Archive | Nature RSS feed for this section

I should hate those semen-scented Bradford pear trees

13 Mar

“Although it’s difficult to describe, the most accurate description of the Callery’s budding flowers would be something like a pungent whiff of freshly excreted semen. Sure, you could euphemize and say it smells like a wet, dirty mop dipped in floury fish guts, but isn’t that much more disgusting than likening it to a natural bodily fluid?”

Westworld.com.

1024px-pyrus_calleryana_callery_pear_blossom

Among the earliest of my area’s spring flowers, the Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana), just finished its little white explosions and started opening its leaves. My house’s lawn came with a row of them, and I’ve grown to like them, even though everybody hates them and I should too. I’m working on it.

Heck, I even like their little white explosions out on the edges of fields, although, again, I shouldn’t.

Probably the best source on the subject is this scholarly paper, although I’m just summarizing it here.

It’s an ornamental tree from Asia, popularly known as the “Bradford,” although the “Bradford” is just one of many cultivars (varieties created by grafting). It wowed Americans with its ability to stand up to droughts and disease. However, Bradfords split in half easily, so they’re really not as hardy as people thought.

All the varieties of  Calleryana we have are cultivars, meaning they have to be grafted and can’t self fertilize like other trees. However, different cultivars can cross pollinate, and the trees have gone wild.

Tennessee Invasive Plant Council considers it an invasive species, meaning that it pushes out native plants. My Dad, plant ecologist Dr. Larry Pounds agrees and told me some feral varieties can get pretty thorny.

I doubt, however, we’ll ever see the Great Smoky Mountains covered in white round trees that smell of semen however. Dad told me he hasn’t seen them growing in forests and it’s easy to see why. Like many ornamental trees, they don’t exactly tower. They stay at a pretty small size.

Robbins are a mystery?

2 Mar

People say they’re part of spring, but they were here in Loudon, Tennessee all winter. In fact, I saw them in flocks, their red breasts showing off against the darkening winter sky and the gray of their branches. They sat on branches and flew in clusters. Cornell Ornithology Lab, probably one of the best sources for birds said that’s typical behavior. These tree flocks can sometimes include a quarter million birds.

1977465_10155288612360492_7918557328565972029_n
The above photo was from near my home. The number only looks small here because I couldn’t get a crowd shot this pretty. Cornell says it can be up to a quarter million roosting in trees.

10369867_10155288637640492_1080066738224968659_n

See? Not quite as nice a picture.

They spend the fall and winter eating fruit. As a side note, too many honeysuckle berries can be like a drug for them.

Now I’ve begun to see them on the ground again, eating worms and insects. Soon, according to Cornell, they’ll leave their flocks, becoming territorial birds, mating, having children.

My main question has always been “Are these the same ones?”

Cornell’s answer: “Their patterns of movement are poorly understood.” So the winter roosting ones might be the same as the ones we see in the spring or they could be different.

10991403_10155288605170492_3444862635402875124_n

Odd how such a commonplace bird could be a mystery in any way. But here we are.

 

Yet Another Sunset, Tired of Those?

8 Jul

It’s been too long. New jobs, new commitments, none of which mean anything to the average reader of this blog.

No, the average reader of this blog, if they even cared to read more than one post would be saying “Yeah, that Ben person sure does post way too much about sunsets.”

IMG_5547
It’s not original is it? Sunsets get plenty of love. People go out to beaches or mountains to see them. They throw them in movies for style to add a sense of romantic danger or paradoxically a romantic calm.
And yet how could I not post this?

IMG_5540

The simple motion of the earth around the sun feels like the absurd grinding of fate. More days gone from life. And yet how could I not post this?

IMG_5530.JPG

It’s a parking lot, not even a tourist attraction. A boring office parking lot. And yet, how could I not post this?

IMG_5548

Heaven as firey as Hell. Sky as diverse in color as the world, full of blues grays, yellow, orange, colors that go together, colors that clash. Blood, flame, blackness, lightness, peach banana pudding. It’s easy to forget these were storm clouds which pounded rain and shot lightning just seconds before the photograph.

What does it all mean? Or should it even mean anything?

Truth is not beauty. Truth is not ugliness. Truth is every color thrown at the eye in a blinding glare. When the sun heads down, the truth is more comprehensible. But only slightly.

 

Unadmired Beautiful Parking Lot Views from Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

16 Sep

IMG_5507 (3)

It’s a construction site and an adjacent office parking lot. It’s on aptly-named Commerce Park Drive in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Nobody goes there to look at scenery. I go there to pick up my girlfriend from work.

IMG_5465

Yet somehow, that hill’s view of the Cumberland Plateau over ridges, uninvited wildlife and exposed red clay mini-mesas leave me running around with my camera as though it’s the Grand Canyon.

It’s a spot too big to be a mandala like the one that David George Haskell described in The Forest Unseen, and perhaps it’s most defining feature is the view of the world beyond it. Yet it intrigues me.

I’ll be returning there on this blog many times throughout the year.

On the beauty of Rattlesnakes

29 Aug

Rattlesnakes are beautiful. It’s not just me who thinks that, thankfully.

Ramble

This is the year of the timber rattlesnake on the Southern Cumberland Plateau. I’ve seen and heard of more in the last five months than I have in the last twenty years combined. They’re sleeping in gardens, gliding across porches, crossing wooded trails, and swimming on asphalt. Most seem to be one or two years old, suggesting that we’re seeing the result of a baby-boom in 2013 or 2014. What might have caused such a successful hatch year is a mystery: perhaps a good mast year of acorns and hickory nuts swelled the rodent population, echoing a year later in the abdomens of fecund snake mothers? Another possibility is that the last two winters have been colder here than any within the last decade, pinching the rodent supply this year, making snakes take to the road where we then encounter them. Certainly 2014 was chipmunk-poor after the “Arctic Vortex” made…

View original post 234 more words

Hiking and Swimming at Fort Dickerson Quarry

21 Aug

This is my recent GoKnoxville article about hiking and swimming at Fort Dickerson quarry. Enjoy! http://ow.ly/RcYG3

While you’re at it, enjoy some pictures.