Virginia State Geologist Visits Naked Mountain


Right to Left: David Spears, Virginia State Geologist; blog and memoir author, Marcia Mabee; Evan Spears, State Parks Ranger and Naturalist; Ty Smith, State Parks Intern and Naturalist.

On Friday, March 30th, I had a special experience when David Spears, Virginia State Geologist, came to see Naked Mountain. He brought his son, Evan Spears, a ranger and naturalist with the State Parks Division of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, and Ty Smith, intern and naturalist with State Parks.

While we walked to the summit, and into the barrens, Evan and Ty were constantly calling out the names of birds they heard and saw. Most were resident woodpeckers, but they pointed out a few migrants – Blue-headed Vireo and Hermit Thrush. They also spotted a Bald-faced Hornet which politely posed for photos.

Bald-faced Hornet next to nest hole on decaying log. Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve, Virginia.

David made an interesting observation about how the vegetation in the Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve changes dramatically as you come up the long, 2.5 mile road. At the beginning of the preserve boundary, and for about a half mile, the vegetation denotes an acidic soil base – lots of Mountain Laurel, and a sparse understory. But as you turn a corner to begin the long two mile journey up to the ridge top, the vegetation is indicative of strongly alkaline soils – Mountain Laurel abruptly disappears, and species like Red Bud and White Ash trees and plethora of understory are evident.

At the house, before we left for the trek into the barrens, I showed David the vegetation map and report of the preserve on this website which Natural Heritage staff, Kristin Taverna and Gary Fleming, produced. It shows the portion of the Virginia geologic map that underlies the preserve. You can clearly see that granite, a rock that produces acidic soils, is under the Eastern most section of the Naked Mountain preserve, while amphibolite, a mafic rock that produces alkaline soils, underlies the remainder. Natural Heritage has done soil analysis in several vegetation plots and reports that the soils in the Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve contain calcium levels at the highest end of the range for Virginia.

In the barrens, David pointed out fractures in the seeping amphibolite rock and explained water is generally held in such fractures throughout the rock substrate. He also pointed out boulder streams, sizable rocks that move like extremely slow lava streams down the mountainside. He noted the evidence of this in the J-shaped trees on the steep slope. He pointed out the difference between the boulder streams and the bedrock that is exposed in the heart of the barrens. This rock breaks off over time, but doesn’t move.

Virginia State Geologist, David Spears, in the barrens in the Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve. Note dozens of emerging Shooting Stars, among an estimated 10,000 that bloom nearly simultaneously in the preserve.

Then, Evan discovered a strange bright blue stripe in an otherwise black rock. David explained it was a striking seam of blue quartz and said he had never seen such a strong example of this in amphibolite. He said if you took a brush and scrubbed the surface, the whole seam would be bright blue. Amazing!

A seam of blue quartz embedded in the amphibolite rock that is characteristic of the Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve.

My visitors were all astonished at the numbers of emerging Shooting Stars – estimated by Natural Heritage staff to be at least 10,000 and the blooming spring ephemerals on the summit and in the barrens.  Here are some photos of those beauties.

Bloodroot blooming on the summit of the Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve.

Spring Beauty blooming on the summit of Naked Mountain.

Cutleaf Toothwort blooming on Naked Mountain. This is an extremely prolific spring ephemeral all over the preserve turning some portions of the otherwise brown leaf duff green and white.



Naked Mountain Woodrat Launches Charm Attack

We arrived on Naked Mountain Saturday after being away for several weeks. Greeting us was a badly chewed front door and cedar siding that surrounds it.  Actually, it was shocking and distressing as you might imagine.  We knew the culprit, or culprits, was a squirrel(s) because we had caught him or her in the act a few weeks before. We read that squirrels will sometimes do this kind of destruction to sharpen their teeth, or to try and get into warmth, or whatever.

The first thing I did was spray the worst of the areas and one that looked newer, with a stinky, organic compound designed to discourage rodents (there is a similar product for deer) from eating plant roots. Then we bought some cayenne pepper sauce and plan to spray areas with a solution of it before we leave again tomorrow. But we also decided to try to trap the squirrel with a Havahart trap. We put peanut butter in it and set it on the porch near the damaged area. Then, we waited.

And voila! This morning we found something in our trap…but it wasn’t a squirrel.  It was an adorable Allegheny woodrat (Neotoma magister). These little squirrel sized critters that live in the Appalachian mountains are the quintessential packrats.  Very sweet natured, long-whiskered and button-eyed with a furry, not naked, tail, they build sizable cup-like nests called middens. They collect all kinds of things for their nests and are very attracted to shiny objects.  If I could locate this little critter’s nest, I bet I would find our missing, shiny new keys we had made last summer and put in a hiding spot in case we accidentally locked ourselves out of the house. I wondered for a long time how I could possibly have misplaced those keys after hiding them so carefully. A neighbor, who has a family of woodrats on his property said that a woodrat probably stole them because he found his keys in the critter’s nest.  I have another neighbor who accused his wife of taking his newly purchased, shiny tags to help keep the items in his outdoor workshop organized. When they discovered a woodrat nest nearby, they found the lost tags.

You can read more about Allegheny woodrats here.

We were happy to let this little one go back to doing whatever woodrats do (they are nocturnal; cache and eat buds, leaves, fruit, nuts and seeds; procreate slowly – two to three litters annually of typically two pups; and last a mere three years on average in the wild). And it was important to let it go safely because these little animals are rapidly diminishing in numbers. They are a species of concern in Virginia, threatened in West Virginia, endangered in North Carolina and completely extirpated in New England states. Loss of habitat is the main reason. They prefer rocky outcrops associated with ridges that are surrounded by mixed hardwood, or pine-oak forests.

See the video of the release here:

That describes the Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve. I am so glad the preserve supports and protects these charming creatures. Now, about those keys….

Update on the War Against Invasive Species on Naked Mountain

Last week I received a visit from Kory Kirkland, the District Conservationist at the US Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service. He came to review my work on Naked Mountain to eradicate, or at least get under control, particularly nasty invasive species that threaten the beautiful biodiversity of the Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve. He left with a promise to reimburse me for my efforts through an incentive award that the Blue Ridge PRISM (Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management) won on behalf of private landowners like me. The awards are designed to encourage landowners to battle Kudzu, Oriental Bittersweet, Ailanthus, Japanese Stiltgrass, Wavyleaf grass, Wineberry, Garlic Mustard, and the like. These invasives are engulfing the Mid-Atlantic region destroying the pleasing array of native species that used to grace our roadways, hiking trails, woods and fields.

Naked Mountain has its fair share of these nasties. As one of Virginia’s 63 natural area preserves, I have been receiving excellent stewardship help and guidance from the Division of Natural Heritage at the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation since the preserve was established in 2006. But the budget for Natural Heritage is too small to fully carry out its mission of identification, protection and stewardship of Virginia’s biodiversity.  As the Conservation Committee Chairperson for the Virginia Native Plant Society for the past four years, I have worked to try and improve the budget for this award-winning group of scientists, data management and stewardship experts with limited success. Nevertheless, my current steward, Adam Christie, has done a terrific job for the past four years spraying Japanese Stiltgrass that has lined my 2.5 mile long road. This is probably the single most serious threat to the preserve and that is now under pretty good control.

However, Adam doesn’t have time to also spray several old logging roads, so that is what I undertook together with a hired contractor who is also a friend and master naturalist. These trails were clogged with stiltgrass that was starting to move into the surrounding woods. Dan and I used back pack sprayers loaded with 2% Glyphosate (Round-up). They weigh 25 pounds when fully loaded and you walk on uneven ground strewn with fallen limbs, hidden rocks and the real possibility of stepping on a poisonous snake. Not for the faint of heart, or body, especially one who will be 70 in December!

We also began a painstaking three year effort to rid the Southeastern slope of Naked Mountain, which contains the most sensitive and rare barren and woodland habitat, of Wineberry (cut-stem treatment with concentrated Round-up), Ailanthus (hand-pull, hack and squirt with Triclopyr) and Garlic Mustard (hand-pull). My first husband, Timothy Bell, and I had eliminated most of the estimated 10,000 mature Ailanthus trees all over the nearly 300 acre property in 2005-2007, but a seed bank still exists. On our second day of work, Dan and I encountered a mature, fully seeded Ailanthus tree, six inches in diameter, deep in the woods on the slope. As we pulled up dozens of small and mid-sized seedlings around the tree, we judged that this was the third year the tree had been producing seeds. We cut the tree down, immediately sprayed the stump with Garlon 3a (Triclopyr) and then carefully harvested all the seed clusters which were still green, stuffed all of them in bags and backpacks and hiked them out. This area will bear watching for several years for seedling growth.

Below is a photo of Kory and me before we inspected treated invasive species, and a photo of Kory inspecting sprayed, dead stiltgrass in an old logging road.

Wearing my oversized field work clothes. Note my snake gaiters!

Kory Kirkland, District Conservationist, US Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service inspecting sprayed, dead Japanese Stiltgrass on an old logging road on Naked Mountain.

When Kory and I walked under the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative powerline, I spotted some Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) in full bloom. This is a pretty common native plant in Virginia, but it had not yet been documented as occurring on Naked Mountain. I sent the photo to Gary Fleming, Senior Ecologist with Natural Heritage, and Mistflower has now been added to the plant list.

Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) If you enlarge the photo, can you see the tiny creature buried in the right front blossom?

Smooth Foxglove (Aureolaria laevigata). Semi-parasitic on oak trees. Much of Naked Mountain is an oak-hickory forest, so lots of this plant in bloom right now.

The above photo is of Smooth Foxglove (Aureolaria laevigata) which is semi-parasitic on oak trees and is in bloom all over Naked Mountain. Also coming into bloom are several varieties of Goldenrod and White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima).



Naked Mountain June Blooms and More Book Awards

It has been a long time since I last posted.  Much of that energy was put into book promotion and I am proud to say that the book has been well-received. I have won two awards and I am a finalist for two others. I am especially proud of winning a silver Nautilus Award.

This is the message the book awards team sent to their 2016 winners:

“It is our pleasure to welcome you to the honored and respected group of Nautilus Book Award Winners. You can be justly proud of your book’s selection as an Award Winner in the 2016 Nautilus season, which brought a record number of entries and a magnificent diversity of high-quality books.

On behalf of all the Nautilus reviewers, judges, staff, and volunteers, thank you for sending your book as an entry to the 2016 Nautilus program. May your book’s message bring hope, wisdom, healing, and joy to many people. We are proud that your book’s journey as a Nautilus Winner will contribute to Better Books for a Better World.

I also recently received a very nice Kirkus review which you can read in full here. It concludes with this summary quote,  “…intensely personal and compelling. An honest depiction of a courageous, difficult journey.” – Kirkus Reviews

While I am still attending book events, talking with book clubs, and displaying Naked Mountain at national events such as the American Library Association’s annual meeting, I am looking forward to a new challenge that will bring me back to the natural wonders of Naked Mountain.  I am learning to use a professional camera, a 5D Mark III.  I am using a macro lens. 100 mm, a tripod, and a cable release (remote). I have excellent help in this new endeavor with the on-site tutelage of my scholarly husband, David Hopwood. David is a committed hobbyist, but in the late 1970’s he also produced a television series on the history of American photography. He is constantly reading about the field.

I also have on-line advice and counsel from Gary Fleming, senior ecologist with the Division of Natural Heritage within Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation Gary has taken many stunning photographs of some of Naked Mountain’s most iconic plants in full bloom.

And here are a few samples of my first efforts:

Matelea obliqua, Climbing Milkweed Vine. Shot with macro lens, tripod and cable release.

Ginseng buds. Shot with a macro lens, tripod and cable release. I have never seen this small group of Ginseng bloom before being eaten by deer. Ginseng grows in many places on Naked Mountain, but is a favorite snack of White-tailed Deer.  At least I got a chance to photograph buds!

Phemeranthus teretifolius. Shot without a tripod or cable release.  On this sunny afternoon about 100 blooms were waving in the strong breeze. I have never seen so many in bloom at once! This plant only grows East of the Blue Ridge Mountains on mafic barrens, and there is just such a site steps away from my house on Naked Mountain. I was delighted to capture a pollinator – Eastern Tailed-Blue butterfly. Charming! 

See you, and what’s blooming on Naked Mountain, next time.

Naked Mountain Memoir Trailer Now Live!

Below is the trailer for the Naked Mountain Memoir which will be formally released on September 6th.  The video was produced by my new husband, David Hopwood.  I hope you like it – let me know your thoughts in the reply window below the post.

I will be doing five events in September and you are invited to attend any and all that are convenient for you:

  • September 8, 5:30 at the New Dominion Bookshop on the pedestrian mall in Charlottesville. I will be doing readings, discussion and book signings.
  • September 9-11, Blacksburg, Virginia. I will be selling and signing books at the Virginia Native Plant Society’s annual meeting
  • September 14, 4-6:00 at the Fountain Bookstore in Richmond. I will be signing books and will make brief remarks at 5:30. Light refreshments will be provided.
  • September 24, 11-7:00, Baltimore Book Festival, Inner Harbor, Baltimore.  I will be selling and signing books at a table with other She Writes Press authors.
  • September 28, 7-8:30, The Campbell Room, Arlington Library, Shirlington Branch. I will be doing a multi-media presentation and discussion and signing books.

For additional details please visit the events page under Naked Mountain Memoir in the menu bar.

I look forward to seeing many of you at these events in September!

Today is the Day Our Mother Died One Year Ago

Young Mom ice skatesOne year ago today, our lovely mother left the Earth. She was 94 and she wanted to go.  Blind for ten years and increasingly unstable, she had fallen and broken bones for the third time. In this episode it was her hip and collar bone. It was just too much. In a completely sound frame of mind, she chose the only way out available to her:  she stopped eating and drinking.

I am furious at our legal system that she could not have help in her passing from her doctors. They could have spared her three weeks of pain from the surgery that had to be done to address her acute fractures, and the ensuing discomfort from lack of food and hydration. My devoted sister, a highly experienced RN, nursed her at home in her own bed through those three weeks with the help of hospice and a team of caretakers. I was one of the team too. Chris made her as comfortable as humanly possible and certainly the worst of the pain was controlled with drugs, but the fact remains that she suffered unnecessarily for three weeks, when she could have simply gone to sleep. There is nothing more excruciating than watching a loved one suffer – nothing!

But there were truly some good points to having those weeks. She lost consciousness for the last five days, but until then she had wonderful conversations with all who came to say goodbye. Each visit with her four children, her grandchildren, and phone calls with her two sisters and nieces and nephews was an expression of gratitude for her interest in them, for her generosity in welcoming all to the family homestead in the upper reaches of Maine that she worked hard to maintain, for her gentle, supporting and fun-loving spirit. When I reached her bedside shortly after she made the decision to leave the Earth, our conversation went like this:

“Oh, Marcia… I’m so glad you’re here to help Chris.”

“I’m so sorry you had this bad fall, Mom.”

“Oh… I am too. It was so stupid. I was turning and was impatient. I was just so mad about how long it takes me to do anything that I turned too fast and lost my balance.”

“Sorry you had to go through so much. So, you decided to stop eating.”

“Yes. I’ve had a good life. So many lovely people, lovely children. But I’m not enjoying life. When you’re not enjoying life anymore….”

“I understand.”

Then she asked, “Are you enjoying life?”

I answered, “Well… it’s not over yet! Yes, I am. But… almost nobody gets through life unscathed.  It’s just the way it is. And you know that I went through some rough times. My cancer was rough and then losing Tim right after finishing chemotherapy. That was a tough go. But… you and Dad gave us a good foundation. With a good foundation, you can roll with life’s punches. I came out the other side and I am now doing fine and I owe it to you.”

She replied with a simple, “Thank you.”

That my sweet, humble mother could finally, in her last days on Earth, say “thank you” when I credit her with my resilience through tough times brought tears to my eyes. Finally, she could fully claim her worthiness. So, the most precious gifts in life were exchanged between her and those who loved her in those final weeks — expressions of deep gratitude for a life well-lived and loved that benefited all those in her sphere.

Here is a poem written by Andrea Mabee, wife of my oldest brother, Carleton, that was written for the spreading of Mom’s ashes on her beloved Maine farm. You should know that my mother was an accomplished sailor who loved to cruise the beautiful coast of Maine:


A  role model

A thinker


Always choosing to project the lime light away from her

Ever keeping her eyes on the horizon.

Eyes and nose into the wind

True and reliable

A smile and twinkle in her eyes

A supporter for worthy causes

The family cheerleader

Abundant with kind words

Stingy with criticism

Generous in spirit and heart

Lover of nature

Ready to laugh

Reluctant to complain

Genuine as “this is the real deal”


Mom, today we scatter your ashes in a place that is so dear to you. You have been and will always be the salt of the earth. We are all blessed to have been touched by your love, good nature and wisdom.


Mom in Chair w. hat


Vegetation Map of Naked Mountain is here!

Early last year, I received a very exciting phone call from Gary Fleming, the Senior Vegetation Ecologist with the Natural Heritage Division of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. He was calling to let me know that Naked Mountain would be the first Natural Area Preserve to undergo a complete vegetative mapping of its natural communities. Mapping has been done in national parks in Virginia, but never before in one of the state’s own dedicated natural area preserves. I was thrilled that Naked Mountain would be the first, and pleased to know more NAP’s are undergoing mapping.
The principal ecologist on the Naked Mountain project was Kristen Taverna, joined for a couple of visits by Gary Fleming. Kristen collected 59 observation points across most of the 278 acres of the preserve including points at 1080 feet and at the 2000 foot summit. Her work supplemented five vegetation plots that Gary established during visits between 2007 and 2012 within which every plant species is identified. Kristen’s observations are more generally descriptive of the plants that make up a particular natural community type.

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

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

In all, Kristen and Gary identified five natural heritage resources, also known as element occurrences, on Naked Mountain including three significant natural communities and a small population of the globally rare plant, Torrey’s mountain-mint (Pycnanthemum torreyi). You can see a photo of the mountain-mint on the blogsite header. It is the pale purple speckled plant to the far right in the third slide of the changing header.
The two most important natural communities on Naked Mountain are: Central Appalachian Basic Ash-Hickory Woodland and Central Appalachian Mafic/Calcareous Barren (Low-Elevation Type). These are globally rare. But the most exciting floral display on Naked Mountain are the Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon primula). Botanical experts estimate that as many as 10,000, if not more, bloom across the warren of small openings across the Southeastern face of the mountain. And they bloom all at once in early May. I discovered this magnificent nature show myself ten years ago, and as the mapping report notes, it was the catalyst for the decision to complete a conservation easement with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. This story is captured in my memoir which will be published in September. You can get a glimpse of the Shooting Star display on the second slide of the changing blogsite header.
A part of the report that I find very interesting is the soil analysis. I learned from David Spears, Virginia’s state geologist, that the underlying bedrock of Naked Mountain is amphibolite, a metamorphosed rock. He explained that a, not quite continuous, narrow extrusion of the rock extends from Naked Mountain for about forty miles to the Northeast, running under the great lawn at the University of Virginia, that they have dubbed, “the Great Amphibolite Dike.” Looking at the map segment below supplied by the Virginia Department of Mines and Minerals, the dark green line of the amphibolite begins just a little bit west of Elma and also forms the largest “blob” there. That blob is Naked Mountain.

Amphibolite pic
A few years ago I sent samples of Naked Mountain amphibolite to my brother Steve Mabee, who is the state geologist in Massachusetts. His analysis determined that the rock was metamorphosed from basalt, so volcanic in origins. Not surprisingly, then, the soils of Naked Mountain resemble those underlain by other mafic rock substances. Naked Mountain soils are very high in calcium and magnesium and aluminum, in fact as the report notes,” … at the upper end of the range variation for soils weathered from mafic rocks in Virginia, and indicate very high fertility.” This likely accounts for the significant biodiversity on Naked Mountain and the extraordinary display of Shooting Stars.
I hope you enjoy the report and you can go back to the menu bar and check out the plant list too!

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,


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!