Saturday, September 26, 2015

heritage tour

Junglebrook: Home of Noah "Bud" Ogle

Special thanks to Judy Collins and the Great Smoky Mountain Association for inviting me to lead a Heritage Tour of the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail last Saturday. It was one of the activities scheduled during their membership weekend.

Our group included folks from Florida, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Illinois. We made stops at the Noah "Bud" Ogle home place, the Bales Cemetery, the Alex Cole Cabin at the Jim Bales Place, the Ephraim Bales place and, finally, to the remarkable Alfred Reagan home site and gristmill.

Caleb & Elizabeth Bales married 1861
Full disclosure: James Wesley "Jim" was my great grandfather, while his brother Ephraim was my great, great granduncle. Alfred Reagan was married to Martha Bales, Jim and Ephraim's sister. They were the three oldest of the nine children of my great, great grandparents Caleb and Elizabeth Bales. 

Alex Cole Cabin (circa 1890) at Jim Bales Place
Roaring Fork Heritage Tour
Ephraim Bales Cabin built 1880
Rough-hewn logs, dovetailed corners, custom built. Need I say more?
Photo by Marilyn Reid
Bales Cemetery
Photo by Tom Simmons
Noah "Bud" Ogle barn at Junglebrook
Photo by Tom Simmons
Photo by Chuck Yost

Thursday, September 24, 2015

bodaciously compositae

If you have trouble identifying the LBJs (Little Brown Jobs, most often sparrows) in birding, then hold on to your magnifier. It's time to count flower heads, ray florets and disc florets. 

Not to mention: Are the leaves and stems covered with stiff hairs? Are the leaves lanceolate or oval with toothed margins or not?

It's autumn and here come the composites. The Asteraceae or Compositae family (commonly referred to as the aster, daisy, composite or sunflower family) are bodaciously blooming. 

The family has more than 23,600 currently accepted species, spread across 1,620 genera in 13 subfamilies. At times I think half of them are yellow and blooming around the nature center.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

mindful sunset

Six or seven cars parked along the South Knoxville Bridge this evening to watch the vibrant sunset. How could I resist?

Mindfully in the moment.

Friday, September 18, 2015

meet & greet

Photo collage by Jennifer Roder

Their assignments were simple. The one-eyed screech owl and the orphaned, lame opossum were asked to greet people arriving at Symphony in the Park at Ijams last Sunday.

As part of the education staff, they are goodwill ambassadors for the nature center. Their human companions were there to answer questions and tell their life histories

Educator Sammi Stoklosa and the little screech (Megascops asio) are veterans of such affairs, owls are always so stoic. But the young marsupial is new to the staff, only about four or five months old. 

It was her first cocktailed soirée but she is much too young to truly partake. And who would want a glazed possum? They get into enough trouble on their own without libation. The shrimp hors d'oeuvres did catch her eye, or snout. 

With Ijams volunteer and UT student, Lam
Opossums (Didelphis virginiana) eat just about anything, and a skewered crustacean with a pre-inserted toothpick, oh my. How handy, since they actually have 50 teeth, more than any other North American mammal. So the sweet thing took to the hoopla just fine, as adroit as her distant Okefenokee cousin Pogo at meeting guests in their fancy soirée attire. 

Although after over an hour, she began to yawn and soon fell asleep in her handler's arms.

Soon thereafter, I put her to bed.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

a living dream

Speaking of hallucinogenics, that is what we were talking about, right?  My mind is not really clear on that. Jimsonweed or Datura is in bloom. The plant’s alkaloids are some of the few substances that cause true, long-lasting hallucinations that cannot be distinguished from reality.

Ingesting it produces an effect akin to a living dream; consciousness comes and goes. Consumers are said to have conversations with invisible people and the effects can last for days.

Also known as angel's trumpet (perhaps for obvious reasons), there's a mnemonic to remember jimsonweed intoxication, “blind as a bat, mad as a hatter, red as a beet, hot as hell, dry as a bone, the bowel and bladder lose their tone, and the heart runs alone.”

The word jimson comes from Jamestown and historically, the plant is linked to that town in Virginia. In 1676, British soldiers, sent to suppress Bacon’s Rebellion, ran out of food. They foraged and gathered the native Datura for a boiled salad. Several ate hardily of the potherb and spent eleven days generally appearing to have gone insane. Some of the stupefied Brits even shed their clothing and frolicked like children. Rebellion be damned.

Eleven days, in and out of reality, over a boiled salad: Could this be the origin of the term getting "stewed"?

Please do not try this at home! Or you will end up in the hospital having your stomach pumped or sitting naked in your neighbor's yard, neither do you want on your resumé.

- Photo taken in South Knoxville, I just don't remember where. Has anyone seen my clothing?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

a sad one

Lindsay holding weak hummingbird

This blog's last post ended with such hope.

But not all boxes can be tied up with a red ribbon; not all stories have happy endings. 

The rescued hummingbird flew from my hand eventually making her way high into a bald cypress by the Plaza Pond at Ijams. But a short time later, she was found sitting on a table below the cypress in obvious distress. Sammi, a volunteer named Lindsay and I fed her sugar water she lapped from our hands. She seemed to slowly recover, blinking her eyes, swallowing and even revved her wings.

Lindsay spent more time with her, feeding her and reported that the little hummer flew short distances until she finally settled on the ground, promptly dying. 

The wondrous, little thing was never able to get her nuclear engine going again. The ordeal of being trapped inside, high in the rafters of the Visitor Center just took too much out of her.

Keep in mind that Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings The Yearling ended badly as well. Despite Jody's best efforts, Flag couldn't survive either. 

Sometimes you do all you can do but it just isn't enough. 

This one won't make it to Costa Rica after all.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

foggy hum

Young male pausing long enough to be photographed.

Hummingbirds in the fog. Could it be more fleeting?

And yes, in this case, the fog does hum.

Two cold fronts passed through in the past half week bringing rain, fog and lower temperatures. Still the fall migration of ruby-throated hummingbirds continues. 

Currently, I'm maintaining nine sugar-water feeders on my back second floor deck that is hardly big enough to park three cars: say a Toyota Prius and two Honda Civics, or the other way around. My Dad would bristle at the notion of such; we were a Ford family. So perhaps I should say, a Crown Vic and a Mustang. 

The hummingbirds come and go from the feeders, bluster and chase each other away, only to bluster again. Such speed and vigor, it's hard to count their numbers.

It is all so bittersweet knowing that in a few weeks, they will all be gone on their way to Mexico and Central America.

And my deck will be quiet again.

UPDATE: At Ijams this afternoon, we rescued a hummingbird that had flown into the Visitor Center. To hold one in your hand, is to hold one of the lightest miracles I can imagine. Only 3 grams, the same weight as two dimes. And in a month or so, it may be in Costa Rica. 

There are hummingbirds in these foggy photos but actually seeing them is another matter.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

jellies adieu

Hardly bigger than the tips of my fingers, the jelly swims in a cup of water.

One last (? well perhaps) look at the freshwater jellyfish of 2015. With the temperatures predicted to drop to more fall like conditions this weekend, I expect the adult medusae will all but disappear. Studies have shown that they prefer water temps from 77 to 82 degrees. 

With this in mind, I held a peanut butter and jellyfish social last Sunday at the nature center. After a brief talk about the life history of Craspedacusta sowerbii—with accompanying peanut butter and jelly sandwiches—we walked the short distance to the quarry lake in the heat of the late summer day.

The people on rented paddleboards, kayaks and canoes were reporting "oodles" of jellies on the north end of the lake. We quickly filled our jar for all to see them up close, one last time.

They float, they undulate, they flutter like eyelashes. They are ever changing amorphic shapes like clouds or raindrops, highly mutable. Yet, unlike the other two, these have life; these have genders. And this is the part of their short lives when the males and females find each other.   

And since their lives run in a two year cycle, it will be 2017 before their offspring may return in such numbers.

Props to WBIR's Jim Matheny who first discovered this bloom of jellies and reported them to me three weeks ago. His report and jelly video deserves a second look: Matheny.

Jellies, adieu. 

With a name like Craspedacusta sowerbii it has to be good.
Noel and Brian from California, in town to visit their grandkids 
and share the fun of all things jelly
On the lookout

Sunday, September 6, 2015

today at Ijams

Ijams educator Sammi Stoklosa with a jar of jellies

Celebrate Labor Day Weekend with a visit to Ijams. Here's my schedule today.

1 PM Meet the red-tailed hawk
Free to public.

2 PM Meet a friendly albino snake
Free to public.

3 PM Jellyfish Quarry History Hike
Let’s go jellyfishin’! Join me as I talk about freshwater jellyfish at the quarry lake. We'll enjoy peanut butter and JELLY sandwiches and then stroll from the nature center to the lake. With luck, we'll have captive jellyfish for all to see. This program is free for Ijams members and $5 for non-members. Please call (865) 577-4717, ext. 110 to register.

Red-tailed hawk. Photo by Chuck Cooper.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

jellies on WVLT

The freshwater jellyfish @ Ijams made WVLT Local 8's 6 o'clock news last night. And who doesn't prefer a nice miniature aqueous critter story to a convenience store robbery or home break in?

News anchor, 30-year veteran Alan Williams, has worked for all three local TV news departments: WBIR, WATE and now WVLT. He's also from Knoxville, so he knows a good local story when he hears one.

Alan and photo journalist Keith Smith met me at Mead's Quarry Lake yesterday and we talked jelly, i.e. gelatinous umbrella-shaped bell cnidarian with trailing stinging tentacles and with adult medusa that pulsate for locomotion. So what could be more interesting than that?

For Alan's story click: Jellyfish found in East Tennessee.

WVLT News Anchor Alan Williams with co-anchor Amanda Hara

WVLT Photo Journalist Keith Smith
Paddleboarders on Mead's Quarry Lake.

The adult jellyfish medusa will be gone soon, so this weekend is a good time to rent a canoe, kayak or paddleboard from River Sports at Ijams and see them for yourself. But keep in mind, you're looking for penny-sized transparent jellies in a 25-acre lake. Patience and sharp eyes required.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

let's go jellyfish' !!

Penny-sized freshwater jellyfish.  Photo by Chuck Cooper.

Sunday, September 6, 3 p.m.
Jellyfish Quarry History Hike at Ijams

Let’s go jellyfishin’! Join me for a talk about freshwater jellyfish at the quarry lake. We'll meet at the nature center and enjoy peanut butter and JELLY sandwiches and then stroll to the lake. With luck, we'll have captive jellyfish for all to see. This program is free for Ijams members and $5 for non-members. Please call (865) 577-4717, ext. 110 to register.


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

freshwater jellies

Penny-sized freshwater jellyfish.  Photo by Chuck Cooper.

WBIR's Jim Matheny is a good TV multimedia journalist. And like any good reporter, he's always searching for his next story.

On a recent day off, he rented a paddleboard from River Sports to explore Mead's Quarry Lake at Ijams. Spotting something odd and small swimming in the water, Jim had one of those "What the heck?" moments. 

The next day, a phone call or two, led him to me. And luckily, I knew "What the heck" he was talking about: Craspedacusta sowerbii, or freshwater jellyfish.

Transparent and the size of a penny, the little beasties are hard to notice and hard not to notice at the same time. They're 99 percent water and one percent simple cellular construct that somehow holds the creature together. And, yet...Pow!, the miracle of life! 

But finding them in a 25-acre lake is serendipitous, like finding a Leprechaun's pot of gold or the car keys I once lost for my 1971 Toyota Celica.  

Jim's lively jellyfish report aired this afternoon on WBIR. It's perhaps one of the smallest living things the venerable NBC affiliate has ever showcased. Watching the account, it looks like I'm the only one paddling around the lake chasing the Lilliputian invertebrates. Did I say "ephemeral"? I should. Yet, always nearby, off camera, was a red canoe that contained the story's reporter, producer, writer, editor and videographer, an entire TV crew, all housed in Jim.

He had also figured out how to get his GoPro video camera to glide smoothly underwater behind his canoe using a combination of an empty water bottle for buoyancy and wrenches for ballast. His cobbled together creation should be forever known as the "Matheny Rig." His jellyfish footage is matchless. 

To see his report, clickWBIR jellyfish

Thanks, Jim.

Happy Birthday, Karen Suzy!

Jim holding his recently created "Matheny Rig" for underwater video
WBIR TV News crew
Searching for jellies.
Photos by Jim Matheny (Who else was out there?)