Monday, September 17, 2018

thank you, Seniors for Creative Learning

A warm thank you to the Seniors for Creative Learning for inviting me to speak at the John T. O'Connor Center in East Knoxville.

Our topic? Ephemerality in nature with examples from all three of my UT Press books: from freshwater jellyfish to 17-year cicadas to endangered/extinct species. 

"What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes away," James 4.14. 

Be mindful. Every day is precious, enjoy each ephemeral moment!

Monday, September 10, 2018

a walk back in time

Last Saturday, the 2018 class of TN Naturalist@Ijams took a walk with me back in time. We passed over the four layers of bedrock or formations that underlie the nature center. Starting with the Ottosee shale under the Visitor Center, we then moved on to Chapman Ridge sandstone, Holston crystalline limestone (the rock that was quarried and sold as Tennessee Marble) and finally brushed past the Lenoir formation of silty, crumbly limestone.

These four layers were deposited—one on top of the other—during the Ordovician geologic period between 443.8 and 485.4 million years ago. That's deep time. And our tour ended up deep in the ground at the Keyhole and Rock Bridge. The first of three pits found in the now abandoned Ross Marble quarry site.

Thanks to all who braved the awful heat.

Anytime I walk back in time at the nature center, I tip my hat to retired geologist and fellow UT Press author Harry Moore who was the first to lead me on such a journey.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

thank you, WBIR

A gracious Ijams' thank you to WBIR's Leslie Ackerson and Katie Inman who visited with me very very early (5 a.m. is early) this morning to meet on live TV some of the injured or disabled animals that we care for daily.

What was the occasion? September 4 is National Wildlife Day, an annual opportunity to learn more about endangered species, preservation and conservation efforts around the world. Zoos, aviaries, marine sanctuaries and nature centers like Ijams provide a variety of ways to get to know local wildlife.

Either feathered, furry, scaly or shelled our adopted menagerie of animals is used by the education department to raise awareness of local wildlife and their issues.

Thank you, Leslie and Katie and our friends at WBIR.

(Both Leslie and Katie revealed that they had first visited Ijams on field trips when they were little girls which made me feel older than mud. Shhh! Our secret.)

Monday, September 3, 2018

thank you, ORICL

A warm thank you to Jim Rushton, Katherine Smith, Priscilla McKenney and the other members of the board of ORICL: Oak Ridge Institute of Continued Learning, for inviting me to be the featured speaker at their Community Lecture Series recently. We met at Roane State Community College on the Oak Ridge Campus.

My lecture was entitled Ephemerality: The shortness of life and I pulled examples from all three of my books published by the University of Tennessee Press: Natural Histories, Ghost Birds and Ephemeral by Nature, to illustrate my topic. 

And I was also able to take a jar of live freshwater jellyfish to symbolize the very nature of ephemerality. 

Thank you to all who attended.

Monday, August 27, 2018

gone jelly-fishin'

At my Look & Learn Sunday at Ijams yesterday, we explored the ephemeral world of freshwater jellyfish (Craspedacusta sowerbii). The small medusae are here one day and gone the next.

The medusae are the sexual form of cnidarian in which the body is shaped like an umbrella.

Currently, the penny-sized jellies are in Mead's Quarry Lake and will probably remain there in their medusa form until after Labor Day and the weather and water temperature cools. This is the final part of their lifecycle were the free swimming males and females need to find each other and it is important they get as much time as they need. After all, it's a 25-acre lake.

Thanks to all who attended.

For more information about freshwater jellyfish get my newest book, Ephemeral by Nature published by the University of Tennessee Press.

Monday, August 20, 2018

It's time to hummmmmmm.

Wonder of Hummingbird Festival
Saturday, August 25, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

A huge Ijams thank you to media sponsor WBIR Channel 10 and to reporter Emily Devoe who stopped by the nature center this afternoon to chat about our upcoming 8th Annual Wonder of Hummingbird Festival.

There will be birding supply, plant, craft and food vendors plus eight speakers talking about a wide range of backyard nature topics from hummingbird-loving plants, butterflies, honey bees, an ephemeral author and a lot more.

Plus, you'll get a chance to talk with and watch up-close Federally licensed hummingbird master bander Mark Armstrong and his team catch and affix numbered leg bands on hummingbirds. A truly remarkable thing to witness.

For more info and list of sponsors go online:

Hummingbird in flight photo by friend-to-Ijams Wayne Mallinger.

With WBIR reporter Emily Devoe
Master hummingbird bander Mark Armstrong

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

crawdad fetch & catch

Last week's Great Crawdad Fetch & Catch at the nature center was major league edu-tainment. The goal of my Family Adventure Sunday series is to get young families outside having fun together exploring nature.

In all, the families caught 16 to 20 crayfish in Ijams' Toll Creek, perhaps even more because some may have gotten away, they had prior commitments.

We also caught water striders, cranefly larvae, dragonfly larvae, snails, black-nosed dace, larval salamanders and aquatic fishing spiders. And we encountered a brown water snake just hanging out on a tree branch. No big deal, snakes just like to hang out. It's their thing.

Did we turn some young kids into future aquatic biologists? Maybe. But at least they got a better idea of what lives in our waters.

Through activities like this, children learn that the natural world is explorable and knowable and full of wonder. The next Family Adventure Sunday is August 26.

Thank you, Mac and Jeff for helping. 

And yes, all animals were returned to the creek with a story to tell.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Phoenix rising: Anakeesta

Boyhood home before & after.

And now a personal note, although all writers from Melville to Dickens to Matthiessen write from a deeply personal mindset. You live it, feel it, bleed it, write it. 

Almost two years ago my hometown of Gatlinburg was ravaged by a fast moving wildfire. Most of what I knew and loved—childhood home, neighboring houses, pretty much everything along my natal waters of Baskins Creek and the mountainsides up to the ridges above this watershed were destroyed in a matter of minutes. I have only been back one time to walk the road I traveled so often. It's much too unbelievable. Surreal. Tears form as I write these words. 

But that was the past, my past and now my hometown is recovering. As a nature writer, I full well know that change and regrowth is the driving force in all the natural world. And the same ridge I climbed so often has been reborn, the burned sections cut away, a Phoenix has risen. 

I am so pleased by the work of my friends, Karen, Bob, Bryce Bentz and Michele Canney, and proud of the long hours it has taken to create Anakeesta, a Cherokee word that means "place of the balsams" or a place of high ground. 

Please visit them soon and rejoice in the rebirth. 

And when you do, stop by Pearl's Pie in the Sky for some ice cream. The eatery honors my grandmother Pearl Bales, one of the very first truly independent mountain women to own her own businesses (yes, two) in Gatlinburg. She was born roughly two miles upstream on that same Baskins Creek. Her maiden name was Ogle. Inside of Pearl's place you will find a photo of Pearl and her grumpy grandson (that would be me) in bib overalls. Grumpy, if I recall, because I did not have a pencil to "mark with." 

For more news about happenings at Anakeesta click: Cliff Top.  

Bless you all.