days are still short and the cold nights are long. Just perfect for deep rest.

The giant elm tree in tonight’s feature image is just as beautiful in the winter as it is with its leaves on in the warmer months. One of the special treats of the colder months when I was a kid was bark teas. I’d be careful about where I harvested the bark (see note below) but elm actually has a nice spicy flavor. Several years ago I was able to try it for the first time. Traditionally it’s used for sore throats and colds ( I’m not a doctor or a certified anything so this is historical statement and not medical advice) due to the gelatinous fiber it yields. The flavor is similar to the Balsam Poplar that grows in higher elevations. In just a few months the buds will begin to swell and they make a good tea as well. In the old days, the Basswood (Linden or Lyme in Europe) buds were a source of winter food for my ancestors. Winter hikes in my teens always included stopping by a grove of black birch for a handful of wintergreen flavored twigs to nibble on. Sassafras was also a wonderful bark tea with an aroma that filled the house. There’s also the Carolina Spicebush who’s twigs provide a very lemon like flavor and the red berries of the stag horn sumac which has to be filtered well but gives us a pink lemonade in winter.

Perhaps that’s why I like this big old elm tree so much. It’s not only because it’s awesome to look at but it reminds me of all the cool stuff that the Appalachian forests provide even in winter.

(NOTE: WHILE THE TREES AND FOOD USES MENTIONED IN TONIGHT’S POST WERE TRADITIONALLY USED IN APPALACHIA THERE ARE HAZARDS AND FOOD ALLERGIES TO CONSIDER. FOR EXAMPLE, THE ELM IN TONIGHT’S POST IS GROWING NEAR A PLACE WHERE HAZARDOUS SOIL CONTAMINATION IS A RISK AND THEREFORE I WOULD CONSIDER THIS PARTICULAR TREE UNSUITABLE FOR CONSUMPTION. IT’S A SAD REALITY OF THE MODERN WORLD AND JUST NOT WORTH THE RISK. MCHM IS IN USE IN THE REGION AND LOCALS KNOW ALL TOO WELL THAT BY THE TIME A SPILL IS REPORTED IT’S ALREADY TOO LATE TO PREVENT CONTAMINATION. )

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All About The Christmas Holly

Well by gosh by golly, tonight’s post is all about holly!

One of the more familiar icons of the Christmas season in North America holly is a direct analogy to Jesus Christ.

Obviously the red berries are said to represent the blood that was shed for the remittance of sin. Only innocent blood could break the curse of Adam.

The prickles on the leaves are in relationship to the crown of thorns. In Roman Times the highest honor a leader could receive was a crown made from the grass of the battlefield where he had just gained victory. Because the thorn is a symbol for the curse of Adam a crown of thorns could be seen as a symbol for Christ’s victory, awarded to him by the sinners who He was born to save.

Holly is evergreen representing eternal life bestowed upon us by Jesus.

The wood produced by holly is white and symbolizes purity.

On a side note, if you want to have pretty red berries on your holly tree you need two trees. Holly comes in male and female trees. Holly grows wild in my area and before I understood why I would be disappointed to see one without berries.

In addition to that, one of my Forestry instructors would tell us that “holy wood will guide you right”. The wood is very fine grained and somewhat oily. Because of this it was once used to make guide pins for saw mills.

Even though Christmas holly is evergreen there is a type of holly tree that is deciduous. It has bright red berries like it’s festive Christmas cousin but the leaves turn bright yellow in the fall and drop in winter.

The berries of all hollies are poison but beautiful to look at making them great landscaping for the drab backdrop of winter.

That’s pretty much it for holly as it relates to the Christmas season. I hope that you have enjoyed this post.

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The second picture is titled “Deciduous Holly 2018” and is also available for purchase by using the Contact Form on my website.

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The Shaking

The small Virginia Pine stands out in a sea of Broomsedge. The open ridge line invites a harsh wind on most days. The winter here in this spot is ruled by freezing rain as well as blizzards. The wind has come through with enough rage to shake my big blue truck from side to side and knock down the power lines but still the crooked little Virginia Pine continues to flourish. I have watched it for several years now and it’s growing stronger with each storm. While it’s obvious that wind shake can damage trees it’s also true that a certain amount of wind is necessary for the trees to grow strong. If the tree isn’t shaken as it grows it never develops the mechanisms to deal with storms.

Often in our spiritual life we become distraught when troubles come and our faith is tested. But, it’s in these challenges that our strength develops to our full potential. Without them we never develop the coping mechanism that that gives us the strength to survive the storms.

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