20 Feb

People write poetry about winter, but not this kind of winter.

Lowland East Tennessee winter. Brown and sometimes gray trees showing off their bark. Wonderful evergreens if you’re in a place for cedars or hemlocks, but in plenty of places, especially the city limits of Oak Ridge, as on the Cedar Hill Greenway it’s just the weedbush green of autumn olive or the explosive all covering dark green of English Ivy near houses.

And yet as spring rolls in, which its started doing, I’ll miss it. I’ll miss the views through trees of hills with surrounding bare trees while climbing up, like I did this weekend, on the Bird Mountain Trail at Frozen Head, or indeed on just about any trail in the mountains. Come summer the forest will be a blur of green. The different bark textures of the present, bare of leaves will get overshadowed by that shade, the color of feeding, of energy grabbing.

The gray and brown bark, especially against the mist though, with the bright green of the occasional mosses and in higher elevations mountain laurels. The leafless trees are bare, resting, but not simple. Below the standard cover of leaves everything seems even more complicated for being uncovered. It’s like seeing inside the mind.


Outside Mullingar

20 Feb

There are plays, like “The Crucible” about which I can get intellectual  and do two posts. Then there plays like the Clarence Brown’s recent “Outside Mullingar“: Enjoyable, funny, short, not particularly intellectual. I saw it today on its last day and liked it.

In order to work, a Rom-Com, specifically the kind I saw today needs to have characters distinct and likeable enough and likeable enough actors if it’s going to work for me. This production had those things. So it worked. Not much more to say.

Frozen Head Judge Branch, Interpretive Loop and South Old Mac with Dad

16 Feb

ben pounds/special to go knoxville Trickling, shallow waters near Judge Branch Loop make for great wading spots at Frozen Head State Park in Wartburg, Tenn.
I published this piece last summer, but the hike, while not the most landmark-y is good all year long. Below is an excerpt with some of the more basic information.

The loop at Frozen Head State Park took us over, above, next to and, in one case, through the trickling waters of Judge Branch. The water is too shallow for swimming, but wonderful for wading.

On this Father’s Day hike, my dad, Dr. Larry Pounds — plant ecologist and enthusiast for many different kinds of green growing things — joined me. He was among my first hiking partners, going back to my early childhood and my coauthor for my recent book about a series of hikes we did in 2012. It had been a while since he and I had hiked together, and Father’s Day on a route at Frozen Head, which included the Interpretive Loop, Judge Branch and South Old Mac trails proved a great chance.

While it does include an uphill section, it’s not strenuous and all of it’s in the shade at this time of year. The route, while more than a quick jaunt, took only a few hours, even with me snapping photographs, meaning that both of us could fit it into our schedules.

The trail is, however, an excellent one on which to spend the night. A backcountry creek-side campsite, maximum capacity 12 people, sits next to the trail. People who want to camp there can check in at the Frozen Head Visitor Center. It’s a good way to try out backcountry camping, as the route there is shorter and easier than more difficult routes like the Appalachian Trail.”

White’s Creek Small Wild area

13 Feb

Here is my recent News Sentinel Story on White’s Creek Small Wild area. It was a volunteer trip, but there wasn’t much clearing of the trail to do. Click here for My column on White’s Creek Small Wild Area.

Among the pleasures from that day was searching for mussels along the banks of the lake. While they aren’t part of the column, here are two.



Listen to a twig’s heartbeat…

1 Feb

Another great post from David George Haskell.


I sonified a maple’s daily pulse, turning its water-driven expansion and contraction into electronic piano. This is part of the audio for my upcoming book, The Songs of Trees.

View original post

Witch hazel’s obstinacy

28 Jan

I have enjoyed seeing this one on winter Cumberland hikes.


In the bleak mid-winter…time to bloom? Witch hazel, Hamamelis, proffers its flowers to the snow. Such willful disregard for the seasons is a refreshing sight, suggesting that we, too, might sometimes deck ourselves in vernal finery, despite the weather. Expect little reward, though. So few pollinators visit that fewer than 1% of flowers form any seed. Why, then, such obdurate insistence by witch hazel on winter blooms? Perhaps to keep the few flying pollinators on warm winter days to itself and thus avoid cross-pollination with undesirable kin? Perhaps.


According to OED via Etymology Online, “witch” is “probably from Old English wice ‘Applied generally or vaguely to various trees having pliant branches'”. Bending the rules.

View original post

Dracula (1931)

29 Oct

You see him everywhere, especially at this time of the year: White face, dark hair, black cape, accent parodied to sell chocolate cereal or teach children to count. He feels like he’s always been with us, an icon, like Santa Claus.

Where does that leave the movie that brought that icon into mainstream consciousness, especially since plenty else that old isn’t still recognizable? Do things which scared and entertained audiences then still work now? I watched it to find out.

The film is, in a word, uneven. The beginning, with its ruined castle complete with bats, possums and armadillos is great as is the shipwreck. I assume Dracula just really loves armadillos. However, the movie loses steam. Dracula does the same method of bed invasion twice of turning into a bat and flying in the window rather than something more creative, like maybe flying in through a pipe, hypnotizing people, or doing something with his off-screen wolf form. Also the ending is anticlimactic.

What strikes me the most is, oddly, the one element that’s been referenced the most often by parodies, and yet still comes off as different from anything that came before or after, namely Bela Lugosi. While I don’t like to reference the infernal time-wasting wiki TV tropes often, it hits the nail on the head.

“He’s less like a cursed man than some kind of malevolent, primitive, pre-programmed robot that doesn’t fully understand how it should interact with human beings. Quite creepy indeed.”