Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Remembrance of Things Past 1


Jim Bales Homesite/Alex Cole cabin: Roaring Fork, GSMNP
Photo by Gaylord Kugle used by permission

Although the area is still closed, to my knowledge, using the interactive map provided by Sevier County officials, the James Wesley "Jim" Bales homesite with the Alex Cole log cabin is intact. The location apparently survived the firestorms that swept through the national park and Gatlinburg on Monday, November 28, although it appears a portion of Roaring Fork inside the park did indeed burn.


Jim and Emma Bales married 1863.
James Wesley, known as Jim Bales was my great grandfather. He and great grandmother Emma Ogle Bales were the parents of my granddad Homer Daniel Bales (born January 5, 1899) who spent part of his childhood at the location. Today we call it idyllic; they would have called it hardscrabble. 

The Alex Cole cabin was relocated to the Roaring Fork homestead in 1978/79. It is log cabin that was moved from the Sugarlands to occupy the spot where the original Bales home had once been. Built in 1890, the Cole house is an excellent example of a single pen cabin, one story with a loft, constructed of chestnut hewn logs, dovetail notching and a gabled roof covered with hand-split oak shingles. At the time of the relocation the Cole cabin had been somewhat isolated and could have been vandalized.

The barn and corn crib on the site are original. In 1931, great grandfather Jim Bales sold the 116 acres, most of it wooded, for $1612.27 to become part of the national park.

Thanks Mac, for bringing this to my attention. 



Saturday, December 3, 2016

unreal fire




The firestorms in my hometown last Monday were unreal, but just so you know.

The above photo has been passed around this past week with the claim that it was taken by an evacuee fleeing Gatlinburg on Monday night. The Internet is a breeding ground for fake news. Our culture has become so addicted to sensationalist news that if it is not there, we create it. (No, Hillary Clinton's parents were simply not Romulan. The Romulan Empire had not been created when she was born.) Rule of thumb: If you believe everything you read on the Internet or facebook then you are living in an alternate reality, and it's a harsh one that's mean-spirited


You need to turn the computer off and go outside for a walk. That's where you will find reality: in a passing cloud, a falling leaf or a calling wren.

The above photo was actually taken on August 6, 2000 with a Kodak DC280 digital camera by John McColgan, a fire behavior analyst. The location is the East Fork of the Bitterroot River where it crosses under U.S. Highway 93 in the Bitterroot National Forest near Sula in Montana. Yes, Montana. 


The good people of Gatlinburg have suffered enough. I grew up with many of them. The fires were horrific, heartbreaking to folks who lived in the mountain getaway. There's little need to embellish or fake it.

Just sayin'.

Thank you Tony for bringing this to my attention.



Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Gatlinburg fire storm


Alex Cole cabin at the Jim Bales homesite on Roaring Fork, Great Smoky Mountains N.P. Photo by Rex McDaniel

Gatlinburg is my hometown, Baskins Creek my natal waters. My heart hurts for family, friends that have lost so much. I lost nothing material but may have lost everything memorable. 

I went to Pi Beta Phi located beside Arrowmont. My boyhood home is a short walk from both of these and walk it I often did. I graduated from Gatlinburg-Pittman High School, lived in the fun, resort town for years, walked up and down the Parkway, Reagan Drive, Airport and River Roads more times than I could possible, possible estimate. Hiked the trails around and below in the foothills of LeConte and the creek that bears its name many, many times. My family's roots go back to the 1880s and the watersheds of Roaring Fork and Baskins. Ancestral cabins are maintained by the park service. Yesterday's fury of fire storms were reported in all of these places. At this point, no one quite knows what is left. 

Governor Haslam said it was the worst fire in Tennessee in the past 100 years. Did I just hear that or is it all a bad dream? What do you say when a piece of you is forcibly removed?  

My worries and heartfelt prayers to all of my family and friends that still live in my mountain home.

One man's life can last decades, but parts of it are oh so ephemeral. 

"Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away."—James 4:14

God bless you all.


- Photos by Rex McDaniel


Ephraim Bales cabin built in 1880.


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Sunday, November 27, 2016

post Thanksgiving hike





Thank you to all who came on our Let's-walk-off-that-pumpkin-pie-hike yesterday at the nature center.

The Ijams Hiking Club meets once a month to hike somewhere at the nature center or on the 50-plus miles of trails that are part of the South Knoxville Urban Wilderness.

It's a fun, laid-back group of mixed ages who are not out to break any speed records. Our next hike is Saturday, December 17 at 2 o'clock. To register call 577-4717, ext. 110. Come join us. 

And thank you to this hike's volunteer leaders Amy Oakey and Eric Johnson.

Thank you Amy and Eric for planning our hike!


Friday, November 25, 2016

Thankfulus carolinensis





Granted this is odd.

But I was taught to be thankful for the small things and if you have enough small things to be thankful for they will outweigh the big bad things. 
Yesterday was Thanksgiving. That's when I found a Carolina wolf spider (Hogna carolinensis) in my shower. 

H. carolinensis is the largest wolf spider in North America and I have been looking for one to live in my basement to deal with the crickets that generally hang out down there. Not that I have anything against crickets but we all need a check and balance. As Lord Acton said, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." That's the big bad thing I am worried about.  

Wolf spiders have pretty formidable faces with eight eyes. In the photo, one pair of eyes is hidden at the top of the head. I'm not sure if they eat the crickets or merely scare them into leaving. The jury is out on that one.  

Happy post Thanksgiving. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

giving thanks





It's Thanksgiving. You've got your family and friends around you, and before you is a feast with more food than you can possibly eat at one sitting. In fact, it may take several. You've got turkey, dressing, cranberries, mashed potatoes, gravy, bread, yams and your Aunt Lena's pumpkin pie.

Well Aunt Lena was my aunt, but I'm sure you have a pie maker too.


Native to North America, pumpkins have always been a part of our Thanksgiving holiday. The first festival in 1621 brought together the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag, the Indian tribe who helped the Plymouth Colonists adapt to their harsh new land. The first feast was composed of fish, duck, geese, wild turkey, venison, cornbread with nuts, succotash—an Algonquian dish of shelled beans and green corn—and for dessert, pumpkin stewed in maple sap.


I once made this last dish, and it’s actually quite good.


Happy Thanksgiving!


Saturday, November 19, 2016

birding for homeschoolers





Hey, what are you guys looking at?

Was that a song sparrow? Or a Carolina wren? It was moving fast, what did you see? It was brownish, low to the ground, moving through the bushes.

Yesterday's topic was backyard birds for the Ed-Ventures @ Ijams homeschool class I hosted at the nature center. Ed-Ventures @ Ijams is a total of eight classes each based on one of the natural sciences. Last month it was entomology, i.e. insects. Yesterday it was ornithology, i.e. we went birdwatching. Next month's topic is geology. And we have a lot of rocks to look at with two abandoned quarries.

For more information call Lauren at 577-4717, ext. 135.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Arboretum Society thank you






A special thank you goes out to Lynda Haynes and the University of Tennessee Arboretum Society for inviting me to speak at their annual meeting. 


Arboretum folks love trees, so do woodpeckers. My topic was about our local woodpecker species in general and briefly about the very non-native species I spent three years of my life with: the ivory-billed woodpecker. Although I have never seen the legendary Ghost Bird, I did write a book about UT's own James T. Tanner and his search for ivorybills in the 1930s.

Penning the book with the help of his late wife Nancy was one of my life's most memorable events.



Miss you, Nancy! 



Sunday, November 13, 2016

twice baked pellets




Great horned owl pellet mostly made up of fur and bones

"Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah, Someone's in the kitchen I know oh-oh-oh."

Well, that's not true. It's just me, Dinah did not show oh-oh-oh. I think the baked goods on the agenda were a little too gro-oh-oss for her.

This morning, it's owl pellets being sterilized for this afternoon's Girl Scout Detective Badge workshop at the nature center. 

Whooo ya lookin' at?
Owls cannot chew their food, so they swallow it more or less whole, letting their stomachs squeeze out all the nutrients it contains. Roughly, eight hours after the meal, they regurgitate (upchuck) a pellet filled with all that could not be digested, mostly fur and bones. Then a smart young naturalist Girl Scout can dissect the mass and discover the bones of its last victim. Sort of like CSI forensic scientists.

And the owl pellet dissection is just one of the four activities we have planned. 

Sterilized Pellet Recipe: 
A) Find a regurgitated owl pellet 
B) Wrap the pellet in aluminum foil, place on cookie sheet 
C) Bake at 325 degrees for 40 minutes.

Since an owl pellet is essentially baked once in the bird's stomach, my oven baking was the second. Oddly, it made the house smell like roasted walnuts and burnt hair.

Hint: It's better to do your prep work outside on an old table.

For a look at our last Animal Detectives class click: workshop. 



Now we know the predator and the prey


Friday, November 11, 2016

it's time for winter birds






Do you know this bird?

If not, you should come to my class on winter birds, tomorrow at Ijams.  Here's the details.


Saturday, November 12, 10:30 a.m.
Birding and Brunch at Ijams

(All Ages) Join me for this fun and lighthearted look into the world of winter birds. Burr! I’ll discuss birds like the pied-billed grebe, hermit thrush, winter wren, yellow-bellied sapsucker, golden-crowned kinglet and many others that only send their winter months in the Tennessee Valley and where to find them. The bird pictured above likes to be low to the ground, forging in brush piles often near water.  

A light brunch will be provided. The fee for this program is $5 for Ijams members and $8 for non-members. Please call (865) 577-4717, ext. 110 to register.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

the ologies






Thank you, Shelley Wascom, Executive Director of the local Community Shares, for inviting me on your "Voices of Change" program on CTV to talk about the Ology classes I host at Ijams.

The Sunday afternoon Ologies often pair children with their parents, grandparents or guardians as we explore a natural science topic. In the past year we have covered Snake-ology, Spider-ology, Flutterby-ology, Duck-ology and many more. Generally we review basic material indoors (Just what is an arachnid?) with special themed-snacks like spider eggs, gummie worms, chocolate-covered frogs or owl-faced cupcakes, then we go exploring outside looking for our topic de jour. Finding a dragonfly at Ijams is easy during season. Uncovering a snake is a little more difficult. And, goodness, sometimes we even get eyeball to eyeball with a praying mantis. 

We have been known to scratch around in the leaves searching for millepedes or dig in the dirt for beetles, sometimes we dip-net for tadpoles and sometimes we dissect owl pellets looking for mouse skulls. Good, old school fun. 

Since 1968, Ijams Nature Center has been a safe place for urban kids to explore nature and separate the fact from the fiction. 

Shelley and I also talked about Richard Louv's book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. The author writes that, "Our children are the first generation to be raised without meaningful contact with the natural world."

Children today grow up confined indoors. Being cut-off from reality, young people are left isolated in the virtual world of the Internet and often violent video games. They lose the sense of freedom and the awareness that the world is explorable, knowable and infinitely fascinating.

My next Ijams Ology is Hawk-ology (hawks, falcons and eagles), Sunday, November 20 at 2 p.m. To register call 577-4717, ext. 110. And themed snacks are always welcomed. 

With Shelley Wascom host of Voices of Change on CTV

Mouse skull
Spider looking
Going on a snake hunt
Bird nest making
Tadpoling
Yum


     








Friday, November 4, 2016

annual Panther trip






Last Monday, I returned to Panther Nation, paying a visit to Coach Will Roberts' AP Environmental Science class at Powell High School. It has become an annual tradition.

Each student had been assigned to read a portion of one of my first two books: Natural Histories or Ghost Birds and ask questions about what they had read. Plus we chatted a bit about my upcoming book Ephemeral by Nature to be published next year by UT Press. 

Topics we visited were some of my favorite parts of my first book including bald eagles, Osage oranges, pawpaws, cicada eating on live TV anda preview of coming attractions—the red pandas that will be featured in my upcoming book.

Ian asked me a question and I grappled with coming up with a concise answer: The difference between a poison and venom? Concisely, venom is a type of poison. Animals like bees, wasps, spiders, snakes, jellyfish produce venom, a poisonous substance that can be lethal to their prey and some venom can be lethal to humans. I am allergic to wasp venom. A good sting sends me to the doctor. A rattlesnake is venomous but not poisonous. Once you remove the head, we can eat them, but I'm not sure I would. The Japanese have a penchant for eating puffer fish, once its toxin glands are CAREFULLY removed. To humans, its tetrodotoxin is deadly, up to 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide. There is enough toxin in one puffer fish to kill 30 adult humans. Scary. Some plants like belladonna also produce toxins that are poisonous.

After speaking to my Ijams supervisor Jennifer, she gave me a more concise answer: If you bite it and die, it is poisonous; if it bites you and you die, it is venomous. 'nuff said.

What to avoid! In this country annually, 58 people are killed by bees, wasps, and hornets, mostly due to anaphylactic shock after a sting; 28 are killed by dogs; 20 are killed by cows; 7 by spiders; 5.5 die from rattlesnake bites.

Class, just be careful out there and avoid all things toxic, venomous and poisonous, and no puffer fish! And if you see an ivory-billed woodpecker, let me know.   

Best of luck to all of you! Thanks, Will.

Puffer fish. Poisonous? Or venomous?
Lincoln. A red panda at the Knoxville Zoo. 


Click these links for a look back at past visits:






Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Rosie, the TV star




Chilean rose tarantula (Grammostola rosea)
One more spider post:

Rosie, the Ijams' Chilean rose tarantula, made a guest appearance on WBIR's Live@5@4 for Halloween. I went along as her handler. Every star needs a personal assistant and spokesperson. And every Halloween show needs a really big big hairy spider.

Chilean rose tarantulas (Grammostola rosea) are not native to Tennessee and can only be found in pet stores. They are actually very laid-back and make easy-to-care-for low maintenance pets, just feed them crickets. G. rosea are usually skittish, running away from danger rather than acting defensively.

At the nature center Rosie is an education animal that makes numerous guest appearances to raise awareness of arachnids and dispel the unreasonable fear of spiders: arachnophobia. I could say they get into their pants just like you or I, one leg at a time, but with eight bristle-covered legs it's a little more arduous for them.

Surprisingly, a female G. rosea can live up to 20 years, and with eight eyes, eight legs, two body segments plus spinnerets, pedipalps and chelicerae, they make good conversation starters. Just ask Russell Biven and Beth Haynes.   

To see Rosie's interview click Live@5@4.

Thank you Lee Ann, Beth, Russell, Emily, Jerry and all the rest of the WBIR staff. 

The WBIR Live@5@4 crew are out standing in their field, producing five hours of live, entertaining television a week.


Monday, October 31, 2016

a green lynx?




If you are a naturalist, the little things can be fascinating. That's the way it was for my Spider-ology class last week at the nature center.

Green lynx spider hiding in plain sight
The most interesting spider we discovered was a mother green lynx spider (Peucetia viridans) caught by Lisa and correctly IDed by Jackson. We knew she was a mom because she was covered with tiny spiderlings.

This garden spider is lanky and green to better blend into its surroundings, but as we move into fall its color becomes a paler yellow, typically with streaks of red or terracotta, so its camouflage changes with the season. Their eight legs are also masked, covered with spots and spikes. 

Lynx spiders eat a lot of garden pests, so farmers appreciate their choice of diet. They do not spin webs about rather merely sit and wait, attacking their prey like a cat, hence the name "lynx." But perhaps their most fascinating uniqueness is their ability to squirt venom up to 8 inches from their chelicerae (mouth parts below their eight eyes). Now that's a super power. 

For more photos from our class click: Spider-ology

My next Ology class is Hawk-ology, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2 p.m. to register call Ijams: 577-4717, ext. 110.

 Happy Halloween!





Saturday, October 29, 2016

thank you Wild Birds!



Thank you to all who attended my "Secrets of Backyard Birds" talk this afternoon at Wild Birds Unlimited, 7240 Kingston Pike, Suite 164.

And thank you, Liz & Tony, Tiffiny & Warren for inviting me!

I look forward to visiting Wild Birds U because I always find something I want to try for my own backyard birds. They depend on me, as your birds do you. To get ready for the upcoming cold weather, I bought a roosting box. Inside are multiple perches for my wrens, titmice, chickadees and bluebirds to huddle together and stay warm on cold winter nights. Tiffiny calls it canoodling, click: wrens. I've already put my new bird bungalow on my front porch where the Carolina wrens like to hang out in winter. (I am assuming that we do have some cold winter nights in our future.)

And in addition to seed and suet feeders, don't forget a heated birdbath for the winter. On very cold days when the water is frozen everywhere else, your birds will use it as a gathering place and spa. Très chic.

Secrets of Backyard Birds #1: Female cardinals are intensely aggressive in defending their territory and mates. Would you mess with her? She's got panache!