My Friend Jean

Jean w. trilliums best 8

Jean Kolb and I have a lot in common.  While we have very different personalities — I am more gregarious, Jean is more reserved — we share deeply held commitments to the natural world.  She and her husband Hal own 176 acres of forested land in two separate tracts in the sharply ascending foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains a few miles south of Charlottesville.  They built a comfortable, modest home for their family on the larger tract halfway up the slope of a mountain that, just like Naked Mountain, rises to almost 2,000 feet Some of the oak and hickory trees at the top of the mountain are estimated to be 200 years old. A delightful creek has carved a storm-influenced path through the upper reaches of the forest and tumbles merrily in springtime close to the house. The rich, north-facing mountain cove they live in teems with life of all kinds — an array of native plants, most long-established, some planted by Jean’s hand; numerous birds, year-round residents and migratory;  a busy often secretive community of mammals that includes a fleetingly seen fox, weasel, or bobcat; a woodrat who trades found items for grapes left in an old shed; families of white-tailed deer,  raccoons, and black bears.  Jean and Hal enjoy their neighbors and live harmoniously with them in a peaceable kingdom.

It is perhaps not surprising that Jean is a writer.  Living in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia in the middle of an older forest provides plenty of inspiration.  We both cannot resist trying to evoke for others, deprived of the natural world experiences  we access so easily, what we see, hear and smell. I have written Naked Mountain:  A Memoir  that will be published soon, and Jean has nearly finished her third manuscript called “Watching the Neighbors.” The “neighbors” in this instance are not humans, but forest creatures of every kind. Here is an excerpt  about some little chipmunks whose underground burrow was in a patch of grass outside Jean’s kitchen window.

On a day when all four siblings were out several feet from the entrance, sniffing about and cautiously exploring, one little fellow ranged further out than the others. He began to move around with growing confidence, and his body language said, “Hey, it’s fun out here.” He nibbled at grass stems, a clover leaf, and a tulip tree seed, and everything he found seemed worthy of inspection. The others were not so bold; they darted about within a four-foot circle from the hole, then suddenly dived into it. The daring explorer was, at that moment, six feet away, and it took a second or two for him to realize the others had disappeared. When he did, he raced for the hole, but the grass blocked his line of sight and he missed it. His manner instantly changed to “Oh, my gosh! Where’s the hole?” He dashed about, trying different directions in what appeared to be real panic. For ten seconds—long enough for all kinds of bad things to happen—he could not find the entrance. He charged this way and that, but the hole was somewhere else. At last he found it and dived in. It was probably a lesson he would never forget. Nobody came up again for a long time.”

Our love of the natural world has also engendered in both of us a fierce determination to protect it. Our properties are under conservation easements – Jean and Hal’s with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, mine with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). This means when we are gone the land will convey to future owners with the easement restrictions intact on the deed.  The easements protect our land against development pressures like roads and subdivisions and, In my case, DCR successfully thwarted an effort to run a 42 inch gas pipeline straight across Naked Mountain right through the precious barrens where thousands of Shooting Stars bloom in the spring and rare flowers bloom in the heat of summer.

But Jean and I also work hard to protect our land from an on-going, also human-caused threat:  non-native invasive plants. We both spend many hours in the woods pulling, and carefully spraying when needed, invaders that could easily overwhelm native plants, destroying  the  web of natural communities that support a fascinating array of life.  It is this web of mutual dependence that Jean’s manuscript illuminates so clearly by describing scenes from the lives of dozens of forest animals, her neighbors.

I have written about my efforts to battle the invaders in previous posts here.  You can read about Jean and Hal’s efforts on the website of the 500-Year Forest Foundation. Theirs was the first forest; now there are seven.  Until recently, many people did not take the idea of combatting non-native invasive plants in forests seriously, so it has been encouraging to have a friend who, like me, was not slowed in her efforts by ridicule such as: “Been out there weeding the forest again?” We commiserate about how overwhelmed we feel, but for us there is no choice; we feel compelled. We compare notes and share techniques.  Here’s one:  to control spreading the seeds from invasive plants herself, Jean told me she often uses a stick to dig out the soil that collects in the deep treads of her hiking boots before she leaves an infested area.  I now carry on old toothbrush in my backpack and use it to scrub the contaminated soil out of my treads after pulling nasty weeds.

Jean and I share something else:  we are both cancer survivors. She was treated for breast cancer six years ago; I was treated for advanced ovarian cancer eight years ago.  We are both in extended remission, perhaps even cured.  Our battles against our respective internal invaders put us back a bit on our work fighting the external  invaders, but we returned to the woods as soon as we were able.  I even backpacked out ten pounds of Garlic Mustard, walking uphill with it for nearly a mile, after three rounds of chemotherapy.  Such is our commitment to protecting the land we love.

It’s really nice to have a friend like Jean.

Dear Tim,

Dear Tim,

My first husband, Timothy Bell

My first husband, Timothy Bell

This month marks seven years since you left the earth. Much has happened since I last wrote you like this a year ago just before Susan’s wedding. So, first of all you should know that your beloved daughter had a charming June wedding at Helen’s gracious house. It was full of love beautifully expressed between Susan and Steven as they said their own vows to each other, but also full of the love from everyone present who wished them well. You were there too, especially in our hearts, but in a toast I stated in words that you were with us and very pleased with this marriage.

Susan-Steven dancing BEST

Steven and Susan Queen at their wedding

I was married too, in September. Remember when you were in the intensive care unit and we knew all was lost and you were dying, you said I should remarry? When I demurred, you answered, “You’ll be sad for awhile, but then you’ll meet someone and move on.” You were partially right. I don’t think you realized how long and deep grieving for you would take. I did meet someone, without trying. He came to me like a miracle. He was divorcing his wife, Alice, your old high school sweetheart. He knew about your death. He hoped we might at least share interests since you and Alice were so devoted to music and hoped to perform professionally. You would like David, I know, because you are the thread that brought us together.

My memoir, Naked Mountain, will be published on September 6th. You remember the very first drafts of the book that I began writing after my cancer diagnosis. I wasn’t sure I would live to see it published so I started it right away. I wanted so much to share the story of Naked Mountain – how we bought a mountain for weekend camping getaways, but as its treasures, one after another, revealed themselves we became passionate about preserving it. And we did — it is the Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve, one of 63 in Virginia, and protected in perpetuity.

You were skeptical about this book at first. Do you remember? You were concerned about privacy and you were not sure I could do it. But when it was clear you would not live, that your life would be cut short at age 59, you began telling your doctors about the book and said you hoped they would read it. Well, now they can. I have kept in touch with Dr. Herman, and my own oncologist, Dr. Bristow. I will send them each a signed copy and express our gratitude for their valiant efforts.

I want you to know that the book is dedicated to you:  “In Loving Memory of Timothy Bell.” It tells the story of Naked Mountain, but it also shows how you loved Susan and me – how you devoted yourself to supporting Susan as she encountered a bewildering, often rejecting world. And what you said to me as I struggled with mortal fear, anxiety and pain. Those are words and actions that comfort me still even though the spectre of death from my cancer is truly gone.

Until next time my love,

Marcia

Update on Naked Mountain Bryophytes

Drummondia prorepens - a tree moss growing on branch of Eastern Red Cedar in barrens on Naked Mountain

Drummondia prorepens – a tree moss growing on branch of Eastern Red Cedar in barrens on Naked Mountain

I know there are a lot of Bryophyte lovers out there!  My facebook post about the visit last November by three field scientists who were collecting and documenting mosses, liverworts, hornworts and lichens in the Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve got the most views of all of my facebook posts yet — 240!  Impressive! (See the November 26th post, Bryophytes:  A Whole New Tiny World of Wonder!)

John Townsend, Botanist with the Natural Heritage Division of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and Tom Wieboldt, Curator of the Herbarium at Virginia Polytechnic Institute sent me their findings a couple of months later.  And here they are:

  • Ceratodon purpureus – moss
  • Dicranum flagellare – moss
  • Polytrichum pallidisetum – moss
  • Frullania brittoniae (liverwort) w/ Leucodon julaceus , Haplohymenium triste (both mosses)
  • Frullania ericoides – liverwort
  • Frullania inflata – liverwort
  • Schistidium cf. apocarpum – moss
  • Reboulia hemispaerica – liverwort
  • Drummondia prorepens – moss
  • Bryum pseudotriquetrum  – moss
  • Atrichum angustatum – moss
  • Cephaloziella hampeana  – liverwort
  • Philonotis Fontana – moss
  • Ptychomitrium incurvum – moss
  • Riccia beyrichiana  – liverwort
  • Porella platyphylla  – liverwort
  • Dermatocarpon species? – lichen
  • Asterella tenella (still need to confirm ID) – liverwort
  • Thelia asprella – moss
  • Coccocarpia palmicola – lichen
  • Leptogium austroamericanum – lichen

John’s comment about these species is that none are particularly “odd” (read rare) which may relate to the habitat of Naked Mountain and particularly, the two natural communities where he and Tom collected:  near the summit and in the low elevation basic outcrop barrens. You can read about the barrens, which constitute a rare natural community and an important reason Naked Mountain is a Virginia natural area preserve here. Although the summit of Naked Mountain is often encased in foggy mist as it was the morning these folks arrived, it is generally a dry ridge habitat. And the barrens are a rocky, open outcrop with thin soils that seep in the spring, but dry up in the heat of the summer. Both are tough environments for most bryophytes and limit the number of species that can survive there.

For vascular species, be sure and check out the new Plant List page for Naked Mountain on the menu bar.  Coming soon:  a report on the natural communities that occur on Naked Mountain. The extensive mapping was done last summer by the ecological team at the Division of Natural Heritage. They identified ten discrete natural communities. Stay tuned!

Master Naturalists Tackle Invasives on Naked Mountain

Before I tell you about what happened on Naked Mountain earlier this week, take a moment and click on Naked Mountain, the Book on the menu bar and read about my new memoir. I will post information about where and when I will be doing a book launch event. And check here for media related to the book and other events. At my book launch, I will be doing readings from the book and will explain how  Naked Mountain became Virginia’s 49th natural area preserve.  I will also discuss important lessons I’ve learned about ovarian cancer, grieving, and remaking a life. I hope you will join me.

IMG_3147

Firepink (Silene virginica) blooming this week on Naked Mountain

Battling invasive plants and animals is the most important task facing anyone who happens to be fortunate enough to own a natural area preserve in Virginia. I suspect this imperative exists for publicly or privately owned natural area preserves everywhere in the U.S. The nature of the enemy may change from location to location, but the need to engage in the war is essentially the same. Ignoring these threats can easily overwhelm the biodiversity of the property, which is why it was dedicated as a preserve — a place that contains and protects excellent examples of natural communities and usually rare species within those communities.

Fortunately I have help in managing the invasives on Naked Mountain.  First and foremost I have assistance from highly educated and trained stewards with the Natural Heritage Program, a division of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.  Stewards provide essential management services to the 63 natural area preserves in Virginia. As one of the few on-site landowners, they provide me with advice and consultation on how to identify and manage invasives and come twice- a- year to work alongside me to control them.  But their ability to do all of this has been severely challenged by  budget limitations.  As the number and acres of preserves has more than doubled in Virginia in the past decade and the threat from invasive species grows exponentially, the number of staff at Natural Heritage has actually declined.  The Virginia Native Plant Society, a wonderful non-profit organization whose motto is:  “conserving wild flowers and wild places,” is spearheading an effort targeted at boosting budget resources for Natural Heritage.

Another important and growing source of help is Virginia’s Master Naturalist program.  Master Naturalists are volunteer educators, citizen scientists, and stewards of public lands. The Central Blue Ridge Chapter is located in Nelson County and its leaders have always been my neighbors so I have had good help from this source for the past five years. Our focus has been on pulling up Garlic Mustard, an aggressive woodland and forest invasive that can quickly overwhelm native plants.  It is also allelopathic, so its presence poisons the soil so that the seedlings from native trees and plants can’t grow.

I am pleased to report that this spring, in areas of Naked Mountain that used to be infested with Garlic Mustard, we found very little.  It has taken ten years of persistent pulling to get to this point.  I have been so focused on this task that even while I was being treated with chemotherapy for advanced ovarian cancer in 2008, I pulled up Garlic Mustard for hours and carried ten pound bags of it walking uphill for a mile.

Bellwort edited

Perfoliate bellwort (Uvularia perfoliata) blooming this week on Naked Mountain

Another important development in the Blue Ridge area of Virginia is the recent establishment of the Blue Ridge PRISM , or Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management.  It’s a non-profit, citizen led organization that’s focused on controlling invasive species on private lands.  I am coordinating the Dutch Creek Area Stewardship, one of the many local sub-groups that belong to Blue Ridge PRISM.  I will write about this group and its work in a future post.

On April 19th, members of the Headwaters Master Naturalist chapter came to Naked Mountain to help me control a relatively new invasive, Multi-flora Rose.  This non-native rose has begun infesting several areas along my road, including a small, beautiful seep where over 100 spectacular Cardinal plants (Lobelia cardinalis) bloom in August. Led by the extremely competent Chris Bowlen, her husband Gene and friend Jerry Hopkins we alternately dug up smaller Multi-flora shrubs or cut the canes on larger shrubs and dripped 40% glyphosate on the just cut stems.  The latter procedure is not as effective in Spring as it would be in Fall when the plants nutrients are being drawn back down into the root system, but we felt it was worth trying. In the seep we were able to pull up the much smaller shrubs there and so avoided contaminating the flowing spring-fed stream with herbicide.

MN group edit

Headwaters Master Naturalists (from left) Jerry Hopkins, Chris Bowlen, Gene Bowlen working on Naked Mountain

At the end of 2.5 hours of work, we had pulled or treated every visible multi-flora rose infestation along  the mid-section of my 2.5 mile long road, the only area affected, so far.  While I will need to constantly monitor for re-growth, I am extremely pleased with our result. Tackling an invasive as early as possible helps keep it from becoming an overwhelming problem.

Oh yes, you want to know why a master naturalist group from the Harrisonburg area of Virginia, which is 60 miles away, would come and work on Naked Mountain when they have  their own important local projects? Last month, I gave a talk about the flora, fauna and geology of Naked Mountain to the Headwaters Master Naturalist Chapter.  Several members who heard the talk expressed an interest in visiting Naked Mountain and offered to do invasive species field work as their ticket for admission.  What a deal!

Coming Soon — Naked Mountain, A Memoir; Here now — the Plant List!

As you can see, the Naked Mountain Blog has a new look. The sliding header features views from my house and nearby outcrop barren as well as some of the spectacular flora and fauna that dwell on the mountain. Every time I gaze at these photos I feel immense gratitude to the wonderful people at Virginia’s Natural Heritage Program (a division of the Department of Conservation and Recreation) for working with me to protect these species by establishing the Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve.

You can read more about Virginia Natural Heritage here — and note on the home page that 2016 is their 30th anniversary! A very happy anniversary to all the wonderful staff at Natural Heritage!

There is a new page on the menu of the blogsite:  Plant List — just click it and nearly 300 ordered species will appear. The Naked Mountain vascular plant list was compiled by Natural Heritage (VNH) staff with some contributions from me. It’s a work in progress as Gary Fleming, senior vegetation ecologist with VNH, who has visited the preserve a dozen times for research purposes, feels there are a number of species yet to be identified and added to the list.  He feels, for instance, that sedges are likely underrepresented.

There is one species on the list that is globally rare, Torrey’s Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum torrei). It is featured in the header, but here it is up close and personal.

Photo by Gary P. Fleming

Photo by Gary P. Fleming

This mint grows along with Narrow-leaf Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum tenufolium) and Hoary Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum incanum) in a grassy outcrop barren on the Southeastern slope. All three mints attract a beautiful green butterfly that lives in the barrens, Juniper Hairstreak.

Photo by Megan McCarty

Photo by Megan McCarty

Two other Naked Mountain species are on the watchlist:  American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and one of the seven orchids that are known to date to grow on Naked Mountain — Crested coralroot (Hexalectris spicata). Here is a close-up of the coralroot.

Photo by Gary P. Fleming

Photo by Gary P. Fleming

Another new feature of the Naked Mountain Blog is the page, Naked Mountain, The Book.  If you click on it you can see the cover. It will be published on September 6, 2016 and I will be announcing where and when I will do a book launch event. You can also check back here for updates on media and other events.

How do you like the watercolor treatment on the book cover of the view on the header?

Coming soon will be a tab under “The Book” page for a gallery of photos that depict scenes described in the book.

Hope you are enjoying this beautiful spring season. I will be back soon…

 

 

Bryophytes: A Whole New Tiny World of Wonder!

On November 6th I had a delightful visit on Naked Mountain from three important field scientists:  Tom Wieboldt, Curator of the Herbarium at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, John Townsend, Botanist with the Natural Heritage Division of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, and Gary Fleming, Senior Vegetation Ecologist also with Natural Heritage. They arrived early in the day when a cool foggy mist enclosed the summit of the mountain.

Left, Tom Wieboldt; Center, John Townsend; Right, Gary Fleming Photo by author

These highly experienced field scientists came to the Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve to collect something no one else had yet investigated:  the whole category of tiny plants known as Bryophytes. Bryophytes comprise all variety of mosses, liverworts and hornworts. These have recently been determined to have separate evolutionary histories, but they are still grouped under the name Bryophytes as they share common characteristics, namely that they do not produce lignin to enable the growth of vascular tissue for water and nutrient transport and their reproductive cycle is dominantly gametophyte and haploid (cells contain only one-half of their chromosomes). You can read more about this here.

Lacking vascular tissue means that Bryophytes must absorb water and nutrients through their tiny leaves from the air around them. To retain vital moisture that is essential for their survival and for reproductive growth, the leaves are coated in a waxy cuticle.

Bryophytes are also characterized by the pattern of their growth — in closely packed mats or cushions on rocks, soil, or as epiphytes on the trunks of trees and leaves of forest trees. Gary Fleming noted that mosses act as an agent of primary succession on bare rock and so provide a medium for plants seen on Naked Mountain like the massive numbers of Shooting Stars (Primula meadia) seen in the lower elevation outcrop barrens and especially Fameflower (Phemeranthus teretifolius) that blooms directly in the moss on the flatter barrens.  In the case of Naked Mountain which is underlain with amphibolite, the mosses will be specifically adapted to mafic rock.  Here is what Gary says about the moss seen in the photo below:  “Grimmia laevigata (“Dry Rock Moss”) – characteristic moss of exposed igneous and metamorphic rocks with periodic seepage; abundant in the Naked Mountain amphibolite woodlands and barrens”

Fameflower (Phemeranthus teretifolius) growing in moss in July on flat barren near summit of Naked Mountain (elevation about 1950 feet) Photo by Gary Fleming

Fossil records indicate that Bryophytes are the oldest land plants on Earth. They are believed to be a vital link in the migration of plants from aquatic environments onto land. Ecologically, they are important in maintaining an ecosystem’s humidity level and so can be used as indicators of habitat condition.

Identifying Bryophytes takes painstaking work with a microscope to see the minute branching effects and other features, some only a cell-wide.

Tom Wieboldt examining moss with Gary Fleming. Photo by author

After collecting some specimens near the summit at about 1900 feet I took them down into the low elevation outcrop barrens at about 1600 feet where rare plants grow.  Here are two of many Bryophytes they collected in that site.

Drummondia prorepens – a tree moss growing on branch of Eastern Red Cedar in barrens on Naked Mountain. Photo by Gary Fleming

A thallose liverwort growing in moist, sheltered humus in Naked Mountain amphibolite barrens. Specific identification awaits microscope analysis. Photo by Gary Fleming

Here are some really cool facts I learned from Tom and Johnny about Bryophytes:

  • There are upwards of 25,000 species of Bryophytes with 15,000 species of mosses alone making this plant category among the most diverse on Earth — maybe not surprising given how old it is.
  • They occur the world over from the coast of Antarctica to the deserts of Australia and the rain forests of the Amazon.
  • Because of this characteristic, there is an international on-line community of Bryophyte lovers, both expert botanists and ecologists and highly informed amateurs, that share information and discuss taxonomy.
  • Very little is known about Virginia’s Bryophytes.  There are a few experts in the state, but they have only investigated locally. Natural Heritage and herbarium botanists like Tom Wieboldt want to see a digital mapping of Bryophytes for the Commonwealth and so that effort is now beginning. It is surmised that rare species of Bryophytes exist in Virginia.

By the time Tom, Johnny and Gary returned to their car near the summit several hours later, the mist had cleared and they could see the Blue Ridge Mountains from my deck – a late fall view with some hills in the foreground still glowing gold. I was glad they had a chance to see this. Some people who visit Naked Mountain never get to see beyond the white mist.

View from my deck on Naked Mountain. Photo by Gary Fleming

I was very pleased and proud to be a collection site for this Bryophyte mapping venture and can’t wait to hear what species they found growing in the Naked Mountain barrens!

 

 

 

 

 

Naked Mountain Visit by Three Vegetation Ecologists

I feel like the most fortunate person in the world!  On May 6th, vegetation ecologists from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Division of Natural Heritage (DCR-DNH) came to Naked Mountain.  Here they are:

From Left: Kristin Taverna, Gary Fleming, Karen Patterson taking a photo of Spring Forget-me-not, Myosotis verna

The principal reason for the visit was to introduce Kristin Taverna to the Naked Mountain preserve because, over the summer months, she is going to conduct vegetative mapping of the whole preserve! I am very excited about this endeavor as we will then have a real sense of the different natural communities across the whole preserve. We will not only understand even more than is known now about the two important, and globally rare, natural communities that have long been identified on Naked Mountain, but will also learn about areas no professional ecologist or botanist has yet seen.

Plant communities in the two areas that Natural Heritage staff, especially vegetation ecologists Gary Fleming and Karen Patterson, have visited many times are:  Mountain/Piedmont Basic Woodlands and Low-Elevation Basic Outcrop Barrens. You can read more about these specific natural communities on the DCR-DNH website here. But to get a sense of the process and prodigious ecological data gathering behind the development of these natural community classifications, read the background on the effort here.  In brief, the classification is based on data collected from 4,500 standardized plots in much of the varied topography across the state and also the region. The resulting classification hierarchy that has been developed has four levels:

1) Systems:  based on gross hydrologic features e.g, Terrestrial, Palustrine, Estuarine, and Marine

2) Ecological Class: “…based primarily on gross climatic, geographic, and edaphic similarities, e.g., High-Elevation Mountain Communities or Non-Alluvial Wetlands of the Coastal Plain and Piedmont.”

3) Ecological Community Group: “… based on combinations of topographic, edaphic, physiognomic, and gross floristic similarities. This level is comparable to the level at which many natural community classifications define their basic units, e.g., Northern Red Oak Forests or Low-Elevation Basic Outcrop Barrens.”

4) Community Types:  “… are the fundamental units of the classification system and are nested within the Ecological Community Groups.” Virginia ecologists assess all vegetative layers in determining community types:  canopy/tree, understory, shrub and herbaceous.

The extensive plot data that Virginia’s Natural Heritage program has compiled is also being used in combination with similar data from other states to define the ecological communities of North America and then rank them with regard to rarity and conservation status/needs. The ranking system begins with Global/State rankings established through NatureServe of the rarity of specific natural resources found at  given sites and then a B ranking is given based on the G/S rankings that signals the site’s overall biodiversity significance. G1/ S1 rankings mean critically imperiled and G5/S5 mean demonstrably secure. Here, for example, is how the Naked Mountain NAP is described by DCR-DNH in a recent letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) with regard to the proposed Atlantic Coast Natural Gas:

The Naked Mountain Conservation Site is located immediately adjacent to the centerline. The Naked Mountain Conservation Site has been given a biodiversity significance ranking of B2, which represents a site of very high significance. The natural heritage resources of concern at this site are:

 Pycnanthemum torreyi  Torrey’s Mountain-mint  G2/S2?/SOC/NL

Central Appalachian Basic Ash – Hickory Woodland  G2/S2/NL/NL

Central Appalachian Mafic/Calcarous Barren (Low-Elevation) G2/S2/NL/NL               

Inner Piedmont/Lower Blue Ridge Basic Oak – Hickory Forest  G3G4/S3S4/NL/NL”                                             

When Kristin is done with her work, all the ecological community groups, based on the community types within them, will be mapped in color for the boundaries of the Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve. I can’t wait!

But below is a photo senior DCR-DNH vegetation ecologist, Gary Fleming, took of an ecological value on Naked Mountain that isn’t fully captured in any classification system. In fact, the tens of thousands of Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon meadia) on Naked Mountain, that bloom all at once like a conducted orchestra (One, two, three:  Bloom!), aren’t noted as a community type species for Low-Elevation Basic Outcrop Barrens. It is just one of those unique happenings in nature that is a wonder to behold!

Shooting Stars (Primula meadia) blooming a few weeks ago in one of the barrens on Naked Mountain. Photo by Gary P. Fleming

A close-up of one of the Shooting Stars (Primula meadia) blooming a few weeks ago on Naked Mountain. Photo by Gary P. Fleming

 

Dear Tim,

My husband, Timothy Bell

It has been six years since your spirit left the Earth on this day in May.  I wanted to write to you and give you an update on how things are here on Earth.

First, the most important news is that your beloved daughter, Susan, is getting married on June 27th. She is marrying Steven.  You remember Steven:  steady, supportive, a rock under Susan’s sometimes slippery feet. The wedding will be at Helen’s house. They will take their vows under a gazebo by the pool surrounded by cascading roses.  You will be there in our hearts, but you are also welcome to eat cake and drink champagne!

     I am okay.  It has been six and a half years since I finished chemotherapy and I have not had a recurrence of my cancer.  In fact, I have done so well that my Hopkins’ oncologists discharged me from their care at the five year mark. I live now like a freed prisoner cherishing my unbelievable good luck. If only you could have shared in that providence and stayed with me. So unfair…
     Do you remember when your life was ebbing away, in the intensive care unit at Hopkins, you told me I should re-marry?  You said, “You will be sad for awhile, but then you will meet someone else and move on.”  Well, I am still sad, but the worst of the grieving finally subsided three and a half years after you left the Earth. You are still with me; I will never stop loving you, or missing you.  But, I want you to know that I have moved on, although wonderful widow’s groups I have found in books and on-line would replace that phrase with “moved forward” because we never leave behind our beloved deceased spouses.  I think you would be amazed, surprised, and pleased with who my new love is.
     Do you remember how you used to say, as we drove up our long gravel road to our beautiful little house on Naked Mountain:  “This is the place where all is well, and that Is all?” All is still well on Naked Mountain, but there have been some challenges. Last year around this time I received a letter from a subsidiary of Dominion Power telling me they wanted to access our property to conduct a survey for placement of a 42 inch natural gas pipeline. Their map showed it coming right across the top of the mountain about 150 feet from the house. Panicked, I called Natural Heritage and they went to work. Engaging their parent agency, the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), they met with Dominion, and followed up several times, telling them that the pipeline must not come across Naked Mountain, that it is one of their dedicated Natural Area Preserves.  So far, Dominion appears to have honored that request and I have heard nothing further.  Our passion to protect Naked Mountain, “in perpetuity,” by following through with the easement with DCR-Natural Heritage was tested to the limit and it looks like it has been sustained.  We did a very good thing!
     But Dominion still intends to build this massive pipeline and run it through 550 miles of Virginia, devastating  pristine forest, streams and wetlands, people’s farms, homes and places of business.  It has proposed several possible routes, one would cut right through the back of the Acorn Inn – remember how we used to stay there, with Kathy and Martin Versluys, when we were building the house? Some routes cut through John Ed Purvis’ farm at the base of Naked Mountain. Do you remember how kind he was to arrange to get us a “land use” tax rate? One route would plow through the end of our dear friends’ Chapin and Janice’s driveway, steps away from their house.  If that happens they will move; I will miss them terribly.
     Why is this happening?  Believe it or not this seems to be the unforeseen consequence of good climate change policy. Under President Obama’s second administration – he was re-elected by a wide margin – stringent carbon emission policies have been developed that will effectively shut down dirty, polluting coal fueled power plants.  Facing this prospect (the regulations are under legal challenge), companies like Dominion are scrambling to take advantage of new drilling technologies that allow them to access previously untapped riches of natural gas locked in shale formations far beneath the Earth’s surface.
     Is this fracked natural gas cleaner? Probably not. Methane is considered a significantly more harmful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and methane is released directly into the atmosphere during  the fracking extraction process.  In addition, leaking of natural gas that occurs during transport, and processing offers significant polluting opportunities to both air and water while adding to global warming.
     Could Dominion turn to clean solar or wind technologies instead?  Yes, but they think spending billions on fracking, building pipeline infrastructure, and processing is more profitable right this minute. They are not investing in logical, sustainable future technologies, even though those technologies are now coming on fast and are challenging power companies that fail to take the lead in production in sun-drenched states like Arizona.
     You should know that sleepy, charming Nelson County is fighting this pipeline like a pack of ferocious lions. I have never, in my entire professional lobbying career, seen anything like it! We are all in this together, fighting side-by-side.  And who knows, we may just win.  It won’t, and hasn’t been, easy because, as you know perhaps better than anyone, the United States is not a democracy that is “of the people, for the people, by the people.”  Long ago, money in politics began corrupting this process, the corruption now accelerated by the Supreme Court’s decision in the “Citizens United” case.  Our country is run by wealthy individuals and corporations.  In fact, you would be gratified to know that, a few months ago,  political scientists at Princeton University published a well-designed study of the political power structure in the United States and formally declared our system of government an oligarchy.  Believe me, no one in Nelson County is surprised by this.
     But here is some good news. Natural Heritage ecologists, botanists and stewards have visited Naked Mountain often over the years since you have been gone. The stewards have helped me manage the invasives, an on-going head-ache that I know you remember well.  The ecologists and botanists have been establishing vegetation plots to study changes over time, and re-found , then marked with GPS, the rare Torrey’s Mountain Mint in the barrens. That was an exciting day!
     And later this week two ecologists will come to Naked Mountain to begin a wonderful project:  they will do vegetative mapping of the entire preserve! Natural Heritage got a grant to do this as a pilot project and then decided, for a lot of reasons, to do it on Naked Mountain:  close to Charlottesville where the principal vegetation ecologist on the project lives; manageable size; not too disturbed by invasives.  Do you know what this means?  When they finish their work over the course of the summer, we will know every single tree species, shrub layer species, and herb layer species that grows in the entire preserve! Isn’t that fabulous?
      And… I am nearly done with my memoir.  You remember. I started it when I was diagnosed fearing I would not live long enough to write the story of how we bought the mountain, or as you liked to say, how you bought the mountain for me; how we kept encountering charming creatures that lived there; how we discovered the thousands and thousands of Shooting Stars and how, fueled by our growing conservation passion, we sought out Natural Heritage to help us protect it forever.  I have been working on the memoir with a wonderful editor and we are nearly done. I am very hopeful it will be published!  Guess what it’s called:  Naked Mountain.
     I have also developed a powerpoint presentation about the mountain called, “Naked Mountain:  The Delights and Challenges of Owning One of Virginia’s Natural Area Preserves.”  It is multi-media, featuring some interesting video clips, audio of bird sounds and some gorgeous photos that Gary Fleming, one of the wonderful ecologists that comes to Naked Mountain, has shared.  It also features some of my own photos.  My new love has been helping me learn how to take pictures. I enjoy trying to capture the blossoms, especially the context they show up in — their space. I give the talk to the various chapters of the Virginia Native Plant Society.  It has been well-received and I absolutely love doing it.
     Do you remember when we first learned your pancreatic cancer diagnosis and I was so terrified at the thought of losing you?  To comfort me you said, “Scatter my ashes among the wildflowers; that way I will always be with you.”  Susan and I did as you directed.  Here you are, growing so beautifully in the small barren right near the house:

Lyre-leaved Rock cress (Arabidopsis lyrata) and Spiderwort (Tradescantia)

Until next time, my love,

Marcia

 

 

See What’s Blooming on Naked Mountain

Early Saxifrage (Saxifraga virginiensis)

After finally finishing pulling the major patches of Garlic Mustard on Naked Mountain, I took a little time on Thursday, April 16th to photograph some of what was blooming that day on Naked Mountain.

In the barren near the summit, at about 1950 feet elevation, there is a lot of Early Saxifrage (Saxifraga virginensis) blooming in mossy layers that forms across the surface of the outcrop of bedrock.  That bedrock is mafic in nature,  amphibolite to be precise.  It not only creates a natural opening in the woodland on the summit, but has chemical qualities, particularly high amounts of calcium, that support biodiverse plant life.  This site is a changing display of flora from early spring through early fall.

On the actual almost 2000 foot summit of Naked mountain, on April 16, Star Chickweed (Stellaria pubera) was blooming in many spots and in at least one spot was tangled up with still blooming Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica).

Star Chickweed (Stellaria pubera) growing right through an old tree trunk.

Star Chickweed (Stellaria pubera) and Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) entertwined.

Downey Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) was blooming here and there in the woodland and forest, but there seems to be much less of it than in years’ past.  This photo was taken very near the summit.

Downey Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea)

The Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon meadia), for which Naked Mountain is “famous,” were about half-way up at this site along the upper road. (When a few people, mostly professional field botanists, know about a natural floral display like this, does it really support the applleation famous?). This site has seeping rock and occurs at about 1800 feet in elevation.  Everything green in this photo are Shooting Stars.  There are about 20 sites like this one across the Southeastern face of Naked Mountain. So, the estimate is there about 10,000 plants altogether.  And, they mostly bloom all at once putting on quite a show!

Emerging Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon meadia)

Here is a close up of Smooth Rockcress (Arabis laevigata) in full bloom taken right at the summit of Naked Mountain.   I am very fond of this plant which is prolific on Naked Mountain because it reminds me of a person with two arms reaching up and out from the center stem, topped by a bowed head that I imagine is cloaked, like a monk.  Huh??   Just what happens when I see this plant, even when it has gone into fruit.

Smooth Rockcress (Arabis laevigata)

I was surprised to see Fire Pink (Silene virginica) already beginning to bloom.  This photo was taken along the road bank at about 1400 foot elevation.

Fire Pink (Silene virginica)

Other things blooming on Naked Mountain on April 16, 2015:  lots of Red bud (Cercis Canadensis), some Dogwood  (Cornus florida) although it has significantly diminished from when Tim and I first bought the property in 1988, and Perfoliate Bellwort (Uluvaria perfoliata) just beginning to bloom.  There is a colony of this plant that covers a quarter acre.

I won’t be back to Naked Mountain until May 3rd, which is the sixth anniversary of my husband, Timothy Bell’s, death.  I would not want to be anywhere else on this difficult day. I will fill it with sweet memories of our times together exploring and loving Naked Mountain.

April May Mean Spring, But It Also Means Garlic Mustard Season

Virginia Natural Heritage stewards, Adam Christie, Shenandoah Valley Region Steward and Wes Paulos, Mountain Region Steward pulling Garlic Mustard 4/8/15 on Naked Mountain. Author photo.

Last week, five of us worked for four hours pulling Garlic Mustard in the Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve.  Two of the workers were Natural Heritage Division stewards, Adam Christie and Wes Paulos, and three of us were volunteers.  One, Nancy Muzek, came all the way from the District of Columbia to help me with this annual task. The next day, Janice Jackson joined Nancy, Janice’s husband Chapin Wilson, who had helped us the day before, and me for another two hours of pulling in another area of the preserve.

This was not the first Garlic Mustard outing this year. In March, another helpful neighbor and Master Naturalist, Anne Colgate, joined me to pull the weed in an area far away from the house and requiring nearly a mile hike with a backpack full of weed up straight up the ridge.  Anne is a strong, regular hiker who often tramps up and down mountains, and frequents the Appalachian Trail. Because she does, I had to ask her to either wash her boots, or use a pair she doesn’t use on the AT.  Why?  Because of the presence there of a new, very threatening invasive plant called Wavyleaf Grass.  The seeds of this invasive stick to your shoes and clothing to enhance its distribution.  Since 2005, it has been documented as occurring in Shenandoah National Park, especially along the Appalachian Trail where hikers unknowingly transport it on their shoes.  Here  is an excellent flyer on this new threat produced by the Virginia Natural Heritage Division.

All invasive plants can spread through foot traffic in and around natural areas.  This presents a real challenge for me since I literally live (part-time) in the middle of the Naked Mountain NAP. I now have Japanese Stiltgrass in my parking pad area, and in my front yard, and yet I go regularly into the nearby woods to do what:  pull invasives!  It is not surprising that on the hike into Garlic Mustard sites I have been pulling for years, the weed shows up here and there right along the path I, and my volunteers, walk.  I have started to clean the bottom of my shoes after each weeding session, but perhaps I should adopt the technique a fellow landowner-friend, Jean Kolb, uses:  before leaving an invasive species site, find a small stick and dig out the soil caught in those nice, otherwise helpful, treads on the bottom of your hiking boots.

Anyone else have helpful suggestions?

Here are some more photos from our Garlic Mustard sessions last week:

Forest Floor in a saddle area just below the summit of Naked Mountain: 4/8/15. Author photo.

This photo shows the abundant plant life on Naked Mountain on the forest floor.  Cutleaf Toothwort (Dentaria lacinata) is the most abundant plant in this photo, but you can also see May Apple (Podophyllum peltatum) pushing up, as well as a corner of a Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis).  This same area also has Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) and Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa) and, I am sure, many more plants I have not identified as it is a very tough spot to get to and especially get out of. Adam, Wes and I hauled all of the Garlic Mustard out in bags and back packs — probably 150 pounds of it, straight uphill for 200 feet to the summit. As you can see, It was worth it; it is important to get the Garlic Mustard out of this botanically rich area where Adam Christie says the soil is among the richest he has ever seen.

Another denizen that is pretty wide-spread on Naked Mountain:

Downey Yellow Violet (Viola pubescens ?). What is that deeply cut and variegated leaf next to the violet? What else do you see? Author photo.

Here are some of Naked Mountain’s intrepid Weed Warriors:

From the left: VNHP Stewards Adam Christie and Wes Paulos; friend from D.C. Nancy Muzek; Nelson County friend and neighbor, Chapin Wilson,  Author photo.

An finally, the next day, April 9th, on our way out of  a Garlic Mustard site which is lower down on the mountain at an elevation of about 1200 feet, we encountered this charming denizen of Naked Mountain:

Red eft, the juvenile phase of the Eastern red-spotted Newt. Photo by Janice Jackson.

This small 3.5 inch long creature is in the land-dwelling juvenile phase of a 12-15 year life span that starts in the water as larvae and finishes in the water as a 5 inch olive-green newt.  There are no ponds on Naked Mountain, but there are a number of seeps near the spot where we saw this charmer. You can read more about the Eastern Red-spotted Newt here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_newt

Oh, and I heard my first Wood Thrush sing early Thursday morning, April 9th.  Such a lovely voice piercing the foggy mist!