Seasons Below the Peak, above the Creek

Echoes of the Past January 2, 2016 11:37 - Michael Joslin

At the head of Greasy Creek an abandoned homestead and an old field-rock cemetery remind us of the past. Time has marked both sites.  The chestnut walls of the house and some of the outbuildings still stand, but porches have sagged and fallen, and one large barn lies flattened on the ground. 

The kitchen brick chimney has fallen away from the wall.

Inside, patches of wallpaper remain to tell us of a family's eye for beauty, and an abandoned phoebe's nest shows that the dwelling place still shelters mountain denizens.

On a nearby ridge, several flat stones crown the crest. 

Some lie prone, losing the resting places of long departed folks.  Others stand tall with fading scratches etching names of the dead.

Sir Walter finds a comfortable spot in the old house, lying in the doorway as dogs long gone probably did.

He also feels at home among the ghosts on the hill.

As the new year begins. visiting these reminders of lost generations tells us that the past lies behind us leaving its traces and influences, but irredeemable. Those hardy farmers whose bodies enrich the woodlands have left tantalizing hints of their lives, but each year these clues fade.  The etched names even now tease us with their lack of definition.




Ginseng Season Starts Tuesday August 30, 2015 21:08 - Michael Joslin

Ginseng season starts Tuesday in the North Carolina mountains. For generations mountain folks have hiked into the forest to search for the beautiful and valuable plant that has formed an important part of our heritage. 

Laws have been enacted to protect the plant from over collection, but unfortunately greedy and unscrupulous foragers have damaged the viability of the ginseng crop by digging out of season, taking immature plants, failing to carefully plant the seeds, and poaching on private  and government property.  The television show "Appalachian Outlaws" has encouraged people who are simply thieves to take not only from the people they trespass upon but also from future generations. All the men and women I know who have hunted ginseng for years bemoan the fact that it becomes scarcer with each passing year.  While there have always been some who failed to obey the common sense laws, today a generation of poachers shows no respect for the land or the plants upon it.

Do not collect unless the plant is mature, with at least three prongs, and has ripe, red berries.  Plant the berries nearby.  Do not dig all the plants in a patch. 

Ginseng hunting is a ritual that seizes the imagination of all who scout the woods looking for the elusive plant.  The roots of ginseng gathering extend into the unimaginable past, over 10,000 years ago.  Some scholars believe the early immigrants to North America brought with them across the frozen Bering Straits knowledge of ginseng from their Asian homeland. Please exercise care and nurture the wild gifts as they have supported mountain dwellers for millennia.

Jimson Weed August 6, 2015 20:51 - Michael Joslin

I first encountered Jimson Weed in Mark Twain's novels.  The plant usually signifies a waste place, a field gone wild, an unkempt barnyard.  Next I encountered the flowering weed in Carlos Castaneda's books, where, known as datura, the magical vegetable sent him flying as he developed the bruja's powers.

Neither encounter prepared me for the beautiful blossom that decorates this powerful plant, any part of which can send you on a frightening journey that could end in death.

Jimson Weed derives its name from Jamestown, where soldiers included the pretty flower in their salad and spend a few days on a psychedelic trip.  A friend of mine, after reading Carlos Castaneda's The Teachings of Don Juan, followed directions in the book for making the datura potion, and found himself not only high, but blind for two days. 

Nonetheless, the plant is lovely with creamy flowers juxtaposed with jagged leaves and spiny fruit.  The flower color varies from white to gentle purple.  They come out in the night and fade in the sun's light. The fruit, which nicknames the plant thornapple. ripens and dries, splitting open to reveal hundreds of seeds.

Now, I have known folks to chew these seeds, resulting in varying degrees of dizzying trips and discomfort. I have never talked with anyone who repeated the trials. 

Animals generally avoid the bitter plant, but have been poisoned when it is harvest in hayfields or when lack of vegetation makes a bitter meal preferable to starvation.

The plant makes an attractive subject for photographs, so I always debate how long I can leave the weeds in my pasture before rooting them up. My horses have plenty of other options to munch on, so they have never sampled the poisonous datura, but I do not want jimson weed taking over my fields. Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer would not be impressed.



Butterflies August 3, 2015 20:47 - Michael Joslin

Butterflies have returned to Buladean with the hot days of summer.  While in the cool mornings turk's cap lilies, milkweed, and bee balm drip dew without butterflies there to sip, when the sun warms the flowers and their scents fill the air, swallowtails, fritillaries, and other winged wonders flutter and flit from plant to plant sipping nectar. 

Sometimes one plant attracts several of the same species, sometimes several different species.  The busy insects a never still; either they are flying or hovering, or the hungry butterfly's long proboscis probes for nectar, juice seeping from fruit, or water.

The combined beauty of the blossoms and the butterflies provides one of summer's most rewarding sights. Everyone with a camera pulls it out when the butterflies appear

To photography butterflies, you can use a wide variety of lenses and techniques.  A telephoto lens allows you to keep some distance between you and your subject so that you do not disturb the busy insect.  You need a high shutter speed to capture the butterfly without blur, or you can use a flash which should stop motion. 

A macro lens, particularly 100mm or more, allows you to get extreme closeups, but typically for these to work out, you will need a flash.

Even a wide angle or normal lens can render the scene in a memorable way. As long as the butterfly is distinct, capturing its place among the other wonders of the season rewards your efforts.

Butterflies have symbolized metamorphosis and the soul for many cultures. They teach a lesson beginning with their transformation from a crawling caterpillar to a light floating wisp.  Their intrinsic beauty that escapes earth's bonds reminds us of the spirit that carries us through life.

Take time to enjoy the spectacle of flower and butterfly.  It is the season.