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Posts Tagged ‘Snake Den Ridge’

Upload Burrowing Crayfish, Cambarus dubius

[with poems by Lesley Wheeler and Bill Griffin]

How? Crayfish taste with their skin. Well, not skin precisely: cuticle is what their carapace is called, their shell, made of chitin. (Read to the end for a science geek discussion of chitin vs. keratin.) It’s hard and it’s tough but it has chemoreceptors that detect dissolved molecules. With their skin, crayfish taste the water. Or smell it.

Taste and smell, inseparable as yeast and flour. Apart only mildly interesting, but mix them together and suddenly it’s 1979, Durham, that little red house on Green Street, waiting at the table with your toddler for hot bread from the oven. Or if you’re Crayfish maybe a tasty caddisfly larva. Or perhaps that taste/smell is Otter on the prowl and it’s time to find a rock.

This big guy (guy: we have our ways of knowing these things, though we don’t like to pry when those pincers are cocked) is possibly an Upland Burrowing Crayfish, Cambarus dubius. Yes, he really is blue; I swear I didn’t touch the hue sliders. (Read to the end for a science geek discussion of crustacean blueness). He was tooling across the level patch near the creek below our house where the Sewer Authority crews clear a path to check their access ports. Lovely spot for a walk, although you might catch the occasional whiff of fabric softener lightly swirled with hydrogen sulfide and anaerobic bacteria. Poop perfume.

Ah, ineffable links, scent and memory. Strolling down the aisle at Food Lion I pass the Downy and my olfactory bulb & hippocampus spark to tell me I’m hiking beside the autumn creek. And look! A Crayfish!

Mountains-to-Sea Trail with Sassafras; near Elkin, NC and Isaac's trailhead

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I don’t believe I’ve missed reading an issue of Cave Wall since its inception. Editors Rhett Iseman Trull and Jeff Trull never fail to craft a collection that sparks neurons I’ve been neglecting. In the same way that a forgotten aroma can open a memory door into all the senses, a poem can flash and growl and shudder the reader with sudden insight. Circles, ripples, connections. My college English prof taught a whole semester on it: epiphany. Or an even better word (thank you Caren Stuart for this indispensable addition to the lexicon) – the gasp-sigh.

Invocation by Lesley Wheeler appears in Cave Wall Number 16 (Spring 2020). Something here is thirsty . . . something is called to wake up! How much of each of us is mud, condensation? Shall we pause a moment for spore and mire to convene again within us?

Worship begins with invocation, a call to the divine presence to enter this place. But since divine mystery comprises the entire universe, every boson and lepton, where can we sojourn where the divine is not? Perhaps practicing invocation we are really calling ourselves. Enter this moment. Reside here. Abide with the mystery. Wake up!

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Invocation

Bottomland: rouse. Sedge, knotweed:
time to rally. You’ve been lost
in thought, ebb and fuming flood,
since the glacier, thin winters
digging for turtles in cold mud.
Valley was tundra. Elk and moose
drank at water’s brink while firs
invented shade. Panthers melted

into the dark, but spore and mire could
convene again. Softness feed us
and eat our footholds away. Something
here is thirst for living’s every
rivulet, hospitable and
treacherous in her oblivion.
Misty divots. Condensation
beads on the throat, where pulses drum.

What kind of god is this? Her name
just a hieroglyph drawn in muck
by a tentative finger. No
answer but a hissing river.
Drowsy spirit, I’m pleading. Take
this blood shed unseasonably,
mineral gift. Be comfort. Be
danger. Of sleep, of trough. Wake up.

Lesley Wheeler, in Cave Wall Number 16, Spring 2020

Lesley Wheeler is a poet, novelist, scholar, and blogger. She is the poetry editor of Shenandoah.

Sassafras, Sassafras albidum, illustrating the three lobe types

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The following poem appears in Snake Den Ridge: a Bestiary (2008, March Street Press). Linda and I collaborated on the book and her illustration appears below (at the time she agreed to interrupt her many other projects because I promised to dedicate the book to my friend Mike Barnett – I can’t even calculate the hours she spent drawing or the height of the field guides and science books piled beside her on her desk).

Crayfish

Just wiggle this rock
and the stream
hums a whole new flavor –
in the turbulence I taste
last night’s shower
on the Ridge
and this morning’s stirring
of awakened larvae.
Tailflap, legtips,
cuticle,
all of me every moment
strummed by roil and eddy,
random caress
of molecules,
divine order of chaos.

I’ll tell you a secret –
God is deliciousness!,

the constant inconstancy
of current
that reveals my breakfast
or Otter on the prowl,
and just maybe
the passing of a lovely
arthropod I long to meet.

Join me! Immerse yourself,
not in Inadu Creek
but in your own lifestream.
Savor it, sense it as I do
in every part of you.

Bill Griffin, in Snake Den Ridge: a Bestiary (2008, March Street Press)

Illustrations by Linda French Griffin.

 

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Chitin is the hard part of invertebrates: cicada exoskeleton, crayfish and lobster shell, squid beaks (and vertebrate fish scales). Keratin is the hard outer part of vertebrates: bird feathers, tiger claws, what little hair I have left. The two are chemically completely different but function in the same way, for protection and structure.

Chitin is a polymer of sugars, glucose with added nitrogen = glucosamine (a polysaccharide), the stuff I take for my bad knee. Keratin is a polymer of amino acids, namely a protein (polypeptide). Here are two more factoids you can’t possibly live without: Keratin resists digestion, which is why cats hark up hairballs. Spider silk is classified as keratin, although production of the protein probably evolved independently of the process in vertebrates.

Crustacyanin is not a Spongebob character. It’s what makes this crayfish blue. Crustacyanin is a carotenoid, which are pigment proteins found in everything from tomatoes to pink flamingos. The crustacyanin is made from stacks of another carotenoid protein (astaxanthin), which itself is red, but depending how many and how it’s stacked can actually reflect the blue portion of the spectrum. Blue crayfish (also look up Blue Lobsters) have a genetic variation in their stacking. If you steam them (perish the thought!!!) the astaxanthin comes unstacked and that’s why cooked crabs, lobsters, and crayfish are bright red.

Brushy mountains reflected in compound eye

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2016-10-17b Doughton Park Tree

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Appalachian Trail near Clingman’s Dome, 2003

[with two poems by Kathryn Stripling Byer]

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Summer has skimmed the high ridge like a chimney swift, rarely perching for long. Now on September mornings you can see your breath. First frost certainly won’t dally. Above 6,000 feet you wonder, Where is the South in Southern Appalachians?

And what about these bleached spines and gnarled knucklebones? This phalanx of snags that palisades the highest elevations against the green upon green below? The balsam wooly adelgid arrived on Clingman’s Dome in 1957. By the 1980’s the tiny insect invader from Europe, order Hemiptera, had destroyed more than 90% of the Fraser Fir in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

This year, though, the Park Service has declared a tenuous truce. Some of those dead snags are forty years old but younger trees spared by the adelgid have matured and are making fertile cones. The very oldest trees, with thicker bark, also seem less susceptible. The insects are still around but you have to hunt for them, whereas during the earliest infestations biologists described the branches covered in wooly bugs as if they had been “whitewashed.”

What is the fulcrum of this new equilibrium? Perhaps the adelgid found easy pickings among whole communities weakened for decades by acid deposition, bad air. Coal-burning power plants up the Appalachian ridge to Canada have added scrubbers. The red spruce that had stopped growing in the ‘80’s are laying on new rings of cambrium. Leave a patch of ground alone long enough and it will grow into what it is meant to be.

Or will it? Depends on what you mean by leave alone. The fir that survive are a little more resistant to the insect, a little more acid tolerant. But what happens as their subalpine microclimate becomes less like Canada and more like Atlanta? Scrubbers remove the nitrogen and sulfur that oxidize to form acids but when you burn carbon you get carbon dioxide. Can’t scrub that out. How many degrees of warming can Fraser fir tolerate? Go higher, it gets cooler. Here in the Park you can’t go any higher than Clingman’s Dome.

Mountain Angelica, Angelica triquinata (Apiaceae - parsley family)

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Last week I shared two poems from Kathryn Stripling Byer’s first book (1986). The two poems that follow here are from her final book, Trawling the Silences, published in 2019 two years after her death.

Kay Byer takes me into wild places and she brings me home. She names the earth, just naming a thing is a prayer, and she leaves nameless the mysteries that mist from her verses into my soul. She has left this earth, and she has left this earth to me to hold close for the days I will remain. Notice. Learn. Cherish. Tell it.

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Three for My Trail Guide
for Jim

1.

Ascent

Before I can catch
my breath you right away
start to identify

Wild Ginger,
Mayapple,
Bloodroot.

I’m dizzy with switchbacks
I see rising into
the hardwoods you hail

Sarvis,
Sycamore,
Tulip Tree.

Trillium sweeps down
the hillside like angel wings
come to rest creekside.

You chanting hepatica,
stonecrop, anemone,
we climb until

we reach the summit,
where underfoot
some stubborn lichen

you can’t name
has already claimed
the best view.

2.

Star Grass

You name it
and there it is
at the edge
of the outcropping
over the Gorge.

Not to worry,
I placate the ravens
that harry us,
we won’t be lingering
long in your aerie.

See? Even now we are
striding away
into star grass,
its small spikes of clear
recognizable light.

3.

Galax

Squatting behind bushes,
I smell it nearby, neither bear scat

nor carrion vine, to which naturalists
liken its scent, but the breath

of an old woman lowering herself
to her chamber pot, sighing

as I heard her sigh while I tried
not to listen. Hoisting my backpack

I leave her behind in the underbrush,
glad to be back on the trail

with you, sidestepping tree stump
and blowdown, splashing through

creek bed, striding from switch back
to switch back toward sky we see,

step by step, open its window,
when, almost to summit, I stop.

Breathing hard. The scent
of her following me.

Kathryn Stripling Byer, from Trawling the Silences (Jacar Press, 2019)

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Silvery Glade Fern, Deparia acrostichoides (Dryopteridaceae - Wood Fern Family)

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Trawling the Silences

This end-of-March day, I’d rather watch hawks surf the
thermals than contemplate what lies ahead.
Or behind in its wake. In the few hours left, let me keep
my doubts shut, my windows wide open, their sheer curtains
billowing. It’s March, after all, having come in
a lamb and departing a lioness, stalking my back yard,

leaving her paw prints alongside the patient ephemerals
rising again out of leaf litter. Squirrel corn. Spring beauty.
The first rue anemone. Today I would rather
read field guides, repeating the whimsical names
of our nice-dwelling mussels about to be wiped out by backhoes
and bulldozers. Pimpleback, Snuffbucket. Monkeyface
Pearlymussel. Don’t let their names be forgotten,
I’d pray if I prayed, though just naming a thing is a prayer,

wrote Simone Weil, turning her face to the almighty
silences. The silences. Where would we be
without them, what were we, what will we be, oh to be,
and again be, that damn linking verb. I’d rather be tracking
my lioness up to the rim of that mountain top,
I’d rather let be and let go. Let the anemone
cling, the hawks soar, the lioness squander another day
trying to find what she’s looking for. Give her another day,
I ask the Almighty. Give the birds one more day
scolding the rapscallion squirrels stealing birdseed.
I rest my case, carapace, my own little voice trawling
the silences, the bully wind boasting its presence in present-tense,
no linking verb to shut down the show. Let
my lioness lounge in the sally grass. Licking her paws.

Kathryn Stripling Byer, from Trawling the Silences (Jacar Press, 2019)

 

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Spruce-Fir forests covered vast areas of the Southeast when glaciers reached their southernmost extent 18,000 years ago. As the glaciers retreated north the Spruce-Fir communities also retreated to higher elevations and now remain only along the highest peaks and ridges above 4,000 feet elevation, mostly higher. Clingman’s Dome at 6643 feet is the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and indeed along the entire Appalachian Trail. Its impressive swath of Spruce-Fir is also home to the rare Jordan’s Red-Cheeked salamander (Plethodon jordani) found only in the Park. The naturally acid soil and severe climate limit biodiversity compared to lower elevations, but other distinctive high elevation species include mountain ash (Rose family), mountain wood sorrel, mountain asters, glade fern. After sixty years the Fraser Fir seem to be surviving the balsam wooly adelgid invasion, air pollution, acid rain; it remains to be seen how long they will remain in the face of advancing climate change.

from SNAKE DEN RIDGE, A BESTIARY, illustration by Linda French Griffin

from SNAKE DEN RIDGE, A BESTIARY, illustration by Linda French Griffin

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Photos by Bill Griffin from Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program; Southern Appalachian Ecology, September 2020, Great Smokies Institute at Tremont; instructors Jeremy Lloyd and Elizabeth Davis.

 

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“It is impossible to care for each other more or differently than we care for the earth . . . there is an uncanny resemblance between our behavior toward each other and our behavior toward the earth.”

Wendell Berry

Attention precedes intention.

I know someone (actually, I live with her) who keeps a paper cup and square of cardboard under the downstairs sink.  If a wasp wanders into the house she claps the cup over her, slides the cardboard under her, and sets her free out the front door.  I’m thankful to Linda for this because I am slightly hymenopteraphobic.  I’m also thankful to her for all the crickets, centipedes, “Palmetto bugs,” and occasional skinks that have ridden that cup to freedom.  I can’t exactly express why, but it’s a blessing to be married to someone who doesn’t squash things.

Does Creation rejoice when one wasp is saved?  Maybe not, but you never know – the web of life is complex and chaotic and includes every living organism, not least the trillion bacteria that cohabit my body.  I couldn’t live without them.  Each creature occupies its essential place.

I do know this – Creation rejoices in every moment we take to pay attention.  Attention leads to intention.  Once we notice the life all around us . . . once we notice how all life interacts and how we affect it . . . we become poised to care. And to behave as if we care.

The very concept of interdependence within the natural world is only about as old as the church I belong to, Community of Christ.  That there is an intimate relationship between creatures and their environment was first developed by Charles Darwin, who is considered the Father not only of my other favorite “E” word but also of Ecology.  The first published instance of the word “ecology” was not until 1879.  One hundred and thirty-three years – not a great deal of time for the Western psyche to incorporate a radically new relationship with Creation: not dominion over all, not even stewardship of all, but coexistence with all.  Perhaps it’s not surprising that there are many people who imagine we can somehow live without Cape Fear shiners, Yellow lampmussels, or Schweinitz’s sunflowers, much less wasps, crickets, and skinks.

I expect a visit to the NC Zoo would start a lot of those people on a journey down a path at whose end they would have fallen in love, not only with a baby giraffe, but with a minnow endemic to just five counties in central North Carolina.  At least that visit would get their attention.  That’s the first responsibility of a naturalist, paying attention.  It’s the first responsibility of being human.

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Two Sundays ago I left the house at 6:30 a.m. to head for a week at the Zoo.  The car was crammed with nature books, poetry books, enough clothes to change two or three times a day anticipating some sweaty 100+ degree weather.  I had enough handouts and resources to lead workshops and present readings.  Enough food for two weeks, probably.  Enough coffee for a month.

I stopped at Bojangles and bought two sausage biscuits because they were on special.  As I headed south on I-77 I ate one, and then I thought – what did it take to make this?  How many thousands of gallons of water to grow the grain to raise the hog?  How much CO2 from tractor exhaust, how much methane from hog lagoon exhaust?   You’ve probably read how the United States creates over 16% of global greenhouse gases with only 5% of the population.  You may have read how raising meat impacts the environment much, much more than raising grain or vegetables, and how in the developing world, especially China, they are shifting their diets to include more meat as standards of living rise.  Well, when I arrived in Asheboro I handed that second biscuit to a friend and decided to give up eating meat.

Will my decision have any greater benefit to Creation than a few more wasps free in the azalea?  Maybe not, but it’s just my intention, growing out of my attention.

No matter how you lift your eyes you can’t actually see beyond the horizon. You can’t be sure of the outcomes of all your actions, but you can pay attention.  Pay attention to the things you experience every day.  To the things you do. Pay attention to what makes you feel within your heart the love your Creator has placed there.

Continue to discover your own place in Creation.Raven crop 02

RAVEN

Listen.
I’m not going to say this twice.
The sum and product of words
is no mark of intelligence.
Case in point – cousin Crow,
not half as smart as all his talk.

So listen,
I know three things:
Sky, that small kiss of warm air
that rises through my primaries;

the Water on its breath, ridgeblown mist
that bathes us all and makes springs
overflow into Inadu Creek;

and Earth, slope and cup of cove,
the steep that gathers with wide black wings
to draw down Sky,
draw Water up,
that sets free all things green
into a world first fledged.

But listen.
I know from twenty circles
of snowdeep and hungry moons
and twenty circles of fresh shoots
that Sky . . . Water . . . Earth . . .
none of them are mine.

And I know none are yours.

from Snake Den Ridge, a bestiary © Bill Griffin and Linda French Griffin, March Street Press, 2008

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“The universe story is the quintessence of reality. We perceive the story. We put it in our language, the birds put it in theirs, and the trees put it in theirs. We can read the story of the universe in the trees. Everything tells the story of the universe. The winds tell the story, literally, not just imaginatively. The story has its imprint everywhere, and that is why it is so important to know the story. If you do not know the story, in a sense you do not know yourself; you do not know anything.”

Thomas Berry,  1914-2009

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June 1, 2012

This is Dan Lawler at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  May I speak to Bill Griffin?

Hi, I’m Bill.

Listen, Bill, it’s about your back country permit.  You’re not going to be able to stay at Cosby Knob Shelter on June 9.

What is it? Too many hikers?

No, too much bear activity.  A bear tore up a couple of hikers’ . . . packs.  We’re closing the shelter for a month or two until he gets the message and moves on.  Those Cosby Creek bears – ha, ha – they give us problems every spring.

Ah . . . well . . . that’s fine.  I’m not all that fond of sleeping with bears.

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July 23, 2000

Today Mary Ellen and I embarked on the Great Sibling Bonding Adventure.  My sister and I spent a week backpacking the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mtn., GA to Deep Gap, NC, something shy of 100 miles.  Growing up separated in age by six years we never spent much time together, never had a lot in common.  Now we’re sweating up every steep ridge together, eating out of the same pot, sleeping in the same little tent.

Along the way we count the birds and name the wildflowers, and make up names if we don’t recognize them.  We make supper in pitch dark at Gooch Gap.  We make up funny songs (“Nothing Like a Log” to the tune of “Nothing Like a Dame”).  We make it to Muskrat Creek Shelter on our last night and celebrate Mary Ellen’s thirty-eleventh birthday with a stale cake I’ve stashed in my pack all week.  We make friends.

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June 8, 2012

Now it’s Friday morning and we’re cinching up our hip belts at Big Creek ranger station to head into the back country again.  Last month Mary Ellen called me and said she was overdue for some big brother quality time.  We broke out the trail maps and chose a non-old-guy-destructive three-day loop in GSMNP.  Since we’ve been shut out of Cosby Knob by the bears, we’ll hike 5 1/2 miles to Walnut Bottom and spend both nights there, Big Creek chuckling beside us.  On Saturday we’ll hike a ten-mile loop that takes us up to the AT and right past the bear-haunted trail shelter (and while we fill our bottles from the spring there we’ll keep whistling the entire time).

We’ll name every flower, tree and shrub — in twelve years damn if Mary Ellen hasn’t learned them all, right down to the Latin binomials.  After supper we’ll hang our food up high, and while dusk settles into Walnut Bottom we’ll sit on mossy creek boulders, sip mint tea with powdered milk, and wonder if the bears have discovered unattended dinners on the Tennessee side of the ridge.  Or if at this very moment they’re watching us from within the dog hobble and rhodies, just waiting for full dark . . .

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Bear

If you hear me, it will be a nut falling
from the buckeye.  If you hear me,
it will be a dry branch
seeking earth,
it will be slender fingers
of mountain ash waving praises
to the ridgelined sky.

If you see me, it will be a shadow
only one breath deeper
than twilight.
If you see me, it will be the twist
of heart that skips
a beat, the stark
of pupils gone abruptly wide.

I am mist that enfolds the laurel.
I am stone that reclines beneath black hemlocks.
I am a rumor at Maddron Bald,
a tremor at Mt. Guyot.

Raven is mistaken – this Ridge is mine.

And if you hear me, it will be the rising chest
of the mountain and its timeless slow
exhale,
and if you hear me
it will only be because
I didn’t hear you first.

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Afterword

In some twenty years of backpacking the Southern Appalachian mountains and Great Smokies, I’ve encounered a bear exactly once.  Mike Barnett and I were hiking without the noisy accompaniment of teenagers.  We’d set up camp one evening and I had walked back up the trail to spot some birds.  I’d been standing completely still for about twenty minutes, waiting for a Pileated Woodpecker I’d been hearing to show itself, when I heard a soft crack behind me.  I figured it was a buckeye falling.  Crack again.  I turned.  Slowly.  Twenty feet from me a large black mass with a pointed nose was staring towards camp where Mike was fixing supper.

And where did that happen?  Cosby Knob shelter.  That night I wrote the first draft of Bear in the AT log book and next morning left it in the shelter.

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and a p.s. . . .

Hey Sister — I’m looking closer at all the wildflower photos we took and I believe we saw BOTH lesser and greater purple fringed orchids!   (Platanthera psychodes and grandiflora).    —    your Bro

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[Bear first appeared in the journal Cave Wall, and was the first poem I wrote in the collection Snake Den Ridge, a Bestiary (March Street Press, 2009.]

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